The Heroes’ tale continues ! Follow Stu Stonewhisperer, Ulzu Linbin and Anastasia the Great Bear in their adventures trying to help the world fight the giants. Read the previous episode here, or go to the adventure’s index here.
Session 2 – Rescuing the lost villagers
“I can’t believe this just happened to Nightstone!” -my voice boomed like the roar of a bear. I am the bear. I wasn’t supposed to abandon Nightstone to its fate, but what can you do when the pack of wolves has cornered you like some weak sheep. I didn’t like the thought of getting back up and coming back to see what was left. But I had to quench that thirst… That thirst for blood that takes over me when I see injustice before my eyes.
“These are my lands!” -I shouted to the sky, holding a grudge at an invisible foe. The only thing on my mind right then was breaking that Xolkin’s skull. “To the cave north, the more time we take in getting there the more danger the villagers will be in” -we had to move now.
I started to check our surroundings looking for tracks we could follow. We found some prints quick, the villagers were in no way trying to hide their footprints. We took a couple of hours getting to the cave, the sun wasn’t going to set yet so we still had some time to go check the place. “Better if the guards stay with the farmers outside, we won’t take long.” -said Stu, evaluating our surroundings. He’s always been a smart dwarf. Sometimes I’d think he was too much brain and not that much muscle. He looked tough as a bull though, as most dwarfs do, but in truth he was as fragile as a fox, but without the swiftness. But I can’t deny he had balls, he was no coward. Nor was Ulzu, the little warrior. He had the heart of a lion in that small body of a hobbit. I’ve always liked to be noticed in combat, I am the combat. Being flanked by my two companions, who were considerably smaller than me, usually focused the enemies’ attention in me. And that was fine by me. When I fight, I care for nothing but the welfare of my people.
We went into the cave. The first thing we did after lighting some torches was noticing that some of the traces were not human. There were some big footprints, impossible for someone our size to fit those. I took some more time analyzing the zone and I discovered more than one set of big prints, plus the fact that the people were bound by their feet when going in there; you could notice there was a single line of people walking escorted by two bigger creatures in the front and the back. After a couple of minutes in the cave walking through a narrow tunnel, we got to a wider part of the cave, like a room. This seemed like the lair of a monster. There was a big pile of rock and mud in the center of the room. The smell was foul, we could see some bones on the ground.
The moment we got there, announcing our arrival with our torches’ light, we heard some laughter. The mocking laughter of goblins. They were on the sides of the room, standing on the top of some stalagmites, looking at us, ready to throw rocks and shoot their worn crossbows. We moved with the swift of the wind. I used my axe to tear apart the goblin’s rib cage on my right while Stu and Ulzu took care of a second misfit. Just when I thought this was going to be over soon, the big rock in the middle of the room moved. I turned at the right moment to witness how the big pile of mud showed a pair of arms and got to its feet. I had just enough time to react and ran to face the pile of mud which was now a very pissed ogre. “Where are the villagers!?” -I wasn’t really expecting an answer. The ogre started to scream in pain after I cut part of its arm. “Gram!! Intruders!” -it spoke in giant, and I was the only one who understood. I concentrated my efforts in distracting it from attacking the others. “It’s calling for help, be ready!” -I was hoping Gram would be a very strong goblin. Ulzu and Stu were about to help me when another ogre entered the place from the back. The new enemy was holding a huge piece of wood as a weapon; stupid ogres don’t even know how to hold a decent axe.
Before Gram could harm us in any way, Stu tapped his drum with a particular rhythm, said some magical words and the ogre was out of combat. It looked as if the ogre had his arms held to the ground by some chains only he could see, it screamed in anger and impotency, unable to come closer. That’s what you need when your strength isn’t enough to show who’s in charge: Magic. I’m not saying Stu is not a brave fighter but my means to immobilize foes is more old fashioned: I aim for their legs. I got busy with the first of them. I doubled my efforts so I could finish him off before the other one recovered, and I did. With a swing of my axe, I severed both my foe’s legs and the final blow to the head was quick. The other, Gram, didn’t put much of a challenge being surrounded by three of us.
We continued our search to the next parts of the cave and came across a big group of goblins. I noticed in an instant they were no warriors. It was the group of female goblins and a bunch of infants. They looked nervous and scared, I guessed they knew the others had failed in stopping us. They posed no threat to us so we didn’t think it was necessary to deal with them. I concentrated in following the human prints which lead further in the cave. We got to a cylindrical room, pitch black on top and the floor was full of guano. The missing villagers were there. There were about thirty five farmers, a dozen of children and a few guards (two of them were the ones we had sent the day before). They were bound from hands and feet, they were not gagged though. However the silence there was lapidary, like prey who had accepted their fate. When we had freed some of them I started to give orders at once: “Guards and adults, free the women and children, we leave now.” As we proceeded our steps, voice and armor made more sound than usual because of the echo. It wasn’t long for the bat swarm to fly away in fear, not before trying to bite us and scare us. I only had to roar in anger to let them know I was taking over now, this was my cave now and I had work to do. They all felt their hopes grow. We took some minutes to get out and join the others who reacted in tears and sobs when they saw their lost loved ones.
Morak Ur’Gray, a dwarf among the prisoners said he was the innkeeper in Nightstone. He seemed to be getting over the shock with more ease than the others. He told us how they were ambushed by goblins once the giants had left. Some people started to check if everybody was there. “Where’s Lady Velrosa? Our Lady?” -I heard someone ask. Ulzu was already stepping in to soften the news, talking about life and death and choices and things. – “Lady Velrosa died in the giants’ attack, she was crushed by stones.” –I said firmly. Ulzu looked at me with a reproving face. Some of them, mostly the women and children, cried and sobbed. Men looked worried for now there was no one to rule.
“Those blasted goblins! Damn mongrels!” -shouted Morak. “Lady Velrosa’s lady in waiting Daphne Featherstone isn’t with us” he continued. “On our way here the goblins had her go into another part of the cave, they said she was the golden prisoner. Who knows what they want to do with her, we have to go get her!” – Morak was right, there was a set of prints we didn’t follow in the cave because we were too busy with the others. I barely let Morak finish his sentence as I rushed back inside.
“Stay here and protect the villagers.” – Stu told the guards fit enough to fight. “Ulzu, let’s go!”. Back in the cave Ulzu started to analyze our odds. “It’s been quite a day, Great Bear. She might be alive, she might not. She might be hurt, or might as well not be. Tymora, Goddess of trickery, let this humble hobbit this poor woman’s luck see”. Ulzu was always calculating the probabilities for things to happen. He threw the spine of a small animal and the bones scattered on the floor. This was how he mingled with possible outcomes. He told us he had good readings about Daphne’s welfare.
As we went back inside we tracked the other prisoner thanks to other small goblin prints. We didn’t take long to find the right place. It wasn’t really pleasing to be there again and smell the humidity and rot of that place but we needed to find this woman Daphne. A few goblins were already waiting for us. They were armed but didn’t seem aggressive then. Their leader spoke: “We mean no harm. I’m Hark, do you wish to parley?” -said the goblin with a thick accent.
“I’m the negotiator here you cur!” -I replied. “We’re taking everyone out. Hand us the other prisoner, the girl! Do as I say NOW! Or you all die by my hand!” -I didn’t want him to think he had a choice.
“How about you keep the rest of the people. And you don’t have to pay for them, yeah? I keep only her, yeah?” -he didn’t seem convinced of his own words.
“No deal! We spared your women and children, don’t make me change my mind. Plus, we’re just here for the girl, the rest are already safe. You’re done Hark. This is your time to be the smartest goblin of the lot. You give me the girl, and find somewhere else to rob. If I hear of you near Nightstone again, I will come for you personally. Remember the Great Bear is the one who decimated your forces. That goes for all of you!” -I looked at each of them in the eye. They all were intimidated. Besides their leader, they all had I-hope-my-boss-takes-the-right-call faces.
“Fine… Take everyone.” -said Hark after a few seconds. “Bring the girl.” -he ordered. “We don’t bother your lands again Great Bear. No harm yeah?”.
“Smart fellow, Hark.” -I replied as two goblins pushed a scared young woman from the back. She looked pale and frightened but unharmed. She walked toward us with more confidence when she understood we were rescuing her. After the negotiations we left. I was the last to leave the room because I wanted to look back at Hark again. “I don’t believe in second chances, don’t make me come back here.” He just nodded.
The way back to Nightstone was calm and the villagers had some more time to rejoice and shake off that horrible experience. Once in the village we were all surprised to see the Zentharim were not there anymore. I guessed they didn’t think it wise to stay after they had lost some men and the place wasn’t really in optimal conditions to be defended. Morak Ur’Gray, the innkeeper, was still holding up better than the others and took command of the repairs to be done. He sheltered the injured and those who had lost their homes at the inn and the rest of the people, a little motivated by his attitude, started to work too.
Before going to bed and rest from this stressful day, Morak approached our camp and told us he had a job for us. He needed us to go to Bryn Shander, up north in the Icewind Dale. The task was to find Markham Southwell, the captain of the city guard, his brother, Semile Southwell, had perished in the giants attack and he wanted us to go deliver the news. He said he would give us a pair of horses and a cart. He told us the trip to Bryn Shander would take about thirty days and he also said he was going to provide us with rations and food for a month. We weren’t going to go back to Waterdeep now Nightstone had its people back, so we saw no reason not to help Morak. We went to bed thinking on our morning preparations.
It seemed mornings in Nightstone had a knack for surprises and uncalled for events. After breakfast, just when we were about to part north, we saw something approaching from the sky. As it came closer, it became evident it was actually a structure. Some villagers started to panic and shouted things like: ” The giants are back! We’re doomed! They’ve come to finish what they started!”. I immediately tried to calm them down so panic would not spread all over again, we didn’t want the whole village fleeing once more. I stood in the middle of crops, where the missing Nightstone used to be, I drew my axe and waited.
The flying tower was getting closer and closer, we all were ready for the worst, even if I didn’t stand a chance against giant boulders falling from above, I wasn’t going to back off and be a coward. I was still staring coldly at the tower as it stopped right on top of us, at about three hundred feet away. Stu and Ulzu were with me, looking up and expecting to fight. “I don’t know if we’re coming out of this alive Great Bear… giants? For Tymora’s sake I’m a hobbit! A hobbit!” -Ulzu was already messing with his chicken bones and stuff. Stu was preparing some magic to defend ourselves. By the moment Ulzu was finishing a set of cloudy white stairs sprouted from the tower and descended right beside us. They were shaped as a spiral with some misty cotton colored steps. Ulzu stared at the thrown bones and lines in the dirt he drew with a stick and, without saying a word, picked his stuff and started to climb the steps. Stu and me looked at him in complete awe, we could just assume his readings were positive, as improbable as it would seem. We went after him. Stu told the rest of the people to let us go check first.
It took a couple of minutes to get to the top. The steps were solid, but we left prints as if we were walking on sand, evidence of the unnatural stairs. Once together on top, we walked towards the great tower. It was a humongous structure of pure solid stone. I had never seen a place like this before. The top of the tower took the shape of a wizard’s hat. The main entrance was about thirty feet high and wide enough for two elephants to go through. It was open, leading to an enormous main hall, there wasn’t much furniture but for some torch holders too high to be lit by us and a really big chair facing the main door. The ceiling, or the absence of it, had a circled shaped opening, leading to the upper levels of the tower. We were wary for any sign of danger, however the place appeared to be empty.
We were already planning how to get to the second level when we heard a loud screech coming from the opening. By the moment we had turned to see, a gryphon was already landing next to us. It didn’t look aggressive nor curious, it was just there, staring with its big round eyes. Gryphons are magnificent beasts, but to tame one is a whole different matter. We had no intention no make it angry. Before we could decide what to do, a loud low voice came from upstairs: “Goldenbeak! Where did you go? I ain’t done playing with you” -it was a giant’s voice. The deep and guttural sounds of the giant tongue made the tower tremble in echo. The gryphon turned and screeched in reply as a giant descended from the hole.
We were ready for everything. I was ready to die if need be, but this giant wasn’t going to hurt these people more without me doing something about it. I was the only one who could communicate so I confronted him. “You have no business here giant, leave! Why have you attacked the people of Nightstone? Where is the Nightstone? Give it back!” -I was conscious those could have been my last words.
The giant came down looking for Goldenbeak, he was holding another gryphon in one of his arms. It looked as if he had a kitten, its legs folded, I could almost hear it purring. Stu had his hammer at hand but Ulzu, who had climbed the stairs with no worries, was curious to meet this individual. “Regardless of what you’ve said, ask him his name instead of shouting at him!” -Ulzu insisted. We were all staring up. He was as tall as a three stories inn, he looked old, and it wasn’t because of his snow white beard and hair but for his baldness. His face was wrinkled, and his pale blue eyes conveyed the wisdom of a wise man. He was wearing expensive linen clothes and a leather armor on them. Besides the gryphon being held like a kitten, he was barehanded.
“Name” –he said the giant in the common tongue. “My name is Zephyros, I’m a cloud giant” -he switched to giant then. I started to translate as fast as I could for Stu and Ulzu. “I’ve been expecting you. I’ve seen you in my readings. In my dreams. You are to take a part in the restoration of the Great Ordning, I know it, I’ve seen it. We giants were bound by this invisible, yet powerful force. It is meant to define our societies, however, now it is shattered.” – His voice was deep and loud. “I know who you are Great Bear Anastasia, Stu Stonewhisperer singer of tales and the small Hobbit, Ulzu Linbin, who’s always standing watch for future outcomes. You were meant to be here, just as you are meant to continue this journey”.
When I was done translating all we could think of was how lucky we were not having to fight him. But we were also taken aback and overwhelmed by his words. What was the meaning of all this? How could he know us? What’s going to happen now? Ugh… Now I’m starting to think like Ulzu…