The Journal of Talaelowar Ki'yik

Chapter One: An Unexpected Beginning.

On the Morn of Moonday, 5th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. This morning we unexpectedly are found by Nadem. We spent the night in the town of Enrobek, and I was persuading the innkeeper about taking food up to our room to break our fast, when I was called by a familiar voice.

Most unexpected.

Nadem has the most uncanny knack of turning up at unusual, if needed times. And more, he was actually looking for us! It seems we will not have to go hire-hunting after all. Nadem has already a venture lined up, and with the local baron, no less. Serendipitous fortune, our coming this way, looking for work suited to our… ah, talents.

Finally having received a grudging and reluctant assent, I took our food, and Nadem, up to our room. My creche-sib was using his cover-cloak to polish his blades. Two at a time. I clicked and chirruped amusement at him with the special rings on my fingers that make the sounds my voice cannot. He hates having to wear the enveloping thing. Keeps threatening to ‘accidentally’ cut the cloak to shreds while polishing his numerous bladed weapons.

He clacked a rude sound back at me. Nadem jokingly commented on the unlikeliness of being mistaken for intelligent beings with a language that sounds like that. It is good to be with our friend.

Nadem recounted the details. He had been working with two others for some time now. He met them shortly after we last parted ways. It seems that they are skilled and able individuals, and he is enthusiastic in his descriptions. It passes recently that many raids by giant-kin have occurred in the duchy, but only in this duchy.

In a typical example of the local politics, none of the neighboring barons are willing to send reinforcements lest they should be “weakened and suddenly attacked”. Those who have sent help… somewhat, have sent only token forces, and rather poor ones at that.

Chapter One: An Unexpected Beginning…

The duke, in short, looked to find some brave (that is, foolhardy) souls who are willing to track to the lair and beard the giant-kin in the den, so to speak. With the help of myself and my creche-sib, Nadem feels that we could accomplish this task.

Our share of the reward would be enough to see us far on our quest, if well rationed. The hope, the longing, the unseen end. Will it ever be fulfilled, the quest won? I feel auspicious tinglings concerning this opportunity. But I must consult with Pik before we tell Nadem yea or nae…

Chapter Two: Cloak and Blindfold…

On the Morn of Fireday, 5th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. I so value Pik’s wisdom. In his blunt and abrasive way, he asks questions that, quite frankly, would not occur to me until much too late. We now prepare to embark on our journey with Nadem, to meet with his friends. We, I, have high hopes for this venture.

Pik is grumbling as usual about having to cover himself from the prejudiced eyes of the common townsfolk. I remind him that I have to cover myself just as thoroughly, or suffer severe burns upon my sun-sensitive skin. I wonder, almost automatically, about my parents, and lost history. Even the ever present ache of the past only passingly impresses itself upon my consciousness.

I hope that Nadem’s friends are not adverse to working at night. Binding my eyes with the transparent gauze that protects them from the achingly intense light of the bright summer’s day, I venture a complaint about the cheerful sunshine of the day, and receive several clacks of mandibles in return. Amusement.

Our preparations are nearly finished, I shall write more once we have spent a few days in some practice with our soon-to-be compatriots.

Chapter Three: The Meeting of the Members

On the eve of Metalday, 5th Month of the Year of the Emberhound.

It seems that the feeling of confidence almost invariably precedes a fall. Thus in the face of the feeling of confidence that Pik and I have been feeling as of late, I am wondering what we have missed.

We have met with Nadem’s friends. They seem most capable individuals. Our time spent training together has helped us to become known to each other. Indeed, the times of sharing about ourselves and our experiences in combat have done as much in that regard as our actual mock-combat sessions. My suggestions have been well regarded, always a pleasant feeling.

Nadem tends to defer to myself or Pik as he always has since our first meeting, but Sabriel and Gramblin are refreshingly outspoken. Yet, they too seem to defer a final decision to one of the two of us… I wonder just what tales Nadem has been spinning of us?

It is said that, ‘Worn yet well cared is better than new’. Sabriel is a warrior-priestess more practiced than most with a bow. She is also an accomplished wielder of Faith. The combination of the two is quite impressive. To say the least. Pray for her continued good graces.

Gramblin wields the traditional tool of his kind, the dual hammer-spike. But he is a specialist with a most unusual quarry: giant-kin. He is perhaps two-thirds my size, and I myself am somewhat short among either of my peoples. I marvel at his courage in facing such dangerous opponents as a matter of course.

And Nadem has grown in his abilities with since last we traveled together. We will never lack for warmth when he is about. Tomorrow we embark.

Chapter Four: Light and Dark…

During the course of Stoneday, 5th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. I am always faint in the strength of the day. As usual, we have found a place to rest, out of direct sunlight. Pik dances in the sun. The gracefulness of his leaping spinning turns tugs at my soul, so at odds with the normal jerking of his loping gait.

Even through the double thickness of the black gauze I must shield my eyes with my hand; the deadly glitter of his scimitars form dazzling patterns about him, til his form is nearly lost behind the blinding flashes of the quartet of silently singing blades.

In many ways, we are opposites, him and I. Child of the desert day, he; child of the desert night, I…

Chapter Five: Hidden Yearnings…

On the Morn of Fireday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. Starday passed in contemplative travel. On Moonday we met with the duke. He was not quite what I expected. He seemed more the harried bureaucrat, despite the armor.

Our appointment was squeezed in between some merchant factors and soldier’s reports. We were thanked for volunteering, told that unusual giant activity had been taking place in his duchy, and most oddly, not in any of the surrounding duchies. We are to investigate and if able, do something towards ending the threat to his duchy. Able to do something or not, he nonetheless expected a full and useful report on the results.

He issued us a voucher for ‘supplies, simple’, and sent us on our way. Scratch item off of list. One can certainly tell that he was once a man-at-arms and not overly trained in the art of the word. He handled us with words much as an inexpertly used weapon would be wildly swung. With lives so short, perhaps it is not so strange that humans spend so much time worrying about time, and scurrying about like small bugs to accomplish whatsoever they may.

Almost like Pik… living so briefly. He is already my fifth companion, and I, by the standards of our people, my first-kin at least, have not yet even managed achieved adulthood, despite having outlived so many of my first-kin brothers and sisters. My second-kin is another tale, given our relatively long multi-century life spans. In their eyes, I am but a stripling youth fresh from childhood, but of age to be an adult. The odd dichotomy of cultural differences.

Nevertheless, let me be not turned aside in this my desire!

If any way there is that can be found to lengthen this the lives of my people, my first-kin, that will I discover. I have not spoke of this even to Pik. Nor, indeed to any of my companions… not even to the elders of our tribe. I once asked one of my second-kin, about the lengthening of one’s natural span, but was answered only that it was a common folly of youth. Later, one of my other tutors, of what nature-lore such as exists among the petrified forests of my second-kin, commented that it was dangerous and unpredictable to alter something from its natural course, something seldom attempted by the wise, save in the face of extremity.

So it seems that my words traveled.

Perhaps in the process of learning how to do what I seek, I will also discover the wisdom of if and how to use such knowledge along the way. I returned to the wide sandy hills and plains of the desert and my first-kin later that month. In any case, focus on the here and now. Fortunately, the duke’s scouts have narrowed down the area where the giant’s lair was built. Neither desert nor stone forest, but rather a living forest, among the foothills of the mountains known for numerous tribes of the giant-kind, as well as many of the smaller tribes often dominated by the giant-kind.

A recently fashioned stronghold was found, and it is there that we will begin. I wonder what we will find.

Chapter Six: No Smoking Please…

On the Eve of Starday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. We have arrived nearly a half-days walk from the stronghold. Lord Mousehunter consented to scout out a site for us, finding as near to perfect a camp as we could hope for. Tucked away in the corner of a valley-rift, with a nearby stream hides our cave. And the cave now hides our supplies and horses. A rather tight fit at the mouth, but then it widens out nicely once inside. We will even be able to build a small fire, assuming we are careful with the wood.

A matter of politeness, perhaps, but we try to avoid using our friend Nadem, as a living campfire.

The rest of the evening passed in securing our camp, and scouting for any patrolling giants. Again, Lord Mousehunter proves her worth, finding a roving patrol heading into the stronghold. We now know the lay of the surrounding land. The forest has been cleared back to quite a distance around the fort. I think it would be best for us to take the next day in observing, and honing our basic strategy a little more. It is fortunate that we have learned to speak with each other, Lord Mousehunter and I. As the years go by, she grows more intellectual. I shouldn’t be surprised if she should challenge me to a game of Jar’nai one of these days. She brings news of the first hitch to our plans.

The giants keep a full pack of dire wolves in their outer courtyard. With night falling, we can now hear the occasional howl, despite the distance. The moons are waxing near full, tonight.

Chapter Seven: The Keen Edges of Meditation…

In the Afternoon of Moonday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. One of my least favorite things… waking to blinding sunlight, especially noonday sunlight, most especially after a hard night’s foray. Even with the forest canopy and comforting dimness of the cave, the light is intensely bright and painful to me. It would take me an hour or so to adjust, but my hunger triumphs over my painful reluctance. Eating blindfolded has it’s humorous aspects. Pik laid a sympathetic hand on my shoulder as I stumbled past in search of some food to break fast with.

He apparently guarded my waking absolution as well, as he caught me from behind preventing me from stumbling over an unseen root on my way back to the cave. I gratefully leaned upon him, reflecting on how fortunate I am to have such a brother, and how strange to find such compassion in an otherwise remorseless hunter. To him, the hunt, and the dance is nearly all. Weakness is more likely to arouse his hunting sense, and yet, he somehow finds compassion clouding the otherwise austere and stark perfection of his clear-sighted mind.

We apparently caused quite the stir amongst our new companions. I had not thought anything of it, and Nadem has seen our meditations before. It was not until I heard a gasp of indrawn breath that I was even aware that we had an audience. I think it was Sabriel. Much too high pitched for Gramblin. These thoughts drifted across the emptiness of my mediations like wispy clouds, briefly occluding the sun that is our dance together. I can glimpse the flashing blades even through the blindfold, as they flicker all around us. My movements slow and deliberate, a move here, a shift of stance there, as i slowly pace out the intricate patterns of the spring of power within. Pik steps through, past, and around my dance, a light-shattering whirlwind of steel and shell. Never once do we actually touch. Never once are we more than a couple of hand-span from each other. His lightning dance of death gracefully surrounds my solemn dance of power. As we end, i feel the flow of power welling upwards to fill me with potential. We stop suddenly, scimitars framing our forms in a window box of metal. I let loose a flicker of power; illumine a faerie ring of air which flows down our final form in a swift ripple, stirring the dust into a circle around us. A perfect melding of physical might and mental power.


Chapter Eight: Crouching Giants, Hidden Thri-Kreen…

In the Eve of Moonday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. We are now rested and fed; the time for our preparations is drawing near. I have now recovered sufficiently to relate the events of the preceding night. I had best set them down now, lest with the oncoming raid, they be pushed to forgetfulness.

We waited until deep dark lingering in the woods within view of, but hidden from, the giant’s stronghold. What an edifice it was! No mere split logs for the outer wall, but tree trunks entire! There is even a tower, squatish and ugly, despite it’s actual height. There appear to be sentries in the tower, but we have not seen them against the light in some time. I touch Pik and unleash some of my power upon him. He fades from sight. I hear the scuff of his claws as he leaps forward into a bounding run. When he reaches the base of the tower he will leap up to the wall and run up the rest of the way. The mind-force fragment embedded in his slippers allows him to literally run up the wall as if upon level ground. We wait tensely. After what seemed surely much too long, we see his spindly from in the window, flashing the light from his four blades in the prearranged signal.

It is a hurried crossing that we made. We know that the gates are closed, and the wolves inside… Yet one should not depend upon the fortunes of fate or luck. Not if one has a choice. We reached the tower base and soon the rope that Pik had carried slapped the rough wood besides my head. Gramblin and Sabriel made their way up, Nadem and I clung to the bottom as we are pulled up. Pik muttered something in our speech about being on the hunt, by which i took it to mean that someone has said something. As I am pulled into the room, I see the dead giants upon the floor; spilled tankards and heads loosened from shoulders. I reply, also in the tongue of my first-kin, that they cannot be faulted for having been raised in ignorance of the Way. Nadem proved himself, and he has vouched for them, so will they not likewise prove of worth? Sabriel called upon her faith, and draws around upon us a silence. It settled upon us like a shroud, as if drawn whole-cloth from an ancient sanctuary. I must admit I had always wondered why such places seemed so quiet. Now I know.

Deaf and mute, we made our way downstairs and into an entry hall. I take a moment to drew my own shroud around us, this one of the unseen mysteries. This one is less concentrated than the one I placed earlier upon Pik, more fragile. It is always a novel experience for me to see ourselves fade to a nigh transparent shadow of ourselves. We used some hand signs that Pik had taught everyone and arranged ourselves around a door. Before we can open it, it opened of itself! Some giants walked into the hall, and we scoot around to avoid them. As soon as the doors closed, we strike. The shroud of vision frayed and fell away, expended. I felt somewhat guilty at the unannounced attack, at first, but I soon recalled what these giants have done to the defenseless villages described by the Duke’s men-at-arms.

We quickly dispatch them, and dragged them into a shadowed corner. A short time later a few more giants appear, looking for the others. We deal with them in a manner like the first. We decide to retreat and leave the message time to be received. I take a rope in my hands and send my power along it’s length, seeking for a gap. A few moments and I feel a suitable one, and insert the rope into it, letting my power flow upwards, blossoming into a bubble between the warp and woof of the world. We climb upwards and disappear into the otherwhere bubble. Last of all, the rope was drawn in, and the interface rippled slightly as the rope end passed through. We were then sealed in. The surfaces of the bubble are slightly rough to the touch, somewhat near the texture of the rope which anchored into the misted grayness of the boundary. We settled back to wait and see what response the giants will make to our ‘message’.

Chapter Nine: Scouting and Counter-scouting…

If it were not such a serious business we were about, the shock and panic displayed by the giants would be almost comical. We watch as the bodies are carted away, and a search is commenced. Soon however, all thoughts of mirth fade away, as patrols in pairs begin to be seen; guards are stationed. These creatures are unexpectedly cunning, and quick to respond! In our experience, the lesser giant-kin tend towards brutality, and a disinterest in any but the most crude of social organizations. They barely cooperate with each other. These are acting more like trained armsmen, than typical giants. Gramblin in particular, is taking great pains in pointing out the atypical behaviors. We conference hurriedly and decide that we need to learn more.

Truth be told, we had not paid overly much attention to the claims of the duke that the giant raids had been highly organized and took only valuable and critical goods. We had thought that he was exaggerating his stories in order to hook us to his need, not realizing that we have our own reasons for attempting this foray. But now, we are witnessing it for ourselves. Something has affected these giants; we must learn what it is.

I draw forth a matrix rod, and send my power through it into a cloak upon Gramblin. The unique structure of the matrix will have the effect of lengthening the effects of my power beyond what i can accomplish for myself. The effect blooms out from him invisibly, as he fades to a transparent image of himself. We open the interface by touching the rope’s end to it, and Gramblin drops nimbly down to the floor, disappearing completely from our view as he does so. I quickly pull the rope back in, and we settle down to wait nervously.

The minutes crawl past, in a slow spiky progression. The occasional giant patrol passes by. Finally, Gramblin returns, heralded by a coin sudden appearing on the floor directly below us. We descend the rope to meet with Gramblin and hear his report. Pik is watchfully listening, eying the exits. I am taken by a sudden fancy and wander over to the front doors. Pulling out a scroll I lay a hand upon the doors, and reading the arcane symbols to guide my power, I weave power about the two door panels, binding them together. I smirk as I write upon the wall next to the doors, ‘you have been warned!’ in the blocky giantish letters, large enough for even them to see. Suddenly Lord Mousehunter stirs upon my shoulder and hoots softly in my ear. She has heard the approach of footsteps!

I hurry to the others and warn them. Sabriel and Gramblin begin climbing the rope as Nadem and I set fire to the doors to the hallway. That should slow them down. Swiftly we climb into the otherwhere bubble, and draw the rope in after us. Not a moment too soon! From the sudden appearance of smoke, a large amount of water must have been thrown onto the doors, for they open as we are frantically pulling in the rope. An entire squad, fully eight well armed giants enter the room and carefully scrutinize everything. After seeing the message on the wall, one runs out of the room. One of them even tries the door, but much to our surprise, does not attempt any violence upon the unmoving door. Any other giant would have tried to force the stubborn door open. Then that giant also runs out of the room. Reporting? To whom? Who is guiding these giants so skillfully? This is becoming more and more ominous.

Turning from the window portal, I see that Gramblin has taken out some parchment and quill and is inking a sketch of what he has seen. We had best find someway of reducing the combat ability of these giants, and fast. Giant prowess at combat with someone who has an obvious grasp of tactics and strategy, and the ability to get giants to actually cooperate and fight intelligently, is a danger of, forgive me-but i can’t resist, giant proportions.

Chapter Ten: Nothing Warms an Adventurer’s Heart Like a Little Vandalism…

There is a whole lower level which has been excavated! We pore over the features and listen attentively to the explanations which Gramblin has of his travels. Our worries about Gramblin’s long departure were, of course unfounded. The existence of the lower level forced him to extend his searching. There is too much to explore in a single night. After much discussion, we decide to destroy the armory that Gramblin found, and then retreat. Better to tackle the underground level when we are fresh. After all there are much fewer exits from down there than there are up here…

The strike on the armory went well. It is frightening how much destruction that we can invoke when we concentrate and overlap our efforts. Nadem is gleefully streaming jets of fire from his hands with abandon-it is not often that he has an opportunity to freely burn something. I am loosing my power in focused bursts of sound. I’m sure my throat will be raw after this…

We finish off with a combined flaming inferno from Nadem, myself, and Sabriel all striking out simultaneously with what mastery of flame that we have. The resulting cataclysmic wave of heat sends us all reeling back, all except Nadem. He seem to revel in the heat. Seeing him stand there in the doorway, a dark silhouette against the ravening flames, brings on an atavistic shiver. But now Lord Mousehunter informs me that more feet are approaching, many many feet. We flee up the tower stairs, surprising a giant coming down. He barely has time to draw breath, when Gramblin strikes with his hook-hammer, Nadem with his greatsword, and Pik with his multiple scimitar. The giant falls over dead, his cry stillborn. Sabriel and I do not even have to break stride in climbing the stairs. Hurrying down the rope is probably the hardest part of this venture, I am not the most athletic of individuals.

In haste, I summon the remaining tatters of my power and draw over us a cloak of obscurement, though it is not strictly needed given the darkness of the deep of the night. I am not fond of being shot at, let alone when the objects being shot are small boulders, rather than arrows. Discretion and valor. We make it safely away and I lead the way back towards camp. Gramblin and Pik both have some facility for seeing in the dark, but neither can match my ability. I have always been proficient at seeing through all but magically created regions of darkness, and my vision pierces the dark much further than any other I know.

So now, I weary, and must enter the trance which passes for sleep among my second-kin. Sleep has never come easy for me. Despite my second-kin’s assurances to the contrary, the same problems trouble me in the meditative state as well. All to frequently, full rest fails to find me. I find that I must drink a fortifying potion more often than not, simply to find a night’s rest. Yet another puzzle in which I seem to defy the norm, will it or no. I fervently hope for the nights rest; facing the burning, blinding orb of the heavens after a poor night’s passing, is almost more than I can bear.

Chapter Eleven: By the Hairs of Their Chins…

In the Afternoon of Fireday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. We have discussed our next move. Now that we have left the stronghold, they will be vigilant. It is decided that we will use a very powerful sleeping magic upon the meat that we hope to obtain and circumvent the wolves without slaying them. Those of us with skill at hunting, such as Pik, are out securing the materials we will need. On the off chance that these are of the greater breeds of wolven-kind, we have a backup plan. We will open a gate, and attempt to frighten the rest off. Gramblin noticed that there is a courtyard of sorts inside the wall, it is here that the wolves stay when not out roaming the woods. There is a couple of rooms built into the outer wall of the courtyard, separate from the rest of the compound. We suspect that these might be the quarters of the leader of the giants. Surely the information we need is to be found there, if anywhere. I will need to gather more wolvesbane to ensure that the wolves continue to be unable to track us to our lairing spot.

Chapter Twelve: The Shortest Route Between Two Wolves…

In the Eve of Fireday, 6th Month of the Year of the Emberhound. That or the Morning of Waterday… when we are inside of these otherwhere bubbles, I always lose track of time. Where did I leave off… oh, yes. Our plan with the wolves was successful. Mostly. Some stuffed themselves on the meat without falling victim to it’s hidden magic. Those we were able to frighten off with the backup spell that Sabriel had prepared for that possibility. We dragged the bodies outside of the gate, along with the meat, and shut it. The rooms in the outer wall which Gramblin had been unable to explore due to the wolves, proved to be a barracks of some sort. To our disappointment, we now will have to penetrate the main stronghold, without having first reduced the fighting population of giants. The barracks were empty.

We decide to take the shortest route of the two possible entries into the stronghold proper. I cloak us all with power spun to obscure us from the vision of others. I am getting quite good at it. Not nearly as easy as the molding of shadowstuff, but that has always come naturally to me. We enter and slip into the room closing the door behind us. Looking around, I decide that this room is less for quarters, than a room for planning. There is a large map drawn on a hide of the surrounding areas. What we find on the map is very alarming. Large areas have been marked and with a most un-giantish hand, in rather pretty calligraphic strokes, the words “not here” have been written. In giantish. Most strange. It outlines all of the neighboring duchies which have refused to help our duke. And in large letters, square upon our duke’s realm are the words “here”. Who is guiding these giants? Most certainly not a giant, if the writing is to be trusted, notwithstanding the reputation of the hill giant chief.

A most fortuitous discovery! Behind one hanging is a hidden door. We remove the map from it’s frame, and bundle it tightly so that it will fit into Sabriel’s enchanted bag. Behind the door is a landing with steps heading down into the darkness. And though I thought never to say it, bless the acquisitive gnome. Out of habit, he checks the pile of logs on the landing, and lo, we find some tubes underneath them, made of a thick hide. Inside one we delight in the instructions we find. Plans for the next raid! With these in hand, the duke will have proof enough to tip the scales with the other dukes, or perhaps even sufficient to send to the king. And the name it is signed with. Not like any Elvish name I’ve ever heard, yet, it still seems strangely familiar. A further mystery.

Chapter Thirteen: The Illusion of Life…

Death is unpleasant. Near death is… nearly as unpleasant. And quite probably a good deal more painful. We quickly find a large room, but fortunately Gramblin was scouting ahead and discovered not only a secret door in the wall, but a trap in the entrance of the room. We decide to see what is worth trapping to protect it. He was able to disarm it safely. The room had a number of coffers on the far side, one of which was spilled over. All in all, a most suspicious setup if i’ve ever seen one. The whiff of some animal-like odor, and the occasional noise was hardly needed. I threw a copper at the pile of “treasure” and sure enough it was illusory. To my dismay, the far wall also contained an illusion. The revealed archway was filled with manticores! Hungry manticores! We soon were dodging the flights of spines and fighting for our lives. The sharp stabbing pain followed by reddish darkness indicated that I had moved too slowly.

The next thing I recall was waking to Sabriel’s healing ministrations. The psychic pain took much longer to fade. The body is slower to be convinced that it is healed, despite the finest of magical aid. The fire scorched and deeply cut bodies of the manticores indicated their eventual fate. Praise Nadem. Once we are all recovered, we explore beyond the archway. After Gramblin disables more traps in said arch. There is quite a lot of treasure, including some coins of an old make. Quite surprising actually. I wonder where the giants found them. Nobody makes electrum anymore. Speculating about that is sure to pester me for weeks now.

Considering the illusions, we think it worth the time to search this room more carefully. Our diligence, or rather, Gramblin’s skill is rewarded. A secret catch releases a section of wall to swing open. There is a small corridor with another door at it’s end. Scarcely do we enter and look around when it begins to open!!

Chapter Fourteen: Surprising Entries…

We are almost as startled as the giant who steps through the door. But we recover faster. He will never recover again. Unfortunately, he was accompanied by another giant and some bugbears: guards, slaves? They are armed, so I guess the former. The second giant begins calling for help as loudly as he can. More giants, more bugbears and even some massive apes, all come pouring into the room beyond. I gather my energies and begin unleashing sphere after sphere of flame. I am forced to spare some energy for shielding myself after a near miss. Pik dances. They are grass before the scythe of his scimitars. The deadly beauty of his twisting and twirling form belies the carnage he leaves at almost every step. Gramblin and Nadem are slower, but the heavy blows are no less fearsome. Sabriel picks and chooses her targets, striking where it will do the most good. A wise priestess, she, but no stranger to combat. A skillful archer indeed. Sabriel cries out. Some of them are fleeing. We dispatch the remaining foes, but cannot prevent the retreat. The alarm is surely sounded. We decide to hide again and wait to see what happens. We swiftly climb the rope and pull it in behind us. More giants and bugbears enter the room. This time it is fire giants. How many clans are involved in this? In the back of my mind, I continue to worry.

Chapter Fifteen: Freedom Rings Silently…

Sometime during the night of Waterday, 6th month of the Year of the Emberhound. I have been unable to write, so much has been happening. We waited til the guard had dwindled due to the search for us spreading out through the fortress. Then we emerged and attacked. But perhaps we were too soon. It seemed that every time we finished off one group another group was just one room over. Finally the leader of the bugbear guards we had been fighting surrenders. After all of the giants in the area were slain. I think it was the killing of the stone giants which interrupted our hasty negotiations which did the trick. Nadem immolating himself and that disturbing mask of his didn’t hurt our efforts to intimidate the more resistant underlings into submission.

We manage to get them out with the understanding that they make themselves scarce for a week. Sabriel sweetens the deal with some gold, and that finished off the last of the resistance. Waiting in the courtyard, shielded with my powers of obscuring vision, Gramblin does a quick run-about. He finds that the giants are very alert, and a massive hill giant accompanied by a cloud giant lead the search parties-in groups of four. Furthermore, he found some prisoners! That can’t be allowed. We plunge back into the stronghold, this time by the main stairs. We figure that they have caught on to our usage of the “secret” stairs.

The leader is much more canny than others of his kind. Even the main stairs were guarded. But as we travel silenced, the alarm gong that he was carrying becomes useless, and we swiftly remove their threat. We traveled directly to the prisoners area, and free them. Some required curing as they had apparently left their heads from captivity. We can’t bring ourselves to free the orcs at this time. Too many bad experiences with orcs. I’m not going to leave them there. (The heavens forefend that my first or second kin read that… Pik understands, but absolutely does not agree with me. Despite that even he won’t eat orc. After the successful conclusion of this foray, I will insure that they are released before we depart.) We manage to find a storeroom elsewhere with various equipment and foodstuffs. It would not be wise to hide where the orcs might reveal our location. As we cannot all fit in the pocket with the rope, we are forced to leave the rope hanging out, but well disguised with some other ropes in the storeroom. Using the smallest rope possible-well below the eye level of the average giant-will have to do. We kept a watch to insure our ability to rest.

Once we are able to talk with our liberated prisoners, we discover that one of them is a woman. An elfmaid of surpassing beauty, a singer to be exact. And like most of my second-kin, inclined towards affinity with arcane magics. For the first time since we began this expedition, i need to use the small magics that are necessary to make myself look like the others of my second-kin. The dead pale white of my skin, brightened to a more natural hue. The ruby eyes blurred to another color. The alabaster of my hair softened to more normal colors. I am somewhat amused at my almost instinctive desire to appear attractive to such a vision of grace and poise. But I cannot help it nonetheless. I just hope she has not yet mastered those magics of penetrating such minor deceptions. Perhaps it is due to being freed and restored to presence of mind, but even the humans have none of the reactions so common to their kind towards my first-kin, Pik. I am fortunate in that I am a curiosity, not a wholly different race. It would be much more difficult to disguise Pik effectively, for example.

One human is an engineer, the other a merchant. During the course of our conversations, an idea takes me. I take aside some of the others to discuss it, and they like the idea, each for their various reasons, but it is a good idea nonetheless. I won’t share Pik’s assessment with them. Not too many would understand that he meant, “breeding the herd for future culling and insuring the food supply” in the light in which it was meant. It is agreed and decided that we shall escort them back to the nearest town. Of course, that was never in question. But, we shall also supply them with sufficient monies to see them back from that town to their homes. We also supply them with clothing from our spares. They are so grateful that they pledge their services to us whenever we might have future need. Having a merchant ally will be most beneficial, especially in the way of contacts for when we need to purchase or sell unusual items. The elf maiden insists instead that she will accompany us, claiming life-right. The old custom… I had not thought to find one who would invoke it in this day and age, most charmingly antiquated. She binds herself to fealty to Gramblin, the one who freed her specifically. We cannot do but to accept, but we need her armed. We found her sword and spellbook among the bugbears abandoned possessions, but she is going to need armor and materials for her arcane abilities. Sabriel will escort them personally to the town while we continue to harry and weaken the giants here. Then she and Arielle will return to join us. A diversion should do the trick of getting the four of them out. But for now rest.

Chapter Sixteen: That One Time You Make a Fateful Mistake, and They Never Let You Forget It… (or, Why I am Never, Ever, EVER, Allowed To Stand Watch Alone Again!)

A fierce fight ensued in the main cavern-room in the lower level. We hid Sabriel and the other three with sight obscuring magic, and had them wait in the corners of turns of the main staircase. We hid ourselves likewise and rang the alarm gong we found with some of the guards loudly. Some appropriate shouting in Giantish and a clever illusion of combat down one of the hallways completed our trap.

As expected, some giants came rushing down the stairs and into our fell into our trap nicely. Then, some more unexpected giants came rushing down the stairs afterwards, in hindsight, after a cautious pause. Then some completely unexpected fire giants came out of one of the side passages! Now being surrounded, we fight our way through the giants in our “trap”, and I hurriedly wrap ourselves in the obscuring magics again. We find it prudent to retreat. Well, to be honest, flee.

After some quick twists and turns in the rough hewn passages, we find ourselves in the forge area. Many dwarves are chained to the various parts of the forge rooms, working on armor and weapons. Some swift negotiation along the lines of, “mutual enemies make us allies and we can hide you and free you…” and we are helping the dwarves to cut themselves free. We hide them in the otherwhere bubble at the end of a rope and then ourselves as well. Just in time!

We had barely pulled in the rope after us, than the fire giants returned. It was rather entertaining, as well as educational, listening to the cursing of the two giants as they reluctantly take up the work that they were forcing the poor dwarves to do. We let them get in stride and then blind-sided them. Once they are taken care of, we give the dwarves most of our rations, and a good portion of water-they have been shorted rations for all too long. Unfortunately, the latest battle was heard, and we are forced to hold off reinforcements as we finish the battle and provender the dwarves.

They are mightily puzzled about our mysterious disappearance. Let them search, they will not find us! A sudden movement outside the portal catches my eye. Seems like fog… or smoke? Maybe gas of some kind. It cannot hurt us in here, and we can outlast them, I’m certain. I glance over at the others. All asleep. There is nothing to worry about, so I will not awaken them.

Chapter Seventeen: The Cold Hand of Death… (or, My Animal Companion is a What?!?)

As I write this, my hand trembles. I glance about the camp, but my friends are mostly busy debating details of our next strike, the core ideas of which are settled. There is no one who will see the tremors. I had not thought to think of these traveling companions as friends, but what else can I call them now. None but a friend will forgive a mistake which threatens the lives of all. I did not warn the others when I saw the smoke, for smoke is what it was. If it were not for the dwarves’ able help, we might not have made it out of that forge.

The smoke did not clear. Instead, it grew ever more thick. Finally we were forced out, and I was barely able to manage to empower two more ropes to give us shelter as we worked out a response to our danger. Never had we been so poorly equipped to deal with a threat. After much discussion of our capabilities and options, the only way out seemed to be the flue for the forge. We discover that the entrance to the forge area had been blocked off with a pile of rock and dirt with a large amount of smoldering wood and broken furniture-the source of the smoke. The fire had all but gone out, due to a lack of fresh air. To our dismay, the flue proved to be too small to get far up it, and it did not seem to have any air flowing down it.

The leader of the dwarves, Ulap - I shudder to think what his opinion of us was, he was the only one of us with power over stone. With Sabriel away, there was none other with a strong connection to nature, or the divine. We had no other material or spell to accomplish the job, so we were forced to use the giant’s fat for grease. He breathed through dampened layers of cloth and wearing only what equipment carry enchantments that might help, and a minimal modesty required, plus giant’s blood. That nightmare journey is not one I ever care to repeat. The dreams are bad enough. Brave Ulap, shaped the natural flue into a wider, passable chute, complete with niches for hands and feet. He made it all the way up to the metal grating covering the top of the flue. Imagine our horror to discover that it had many boulders piled upon it!

There was enough air coming down the flue then to make the area immediately in front of it survivable. If we crawled, and covered our faces. But we were unable to think of any way of removing the pile of boulders on top of the flue grate. After much time, I was contacted by my frantically worried owl. Sabriel had returned early! Later we learned that she had felt a premonition and left Arielle to return to us on her own. After lengthy communication between myself and Mousehunter, we were able to convey through clever pantomime and scratchings in the dirt, our situation.

I am amazed at how much more like a person than an animal that Mousehunter has become. It seems that having the familial link between us has enabled him to poke around my mind, listening in on my thoughts, which in turn has altered his ways of thinking. (i informed him that his name was now Lord Mousehunter the Mighty, Ruler of the Night, Swift Silent Death from Above, and so forth, for his amazing acts of communication and insight; he informed me that it was about time I noticed, and that he was a she…) Amazing that all these years, and I never noticed. Serves me right for paying more attention to books than to her. I will look forward to getting to know her better, as a person.

Sabriel waited till the hours of the dawn, and then shrouded the guards in the tower with a silencing, followed swiftly with a barrier of blades to keep them pinned in the tower. Then she summoned some celestial allies, who agreed to move the majority of the boulders off of the grate. They would only stay a short time, but it was enough. We were waiting below and climbed as soon as Lord Mousehunter indicated that it was clear. Once we reached the top, I unleashed a blast of sound which pulverized the remaining rock and damaged the grating severely. I shaped my will into a sphere of pure force and launched it upwards. It ripped the grate and its collar clear from the surrounding rock, and also swept away much of the rock and dust. However, this exposed me directly to the morning sun. Agony! I closed my eyes against the burning and clambered out, and fell over onto my side, nearly at the feet of an investigating giant!

Sabriel had successfully led two giants off into chasing her, but apparently this one had decided to see if something was going to come out of the grate. Instinctively, I pull around myself the darkness and felt the thump of a club into the rock next to my head. I rolled away, eyes still smarting from the dawn’s stabbing light. Gramblin launched himself from the grate and successfully struck the giant. How in the darkness he managed that, i’ll never know. A deadly game of blindman’s bluff followed. As they moved away, I rolled back out of the darkness, protecting my eyes as best I could. I saw Sabriel sending flight after flight of arrows into the giants she had lured away, who were now running back towards us. I closed my eyes and bent my will to shaping the power within me and lay it like a blanket of mist upon the ground. And shout some preparatory bluffs in Giantish.

The ground took on the appearance of a field of lava. This frightened the two heading towards us into stopping. I heard a ripping sound and Nadem cried out. (Apparently, Nadem’s armor straps had caught on a projection left by the grating wreckage. He was freed by a hearty boost from the dwarf underneath him. Next I heard the giant’s death cry, and fall. Gramblin had prevailed again. There were much frantic imprecations and muffled dwarven oaths, the giant had fallen upon the opening. I plunged into the darkness and helped Nadem pull the giant’s body off. I then gathered up the remnants of my power and laid an enchantment of swiftness upon us all. We quickly climbed out and I led the dwarves away.

Nadem began casting bolts of flame at the giants. As I glanced around, I saw several more dead giants, and Pik and Sabriel flying about dodging boulders and generally keeping the giants from chasing us. Pik must have used his armor’s magic to fly. I had nearly forgotten about it. We had that done, ages ago. In the end, we all made it away safely, and insured that we were not followed. I am chagrined to think how close a call that was. If only I had not assumed that we were safe within our bubbles of otherwhere space.

Chapter Eighteen: Up on the Rooftop, the Party Pauses…

We are about to leave and attempt another foray. We have spent some time recovering from the nearly fatal trap we escaped. The dwarves have left, buoyed by a feast summoned by Sabriel. They would only accept a small amount of gold, but named us dwarf-friends. We shall find a warm welcome in their clan halls, if ever we should go that way. Arielle returned in good time, and enjoyed the feast with the dwarves. We have prepared well this time, and shall not fall prey to previous errors. The doors are surely well guarded, and the tower alert. But this time we shall enter a way they guard not, nor think about. Ironically, it was the flue which gave me the idea. We shall enter through the roof, via the smoke hole in their great hall.

Chapter Nineteen: the best laid plans of owl and humanoids…

In the Morning of Starday, 6th month of the Year of the Emberhound. It is an appropriate day to be writing of what has come to pass. So much has happened, and this is a day of reflection, reconnection with gods, nature, or ones inner-self; depending on personal beliefs. The wind is gentle, the camp sounds muted, the sun is warm, the stream’s babble is a gentle counterpoint to the wind.

We entered the stronghold through the smokehole on the roof, as I wrote earlier. We had a plan to raid the treasure room, as a further demonstration of our prowess, with an eye towards demoralizing the giants sufficiently for negotiations to be able to take place. Second in priority was to capture the head giant, if possible. Those ideal plans rapidly took a turn for the worse. It is truly said that, “an engagement with the opponent alters all pre-formed strategies”. We made it as far as the kitchen, and had dispatched the two guards by the stairs, when we were surprised by a roving guard of two more giants. After having dealt with them, we surprised two giants climbing up the stairs, and then another two at the bottom; who were busily piling boulders in front of the stairs. We had but entered the treasure room when we heard a large patrol approaching. I covered us with obscurement and we positioned ourselves for an attack, while hoping to escape sight unseen. A giantess used a wand which projected a disrupting magical influence. We would have succeed in our hopes for hiding, had not a cunning giant ordered her to use it again!

My obscurement was disrupted, and we were forced to attack. A fierce well-armored giant, a body guard perhaps, fell prey to Gramblin’s fierce attacks, the rest fled. We pulled the body into the room and closed the treasure room door. We gathered up the treasure and hid it in a pit trap, after Nadem burned off the poison on the stakes, and most of the stakes as well. We were hoping to fight a defensive battle, but the giants fled from us as soon as they saw us. It seemed that they were keeping tabs on our position. We decided to try to retreat through the other passage and find a better position, rather than try to retrace our steps.

But, of course, we scouted out the situation first. Gramblin was covered by a vision-obscuring exercise of power, and we awaited his return. And waited. And waited. Finally, we decided to seek him out and help him, as we had begun to fear the worst. Arielle was especially particular about this, as she was sworn to his service first, and the rest of us, second. Alas, we were found by a strong force of giants, including one towering cloud giant, and a dire bear. Sabriel formed a barrier of blades, and this split the giant’s forces into half. We moved to the attack, thinking that we could attack one group at a time. Nadem literally burst into flames, wreathed by a halo of flames, and frightened a fair number of the giants. Pik moved to attack a giant, who retreated to make room for some of the other giants to throw small boulders, and then the dire bear charged Pik and tackled him! The giantess used her wand again, disrupting the barrier. Now things were looking much for the worse. The separated giants waded into the combat, including the cloud giant.

I thrust my power into the bear, sapped it’s strength, which in turn enabled Pik to break free and get over to Sabriel. Arielle managed to kill the bear, and hurt another giant, but the giantess apparently figured out that Arielle had magic in her singing, and rushed into her, knocking her flat. Suddenly the cloud giant roared in pain, and a grinning Gramblin appeared near his feet. Unfortunately, in his rage, he lashed out at everything nearby. Which was me. There was a momentary glimpse of his club, huge, dirty, all manner of jagged objects stuck into it, and then everything went white, then black. I was later told that I flew across the room like a child’s rag doll, and knocked Sabriel over. At least she was able to promptly heal me. I think I would have been dead had it not been for that fortunate coincidence. Pik and Gramblin teamed up on the cloud giant, and despite some serious damage, they killed him quickly.

I regained consciousness in time to see Pik running along the wall, literally running on the wall, dancing and slicing with his blades the entire way. Amazing. Simply amazing. I have to wonder where he learned that trick. They don’t have a lot of walls out in the desert back home. Sabriel was slinging spells, and paralyzed a number of giants, Nadem was hacking at the giants pinning Arielle, Pik helping. The giants were soon thinking of retreating, but we prevailed and conquered. All told there are only three giants left who were capable of putting up a serious fight. None of the remaining females seem inclined to fight, and we would not willing harm the children. Arielle managed to enspell the males and they became most amenable to suggestion. We sent them off into the forest heading towards the wildlands, with the entire troop of females and children, and orders not to ever return. We also freed the remaining orcish slaves, and sent them off into the wilds as well, if in a different line of march, after warning them about the bugbears. With the stronghold now cleared, we searched the caverns beneath.

A band of formerly enslaved troglodytes were grateful to us for freeing them from their giantish overloards. After some discussion they offered us a single pick from a batch of unusual gems. In probing further, we discovered that these gems are sacred and considered holy artifacts. We treated the gem we have received with great respect, and decided to ask them to guard the gem that they have given us on our behalf, as they have up till now. This impressed them greatly and they tell us of some creatures which had been preying on them, which have stolen much of their non-sacred treasure. This would be ours if we can but rid them of those creatures. We also discovered that they owned these caverns, at least, before the giants did. The creatures were no trouble for us to dispatch, some giant reptiles of some sort, and some scavenging crawlers. They did, in fact, have some unusual treasures. We helped them reopen one of the original openings, and then blocked off the stairs with a stone seal. We impressed upon them that once we were gone that we could not be held accountable for the actions of others.

There was some news of ill report amidst all of the post-victory glory. We learned from the three giants we spared that a messenger was successfully dispatched to another fortress with descriptions of us, and that they were likely to be on the alert, watching and waiting for us. After some discussion we decided that it would be best to wait until some time has passed so as not to fall prey to a trap. Especially as the only means we have of getting to this stronghold was a mysterious artifact of unusual properties. It can apparently transport more than one person without harm to another location! Something which has not been heard of outside of the legends and tales of the ancient times. We were unsure of it and needed some time to study it, before assaying the venture.

Also, Pik and I discussed, and have found that we both felt alike in this thing. Surely a feeling which independently occurred to the both of us, nearly simultaneously, is a sign. We shall propose it to Nadem and Gramblin and Sabriel. If they agree, it would provide something to do before we attempt the artifact and the fortress beyond.

Chapter Twenty: Side Treks… where no humanoid has gone before… (or, Over An Hundred and Twenty Years Old, and I Still Can’t Drink or Vote!)

It is the dusk of Fireday, 7th month of the Year of the Emberhound. We travel in the cool of the dusk and dawn. As we leave my tribal homeland, I reflect upon the events of the last month. We sent messages to the Duke, upraising him of the finishing events, and our suspicions and intentions. We retained the peculiar enchanted chain, and sent our information by secured courier.

We had decided not to take the overland route. In the heat of summer, this would be most difficult for our companions. The journey by ship was mostly uneventful. Ship-sickness beset some of us, Gramblin and Sabriel most severely. I overcame it quickly-surprising myself. Nadem was deeply uncomfortable most of the time. Being surrounded by the element opposite his nature and inclination kept him on edge. Pik was mostly unaffected.

Once we made port and began our trek into the wilderness abutting our desert homeland, we successfully hunted numerous animals for gifts of food and for gifts of skins. It took a few days to find and catch up with our people. We were well received by our tribe. The many gifts we brought assured that. Pik and I were able to meet with many friends. Our stories were gladly heard, as was news of the surrounding lands we had passed through. Our companions found themselves celebrated and welcomed… especially after our announcement to adopt them as our clutch.

The ceremony was splendid. At last, I thought, I am about to be considered a full adult by my first-kin. Quick upon the heals of that satisfaction came the thought that it would be another century before I would be regarded as such by my second-kin. The differences between my short-lived first-kin, and long-lived second-kin yawn vast, at times. According to the ancient customs, a quest was laid upon me. It is not so often that such a thing is done these days. But in doing so, the elder has cunningly removed any remaining dissension concerning the legitimacy of my tribe-hood. Should I succeed in this endeavor, none will contest ever again. And it will become quite the story to be told around the clutch-fires.

The elders said that I have found my present, and are growing well into the future (and off-hand reference to my having outlived five, almost six, generations of tribal elders). I have been charged with discovering the secrets of my past. To that end, we have left the tribe, and headed into the desert to seek out the Deathhaunt Oasis. It is not taboo by our tribe, but there are others who impose a taboo on any who seek it.