Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 116

 Deep below the Steading a dank chamber was lit only by the dull embers of a dying fire. Its occupants lay dead in the vast chamber beyond, but the room still held their scent, thick and pungent. Two huge apes had laired within, pets to their master who shared the room. The musk they extruded fought against the stench of the giant's unwashed flesh.

The keeper, his name forgotten, had been a malformed wretch, but his hunched and distorted form had not hindered his great strength. Now the massive arms lay still, the flesh lifeless and corrupting, but a malign spirit burned within the rotting corpse. No prayer had been said, his body lay unhallowed and desecrated by the revolting orcs. Inside the body was a seed of undead life fed by an anger that kept the spirit of the keeper bound to the dungeon and the inanimate flesh. Suddenly the flame burst into life, a voice called to the keeper and he called back; A scream of pain, of loss, a hiss that crackled with fire. The power of the divine burnt it though the serpent was made of flame. A portion of it died, a limb cut off, the severed end came thrashing back and desperately sought another host. It felt the spirit of the malformed giant, felt the anger, the overwhelming hate. The serpent knew the call would be answered and lent the giant strength. Dead flesh moved, a red light burned within the cold staring eyes.

The keeper rose, he touched the gaping wounds, a swollen tongue ran across blue lips, a thumbless hand reached up and felt along the crack across his skull. The hand came back, granules of dried blood coating the fingertips. The keeper put them to his tongue, there was no taste, but he smiled anyway. The call came again. It sent shivers up his spine. The shivers turned into a rootwork of fire that traced a path across his nerves.

"Ardare..." the voice called to him. "Ardare..." it demanded.

"I am here," a sepulchered voice broke out, no lung or cord of muscle had made the sound. The fire that burned behind its eyes came from the spirit world, it was not fed by air or flesh; the keeper lived but was undead.

* * *

"What kind of monster is this?" asked Harold.

The halfling peered at a column sculpted in the shape of dozens of tiny creatures, each no more than two feet high. The stone was carved into a human shape, two arms, two legs, a head, but with baggy skin and a wrinkled scowling face. A bulging middle was set on spindly legs, a jowly chin on narrow shoulders; a pair of glaring eyes deep beneath beetled brows, behind a huge bulbous nose and framed by wide protruding ears.

"That is a type of gremlin," said Talberth, "A jermlaine."

"Vermin," Ivo said with some distaste.

"They certainly abide with rats, but it is said that they are distant cousins of the gnomish race," Talberth continued.

"Foul lies!" Ivo exclaimed. "They are cousin to rat and gremlin, not to gnome."

"An ugly beast," said Harold. "Is this their size?"

"Maybe they were bigger when these stones were carved," Talberth said, "but they are smaller now, some just half this size, no more than a foot tall."

"Look at all of these," Harold walked from column to column as they made their way to the center of the room, "That is an ettercap, a merchant I knew had a pair of them to guard his wealth. He kept them, and more importantly his treasure, in catacombs beneath his manor."

"They plague the Dim Forest, ally with spiders and the like." the ranger added. He'd gone on ahead, found the pit again, returned and now stood beside them. "They are skilled at setting traps and filled with poison."

Harold shuddered.

"All the pillars seem to be carved in the shape of monsters," said the ranger. "We could spend hours looking at them."

"These carvings are wonderfully done," Ivo said, "but we waste time, you are right Harald. Show us to this pit."

They passed by a dozen more of the columns, the creatures carven on them grew, from ettercaps to ogre's and trolls, then giants and as they neared the center of the room the columns were shaped into the form of great dragons, their forelegs raised, their heads down and their spread wings forming the vaulting roof. The power of Ivo's spell shone further than Harald's torch had done. They could see the top of the pillars and the roof of the vast hall. The apex of the ceiling was split, a center stone slipping from the grip of the adjoining rocks. Below, the cover of the pit had fractured and fallen down into a dark and bottomless shaft. Harald leaned over the crumbling edge and held the enchanted light above, it lit the sides and showed the walls of the shaft; dark openings could be seen, like the hollows of eyes in a fleshless skull. Four gaps were set some twenty feet down, each opposite the other like the points on a compass, but there was no floor,

"You think the gibberlings came from there?" asked Harold.

"Maybe, but their marks seem to be everywhere," the ranger bent and felt along the edge of the pit. "Just like the other..."

Ivo stood at the ranger's side. "We could climb this," he said looking at the grooves cut into the side of the shaft.

"Maybe. I wasn't able to check the entire chamber, there may be other doors or other pits," the ranger said.

"We could throw those gibberling down this hole," suggested Harold.

"If it didn't kill them they would just climb back up," said Ivo shaking his head. "This pit is an open door, I hate to leave it at our back but we need to see what else might be in this chamber. Talberth, the light on that torch will not last much longer, can you renew it?"

"I know the spell, but I do not have it prepared," Talberth told him. "Just light the torch, Harald do you have any more?"

"I do but I hate to waste them."

"No waste when there is need," said Ivo. "But I say we return to Telenstil. I want to hide the opening up above, make it appear that the ravine is choked with falling rock, keep the giants from doing such if they follow the gibberlings' path back to here."

"There are things I need to gather, wood for one, and I want to check our trail," said the ranger. "I will go back."

"Well I'm leaving the orcs here," said Talberth, then he thought for a moment. "No, I'll stay as well. These carvings interest me."

"I'll stay," Harold joined in. "I want to look around myself."

"Me too!" Little Rat spoke up cheerfully. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The wizard of the cave of Les Trois Freres

"The wizard of the cave of Les Trois Freres does a ritual dance high above a medley of animals of ancient times. His head is crowned with reindeer antlers; his ears are those of the wolf, and his face is bearded like a lion's. He has a horse's tail and bear paws. The wide and startling eyes appear to see not only the creatures gamboling beneath him but through the timeless space separating us from this paleolithic vision."

from Joseph Cambell I believe

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 115

The air was filled with a musky smell, Ivo's large nose twitched but his mind was deep within the stone. Dwarves could feel the weight of the hammer, the edge of the chisel, the grain of the wedge used to split the stone just by touching the seams between the blocks, or so it was said. Gnomes became part of the oerth, looked out from the stones. They saw the hammer as it struck, felt the crack as the rock split and the great loss as the one was broken into the many.

It was long ago that the stone before him had been cut and set. Ivo saw it as a swift flash, the years streaming backward in darkness till there was a brief explosion of light and movement, a stirring across its surface. The touch of passing hands, the drum of feet, it felt like the brush of an insect's wing. Then there was the rending, the shock of separation and back into the memory of a larger whole and timeless unhurried being.

"This place is old..." Ivo said aloud. He laughed, all that he had felt, a thousand years at least summed up into so small a word as old. "It has been empty for a very long time."

"Ivo," the thief called back to him, "we've cleared a path; can you cast that spell?"

"Spell? Ah yes," Ivo brought his mind back to the present and away from the ageless rock. "Light, we need some light. Hand me that torch."

The halfling complied and watched with interest as the gnome cast his spell.

"Hey!" said Little Rat. "Light coming, look!" he pointed back the way they'd come.

"That doesn't look like a torch," said Harold. "It must be a magic light."

The ranger watched the glimmer slowly approach. "Maybe a lantern," Harold thought aloud.

The gnome only half listened to them as he worked his spell. His hand traced a pattern on the wood and he mouthed the gnomish words that sent the magic forth. Light blazed from the torch's end twice as bright as it would have shone from a rag soaked in burning pitch. Harold shielded his eyes and reached out but the ranger plucked the torch from Ivo's hand and held it high above his head.

The light shined down and lit the hallway bright as day.

"It looks like Talberth and the orcs," said Harald.

"Do you see the others?" asked Ivo. It's hard to tell from here."

Harald peered down the hall, he tried to see past the young mage but there was no light beyond the glow on Talberth's chest. "I can't see, maybe they are coming after."

* * *

She breathed out and let the blessed water fall from its cup, pouring it out over Derue's wounded form. Time slowed to a crawl, the water shone like a stream of jewels, the light from the small fire she'd set nearby catching the droplets as they fell. There was a prayer in her mind, she'd thought it before the first word passed her lips and then she was above it all looking down. Her sight was beyond her body, outside of it but she was still inside. She felt the muscles in her hand as she turned the cup, the beating of her heart; she heard the stillness around her disturbed only by the harsh rasps of breath coming from Derue.

The droplets fell, one almost struck Derue but a shell of hellish red appeared around the scout. The water smoked and vanished in a flash of steam. A dozen droplets followed, they burnt like golden fire and ate the shield like hot water over ice. The red became a mouth, a serpent's head; the falling water lashed it with a hammer blow. The snake rose and twisted, the water formed into a rod, a gnarled cudgel. The fanged mouth reared back, the cudgel made of light smashed down, both splintered into a hundred fragments gleaming red and gold.

* * *

A fragment of light, a swirling spark of red meshed with gold shot toward her. Gytha recoiled but her body was down below, she had no eyes to blink, she was only spirit detached and formless. Time had slowed, the falling of the water, the battle between the serpent and the power of the saint, and the shower of gleaming sparks, they had moved like a falling leaf on a windless day. Time returned, the burning ember, the shard of evil and good came rushing up, it struck and she was seeing through her eyes again. A dozen fiery splinters stung her arms and face, the cup fell forgotten from her hand and she stumbled back, a small cry of shock and pain escaped her lips.

"Gytha!" Telenstil exclaimed, he had been watching her, standing back by Ghibelline who lay unconscious, healing as he slept.

Gytha clenched her hands and cleared her head. All her senses came flooding back, for an eternal moment she had been both spirit and flesh, now she had returned to just her purely mortal guise. There was a shock, a tingling that ran through her hands and feet as if lightning had struck nearby.

"Are you hurt?" Telenstil asked. He was by her side, she had stood frozen while he approached, but to her no time had passed. The moment that time had stretched and slowed had snapped back, she lost a few seconds in recompense.

"I'm fine," she said in a quavering voice. "Fine," Gytha pulled her shoulders back and squared them, steadied her voice and willed strength back into her limbs. "Now I must heal him." 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 114

Harold wandered back down the hall with Little Rat in tow. Ivo and the ranger had come along as well; the four walked to where the gibberlings carpeted the floor but went no further.

"What are we going to do with them?" asked Harold.

"We need do nothing for now, they are helpless in the light," Ivo answered him.

"What if there are more of them?" Harold wasn't satisfied with the old gnome's answer.

"What is beyond this hall?"

"Who can say..." Ivo began, but the ranger interrupted. "There is a huge hall with pillars shaped like many beasts," said Harald, "and there is a pit at its center, but I only saw a small part the chamber."

"You should have waited for us," the halfling said with a tinge of anger, "you were supposed to come back and say if you found anything."

"I'm better at giving advice than following it," Harald smiled at his friend. "But I'm glad you showed up when you did. You were supposed to leave me and have Telenstil head north."

"I know when to take your advice and when to ignore it," said Harold. "Ivo, what is this place?"

"I don't have the answers," Ivo looked down at the small gibberlings. "Some think the gibberlings to be created beasts; some enchantment may have spawned them. This may be a wizard's home of old or a temple of some sort," the old gnome mused. He felt the blocks which formed the floor, traced the seams and followed them to the wall.

"A temple," said Harold, "I don't like that."

"I don't care much to be in some wizard's hall or a temple," The ranger began to clear a path through the gibberlings as he spoke. He used his feet to sweep the piled bodies against the walls.

"Ivo," Harold called to the gnome, "Ivo!"

The old gnome was lost in thought, his mind running along the grain of stone, following the smooth seams that showed where one black stone ended and another began. "Harold," he said without turning.

"Do you have another lightstone?" the halfling asked.

Ivo shook his head. "No, that was my only one, but hand me a torch and I will cast a spell. It won't last like the stone but it will not use up the torch or go out if you drop it."

* * *

"Gytha, I wish you would rest before you try this," Telenstil said quietly.

The cleric had taken a metal cup from her pack and blessed its contents, plain water she'd poured from her canteen. "This needs to be done; it is something that I should have done before."

"I know you, Gytha. If you did not attempt this back when we were on the hill then you had good reason," said Telenstil. "The evil that has cursed Derue is strong."

"The Saint is stronger," Gytha said firmly.

"I am no priest, I do not seek to test your faith," Telenstil said to her, "but Gytha you are not your Saint, you have done much today, do you have the strength? Please think on this before you act."

"I have thought," said Gytha, "It is not my strength that matters, only my faith. I know what needs to be done, no matter how great the evil the Saint is stronger."

"Can I help you? Can any of us?" Telenstil asked.

"Your magic would slay Derue before it harmed what curses him," said Gytha. "I am ready now." She carried the blessed water and her metal staff and stood above Derue. She breathed deeply and bowed her head. "Saint aid me..." she began. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 113

The dim light was swallowed by the dark. The color faded first, the red blood on his hand went pale then the black came over the edges of his sight like an island sinking beneath the waves. Harold felt a sudden weakness, the world began to swim; he remembered standing on a ship as it approached a harbor in a storm. The world rolled and shifted all around him and then the light was gone, as if a lone candle had been snuffed out. The world returned first with sound,

"...ainted. I think." a voice spoke above him; then he felt a bitter metal taste on his tongue. His mouth was dry, and filled with clotted blood, gummy and foul. Harold shifted, coughed and hacked till his throat was clear and strained, then croaked out a few words.

"What happened? What hit me?" he asked, but the words came out rough and garbled.

"He live? Not dead?" Little Rat asked cheerfully.

"I think you fainted," said Telenstil.

"You should have bound those wounds," chided Talberth.

Harold groaned and sat up on his elbows, he looked like a corpse animated by some foul priest or necromancer, rising from the dead.

* * *

"We fight," Boss told them, "that one try kill us."

"With his arms and legs tied?" Talberth did not care for the scout but he cared even less for the orcs. His voice carried with it the derision he felt for both them and their lies.

"I believe them," the ranger came to the orcs' defense. "Back at the steading Derue used his hands and feet like I use a sword and bow, if he had not been bound I think he would have killed them all."

"Yea, he fight first," Boss insisted, "we just stomp him. He kick me, kick them too." the orc gestured to his three followers with a nod of his head. "Not carry him anymore." the orc said firmly.

"He can't be carried anymore," Gytha said. "Not trussed up like the carcass of a deer. The ropes will cripple him, he has a powerful spirit to have survived this long and be able to fight. I will have to try to heal him. I will need to prepare myself; there is an evil within him."

The young cleric looked even more exhausted to Telenstil since he'd climbed down to the stone passage. She'd insisted on helping Ghibelline descend and she'd nearly collapsed in the same way as the halfing had just done when she reached the cracked tile floor.

"Will that evil sustain him?" asked Talberth.

"Let him be, it seems that he is still strong enough."

"That evil will consume him, it will use him alive or dead," said Gytha. "I would not consign a foe to such a fate, and Derue was not our foe."


Telenstil's voice surprised them, normally calm and friendly, his one word sounded bitter and filled with hate.

"This evil has claimed a third of us, Henri, Edouard, Derue, I think that none of us felt friendship for them, but they fought beside us, they were our companions. The three who were the most estranged, they fall to this evil first, that is the nature of what we have come to fight against. This evil force is insidious; it is a curse which draws out the worst aspects of ourselves. We shared some harsh words with Derue, but that was all, he is one of ours, not one with those we fight."

"Telenstil, I have had to give the mercy stroke to friend and comrade when they have lain wounded and could not be saved," said Harald. "Sometimes that release is the only way. If we cannot save Derue from this evil and cannot leave him and cannot take him with us, then we must end his suffering, I would have you do the same for me."

"Death will not release him from this evil," said Gytha, her voice sounded far away. "Death will only bind him further to the evil that has touched him. While he lives there is hope, if he dies that hope will almost disappear."

"We have few choices it seems," Harald looked down sadly at the body of Derue.

"Yes, we will choose," said Telenstil.

"If we do not, time will choose for us," Ivo added.

"I will pray for healing," Gytha said firmly. "I will try to drive the evil from him. The Saint will lend me his strength."

"Gytha, you should rest before you try this," Telenstil said gently, his brief spell of anger had passed.

"He needs to be healed."

She could hear the rattle of Derue's breath, shallow and unsteady.

"You have healed many of us and you gave us strength and sent that snake back to the hell that spawned it, rest before you try this," Telenstil said to her.

"I will not let him die or the evil conquer him. I cannot serve the Saint and let that happen," she answered. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 112

"I will have to climb down and fetch the rope," Telenstil said.

Ghibelline was waking but he seemed to be in a daze. The elf tried to sit up, but his arm slipped on the stone and his head fell back; he had Telenstil's cloak rolled up as a pillow beneath him, it saved him from a nasty bruise.

There was a sputtering torch in Gytha's hand, she'd come back laden with her hands full, Ghibelline's sword tucked beneath her belt. She walked awkwardly, the edge sawing at the leather band around her waist; she'd never used a sword and did not like them, even just to carry a few yards.

"I'll stay," she said, "I don't think he will be able to manage the climb till he has slept and rested, he is healed but weak."

"The adventuring life," smiled Telenstil, "I should be growing fat with a gaggle of apprentices to do the work."

"Never," Gytha smiled too. "You are much too active."

"It is the curiosity," said Telenstil, "there is always something new to learn." the mage swung himself over the edge of the shaft and nimbly began to climb. "I will be right back." he called as his head dropped out of sight.

Gytha was already sitting beside the injured elf. She reached behind him as he struggled to sit once more and helped him with her hand across his shoulders.

"I'm alive," he asked quietly.


"You saved me," Ghibelline stated sure that it was true. "I should be dead, that snake, the venom... thank you."

* * *

The glow from the mage's amulet drifted like a will o' wisp, the dark surrounding it seemed like a living thing down here with a presence and body that fought against the light. Talberth caught a glimmer coming from somewhere far ahead. He knew that it must be the others; at least he hoped that it was them.

"Sit, sit down," he barked out at the orcs.

They hesitated but then complied. There was a noise from behind, someone coming down the shaft.

"Gytha!" he called, "Telenstil!"

"Yes," came a voice, "it is I." Telenstil climbed slowly down. He moved with care and grace but breathed with a deep rise and fall of his chest. A sheen of sweat covered his brow.

"Telenstil, thank goodness," Talberth said with relief. "The orcs, they were beating Derue."

"How is he?" asked Telenstil. He moved quickly over to where the scout lay motionless on the floor.

"He lives," said Talberth, "for now."

"Ghibelline is injured, though Gytha has prayed for healing," Telenstil said, though he spoke partly to himself, "we do call upon her strength more and more."

"What do we do with these orcs?" asked Talberth.

"Why did they attack him?" Telenstil answered with another question.

"I didn't ask," Talberth replied drolly, "they're orcs; that is reason enough."

"There you are!" a voice piped out of the darkness. Harold came walking quickly into the light. "Where have you been!" he demanded.

"I was wondering the same thing," Talberth replied.

"We were almost killed!" Harold snapped back.

"What's going on?" he asked, noticing the orcs for the first time then the wand in Talberth's hand.

"Harold," Telenstil caught the attention of the thief, "you are bleeding; are you badly hurt? How are the others?"

The halfling put his hand to his face and for the first time felt the wounds he had suffered from the gibberling young. Small cuts still sent trickles through the drying mask of blood that covered his face. His arms and hands began to sting and he noticed the growing spots of blood soaking through his torn and tattered clothes.

"Hey!" he exclaimed surprised. His eyes rolled back and showed their whites. Harold pitched over backwards collapsing like a scarecrow taken from its standing pole. Little Rat leapt to him but couldn't catch the falling thief in time. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

NPC 2 Amaris

NPC 2 Amaris - Half-Elf -Cleric/Ranger Str 13/ Wis 17/ Dex 17

Amaris was brought up on the outskirts of Greyhawk with no memory of her parents. She was found wandering along the edges of the Gnarley Forest by a hunter and was raised among his own large brood of children. Her Half-elven heritage was readily apparent but whether it was her mother or her father who was the human was unknown. The elves of Celene and their kin would not acknowledge her and no one in the area north and east of the Gnarley knew where she had come from.

Her adopted father Calder at first took no more interest in her than his other numerous children but soon her natural ability at woodscraft and her skill with the bow made her his constant companion. With Calder's son Jerek and his daughter Caren, both older than Amaris, he hunted up and down the east of the Gnarley and sold his pelts, smoked meats and exotic catches to buyers in the City of Greyhawk itself. It was there that Amaris became devotee of the Wandering God Fharlanghn.

For many years Amaris wandered the Gnarly Forest and the Welkwood increasing her skills as a ranger and practicing her faith among those that needed the God's bounty. She became a companion to a Half-Elf druid who had a grove in the northern Welkwood but on his death at the hands of a group of mercenaries in the service of the Elder Elemental God she began to devote herself to hunting all such down.

While Amaris will still help those in need, especially wanderers, she is now found more often on quests involving the death of cultist, brigands and rogues or the despoiling of their places of power or worship. She turns to her bow more often than her prayers to Fharlanghn and is much distrusting and wary than her younger self would ever have imagined.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 111

"They are just the same as the adults, only smaller," Ivo marveled as he examined the slain gibberling he'd taken from the ranger's hand.

"They act just like the adults," growled Harald. "My torch went out then they attacked."

"This may be the cause of the herds migration," Ivo said holding the small body on the palm of his hand and raising it level with his eyes.

"That is a leap," said Harald, "you may be right, but who knows? Who has found their young before?"

"Only us," Ivo said with wonder.

"Our luck is holding then," the halfling broke in. "All bad."

"I feel lucky enough to still be breathing," said Harald. The ranger wrapped his legs with strips of cloth. He'd cut his cloak apart, Ivo did not have enough bandages to cover all his wounds.

"What are we going to do with these?" Harold kicked a gibberling pup. It was curled into a tight ball hiding from the light of the enchanted stone. "It's going to take some work to kill them all."

"I'll have to find a way to preserve a body or two," mused Ivo.

Harold nudged another pup with his toe. "What do you think their worth?" he asked casually.

"They are priceless," Ivo replied.

"Priceless..." Harold murmured back thougtfully.

* * *

"Back away! Back away!' Talberth warned the orcs. The mage's face was eerily underlit by the glowing amulet he wore, his expression was demonic. The shadow of the wand he held was huge as it was projected against the wall, it terrified the orcs. Their weapons clanged to the floor and they backed themselves empty-handed into the corner of the room.

Talberth had thought he'd heard yelling from the far passage, but the orcs noise had drowned it out. Now that they'd stopped their vile cursing the chamber had fallen into silence. Talberth's shouted commands faded into the dark that surrounded the light of his amulet. The mage bent and put his hand beneath the scout's nose but kept his eye upon the orcs and kept the dweomered wand pointed in their direction. He felt a slight stirring of air, he shifted his hand to the scout's chest, its rise and fall could barely be felt, but it was there as well as the steady beating of Derue's heart

* * *

Harold casually searched where the ranger had lain for the empty jar of salve. It wouldn't hold much, not a complete body, but he could save one the little gibberlings' heads. If the whole was priceless perhaps the head would be worth a fortune by itself, he thought.

"Harold," Ivo called, "go see what is keeping the others. Find Gytha at least, Harald is still injured."

"I'm fine," the ranger objected.

"You are not," Ivo replied. "And no more of such lies. Harold go, go..." Ivo shooed away the thief waving both his hands. "And take the orc with you!"

Harold shook his head in regret; he would have to think of a way to save one of the bodies of the giberling pups. Walking past the young orc he did not need to signal or say a word, Little Rat fell in behind.