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."
"YOU WRONG, I HAD YOUR KIND BEFORE LITTLE SHEEP. TRULLA MEAT GOOD IN SOUP!"
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.