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 3 – The Cloud Giant’s Tower
Of all the things I always thought about doing, facing a giant and having a chat with him was, with no reserve, the most incredible and improbable of them all. I’ve been a witness of many things, I’ve seen lots of different places, met many people, but never, ever had I lived to tell how a giant welcomed us to his house, gave us a place to stay and offered to help us go to Bryn Shander.
Zephyros wasn’t like the rest of the giants. He was calm and kind, he was a cloud giant. The Great Ordning had decided for cloud giants to be some of the most powerful, and Zephyros was. He knew how to handle magic and that’s how he knew about us. He had seen us in one of his astral dreams, asking the controversial forces of the universe about our role in the restoration process of the Great Ordning.
We really didn’t know what to think or say. Everything happened too fast to digest. And it was even more strange to see how this curious giant behaved. Apart from treating gryphons as kittens, which is odd enough by itself, he was a philosopher like me, taking into account every possible outcome. He, as me, was always talking and mumbling about the possibilities of things happening, about the several ways the future could thread itself. He was, by much, beyond my capabilities. He knew how to use meditation orbs and crystal balls as implements to have better readings. This was how he knew about our existence.
Zephyros let us make camp in the main hall after accepting to help us. He had told us he would take us to Bryn Shander and then leave because he said he couldn’t take any active role in our journey, explaining this was our destiny, seen in his visions. He also told us the trip would take about thirty days, just as much as it would traveling by cart. However, this way we were safe and free of any danger on the road. So the trip began, the calm and quiet skies didn’t seem to change our landscape, and a couple of days passed. Zephyros didn’t really come down often, he was usually busy on the other levels of his tower doing Tymora knows what. We spent our time processing everything that had happened and training, the Great Bear exercising, Stu would play his drums and try new illusion and deception effects, and I would just pray and analyze our odds.
After about a week of traveling we were growing bored and impatient, traveling the roads is more dangerous but we were certain we’d have something else to do like making and lifting camp every night or taking care of the horses. That makes your traveling days less monotonous. But Tymora likes to have fun with odds, and as always, the moment you settle and stop worrying is the right time for bad things to happen. We were just finishing our first meal of the day when we heard some noise outside the tower. We heard some voices and the screech of a large animal.
“Visitors? Thousands feet high? It seems we haven’t seen it all folks, Tymora never stops surprising me.” It was weird enough already to be in the situation we were in, it was about to get weirder though. The Great Bear had her own personal way of greeting people and had her axe ready, and Stu had a curious look on his face, as if waiting to see who it was before deciding what posture to take. We took some steps toward the entrance which led to the would be front yard of the tower. We stayed at the entrance.
Our visitors were nine people mounted on huge vultures. They were wearing leather armor and their vultures as well. What really identified these men was their masks. They were all hiding their faces behind a crow mask. I knew who these were. They were the Howling Hatred, a group of cultists with no good to do. I knew clearly they had no good intentions. They dismounted and came closer, and then stopped to speak with us.
“The Howling Hatred has come to slay the giant here and claim this tower! Don’t interfere, or else…” he was interrupted.
“Or else what?” Anastasia’s voice boomed with the echo from the room behind us, and Stu was doing his tricks too, to make her more intimidating.
Anastasia went on, “Your face behind a mask tells me you’re no true warrior. A true warrior never hides from danger.”
“You three will stop us? I won’t even bother. Men! Attack!” They started to move and try to get in. Stu and I moved back to find a better position but Anastasia stayed put. A few of them fought to make the Great Bear move at the entrance and the rest slipped from her sides and got inside, their leader shouted orders from outside the tower. This left Stu and me to handle about two crows each right beside our camp, inside. They had swords and daggers. I felt lucky to be clad in armor just like Stu, their attacks hardly dealt any damage. We heard some screams and grunts of pain as two Howling Hatred men lost their lives under the Great Bear’s axe. These men didn’t really know who they were messing with, I guess the Great Bear’s reputation hadn’t reached the skies back then. Their leader moved forward, pressing on Anastasia. She gave a few steps back so they would all be inside. By then Stu had crushed a man’s head with his hammer. On my side, well, if you know how to shape the fabrics of magic well enough you can make a person be influenced by it, and that’s what I did. I shouted a word, backed up by the power of my Goddess, and three of them dropped their weapons on the spot. Done that, Stu and Anastasia finished them up and their leader and the other two had no chance against us. It wasn’t a hard battle. They weren’t prepared and would not have lived either if they had faced Zephyros. I was sure of it. Or wasn’t I?
After the combat, Anastasia seemed upset. She was more silent than usual and had a grumpy face. “What’s troubling you Great Bear?” I asked.
“I’m confused,” she said, “Great warriors never fear, never back down. But Zephyros just watched. He’s a giant and he’s powerful, I know it. But he just watched.”
“What do you mean he just watched?” Stu said after hearing our conversation.
“He was looking at our fight from above, he was leaning on the edge of the hole as a boy who’s eavesdropping on someone and doesn’t want to be seen. I don’t understand. He behaves like an afraid elephant, unconscious that his size is more than enough to win,” she looked thoughtful.
“I don’t mind,” replied Stu, “we got them baddies and got them goodies,” he said this as he pulled the sachet of fairy dust out of the magical bag of holding, called like this for its incredible carrying capacity. Both the bag and the fairy dust where found on the Howling Hatred bodies.
“Still, it hurts my strong battle mind to think of this. Are we keeping those?” She pointed at the vultures waiting outside.
A couple had already flown away but others were still there, waiting for their former masters. Anastasia spent the rest of the day with those beasts and managed to control two of them. It was still a long way to get to Bryn Shander but she said they might be of use later. The rest flew back home.
We didn’t really have time or a chance to talk with Zephyros about his apparent lack of heroism. The only one who could communicate with him was Anastasia but she didn’t show any sign of interest in talking with him. She preferred to spend the time helping Stu handle a vulture as a mount. These were already familiarized with the concept of having a rider, but they still needed to know who that rider was. At the end of the day there wasn’t much to do besides that. We got rid of the bodies by throwing them over the edge. It was not like we had a better choice.
The next days Anastasia’s topics of conversation were strength and power, size and force, strengths and weaknesses, and such. She was very taken aback by the giant’s latest behavior. I tried to explain to her how everything can be possible, as much as it looks improbable. I told her about the way Zephyros treated the gryphons and how that was strange enough by itself. I tried to convince her that nothing should surprise her now that we had lived to tell the meeting of a cloud giant. I managed to cheer her up a little. Talking about probabilities always makes someone smile, as long as you’re considering the right odds.
And as improbable as it may be, we had more visitors on the last week of travel. But this time it was some serious matter. We were again minding our own business when we heard the roar of a monster. It wasn’t like a lion’s roar or anything. It was a monstrous roar, the roar you hear in your worst nightmares. The tower trembled in harmony, as if replying, just as something posed itself on it. We could hear the stone being scratched by big claws. Following this, the screech of gryphons was heard and we inferred they had flown away in fear. We grabbed our weapons and gear and stood in the hall looking up, thinking this time the giant was going to do its part. Nothing happened for about a minute. Then we heard some steps at the entrance. It was the sound of steel boots against the cold stone. Six dwarves, armored to their teeth, holding hammers and axes, were approaching.
I could tell instantly that the Great Bear wasn’t going to play brave with this bunch. They did look strong and prepared. And somehow, I already knew why they were here.
“In the name of Queen Daganbbet, I, Vodrik Firehammer have come to defeat this giant and destroy this tower. To protect the realms of men and the realm of Mirabar.”
Stu stepped in and spoke in dwarven. “I’m Stu Stonewhisperer, please, there is no need for violence, let’s talk and settle this diplomatically.” He tried to negotiate and he spoke for a minute. He was as good as a succubus with words, but these were dwarves just like him and weren’t buying it.
“We’ve received orders fellow dwarf, Stu. You can help if you wish, but don’t step in our way,” he said, as they moved forward and got into the building. We didn’t dare to draw our weapons and stop them there. We still didn’t know what had roared before the arrival of these men and besides, something inside us told us the giant was actually doing something this time. So we watched how the dwarves stepped inside and formed a circle around the hole in the ceiling.
“Hey giant! We’ve come for you! Show yourself!” No one answered.
The situation got to a point where the three of us were staring up just as our newcomers. For a minute there it felt like it was all of us along with the dwarves working together. But this wasn’t that timeline, this page was going to be written differently. The soldiers looked at their leader waiting for orders. He stared at the hole a little more and then answered their stare.
“Use the gas potions. Now.” He hadn’t finished his sentence when he was already opening a flask with a thick light blue liquid. His men did the same, and all at once, in front of our eyes, turned to sandy brown gas and floated up, towards the second level of the tower.
“Hah! I know tricks but that’s another level. All at once! Moradin’s beard!” Stu was still absorbing what had just happened. Anastasia tried to grab some of the dwarves, unsuccessfully, but I did have an idea.
“Stu, use the fairy dust! I read somewhere about it, if you’re lucky enough, Tymora shall decide, you might be granted with the gift of flying!” I knew that book about the Fey would come in handy, “For a short time,” I added when I saw Stu looking at the small leather bag as if it were golden dragon scales. His expression changed. He’s greedy as all dwarves but he’s got a shady past, which makes him greedier. I’m no one to judge though, he changed his odds and he’s doing good now. Is he?
Stu didn’t think twice about engulfing a dose of the dust. Anastasia was skeptical but seeing Stu separated from the floor was enough for her to believe and I did as them. Tymora was in our favor that day, for the three of us could fly. We followed the clouds of gas that had gone up, entering the main chamber, Zephyros’ room. The first thing someone notices going in a place like that is the incredible size of furniture and common objects such as a flower pot. The place was huge and it also had part of the ceiling gone, leaving a piece of the sky to be witnessed. But we had to focus our attention in the newly formed dwarves who were surrounding what appeared to be a giant crystal ball, floating twenty feet from the floor.
Zephyros was on his bed, sleeping. He did have timing this one… Tymora has always had a funny way of playing cards. And then we heard it again, the roar, but twice as louder. The mighty roar came from above, just as a massive reptile head made its way through the sky hole. It had silver gray scales and spines for a beard, fishlike cheek fins and pale baby blue eyes. The dragon evaluated the scene and roared again.
“It’s a dragon! They brought a silver dragon!” shouted the Great Bear. Stu and myself were overwhelmed by its presence and could just stare at it, in complete awe. The Great Bear wasn’t going to let herself be intimidated, not even by dragons one would say. She tried to approach the crystal ball while looking at the giant, expecting him to wake up due to the dragon’s welcome, (who was now just gone, and I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad.) But Zephyros appeared to be dead, unless he became deaf while sleeping. Two dwarves crossed their hammers against Anastasia’s axe, they knew how to fight and could hold her.
Vodrik Firehammer, the dwarf leader, shouted an order and the rest of his men drew crossbows and aimed them at the big sphere, the crystal ball. When they started to shoot and hit it, the tower trembled, as if the sphere was some kind of direction and flying mechanism. That brought Stu and me out of our stupor, and considering the situation Stu didn’t hesitate and blew his battle horn as loud as he could. He directed the sound to Zephyros, using magic to amplify the effect and cause a pseudo explosion just above Zephyros’ bed, causing a giant flower vase to shatter and smash the floor. All the commotion drew the soldiers’ attention for a second, and I took advantage from the distraction and helped the Great Bear with a protection spell, just as Zephyros finally woke up. Holding his head, hands against his ears, he said some words in giant and looked around. His eyes stopped in the dwarves messing up his flying tower. He got up and said some words in giant and one of the dwarves with a crossbow fell asleep. Vodrik gave orders to forget the sphere and concentrate on the giant. Those who had crossbows shot bolts. Stu tried to help Anastasia with the pair of hammers on her. I managed to paralyze one of the artillery with a common immobilizing spell, at the same time Zephyros shouted something and hit another soldier with a giant staff, however his attack didn’t seem to be very aggressive. Things seemed to be in our favor but we had forgotten one of our antagonists.
Vodrik called the dragon’s name. “Clarion! The giant!” The big draconic head made its way through the hole again. This time the dragon didn’t roar to intimidate us. Clarion took a deep breath, moving the neck inwards, to then extend it again to its full length and let a thick cloud of gray gas pour out of its mouth, directly at Zephyros. The could giant coughed loudly and then stopped moving. We were lost. Stu started to look at Anastasia trying to see a hint of a fall back order. I myself didn’t find a way of coming out of this.
“We should go my friends, it’s over!” I knew it was over.
“Don’t be a coward Ulzu, we got this!” shouted Anastasia, as she failed once more to land a decent blow. I’d never seen anyone last so long fighting her, which only confirmed my hypothesis of certain death if we stayed.
“Come on Great Bear, this is no time to be brave!” I said. Stu shared my opinion and started to retreat.
“We still have the effect of the fairy dust, let’s go Anastasia!” Stu said. He and I were already heading for the vultures, which were with our camp, on the lower level. We were about to fly into the hole from where we entered Zephyros’ room when Anastasia finally stopped fighting and retreated. The last thing we saw was Zephyros, in his immobile body, looking at us leave, he was awake and conscious but paralyzed. When we got to the first level of the tower, we decided it was better to grab just the essentials and leave the rest. Anastasia got on her ride and Stu and me shared the other one. We got to the edge of the supposed to be yard and flew away from the tower. I guess some times you just can’t win…
Half a second after the Great Bear made her mount stop mid-air so quick she almost fell. Good thing her strong legs held her weight.
“This is wrong! We must go back. I’m not a coward!” she said angry. One of those angry you don’t see often.
“Did you see those armors? Their leader didn’t even lift a finger against us!” I hadn’t noticed but Stu was right. That Vodrik just stood there shouting orders the whole time.
“Oh, oh and that’s the easy part,” he continued, “they had a… how should I put this so you understand? A dragon! Moradin’s forge! Hammer and anvil! We can’t go back. I like to live, I prefer that.” Stu was determined in not returning.
“You don’t understand!” Anastasia insisted, “we can’t leave him, he means no harm. When he attacked the dwarf with the staff he said “I don’t want to hurt the little people” You couldn’t know because I’m the only one who understood.” She was a bit more calm.
“Come on, we have to convince them. This giant is innocent, and he helped us expecting nothing in return. Stu, grow some balls and convince them!” She was right on that, and if we were to go back, diplomacy was our only way out.
“It might work!” I said, “We didn’t kill anybody, you never got to kill those two, you barely scratched them. I just paralyzed a soldier and Zephyros put another one to sleep before attacking with his staff, right when he said he didn’t want to hurt the little people and that’s why his attack was weak.” I nodded with my head, and analyzed the possible outcomes.
“You two are nuts you know that?” Stu replied, “however, I am too. And I’m not flying away from here alone. You’re my ticket to become famous and have renown all across Faerûn Great Bear so… Fine. I’ll do the talking. I’d better draw some inspiration first. Ulzu, grant me the luck of your goddess.” We were already flying back.
When we approached the tower we couldn’t see the dragon nearby. We entered by the hole on top of the structure. Two dwarves where lying on the ground and the others along with the leader where struggling to hold Zephyros still. He was already in chains and had arms and legs tied. We landed and the soldiers took defending positions.
“We mean no harm. We wish to parley Vodrik Firehammer.” Stu had already dismounted.
“Speak.” said Vodrik coldly.
“This giant, Zephyros, is a cloud giant. After the attack on Nightstone, this tower came floating on the village and sent a set of cloudy stairs for us to get here.”
“What does that have to do with my mission, Stu Stonewhisperer?” Vodrik inquired.
“Everything! Your mission was to get rid of evil giants destroying towns and pillaging entire settlements. This cloud giant invited us to his house. Gave us shelter and means to travel to our destination. He explained to us the reason for his race to become reckless and aggressive, and said we were destined to take part in this great event. He can foresee the future and tell what could be. He cared in helping us because he believes we might fix this. And you might believe this or not, but you cannot deny the fact that this cloud giant, Zephyros, wasn’t trying to hurt you. He said it just before hitting that man.” Stu pointed at such soldier, “You know well that if he’d wanted or desired, three quarters of your men would be dead. And I only see two big sleeping babies.” Stu waited for a second for his adversary to digest his words, but didn’t allow him a reply and went on.
“This said, you have two choices. The first, you get rid of an innocent giant, one of the few, or maybe the only one who hasn’t lost his shit, knowing it was an enemy who didn’t want to fight you. Stain your soldier’s code. And live with that choice for the rest of your life. Or second, you get rid of an innocent giant, who happened to be Zephyros, the reader, the teller and oracle. One of the essential pillars of knowledge and magic to restore the Great Ordning and bring peace to Faerûn again. Zephyros, paramount piece of the puzzle of destiny. You don’t want to mess with destiny Vodrik, or by all means do, and live with that choice for the rest of your life.” Stu had got him, he was speechless, time for the coup de grâce.
“So, you can make history here, Vodrik, the captain and his troops, who met Zephyros in person and took the right decision on the right day, causing the flow of things rest unchanged, indirectly participating in the heroic gesture of restoring the Great Ordning. You’ll be remembered, back in Mirabar, yes. Queen Dagnabbet will promote you, you’ll be rich. Or, you could take the wrong call and ruin the probabilities of finding greatness. We all seek greatness don’t we all?” This time Stu had outdone him. Even the other soldiers were lowering their weapons.
“I don’t know why I’m listening to you… But hell, you might be right. Never a giant held such a weak fight. First cloud giant I see and it’s the easiest of them all. You’re lucky I’ve got a weakness for gambling. If you say this giant has a role to play so be it. And if you as well, take part in this, I want you to remember us. And remember Vodrik Firehammer” I couldn’t believe my ears. Stu had done it.
“Deal. I’m glad we’ve come to terms.” Stu looked very serious, not showing signs of victory, “Would you care untying Zephyros please?” Vodrik’s men did so.
“You must be who they call the Great Bear of Waterdeep.” said Vodrik, walking a few steps towards her, “something tells me you were the one who convinced your lot to come back. It takes a lot of guts to face an enemy you’ve retreated from again. I shall remember you. Moradin guides you in your quest.” he said this as he and his men regrouped.
Zephyros got up and told Anastasia what appeared to be a thank you. “Clarion! Come get your men!” Zephyros spoke in draconian. Clarion met us on the first level just outside the entrance. This was were the Howling Hatred had their vultures land a fortnight ago. But Clarion did more than tripled those birds’ size, so he barely fitted. Clarion and Zephyros spoke for a little while. Unless Vodrik or any of the other dwarves, including Stu, spoke draconian, I was the only one who understood the most incredible conversation I will ever have the privilege to have witnessed. The dragon didn’t seem to fully agree with Zephyros but in the end they all left. The silver dragon took flight and the dwarves grabbed its talons. They disappeared in the horizon after a few minutes.
We spent the rest of the day talking with Zephyros with the help of Anastasia translating. He explained how his astral visions knock him out for hours or even days. He told us some of them and we shared some stories. He told us too that he knew we were coming back to save him, it was meant to be, he would say. At the end of the day we were back at the camp we had abandoned a few hours back.
“What did they talk about Ulzu?” – Stu inquired about Clarion and Zephyros’ conversation. “Zephyros told Clarion to tell Queen Dagnnabet about him. So they wouldn’t identify him as an enemy. From what I could tell, Clarion didn’t like the idea of letting Zephyros leave. He said the queen wouldn’t consider this as an accomplished job. I don’t know… Maybe that dragon owes the crown a favor.”
We talked about what happened and concluded we took the right decision. We couldn’t leave Zephyros like that. And besides, who knows, his visions might be true, and we could become key pieces of this epic journey.