CAS

CAS

Monday, November 18, 2019

NPC - Renalto the Fabulous - Minstrel (Inn of the Welcome Wench)


NPC - Renalto the Fabulous - Minstrel (Inn of the Welcome Wench)


Renalto the Fabulous of Hardby on his way to Verbobonc from parts south. The stop-over in Hommlet proved to be longer than anticipated as he missed the stage while releaving himself in an alley between out buildings at the Inn of the Welcome Wench.

The minstrel is truly a bard and one of great skill as well as being an agent of the Gynarch. His favorite persona is that of the arrogant though talented Renalto. He has recently come from both Celene of the Gnome elders of the Kron Hills on a delicate diplomatic mission regarding the missing daughter of the Gynarch. He is pursuing inquiries in Hommlet where she was last seen and has purposefully missed his stage to Verbobonc.

Three other patrons of the Welcome Wench, a small band of adventurers as the appear, are also agents of the Gynarch and the group are preparing a journey to Nulb where the trail now leads.

NPC - Alfreda outside the Inn of the Welcome Wench - Hommlet


NPC - Alfreda outside the Inn of the Welcome Wench - Hommlet

Alfreda is one of the new serving girls at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. After the coming of the adventurers in 576 who reclaimed the old moat house and saved Prince Thrommel from his imprisonment in the Temple of Elemental Evil the fortunes of Hommlet have been on the upswing and so have the fortunes of the Inn.

Alfreda is a woman of the Old Faith and Jaroo believes she has a calling as a druidess but for the nonce she helps support her parents and family by working at the Inn. Soon she needs to make her decision on whether to dedicate herself to the Old Faith or lead a more simple village life as a follower.

Her family are fairly devout and are hoping she chooses the druidic path though they fret over the seperation and danger it will mean for their daughter.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Adventure Idea - Death of a Dryad


Adventure Idea - Death of a Dryad

The rangers of the Gnarley Forest have come upon a scene of horror where a once living grove has been stricken and one of its dryad inhabitants slain in a manner none have encountered before. Half-a-dozen other dryads from the grove are missing along with the Druidess Delphine.

Huge tracks of some giantish creature can be seen in the soft earth but they disappear only a short distance from the blighted grove. Splintered trees litter the ground and all about the grove the wood and brush is as dead as if exposed to long and fridgid winter, and this only the beginning of summer.

The rangers have sought both druidic and elven help while they search for any sign of the missing dryeds, druidess or giantish invader.

Project - Cairn Hills - The Bandits Retreat - Part 2


Project - Cairn Hills - The Bandits Retreat - Part 2

1).

This room lost its original roof (a heavy stone slab) centuries ago and the bandits replaced it with beams of rough board covered with tarps then dirt. The walls rise 8 feet to the north and west and 10 feet to the east and south, but the western wall props up the roof an extra 2 feet with stone blocks and wooden planking. A lookout post is kept in the upper left and lower left corners of the room where a bandit can stand on a sturdy table and peer out through a gap in the boards. From the outside these gaps are obscured by weeds and stones with dirt heaped againt the planks to make it less noticeable that there is a chamber under the dirt of the plateau. The jobs is reasonably well done but any searching of this area will reveal this and all other plank covered chambers of the tomb complex.

The center twenty feet of the north wall and part of the roof can be opened to allow the entrance of animals and wagons. Room 1). acts as a stable for the bandits horses and draft animals. It normally has at least one wagon that the use for hauling supplies or loot if they have been successful in a raid or ambush of a caravan.

The room will contain at least 4 bandits whether the bulk of the raiders are out or not. The number of mounts varies between 4 horses and 2 draft animals at minimum to over 24 horses when the brigands have returned.

The guards will usually have one person watching during the day but they no longer bother keeping a watch at night.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

NPC - The Styrkarsarjar Crew - Shipmaster Asger


NPC - The Styrkarsarjar Crew 


NPC - The Styrkarsarjar Crew - Shipmaster Asger



Shipmaster Asger is a Fruzti warrior-priest of Tor the Volke God of Storms. Tor is a popular deity of worship among the Schnai and marginally less devoted to by the Cruski. The majority of Tor's worshippers are male and those who go out upon the waters, but most of the Volke spend time sailing in one form or another, so among men the worship of Tor is second only to Vatun, Veli or Ve, and among Battle-Maidens, those women of the Volke dedictaed to warfare, Tor is their primary deity, though all the pantheon is respected and offered up prayers and sacrfices during their holy days.

Asger is young for a Shipmaster but after the death of his father the elders of his clan chose him as the best replacement. Among the Fruzti longships are owned by families rather than individuals and the captain or Shipmaster is chosen by a council of clan elders, but once chosen the Shipmaster is in charge of the ship till his or her death.

Asger has proven to be an excpetional leader and Shipmaster. He had raided with his father since the age of fourteen and now in his late thirties he has seen a dozen raid seasons come and go. This is the first time he has been lost.

The strange island before him with its pig-faced orc inhabitants and towering mountain of smoke and fire calls to him and if his duties as Shipmaster didn't preclude it he would have set off with the thirty raiders to explore and bring back supplies. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

NPC - Gyda - Cruski Noblewoman


NPC - Gyda - Cruski Noblewoman

The Cruski have had more interaction as traders with the lands to the south and have adopted more of their ways than the Fruzti or the Schnai. They are the least populous of the Manskr (as they name themselves rather than the outlander misnomer "Suel Barbarian").

The nobility among the Cruski has begun to set itself apart from the common tribesmen and are seen as less than worshipful of Veli or the other gods as they should be. Gyda is a good example of the new generation of Cruski nobility and yearns for the culture and goods brought from the southern warmer lands.

Still she has learned the basic magic of the Sedr and is a trained warrior. She has brought the art of Falconry to the frigid lands of the north as well as a lack of the facial tattoos and scarring that normally marks powers and events in the life of a Cruski.

There is a legend among the Cruski, that like the Rhennee they too are not from this Oerth but from some equally frigid world where a huge rading party of longships was swallowed by a fog and deposited on the shores of the Thillonrian peninsula ages ago.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

NPC - Solveig Sylvi-sister


NPC - Solveig Sylvi-sister 

Solveig is a young warrior and younger sister to Sylvo of Fruzti who is an experienced warrior and war-leader. Unbeknowest to Sylvi or to any of the crew of the longship Styrkarsarjar but for two other sword-sisters onboard, Solveig is a member of the Valkyr, a secret cult of Votan worshippers who practice Votan's form of Sedr magic. Sylvi does not suspect and would frown on her sisters membership in the cult.

The other two Valkyr are Yeva and Helka, both about the same age as Solveig. All three are good friends and joined the Valkyr together when they were first inducted into the warrior's hall of their tribe of Fruzti. 

Solveig is slightly headstrong and desires to prove herself in battle, especially if her sister is around. She and her two Valkyr companions have volunteered to be part of the group that will take the captured pig-orc boats to the beach and search for fresh water and provisions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deity - Votan - Father God of the Fruzti


Deity - Votan - Father God of the Fruzti

The youngest of the three brother Gods, Votan, Veli, and Ve, it is Votan who is worshipped by the Fruzti, though the rest of the pantheon such as Fray the Oerth Mother, Veylund the smith, Tor the storm lord, Tyr One-Handed, are worshipped by all the Volke or the 'Suel barbarians' as outsiders label them.

While Votan is a warrior as are his brothers, it is he who learned the Sedr magic from Fray and sacrficed himself and his eye for knowledge, thereby gaining the runes and altering the Sedr to his own liking. The runes he has taught to his followers, the skalds, and they use it to the benefit of the Fruzti and themselves. Dark sorcerers also use the runes but seek power only for themselves. They become enemies of the skalds and of Votan.

A cult of warrior maidens has grown over the years that venerates Votan and it is said on their deaths the serve him still, choosing the worthy dead of the Fruzti to fight for Votan. This cult is secret as the Sedr magic among the Volke is meant for women and Votan's alteration of the Sedr is not approved. Most skalds are men while the cult of the Valkyr is made entirely of women. While both skalds and Valkyr serve Votan they do not mix and the Valkyr do not reveal their membership to outsiders.

Skalds exist only among the Fruzti as both Veli and Ve have a clergy rather than skald. A skald works magic mainly through knowing the appropriate runes. They can cast priestly, druidic, and magical spells and are learned in illusion as well as direct forms of magic. They are story-tellers and few know or use musical instruments, though some of them tell their stories in a kind of poetic-song speech. Among the Fruzti they are the givers of names to children, and judges, especially to the frequent duels that are fought. A hall-lord or chieftain will normally have a guest skald, but they all wander and make no permenant abode. A skald is always welcome among any dwelling, great or small, of the Fruzti and even among the Schnai and Cuski though only as guests and story-tellers rather than judges or name-givers.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ship - The Styrkarsarjar - The Sea Strength


Ship - The Styrkarsarjar - The Sea Strength

The Strykarsarjar is a Fruzti longship, In late 579cy it joined a force of several dozen ships and sailed south to raid and trade down the eastern coast of the Flanaess, but during a terrible fog became seperated from the others and has sailed into the deeper and unknown waters of the east.

Luckily an island was spotted and good harborage found in time to ride out a beastly storm. The island possessed a fire mountain throwing a black plume of smoke into the air and appeared to be of a good size. On arrival the ship was attacked by several boatloads of pig-faced orcs, perhaps expecting to come upon some stranded merchantman or trade ship. The Fruzti warriors, skalds, and priests put them all to the sword and axe and seized a number of the small-craft for their own use.

The ships compliment is 63. Two skalds, seven priests, three druids and fifty-one warriors of varying experience. They are all members of the Sarjar tribe or allies of good standing. The ship master is the Tor-ish priest Asger and a good number of the Sarjar tribe of Fruzti are Tor worshippers and four of the other priests are of Tor while one is a follower of Veylund and the other of Fray the Oerth-Mother. The skalds are servants of Votan as are all Fruzti skalds while most of the female warriors (23 of the compliment) know at least a smattering of the Sedr magic.

The ship is low on supplies of fresh water as several kegs came loose in the storm and where cracked open. Sylvi, the leader of the warriors, plans to take half the crew to the beach in three of the captured pig-orc boats and find some drinkable water and fresh-meat. Loot would be nice as well but the pig-orcs possessed little of value and she expects nothing more to bloody their spears.

Monday, November 11, 2019

NPC - Sylvi of Fruzti


NPC - Sylvi of Fruzti

Sylvi comes from a family where almost all women follow the warriors path of Tor, Votan's son. She is the oldest of five sisters, all warriors, while her two brothers are blacksmith-priests of Veylund. 

She has traveled south with her younger sister Solveig on a raid of the Sothron lands (as they call the coast of the eastern Flanaess) and their ship became lost in a fog. Currently they are harboring in a secluded bay of a small island. The natives seem to be a pig-like kind of orc and a great mountain belches black smoke into the sky constantly from somewhere inland. 

While they've already been attacked twice by boatloads of the pig-faced orcs Sylvi and the others have beaten them off with no trouble and have a mind to go exploring. Her sister Solveig thinks it a waste of time as she cannot see what loot they will gain from it, but fresh water and food would not be amiss.

The ship is rather large and around 60 warriors and priests and a pair of skalds are on board. They have three of the pig-orc boats lashed to their sides and rather than beach their ship it has been decided to take half the crew and at they very least restock some supplies.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Project - Demons and Devils of the Flanaess - The Fire Stag


Project - Demons and Devils of the Flanaess - The Fire Stag

One of the summonings of the Hierarchs of the Horned Society that has broken free of their control and gone astray is the Great Fire Stag now haunting the Fellreev Forest. The beast is gigantic, a towers image of a stag composed of deeply burninbg flame without apparent source. Strangely the creature seems to give off no heat and the flames do not burn.

Weapons and spells appear to pass through the creature and do it no harm, but the horns pierce and the hooves crush those beneath them. It can shove aside trees as it passes. It consumes vegitation and can bite a person in half as easdily as it comsumes a plant or strip a tree limb bare of leaves,

It does not appear to have a desire to go beyond the confines of the Fellreev but will kill anyone it comes across. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Bandits Retreat - Part 1




Project - Cairn Hills - The Bandits Retreat - Part 1

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tombs, barrows, vaults and graves litter the Cairn Hills. The Bandits Retreat is one such that has long ago been looted and desecrated. Now it is home to Osgar's Band, a group of dangerous and succesful brigands.  

The old tomb complex sits on a small hill surrounded by low valleys and dozens of other rolling hilltops.

Sections of the old tomb Rooms 1-9 have been opened to the elements. Once they were filled with debris but in centuries past tomb robbers dug away the fallen earth and rock and scraped down to the tiles in search of gold and loot.

Osgar and his men have covered these chambers and passages with wooden roofs and tarps then dirt and light rock shoveled atop them. The work was poorly done by captives and slaves and heavy weights from horse or wagons runs the risk of collapsing them. The chambers are only ten feet high so injury has a greater chance for those below or any horses that might fall in. 

There is a reasonable chance that anyone seeing the covered chambers or walking across the crude roofs will notice the flatness and uniformity of this area as oppossed to the surrounding hilltop.

The original entrance to the Tomb complex is a chamber further east on the map than Room 9 and is through a doorway crafted to look like a natural rock. All of the Rooms in areas 1-9  have trapdoor entrances and ladders except for Room 1 which has a hidden sloping entrance at the north wall and a double wide trap door to allow horse or mounts or cattle to be led inside.

The Brigands keep a guard post hidden under tarps near the original entrance and can see all of the surrounding hilltop and anyone approaching. In the past they kept guard post on nearby hilltops and patrols day and night but since they have never been troubled in this out of the way location they have grown lax and rarely bother with any extra guards or patrols.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

NPC - Malarith Salamander Lord




NPC - Malarith Salamander Lord

 From the Elemental Plane of Fire the great Salamander Lord Malarith has been sent as an ambassador to the Fire Giant King Snurre. The Drow, at least those who worship Elemental Evil, stand in high regard with the strongest of Salamander kingdoms from the Fire Plane. It is at their urging that an alliance be formed with the Fire Giants and plans for a massive summoning of Salamander warriors is underway. 

Deep in human lands is a fire mountain, a volcano, sleeping but waiting to be awakened. In the burning magma of the Oerth the Salamanders can run free. With rivers of Lava to renew themselves they can bear the chilly climes  of the Oerthly Plane and bring flame and terror to the nations of the Flanaess.

Already it has been agreed for the Salamanders to be summoned to the Drachenscrab Hills to awaken the Fire Mountain and release a legion of Salamanders upon the unspecting lands within reach.

Unbeknowest to the Salamanders or Snurre the intent of this first foray is to weaken the worshipers of Lolth and their alliance with the Slave Lords.

Friday, November 1, 2019

NPC - Solvi - Caretaker of the Sacred Ash




NPC - Solvi - Caretaker of the Sacred Ash

Solvi is a druidess and one of the followers of Gynbyrg. She is devoted to the priestess and would gladly kill Runa herself to further the plan for increasing the power of the caretakers.

She has been sent to travel from Hall to village and recruit young women for the new order. So far she has been extremely successful and over two dozen young women have sworn allegiance. Now she travels with a band of half-a-dozen of these acolytes and has set up a secret camp where the others are being trained by three other members of the Caretakers loyal to Gynbyrg.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Land of Black Ice - The Frozen Monolith - Gateway to the Plane of the Gray





Land of Black Ice - The Frozen Monolith - Gateway to the Plane of the Gray

Far, far to the north beyond the border of Blackmoor is a broken and pitted column atop a small mountain. From here can be seen the howling waste that is the Land of Black Ice. But it is here that the skin between the worlds is thin and this column is like a monstrous fang piericing the flesh of the Oerth and allowing the poison that is the Gray to seep in.

The strongest of the Sisterhood, the alliance between the witches of Blackmoor and their varied allies, has made their way to the Monolith and beyond. The witches have fought and defeated the forces of the Gray upon its own plane, and have sealed many portals within and without Blackmoor. This most distant and forbidding gateway is perhaps the oldest of any they have encountered. It is certainly powerful and dangerous leading directly to the great fortress at the heart of the Gray's domain.

A great battle was fought and won on that plane. The gates of the Gray's fortress were thrown down, its towers felled and walls broken in many places. But the Gray was not defeated and the Frozen Monolith remains open.

The sisters mount a strong guard on the Oerthly side of the gateway but still servants of the Gray slip from their plane to ours. Evil stirs within the ruined fortress and always there is need for the strong and brave and adventurous to cross through the gateway and strike down the evil of the Gray as it rises from ashes of its stronghold.

Project - Demons and Devils of the Flanaess - Hierarchs of the Horned Society Summon a Devil


 Project - Demons and Devils of the Flanaess - Hierarchs of the Horned Society Summon a Powerful Devil

Beneath the Citadel of the Hierarchs in the capital, Molag, of the Horned Society, is the Great Summoning Pit where the link to the Nine Hells is maintained. The great portal is opened with the sacrifice of 1,000 souls and many more live offerings are cast into the fiery portal after it is awakened. From here are the greatest of Devils brought to the Oerth. Minor Devils and other denizens of the Hells may be summoned forth by individual Hierarchs in the own chambers, towers, castles or estates, but only here do the most powerful and noble rulers enter.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 8 End


Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 8  End

11.

This area represents the hall west of the entrance to Room 10. 

The walls are plastered and in relatively good repair. They appear to tell a story. Starting from the entrance to Room 10 they show Flan warriors in chariots and afoot fighting Elves in green leather armor. The elven warriors are mainly archers and they take a severe toll on the Flan. As the Hall turns north the walls show a woodland glade with burning forest around it. The bodies of many Elves and Flan are scattered about. A group of Flan in heavy armor face a party of Elves who bow before them. At the head of the Eleven group is a beautiful Elven woman whose hands are stretched out while a Flan with a crown puts chains upon her wrists.

As the Hallway turns west again the Hall shows on one wall the Eleven woman holding a bloody knife in one hand an the head of the crowned Flan. On the other wall it shows a pyre with the crowned Flan's body on top while in the background the Elven woman appears to be dragged into an opening in the side of a hill.

As the players reach the sealed entrance to Room 13 they see 2 armed and armored figure bearing axes. These two mumified Flan warriors will attack if they are attacked or if anyone tries to unseal the chamber to Room 13.

12.

This long Hallway has its plaster heavily worn and broken. The roof has cracks in many places that leak a steady patter of small debris. The floor is covered in a layer of small stones and dirt, but is otherwise quite safe.

13. Aelfflead's Tomb Chamber

This chamber is surprisingly barren and unadorned. The walls to east and west are lined with bodies chained to the walls, a dozen to each side. They are dressed in what was once fine clothing. To the west are the bodies of a dozen women, to the east a dozen men. 

As the party enters they begin to move toward the center of the room. They wear iron collars with chains attached to them. The chains play out from the wall with a grinding clank of rusting metal set into motion. When each side nears the center of the room the chain pulls tight and stops  them just out of arms reach from each other. The bodies, dry and desicated, reach pitiously out toward but cannot reach those opposite.

One of the female bodies wears a pair of Boots of Elvenkind.

At the north of the room is a dias with a throne upon it. The throne is made of some type of thorned briar and the figure on the throne is pierced dozens of times with sharp dagger length thorns. From a distance she appears to be a beautiful  Elven woman (identical to the pictures in the Hall at area 11). As the players approach she twists and turns in apparent agony. The beautiful face is strangely frozen, her limbs stiff and frozen.

Within twenty feet the players may be able to detect that she wears a mask of some type, ceramic, porcelin, such as some rich child's doll might possess. Her limbs are similarly constructed. If the mask is removed her face is a horrid visage of rotted flesh, sunken-eyed and broken toothed. Her limbs have been removed and replaced with the sculpted imitations of arms and legs. 

Aelfflaed cannot speak but moans out a wordless plea for release.

The mask and limbs are quite valuable but if seen by Elves from Celene evokes a strong reaction. The story of Aelfflead is still told among the Elves of Celene and inspires a strong dislike for humans Flan or not.

NPC - Gynbyrg Priestess of Veli



NPC - Gynbyrg Priestess of Veli

Gynbyrg while a priestess also possesses the powers of a druid. She is one of the caretakers of the Sacred Ash Tree among the women of the Cruski. 

The priestesses of Veli are a very secretive lot. They are one of the three orders within the tribe. The Caretakers such as Gynbyrg are a small order with no more than 5 or 4 dozen members. The Keepers of the Sedr are much larger and all women of the Cruski are members though most know only the smallest of cantrips. The Order of Veli contains both men and women and is large enough so that every hall or collection of hovels will have a priest or priestess watching over the tribe.

Gynbyrg is fairly young but is second only to Runa an ancient priestess who has overseen the Caretakers for decades. Gynbyrg wishes for the older womens death so she can command the order. She has been secretly gathering followers and on the death of Runa will greatly expand the Caretakers in number and in power.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 7



Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 7

8. 

This corridor is partially block by falling stone. It can only be used by crawling over the debris. There is a 1 in 6 chance per person per 10x10 square of travel that loose stone will hit the player for 1d6 damage.

9. The Earth Room

The walls of this room show scenes of farmers plowing a field, men working in a mine, and great caverns beneath the Oerth. The floor is comprised of loose dirt as if it were a freshly plowed field. Anyone walking in this room without wearing the Earth Amulet from room 7 will cause 3 small Earth Elementals to be summoned. They will attack anyone in the room not wearing the Earth Amulet.

Buried in the field are around 100 golden seeds each worth at least 1 gold piece each for their skilled crafting.

10. The Fire Room

The walls of this room show scenes of men working a forge, a volcano emitting a flow of lava and a great pyre of some mighty hero or king.

A large fire burns in the center of the room. Within the flames sleeps a Fire Elemental. Anyone wearing the Fire Amulet from room 7 may command the Elemental to serve them. The Elemental will fight for or do the bidding of the Amulet wearer anywhere in the tomb. 


Monday, October 28, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 6


Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 6

7. 

This room has crumbling plaster on all 4 walls. One wall depicts a field freshly plowed, another shows rain falling on a field of freshly sprouted grain, another shows a brisk wind blowing a field of golden wheat, the last shows a burning field of stubble and stalks after a harvest.

A  fire burns at the center of this room emitting a dark smoke. When the first player enters the fire leaps to the roof then dark birds seem to fly out. These birds are made of smoke and fly toward the players' faces. If they hit they blind the player for one combat round and make them cough. The fire can be doused with water from the Water room (5) or dirt from the Earth room (9).

Each combat another dozen smoke crows are created and attack the players. When destroyed each dozen makes a 10x10 area thick with blinding, choking smoke. The smoke crows will continue to be created and attack the players through any area of the tomb they can reach till they have filled every reachable area with smoke but cannot exist outside the tomb. 

At each corner of the room is a foot square slab that can be lifted out or smashed to reveal a small opening. A small silver chest is in each opening holding an amulet bearing one of the symbols for earth, air, fire and water. The player wearing the correct symbol for the various elemental room (room 6 is water for example) will have the stated benefits for that room description.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 5



Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 5

6. 

The center 30x30 area of the room is encircled with vertical axis fan blades.

A set of these blades every ten feet. They have a diameter of just over 9 feet so there is a small amount of room between 1 set of blades and the next , The edges of the blades are razor sharp. 

At the very center of the room is a 2ft high golden statue of a Satyr playing a flute sitting on a pedastle. Touching the statue will cause it to start playing and the fan blades will begin spinning unless the person touching the statue is wearing the Wind Amulet from room 7. The statue weigh is very heavy (as it is made of lead with a thin covering of gold foil). 

NPC - Paega - Priestess of Nerull



 NPC - Paega - Priestess of  Nerull

Little is known of Paega's past or if she is entitrely human. She is one of the  prime servants of Nerull in Rel Astra and the most feared. Where she goes she does not  just bring death, she brings suffering and fear. Murder in its most grusome and random sense is her form of devotion to Nerull.

Her left arm is withered and at its touch she can wither flesh as if it was weeks dead. Her right arm is swollen and green as if it were rotting in the sun and her right hand is clawed, her findertips like knives. She wears a pale mask with dark eyeless pits that drip blood. Those who stare into that abyss can become blinded as their own eyes leak blood. One look into those eyeless depths will cause weeks of restless nightmares.

Paega has been killed several times and each time Nerull has brought her back to plague the Oerth.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 4


Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 4


4. The long hallway has plastered walls that show scenes of fishing and ancient ships upon peaceful waters to the east. To the west the scenes show cloudy skys and storms lashing fields and farmland.

5. This room is plastered with bluish illustartions that appear to show underwater scenes. There is a wide pool of water at the center 30x30 section of the room. At the center of the pool, which is about 10 feet deep, is a golden statue of a mermaid. It weighs around 5lbs and is quite valuable. Anyone entering the pool without the Amulet showing the Water Sign will summon a Water Weird which attacks those within the room (other than the Amulet wearer.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 3



Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 3


3. Arrows of Wheat

Inside the room is a field of wheat. It is almost 5 feet high and still ripples slightly from the inrush of air when the sealed passage was opened. The wheat is made of gold and radiates strong enchantment.

Each stalk is crafted with exquisite skill and its value as a work art would far outweigh its value as gold. Removing the wheat is a problem. When a stalk is touched it becomes an arrow of gold +1 to hit and +1 to damage once fired they become normal organic stalks of wheat after they have done their damage. There are hundreds, perhaps close to a thousand stalks of gold wheat.

The walls of the room are plastered with crumbling scenes of a huge beast being hunted through a field of wheat. At the center of the room is the dry and withered form of the creature. It is quite dead. Surprisingly its skin is very supple. If skinned its hide can be made into a cloak that allows friendship and communication with bovine creatures.

At the 4 corners of the room are pedastals upon each is the statue of a Flan warrior bearing a bow. As the characters enter the room they will be fired upon by the stone archers. They archers will pluck stalks of wheat as they shoot as if from a handy quiver and fire the magic arrows. These statues will fire until there are no more targets or no more arrows but will not leave the room.
   

I have opened the comments again.

 I have opened the comments again.

My last attempt to hold back the flood of spam seems to cut everyone from commenting. I moderate comments and anonymous post that seem generic or contain links of any sort will be deleted.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 2


Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 2

Some openings between rooms are blocked as shown on the map. These are not doors but sealed partions of brick and mortar. They are covered with a decorated plaster showing scenes from the distant past of the Flan such as hunting, farming, celebrations. The passing years have made them very delicate. They are easily broken in a shower of dust and crumbling brick. Those who shatter a passage are cursed for a cumulative -1 penalty per portal until the curse is removed.

2.

Down the center of this room are two rows of crouching figures. Each is clothed in rotting fragments of cloth that show the dull remnants of bright colors now faded. As the players enter the room the figures will rise and turn toward the players. They will move toward them with arms outstretched while an eerie moaning will come from their desicated throats.

There are two rows of 8 figures each. They are chained togther in groups of 4. A single blow is enough to slay them but they will arise again within 24 hours. If anyone understands ancient Flan they will hear in the moaning speech pleas for mercy ande to be released. For every 4 of these ancient Flan slaves killed a -1 curse will be upon the slayer but for every 4 released from their chains a +1 blessing (24hour duration) will be placed on the one to release them.

While there is no key the chains can be struck or even twisted off by an exceptionally strong player.

The walls of the room are covered in decaying plaster that show chained slaves working in a field of wheat. There are broken baskets in the corners filled with the dust of wheat collected long centuries, perhaps millenia before.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful Part 1





Project - Cairn Hills - The Tomb of Aelfflaed the Beautiful

(Map from random dungeon creator watabou)

The Cairn Hills are home to hundreds perhaps thousands of tombs and barrows reaching back into the distant past of the Flanaess. Many of them have been discovered and emptied but the valleys between the low hills still hide much to be discovered. 

This tomb is untouched and therefore still holds treasure but it also contains dangers and protections for those who would rob it.

The surrounding area is home to bandits, gnolls, ogre's and trolls. A nest of manticores is nearby.

All rooms are of stone with ceilings 8 feet at the walls rising to 15 feet at the center. The walls are carved from dense blocks of a light grey stone. Each block weighs in excess of 500lbs. The  roof is made from a darker stone and seems to have been melded together somehow. A faint trace of magic still lingers.

There is no light in the dungeon. The players will need to provide a light source if the cannot see in the dark.

1. Entranceway.

The outer door is covered with dirt and rubble but a recent storm causeed a slide and the upper poprtion of the doorway is revealed. There is a ward set into the door formed from the armbones and skull of an ancient Flan warrior. If it is touched it will say in ancient Flan "The curse of living death is upon this grave." The skull will then emit an eery laugh and collapse into dust. The door will split and fall to rubble. When the door collapses air is sucked into the room as if into a vacuum.

A set of stairs leads down 30 feet to the room. 

At the center of the room is a small chariot. It is exquisitely made (elvish workmanship) it is inlaid with silver but the wood is dried and fragile. A figure is chained inside the chariot. An ancient Flan warrior dried and desicated. It has three +1 Javilins and a longsword of equally ancient design. When the first player steps into the room it will begin throwing javilins at them. After it is out of javilins it will attack with its sword. The chain holding it to rotting chariot will easly break free and allow it to pursue the players though it will not leave the room. 

Attached to a peg inside the chariot is a whip that causes wounds to bleed for extra damage and can dismount a rider 10% of the time after a succesful hit.

End Part 1

NPC - Eydis Paladin of Ve



NPC - Eydis Paladin of Ve

Ve is the patron god of the Schnai. His brothers Veli and Votan are respected as are the other gods and godesses in the pantheon of the Manskr (those people called Suel Babarians by outsiders). 

It is Ve who dispells the darkness and ends the long night. He who kindles the fire. His home is the sun and his armor is golden. Those who serve him, his priests and paladins wear enchanted discs of gold upon their armor granting the various protections.

Eydis is one of Ve's favored champions. She bears several disks of power and an enchantedswortd that burns with the fury of Ve. When she was a child she was given to the order of Ve and raised to be a wartrior-priest but so great was here strength and piety that she became one of Ve's holy champions.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Temple of Nerull - Rel Astra - The Three Faces of Death


Temple of Nerull - Rel Astra - The Three Faces of Death

The most well-known of Nerull's temples is in or mainly, beneath, the city of Rel Astra. Beyond the great three-headed statue to the deity is a winding stair that leads not to the UnderOerth but down to the dark plane of death controlled by Nerull.

The statue shows three faces of death. The right side is murder, the left darkness and the central head stares out from the Abyss. The hands of the statue are bathed in the blood of sacrifices to the dark god and his worshipers bathe their hands in the collecting pools beneath.

A greater temple to Nerull is said to exist but one that is hidden and known only to the highest members of his clergy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Maarika the Fallen Sister


Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Maarika the Fallen Sister

Once one of the most powerful witches in Blackmoor and a leader among the Sisterhood Maarika crossed the passage torn through the barrier between the world of the Grey and our own. In the battle against the terror that afflicts Blackmoor she fell and was thought slain, but her body was never found.

Now she was somehow returned to Oerth, but her mind is twisted, her form ravaged by some disease that exudes darkness, and her power turned to evil. Whether she is a servant of the Grey or just driven mad by her wounds and time in the Grey's foul realm is unknown. 

Some of the Sisterhood have confronted her only to be injured or slain. A force was sent against her and she had fled to the Land of Black Ice. Will she return? The Sisterhood would have her hunted down and have turned to adventurers who would do the task for coin as their own strength is stretched thin defending the land of Blackmoor.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Project - Sedr Magic of the Cruski, Fruztii and Schnai


Project - Sedr Magic of the Cruski, Fruztii and Schnai

Often called "Suel Barbarians" these people of the north-eastern Flanaess are at most distant relations to those of the Suel Imperium. During the time before the Rain of Colorless Fire they served at times as mercenary tribes but more often waged intermittent war upon the Suel. At the height of the Imperium's power they were driven from their lands far to the north-east where they dwell today.

These three tribal-nations worship the same pantheon of Gods though each has their own patron, one of three brother deities. Veli is worshiped by Cruski, Votan by the Friztii and Ve by the Schnai. Many other other Gods and Goddesses are worshipped though among all three Fray the Oerth-Mother is highest among all three.

Fray it is who gave the tribes magic, the Sedr, though it is said she taught it first to Votan while his brothers disdained its use, so that today it is among the Fruztii that men and women practice the art, while among the Cruskii and Schnai the Sedr is held secret by the women of the tribes.

Sedr magic has three branches, the Seeing, the Ice Magic and the Bone Summoning. Most who practice the art learn evenly of all three though some become drawn to one particular craft of the others. Women who use the Sedr magic are called Volle or witches and men are called Vola or warlocks. Skalds, the bardic-priests of Votan, Veli and Ve wield some of the Sedr magic but also possess the gift of priestcraft from their patron deity.

The first branch, the Seeing involves ritual divination, but also the ability to walk among the lands of the dead and speak with those dwelling there.

The second branch is Ice Magic and it is both strong in defense and offense for the wielder granting spells that allow casting of frozen bolts of ice, granting resistance or immunity to cold, summoning frozen elementals, creating sheets or barriers of ice and so forth.

The last branch is Bone Summoning, necromancy, and the wielder summons the dead and commands them.

NOTE:

"Suel Barbarians" is something applied to them by outsiders but the reality is that they were barbarian tribes that both raided the Suel and served them at times as allied or mercenary forces, They worship none of the "Suel" pantheon. Votan, Veli and Ve are brother Gods and Fray is a mother Goddess, but there are many, many lesser Gods in this pantheon. Among the tribes they either refer to themselves as the Volke (Fruz) or the Manskr (Schnai and Cruztii) and never "Suel Barbarian" which is a terrible insult.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Brenna


Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Brenna

Brenna is originally from the Timberway among the Fruztii or Frost tribes, but she followed a spirit quest and found herself in Blackmoor near the Land of Black Ice and a welcome addition to the Sisterhood. Her way of magic is different from the witches of Blackmoor and is strongly linked to totems, rituals and amulets. The way of the Sedr magic practiced by the Fruz, has strong tinges of necromancy among its traditions and she wears the bones of dead heroes with which she summon them to fight for her if need be.

Her powers are also those of seeress and she can set her spirit to walk among the lands of the dead to ask questions of the past or project her sight to catch visions of the future. Finally he greatest strengths and protections come from the cold and she is granted both ice magic and power of elementals from the land of eternal cold.

She is familiar with the Grey and knows portals to its realm where the intersect with that of the frozen planes of Ice.


Friday, October 18, 2019

Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Hilja


Project - Blackmoor Land of a Thousand Witches - NPC Hilja

Hilja is druidess dwelling in the Burneal Forest. She is not often encountered in human form and when she is has the tendency to disdain clothing. She rarely speaks, at least in human tongue, but communicates with many animals usually while taking their shapes. She bears sevceral amulet and totems that allow her to instantly change to one animal form or another.

While allied with the Sisterhood and a powerful enemy of the Grey she is not herself a member of the Sisterhood. Her concerns are less about Blackmoor or even humanity and more about the animals inhabiting the land.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

NPC - Jedzec Centaur Lord


NPC - Jedzec Centaur Lord

Between the Burneal Forest and the Cold Marshes is roadway one heavily travelled by the centaur herds. Now that the land is under perpetual assault by the entity known as The Grey and its minions the herds have moved further west and only the warriors patrol the old pathways are enter the forbidding marshes.

Jedzec is a lord among his people and can be often found among the edge of the marshes though even he does not ride to deeply within the forbidding boundries of the frozen bog. He is an archer beyond compare and normallyc arries no other weapon. A skilled ranger he has an affinity with the Oerth and nature beyond most of his kind. Jedzec is an ally of the Sisterhood in Blackmoor and can call on their aid. In return he and his clan will aid any of the Sisterhood who call upon him.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Languages of Oerthly Magic - Audible Glamer



Languages of Oerthly Magic - Audible Glamer

2.1). Audible Glamer

Amedian - Zata Karaem (Za-Ta Ka-Ram)

Bakluni (Ancient) - Zez Kazaebze (Zez Kaz-Ab-Ze)

Drow - Ang Varazza (Ang Var-Az-Za)

Dwarven - Lid Kaeramae (Lid Ka-Ra-Ma)

Elven - Ana Kaeram (Ana Ka-Ram)

Flan - Kaeram Faema (Ka-Ram Fa-Ma)

Fruz - Ho Haella (Ho Ha-El-La)

Giantish - Zoand Karam (Zow-And Kar-Am)

Gnomish - Galaed Karaem (Gal-Ad Kar-Am)

Oeridian - Zak Okaravaen (Zak Ok-Ar-Av-An)

Olman - Ol Olaekka (Ol Ol-Ak-Ka)

Suel - Zonus Laepar (Zon-Us La-Par)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Frost Giant Jarl - Grugnur's Lament - Part 1



The Frost Giant Jarl - Grugnur's Lament

"I told you that chain would come in handy," Talberth said with an I-Told-You-So half-smile on his lips.

Several nasty looks came from the assembled party and the wizard-elf Telenstil put a hand on his old apprentice's shoulder. 

They were a bleeried-eyed and worn looking group. Blood-spotted banadages were on most of them and three of the five dwarves looked like they were about to collapse.

"It's freezing..." chattered the halfling among them even though he was well wrapped in a bear-skin cloak cut down to his size. A small orc stood beside him wearing his bear-skin like a blanket with holes cut for his arms and legs. He wore a belt made of thick rope and two shortswords were sheathed at either side with a pair of daggers crossed at his middle.

Two of the dwarves were in well-fited, finely crafted mail. One bore a warhammer that was etched with cryptic dwarven runes while the other held a double-headed axe, short handled and of obvious dwarven craft. 

"I still don't trust orcs," the axe-wielder commented in the old, old dwarfen tongue. 

"You can trust that one well-enough," commented one the thin and greyhaired dwarves. Ginnar, for all that he was the hammer-wielder's younger brother looked older than their father after months of captivity in Nosnra's steading. "Little Rat ran errands for me from the forge to my friends and those rebel orcs. He was so small the giants didn't seem to notice him."

"Those giants," said one of the ex-slaves beside Ginnar, "worse than any orc."

"He's been adopted by Harold," Galar said firmly. He set his warhammer down and rubbed his hands together. As eldest and a priest to boot his word was final. "Be polite."

Around them the strange mix of humans and humanoids began to move. They were in some huge cavern, though to the giants it must have seemed low-ceilinged if wide and round. The magic chain which had transported them here glowed with a nimbus of blue-white light and provided illumination if  not warmth. 

At the one end of the cave were piles of crates and the walls were hung with the skins of huge animals. A blackened circle showed where a fire was once lit and wood remained in it ready to be kindled into flame. Fuel in the form of cold, dried logs was piled against another wall. 

As they watched the huge human ranger withdrew a tinderbox from his belt and started some dry moss aflame inside a little frame of twigs. Quickly a lively dance of fire was growing as he bent and fed it larger and larger sticks and splinters of wood.

The halfling-thief and his apprentice Little Rat, the orc, began to pry open boxes at the back of the cave.

The sylvan-elf Ghibelline approached the dwarves with a smile on his lips. "I told you we would be free one day Ginnar."

"That  you did, lad," Ginnar replied with a smile of his own, "But I never believed we'd live to see it."

"We almost didn't," said a deep voice beside them.

The dwarves looked at the figure smaller than all of them and older. Ivo was a gnome from the Kron Hills and a crafter of illusions more powerful than any they had seen before.

"It was good fortune to find you beyond the walls and outside that dungeon of Nosnra's," Ivo continued.

"There is something loose down there even the giants were afraid of," said Serleg, one of the two Hill Dwarves rescued with Ginnar.

"Even that bastard, Fehrig, that flame-haired Fire Giant, came up from the forges and dragged us along with him," added Feg, Serleg's brother.

"I wish that I could have collected the blood-debt that one owes," grumbled Serleg.

"We'd meant to collect from many a giant, especially Nosnra," said Ivo, "But here we are."

"And where is here?" asked Ginnar.

"If what we'd read about that chain is correct," answered Ivo, "We are in the land of the Frost Giants. The great glacier, the home of Grugnur, the Frost Giant Jarl, and we mean to deal with him as we dealt with Nosnra. Only, perhaps, a bit more dead."

***

The fire only occupied a portion of the large ring left by the giants who had used the cave. It brought light and dancing shadows. A cloud of smoke rose to the ceiling and disappeared above a large animal skin, some hairy mamoth-sized creature as big as a barn. Harald, the old ranger, had found a large passage beyond that turned and twisted, screened by two more hangings before opening to a land of glaring ice and rock beyond. A quick scout of the area showed no tracks so he returned quickly.

The rest of the company, five dwarves, a halfling, a gnome, two elves, three humans and  a small orc were sitting around the fire warming themselves and cooking things on sticks.

"So, are we truly in the glacier lands?" asked Nyradir, the dwarven warrior.

"Yes," replied Harald tacturnly. His face was grim as approached. 

"I am sorry Harald," said the old elven-mage. Telenstil knew how Harald had longed to stay, even if alone, to hunt down Nosnra or more likely die in the attempt. Only his loyalty to his companions had made him enter the ring of chain when they had enacted its enchantment, bringing from the hills to these cold, cold mountains.

"We will need to keep watch..." Harald began.

"I will go," spoke up Ghibelline. The sylvan elf rose to his feat and Gytha the priestess of St. Cuthbert rose with him. 

"I will accompany you," she said and a quick smile touched Ghibelline's lips while across from them a bitter twist flashed across the tall human mage's features and then was gone.

"The ice glares in the sun," warned Harald, "watch your eyes. It can blind."

"I was raised in the same hills as you," Gytha replied, but she squeezed the ranger's arm as she passed him by.

"No matter how bright the sun will not blind or dazzle my eyes," said Ghibelline. "And after the dark of Nosnra's dungeons I still dream of the sun," he said, 'and the stars."

The pair disappeared through the woolly curtain which helped protect the cave from the bitter cold. The fire had already taken the deadly chill from the air and the small mountain of fuel left by the giants promised that it would not run out soon.

"Elves and halflings have the best eyes for the daywatch," said Ivo, "and the dwarves and I can handle the night."

"We have some hours till dark," said Harald. "I will rest now but once it is dark I will set out and find this next nest of giants."

"Not you alone," said Telenstil, "I still have my ring to help us and we have enchantments."

"Galar no trouble, find giants," said Nyradir. "I wish Berronar would let you speak their language all the time," he said to the cleric in their mountain tongue.

"That is no small thing to ask," Galar replied.

"I can speak well enough for the pair of ya," Ginnar told the two dwarves.

"Master elf," Ginnar said to Telenstil both with politeness due an elder and the respect due to a rescuer who saved him from slavery, torture and inevitable death, "My brother be a priest of Berronar, and in the God's good graces, so I doubt not he can find a true path to these giants."

"Yoyur brother, yourself and your companions are very welcome," said Telenstil, "But you need not accompany us..."

"Feg, Serleg and myself be better smiths than fighters, but still we are fighters," replied Ginnar. All three now stood and faced the others. "We go where you go. Your foes are ours," he said putting his thumbs in his belt and meeting the others eyes, "truly, these giants are our foes of old for all our kind, mountain or hill."

Telenstil stood and bowed to the three dwarves. "You are most welcome. We have much to avenge and even more to learn from these giants. For now let us take our ranger's advice and rest. Tonight we will begin."

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - The End



The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - The End


As if he had pulled upon a dangling thread of an intricate and delicate tapestry Ghibelline's action unraveled the complex enchantment that Ivo had cast upon the camp. The spell dissipated like morning mist in the light of the rising sun. It took only a moment and then it was gone, lost from memory like a dream upon waking. The wolves and giants came to a halt, staring at the small group of the little people who had appeared in their midst. 

Ivo's hands moved in surprising swiftness as he tried to catch the broken thread of his illusion, but the stuff of magic was gone and he found that he grasped only air. "What...?" he stuttered, his mind still forming pictures of how he wanted the camp to appear to the senses of the giants and the wolves. 

"Oh Hells!" cursed Harold. The little thief's eyes went wide. 

Ghibelline could not stop the swing of his sword. His blade slashed down and opened a long and wicked cut along the flank of one wolf. The beast yowled in pain and tried to leap away. Its cry broke the silence of the camp. Suddenly there was a yammer and howl of voices. The wounded wolf was struck again. Steel cut open its hind leg and removed its tail. Rolling, it sprayed out blood and its mouth frothed with bile and rage. 

"Ghibelline!" yelled Gytha. She sprang toward him and shouted out a prayer that was also a cry of defiance. "Cuthbert! Your blessing upon us! Let your strength banish the strength of our foes!" Behind her the ranger raised his sword. 

The claymore glowed with a silver light, perhaps a reflection from the sun off the burnished steel, but more likely a surge of power from the enchantments laid upon the blade. 

"Wait!" Telenstil yelled beside him and grabbed the ranger's arm.  "Kas-Va!" the mage exclaimed and tossed a handful of red dust at the surprised warrior. Harald grew, as did his clothes and gear, but his sword remained the same, the blade impervious to minor magics. Standing twice as tall as he had been only a moment before, no longer did the giants tower high above him. 

"Hah!" grunted Harald in surprise, but he was pleased. He threw himself into the battle. 

While Telenstil cast his spell and Gytha prayed, Talberth had drawn out his wand and sent a bolt of lightning into a crowd of giants. It burnt them and killed a black-coated wolf who charged unknowingly into the path of the deadly magic bolt. The giants were not greatly hurt, and now doubly enraged, they ran toward their hated foes. Derue moved like a cat. He pounced and drove both hands, knuckles striking like spears, into the stomach of a wolf. He struck only moments after Ghibelline's first blow and the third blow of his hands came as the elf cut his wolf the second time. The edge of Derue's hand whipped down on the prostrate wolf and with a crunch, crushed the monster's throat. He left it dying on the stones. 

"Stay behind me," Harold said to Little Rat. The young orc had a knife in either hand. Harold glanced back and saw him licking the edge of the blades. "Stop that, it makes me nervous," he told him. 

* * * 

The dwarven warrior kicked at the snarling muzzle of a wolf. Jaws opened wide and the booted foot was caught within a trap of fangs. They both tugged. The dwarf, hopping on one foot, his balance in peril, could only weakly try to free himself from the wolf's mouth. The wolf bit down, but the boot was pushed too far in for the fangs to pierce the thick sole. It was a losing battle for the dwarf. One precarious hop at a time, he was dragged forward. Then a flash of silvered steel swept down. The trap was sprung and the dwarf fell, his foot suddenly set free. He landed hard on his back, his mail shirt clashed noisely against the stones. Sparks flew around his eyes and a blinding flash of blue-white light streaked by him, somewhere to his right. He blinked away the dazzle, but a purple nimbus stained his vision. Trying to stand, he nearly fell again. The wolf's head was still firmly locked to his right boot. Severed at the neck, the beasts eyes were dead but the grip of its jaws was tight as steel. 

The ranger's blade hissed with steaming blood. Harald killed a wolf, taking off its head, then ran to meet another that had come rushing at him. It leapt, trying for his wrist, but Harald was the quicker and his blade passed through the middle of the wolf. Two twitching halves fell to the ground amid a gory flow from the entrails of the beast. 

"Hold! Hold!" called out the voice of Telenstil. Harald did not hear the voice or did not heed its warning call. A giant faced him. The monster bore no weapons but for his hands. One fist came down as if to smash Harald into the stones, but the ranger's sword met it. Oerthy flesh, tough as the hills, met enchanted steel. Mimming, Harald's blade, sang with the voice of rocks splitting in the cold. Flesh parted, as did bone, and the sword passed through the giant's arm clear to the elbow. The monster howled, horribly maimed, and grabbed the halved forearm in his other hand. He tried to meld the sides together again. Harald's backstroke went high, took the flesh from shoulder, took off an ear and a length of scalp. The giant fell to his knees and the ranger mercifully ended the wailing cry, severing the huge head in a single blow. 

Talberth intoned a spell, "Fotia-Ena!" he said and tossed a yellow brown pellet toward the giants and the wolves. 

"Harald!" Telenstil yelled again. 

"I sent it past him." Talberth said without looking toward Telenstil. The pellet turned into an orange glow, like the heart of a burning coal, and the flames expanded. Fist sized, it streaked past Derue and Ghibelline, then large as a barrel, it struck far beyond and to the right of Harald. There was a thud and then a whump like a gust of wind filling a sail, then a roaring ball of flame. High as the tree-tops, it caught half the giants from behind, wrapping them in a wave of fire. 

"Tuli-Pal!" cried Telenstil. The elven mage followed his former apprentice's lead. A second pellet streaked by and grew into a ball of fire. Giants who were still aflame were caught within this second burst of fire. 

"We cannot stop the others this way." said Talberth. "Not without roasting Harald as well." 

* * * 

A knife the size of a sword was stuck in the headless giant's belt. Harald pulled it free from the leather sheath with his left hand. The enchanted blade in his right contrasted strongly with the plain steel, but the two were in a pleasing balance. The weight of the blades in either hand brought Harald a sense of peace that had been lost to him for a long, long time. He was utterly calm. The light of the sun was fair against his skin, the air smelled sharp with fire and the seared flesh of giants, and a taste of copper-salt was on his lips from blood not his own. 

Two giants assailed him. One had a club, a mere cudgel to the giant, but big enough to batter down a human door. The other held a knife, twin to that which Harald carried in his left hand. Mimming took the end from the club, while Harald traded cuts with the knife wielder. The giant gave as good as he got and blood ran from both their arms. Harald was quicker than either giant and Mimming flashed again, this time opening a deep cut in the knife wielder's leg. A stump of wood, all that was left of the giant's cudgel, went flying past Harald's head. Then the giant leapt and tried to knock the ranger down. Magic steel was thrust out like a lance and deep went in the blade. Ribs were shorn and a bubbling foam pushed its way from the split flesh along the giant's side. Harald had opened a mighty wound as he stepped forward beyond the giant's path. The heavy body slammed hard onto the stony surface. But the knife-wielder had struck again. Sparks danced from the coat of steel worn by the ranger beneath his old and weatherbeaten tunic. The giant's blade had the force of a hammer as it beat redhot metal against an anvil. Harald could feel his ribs creak beneath the blow. Knife against knife clanged as Harald met the next sweep of the giant's blade. The giant's strength was like a fall of rock, mortal strength could not compare, and Harald was thrown back. His stumble saved his life. 

A stone whizzed by, thrown by another giant. The knife-wielder jumped after Harald, but pulled himself back and bellowed at the one who'd thrown the rock. "Hey!" boomed out the deep voice. Harald nearly fell but his back touched something tall and sturdy as a tree. The smell of burning flesh was thick. Without looking Harald swept his enchanted blade around in a wide, turning arc. There was a thunk as if a tree was what he'd truly hit, but it was a giant's leg. Burnt black, flesh charred and hair gone to a greasy smudge, a giant faced him. It tried to scream through cracked and blistered lips, but no sound came out. It stepped and Harald pulled his blade free from the entrapping bone. Crack! High up on its thigh, the bone had split and the giant fell back, with a leg sword-split and broken. 

The stones were sooty where Harald stood and all around him were the fire-touched bodies of giants. One or two had fallen, but most still lived. Twice struck by magic flame, some having been bathed in the lightning from Talberth's wand as well, these monsters would not die. 

* * * 

Mimming thrummed, the blade seemed happy and Harald let a tune whistle through his teeth. There were a half dozen giants to his right and almost twice that number to his left. They seemed to have forgotten his companions, their attention riveted on the man grown almost to their size and the glowing blade he wielded in one hand. 

The wolves charged, they'd been near the edge of the camp where the company had been hidden. Derue, Ghibelline and Gytha fanned out to try and protect the mages, but it was all that they could do to protect themselves. Gytha ran to Ghibelline's side. He nearly took a swing at her, but turned his blade in time. Derue went to the left and brought down a wolf that was running toward the gnome. Three more went past, the last of the black-coated pack, their leader in the front. Ivo faced them alone. The old gnome made three quick passes with his hands and the words of power he used seemed to come from his mouth like smoke. In his mind he thought of molten rock cooling to solid stone and the wolves froze in place. There was a snap that Ivo heard and felt, but within, no sound that anyone else could ever hear. The lead wolf, Konig he was named by his master, had fought free of Ivo's spell. Leaving his packmates behind, he sprang at the small creature, hoping to rend it to pieces. A stone whizzed by and skimmed across the wolf's muzzle. Then a small shape flung itself atop the black-furred back, a pair of daggers stabbing into its side. 

Little Rat twisted one knife in the wolf, and pulled the other out to stab again. The wolf spun and bit at the creature who had hurt it so. A keen edge cut above one eye, clipped an ear, then Konig had the arm in its jaw and bit hard till bones snapped. "No!" yelled out Harold. The halfling had been running forward, his sling useless while Little Rat was tangled with the beast. He drew out a magic spike, with a word it would bury itself deep in wood or stone. Harold spoke the word as he slammed the spike against the wolf's head. It whirred and sank in past the bone and into the monster's brain. Jaws opened wide and Little Rats torn and broken arm dropped from the mouth. Harold was tossed aside like a rag doll, and the wolf ran off into the rocks and scrub. 

To the right of Talberth and Telenstil, as they faced toward the camp and the path beyond, the wolves had gathered in large number. The two mages sent a hail of magic bolts into the pack, grey-coats, big, strong and many. The missiles only stung them and made them howl. They came on lusting for the kill. 

"Fo-Tia-Tikos!" yelled Talberth as he flung a ball of tar and sulphur at the wolves. 

"No!" shouted Telenstil but it was too late. A wall of fire sprang from the ground just before the rushing wolves. It curved from the side of a stone outcropping, enclosed Ghibelline and Gytha on the near side of the flames and Ivo and the others to the left of Talberth as well. "Harald is out there!" Telenstil said and his voice was an accusation. 

"I know," Talberth replied. 


***

"I will not abandon him," said Telenstil. 

"The wolves are at our throats and the giants are behind them," Talberth pointed with one hand. 

The burning wall set three wolves afire. They ran like living torches, sending out streams of flame behind them. The others pulled back in time, singed fur and noses, but no fatalities. Beyond the wall, Harald fought alone. 

"Prepare yourselves!" Telenstil called out to the others. "Harald needs us, follow me." The elf ran to the edge of the fire. He could see nothing through the flames. "No-it-us Ol-la Men-Na!" he shouted. 

The wall of fire melted. A section at least ten yards wide dissolved as the power of Telenstil's spell overcame Talberth's craft. Ghibelline and Gytha were at the mage's side, Talberth was behind him. Derue flowed across the ground, quick and smooth as water in the moonlight. The old gnome wizard came after him, slow, but moving quick as he could. Only the halfling stayed behind. Harold wrapped Little Rat's savaged arm in a bandage. The young orc lay senseless. 

***

The ranger could feel the heat from the wall of fire that had burst into life behind him. Nothing could come at him from that direction, the thought flashed through his mind, but he could not stand against the giants. A boulder sailed through the air, then through the flames. Harald moved, he charged the giants. Another stone smashed down where he had been. The claymore in his right hand flashed. Stabbing high, the point sought a giant's throat, but cut across a shoulder instead. Three giants circled him. One pushed around the edge of the burning wall to get at his back, but Harald turned and jabbed the monster in the gut. The cloth of shirt and pants ignited as the giant stepped back away from the blade and into the wall of flame. 

"Got ya!" barked out another giant. 

A hand slapped hard against the side of Harald's skull. Stars exploded in his eyes and danced merrily around as he shook his head to clear his sight. Blindly he slashed with his knife but struck nothing. A huge hand reached out and caught him by his neck, thick fingers clamping hard about his throat, crushing tight. 

Harald drew the edge of the giant's dagger, that he used as a short sword, across the fingers that were wrapped about his neck. The steel edge grated against bone, the awkward angle running against Harald's chin and cheek. Blood of man and giant mixed, the hand was snatched away, and Harald fell to his knees gasping for air. Something came at him from the side. Harald did not look but swung his sword and tried to stand. Mimming opened up a giant's leg from knee to heel, but it did not stop the kick. The foot struck Harald's side, mashing armor, breaking ribs, knocking the ranger from his feet. The giant stumbled back, but others surged forward. One stamped and caught the hand that held the giant dagger. Fingers snapped, caught between metal, stone and the giant's heel. Harald stabbed the giant in its thigh then ripped the blade out so that a deep open wound gaped across the its upper leg. The foot lifted and Harald pulled his broken hand away, but left the dagger behind. His hand was bent and pierced with the sharp ends of bone stabbing out from within. 

* * * 

"There now," said Harold. "That's the best I can do." He finished wrapping the badly mauled arm. He bound it tight with two sticks to keep the bone in place. His hand went to his dagger. Harold turned with his blade at the ready. Footsteps clomped across the stones. 

"Mmmmm!" the dwarf tried to shout. A rag had been stuffed in his mouth and another strip used to tie it in place. He'd managed to spit most of it out, but not enough to speak. 

"You seem to be the giant's foe," said Harold. "I hope that means that you will be a friend to us." The halfling gestured for the dwarf to be still and walked behind him. He'd sharpened the dagger to a keen edge and it cut through the rope that bound the dwarf's hands in a single draw. Immediately the dwarf pulled away the strip of cloth and spat out the rest of the rag. He coughed and sputtered for a moment before turning around to clasp Harold by the shoulders. 

"Be friend. Yes," said the dwarf. "I be Nyradir." 

"Well Nyradir..." Harold began to say, but his words fell from him and were lost. The wall of fire gave a huff and disappeared. Harold could see into the camp beyond, his eyes widened in alarm. 

* * * 

The ranger swept his sword before him, more to keep the giants at bay than to strike any down. A long arm lashed out and a huge fist cracked hard against his skull. Blindly he swung a backhand blow and a giant grunted as the blade hit with a meaty thunk. Harald swayed, stars in his eyes and a ringing in his ear. A two-fisted blow hammered him into the ground, his face smacking solidly, his head giving a bounce, and Harald was still. Two kicks were all the giants had time to give before Telenstil stepped through the gap he'd made in the firewall. Ribs snapped and Harald was lifted up with each mule-strong blow. Words that echoed like thunder in the mountains stopped them, stopped all those in the camp. 

"Ket-Jo Sal-Ma!" came the words of power from Telenstil. His voice was loud and filled with menace. In his hand he held a strip of fine white fur, a rod of crystal pinned inside with thirteen needles made of silver. The elven mage opened his fist and without any movement of his own the pins flew from his hand. The crystal blazed with light and the strip of fur was utterly consumed, not even a speck remained. 

A bolt of lightning flew from Telenstil. It struck a giant just behind the three that kicked at the body of the ranger. White blazing, almost living, it wrapped itself for an eyeblink around a giant's head. Already burnt and badly hurt from the burst of fire sent by the two wizards, the giant screamed, and shook, and died. The lightening was past the collapsing body and jumped from giant to giant before the first one fell. Five, six, then a seventh were caught by the rebounding bolt. An eighth was struck, then back again it went, dashing among the shaking forms. 

"You never taught me that spell," said Talberth, his tone hushed with respect. 

* * *

Telenstil didn't answer, but instead drew out a black chain from which dangled a handful of amber stones. "I've never even seen that spell before." murmured Talberth to himself. 

For a moment the camp was quiet, then the wall of fire gave a huff and disappeared. It broke the silence and set the wolves to howling. 

"Stand back!" yelled Telenstil. His voice was loud and filled with command, but it lacked the eldritch quality that had rung out as he'd cast his spell of power. With a twist of his hand he snapped the largest of the amber stones from the chain and hurled it toward the giants. 

Fire blossomed, rising in a twisting pillar. Arms and legs formed, and a grinning head. The fire-creature had a wicked face. Eyes black as coal, fangs and claws glowing white hot and hair like molten steel. It gave a shriek like steam escaping from a kettle and tore into the giants around it. 

"Away, away," cried Telenstil. 

"Fire Elemental," Ivo glanced at the elf. "Dangerous." 

"It will not attack me, but the rest of you stand clear!" ordered Telenstil. 

The giants fought, but stone went through the creature and did little harm. Hands smashed at it, but the flame-flesh burned the mere oerthly hide of the giants. Clubs and daggers fared better, but they struck nothing solid, only parted the substance of the elemental's body which reformed itself as the wood or metal passed through. 

Claws of fire left blazing cuts and slashes. Just the nearness of the creature set beards, hair and clothes ablaze. The elemental twisted, danced and laughed, its voice a shrieking, evil wail. But not all the giants faced the elemental. Some were near to Telenstil and the others. Some near the far edge of the camp by the path. And the wolves set upon prey that did not burn. They had no liking for fire. The elemental was a deadly beast, but only a distraction for the giants, it would not hold them long. 

Ivo slipped a tiny bottle from a wooden case. A small tube, only a sliver of glass, was at the center of the bottle, surrounded by a dirty, yellow liquid. Inside the tube was a pinch of dark powder. Thrown hard by the old gnome, the glass shattered on the ground amid the wolves. Smoke, grey-yellow and dense, billowed from the spot. 

***

"Friend," the dwarf, Nyradir, said, but he looked toward the fight and not at Harold. 

The halfing could hear the concern in the dwarf's voice. 

"Friend, Galar!" Nyradir cried out in alarm. 

Harold looked to see what the dwarf saw. Fire rose up among the giants. The elf Ghibelline stabbed one of the monsters while Gytha smashed it across the knee with her iron staff. A stream of motion was Derue. He glided between two giants, swaying back from the club strike of one and ducking beneath a sweeping blow of another. Talberth sent a flight of blue-glowing magic bolts into a wolf that charged him, and a cloud of sickly vapors swallowed the rest of the pack. But what had so alarmed the dwarf, Harold could not see. 

* * * 

"Talberth, help me. We must grab Harald and get him out of here," shouted Telenstil. 

"We will never move him," Talberth said breathlessly. "Wolves!" he shouted in turn, his eyes flashing toward the smoke-cloud created by Ivo's spell. 

A handful of the beasts jumped from the wafting edges, their hair lank and greasy with a shiny, yellow oil. More staggered from the cloud, some dropped and rolled in the dirt, others wiped at their muzzles with paws bitten by the magic smoke. 

"You two get Harald," Ivo told the two wizards. "I'll take care of these." The old gnome held a white feather in his hand and waved it toward the wolves. He spoke words of gnomish magic beneath his breath and the feather disappeared. What the wolves saw even Ivo did not know. His spell sought out their greatest fear and made it real. There were growls and whines, one wolf leapt straight up into the air. None went back into the grey-yellow cloud, but all turned tail and ran. 

***

Nyradir raced toward the giants. He had no weapon, but that daunted him not at all. Veering toward the left, he avoided the three who fought with Ghibelline, Gytha and Derue. Behind them the elemental skreeched and whirled. The sacks and bags of the giants lay unattended. 

Galar lay bound among the litter. The dwarf was still, but his hands worked at the rope that tied them. Rough cord bit into his skin and slicked his wrists with blood. He'd just about freed one hand when Nyradir reached him. 

"Galar!" cried Nyradir with relief. "You are still alive." 

"Undo these knots!" snapped Galar. 

"You've almost got this off yourself," Nyradir said, looking at the gouges in Galar's flesh. "How are the others." He glanced at the sacks that the giants had not upended. 

"Dead," Galar said like a curse. "They put me in last.. owuch! What are you playing at!" 

"Sorry, I've no knife and these knots are pulled tight," Apologized Nyradir. "They're dead. How do you know?" he asked in a low voice after a moments pause. 

"I was trussed up and put in last," said Galar. "I saw. They cut their throats and bled them like rabbits." 

"Why not us," grunted Nyradir. 

"They've other plans for us," said Galar. "There!" he pulled his arms free and grimaced when he saw the deep cuts on his wrists. "My pack, my hammer, they are in those sacks of the giants. Your axe as well, come, help me," Galar didn't wait for Nyradir's reply. The older dwarf kicked through the debris surrounding him and threw himself upon one of the large cloth sacks. He pulled at the cord and it came open in his hand. There was another sack beside him. Nyradir grabbed at it, but Galar slapped him on the shoulder. "Not that one," Galar said and shook his head. 

"This one? Annar and Sjar?" Nyradir asked. 

Galar nodded to him silently. The muscles in Nyradir's hand tightened, his fingers went white with the strain, and the cloth bag tore down its side. When he had ripped it halfway, a curly head came into sight. Nyradir put his hand beneath and cradled the neck, as if the dwarf was merely sleeping. 

"I have said prayers for them, said them for all of us," Galar told him. "Our gear is in this bag, say your prayers for them later, say it with your axe. Carve a prayer in some giant flesh." 

The fighting raged around them. 

* * * 

"I had hoped to save these," murmured Telenstil. 

He tore two more of the fiery stones from the black chain. A pair of elementals appeared, both identical to each other and to the first that had risen from the enchanted stone. They were half the size of their larger brethren, but just as wild with a vicious, blazing madness. 

The mage had thrown the dweomered gems in haste and with an awkward cast. They landed between the giants, behind their backs, as most fought the first elemental and the rest tried to crush the humans and the elf. It was a lucky throw. One fire-beast hopped onto a giant's back. The monstrous warrior roared, and as it did, Ghibelline stabbed it with his blade, driving steel in till the hilt was pressed into the giant's belly. The elf nearly lost his grip as the giant writhed, but Ghibelline had lost one sword to Nosnra's kin already, he would not let another go. 

The second of the fiery pair tore into the giants who attacked his larger kin. Molten talons of living fire ripped across the sides of two giants. Teeth that were hotter than the coals of a forge bit down into an arm and took away a chunk of flesh. The wound did not bleed, burnt-shut by the elemental's touch. 

The club in the giants hand lashed out, but the elemental was already gone, busy screeching in glee as it clawed and bit and blazed into another giant. The blow thocked hard into his neighbor's skull and brought the towering warrior down like a sapling felled with a single stroke of an axe. 

***

Derue moved like a leaf fluttering from a tree. The smashing fists and lunging strikes of the giants came close, but it was as if the force of the attacks helped to push the scout just out of reach. The journey of the leaf is always to the ground, but it is the wind that guides its path. What guided Derue seemed like a wind, no effort could be seen in his motion, no force behind his hands and feet. Something beyond his mortal frame, always spare, but now with flesh stretched tightly across his bone, added a strength to his blows and a grace to his movements. 

As a giant to his left brought a cask-sized fist smashing down, Derue extended his leg up to meet the giant's chin. The heel of the scout's foot met the bottom of the massive jaw and slammed it shut as if the giant had brought his head down atop a pillar of rock. There was a crack of breaking teeth and breaking bone. The giant's jaw hung at an angle and blood poured from its mouth. Derue spun, bringing his raised leg down and twisting his other leg horizontal till it met the giant's huge belly and sank ankle deep. The giant sprayed out blood and bits of teeth, then gasped for air, its face turning first red then blue. With both hands on its bruised stomach, the giant fell and landed heavily on its side, then rolled back and forth in pain. Each breath was a fight against injured muscles. It coughed out the blood that poured into its lungs from its ruined mouth. Derue faced only the one giant now.

A punch strong as a battering ram caught the scout a glancing blow. He let it send him flying through the air, but he was on his feet before the giant could strike again. 

* * * 

Human hands could do little against the giant's mighty bulk. Derue could shatter the bricks in a wall, crack stone and splinter wood, but the bones of the massive warrior that he fought were as thick as tree-trunks and wrapped in flesh, tougher than any man's. His feet were another matter and he used them to good effect. The giant tried to bat the scout aside with a backhand swipe. 

Bending almost double, Derue ducked beneath the blow, but swung his arms up so that they hooked about the huge forearm as it passed. He was carried up into the air, his weight was nothing to the corded muscles of the giant's arm. As he rose, he slid, his own arms loosely circled around the giant's. Past the elbow he went, then letting go as he reached the bicep. Derue's arms went down to his sides and he spun, using his hips and his shoulders to torque his body. One leg pulled up, bending at the knee, his other extended heel first. He struck beneath the giant's upraised arm, the monster's own strength adding to the force of Derue's blow, as he spiraled his heel into the pit of the creature's arm. 

A man would have been crippled, if not killed. The giant gave a grunt of pain, its arm spasmed, its clenched fist sprang open, fingers outstretched from the jabbing shock. The injured arm moved weak and slow, but the giant swept out with its other hand only to slash the air where Derue had been. 

A few yards to the side, Ghibelline tore his sword free from a giant's belly. He staggered back, Gytha catching Ghibelline by the shoulder and keeping him from falling to the ground. Blazing talons had sunk into the giant's throat even as the elf's sword came free. The fire-beast still rode upon the huge warrior's back and reaching round sliced smoking cuts across the wide neck, setting beard and hair aflame. It was the giant's turn to stumble, but he had no one to keep him on his feet. Backwards he fell and buried the elemental beneath him. 

A little further on found Ivo dragging at Harald's sword. The small gnome was half the size of the huge blade. Beside him, Talberth and Telenstil worked at moving the body of the ranger. Each mage pulled at a shoulder. Harald was human-sized again, but a mighty man, no less so in sleep, or death. A word from Talberth had taken away the spell that had transformed the ranger to almost giant-size. His weight was more than either mage could have hoped to budge alone, and together they still strained to drag him from the midst of battle. 

The bodies of giants formed a waist high wall for the man and elf. A wall almost higher than Ivo's head as he passed the unmoving blackened, chest of a slain warrior. They had not gone far, no more than half a score of feet, when a voice groaned from the throat of a giant. Ivo looked over to see a pair of white eyes flash open amid a face charred black and lined with raw red cracks. Hairless, the fire had eaten all the skin of its head, burnt ears to stumps, nose to a lump of coal-like flesh and the giant's mouth scorched into a dark pit no longer ringed with lips. 

"Lppphhh," came a voice like a deep moan of wind. A hand shot out with a shocking speed. Telenstil had half turned. He still held Harald's upper arm when the hand caught him by his neck and shoulders. Nailess fingers closed around him like bands of steel. Flakes of skin broke from the giant's hand, but the monster had passed the point of feeling pain. The giant pulled himself to his feet. Fjolver, strong among his people, but stronger in will and heart than even his own kind would have believed. With a casual flick of his hand, he tossed Telenstil behind him as he would toss a bone at mealtime to the floor. 

* * * 

"ome! usshhh!" moaned Fjolver. The giant had his eyes locked on Ivo but he lashed out and struck down Talberth as casually as a man would slap away a beggar's hand. The mage had dropped Harald's shoulder and fumbled for his lightning-wand. He'd not been able to draw it before the back of the Fjolver's hand cracked against his chest. Knocked aside, Talberth fell as he struggled for balance. He stumbled over a giant's lifeless arm, his own wrapped about his ribs, and crashed in a flurry of motion as he tried to brace himself for the fall. Ivo stood perfectly still as the giant reached for him. The monster's hand engulfed the old gnome and lifted him from the ground. Fjolver raised Ivo to his face, the burnt fingers of the giant's hand gripping him around the middle. Fjolver smiled, his huge, yellow teeth soot-stained, but silhouetted amid the horror of his face. 

There was a broad, silver buckle on Ivo's belt. Its front embossed with a symbol of a moon over a hill. Ivo slid two small clasps aside with his hand and pulled the buckle free. A pair of silver needles were revealed, the buckle a square shaped hilt. The old gnome smiled back into the giant's face and jabbed the needles deep into Fjolver's wrist where the veins showed beneath the blackened skin. Fjolver opened his mouth to howl, but the giant froze in place, even his eyes were stopped and glazed. Opposite the symbol of moon and hill, a spider was carved into the silver of the buckle, the two needles were its fangs. The outline of the spider bulged. A head rose from the metal, bent down, pushed into the giant's wrist. One by one the legs pulled themselves free, then at last the bloated body. The metal liquefied and ran like quicksilver into the spider, then through the needle fangs into Fjolver's veins. In an eyeblink the metal was gone and then the silver spider followed, turning into a stream of metal venom, rushing through its own fangs till nothing was left but two dripping holes in the giant's wrist. 

"Death take you!" hissed Ivo. The gnome looked old and grim. He drew a small dagger from his belt, one sided and razor sharp. Ivo climbed up the giant's arm and cut Fjolver's throat, then threw his knife away. 

***

The giant's broke. They'd swept the first elemental apart with their blows, but the mad fire-beast had hurt them all. When a second appeared with a third behind it, the giant's said enough and peeled away. 

A young warrior, his hair burnt down to a greasy smudge, was the first to run. Then an older giant with his fist and arm blistered all along its length. The last six, all warriors of Fjolver's band, turned and ran for the path, the elemental in hot pursuit. One living giant stood within the camp. His left arm was half-numbed, but he fought on with his right. Derue circled him, weaving closer in a spiraling dance that kept the giant pivoting, trying to keep its injured arm away from the human who struck with the power of a hammer behind his feet and hands. 

* * * 

"Cllaaannn-Gggeeddd-IN!" screamed Nyradir. The dwarf had found his axe, jumbled carelessly with the equipment of his slain companions, and now raced across the camp to attack the giants. 

But they had fled, the last of them already on the trail and heading up, to escape the fire-beast that chased them. His head whipped round as he scanned the camp. Behind him one giant stood, the monstrous warrior facing an unarmed man. Galar gave a whistle, drawing Nyradir's attention, and pointed to the giant. The dwarf gave a shake of his head, 

"Cursed priests," he muttered, then turned back to the man and the giant. 

He expected to see the man dead, crushed beneath the giant's heel, or smashed by a huge fist. Instead, the giant backed away as the man came forward. The giant lunged, but half-heartedly, a weak, brush with his hand that the man easily avoided. There was a solid thump. Nyradir couldn't see what had happened, but the giant limped back, favoring one leg, and the man swirled aside and to the giant's left. 

"Clangedin!" Nyradir shouted, then ran with his axe brought to one shoulder. 

The giant kept shifting, trying to keep the man in his sight, and the man kept moving to the left. They had turned so that now the giant's back was toward Nyradir. 

The dwarf smiled. The best way to attack a giant was from behind, or with a boulder dropped from a very high cliff. A dwarf had to strike at what he could and whittle an opponent down to size. 

Nyradir brought his axe up from his shoulder and slashed open the back of the giant's knee. There was a gout of blood, shooting out as the giant stiffened, the monstrous body going straight as a board and tipping forward. Then the injured leg gave way and the huge warrior dropped to one side with a rumble like an avalanche. Nyradir chopped at the giant's neck as the man seemed to flow toward him and crush the barrel-sized throat with the heel of his foot. 

"Well-met!" laughed Nyradir. 

The man said nothing, but gave the dwarf a nod. 

Nyradir's smile faded from his lips as he nodded back. "A grim one," he thought to himself. 

There was a clap like thunder and a blinding flash of light. Something screeched, its voice fading off as if it fell into a deep, deep pit. 

* * * 

"That thing still lives," said Ghibelline. The elf pointed with his sword as he spoke to Gytha. From beneath the body of the giant it had killed, the fire-beast clawed itself free. It tossed the carcase of the huge warrior aside, the back of the giant had been burnt to the bone and almost hollowed out by the elemental it had lain upon. 

"I don't think that it is on our side," Ghibelline said over his shoulder. He lunged and put the point of his blade through the creatures throat. He might as well have tried to stab a bonfire. The creature hissed, a bright red tongue, the color of a sword-blade fresh pulled from the forge, licked out. 

It hurt the eyes just to look at the creature. The elemental rose, and Ghibelline's sword passed down through its body. Stepping forward it engulfed the blade up to the hilt and would have kept coming up the arm, till it could sink its white-hot, molten teeth into the elf's throat. Ghibelline pulled back, giant's blood sizzling on the edge of his sword, cooked by the body of the elemental. He ducked a slash from the fire-beast's claws, but they left three deep burns across his forearm. 

"Back to the flames beast!" commanded Gytha. The Cuthbertine priestess strode forward with her iron staff held in both hands. "By the strength of the holy Saint, send this fire-beast, this nameless elemental of fire, send it back to the place of its creation. It is not of this Oerth. O Saint, cast it out!" she screamed and brought her staff down on the creature's head. 

* * * 

There was a ringing in his ears. Nyradir opened his eyes and blinked them, but the purplish blotch was slow to fade. The dwarf lay on his back, looking up into the clear sky. A heavily bearded face bent over him and a hand slapped him lightly on his cheek. 

"...stunned," said Galar. 

"what?" Nyradir asked, but his voice sounded like a whisper. "WHAT!?!" he yelled. 

A pained expression shot across Galar's face and he put his hand to his ear. 

Nyradir opened his mouth to speak but Galar quickly placed his hand across the warrior's mouth before he could shout again. 

"Quietly," said Galar. "Quietly. I can hear fine, its you who are a bit wonky." 

"mmpgrhmm," said Nyradir. 

Galar took his hand away. 

"What happened?" the dwarven warrior asked. 

"Deific abjuration," Galar told him. The dwarven priest raised his eyes when he saw the blank look on Nyradir's face. "Human priestess make fire-elemental go away," he pointed behind him. 

Nyradir looked about, propping himself up, but the body of a giant blocked his view. He reached out an arm and Galar helped pull him to his feet. The after-image from the flash of light had faded from his eyes. No more purple blotch. Nyradir scanned the camp, no giants moving about, only a cluster of humans a few dozen feet away. 

"You must have hit your head," said Galar. "Strong rocks they have around here," he mused, "I'd'ave thought your head would be the one to put a dent in things, not the other way round." 

"Very funny," Nyradir rubbed the back of his head and found a lump the size of a chicken's egg. He pulled his hand away as if he'd touched a burning coal and winced at the pain, his breath whistling through his teeth. 

"Take a helm next time," Galar advised. 

"Well I wouldn't wear one now," Nyradir answered him. "Not with this lump. Can't you do something?" 

"Berronar's aid is for heroes," scolded Galar. "You've got a knock on the noggin. Teach you some sense, like wearing a helmet." 

"You don't wear one!" snorted Nyradir. 

"I'm a priest," said Galar, "besides, they make my hair sweaty." 

"So what is going on?" asked the warrior. 

"Picking up the injured. Collecting the dead," Galar shrugged. "I wasn't invited and we haven't been introduced. You're the one that speaks these lowland tongues, not me." 

"You could have asked Berronar's aid for that," Nyradir reminded him. 

"You are Truesilver's servant now?" asked Galar. "I don't go wasting Berronar's time when there are other means at hand."

 "You mean me," said Nyradir. 

"I mean you," Galar nodded in agreement. 

"Any dwarves among them?" asked Nyradir. 

"Not that I could see," said Galar. "There is an old gnome, an elf or two, a couple of humans." 

"I saw a halfling," offered Nyradir. 

"Good for you," Galar replied. "Now, times wasting, go find out who they are and see if they know anything." 

"Maybe they can help." Nyradir said. 

"They certainly saved our bacon," said Galar. "Our spirits as well, if I don't miss my guess." 

* * * 

"Is he dead?" Harold asked, fearing the answer would be yes. The halfling had made his way to the others, weaving around the bodies of the slain. Little Rat, he supported with great effort, the young orc's good arm over his shoulder. 

"No," Ivo answered him. "Almost, but no. Talberth and Telenstil made it to him in time." 

"Help me here, would you?" Harold asked 

The two small companions stood just beyond the circle of their friends. Gytha knelt beside the body of Harald. The ranger did not move, did not even seem to breath. Nearby were Talberth and Telenstil. Ghibelline hovered over Gytha's shoulder and Derue had his back to the halfling and the gnome. With care, Ivo and Harold lowered Little Rat to the ground. They propped him up against the arm of a dead giant, but the young orc was in a daze, he might as well of had his head on the stones or in a fire. 

"That arm looks bad," said Ivo. 

The bandage that Harold had wrapped around the mangled forearm was soaked through and it was tight against the swelling flesh. 

"I'll have to loosen it," Harold grimaced, "it's starting to swell, and it is still bleeding. Gytha!" the halfling yelled as he unwrapped the blood-slicked cloth. "Gytha!" he yelled again. 

"I am here," the priestess said as she approached. 

"How is Harald?" Ivo asked her. "Does he live?" 

Harold did not turn his head, but his eyes shifted to the side. 

"He lives. He sleeps, but he is grievously hurt still," said Gytha. "Do you need my aid?" 

"Little Rat," Harold turned now and his face was streaked with tears, "this wound may kill him, take his arm at least, can you help him. Will you?" 

Her touch was light but firm on the halfling's shoulder. 

"You should know me by now. No need to ask. I will do what I can." 

"Hrrmpphh!" came a deep growl. Nyradir had come up to them, the priest Galar standing just behind. Ghibelline had his eyes locked on the dwarven priest. 

"You be Ginnar's kin?" he asked in a dwarven tongue. 

"My brother! What do you know of him?" Galar spoke with a rising voice and great emotion. 

"Slow, please," Ghibelline held up both his hand palm forward. "Little your tongue I know." 

"Nyradir! Ask him. Ask him," said Galar excitedly. 

"You speak trade-talk?" asked Nyradir. 

"Ask him, curse you," interrupted Galar. 

"I will, I will," Nyradir snapped back in dwarvish. "You know Ginnar, Galar's brother?" he nodded toward the priest. "I be Nyradir." 

"I am Ghibelline," said the elf. "Ginnar was my friend, but I could not rescue him when I myself was rescued from the dungeon's of Nosnra." 

Nyradir translated the words to Galar as quickly as he could and the priest responded with a long stream of questions. "He ask much," said Nyradir in common. "But this place look bad. Giant's run, run home, but they be back. Bring more kin." 

"I agree," said Telenstil. The elven mage was bloodied and battered. One arm and shoulder he held stiff, and he winced with pain with every step he took. "We should be away, but where would we find shelter from the giants?" 

"How would we get there?" asked Ivo. "You need healing if you are going on a trek," he said to Telenstil, "and Harald, and Little Rat, and Talberth, you look none to well." 

"I'm fine," weezed the mage. He had both arms wrapped tightly round his chest. 

"Galar help," offered Nyradir. "Berronar, healer, Galar serve Berronar." The warrior turned to the priest and spoke to him in their dialect of mountain dwarf. "These are friends Galar. Friends of your brother too. You can call on Berronar to help them can't you." 

"You're quick. Enemies of giants doesn't mean friends to dwarves," said Galar. "But let Berronar judge the truth as he will. I'm not healing that orc, you can tell them that," the priest said firmly. 

* * * 

Day was coming to an end, and the ranger still slept. Harald had been carried away from the carnage and now the group, grown larger by two dwarves, had gathered themselves by the edge of camp that was furthest from the path. The bags of the giants had been plundered. Any loot that caught the eye was snatched up, but Nyradir and Galar took away only their own possessions, taken from them by the giants, and that of their slain companions. The bodies of Nyradir's warriors were carried away with reverence and solemnity by the two dwarves. It was a cheerless and grim circle, all were hurt or weary, save the halfling, and he had put himself on watch, a little distant from the others. 

"We go, Nosnra's Hall," said Nyradir in broken common. "What news?" 

"Can't you speak their tongue Ghibelline?" asked Talberth. 

"Nyradir, he speaks better common than I speak dwarven." Ghibelline confessed. 

"That is no dwarven tongue I have heard before," said Ivo. "I thought I knew them all well enough. And yet it is a little like all the languages of the dwarves I have learned or heard." 

"We have been to Nosnra's hall," said Telenstil. "Ghibelline and one other we took from the dungeons, but we left behind two of our own. We saw no dwarves." 

"They kept Ginnar chained to the forge, unless they had him out to work widening the tunnels and the chambers below the hall," added Ghibelline. 

"You friend Ginnar?" asked Nyradir. 

"Yes," said Ghibelline firmly. "I would call him friend, but he was a greater friend to another, and Jalal was like kin to me." 

"Jalal?" Nyradir turned and spoke to Galar in their own tongue. The dwarven priest raised his hands and shrugged. 

"A man," said Ghibelline, "not of war, but a braver spirit I have never known. Most of what I know of Ginnar comes from him, and he is why I live now." the elf lowered his eyes to the ground and Gytha put her arm about his shoulders. 

The two clerics could barely sit without swaying. They had expended all their strength and the healing bounty of their gods on the injured. Gytha even more so than the dwarf. She smiled, a wan, tired smile. Her face was lined with care, and her flesh was shrinking, pulling tight across her muscles and her bones. The cadaverous look of Ghibelline nearly matched her. The two, as they sat leaning against each other, looked like male and female of some species that was neither man or elf. 

Galar's eyes were red, but wide awake. Any news of his brother stirred up the fires within his spirit. He would not sleep or rest till he had heard all that there was to tell. Ghibelline spoke quickly of his capture, but little of his time within the dungeons, only telling what little he could of Ginnar. When he finished, the light of day was failing and twilight would soon be upon them. 

"Time for talk be done," said Nyradir, looking at the sky. "We go Nosnra's hall. Any here go too?" 

"I go," croaked out a voice. Harald had been set near to Gytha, his body was bruised and hurt. Fresh scars and even open cuts, that were beyond Gytha's present strength to heal, could be seen on his face and arms. Beneath his clothes the wounds were just as bad. 

"You can't even walk!" snapped the little thief. 

"Then I'll crawl," growled Harald. "But I won't run anymore." 

"I will go as well," said Ghibelline. He released Gytha's hand, but she caught it again. 

"I would go with Ghibelline, but I will abide by Telenstil's decision," she said. "I will not break my oath." 

Telenstil sat for a moment. Everyone watched him silently. "All oaths are ended here," said Telenstil. His words at first came with a great pain and weariness, but as he spoke them, a weight dropped from his spirit and he smiled. "We have wrecked great havoc among the giants. My queen has been given the answers to many questions, and through her, those you have made your pledges to as well. We have done what we could. I would do more, and if I could have it so, I would have all of us strong and rested. I would have the giants scattered or asleep, or in their cups. But I see no rest for us now, and what strength we have is perhaps more than we will have a day from now." 

"This is madness," said Talberth. 

"No," Telenstil raised his hand, palm forward, to the mage. "This is best. Nosnra has seen us run, will receive word of our flight, of this..." he gestured to the camp filled with the bodies of giant dead. "He might suspect that we will return, but I doubt that he will know for certain. This is best, but each is free to make their own decision. Nyradir, I will go with you," Telenstil said, and his hand dropped to his side. 

"Then I go with Ghibelline." said Gytha. 

"What of Little Rat?" Harold objected. "I can't leave him here. I agree with Talberth, this is madness, but I'll go. But I'm not leaving him," he gestured to the young orc, "like we left those others back in that cursed cave." 

"I will carry him if I have to," offered Ghibelline. 

Gytha smiled. "Listen. He snores now, his arm is healed, though it may be a little weak. His feet should be fine." 

Harold narrowed his eyes as he stared at the young orc. "Why that little..." said the halfling. He reached over to give Little Rat a shake. 

"No don't wake him," said Gytha. "Let him sleep while he can." 

"That leaves me," said Ivo. "No need to ask, I'll go." 

Talberth gave a deep sigh. He cast a quick glance at Gytha but quickly looked away. "I should have stayed in that 'cursed cave'. I have given my word," he pulled his shoulders straight and gave a small wince, though the pain in his chest was only a memory. "I will go." 

"Good," said Nyradir. "Good." he looked again toward the sky. "Rest little now, then go." 

"Rest," said Talberth. "Maybe it will clear some heads," but he knew in his heart that they were bound once more for Nosnra's hall. 

* * * 

(The End For Now...To Be Continued in, The Frost Giant Jarl - Grugnur's Tale)