Protected by their illusory disguises, the men tramp down the beaten path leading through the valley towards their destination, the walls of Jorgenfist.
As they approach, they can see a massive figure observing them from the colossal watchtower on their right. It appears to be a huge giant with dark grey skin. The giant barks a command, and two smaller giants, apparently Hill Giants, emerge from within the tower and toss heaps of green wood and leaves onto a fire burning at the base of the structure, sending a dense cloud of smoke roiling into the skies. The larger giant continues to observe the ‘giants’ and ‘dire bears’ on the path, and raises a hand in greeting.
Corvus is concerned that their disguise has proven too successful, and thinks that perhaps the waylaid stone giant patrol is expected to ‘check in’ with the sentinel of the tower. Clearly, if this is the case, proceeding onward will only raise suspicion, and possibly, an alarm, though the dense signal smoke has already alerted any observers at Jorgenfist that something is afoot.
The men proceed warily down the road, coming closer to the watchtower and it’s huge inhabitant. From this distance, the men can see that the sentinel is a towering female giant, with deep grey skin and dull red hair. She raises her voice and calls out to them in Giantish, “Plateau people! What brings you to Jorgenfist this day?”
Corvus hesitates, perhaps a little too long, for she repeats her inquiry. He replies quickly then, telling her that he and his comrade (the glamered Ragnar) are hunters seeking to find and rejoin their tribe. The giantess names herself Cinderma, and asks Corvus which of the tribes in the Valley is his own. Corvus racks his brain, but does not remember any tribal names. However, Zendo quietly whispers the name of Vlorian One-Eye to him. Vlorian was the elder of the tribe that claimed the giants defeated in Sandpoint.
Corvus tells Cinderma that his chief is named Vlorian, and adds that they are tired and hungry and wish to join their kin. Cinderma seems puzzled, but not suspicious, as she does not recall the giants under Old One-Eye’s rule as having any hunting bears. Corvus hems and haws, on the spot, but Cinderma seems eager for company and calls the ‘giants’ over to talk, as she has a curiosity about Vlorian and his goals.
Against their wishes, the men move towards the Watchtower, unhappy to be diverted, but pleased that their illusions, at least, seem to be effective. As the heroes approach, they are better able to examine the feral Cinderma, and Gellius and Corvus recognize her for what she truly is: a taiga giant. Given her dark skin and red hair, the men had taken her for a fire giant, but seeing her lanky build and noticing the dusky auburn of her hair helps correct their misapprehension. Gellius remembers that Taiga giants are reclusive in the extreme, seldom seen even in the wilds of the Storval Plateau, and regarded, even by other giants, as something of a primeval throwback to the giants of old. The druid recalls that Taiga giants, more so than other giants, revere their ancestors, and are even reputed to be able to call upon their ancestral spirits for aid. Corvus, though he does know know exactly how they accomplish it, recalls that the rarely seen Taiga giants, though not commonly sorcerors or wizards, have some means of binding spirits, which protect them from harm and give them some minor magical abilities, among which, he belatedly remembers, is an unerring ability to see through illusions!
As he realizes this unfortunate fact, Cinderma sees him pause, and calls out to her fellow giants, “Arise! Attack! Interlopers! Mischief is afoot!”. She hurls a stone at Corvus, which slams painfully into his midriff, and turns to run down the steep stairs of the watchtower. Still veiled in illusions which seem superfluous at the moment, the heroes prepare for battle.
One of the Hill Giants hurls open the door of the watchtower. The giant’s skin seems thin and stretched tightly over his muscles, and deep, but bloodless runic scars mar his flesh. A larger, more prominent rune glows faintly on his chest. Though on the attack, the giant’s face is slack, and his gaze distant and unfocused. The other Hill Giant, similar in appearance and demeanor, tenses his muscles menacingly, and grimaces in pain as a new rune bloodily tears itself across his flesh. Then the brute hurls himself across the intervening distance in a shocking burst of speed and slams a club into Hikage.
As Cinderma reaches the ground level of the watchtower, Gellius fills the interior with tangled, grasping vines, but the giants prove too strong to easily entangle. The remaining Hill Giant also triggers the strange surge of arcane energy that seems to both quicken his flesh, and mortify it, but despite their speed, the two Hill Giants are little match for the heroes. Between Hikage’s fists and Ragnar’s sword, as well as the burning flames of Corvus’s wand, both of the ‘lesser’ giants are quickly toppled, though they do smash apart an air elemental summoned by Gellius before they fall.
Cinderma, however, proves to be of much sterner mettle. As her ‘assistants’ perish around her, she mocks the men and makes light of Zendo’s attempts to harm her with his rapier. Even Corvus’s wand does little but scald her flesh. Her deadly spear thrusts again and again, stabbing Hikage and impaling Ragnar when he moves to attack. Before they can stop her, she plunges the spear deep into Hikage’s body, and he falls painfully to the ground. However, his flurry of attacks, and Corvus’s flames, have not left her unharmed, and a retributive strike from Ragnar slices her in two (taking her to -57 hp).
As Gellius and Zendo quickly heal the fallen monk, Ragnar drags the bodies of the giants inside to hide them from prying eyes. As the bard and druid turn their ministrations to his own wounds, and the deep bruise Corvus is sporting from a tossed rock, the wizard recognizes the runic scars on the Hill Giants as Thassilonian runes. Each rune is associated with one of the traditional Thassilonian virtues (or sins) and the prominent, previously glowing one, is the rune for Wrath. While Gellius calls water out of the sky to wash away the blood and gore outside, Corvus examines the rune-marked giants closely. The runes, he decides, are not magical, per se, but are a manifestation of some sort of magical strain or trauma, from some other sort of enchantment. This jibes with what the men have observed, in that both giants manifested new scars when they channeled some sort of magical burst of speed and power. However, it is like no magic the wizard has ever seen.
After searching the watchtower and finding little of value, the men decide to press onward while their illusory disguises still hold. Cinderma had little of worth in the tower, save personal effects and trinkets appropriate to a giant of her size, and the other two giants seemed to have no personal belongings or effects of any sort, save the clothes on their backs and the weapons in their hands.
The heroes move on down the wide trail towards the gate of Jorgenfist, cloaked by their illusions of giants and bears. The valley rings with the noise of the giant encampments within, so they speak quietly, with no fear of being overheard. They decide that Gellius will use his druidic magics to allow them all to scale the walls like spiders, and they will seal the gates from the inside with a magically conjured wall of stone. Making sure that he is too far away to alert the guardians of Jorgenfist, Gellius casts his enchantment upon his allies.
As they near the circular fortress, they can see that four of the stone towers are manned by Stone Giants, standing on guard, while the gatehouse itself seems to only be guarded by a smaller humanoid. Drawing closer, the men can see (and hear) that it is a harpy, who seems bored by her duty, and who warbles her song quietly. She perceives them only as Stone Giants and dire bears, however, and seems unalarmed.The men continue to approach, but as they get within a stone’s throw of the castle walls, their plans are disrupted. Hikage is ensorcelled by the song of the harpy, and begins to hurry forward towards the enchanting music. At first, the harpy seems amused by the spectacle of the bear shambling forwards towards her, but when Hikage spider-climbs straight up the tower, the avian songstress penetrates the illusion. She calls a warning to someone else, and backs away from the ‘bear’, which she knows to be an image concealing the monk.
The heroes realize that the deception is over, at least for this guardian of the gate, and rush the doors of Jorgenfist, using their magically enhanced climbing ability to clamber up the stone door easily. However, as they do so, another harpy emerges from the gatehouse and flaps into the air. Perhaps focused on their mission, the men are not even distracted by her singing. They clamber down the other side of the wall and Gellius prepares to seal it with a summoned wall of stone.
Unfortunately, their comrade Hikage is not so lucky. Standing enraptured before the first harpy, he is defenseless. She stops her singing and, incongruously, assumes a martial stance. “Your base deceptions will not avail you. The sisterhood shall not allow you entrance to the Black Tower. Your downfall is nigh, weak-minded fool.” To the amazement of the men below, the harpy batters Hikage with a series of punishing kicks! Evidently, these harpies belong to some martial order!
A third, somewhat rumpled-looking harpy emerges from the watchtower as her flying sister swoops down towards Ragnar. “You will not be allowed to disturb the master! The Black Monk is not granting audiences, fool. The Black Tower is forbidden to you!”. She swoops in for an attack, but Ragnar had been waiting for such a moment, and slices her deeply with his sword. Shrieking in pain, she flaps frantically to regain the air.
To their chagrin, the assault has attracted the attention of the guards on the other towers, and worse, yet, the courtyard is not empty! No sooner than the men step out of the shadows of the gate, they hear an angry trumpeting. A mammoth is being broken for riding in the courtyard, and the added provocation of noise and confusion is too much for the irritated beast. It gives out an angry bugling, and starts forward towards the men.
Luckily for them, the sudden movement, combined with the distraction of the intruders, proves too much for the limited riding skills of the Stone Giant atop the mammoth. He tumbles to the ground, which only provides a closer outlet for the mammoth’s wrath. The huge, furry beast turns and stomps on its tormentor. He quickly scrambles up and runs away from the enraged mammoth.
The prospect of crossing the courtyard while it is patrolled by an enraged mammoth is unattractive to the other Stone Giants, so they content themselves, for now, with hurling stones at the ‘intruders’, who, while they might appear to be giants, and bears, are certainly not behaving like them.
Wary of Ragnar’s sword, the two harpies focus their attacks on Zendo, Gellius, and Corvus. Though they do not stop Gellius from sealing the gates with a wall of stone, their speed and dexterity prevent Corvus from burning them with his wand of scorching rays. Though Zendo’s music keeps the harpies from enchanting any more of them, and his magics lend his allies a burst of speed, both he and Corvus receive stunning kicks to the head, causing them to falter.
As his allies struggle below, Hikage finally stirs to full consciousness. Before he can act, however, his feathered foe smashes him with another series of painful kicks from her scaly, taloned feet and shins. Will the monk survive another round of such attacks"