Rise of the Runelords

Enga Keckvia and a Giant pain in the ass
Kuthona 30, 4707

As Ragnar, Corvus, and Zendo pull themselves out of the rubble, a high-pitched ululation echoes through the cavern. A crimson-scaled kobold, wielding a spear two-handed, hurls herself at Hikage. His bemusement at his diminutive opponent is quickly dispelled as the fiesty kobold nearly runs him through with a powerful stab of her weapon.

Enga Keckvia is powerfully enraged, and screeches curses at the invaders. She calls Hikage the ‘bald monkey’ and, before he can retort, she stabs him again and again. Realizing his peril from the sharp spearhead of the raging kobold, Hikage quickly assumes a defensive stance and rains down a series of painful blows upon Enga.

Chastened, Enga abandons her reckless attacks and darts around Hikage, aggressively jabbing at him. His defenses prove sound, and she has difficulty landing any more damaging blows on the monk. However, Enga’s own twitching, darting combat style proves difficult for him as well.
Gellius hurls lightning at the tiny barbarian, and Corvus seizes his wand and sends a jet of flame coursing at her, but both miss the little frothing warrior.

Hikage receives healing from Gellius, and reenters the fray, finally landing a few solid strikes to his scaly assailant. Enga dashes back warily and catches her breath, seeming to recover some of her vitality. Now wary of her spear, Hikage advances on her carefully and, after several false moves, slams his fist into Enga’s throat, ending the threat of the small, but deadly warrior. Mokmurian certainly encountered no ordinary kobold during his travels!

The men, now recovered from the cave-in, make use of their magical reserves of healing as they strip their opponents of items likely to be of use. The magical rings of the lamias are taken, as well as their enchanted headbands, and the curious necklace of golden globes worn by Enga. Other valuables, such as the magical swords of the two priestesses, and Enga’s own magical spear and armor are left behind, under the assumption that the heroes will either be able to return to claim them, or will be dead, and in no condition to do so.

The men carefully advance from the lair of the charmed Red Dragons into the temple of the Lion Sisters itself. Smoky incense fills the air, and the lurid paintings on the walls depict the worship of Lamashtu in no uncertain terms to the experienced eyes of the men. Other images on the walls depict horned bats and winged serpents, but Hikage does not recognize them. A stone altar rests in one corner of the room, and silvery sconces hold the burning incense. Hikage notices scrapes across the stone of the cavern floor, suggesting that the entire altar might be moved to reveal a passage or cavity. Ragnar attempts to shift the heavy stone altar, but meets with no success.

As the men examine the room, they hear commands being bellowed in a deeply pitched voice! Lokansir has returned, with reinforcements!

The men quickly assemble for battle, and four ogres, reeking of the tannery and wielding too-familiar ogre hooks fan out through the passages to the south. Gellius waits until the ogres are reinforced by Stone Giants to unleash a blast of chain lightning. Corvus ignites a gout of flame which spreads to several of the ogres. Hikage is in the thick of things, dodging the ogre’s clumsy attacks and striking at them left and right with his fists. Oddly enough, Ragnar is content to stand back and pepper the ogres and giants with arrows, though this seems to work quite well.

The ogres and giants try to focus their attacks on the wizard and druid who unleashed the devastating lightning and fire, but Hikage and Ragnar whittle them down as they press forward. Almost all of the giants and ogres are down before Lokansir hurls his massive form through the passageway and into the shrine. He bellows a threat at Hikage and Zendo and his immense club whooshes through the air above their heads as they frantically duck to avoid it. Corvus bathes the immense, rune-scarred giant with fire and Gellius blasts him with lightning, as Hikage and Zendo try to keep out of his reach. Finally, before Hikage can land the fatal blow, Ragnar shoots into the melee and brings Lokansir down with an arrow.

Once the fight has ended, the men take stock of the situation. Most of the giants’ gear is too large to be easily carried, though some of it appears to be magical and valuable. Ragnar and HIkage struggle to move the heavy stone altar, and Ragnar finally succeeds, once he figures out the right direction to push it in. Underneath are a series of books, illustrated in a skilled, but demenented hand, detailing methods of torture and murder for giants and other humanoids. Though macabre, Corvus insists on taking the tomes as they may be valuable for information or to some other researcher.

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Paralysis, Blindness, and Cave-ins.
Kuthona 30, 4707

After a night sleeping in bedrolls in a strange, extradimensional space in the Black Tower, the men get up and begin their preparations for the second phase of their mission to stop Mokmurian.

Gellius and Corvus confer with the others in order to prepare the magics most useful to the mission, but the wizard prepares several spells for his own curiosity. Though a spell of mending is most often used to repair minor damage to garments and gear, the magics work just as well to restore the brittle vellum of the unspeakably ancient scrolls. Able to safely unroll the wyvern-hide scrolls safely, Corvus is surprised by their contents.

Eight of the scrolls contain powerful spells of divine magic, scribed by a powerful cleric in time immemorial. These scrolls of greater restoration, heroes’ feast, order’s wrath, regenerate, resurrection, scrying, symbol of stunning, and true resurrection will prove most useful, if he or the bard can wrap their minds around the foreign magics inscribed upon them. The next scroll holds a greater, if more prosaic, surprise. Translated from the Thassilonian, it reads:

Writ of Entrance and Access

To be presented to the Clockwork Librarian of the Therassic Library for the securing of full access to all archives held within.

Ware the shining guardians, for they guard the library without bias, and any who would enter are counted thieves and vandals to be slaughtered.

Speak aloud the name of the Master Architect, Viosanxi, afore entry is attempted via the bronze doors, if thou wouldst avoid their blinding wrath.

It appears to be a pass allowing access to some ancient library, perhaps the one under Jorgenfist which Mokmurian himself has discovered.

The final scrolls prove to be the most valuable. This scroll is unusually heavy, and consists of a long, supple parchment wrapped between two rods. When Corvus unfurls the scroll, he beholds a tangle of Thassilonian runes which writhe and squirm on the page before settling into a spell which Corvus has never heard of before, a rainment of command which cloaks the caster in an illusion, not only of appearance, but of authority, allowing him to appear to be a person of legitimate authority. Cautious of the strange scroll, Corvus rolls it back up, and unrolls the scroll to a different place, concentrating on a particular spell. He sees the runes begin to dance around the page, but he loses his concentration on their shifting forms, and the runes settle back into the same spell again.

Wracking his brain, Corvus remembers a story he encountered in his studies, a story which he dismissed as apocryphal, of a magical scroll which contained every arcane spell ever committed to memory by the ancients, as well as many dark secrets and bits of abhorrent lore. The scroll, called the Anathema Archive, could display any spell that the viewer could clearly understand, but would also display spells from its own masters if the reader could not force his understanding onto the page. However, the Anathema Archive, being penned by beings with greater understanding than our own, could also confuse and befuddle the viewer, slowing driving him mad through repeated reading. The idea of a single scroll which could contain any spell, or, indeed, perhaps all spells, seemed so ‘fairy-tale’ when Corvus heard it, but it appears that here, in his hands, he holds the Anathema Archive itself!

Corvus casts a spell which will allow him to teleport the others safely back here to the Black Tower if the mission goes badly, reasoning that the giants are loath to enter the tower, and that they will have no way of knowing where the men have gone in any case.

Rather than brazenly exit the tower through the massive stone doors, Corvus uses his magic to transport them to the tunnels underlying Jorgenfist, in a nexus near the pit itself. The men, not having planned quite as far as they had intended, get into a heated discussion in the large stone hallways, with Gellius wanting to confer with Conna, and some of the others advocating confronting Lokansir, while the remainder feel that they should push on to confront the Lion Sisters and their charmed dragons immediately. After a bit of raised voices, the heroes decide to press towards the Shrine of Lamashtu, since facing down the two priestesses and their dragons will be necessary if they intend to confront Mokmurian in his lair deeper within Jorgenfist.

Unfortunately, their discussions are easily overheard by the two young red dragons held in thrall by the lamias. Econtredor and Sulaminga have protected themselves using the minor magics available to dragons of their young age, and Sulaminga brashly leaps forward to protect her mistresses. Both she and her brother Econtredor seem fiercely devoted to the priestesses, and both bear Sihedron runes carved into the large armor plates between their horns. She breathes a scorching gout of flames onto the heroes before Gellius can protect them from fire. Belatedly, the druid wards his companions from the flames, forcing the two dragons to rely on their claws and fangs to defeat their enemies.

This proves difficult for the young dragons, as their foes are no ordinary men, but the Lost Coast Avengers and the slayers of Longtooth himself. Hikage quickly maneuvers past Sulaminga, not wishing to allow her to trap them all in the stone passageways, and engages Econtrador. Corvus and Gellius blast the dragons with lightning, before Ragnar hacks apart Sulaminga in a whirlwind of blades. Gellius summons a freezing cold to injure and stagger her brother Econtrador, who, despite his fangs and claws, proves to be no match for them.

Unfortunately for the heroes, the two dragons are not their only opposition. The Lion Sisters, two lamia priestesses of Lamashtu, enter the chambers from the far end. Zaelsar and Seleval seem unimpressed with the men, and greet them as new worshippers. Zaelsar pads through the chamber first, and uses a magical spell to paralyze Ragnar in place. The others hold back while Corvus casts magics to protect them from the evil magics of the two lamias, before moving to the attack. Seleval summons a greasy, choking cloud of evil fumes, which sickens Corvus, and burns the flesh of Zendo and Gellius, though Ragnar and Hikage seem less afflicted.

As Ragnar struggles against his paralysis, Hikage engages Zaelsar, finding the lamia as quick and nimble as himself, though less skilled in combat. The priestess, a bit wary of the monk, falls back towards the unconscious dragon, Econtrador. To the shock of the men, the priestess does not heal her ally, but drains his life force to empower her own!

Her sister, Seleval, casts a spell of blindness upon Corvus, to his dismay. The wizard had neglected to prepare a spell to dispel such afflictions, but he uses his arcane focus to dredge the spell up from his memory and remove his debilitating condition.

While Zendo and Hikage, and, belatedly, Ragnar, struggle against the Lamia priestesses, another threat has arisen. Roused by the battle, Lokansir has emerged from his chambers and is forcing his bulk into the narrow tunnel, roaring threats of murder and dismemberment. Gellius wisely summons a large frost elemental, blocking the advance of Lokansir with a massive, aggressive iceberg! The hulking hill giant, his body covered in runic scars, trades crushing blows with the ice elemental.

With the threat behind them delayed, the men concentrate on taking down the snarling, hissing leonine priestesses. Seleval retreats under the fury of Ragnar’s attack, using the respite to heal herself, but Zendo lunges forward and undoes her work with his own rapier. Zaelsar falters under the acidic fists of Hikage, who mercilessly punches and kicks the evil priestess into unconsciousness. Her sister soon follows.

Seeing his allies brought down, Lokansir roars in anger and frustration, and his rumbling bellow shakes the very walls of Jorgenfist. The stone passageway collapses in an earthquake! Rocks strike Zendo and Ragnar, and a boulder nearly crushes Corvus. All three men, and the ice elemental, are pinned by the heavy rubble. Lokansir has collapsed the tunnel, giving them a brief respite from his fury, assuming that no other enemies lie in wait…

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Frost Giants, the Black Monk, and ancient scrolls
Kuthona 29, 4707

Still flush with their magics, the men decide to ‘investigate’ the Frost Giant envoys Conna indicated were staying in the Bear Hall. Zendo and Gellius quickly heal Ragnar as the group flies over towards the smaller stone building. Hikage stays out of sight on one side of the door as Zendo waits cautiously on the other. Gellius and Ragnar stand ready in front of the door, as Corvus readies a minor blast of flame from the air for any attackers.

Zendo flings open the door to reveal a large room, decorated with scores of bear skulls and many notable bear pelts. The room seems recently converted to house guests, and the only guests within are two hulking Frost Giants, their bluish lips snarled back to reveal their yellowed teeth. The first of the two giants, seemingly ready for this sort of action, hurls himself at the whirling air elemental, which is actually Gellius in a wildshaped form. Sadly for him, his angry charge takes him past the unseen Zendo, who stabs at him with a rapier, and the waiting Corvus, who burns him with a jet of flame. Before he can contact the druid’s whirling form, Hikage leaps at him, and batters him further. Knocked off guard, the white-haired reaver is unable to land a blow with his greataxe before Ragnar steps forward and slices him limb from limb.

Seeing his compatriot cut down does not cow the remaining Frost Giant, but seems only to enrage him. He charges towards the flight, but his attempt to cut down Zendo is prevented by his wild swing, which contacts the stout oak of the doorway. Zendo is similarly hampered in his response, succeeding in stabbing the enraged giant once, but also stymied by the close quarters. Hikage succeeds in landing a stout kick to the giant, despite the close confines, and Gellius instead casts a spell, spitting a caustic poison into the giant’s eyes. Taking advantage of the blinded giant, Corvus scorches him with a fiery ray from his wand.

Though the giant’s massive frame allows him to resist the toxins coursing through his body, the stinging poison burns at his eyes, spoiling his aim as Gellius retreats to a safe distance. Ragnar steps up and waits a moment for the second Frost Giant to recover (but not long enough for him to attack) before brutally eviscerating him with his sword.

This threat eliminated, the men agree to fall back to the Black Tower as their protective magics fade. As they enter the immense structure of black stone, Gellius spots something unusual on the stone floor. The entire structure is very cold inside, even for the chill days of early winter on the Plateau, and a fine layer of ice crystals frosts the floor, but the keen-eyed druid notes a series of straight lines where no ice has accumulated. Zendo approaches the area carefully an examines it closely, realizing that the lines indicate an air gap between the stone floor and a set of finely constructed panels, which open to reveal a circular shaft descending into darkness below. Zendo summons a series of dancing lights, and sends them down into the shaft. Fifty feet below, the shaft appears to open into another room.

Making use of the flight granted to him by Conna, Hikage quickly descends into the room below. The chamber is a domed circle, with rounded alcoves studding the walls, each housing a featureless black stone plinth. Even more cold than the chamber above, this room chills the monk to the bone. However, as the monk flies into the room, he is taken aback by the sole occupant, and his own courage quails at the sight.

Floating motionless several inches above the floor is a wizened, dessicated mummy. Tall for a human, and inhumanly thin, the guardian clutches a large, brazen tube to his chest, with this arm and the scroll case contained under his wrappings. Even the mummy’s legs are tightly bound in fragile strips of linen, but one clawlike hand is free, and the mummy glares at him with eyes that faintly glow green in a mask-like face of darkened flesh, stained by some preservative ritual. The Black Monk murmurs something in a whispery voice, but his words are in a tongue unknown to Hikage. The monk quickly calls for assistance.

The heroes all swiftly fly down the shaft to aid their companion. Zendo remains in midair, wary of the Black Monk, as Gellius and Ragnar land to face him. Ragnar even lunges forward with his sword, but the monk evades his blow with the slightest of movements. Corvus, however, enters the chamber and is overwhelmed by the aura of despair. Though his friends resist it, the young wizard is paralyzed by the doom he feels certain to befall them from this ten-thousand-year old guardian. Only the wizard can understand the faint whisper of the monk, as it is in Thassilonian, a tongue unspoken for thousands of years. The Black Monk mutters faintly, as if to himself: “The light! The green light!”. He falls from the air to land heavily on the stone floor.

Hikage is not paralyzed by the doubts plaguing his friend, and he steps forward in a dragon stance. Summoning his Ki, the monk wreathes his hands in flames, and lands a mighty blow on the Monk, his foe’s dry skin burning readily. However, all of Hikage’s subsequent strikes go awry as the Black Monk, now prepared for this intruder, dodges them with ease.

The Black Monk smiles evilly, and coughs forth a choking cloud of black dust. Most of the men can feel their life force fading as the dust enters their lungs, particularly the hyperventilating Corvus, but Ragnar shrugs it off. He lunges forward with a wild swing, which the Monk dodges contemptuously, but then suddenly reverses his stroke and slices a devastating cut across the Monk’s body.

Suddenly more cautious, the Black Monk begins to regard his enemies more warily. He begins to maneuver around, but Gellius summons a smoking Magma elemental to block his path. Still floating in the air, the Black Monk begins to levitate higher, twisting his bound body around. He carefully utters an incantation, and the floor is suddenly covered with a writhing mass of huge, black centipedes, biting and crawling over everything. Though bitten by the thousands of crawling vermin, none of the men succumb to their poison, and none are distracted by the loathsome sensation of millions of scurrying limbs all over their legs.

However, Zendo realizes that they must act fast before the swarms of centipedes swarm all over the prone Corvus! The Black Monk, still floating lazily in the air, maneuvers away from the flaming fists of Hikage and the burning stone form of the Magma elemental, to threaten the flying Bard.

Unbeknownst to the Monk, however, Zendo is prepared, and quickly sends a coruscating blast of flame from his wand to scorch the flammable form of the mummy before him. Thinking himself safe from Hikage and the burning elemental, at least, the Black Monk is unprepared for Hikage’s next action, which comes as a surprise to all of the men. Hikage musters his ki and unleashes it in a mighty blast, both battering the Black Monk, and burning him with fire! The Black Monk, unprepared for such an assault, collapses into a withered, smoking corpse.

Within the ashes of the body, the men find a magical belt which has greatly augmented the Black Monk’s strength, and the strange, metal scroll tube. Corvus examines it closely, finding hundreds of tiny Thassilonian runes engraved in five bands at one end of the tube. The bands pivot around the body of the scroll case, but each ring of runes interacts with the others in some fashion, as shifting one set of runes causes other bands, even those not adjacent, to move in unpredictable fashion. Paper rustles within the case.

This is an entirely different sort of problem. Despite the freezing chill of the Black Monk’s chamber, the men settle in to solve this conundrum. Ragnar helps Corvus keep track of the moving runes as the wizard puzzles out their meaning and conjunctions. Zendo casts a spell to assist Corvus in this taxing endeavor. After a few moments, Corvus has puzzled out one of the conjunctions, but there remain four others to solve. In working on the second band of symbols, Ragnar’s concentration lapses, but with further magical aid from the bard, Corvus is able to maintain the first conjunction and add another. Hikage steps in to help, and with the monk’s aid, and the magical focus provided by two more of Zendo’s spells, Corvus is able to solve the third and fourth conjunctions. The strain of keeping so many symbols aligned proves too hard for Hikage, and he loses his place and cannot offer any assistance to Corvus. Zendo’s spells are exhausted as well, and he can no longer aid the wizard either. The final, most challenging conjunction falls solely to Corvus’s own powers of concentration. At first, he thinks that he has solved the puzzle, but before he moves the final band more than a hair’s breadth, Corvus realizes that he has made an error, and he immediately reverses course and aligns the final band of runes, allowing the case to be opened for the first time in ten thousand years.

Sadly, the large sheets of wyvern hide within have become brittle and powdery after millennia within the cold of the Black Tower, and Corvus does not trust his numb fingers (nor those of his companions) to handle the delicate scrolls. A single error could cause the fragile documents to crumble to dust. Some sort of magical preparations will be necessary, to Zendo’s frustration. Corvus borrow’s Ragnar’s rope and creates an extradimensional space for the men to sleep and rest for the night. Even if the Black Tower is broached, the men will be hidden in relative safety.

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Flawless Victory!
29 Kuthona, 4707

As she sketches, she speaks quietly but quickly. " Before you go, let me tell you of Mokmurian, the instigator of all these ills. In my tribe, Mokmurian was born small and grew slowly. Among the Plateau people, this is a good omen, as those who are marked physically are those who have magic in their blood. Mokmurian was very small, scarcely taller than you folk, and it seemed a long time before his gifts manifested, but eventually his magics emerged. He brought his magics to the Kavarvarti for three decades before his wife discovered his charade. Mokmurian had no magics in his blood, but learned the magics of the small folk from their books. He slew his own wife to hide his shame, but he was found out. The elders burned his books, named him a traitor, and exiled him to the wilderness."

“Would that he have died alone in the wilds. Mokmurian came here, to the Vale of the Black Tower, forbidden to my people, and found ancient magics festering in chambers below the ground. His power grew from the dark knowledge that he mastered, and he roamed far afield from the Valley. When he returned, he returned with priestesses of the Mother of Monsters, and a greedy, rapacious dragon as allies. Though years had past, he returned to the Kavarvatti and defeated my husband in ritual combat, earning his right to guide us as an elder of the tribe. However, rather than tolerate Vandarrec, or even banish him from the tribe, he brought us here, under the guise of showing us what marvels he had learned, and sacrificed him here to his own dark goddess.”

“Now Mokmurian dwells apart from his people in the ‘library’ beneath this accursed place. When he left my tribe, he had mastered magics which allowed him to seem as one of the Earthtouched, like myself. He could summon stones, craft them with his hands, and speak to them, but his power seemed greater than mine. Now that he has returned, he commands all manner of strange magics. He can change his form, and that of others, and return the dead to unlife. He can change living flesh to dead stone, and pull secrets from the dead. Some of the Plateau people say that he is an Ancient One reborn in the form of a giant, to lead us to conquest over Varisia. They have forgotten the old stories, and the reasons why the Black Tower is taboo. The Ancient Ones ruled over us as slaves, and the monuments we raised for them were to their glory, not our own. "

She hesitates, then adds, “When he thinks himself alone, I have heard Mokmurian speak to another, one he names Karzoug. As an elder, steeped in the wisdom of our tribes, I know this name. Karzoug was one of the Ancient Ones, one of those who enslaved our people. I fear that Mokmurian, for all his petty vanity and greedy ambition, has somehow fallen under the influence of Karzoug, perhaps as a victim of some curse or long-dormant necromantic trap. If that is the case, then the plight of my people is truly grave.”

Conna agrees to help the men in their fight against Galenmir and the others. She uses her sorcerous magics to protect Hikage, Corvus, and Gellius with magical armor, and she grants Ragnar, Hikage, and Zendo the ability to fly through magic. Zendo bolsters the men with magical courage and haste, and Corvus enlarges them and grants them additional durability through his wand of false life, while Gellius blesses them all with the grace of wild cats. The men, laden with spells and enchantments, step into the pit to unleash hell upon the assembled giants.

Gellius summons three massive tigers, which quickly draw the attention of the cave bears patrolling above. While the tigers bound up the ramp from the pit, they are cut off by the stone giants and bears rushing to drive them back down. Before the tigers are defeated by the crushing blows of the stone giant’s clubs, they bring down several giants and succeed in dividing the forces of Galenmir’s troops.

Hikage soars through the air and lands a stunning fist on one of the harpy monks, who, surprised by the forceful blow, tumbles from the sky to her death. He then engages the bears and giants in hand to hand combat, striking down one of each.

Ragnar, less sure of himself in the air, simply flies to the edge of the pit, and grips his sword menacingly. The final harpy monk unwisely charges the enlarged Ulfen and he cuts her deeply with his sword before she can strike a blow.

Gellius then transforms into a large, whirling air elemental and flies to the attack, battering a cave bear with fists of elemental force. He steps back from the fight to unleash an electrical barrage of chain lightning, which misses the nimble harpy monks, but burns and injures many of the giants and dire bears.

Corvus follows Gellius, though he is concealed by invisibility. He immediately follows Gellius’s lightning with cascading chains of blazing fire. Though the nimble harpy monk dodges this as well, it further burns and weakens many of the giants and dire bears. Chagrined by his failure to destroy the hated harpy, Corvus then unleashes a flurry of magical missiles which bring her down, all while still cloaked in his invisibility.

The leader of the Stone Giants, Galenmir, orders his men to attack, unknowingly bunching them up into a more tempting target for the spells of the wizard and druid. He steps into the fray, wielding his pick two-handed, and roaring dire threats at the heroes. His first blow injures Ragnar greatly, nearly felling the huge fighter, and the giants rally, landing other damaging blows on the wounded Ulfen.

Ragnar, however, pushes through the pain and unleashes a devastating series of slices and stabs at the overconfident Galenmir, who is forced back by the strength of the blows. Ragnar musters the last of his flagging energy and lands a final, lethal strike on Galenmir, slaying the ‘general’ of Mokmurian’s army before he can land another blow, but leaving the staggering Ulfen vulnerable to the ire of Galenmir’s loyal guards.

Fortunately, Ragnar’s friends have not forgotten him, and Gellius unleashes a blast of holy fire to slay two of the giants while directing his last tiger to confront the others. Corvus casts a huge fireball which immolates the last bear and several of the injured giants. Hikage flies to cut off another giant, and strikes him down, while Zendo, using a literal ‘flying lunge’ wields his rapier against another. Ragnar foolheartedly charges a giant and slays him, leaving him open to a counterattack, but the quick actions by his allies lay low all of the remaining foes before any can retaliate.

It has been less than a minute since the heroes flew to the attack, but the courtyard inside Jorgenfist is littered with the dead and dying bodies of Mokmurian’s guards. Making the most of their fleeting enchantments, Hikage and Corvus (unseen) fly to the doors of the Black Tower. Hikage throws them open, but inside, he sees only a soaring chamber of black stone, glittering under a fine layer of frost. Corvus searches for windows or other exits, but sees nothing, other than the strangely cold stone of the room. Zendo quickly flies to his ally Ragnar and heals his deep wounds with one of his most powerful healing spells, while Ragnar fetches a healing potion and aids himself.

Their magical advantage is fleeting, but what will the heroes do?

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An Unexpected Reprieve
Kuthona 29, 4707

Hikage, badly injured by his harpy opponent, quickly disengages from her and spiderclimbs down the gatehouse wall to join his comrades. Ragnar curses and charges the badly wounded harpy who has knocked Corvus senseless, and quickly kills her, prompting shrieks of outrage from her fellow harpy acolytes.

As soon as he recovers from his drubbing, Corvus quickly slips back into the cordon of his allies and hastily casts a spell, concealing them all within a sphere of invisibility. The harpies, confused by this turn of events, look for them futilely, uncertain if the invaders have actually disappeared, or simply vanished from sight.

Gellius, however, provides the harpies with a crucial clue, as he chooses this moment to summon a fire elemental to harass them. As the winged monks hear his incantation, they shout to their stone giant allies that the intruders are still present, but only invisible.

The stone giants from the towers begin to descend into the courtyard, both to help subdue the rampaging mammoth and to assist the harpies in their search. The fire elemental attempts to harass the harpies, but both the elemental and his target, the harpy, are trampled by the angry mammoth, before she can take to the air to escape both the mammoth and the elemental.

Attempting to use the confusion of the trumpeting beast, and the fire elemental, Corvus slowly edges away from the gatehouse toward the pit. Moving too quickly risks making too much noise, but the slow pace also allows Gellius and Zendo to ply their wands of healing to assist their friends, though the badly wounded Hikage supplements their care with his own potion.

As the men move invisibly towards the deep pit, they are dismayed to see that three dire bears are emerging from cave entrances within the walls. Disturbed by the bears, flocks of ravens, crows, and buzzards squawk and wing their way into the air. Within the deep pit, the bones of humanoids and giants lie in tangles, as well as the corpses of four dragons, three being blue-scaled with yellow bellies and a fourth with crimson scales. A stern looking stone giant, armored and equipped with a huge pick, follows the bears, and demands a status update from the other giants. This, it transpires, is Galenmir, the ‘general’ of the stone giant army gathering in the valley. He commands the retreating stone giant back up the ramp to get his mount under control, and then, with growling and gestures, urges the huge bears up the ramp to sniff out the invisible intruders.

Fortunately, Corvus has led his compatriots, using the magics provided by Gellius, right over the side of the wall of the pit, and they stand quietly, between the prowling bears below and the stone giant searchers above. Galenmir berates some unseen reinforcements, and four more stone giant guards soon appear in another of the cavern entrances at the bottom of the huge pit. With his reinforcements, the ‘general’ marches to the top to organize his men.

As the men wait invisibly for the reinforcements to pass under them, a lanky, elderly stone giant female appears in the mouth of one of the caves below. From Galenmir’s harsh words, Corvus senses that the general disapproves of her, but Conna, as she is named, seems to hold the general in low regard herself. She does not obey his orders to aid in the search, but scans the area around the pit intently. Her flinty eyes narrow and she quickly casts a spell as Galenmir’s attention is elsewhere.

A gravelly voice whispers into Corvus’s ear. “I know not why you have come, but if you seek to kill Mokmurian, I am your ally.” Corvus utilizes the enchantment to reply. “We seek to end him, and his threat to Varisia.” Conna wraps her shawl around herself and motions the unseen party to attend her within the darkness of the caverns within the pit. Cautiously, the heroes follow her into the darkness.

Conna leads them through rough passages sized for giants, past a massive hall lit by a roaring fire. She motions them into a smaller side-chamber, whose walls are painted with primitive images of giants, bears, mastodons, and elk, as well as smaller images of dwarves, as well as figures that may represent humans, elves, and ogres. The cave paintings are lit only by a flickering oil lamp, but the men could swear that the crude figures shift on the walls when they are not being watched.

“This is a place of safety,” the old giantess informs them, “but you must never enter it alone.” She touches the wall, sadly, "My husband,Vandarrec, was killed here by Mokmurian after he took control of our tribe. His spirit lingers here, unwilling to leave my side, and tormented with the need for revenge against that spiteful viper. My presence will keep him calm, but he grows restive in my absence." She turns her attention to the heroes. “What is your purpose here?”

The men explain that they are here to stop Mokmurian, as he knows that he intends to march an army of giants down from the Plateau to invade the lowlands. Corvus tells Conna that he knows that Mokmurian has agitated the giants to war, and Zendo, perhaps more out of bluster than confidence, assures her that the various cities and towns scattered across the wilds of Varisia would unite to drive them off in a costly and unnecessary war. She sighs heavily and laments the influence of Mokmurian. “He has led the young and the hot-blooded astray with his promises of gold, and steel, and power. It is not our way. I try to plead for the path of caution and restraint, but I cannot gainsay him. Though he leads us to ruin, he took the rulership in the old manner. I cannot act against our traditions if I wish to draw our people back to them.”

“However,” she smiles, “I am an elder of the Kavarvatti tribe, and I can speak with whom I choose and walk where I will. I will tell you of his ways, and his home, and his allies, and you may act where I cannot.” She asks a sheet of paper from Corvus, and sketches a crude map of the caverns in her large hand, before handing it back to him to annotate.

“You have seen the buildings above, but they are the least of the halls of Jorgenfist. The mastodon stables are to the east of the pit, and the feasting halls to the west of the pit. Mokmurian’s own bear, Embers, prowls the feast hall, and is much more aggressive than the lesser bears you have seen.

“The round spire is a relic of the Ancient Lords, but has been long abandoned. A nesting pair of Rocs dwell within. They are not tame, but they are acclimated to the presence of the giants and our animals. Should they see smaller beings, they will view them as prey within the walls. This is doubly dangerous, as not only are Rocs dangerous hunters, but it will tell the giants outside the walls that something is amiss inside.

“The small stone building nearest the northeast wall is the Bear’s Hall. Mokmurian built this shrine to our tribal totem as dictated by tradition, but he has encouraged worship in other gods. He sullies it with emissaries from the Frost Giants of the Kodar Mountains. Mokmurian is negotiating an alliance with them before marching on Varisia. Though my people have been led astray, the Frost Giants are murderous, reaving bastards and you would do well to kill them both.” Ragnar agrees with this emphatically, an evil glint in his eyes.

The four watchtowers of Jorgenfist, as you have seen, are manned by stone giants loyal to Mokmurian night and day. Those guardians have seen what he is, and how he treats the tribes, and have thrown their lot in with him. They are better than Frost Giants, but not by far. The watchtower is guarded by the three (‘two’, Corvus corrects) harpies. They have sworn themselves to the service of the Black Monk, and they serve Mokmurian at his tolerance.

“The Black Monk, the harpies say, dwells within the Black Tower, which Mokmurian has intertwined with Jorgenfist. The tower is old beyond the memory of the elders, but it is accursed. The harpies allow none to enter the Black Tower and disturb their lord’s vigil, but they have no quarrel with Mokmurian.

“The dire bears dwell in caves to the east of the floor of the pit. They sometimes sleep together in one cave, or retreat to caves alone, but all of these caves are small and lead no deeper into Jorgenfist.

“The tree small alcoves under the ramp serve as guardposts for accessing Jorgenfist in times of alarm. If the guards are not on alert, they will usually be found in the Great Cave, the largest cavern, to the west, though their barracks are elsewhere, past the armory and tannery. Grumelda tends the fire in the Great Cave, and prepares meals from the larder there.

“Galenmir, jumped-up chieftain that he is, has a private lair accessible from the southwestern wall of the pit. He also has an ill-concealed exit from his chambers that connects to a passage between the Great Cave and the tannery.

“The area between the Great Cave and the Tannery is guarded by Enga, Mokmurian’s pet. Mokmurian must have found her on his travels, and the wicked little pest guards the warren of small tunnels beyond Jorgenfist, keeping down the vermin that grow within. There are a tribe of violent fey who dwell in those caverns, but Mokmurian tolerates their presence, though he sends Enga after them for tribute. I would avoid her, as she taxes the patience of even a stone.

“Past her ‘domain’ lie the Tannery, Armory, and Barracks. Galenmir allows some of the ogres to work within the stench of the tannery, as their own foul smell is at least as great. Within the armory, two stone giant smiths labor and oversee the work of some dwarven slaves. Beyond that is the barracks, and one of the entry tunnels to the lower level. Two trolls, Hurek and Durek guard the passages.

“To the east of this shrine, one passage leads to the sacrificial chamber, and then to the cavern of the Lion Sisters. These two priestesses of the Mistress of Monsters, Seleval and Zaelsar oversee the sacrifices in the pit. Mokmurian only allows his favored servants, and those he finds most bloodthirsty, to attend these ceremonies. His ally, Longtooth, has helped him to capture dragons to sacrifice in the past, and two such young dragons, both red dragons, have been charmed by the Lion Sisters to guard the passage to their chambers. Beyond the dragons, the Lion Sisters have their own “cathedral”, which also accesses the passages leading to the lower level.

“The other passage to the east leads to the Room of Stars. This room is the best preserved area on this level, and this is where Mokmurian indoctrinates his minions. Any who would serve Mokmurian are branded here with his seven-pointed star rune by Lokansir. He is a vile toady. Though the blood of our ancient forebears runs deep in his veins, Lokansir has thrown in his lot with Mokmurian and eagerly apes his master, going so far as to scribe the strange runes on his own flesh.

“Mokmurian has allies outside the walls of Jorgenfist as well. Though he seldom allows any giants to enter unsupervised, he has a powerful ally in Longtooth.” Zendo informs Conna that Longtooth is dead, slain in the failed raid on Sandpoint. She is pleased at the news, but warns the men that Mokmurian has also made an alliance with two large, vicious wyverns who dwell in caves on the cliff overlooking the river. The men show him their map, and she confirms that the distant cave in the mountain is Longtooth’s lair, but confesses that she does not know which, if not both, of the caves on the cliff, is inhabited by the wyverns.

Mokmurian himself, Conna tells the heroes, seldom spends much time in the halls of Jorgenfist, but busies himself in a ‘library’ on the lowest level. The men are eager to confront him there, but Conna cautions them. "I know of none that have gone into the lower levels unaccompanied by Mokmurian and returned whole. Those who have displeased, or failed him, have come back, but strangely altered. Their gaze is vacant, and they take no pleasure in food or drink. Their skin is marked with deeply incised runes which seem to cause them pain, but never heal. Those so marked serve Mokmurian with absolute dedication, but the runes multiply across their flesh until one day, they collapse. The giants live in fear of failing Mokmurian and becoming one of his “rune slaves”. Some of the elders have gone down to the lowest levels in the past, using their authority to brush past his guards. The few that ever returned were horribly burned and blinded, and lived only a few moments."

“No one enters the Library but Mokmurian, by his edict. I know not what guards the way, but not even his guards venture down to those realms if not in his company. He walks that way alone.”

She encourages the men to deal with the guards who are fruitlessly searching for them aboveground. “The stone wall sealing Jorgenfist will be torn down soon if the guards cannot find you, and Galenmir will return here and post the guards. Better to catch them unawares and unprepared than to push forward and be cut off below the ground with no escape.” Corvus assures her that he has a plan for that contingency, but the men agree that taking advantage of the confusion and keeping Jorgenfist sealed is a worthy goal.

They decide to make an assault out of the pit, aiming to eliminate Galenmir as the leader of the forces in the fortress. If hard pressed, they will fall back to the Black Tower. None of the giants will enter there, and the men can face off against the harpies alone, though the threat of the Black Monk is unknown. If necessary, Corvus can transport them to safety, but doing so will require falling back from Jorgenfist for another attempt on an alerted fortress.

They muster their magics and Conna offers to use her own sorcerous abilities to grant some of them flight. With spells of haste, flight, invisibility, and growth, perhaps they can fight the giants on a more even footing?

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Entering Jorgenfist
Kuthona 29, 4707

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"

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Stone giants in the Iron Peaks
Kuthona 28-29, 4707

That night, the heroes make camp in the Iron Hills. Gellius harnesses the forces of nature to create a magical glade sheltered against the freezing cold, and furnished with delicious berries and a spring of fresh water. Corvus creates a shelter composed of magical force to protect the sleeping heroes from the weather, and to shield them from prying eyes. Some of the men grumble a bit that the wizard ‘skimped’ on his camping spells, and did not summon his more luxurious shelter, equipped with furniture, beds, and a fireplace, but Corvus prepared more offensively powerful spells instead. Though the men have to bed down on the ground, they are at least warm and sheltered.

For reasons known only to himself, Gellius petitioned Gozreh for the ability to hide the campsite from detection, but neglects to do so. This lapse in judgement proves painfully wrong for the druid later. The men take up shifts for the night.

Late at night, while Ragnar is on watch, a dire bear hurls itself through the grove and into the light of the campfire. Ragnar quickly shouts to awaken his companions and draws his glowing greatsword to fight off the angry ursine, as another bear emerges from the darkness.

As Gellius and Hikage emerge from the magical shelter to aid Ragnar, they soon discover that the two bears are not the only threat. Another bear appears to attack the monk, and shouted commands in Giant (and hurled stones) reveal that Giants have found the campsite and are driving the bears to attack from the safety of the darkness.

Zendo summons dancing lights to reveal the giants, as Corvus (who has to remain within the shelter to maintain it) helps Ragnar and Gellius in quickly dispatching two of the bears, while Hikage holds off the third.

The stone giants quickly realize they are outmatched by the heroes, and split up to bring word to Mokmurian of the invaders. Hikage is delayed by one of the bears, but he and Gellius soon move to head off the retreat of one of the giants, though Gellius, already mauled by the bears, takes a heavy blow from the giant in return.

Ragnar moves to pursue the other giant, and Corvus paralyzes the fleeing giant, allowing Ragnar to easily finish him off after an initial altercation.

As Hikage, Gellius, and Zendo outmaneuver the other giant, they quickly strike him down, preventing him from fleeing and alerting the forces at Jorgenfist.

Most of the healing potions found on the Hill Giants of the Storval Stairs are consumed, as Gellius was badly injured by the fierce attacks of the bears, and he and Ragnar both took stout blows from giant clubs in closing to melee with the Stone Giants. With the use of the potions, and some magical healing from wands, though, the group is back to normal, and settles in for the rest of the night.

On the next morning, the men discuss their plans for entering Jorgenfist, based on the information from the Longtooth map. Corvus casts a spell which will allow him to teleport most of the party unerringly back here to the campsite, with the utterance of a phrase. The men debate circling around through the Iron Peaks to approach the Valley of the Black Tower from the Mushkali River, intending to explore the caverns on the cliffs in hopes of finding a ‘back door’ entrance to Jorgenfist, but the idea is shelved due to the uncertain chances of success and the uncertain amount of time involved.

Instead, it is decided that Corvus will use a powerful illusion to cloak himself and Ragnar (the only two speakers of Giantish in the party) as Stone Giants, and Zendo, Hikage, and Gellius as Cave Bears. Since the giant patrols seem to consist of two giants and three bears, perhaps this will allow the men to approach Jorgenfist unmolested. Corvus and Gellius also prepare many spells with which to enter the fortress, spells of flight, spider-climbing, warping wood, softening stone, and even walking through solid walls.

The plan is to pass by the watchtower and the giant camps, magically disguised as a guard patrol, and then to obtain entrance to the fortress by some means. This is the most uncertain part of the plan, as the nature of the gates, and their guards, is unknown, but an invisible Zendo, magically empowered to pass through the walls of the fort, should be able to unlock them from the inside.

Once inside, Gellius will create a wall of stone inside the fortress gates, making it impossible (or at least, very hard) for those within the walls of Jorgenfist to summon aid from without. According to the stone giants Zendo and Hikage questioned outside Sandpoint, the Black Tower is regarded as taboo by most of the Stone Giants, so, with any luck, there will be few giants willing to act as reinforcements.

Once inside Jorgenfist, the heroes plans are necessarily sketchy. There may be many giants to defeat, or perhaps, just a few guards. The map shows several buildings inside, but gives few indications of their nature. There are guard towers ringing the walls, and two low buildings within, as well as a large courtyard. A towering pyramidal spire rises well above the walls. Also, the Black Tower itself has been incorporated into the walls of Jorgenfist. The giants said that Mokmurian dwelled ‘beneath’ Jorgenfist, but that may indicate that he abides somewhere within the depths of the Black Tower itself, or in some chambers accessible through the deep pit at the center of Jorgenfist. Much will have to wait until the men are within.

After Corvus casts his spells, the men hurry onward toward the valley. Scrambling up the steep rise, they can see the entire Valley of the Black Tower from the trail. The wide valley is perched on the upper edges of a cliff overlooking the Muschkal River. Near the western edge of the valley, where the heroes are, a watchtower stands on a low hill. Despite being only two stories, the watchtower’s proportions are immense, and it could easily be a five-story building if scaled for humans.

The structure is overshadowed by the ring shaped stone fortress looming in the valley proper. A fifty foot stone circular wall surrounds several buildings, including a one hundred fifty foot tall stone spire, and three low buildings. Five ‘small’ towers, perhaps only seventy feet in height, are built int0 the fortress walls, with one being wider, and apparently serving as a gatehouse. Also built into the wall is a looming black tower with bladelike crenelations which overlooks the river gorge. This must be the Black Tower itself.

Within the valley are many signs of life. Seven large camps of towering tents, yurts, and stone shelters circle the walls of Jorgenfist at a distance. Smoke rises from campfires and the sounds of grating laughter and clashing weapons fill the air, competing with the trumpeting of large, angry animals from somewhere within the fortress. Gellius identifies them as mammoths.

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The Storval Stair
26-28 Kuthona, 4707

Having satisfied their curiosity, the heroes travel on across the lowland plains, toward the rise of the Storval Plateau, slowly becoming visible on the horizon. Their enchanted steeds travel swiftly across the cold grasslands, and by the setting of the sun, the plateau, as well as the drop in elevation that marks the Stair, is visible in the distance.

Mindful that their conjured horses would find the steep stone stairs quite difficult to navigate, the men camp for the night, ensconced in Corvus’s magically summoned hut, and protected from the weather by Gellius’ conjured grove.

On the morning of the 27th, the men break camp and hike the short distance to the Storval Stair. Up close, the massive architecture of the stairs are even more impressive. The ancient ruins at the base of the stairs lurk in the perpetual shadow of the monstrous cliffs known as the Storval Rise. The two-foot high and deep stairs form a fifty-foot-wide cleft cut deep into the cliff. Landings flanked by structures obscure the top of the stairs from the bottom.

Massive statues flank the stairs; they rise three hundred feet above the base of the stairs and proudly looking out over the surrounding countryside as if standing guard. Each statue holds an immense tome in one arm and a deadly looking glaive in the other. The men recognize these statues as representations of Runelord Karzoug.

On either side of the statues, buildings carved directly out of the cliff face rise from the valley floor. They rise nearly to the top of the plateau, four hundred feet above the valley floor. From a distance, Hikage and Zendo can see a lone sentinel standing guard on the second landing of the stairs. To be visible from this range, the guard must truly be a giant of some sort. Hikage can also see a rubble of stones piled at the edge of the landing, though for what purpose he does not know.

Corvus creates a sphere of invisibility to cloak the heroes, and they quickly approach the Stair on foot. As they get closer, the men can see that the guardian is a hill giant, and that the stones, rather than being a barricade, appear to be ammunition for the giant to throw down upon foes. The group carefully makes their way up the steep stone steps, pausing frequently to make sure that the giant does not hear their invisible passage. The men walk right by the guard, who does not notice them under the cloak of invisibility. Corvus leads the others into a large chamber on the landing, to investigate it, but their hastily whispered conversation is overheard by the giant.

The Hill Giant calls out “Who goes there?”, and looks around in agitation. Other hill giants appear from the huge chambers on the far side of the landing, questioning him in Giantish. Corvus decides that discretion is the better part of valor, and quickly directs the heroes to ascend the stairs and avoid the giants. However, as the men near the final landing before the top of the Stair, Corvus overhears something that makes him call a halt.

“You had better not have let anyone past, Grumtha. You know Mokmurian told us to take the Stair from the harpies and trolls and hold it. When the giants come to invade the lowlands, we had better be in control here.”

He and the others realize that the Hill Giants, rather than being an unexpected menace, or a wandering threat, are forward scouts, holding a key location for the expected invasion. The men, still cloaked by invisibility, quickly prepare to attack the hill giants below. Hikage sheds his invisibility by charging down the steps and pounding a giant with a fist of acidic fury, while Ragnar, who shed his invisibility early to try to deflect attention from the others, finds himself magically lifted into the air and brought within striking distance of one of the giants. More giants appear from within their chambers on the landing, but Gellius summons a huge air elemental which flies down to attack the giants with whirling fists of storm-clad fury. Corvus launches an immense fireball which burns many of the giants, as Hikage and Ragnar each kill their own. The unengaged giants respond with hurled rocks, while the others attempt to batter down the air elemental. Zendo magically sickens one of the giants, who is quickly dispatched by Ragnar, while the Air Elemental finishes off another. The last two remaining giants quickly flee from the combat, but Corvus blocks any avenue of escape with a Wall of Force while Ragnar, Hikage, Gellius, and the elemental finish them off.

The men are happy to discover that the giants, having evidently waylaid other travelers on the stairs, have several valuable trinkets, including a carved mammoth statue, a bejeweled eyepatch, a golden crown, and several useful healing potions. Inside a magical quiver are many arrows, some enchanted against the undead, and another with a powerful dweomer to slay monstrous humanoids. Feeling rewarded for their scrape (though only Gellius was actually even wounded by the surprised giants), the men climb the Stair and Corvus summons sturdy horses (rather than the phantasmal steeds of former days) to bear them across the plateau.

As the men move across the windswept Storval Plateau, the cold is accompanied by windblown ash, rather than snow. Consulting their maps, the heroes remember that the Plateau is bounded to the west by a region of active and dormant volcanoes. The terrain on the high plateau is no stranger than the wildlife, however, and the men see many unusual critters on their travels, including large ground squirrels and strange, hairy armadillos. A rising cloud of dust and ash signals the passage of a herd of cattle in the distance, but the men can see that these are no ordinary cows. Instead, the herd consists of several dozen of the massive, long-horned aurochs favored by the Shoanti plainsmen for their size and hardiness in the challenging environment. The men carefully skirt around the herd, while steadily traveling onwards towards the Iron Peaks visible to the north and east. The men make camp for the night in a rocky outcropping, protected from the wind and cold by Gellius’s grove and Corvus’s hut, and the night passes uneventfully.

On the 28th, the men wake up and break camp in the early morning, regretful to leave the warmth of their magically improved campsite, though Ragnar, who still has yet to even wrap himself in furs or a coat, seems little affected by the chill. Corvus summons more horses and the men mount up and ride off into the Iron Peaks. Travel is slow in the rocky hills, both due to the uneven terrain, and due to the lack of any roads or trails to follow. Gellius consults the map, as well as Ragnar’s compass, many times to maintain a course that seems most likely to bring them to the Valley of the Black Tower.

Around midday, the most alert members of the group can hear the hoofbeats of additional horses echoing through the rocky crags. It soon becomes apparent that the men are being shadowed, or at least, followed, by others on horseback. Not to be deterred, they ride on determined, but wary. Soon, a band of horsemen overtake them and confront them from a rise to the west. The riders are tall and muscular, with shaven heads and fierce warpaint. They are Shoanti, and call out to the men in their own tongue.

Fortunately, Corvus speaks passable Shoanti, and speaks to the riders, who are suspicious of a band of ‘lowlanders’ riding on the plateau. The horsemen are of the Shundar-Quah, or Spire Clan, and urge the men to turn back and return to their own lands. Corvus speaks to them in Shoanti for a space, but urges them to speak in Taldane, which they do, with a halting and strangely inflected accent.

Zendo and the others tell the Shoanti riders of their mission to ride to the Black Tower and avert the giant invasion. The riders know of the Black Tower, and name it taboo and accursed. The Shoanti are suspicious of the Lost Coast Avengers, and openly disparaging of their chances against the tribes of giants amassed in the valley. They feel that the men are here for some other purpose, and are likely to only anger the giants, who will vent their wrath on the tribes instead. The giants, normally hermitic and retiring, have been aggressive and unpredictable of late, and the Shoanti tell tales of raids and banditry they have suffered.

Zendo works hard to allay the suspicions of the tribal riders, telling them stories of the great deeds and mighty battles the Avengers have accomplished. He explains that the leader of the giants must be defeated, as the many giant tribes will not be unified without Mokmurian. He likens the task of the Avengers with the necessary defense of the tribes by their warriors and outriders, an analogy aptly, if unknowingly, chosen by the bard, as the Spire Clan is known amongst travelers and Shoanti for being the most vocal about the need to unify to strengthen and defend the Shoanti lands. Zendo even approaches the fierce horsemen and receives a scrap of leather with the Shundar-Quah clan markings upon it, as he offers to return any cattle taken by the giants to the tribes if possible.

Impressed by the mighty stories of the bard, and satisfied of their intentions, the riders allow the heroes to travel onward through the Iron Peaks without harm.

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Are we there yet? Or...Yes, more travel.
Kuthona 23-26, 4707

In addition to their ill-gotten loot, the ogre cattle rustlers were also well equipped with the now-familiar enchanted ogre hooks and hide armor common to the Kreeg leaders at Hook Mountain. Undoubtedly, some war-leader must be distributing such largesse to the ogres to sway them to his side. The large weapons and heavy armor make for poor treasure, due to their size, but the men resolve to lug them to Wolf’s Ear, at least, in the hopes of selling them there for some coin, at least.

Their phantasmal steeds carry them swiftly across the Lost Coast Road to the small town of Wolf’s Ear. Once a haven of lycanthropes, the humble town, half the size of Sandpoint, seems relatively normal now. The men take rooms at the Burned House, a strangely constructed inn which seems to be the only one in town. The inn’s common room is sunken into the ground, and the second story eaves rise scarcely six feet in the air. However, the inn seems hospitable enough, and the men enjoy a hot meal. Though Gellius unwisely discusses the ill-reputation of the town, earning some hostile glares, Hikage surprises everyone, even himself, by ingratiating himself with the taciturn bartender. The quiet tavernkeeper informs the monk of several notables in town who might have the coin, or magical goods, to barter for the ogres’s equipment, and agrees to pass a word to any patrons of their interest.

Indeed, the retired sheriff has a floppy, shapeless, but magical hat which he swears is enchanted to preserve the wearer from deadly head blows, and Corvus, on inspecting it, agrees to swap one of the vicious hooks for the chapeau. The current sheriff offers to trade an magical crossbow to the men, but none of the heroes can use the heavy, menacing weapon, save Ragnar, who is satisfied with his frost-burst bow. A suspicious looking character offers to barter a Ring of Rat Fangs, which he claims belonged to his mother. Zendo, wary of the story, is also wary of the deal, and dissuades the others. The undertaker offers the men a powerfully enchanted breastplate of blackened metal, but the armor in question seems unquestionably malevolent, as Corvus identifies it as being enchanted specifically to fight humans, and designed to assist evil cavaliers or Hellknights. Several of the town’s other ‘spare’ enchanted items seem to have similarly dark natures, and the men finally satisfy themselves with selling the ogres’ equipment off to a local merchant.

On the morning of the 24th, the men ride for Ravenmoor, and the day, for winter, is pleasant and warm, melting much of the accumulated snowfall. However, despite the warmer weather and their hellishly fast steeds, the men find themselves bereft of magical transportation short of the small town of Ravenmoor. Consulting their map, the heroes see that they can hike the remaining few miles on foot, but before they have crossed half the distance, they see a circle of wagons and a campfire beside the road. Strains of Varisian music drift through the air, and the men approach openly, offering greetings and reassurances.

Circled around a large fire are four gaily-painted caravan wagons, and seven Varisian nomads, bundled up against the night-time chill. One of the women picks up her viol and resumes her music, and Zendo encourages a bookish looking girl to stand and dance with him. After the music fades, he plucks his own flute from his satchel and plays a sprightly tune of his own. The Varisians invite the strangers to share their fire, and their food, and Zendo, searching for a generous offer in return, recalls the barrel of brandy, magicked to a portable size. Corvus dispels the enchantment, to the amazement and delight of the wanderers!

Soon, there is much merriment around the campfire, and the brandy makes everyone feel, at least, much warmer. The Varisians tell the men of their good fortune in meeting them here on the road, as the superstitious villagers of Ravenmoor, though welcoming enough by day, do not admit strangers into their homes or inns after nightfall. The heroes are puzzled by the strange local custom, but the wanderers assure them that such pious, if rural folk, have many odd beliefs. The travelers are astounded to find themselves in the company of the famed Lost Coast Avengers, and are much impressed by Zendo’s tales of their derring-do. Impressed, that is, until Zendo reveals the grave threat amassing on the Storval Plateau. The Varisians, on their way to Riddleport, express great consternation about the news that the Stone Giants are massing for war and invasion. Though Gellius attempts to reassure them, and Zendo tells them of the plan to ‘behead’ the invasion, the gypsies are sorely shaken by the news, and the evening’s revelry comes to a subdued, somber close.

On the 25th, the men take their leave of the Varisians, who are turning off the Kaspakari Trail to follow the Cyrusbakari Trail, or Cinder Road, towards Riddleport to sell their wares of scrolls and oddments. The men make their way through the small town of Ravenmoor, and thence onward across the trackless plains of the Varisian lowlands. Armed with their map, Ragnar’s compass, and Gellius’s keen instincts, the men ride confidently across the plain. After all, how hard can it be to miss a 1000 foot tall plateau?

As they ride across the dry grasslands, they become aware of a gathering of crows and ravens on the horizon. Gellius warns them that the scavenging birds are likely drawn to a site of the dead or dying. Caution prompts the men to be wary, and Gellius shifts into a crow himself to scout out the environs more subtly. He returns and informs the others that a bloody battlefield lies ahead. Forewarned, the men explore, as the black birds scatter in alarm. Giants have evidently waylaid travelers here, as the shattered ruins of two wagons lie strewn across the grass. The gruesomely smashed bodies of several humans provide mute testimony to the savage power of stone clubs. The wagons, and bodies, appear to have been torn apart, partly in fury, and partly in a search for valuables.

Examining the tracks, it appears to Gellius that the wagons had been traveling southward, from the direction the men are headed, when they were overtaken by a band of giant sweeping in from the east. The giants appear to have made off westward, though the conflict lay several days in the past. The men can do little for the victims, and resolve to press onward, until Ragnar suggests that they honor the dead in some fashion. Burial is customary among Varisians, but none of the men has a shovel, so the heroes gather the scattered wood of the wagons and burn the remains in the Ulfen fashion. After this grim task, the heroes remount and ride onward.

On the 26th, the heroes break camp early and continue across the cold lowlands towards the Storval Plateau. Around mid-day, Hikage espies a strange, low mound in the distance. It looks incongruous on the open plains. The men ride toward the mound, and they can see that it appears to be a low mound of stones, stacked in a rough oval, perhaps 10 feet in length, and rising perhaps 5 feet at the highest point. Cautious examination of the mound reveals little, and the heroes are preparing to ride onward, when snatches of song drift towards them on the wind. Looking across the windswept plain, the men see winged humanoids flying towards them at speed. The air is soon filled with a strange, hypnotic song, and all of the heroes feel the urge to approach the singer, but each fights it off.

Zendo lifts his flute to his lips and begins a counter-melody, disrupting the enchanting song, and the men soon see that three harpies are approaching them, weapons clutched in taloned arms and with murderous intent. With their enthralling song neutralized by the bard, however, the vicious harpies prove to be little threat. Ragnar slays one with a deadly shot from his bow, the freezing cold magics sending her tumbling from the sky. Hikage waits patiently for the winged menaces to approach, though Corvus wounds one with a rain of magic missiles and Gellius shocks another with a bolt of lightning. However, the monk’s patience proves fruitless, as Ragnar’s archery picks off first the harpy wounded by Corvus, and then the other, before either can land a blow.

Searching the foul bodies of the feral harpies, the men find several unexpected trinkets: diamond earrings, a sapphire pendant, and an anklet of tiny gemstone charms, as well as two bottles of strange, but non-magical liquids. Zendo identifies the golden-hued one as perfume, and claims it, though he cannot identify the other, which is purplish in color.

Perhaps stirred by the looting of the harpies, the men turn to the stone mound, removing several stones to explore the interior. However, the mound is revealed to be a cairn for the body of a stone giant, torn in many places with deep gashes, much too large for the claws of the harpies. What killed the giant, here on the plains? Was it the ‘landshark’ which Ilsoari Gandethus warned them of in Sandpoint?

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Elves, Goblins, and Ogres
Kuthona 20-23

All of the other heroes sensibly go to bed, but Zendo stays up, braving the cold winds of the evening to stand watch over Rynshinn’s house from the back stoop of the Rusty Dragon. For several hours, he fears that his vigil may prove pointless, but, well after midnight, he notices a cloaked figure stealthily creeping down the narrow alley. Zendo quickly hides out of sight, and listens carefully. He can hear a magical incantation, though he does not recognize the spell, and hears a dry creaking sound, like a wooden door or hatch being opened. Chancing a furtive glance, Zendo sees the figure clutching a package wrapped in green in one hand, as he stands beneath an opened shutter on the second floor of Vernah’s Place. The mysterious figure conjures up a minor magical hand to waft the package through the window, which does not set off the alarm spell placed there by Corvus earlier.

Zendo steps out from the shadows, arms spread in a calming gesture, and magically sends his voice to the hooded stranger, asking only to speak to him. The tall wanderer utters a surprised curse in Elven, and quickly casts a spell to shut the window, before fleeing around the corner. Zendo gives chase, but uses his Message spell to assure the gift-giver that he means no harm. The two run through the streets of town for a length, before Zendo falls back and gives the fleeing stranger room to breathe. The stranger flees out of sight, but stays within range of Zendo’s spell. He implores Zendo to mind his own business, but the bard convinces him that Rynshinn’s well-being is his concern.

The elf identifies himself only as Irethellion, ‘friend’ to Erevestor, Rynshinn’s father. Zendo recognizes the significance of the Elven word for ‘friend’, as indicating a rarer, stronger bond, than the common terms of companion, compatriot, or colleague. Irethellion indicates that Rynshinn’s father had tasked him with these deliveries of presents before his death. The elf resists discussing the rationale for them with Zendo, insisting that ignorance of the motive was better, and safer, for all. When Zendo presses him, as much from concern about the need for secrecy as from curiousity, Irethellion relents somewhat. The elf admits that though the presents are, of course, a token of fatherly love, the mysterious method of their delivery has its own motive. Rynshinn, as a half-elf, is a child of two peoples, and may seek to contact her elven family in the Mierani Forest. The elves there, however, reject all outsiders, with only the outlying villages of Amerasil and Crying Leaf even vaguely welcoming to non-natives. However, it appears that Erevestor feared more than just hurtful rejection for his daughter. Irethellion refuses to be specific, but insists that dark, malevolent forces stir fitfully within the forests of the Elves, and Erevestor and any of his line would do well to avoid their notice. Zendo tries to press him for more information, but the elven stranger refuses to say more, noting only that any warning he might give would come too late. By delivering these gifts in such a mysterious fashion, Erevestor hoped that his daughter might cherish his memory, but also feel compelled to remain here in Sandpoint, where the presents appeared. Zendo resolves to keep the nature of the birthday presents a secret from Rynshinn, as he is satisfied that the taciturn elf truly means her no harm.

On the morn, Zendo sleeps a bit late (and forgets to present Rynshinn with any present!), but accompanies Corvus, Hikage, and Gellius to Magnimar to retrieve their enchanted equipment. Ragnar stays in Sandpoint, preparing their gear and supplies, and, evidenced by the lack of any uproar, keeps out of trouble. The men debate about staying in town for the winter solstice, to celebrate the Ritual of Stardust. Under the full moon, Desnans feast and light bonfires. As the fires burn low, faithful followers of Desna toss sand and powdered gemstones into the embers and make vows of love and friendship, or resolutions to travel, believing that the twinkling sparks indicate Desna has witnessed their vows. Zendo and Gellius, perhaps for romantic reasons, suggest that the heroes might tarry another day, leaving on the 22nd, but Hikage sees no time for such foolishness, and Ragnar, though not precisely agreeing with the monk, feels that the less time for giants to amass under Mokmurian’s banner, the better.

Thus, on a cold morning on the 21st, the men assemble outside the Rusty Dragon with their weapons and gear. Corvus summons five shadowy black steeds from thin air, and the heroes gallop away from Sandpoint. The phantom steeds are devilishly quick, tearing across the Lost Coast Road toward Windsong Abbey far faster than any mortal horses. Though the spell does not last many hours, Corvus can quickly recast it when the spectral forces begin to dissipate.

A few hours from town, the heroes are ‘ambushed’ by a gang of goblins clad in tattered furs of dog, cat, hare, and squirrel. “We be the Dogkiller Tribe! Give us your stuff and flee with your lives!”, shouts the evident leader of the goblins. The band of goblins unleash a pitiful spray of poorly aimed arrows, and several of the more eager goblins advance on the men with gleeful malice. Hikage dismounts and strikes one unconscious, while another goblin grabs at Corvus’s wand when he attempts to incinerate the little monster. Zendo dismounts, but Gellius getures and unleashes a coruscating bolt of lightning, which leaps from goblin to goblin, incinerating eight of them entirely. Zendo stabs the one which thought to flank him, and Ragnar absently slices the one ‘menacing’ Corvus apart before riding down the last, frantically fleeing goblin.

The heroes ride on the rest of the way to Windsong Abbey without interruptions. They arrive at the abbey late in the afternoon, and are welcomed into the massive stone structure by several of the novices and acolytes. All of the men make a donation for the use of one of the abbey’s many empty cells, as the monumental structure is largely, eerily empty. The strong winds off the Varisian Gulf blow through the halls and columns of the cathedral, filling the air with music that echoes mournfully through the empty halls. Though constructed centuries ago as a place for the devout of all religions to gather, Windsong Abbey’s purpose has been neglected in the years since Aroden’s death, and the Age of Lost Omens seems to have consigned it to a fitful twilight. Still, the chambers are warmer and drier than the ground outside, and the heroes sleep well, though Zendo hopes that Rynshinn makes use of the powdered gemstones he gave her that morning.

In the morning of the 22nd, Gellius warns the others that there will be snowfall today, but fortunately, the shadow horses move as swiftly over the accumulating snow as they do over the bare trail. The heroes ride for Galduria today despite the cold and snow. A little after noon, they come across an immense, abandoned campsite, and stop to examine it. Huge boulders have been rolled together to form a firepit, and the charred remains of an aurochs is spitted on a log. Giants have clearly been here, though Ragnar says the coals are cold and damp, and the falling snow has covered any tracks. Whatever giants were here have evidently quitted their camp early in the morning, and, though the heroes are vigilant, they see no further signs of giant activity. In Galduria, the town is bustling, despite the cold, and the men take rooms at the Hollow Leg. The owner’s shaggy hounds fill the common room, and are evidently tolerated by the patrons for their warmth, despite their doggy manners. Speaking with some of the farmers and loggers in the tavern, the men find that ‘giant sightings’ are the talk of the town. Though no one claims to have seen one anywhere nearby, everyone has a story of missing livestock, crushed chicken coops, uprooted traps, or nocturnal footfalls to tell. Some of the patrons say that wagons and lone travelers have gone missing as well. Despite the presence of the Twilight Academy in the small town, Corvus proves quite the homebody tonight, and seems satisfied to remain at the inn.

On the 23rd, the men prepare to ride for Wolf’s Ear. The small town, located at the crux of the Lost Coast and Cinder roads, was once a haven for lycanthropes, but was purged with fire and steel many years ago. Now, only a very foolish, or very brazen, man would talk of werewolves in Wolf’s Ear. As the men ride across the snowy countryside, they hear the panicked lowing of cattle in the distance. Gellius, listening closely, can tell that a few of the smaller, local cattle, are being disturbed, but sound as if they are trapped or confined. The men decide to cut off the road to investigate, and, as they crest a rise, they see three ogres striding through the snow. Two clutch a cow under one arm, and a chest or barrel under the other, while the central ogre carries two barrels.

The men offer the ogres a quick chance to surrender their goods, but the oafish brutes brazenly claim to own the cattle and barrels by rights. Sighing, Hikage moves to engage them as the ogres prepare for a fight. Corvus hurls a blast of fire at the ogres, burning the two slower ones, and setting two of the barrels aflame in bursts of blue fire. So much for the brandy they contained. Hikage and Ragnar quickly finish off one ogre, though the Ulfen catches a nasty slash from its hook before he can kill it. Gellius summons a wooly rhinoceros to defend himself and Corvus, but one of the ogres, evidently a bit irritated about being burned, charges past the beast and badly injured Gellius. Concerned (either about the druid, or about an ogre with a hook), Corvus spears the monster with a green ray of disintegration, which badly injures the ogre, before the Rhino circles around and finishes him off. Before Ragnar can even close with the last of the ogres, Hikage leaps towards the blistered giant and strikes him dead with a flurry of powerful blows.

Searching the ogres reveals that, like their kin among the Kreegs, these fighters were well equipped with magical armor and weapons, and their remaining loot consists of a barrel of brandy and a large chest of silver coins. The men decide to distribute the coins among them, but puzzle over what to do with the barrel of brandy, which easily weighs 300 pounds, until Corvus remembers that he prepared a spell for this type of situation and transforms the barrel into a small, cloth replica of a barrel, much lighter and easier to carry!

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