Monday, December 21, 2009

SESSION TWENTY-ONE “Ascent to Kadagar’s Keep”

The night after Billy leaves, Ewald finds himself once again in the dreamrealm domain of Nulcragh, the fiery elemental of the hot springs. This time he is visited by the elemental itself, in the form of a billowy humanoid body of steam, with glowing embers for eyes. In a deep voice, Nulcragh tells Ewald the following.

“I have a message for thee stoneborn. The horned one treads a path on the edge of a great abyss. The only reason he yet breathes is my debt to him and you for slaying the creature that despoiled my domain. I would warn him myself in repayment of this debt but the powers that guard him ward his mind. He is cut from all celestial bonds and become enemy of the Gods. As child of Erod and servant of the great powers of this land it will fall to you to either save him... or destroy him. Tell him if you wish, that I consider this warning payment of my debt. Should he enter my domain again, I will steam the flesh from his bones and cleanse his spirit that it might better escape the dark places it now inhabits.”

With the final words, the dream dissolves in a hiss of steam and Ewald awakens, drenched in sweat.

Around the small fire that morning, while Gruff works on cleaning and preparing the wyvern hide, the group discusses their plans. Tristan has noticed Rory’s illness, and when questioned about it, Rory tells him the cause, relating that while the negative effects of Tashea’s geas are uncomfortable, it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse. Still, they consider whether or not they should first return the time scepter to their dragon mistress before doing anything else.

After some deliberation, and a strong feeling from Ewald that they should go after Kadagar soon, the party decides they will try to destroy the necromancer first. After some thought, Ewald gives Gruff a warning concerning his dark magics, not forcing the issue, but letting the Trulla know that his descent into shadow has been noticed. Gruff, for his part, points out that it’s not where the power comes from, but what you do with it that’s important. The argument doesn’t fly well with most of the party, but they let it go, for now.

Having found enough pony hair from the Hodra riders, Rory is able to conjure up some mounts for the party with his arcane spellwork. Thus provisioned, the group sets off up the Blackback valley, skirting the center and choosing a more difficult, but less obvious path.

The path first rises. Once past the Darkurth cavern entrance, it dips again. On the second day of travel, Rory, who has been scouting ahead, spots a Hodra warrior cutting toward his companions a quarter wheel behind. After first hiding, he then quickly returns to the others, warning them of the visitor in time for the group to hide themselves and their ponies as best they can.

Though they try their best, it’s obvious that the Hodra has seen at least one of them. Probably Ewald in his very shiny suit of magical Durin plate mail. Tristan keeps a bead on the approaching enemy with his bow while Rory prepares a web spell. At about the point that the Hodra notices the others, Tristan lets fly with his arrow and Rory lets fly with his spell. The result being a very dead, very immobilized Hodra. Gathering the warriors crossbow and bolts, and rifling his pockets for his few coins, Tristan then throws the body over his saddle and the party moves out. Tristan’s cloak is now draped over Ewald, to better camouflage the sparkly Durin.

Much later they dump the body over a likely cliff, hoping that the cause of death (should anyone find the body) will be considered an accidental fall. With no sign of pursuit and an uneventful camp that night, they feel they’ve evaded any detection.

Toward the end of the following day they come upon a large herd of ponies in a meadow on the eastern side of the valley. They know from the many smoke plumes in the valley that they are near the Blackback village now. The ponies are being watched over by two older Hodra. Though they feel certain they could make quick work of the herders, they are interested in keeping their presence unknown. The meadow is long and open, with it’s eastern end being walled by difficult terrain.

The plan decided upon includes Gruff summoning his wolf, Fenris, who will scare the ponies off down the meadow, thus allowing the group to ride through undetected. Unfortunately, when Gruff summons Fenris, his one-time pet growls and lunges at the Trulla, grabbing hold of his master’s arm with sharp teeth. Gruff is stunned. In pain and with an eye to his own defense, he lashes out with his new shadow magic, striking Fenris with shadowy tendrils that bat the dog down and make it cry out in pain. He then quickly dispels the beast as the other’s look on in confusion and fear.

The conversation that follows puts Gruff on the defensive once again. The others see this as further proof that Gruff is straying down a dangerous path. Gruff insists that it only means he must choose new creatures to summon, that with the change in his power source, his old ways must adapt.

Having still to cross the meadow, the plan is revised. While Gruff is forbidden by the group from summoning any more creatures for the time being, Ewald instead summons his owl. Then augmented by Rory’s illusion, the owl in the shape of a wyvern does the job originally assigned the wolf, flying out into the meadow and successfully sending the ponies off at high speed. The two herders watch stunned for a moment before giving chase, leaving the party to proceed unhindered.

Having passed the village, their next encounter comes when Rory startles a crippled Hodra carrying water from a stream. The Hodra has but one arm, and by his cries and limping gate, seems to be slow-witted. Nevertheless, he does cry out and fearing discovery Rory webs the poor creature and knocks him on the head, breaking his bucket.

Returning to the others to tell them what happened, they eventually reach the scene to find the Hodra once more up and limping quickly out of sight and around the bend further up the stream. Unsure of what to do, they decide the cripple is likely an outcast and not any kind of immediate threat. Tristan spends a moment repairing the Hodra’s bucket before preparing to continue on. As the group is about to depart, they hear a familiar voice coming from upstream. To everyone’s surprise, their one-time travelling companion, Pede Halfhelm comes around the corner with the Hodra in tow.

After a brief meeting on the trail with the Daagar smith, Pede insists that the group come to his cave where they can talk without the possibility of being spotted. They learn that the Hodra is Pede’s helper, a crippled warrior named Gorik. They also learn that with all the recent Daagar troops in the Blackback village, Pede has decided to spend his time in this isolated cave instead of in the village proper.

It seems that the besides all the Daagar troops, the dark priest, Master Laxxis has made his way to the village as well. At this news Gruff, who is having a hard time not killing the Daagar smith, becomes very interested in the conversation. His fear stems from the fact that Master Laxxis is the very Daagar who owned the Shadow Path Idol before him. Pede goes on to explain that Master Laxxis is desperately searching for something. Also, Kadagar’s lieutenants have been seen in the village. Bloodless undead warriors in fine armor.

When Pede shows them his newest project, a finely forged greatsword meant as a gift for King Gral, ruler of the Blackbacks, Gruff’s avarice nearly overwhelms him. Pede plans on giving the King the weapon in hopes of gaining himself a prominent place in the village, once the Daagar clear out that is.

Instead of murdering the Daagar and taking the sword, Gruff opts to commission Pede to make him his own weapon. He offers one of his dark gems as payment, which Pede immediately recognizes, and rejects. The smith claims that the gem is obviously one of Master Laxxis’ “special” gems and would not be tradeable in the village. With a bit of extra wariness, he asks Gruff for different payment, and is handed Gruff’s share of the Ettin treasure instead.

The party is shown to a small cave further up the stream where they stay the night, relatively certain that Pede won’t betray them to the Hodra. In the morning, Rory purchases a plain but functional bastard sword from Pede. Over an early morning breakfast, Pede lets on that Gorik is actually the son of King Gral, who challenged his father for leadership of the tribe and lost his arm and his wits in the duel. Though this all happened sometime before Pede arrived, the rumor has it that Gorik, like Kaz the Earthwalker, was against the alliance with Kadagar.

As the group sets out once more on their magic ponies, Gorik shuffles forward and hands Tristan a wrapped bundle. When he unwraps the gift, he finds it to be a punching dagger with a bone handle and finely crafted blade.

The parties journey from that point up to the small sapphire lake is uneventful. With every wheel further up the valley, the air becomes thinner and the weather colder. When they reach the lake, they find it perfectly reflects the blue sky and when standing at it’s edge, they can see clear to the bottom. Picking a campsite well out of sight of the lake itself, they await the night where they can watch the spring moon to see which of the many peaks it sets on.

While fishing for their supper, Tristan and Gruff spy a large figure on the other side of the lake. Watching unobserved, they see the creature enter the ice cold waters and disappear beneath the surface. They decide they’ve caught enough fish and return to camp.

Later that night, they spy a small mounted party come up the valley and skirt the far side of the lake, Though they can make out little detail, they can see that at least one or two are outfitted in metal armor that gleams in the moonlight. The party disappears through a gap in the rocks above the lake.

In the morning, after noting during the night the proper peak, the group decides that the mounted party they spied last night must be taking a roundabout trail to the keep. Deciding on a more direct path, they forego the ponies and instead implement a combination of Ewald’s Airwalk spells and Rory’s levitation to head straight toward the peak, moving over terrain otherwise impassible. Though Tristan is far from happy with the route, he toughs it out.

Several times during their approach they spy the small trail most likely taken by those on horseback or foot, but they keep a good distance away from it. When the trail enters a deep, snow packed canyon, the group opts to go over a mountain to avoid it. Coming down the other side they are rewarded with their first glimpse of the keep ruins, some eight or nine wheels to the east.

Kadagar’s fortress sits on the side of a mountain, it’s crumbled walls and jagged spires barely discernible from the stone of the mountainside. Directly below them, a vast and dark chasm encircles the mountain fortress. Nearing the chasm, all can hear the sawing and moaning winds that whistle constantly through it. Ewald has little doubt that such winds will be difficult to push through with his magics. But still the group believes that it is better to stay away from the trail itself, where guardians and watching eyes are more likely to spot them.

They decide to try the approach after dusk, when their midair hike will be less visible. Until then they get what rest they can in the lee of a large boulder, wrapped tight in their cloaks.

When the time comes, Ewald casts an Airwalk spell on himself and Gruff. Rory then casts a levitate on Tristan and himself and they tie off to their companions. Bracing themselves against the rushing, icy winds, they make their way out and over the chasm. As suspected, the winds are enough to slowly push them parallel with the chasm, but they make headway still.

Then, near the center of the great canyon, Rory spots trouble. From the darkness below he sees several swirling masses of ice and snow separate from the canyon walls and rise toward them. Before the snow and ice dissipate, he clearly can see the limbs of what can only be air elementals. Screaming out a warning over the blasting wind the hero’s barely have time to brace themselves before the elementals are upon them....

Sunday, December 6, 2009


As the group hunkers down, making what preparations they can for a somewhat unbalanced assault on forty or more Hodra, Rory spots more bad news. A second contingent of eighteen Blackbacks slowly make their way up the trail, driving a heavy sled pulled by two Kuldan brutes.

Somehow managing to keep their groans to themselves, the heroes watch as the new group of Hodra pull the sled to a halt before the narrow ravine leading to the springs. Being dragged behind the sled is a Neran prisoner. Little can be seen of him however, beyond his rough condition and blonde hair. None of the group recognize the man and they dare not attempt a rescue with such uneven odds.

The new group appears to be led by a Hodra shaman of some sort. After the enemy unloads the sled, they march off up the ravine, taking the crates and barrels with them and leaving no guard behind. A quick, invisible recon of the sled and supplies by Rory shows them to be food and foul smelling hodra beer. It appears the Blackbacks are having some sort of party.

Just before dark the last insult reveals itself as not one, but TWO of the wyvern-rider scouts can be seen flying into the springs. Thoroughly disheartened, Billy admits that any foray into the springs now would be near enough to suicide. Not even Gruff's usually unconquerable optimism can hold up to this situation. The heroes retreat further back into the stubby, highland trees and make a cold camp for the night, settled on returning Billy to his people in the morning.

That night, as Ewald sleeps, he is pulled into a strange dream. In the dream, which he at first believes to be real, he wakes in a steamy, dripping cavern. Through the billowing clouds of vapors he sees the Hodra shaman that arrived with the sled. Eying each other warily, they soon discover that each can understand the other perfectly. A conversation follows in which Ewald learns that the Hodra shaman is an Earthwalker (the Hodran equivalent of a druid) named Kaz.

Kaz and his people are at the Springs to rededicate the sight to a powerful fire spirit named Nulcragh. Kaz believes it is this elemental who brought them together in the dream. Although the Blackbacks and Ewald's friends are at war, Kaz believes they both have a common enemy in the Necromancer, Kadagar. Although Kaz follows his King, he believes Kadagar and his demonic ways will lead the Blackbacks to ruin. He cannot openly oppose the necromancer, but wishes him destroyed nonetheless.

After much discussion, and an equal amount of sweating, Ewald and Kaz come to an agreement. For his part, Kaz will urge his Hodra King to hold off any further searching for the Trulla of Namichek, and will allow the heroes to enter the springs and hold their healing rituals, if Ewald and his friends travel to Kadagar's stronghold and try to put an end to him. He reasons that doing so will undoubtedly aid the Trulla as well. Before the dream ends, Kaz gives Ewald directions to Kadagar's icy keep.

"Travel up the valley past the Darkurth stair. Past the home of my people and to the lake of saphires beyond. The necromancer's keep lies on the peak where the moon beds down in the springtime sky."

Ewald takes the opportunity to ask Kaz about the healing natures of the springs, inquiring of the Hodra whether their people have also used the springs in such a way. To this Kaz gives a very confident "no". Making it clear that Nulcragh is a powerful fire spirit but with no influence toward healing. "In all our lore and in all my experience, this spring has never healed anyone. If you have experienced healing here, it has come from within you, and not from Nulcragh."

In the morning, Ewald tells the others of his dream encounter and his agreement with the Earthwalker, Kaz. The shaman told Ewald that the rituals would last another day and then the group would be leaving the springs.

On a separate note, Rory's mysterious illness returns upon waking. In a moment of insight, he realizes that the illness is arcane in origin. From that realization it's but a quick step to realize that their dragon mistress, the green shagoran, Lady Tashea, and her cursed geas is responsible. He can only guess that using the Time scepter in direct opposition to Lady Tashea's commands is the cause, and that only returning the scepter and begging for forgiveness will end it.

That night, Gruff has a talk with his own "imaginary" friend, Seer Gavin, who makes it clear that the healing of Billy will take a great deal out of the old seer, and it will likely mean that Gavin will have trouble guiding Gruff for some time after. Gruff tells the old man that he understands and is thankful.

Things play out like Kaz says, and on the second morning after the dream-meeting, the Hodra pack their sled and make their way home. Waiting a short while to verify that all the hodra are indeed gone, the group then makes their careful way to the springs.

Laying Billy near the central pool, the group looks to Gruff for the next part of their mission. As Gruff starts to take advice from Gavin on the placement of Billy and the use of the dark gems, Tristan spots a dark shape crouching at the edge of the cliffs above them. Shouting out a warning, he draws his sword and raises his shield as a wyvern hisses and pounces from above.

All hell breaks loose as the group engages the beast, trying to lure it away from Billy while narrowly dodging and parrying its bites, claws and poisonous tail. It's at this point that Gruff has another of his patented, brilliant ideas. With a shout and a boost from his divinely granted strength, he leaps to the wyvern's back, grasping one of it's many spinal quills, intent on breaking the beasts will and mastering it. Wanting none of that, the wyvern spins and hops back up to the top of the cliff, there to hopefully squish the Trulla on its back before returning to finish off the others.

Now it's Rory's turn to shout a warning as a second, smaller wyvern glides in from the north. With quick casting, Rory sends a fireball coursing to meet it. As the blast hits, the beast cries out and lands a bit more quickly than it had planned. Though injured, the creature's tough scales seem to have stopped the worst of the fire damage.

In truth, none of the heroes have had a great deal of luck giving either of the beasts anything more than minor wounds, and most of those given by Tristan's magic blade. Still, Ewald's Airwalk prayer brings him up the cliff face to help his crazy Trulla friend. Gruff still retains his precarious seat, alternately dodging poison stingers and shouting at the wyvern, "Submit Damn You, I AM YOUR MASTER NOW!!!" with an occasional, "EWALD LEAVE IT ALONE!!!" thrown in to piss off the Durin priest.

While Tristan and Rory keep the smaller one busy below, Gruff begins to doubt his plan when the wyvern hisses, "FOOD STINKS OF SHAGORAN!" in a low, powerful voice. The words coming from the beast are enough to momentarily stun both Ewald and Gruff, but Gruff is the one to pay for the lapse as the wyvern's stinger finally finds its target and pierces the Trulla's back.

As the poison shoots into Gruff, he finally looses his hold and is tossed roughly to the ground. Weakening by the second, only Ewald, attracting the beasts attention, keeps the Trulla alive in the next few moments. As Gruff begins to lose consciousness he can hear the words of Gavin. "I can save you but you must speak the words Gruff. Only you can enact the magic!". With extreme effort, Gruff repeats the words told to him by his spirit mentor, feeling a stronger magic than any he had ever felt from Gavin before flow through him. With a soul wrenching lurch, Gruff can feel the poison being expelled from his body and dark energy coursing through him.

At the same time, he feels a sickening tear spreading through his soul, and feels fear and loneliness the likes of which he has never known before. But hey, he's alive.

For all the world Gruff seems to be dead, while below Rory and Tristan are still battling the other wyvern. With a shout of anguish Ewald runs through the air, down toward his friends below, and thus misses the next bit of shadow theater from Gruff.

With a lonely cry of frustration and anger, Gruff rises up and points at the wyvern above him. His eyes are shadow filled pits that momentarily keep the beast at bay. In that moment, strong tendrils of shadow shoot from Gruff's outstretched arms, ensnaring the beast in binding shadows that quickly drag it to the ground. Once bound, the shadows continue to constrict the wyvern. Soon it's bone begin to break and its strangled cries can be heard by Ewald and the others below.

As Ewald checks his movement and turns back toward the clifftop, the second Wyvern, having been injured more than once by Tristan's blade, turns and retreats. Fearing the beast might escape and warn the Hodra, and possibly just being really pissed off, Rory sends a second fireball. With a cry of pain and anger the smaller wyvern careens into the canyon wall, snapping it's wing and crashing to the ground.

When Ewald crests the lip of the canyon he is presented with an unexpected sight to say the least. Gruff, apparently heeled, but obviously weary, kneels before the wyvern. The beast itself lies crushed and broken on the ground before the Trulla. It's feeble, fast diminishing cries are filled with pain. Unsure of what has happened, but suddenly feeling pity for the creature, Ewald steps closer.

The wyvern keeps repeating the same word, whispering, "Kill, kill.... killlll" Unsure whether it wants to kill or be killed, Ewald grants the mercy blow, sinking his axe deep between the beast's eyes.

Gruff continues to stare into nothingness, all traces of the shadow magic now gone.

As Rory and Tristan approach the injured wyvern below, Gavin's voice, whisper quiet and weak, tells Gruff that he must keep the second beast alive if Billy is to be healed. Tristan's raised blade is halted by Gruff yelling, "Don't kill the beast. I need it alive to heal my brother!!"

Several minutes later, the group watches Gruff, with worried, distrustful eyes. Having listened to his demands, they left the wyvern alive, though it's injuries are most likely such that it will die eventually anyway. At his command they pull the beast into a clear spot of ground and watch as he sets about creating a magic circle in it's own blood.

Both Rory and Ewald watch carefully, noting that the magic involved doesn't correspond with anything they are familiar with. Next Gruff sends the others away and works more on the circle. The others look on with apprehension as he enacts some sort of ritual. When he rises and approaches the main pool, it's plain to everyone that he's filled with some very powerful magic.

Next he has Billy get into the pool and then grasps his brothers hands. The magic flows from Gruff into Billy and both brothers pass out. They are carefully taken into the cave and left to rest. When Rory and the others check on the circle, and the wyvern, they are shocked to find that the beast has sunken in on itself and seems to have decomposed. Uneasy looks abound.

In Gruff's dreams he walks through the ruined and burnt cliffside village of his birth. In the way of dreams he knows that he is lost in a place that used to be his home. He searches for something but cannot find it. He knows beyond doubt that he has been separated from something important.

Billy awakens first. After a moment contemplating his legs, he lifts one cloven hoof and then the other before slowly rising to his feet. With a wide smile he lets out a great laugh and dashes from the cave, Rory follows but quickly loses the giddy Trulla as Billy races up the cliffside with more whoops of delight.

When Gruff wakes, it's with a cry of despair that is quickly muffled. Upon learning that Billy is healed he lets out his own laugh and runs from the cave as well. Soon he finds his brother, returning from his celebratory run and there's much slapping of backs and brotherly affection.

Fearing that all the yelling might attract more unwanted attention the group gathers their supplies and leaves the springs, making for their small campsite. Over a cold supper, they discuss their next moves. Billy insists that he can make it back to the mines on his own. Gruff and the others decide they need to move out toward Kadagar's keep in the morning.

At dusk, when Gruff steps away for his evening meditations, Rory thinks he hears the Trulla weeping. Gruff returns a while later, walking with a perceptible slump and sad demeanor but makes no comment.

With a final farewell and good luck, they part in the morning, one to bring new hope to his people, and the others to try and destroy an undead threat to all of Aeranos.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


(A quick note: It has been more than a month since our last session. The events are far from frssh in my mind. This is the barest bones of what I remember, and it's far from narrative. Sorry)

Gruff eventually wakes up.
The village is searched thoroughly for spies, undead or otherwise.
Billy decides to move the clan to the old mine. He also decides that going to the hot springs and getting healed is worth the chances involved.
The heroes lead the Trulla clan to the old mine.
Ewald, Billy and some of the Trulla search the mine. Tristan, Rory and Billy's best hunter go back out to cover the clan's tracks as best as possible.
Tristan's group encounters a hodra tracker, kills a hodra tracker and buries a hodra tracker in an unmarked grave in the woods.
Rory spots some large flying thing that flies off to the west.
In the mine, Ewald finds a good large cavern where the Trulla can get a bit more comfortable.
The next day, Tristan, Billy, Ewald, Rory and Gruff start their journey toward the hot springs, carrying Billy.
On the trip they spot a hodra wyvern rider, who thankfully doesn't spot them.
Several days of travel find them deep within Blackback territory and close to the springs. With the use of some invisibility Ewald airwalks on a recon to the springs. He's disheartened to find that the site has become a regular resort for the blackback hodra of the area. There are at least thirty hodra.
In a nearby gully, the heroes plan their next move...

Thursday, October 22, 2009


As Gruff wrestles with Thonos, dark shadows fill the room. From the swirling darkness created by the figure in the mirror, several dark, insubstantial spirits emerge. Each seems to be the ghost of an armored warrior whose form drifts in and out of view. The clank of chain armor and creaking of leather can be heard, but the sounds are muted and distant, echoing strangely.

Ewald throws the mirror face down onto Thonos’ bed as two of the shadow slain ghosts rush him. In the undead creatures’ hands gleaming weapons of ice coalesce. Their eyes glow with the same icy light. After the first couple attacks Ewald realizes that these creatures are expert warriors. Moreover, he quickly learns that mundane weapons can’t hurt them. Hard pressed by two of them, he hears Gruff cry out in pain and sees Telg ineffectually attempting to battle another of the shadows.

Outside, Tristan and Rory are quickly approaching the scene. Their first inkling that the plan isn’t going perfectly is the sounds of fighting from within Thonos’ house. Their second and more solid clue are the two Shadow Slain that appear on Thonos’ roof. An icy spear from one of them nearly guts Tristan who barely manages to turn aside the spear with his shield. Instead he takes a shallow wound in the hip and readies his sword.

Inside, Ewald is managing to hold his own with the aid of a Magic Weapon prayer, but can’t seem to land a telling blow. Gruff is eerily silent. When Council Woman Geeza’s head lands near Ewald’s feet he flinches and grits his teeth. When Telg cries out in pain he begins to worry. When he sees Thonos break for the door he yells out in anger but can’t follow.

On the path outside, Tristan and Rory engage the two enemies, one with an enchanted sword and the other with flaming spheres. Tristan has more luck. Through expert sword work and good shield defense he manages to cleave the Shadow Warrior in two, sending it hissing back into whatever void it came from. They both see Thonos burst from his doorway. As the traitorous Apprentice sees Rory he cries out, “STOP THE WIZARD! HE AND HIS FRIENDS ARE ATTACKING THE KING!!!!” before sprinting off across the bridges and deeper into the deserted village.

The other Shadow Slain neatly dodges Rory’s flaming attacks. When it sees it’s undead brethren destroyed it seems to make a decision. With supernatural speed it streaks away toward Billy’s house. Hearing the battle still raging within Thonos’ house Rory comes to a decision. He once more pulls out the Dragon’s rod and activates it.

Time once again stops.

Unlike his first attempt, this time Rory seems to have more control over the strange magic. He doesn’t collapse with pain. His hair stays the same length. As before, everything hangs motionless and frozen in time. He notices with some alarm that the spinning bit on the rod seems to be moving faster.

After unfreezing Tristan they both move into Thonos house and unfreeze Ewald, Telg and Gruff. Their Trulla friend appears unconscious but otherwise unhurt. Rory guesses that it might be something like the Enfeebling necromantic effect at the Grotto, only stronger.

After they calm down Telg and explain the Rod’s power they all run quickly to Billy’s. Inside they find the frozen tableau of the Shadow Slain attacking several Trulla warriors who are desperately guarding their King. Unfreezing Billy and his warriors, they move the Trulla King into the back room along with the warriors and position themselves for killing blows. Ewald enchants his and Rory’s weapons. With a thought and the command word, Rory restarts the flow of time.

A great axe, a Bastard Sword and a magical broadsword all slice through the enemy at the same time. Unfortunately, the starting and stopping of time seems to end all spells so Ewald and Rory’s blades pass through the Shadow with no effect. Fortunately Tristan’s sword functions perfectly and he marks another imaginary mark on his blade as the second Shadow falls.

Heading to the door, Tristan and Ewald await the coming of the other Shadows. Rory waits inside and watches carefully, but almost not warily enough. Only a cold breeze on his neck warns him in time as a Shadow Slain appears behind him. Even the cold wind isn’t enough to keep the enemies frozen spear from tearing a deep gash down his back as the Kirith Syvani rolls aside.

Tristan steps inside at his friend’s cry and pushes the creature back with a flurry of blows. Another of the creatures attacks Ewald outside, whose Shield of Faith and new magic weapon prayer combine to hamper the Shadow. Other Trulla warriors are now joining in. Although they can’t do much to hurt the enemy, they do manage to knock it’s weapon and hamper it’s attack.

The Shadow facing Tristan and Rory seems to sense Billy’s presence and turns to race toward the back room. Rory scrambles for his belt and pulls a scroll out, quickly sending a pronged bolt of lightning into and through the creature. Though it’s effects on the incorporeal undead aren’t as spectacular as he hoped, it does momentarily pin the creature to the wall and shatter it’s icy spear. Biting back the pain from his wound, Rory has a moment to doubt his decision as the creature turns, a new spear forming, and charges him once more.

Ewald fights a desperate battle with his own opponent. Some blows are only kept back by his enchanted armor, which he has opportunity to be thankful for more than once. He is damaged by the enemy nonetheless. But eventually he gains the upper hand and takes his axe to the shadow, destroying it.

A momentary peace settles on the scene. Rory, Tristan and Ewald regroup in Billy’s house.

Tristan refuses to let his guard down. Looking to the others he asks, “Where’s the other one?”

They share a look, and do the math, realizing with some amount of dread that there is indeed one more undead Shadow yet to go.

Minutes pass. When nearly a quarter candle has passed without sign of the enemy, Billy sends a group of his warriors to search for Thonos and signs of the Shadow. They return with word that Thonos was found dead in the village. Rory and Ewald go to see.

As Billy and Tristan await their return, the fifth Shadow attacks. Tristan, weary and injured, meets it. The two exchange blows and each takes wounds in turn. More of Tristan’s blood is shed as the thing’s icy blade sinks into his leg. Tristan’s blade bites into the Shadow. Sensing perhaps that it might not complete it’s mission if it continues the fight with Tristan, the Shadow breaks off and slips into the back room.

As Tristan limps after it, Billy’s valiant warriors create a living wall of flesh around their King, sacrificing themselves in an attempt to keep it’s icy spear away from Billy’s hide.

Rory and Ewald race back through the village at the sounds of warning. Trulla warriors fall. Tristan enters the room. The Shadow plants it’s spear through one of Billy’s warriors and into Billy’s chest. Tristan cuts it from behind. Ewald jumps in and with a well placed swing, his axe parts the thing’s shadowy head from it’s shadowy body.

Checking on Billy, everyone is relieved to find that the tough old goat’s injury is far from fatal. Tristan and Rory are badly injured, but not beyond Ewald’s ability to heal.

Guards are set as one of the clan healers is sent for. Rory and Ewald describe how Thonos was killed. Apparently disemboweled and eviscerated by the Shadow. Gruff has yet to awaken from his stupor, Rory begins to doubt his earlier prognosis and looks into Gruff’s condition more closely.

After a few hours rest, Ewald performs some healing rituals and mends the worst of Rory and Tristan’s injuries. Although there seems to be some strange resistance, he also heals Billy’s wounds and Telg, who suffered a deep wound to the arm.

While attending to Gruff, the Trulla healer finds a pouch of dark jewels which she hands to the others. Rory remembers the jewels from the Altar statue in the Daagar stronghold. Seeing that they glow with a bit of magic he hands them to Ewald. Knowing of their friends greedy nature, and fearing for his well being, Ewald checks for the taint of evil on the gems, and finds a slight aura of it on the stones. Tucking them back into Gruff’s bag they make a note to warn the Trulla when he awakes.

On the subject of Gruff, Rory begins to piece together a possible reason for his continued coma-like state. On Thonos corpse they found an ivory bracelet that detected as evil necromantic magic. Though he’s not sure, Rory thinks he can sense a link between the bracelet and Gruff’s condition.

It is here that we leave our heroes, far from free of danger, but at least momentarily resting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

SESSION SEVENTEEN “Of Time outs and Traitors”

Trapped beneath the waterfall, with two unconscious and severely injured companions, the group listens to the bellowing of the enraged Kuldan Death warrior outside.


A man-sized boulder then crashes through the falls, smacking the granite above them and nearly crushing Ewald as it falls. Another boulder falls in front of the entrance to the recess, blocking the party’s easy exit. It’s when the third massive boulder smacks through the falls that Ewald recognizes an even greater danger. A large fissure in the wall is growing wider, and water is seeping through it.

It’s at this point that the first undead Trulla (formerly known as Cheg), reaches up through the falls and tries to tear into Rory. Rory does a good job of cleaving his opponent when another Trulla zombie staggers through the falls and jumps Ewald. Ewald beats the creature off but more are coming.

As Ewald’s Durin-trained mind works through the ramifications of the crack in the stone, Rory comes to a realization. Moments later, as Ewald cries out, “EVERYBODY OUT… NOW!!!” and the whole rock face of the waterfall begins to fall on top of them Rory instead pulls out the Dragon’s rod and hastily intones the command word.

Instantly, everything is still. All sounds stop. All movement stops. In fact, time itself stops. Perhaps due to his haste, perhaps because of his nervousness about using the rod, Rory is wracked by horrible pain that courses through his bones and turns his skin into one giant fiery surface.

When he’s able to think clearly Rory opens his eyes. Everyone and everything around him his frozen in time. The large shelf of stone hangs frozen in midair, just above their heads. Tristan has Gruff hoisted over his shoulder and is frozen in mid-leap. Ewald has a boulder the size of a wagon poised motionless, inches from his back and the Trulla zombies are frozen in mid-attack. In amazement, Rory turns and looks at the water itself. The falls are likewise frozen in time, a giant watery curtain.

In the next several non-moments in time Rory realizes several things. First, his hair and fingernails have grown out quite a bit. He now has hair to his back and a full beard and his bones still ache. Next he realizes that the drops of water hanging in the air seem to resist his movement for a moment and then turn liquid upon his body. Lastly he sees that the rod has heretofore unseen moving parts.

A small ring pulses with an inner light and slowly spins its way down the rod. Rory guesses it to be some kind of arcane timer. From his quick estimates, he also guesses that he has slightly more than a quarter candle before the ring reaches the base of the rod.

Now he sets about deciding what to do. After a panicked moment where he believes he won’t be able to save his still frozen friends, he finds that he can free them from their stasis by grabbing hold of them and concentrating. One by one he brings them around, including Gruff and Billy, who remain unconscious. Next he and the others set about “digging” a hole through the waterfall by liquefying small scoops of time-frozen water.

They walk across the surface of the water as if it were rippled glass. In the water they see the Undead Kuldan frozen in mid-throw, another massive boulder stuck in mid-arc. In the creature’s other hand is the necromantic wand raised high. Unable to resist the opportunity, Ewald steps up and takes a swing at the Kuldan’s exposed neck. The Durin’s axe bounces off with a loud thud, leaving the flesh of their enemy unharmed and Ewald’s axe badly blunted.

While Rory contemplates stealing the wand, Tristan is busy making his way up the trail and away from the grotto, laboriously carrying Gruff. Ewald gives in and hoists Billy, following Tristan, and Rory takes another look at the rod before moving off as well.

Halfway up the trail toward the old mine the rod’s spinning timer reaches the base. Instead of time resuming it’s course, Rory feels his energies sag and the timer begins it’s way back up the rod.

Once they reach the safety of the mine, Rory speaks the command word again and the world resumes its course. Exhausted from hauling the two huge Trulla, Ewald and Tristan collapse. As they see to each others wounds, they discuss their situation. It seems reasonable to assume that they have escaped peril for the time being. With the imminent collapse of the waterfall, their enemies are likely to believe them all crushed and buried. Since no tracks were left upon the time-frozen path, there is no easy way the Kuldan could spot their passage, even if he were looking for it.

Ewald says healing prayers over Gruff and Tristan before giving in to sleep. Rory also passes out. Hours later Gruff wakes and with Seer Gavin’s aid is able to heal Billy of his chest wound. Seer Gavin seems slightly perplexed, perhaps by the missing span of time. They fill Billy in on what transpired at the grotto.

It’s decided that they all must travel back to Selghaven as quickly as possible to see if the village still stands. With the aid of Rory’s Levitation spells they all grab hold of Ewald as he Airwalks back to the village.

Arriving in the night to find the village unharmed, Billy quickly calls an emergency council. Tristan’s suspicions flare when he notices a bit of surprise in Thonos response to their arrival. It’s nothing any of the others notice though. The council members discuss what the attack at the grotto means for them. It is abundantly clear now that the Daagar are still involved, and that a necromancer of some kind is also involved. Little Teega whispers to Ewald that Old Belza’s body had indeed moved since it had fallen off the cliff.

Again, between talk of necromancy and mention of old Belza’s body, Tristan sees things in Thono’s mannerisms that make him even more suspicious. As they discuss plans, Thonos tries once more to dissuade Billy from trusting outsiders. Before the council he accuses Rory of being a practitioner of Arcane magic and therefore untrustworthy. This doesn’t sway Billy, who was just saved by that same arcane magic, but it’s clear that it does sway several of the council. They also talk about the Greater Daemon Thloch the Bone Lord, and how arcane necromancers often are his followers. The conversation is steered toward the dark statue they discovered in the Daagar stronghold, which makes both Gruff and Seer Gavin very uncomfortable. Several times Ewald has to physically hold back Gruff from attacking the Seer’s apprentice. His obvious anger and hatred of Thonos doesn’t help their cause.

Several options are discussed to keep the clan safe. Moving to the last Trulla redoubt, Carak Cavern, is tossed out, since it is far too small to house the whole village through the winter. Travelling southwest in search of the southern Trulla clans is also ruled out, since the trip would take months, and have to be made through dangerous terrain and Durin and Hodra territory. It is finally suggested that they move into the old Durin mine, which while not perfect, would at least be easily defendable and is close by.

Billy sends everyone out to make a thorough search of the village and surrounding area, making sure there are no spies about. On request from Tristan, Rory follows Thonos to watch for further signs of treachery.

Rory follows Thonos as the Seer does some half-hearted searching. Soon Thonos returns to his quarters. Rory spots one of the Trulla warriors shadowing Thonos as well. Not sure if the man is in league with the Seer, Rory stays hidden from him too. His spying pays off when a short while later he sneaks close and overhears a conversation Thonos is having with someone else inside his dwelling. Though he can’t hear everything he does hear enough to confirm their suspicions.

“... told me it would be settled at the Grove!”

“ still very much alive... Kadagar you promised they wouldn’t be...”

The name Kadagar strikes a chord in Rory’s memory. He remembers specifically one of the Daagar warriors at the grove calling the Kuldan undead by that name.

Meanwhile, Gruff finds a moment to speak with his spirit advisor, Gavin. Gavin has been mulling over the lost time at the grove. He plants a seed of doubt in Gruff’s mind about Rory and the others. Reminding Gruff that Tristan, Ewald and Rory have secrets. Secrets concerning the magic rod and some master they serve. Gavin warns Gruff that he shouldn’t put all his trust in them.

Once Thonos leaves his chambers, Rory can’t resist the opportunity to have a look around. After a careful search, he finds a polished brass mirror under Thonos’ bed. The mirror looks to be of Syvani make, but doesn’t appear to be magical.

Leaving the mirror there, Rory returns and informs everyone what he learned about Thonos. They take the information to Billy, who is upset by the news. Billy informs them that he had one of his warriors following Thonos as well. He points out that Rory’s word will not suffice as evidence against Thonos. Together the group comes up with a plan. They call Thonos in and inform him that they have changed their plan and that they will be traveling south to find the other Trulla clans at first light, hoping that such a change will require another "call" with the mirror.

After the village has been thoroughly searched, and no evidence of spies has been found. The people of the village are gathered in the great hall for easy defense. In the early morning hours, Rory, who has been watching Thonos’ house very carefully, notices that several blankets have placed over his shuttered windows. He barely has time to veil himself in an invisibility spell when Thonos steps quietly out of his house. With methodical care, the Seer checks all the likely hiding places around his house. There’s a moment of worry when he Detects for magic and nearly spots Rory’s spell, but he doesn’t, and goes back into his house.

When a candle is lit inside, Rory sends a signal to Gruff, who has been waiting patiently outside Billy’s chambers. Gruff and the others than quickly grab two of the council members and rush to Thonos’ house. Busting down his door is a simple matter for Gruff. As the group stumbles inside, they are just as surprised as Thonos is. The traitorous Seer has the mirror propped against the wall. A white faced, cruel looking Neran looks out of the mirror. It’s obvious the two were interrupted in the middle of conversing.

As Gruff slaps Thonos to the ground, the Necromancer inside the mirror begins to cast a spell. Ewald has no idea what the enemy might be trying, but he’s not about to stand around and find out. He lunges at the mirror and turns it aside just as a bolt of dark energy shoots out of it and hits the floor in the corner of the room.

As Gruff and Telg wrestle Thonos, the floor in the corner begins to sink away, revealing a dark vortex of necromantic energy from which several shadowy forms emerge. From the mirror the necromancer screams, “KILL THEM! AND KILL THEIR CRIPPLED KING!” before the mirror goes dark.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SESSION SIXTEEN "Death at the Grotto"

As the heroes race down the steep tailing piles of the old mine they quickly piece together a plan to get back to the grotto as quickly as possible. Rory casts a Levitation spell on himself and Tristan as Ewald puts his new Airwalk spell to use. Under the effects of the Levitation, Tristan hangs tight to Gruff's back as Gruff races with Trulla agility down the mountain trail. Rory hangs tight to Ewald, who while not as quick as Gruff, has the significant advantage of running unimpeded across thin air. In this fashion they make excellent time back to the grotto, reaching it in a record quarter candle.

Just upriver of the falls, the party regroups and moves forward at a more cautious pace. No more horns have sounded since the first two warnings nearly fifteen minutes earlier. Weapons are drawn as the group moves quietly from brush to boulder. Before the grotto comes into view they are able to hear a loud splash and crack, like huge rocks smacking against one another while crashing into the pools.

Before they can get close enough to see, there's an ugly growl and two shapes emerge from the brush to the left of the trail. Weapons are raised in defense as the party sees a pair of the nastiest undead hounds they've ever laid eyes on careening toward them. The beasts have putrid flesh hanging from their large frames. The bone of their unnaturally elongated snouts actually jut through the flesh of their face, somehow warped by foul magic to be even bigger and more full of razor teeth. The mouths on these things are easily capable of taking a hand in one solid bite.

Thankfully Gruff is ready and prepared for this threat. Though obviously startled, he has the presence of mind to raise his sword before him. "Ancestors and Gods of light ward us! Culan smite you!" With the words the area directly before him takes on a pearly clarity that spreads in a wave toward the hounds of death. A cold mountain winds whips past Gruff and flows over the creatures, turning one to dust and sending the other howling back toward the grotto in uncontrollable fear.

"That'll warn them I'm afraid," Gruff says with anger.

Any lingering doubts the heroes had about what the emergency might be are now gone. With such unholy creatures about, it can only be truly dire in the grotto.

Sure enough, it's only moments more before they see the first Trulla warrior, sprawled awkwardly in death upon the trail. Hot on the heels of this discovery a deep, powerful voice comes from the grotto, speaking in Knockfar, which Ewald translates for the others. "Magdar, take your men and check on that!"

Now the group veers off the trail, opting to look down into the grotto from the small cliff overhanging it's western edge. Using all the stealth they can muster (a certain Kirith-Syvani even cloaked in invisibility), they approach the edge and look down at the falls and pools onto a massacre.

From their vantage it's easy to see that Billy and the other Trulla were taken by surprise. Six more Trulla corpses litter the ground around the pools edge. On the narrow beach on the eastern side twelve armored Hodra warriors move cautiously toward the base of the waterfall. Their wicked hooked broadswords readied. On the south end the of the pool, a dozen Daagar warriors mill about, making their way toward the west trail and the party's position. Leading this group are four more of the Death hounds, straining at thick leather leashes.

But above and beyond all this, what draws everyone's eye is the source of the deep, commanding voice. Standing thigh deep in the pool, one man-sized boulder in hand, is the biggest Kuldan they have ever seen. And to make matters worse, it appears the thirteen foot ogre is undead. His flesh is sagging around his eyes, which look yellow and pupiless, and a loose flap of bloodless skin hangs from his jaw.

In spite of the creature's lifeless looking eyes, he apparently has very good eyesight and quickly spots Ewald hunkered low behind a rock. Pulling a gnarled wand from his belt, he sends a greasy line of necrotic energy across the pool, striking Ewald dead center and sending the Durin priest writhing to the ground.

Rory wastes no time in returning fire with his newest, hottest spell. A thin trail of smoke flies from his hand as a tiny, bright ball of fire streaks unerringly toward the massive Kuldan and explodes in a huge fireball over the pool's surface. Rising from the water, the Kuldan undead cries out in pain and anger, but unfortunately seems to be still quite full of pep and vigor.

As Tristan moves away from the cliff and toward the oncoming Daagar, Gruff eyes the narrow passage leading behind the falls and the Hodra advancing toward it. This sight combined with the fact that Billy's body can't be seen, leads Gruff to believe that his brother might still be alive and cornered behind the falls. Consigning himself once more into the god's care, he launches himself down the cliff and lands in the shallows of the pool, much to the shock and disbelief of the now visible, but still well hidden Rory.

The four hounds are let loose at about the same time that the Kuldan commands his troops to, "Beware the mage! Split up you fools!" He then sends a second bolt of energy from his wand that staggers Gruff.

The Daagar and the Hodra listen to their commander and break up into smaller groups.

Tristan braces himself as the dogs quickly close with him and he is encircled in a deadly cloud of snapping jaws.

Ewald staggers to his feet, still enfeebled by the wand, but able to rise and airwalk toward Tristan, ready to aid his friend against the hounds.

Fearing that his nicely bunched targets may soon scatter, Rory quickly sends another fireball coursing across the pool and past the Kuldan toward the Hodra. He catches six of the knockfar warriors in this second blast, utterly vaporizing one and turning four more into burning piles of armor and flesh. Only one is lucky enough to dive into the water and avoid the fire.

Unlike Ewald, Gruff is able to quickly shake off the worst of the wand's effects. With purposeful strides he moves along the pools edge toward the undead Kuldan ogre. Before the giant enemy is able to bring the wand up again Gruff raises his sword and once more calls on Culan and his ancestors, "By Culan's Balls May death reclaim you!"

The turning, while somewhat unorthodox in wording, is very effective. The same clarifying wind blows across the grotto pool and into the Kuldan abomination's face. With a terrified cry the lumbering enemy's smile melts into a look of pure terror. With a speed and agility that belies both his size and undead condition he turns and heads straight for the low east cliff of the grotto, obviously very frightened of Culan's balls smiting him down.

As Tristan and Ewald continue to battle the dogs, and the Daagar load crossbows and prepare to fire on them, Rory sends a third fireball into the Kuldan's fleeing backside. The flames wash over his armor and burn his flesh, but again he weathers the attack, before finally gaining purchase on the rock-face and fleeing into the trees, screaming all the way.

Both Rory and Gruff notice with some annoyance and dread that three of the smoldering, fireballed Hodra warriors stir and rise, parts of them nothing more than blackened bone. Tally a few more undead horrors for the enemy.

Though Tristan has managed to put down one of the dogs, the heavy brush proves difficult to fight in, and he has taken one nasty wound to the face. The largest of the death hounds is also giving Ewald a very tough time, even though the Durin is able to fight four feet off the ground. When the Daagar group into a fighting line and finally send a volley of crossbow bolts toward them, Tristan and Ewald grow very concerned.

That concern proves unnecessary however when the fifth and final fireball of the battle detonates in the center of the tightly packed (despite their commander's thoughtful warning), disciplined Daagar battle line. Only two out of twelve Daagar manage to avoid the worst of the blast. Of the rest, those not killed outright are sent screaming and on fire into the woods, never to be seen or heard from again. Those two survivors recover rather quickly however, and Rory sees murder in their eyes as they scream and charge the mage.

Another of the dogs is ended with a head severing blow from Tristan as Rory confounds the two pissed off Daagar with a hasty Invisibility spell. Gruff engages several of the undead hodra warriors before trying a third and final turning, with far less success. Still, the sight of the other Hodra advancing under the waterfall and Cheg's scream is enough to motivate Gruff into a quick dash toward his clansman and hopefully brother.

A Hodra warrior comes sailing out of the falls and into the pool, proving to Gruff that someone still lives and fights back there.

As Ewald, Tristan and Rory continue their battle with the hounds and two remaining Daagar, Gruff finally gets under the falls. He is greeted by the sight of his brother, critically injured with Cheg standing defiantly over him and being swarmed by six undead hodra. The six quickly become five as Gruff puts his horns to good use and sends one the enemy sailing through the falls with a broken back. Another is cut down by Cheg before a hooked sword finds it's way into the brave Trulla's neck.

When the remaining Hodra enter the fray Gruff's hatred keeps him fighting against horrible odds. He is poked time and again by small wounds. Both sides slip and slide on the moss covered stones. Cheg spends the last of his life saving Gruff by grabbing the leg of a Hodra before slipping beneath the falls. Pressed by four hodra warriors, Gruff grows desperate and thinks, "Gavin! If ever I needed your aid it is now!"

The old seer's voice replies, "Use a gem and say these words." as a spell forms in Gruff's mind. Casting his shield down Gruff reaches for a gem and mutters the spell. Thick tendrils of shadow emerge from the rocks at the feet of the Hodra. Before they can react, two of the undead creatures are enmeshed in shadowy tentacles that smother, then crush them. With horrible suddenness they implode in a spray of flesh and bone, leaving Gruff with two assailants.

Backed up nearly on top of his dying brother, Gruff fights on desperately, now shieldless, against opponents that seem not to tire. Outside and above the grotto, Tristan and the others are just finishing off their opponents. With a herculean blow, Gruff nearly bisects one of his remaining opponents. Unfortunately, this ties up his sword for just a moment too long. As he pulls the blade free, he feels a warm wetness in his midsection. Looking down, he sees with disbelief the blade of the last hodra sunk deep in his own body. Though he tries to raise his sword, he next finds himself laying atop his brother, and then finds only blackness...

Rory, Tristan and Ewald soon deduce Gruff's destination. By the waterfall they engage the three remaining Hodra that were knocked into the water earlier. With heavy hearts they step behind the falls and find Gruff and his brother, first thinking them dead.

A quick inspections proves them both still clinging to life. As Tristan watches the entrance, Ewald and Rory tend to the brothers. Gruff's wound is very bad, but fresh, a few minutes later their expert ministrations have staunched the worst of the bleeding. Billy's chest wound is worse, and though they patch it up, his prospects are far more grim.

And speaking of grim prospects...

Everyone but Gruff and Billy, who remain peacefully unconscious, jump at the loud and immediate sound of someone heavy and pissed landing in the shallows of the grotto outside. "AAAAAAGHHHHHHHRRRRWWW!" There seems little hope that it's anyone other than everyone's favorite undead Kuldan commander, finally back from his hysterical jog through the mountains.

Battered, bruised, depleted and freshly down from their adrenaline highs our heroes share a look that speaks volumes.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


As spring slowly comes to the highest reaches of the Argons, our heroes' tired bodies rest and mend. The occasional burst of eldritch fire comes from Rory's chambers as evidence that he's increasing his magical might. Tristan spars with Gruff and the other Trulla warriors. He and Rory also accompany the Trulla hunters on some short expeditions to replenish the food stores. Ewald's days are largely filled with study and meditation, as he seeks to master a powerful new prayer. The Durin diplomat spends some time speaking with Billy and the others around the fire most nights, attempting to bridge the chasm of racial animosity between Durin and Trulla.

Ewald is also befriended by a shy, strange little Trulla girl named Teega, who for some reason chooses him to latch on to. Over the intervening weeks he learns that Teega is shunned by the other villagers due to her odd behavior. It seems the girl claims to see spirits and ghosts and doesn't get along well with the other Trulla children. Her parents were both killed in the raid on Namichek. Her attachment to Ewald doesn't cause much concern among the people and despite his initial gruff nature, Ewald grows fond of the orphan.

Gruff spends a great deal of time reacquainting himself with his clan and brother. It soon becomes plain that Billy has subtly fallen in the eyes of his people. Billy's handicap has dimmed the once bright spark of leadership in his eyes. Gruff watches with growing anger and helplessness as his brother's wives and warriors pile one small slight after another onto their leader. Many nights the others think they hear Gruff talking to himself, even arguing with himself, but none question the strange behavior.

On a night not long after Ewald first demonstrates his ability to Airwalk in the skies outside the village, Billy calls for a special feast in the cavern hall. A dark meat is served for dinner, to the obvious surprise and delight of the clan. Gruff winces inwardly as Billy is casually denied by his wives the first serving, a Trulla leaders traditional right. the meat is called Mossbelly, and is apparently a delicacy. It's soon learned that Mossbelly are huge, river salamanders. Ewald loves the stuff. Tristan doesn't. But since they are seated next to each other, a deft slide from one plate to the other resolves the problem nicely.

The food seems to perk up Billy's spirits. Gruff, Cheg and Billy reminisce about long ago mossbelly fishing trips, and the hunt for the elusive "grandfather mossbelly". In a moment of exuberance Billy decides he'd like to go on Mossbelly fishing trip. While Gruff is glad to see his brother happy, he disagrees, and thinks that now is the time to plan specifically for the future. "We must do something to fight the growing influence of the Hodra and Daagar tribes in the area! A fishing trip is not important right now brother."

In the conversation that follows the old dead Seer's apprentice, Thonos, argues that the Trulla do not need the help of outsiders. Ewald tentatively suggests that the Durin of Steel Mountain might be amenable to an alliance. Tristan says the same of his father's clans (though inwardly he is more doubtful). Gruff and Thonos exchange harsh words. Gruff thinks the man is a stubborn ass who would rather see his people suffer than accept outside aid. Billy eventually sides with his brother that the Trulla clan must seek aid outside the clan, but first they must try again to reach their kinsmen to the southeast. He is however, stubbornly adamant that before all this, he'll go Mossbelly hunting, and that is that.

The fishing trip is scheduled for three days later. This intervening time is used to rig up the contraption that will lower Billy down the cliffs. The next day during sparring, Gruff is sickened further when Billy's lovely wife, Zeela, subtly shows her interest in him. When she arrives later that night at his private quarters with food and beverage he takes the tray and quickly slams the door in her face, making his feelings plain. The old Shadow seer, Gavin, explains that he can help Gruff teach the woman a lesson, but Gruff opts instead to go speak with his brother.

Once face to face with Billy, Gruff begs his brother to come with him to the Healing springs. It seems the best way to restore his honor and bring strength back to the clan. Though Billy can't deny that the offer is tempting, and lets Gruff know he is very aware of the slights going on around him, he eventually convinces Gruff that such a trip into the heart of Blackback lands would be too dangerous. If both Billy and Gruff were killed, their people would have no one but Thonos to lead them. He does agree to go with Gruff after their people are safe, and with that Gruff must be satisfied.

Meanwhile the little girl Teega comes to Ewald with word that one of the Trulla elders, a woman known as Old Belza, has "gone over". The old woman is familiar to everyone and has been seen tottering around the village by each of them at one time or another. "Gone over" is the term used when a trulla has died, many times literally by falling over the edge of the cliffs. Ewald and the others learn from Gruff that Trulla traditions say the body cannot be touched or interacted with in any way. It is believed that the spirit is busy moving on, and to give attention to the body might disturb it or call it back from the ancestors.

The next night Teega comes to Ewald again, this time telling him that there are ghosts in the village. She shyly asks if he would like to come see them. Though Ewald is somewhat dubious, the little girl is obviously very excited, and he decides to humor her. Overhearing the conversation, Rory can't help but tag along. A short, but harrowing trip across rope bridges and switchbacks in the dark brings them to a higher area of the village. Teega excitedly points out a spot above a house and both Rory and Ewald peer into the darkness.

It's too dark for Ewald to see anything but Rory's Syvani eyes pierce the gloom much better. While he doesn't see anything initially where Teega is pointing, he does spot an unsettling shadow further out on the cliff face. Careful not to give any outward sign of noticing he looks more intensely and realizes with some dread that the figure looks to be Old Belza, clinging with strength and grace to a rock wall that would have been completely beyond her two days ago - before her supposed death.

Rory casually mentions the figure to Ewald and Teega. While Ewald still can't see anything, Teega does give a start when she sees Old Belza too. With far less subtlety, she whispers, "It's Old Belza! Not just her spirit, but her!" and points. With that the figure stirs and quickly retreats across the cliffs and out of sight.

Thoroughly spooked, the three quickly make their way back to their quarters where they share the info with Tristan and Gruff. Gruff passes along the information to the night sentries, suggesting that the watches be doubled and offering to take a watch himself. Despite the extra eyes and ears, no one sees or hears anything, and the night passes uneventfully.

In the morning the mossbelly trip is set to depart. Gruff and Rory examine the area where Old Belza was supposedly hanging from and do manage to find a couple gray hairs caught in the rocks, but no other signs. A complicated contraption of ropes and pullies has been assembled at the cliff's edge and Billy is lowered carefully down while Rory and Tristan levitate, Ewald Airwalks and the rest of the Trulla warriors skip down in true Trulla fashion.

At the base of the cliffs, the four adventurers search out Old Belza's body. While Gruff is loathe to go too near it, Tristan and the others examine it close enough to tell it is the old woman. While the body is still mostly in one piece, it is quite dead and doesn't appear upon quick inspection to have moved since it fell. Resigning themselves to a mystery unanswered they move on at Gruff's insistence.

Hauling Billy's huge weight slows the trip, even with the aid of Rory's Floating disk spell. Still their river destination isn't too far from Selghaven and a little before noon the group has set up a daycamp in a beautifully secluded river grotto complete with a rushing waterfall and deep, cold pools. Everyone takes turns tickling for Mossbellies. It's not long before Cheg pulls out a nice four foot rock gray salamander with a smooth, speckled green belly and small, sharp teeth. Gruff tries his hand and comes up with a smaller specimen which he throws back and a larger one which gets added to the day's take. Billy seems quite at home in the water and seems to very much enjoy the freedom of movement the weightless environment affords him.

As the group pulls out snacks and drinks Billy mentions an old collapsed Durin mine located a little further upstream that he and Gruff used to visit when they were younglings. When the other Trulla return to the water for more fishing, Ewald convinces Gruff, Rory and Tristan to go check out the mine, unable to pass up the opportunity to investigate a possible claim.

A short, difficult hike brings them to the old mine. Tristan scans the outsides for signs of danger and only finds some old bear scat and a few bleached bones. Ewald examines the cave in and tells the group the mine was intentionally collapsed and should be excavatable with a few candles of digging or one expert use of a Stone shape prayer. Realizing they wouldn't be able to drag Ewald away from the mine even if they wanted to, the group decides to give it a quick look-see before heading back to the others.

One Durin prayer and half a candle later the group finds themselves, lightstone in hand, once more underground following Ewald through subterranean passages. Unlike the Darkurth realms these passages are obviously Durin-made. A mine track runs down the main passage complete with an old cart they passed just inside the entrance. Several side passages end in tapped out gold veins. Just as the group is beginning to get bored with it all, Tristan smells a slightly disturbing aroma.

"I smell snakes."

Everyone takes a moment to process this information and weapons are drawn before the group moves forward cautiously. A little further ahead the passage drops into a lower chamber. At the opening to this chamber the group spots the reflected glow of their light from a pile of dark jewels piled just inside the chamber. Rory is the only one that sees them for what they truly are and shouts a warning just as the slumbering, twenty foot snake, with glistening black scales rises up and strikes at Ewald.

Ewald shouts out, "Cave Adder!" narrowly dodging the vipers quick strike and brandishing his weapon in a defensive posture. Further back in line, Gruff wastes no time in calling out a prayer to his ancestors and sending a a glowing spiritual blade spinning toward the giant snake. The attack is as deadly as it is quick. The spiritual weapon neatly slices through the neck of the beast, five feet below the head, leaving the body and head to both writhe and twitch a bit before lying still. As quick as the encounter began, it's over.

As Gruff and Tristan are deciding how best to skin the beast, and whether or not they should milk the fangs for the potent venom, Ewald and Rory check out the rest of the passage. A few feet beyond the snakes layer, Ewald finds what he expected to find, a slanted air-shaft leading presumably to the surface. In a moment of quiet, as he's peering up into the shaft, he and Rory are surprised to hear the distant sound of a Trulla battle horn.

"Everyone be quiet! Listen!"

As the others strain to hear, the horn sounds again, striking immediate fear into Gruff's heart. With barely a thought spared for the snake skin the group grabs up their gear and rushes back through the mine for the outside, Gruff leading the way. All thoughts are bent on the possible danger facing Billy and the Trulla warriors back in the grotto. It took the group nearly an hour to reach the mine from the pools. They will have to move fast if they wish to save anyone!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Having carefully transported their critically injured Trulla companion, the heroes set up camp in the disgusting but warm cave of the now boilt-dead Ettin. As Ewald tends to Gruff, Rory and Tristan search the Ettin's warren. Rory quickly ferrets out the Ettin's treasure, crudely hidden under a heavy stone and some moldy furs. It includes a tidy pile of coins (both Rhis and Punt) and a small metal box with twelve finely crafted gems. He also finds an oilskin scroll case, which, much to his delight, contains several arcane spells. Reading material for later.

In another room of the cave, Tristan discovers a large pile of bloody, discarded armor and a smaller but still significant pile of rusty weapons that failed to serve their owners well enough, but might make due for the group. He spends the next hour sorting out the good from the bad. In the end he comes away with a enough weapons and armor to outfit the entire group. His best find by far is a finely crafted broadsword complete with fine knotwork engravings and gems in the pommel and guard. The complete lack of corrosion and razored edge are enough hint that the blade is special. As an added bonus, he discovers a shiny bronze ring etched with runes that feels warm in the hand.

After rejoining the others and passing out the weapons and armor Tristan goes out to finally track and kill some food. Rory sits down to study the ring, passed to him by Tristan for that purpose and Ewald sets to repairing, cleaning and sharpening the armor and weapons, including a surprisingly good Hodran greataxe that by it's quality seems to have been a warchieftian's weapon. Both men occasionally check on Gruff, who's condition seems to be worsening as he slips in and out of consciousness.

Gruff's pain is nearly too much to bear. Any movement sends fresh waves of agony, but sleep seems to be beyond his reach. Though he can't be sure at first if it's hallucination, he has the most interesting experience...

Through bleary eyes he wakes and sees that he is alone in the cavern. In the greasy torchlight he sees the shadowy entrance and a form taking shape there. Moments later, a tall and grizzled old Trulla Shaman stands before him. In the man's hands is a massive and twisted staff, capped with an assortment of animal horns and bones. Though the Trulla seems ancient, he also seems strong and his gaze is piercing as he eyes Gruff and steps up next to him.

"You did well out there young buck. This old Seer is proud of you."

Gruff is understandably confused and at first makes no reply. Eventually, when the old trulla refuses to disappear, he asks, "Who are you?"

"I am Seer Gavin. I have come to aid you if I can, if you'll have my aid. You defeated the beast that defiled this holy place, and for that I would reward you." With these words the old shaman reaches down and lays a hand on Gruff, immediately easing the pain, at least temporarily.

In the conversation that follows, Gruff learns that the hot springs were once a holy site of the Trulla people. The waters here healed, before the Ettin's Grandfather came and corrupted them. Seer Gavin offers to help heal Gruff if he can get his friends to help cleanse the waters. He spends the next little while teaching Gruff the directions to some pools deep in the caves that can partially restore him. Once that's done, he can cleanse the main pool and fully heal himself. Or so he promises. Though Gruff's nature causes him to be wary, he goes along.

When Tristan returns at dusk, he does so bearing meat in the form of a hefty mountain sheep, much to the delight of his hungry companions. Rory passes along what he knows of the ring, having remembered some old arcana and referred to his father's tome. The ring was forged by elemental beings called the Fire Lords on the elemental plane of fire, Piara Tinis. By speaking the command word three times, one can call forth a being of fire to serve you. There were several rings forged and given to mortals who served the Fire Lords. The creature summoned would be a warrior obedient to the summoner.

The lecture is interrupted however when Gruff awakens, spouting out a series of directions. "Left, Left, Straight, Right, Up and Right, forty paces and down..." Though Ewald first thinks them fevered ramblings, Rory eventually writes them down. Gruff then explains what he has learned and tells them they must take him to where he can be healed before passing out once more. Though the group is suspicious, Ewald judges that Gruff will die in the night without some kind of miracle. It is decided to take Gruff deeper into the caves in hopes that his story is true.

Strapping Gruff to a crude gurney of sticks and skins, they place it atop one of Rory's handy floating disks and set off. They arrive at their destination a short while later. Clean pools, untouched by the Ettin's (since the passages are far too small) can be seen here. Gruff is awakened by Seer Gavin, who appears to be standing next to Tristan and the others. "Gruff, you must use one of the gems now. The gems you found earlier. They have power within them Gruff. When I tell you, drop the gem into the pool and I will heal you."

This of course makes Gruff even more suspicious. The gems the old Seer speaks of are the dark jewels Gruff found in the Daagar Sorcerer's room. The gems kept under the somewhat sinister looking dark statue of a Shadowy God. But he IS in a great deal of pain, and this IS one of his people speaking to him. As Gruff looks at the pools, he sees Trulla carvings in the wall and his fears are dampened. It appears this is a Trulla holy site after all. When the others aren't watching, Gruff deftly retrieves a jewel from his loincloth and drops it into the water.

Moments later, Rory utters a spell and proclaims that the pool is indeed magical. They carefully lower Gruff into the water and wait. Gruff drifts as Seer Gavin spends the time chanting in low, prayer-like tones. Ewald monitors Gruff’s condition and can see that he is improving. After an hour or so in the pool, the magic wanes and Gruff is greatly restored. Seer Gavin reminds Gruff that to fully restore him, the main pool must be cleansed.

Once more in the Ettin’s cave, the party sits down to their first good meal in a long while. Gruff is able to sip some broth and hobble about the cave (a vast improvement). He’s also able to sulk a bit about all the good loot being taken. After polishing up a good two-handed sword and refitting some armor he and Ewald decide to go through the weapons once more, this time using detection spells to make sure nothing magical was missed. There’s a scramble and short wrestling match when they both discover a shimmering dagger under a pile of old leather. Alas, Gruff’s injuries keep him from this prize too, though Ewald offers to trade it for something else of value. More grumbling ensues.

Rory and Tristan discuss the ring and decide to chance summoning the elemental, just to see what they have. There’s a flash and a bang and then from the fire emerges a four foot, lithe female with bronze wings and flaming red hair. Over her shoulders are slung two thin, Kris swords and a bandoleer of throwing knives. Her red tinged skin glows slightly. She is extremely hyper as she buzzes around the cavern.

A short conversation reveals her name to be something unpronounceable that sounds like a roaring campfire. The group decides to call her Ember. She tells Rory that she is of the Piara Forisi and is one of the Fire Lord’s best scouts. In exchange for the ability to once again walk the middle realm she will serve Rory until such time as her Lord calls her away. Then she refuses to leave. And she talks a lot. And sometimes sets things on fire. But she’s nice.

In the morning, Seer Gavin returns, telling Gruff that it is time for his full healing and the cleansing of the main pool. Much to the group’s disgust, this means they have to actually remove the boiled Ettin and various other, unrecognizable chunks of flesh from the hot spring. After a few minutes poking around with spears Ember comes to the rescue, offering to get rid of everything from the pool.

The group takes cover, far back from the spring as Ember sticks her hands into the already boiling water and concentrates. It takes time, but eventually the pool begins to boil at an even more rapid rate and soon begins steaming aggressively. Soon Ember and the spring can’t even be seen through the hissing steam cloud. Rory actually passes out from the heat before Tristan can drag him further away. When all is said and done, and the steaming stops, every last bit of contaminant in the pool has been burned away, along with most of the water.

As the spring slowly refills, Seer Gavin explains that Gruff needs to covertly drop another of the magic gems into the spring to get it functioning. Since the others are mostly looking after the still unconscious Rory it's easy to do. A few more muttered prayers from the old seer and then Gruff gingerly enters the pool. It has somehow been made cool enough to enter, but Gavin warns Gruff that the pool will only function for Trulla, since this is a Trulla holy place. If Gruff thinks the logic is anything other than sound, he is quickly too "immersed" in the good feelings of healing to care.

Having no further reason to stay at the pools, the group soon packs up and heads out, using Ember as an extremely useful, if somewhat conspicuous, flying scout. Despite the fire spirit's comet-like flight (or perhaps because of it) the group encounters no further travel woes. Two days of hard walking finds them quickly approaching Gruff's home, the village of Namichek. Rory's ever-helpful levitation spells get the party up the very vertical, very high cliffs. Gruff is obviously worried due to the fact that no sentries were encountered.

The village is a sprawling, cliff-side network of narrow rope bridges and switchback rock ledges interspersed with caves and cleverly constructed stone buildings. It's also completely deserted. After Gruff leads the group to what passes for the village square, a wide ledge on the edge of an equally wide mouthed cave, he quickly explores the rest of the village, affirming that it is indeed empty. Tristan takes the opportunity to look around, discovering some signs of a fire, and a few very old patches of dried blood. He also finds a few old leather remnants and some metal harness rings. Ewald identifies them as Durin climbing harnesses.

Gruff then finds a Trulla rune scrawled on a cave wall and explains that it is a trail sign branding the village "compromised". He surmises that those of his people that survived the attack on Namichek fled to one of two possible smaller holdings even further up in the mountain range. It's huddled near the fire, a broken Durin climbing harness clutched in his meaty paws, that Gruff tells Ewald he owes the Durin a Life debt. Though he is bound by honor to travel with the group until he can repay his debt, he asks that they first find his people and see that they are safe before leading them home.

Ewald and the others agree to help him. The old Durin and the others even offer to return some day to the Darkurth realms to put an end to Queen Meevey and her grove. Ember curls up in the fire to sleep, complaining that it's the only place even nominally warm enough. Alone but for the howling of the mountain winds outside the party talks and reminisces before finally settling in.

In the morning, Rory is somewhat surprised to find Tristan frozen stiff with fear, halfway across a nearby rope bridge and clutching the ropes with utter dread. Once he's carefully pried loose and taken back to the cave, he explains that while on morning watch and searching for more clues, he was suddenly overcome with the sheer height and precariousness of it all and experienced a strong case of vertigo. Gruff and Ember both shake their heads at the absurdity of it all but both graciously offer to carry Tristan down. Rory's method proves more palatable to the ranger however, and one blindfold and delicate Levitation spell later he is safely upon terra firma once more.

Again the group heads upwards, further into the Argon range. They camp and are up at first light, traveling most of the next day as well. In the afternoon of that second day they come upon a Trulla sentry near what Gruff explains is the Trulla cliff fort they are searching for. After a quick conversation and reunion, for it's obvious that Cheg the sentry and Gruff are old friends, Gruff introduces his companions and they proceed to the fort. The look that passes over Cheg's bearded face at sight of Ewald is not missed by anyone. Ewald has a chance to wonder exactly how he will be received.

Though inside it turns Tristan slightly to jelly, he manages to make it up the cliff with Rory's aid and into the narrow chimney of stone that hides this even higher Trulla redoubt. Unlike Namichek, this smaller holding is crowded with Trulla warriors, women and children. They all gawk at the strangers and many stare with open malice at Ewald though he tries to ignore it. The group is led into the main cave, for much to Tristan's relief a large portion of this holding is within caves, and before a massive, blonde furred Trulla warrior.

The warrior is seated before a large fire, his legs covered with a woolen blanket. On each side a female serves him drink and food. Other warriors are seated near the fire. He smiles warmly at sight of Gruff. "BROTHER! It is good to see you! Come sit by the fire and tell us of your adventures!" Gruff responds in kind, but notes with some dismay that his brother, Billy, does not rise or make any use of his legs.

Over a warm meal and strong liquor made of goat's milk the group is told of how Namichek was surprised and overrun more than a year ago by a large army of Hodra and Kuldan with the aid of sorcery and Durinmade climbing harnesses. It was in this battle that Billy was wounded by one of the Kuldan and lost the use of his legs. The greatest of their healers was killed as well, along with many of their clan. The survivors fled here, to Selghaven.

Twice in the times since, Billy has sent scouts to try and reach the other clan of Trulla far to the south, but neither has returned. It appears that the Blackback tribe of Hodra has grown quite strong. The group tells Billy about the Daagar connection with the Blackbacks. Gruff also tells Billy about the holy springs to the west, hoping their magics might heal his brother. Billy seems doubtful and resigned to his condition.

It quickly becomes obvious that Billy is interested in passing on the mantle of leadership to Gruff, leaving the Trulla adventurer in somewhat of a predicament. Ember, after causing quite a stir around the Trulla begs leave of Rory to return to her own planes for a spell. Rory is happy to oblige, for even though Ember has calmed and become easier to get along with, she is still taxing on the nerves, and Rory has been overtired of late.

Two weeks pass in Selghaven. While spring settles on the high mountains and the worst of the snows begin to melt, the adventurers settle in for a well deserved rest. Though Ewald is far from comfortable amongst his people's ancient enemies, Billy has passed word that Ewald is a friend. Rory quickly recovers his health and wind, finally settling down to study and write in his father's spellbook. Tristan keeps mostly to the insides of Selghaven, devising possible plans to reach the Trulla clan to the Southeast with Billy, Gruff and Ewald. In the back of his mind, Tristan knows their mistress is probably looking for them and the Staff Rory still carries.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

SESSION 13 "Like Soup on a Cold Day"

Worried about the beasts without, everyone decides that the hunger within is of top priority. Besides, the snow is beginning to fall fast now, and they all hope that the blood trail will soon be covered. Taking a few moments to use his spells in new and culinary ways, Rory cooks the dressed out hare with a Floating disk spell as a pan and a flaming sphere spell as the barbecue. Once again huddled snugly in their shelter, the companions talk quietly and eat their warm food, feeling that they just might make it through the night.

And they almost do...

In the early hours of morning, during Tristan's turn at watch, or in this case we might call it "listen" since no one wants to venture outside of the little shelter, he's clearing the little hole above the shield-for-a-door when he feels a warm breath on his fingers. The sensation is so unexpected that he's momentarily at a loss for actions. In the next moment several things happen at once. As Tristan pulls his hand back quickly, he turns to wake the others with a warning as the entire shelter disintegrates into a pile of ice and snow, burying the sleeping heroes.

Whatever is outside reaches a furry white, claw tipped paw inside to pluck Tristan out. Only a quick scramble avoids the attack. As the group sputters awake Tristan rises from the wreckage of their shelter and takes a wild, blind swing at whatever is attacking them. He misses, seeing only swirling darkness around him.

As the others take weapons to hand and come thrashing out of the snow, Gruff gets his first good look with his sensitive Trulla eyes and yells, "Ice Lion!" as another paw swipe catches Tristan across the face, sending blood flying.

A solid halberd swing from Gruff catches the thousand pound lion in the mane covered shoulder, bringing a cry from the beast and keeping it from further mauling Tristan. Rory's Kirith-Syvani eyes serve him well as he spots two more shapes nearby and sends a flaming sphere into the first of them, burning and toppling the beast out of sight. The second however, wastes no time in bounding and pouncing on Rory, sinking it's large fangs into his arm and crushing him deep in the snow.

Charging to the rescue, Ewald brings his axe down in a powerful two-handed blow, which the agile cat neatly avoids. Rory gets a good look at Ewald's axehead from mere inches away before taking the opportunity to send another flaming sphere into his attacker. All these large balls of fire hissing and sputtering in the snow prove too much for the cat and it turns and leaps out of sight into the darkness.

With just one wounded cat remaining Ewald rushes to Tristan and Gruff's aid. The three together prove too much for the wounded cat and it turns tail as well.

Only seconds later Rory spots the third beast, this one apparently the big male, just before it's about to pounce on Gruff from behind. He cries out a hasty warning as the beast rises into the air and Ewald heroically knocks the Trulla aside, taking his place as lion attackee. Once again the group has cause to be thankful for the otherwise hated snow as Ewald sinks deep into partial cover from the cat's attack.

Gruff rises quickly and roars out as he lowers his horns and charges the lion, knocking the beast on it's side. Rory, clutching his bleeding arm, sends a group of magic missiles streaking into the beast, which thoroughly unnerves it, causing it too, to race off with a cry of pain and frustration.

With a careful eye to the darkness the group huddles in the wreckage of their shelter. Ewald and Gruff both pray for healing, taking care of Rory's arm and Tristan's face, which luckily wasn't nearly as bad as all the blood made it seem at first. With dawn fast approaching, and the snow apparently stopping, the group decides it better to press on toward a lower elevation. Tristan leads the way.

Just as cold and miserable as the day before, the group still seems destined to eat their footwear and die frozen. Traveling well into daylight they eventually find a small, unfrozen stream trickling down the valley's edge. An attempt to drink said water reveals it to be sulfurous and less then pleasing to taste, and also fairly warm.

A quick conference where everyone discusses the bliss that finding a hot spring would provide, and all decide that a trek upwards to follow the stream might be worth the effort. Scrambling along the edge of the waterway for a candle leads them into a narrow ravine. The water steadily grows warmer and soon they find a pool suitable for soaking near-frozen limbs.

As some bathe, others keep a watch and explore the area. Tristan discovers a nice, shallow cave behind the frozen east wall of the ravine with signs of recent sheep having visited the area. The only thing nicer than warmth is the thought of food, which would allow the group to recharge in relative comfort for a day or two. Gruff once again calls on Loki, his spirit raven, to scout out possible food sources. In very quick order, Loki returns, squawking "Food! Food!" and flying further upstream.

Dried and a great deal warmer, the group dresses and stows their few possessions before scrambling upstream after the bird and it's promise of a meal. Before long they find an area where the ravine widens and great many, tiered hot pools dot the floor of the little canyon. As Rory leans on a big pillar of ice, he's surprised to see a frozen hand inside, which he shows to the others.

Soon it's decided that the Rory and Ewald will stay and investigate the bodies frozen in ice while Tristan and Gruff continue to follow the bird. As the Neran and Trulla carefully make their way across the steaming pools, Rory uses his ever useful flaming sphere to burn away the ice while Ewald chips at it with his axe.

Rounding the bend and moving further into the springs, Tristan and Gruff both spot a strange sight ahead. Perched over a boiling spring is a huge log with bits of rope hanging from it. As they investigate further a loud singing issues from a watery cave in the west wall of the canyon. Something large and tone-deaf this way comes. Tristan ducks behind a rock and whispers, "Hide!" at roughly the same time that Gruff yells, "Ho there stranger!" and a twenty foot, two headed giant emerges from his cave with a scowl.

The giant is massively proportioned, as giants often are, with thick, trunk-like limbs and a chest wider than a Neran is tall. It wears little more than a crude kilt made of mainly sheep skins, with a likewise furry mantle and half cloak hanging from it's shoulders. In each meaty fist is held a gnarled club of hardened wood. Each head is covered in a patchy beard and one has a huge and livid scar running down it's left cheek and through the area where it's eye should be. On both heads rest a crude helmet made of leather and bits of old metal and chainmail.

"WHO ARE YOU LITTLE MAN!" shouts one the one-eyed head. "AND WHY YOU HERE?!" shouts the other.

Gruff, somewhat startled by the size and multi-headedness of his adversary takes a moment before answering. "I! I am Gruff the Daagar slayer! Why even just this day I have killed a hundred of the scum"

The giant takes several steps forward, sloshing through the water. "WRONG LITTLE SHEEP! YOU ARE FOOD!"

"You wouldn't want to eat me friend. I don't taste very good."


Seeing that the giant seems disinclined to talk, Gruff whispers, "Run and get the others" to Tristan before jumping up on the log over the boiling spring. From his vantage he gets a clear view of the body parts floating in the giant's soup. Thus assured of what his fate will be should he come out last in this encounter he turns and addresses the giant, a plan already forming in his mind.

"Come and get me you pox-ridden, dung eating, puss filled, stinking... urine-breathed, castrated son of an Ogre!"

As the giant charges, Tristan moves quickly to bring help, muttering something rude about luck and giants and scalding himself as he slips and dips a foot into a searing pool.

In a daring move, Gruff waits until the very last second before leaping backwards, away from the giant's clubs. In it's haste to lay it's club up against the side of Gruff's head, the giant is unable to stop it's forward momentum and has to attempt a leap across the scalding hot pool. With a great cry of pain it's leg slips into the roiling water, instantly blistering and turning bright red before the creature can roll clear and rise.

Thinking to finish off the monstrosity before it can collect itself Gruff runs up a rock and leaps nimbly onto a head of the giant. With a great heave of his halberd, he splits the giant's helm and strikes his foe before jumping clear. Turning to survey the damage, his face drops as he sees the giant look down at it's shattered helm and shake it's head, before limping forward to attack.

Meanwhile, back at the ice pillar, Rory and Ewald have chipped free a hand and found evidence of more bodies encased in the ice. At the revelation that the bodies are apparently Hodra, they are considering stopping when the spiked top of Ewald's axehead takes another small chunk that causes a fissure to appear in the ice. As the Kirith Syvani and the Durin watch, the fissure spreads up the pillar. Taking a quick look at each other, they back hastily away from the ice as a giant slab peels away and the whole thing comes down with a crashing explosion of ice and half a dozen frozen bodies.

Both the giant and Gruff look toward the echoing sound. The giant grins, showing stained and crooked teeth. "MORE FOOD! MORE LITTLE SHEEP?"

Gruff grimaces and rejoins the battle, trusting greatly in his nimble footing to stay one step ahead of the giant's attacks.

Tristan, having just come around the bend. Motions for Rory and Ewald to hurry before he turns back and finds a good location from which to shoot his crossbow. As the other two move slowly through the pools, Gruff continues to make small wounds in the giant's thick, thick hide, using the pools and rocks as cover.

Even when Tristan fires a bolt into the giant's back, it only causes the giant to wince momentarily. All the while, Gruff's underfed, abused body is growing tired and his reflexes are slowing. Once or twice, it is only the giant's wounds that prevent him from making that solid connection that Gruff is fairly sure would end the fight quickly.

When Ewald and Rory come around the curve, Ewald immediately calls on his God for aid, coating himself in a shield of faith to compliment his shiny new armor and calling down extra strength as well. Rory wastes no time in sending a flaming sphere into the giant's already damaged leg. With another roar of pain and anger the giant kicks the sphere high into the air, sending it splashing down not far from the startled adventurers.

Gruff keeps working, only now the exhaustion is really kicking in. His insults are punctuated with ragged breathing and his graceful hoofwork is getting... less graceful. To be fair, the giant is slowing somewhat as well, from the myriad wounds decorating his body more than from fatigue, but in all Gruff seems to be in more trouble.

Thinking that the giant must be somewhat weak mentally, Rory casts a mind-effecting Command spell on it, compelling it toward the soup bowl with a simple, "Advance!" For a moment it seems as if it might work, until the giant's other head snaps around and yells "STOP!" at it's partner, proving that two dumb brains are better than one.

Next the quickly tiring spellcaster causes a bunch of sticky webbing to appear between the giant's massive legs, anchoring one to the other in an attempt to trip the monster into the pool. It does fall, but not in the right direction. With a yank and a snap the webbing comes free and Gruff nearly loses his head to backward swipe of a club.

A sphere of darkness springs into existence around the giant's head, courtesy of Rory. Gruff lunges in to take advantage and puts another gash in the giant's legs. Ewald draws near.

Then, tragedy strikes.

Ducking low and coming clear of the magical darkness, the giant drops it's club and makes a grab for Gruff. With great effort he evades and rebounds off the rocks in a pattern that has perhaps become too familiar to his opponent. As the Trulla comes back in for an attack with his halberd he's snapped up in a two handed grip by the enraged giant. smiling and laughing in triumph, both heads focus on Gruff and squeeze. Things pop and grind that really shouldn't and Gruff cries out in pain, and more deadly pain.

Ewald comes in low behind the fully distracted giant and proceeds to cut deep into the monster's good leg, hamstringing the beast and causing him to fling Gruff high into the air. Once more Rory webs the giant's legs. With tremendous effort it rips the web away again and takes a swing at Ewald who barely avoids the blow and stumbles over the now dislodged log and old rope.

Ewald looks quickly from the rope and log to the giant, noting the monster's dozens of minor wounds, his dragging feet and staggering steps. His back to the boiling water, Ewald plants his feet and yells at the top his stout, Durin lungs, "COME AND GET ME YOU HALF BRAINED MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR A GIANT!"

With a roar the giant obliges, charging as best as his injured weakened legs can manage. His hairy toes catch the tied coils of rope and keep his feet from clearing the log. Twenty feet of enraged giant topples like a stone toward Ewald and the pool. Heels to the water's edge, Ewald ducks and rolls at the last possible moment and thus it is only the giant that dives head first into his boiling, sulfurous soup and disappears completely into the water.

Ewald stands and looks across at Rory and Tristan when from the water emerges a two headed, blood red thing that once was their foe. The giant's skin is covered in huge, hideous blisters and it's three eyes are cloudy white and oozing blood. It's long, tortured scream echoes through the ravine as it momentarily reaches for Ewald before sinking back into the roiling water with a splash.

They find Gruff nearby. Having landed in a pool, he somehow found the strength to pull himself out. Carefully they look him over but his injuries are severe and mostly internal. Though some things are obvious: broken ribs, fractured arm, others are less so. Though Ewald is able to mend somethings through his wicalic prayers and they clean him up, it's clear that Gruff will be doing no walking any time soon and is far from being saved.

Rory and Ewald prepare to explore the giant's cave in hopes of finding something useful to aid their friend. Tristan stays with Gruff and prepares him as best he can for moving. Gruff sleeps, perhaps to wake again, perhaps not.