Part I: Slip of the Tongue
Part II: Into the Jaws of a Trap
Part III: Where Are Our Playmates?
Part IV: Found Some Playmates
Part V: Dealing with Death
Part VI: The Champion of Cieldren!
Part VII: The Cost of Power
The party moved carefully on their way back to base camp. Hisoka scouted their back trail and arrived at the camp an hour after everyone else. "There is no sign of pursuit."
Jake dressed Trilla from her spare clothes and her weakness caused by the musk mostly dissipated after a few hours. The clerics healed the few remaining injuries as the group mulled how to proceed.
"Since there are no other entrances it looks like another frontal assault using invisibility and silence," commented David.
Jake snorted in disgust. "How many times is that going to work?"
"Every time until it doesn't," Bisonbit pointed out. "We need another strategy, but in this situation I have no other ideas."
Jake snorted again. "Yeah, true. And it will suck for us when it doesn't. Next time they'll have something nasty waiting."
"We may need to enter through the only entrance, but we can change tactics," Hisoka interjected. This was the first time she had commented on the party's goals and tactics. She wasn't even supposed to go in with them, she was their guide to the keep. They were all glad to have her.
"What if we use Spider Climb for a few of us to run along the ceiling of the entrance corridor? Their response will be against those on the floor."
"And how will we do that?" asked David.
"I can utilize three instances of Spider Climb, power that I got from the Fountain."
David look at their guide sharply. "What fountain?"
"The fountain in the temple ..." Hisoka trailed off. There was a gleam in David's eyes, and as she looked around the circle she saw dawning comprehension in all eyes. She shook her head and closed her eyes. Her form shimmered and grew, and in seconds there was no human woman sitting in the circle, it was a female ogre mage.
"Renki!" the group collectively gasped!
"That was not very bright of me, was it?" She looked at each in turn. "I spoke little to avoid making a mistake that one of you would catch, and of course when I spoke up I immediately did so." Note 4
She chuckled, a gravelly sound. "At this point it does not matter if my identity is a secret."
"Why ARE you here?" asked Bisonbit, suspicion strong in his voice.
"My people are aware of your mission. We have contacts within the human government, partially due to the fact that some of their spies on this continent are my people." Her face turned angry. "We were displeased that the humans sent you on this mission with so little support!"
Everyone leaned back away from her. An angry ogre mage is a frightening thing at close hand, even when one isn't the target of her anger.
"It was agreed that we would provide you with support, but there was much disagreement with the form our support would take."
She looked down. "My father is very displeased with me as I argued forcibly for direct support. He was more displeased that I selected myself to accompany you."
Gilden nodded knowingly. Ogre magi and dwarven clans had similar structure. Their beliefs in how to treat each other differed but the similarities were strong. "What did you say to your father to gain his agreement?"
"I owe you my life. Without your intervention I would have been tortured to death by the clerics of the Vile One. I could not permit another to make compensation for me."
Bisonbit realized there was more to it than that, but the others were accepting it. He decided not to press the issue then. Renki's contributions would be great and everyone valued her. There was no value in alienating her.
"What happened to the original guide?" Jake asked.
"Her?" Looking around at the expectant faces Renki realized her next words mattered greatly. "I used a couple of spells, one to read her surface thoughts and another to charm her, to gain her cooperation."
Her good mood returned and she chuckled her gravelly laugh again. "I suggested that she was weary of battle and should return home for a month's rest." It was clear that some of the group expected different words. Renki shrugged mentally. Her people cultivated a fierce reputation, which along with their magical abilities made up for their relatively few numbers in relation to the other intelligent, and not-so-intelligent races.
"There was no need to cause harm. A simple charm and a gentle suggestion did the needful."
From there the group moved into discussion of tactics. It was agreed that the use of invisibility, silence, and spider climb would be the best way to deal with the expected trap in the entrance to the keep.
They would rest for three days, which allowed time to make everyone invisible and regain full spells. The giants would set their trap and be fully vigilant ... for a couple of days. When no attack came their guard might be lowered.
Revealing Renki's identity was a gaff on my part. As Hisoka she spoke very little and kept her distance from the party. They, of course, didn't realize that was to avoid having them recognize her.
My mistake didn’t make any real difference, just a point of amusement for all of us.
Roped together, the party made their careful way up the trail onto the bluff behind the keep. Unable to see themselves or each other, the trip upward took nearly three times as long as the last trip down.
But the group planned for this and arrived at the top of the bluff an hour before dawn. They untied themselves and holding hands, walked carefully towards the front of the vast building. Trilla had volunteered to scout as she was the fastest runner.
Peering carefully around the corner lest a monster that can detect invisibility spot her, Trilla saw a dozen gnolls ranged in front of the closed doors. She moved back to where she left the others and reported her findings.
The group quickly agreed to continue with the plan. The gnolls were grouped is three clumps. There were probably supposed to be spread out but after a long night with no supervision they had clumped.
Gilden and Bisonbit called upon their gods' aid and placed a Silence spell upon a pair of copper pieces. Holding hands the party moved to the corner and then split up, all counting slowing to 60 as they moved into place behind their assigned targets.
David, eager for the fight, counted faster than everyone else. His magical long sword cleaved the back of his gnoll's skull, dropping him instantly.
Shocked by the abrupt death of one of their number at the hands of a human appearing suddenly in their midst, the other gnolls stared for a long second before more humans, a dwarf, and an ogre mage appeared, dropping another seven of their number. The shock induced paralysis held another second, the last second of life remaining to the gnolls. The party quickly dragged the bodies to the side.
Renki invoked the spider climb spell on herself, David, and Jake. The others readied themselves to open the huge doors.
Concentrating on the left door, even with Bisonbit's strength the door moved ponderously. As David, Renki, and Jake charged through the opening a vast TWANG/THUNK echoed down the hall. The only thing that saved the attack team was not being in the path.
As they started up the wall a huge ballista bolt swished through the space they would have been in and buried itself in the door, the iron head sticking out two feet on the other side of the door. The impact knocked the door fully open, pushing the openers back.
Three giantish Snowballs flew through the opening, one impacting on the door and the others flying beyond. The bulk of the door shield the party from most of the effects.
Gilden looked up at the iron ballista head just above his helm. "Another good reason to be a dwarf," he barked to his companions. If one of the humans had been in his place they'd have a much too large hole in their face.
One of the frost giants manning the ballistic started cranking the mechanism to load the next bolt. David and Renki stopped running and started casting. His darkness spell fell upon the giants a moment before her fireball impacted the ballistic in the midst of the giants.
Giant screams echoed through the keep. Jake ran along the ceiling above the darkness, then down a wall and dropped behind the darkness. A giant, his hair and cloak afire, stumbled from the darkness and into eternity as he met the enchanted dwarven blade.
Another stumbled out of the darkness, better prepared for battle than his dead brethren.
Arrows and sling bullets whizzed into the darkness, causing extra groans of pain. Renki and David ran down the wall and stopped in front of the darkness, waiting for giants to exit its inky blackness. Four frost giants fled the darkness as the clerics and henchmen arrived. The battle was short and brutal for the giants. Outside of a few bruises from dives to avoid giant swords, everyone was unharmed. Note 5
David dispelled his darkness and Jake appeared, standing next to a pair of rather large corpses.
Translating the abstract battle mechanics of AD&D into fiction takes a lot of judgment calls. Hit points for PCs mostly represent endurance, skill, luck, etc. Very little of it, especially for name level characters, is physical strength.
In a lot of cases the party will have lost hit points but few enough that I do not treat it as serious physical damage. So I describe the hit point loss in other ways.
Looking around the party found ... nothing. No enemies. The throne room was empty. Listening carefully they heard nothing. No sounds of movement. Dead silence.
David was the first to speak. "THIS is really strange," he said softly.
"A really good trap?"
Trilla, Faraz, and Renki listened as the four Kerreans held a quiet discussion of the situation using fewer words than made sense.
"Forge on." Per usual, David recommended defeating the trap by springing it. "I can go invisible again and will scout." At a nodded assent from the others David made the mystic passes and sounds that all heard but could not remember a moment later. After a few seconds he disappeared into thin air.
Sliding carefully behind the tapestry that hid the southern passage David quietly scouted the hallway that led south. There he found that it turned east and went a short distance. To the east and west were doors, plus a third in the northern wall. He listened at each door but heard nothing.
As he surveyed the area it occurred to him that he had never used Cieldren's gift, the ability to transform fully into a dwarf for about 3 hours. While in dwarven form he had all natural dwarven abilities but could still cast spells. At least that was what Cieldren said.
That decided, he headed back to report his findings.
David lifted the tapestry and say the party in a circle, everyone facing outward. He very briefly thought of giving them a scare, but there wasn't a single person in the group who was safe to do that to. A vision of Faraz splitting him down the middle with a rather sharp scimitar crossed David's mind. Self preservation took priority over fun.
He called softly, letting them know he was back. A disciplined group, he entered the circle and as everyone kept watch he started his report.
David had spoke barely a dozen words when Trilla cried out a warning. Ice and sleet blasted the party from the north. As everyone opened their eyes in the aftermath of the blast Trilla dashed forward.
A frost giant wizard had sneaked upon them, invisible, using their own trick against them. He materialized as his blast of icy sleet and snow jetted from his hands to envelop the party.
Brave as a lion, Trilla leaped into the air, spinning, the heel of her right foot slamming the giant with her full body weight in the lower belly just above his groin. He grunted in pain and punched at her several times. She evaded the first three but the fourth caught her in the chest. Note 6
Exhaling explosively Trilla moved with the energy, hitting the stone floor hard but rolling trice before halting herself. Struggling to her feet through the pain, she readied herself for more combat.
As Trilla charged the giant David said, "I'm changing," and focused his will on being a dwarf. Short even for a Sathean, the mage shrank only 2 inches but his shoulders and chest broadened to unhuman dimensions while his trim waist shrank even more. In a few seconds David was truly a dwarf, feeling the world around him with new sense.
Bisonbit saw David change. His outline shimmering as he changed. The revised figure looked like David, David as he would have been if born a dwarf. The broad Sathean nose narrowed a bit, his features took on that craggy, dwarven look, and his bronze skin lightened a shade. But he was recognizably David.
The party rained missile fire upon their attacker. In conjunction with Trilla's physical assault it gave the giant wizard impetus to retreat.
Disregarding his companions David gave chase to the giant. The corridor stretched easily one hundred feet to the north. At the end it formed a T with corridors east and west. And a LOT of gnolls, ogres, and frost giants ready to deal with interlopers.
Although I earned 1st Dan in Songahm Taekwondo and have various levels of training in hapkido, judo, weng chung, muy thai kick boxing, and a smattering of other styles - the past 7 years I've trained in Soo Bahk Do. I'm visualizing Trilla as a SBD practitioner, which uses the hip as the focus for most actions.
Practitioners of Soo Bahk Do, Tang Soo Do, traditional Taekwondo (non-Americanized), and similar styles can probably visualize the movements.
David hid behind one of the pillars that lined the center of this corridor as a storm of arrows, ballista bolts, and Giantish Snowballs filled the air. He ran back, ducking from pillar to pillar, avoiding most of the storm, but his adversary, the frost giant wizard, hit him with flashing green and yellow bolts of energy.
The mage winced as the bolts of force lanced into him, only to be absorbed by his Ring of Magic Missile Absorption. He felt the ring grow uncomfortably warm from the energy it absorbed, but it did its job. He could hear the goblinoid forces cautiously advancing. They were far too numerous to fight.
"I have to do this!" David thought. Stepping just far enough out of cover that he could see the end of the hallway, David began the mystical passes and chanting that conjured a wall of magical fire. Several arrows passed within inches of the mage, but his concentration held. The fire appeared a scant few feet in from of the nearest ogres.
The heat of the wall was fully directed away from David. The ogres shrieked in agony as their armor and weapons heated and their hair and clothing caught fire. "Just a matter of time until the wizard dispels it, if he can." David had counted the number of bolt of energy the enemy mage had sent his way. While it wasn't conclusive it appeared the frost giant wizard was less powerful than the human.
The others caught up to David as the shrieking ogres quieted, either because they could no longer scream or because they were out of hearing.
"We have about 10 minutes before the magic ends. I expected that wizard to dispel it. Looks like he can't do it so they'll have to retreat out of range." Looking towards the wall he spotted a door in the western wall. "Let's check what's in there before we have to retreat."
"We are in an enemy fortress with dozens of giants, ogres, and gnolls hoping to grind our bones into bread ... and you want to snoop in their closets???" Bisonbit looked disgusted.
"Just a quick look. If we don't find anything we move south and wait for the fire to end."
Yet another of David's foolish ideas seemed like a good idea. The others shrugged and nodded assent. Leaving Trilla and Faraz to watch the wall of fire, the others entered the room beyond the door.
They found a good sized room, large for humans, cozy for giants. The room was a barracks for gnolls, with beds sized for their 7 foot height. Oddly enough it looked neater than expected. Two doors opened into what looked like living quarters for a smaller creature, maybe a human. "Maybe that dwarf we saw," wondered Gilden.
Gilden was a clan dwarf, a member of the Clan Gilderlo. He had met a number of non-clan dwarves over the years, typically those who had been exiled for crimes against their clan. Exile was the worst punishment that could be levied against a clan dwarf, although any dwarf considered to be a physical risk to others might be executed, but that was rare. Most exiles were repentant, but some were serious hard cases. Gilden had difficulty believing even the worst of them would willingly serve giants.
Exiting back into the corridor, the wall of fire was still there. Moving quickly back to the throne room they checked the southern corridor. Empty. Checking the western door they found the quarters of, presumably, the frost giant queen and her ladies. Either that or the king was into large frilly dresses. A quick check discovered nothing of value.
Checking the northern door produced a barracks room. Again a quick search found nothing of value.
The room at the end of the eastern corridor? Another opulent room, definitely male in motif. The walls covered in tapestries, all showing scenes of a single frost giant in victorious combat against a large variety of foes. But nothing of any real value.
David reviewed the rough map they'd had been creating. "Let's search in the north east corner. If there are any secrets they may be there.
In just a couple of minutes Faraz found a rough patch of wall with a hairline crack around it. He pushed and the entire wall hinged inward. A rough tunnel, narrow for a frost giant, led north. Following normal protocol, Jake held the door open while Faraz checked inside for a matching release. It wasn't disguised as well as that on the outside so he found it immediately.
Moving in single file with Jake at the head, the group entered the tunnel and closed the door behind them. The light from drawn magical blades illuminated the rough tunnel. Renki could walk upright but a taller frost or fire giant would have to hunch slightly to protect their head.
The tunnel curved to the west and ended in a rough stone wall. Jake easily found the release. Everyone sheathed their blades and Jake cracked the door as little as he could. A sliver of light illuminated the sheer blackness of the tunnel.
"Throne room, looks like this is where the king vanished into the first time we attacked," the sturdy soldier whispered.
"Close the door," David hissed. "I bet there's another secret door back at the bend."
As everyone drew their blades Bisonbit's face showed his typical irritation with David. "WHY is there a secret door there?"
"Because we haven't found any of the king's personal treasure and that is where *I* would put a secret door."
Bisonbit tried to reply, but the logic of David's reasoning actually made sense. "OK, let's look."
This one took a lot longer to find. Everyone was willing to admit defeat but David pressed to continue. "Just another pass over this wall," he wheedled.
Faraz found this one as well, a slight protrusion just above the floor. A giant would have to kneel to reach it. The druid felt it move but it didn’t push in. Alerting everyone to what he found, the advice came pouring out of everyone's mouths. Bisonbit's advice proved best - Faraz pushed and rotated clockwise at the same time. A giant would have to put the tip of a finger against it to do it. But it worked.
The door, very narrow for a giant, opened upon blackness. "Make me invisible," Gilden insisted.
David asked, "Why?"
"Because I have infravision and can search without being seen. A secret inside a secret may have guard."
David tossed it around mentally and surveyed the group. Everyone agreed. As quietly as he could David make the mystical passes and uttered the bizarre words that were instantly forgotten, removing the dwarf from sight.
The cleric was gone for what seemed like ages but was only a few minutes. He returned, scuffing his feet lightly to let everyone know he was returning. Surprising a tense group of soldiers was not a key to longevity.
"There's something down there, snake-like body, lots of heads. I think there's 10, but can't be sure. It started sniffing around so I retreated."
Doing so quietly, the group started arguing about how to proceed. They were still arguing when blasts of fire lit the darkness. Trilla was closest to the fire and had no chance - her burned husk fell to the stone floor after absorbing most of the flame.
There were a number of large trunks, all wider than a tall man, taller and deeper than a dwarf. The first one had a well maintained lock on it. David retrieved a small pry bar from his pack and snapped the lock with some difficulty. It was a giant-made lock, after all. David, Gilden, and Renki moved to the other side of the cavern while Jake and Bisonbit got behind the trunk and lifted the lid. Nothing sprang out.
Bisonbit, being the tallest, peered carefully inside. "Silver coins," he reported. He checked the first chest, which stood about three feet high. It felt empty. "Help me carry this," he told David. The two carried the chest over to the first trunk.
Bisonbit carefully climbed on top of the chest while the others stepped way back. "Yeah, silver." Using a long, thin rod he gently probed the coins, finding nothing unexpected. He stepped down and moved the chest away from the trunk. "Let's turn it and tip it over." Bisonbit, Gilden, David, Jake, and Renki manhandled the trunk, spilling the contents toward the wall. Even with the five of them it took a great effort to tip it.
A cascade of silver coins cascaded out, splashing against the wall. "Looks like only silver," Jake commented. Taking the rod from Bisonbit he carefully checked the inside of the chest, and measure the height inside and out. "No false bottom," he reported.
The next trunk was also locked. After snapping the lock they discovered it was empty, no false bottoms. The third trunk was unlocked and filled with copper coins. Using the same method as with the first, they tipped the trunk over to spill the coins against a wall. In the bottom they discovered a small burlap sack holding a box containing eight necklaces sized for humans. All were made of platinum and gold, studded with precious stones. Bisonbit whistled as he examined them. "WOW. There's a small fortune here!" None of the party was particularly greedy, an odd lack in an adventuring group, but there was enough value here to make even the least greedy take notice.
When they opened trunk #4 blades lashed out. Anyone in front of the chest would have been filleted! The trunk was full of bales of silk, each bale dyed a different color. "That's good quality silk," commented Gilden. "Another small fortune!"
The next trunk contained an oddity – eight boards of unknown but brightly colored wood, each four feet long, eight inches wide, and two inches thick, one side inlaid with mother of pearl, each wrapped in a soft cloth. "What is this?" asked David.
Bisonbit said, "Let me think." After twenty seconds or so he continued, "I recall there is a minor Pyung demi-god whose worshipers decorate her temples with carvings on some type of rare wood that is backed with mother of pearl. If I recall correctly her clerics, upon readying themselves to become high priests, must quest to locate the wood and bring a quantity of it back." He paused. "A fair number die in the attempt. Looks like the one who got this failed." Bisonbit did not seem awfully concerned, although to be fair, there was no love lost between the Anaxios and Pyung gods. Note 7
Trunk #6 contained a lot of electrum coins. Trunk #7 was a real find – twelve ivory tusks from unknown beasts. Each was quite heavy, probably two hundred lbs. They were un-carved so the value was hard to determine, but like the necklaces, silk, and wood – valuable. Grinning hugely, Jake stepped back to tell Faraz of the finds. His good mood evaporated when Trilla's body reminded him of the reality of the situation.
The last trunk proved the most dangerous. Jake and Bisonbit opened it from behind, but before Bisonbit cautiously peered in, he stopped. "Something isn't right, I heard something," he said, stepping down from the chest they used to examine the contents of each trunk. Taking the rod he normally used for probing contents, he waved it over the open trunk. A snake head appeared, snapping at the rod. As quickly as it appeared the snake head disappeared.
David immediately invoked magic to detect invisibility. Bisonbit waved the rod over the trunk again and David saw the snake lunge for the rod, while the others saw just a snake head appearing and disappearing in a flash. "Invisible snakes," David reported, "they appear when rising above the edge of the trunk. Triangular heads so you can bet they're poisonous!" Carefully stepping onto the chest he hefted his sword. "Bise," he asked, "do it again."
Because he could see the snake David was ready. The first two tries missed but the third one shortened the snake by 6 inches.
Jake asked, "How many more?"
"NO idea. A lot and they're all intertwined." He glanced at Bisonbit. "Let's keep doing it."
It took ten minutes but they finally killed all the snakes. Their reward, in a sack, was six brooches, all finely carved of gold and set with precious gems.
Gilden commented, "That's the last trunk. Onto the chests!" Surveying the remaining containers and then pointing to the one they used as a step, he ventured, "Start with this one?"
Seeing no argument he motioned everyone back and turned the chest to face a wall. There was no lock to he opened it. A loud hiss warned of danger, followed by a biliously yellow cloud. Everyone darted farther away but they were already clear of the cloud. After a minute it dissipated almost instantly.
The chest had been light, a reason why they chose it originally. Bisonbit checked for a false bottom, but nothing. "Makes no sense to trap an empty chest," Bisonbit commented. They checked it again but could find nothing of interest.
The next chest was heavy. After the lock was snapped everyone wondered why the giants had chosen to lock the rocks. A check of the chest and rocks turned up nothing of interest.
Chest #3 would have proven deadly had they opened it normally. A jet of black acid sprayed forth, dousing the wall. Certain minerals reacted to the acid, smoking and dissolving. Peering cautiously inside the chest was a stack of bone scroll tubes and at least a dozen potion bottles. Carefully extracting the items, they examined the scrolls first. Two were magic user scrolls, two were cleric scrolls, one was a druid scroll, and the remaining four were various protection scrolls.
Bisonbit, Gilden, and Faraz quickly determined that the cleric and druid scrolls were:
Cleric scroll (L25): Resist Cold, Hold Person, Cure Blindness, Sticks to Snakes, Holy Word. Note 8
Cleric scroll (L15): Invisibility to Undead, Find Traps, Cure Disease, Plane Shift, Heal.
Druid scroll (L14): Faerie Fire, Speak with Animals, Slow, Call Lightning, Hold Person, Animal Summoning II.
Each cleric listed the contents of the scroll they read. Bisonbit sadly shook his head. "Nothing here to help Trilla."
David chanted softly to invoke a spell that enabled him to read the two wizard scrolls:
MU scroll (L14): Plant Growth, Monsters Summoning III, Stone to Flesh.
MU scroll (L18): Force Cage, Wish.
"YOW!" he exclaimed! "This one has a Wish spell inscribed on it!!!" He danced in a circle. "I can read it and restore Trilla!"
Jake literally jumped for joy! He grabbed at David and then pulled back in horror, fear of damaging the scroll in his eyes. Tucking his hands behind his back he stepped away. "Cast it!" he commanded.
"Not yet. Let's see what's in the remainder of these chests. We may need it for more than Trilla."
Clearly unhappy at the delay, Jake nodded. He understood David's point. They checked the remaining scrolls and found: Protection from Edged Weapons, Protection from Paralyzation, Protection from Dragon Breath Weapon, Protection from Electricity.
Next they checked the fifteen potions. One was an oil of unknown effect. Two were Healing potions, the honey/peppermint/black pepper aroma clearly identifying them. The remainder were unknown and would require testing. They carefully distributed the potions among all the packs.
Staying clear of the acid pooling along the one wall, they positioned the next chest, a heavy one, towards that wall. Using the normal technique Jake opened the chest and was rewarded by a spray of sharp spikes flying upward and forward, embedding themselves in the hard rock. "Good thing no one was in the way. Bisonbit probed the chest and found gold coins. LOTS of gold coins! Tipping the chest in an area not covered in acid, they found nothing else in the chest.
The next chest was empty and the one after that contained a black cloak and knee high boots, sized for a human.
"That's all the chests. Now the coffers!" Gilden cackled.
Coffer #1 contained several small bags, hardly filling the space. Bisonbit probed for items, found nothing. As David reached inside to lift the bags fine needles fired from the corners, sticking in his skin. "OWWW!" he exclaimed as he yanked his hand out. Pulling the needles out he turned to the others. His eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed, corkscrewing to the stone floor.
"Poison!" Bisonbit yelped. Rushing to David's side he laid his spear on the stone floor and laid his hands upon his friend. Uttering a prayer to Demeter he channeled energy into the prone body. After thirty seconds David coughed and jerked his head up, slamming it back upon the hard stone floor. His hands went to cradle his sore head.
"Poison. You got needled. What do you remember?"
"Needles? Yeah, I remember needles. I pulled them out of my hand and ..."
David looked blankly up at Bisonbit. "And nothing. No idea. I must have passed out."
"You were on your way to see Demeter in person. We got lucky."
"Yeah. Who hit me on the head?"
"The floor," Bisonbit deadpanned.
Jake waved a gauntleted hand in the chest. "Nothing. Guess you had all the fun." Reaching in, he extracted the bags which were heavy for their size. "Gold, I guess." In the bags were gold rings, mostly set with less expensive stones. Nothing really valuable, but enough to keep them fed for a few months. Assuming they did nothing else.
The remaining four coffers contained no traps. One contained a good quantity of platinum coins, another was filled with valuables spices, the third contained strange idols each about 1' tall, and the last contained a lot of junk gems.
They piled all the items together in the middle of the floor and David made motions with his hands that the others could not recall a second later, accompanied by the soft chanting of words that none could understand or remember. "All the scrolls are magical, as is the cloak and boots. Six of the rings were magical. Turning, he surveyed the contents of the room. "Ok, just the items I've already mentioned. None of the jewelry is magical, nor are the trunks and chests, nor the coins.
"How about Trilla?" Jake asked.
"Your wish is my command!" laughed David. Everyone groaned at the pun. With that he opened the scroll containing the Wish and reviewed the inscribed text. "OK, here goes!" The mage uttered the syllables in a language that was old when the world was new, and then spoke in clear Kerrean, "I wish that all of us in this location – Trilla, Faraz, Renki, Gilden, Bisonbit, Jake, and me – are restored to life, cured of all ills, and restored to full fighting ability."
All faces lit up instantly as the pains and aches of the recent days swept away from them. Trilla gave a gasp and screamed, "MONSTER!" as she rolled and hit a wall. Looking around at everyone looking at her, and seeing the monster gone, she shakily stood up. "What happened? There was that monster with all the heads, there was fire!" Plaintively she asked, "What happened?"
Jake put a brotherly arm around her. "You were horribly burned by the monster. We found a wizard scroll from which David cast a spell which healed all of our hurts. You're ok now."
I have two competing human pantheons in my campaign. The Anaxios are the "old gods", ones who were in existence prior to the Sack of the Northern kingdoms, a major war that extended to the gods, wiping out close to half of them. The Pyung are gods who have formed/ascended since then. The pantheons do not get along, and the Pyung also have little to do with the demi-human pantheons, either.
Although the DMG specifies that scroll are generally cast at a lower level, I set the casting level of each scroll according to need or whim. I find it amusing to hand out a Fireball cast at 25th level. This puts the MU in the position of determining when to use such a potent magic, and I've had cases where the scroll was lost due to a failed saving throw because the MU kept saving it for a more critical need.
The group collected the loot that was relatively light and easy to carry. Fortunately Gilden had a Portable Hole which made it possible to carry the more valuable coinage, but they still left behind statues and the like.
Hours had passed since their entrance into the keep. The giants were probably wondering where in the heck the party had gone.
"Maybe we can catch them by surprise," suggested Jake.
The others mulled that idea around. Even Bisonbit, the eternal pessimist, thought it had merit. "They can't have any idea where we are. This secret area is probably unknown to all but the king and his closest people, so they're not checking here. It was hard enough to find so they're probably not suspecting we're here."
"Let's go out through the secret door in the throne room and kick any butts we find!" suggested David. The soldier/mage was always one for direct action. Yes, he liked scouting first and getting the first licks in, but at the end of the day he loved action.
The others discussed it briefly. Surprise on the giants changed the odds tremendously. And the goal was to kill everything in the keep.
Gilden said, "Before we go, I have an idea." He took one of the incredibly valuable rings they found, a platinum band set with a ruby, cleaned an area of the floor with a cloth, and knelt down with the ring in front of him. He sank into a meditation that grew deeper and deeper. His breathing slowed to just a few breaths per minute.
Renki thought, "He's no longer here. What is he doing?"
Jake move to the entrance way and stood guard while the cleric prayed. Ten minutes passed, marked by a mild glow emitting from the ring. Over the next ten minutes the glow grew stronger and stronger until it was near blinding. Still the dwarven cleric knelt with his eyes closed, his hands upon his thighs, not moving, barely breathing.
The ring flashed like the midday sun and the light faded away. Renki could see the sun through eye lids screwed tightly shut. Gilden shook himself and his eyes opened. He picked up the ordinary looking ring and stood up. Peering intently he put the ring on the index finger of his right hand and vanished from sight.
Everyone jumped. A few moments later he re-appeared, the ring held in the left hand. "Great!" he smiled. "We've got a Ring of Invisibility for the next 24 hours."
Renki asked, "What happens then?"
"The ring fades away."
"That ring is worth 10,000 golden crowns. You sacrificed it?" Her voice was strangled.
"Gold is worth nothing to the dead." Gesturing at the remaining treasure he continued, "We are rich beyond any reasonable creature's wildest dreams. This may mean the difference between survival and death."
Renki glared at the dwarf, but her glare, which even Eldest Brother didn't want directed at him, failed to perturb the dwarf. "Shouldn't you have asked before doing that?"
He shrugged but before he could speak Jake interrupted. "We would all have agreed." He reached up and patted the woman on the shoulder. "Never fear, we'll score more loot."
Renki spotted Trilla and Faraz exchanging disbelieving glances, but the three humans and the dwarf paid absolutely no attention to the expenditure of a tremendous fortune. "These people are beyond belief," she thought. Then it occurred to her that in the privacy of her own mind she considered these aliens "people". "There is no way I could explain this to my family," she mused.
It was agreed that David would use the ring. His complete lack of anything resembling fear made him a good scout, while his battle skills and magic made him the best choice to make a solo disengagement if the situation required.
They sheathed their weapons and the corridor plunged into inky, palpable darkness. David carefully pressed the projection that opened the secret door and cracking it carefully, scanned the throne room. There were four groups of three frost giants each, the closest at the bottom of the dais, the farthest at the far end of the long room, guarding the entrance way and the north-west passage. One group guarded the northern passage in the middle of the room, while the final group guarded the southern corridor. No leaders were in evidence. Closing the door David briefed the others.
"Let's spread out and hit the closest group with spells and missile fire, then the next closest," David suggested.
Faraz demurred. "I've been wanting to use a Pyrotechnics spell, but everything we've fought has been close enough that the light would blind us, too. Can I use it on the far group?"
Please by his employee's idea, David assented, and looking around found no disagreement. Every group that could be delayed from battle was good.
"Some godly aid won't hurt, either," Bisonbit suggested. He and Gilden nodded to each other. The combined aid of their respective gods hampered enemy attacks and gave the party a bit of extra luck and agility in evading attacks, both physical and magical.
David, Renki, Faraz, Bisonbit, and Gilden prepared themselves for spell casting. Trilla readied her bow and six arrows, while Jake waited. He needed no preparation for this fight.
Bisonbit and Gilden rasped out the syllables that shaped the magic, the two spells not sounding identical even to David and Renki. "Same spell, different god, sounds different," David thought.
Jake felt different, lighter, if that made sense. Prayers to the chief dwarven god and to the human goddess of farmers and defense combined to ward the party. Note 9
Invisible, David led the way quietly out into the throne room. The others quickly arrayed themselves for battle, and Faraz, David, and Renki began their spells as quietly as they could. Intent on other things, the giants failed to notice the party in the gloomy and ill-lit throne room.
Twin Fireballs lanced into the midst of the closest group of giants, burning them horribly. Faraz's spell ignited a torch next to the farthest group of giants, flaring up bright enough to brightly illuminate the throne more than one hundred feet away. That group of giants screamed in pain and terror, and the next two groups turned sharply away from the light, shielding their eyes.
One of the burned giants turned to his attackers, his huge axe coming up as he began his charge. This one reacted fast, ready to strike down the invaders!
"CIELDREN!!!" rang out and echoed throughout the keep, the dwarven battle cry uttered from human lips. That lightning fast giant never even saw the tremendous hammer that crushed his rib cage, never realized that he had died for his king.
Bisonbit and Gilden whipped sling bullets into the other burned giants as Trilla thwipped a pair of arrows into the face of the one that looked least burned.
The clank of a lot of armor echoed down the northern corridor. Without missing a beat, David intoned the mystic syllables that cloaked the corridor in inky darkness that was proof against infravision. The giants guarding that corridor were plunged from bright light into darkness.
Renki followed suit by discharging a Lightning Bolt into the southern group. Missile fire dropped the remaining burned giants.
From the gloom cloaking the northern corridor strode four creatures, the like of which the mortal party had never seen nor imagined in their worst nightmare.
Take a human and strip away all vestiges of humanity other then general shape. Replace the arms and legs with black, rough, rubbery looking thick tentacles, replace the skin on the torso with identical skin, and replace the head with a blob resembling the body of an octopus. Where the mouth should have been was four short long tentacles, and the eyes held nothing remotely resembling humanity.
The mortal party froze.
"Join with me!" Cieldren's voice pealed inside Jake's head. The urgency scared him more than the creatures did. Anything that could cause a major god to act urgently was terrifying indeed!
Jake stood slightly in front of the others as he recovered the Hammer of Cieldren from his last throw. One instant Jake was catching the hammer and in the next instant - with no transition - stood there a dwarf. Shorter than Gilden, his shoulders broader, his waist narrower, that top heavy dwarven look so emphasized that Gilden appeared human in comparison.
Gilden looked upon his friend in shock. The new dwarf looked over his shoulder at them and Gilden realized it was still Jake - Jake if he had been born a dwarf. Not just any dwarf, but an elemental dwarf from that time 40,000 years ago when Cieldren had ascended to godhood. This is what his people looked like, like modern dwarves but different. Elemental the way the creatures of Elemental Chaos were.
Normally Jake was an ordinary looking human, shorter than the peoples of this world but always quietly confident, enough that bullies instinctively knew to pick a safer target. In battle he transformed, energy radiating off him like waves of heat.
Now? This Jake transcended the ordinary Jake, radiating power like a bonfire radiates heat and light.
Drunk with the power of a god, Jake turned back to the things and charged.
There is nothing special about the two clerics each casting Prayer, although that is a VERY nice boost for the party!
When throwing the Sword Jake could feel Cieldren's power, giving him extra power and guiding his hand for the blow. Now?
Cieldren was in his head. He shared thoughts with the god although he guessed he was shielded from most of it. It wasn't likely a mortal mind would survive more. Cieldren had no fighting ability than a five year old child. His powers were tremendous, but not in that area. Jake had all the fighting prowess, augmented by the power of a god. His head felt like a balloon and he believed he could do anything!
Jake charged the closest monster, stopping and putting his hips into the blow. It caught the blow on a tentacle and instead of chopping through it like it had numerous limbs, the sword cut the rubbery skin slightly and bounced off. Jake rained cuts on the creature, hitting it at all angles. As he did so the others moved in on him, clubbing him with their tentacles.
His armor rang as if beaten with hammers. Jake was jostled and bruised, fearing his armor would be caved in by the force of the blows. How he stayed on his feet he never knew.
But his rain of blows upon his initial target never ceased, and one made it through the tentacles and bit deeply into its neck. The thing collapsed like a bladder deflating and Jake turned to another.
Several tentacles rang on his helm and he realized that even with the power of a god he was going to die.
The others stood in shock as Jake pressed the battle. Seeing how difficult they were to slay, Bisonbit realized Jake was a dead man.
Swinging his pack off his back the cleric dug out the scroll he had found in the frost giant king's treasure room. Unfurling the scroll he scanned it for the right spell. The brief text said what he thought it did.
"Demeter, please help me do this right! Jake is dead if it fails!" he prayed silently.
The spell itself was a single word, a word of many syllables not designed for the human throat to utter. Bisonbit repeated it in his mind five times before he had any confidence he could do it correctly.
Girding himself he uttered this most Holy Word. Note 10
A blast of sound radiated out from him, washing over his companions with no effect but shattering the consciousness of the chaos beasts and the nearby giants. They all collapsed on the ground. Turning he realized Renki was down as well, but David caught her, his 5' 1" body nearly crushed by her 400 lb weight.
"KILL THEM WHILE WE CAN!" the cleric shouted as he dashed forward.
Never one slow in combat, Jake beheaded the first creature while Gilden played golf with his axe as the club and the next thing's neck as the ball. The rubbery flesh resisted his powerful axe, so he address the ball again. "If I was playing that would have gone 600 yards," he crowed, his words totally out of context to anything the others could understand.
David struggled from underneath Renki, laying her gently on the floor. Then he dispelled the magical darkness to reveal those giants stunned. The group divided forces and ended the lives of the stunned giants.
The blindness inflicted by Faraz on the last group of giants faded. David replaced it with a Fireball, burning the giants as horribly as he had the first group. The others plied with missile fire while Jake pounded the toughest looking one into a wall with a throw of the Hammer of Cieldren.
"Let's catch our breaths," David panted. Rapid spell casting had exhausted him, and catching a 400 lb ogre mage as she collapsed hadn't helped.
"My power is fading, I don't have long." Jake stated flatly. "Trilla, protect Renki. I'm going up the hallway." The tramp of armored figures echoed down the hall. Reinforcements were on the way.
"Faraz, help Trilla. We'll be back in a few minutes. If anything comes out of the far corridor, do the Pyrotechnics thing again!" David commanded as he chased Jake.
Gilden and Bisonbit looked at each other, laughed in black humor, and ran after the fools.
Around a slight corner Jake spotted at least two dozen ogres charging down the hall. At the sight of the single dwarven figure they roared and increased their rate to full speed.
The Champion of Cieldren cocked his sword behind his right ear and let fly. "CIELDRENNNNNN!!!!" echoed down the corridor like a dirge for the ogres.
The transformed hammer flew down the hall and impacted the lead ogre with a crash that threw them all off their stride. The victim blew backwards, shedding weapons, armor, and limbs as he went, bowling over the ogres behind him with his corpse.
Then Jake was among the ogres.
Battles are typically fought between relatively equal forces, with the victory going to the greater force with the best position, strategy, and tactics.
This wasn't battle. It was slaughter. One dwarf against a company of ogres - nothing mattered except the Champion was a fox let loose in a hen house.
Huge ogres screamed in terror, dropping weapons and scrambling over each other to escape Death. The Champion of Cieldren was among them, hacking down ogre after ogre, splashing the walls with blood. His armor dripping in gore the Champion massacred the traditional enemies of his people.
Gilden, Bisonbit, and David cleaned up the wounded, putting them out of their misery. There was little more they could do.
Then Jake ran out of ogres to kill. The few survivors of a crack company of ogres slammed into their reinforcements, causing confusion. Bisonbit took the opportunity to extract his Wand of Cold from the case at his belt. Uttering the command word he invoked an ice storm upon the hapless ogres. As the storm ended he could see few frozen in place but most had survived. Smiling grimly he triggered it again. When the storm ended less than a half dozen ogres survived to run away.
"After them!" screamed David, but as he started to run Jake groaned and collapsed. Note 11
"Bise!" David yelled, counting upon his childhood tutor and friend to care for Jake.
"He's horribly bruised over most of his body from the tentacles of those things. I don't think the ogres touched him. Looks like the blood is all theirs." He invoked the blessing of Demeter upon Jake and the worst bruises, especially those on the side of his face, faded. But he remained stubbornly out cold.
"Time to collect Renki, Trilla, and Faraz. I expect we've worn out our welcome," David suggested.
I didn't plan for the Holy Word. This is why I do NOT normally make things up at the table unless I have to. It's not that I can't do it, it's just that I make better choices when I prepare.
Not that it was a bad thing. This encounter was intended to be brutal, although I didn't expect Jake to charge alone.
But things worked out, although Renki was a bit miffed when she woke up.
What happened here? Did I go insane and give a PC the power of a god? What exactly did Cieldren grant Jake?
When the Champion of Cieldren invokes the power of the god, he temporarily gains three levels of experience with all benefits thereof (including another level of weapon specialization if appropriate), full heal, an extra 3d10 hit points, three points of strength, and an extra attack each round. When thrown the weapon inflicts triple damage instead of the normal double damage.
It's more than a Potion of Ultra-Heroism grants to a 10th level fighter, which is 3 levels plus 2d10+4 hit points. It's that plus a Heal plus a super Strength spell plus more.
The effect lasts 5d4 rounds and the wielder is unconscious for 3d6 turns following the end of the duration due to the strain upon their body.
Cool, huh? Even cooler is that Jake can use it at will. He can invoke the power ANY time he wants! This is a player's dream, eh?
Well ... not quite. When the duration ends the character has to roll system shock. If they make it they're unconscious, if not, they're dead. At this point Jake realizes the power could kill him and has no idea if he can be raised or resurrected. With a high constitution, it's a good risk, right?
Well ... at first. Each time he uses the power he subtracts one from his constitution for the purposes of the system shock roll. E.g., first time the roll is normal, the second time is Con-1, third time is Con-2, etc.
So yeah, it's usable at will but the odds of surviving drop each time it's used. Good trade-off.
Copyright 2013 Bryan Fazekas