Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 133

"How do we know it's you?" demanded Harold.

"How do I know it is really you two?" Talberth replied sarcastically. "This is pointless, Harald put down that sword."

"You're just trying to confuse things," Harold complained. "What happened to you? Where's Ivo?"

As if summoned by his name Ivo stepped through the portal still holding the silver wire that the ranger had let fall. Blinded by the mist he walked into Talberth and made him jump. With a flick of his wrist Harald moved the tip of his sword aside; the point was only inches away from Talberth's chest. The cloth of the mage's robe pressed against the sword's keen edge and split as did the soft shirt underneath.

"Ouucch!" Talberth's hand flew to his chest and his fingers came away wet with blood. "Watch it!" he yelled at Harald.

"Sorry," Harald apologized as he lowered his sword.

"What are you three playing at?" asked Ivo. He stepped around Talberth's legs and scowled at them all.

"Is this Talberth?" the little thief asked Ivo.

"Of course it is Talberth, and I'm me and you're you," Ivo rebuked him. "Now let us get back to the others."

"But Ivo," said Talberth, "there is so much here that we need to explore."

"Too much," Ivo replied. "What we need is rest, and a place of safety. This ruin provides us with neither I'd say."

"We are safe enough now," Talberth insisted, though his hand touched the hole in his short and the drying trickle of blood from the scratch beneath. "Now that I know what to say, the skeleton's and the wraith will lis..."

"Wraith!" Harold squeaked out alarmed.

"Do not worry, I talked with it. It obeyed my commands," Talberth said to Harold but he looked from face to face, "really we are perfectly safe."

"We need to talk with Telenstil first," said Ivo. "Talberth you were supposed to return if you found anything."

"Well I would have," Talberth said slightly annoyed, "but I was knocked out and manacled, I didn't get the chance."

"Before such a chance as that happens again let us be off and back to the others." insisted Ivo. "Harold, go collect your shadow."

"Little Rat," Harold's eyebrows rose, "if he's gone to sleep..."

"But Ivo we are safe," Talberth's voice had a pleading tone.

"Talberth you know better than that," Ivo shook his head. "And even if we are safe, what of the others?" the old gnome held up his hand to silence Talberth's objections. "Save your arguments for Telenstil. We are leaving; do you want to abandon us to search this ruin?"

"No, no," said Talberth. "This place is powerful, I know it."

"I do not doubt that," Ivo agreed.

"We may be the first people here in a thousand years," Talberth mused.

"These skeletons are still lively," said Harald. The ranger lashed out with his boot and sent a pile of bones clattering across the floor.

"A thousand years... then the time it takes to complete our task against the giants will be very short compared to that," Ivo said to Talberth.

"I will be back," Talberth said to the ancient walls.

"Ivo," Harold half dragged the young orc along, "do you have magic to help him. He wants to sleep and I'm having trouble keeping him awake."

"I'll carry him," offered the ranger.

"Here," said Ivo, he took a small pouch from his belt and opening it waved the contents back and forth beneath Little Rat's nose. The orc's eyes opened wide and he gave a huge sneeze, Ivo rescued his pouch just in time, pulling it away with a quick move of his hand.

"Smell bad," Little Rat complained and sneezed three times, one after another. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 132

The chilling cold lasted only a fraction of a second, but Ivo shivered as if doused with an icy wave that soaked him to the bone. His hand stuck to the silver wire he held. Carefully he peeled it from the palm of his hand so that none of his flesh came away with the metal. "Back again," he said to himself.

The chamber appeared the same, two mist-filled doors, one to either side; the floor crisscrossed with lines, lengths of silver wire showing where they had risen from the cracks. Ivo was glad that the magic of the portal was playing no tricks on them. There were problems enough for a lifetime just dealing with the giants, they needed no more distractions only a place of rest and safety. So far they had found only trouble and mysteries that they did not need and had no time to solve.

He pulled on the wire signaling the others that he was safe and about to return. A step took him into the mist, his long nose touching the swirling surface, but a voice called out and stopped him.

"Ivo!" Talberth exclaimed, surprised but very pleased.

"Talberth!" Ivo let the silver wire slip from his hand. "Where have you been?" a note of caution crept into the old gnome's voice. His fingers flexed suddenly aware that he had dropped the wire. With reflexes that belied his age Ivo snagged the silver strand just before it disappeared into the mist.

* * *

"This place is amazing," there was a childlike wonder in Talberth's voice. "Ivo, these enchantments must be from the days of the imperium."

"Evil days," Ivo said. He pulled hard on the silver wire several times and waited for a reply. Strong hands dragged at the metal strip from the other side of the mist.

"We must explore, there is so much to discover here," Talberth went on not listening to the gnome.

"That will be up to Telenstil to decide," Ivo told him. "We are not here to search ruins. Remember that Talberth. I'm going back to get the others you stay here." Ivo looked over at the mage. Talberth had turned away, he examined the door-frame that surrounded the reddish mist as Ivo watched and did not say a word. "You're not listening. Talberth!" Ivo shouted.

"What?!" the mage spun, startled by the call, he had drawn an enchanted wand from his sleeve quick as a back-alley thug might draw a knife and held it ready, a word of activation on his lips.

"Come here, I'm not leaving you behind," said Ivo wagging a finger at the mage. "We will go through here and collect the others."

"That is the way I went," Talberth said, "well, that is where I was thrown, but it was through there that the skeletons caught me."

"Yes, we had the same encounter," said Ivo. "Harald made short work of them."

"They should listen to me now," Talberth shook his head. "If only I'd realized what they were saying at the time. They were trying to talk, I'm not sure what they tried to say but they were speaking ancient Suel no doubt."

"They are still rattling about," Ivo lead him to the mist, "we can let one pull itself together and you can talk with it all you like."

"I don't want to..." Talberth objected.

"Nonsense," said Ivo as the old gnome nudged him through the doorway and into the mist.

* * *

"Curse it, what is Ivo doing?" Harald complained.

"It's that portal, hells," muttered Harold. The halfing gnawed at his thumbnail in frustration. "We couldn't find some cave, no, we had to come here. I hate ruins, I hate the woods, I hate the stinking giants. When we get out of here I'm going back to Greyhawk and I'm not leaving it again."

"Wait," Harald felt the silver wire shift in his hand, "something is happening, I'm getting a signal from Ivo." The ranger stumbled back and a good length of wire came through the mist. "What is he playing at, there's the signal again. Harold stop complaining and grab your knife, there is something strange going on."

"You drop that wire and grab your sword," Harold told him.

"I'm not letting go till we find out what happened to Ivo," Harald replied, but he shifted the wire to his left hand and balanced his claymore as best he could in his right. Three strong tugs were placed on the silver strip and Harald gave back two short pulls. "That is the signal, he's coming through."

"That's not Ivo," yelled the halfling.

Harald let the wire slip from his hand and grabbed the hilt of his sword with both. "Talberth!" he exclaimed as he brought the blade back and prepared to strike.

"Wait!" it was the halfling's turn to yell. "How do we know it's Talberth. Where is Ivo?"

"Don't move," Harald warned and brought his arm back again.

"Don't be stupid," Talberth put up his hands as if to ward off the huge steel blade. "It's me! It's me!" 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 131

"Harold, build a fire," Ivo said.

"Get Harald to do it, Little Rat is hurt," replied the thief with a note of concern in his voice. The halfling wrapped a length of cloth around the young orc's head. Blood soaked through quickly and joined the drying trail down the little Rat's face.

"Oohhh!" Little Rat moaned.

"Good, you're still alive," said Harold.

"Head hurt," the small orc put both his hands to the wound, then pulled them back as if he touched a burning coal. "Ow!"

"What were you thinking," chided Harold. "Knives are next to useless against those things."

"We need to burn these bones," Ivo put his foot down on a hand that crawled across the floor like a spider. "They're pulling together like the body of a troll."

 "Ivo," Harald said, "there are no doors that I can see, just that portal. A fire might smoke us out."

Ivo broke the skeletal fingers beneath his foot and scattered the fragments of bone with a kick. "Keep an eye on the remains then or we will be fighting these creatures all over again."

"We?" Harald shook his head.

"Take the light," Ivo handed the ranger the enchanted torch, then stood by Harold and stared over the halfling's shoulder. "That looks well done."

"I've had lots of practice," Harold said securing the bandage he had wrapped round the orc's head. "Mostly on myself," he mumbled.

"If you are done then help me search," said Ivo. "There should be another way out. You are sure that Talberth went through the door?"

"It might not matter," said Harald. The ranger bent and grabbed the largest piece of a broken skull from a pile of fragmented bone. "This room is not the one that my sword touched through the mist. I felt walls close to either side, but here," he nodded toward the swirling mist, "here the door is in the middle of that wall."

"He went through the middle door,"Harold looked up. "It looked like solid stone. Who can tell in a place like this if that door lead to this room."

"I will use a spell," said Ivo. "The same that I used before, but it will only show me where magic is active and how strong. If the doors are simply hidden we will have to find them by other means."

"I can help there," said Harold.

The thief had finished binding the young orc's wounds. Ivo gestured and spoke gnomish words of magic that the others could not make out. Slowly he pivoted in a circle and pointed with his hand, and where he pointed glowing light came forth. The skeletal bones showed as a vibrant green. They were scattered about the room, some in piles that flowed like bugs atop a carcass, others were mere fragments that lay still, too far away to join together and reform. It was the back wall of the room that reacted the strongest. From floor to ceiling, from side to side, it glowed blue, bright enough to light up the entire room.

"That's something," said Harold. "I think we have found our door."

"Before we go further in we should make sure we can get out," Harald lowered the enchanted torch he held. The glow seemed even stronger in the dark.

"If that is a door," said Ivo. He pulled the silver wire from his pack and straightened it out again. "Hold one end, I will walk through and see if this door still leads out."

* * *

"Man-Ze-O, Em-Pere!" Talberth commanded. The skeletons froze in place leaving Talberth still bound in stone manacles that floated in the air. The words of ancient Suel worked like a magic spell, whatever force controlled the animated bones recognized the old imperial tongue and obeyed. "Miz-So, Miz-So Ep-Ze" he shouted. One of the skeletons began to tremble then came apart, its bones clattered to the floor. "Hells!" Talberth cursed. "Obviously not the right command."

A breeze touched his face; it raised dust and made him sneeze. Somewhere a door had opened, from where he stood, held at to the chamber wall, Talberth could see the far end of the room. At the entrance there was a figure, gray as stone but insubstantial as a cloud. It floated like the mist that seemed to form its body. The closer it came the more it appeared to be a man. Talberth could make out greater detail in the smoky haze; Arms, legs, a head with flowing hair; that was certain. It wore a cloak that billowed behind it like a flag, blown by a wind that Talberth could not feel. It had a bearded face and eyes that glowed as red as coals just stirred to life. When it was only an arm's-length away it opened its mouth, a black and empty pit, and words flowed out. The creature spoke as if from somewhere far away, its form simply a conduit that linked its spirit to this oerthly realm.

"Fe-Mos Su-El, Fe-Et Su-El," the voice wailed.

"Suel Ve-Vae," Talberth told the wraith.

"Su-El Pos-Fa-Ner Ver-Uz," the wraith replied. "Ob-Te-Em-Ro," it bowed down before Talberth and the manacles came free. The mage dropped, his arms felt like they were on fire. He hugged himself and rubbed at the muscles. A sharp pain jumped from the small of his back and between his shoulder blades.

Talberth glanced up into the burning eyes. "For-Es Mo-Nas-Tre," he intoned the dusty words. The wraith stood and turned, it waved a finger and the skeleton offered Talberth its arm. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 130

Bones shattered, the edge of the sword cut cleanly through an arm but the ribs broke against steel as the blade passed through. The skeleton's spine was severed high where its heart might have been; a shoulder blade spun away like a disk and the joint where its other arm pivoted back and forth split in two, the knob of bone and length of arm fell to the floor. Another skeleton was a step behind the first. It walked into the sword's path as it swung up from the ruin of the first, the tip lodging in its skull tearing the head free from the neck. Yellow teeth gnawed at the metal of the blade, the skull became a ghastly trophy at the end of Harald's sword. Both bodies fell to pieces and rattled upon the stones as they came crashing down. Whatever force animating them was severed by Harald's scything blade just as the bones of spine, shoulder and arm had been.

"Are there more?" bellowed the ranger.

"Yes! Yes!" shouted Harold. The thief ran forward, his small sword drawn, Little Rat pulled two smaller blades from hide sheaths he'd made from a wolf's pelt and attached to the old rope he used as a belt.

"Where?" the ranger swung his blade but this time through empty air. "I need light!"

"There is one about ten feet to your right," Harold called to him. "The left, the other two are on your left, they're near!"

The ranger turned the blade to the right, but at the halfling's word he brought it swinging to the left. The ranger clipped a wooden frame and thinking that he'd hit a skeleton, Harald drew the sword back and struck with all his strength. The ancient wood splintered, the frame flipped over and cracked apart, old cloth shredding into fragments billowing out in a cloud of dust. The corner post that formed a headboard broke away, one half sailing through the air. Teeth shattered from the still animated skull, it bounced from a wall only a moment after the broken post.

"You hit a bed!" Harold yelled at him.

"Hells, get me some light!" the ranger cursed.

"To the right!" yelled Harold. "No, the left!"

"Make up your mind!" grumbled the ranger.

A skeleton leapt over the heap of broken wood, it collided with the ranger as he tried to bring his sword around. Its bones were light; it had no flesh to add weight to its attack. The ranger's arm and shoulder knocked it hard and threw it back into the fragments of the bed. Bony hands closed on the ranger's arm, he could not bring his blade against it while it grappled him. From the left another skeleton clutched him by the throat, its fingers like a fist of branches, sharp ends gouging into skin. One handed the ranger used the pommel of his sword to beat away the strangling grasp. He spun and lifted both skeletons from their feet but he could not break their grip. The pommel was a poor weapon used blindly in the dark.

"Get them off me," the ranger gasped, but the halfling and the orc could do nothing while they shook clutching to both throat and arm.

"Stop twisting!" Harold shifted trying to find a place to strike a boney leg or hip without cutting the ranger as well. There was a solid crack, the metal pommel had connected and broke a skull like the shell of a hollow egg. Clawing fingers dropped from the ranger's throat, the skeleton fell apart like a puppet with its strings and bindings cut.

* * *

Dust began to billow, the shattered bedframe shook; loose pieces of wood fell from the rising bones. With unnatural strength it tore a three foot length of board from the pile of debris. The skeleton brought up its makeshift club and advanced on the ranger who struggled blindly in the dark. A blade gouged into its shin, a second hacked into its thigh and carved out a divot of bone. Little Rat howled out a challenge and tore into the skeleton with a flurry of blows. The boney horror stared down with empty sockets, it swung the length of wood, but Little Rat ducked beneath the blow. He sidestepped and brought his dagger skimming along the outstretched arm shaving off a curl, whittling the skeleton down with every stroke.

The ranger heard the young orc howl, he knew where the sound had come from but he could see nothing. One skeleton still clasped his arm, it clawed at him, finger bones digging into the sleeve of his shirt, each digit strong as a metal clamp. He could feel the flesh bruise, mashed beneath the crushing strength. The skeleton rattled, he shook it like a housemaid would shake the dust from a carpet, but he could not shake it loose. A flash of light lit the room, the beams swayed to the right then toward the ranger.

Ivo had come through the misty portal, the enchanted torch casting its rays into the room. Little Rat squealed, he brought up an arm to protect his eyes but the skeleton was unaffected by the sudden illumination. The board came down and this time struck the small orc squarely atop the head. There was a crack, part of the wood snapped off and a line of blood seeped from Little Rat's lank hair. Harold ducked his head, he'd been slashing at the skeleton that grabbed the ranger's arm and as he did he caught a glimpse of the light that that shone from Ivo's torch. The edge of his knife opened a foot long gash in the ranger's cloak, he'd try to pull his blow, only luck or the hand of fate kept him from doing the same to the ranger's leg as he did to the cloak.

"What's this?" Ivo said, startled as he walked into a fight. A pair of skeletal feet slapped across Harold's face, Little Rat growled and waved his knives but the skeleton with the wooden board struck him again. The ranger managed to shift his sword from one hand to the other and now that he could see, he deftly smashed in the skull of the skeleton hanging on his arm. Everything happened at once before Ivo could do more than blink. Blood was pouring from Little Rat's head; he staggered like a drunk on a three day binge, but managed to lash out with his knives. The blades no more than scratched the monster's bones. It raised its board again for a vicious stroke but there was a shriek of steel as a blade sliced through the air. There was a glint of metal, a dark shape passed above the young orc's head and the skeleton was gone. Arms, chest and spine were chopped cleanly through and flung back against the wall. The last of the skeletons was destroyed. The ranger's head twisted back and forth looking for another foe and Little Rat sat on the ground holding his bleeding head between his hands.

"Here is your light," Harold said to the ranger, nodding toward the gnome.

"Next time you're going through the door first," the ranger said to Ivo.

"Next time you'll take the light with you," Ivo told him.