Friday, February 27, 2015
Leonard Nimoy has passed away and it is a time to honor his life. I will do so by watching my favorite episodes of my favorite series of his work; Star Trek.
He has left this stage and journeyed to the next. I hope he finds joy and love and adventure.
Posted by Jason Zavoda at 12:48 PM
Thursday, February 26, 2015
"What in the Nine Hells is that?" Harold asked.
The little thief stared at a broken form not much taller than himself but broad and muscular as an ape. It had a coat of greyish fur and a thick mane of black hair surrounding a face like a cross between a human's and a wolf's.
"That," said the ranger turning the dead body over with his foot, "that is a gibberling."
He bent and felt the muscles in its hand then touched its neck, the spine snapped like a stick. "Still stiff, killed last night, thrown, look at that stone, that's what broke its neck."
Underneath the dead beast's head was a rounded block, a large square of stone worn down by time.
"That is an odd stone," the ranger touched the grey rock, it was speckled with bits of black, cold and smooth under his hand. He pulled up a clump of weeds that grew beside it and revealed the corner, cut stone; a building had stood upon this spot, but long ago. "...as I thought."
"What?" Harold asked. "What do you think?"
"Here," he said pushing back a thick bush so that the stump of the plant was visible, "more stones. We're standing near the foundation of some building, or in it."
"Where?" asked Little Rat twisting around to see.
"Tumbled down," Harold told the orc. "Just stones now."
"Oh," Little Rat said in a disappointed tone.
"You two wait here for the others," said the ranger, "if there is one gibberling, there are a hundred."
"Are they dangerous?" squeaked Harold.
"Very," the ranger smiled. "But not in daylight. We have half the day to get beyond their reach."
North of where he'd found the body of the gibberling the ranger broke through the thick underbrush and stood within a wide swath of torn and uprooted plants. There was a circle where the trees were knocked down and the ground torn up, the oerth churned as if from a plowman's blade. Mixed with the dirt were the shards of bones, splintered, the marrow gone. A minute's search turned up a skull, stripped of flesh and cracked open then hollowed out. A giant fought and died here, then was eaten raw. The destruction ran west-east, the tracks, hundreds of them, pointed toward the east; they'd gone toward the rising sun. The dead and drying leaves were still alive the day before, sometime last night the gibberlings had passed, or so the ranger judged from the signs he found.
* * *
"Gibberlings," said Telenstil standing over the body.
"Strange to find them here," said Talberth.
"What are they?" asked Ghibelline, "Nothing of nature surely?"
"Drones perhaps, like ants, they may have a queen and spring from eggs, "said Talberth, "We studied them at university, I have seen one splayed open, preserved, they are not male or female, these do not reproduce."
"A wizard's creation, yes." said Telenstil."That is my thought. They are extremely dangerous, though not during the day."
"That is what Harald said," spoke up the thief.
"They are rare to find like this," mused Talberth, "they eat their dead. You only find their bones, or when the last of a herd has been killed."
"He said it was thrown, and that rock is part of a building."
Ivo bent and ran his hand along the stone as the ranger had done. "He was right, at least about this rock. And these, Telenstil, these are old, very old. This is not the work of gnomes or dwarves."
"Giants?" asked Talberth.
Ivo laughed. "Giants no, well not Nosnra's kind," he looked closer at the block, "not the giants of stone and rock either, I know their work; Human hands perhaps. Another mystery, back at that hill, a trail leading up to nothing, and here, something was built here."
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Talberth had never slept more soundly in his life, but he awoke with a terrible ache, every muscle in his body felt like it had been pulled apart and sewn back together with twine. It was sometime before dawn, he lay upon a bed of fir branches with his pack was beneath his head. The night had been cold but dry and with a second layer of branches piled over him he had been warm as if he'd been sleeping in a bed.
The sky was purple, day would be coming fast but already the others were astir, all except for the orcs. Boss, Meatstealer and the surviving pair, Halfknife and Brokenhand, would have preferred to travel by night. They liked the dark; the day was for sleeping more often than not. Months had passed while they had been the giants' slaves; day was when the torches burned, when they worked digging the tunnels beneath the steading. Night was when they were locked in their unlit cells; they had not missed the sun.
"Time to wake up," Ivo gave Talberth's shoulder a shake.
"I'm up," he yawned. "How long did I sleep?"
"Five hours, a little more," laughed Ivo quietly. "You were out on your feet last night. You were asleep and snoring before Harald cut the last of the branches for your bed."
"I don't snore," muttered Talberth.
They ate a cold breakfast of half-cooked beef. Harald had found one steer that had burned longer than the rest, he hadn't mentioned the body of the giant he'd found roasted beneath it, avoiding any qualms that the others might have. The orcs had taken their own choice cuts, preferring their flesh raw or at most just kissed by the flames and nothing more. They were less squeamish than the others, a week rotting in a canvas sack just added to the taste for them.
"Which way now?" Talberth asked just before they set off.
The scorched beef had been passed around with fresh water from the spring.
"Muphlimm-umph," Ivo answered him then swallowed the mouthful of food he'd been chewing. "North, Harald's finding us a trail."
"He's back," Harold spoke up, pointing to the ranger weaving his way through the brush back up to where they sat. "I'll go get Ghibelline, he's keeping watch by the spring."
"Talberth, why don't you get those orcs moving?" Ivo asked the tall mage.
"They seem to listen to Ghibelline just as well," said Talberth.
"That was yesterday," Ivo replied, "they were just obeying the tone of his voice, they forgot he was an elf. Go on, they're scared of you, all the qualities that a leader of orcs needs."
"Since when are you an expert on orcs," Talberth said annoyed. He didn't enjoy his status with the orcs.
"Well this is a first for me," laughed Ivo. "But I know orcs, too well I know them, believe me."
"Well I've never had them on my side before either," said Talberth.
"Oh don't make that mistake," Ivo told him seriously, "they aren't on our side, don't trust them, if they think they can get away with it they'll put a dagger in your back, especially because they're scared."
"I don't trust them, I don't like them," Talberth replied heatedly, "I don't want them with us..."
"Easy there," Ivo said in a calm and friendly voice, "I agree, but they are with us for now. You are they best to deal with them. We need you Talberth, don't let us down."
"I'm sorry Ivo, I... I just needed more sleep," Talberth said quietly, "I'll go get the orcs."
The Island Fortress of Boyan the Wizard Part 1
Before the time of man there were the Gods. Perun the Thunderer was the strongest and Veles the Snake was his brother. They split the world and chose the realms that they would rule. The contest they fought over this choice raised mountains in ash and fire, caused storms that drained the sea and floods that swept the Earth bare. While Perun was the stronger Veles was smarter, crafty and skilled with magic.
The struggle went on for ages and they created allies from the seeds of life to be found. The early Lizard Kings and their beasts aided them, but while they were the first children of Veles many were swayed by the raw power of Perun and betrayed their divine father. As the strife continued and the ages passed all manner of bird, beast and finally man were created.
The northern top of the world was carved from the earth and moved to a place beyond time. It became a gateway to other places, other times and other possibilities. It became a place of legend. It became Hyperborea.
Boyan the Wizard is a servant of Veles. He has ruled the northern islands for countless years, but it has been years longer since he was last seen. Still the people of the islands have been under his rulership for all the years that he has been gone. Boyan's fortress is set upon one of a cluster of small islands near the northern coast. His ships and flying beasts kept the farmers and fisherman of the towns and villages under check, collected the tithes in slaves and treasure, and recruited boys to become soldiers in the wizard's service.
Then the storm came and with the crash of lightening, the lash of torrential rain, the wind that broke walls, uprooted trees and foundered ships, the secret worshipers of Perun rose up and struck against the servants of Boyan and regained their freedom.
For long weeks the last of the wizard's servants were hunted down, but to everyone's surprise there has been no sign of the wizard or his steward and the council of apprentices who rule in the name of the wizard. Finally an expedition has been put together; warriors, clerics of Perun and the hidden Gods, magicians (who are not entirely trusted) and even thieves from Debent, largest of the towns formerly under the sway of the Boyan. With a small ship and crew who will take them to the wizard's fortress and then retreat to the safety of the nearby islands to prepare a camp and wait for a signal to return, this adventurous group will set out to explore the fortress and report back on what they find.
This is an open ended adventure for 5 to 10 characters levels 4 to 6. A well balanced party is recommended. (Welcome to the 1st draft).
Saturday, February 21, 2015
They wandered down the trail to where Gytha stood beside Ghibelline. The ranger talked with them, straight and tall, the grievous wounds he'd received healed by the cleric's faith and prayers.
"...be more." said Harald.
"I know, they will be hunting for us, those wolves of theirs will track us down," Ghibelline said.
"There are a few tricks to throw them off our trail," Harald glanced up and down the path. "But this place, they may lose our scent among all these bodies and blood."
* * *
Telenstil had been right. The moons were up and still the party was on the move. It was slow going, and despite Harald's best efforts they were leaving an easy trail. They were heading north and west, away from the hills and up into the mountains, but they hadn't left the woods behind.
Low branches slashed at them, roots and stones caught their feet, made them trip and stumble; they followed a deer trail that weaved through the underbrush. The ground was rough and uneven, the trail narrow and lined with thornbushes, they moved with a slow and awkward pace.
Harald had gone ahead, some said that he had the elven sight but it wasn't true. It was Talberth and Gytha who had the worst of it, neither could see far in the dim moonlight. Gytha at least had some woodscraft, she'd lived within the hills and mountains of Geoff all her life, but Talberth had been born and raised in Greyhawk, the hub of the Oerth as he called it. The young mage knew much about the arcane crafts, had served as an apprentice to Telenstil and seen the world beyond his city's walls, but he had never been far from a campsite or an inn. He was not used to wandering through the woods at night, looking for a place to camp, forced to sleep out under the stars, his pack as a pillow and his arms folded about him for a blanket.
They traveled single file, the orcs last in line carrying Derue, the thief and young orc leading the others over the trail. The two humans were kept at the center of the file where those with the nighteyes could keep them from falling in the dark or straying from the path. There was a hiss, low and subdued, it came from the halfling and it brought them to a halt.
"There is a clearing up ahead," Harold whispered to Telenstil and Ivo.
"Where is Harald?" the elven mage asked.
"I have no idea," Harold snapped back. "What do you want us to do?"
"Did you see something?" Ivo asked him.
"Nothing but the end of this trail," said the thief. Harold was not pleased to come upon a surprise when his friend the ranger was somewhere ahead and nowhere to be seen. "He should have come back to warn us. I don't like this."
"Can you circle the clearing?" asked Telenstil.
"I can," said Ghibelline speaking over the gnome's head. "Let me go, I'll see what has happened to the ranger."
"I can do it," Harold said with a huff.
"You're as quiet as a mouse in slippers," said Ivo, "but Ghibelline has the woodscraft."
"Shhh..." hissed Ghibelline.
"Yea, quiet down." a voice said from nearby. Harald worked his way slowly from beneath a thornbush.
"Where were you?" demanded the thief.
"Sorry, you made better time than I expected," Harald replied. "I found us a decent spot. There is a spring up here and a small rise just beyond the clearing where we can camp."
"We nearly had to go looking for you," complained Harold.
The ranger shrugged. "Good practice for you, out here you never know, scouting ahead is dangerous work, sometimes you don't come back."
"Harald," said Telenstil, cutting off the thief before he could say anymore, "Show us this place. We can all use the rest."
Friday, February 20, 2015
"Wait!" Telenstil yelled.
He called after Ghibelline and the orcs but they did not listen or heed his call. The young giant easily outdistanced his pursuers, though Ghibelline was fast the giant's legs were longer than he was tall. Up the path and over the ridge and gone, the elf stopped at the far slope, the giant was already nowhere to be seen.
Nearby the little thief snarled as he peered into the fallen giant's eyes and showed him the knife, an old blade as big as a sword in the halfling's fist. "I curse you and all your kind," Harold told the giant then with a careful skill he cut the monster's throat with less regret than a farmer had when he killed a chicken for the evening meal. Though slowed by Ivo's spell the giant's heart still beat strong and steady. The blood sprayed from the massive wound, it soaked the thief in a crimson flow, it pooled around his feet and from a severed vein it fountained out with every dimming beat as the giant's heart began to weaken and ceased to pulse. Its muscles were frozen stiff by magic but its eyelids fluttered and a whoosh of air escaped in a single gasp as it left the giant's lungs through a gaping throat.
"That could have gone better," said Ivo to Telenstil.
The mage looked down and shook his head. "That is an understatement. We had best find Gytha and have her see to Harald."
They watched the ranger work the blade from the giant's chest; he gave a few hard pulls then staggered back and began to work at the blade again.
"Where is Talberth?" asked Telenstil.
"Where is Gytha for that matter," said Ivo. "What is that thief doing? Harold!" he called to the halfling. "We want to talk with that... too late."
"What?" said Telenstil. He had turned back the way they'd come but swung around when Ivo shouted to the thief. "Ah, that giant lived."
"It did," said Ivo, "I have not the craft to kill one out of hand, but stop them, freeze them in their tracks; that I can do."
"More killing, I knew what to expect, I have killed many in my years, but after this..." Telenstil mused aloud. "Ivo there must be a better way."
"Not that I know of against such as them," the gnome nodded toward the bodies of the giants. "Look up there, our new companion returns without his prey, but with his pack in tow."
Ghibelline was coming back down the trail, much more slowly than he had run up. The orcs had followed him as he chased the young giant, now they followed him again, but stopped beside the burnt body of a cow. They attacked the carcass, cutting long strips of flesh away, digging into the cow's side to pull out raw and bloody gobbets then devouring them where they stood. The orcs began to laugh among themselves spraying out half chewed meat. One began to choke he laughed so hard, then spit out a huge lump of beef. He bent to pick it from the ground but Meatstealer handed him a fresh piece he'd just cut. The orc was right, there was plenty more, any of the giant steers or cows could have fed them all for a week or more. There were at least a score of the cattle scattered about the hill. The smell from the roasted flesh, half-cooked by Telenstil's spell, wafted across the hill and sent seductive tendrils out to the entire company.
"I must be hungry," said Ivo his stomach rumbling loud enough for Telenstil to hear. "Watching a pack of orcs eat and I'm not sick, I want to dig in as well."
* * *
"How are you?" asked Telenstil.
Talberth rubbed his head, his face was bruised, one eye black and swollen, his nose still grimed with blood. "I'll live," he said.
"He was badly hurt, trampled by that cow," Gytha told them.
"What a way to die... I came to fight giants," muttered Talberth. "How did we fair?"
"Ghibelline says that two of the orcs are dead," said Telenstil. "Harald was hurt. Gytha can you see to him? Does Talberth need your help?"
"I have called on the Saint, he will grow tired of my requests," she smiled. "I will go see to Harald." The cleric left them and quickly ran down the trail.
"I owe their church a tithe," said Talberth. "I'll end up owing them as much as our thief."
"You should give her twice what she asks," Ivo put a friendly hand on the mage's shoulder. "I am thankful to have her with us."
"We will need to be careful, now that Henri is gone," Telenstil mused.
"Good riddance, but we are putting quite a burden on Gytha," Ivo said.
"Those Pholtines usually have no problem with using their power to gain some coin," Talberth said, "but I didn't get that feeling from Henri. I think he'd only heal us if we swore some oath to that god of his."
"Perhaps," said Telenstil, "maybe we judge him wrongly."
"That's all broken and past mending," Ivo shook his head. "We will have to make do with what strength we have."
"What a waste of that strength," groaned Talberth. He pushed himself to his feet and waved away the helping hands offered by his friends.
"The day grows late," said Telenstil looking to the west. "We need to collect ourselves and be gone before more giants come."
"What happened? Did they get away?" asked Talberth.
"One did," Ivo told him.
"One is enough," Talberth agreed.
"Yes, things did not go well," said Telenstil.
As they talked the halfling wandered up to them, behind him stalked the young orc, Little Rat, chewing contentedly on strip of meat.
"Gytha said you got knocked down by one of those things," said Harold, "big as dragons, is everything that size up here? I'd hate to see the poultry."
"The giants would make short work of the cattle we keep," laughed Ivo. "Normal cows are big enough for me, my clan keeps sheep."
"I'm happy to let the Butcher's guild deal with all such business," Harold said.
"I see your apprentice has no such qualms," Telenstil gestured to the orc.
"That giant lad, he will bring back others from his hall," Ivo broke into their mild conversation. "Come, we must leave this place, we may have to keep traveling through the night."
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Harald ran down the trail as the two giants ran up. He held his claymore at his side, level with his waist, and raised it above his shoulder as he ran. A staff big as a scaling pole swept out, Harald ducked aside but the iron ferrule on the end caught him soundly and knocked him off his feet. He did not lose his grip or drop his sword; he rolled with the blow and ended kneeling, bringing the blade around and cutting the giant on its arm.
The swinging staff knocked Harald down again with a backhand blow, a second staff wielded by the other giant stabbed at him. He squirmed aside, the staff's end impaling only the oerth, sinking in deep as a fence post. Using his sword like a spear, Harald stabbed the giant in the leg, thunking into the huge shin but doing little damage except to cause the giant pain. Telenstil did what he could. He cast a simple spell and sent five magic bolts of gleaming blue that were sure to fly where he commanded. They struck but the giant shrugged the pain away. The monster took a second jab at Harald striking him a glancing blow that slid across his mail and over his shoulder. Harald stabbed up as the giant struck and this time opened up a deep and bloody cut across the creature's thigh.
"Harald!" Telenstil yelled to him. "Get away! Get away!"
Two staves clacked hard against each other missing the ranger, the giants fouled each other's attacks while Harald dragged his sword across the giant's leg like a surgeon cutting flesh. The wounded giant howled and pulled back its staff holding it in both hands up against its chest. The ranger threw himself to one side while the other giant brought its staff down as if it were an axe ready to split a block of firewood. There was a dull thud, the blow numbed the giant's hands, the knuckles white with strain and clawed in a frightful grip. The giant flexed them for a moment and the blood flowed in like a hundred needles sticking in its fingers and its joints.
More bolts flew from Telenstil but against such a monster as the giant they did little good. Ivo's power was of more effect, he'd run down the hill as the ranger fought, still yards away he cast his spell. His words were gibberish to any but the wise, the magic speech of the gnomish kind. He motioned with his hands as he spoke, slow graceful gestures that seemed to leave a trail of wavering space behind. Like the shimmering waves of heat above a fire these waves of magic power flowed around the giant's form. The staff fell from its hands; pins and needles ran up its arms, across its chest, down through its stomach to its toes. The giant fell like a tree when the final axe blow has been struck; slow at first, then with crashing speed.
The wounded giant took another blow from Harald's sword; the blade cut open rough hide trousers and the skin beneath. Blood poured down the giant's front and back, its arm and chest were burnt where magic bolts had struck, and red puss-filled burns were spread across its face. The last blow sent the giant into a frothing rage, it spun so quickly that it shook like a dog with a soaking coat and blood sprayed like rain from its open wounds. The giant broke the staff in two with the strength of its shoulders and its arms, then threw the splintered pieces at the gnome. Ivo brought up his hands to protect his face, the spell he had begun wasted, the magic potential dissipating like a cloud of smoke.
* * *
"Aaarrraaahhh!" the giant screamed wordlessly. It clawed at its face, scraping grimy nails down its cheeks leaving a bloody trail. It grabbed Harald by the shoulders and lifted him from the ground. Hands with the grip of a metal vice crushed in his mail, the steel links digging through the thick cloth he wore beneath his armor. Harald drove the point of his claymore, Miming, into the giant's chest. The keen edge slid in between its ribs, not deep at first, but as the monster lifted him he put his shoulder to the hilt and sank it in till it came out the giant's back. A hand let go of one shoulder and grabbed Harald by the throat, the palm was so big that it lapped over his jaw as well, saving him from a choking hold. The pressure ground his teeth together with a grating sound, massive thumb and fingers closed like pincers ready to crush the ranger's skull like an apple rotted on the vine and cast beneath a farmer's foot.
Two daggers stabbed at the giant's legs, the halfling and Little Rat attacked. The thief knew where to cut but the young orc just hacked away with fierce abandon; he did little more than gash the giant's skin.
And then it fell.
The pressure disappeared, the hands unclenched and Harald dropped, pulling out his blade half way. Magic bolts from Telenstil's hand struck it again, but only as an afterthought. It buckled at its knees, the thief and orc jumped back. The giant knelt for a moment, its arms straight at its side then tumbled backwards, legs bent double underneath. Harald lay atop the giant's chest. He would not release his sword, but the huge torso pulled it away and dragged the ranger along as if he weighed no more than a man of straw. He breathed hard, and closed his eyes letting his head rest on the bleeding silent chest.
Ghibeline lead the four surviving orcs charging down the trail. They heard the calls, the terrible scream, the elven warrior shouted for them to follow him and to his and their surprise, they did. They stared in quiet awe at the bloody scene. The ranger, hands still gripping his murderous sword, the bodies of two giants deadly still; one a mass of wounds, a vast rent torn down its side. All about them the smoking bodies of the cattle, the smell of roasting flesh and burning leaves. Small fires shrank sending out plumes of smoke as the wet loam refused to catch and spread the flames. Telenstil watched silently, as did Ivo. The halfling stumbled back away from the ranger and the bleeding corpse; his hand touched the other giant's face, slid across its eye and felt the lid flutter and the eyeball move.
"This one's alive!" he shouted in surprise.
"Look!" called out Ghibeline. "There's another!"
Standing off the trail near to the trees was the gangling giant youth. It stared at the carnage with an open mouth then shut it with a snap as the elf broke the silent moment that everyone had shared. The youth did not hesitate, it turned and ran, long thin legs eating up the distance between where it had stood and the north edge of the trail.
"After it!" yelled Ghibleine.
He ran down the path, gracefully weaving between the corpses of the cattle. The orcs followed him again roaring out a battlecry they had not used in years.
NOTE: Reposting this old review because I will finally be sitting down and reviewing the other issues of The Manor (I'm only a few years delayed, but I've been busy)
The Manor Issue #1
(24 page digest-sized 'zine
Cover Art: Jason Sholtis
Interior Art: Jonathan Bingham
Introduction: By Tim Shorts
The Salt Pit: By Tim Shorts
There's Something Shiny in the Troglodyte Dung Heap 1d12: By Jason Sholtis
Rural Pennsylvania: Ghoul House: By Tim Shorts
Poetry Slam: By Rusty Battle Axe
20 Random Forest Encounters: By Tim Shorts
Street Vendor: Oren's Boots: By Tim Shorts
There are a few things that always please me in a 'zine. A good cover, a few good ideas and a little of the magic that takes me back to the days when TSR meant Gygax and Co., Dragon Mag wasn't glossy and Judges Guild was just starting to crank out their first guidebook supplements/adventures and Dungeonneer was itself a digest-sized 'zine. Tim Shorts' The Manor succeeds in all of this for me.
To start with, I love the red and black troglodyte cover. It is begging to be used as an adventure hand-out and I intend to write a suitable encounter around it. That clawed hand is reaching for you! And note the pointy teeth. Definitely some claw/claw/bite headed the player's way.
And that is just the cover. Tim has managed to stuff his 'zine with a nice amount of material without making the font too small for me to read. As I get older the more I appreciate non-tiny font. The first article is tiny, a micro-adventure. On its own it is an itsy-bitsy adventure but it ties in nicely with other aspects of the 'zine and can be easily expanded. Just reading it over I can see several ways to run it and provide a few surprises to spring on the players. The Salt Pit would be handy as an encounter near the Village of Hommlet or somewhere near The Keep on the Borderland. With all the talk about zero-level funnels dropping a group of them down the Salt Pit is definitely an idea.
Jason Sholtis of roll1d12.blogspot.com comes up with excellent and varied random tables. His 'There is Something Shiny in the Troglodytes Dung Heap' is another of his short and amusing offerings though I needed to replace the car keys.
Rural PA: Ghouls House is a good inspiration for fantasy horror or somewhere that Lovecraft should have included in his stories. Pennsylvania is home to number of mines, abandoned farms and even towns that need very little work to use as an rpg setting. Tim has a found an excellent spot, the photos and description are good idea sources, though perhaps a little heavy on the ghouls.
Sadly the Poetry Slam did nothing for me, though I did like the Umber Hulk illustration.
20 Random Forest Encounters is a useful little table of encounters for a mostly low level part. There is a nice balance between those that could hurt, help or amuse the player characters.
Street Vendor: Orsen's boots presents a trio of useful NPC's and a trio of adventure hooks to go with them. These characters can be used as toss-away one time encounters or NPCs that can be used again and again.
The Manor Issue #1 is a successful entry into what seems to be a growing world of 'zines. I'd recommend going for the subscription.
You can find Tim Shorts at:
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The ball of fire roared out, it swallowed the giants near the center of the herd and set the trees and underbrush ablaze. Outside the confines of a room or a dungeon's narrow halls the spell spread out to its full limits, a huge spherical burst of flame. There was a second roar, this time from a score of voices and it went on and on. The giants swirled as if they were huge candles being spun like tops, their greasy hair and beards aflame. They screamed out a terrifying bellow of rage. The cattle were worse, they cried out in terror and in pain. Half had their hides ablaze, they gored those ahead and like a fan they left the trail running through the woods and underbrush, up the southern slope toward the places where Telenstil and the others hid. One knocked a twisting giant to the ground, another trampled him underfoot, a third was struck by a massive fist and fell, still afire it lay across him burning like a torch. They struggled together, the giant tried to rise and throw the huge steer from off his legs while hooves scraped and dug into his flesh. The two became a living pyre. Another steer crashed into them both and ran off, blinded by the searing flames.
The monstrous beasts came bellowing up the slope, tore bushes up by their roots and knocked down small trees. Up the trail ran a burning cow, its head blackened, eyes rolling wildly, a froth coming from its mouth surrounded by skin cracked and raw.
Telenstil cursed his spell, he'd thought to kill them all with a single strike and scare the rest. He stepped out into the road to meet the charge. "Az-Trapa!" the mage yelled out and sent a bolt of magic lightning booming down the trail. It struck a dozen of the cows and steers, a streak of bluish white that leapt from one beast to another. Many had been badly injured from the flames, the power of the bolt was too much, every beast it touched it killed. They dropped in a dreadful row; their cries were drowned out by the snap of thunder that accompanied the spell. Some fell to one side, others took a few steps, stumbling on legs already bereft of life, but Telenstil had not killed them all. Half a dozen of the beasts ran to the right, while two broke off through the brush that was on the lefthand of the trail.
Harold dived between the hooves of a cow that had come up on the lefthand side. He moved fast as any cat, faster than the cow or the stamping hooves. Once through he tackled the young orc who stood frozen before the second cow. They rolled clear, Little Rat breathing hard lying on his back still paralyzed with fear.
On the right Harald ran out and swept his blade low across the legs of a charging steer. The creature fell and with a quick and merciful second stroke the ranger killed the beast with a blow that would have pleased a master of the Butcher's guild. Talberth used his wand, drained a charge, the silver glow fading from a rune along its side. Three cows fell, but a forth brushed the mage aside. It flung him into a tree like a child's doll.
The orcs had been behind the mage, they ran as the two remaining steers came rushing on. One went down beneath the hooves of an enraged beast. Another lodged upon a goring horn and was carried off still yelling as the steer ran through the trees and out of sight. The remaining steer stamped the orc into a red and bloody pulp. Ghibeline ran up and stabbed it with his sword, it did not seem to feel the blow, but a second cut made it turn its head. Four of the orcs had not run, all were armed with weapons they had taken from the bugbear guards back in the dungeons of the steading. Boss, the leader of the orcs held a scimitar, Meatstealer had a rusted longsword, one orc held a ball and chain the other had a long-bladed axe. They charged the beast and struck it from horn to hoof, a weak swing of the morningstar barely grazed its flesh, while the axe clove deep and dropped the steer. The swords stabbed in and ended the poor creature's life.
Telenstil shook his head, their strength and power used against a cattle herd. Below him two of the giants survived. They'd beaten out the flames, burnt stubble all that remained upon their heads, and with angry shouts were charging up the slope as the herd had done.
* * *
Nosnra had not slept. His eyes were red, his face drawn and pinched. White streaks ran through hair that had been black and grey just a day before, his ruddy skin was burnt brown and the spare flesh on his ample frame was gone. The giant chief sat upon a rough built throne, his kindred had raised a frame and stretched a canvas overtop his head. He had not moved since the pyre for the dead had been lit. No one would approach him, not Thiodolf who spoke with Nosnra's voice, nor Estrith Nosnra's wife. A dozen warriors sat near to Nosnra's feet, they had returned with him the night before. They were just as weary but not all had Nosnra's strength, some collapsed, others leaned back and closed their eyes. As one would drop others would come and take them away then another would take their place. They were a grim spectacle.
As the sun reached its height a pair of giants came from the ruins of the hall. They stood taller than their rural kin, broad shouldered, thick thewed, skin like charcoal, hair orange as the embers of a blazing fire. One carried a sword that burned with flame; it looked like a dagger or a child's toy while it was held in the massive palm. The other giant lead a man, the scout Edouard, he was weighted down with chains roped over his shoulders and across his chest, but his arms were free. An iron collar was welded closed around his throat, a smaller chain stretched from below his chin to the giant's hand. Edouard walked like a man half-asleep, he tried to watch his step but his eyes kept drifting back to the sword in the giants grip.
The pair of fire giants approached the throne, the warriors sitting before their chief jumped up, some moved stiffly, still sore and strained from the power that had been unleashed when their witan died. They had taken a motley collection of weapons from the ruins the armory left untouched by the fire within the steading. Some held swords with blades ten feet long, or javelins that could have been ballista bolts, maces with heads like a blacksmith's anvil or axes that could fell a tree in a single stroke. "Turn back." called out one warrior
"Harthac, tell Nosnra we have brought him a gift," called back the giant with the burning sword.
"The chief is to be left alone," said Harthac, "he will call for you if he wishes, go back to your forge."
"It is cold out here, so I will speak to Nosnra now," the giant said and took another step forward.
Harthac placed a spear point to the giant's belt. "You will go back."
"This is foolishness," the giant swore. "Nosnra!" he yelled, Nosnra!!" his bellow hurt the ear.
"Speak," came a sepulchered voice. "Harthac stand aside."
Nosnra spoke but he did not rise. He turned his head and with eyes red veined but burning with an internal light he stared at the giant who approached.
"Nosnra it is I, Suttung, son of Gilling. I have brought you a gift. I return a treasure taken from your vault, and the one who took it and wrecked such havoc upon you and yours."
"Suttung, I will gift you with what you seek, the blade you desired shall be yours," said Nosnra. "Bring me this cur you have upon the chain."
"He is enthralled by the blade we brought for you," laughed Suttung, "It was meant for other hands." he said to Edouard. "The dark ones did not mean for their trinkets to go to one like this."
"Hand me the blade as well," commanded Nosnra. "Give me the chain that leads this dog."
Suttung stepped up to the throne and handed Nosnra the sword. Edouard moaned and ran for the magic blade as it passed from the fire giant's grasp. The other giant pulled back the chain and yanked Edouard from off his feet.
"Ylgr watch what you are doing!" Suttung yelled. "You'll break his neck."
"Bring him here," Nosnra told them. "I want this one to live."
Ylgr lifted the scout by the links across his shoulder and handed him to Nosnra like a butcher passing the carcass of a chicken over a countertop. Nosnra held the sword before Edouard's eyes and clasped his other hand around the man's collared neck. "You will serve me, you killed many of my wolves, human, you will take their place."
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The wolves began to give barking yips as they ran, their tongues lolling from their mouths, flicking in and out as they opened and closed their jaws. Gytha called down the power of the Saint. She waited for the wolves to close with her. As they came up the trail she could see the feral gleam within their eyes and hear the low growl beginning in their throats.
"Sainted one, let not these evil hounds give voice, let not their warning cries be heard, I ask of thee for calm, for blessed silence, now."
A buzzing like a thousand bees sprang up. A swarm of white-golden lights swirled around the wolves and dissipated in a wide circle about the forest and the trail. The wolves snapped briefly at the lights, their ears rose and they began to bark and howl. They jumped in a frenzy, their voices mute, their ears that could hear a leaf fall from a tree, now deafened by the silence called into place around them.
Talberth and Telenstil stepped onto the trail. They raised their hands together.
"Noituus Istaa," intoned Telenstil.
"Zimee-ari-Kno," Talberth voiced beside him.
Bolts of blue magic light shot from their hands springing from the fingers of each mage. Telenstil's struck one wolf about the head and neck, it leapt and fell in a crumpled heap. The bolts from Talberth's hand brought another low, one burnt into a leg and the wolf tumbled forward as it ran, a glowing greenish ball whizzed by and struck it as it tried to rise, Ivo had used a magic sling that threw enchantment as a normal sling would throw a stone. The last wolf charged with its mouth gaping wide, determined to sink its teeth in one of these who had slain its mates. Telenstil sent out another set of magic bolts, the beast shrugged them off, hurt and badly so, but with both a will and fierce anger driving it on.
Talberth was roughly shoved aside and Harald met the wolf with his claymore stabbing like a spear. The steel point sank into the wolf's chest, through its lung and out its bowels till it dug into the ground. The beast was mad with pain. It blew out a bloody froth and bit at the blade which impaled it to the oerth. Harald drew his knife and put his foot upon the snarling head. With a flashing sweep he cut its throat, the wolf's legs pawed briefly at the air, then relaxed in death. The ranger drew out his blade and wiped it on the dead wolf's coat of fur. He opened his mouth and said something that none could hear.
"...off the road," Harald called to the others, stepping beyond the edge of Gytha's spell.
"What?" asked Gytha.
"What were you shoving me for?" Talberth asked angrily.
"We need to get them off the trail," said Harald, "and cover up the blood."
"Quick now!" Telenstil ordered. "Pull them into the underbrush, someone sweep the road, grab a branch."
"I could have been casting a spell!" Talberth went on, but Harald had turned away.
The ranger grabbed the wolf he killed and slung the body over his shoulder and back heedless of the flowing blood which poured from the gaping neck. With a few steps and a mighty heave he threw the body off the trail. It crashed into a thick bush and disappeared among the brambles and the vines.
Ghibelline cut a branch free with his sword, he used the leaves to sweep dirt over the blood and obscure the trail. The bodies of the wolves were dragged away, the orcs had just run behind the trees when the sound of many feet came drumming from the far side of the trail. From where he lay within the underbrush, Harald could see the top of a giant's head rising into sight. It was a youth, half-again the height of a tall man and thin as a pole. This lanky giant held a wooden staff, the bole of a tree stripped down, big enough to hold up the roof of a peasant's hut. He put his hand to his mouth and called out to the wolves which had run ahead, but received no reply. He shook his head, shouted something to those behind him and waved back toward the way he'd come. Another head appeared, this one was wide and brown, and a pair of horns wider than Harald's outstretched arms was on the set to either side.
The giants raised beef, but an ancient breed of bull and cow, larger than any that man would think to tame. As they watched from the southern edge a small herd of these cattle were prodded down the trail. There were at least two dozen of the beasts, and three more giants moving them along, though these were not so young, each was old enough to be the father of the boy. The last greybeard might be his father's father. Each bore a staff of wood such as the youth possessed and used them to guide the cattle, but the herd was calm and walked at a steady and unhurried pace. The boy called out again as he passed the bottom of the slope. He stopped and stared up at the southern edge, Harald felt the searching eyes pass through him and move on. One of the older giants gave the boy a shout and jabbed him with his wooden staff. The youth turned and yelled back and shook his fist, the giant struck again, this time a strong stab to the gut and the boy was doubled over. A huge foot swung up and none to gently rolled him aside. The boy fell into the bushes.
"Told ya not to bring the fleabags," the giant laughed and the other two joined in. "When you've got yer wind back you can run after us or run home."
Harald crawled backward till he was out of sight and edged over to where Telenstil crouched beside a tree. "Do we take them or let them pass?" asked Harald.
"I would let them go," said Telenstil, "but when they find the bodies of those other two, Nosnra's messengers, they will either alert Nosnra or their own chief and maybe both."
"Good," Harald smiled, a cruel unfamiliar look came over his face. "I will enjoy cutting these monsters down."
Telenstil grabbed the ranger's arm. "Now I wish we could let them pass. Harald, do not enjoy this. That is how these giants think. That is why they are monsters, and why we are here."
The smile passed from Harald, "I will keep what you say in mind, but my heart cries out for vengeance."
"Did you hate those wolves?" asked Telenstil.
"No, you are right." said Harald. "No use hating wolves or giants, it's like hating time for making you old, or a rock for tripping you while you walk. They are near, what is your plan?"
"We are well dispersed," Telenstil looked over his shoulder to check on the others in the group but most were hidden even from his sight. "I will throw fire into their midst. It should at least scatter the herd. We will only close after our magic is spent. If they should charge, then you and the others will hold them off or bring them down."
"Do the others know this plan?" asked Harald.
"Yes, Talberth commands the orcs," said Telenstil, "Gytha and Ghibelline are prepared as well."
Harald was watching the trail as they spoke, his hand tightened on his sword-hilt as they giants approached. "Here they come," he warned.
Telenstil stood and cast his spell, "Pall-Ot-Ull," he intoned and flung a small brown-yellow glob. It began to burn, flying through the air fast as an arrow, straight into the center of the herd. It exploded into flame, a huge sphere of yellow-red burning hot as a blacksmith's forge.
Monday, February 16, 2015
The valley stream was cold, the runoff of mountain ice mixed with the almost daily fall of rain. The orcs had lain upon their stomachs and drank their fill, but the others used their canteens. They refilled them with the cool, clear water and added a few gallons worth to a huge waterskin that the ranger had taken from the giants' hall. There had been some talk at the water's edge, but the sound of something crashing through the trees nearby had silenced it.
They'd made good time, stirred on by a tang of fear, the orcs hadn't even complained. It took an hour to reach the valley's end, the trail diverged, one path heading north straight up another hill, a second heading west along a path cut through the trees and rocks across the slope. They'd passed the bodies of the giants slain by Harald and Telenstil. Ravens, black as night, sat upon the rocks and stared down at the wolves which worried at the corpses of the pair. Harald shouted, the wolves growled but slunk away when the others came along the trail. Their eyes could be seen catching the light while they hid behind the cover of rock and tree. As the last of the party moved beyond the bodies of the giant dead, the wolves came swiftly back to stuff themselves on the cooling flesh.
"Which way now?" asked Harald.
Telenstil pointed to the north, "To the mountains."
"Both ways seem traveled well enough," said Harald. "You know that those giants were headed for these trails."
"Yes, remember what we overheard them say," Telenstil reminded him, "a day's travel at least, at a giant's pace, we should be safe enough."
"You hope!" the ranger exclaimed.
"I do hope, yes I do." said Telenstil. "Every choice is a risk. If we are not attacked tonight then we will be doing well indeed."
"Are we to walk up to the nearest giant's hall and ask to spend the night," joked Harald.
"Perhaps Ivo could make them think we were giants as well," Telenstil smiled. "But I do not doubt that you will find us a place to camp."
"Maybe I should bespell some giants and let them sleep outside," said Ivo coming up to the mage and scout.
"Another night out under the stars."
"Maybe I can find you a cave," laughed Harald.
"You are fonder of the rain than I," said Ivo.
"The Oerth Mother's tears," Harald nodded. "They can make sleep difficult, but I think we can find some cover, or make it."
"Then let's be on our way," said Ivo. "I'd like to find a place to camp before full dark."
"The moons will give us some light," said Harald.
"If the clouds don't cover them," Ivo objected.
"Come then," Telenstil told them both, "to the north. Harald please see if you can find a side trail. We are between Nosnra and his allies, no use running from one to the other."
"I'll find us a place to sleep," said Harald. He jogged up the northern trail.
Telenstil turned and waved for the others to follow after. The orcs had settled themselves underneath the trees and it took another command from Talberth to get them on their feet and moving once again.
* * *
"Off the trail, off the trail!" Harald came running back down the path calling to the others in a hoarse, whispered shout.
"What is it, what is the matter?" Telenstil called back.
"Something is coming, off the trail," Harald told him in a gasp.
They had come up the northern slope, a long slow rising path, and just stepped upon the hilltop. It dropped down suddenly then just as suddenly rose up again. Below them there was a deep bowl cut from the hill, an old pond perhaps, long since dried out with trees grown thick and tall within. The trail ran down the center of the bowl and to either side the trees pressed against the bare oerth seeking to close the gap which cut the woods in two.
Harald waved them to the west. He wanted to have the setting sun at their backs. Long shadows were already being cast, but dark would come quickly. The mountains would steal the last minutes of the day and bring on an early night. They hid themselves easily among the bushes and the trees. Telenstil waited beside the trail for Harald, the pair stood looking across the bowl to its northern edge.
"Did you see what it is?" asked Telenstil.
"No, I heard the sound and felt the shaking of the ground," said Harald. "Many feet and the noise of cattle on the move."
"Maybe, this is their land, who else would be on this trail?" Harald wondered aloud.
"Giants most likely then," said Telenstil.
"Look!" hissed the ranger. He pointed to the northern end of the trail.
A monstrous wolf was silhouetted alone at the far end of the bowl. Its head was turned away. Telenstil could see it give a yip, though he could not hear the sound. Two more wolves joined it, they circled each other head to tail for a few moments then one froze and laid its nose against the ground.
"Uh-oh," said Harald. "They probably have my scent."
"They will find us then," Telenstil glanced over to where the others hid.
"We're not likely to ambush them either," Harald agreed.
"Then we will fight them," Telenstil said firmly. "Get the others. We will fight them as they come up the slope. Height will be at least some advantage. Perhaps we can surprise them as well."
"I'll get the others," Harald ran into the woods beside the road.
The elven mage checked his belt and the pockets sewn cunningly within his robe. He drew out a crystal rod and prepared to cast a powerful spell that would let him wield the lightning of a storm. In a pouch at his side he had more crystal rods and in another, small brown-yellow stinking globs. He thought for a moment then put the rod away and drew out the other pouch.
"Cattle," he said to himself. "They will not like lightning but fire should be much worse."
"Telenstil, what is going on?" asked Talberth.
"Wolves are coming quick, and perhaps giants behind them," said Telenstil.
"Can Ivo hide us?" Talberth asked.
"I can make us appear as a grove of trees, but not perhaps the orcs, and not our scout if he resists my spell," Ivo declared. "I can fool their eyes even so, but their noses, I don't know."
"We can strike them down when they come upon us," said Gytha.
"Yes, but they will warn those behind them," Talberth said to her.
"Gytha, can you silence them?" asked Telenstil knowing the answer.
"I can with the Saint's help," she replied.
"Hurry then, they will soon be upon us."
Telenstil backed away from the trail and motioned for the others to join him. Gytha was behind a tree. She stepped out and cast her spell.