Friday, January 31, 2020

The Lost Library of Q'Sh - 3

The Lost Library of Q'Sh - 3

5). The hallway is very wide and has an arched ceiling that peaks 15ft overhead. It is extraordinarily dusty inside and the ceiling is choked with spiderwebs. When either set of doors (north or south) is opened the dust will be stirred and a small whirlwind will begin to dance in front of the open door. It will spin faster and faster and the dust will begin to form into the shape of a man. If disturbed the forming figure will give a loud moan of anguish and fly apart leaving a pile of dust behind, but if it is left alone it will become the figure of a tall robed man holding a book. He will hold out this book to the characters so that they can see the cover. On it is the sigil of a snake swarming around a set of runes. There are runes also inscribed along the body of the snake but in a different language. If Comprehend Languages is cast upon the book it will reveal dozens of names though one stands out as if embossed (Zuel). The runes upon the snake remain undecipherable. The names around the snake will begin to shift and push against the snake's encircling body and the snake's body will begin to constrict. The figure of the robed man will let out a scream and both man and book will explode in a cloud of dust. If the figure of the man is touched at any point during this process he will collapse in a pile of dust, though the book itself can be touched by the caster of the Comprehend Languages spell.

Empty sconces where torches once rested alternate left and right down the hall every 20ft and if the 1st sconce (where the secret door is marked) is turned to the left a grinding sound will be heard, a small vibration will run through the floor and the walls, while dust shakes from the ceiling. The 10ft section of wall which holds the sconce will recede about an inch and stop. It is jammed shut. The movable wall will take magic or picks and sledge hammers to take apart. It is an actual thick section of stone wall formed of stone slabs weighing a couple of hundred pounds each and expertly fitted together (damn that dwarven craftmanship) so knocking it apart will probably involve a good deal of time, a slight chance of stones falling on the character and a great deal of noise).

Once the obstruction is cleared a half-dozen skeletons will burst from the dark interior of the room; each armed with sword and shield. The leader still wears a rusty shirt of chain (he is AC4) while the others wear the scraps of rotted leather armor they wore in life but are now of no additional protection. They bear longsword and shield (giving the other 5 skeletons AC6) and do the damage of their weapon unlike their more generic brethren. They will fight to their destruction.

If the thick cobwebs of the hall are searched or set afire (the webs will ignite but they burn sluggishly taking 2 combat rounds for a 10ft section to burn through) a mummified body will drop to the ground (with the chance of falling on anyone standing directly under it. As the first 10ft section is burned a body will drop from the entangling webs (or if the webs are cut away or the body found within and pulled from them). 2 more bodies can be found among the cobwebs and will be found when half the spiderwebs are burnt or removed.

The first body is that of a dwarf wearing a chain shirt and helm. He carries a battleaxe clenched tightly in one withered fist. He has a pouch at his belt contain 30gp.

The second body is that of a man wearing robes and carrying a staff. He has a medallion made of silver with a small red gem at its center worth (10gp) and a scroll tube in his belt containing what appears to be the spell for Burning Hands but if cast will cause the scroll to burst into flame and engulf the caster for 1d12 Dmg.

The third body is that of an elf wearing a fine shirt of chain and carrying a longsword. His body will be the last discovered.

If all three bodies are discovered or when any attempt is made to open the northern doors or turn the sconce in the hall to trigger the secret door a huge spider construct will drop from the ceiling. It will immediately animate the 3 bodies who will rise and attack the characters. This creature radiates magic and is not undead. It is made from the hollowed out body of a giant spider.

Giant Spider Construct - 12hp, 2HD, AC6, 1 Attack (Bite for 1d10) Arrows cause no damage. Stabbing/Thrusting weapons cause 1HP damage. Slashing/Chopping/Blunt weapons cause double damage. Can animate and control up to 3 corpses.

Body 1 (dwarf)- 8hp, 1HD, AC5, 1 Attack (1d8 by weapon or 1d3 weaponless). Arrows cause no damage. Stabbing/Thrusting weapons cause 1HP damage

Body 2 (man) - 4HP, 1HD, AC 10, 1 Attack (1d6 by weapon or 1d3 weaponless). Arrows cause no damage. Stabbing/Thrusting weapons cause 1HP damage.

Body 3 - (elf) - 6hp, 1HD, AC5, 1 Attack (1d8 by weapon or 1d3 weaponless). Arrows cause no damage. Stabbing/Thrusting weapons cause 1HP damage.

The northern doors are similar to the southern except that these have pull rings in them. They are also warped shut and require a combined strength of 30 to open them but doing so will trigger the Giant Spider Construct to release its three animated corpses (if not already released) and attack.

Minstrel Tales - Give Me Three Brave Swords Shielding

Minstrel Tales Give Me Three Brave Swords Shielding

Give Me Three Brave Swords Shielding

The minstrels and bards from the Shield Lands sing this song when raising support for their struggle against the Iuz and the Horned Society. It has become quite popular among soldiers, in their camps and the taverns they frequent.

Give Me Three Brave Swords, Shielding

Give me three brave swords, Shielding,
Only three brave swords;
They will keep the little I have
Free from Iuz's horde.

I am dying beneath Iuz's heel, Shielding,
Dying beneath Iuz's heel;
And the agony of such a death
No balm may ever heal.

Iuz has gnawed me like a wolf, Shielding,
A wolf that is fierce for blood;
All the day, and the night beside,
Lapping at my blood.

I dreamed of freedom in my sleep, Shielding,
And the sight was welcome to see;
I awoke with an eager, beating heart,
But there was no freedom for me.

How can I look to you, Shielding,
How can I look to you
For swords to give to your ravaged land,
When you are swordless too.

For I read the defeat in your graven face, Shielding,
And in your eyes so wild,
And I felt it in your shaking hand,
And in your heart so mild.

What have the Shield Lands done, Shielding,
What have the Shield Lands done
That the Oerth looks on and sees us die,
Perishing one by one?

Do the nations of the Flanaess care not, Shielding,
The great ones and the high,
For the suffering of the Shield Land's sons,
Whether they live or die?

There are many still with a brave heart, Shielding,
Dying of want and cold,
While many escaped to safer lands,
Still strong and rich in gold.

Come nearer to my side, Shielding,
Come nearer to my side,
And remember me as I was,
Your homeland before I die.

Quick, for I cannot see you, Shielding,
The seeds of death are sown;
Shielding! dear Shielding! ere I die,
Three swords for your home.

Loosely adapted from 'Give Me Three Grains of Corn, Mother' By Amelia Blandford Edwards

NPC - Selbie - Fruzti Farmer

NPC - Selbie Fruzti Farmer

While the Fruzti are known as Barbarian Raiders among the southern lands of the Flanaess the bulk of their population are farmers and fishers. Selbie is a young woman but a much respected farmer. She has a smattering of the Sedr magic which all Fruzti women seem to have at least a hint. The druidess Olgy of her small village Granblomstran works with her both in her ability with the Sedr and her natural affinity with growing things. Selbie is the merest of apprentices in either.

All Fruzti learn to fight as there is no real safety in the north. Selbie nows how to raise a shield, which end of the spear is the pointy bit and is working on a vest of leather armor. She has no plans or desire to move from the village and at seventeen is betrothed to Engenwulf the son of another prosperous farmer. 

Those from Granblomstran and other small farming villages like it who have the wanderlust tend to become hunters, scouts or mountaineers rather than sea-raiders. They are more likely to own horses and know how to ride than their coastal kindred and head inland, west and south rather than east toward the ships and sea.

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - 2020 - Part 11

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 11

"Come along," Harold called to the small orc. "You little monster," he said under his breath.

"Wait, wait!" cried Little Rat. "I hurry."

The orc slipped from stone to stone following the halfing's path. The two were almost of a size; the small, thin orc was just a hand taller, but nothing more than flesh and bones wrapped in a dirty rag of shirt and pants. Neither wore shoes, the halfling had the wide heavy padded feet of his kind and the orc had soles tough as leather, thick and scarred.

Harold stopped, his feet on a split stone projecting from the wall of rock. He heard voices drifting up from below and peered down to see who made them. Between a wide cleft of rock his companions sat in two small groups. The orcs gathered round their leader, while Talberth, Gytha and Ghibelline sat by the body of the man they'd rescued and who'd died this very morning. Ivo sat atop a high boulder, half concealed by the stones around him and a cloak which blended in with rocks dull gray shade.

There was a scrabble above, the sound of cracking stone, he heard a small sharp yell and jerked his head around looking up the wall of rock. Harold had time only to raise his hands. A wide-eyed orcish face came hurtling down. Little Rat crashed into the small thief and both went over the foothold in a tangle, both shouting as they fell.

* * *

Harold barely had time to scream out a curse before he and the orc bounced off a small lip of rock projecting from the stones. The tangled pair flew apart, all eyes turned up to watch; a dark shape with many limbs and a howling voice that was both a squeak and a sharp loud screech that came hurtling from the rocks above their heads.

The quickest to react were Talberth and Ghibelline. The mage wore a magic ring set with stones, each a different type of gem; these housed the power of magic spells which could be called upon instantly. The touch of Talberth's hand on a small green emerald chip and an arcane word unleashed the spell. Talberth directed its energy and an unseen force washed over the nearest of the two who fell. Little Rat seemed to swim through the air, his arms and legs beat like a humming birds, a blur of movement lashing out wildly. At first his effort did nothing to slow him down, but as the magic that Talberth cast came over him he began to float. The small orc drifted like an autumn leaf dancing back and forth in a slight fall breeze. He landed on his back and lay there looking up at the sky, not moving, lying still but for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

The thief was not so lucky. Talberth's spell did not take hold of him. Harold plummeted down, he had only a moment shake the panic from his head and let his form go slack. "Land loose as a drunkard," his old teacher used to say, but still he hit hard. With a running leap Ghibelline threw himself beneath Harold, his arms stretched out to catch, but he'd jumped too soon. The little thief crashed into the elf's back slamming him face first into the stones. Harold bounced, he knocked himself unconscious, his head smacking against a rock. Gytha ran over to Harold first. She saw Ghibelline push himself up, his face scratched and bleeding, but the thief was her first concern.

"Harold, Harold!" Gytha ran her hand down the back of the halfling's head. It came away wet with blood.

"Is he all right?" Ivo had come scrambling down from his perch atop the high boulder.

"He is hurt, I do not know yet how badly," The cleric felt Harold's neck, but was careful not to move him. "Cuthbert, dear Saint, aid me with your strength again." She put one hand to the back of his wounded head and the other behind his neck. The Saint's power flowed through her hands and bathed Harold's head in a gold light. Gytha felt his body relax, she hadn't noticed his breathing before, but she heard him inhale, deeply, then exhale in a long sigh. "He sleeps now," said Gytha. "I would rather have him awake, it is not good to sleep with such a hurt, but he is in the Saint's hands, I can do no more."

"You have healed him?" asked Ghibelline. The elf cradled his arm against his chest. The bleeding cuts went unheeded, leaving trails like tears of red down his face.

"It looks like you need some healing too," said Ivo.

"I have done what I could for Harold, let me see your arm," said Gytha. "Your face needs tending to."

"I am worried about your friend," said Ghibelline. Gytha reached out to check his arm but the elf backed away. "Heal him first, Jalal was injured so, he did not wake, the same as your friend." Ghibelline nodded toward the thief.

"Jalal was old, his time had come," Gytha smiled sadly. "I feel that Harold's time is not today. Trust me, he will wake, but you are injured now and we may need that arm of yours."

Talberth looked down at the snoring thief; he bent with the thought of turning the halfling to make Harold more comfortable.

"Don't!" yelled Gytha. "Don't touch him! Talberth you may hurt him worse if you try to move him."

The mage held up both his hands and turned away, chastened by Gytha's angry shout.

Ivo grabbed the edge of Talberth's robe and lead him aside. "Best not to interfere, she has things well in hand."

"I was just trying to help," muttered Talberth.

"Harold will be fine, but you and I will need to take watch, and decide what to do with our scout, and these orcs." The two wizards looked over at Derue and beyond him to where the orcs sat in a rough circle. Their leader talked with them and was answered with a few grunts and sullen looks, but they were a quiet lot. "I would prefer them to be loud," said Ivo.

"They are nothing to worry about," Talberth dismissed them from his mind.

"Well then, I will worry for you," said Ivo. "A knife is always dangerous, especially if it is behind you." 


They soared, but Harald did not feel like a bird, he just felt sick. Telenstil brought them over the hill, sweeping in from the south. If any watched from the steading they would see a strange sight indeed as the elf and the ranger crossed the sky.

The land below was bare atop the giant's hill, the trees cut down long ago to help build the steading's halls. They stripped the land around, but new growth had begun fill the slopes around their hill. At the top the giants had pulled the roots from the ground and hacked down anything taller than a man, but beyond the crown they did not care if the trees returned.

Harald scanned the slope; his eyes were old, but still sharp, sharper than an elves they used to say. He yelled out when he caught sight of the ledge where they had camped the night before. He waved to Telenstil and shouted over the rushing wind.

"There!!!" he cried. "Look!"

Telenstil waved back, then directed the orb down toward the ledge. They passed by their old camp then followed the trail, flying straight up the hill. The elf's head turned right then left. Beside him Harald did the same, searching for the friends they'd left behind. As they rose the mage felt a weight begin to drag at him, the orb had changed, no longer white, it dulled. No time to warn his friend he set them down, the power draining completely from the orb before they landed.

Harald was taken by surprise. He brought his feet up but skidded across the uneven trail on his knees. Telenstil nimbly stayed on his feet and ran to aid his friend.

"Harald, my apologies, are you injured?" asked Telenstil solicitously.

"I've skinned my knees," Harald gave a groan as he stood. "I had worse when I was boy falling down a tree, but I wish you could have told me we were going to land."

* * *

"We will have to walk from here," said Telenstil.

"The Oerth Mother be praised," smiled Harald. "No more flying for me, it's too hard on the knees."

The sun was climbing on toward noon when the pair crested the hill and left the crossbacked trail. Telenstil marveled at the ranger's strength. Harald seemed tireless while the elf needed to stop and rest more than once as they followed the steep path.

"Their trail is clear?" asked Telenstil.

Harald laughed, "On this hill, it is like footprints in new snow. There isn't really anyplace to go here except up or down." The ranger looked back the way they'd come. "It is all rock and cliff-face. Easy enough to climb, but it would be slow going for our lot. Besides, climbing up these rocks only takes you to a higher leg of the trail."

"Yes," Telenstil agreed. "This slope climbs the hill like it was the side of a Ziggurat."

"A what?" asked Harald.

"A vast structure of stone," Telenstil explained, "a building big as a hill, each segment is a huge square block with another smaller square of stones set on top till it ends with a small plateau, each side a set of stairs running from the summit to the ground."

"You're joking," laughed Harald. "Such things exist? What a waste of time."

"They do, at least such is recorded in the journals of the wise," said Telenstil. "One such building is said to tower over the jungle lands far to the south and east, a place of great power."

"They must be lowlanders who built the thing," mused Harald, "and have no hills of their own."


Ivo saw them first, though Talberth had the better view. The young mage was a poor watchman, his mind ruled his eyes. A blank look would fall across his face as he stared out over the hilltop, and he would become lost in thought.

"There they are!" Ivo gave Talberth a nudge and ran across the boulder they stood upon, surefooted as a mountain goat.

Talberth cried out for the gnome to wait, but his plea went unheeded. He took great care crossing the same length of stone that Ivo traveled with ease, he had to stoop and crawl, undignified but safe from falling off the boulders' smooth surface.

"Telenstil, Harald, thank goodness you two have returned unharmed," Ivo said with relief.

"What has happened?" asked Telenstil. "You sound concerned my friend."

"Harold has been injured, he took a fall..." began Ivo.

"What! How badly is he hurt?!" demanded the ranger.

"Gytha has tended to him," Ivo assured the man. "He sleeps. She says he will be fine, but he hurt his head..."

"Then he should not sleep!" Harald said angrily.

"Gytha knows..."

"Yes she does know!" it was Ivo's turn to interrupt. "She has done all she can, and she says he will be fine. Tut!" Ivo held up his hand and silenced the ranger before he could interrupt again. "Gytha knows more of the healing craft than you my friend, or do you doubt her?"

The ranger's shoulders sagged. He leaned against a rock. A great fatigue came over him.

"You are right master gnome. I am in the wrong, my apologies."

"No need," said Ivo.

"Where is our thief?" Harald asked subdued.

"He sleeps near to that rise," said Ivo, pointing to the east where the bare stones became a peak. "You can find him by his snores."

"My thanks," Harald answered him politely. He gave a deep and respectful bow.

Ivo bowed back then watched the ranger rush by.

"How did it go with you?" he asked Telenstil.

"I believe the results were worth the effort," the mage replied. He paused for a moment then looked down at Ivo with a serious expression on his face. "Would our presence have saved Harold from his fall?"

"Some would say it was his fate," Ivo shook his head. "Who can say? Each footstep takes us down a different path."

"Ah well," Telenstil sighed, "Our quest may lead us all into the endless sleep."

"If that is so..." the old gnome grimaced then brought the talk back to the here and now. "Tell me how your little side trip went."

"It went well enough," said Telenstil. "We ambushed two of Nosnra's messengers, killed them, but a third escaped. That will cost us later I am sure."

"No doubt," Ivo agreed.

"It went well, a third might have been too many for us to stop," admitted Telenstil.

"Fifty years ago you would not have believed that you could slay one giant let alone two," mused Ivo reflecting on the past.

"Our ranger is a mighty hand with his sword," said Telenstil. "It was his hand that slew the greater of the pair."

"Humans, fifty years ago he was a babe in swaddling," laughed Ivo. "They lead a may-fly life."

"They burn bright in the time they have," Telenstil smiled back. "As do you and your kind my friend."

"Elves," Ivo said dismissively. "You live a dragon's years. What a gnome could do with such a lifetime. You play more than you work."

"Life is worth enjoying," Telenstil laughed in reply. "It is worth thinking about as well. The hours pass as slowly for us as they do for you or for our human friends, but the years, Ivo, the years go quickly by."

"Speaking of time," said Ivo, "we had best get on the move, unless we are to camp here."

"I will need to rest a bit before we move on," said Telenstil. He sat down on a chair-sized rock and opened up his pack. "Here, I took these from the bodies of the giants. Messages sent from Nosnra I suspect."

Ivo eyed the huge rolls of skin that Telenstil drew out.

"One for you," said Telenstil handing a roll of hide to Ivo, "and one for me."

"We will be camping here then," Ivo bit his lip. "I am not sure that is for the best."

"There will be time enough," Telenstil said. "Time for me to rest and time enough to sort out Nosnra's letters."

Ivo raised a bushy brow as he looked over the scroll the size of a cloak. "A giant's scrawl, this may take some time to decipher. It is always like a code. Giants, they never manage to spell a word the same way twice."

"We will manage," Telenstil assured the gnome. 


"Harold, can't I leave you on your own for a minute?" the ranger said quietly, standing over the small sleeping thief.

"He will be fine," Gytha put her hand on the ranger's arm then leaned her head against his shoulder.

"He fell?" asked Harald.

"He has gained an apprentice it seems, the little orc. The orc fell and both tumbled from the rocks up there," Gytha pointed to the sheer wall of stone that rose up above their heads.

"Where is this orc?" Harald asked in a slow and dangerous voice.

"Now Harald, the little fellow meant no harm," Gytha said and held tightly to the ranger's arm. "He has become quite attached to our halfling friend. I talked with him, he feels very bad. He told me that Harold saved his life up there."

"I do not trust orcs," said Harald. "Even little ones."

* * *

Midday, the sun was bright overhead and the company found themselves still camped atop the hill. With the aid of the ranger's skills and the gnome's illusions they were safely hidden from all but arcane sight. The orcs slept, they hid their eyes from the sunlight laying themselves face-down on the stones and hard-packed oerth. The others were awake and all but the scout Derue were gathered about the body of Jalal.

"Will this work?" asked Gytha.

"Talberth and I have studied this spell, it will work," Telenstil replied.

"Ghibelline, it will provide a safe resting place for his body," she said to the elf.

"I wish I knew the customs of his kind," said Ghibelline sadly.

"His body will be safe, hidden and encased in stone," Telenstil said calmly.

"Will he rest, or will his spirit be trapped here as well?" asked Ghibelline.

"I think he will rest," said Gytha. "We all wish him peace."

"He died free," Harald said. "He escaped from that hole of Nosnra's. I think he will rest. It is a beautiful place this land, even the nearness of the giants cannot take that away."

"They are a blight," muttered the little thief, "they should be wiped out."

"Harold, I am glad to hear you speak," said Telenstil.

The halfling had been quiet and withdrawn since he had awakened. He had overjoyed his companions when his eyes first opened, but his words were dark and he had not smiled, a great change for the small thief.

"Be assured we are not finished with the giants yet."

"And they are not finished with us," said Ivo.

"Yes. We need to speak of this, but now let us put Jalal to rest," said Telenstil.

"I will carry him," the ranger said.

"No," Ghibelline spoke up. "No, I will."

"Let us help you," said Gytha. "The ground is rough, we will lend a hand."

Ghibelline and Gytha held the dead man's shoulders, while Harald lifted his legs. They carried him across the hilltop to a place near its center where a large patch of stone lay bare of oerth worn smooth by the wind and the passing years. Carefully they placed him near the stone. Ghibelline removed the cloak which he had taken from the steading and wrapped it around Jalal then Harald tied ropes around the legs and chest of the shrouded form. They stepped away, all bowed their heads and said silent prayers or words of farewell, then Talberth and Telenstil motioned for the others to step back.

"Sax-Am Va-Ere K-Am," Talberth intoned. He threw a thimble made of raw wet clay that held a clear drop of water, it struck and seemed to melt, then the stone rippled like a pool of water in the rain. Ghibelline reached out and clasped Gytha's hand in his own.

With the clay that Talberth had used to form his thimble, Telenstil fashioned a miniature bucket and a tiny spade. He held these in his hand and spoke a single word. "Fo-Dere!" he commanded and the mud became a pit, the edges piled high with the wet oerth, thrown out evenly by the magic spell.

"Quickly now!" Talberth called out.

Gytha and Ghibelline lifted the rope tied about Jalal's chest while Harald and Talberth raised the body by the rope around the legs. They stumbled across the slick oerth and half carried, half dragged Jalal over to the muddy pit. Ghibelline swore beneath his breath at his awkwardness, while Gytha mouthed a prayer. The walls of the pit caved in and fell upon Jalal, the sudden weight pulled the rope from their hands almost dragging Talberth down beside the body of the dead man. Ghibelline stood ankle deep in mud. He looked down at the mire of Jalal's grave and said goodbye.

"Farewell my friend, rest now. I will find your kin one day and repay the debt I owe you, my freedom and my life," the elf knelt down in the mire and with his hands began to push the piled mud back down into the pit.

Gytha knelt as well, then Harald, then the other Harold, no longer grim but with eyes as wet as the muddy oerth.

"Come, it is only the fair oerth, no shame to have on your hands or your clothes," Ivo said to his fellow mages. The old gnome joined the others then both Talberth and Telenstil sank down on their knees and helped. A small figure looked on, and quietly crept beside the thief. Little Rat had no qualms about sinking his hands into the mud. They were a filthy mess when they backed away. Telenstil made sure that no one would be affected by his spell, then spoke the words and threw a piece of stone and a handful of water on the mud.

"K-Am Va-Ere Sax-Am," he said, and the mud froze to stone again. 


"We have very little water up here," said Talberth. "But I can use a small spell to remove this dirt."

"I will let it stay awhile," said Ghibelline.

"As will I," Harald said as well. "There is a clear stream below, I will enjoy a soak."

"I need to study. I will have to rid myself of this dirt before I touch my book." Talberth reflected for a moment then cast the spell. With a gesture he wiped the dirt from his hands and robe.

"This oerth is a most honorable covering," said Telenstil, "but I must consult my grimoire as well. Talberth if you will."

The young mage used his power once again and with it made the drying mud slide away from the elf's clothes and skin.

"Now, we had best break camp soon," Telenstil told them, "But before we do, we need to talk."

"What is there to say," the little thief said glumly.

"Hey! Hands! Hands! Use spell, clean hands!" cried out the young orc. Little Rat pranced about and held up his filthy hands for Talberth to see.

"Get away!" yelled Talberth.

"Come my friend," chided Telenstil, "It is a small spell. You still have it prepared, do you not?"

Talberth scowled then cast the spell. It fought against the grime already caked on in layers atop the orc's skin, but the magic proved the stronger of the two. Dirt both old and new fell from Little Rat and pattered around his feet in a small pile. Little Rat rubbed his hands together then wiped his palms across his face. He licked one hand then scrubbed at his arm."Look! Magic, all clean!"

"Powerful magic there," said Harald snidely.

They had no fire and few supplies, but what they had they shared among themselves. The orcs had raided the giants' kitchen and had taken what they could stuff within their belts, but they had eaten it all in one frenzied meal.

Gytha shook her head and then kneeled in prayer. "Sustain us, my Saint, we are in need, our enemies are near, bless us with your strength and the food to keep our own strength pure," she intoned, and the ledge before her shimmered. Upon the stones there was now a cloth and upon the cloth bread, fruit, meat, and skins of water and a few of wine.

"Thank you for this meal," said Ghibelline.

"Thank Saint Cuthbert," chided Gytha pleasantly, "This is his bounty."

"I thank you both," replied Ghibelline with a smile.

Murmured thanks went around the gathered company and they set to with gusto. Gytha put aside a portion for the orcs as well. Little Rat sat himself beside the halfling and ate heartily, while the other orcs accepted the food and water but offered no thanks themselves and sat several yards away.

"A waste of good food," Harald complained.

"Maybe it would be better to leave them here," Talberth suggested.

"Perhaps," Telenstil said then cleared his throat. "First though, we need to decide on our next step. My friends, we came here to discover, and to punish, as best as we were able. We all began this quest knowing something of what to expect, beyond that, beyond the depredations of Nosnra and his kind that brought us here, we possessed merely guesswork and rumors. Some of what we came to find has been found. That map, now I hope safely in the hands of my Queen, will be of help to those concerned, your leaders, your kindred or your patrons. I do not feel that the map alone has been enough. For myself I cannot return home till more has been done."

"Yes, I say yes. We must kill Nosnra and as many of his kindred as we can," said Harald.

"Wipe them out!" called out Harold.

"Yes, that would be well," said Telenstil. "Let me speak," he cut short any further replies. "Henri said to us that Nosnra was just the finger on a hand, I agree. Killing him and all his kin will not end this, delay it perhaps for a time, but cut down Nosnra and another will rise to take his place."

"Like a tree," said Ghibelline.

"No, more like a weed," Telenstil said. "These few score giants, they are powerful foes, but throughout the hills and mountains there are many more. What I saw on the map were names of chiefs, more clans than the number of giants that people Nonsra's hall. It showed these lands, and at their borders where the great mountain chain takes hold, it showed the route that their allies would take. It did not name them, but from what some of us have seen they are the giants of the frost and snow, their ambassadors and scouts have already arrived, and these cold monsters are greater beasts than any of their hill dwelling kind." 


"Telenstil, I have a copy of that second map," said Talberth, "and this chain, I know what Harald thinks of it, but I am convinced that it will be of use. I studied that second map, as you studied the first, and it speaks of Grugnir's rift. It shows a place where I suspect the chain will take us, some room or cave, then a pathway, between guardposts, leading...."

"But where is this place?" interrupted Harald. "And how will we get back?"

"And," Ivo added, "will that chain of yours take us back to Nosnra's dungeon."

"I cannot answer," said Talberth, "who can?"

"Perhaps only Nosnra," Telenstil said. "I doubt he will tell us. But the chain is a great risk. I read the map and the scroll which told Nosnra how to use the chain, there was much there that it did not say, things that Nosnra would know and need not be explained to him."

"It could be a trap," said Harold. "Look at those blades which we found, you and Gytha say they overwhelmed our scouts. That they were cursed, and what happened to that cursed priest Henri," Harold thought for a moment and pulled loose a pouch of coins he had secured to his belt. He hefted it in one hand then threw it far, out among the rocks. "Everything taken from that room seems cursed, why should that chain be any different, or those coins."

"Cursed is perhaps not the word," said Telenstil. "Rather I would say that those blades were not meant for them, or for any who would be the giants' foes. Instead those blades were meant to be used by evil hands. Remember, both scouts heard the voices of the blades, they named themselves, the spirits that inhabited the steel were stronger than our companions, and so they were corrupted or driven mad."

"And the chain?" asked Harold.

"The chain," Telenstil said thoughtfully, "I would know more about it, but I feel it is what it seems. I doubt not that it was crafted with a dark magic, but a globe of light crafted by an evil hand will still cast away the dark."

"So what are you saying?" asked Harald. "You think we should use it?"

"Not yet, perhaps not at all," said Telenstil, "but it may prove to be..."

"If no one else, I will use it," said Talberth.

"If that is where your fate lies then we will see who joins you," Telenstil put his hand on the mage's shoulder. "But not yet. Talberth, we will take the chain, though it be a burden. "

"My burden you mean," spoke up the old ranger.

"Harald, my apologies, but your strength is great, and the orcs have our captive scout to carry," said Telenstil. "And Talberth, I swear that I will go with you wherever this chain may take us, after we have struck down these giants."

"I have made promises myself," Talberth said glumly. "I can wait before using the chain, but Telenstil, I think we waste our time here. If as you say Nosnra is just a finger on a hand, then this chain will lead us to that hand."

"Nosnra still lives," said Harald. "My work here is not done, I will not leave till either he is dead or I am." 


"Don't be silly Harald," exclaimed Gytha. "I will be with you, and I do not intend to let you die."

"And I intend to kill Nosnra," Harald replied.

"Yes, but we will need you Harald," said Telenstil. "There will be other chiefs who will take up where Nosnra left off, and these giants of the cold lands, we will need you more than ever if we go against them."

"When we go," said Talberth. "Why strike off a finger when we can wound the hand?"

"Time, Talberth, time," Telenstil explained. "All that we have done will give the lowlands time. If we kill Nosnra it will add to what we may have already gained, and with that map we sent, it will prepare them for what is to come."

"What do you mean?" asked the halfling thief. "What is to come?"

"Invasion," said Telenstil. "It is something that the rulers of the lowlands fear, but many wish to bury their heads in the oerth and pretend that it will not come."

"Many say that it is just the giants' way," Harald said, "that they are raiders and come down from the hills and mountains only for plunder. But I have fought them all my life and what I have seen of late is not the giants' way. They test us, ambush patrols, destroy the freeholds and outposts that would give warning to those living below, they weaken us, but the lowlanders think it is not their concern."

"Some have listened, Harald, and some rulers have called out for help," Telenstil showed them a hide scroll he had kept at hand. "This is a message from Nosnra. We have made him call for help. It is another strangeness. I have not heard before of such alliances as this note speaks of. Here is a call for another chieftain who has sworn blood-kinship with Nosnra to fulfill their oath and to send their warriors now instead of the rising of two new moons, when they were promised. I gave Ivo another such message to translate."

"This says the same," Ivo held up a second scroll.

"And a third messenger escaped us," said Telenstil. "This is not the way of giants. Blood-kinship, I have never heard of such between clans, not with their great pride in their family lines. Never has there been such an alliance of clans, not in any record of the wise. And yet the map named dozens."

"Well that was the proof wasn't it?" asked Harold. "What more do we need?"

"We need Nosnra dead," said Harald.

"And we need more information," answered Telenstil. "Hopefully we have not destroyed it in that fire. Now, time grows short for us and we must be on our way. We need to find another camp and we need to decide what to do with our orcish companions."

"I go with you!" spoke up Little Rat.

"I will keep an eye on him," said Harold.

"You have picked up a strange apprentice there," the ranger said. "Make sure you do keep him under watch."

"He will be fine," the halfling crossed his fingers on the hand hidden behind his back.

"I say we keep them with us for now." said Ivo. "Do not mistake my intent, I have no liking for these orcs and I do not trust them," his glance went to the young one by Harold's side. "But they may be of some help. They know things about the steading, and I want to study them."

"What are you thinking of?" asked Talberth.

"A spell, something to mask us," Ivo replied. "We might go unnoticed as orcish slaves and avoid raising an alarm. We will need to think of a way to get inside Nosnra's steading again." 

"I see problems with that plan," said Harald. "They will simply think us rebellious slaves."

"You just don't want to look like an orc," Harold laughed.

"It seems that we are at least all agreed," Telenstil broke into their friendly banter.

"We go round and round, a lot of words, but saying little," complained Harald.

"Then we had best break camp and talk again later when we can make more detailed plans," Telenstil answered.

"Let us be gone from this place," Ghibelline agreed.

"You have been quiet," said Gytha.

"When I can be of help I will speak," said Ghibelline.

"And there is much that I wish to speak with you about," Telenstil said to Ghibelline. The elven mage then turned to the young wizard. "Talberth, please go wake the orcs and have them prepare to leave."

"Harald, will you help me with the chain?" Talberth asked.

The old ranger scowled and looked toward Telenstil without answering.

"You are right, Talberth," said Telenstil, "Harald, please, I bow to Talberth's instincts. We may need the chain.

"Talberth's instincts don't have to carry the thrice-damned thing," muttered Harald, but he turned and began to wrap the dark links about his shoulders.

"Little enough to prepare," Gytha shook her head thinking of all they had lost at their old camp.

"Yes, we will need to resupply ourselves," Telenstil looked over their bare camp, only the small packs and cloaks that they had taken with them to the steading.

The circle broke apart. Harald grumbled again as he shifted the chain on his shoulders.

"Don't complain," Talberth said to him, "I am sure we will need it."

"Then you should be the one to carry it," Harald told him.

"Now you two," warned Ivo, "none of this now. On the run from giants is no time to be arguing."

"Who's arguing," Harald snapped.

"You both are." Ivo said bruskly.

They weaved their way across the hilltop as they talked. It was not so round and flat as the giants' hill to the south, but long and rough, all stone and rock cracked and uneven.

* * *

The northern edge of the hill ended in a sudden drop, a sheer cliff that fell off into a deep ravine. Harold walked along the edge then climbed the outcropping of rock to the east. It overhung the slope below, like the lip to a mug of ale.

"No way down," Harold shook his head. Nearby him Little Rat craned his neck to see over the edge. They followed the eastern edge, checking the overhang and the slope below. Toward the center the peak began to rise and just beyond its crest he found a crevice in the rocks, a chimney of stone.

"Stay here," the small thief told the young orc. "No following me, no falling on me either."

"I stay, I stay," said Little Rat brightly, but Harold glared at him till the orc sat down and appeared to stay still.

Harold began a slow descent bracing his back and legs against the walls of the chimney. It took him down thirty feet or somewhat more, he sat below the overhang, at his feet, the steep slope of the hill at the end of a short drop.

"This will be a hard path down," he said to himself, "or a quick one." Harold eyed the slope, this far up the hill it was all scrub brush and jagged rocks. Lower down he could see a line of bushes, thick and clinging to the boles of fir trees, their lower branches brown, strangled by the climbing vines. With effort Harold made his way back up the crevice using his back and legs to climb the chimney in the same way he came down. He pulled himself up over the edge and lay on his back for a few moments, sweating heavily in the bright sun though the day was cool. 


"Where is our ranger?" Telenstil asked the returning pair.

"He has gone ahead to scout," Ivo called out as he approached the camp.

"He took off as soon as we found a hiding place," said Talberth.

"As have our small thief and his little apprentice," said Telenstil, "We are ready here, but I left it for Talberth to wake the orcs."

"So they are my pups now," Talberth shook his head, "I could do without the honor."

"They fear you, Talberth," Telenstil patted the mage's shoulder. "That display you put on in Nosnra's dungeon was quite something. It has made a lasting impression on these orcs. Besides they would not like to be commanded by an elf, while humans often have orcs to serve them."

"Evil scum," Talberth said distastefully. "Harold might be used to dealing with such, but I..."

"It is no reflection on you my friend," said Telenstil, "but only necessity."

"I will go wake our sleeping charges," Talberth held up both hands palms out. "But orcs, this quest of ours has created a strange alliance. I do not like it." Talberth left them to wake the orcs walking over to where they slept. He passed both Gytha and Ghibelline who carried the meager supplies they had taken from the steading.

"He is right," said Ghibelline. "We cannot trust those orcs."

"You have good ears, Goblinkiller," laughed Ivo.

"Goblinkiller, Ivo what do you mean?" asked Gytha.

"Why, it is his name," Ivo looked surprised. "Gytha I thought you knew something of the elven tongue."

"Why yes," Gytha thought for a moment, "it is very much like the old tongue. Ghibelline, yes I see it now."

"A respectable name for a warrior," said Telenstil.

"I have always strived to be worthy of it," Ghibelline said quietly.

"I just wish you were called giant slayer," Ivo laughed again.

* * *

Harald whistled; a short exhale over his teeth. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand then with the same hand shaded his eyes. This peak he stood upon was half again the height of the giants' hill, but looking to the north he could see the mountains rising up, dwarfing all the surrounding hills and ridges within sight. These giants lived among the hills and valleys, the mountains were too harsh and bare. No fields for their cattle to graze, no woods beyond a certain height, poor hunting too, no place for a Hill Giant to set his hall.

"North," Harald muttered. That would be the way for them to go, Harald thought to himself. Move beyond the hills up into the crags among the nearby mountains where the giants would find it hard to follow. The ranger continued south. He checked the rocky lip of stone for another crack or some trail carved out like the pathway along the southern slopes but he found nothing safer than the chimney-like crevice at the crest of the eastern ridge.

"Noise, chief. Noise up there," Little Rat whispered to Harold. The small orc and the halfling had climbed up to the ledge above the camp and kept watch.

"Hey!" shouted out the thief. "I see you have gone out scouting as well."

The ranger pulled himself up the ledge and eyed his friend and his small orc companion wistfully. "We aren't on the crowded streets of Greyhawk," Harald said to them, "no need to shout, a good deal of need not to be heard."

"Bah!" grunted Harold. "I haven't seen anything up here but some birds and rabbits. Besides, my shouting is particularly quite."

"Well, I didn't see anything besides birds and rabbits myself," agreed Harald, "but caution is best served by silence."

"Bah again," laughed Harold. "I'd rather be shouting to you on Scriverner's Crescent on my way to The Dryad for some cold ale and pleasant company."

"You will have to take me there someday," Harald replied.

"You will buy the first round," Harold laughed again.

"And the second, my friend, but for today we'd best get back to camp and get everyone moving."

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

NPC - Sassa Dragonshield Fruzti Warrior

NPC - Sassa Dragonshield Fruzti Warrior

Sassa is known as the Shield of Sylvi and is a distant cousin who lives near to her among those of the Sarjar tribe. Currently she is with Sylvi on the Styrkarsarjar and is one of the thirty taking captured orc boats to shore to explore the orc's island and gather supplies.

The fight was quick and the orcs easily defeated by the experienced crew of the Styrkarsarjar but the huge war leader managed to bloody Sassa in the fight.

She is a stouty warrior, expert in the sword and shield and bears a legendary shield that is passed down in her family. The Dragonshield grants immunity to the breath of dragons but against more mundane adversaries it enhances her protection even more than her chain shirt and ringed leather. It is said that no arrow will wound her while she bears her shield. Added to the shield is her belt that give her the strength of an ogre and it said only those of exceptional strength may bear the Dragonshield.

Monday, January 27, 2020

NPC - Lavas Laerk Apothecary City of Greyhawk

NPC - Lavas Laerk Apothecary City of Greyhawk

There are several apothecary, potion and compenent shops that can be found on the Street of Dreams in the City of Greyhawk, (although it is known mostly for a large and languid brothel as well as several dens where drugs are consumed and a large theater where illusions and shows of light are cast on the ceiling, and few all hours fried meat-sandwhich sellers nearby), but none are more respected than Lavas Laerk's Bottle Shop.

His storefront seems modest but behind his counter the curtain in the doorway to his backroom leads to a long building with many basements and cellars. His stock includes potion and elixirs of almost any kind, medicinal or magical. The compenents held in storeroom cover the mundane, the exotic and the impossible. He is constantly on the look-out for replenishment of material and the source of many an adventurers livlihood as he sends them to find this rare plant or creature or that mineral or item necessary for the creation of potions, spells or items of power and deviltry. 

The shop is frequented by some of the most powerful users of magic in the city and is guarded by several wards and creations that would daunt or destroy any would-be robber or burgler. 

Lavas is something of a Half-elf, certainly there is high elf blood in him but it is questionable if the other half is human. He has run his shop for at least a century and, according to those with equally lengthy lifespans, appears no older than he did when he first opened his doors.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - 2020 - Part 10

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 10

Dawn came to the giants' hill. Smoke still drifted from the embers buried beneath the fallen beams of the great hall. Giants and ogres poured water over the splintered wood; others pulled away the charred rubble and stirred the ashes beneath. In the sodden field sat Nosnra, he'd had them drag a table from the ruined hall and benches too. Engenulf's body lay prepared before him, Nosnra used piled boxes and crates to form a throne, then set the table at his feet. They laid the witan down and placed the benches round the throne for Nosnra's warriors, those who'd sworn the oath of blood. The giants put down their buckets, their bars of iron, and their axes. They left the orcs and ogres to drown the fire out then filed past the body of their witan and their chief. They had no feast prepared; the words they spoke were all of vengeance and of blood, the ale they drank, the final toast to their lifeless kin, was thick and bitter from the fallen ash.

* * *

It was past midday when Harald woke. He'd slept since dawn; hours past the time he'd asked Telenstil to wake him. Everyone else was still asleep except for that other elf, Ghibelline, and even he leaned against the rock wall with eyes closed.

"Telenstil," he said to the elven mage who stood by the cliff's edge, "you let me sleep."

"You needed sleep," Telenstil answered him. He looked past the ranger at the others who lay crowded under the overhang of rock. "Everyone needed some time to rest."

"The fire is almost out," Harald said half to himself.

Out across the valley the thick black smoke was gone, only small wispy trails of grey were left, cook fires or a last few steaming embers somewhere within the ruins of the hall.

"Telenstil, we should be going. Soon."

"Yes, it is time to find a better camp," he replied.

"We could hide that magic chain somewhere around here," Harald suggested hopefully.

"I hate to ask you to carry that burden, but it is something of great value to Nosnra," Telenstil said to the old ranger, "at the very least I wish to deny him its use."

"If I find a deep enough pit it's going in," Harald told him with a firm nod of his head.

* * *

They could not wake Jalal. The old man was stiff, his limbs were cold; Gytha thought he might be dead, but a faint pulse still beat within his chest. She called upon the Saint. Cuthbert was the strong arm that supported the weak, that lifted the fallen, and struck against evil, but his blessing could not make the old young or move the final moment of life forward one fleeting second.

"You can't aid him?" Ghibelline asked her sadly.

"The giants have worn him down. He is not hurt," said Gytha, "just old and weak."

"Yesterday his spirit burned bright," Ghibelline put his hand on the old man's shoulder. "Worn yes, but... I know that for you he is old, but for me... we are of an age, and to my people I am considered young."

"You have not spent time with humans before?" Gytha asked.

"No, I am of the woods. Humans I have met, but passing through our lands," said Ghibelline. "I have seen death, but not like this."

"This is not a bad passing," she told the elf. "What pain he feels is like that in a dream. I think his spirit will leave him while he sleeps."

"Gytha, what is wrong?" asked Ivo. The old gnome knelt beside the dying man. All around them the others had risen and prepared to leave. The orcs had little enough to take. They dragged the captive scout to his feet and put a knife to the rope which bound his legs, but Talberth stopped them. The scout had proven too dangerous to trust even with his hands tied behind his back. The orcs would have to carry him again, they grumbled, but remembered the power of the mage and hefted the bound man up with ungentle hands.

"Jalal is dying," Gytha told the gnome.

"Telenstil will want to know. There are questions we wanted to ask." Ivo said.

"Is that your only concern," said Ghibelline sharply.

"I'm sorry for your friend," said Ivo. He'd just stood and taken a step away when the elf spoke. He turned back to face Ghibelline. "I did not know him, but what he knew may have been important to us, perhaps more important than his life or ours."


Jalal's lips were blue. His breath came in shallow gasps barely stirring the hair of his beard. The rise and fall of his chest was slight, he exhaled, a hollow sound, his mouth half opened but his eyes were closed. And then he died.

One moment a spirit dwelt within Jalal's thin and weary frame, then the body Ghibelline held was naught but a withered husk, a shell left empty by its guiding force. Gytha said a quiet prayer and placed her hand upon the cooling brow. Telenstil shook his head. Whatever answers that Jalal had possessed where now most likely beyond his reach.

"I am sorry," Gytha said to Ghibelline. The elf wiped at his eyes, then gave the cleric a faint thankful look. "What shall we do with him?" Gytha asked Telenstil.

He stood above them lost in thought.

"We can't leave him!" Ghibelline burst out.

"No, we will take him with us till we can bury him, or find him a proper resting place." Telenstil said calmly.

"What was his faith?" Gytha asked.

"I do not know," said Ghibelline. "He came from the west. He said once that I would not know his Gods."

The leader of the orcs, Boss, had wandered over. He listened to their talk and craned his neck, peering over the cleric's shoulder to see what drew the attention of the others. "Old man dead?" he asked. "That one good to work for, brought us drink and food. Back in cage," the orc nodded his head toward the steading, "we eat dead, remember before giants make us slaves. We put skull in cave of dead, just eat rest."

"Why you beast..." Ghibelline shouted at the orc.

"We do not eat our dead," said Gytha firmly.

Telenstil put his hand on Ghibelline's shoulder. It quieted the young elf. "Different people, different customs, he meant to honor your friend."

"We have plenty food," Boss said indignantly. The orc did not understand all that they said but he caught the meaning behind Ghibelline's words.

"I will help you carry him," said Gytha.

"I will help as well," said Talberth. He had approached quietly as they spoke. "Go ready your people," the mage told the orc.

The small group of monsters would do as the mage commanded, fearful of incurring his deadly wrath. Boss grumbled beneath his breath but took out his anger on his followers, pushing them into line. The thief called down to them a warning, his perch above the ledge gave him a far eye-view of the path both to his right and left.

"The ranger is returning!" he hissed.

"Probably wondering what is our delay." Ivo said to Telenstil.

"Perhaps, but he has returned sooner than I expected," the elf replied.

Harald came along the eastern path. They had followed the western trail up the hill the night before but had stopped at the first place that would shelter them, too tired to go on. Toward the east the trail went further up into the hills, they knew not where. Harald had left to see what lay ahead.

"Telenstil," Harald jogged up to the elf. "Telenstil, we had better get moving, there are giants up ahead."

"Coming this way?" Telenstil ask with some concern.

"No," said the ranger, "I saw three giants moving along a trail east of here. They are crossing through a path at the base of a ravine heading north, but one split off to the north east along a second trail."

"Scouts you believe?" asked Telenstil.

"No, I don't think so," said Harald. "My guess is that he is calling for help."

"We dealt him a serious blow," said Telenstil. "That is good and bad. It seems we have hurt Nosnra enough for him to set aside his pride and call for help. That is bad."

"What's the good part?" asked the thief. 


"There is good mixed with the bad," said Telenstil.

Harold snorted.

"No, it is true. We came to hurt Nosnra, and that we have done," said Telenstil. "We have done much."

"We need to do more," the ranger spoke up. "If those giants have gone for help, and I am sure they have, we should stop them."

"They may just be scouts in search of us," said Harold. "Let's confound them. Let's be gone and not let them find us."

"We can't take the chance. They may just be looking for us, but if not..." said the ranger shaking his head, "but I do know that they are passing by us and quick. Telenstil..."

The elf held up his hand for silence but paused for only a moment, looking out over the cliff's edge. "I think we have strength enough. We will strike again. Harald, you and I will go."

"Just us?" asked the ranger.

"We will need to make haste," said Telenstil. "The others can set off in search of a better camp while we hunt down at least one of these giants."

"Telenstil, this is foolishness," Ivo shook his head. "We need Harald to guide us, and these are giants, the two of you will be hard pressed against them."

"Every moment takes them further from us." the ranger said impatiently.

"Good," burst out the thief.

"How will you overtake them?" asked Ivo.

"That is why only Harald and I will be pursuing them," said Telenstil. "Harald, we will be flying once again."

"Ha," the thief laughed out and looked up at the ranger. "Still want to go chasing giants?"

The ranger looked grim, but still determined.

"Then cast the spell," said Harald.

"Ivo, search out a place at least more defensible than here. Let Harold scout ahead, he has a good eye, even in these wild lands," said Telenstil.

"How will you find us?" Ivo asked.

"Take this," Telenstil took an amulet he wore around his neck, green stones set in silver, shaped like an elven horse, and handed it to the gnome. "This I can always find."

"What goes on here?" Talberth called to them. He left Gytha and Ghibelline preparing Jalal's body to be carried in a cloak and joined the others at the cliff's edge.

"Telenstil is running off to chase giants," the thief told him in a disgusted tone.

"What?" Talberth exclaimed with alarm.

"It is not so dire as our thief makes it sound," laughed Telenstil. "Harald and I will take great care and will return as soon as may be. Talberth, keep your eye on the orcs. Ivo will lead while I am gone. Harold, you scout ahead. Ask Ghibelline to help you, but do not let him tax himself to greatly. Now all is said, set off, find a good camp and we will join you there."

"What!" Talberth said again.

Telenstil brought forth the orb he had used the day before. He drew breath and blew upon its surface, quietly letting the word of power, "Xsurjere", escape his lips. The orb began to glow, and gleaming with a white radiance floated upon the air. The ranger reached out and grabbed the orb, Telenstil did the same.

"Xsurjere-sublem!" he cried, and they rose into the air as if a rope that none could see pulled them up with haste into the sky. "Kon-istare!" Telenstil called out as the floated high above the ledge where their companions stood. "Which way?" he asked the ranger.

Still gripping the orb with whitened fingers, his hand clenched like a vise, and his jaw as well, Harald pointed to the north-east with his free hand.

"Good, Vol-atel!" the elf called out and the pair took flight, two wingless birds, their hands locked on the glowing orb, sailing across the sky. 


The land below them was passing in a blur. It took only a few moments to reach the valley where Harald had seen the three giants. "Can you slow us down!" the ranger shouted out.

"Elente-senzim!" Telenstil called and they began to slow. "Klaudere," he said and they halted in mid-air.

Harald gulped, terrified at their magic flight. He found that floating motionless high above the ground was worse. 

"Thhheerree!" he stammered. "Down there," Harald pointed to the valley floor far below, as he managed to control his voice, but had to shout; there was a wind that struck them and swept their words away.

"You have good eyes," shouted Telenstil.


"Good Eyes!" Telenstil shouted again. "Which Way!?"

Harald held up two fingers and pointed to the north where a small stream flowed through the center of the valley, then held up a single finger and pointed to the north-east. A beaten trail could be seen, even from the height at which they hovered. It ran along a hillside and up, then over its top, disappearing out of sight down the far side of the hill. Telenstil pointed to the north and Harald nodded in agreement.

"Vo-aire," the elf shouted and they were sweeping toward the north, fast as a hawk again.

* * *

"You two, pick up this chain," Talberth told the pair of orcs. Boss scowled and Meatstealer looked toward his leader before bending to lift the black metal links.

"That one has the death magic," said Meatstealer. Boss grunted and hung his end of the heavy chain across his shoulder. His handful of followers bore the body of the human who had used the flaming sword, the orc leader would have given the chain to them if he could, but the squirming man took all six orcs to control.

"First chance, then we go," said Boss.

"We live, escape from giants," Meatstealer said. "These humans, they powerful."

"Stinking elves," muttered Boss, "slave to giants, now slave to elves."

Meatstealer just shrugged, he had served his orcish chief, the ogres and giants of the hall, at least these elves did not use the whip.

* * *

Harold walked with Ivo as they left the camp. Behind them the others were all loaded down with the bodies of the scout and dead Jalal. Only the small orc, Little Rat, was left free of heavy burdens. He kept pace with the halfling and the gnome. The pathway before them was not steep. It must have seemed no more than a narrow ledge to the giants, but the party found it a wide and easy trail. It took them along the south-side of the hill, rising up and to the east then switching back upon itself. Their going was slow. Never strong, Talberth tired easily, and Ghibelline's strength came from his will, his body was worn out. The orcs would gladly have slung both the chain and the scout over the edge of the cliff, but they carried them with care due to the dread in which they held the mage.

"I'm going to scout ahead," Harold said to Ivo.

"Be careful, these are not the streets of Greyhawk," Ivo told him.

"I've been outside the city walls before," replied Harold, "but I'll take care."

Ivo shook his head as the thief ran off. They'd lost their scouts and their ranger guide. He gave a shout as the small orc chased after, "Hey! Stop! Where do you go!"

"I go help," the little orc called back. 


"Wait!" Ivo called to the orc, but it did not stop. At the sound of Ivo's voice Harold looked back and saw the little monster come running toward him up the path. The halfling drew the long dagger from his belt and waited for the orc to catch up, the naked blade held in his hand.

"I help, I help," Little Rat squeaked out as he approached the thief.

"Stop right there!" Harold commanded. Little Rat stood a half dozen feet away, he bobbed back and forth from one foot to the other, scared and excited both.

"I help, good at finding things, I help!" he said in a high voice.

"Come here," ordered Harold, "slowly now."

Little Rat came bounding over, skidded to a stop when Harold waved the dagger at him, then took small careful steps over to halfling's side. "I help."

"So you say," Harold muttered, then he spoke to the youth in an orcish tongue. "You know these lands?" he asked.

"You talk funny," said Little Rat.

Harold spoke the language of the orcish half-breeds that lived within the great city. They'd kept their fathers tongue but it had changed and grown. Little Rat could understand only bits and pieces of what the halfling said.

"You... Know... Land," Harold said, loud and slowly.

"I help!" said Little Rat brightly.

"To the Nine Hells with it," cursed Harold. "Come on, we better get going before they overtake us." Harold kept his sword drawn; the young orc ran ahead.

* * *

"Look!" called out the ranger.

His voice was a whisper in Telenstil's ears, but the elf heard and looked to see the giants running far below. The magic globe raced by, quickly outdistancing even the lengthy strides of the giants. Telenstil directed it with ancient words, commanding it to take them beyond the giants and down between the branches of a stand of tall fir trees.

"Praise the mother," Harald bowed down and kissed the Oerth.

"You are safe, there was no need to fear," laughed Telenstil.

"I would have been born with wings if I was meant to fly," Harald replied.

"Well we have our feet on oerth now," said Telenstil. "We had better make our plans quickly. Those giants will be coming this way soon."

"Give me a moment to look over the trail," said Harald. "But we had best stick together. Your magic may stop them without my help, but if it does not and they reach you..."

"Yes, they would make quick work of me," Telenstil mused. "I will go with you. My spells will take only a moment to prepare."

"Come on then, let's find a good place," Harald led the way through the thick stand of trees.

The valley was wooded throughout its northern length. The trees were dense along each slope, the ground a slanting rise up to the surrounding hills. A stream had cut a bare gash down the valleys center, it was wide but low, the water only a few inches deep. Huge boulders lay exposed amid the running stream, like the seeds of great mountains left to grow.

"The giants will come this way," said Harald. "Look at the bank over there," he pointed across the stream. "They've torn out the big trees by the roots."

"Long ago," said Telenstil looking at the stumps, old and filled with rot, "They have beaten down the newer growth as well."

"Up there Telenstil," Harald pointed to a boulder sticking like a gallery from the far slope. "That will be the place for us to stand." 


Telenstil lay flat atop the rock. The stone was cold even through his clothes. Below him, standing in the stream, was Harald. He stood behind a boulder, a smooth-sided lump of granite worn by the water, carved from the surrounding oerth, twice the ranger's height. The blade the ranger held began to sing, but only Harald could hear the tune. Two-handed, the sword was long, almost as tall as the ranger himself. The metal rippled like the running water.

There was the cry of birds, a mournful cawing, crows or ravens on the wing calling out to each other. A sound came from the wooded slope, something crashed through the thick brush. Harald leaned back against the stone. He placed his shoulder to the rock and looked up to where the elf lay hidden. The ledge, a single boulder, was empty, Harald waited for the mage to cast his spells before rushing out and testing his strength and steel against the giant's flesh.

Up the slope Telenstil looked down. He'd crept to the rock's edge and peered over, his eyes intent on the woods downstream and the crashing of the underbrush. Suddenly the brush split apart and a huge brown shape came leaping into view. A stag, a living twin of the monstrous spirit beast they'd fought in Nosnra's hall. It stopped and raised its head, coughed out a challenge to the world, then leapt onward, down the slope, splashing surefooted through the stream, racing to the north. Telenstil waved a hand at Harald trying to signal for the ranger to stay back. Harald understood, he froze in place, even as the stag drew near. It ran past the boulder, a flash of brown, Harald smiled, he waved back to Telenstil, the toothy grin he wore visible even up the slope. Then the brush began to shake once more, a small tree came smashing to the ground. Two shaggy heads appeared; a hand ripped a limb wide as a fat man's leg from the bole of an ancient tree. It flung the branch aside as if it were a twig and the giant stepped from the bush. In a loud voice it spoke, Telenstil could hear the words clear as if they stood beside him.

"Let's take the stream, Skule," the giant complained. "This path is overgrown."

"You can soak your feet," Skule told his companion. "Go ahead, I will keep mine dry."

"I am supposed to be at Thurkill's by nightfall."

"Then run, I will make Folcwalda's before the sun sets," laughed Skule, "and I will have dry feet."

"You are no better than a dwur," muttered the other giant.

"What was that!" bellowed Skule.

"Nothing, your ears are full of dirt,"

The two had wandered down the trail as they spoke. They reached a point almost to the boulder where Harald stood directly below the ledge only an arm's length apart, their words had turned to glares and the one called Skule looked daggers at his companion. Telenstil stood up, the giants could not hear his words but they heard the crack of thunder that came snapping down the hill. The blinding flash struck them both and a nimbus of blue danced on the water and the stones.

Harald felt the bolt; a burning chill went through him and made his greying hair stand on end. Skule screamed out in pain and roared a defiant challenge. The other giant beat out a smoking patch of scalp with a hand lined black with burnt flesh. They charged up the hill with alarming speed.

* * *

His heart began to pound; Harald felt the sword tingle in his grip as the second crash of thunder split the air. The water was splashing around him as he began to run. Both giants were still on their feet, Telenstil's bolts had struck them, but neither powerful blast had laid them low. They staggered forward, at first Harald gained on them, unseen, charging from the side and to their backs. The lead giant, Skule, he scrabbled up the steep hill, his feet dug gouges in the dirt, he tore a young tree from the slope, its roots pulled out and snapping. Skule flung it like a spear, but its limbs tangled with older trees halfway to the ledge and it rolled back down the hill. Behind him the other giant began to pull himself up using the trees to help him ascend. He was the more agile of the pair, smaller by a head than Skule, but it seemed as if the magic lightning had done him the greater harm. His one arm was blackened from fingertips to collar bone, he spat out bits of teeth, his jaw clenched so tight they shattered in his mouth.

Atop the ledge Telenstil cast another spell. Harald saw the wizard raise his hand and throw something from his fingertips above the giant's heads. A thin shimmering cloud appeared. It was first a pearly white and then in three eye-blinks became grey then a deep black. Icy sleet came down, cold as winter; it soaked the giants and the slope beneath the ledge. In moments the ground was wet with slush then congealed to ice, a hard layer with a slick half-melted surface. Skule's hair and beard were frozen white, dragged down by icicles pulling at the ends. He took a step, but his booted foot slid out from under him. The giant crashed backwards, his legs shot into the air, and he rolled back down the slope. Up and over he tumbled like a circus clown and flew off the bank and into the shallow stream.

Harald had to jump back as Skule went by, almost crushed beneath the rolling bulk. Before the giant could push himself to his feet Harald brought his sword around and up behind his shoulder, then down across the giant's back. He meant to split the monsters spine, but Skule shifted and the blade slashed against his side. Skule howled, his shoulder had been laid open across the bone, the knob where arm began and back ended was notched by the rangers blade. On his knees Skule was taller than the man, but he had no length of sharpened steel to defend himself. The blade slashed again, Harald spun like a festival dancer and struck the rising giant across his chest. The thick hide shirt absorbed part of the blow, but the keen edge opened it and the flesh beneath. Once more the giant's bones saved it from what might have been a killing stroke. The sword bounced back from ribs like barrel staves, the edge scoured flesh, clove muscle, but the heart and lungs beneath were safe. Then Skule lashed out, he knocked the man aside and used the moment's grace to stand. Then Harald, who was not badly hurt, only bruised from the giant's awkward blow, struck once more. He caught the giant across his outer leg, above the knee. The blade struck bone, sent a wash of blood down the giant's leg and stained the water red, but for a moment his blade was trapped and Skule clubbed the ranger down. A fist like the head of a battering ram cracked hard against Harald's back, a wave of darkness blinded him, he almost fell, but the grip upon his sword kept him on his feet. With a dragging yank he pulled the claymore free, the sound of steel on bone was a grinding agony to hear, and a thousand times worse to feel. 


Skule howled. He gripped his wounded leg. Blood spurted between his fingers and mingled with the red stream which rolled down his arm from the rent across his shoulder.

Harald struck again, a short blow like the chop of an axe against a tree. The sword took the ends from Skule's fingertips and hewed the flesh above the wounded leg. There was a moment then when both man and giant paused. Harald drew back his sword and Skule bunched his bleeding fingers tight into a fist. They caught each other's eyes and both began to laugh. Skule was beyond pain, beyond rage, and Harald was the same, both saw the hand of fate and life, the glimmer of death, all reflected in a single glance showing in each other's eyes. The fist came down and the sword stabbed up. The point went home below the giant's chest. It skimmed off the spine, beneath the ribs, piercing a lung and lancing up into the giant's heart. Skule sagged, his fist landed like a slap, but the falling body sank to the ground burying the ranger beneath the now lifeless flesh. Still laughing Harald used his feet to push himself from the entrapping bulk of the slain giant. He had to worry his blade free, sawing back and forth, he drew it slowly out in a flow of blood and gore. The ranger was soaked, dunked into the stream and bathed in red from the giant's wounds. With a final yank he freed his sword and held the blood-smeared blade above his head, then sang out a defiant, wordless roar of victory.

Standing at the boulder's edge Telenstil stretched out his hand and pointed at the giant, Skule's companion, who held tight to a thick tree halfway up the slope. With a gesture and a word, five darting pulses of glowing blue went streaking forth. They burnt the air and left a trail that could still be seen behind closed eyes. All flew unerringly, a magicked course, they struck like burning ice, a sharp gouging pain then gone. Two struck the giant's shoulder, one cut him from chin to scalp, the last two hit the wrist and back of the huge hand. No sooner had the spell been cast then Telenstil intoned the words and made the arcane gesture to release a second spell. More magic darts of energy shot from the mage's hand.

The giant, already weak from the lightning bolts, wounded again from the first five magic darts, released his failing grip from around the tree as the next five burned into his flesh. The giant fell and bounced down the slope like a barrel or a limbless trunk of tree. He rolled a small fir down, recoiled from a larger bole, the crack of bone on wood was loud and clear, and took a final speeding flight off the bank and out into the stream. He landed with a wet thud against a boulder half his size, arms twisted, his torso dangling at a boneless angle, half on the rock, half off.

Harald walked over, his feet splashing in the water like a child through a puddle when it rains. He reached out and grabbed a handful of the giant's hair and lifted up the dangling head. The head turned round on a broken neck till the glassy eyes stared down its twisted back.

* * *

They'd gone far ahead and out of the way. Harold was atop a spire of rock that jutted out to the east rising from the boulder strewn hilltop. His view to the west was blocked by the expanse of the hill itself, but he could look far out across the valley below him and over to the southern hill where the remains of the steading still smouldered. From his pack, which he had set at his feet, he took out a small metal case and removed a feathered mask. It was a strange affair, thin bone, the orbits and beak of some monstrous bird hollowed out, the sockets set with two green translucent gems. He placed it on his nose, the curved beak covering his round one, the gems set before his eyes. The steading leapt into sharp focus,

Harold could see the bark upon the wooden wall and the color of a giant's hair as the monster dragged a half burnt log away. There was movement all around the hill; giants, ogres and orcs had worked through the night and those that had not collapsed, exhausted, worked on. A vast pile of splintered logs, ruined furniture and wooden scrap had been raised to the east of the Steading. It grew even as Harold watched. A giant tossed the log he carried, it landed amid the heap sending up a cloud of ash and a spattering of debris. An orc followed, it emptied out a bucket of ember fragments whose red hearts had been smothered with oerth the night before. In ones and twos others came, carrying loads as heavy as they could bear, they cleared the hall of debris and ash an armload at a time.

"You cast spell? You magic fella?" asked Little Rat. The small orc sat beside the thief and looked at the bone mask with awe showing in his eyes.

"Yes," said Harold. He took off the mask and waved it in the young orc's face. "If you touch my pack the mask will eat your eyes."

Little Rat backed away, scared of having the magic bird mask touch his skin.

"Watch out there you little fool!" yelled Harold. The orc had backed off the narrow peak of rock and with flailing arms was teetering off balance on the edge. Harold dropped the mask and jumped, quick-handed, he caught a thin and grimy arm and was jerked forward, almost pulled off the peak as well. The halfling's feet scraped across the stones then held firm against a jagged rock. The orc was thin and small, a runt, but had a wiry strength, the halfling though fat by the standards of man, just right by the more generous standards of his own kind, was agile and strong, well fed and fit, he led an active life. Harold tried to pull the orc up from where he dangled over the edge, a long fall down into the valley below his kicking feet. Little Rat was frantic, he used the halfling's arm like a climbing rope, pulled at Harold's hair, his small fist meshed into the short strands, then caught the vest and with a heave put his knee into Harold's shoulder.

"Oww!" bellowed Harold. "Watch what your grabbing you little beast. Hey that's my head you're stepping on!"

Little Rat rolled down the halfling's back and lay panting, pressed face down against the stones.

"Hells!" cursed Harold, rubbing at his scalp and brushing dirt from his clothes. "I should have let you fall." He looked down at the terrified orc then put out his hand. "Come on, here is a hand up, we'd better get back to the others." 


"Ughhh, this is disgusting," Harald complained. He used his dagger to cut away at the giant's hide shirt. "Telenstil... Telenstil!"

"Yes, Harald," Telenstil called back.

The ranger crouched by the giant he had killed. Skule's body lay between two boulders. It blocked the flowing stream like a dam. The water rushed against the mangled chest and bubbled from its open mouth. Harald tried to find a pocket in the rough hide shirt, or a pouch on its belt, but the clothes were soaked and tacky with the drying blood. Telenstil had better luck, he'd found a tied bundle of skins held beneath the giant's belt. The broken body was not the wet and bloody mess that confronted Harald, but still he had to work around the massive limbs and immobile bulk of the dead monster. He'd used a small knife with a razor edge to slice the belt away, then checked the body from toes to crown of head, but found nothing else. He could not check the side that lay upon the rock or move the body the slightest inch, he could not even lift the giant's lifeless arm.

"Harald, check the belt, I will come and help," called Telenstil.

"This one is a bloody mess," Harald shook his head, then dunked his gory hands into the stream and scrubbed them one against the other. "He has spilt out his innards. Whatever he had beneath his belt is ruined."

"What say you my friend?" asked Telenstil hopping from stone to stone trying to keep his robe from the water's touch.

"Just look at this," Harald pointed to the coiled loops which bulged from the deep rent left by Harald's sword. The giant's bowls were like huge red and purple snakes swarming in the stream, the water foamed red around them. "What is it we are looking for?" asked Harald. "Is it worth trying to sort beneath the giant's gizzards?"

"There should be a message from their chief," said Telenstil. "I have found one on the other giant, this one should have another."

"All right," Harald shrugged. "No worse than gutting a deer, it shouldn't be, but it is, this is foul work."

"I will help," Telenstil assured the ranger. "What can I do?"

"My sword is no good for this, it's a butchers job," said Harald. "I'll cut, you keep pushing the guts away, too bad he isn't facing down the stream."

The two went at the giant's body with their spirits set for the gruesome job, they were bloodied from hand to shoulder, but when they finished they'd found another roll of hide. It was soaked and had a gash left by the ranger's sword, but Telenstil held it like the rough bundle was a fine tapestry made from cloth of gold.

"Is that it?" asked Harald wearily.

"This should be it," said Telenstil. "Now we can find our companions, they will need your help to find another camp."

"I'll wash this muck off first," said Harald.

"Let me," Telenstil cast a minor spell, a mere cantrip, but one which he had found useful more than once already. With a word and a gesture he caused the blood to jump from the ranger's clothes and skin, then he did the same again and he was clean as well. "Now we must take flight."

Telenstil removed the small white orb whose enchantments had taken them like birds over the valley and ahead of the giants they had just waylayed.

"Can't we just walk?" Harald asked, leery of the magic which carried them through the air. "I could scout out the land."

"They may need us," Telenstil reminded him. "I would have let these giants be if I had not believed it was of vital importance to stop them. We have also gone far. It would take some time for us to find our companions trail."

"All right," Harald conceded. "Let's get this over with."

"This will be the last that I can use this toy to fly, for some time at least. I doubt it could have taken more than you and I with the power it still maintains," said Telenstil.

"That's good to hear," Harald said. "Are you sure it has enough power left to take us back?"

"We will find out. Now take hold of the sphere and let us be gone."


Ivo stopped them at the hilltop, both Talberth and the orcs were thankful for the chance to rest. The young mage had tested his endurance many times with long sleepless nights spent in study back in civilized lands, but it had been years since he had carried a heavy load, or done much physical labor on any kind. The orcs were used to hard work, but they took every opportunity that came their way to rest, such was how they survived their enslavement by the giants. All set down their burdens carefully. Gytha, Talberth and Ghibelline lowered the body of Jalal slowly and with respect, the orcs deposited Derue and the heavy chain on the ground with care as well. Talberth kept a watchful and scowling eye on them, but he was more concerned with his magic chain than the safety of the scout.

"We will wait for our thief's return here, for awhile," said Ivo. "We have not gone far."

Gytha stood beside the gnome. They were above the winding path on the south-edge of the hill. The top was a long cresting ridge rather than the wide flat plateau that the steading sat upon. It was lined with jagged rocks rising in a series of humps, longer from south to north than east to west. A higher ridge, a line of weathered stone lay to the eastern side of the hill. Narrow and barefaced rock, it hung over the wooded valley below.

"The giants would have a hard time picking through these rocks," Gytha looked across the rough, uneven ground.

"It will be hard going for us as well," said Ivo. "Perhaps we can find a suitable resting place for our rescued elf's departed friend."

"I will speak with Ghibelline and see what he thinks," answered Gytha.

"We will still have our mad scout to carry. Talk with Talberth about that magic chain. We could hide it here as well as Jalal's body."

"Yes. You speak with Ghibelline, I will speak with Talberth," Ivo agreed.