Part I: Into the Stronghold
Part II: Battle in the Throne Room
Part III: Strong Perfume
Part IV: Nike Defense!
Putting the silenced coins outside the door, everyone listened carefully. No shouts of outrage, no clanking of weapons and armor ... nothing.
Gilden whispered, "This is either REALLY good or REALLY bad. Let's hope for good!"
The corridor stretched to the northeast, at least one hundred feet long. After a whispered conference it was agreed that David and Jake would scout.
"I can help," Gilden said. "I can make the both of you invisible, using the last of the power I received from the Fountain." Note 2
"I have an Invisibility spell left," interjected Hisoka, who promptly made herself disappear.
Jake and David looked at each other with resigned expressions. Their guide was a woman of few words whose perpetual frown marred her otherwise pleasant looks. She was obviously going to do whatever she wanted to do. They turned to Gilden, who concentrated on each in turn, rendering them invisible.
Jake and David took the silenced coins and walked up the corridor with Hisoka behind them. The two men had used invisibility enough that they could keep track of each other, and the taciturn woman seemed to have a knack for keeping track of where they were. Not once did she tread on their heels.
At the end the corridor opened to the east into a large pillared room. Right in front of them were two ettins!
All four heads peered around suspiciously and sniffed. Jake remembered from his training with Raganan that the two headed giants were dumber than a retarded carrot but made great watchmen because their senses were so hard to fool.
"Alarm! Alarm!" all four head bellowed in the frost giant tongue! Realizing the jig was up, the two humans struck serious blows, drawing geysers of blood from the ettins. Even with the realization of intruders, the humans materializing near them caught the two headed giants by surprise. The next telling blows drew more blood.
Having two heads the ettins were ambidextrous. Jake's opponent slashed downward with its pair of clubs, cracking the stone floor with the might of the blows. Dodging at the last moment Jake surprised them with a deft movement which led a stab deep into the creature's left thigh. Screaming in agony it tried to club him again but Jake ducked, spun, and used the momentum to hack into the right knee with a thunk that sounded like an axe in hard wood. Continuing his spin around the giant the magically sharp sword severed the spine.
Like a marionette with its strings cut the giant fell prone onto the stone floor. Jake ran the length of its back and split its skull. Turning he saw David had hamstrung his opponent and plunge his long sword into the beast's left eye.
The party drank from a magical fountain in the "Giants of Tharizdun", each gaining power. Gilden received the ability to cast an Invisibility spell 5 times.
With the ettins downed Jake and David looked around. Hisoka had not attacked the giant and had not lost her invisibility. "I'm going to stay invisible so I can hit the next ones with surprise."
"What next ones?" David asked. Unseen hands latched onto the sides of this head and forcibly spun him to face the long throne room.
"Damnation, she's strong!" David winced silently.
A corridor exited the room towards the northwest – no sign of danger there. The throne room was long, well over one hundred feet, with rows of heavy pillars long both walls. A large corridor exited from the north wall about half way down. At the end the room opened up into a raised area.
There be danger! On the raised area stood four frost giants armed with their terrible Snowballs, and behind them stood another frost giant easily a head taller than the tallest. This one was dressed in a white fur cloak and held a huge sword unsheathed. At his side stood a pair of large white wolves.
Snowballs cross the distance in an instant, missing Jake and David by the smallest margins. The Snowballs impacted the back wall and exploded into miniature sleet storms.
David gauged the distance, then realized the sound he heard was armor clanking up the northwest corridor. Ducking behind a pillar he invoked a wall of magical force to block that hallway.
Jake realized the distance was too far to throw the Sword of Cieldren. In the Giant Temple of Tharizdun with Cieldren aiding him Jake had thrown the sword more than one hundred feet to strike as if in his hand and then arcing back into his hand ... but Cieldren had been actively courting him the, wanting him to become Champion of Cieldren. "A human champion of a dwarven god ..." Jake mused. But the god was serious and the feelings Jake experienced when filled with the god's power made him want to be a dwarf, to permanently feel that sense of communion and oneness that clan dwarves felt every moment of their lives. Jake shook his head, best not to think too much about such overwhelming feelings.
With just a bit of the god's power Jake could throw fifty or sixty feet, and the giants were too far. Sheathing his sword he unlimbered his crossbow.
Hisoka, still invisible, stayed behind a pillar, biding her time to make her surprise attack the most effective.
Gilden, Bisonbit, Faraz, and Trilla, waiting back by the vast entrance doors, heard the sounds of combat. The henchmen were ready to sprint to their employers' aid, but the wiser clerics both vetoed that. "We must move quickly, but not so quickly that we plunge headfirst into death," Gilden stated firmly as he hefted his axe.
"But," Faraz started to say, but Bisonbit cut him off.
"David and Jake are more than capable of protecting themselves for another minute." Shifting his shield as he started moving he continued, "throwing yourself onto a giant's sword isn't helpful. Let's do something useful."
Bisonbit, with more than two decades of keeping Jake and David from getting themselves killed, had the best perspective on the situation. He started off at a fast trot, one faster than his words of wisdom led the henchmen to believe he would use.
Jake stepped out behind the pillar only to realize the giants were charging. He thunked another crossbow bolt at them, dropped his crossbow and yanked his sword from its sheath.
His wall of magical force in place to prevent surprise attacks from behind, David turned in realization the frost giants were charging. Gauging his casting time against their speed, the mage invoked a tiny pea sized bit of flame that streaked from his outstretched right hand. Flashing across the distance the pea struck the second giant and exploded into a tremendous ball of flame, badly burning the four giants. They all stumbled but with roars of anger kept on their feet, closing the distance with the two tiny humans.
Jake roared back. "CIELDREN!!!" As it left his hand the sword transformed instantly into a huge war maul, zipping across the distance to strike the lead giant in the breastbone. The thunderous impact stopped the giant dead in his tracks - literally - flinging him backwards, his body skidding across the stone floor. The other giants were knocked off their stride, their charge blunted.
The sword returned to Jake's hand as he side-stepped a giant, spinning into a strike at the back of the giant's knee. The strike severed the limb so the giant and his leg both continued forward, each on a different trajectory.
David, his spell completed with good effect, yanked his long sword from its sheath and side stepped another giant. Emulating Jake, he drove the point into the back of the giant's knee. Bellowing in mixed rage and agony the giant lurched to a halt and tried to turn on his puny attacker. David stabbed into the giant's calf, his magically sharp sword piercing the thick greave. Both legs badly wounded the giant floundered to his knees.
The head now at a good level for the five foot tall human, David stabbed a third time into the giant's right eye, the thirty inches of mithril/steel piercing the brain. Yanking the gory blade from its temporary sheath, the human soldier/mage turned to his next victim.
Bisonbit, Gilden, Faraz, and Trilla appeared in time to see the last frost giant fall to Jake, David, and Hisoka's blades. Bisonbit spotted the frost giant king on the dais at the end of the throne room.
The human battle priest called upon Demeter's aid, calling fire down upon the king. A vast crackling announced the column of flame that appeared from thin air above the dais and slammed down upon the giant. The king stumbled backwards out of the column, falling over his black stone throne in his haste to escape the flames. Hair and cloak smoking, he staggered to his feet and he fell heavily against the back wall, covered in ornate carvings of fire giants who had built this keep. His fingers scratched across the carvings, in agony or frustration or some unknown but equally powerful emotion. He finally found what he was trying for and a panel opened. The giant king fell ponderously through the opening and it quietly shut behind him. Note 3
As everyone's attention was on the fleeing king, none of the party spotted the white wolves, who had run along the walls, hidden behind the pillars. They announced their presence with howls that brought forth cones of stinging ice and sleet.
Reacting as if she saw it coming, Trilla flung herself out of the path of the ice, rolling into the middle of the room and onto her feet. Before the nearest wolf could react she hit it with both feet, bowling it off its feet.
Rolling over twice, the wolf scrambled to its feet in a clatter of claws on stone. Lunging at her, the wolfs iron hard jaws clacked shut, barely missed her arm. The young monk stumbled to the side, struggling to stay on her feet.
Screaming his goddess' name Bisonbit shield bashed the wolf, snapping its head to the side. His spear licked the wolf's chest twice, the second time he wrenched it to the side as he withdrew it, yawing a gaping wound. The wolf coughed a spray of bright red blood, acted like it was preparing to snap at him, and died.
While Trilla and Bisonbit killed the first wolf, Faraz interposed himself between the second wolf and its lunge toward Gilden. The wolf outweighed the young druid by a fair amount and bowled him off his feet, but its jaws chewed his wooden shield instead of Gilden's throat.
Seeing Faraz blasted off his feet Gilden spun his axe in a loop and that ended in the wolf's lower jaw, passing through the skull on the way. The dwarf planted a boot on the head to steady it as he wrenched his axe from its gory bed.
All enemies in sight lay on the stone floor, dead or dying. The party assessed injuries. Jake had a cut on his left arm he had no memory of receiving, David was battered and bruised, and all had some level of damage from the giant Snowballs or breath of the wolves. Gilden and Bisonbit quickly set about healing the worst of the injuries, calling upon their gods for aid.
The force wall David erected in the northwest corridor was still there, no sign of giants on the other side of it. The dais was empty, a quick search for the panel the giant king escaped through turned up nothing. Whatever he pressed to open the secret door could not be quickly located.
"Looks like the northern passage is next," Gilden pointed out. None had a better idea so the party started up the corridor with Jake and David leading.
Gilden heard a clank of armor behind him. To his surprise a tapestry on the southern all concealed a corridor, from which issued over a dozen giants, some white wolves, and a couple of giant wolverines. "INCOMING!" he shouted the warning as a rank of female frost giants charged.
"So much for women being the fairer sex," Bisonbit thought as he dodged a huge sword strike. "Especially when the woman is twelve feet tall."
The party formed a semi-circle at the entrance to the corridor, working to limit the number of giants they'd face at once. Fighting giants took space as there was no blocking their sword blows - one either got out of the way or one was no longer there!
David invoked a Stinking Cloud on the second line of frost giants, forcing them back. Without them pressing the first line some of the pressure was removed from the human party.
The white wolves and giant wolverines circled to the party's left, looking for an opening to attack. Bisonbit yanked his Wand of Cold from the sheath at his waist and leveled it at the animals. Against frost giants the powerful wand was useless, but not against animals, even giant ones. A cone of stinging ice and sleet sprang from the tip, passing between the ankles of one giant. The blast hit the animals, scattering the wolverines. To Bisonbit's chagrin it had no effect upon the giant white wolves.
Snarling, one of the wolverines turned 180 degrees and lifting its tail, sprayed its musk toward the combatants. The huge cloud enveloped the entire group of combatants. Hitting the giants at an angle from behind, they had no warning. Each and every one of them vomited explosively, dropping weapons as they fell to their knees, eyes screwed tightly shut.
The party? All sprang back away from the cloud, up the corridor. All except Trilla who had taken the full blast of musk. Like the giants she vomited and screamed as her eyes burned. As the cloud dissipated somewhat Jake lunged and pulled her back from the enemy line.
The wolves and wolverines circled behind the retching giants, none willing to brave the musk until they were sure the vicious cloud dissipated. David pulled the ferocious Wand of Fear from his belt and leveled it at the animals. It's invisible emanations had an immediate effect as all turned and ran towards the entrance. Giants behind them were similarly affected, turning and pelting insanely towards the entrance.
Looking around, Gilden realized that they'd not escape without Trilla able to run. While the other cleared the path he invoked Cieldren's aid to alleviate her burning and blindness caused by the musk. She was done throwing up and was badly weakened, but she could see where she was going and could move.
The two giants that hadn't run from fear fell quickly to the blades and magic of the party. David dropped a Fireball in the midst of the giants that had been driven back by the Stinking Cloud, scattering them. The path to safety was clear.
The musk was corrosive - Trilla's clothes had rotted away in moments, leaving her naked except for her magical fighting boots and gloves. Jake picked her up while Bisonbit scooped her staff, and the party bolted for the entrance.
I screwed up here. The range on a Flame Strike isn't that far, but I didn't catch it at the time. Oh, well. Sometimes the gods go above and beyond in aiding their clerics. LOL!
One hundred feet from the entrance to the keep was the edge of the bluff, several hundred feet down. A switchback road zigzagged up the cliff. The animals were nowhere in sight, but two giants still in the thrall of fear ran down the road.
"Take them!" David commanded.
Bows, crossbows, and staff-slings were unlimbered, and a rain of missile hit the lead giant. Several good hits left him skidding on the crushed rock of the road. Targeting the second giant, the first salvo did little, but in the second salvo a sling bullet caught him in the side of the neck. Running full tilt he pitched off the road, falling forty feet to slam ponderously onto the switchback below. His momentum carried him off that ledge and he fell, unmoving, to the next switchback.
"Let's go back in." David commanded.
"Are you freaking nuts?" Bisonbit shouted. "We barely got out a alive!"
"And Trilla's hurt and can barely walk!" Jake added.
It took a minute but David calmed everyone down. "We hide Trilla in the alcove at the entrance, go down to the throne room, and blast whatever is there. They are hurt but will heal. If we can kill a few more that's less we'll face when we go in again. THEN we run."
Jake pounded his fists on his forehead in frustration. "ARGHHH!!!" He pounded his fists again. "That is such a stupid idea, but when you say it, it makes sense!"
Everyone turned to Bisonbit, the Voice of Reason in the party. "I hate to say it, but David is making sense." Shaking his head he continued, "When David is making sense it's always scary." Everyone, including the henchmen, nodded knowingly.
"OK. I can go invisible one last time. I'll scout down the corridor and then we can make a plan."
David invoked the spell that made him invisible and the party moved cautiously towards the entrance. There was no movement, no sound. The doors stood open as they had minutes before when the group exited the building. David rapped his knuckles lightly on the door and was gone. At least everyone assumed he was gone.
Moving as quickly as he dared, the solder/mage traversed the length of the corridor. Before he reached the corner he heard the clanking of giant armor and weapons, and shouting giant voices. Peering around the corner into the throne room he saw a small army of giants, most of whom were completely unwounded.
"OK," he thought. "Mission accomplished, time to leave." Giants could sometimes perceive invisible creatures and being noticed would be unfortunate. "At least briefly," David laughed to himself.
Moving with similar speed he vacated the area. As he got to the door Hisoka hissed, "Is that you?"
Wondering how Hisoka realized he was there, David hissed back, "Lots of giants. Time for Plan B, run like the wind!" Without further discussion Jake shouldered Trilla's limp form and they all trotted around the corner towards the back of the keep.
As they reached the first corner Hisoka stopped and cast a spell that none of the spell casters was familiar with. Their tracks, dimly visible in the dirt to an experience tracker, disappeared. Only tracks leading towards the switchback road remained. As they trotted to the back of the keep to the path they used to ascend the bluff, their tracks disappeared almost as soon as they made them.
Copyright 2013 Bryan Fazekas