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Chapter 1 — Gharreil
They stepped into a what seemed to be a perfectly shaped dome of ice surrounding the whole of the tundra plain. (It reminded them of the underground dome that Samber had constructed.) Tiny white-colored grasses sprouted up from the hard ground. Surrounding city they could see at the center, the ruins of other buildings filled the plain; it seemed that at one time, the city was larger than it now was. Dim, magical light filled the dome, making it feel like twilight, and the area was noticeable humid.

   "Wait!" said Leokas. "Let me check for tracks."

   It was not difficult to spot more of the gelugon's footprints, but they seemed to vanish suddenly after a few steps. The minotaur, likewise, could not find any further evidence of the devil by scent. Nor was there any other signs of animate life; the whole place was filled with an eerie silence, like a ghost town.

   "I fear that the baatezu found these ruins and immediately returned to the Ice Queen to report," said Solisar. "I may already be too late."

   "We should explore the ruins nevertheless," said Hakam.

   "Yes, but our time may be short," said Solisar. "The gelugon — or worse, the Ice Queen herself — may come back."

   "You first saw the devil some 20 days ago or more, yes?"

   "That is correct," replied the sun elf.

   "We should return and recover Ilthian and the dogs," said Leokas. "If Hakam is correct and this is our path forward somehow, we do not want to leave them behind."

   They stepped back out into the crevasse and climbed out, returning to the forokell woman and their pack of mukteff. Then, they retraced their steps back to the crevasse. The runes were now gone, as it was well after highsun. Hakam touched the wall of ice. "You may want to cover your eyes," he warned. Then he prayed, "Send the light of sun!" Immediately, a burst of intense light radiated out from where Hakam had touched, filling the entire crevasse with the light of the brightest summer day. The runes were now shining brightly though the ice again. Solisar touched the center and repeated the qorrashi blessing.

   Back within the frozen dome below the glacier, they sought out a larger ruined structure on the outskirts. They found one without a roof but still with four walls and a single doorway. They placed their dogs and sleds within and once again instructed Ilthian to stand guard and wait for their return while they tried to find a way into the city proper.

   They were on the northern side of the inner city walls, and as they approached, they could see that the stones were made of marble bricks of enormous size. The walls were about 50 feet above the cold ground.

   "Is that a gate?" One of them pointed in the distance to the southwest. They moved toward it.

   When they reached the gate, as indeed it was, they discussed a plan of action.

   "I can scout ahead as a serpent and motion back when it is safe to pass around any corners," suggested Cassiera.

   "I will be able to detect the auras of any chaotic beings," said Hakam.

   "Szordrin, keep a magic eye out for traps," said Leokas. "Minotaur, take the rear. Where did he go?"

   "I am up here!" shouted the minotaur. He had managed to scale the 50-foot wall and stood atop.

   "Come back down!"

   "You could have been seen," said Leokas. The minotaur had not spotted any movement within the city, so this set the wood elf at ease a bit.

   Cassiera collapsed into her serpent form and slithered on ahead, leaving her gear behind a fallen stone outside the gate. The gate was swung partly open, and all of them passed through into a a wide — though narrow for a giant — alleyway.

   "What are we looking for in particular," asked Leokas, as they slowly walked down the ruined alleyway.

   "The fact that that gate was still functional — and the wall above us and the light it seems to generate — implies powerful magics," said Solisar. "These ruins still likely hold great secrets and magic."

   "We should focus our search toward the middle of the city, then," said Hakam, "as that is where the most important buildings tend to be."

   The alley led south and made a wide U-turn after a good distance before turning right and to the east. Ahead of the others, Cassiera would raise her snake head and flick it in a "come and follow" motion after peeking around each corner.

   They came to a wide open quadrilateral space where the stone pavement was replaced with marble. They suspected that this once was some sort of market square or other large civic space.

   "There are still no signs of any life," noted Leokas.

   Across the square on the north and east side were large buildings. The one directly east had large columns and an opening that appeared to pass through into a central atrium. They crossed the square carefully and entered this complex first. The building was a square, surrounding an open courtyard, and each wing was full of rooms on both sides of a hallway. They found evidence of animal pens and the remains of abandoned metal paraphernalia such as scale balances and broken stone tables.

   "I suspect that this was some sort of customs house," said Hakam.

   "These buildings are massive," said Szordrin. "We have spent much time in this one complex for nothing. Perhaps we should split up."

   "No," said Hakam. "That is too risky, but I agree that we are taking too much time. Let us focus on heading toward the middle of the city as I suggested earlier."

   They exited out the main doorway and turned left to stroll across the marble square again, heading south. Adjacent to "customs house" was an even larger structure, which they walked beside, as Cassiera slithered ahead in advance. It was longer from north to south. Coming around the southwestern corner, they found it had a sort of garden courtyard before its main gate. A single very large tree grew in the center of this space, with white leaves, instead of green.

   They entered through the main steel doors, which had rusted off their hinges. The place seemed to be a mansion or other expensive residence. It, too, contained a central atrium that had another white tree and even a small wading pool, now empty and dry.

   After a quick scan of the premises, here they did split up into two groups to search for anything of interest. "Do not steal anything!" Hakam reminded them. "There were clear instructions about that at the gate." The rooms were full of rubble — fallen pillars, ceilings, and walls. It appeared that most things had been removed, but larger items, such as large furniture, sinks, or such remained, provided they were constructed of stone.

   Szordrin found that he could easily crawl under a collapsed wall and discovered a stairway down into a basement room. He retrieved the others, and they followed him down. The minotaur used his everburning torch so that they could see.

   There was more debris down here than on the first floor, and Szordrin soon found two giant-sized swords. One was probably a hand-and-a-half sword for a giant, weighing perhaps 25 pounds, and the other only a dagger, but the dagger was too large even for him to wield as a sword. The tiefling handed the dagger to the minotaur, who handled it easily.

   "Put that back!" said Hakam.

   "It would be wise to heed the gate's warning," Solisar agreed.

   "Would someone please at least detect if the blades are magical?" said Cassiera.

   They turned back to see that she, yet again, was standing naked in the dim light. She quickly morphed back into a serpent.

   Belvin waved his hands to perform the orison. "Yes," he said, "they are both magical."

   "That changes nothing," said Hakam. "In fact, it makes it more likely that something undesired will happen should you take them. Put them back."

   "If we stored them in one of the bags of holding," said Mythlos, "wouldn't that cut them off from the Weave? They'd be undetectable."

   "...Until one punctured a hole in the bag!" said Cassiera, who was humanoid one moment and back to a serpent again a few seconds later.

   "What is our goal here?" asked Hakam. "It's certainly not to recover such magical weapons."

   "I need to determine what it is the Ice Queen desires in this city," said Solisar. "I doubt it is these swords. They are simple artifacts of this lost civilization; every civilization has its magical weapons."

   "I do not smell the devil smell," said the minotaur.

   "So the gelugon has not been here recently," said Szordrin. "It may be waiting to return with its masters."

   "We can always come back here later," said Solisar. "Let us proceed more to the center of the city, as Hakam suggested."

   Back outside, in the ruined city streets, they spotted some flickering violet lights farther to the south. Passing several more smaller buildings, likely small giant homes, they came to a sort of roofless promenade of massive columns, which ran from east to west. There were 24 marble columns in all, twelve on each side. Each pair of columns shared a curtain of flickering, heat-less, purple flame between them, such that there were six such magical curtains on each side of the promenade.

   Solisar detected the presence of mild evocation magic in the columns he examined, the same sort of magic found in the minotaur's torch.

   "Minotaur, do you think we are standing in the exact center of this dome?"

   "I think so," said the beast.

   "There do not seem to be any markings or writing on these pillars," said Mythlos.

   "No," said Solisar, "I believe these are simply acting as lampposts to light this promenade."

   The minotaur waved his hand through one of the curtains curiously. He suffered no ill effects from the act.

   "Where does the promenade lead?" one of them asked.

   Cassiera slithered to the east, following the line of columns, and the others followed. The promenade led to the top of the seating area of an outdoor theater complex. Rows of stone benches lined the sides of a depressed half-bowl, all facing a stage at the bottom. The stage was connected to a large building with entrances from off the stage. The fragments of the columns of what would have been a massive stage curtain were scattered about the stage.

   The adventurers looked about the seating area for a bit. "Hey! there is another magical curtain at the other end," they heard Cassiera say.

   They looked up and saw her standing in her humanoid form again between the two easternmost columns of the promenade. "When I started slithering along the promenade, it formed at the other side." She called back over her bare shoulders and pointed ahead. Staring past her naked form they saw that another curtain of violet light was now rippling between the westernmost two columns.

   "The path of stone?" Hakam wondered aloud.

   "I too am curious," said Solisar.

   The others followed behind Cassiera, who did not even bother to revert to a serpent form, as she walked toward the other end of the promenade away from the theater.

   Suddenly, with a flash, a large being stood in their midst, and immediately the area around them was filled with a sense of malevolent cold and darkness so heavy it could be felt. The creature looked like a sort of bluish-colored, tall, bipedal insect. It had clawed hands and feet, powerful mandibles, and a long, thick, dragon-like tail covered in razor-sharp spikes. In its hands, it bore a large, elaborately decorated battle-axe. A tiny, pink stone orbited its head.

   Instantly, they all heard a simultaneously pleasant and terrible voice within their heads. I am Tosvin, general of the Ice Queen. You are not permitted here, thieves.

   The devil pointed back toward the westernmost columns, and a voice came from between its mandibles. "Ig baator han ta, on gelug!" A wall of ice immediately formed directly in front of the two columns.

   I have a task for you, a deal to make, they all heard. If you wish to live, you will hear me out.

   Hakam, the first to react, shouted out, "Do not trust the devil's words!" and cast a protective spell against cold on himself.

   Szordrin and Solisar likewise immediately responded by sprinkling silver powder on themselves. "What task is this, fiend?" the latter answered.

   "Everyone, stay calm!" said Cassiera.

   Leoakas commanded Stormshadow to sit, and she obeyed.

   Mythlos had one hand on the pommel of his sword and with the other clutched a few bull hairs from his component pouch, which vanished. The gelugon, with its compound eyes, looked directly at the moon elf, and the latter heard a voice in his head. It would be in your best interests to not attack, fool. You mortals have no capability of harming me. It was not spoken as a threat; it sounded more like a simple statement of fact.

   Then they all heard its voice to all of them. If you wish to converse further, drop now those items that I know that you have stolen from these ruins. They do not belong to you.

   "We put them back!" said the minotaur, in all earnestness. "We left them in the big house!"

   "Anachtyr, empower thy servant," Hakam prayed silently, as he drew his longsword.

   "Hakam, stop!" shouted the nude yuan-ti. Leokas reached out his arm to hold Hakam back. The cleric heard the gelugon give him the same warning as it had given Mythlos.

   "The minotaur speaks the truth," said Solisar. "We heeded the words of the gate."

   Mythlos' sword was now drawn as well, but he was clearly holding a defensive stance for the time being. Belvin was trying to secretly back away with Kamil, hoping the ice devil would not notice. Szordrin cast another buffing spell on himself.

   This minotaur speaks as a child, said the gelugon. I believe the innocence of his words.

   Now, hear my task for you. This portal you see here has a will of its own. It whispers to me. It has chosen me to be its guardian, and I have sworn an oath to be such.

   "Do not listen to it!" shouted Hakam, still clutching his sword and trembling with rage.

   "And what does this portal ask of you?" queried Leokas, still keeping Hakam from moving any closer to the towering devil.

   Several of your moons ago, the portal revealed to me that one of its sister portals' guardians had slain a band of meddling creatures. None of the group survived the guardian's attack. None ever do, so I had little concern.

   No one else made any sudden actions, so the devil continued speaking to their minds. However, whoever sent the band sent a second, more-prepared party. Of this group, one creature managed to slip past the portal guardian to find himself in the crevasse outside these ruins. I do not know what he was before I slew him.

   Before them, a dead humanoid appeared, a powerful illusion created by Tosvin. He was missing the top half of his skull. They would have thought the man had been a human, except that his skin was as dark as night, far darker than any Chultans they had ever seen, much like a drow. He did not have elven ears however, and his hair, the "whites" of his eyes, and even the brain matter dangling from his open skull were also black.

   The creature seemed to suck light into himself, continued Tosvin. I appeared behind him, while he was trying to decipher the giant runes, and slew him. He was clearly not a random explorer; he was sent with a mission to learn more about the portal I am sworn to protect.

   I cannot leave my post as general of Auril's Chosen; I must remain on the Great Glacier. This portal connects to another location on this world of yours, somewhere underground, from which the dark creature came. I do not know precisely where, but it, too, is a place of cold.

   The deal is thus: You will pass through the portal I will open for you. You will seek out whoever sent the creature I killed and those who came before him. You will learn the sender's purpose and then destroy him. When you bring me evidence of his death and knowledge of his plans, you will have held your end of our agreement.

   "And what to we get from you in return?" asked Leokas.

   My end of the agreement is to let you live another day, said the devil.

   "It will try to slay us regardless," Hakam warned. "Do not trust it; it wants our very souls!"

   "I do not see that we have any other option," said Solisar.

   I left Cania hundreds of your years ago, said Tosvin, called into special service by the Goddess of Winter and assigned to serve as general for the armies of her Chosen, Iyraclea. I am no servant of the Lords of the Nine. The final resting place of your souls is of no import to me. I do not need to tempt mortals and harvest souls to progress to a more powerful form. I need only earn the favor of my two mistresses. No, you are only useful to me alive. You are of no use alive or dead to the Ice Queen. Unless any of you were a sorcerous male, she will not find you of any value, and I perceive no such creatures among you. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, for I have no means of perceiving magical auras.

   "What does she want with sorcerers?" asked Szordrin.

   She rapes them, and in so doing she drains them of their life force, leaving behind a frozen husk. Thus, she has gained immortality for herself.

   "Hakam, have the devil drink your truth elixir," said Cassiera.

   Hakam seemed to think this a good idea. "Drink this, fiend of the hells," he said, holding up the tiny glass bottle, "if you wish us to believe you."

   I care nothing whether you believe me or not, they heard Tosvin say, yet I will drink your elixir. It held out its four clawed fingers and took the vial between two of them like pincers. It placed the entire bottle in its mouth and swallowed, glass and all.

   "Repeat the deal," demanded Hakam.

   When you bring me evidence of the death of whoever sent the two bands of explorers and knowledge of his plans, I shall let all of you live.

   "Where is this place you want us to go?" asked the minotaur. "Is it far away?"

   Why do you ask? said the gelugon.

   "May we rest here first, so that we will be better prepared for your quest?" one of them asked.

   My patience is not that lasting, Tosvin replied.

   "At least permit our sorceress here to retrieve her clothing;" said Solisar. "She is a shifter."

   I suspected as much, said the devil. She may do so, if she is quick.

   Cassiera rushed off, followed by an awkward silence, filled only by the sound of the grinding of Tosvin's mandibles.

   "Do you want to play?" the minotaur asked.

   The baatezu turned its insectoid head toward the minotaur. No. Do not ask me such a ridiculous question again.

   "To succeed at the task you give us," Leokas began, "we need to know more about this other portal guardian, lest it slay us also."

   The guardian of the other portal is a unique monster and enormously large. It was hatched from a red dragon's egg but fertilized by what you mortals call a remorhaz. You pitiful mortals have no hope of defeating it, if it spots you; your only chance of survival, of accomplishing the task I give you, is stealth.

   Cassiera returned to the group, dressed in her tunic. Some of the more observant among them noted that she did not carry her bag of holding with her and wondered if she had risked reaching Ilthian to give her warning and supplies.

   Your sorceress returns. Do you accept our deal?

   "We accept," said Leokas.

   The gelugon turned around and began walking down the promenade in giant strides toward the wall of ice. They followed cautiously. When Tosvin reached the wall, he shattered it with a single swing of his axe. For a brief moment they thought they could see a palace through the violet curtain, sitting in a field of snow and ice. Then, Tosvin called out with his actual mouth appendages in a loud yell. "Choshein!" A web of green energy replaced the purple between the columns. The devil motioned with its chitinous arm for them to step through the green light.

   One by one, they obeyed. Hakam was the last to pass through the green, heatless fire. I warn you; he heard in his mind, do not try to deceive me.
Session: 68th Game Session - Thursday, Mar 17 2016 from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Viewable by: Public
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Chapter 1 — The Gate Into Gharreil
~ eighth-day, 28th of Eleint, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
Alpuk


Twelve days later found them — now a party of nine: Leokas, Belvin, Mythlos, Hakam, Szordrin, Cassiera, Ilthian, the minotaur, and Solisar — standing at the bottom of a deep crevasse in southwest Alpuk, examining the sheer walls of ice and finding... nothing.

   "I'm certain this was the same crevasse into which I followed the gelugon!" said Solisar, but there was no writing of any kind to be found, much less a glowing circle of Giantish runes.

~~~~

It had been an amazingly uneventful journey over the past many days of travel over the glacier, compared to their first days on the ice. They had departed happily from the cloud giants, with promises from Skata and Bjorn that they would be watching the adventurers in their (now repaired) scrying pool. After descending from the Lugalpgotak peaks, they traveled again by dog sled, except that Solisar walked atop the snow in his magical footwear and the minotaur bounded along through the snow with glee. They saw a great amount of wildlife on the journey, as the animals seemed to be migrating in preparation of the coming winter, but they had no run-ins with any dangerous animals or monsters, though when they camped near to hills at night, they could sometimes hear wolves howling. There were a few precarious frozen stream crossings and several nights where the temperature dropped to bitter cold beyond what simple magic could handle and required them to build snowhouses for warmth, but all in all, it was not an unpleasant journey, relatively speaking, of course.

   Much time had been spent on the journey answering questions about the world as now the minotaur joined Ilthian in asking questions.

   They had received dried goat meat and dried fruit from the giants for the journey, and this was supplemented with fish or caribou caught or shot by Leokas or with goods purchased from one of the few Iulutiun villages they passed.

   The first such village was Hykopgruk, a tiny village on the southern shore of the Lugalpgotak Sea, which they had started out traveling along. They remembered that this was the hometown of Lelchik, whom they had met in Koyoss. It was a boating village, and the villagers constructed high-quality kayaks, umiaks, and other vessels. The minotaur was thrilled to learn about boats and badly wanted to ride in one. The villagers, having never seen a minotaur, had no reason to fear him, and one of the friendly boaters gave him a short ride in one of the larger umiaks, since it would have been impossible to fit the large beast into one of the kayaks.

   The party did not tarry there long, however; Leokas was adamant about not wasting any more time. They discussed whether or not to sell their dogs and continue the journey by boat, but they all agreed that it would be no faster, especially when they learned that the Utaak Stream was frozen solid in many places. About a day east of Hykopgruk, they reached the mouth of the Utaak Stream and began to follow it south from the Lugalpgotak Sea. After a few days, the stream forked, and Solisar told them they should take the right fork. On the seventh day of travel, they reached the village of Puttak. It was perhaps the largest village they had come across on the Great Glacier, but it still had a population under 400 adults. This village had a large number of the strange walrus-like dog animals they had seen in Gotokok, and they learned that the beasts were called kupuk.

   Two days after they had left Puttak, as they were riding along, Hakam called out, "Stop! Quiet! Someone is contacting me."

   They did so. In his mind, Hakam heard Jayce's voice: "We reached Myratma. I contacted Sseth. He will observe the Altar of the Air from the sky. I shall sail to Lantan and investigate Samber."

   Hakam quickly replied, speaking out loud, "Message received. We are investigating a portal that may bring us home."

   "To whom were you just speaking?" asked Solisar.

   Hakam explained who Jayce was and how they had been separated and then relayed the content of his message to the others.

   Shortly after this magical communication, the stream they were following had faded away below the ice. A day more of travel had taken them to where they now stood, at the bottom of the crevasse.

~~~~

The crevasse was deep and narrow, only some ten feet across. With the lack of direct light, the ice appeared black and foreboding. The minotaur complained about not being able to see the bright orb any more.

   Hakam cast a light spell on his shield so they could see more clearly.

   Solisar stood back and detected magic. "They must have been there," the sun elf said, "pointing to a spot on the southern wall some four yards away. "There is an aura of magic, transmutation magic. Give me a moment...." He abstracted a tiny crystal lens from his pouch and a small silver mirror. He held the two items in one hand and began chanting a long divination.

   "What is he doing?" asked the minotaur and Ilthian together.

   "He is preparing to use his magic to analyze the portal," said Szordrin. "The divinatory magics should tell him how it operates."

   After about a minute, Solisar held up the lens and looked through it at the wall, glancing occasionally at the mirror. A look of confusion was upon is face. "Nothing," he said. "The spell reveals nothing at all."

   "Open my eyes," prayed Hakam. A visible ripple in the air extended from his person. "The runes are not invisible," said Hakam, "at least not magically so. They simply aren't there."

   "Yet they were," said Solisar, "and a residual aura still remains."

   "My magic tells me that a secret doorway of some sort lies here where you claim the runes were," said Szordrin, "yet strangely, the spell has not revealed to me where the trigger is to open that door."

   "Solisar," said Leokas, "what do you make of these tracks in the ice. See, there and there. Could they be the prints of the ice devil?" He pointed out three claw like marks, two pointing forward and one backward.

   "Indeed," said Solisar. "It would make prints like that."

   "They don't seem to go anywhere beyond this point," said Leokas. "It must have passed through the portal."

   The minotaur bent low and sniffed the tracks, memorizing the scent.

   Leokas removed the omlar gem and held it firmly. Then he tried to walk into the ice as if it were not there. He simply bumped into it, and nothing happened.

   They all stood around, looking and feeling confused.

   "I do not feel comfortable tarrying here," said Solisar. "The gelugon could return at any time."

   Suddenly, Leokas had an idea. "Solisar, when was it that you followed the ice devil down here? What time of day?"

   "It was highsun," said Solisar, immediately understanding, "when the sun's rays would have shone straight down into this crevasse. Does anyone have a spell that can simulate daylight?"

   "I did not request such a power from Anachtyr this dawn," said Hakam.

   "I have the guiding light the giants gave me," said the minotaur. He pulled a torch from his pack, which was already lit.

   "Where did you get an everburning torch?" asked Leokas.

   "The giants gave me one."

   "They did not give me one," said Leokas.

   "If you have an unlit torch," said Hakam, "I could make you one on another day."

   "Regardless, it is not doing anything," said Belvin. "There are still no runes."

   "We should go back up," said Leokas, "and make camp around the other side of the ridge. We'll come back tomorrow at highsun."

   "I concur," said Solisar.

~~~~

The crevasse was located between two icy spurs off a northerly bend of the Lugsaas, the Southern Chain. They set up camp on the ice and snow out of view of the crevasse, on the other side of the southern spur, in case the gelugon should return. They decided against building a snowhouse, as they had learned during their fight with the morhg that it was difficult to exit quickly if the watch summoned the others. They decided against lighting a fire, for fear the smoke would attract unwanted company.

   Cassiera volunteered to take the first watch, as she only required four hours of sleep, because of her magic ring.

   "Ah, a ring of sustenance!" said Solisar. "I bear the same. It permits me to subsist on only two hours of trance."

   Cassiera could not tell whether the elf was showing off or simply stating a fact. In either case, she had to admit that she was jealous.

   She encountered nothing that first watch. Leokas relieved her and she took her rest. The wood elf bored of standing by the camp and ventured off toward the edge of the spur to see if he could spot any activity coming from where he knew the crevasse to be. The moon was waxing, so he had a good deal of light for his elven eyes, yet he saw nothing but more of the tumbling plants they had seen on their first days on the glacier.

   Belvin followed and had an equally uneventful watch.

   That next morning, all relaxed around a breakfast of dried goat and pear-sized raisins. Solisar spoke to Hakam. "You spoke earlier about following a path of the stone; what exactly did you mean?"

   Hakam tried to explain a second time why he felt so strongly that they should help Solisar pass through the portal, if that's what it was. "I sought my god in prayer, asking him if I should seek to return home with the intent of pursuing this Samber about whom we have spoken to you. The reply was as clear as if you were speaking to me. He said, 'The straightest road home is not the quickest. Learn the words of the stone, and follow their path.' Shortly thereafter, we found the stone slab with the giant poem. I immediately suspected that this might be the 'stone' of the divination. I did not know what the words meant until you arrived. I believe that I have learned that the words imply that the path is through Gharreil."

   "It is common for prophecies to have vague language and multiple interpretations," said Solisar.

   "It is," said Hakam, "but these words were not nearly as vague as the prophecies we received from a druidess in the jungles of Chult!"

   "Her prophecy to me was not vague at all," said Belvin.

   "Solisar," said Ilthian, changing the topic completely and without warning, "You are an elf like Belvin and Leokas and Mythlos, but all of you have different color skin and hair. Does that mean that you are all from different families?"

   Solisar seemed confused by the question. The others filled him in on the strange manner of how the people of her island seemed to live in family units based on the color of their hair and skin markings. Solisar explained to her that the elves were all once a single family thousands and thousands of years ago, long before they came to Toril from another world, another plane of existence.

   "My people have different fur patterns," explained the minotaur, wanting to get in on the conversation.

   Eventually, the discussion returned to matters of the crevasse and what to do. They decided on a plan to leave Ilthian with the eighteen sled dogs. First, they would have Solisar and Szordrin set up three extradimensional spaces in the air for hiding the dogs, six in each space. It took some effort to climb the ropes and pass the dogs up one by one, but they managed. Ilthian stood outside below to watch the ropes and in case any of the dogs foolishly tried to jump the long distance to the ground. They told her they would return once they figured out how to activate the portal.

   "What if something prevents us from coming back to her?" Cassiera said after they were some distance away.

   "We will come back and get her;" said Hakam. "She will be fine."

   "You are awful sure of yourself!"

   "My god literally told me that this would be the way for us to go," said Hakam. "I could not be more certain."

   Cassiera mumbled something sarcastic to herself.

   "Besides," said Hakam, "I am magically monitoring her status. I'll know immediately if anything happens to her."

   Soon, the rest of them stood again at the bottom of the crevasse. Indeed, the rays of the sun struck the walls of ice, and the runes Solisar had described were plainly visible through the ice and glowing a blue color. They formed a large circle, 22 feet in diameter. Solisar translated aloud once again.

"The city of Gharreil,
Seat of the Satrap of the Great Glacier,
Loyal servant of the Emperor of Jhothûn.
May the qorrash smile upon it and nurture its mighty works
And continue to favor all of Jhothûn.
Let no thieves or heretics enter this gate,
For both suffer death in this city."

The sun elf then immediately began preparing his incantation for studying the portal.

   "Perhaps we can dispel the magic," suggested Szordrin.

   "That is not likely," said Leokas. "Whoever prepared these runes had magic enough to make them last millennia; I doubt your magical power could overcome that."

   "This is not a portal at all," said Solisar, who had completed his spell and was now gazing at the wall and the runes through the crystal lens. "It appears just as it did yesterday afternoon. It must be a door."

   "Open my eyes," Hakam prayed. "Aha!" he then exclaimed. "Now the trigger is revealed. The whole circle is the 'door', and the trigger is in the center. Mythlos, help me push." Hakam and Mythlos were joined by the minotaur in pushing against the ice in the center of the runes, but the wall of ice did not budge in the slightest.

   Solisar was pondering the runes while the three struggled. "...One must bless the qorrashi...," he said to himself, recalling the words from one of the tomes in the cloud palace.

   "Perhaps we must touch one of the runes corresponding to some blessing," suggested Leokas.

   "But we know whatever opens this door lies in the center of it," said Hakam.

   "Does the spell always tell the truth?" asked Cassiera.

   "My god is the god of justice! He cannot lie!"

   "What do the words say again?" asked Leokas.

   Solisar repeated them.

   "What are thieves and heretics?" asked the minotaur.

   "Don't ask," said Cassiera, but Hakam had already opened his mouth and responded with a lengthy reply that would have made a decent sermon. "Szordrin, here," said Hakam, in an attempt to add humor to his monologue, "is both a heretic and a thief."

   "This was written by giants, was it not?" said Cassiera. "From that point of view, everyone of us is a heretic. Will we be able to enter at all?"

   "It says they will find death in the city, not that they will not even be able to pass through the gate," said Solisar.

   "Is that supposed to be more comforting?" the yuan-ti replied.

   "May we see the tablet, Hakam?" asked Solisar. "I suspect the tablet holds the answer." Leokas and Cassiera closely examined the tablet with the giant poem, with Solisar's assistance, trying to find any clues between the two writings. Except for the word "Gharreil", they seemed to have little in common.



   "Why are all these words in red?"

   "They are simply proper nouns," said Solisar. "I do not think we should make anything of that."

   "The slab has no magical aura," said Hakam, having examined it again.

   "Don't any of us have an offering we could offer?" asked Cassiera.

   "The tome said it required a blessing, not an offering," said Leokas. "We need to speak the right words."

   "Hakam, surely you know many blessings," said Szordrin. "Speak some over the wall."

   The cleric took some holy water from a flask on his belt and sprinkled it over the wall, reciting several Calishite blessings. Nothing happened.

   "Did you try the omlar gem again?" asked Szordrin.

   "No, I'm sure that won't work," said Leokas.

   "We are going to run out of sunlight soon," warned Mythlos.

   "Worry not about that," said Hakam. "I can summon the light of the sun this day, when we need it."

   More time passed, and the runes were visibly fading, as there was less and less direct sunlight. Solisar translated Hakam's Tyrran blessings into every giant language he knew. The minotaur even tried some blessings his tribe would say to each other. Solisar tried a miscellany of giant greetings and farewells that he knew. The wall still stood frozen.

   "I find it intriguing that the writing here and at the library speaks of genies and suggests a government similar to Calimshan," said Solisar. "Hakam, do you not know any blessings specifically for genies in the legends and myths of your people?"

   Hakam recited a few. These were again translated, and still there was no result.

   It had now been an hour and a half. The blue glow of the runes was now difficult to see. The sun was but a sliver over the top edge of the crevasse's northern wall.

   "'May the qorrash smile upon it and nurture its mighty works and continue to favor all of Jhothûn,'" read Solisar. "There is a blessing in the runes themselves! Of course, I mistook the genitive plural for the accusative singular; it should have been, 'to enter the city, one must make the blessing of the qorrash,' not, 'one must bless the qorrashi.'"

   The sun elf faced the wall and boldly spoke, "Måtte Qorrashen smile til det og gi næring til sine mektige gjerninger og fortsette å favorisere alle Jhothûne."

   "That didn't work," said Belvin, stating the very obvious.

   "My divination told us we needed to do something to the center of the runes," said Hakam. "Touch the center and repeat the blessing."

   Solisar did so. As the word Jhothûne came out of his mouth, the wall of ice began to melt rapidly, beginning at his hand and spreading out until a circular and smooth archway stood before them and they were met with a breeze of warmer and humid air.

   Gazing through, they looked upon a plain of tundra, in the midst of which remained a city built of stone.

   "We've found Gharreil," said Solisar.
Session: 68th Game Session - Thursday, Mar 17 2016 from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
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Chapter 1 — Solisar Keryth
~ fifth-day, 15th of Eleint, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Nafni's Palace, Lugalpgotak Range


On the fifteenth of Eleint, the boredom was broken by the loud sound of the commotion of giants rushing to the walls of the palace. Someone was knocking on the door. They did not often receive visitors.

   Szordrin cast a spell upon himself to understand languages, and the group — except for Belvin, who didn't care — hurried together along the wall and looked down to see who it was.

   They saw a tall — but not giant-sized — figure in a hooded cloak rapping on the door with his walking staff. The massive door was opened by one of the giants, and they heard the figure speak with a male voice, "Am deg paart!" but Szordrin heard, "I honor you!"

   "It sounds like he speaks the Giant language," said Cassiera, "whoever he is."

   The minotaur nodded happily, as he could also understand the words. "Yes, he honors them."

   Moving to the other side of wall, they looked down and watched the visitor being led to Nafni's chamber. He threw back his hood, and they saw a head of long black hair with pointed ears poking through.

   "Another elf!" said Leokas.

   The party descended and waited outside the doors so they might speak to this new elf when he was finished talking with Nafni. After about twenty minutes, the doors opened again, and the elf stepped out. He had bronze-colored skin and piercing green eyes and held himself with a grace befitting a noble. The elf paused at seeing the strange band of humanoids before him. Then he spoke in Common. "This is not a sight I expected to find within the walls of a cloud giant abode. I am Solisar Keryth, from the isle of Evermeet. I see two of my distant kin and an intriguing assortment of others. With whom am I speaking?"

   The elves in the group, Mythlos and Leokas, were not surprised to hear of Evermeet, the fabled island of elves, as they recognized Solisar for a sun elf, the noblest of the elven races.

   Hakam answered the query and introduced each of them in turn, finishing with the still-unnamed minotaur.

   "Why are you here?" asked the sun elf.

   "Strong magic has exiled and trapped us here on this glacier," replied Hakam. "We are seeking a way to escape it."

   "What about you?" asked Szordrin. "Why are you here?"

   "I was sent by the Lady Rutilianna, a powerful diviner, to investigate the activities of Iyraclea, the self-proclaimed Ice Queen of the Great Glacier. I came to the giants for assistance in my quest."

   "Isn't Evermeet far to the west of Faerûn?" asked Szordrin. "How did you travel here?"

   "Powerful teleportation magics sent me to the ice, and from there I traveled across the glacier in my investigation over the last several years. Only recently, I heard a rumor at one of the villages about a massive maiden interrupting a trade fair and taking some equally odd visitors away with her the next morning. Since the matter that I investigate has connections to the ancient history of the giants, I thought that I would follow the lead. You do not, by chance, know of these rumors?" The sun elf smirked.

   "Yes," said Leokas, "we are indeed the 'odd visitors' of whom you heard tale in Gotokok."

   "Who is this Rutilianna? and this Iyraclea?" asked Szordrin.

   "Lady Rutilianna is my grandmother," said Solisar. "She often sees visions in the form of dreams, and recently her dreams have concerned the Ice Queen.

   "For hundreds of years, Iyraclea has not shown much activity, but some among the elves of my homeland, including my grandmother, fear she is gathering strength for something more sinister. One of the Phoenix Prophecies from the great Nar'ysr of Calimshan speaks of a woman with eyes of moonlit snow bringing great harm to Toril. Rutilianna fears it may refer to this Chosen of Auril."

   Hakam nodded in understanding. The Phoenix Prophecies and the great prophet who left them were known to all Calishites. "Why do you think the giants will be of help?"

   "I have studied the ways of giants for decades, in preparation for my task, because whatever magics the Ice Queen has come upon here and seeks to manipulate for her own foul purposes almost certainly were created during the empire of giants that thrived here long ago before the ice spread. I myself came here many years ago. Long I have spent seeking for giant relics or signs of their lost cities, but only the barbaric frost giants have I seen in all my time here till now.

   "I was a patient observer for many years. Finally, this very month, I noticed evidence of outsider activity in the area of southern Alpuk. I eventually discovered a gelugon, an 'ice devil'. Believing it to be one of the so-called Icy Claws of Iyraclea, I secretly pursued the baatezu."

   "Is an ice devil more powerful than a bone devil?" Mythlos asked, interrupting.

   Szordrin nodded, and Hakam answered, "If osyluths are the military police of the Nine Hells, gelugons are its generals."

   Solisar continued. "While invisible, I watched it descend into a deep crevasse and then vanish. Daring to enter the crevasse myself, I discovered a wall of ice upon which glowing runes in the ancient language of Jotunalder were carved in a great circle, emitting a powerful transmutation aura. These runes read...." Solisar extracted a sheet of paper from his cloak and read,

The city of Gharreil,
Seat of the Satrap of the Great Glacier,
Loyal servant of the Emperor of Jhothûn.
May the qorrash smile upon it and nurture its mighty works
And continue to favor all of Jhothûn.
Let no thieves or heretics enter this gate,
For both suffer death in this city."

   Solisar continued, "Not knowing what these meant, I wandered about, biding my time, contemplating my next course of action. By a blessing of Corellon, I stumbled about the village of Gotokok and learned of the tribe of cloud giants rumored to have landed in the Lugalpgotak mountains, as I already described to you. I hope to learn what I can from their store of knowledge here."

   "Gharreil —" said Hakam, "we have recently learned of the place ourselves. Perhaps you would find this stone fragment of interest." The cleric handed the elf the stone slab, which Solisar read aloud.

I Fjellene vandret han lenge
i det iskalde Områdene av Ulutiunen
blant Ruinene av Gharreil.
Han gikk på Steiner lagt av Jotunene gammel
og undret seg over høye Statuer av is.
Likevel intet fant han sin gamle Hovedstad
heller ikke avdekket Hemmeligheter deres magi Makt
ere Canithraxus kjørte ham derfra
med sin Ånde Hoar
og spotter førte ham til hiet Sitt.

   "Fascinating," said Solisar. "Where did you find this?"

   "Amongst an assortment of 'rubbish' within a frost giant lair north of here," said Hakam. Then he asked, "Do you think this crevasse contains a portal to this city of Gharreil?"

   "It seems likely," said Solisar, "but in my haste I did not have the time to properly analyze it."

   "Most portals require a key, do they not?" said Leokas.

   "Or a password or the like, yes," said the sun elf.

   Hakam turned to his companions, "I know that we planned to head south to the mountains, risking the remorhazes to leave this glacier, but Anachtyr revealed a mystery to me recently that I was waiting to share till the proper time. I believe that time is now. When I sought him in prayer, he answered me thus:

The straightest road home
Is not the quickest.
Learn the words of the stone,
And follow their path.

I believe that Gharreil is our way home and that it will be faster than crossing the Southern Shield."

   "Could you lead us back to this crevasse?" asked Szordrin. "How long of a journey is it?"

   "The crevasse is near the far western reaches of the Utaak Stream, south of Ahtitlak, north of the pass to Vaasa. It would take me a tenday and one," said Solisar, "but I wear magical boots for walking atop the snow."

   "We have three sleds and dogs," said Leokas, "so we can travel as fast, at least."

   "Would such an arrangement be agreeable to you?" asked Hakam.

   "Most agreeable," said Solisar. "I have studied magic all of my life, but a gelugon is not to be taken lightly as an opponent. I am neither a fighter nor a tracker, but the wear on your armor tells me that you have seen great battles. I would be most grateful of an escort to investigate the ruins, provided of course that I am able to find the clue I seek within Nafni's library."

   "I have another question for you though," Leokas said. "Hakam's mention of his divination reminds me; we have had several prophecies given us, which have guided us thus far on our own quest. This Iyraclea of whom you speak — is she also known as the Queen of the Moon?"

   "Not to my knowledge," said the sun elf.

   "Is Iyraclea a human?" asked Szordrin.

   "I do not know for certain," said Solisar. "Whatever she is, she has lived longer even than many elves, so if she was a human, she may not be any longer."

   "What about these symbols," said Szordrin. "Have you seen them before?"

   "In fact, I have," said Solisar. "Many decades ago, in my youth, a spelljamming vessel sailed down from the sky and docked at Evermeet. Visits of such vessels to travel the Sea of Night are rare but not unheard of at Evermeet. (Indeed, Evermeet has a fleet of its own spelljammers.) This particular vessel carried traders aboard who bore that same insignia, but beyond that I know nothing.

   "If it is permissible, I would not tarry longer in this hallway, when I could be seeking answers among the tomes. Will you assist me in finding what we may about Gharreil? If we work together, we may be able to set out again in a day's time."

~~~~

As half of them had spent a good deal of time in the library already, they had a good idea of which sort of shelves to peruse first. They divided the task among themselves, and each dug deeply through the old tomes, using magic to understand the writing if necessary.

   They found two texts of note. The first old text mentioned Iyraclea, emphasizing how old she must truly be: "The Ice Queen built her palace in the Great Glacier after the fashion of lost Jhothûn and long sought its secrets, styling herself its new Empress."

   The second reinforced that Gharreil was but one city of a greater empire, the same Jhothûn that the Ice Queen sought. Gharreil was "the seat of the Satrap of the Great Glacier of Jhotûn," according to an ancient legend about frost giants. "To enter the city, one must bless the qorrashi."

   "I find it odd that this frost giant empire sounds more Calishite than giantish," said Hakam. "A satrap was a provincial governor in ancient Calimshan, and a qorrashi is a genie from the Para-Elemental Plane of Ice, the intersection of the Planes of Air and Water. They do not come into many tales in my people's history."
Session: 67th Game Session - Thursday, Mar 03 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — A Giant Waste of Time
~ first-day, 11th of Eleint, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Nafni's Palace, Lugalpgotak Range


The next day, Skata left to show the pebble to her father and granduncle. She was gone for several hours. While she was gone, Szordrin was playing "catch" with the minotaur with one of Skata's ear studs, except that he was using telekinetic magic to float the jewelry just out of reach from the minotaur's leaps. This was quite a height, as the minotaur could jump nearly four feet straight in the air without a running start and, since he was almost eight feet tall and had such long arms, could reach about fifteen feet into the air. If he got a running start across the floor of Skata's bedroom, he could almost grab at it from twenty feet. In every case, however, Szordrin kept it just out of reach.

   When Skata returned, she was beaming with excitement. "Come! Come! You must ready yourselves to present before our chieftain, my granduncle. I am having Elda bring several mugs of warm water in which you can all bathe. Be quick, for he wishes to see all of you in two hours time."

   So they readied themselves as best they could. While few of them had any change of clothes, at least the baths left them feeling refreshed and smelling somewhat better.

   Before they entered the room, Szordrin held a copper piece between his fingers and cast a divination spell.

   The giant chieftain sat in a large meeting room at the head of a table. Several other giants also sat to his left and right. All were far taller than Skata, and they began to grasp that she was indeed only an adolescent. Szordrin glanced at each of them, his magic spell revealed to him that all five of the giants were more intelligent than the average human, and one of them seemed to have a deeper intellect than him, but all of them also had strong minds, and he could not sense any of their thoughts successfully beyond a strong sense of pride from the chieftain for his grandniece.

   Skata's granduncle stood to his feet with a delighted expression on his face, and he was over 25 feet tall. He was clean-shaven with handsome features and milky white skin and silver-colored hair. His looked like the clothes of a noble, and he wore a massive torc of gold around his neck and golden bracers also.

   To the side, a magical harp was playing a peaceful tune. The giant silenced the harp with a word and spoke to the adventurers in booming Common. "I am Nafni, et, son of Garth, et, sky-sailor,... but I shall not bore you with the usual giant introductions. You must be the tiny adventurers about whom my grandniece has told me. Welcome! Welcome to my palace, as much as it is such these days."

   "It is a great honor to be in such a grand palace as yours," said Hakam, trying hard to mimic the tone he had been taught from Jayce. "We believe that we have brought you an ancient stone of great importance to your clan."

   "And for that we are most thankful," said Nafni Garthson. "Indeed, we are in your debt. Consider our home your home; enjoy yourselves in our pools and in our sauna. Feel free to peruse the library of magic found within our walls and use whatever materials you find there. They go unused, as we no longer have any sorcerers among us. We also offer you this: We do not keep many treasures in tiny sizes, but we do have a collection of tiny coins and gems for occasions when we wish to trade with little people. Bard, present them with their gift."

   One of the other giants stood and walked around the table to them, carrying a large chest as if it were a small jewelry box. He set it to the ground with a thud and lifted back the cover. It was full of gold coins and several sparkling gems.

   Mythlos lifted the chest. He guessed that it was between 20 and 25 pounds in weight and informed his partners of this.

   "Now, such monetary reward does not fittingly reward you for what you have done," continued Nafni. "Are there any other ways we might offer assistance to you?"

   Szordrin held up the stone fragment he carried with the Interlink Consortium symbol. "Do you know anything about this symbol," asked Szordrin, "or about the Interlink Consortium?" The giant, Bard, took it carefully and handed it to Nafni, who held it close to his eyes and squinted to make out the interlinking circles.

   "No and no," said Nafni. "I do not know of either." He handed back the fragment to Bard.

   "We greatly appreciate your gift to us and the opening of your palace, Chieftain Nafni;" said Hakam, "however, what we need most is a way to our homes far to the south and west. When you raise your palace back to its rightful place among the clouds, would you so kindly be able to drop us off somewhere over the southern mountains?"

   "Ah, I fear my grandniece may have lacked complete understanding of the magic of a levitation runestone," said Nafni. "She is brilliant for her age and well-learned, but she is not learned in the art and discipline of the sacred path of runecasting.

   "The stone is crucial to raising this palace again, but it will take months before beginning the levitation ritual. It requires nearly a dozen runecasters, and we have only a few with us here. We will have to send word to our cousins in other clans to send some to us. Then, when enough have gathered, the ritual takes many days and great concentration, as each caster exhausts his or her full power to call clouds from all corners of the sky to join together at the ground. Then and only then can the magic of the runestone be activated — and only with great care. If properly activated, the clouds will become as solid as earth and our palace will rise again, though almost certainly while sustaining further structural damage.

   "Now, even if they can successfully raise the cloud, we do not control where it floats; we rely on the winds and Stronmaus' guiding. If Skata did not know this, truly, I am sorry."

   Szordrin asked Nafni if they knew of any portals out of the region. The giants did not. They also asked if the giants could spare a guide or a bodyguard for a journey over the Southern Shield, but they were told that all able-bodied giants would be preparing to raise the palace again. When shown the slab of giant poetry, Nafni did not recognize the tale nor the names mentioned. The only other request Nafni seemed able to grant, despite his offer for assistance, was to play music for the minotaur on the magic harp.

   When they had left the audience of Nafni Garthson, Leokas expressed his frustration. "This whole thing was a complete waste of time.

   "Hakam, is this not a violation of the agreement made to us?" asked Szordrin. "Why are you not more upset?"

   "It was not a written agreement or contract," said Hakam. "We may as well take a few more days here learning what we can from the library. Then, I suppose we have no choice but to head back the way we came and continue on to the Southern Shield."

~~~~

So began another several days of down time for the adventurers. As they no longer were being hidden, they met many of the giants living in the complex, and all were kind to them, but they were treated more like children than like equals by the giants. They were given a collection of guest rooms, and the giants tried to find objects and means of making giant-sized things accessible. The giants exchanged the giant-sized coins that they had taken for human-sized gold coins and provided them with any other supplies they might desire.

   They met Bjorn, who was excited to meet them, even though his sister had won. "She beat me fair and square!" he said. He was 20-feet tall and had brass-colored hair like his sister, cut very short. He had several piercings in his ears and a ring in his nose. He was disappointed that the eighteen sled dogs were not in fact for him, but during the several days, he enjoyed playing fetch with the dogs in the wide open courtyard.

   Ilthian expertly mended Hakam's clothing and armor and sewed them all simple tunics to wear from material Skata provided for her, so they would have other clothing to wear besides their adventuring gear. She managed to make the garments for the elves more "elf-like" and Hakam's tunic more Calishite in style. (He had her redo it when it did not satisfy him the first time.)

   Ilthian also spent more time with the minotaur than the others, as the friendly beast was always wanting to play. Soon, she was acting almost like a nanny to him.

   The minotaur took delight in new discoveries each day. He was enthralled by colors and lights, and when one of the cloud giant residents noticed his interest in a magical torch, he gave him one to take with him.

   Mythlos and Szrodrin spent much of their time in the library. Mythlos focused intently on learning new spells and transcribing them into his spell book. Szordrin's spellbook, on the other hand, only had a single blank page remaining. Instead, he busied himself at the task of scribing scrolls.

   Szordrin also tried getting to know Cassiera better, as she was still the newest member of the party and the only one without a connection of some sort to Samber.

   She responded with her usual answer. "I fled the evil of my homeland and of my people," she said. "That is all there is to tell."

   "Do you not have a plan for your life?"

   "I have not thought that far ahead," she answered. "I would like to continue exploring the sorcerous powers I seem to be developing, but beyond that...? I wish to do something for good; I just do not know yet. It is not like I have had any choice since sneaking aboard The Daisy in Samarach as to where I could go. I am exiled just as you."

   For her part, Cassiera tried to learn more about herself. She hoped she might find something about her race among the dusty tomes, but the yuan-ti seemed of little import to the myths of the jotunbrud. The only history that she was able to learn was an acknowledgement that before the peak of giant civilization, one of the five Creator Races, known as the sarrukh, "twisted and corrupted the little peoples with the blood of serpents into monstrosities and aberrations, which were called 'man-snakes'."

   When she looked into the study of magic, she learned a bit more, for sorcery was apparently common among giants. She only vaguely understood the new powers she seemed to be developing, and she wanted to grow in her understanding of what was happening to her. She learned that a sorceress gained power through raw creative power, much like a skald composing a poem, and new abilities came with practice as one honed her inborn talent. She confirmed that what was true for her was true for all sorcerers; their first, rudimentary powers developed with puberty and were almost always the sign of the blood of some inherently magical beings flowing within. When she herself had first been able to create a tiny spark with her fingertips, she had thought that it was a natural sign of her coming to age, but it soon became clear that the creation of fire was not among the psionic powers common to her aha'ss, her bloodkin, nor to her ssrath, her lesser tribe. She had kept her power secret, fearing that she might be ostracized for it, and then she began to wonder if the God of Fire had perhaps chosen her for some special purpose. Unfortunately, Kossuth seemed an aloof deity. She hoped that somewhere on her rebellious flight from her homeland that she might find out more about the silent god whom she had chosen as her patron. She wondered what the point was of dedicating herself to such an entity if it did not care enough to guide her. On the other hand, the impressive feats that Hakam performed were proof that not all deities behaved like this. In any case, it did not seem like the cloud giants' palace was going to be the place to learn more about the elemental god of fire, for the giants' writings were focused solely on their own pantheon.

   Szordrin also identified the vial Hakam had found in the frost giant's cloak. "It is an elixir of love," Szordrin told Hakam, "a love potion. Shall I give it to Ilthian?"

   "You are a terrible liar for the thief you are," said Hakam. "What is it in truth?"

   "In truth, it is an elixir of truth," said the roguish wizard. "Whoever drinks it is bound to speak only the truth while the effect lasts."

   "I should make one of you drink it," said Hakam.

   "Surely you no longer need to make me drink it," said Cassiera. "I have more than proven myself to this group and saved your skins on several occasions now!"

   "Why would anyone not tell the truth?" asked the minotaur.

   Hakam tried to find information in the library regarding remorhaz, the polar worms that were said to infest the mountains to the south. He read a tome of famous monsters across the realms but only confirmed that the creatures were able to generate vast amounts of heat, which was how they survived in cold regions.

   Leokas tried to ignore his frustration at their current situation and passed the time crafting arrows from wood provided to him by the giants. Each day when he was ready to leave, Mythlos requested "just one more day" to learn more spells. Belvin, as usual, rode Kamil and relaxed, seemingly unconcerned with the group's lack of progress.

   Leokas did find something constructive to do, however, because of the minotaur. The young beast observed him crafting arrows and practicing his archery and became fascinated, asking Leokas to show him how to aim and shoot. Leokas was concerned — and rightly so — that a creature so strong as a minotaur might snap the drawstring, so he did not permit the minotaur to shoot his precious weapon. However, the wood elf agreed to craft the minotaur his own composite bow. Leokas had never before crafted a bow for such a large creature nor one with such a tight pull, so he delighted in the challenge. The giants had a good supply of quality woods from across Faerûn, and he began the long process of carving and layering the separate pieces of what would be a six-foot tall, recurved bow. Over the next several days, Leokas completed about a quarter of the process of making the new ranged weapon.
Session: 67th Game Session - Thursday, Mar 03 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Shelter from the Storm
As they exited the ice cavern, it was already growing dark. They made their way over the snow to where Skata and Ilthian would be waiting.

   "Hakam! What happened to you? Are you hurt?" Ilthian rushed over to him.

   "I am fine," he said. "There is nothing about which to worry yourself."

   "You were in combat again," said Skata worriedly. "Did you find the pebble?"

   Cassiera set her bag of holding down and reached in to find the giant sack, and her and Szordrin lifted it out. They removed the pouch and handed it to the giantess. She opened the pouch and looked inside. Then she smiled. Holding her grin, she showed everyone the faintly glowing runes all over its surface. She then giggled and did a little dance in a circle and sang a song in her tongue, like a little schoolgirl might.

   "There is also a slab with Dethek writing on it," said Leokas, looking into the open sack.



   Hakam was intrigued by this. "May I keep a hold of that?" he asked.

   "I know you wish to celebrate your victory, Skata," said Leokas, "but we warn you that we did not succeed as well as we had hoped. The giants were alerted to our presence."

   "I see. Even if you had been successful, you are right that this is not the time to celebrate. We must still hope to make the pass before the sentries return. Let us hurry back. Besides the possibility of giants following us, I think a storm is brewing. Look!"

   Indeed, the clouds were looking especially dark and thick in the fading light, and the wind was strong and bitter cold.

   By the time they reached the pass, it was snowing and sleeting. On the one hand, this meant that their tracks behind them would be covered; on the other hand, it meant that it kept getting colder. They were starting to shiver, even under the effect of Hakam and Belvin's protective magics.

   Ferry scurried up to them and burrowed into Szordrin's cloak, chattering. "Yes, yes, I know it is getting colder," Szordrin answered. "We need to find shelter fast."

   "I do not know of anything between here and home," said Skata. "Do you have no more magics? I cannot survive such temperatures for very long either."

   Hakam shook his head.

   "I can create an interdimensional space to contain no more than eight living creatures," said Szordrin. "That is not enough for all of us."

   "We could build snowhouses, but it takes at least several hours to do so," said Leokas.

   "Could we even build one large enough for Skata and Kamil to fit?" asked Cassiera.

   "This storm will not stop frost giants from coming here," said Skata. "They think nothing of even such temperatures as these."

   "Then let us get at least a mile from the pass and start building," said Leokas. "I don't see any other options."

   "Maybe if we stay close to the hills, we will find a cave for shelter," said Skata.

   It only grew worse over the next half hour, growing into a full-fledged blizzard. Only Leokas, in his Iulutiun parka combined with Hakam's magic, seemed able to tolerate the cold, but he had to keep the hood cinched up tight around his face. The elephant trumpeted in pain, Kamil was nuzzing loudly, and Stormshadow was whining. It was also dark now.

   "Send the elephant away," said Ilthian. "He is hurting."

   They did so and pushed forward, but it was becoming so difficult to see in the white-out that, even if they were to pass a cave, they would not notice it. They could see no more than about five feet.

   "It is futile to go any farther," said Leokas. "We are all going to die unless we have shelter. Pray to your gods that we can survive long enough to erect something. Everyone, start cutting snow blocks. Skata, since you are tallest, you can help me place the blocks."

   "Cassiera, you took that container of grease from the giants," said Hakam. "We could burn it for heat."

   "Would not that attract the frost giants to our location?" asked Szordrin.

   "Not in this weather!"

   "It will burn too quickly," shouted Leokas over the wind. "We will need it to warm ourselves once we complete the shelter."

   Despite Leokas' optimism, things were looking grim. Stormshadow suddenly passed out and fell to her side. Leokas rushed over and rubbed her fur, trying to warm her. She was at least still breathing. He removed his parka and wrapped her in it.

   After a few more minutes, Skata asked, "Is it just me, or did it suddenly stop being cold and get very hot?" She had just set a large snow block on the third row and was packing it in.

   "No!" said Leokas. "You are... suffering... delusions... from the cold. You must... try to ignore them!" His teeth were chattering severely.

   Szordrin pulled out his rope and enchanted it. "Skata! Climb up," said the wizard. "We will... then pass... Stormshadow... up to you."

   So Skata began to climb, but her hands were so numb that she kept losing her grip. Thankfully, she was almost as tall as the top of the rope from the ground.

   "Stop," said Skata. "I smell... something like a goat. To the...."

   She was interrupted, however, as right there to their right, a largish horned beast appeared. It stood upright like a human and was wrapped tightly in a cloak. It carried a massive axe in one hand at its side.

   Leokas dropped his snow block and stepped to retrieve his bow. "We have company!" he shouted. Mythlos drew his glowing sword and raised it high, ready to swing.

   "Who are you? What do you want?" shouted Szordrin.

   "Who are you?" asked Hakam in a far more diplomatic voice. "We mean you no harm!" The cleric recognized the creature as one of the pajabbar, like out of his childhood stories, shock troops of Calim's army, what were known in Common as "minotaurs".

   "Hvorfor skulle en mor bringe sine barn i kulden?" said the minotaur in a gruff male voice in what sounded like a giant language.

   "Jeg er ikke en mor!" said Skata.

   "Nice weather, huh?" said Belvin.

   "You children do not speak Giant?" said the beast in Common.

   "We are not children!" said Cassiera.

   "But you are so small, and where are your horns?"

   "It... is... so... cold...," said Ilthian, and she fell to the ground.

   "Follow!" said the minotaur.

   "Where?" shouted Leokas over the howling wind.

   "Excuse us, friend," Hakam called out, "but these parts are dangerous, so we are skeptical of strangers."

   The minotaur just shrugged and gestured, before turning and walking away.

   "It could be a trap," said Leokas.

   "Better than dying out here!" said Cassiera.

   "I sensed no malice," said Hakam.

   "I can take him if he tries anything," Mythlos called back.

   "Watch him closely," said Leokas. "Everyone, come on!"

   Hakam helped Ilthian up, Leokas picked up his wolf wrapped in his parka, and they all followed the minotaur as quickly as they could through the driving snow. It was only about twenty yards before they turned into a lee in the stone of the hills and ten yard after that that they entered a cave. The entrance was about five feet high, so it was difficult to get Kamil and Skata through. Once inside, however, the cavern opened up significantly to a ten-foot ceiling. Skata had to crouch and crawl, but there was otherwise plenty of room for everyone within. The smell was not pleasant, but everyone felt immediate warmth from being out of the wind. Szordrin used his magic to search for the presence of secret doors and undead, but everything was clear. It did not appear that anyone else was in the cavern besides them, and the minotaur set his axe on the ground, which made them all feel somewhat more at ease.

   "Why are you helping us?" Szordrin asked the minotaur.

   "I not understand. You were all cold?"

   "Is this your home?" asked Leokas.

   "No, I am... lost," said the minotaur, seemingly uncertain of the word to use.

   "I thought the pajabbar were renowned for never getting lost," said Hakam.

   The creature seemed confused.

   "We should light a fire to warm ourselves," said Leokas. "Do you have any dry wood?" he asked the minotaur.

   It shrugged.

   Leokas had one of the spellcasters place a light on his bow and then went off to search for wood. While he searched, the others sat around awkwardly.

   "Play?" asked the minotaur. They all looked at him strangely.

   "Play with me?" he repeated.

   "Play what?" asked Szordrin.

   "Play," repeated the minotaur with childish eagerness.

   "I suppose I can play," said Szordrin. Before he even finished the sentence, the minotaur's hairy paw was upon him. The creature's arms were long and came down past his knees, but Szordrin did not expect him to be able to reach out beyond the two yards between them. The minotaur's long, clawed fingers and his massive palm were on Szordrin's shoulder, and the next thing the wizard knew, he was in a bear hug with the beast, wrestled to the ground. Szordrin debated attempting a fire spell from the pin, but he decided against it.

   "Let go of me, you big oaf!"

   "Yield?" asked the minotaur.

   "Yes!" said Szordrin, and the minotaur promptly released him.

   Cassiera had a strange smirk on her face. "I will play," she said. She stepped forward and did not even try to avoid the minotaur's reach. He quickly put her in a pin as he had done with Szordrin, but then she began to shrink. The minotaur jumped back in shock and began to pat his paws over his body, looking for the woman who seemed to have vanished from his grip. He held in his hands her green overtunic and leather skirt, and her ring and boots fell to the cave floor with a clink and a thump.

   "Did I break her? Where did she go?"

   "I am behind you!"

   The minotaur turned. Cassiera was standing naked in the shadows.

   "How...?" sputtered the minotaur.

   "Cassiera! Put your clothes on," shouted Ilthian.

   "Fine, fine. Throw me my clothes." The minotaur tossed them at her.

   "Hakam, do not look!" said Ilthian.

   "I cannot see anything in this darkness," said the cleric. Mythlos' blue sword was indeed the only light.

   Leokas came back with some dry wood that he was able to find deeper in the cavern, perhaps dragged in by some cave rats. He set it close enough to the entrance so they would not suffocate, but not so close that they would feel the cold. He went for his flint and steel, but Cassiera — now fully dressed — came up and spread some of her grease on the wood. "Stand back," she said. With that she waved her hands and spoke a word. A tiny spark of fire shot from her fingertips and ignited the grease. Shortly, the wood caught too. Leokas looked disappointed, but everyone else gathered around the source of warmth.

   The minotaur seemed particularly excited by the fire.

   "Have you not seen a fire before?" Leokas asked.

   It shook its head. "Nice! Warm!"

   Ilthian sat herself next to Hakam by the fire, hugging her knees. "Hakam, if you would like, I can mend your leather and your clothing once we get back to Skata's house."

   "Thank you," said Hakam. "That would be most helpful."

   "Do you travel by the light above?" the minotaur asked Leokas.

   "What?"

   "The bright ball?"

   Leokas was confused.

   "I think he means the sun," said Szordrin.

   "Sun," intoned the minotaur, reverently.

   "Ah, yes, we tend to move during the day."

   "What is 'day'?" said the beast.

   "Have you lived all your life in the darkness?" asked Cassiera.

   The minotaur nodded.

   "This cave is not your home?"

   "No," replied the minotaur. "My home was below, but not anymore."

   "I, too, grew up in the darkness," said Szordrin. "Day has no meaning for the peoples of the Underdark."

   On the other side of the circle around the fire, Hakam showed Skata the slab with the runes on it. "Skata, can you translate this?"

   The giantess, who was cramped but finally getting her senses back, took the slab from him and examined it. "It is written in the common giant tongue of Jotun," she said. "It says,

In the mountains, he wandered long,
In the icy lands of the Ulutiuns,
Amid the ruins of Gharreil.
He walked on stones laid by Giants of old
And marveled at towering statues of ice.
Yet naught found he of their ancient capital,
Nor uncovered the secrets of their magic might,
Ere Canithraxus drove him thence
With its breath of hoar
And taunting led him to its lair."

   "Do you know what it means?"

   "It is a poem, clearly," she said. "It is probably an epic lay about a hero in the north. I do not recognize any of the people or places, though."

   "Do you know anything about the frost giants?" Szordrin asked the minotaur.

   The hairy humanoid shook his head. "No, I not be here very long. Our tunnel collapsed."

   "Our tunnel?" said Leokas. "There are others?"

   "The tribe. I was separated from my brothers and sisters."

   "So you are alone?"

   "Yes, but the light guides me."

   "Why did you come out into the cold to find us?" asked Szordrin.

   "I heard loud shouting. I came out and smelled funny things. That animal has a funny smell." The minotaur laughed, pointing at Kamil.

   "Kamil smells just fine," said Belvin.

   "What is it?"

   "He is a camel," said Belvin, "my spirit guide."

   "If you not a child, what are you?" he was looking at Cassiera. "Your neck is sparkly!"

   "I am a yuan-ti," she answered. "We are a... reptilian race. These are my scales."

   "Where is the rest of 'we'? Where are your family?"

   "I am an adult," she said. "I do not need my family any more. I can take care of myself. Well, ...other than this cold.

   "What about you?" asked Cassiera. "Are you a child?"

   "I have my horns!"

   "But are you an adult?"

   "No."

   "Where is your family?"

   "Somewhere in the labyrinth, on the other side of the cave-in."

   "There was a cave-in?" said Leokas.

   "Yes, it was destiny!"

   "Destiny?"

   "The Great Mother always told us that we were special, that one day something would separate us from each other. We would go our ways, do great things, and a great light would guide us and open our eyes bigger than dreams. Then one day, it happened, just like she said. The ground shook, and large rocks I could not move kept me from them. I explored until I came up the long tunnel to this cave. Then I went out and saw the light."

   "Great Mother?" asked Hakam. "I thought that bulls led pajabbar tribes."

   "I do not know what pajabbar are, but in our tribe, we respect the mothers most."

   "How long ago did the cave-in happen?" asked Szordrin.

   "Recently," said the minotaur, "but I found the cold, and the great guiding light."

   "What do you plan to do now?"

   "I plan to follow it."

   "The sun?" said Leokas. "You cannot follow it; it travels around Toril every day."

   Once again, the beast looked confused.

   "What is your name?" asked Leokas.

   "What is a name?"

   "What did your tribe call you?"

   "Brother."

   "How did they distinguish you from everyone else?"

   "By my smell? By the curve of my horns?"

   "No," said Cassiera. "If they wanted you in particular, how did they call out to you and not your other brothers?"

   The minotaur shrugged again.

   Leokas continued trying to explain the concept of names to the minotaur. "If they want to speak to me, they call me Leokas, Leokas Dusktracker."

   "Oh, I am a tracker, too."

   Leokas sighed. "Do you have positions or titles?" he asked. "What did the Great Mother call you?"

   "'Son', but she called all of us that."

   "Would you like a name?" Leokas asked.

   "We have special words for minotaurs who did big things. The Great Mother led us. Cooker made good food. Healfather was old bull that helped those who got sick. I have not earned such a word."

   "Maybe we will wait to give you a name, find one that fits you," said Leokas.

   "I name you Lunk," said Szordrin.

   "I am not slow!" said the minotaur, who apparently could understand Undercommon but did not understand the insult. "I am very fast! I will race you and prove it."

   "Why don't we wait till the morning for that," said Cassiera.

   "Yes," said Skata. "I am tired. I will lie down and sleep now. It is more comfortable than sitting up cramped."

   Hakam and Ilthian were already asleep, and Belvin was tending to Kamil's frozen toes. Stormshadow was curled up in Leokas' parka next to the resting camel.

   The minotaur had a pack from which he extracted a thick and large blanket. "Do you want my blanket?" he asked, handing it to the reclining giantess.

   "Why thank you, little one," she said.

   Leokas took Mythlos aside, and Szordrin and Cassiera joined them. "Keep the first watch," said the wood elf. "I am convinced the minotaur is not a threat, but we should not take any more chances."

   "'Not a threat' is an understatement, I think," said Cassiera. "He is like a harmless puppy — an eight-foot-tall harmless puppy but still."

   "Wake me up when you need to trance," said Szordrin. "I still do not know that I trust him."

   "You do not trust anyone," said Cassiera.

~~~~

The night passed without incident. The minotaur bored Mythlos with many questions about the surface world before he eventually fell asleep standing upon his two hooves. He remained asleep in such a standing position throughout Szordrin's and then Cassiera's watch.

   When morning came, the minotaur was still cheerful, excited by his guests. He took some kind of hard bread out of his pack and passed it around to everyone. "Breakfast?" he asked.

   Leokas asked Hakam if he could heal Stormshadow, who was still looking weak, and the cleric agreed. "I will not have the power to also protect you from the elements though," the cleric told him, "but you do have your parka for warmth."

   As they were packing up to prepare to leave, Szordrin created a series of dancing lights with which he surprised the minotaur. By thought, he made them circle around the tall, hoofed creature. The minotaur swatted at them as if they were flies.

   "Szordrin, stop messing with him," Cassiera scolded. She explained to the minotaur that it was just a trick.

   "Can all of you do tricks like that?" asked the minotaur.

   "No, only some of us," explained Cassiera. "It is called magic. Do you know about magic?"

   "No," said the minotaur.

   As they prepared to go, the minotaur also packed up his things, his pack, his blanket, his cloak, and his axe.

   "Where are you planning on going?" asked Leokas.

   "With you."

   "I am not sure we can take you with us."

   The minotaur sunk his head low, looking crushed.

   "What can you do for us?" asked Szordrin. "How much can you lift? Let us play another game. Leokas, can you lift that boulder there?"

   Leokas was able to move the boulder but not lift it.

   "Let me try," said Mythlos. The moon elf, with his magical gauntlets, was able to flip the large rock to its side.

   The minotaur gave it a great heave and lifted it off the ground and over his head, sporting a massive grin while doing so, which showed his large canine teeth.

   "Do you know how to use that axe?" Leokas asked their host.

   "Yes, but I never have, except in games or to cut down mushrooms."

   "To cut down mushrooms?"

   "They grow in the Underdark," said Szordrin.

   "Have you ever killed anything?" asked Mythlos.

   "No, no!" said the minotaur. "Our tribe is peaceful!"

   "I thought minotaur tribes were evil," said Hakam.

   The minotaur didn't seem to understand what Hakam meant.

   "Well," said Leokas, "he is even stronger than Mythlos. I do not think he will put us at risk. He can at least come with us to the cloud giants, as far as I am concerned, but it is really Skata's decision, not ours."

   "I think he is funny," said Skata. "Not as entertaining as all of you, but cute in a different way. Let him follow us."

   They had to dig their way out of the minotaur's cave; the blizzard had dropped at least two feet of snow, and the snow drifts were three times that high. There would be no way that the frost giants would be able to track them. The sky, however, was clear, and the temperature was cold but bearable with the help of Hakam and Belvin's magic.

   "You promised to race me," the minotaur said to Szordrin.

   "Yes, yes, I did. Are you ready?"

   The minotaur nodded excitedly.

   "On your mark,... get set,... go!" said Szordrin. On "go" the minotaur lunged forward with a bound and charged through the thick snow, hopping much like a satyr, while Szordrin stood there chuckling and not moving an inch. "It looks like you won. Curses!" said the wizard.

   Laughing, the minotaur ran back and scooped up Szordrin and ran a length with the wizard under his arm spouting insults.

   "I am impressed by how fast he was moving," Leokas said to Szordrin after. "Even with magic, you might not have outrun him."

~~~~

Because of the thick snow, travel back was slower than before; they did not reach the palace walls until after dark. Skata once again levitated each of them up to her bedroom window. There, they spent the night again in closet or dresser drawer.

   "I am so excited for the morning," said Skata. "What a grand adventure we have had! And what great success! I cannot wait to introduce you to my clan!"
Session: 67th Game Session - Thursday, Mar 03 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Winter Wolves
Belvin, in serpent form, had made his way up the long tunnel, until it twisted in an ess shape, as the map had noted, to the west. Here, a massive column of ice sat in the center of a frozen chamber. Belvin slithered to the right side of the column. When Hakam and Leokas arrived, the former took the left path around, while Leokas followed Belvin.

   There was an opening in the northwestern portion of the wall, about five feet wide and four feet high. Darkness was on the other side, but Belvin's serpent eyes spotted motion of some sort. Suddenly, a giant canine head came through the hole, and its maw opened wide. A burst of icy breath shot forth, covering the three adventurers and Stormshadow with frost and chilling them to the bone.

   Stormshadow yelped and ran behind the column for cover. Leokas followed her, nocking two arrows at once. Hakam drew his sword. The cleric could hear the barking of at least three different beasts beyond.

   Belvin, however, in his snake form, did not pull back; instead, he launched himself at the large snout of the wolf-like creature and snapped down his fangs. So thick was the creature's skin, that his tiny viper teeth could not pierce through. With a snap of its head, the canine beast sent Belvin's small form flying through the air, as two arrows deflected off the ice wall above the opening.

   The beast then shoved its forepaws and shoulders through. It was covered in snow-white fur and had icy blue eyes that reflected the light from Hakam's shield. It had a gold earring in its right ear.

   With a lunge, Hakam slashed at the monster's neck, drawing blood. The wolf turned to snap at Hakam, but two arrows struck it in the skull, one after the other. A third reflected off the ice.

   Limbs and fur began to sprout from Belvin's serpentine body, and before the transformation was complete, the newly forming, prehistoric-looking, weasel-like beast leapt through the air, latching onto the wolf's neck and sinking in his teeth. Stormshadow sprung forward and tried to grab the giant animal's legs. The bigger wolf slashed around, trying to get Belvin to dis-attach, but it was growing noticeably weaker from loss of blood. Another blow from Hakam's blade and three arrows from Leokas' took it down.

   Before they could celebrate, a second wolf poked its head over the body of its fallen pack-mate and breathed its cold breath. Belvin took the full force of the blast, and Hakam rushed forward to heal him with magic. Leokas wasted no time in sending three arrows at the new wolf, and all three found their target. Belvin, still in dire weasel form, ran up the body of the dead wolf and repeated his previous attack, latching himself onto the neck of the new wolf. The wolf tried whacking Belvin against the wall to free itself, but to no avail. While Hakam drew a scroll and healed his own frostburn, Leokas continued shooting, skillfully avoiding sending an arrow into his own teammate and sinking two more arrows into the wolf's flesh.

   With a second whack against the ice, the wolf freed itself from Belvin's relentless bite, but before it could back to safety, Leokas dropped to his knees and sent a final arrow directly between its eyes, killing it. Now a pile of two massive white wolf bodies blocked the opening.

   "Belvin, draw back!" Hakam yelled. Then he blessed himself with extra physical strength and approached the fallen dogs. He peeked over them and sent a magical burst of sound into the other room that caused the whole cavern to rumble. One of the wolves on the other side made a large yelp in surprise or pain. Their barking changed to sounds that seemed somehow more intelligent. These were not just common wolves, if their ability to breathe magical breath were not enough indication of that.

   Leokas moved over to his own wolf companion and checked on her. Her fur was covered in ice from the wolves' breath attacks but she seemed unhurt beyond that. He yelled at the enemy wolves in Ghukliak, trying to insult them, on the assumption that they might understand that tongue.

   Hakam pressed his way past the carcasses, and Belvin followed, running across the large room they found themselves in to the other side. This room was carved from the ice by blades of some sort, and it was certainly not found on the map. There were two more enormous wolves in this room still, and both were making an effort to pound on a massive wooden door on the northern wall with their paws. Scattered about were piles of pelts and gnawed bones, and there was a small pool of water in the back corner.

   Seeing the two intruders into their den, one wolf turned and blasted Hakam with its breath, while the other bounded across the room to snap at the over-sized weasel. Hakam, covered in frost, tried to back out, but the wolf lunged and snapped its jaws around his shoulder. The teeth of the beast pierced through the cleric's armor and deep into his flesh, between even his ribs. Hakam fell back, and over his shoulders flew two arrows simultaneously from Leokas bow, which struck the beast in its snout. The wolf was undeterred. It took another bite out of Hakam, this time nearly severing his sword arm. Leokas put two more arrows in its jaw, and it whined and pulled back, allowing Hakam to withdraw into safety of the first chamber.

   Belvin, however, was still out there.

   He had scurried out another opening on the other side of the wolf den, and he stood there on his four paws, facing the larger animal. It stared him down, but it could not fit through the opening and knew enough not to risk getting stuck like the others. Belvin readied himself to respond to the wolf's actions. If it opened its mouth to breathe, he would dart quickly to the side. If it turned its back, he would charge.

   It opened its mouth. A jet of cold blasted through the opening, but Belvin's agile weasel form was quick enough. He immediately hopped back to his position unscathed and glared at the wolf through his ferocious weasel eyes.

   The wolf turned suddenly to its right, so Belvin charged. However, the other wolf was within reach of him now also and attempted a bite but missed. From the corner of his beady eyes, he saw that the door to the wolf den was opening. He saw the figure of a massive humanoid, a giant.

   Leokas, peering into the room, went to draw two arrows, but he was out. He drew two silver arrows from his other quiver instead and loosed them, so that Belvin could make a dash for the opening, but the weasel pulled back instead to avoid being spotted by the giant.

   Leokas poked around the two carcasses and saw the two wolves run out of the den to join the giant on the other side of the door, speaking to him in what sounded like the giant tongue. The door closed shut shortly after.

   Belvin found his way back through the den to the others by scent. Just then, Mythlos arrived, as Hakam was holding a scroll in his left hand trying to heal himself before fainting from loss of blood. "What is happening?" asked the moon elf.

   "What has happened is that we just alerted every frost giant in this valley to our presence," said Leokas. "Did you find the pebble?"
Session: 66th Game Session - Thursday, Feb 18 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — The Ice Cavern
The snow around the two towers in the pass was stained red from the vast amounts of blood the giants had shed.

   "That one giant had remarkable reflexes," said Leokas, motioning toward the first giant's body.

   Hakam helped Mythlos to his feet and ensured that his spell had healed the elf before removing another scroll from which he also healed Belvin's wounds.

   Skata held her bleeding nose. "I have never been punched in the face before. Is my nose broken? Does it look straight?"

   "How are we going to get the poor elephant down?" asked Ilthian. It was trumpeting in frustration above them.

   Belvin reached up from Kamil's back and touched its trunk. "Walk like a spider, friend," he said. Belvin's druidic magic allowed the elephant to stick to the stone, even with its massive size. It climbed easily over the parapet and walked down the wall of the tower to the ground below.

   "What do we do about their bodies?" one of them asked. They discussed whether or not to try and conceal the carnage, but it was quickly evident that that was a hopeless task.

   "I do not know how long we have before the sentries are replaced," said Skata. "I believe that sentries at my uncle's palace change watch every eight hours, beginning at midnight. If these giants follow a similar schedule, I believe that they would have just started their watch, but frost giants may do things differently."

   "Let us hurry to the ice cavern then," said Leokas.

   "We should at least check the bodies for loot," said Mythlos.

   "They do not seem to have anything on their persons," said Szordrin.

   "Uncivilized giants such as these usually carry around sacks with their belongings," said Skata. "Perhaps the towers? But let us be quick."

   "I will climb that one," said Leokas.

   Skata climbed the one tower, and Leokas managed to climb the giant-sized ladder of the second tower as well. Indeed, he found a massive sack, weighing nearly two hundred pounds. He heaved it up and over the parapet and to the ground. Skata tossed an even larger sack from her tower.

   The sacks contained a large portion of giant-sized silver coins, about the size of a man's palm each, weighing about 450 pounds in total, by their estimates. They stuffed as many of these into their two bags of holding as they could and asked if Skata could carry the rest for them. The first sack also contained three throwing rocks, a whetstone, a couple hundred feet of extremely thick rope, smelly woolly animal hide, a haunch of meat, about a pound of salt in a leather pouch, and a dented brass tankard. The second sack contained a pair of faded giant boots, (in which many of the coins had been hidden,) four large rocks, bruised berries the size of apples, a container of grease, more rope, a sewing needle, another whetstone, what appeared to be dried animal dung, a copper bowl and spoon, and an old cloak.

   "This is all useless junk," said Mythlos, but Cassiera took the container of grease.

   "Open my eyes," Hakam prayed. After a few moments, he stuck his hand into an inner pocket of the cloak and extracted a small, human-sized vial. "Not all junk," he said, placing the vial in one of the pouches on his belt.

   "We tarry too long," Leokas reminded them. "Come!"

   "I am going to leave Ferry here," said Szordrin. "He can hide easily among the stones here. If new sentries return, he will sneak out to warn us before we enter the pass again." This seemed good to the others, so they left the little weasel behind, and he scurried off to take shelter between some of the loose stones of the towers.

   They exited the pass and entered the valley, now with an elephant traveling with them.

   "From the illustrations in the old tome I read," said Skata, "I believe that the frost giants' lair is on the other face of that series of peaks." She pointed in the distance at a cluster of icy hills to the northeast about an hour away.

   Skata was correct, but it still took them another hour after arriving at the foot of the hills to find the small crack leading into the cavern. The opening was located on a sheer wall of ice.

   "I will go beyond that mound there and lie low," said Skata. "Find me when you return with the pebble. Oh, one more thing: when you find the pebble, do not touch the runes directly. You will need to find some other way of picking it up, or you can just keep it in its pouch."

   "Why can we not touch it?" asked Szordrin.

   "It might drain it of its power," she replied.

   "Can you draw for us in the snow what the runes will be," asked Szordrin.

   Skata laughed. "Of course not! I am not a runecaster; I am not even an adult, remember? They will not even be Dethek runes; they will use the old Jotunalder script."

   "Ilthian, you should stay with Skata," said Hakam.

   "Why? She is big enough to not need my help."

   "Kamil will need you to watch him," suggested Cassiera. "Skata does not know how to care for a camel."

   Ilthian agreed to this, and she, the giantess, the camel, and the elephant walked off. Everyone else cautiously entered the narrow crack in the ice.

   Hakam made his shield glow, and Mythlos also drew his sword for light. The ice reflected and refracted the light in strange ways, filling the cave with eerie colors beautiful and otherworldly. The passage was narrow and tall.


   Hakam had the map Skata had given them in his hands. "Unless time has changed things, we should come to a four-way intersection first, though I do not know the scale of the map, so I cannot say how far."



   "What is that spot on the lower portion of the map?" asked Cassiera.

   "Perhaps a column?" said Leokas, "or a boulder?"

   They reached the intersection, as the map had promised. "We should explore this rightmost path to confirm that it dead-ends, as the map says," suggested Hakam. They did so, and indeed, the passage narrowed to an impassible thinness. They returned to the intersection.

   "The way to the giants' storage room is to the right," said Leokas, "but do you think we ought to explore the other dead ends first, just in case?"

   They agreed to this and continued forward, crossing to the other side of the intersection. They soon came to a split and took the left path, which curved slowly until they could go no further.

   "This is not right," said Hakam. "The path should go further here."

   "We should be where that spot is, shouldn't we?" asked Leokas.

   "Has there been a cave-in?" asked Cassiera. "Perhaps things have shifted since the map was made."

   Mythlos held his sword closer to the wall before them. It was not smooth like the rest of the walls thus far, instead looking like it was made from ice fragments crushed together.

   So they backtracked to their last turn and took a left, heading roughly west again. This passage twisted sharply north, as the map also indicated. They continued on a ways, being careful not to slip on the slick surface or to hit their heads on the many hanging icicles. The tunnel made a sharp u-turn.

   "How are we doing on time?" asked Cassiera. "We seem to be moving slowly."

   "We are," said Leokas. "Travel underground in such cramped spaces is slow. It's probably already been three quarters of an hour."

   "This is going to take us too long," said the yuan-ti. "Perhaps we should split up. I believe I could travel faster in my snake form along this kind of terrain. I can scout on ahead and see if these two narrow portions of the map actually connect. If so, it would be a faster route than this other way. Meanwhile, Belvin, you can also take a serpent form and scout ahead on the other path."

   Her plan was agreed upon, and they split up into two groups. Cassiera shifted her shape and slithered away. Mythlos and Szordrin followed behind her as she slithered ahead at a faster rate. Belvin and the other two returned to the intersection, where the druid likewise changed into a snake shape and darted ahead while Hakam and Leokas followed.

   Cassiera slithered along in the darkness of the cave, leaving the blue glow of Mythlos' sword behind her. After a good distance, the tunnel twisted sharply again and made another u-turn. Now she was in utter darkness, and to her darkvision, the ice cavern took on a gray hue. Continuing on, she traveled nearly as far again before coming to a tight space. She poked her tiny head into the opening and flicked out her tongue. She would easily be able to slip through. The two tips of the passages on the map did connect, and there was flickering light from somewhere ahead.

   Szordrin and Mythlos arrived a few minutes later. "She must have slithered through," said Szordrin.

   They waited for any contact from her. After a few minutes, they heard her voice coming back through the hole. "There is barking up ahead. I can sneak past, but the others might be in danger elsewhere in the cave."

   "Can we fit through also?" asked Mythlos.

   Szrodrin took off his pack and got down on his hands and knees and then his stomach. He pushed his pack ahead and then pulled himself into the opening in the ice. "I think I can manage," he grunted, as he got his head, shoulders, and arms in. He inched forward, but then his shoulders got stuck. When he tried to back up, it only made things worse. "I'm stuck!"

   "Back up, then."

   "I can't!" he called back to Mythlos, kicking his legs in frustration.

   Szordrin could now also hear the loud barking, echoing through the cavern.

   Mythlos knelt down, grabbed Szordrin's legs, and gave him a firm shove. Szordrin called out in pain, but the shove worked. His shoulders popped free, breaking off a chunk of ice, and he was able to inch forward and get back onto his feet.

   In his darkvision, the tiefling could see the gray outline of a small viper ahead, with her head carefully peeking around a corner. The barking continued from the direction she was looking. She then disappeared deeper into the darkness as she made a dash forward toward a flickering light at the end of the passage.

   Behind him, he saw Mythlos slide his sword and pack forward, followed by the elf's head. "I am following Cassiera," Szordrin told him. He then approached the intersection ahead carefully. Peaking around the corner to the right, he thought he might have seen large furry paws moving. He also heard what he thought were the shouts of Hakam. Cassiera had continued straight ahead, so he carefully and quietly passed the openings to the left and right. As he passed by, he heard a "bark" that seemed like cursing. Whatever canine beasts were around the corner were certainly intelligent, and he hoped that the sound indicated that his friends were faring well.

   Mythlos, however, could not get through the hole in the ice, no matter how hard he tried; he was simply too large an elf. Giving up, he pulled himself and his things back out. Donning his pack again, he cast a spell that doubled his speed and made his way as quickly as possible back the way he had come.

   Szordrin reached Cassiera. He entered into a large room lit by torchlight through a narrow and short crack in the wall. He and the serpent were behind a stack of giant-sized wooden crates, each about ten feet high, wide, and thick. This must be the storage room. The walls here were carved from ice by tools; the room was not natural.

   He peeked behind one of the crates to see what the snake had been looking at. They saw a massive frost giant, sitting on a large stool and resting his arms on a battleaxe. The giant stirred, having heard the barking. He stood up and moved out of their sight. Cassiera slithered between the wall and one of the crates to get a better view. The giant had reached a large wooden door on the far wall and was opening it. They both heard the door thump shut. Not wasting any time, Cassiera darted to the right side of the pile of crates and passed beyond them. She found herself behind a cluster of large barrels or kegs and began twisting among them, looking for a pouch.

   Szordrin removed a bitumen-encased spider from his component pouch and swallowed it quickly. Then he climbed easily up the side of the large crates, coming to the top twenty feet above the floor. Glancing around the 40-foot by 80-foot room, he saw a large weapon rack full of giant-sized weapons on the far left corner beyond where the giant had been sitting. Next to that, left of the thick, wooden door, was a huge golden harp. On the far right corner were a pile of large sacks tossed next to a collection of barrels.

   He drew a wand from his belt and flicked it, because he wanted to check for magical auras, but the sleeve of his cloak got caught on his chainmail, and the spell fizzled. He waved it again, but the spell failed yet a second time, his concentration interrupted, for in the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a naked woman. It was Cassiera in her humanoid form, making no effort to cover herself.

   "Use a spell to detect magic," she said, before her fingers were even completely formed or her long black hair had even finished growing out of her skull. "Point at whatever sack glows, and I'll grab the pebble." With that, her body shrank again, and her arms and legs fused into her torso. In under three seconds, she was back in a snake form.

   "That's what I was trying to do when you distracted me!" said Sozrdrin. His third wave of the wand worked. To his eyes, a glow was forming in the corner of the room with the sacks. He lowered himself and jumped down from the crates into the middle of the floor, and then he ran over to the corner. The aura was definitely coming from within one of the sacks. He pulled at the drawstring, and Cassiera climbed up the bag and into its opening. She found herself in a pile of human-sized coins and began to dig her head into them, searching for the pouch with the pebble.

   They heard someone at the door. "Cassiera, quiet!" whispered Szordrin. He ducked down and hid behind the sacks. The giant entered the room again, spoke some words to someone or something behind him and looked around the room. They heard him walk over to the large crates. Then they heard him walk back. The door shut again.

   Szordrin popped his head up. They were alone in the room. "I'm carrying you out of here," he said. He used all of his strength to lift the entire sack and moved as fast as he could manage back to the crack in the wall behind the crates, using his magic to climb over them again.

   Back in the icy tunnel, he moved slowly, dragging the extra weight behind him. The barking had ceased, which he found odd, but he pressed on, past the intersection and to the tight opening.

   Inside the sack, Cassiera had found a large pouch. If it was a pebble, it was a giant-sized pebble, for whatever was within the pouch was at least the size of a melon. There was also a small stone slab among all the coins.

   She slithered out of the bag and through the opening. Szordrin shoved the bag through the hole, while Cassiera pulled at it from the other end. His pack followed, and then he squeezed through, with less difficulty this time.

   "Where is Mythlos?" he asked, but the snake simply hissed back.

   They made their way back to Cassiera's clothing and gear. She slipped into the pile and returned to her natural form. "That giant suspects that we were here," she said. "I fear that the others did something foolish, which raised the alarm. Come!"

   They squeezed the giant sack into her bag of holding, and hurriedly made their way back to the first intersection of the tunnel. Just as they arrived, the other four came rushing toward them from the north. Hakam was covered in blood and his armor was full of holes, as if he had been gnawed on.

   "What happened?" said Cassiera.

   "What was all that barking?" said Szordrin. "You almost caused us to be discovered."

   "Do you have the pebble?" asked Leokas.

   "We do."

   "Then let us get out of here!"

   "What about the 'something frozen'?" asked Mythlos.

   "It is not worth going back," said Hakam. "Come."
Session: 66th Game Session - Thursday, Feb 18 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Isejotunen
~ ninth-day, 9th of Eleint, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Novularond


The trek across the snow from the Lugalpgotak Range north into the region of the Novularond was slow-going, as they had left their sleds behind. Skata had snowshoes, but the rest had to travel slowly over the snow and ice. The trip began with a descent down the north side of the Lugalpgotak peaks. The way would have been treacherous, but Skata knew a safe way down, which was more gradual.

   It was the coldest day yet for them. Even with their magical protections, they shivered if they ever stopped walking.

   After they descended, they traveled on the featureless flat of the glacier, heading away from the Lugalpgotak mountains. Ahead in the distance, the high, rocky mountains of the Novularond could soon be seen along with their foothills. "We are not actually going into the mountains," Skata explained. "We are going to descend off the glacier and onto the actual ground. Then we will pass into a valley, land claimed by the frost giants. Hopefully, I can find the crevasse that will lead us down."

   After two hours, Skata believed that she had spotted it. "There it is!" she said. "This way."

   They changed course a bit and headed northeast, coming to the very edge of a massive crack in the glacier. From the corner, they could descend carefully down a slope to the bottom of the sheer-walled rift in the ice. When they had descended 500 feet, Skata informed them that they were now walking on "land", though that land was still covered in snow and ice.

   They exited the shadowy path of the crevasse around highsun and entered a very hilly region. Behind them, they could look back on the edge of the glacier ice, where it ended in sloping walls running east and west.

   "These are the foothills of the Novularond," the young giantess told them. "In the late summer, there is even grass here. No one knows how that is possible. This snow here has only accumulated in the last month."

   Skata led them over multiple saddle-points in these hills.

   "The frost giant valley is on the other side of that wall of hills," she continued. Where she pointed, they saw a wall of mountains covered in ice, not mere hills. They were probably 1,000-feet-high on average and very steep. "See those two tallest ones? There is a pass into the valley between them. That is where the sentries will be guarding."

   It took several more hours to reach the pass. They approached from the west side and hung close to the steep slopes. Finally, Skata stopped them. "This is it," said Skata, crouching down to their level and speaking in a quiet voice. "If we go around this corner, we will be in view of the two guards. I am just a girl, so I do not know anything about combat strategy, but I can describe what you are about to face."

   "You will not be fighting with us?" asked Mythlos.

   "I will certainly come with you," said Skata. "Even as a girl, I am probably stronger than an adult frost giant, but I have no weapons and no training. I'll be able to distract one of them and help you with cover, but it will be up to you to decide how to defeat them."

   She proceeded to explain to them the terrain. "The pass is roughly four steps in width and two or three dozen steps in length."

   "I assume you mean giant steps?" said Belvin.

   "Yes. The two peaks are both too steep to climb here, but there is a ledge on the inner walls of each that you can reach if you walk up here or over there. The pass is straight and slopes up slightly to a midpoint and then back down again into the valley. The giants guard that midpoint, standing upon two short, walled, stone platforms — short by giant standards."

   "I figure a 'giant's step' is twelve or fifteen feet," said Leokas. "If they are at the midpoint, that means they will be about 60 to 90 yards away. I can easily make that shot."

   "Not all of us can," said Szordrin. "Even those of us with bows."

   "Your little arrows will not take down a giant easily," said Skata. "They are but needle pricks."

   "This is a magical bow," said Leokas. "You yourself saw it help slay a white dragon."

   "Even so," said Belvin, "the rest of us need to close the range to be useful. Kamil is fast, but not all of us can cover such distances so quickly."

   "Szordrin studied my sword one night back at the palace," said Mythlos. "Its new power to teleport me short distances can be called upon every tenday. I can form a temporary gate right behind one of the giants and strike at its back."

   "You mean its calves?" said Skata. "Grown frost giants are taller than I am."

   "Maybe we can use our magic to sneak past without a fight," suggested Szordrin. "How many of us can we make invisible with our combined magical resources?"

   Their conversation followed such lines for nearly forty-five minutes, as all of them brainstormed a strategy. At last, they gave up on the idea of avoiding the fight altogether and agreed upon a sneak attack. Leokas would coat his magic sleep arrows with yuan-ti poison from Cassiera's supply. Szordrin would make Leokas invisible, and Belvin granted him the ability to walk on air as he had done on their first day on the Great Glacier. This way, he would not leave footprints in the snow and would be able to get a good angle at the giants. He would shoot initial shots at the giants, hopefully catching them off guard and putting them both to sleep. If this failed, Mythlos — whom Hakam first blessed with the endurance of a bear — would teleport behind one of them. At this point everyone would rush forward, hopefully overwhelming the giants with their numbers and the element of surprise.

   Szordrin held up a piece of eyelash encased in gum arabic, which he had pulled from his pouch, and completed a spell. The eyelash and Leokas disappeared from their sight. Mythlos removed a tiny archery target from his spell pouch and whispered the words of a different spell.

   Leokas willed himself to walk upward, as if climbing a staircase, to the east, coming into the view of the pass Skata had described. Her description was accurate. There to the north, somewhere between 100 and 200 feet away, two beings, standing taller than 20 feet each, stood atop short stone towers. Each tower was about ten feet high and a dozen feet in diameter and had a parapet a yard or two tall at the circumference.

   The giants were beefy, thick-bearded males with snow-white skin and bluish hair. Each wore animal pelts and chain-linked shirts of armor with small metal skullcaps. Each giant stood beside a stacked pile of large rocks, and one of them juggled a single rock in his massive hand.

   "Thadh var einhver gódhur bjór í gaerkvöldi!" one of the giants said in conversation with the other. The voice carried over the air.

   "Thadh var, en ekki eins gódh og varir Bertha er!" said the other in response. It sounded like idle talk, though Leokas had no idea what was being said.

   The wood elf lined up his shot.

   "Ég myndi velja bjór yfir Bertha. Hún er of thunnt fyrir mig!"

   "Thegidhu!"

   The giants were arguing about something, but despite this, each one was scanning the area. Each looked directly at Leokas' location several times, but they definitely could not see him.

   It was now or never. He loosed his arrow. As soon as his finger came off the shaft, Beshaba must have smiled, for the giant at which he was shooting happened to be looking directly at him as the spell ceased its power. He sent the rock he had been holding in Leokas' direction, before the arrow struck him in the shoulder. Leokas already had his second arrow nocked, but he perceived the large rock hurling toward him and expertly moved to the side to avoid being struck directly. Even so, he was sideswiped by the stone and spun around in the air. Almost immediately, he was struck by a second stone in the chest, which knocked him back through the air and took the wind from him.

   "Bodhflenna!" shouted the first giant. The magical arrow seemed to have had no effect on the giant, nor did the poison seem to harm him.

   On the ground, Belvin and Hakam began summoning help. Mythlos took a step forward and vanished. Szordrin waved his hands and spoke some magic words and five illusionary copies of himself appeared in a cluster around him. Skata stepped around the corner, and as she did so a cloud of thick fog emanated quickly from somewhere in front of her.

   The second giant threw first one and then a second large rock in Skata's direction, but whether they struck or not was unclear, as the giantess was now hidden in her cloud. Also, as he released his second stone, he yelled out in pain as Mythlos stood behind him atop the parapet of the tower and gashed at the back of his upper thighs with his moonblade, just below the buttocks.

   Stormshadow whined when she looked up and saw her master struggling to descend out of the air and into safety. Thankfully, the first giant focused his attention on the cloud giantess and threw more stones in her direction. Leokas chugged a potion bottle from his belt once he was behind the giantess' cloud, and Hakam reached him as well with his hand glowing in positive energy. The ranger felt his strength return.

   Cassiera, with Ilthian behind her, charged across the snow, entering Skata's cloud. "Are you injured?" shouted Cassiera.

   "I am fine, thanks," answered Skata. They heard her grunt, as if she were heaving something.

   Then the yuan-ti woman heard strange grinding noises, and in the fog, she thought she saw a couple giant beetles pass, staying close to the western wall of the pass. Then she heard Kamil's nuzzing as Belvin rode him into the cloud as well.

   On the other side of the pass, 150 feet from the others, Mythlos got in a second swing at the giant, spraying his blood onto the snow, as he turned to face the elf. Beyond the massive humanoid, Mythlos saw a fire elemental melting its way over the snow toward the two towers. The giant avoided his third swing and swung his own fist down like a sledgehammer, dizzying the elf, but Mythlos stepped backwards off the parapet and landed on his feet on the snow three yards below to avoid a second blow.

   Skata was now out of her cloud and in the open, hustling her way toward the first giant. He hurled two more stones at her. She avoided the first and caught the second in her hand, as if they were playing catch. She winged it back at him, striking him in the chest with a loud thump. Cassiera and Ilthian, who bravely held her small carving knife out, were close behind her.

   Now healed, Leokas positioned himself just above the magic cloud and began loosing arrows again, this time adding a regular arrow alongside a second sleep-inducing, poisoned arrow. His arrows hit, causing a violent wince from his target, but again, the giant remained conscious.

   The second giant prepared to drop a stone down on Mythlos' head, but the moon elf called out a command word, and the elephant figurine, which he had secretly dropped atop the platform, sprung to life and grew to its enormous size. The giant deftly leapt from the tower to avoid being squished by the pachyderm's mass, landing on the ground below, sending a spray of snow into the air.

   Standing to the right of Skata's magical cloud, the six Szordrins waved their hands in unison, each holding a bit of bat guano in their hands. "Ixen!" he shouted, and a tiny speck of light shot from one of the six wizards' fingertips, arched through the air toward the towers, and erupted in a ball of fire, accompanied by a loud shockwave. The explosion was perfectly placed so that the fire engulfed both giants and harmed none of the tiefling's allies.

   Cassiera, still running behind Skata and beside Ilthian, finally was within range of her targets. She sent three waves of force into the first giant with a shout and a wave of her hand, as Belvin, riding by on Kamil, touched Skata and gave her a magical boost of strength. Stormshadow was also now beyond Skata's cloud, as were the now two fire elementals Belvin had summoned and the cluster of three giant fire beetles Hakam had called and enlarged.

   The first giant was still raining stones down on his attackers, but he was now missing. The stones hit the ground like cannonballs, spraying snow in all directions and making it hard to see. He called out in pain when he was struck by one of Leokas' kerrenderit arrows. As the dwarf had promised, the arrow's barbs ripped through the giant's flesh. The giant sentry stopped throwing rocks and tried to pull the arrow out, only to be struck by two more. These, however, did not strike as deep, being resisted by the giant's armor.

   As he continued struggling to remove the arrow, the fire elementals reached the short tower, but they could not climb it, so they moved to the northeast to attack the second giant. This one was trying to circle the tower to strike at Mythlos with his fists while avoiding being struck by the powerful force of the trapped elephant's truck being swung at it from atop the small tower. A second fireball exploded in the vicinity, as magic words vanished from one of Szordrin's scrolls. The fire elementals were in the blast zone too but were not at all harmed by the flame. The giants struggled to quickly pat out the flames from their clothing.

   A stream of projectiles, arrows from Leokas, missiles of magic from Cassiera, and a packed, giant-sized snowball from Skata, flew at the first giant, yet still he stood tall. Then, Belvin reached the tower, stood atop Kamil's back as the camel charged, and leapt onto the parapet of the tower, magic scimitar raised. He slashed to the side with a wild yell, severing the giant's chainmail and spraying blood from his thigh. The giant pummeled the wild elf with his fist, but he was weakened, and Belvin somehow took the hits against his buckler without crumbling. The giant raised his fist again for a more powerful blow, but another arrow and three missiles of force from Szordrin at last finished him off. He tumbled backward like a falling tree and tumbled off the tower with a crash that shook the ground. Hakam's beetles reached his fallen body and began to gnaw at it with their pincers.

   Things were not going so well at the other tower. Mythlos had taken several blows from the angry giant and been unable to get a good strike in himself with his sword. Now he was staggering about. Another blow would surely knock him out cold. The elephant was stuck atop the tower and could only whack the giant with its trunk a few times. Stormshadow had reached the giant and was snapping at the back of his legs, but they were too thick for her to get her jaws around. Ilthian was on her way to the fight, but Hakam yelled for her to stop. She hesitated at first, but then obeyed him. The cleric himself was sprinting as fast as he could toward Mythlos, as Mythlos tried to heal himself with his magic sword, and Szordrin sent a sphere of flame in the direction of the giant.

   This was all too late. As Mythlos tried to back around the tower to get away from the giant, he wound up and gave a punch so powerful that it knocked Mythlos clear off his feet and sent him five feet through the air. He struck the tower, and his skull cracked open against the stone. The elf's body slid to the ground and was still, leaving a trail of blood against the wall.

   The two fire elementals reached him, as did Skata. The giant hopped over the flaming sphere that Szordrin controlled and kicked at one of the elementals. Three arrows flew at the giant. One glanced off his helmet, but the other struck him in the neck. Still, the frost giant fought on. He punched Skata in the face as she tried to grab at him. Skata spun around from the strike, and blood sprayed from her nose. Then a jolt of electricity shot from Cassiera's fingertips, and two more arrows from Leokas' magical blow plunged deep into their tall opponent. He stumbled and tumbled over. His massive body fell towards Skata and Stormshadow, who jumped out of the way to avoid being crushed.

   Hakam finally reached his fallen comrade and once again saved him from the brink of death.
Session: 65th Game Session - Thursday, Feb 04 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Life in a Cloud Giant Palace
~ third-day, 23rd of Eleasias, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Nafni's palace, Lugalpgotak Range


Cassiera was woken by a short scream of shock from Ilthian. She glanced around to find herself lying in a small room with four walls of smooth wood and no ceiling before remembering that she had slept in a giantess' dresser drawer that night.

   "Put some clothes on!" she heard Ilthian say.

   Cassiera stood up and peeked over the top of the drawer. Ilthian was standing on the floor looking up at Skata. The giantess had naught but a towel around her waist.

   "But I just came from the baths, little one!" Skata replied.

   "But you are not there now," argued Ilthian.

   "What does that matter? Do you not change in front of your pets?"

   "We are not your pets!" said Cassiera angrily.

   "I meant no offense," said Skata, "but do you not see my point?"

   "I do not!" said the yuan-ti.

   "I do not want...," Ilthian began. "Hakam would not approve! He is very sensitive to matters of modesty and proper custom. Things are done very differently in his country of Calimshan. He has not come out yet, has he?"

   "I let him and the wild-looking elf out into the garden earlier this morning," said Skata, "so that they could pray to their gods and so the dogs and camel could get exercise."

   Ilthian gasped. "Were you dressed like that?"

   "I had my nightdress on. Calm down, tiny lady. If it matters so much to you, I shall change in the bathhouse next time. Speaking of clothing, I think you slept on my tunic last night, Cassiera. Please, excuse me while I get it out of that drawer."

~~~~

Hakam was indeed out in the garden, having finished his prayers. The "garden" was a series of massively large and long rectangular pots in which a variety of flowered plants were growing. These plants must have been adapted to the cold, and they were not like any Hakam had seen before, being so large to seem as trees to him. These pots were no longer level, since the palace had come to settle on hilly terrain. The pots were arranged in a square enclosure that could be accessed only from Skata's tower and must have rested on the roof of a former colonnade of the palace. The dogs were playing among the giant stems and barking. If Skata meant to keep them secret, they were not going to help matters. Kamil was resting a ways off, with Belvin leaning against him.

   Hakam quieted his mind and listened for a response. He had just attempted magical contact with Jayce.

   "Mummy demanded Samber meet her, lest she kill forokell. Epic battle, north shore. He surrendered. We left island. She teleported with him, but he anchored...." Jayce's voice faded away before Hakam could make out the last words.

   Since his god still only granted him the power to send a message once per day, he got Belvin and went inside to share his news with the others.

   "Samber may yet live," the cleric informed the others, "but the mummy has taken him. At least Jayce is still alive and one other. I will need to contact him tomorrow for more."

   "The mummy overpowered Samber!" exclaimed Mythlos. "How?"

   "I do not know," said Hakam. "Jayce got cut off. He was saying something about being 'anchored' by Samber. I'm not sure what he meant. I will not know for another day. At least we know he lives."

   "Mythlos and I need time to use the library here anyhow," said Szordrin. "Skata said that she would sneak us in to study new magics."

   Skata sat on a stool, dressed in a new outfit, listening to their discussion. She was about to respond when there was a loud rap on her door. "Quick! Into the closet," she whispered. "Shoo!"

   They obeyed, and she shut the massive door behind them. Szordrin lay prone and looked under the door. He saw Skata open her bedchamber door partway, blocking whoever was on the other side from entering.

   "Skata, hvad er alt dette gøen?" came a booming male voice.

   "Intet," said Skata.

   "Open my ears," Hakam prayed in a whisper.

   "Nothing?" Hakam heard the male say. "Skata, I am not deaf! Did you get a new pet when you visited the little people? Let me see!"

   Hakam whispered the conversation to the others.

   "No, you cannot see yet, Bjorn. It is a surprise."

   "A surprise? It is hardly a surprise if they keep yapping. Let me see!"

   "I said no! Go away! Wait until your birthday."

   "My birthday is not for another month!"

   "Be patient then! Now, go!"

   "Wait! I promise not to peek, but there is something else."

   "Yes?"

   "Have you used the scrying pool recently? When I went to use it the other day, I found it empty. I hauled up several buckets, but it no longer seems to hold water. It poured all out into the crack in the floor."

   "That is very odd."

   "It is."

   "I have not found the hole yet."

   "Perhaps the ground shifted and caused damage to the pool. It was a miracle it did not break when we crashed to begin with."

   "Perhaps. I suppose I shall have to try and fix it this tenday."

   "Let me know how that goes. I need to finish getting dressed. Bye now." She shut the door and bolted it.

   "You can come out now," she called in Common.

   "We cannot reach the knob," said Belvin.

   "Oh, of course!"

   Before she could let them out though, there was another knock on the door. This time, they heard a woman's voice. Hakam explained to them that she was accepting food from a maid.

   When she let them out of the closet, she set a large plate on the floor. It contained a whole goat and a pile of grapes the size of apples.

   "I had Elda bring me twice as much food," she said. "She knows enough not to ask questions. I figured that one serving would be enough for all of you. I hope that Mythlos is happy enough with the grapes." She sat at a desk and began eating her own goat as if it were a turkey leg.

   The adventurers used their daggers and knives to carve the meat and enjoyed a filling breakfast. While they ate, Skata confessed what they had expected, that she had sabotaged the scrying pool. "Otherwise, Bjorn would scry on you and find you in my room," she said.

   When they finished eating, Szordrin said, "You mentioned that you would sneak us into your library of magic."

   "I did, yes," said Skata. "I will not be able to do so until night when the other giants are asleep though."

   "Do you have spell-scribing implements?"

   "I believe that we do, but they are dusty and unused. We have not had wizards among us for a long time. You are free to use whatever materials you need as part of your reward for helping me."

   "Do you have the authority to offer these things to us?" asked Hakam.

   "Nobody ever uses them," she replied. "As long as you do not leave a mess, it will never be noticed that you were in there. Besides, how much parchment can a person your size use? Human writings are so small, I have to squint to make them out.

   "Which reminds me, I never did show you the map!" She opened a drawer in her desk and removed a sheet, which to her was but a scrap of paper. Leokas reached out his hand and accepted it.



   The map was drawn on a dark sheet of parchment and showed narrow passages in the ice. Words in Common in dark red ink highlighted a few features: "entrance," "something frozen," and "GIANTS!"

   Mythlos looked over Leokas shoulder. "I wonder what 'something frozen' is — treasure?"

   "Whatever you find in there is yours," said Skata. "I only want the pebble."

   "When do we set out?" said Leokas.

   "Not until we have had time to study new magic," said Szordrin.

   "I think we should learn more about the status of Jayce and Samber's island," said Hakam.

   "What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" asked Leokas. "No offense to you, Skata, but I do not see much of interest or use to us within a giantess' bedchamber."

   "You can freely go out into my garden," she said. "It is large enough for you to get exercise."

   "Door knobs," said Belvin.

   "Right. I suppose I could find a saw and carve you a little opening....

   "I could also sneak you into the sauna," she continued, "but I fear that you would melt like a candle in the heat with your thin skin. There are also the baths, but they would be like an ocean to you; you might drown."

   "Being smaller has no effect at all on our ability to swim," corrected Belvin. "I will have you know that we have swum with sharks!"

   "Can you find me some small wood scraps, Skata?" Leokas asked, "— too small for use as a giant but still of high-quality wood?"

   "I can do that," she said.

   "I suppose that I can craft more arrows today," said Leokas, "but my quivers will be packed full before the afternoon. Let us be ready to leave again tomorrow."

~~~~

"What are you doing?" asked Ilthian.

   "Carving arrows," Leokas explained.

   "May I watch?"

   "If you wish."

   Leokas continued carving. As he did so, he hummed a little elven tune.

   "What song is that?"

   "Actually, it is a song that elves sing to each other to commemorate one's day of birth. It is the 23rd of Eleasias today. We were so intent on traveling here yesterday that I had forgotten it was my own birthday."

   "What is a birthday?" Ilthian asked.

   "It is the day one is.... It means that I am now 126 years old."

   "Wow. That is older than anyone I know."

   "Belvin is older still," said the elf.

   "How does 'birth' work?" she asked. "It has been mentioned before, but I still do not understand."

   "Perhaps you should ask Cassiera about that sometime," said Leokas.

~~~~

The next morning, despite Leokas' wishes, they were not ready to leave. In the early morning, while it was still dark, Skata brought Mythlos and Szordrin back from the old magical library tower, riding in the pockets of her robe. The two had spent eight hours of the night perusing spellbooks and old tomes nearly as long as they were tall and using four-foot-long magical quills to transfer spells from scroll or spellbook.

   "Only one spell each!" Leokas exclaimed, when they reported their progress.

   "One cannot rush magic," said Mythlos. "It doesn't work that way."

   "How much more time do you need?"

   "I believe we have acquired enough scrolls — and that old musty spellbook I found in the jungle — to spend a tenday transferring," said Szordin, "and that ignores time to learn new spells from the giants' stash. I found a powerful fire evocation I believe that I could master if I had a little more time, which would assist us greatly if we were to face any frost giants. They are sensitive to fire, are they not, Skata?"

   "Yes, they are sensitive to heat and flame," answered the giantess, as she sat in yet another outfit, this one with silver stitchings. "They have no innate magics as we cloud giants do; they are simply more tolerant of cold."

   "Unless we do something wrong — or if Mythlos charges on ahead of us — we won't be facing any frost giants directly," said Leokas.

   "Well," said Skata. "There are two sentries at the pass into the frost giants' valley."

   "You told us we would not have to fight them!"

   "I meant that you would not have to fight all of them. Once we pass by the two sentries, you should not have to face any others, but the ice cavern entrance is located within frost giant territory, which we would need to enter."

   "There is no other way into the valley?"

   "Not unless you can fly. I can float like a cloud, but I cannot fly."

   Leokas sighed. "I am not happy with this delay. Does no one else understand that all of Toril may be at stake?"

   Just then, Hakam came in from Skata's garden. (The previous day, she had carved a human-sized hole at the bottom of the door and covered it with some thick cloth to serve as an exit for the party.) "I have another update from Jayce," he said. "The bard explained that Nargroth and Oma were both with him on The Daisy. Samber dimensionally anchored the three of them as they watched him battle the mummy. It appears that he secretly protected them so that when she teleported away with him, they were spared."

   "Where are they now?"

   "I am not certain. I would need another day to find out."

   "It looks like you will have several more days at least," said Leokas.

~~~~

Despite Leokas' grumblings, they indeed waited a total of sixteen nights before they were ready to set out. During this time, Mythlos and Szordrin mastered a large collection of new spells, some shared from each other's spellbooks, some transfered from magic scrolls, and some learned from old, dusty giant tomes.

   Szordrin also identified the assortment of magical items that they had found over the last few months. The magic rope could be commanded to climb cliffs or walls and fasten itself. The mummified hand, which the white dragon had worn, granted the wearer minor telekinetic powers. The dragon's wand created multiple illusions of the caster as a form of defense. Beyond this, he had also scribed a handful of useful scrolls to have at ready, which he stuffed into his belt.

   Cassiera practiced controlling her magical abilities in the garden. She increased the number of magical shock waves she could control at once from one to three.

   Skata spent much of her time in her room studying schoolbooks or practicing at her harp. Every morning, she would visit the bathhouse, and every night she would visit the saunas. Every other day, she would depart somewhere for classes. She had her maid deliver food for her and rarely joined the other giants in the feasting hall. In fact, none of them saw more than a glimpse of other giants at all.

   Leokas and Belvin shot archery together in the garden. On one occasion, the stone walls were struck hard and shook while they were aiming. They took cover and heard some shouting from down below the colonnade. They reported this to Skata, who explained that the giants enjoyed throwing large rocks for sport, much like they were practicing their archery. She supposed that one of them probably overshot and struck the wall. "The giant races never developed archery throughout their long history," she explained. "Instead, we are all taught to throw and catch from a young age."

   Ilthian busied herself with asking questions about the world and sometimes sat cross-legged on the top of Skata's desk as the young giantess studied her schoolwork. Ilthian picked up a good deal of the cloud giant language, Jotunskye, and a fair amount of giant history as well.

   "Hakam, did you know that giants once had an empire that covered the entire world?" she asked. "Did giants ever rule over Calimshan?"

   "I learned in my schooling that giants once ruled in Calimshan, yes. That was over 14,000 years ago. They warred with the elves and awoke the dragons. When Calim and his genies arrived after that, about 9,000 years ago, he conquered all of them."

   For his part, Hakam had contacted Jayce several more times. On the third morning, the 25th of Eleasias, Hakam learned that The Daisy was sailing for Chult and that Ombert estimated half a tenday until land. The ship was ultimately headed back to Tethyr, which would be another month of sailing. Jayce inquired as to their whereabouts.

   On the 26th, Hakam explained that they were still on the Great Glacier, in Alpuk, staying with a friendly giantess and seeking a way back. In return, he learned that Jayce planned to contact the brass dragon Sseth, their friend, to seek advice.

   On the 27th, Hakam confirmed that Samber's islanders were all alive and well.

   On the 28th, Hakam asked Ilthian if she wished to send a message to her father. "I know he will be very angry with me for disobeying him and joining you in the mine," she said, "but I do owe it to him to let him know that I am safe and protected by you."

   However, when Hakam tried sending to Carthar, there was no response.

   "The whole island must be protected from magical communication, then," said Leokas.

   "I could try contacting the hobgoblins to test that theory," said Hakam.

   The next day, he tried this. "I have heard that a massive mage battle took place on the island, between the wizard Samber and a powerful mummy. Is your tribe safe?"

   Shortly, he received a reply from Grak. "I know of no such battle, but when we went to the north bay, we found a strange abandoned ship. 'Captain Stubs' sails again!"

   "Which ship?" asked Leokas.

   "It must be Samber's vessel," said Hakam.

   "Did it not have Samber's armored guards on it?" asked Szordrin.

   "Perhaps the mummy destroyed them in the battle?"

   "Or the hobgoblins overpowered them," said Leokas. "In any case, this is terrible news. The pirates will begin terrorizing the islands again."

   "At least they will not hurt my people anymore," said Ilthian.

   "We seem to have confirmed our theory," said Hakam. "Samber protected the island from magical communication."

   On the next day, Hakam tried one more test and sent a message to Ilthian. He heard her giggle in his mind and reply, "Hakam, I am in the next room sitting on Skata's desk."

   After this, Hakam sent word to his superior, Mualak yn Kurush el Anachtyr. "Rafayam, while on the quest Anachtyr assigned me, I have learned that the mummy, El Sadhara, is active again. I will send more details tomorrow." Thus began several days of communication with the Syl-Justicar of Memnon, but whatever Hakam heard back from the high priest he did not share with the others.

   Finally, by the ninth of Eleint, they were ready. Very early in the morning, they readied their gear and prepared to have Skata lower them one-by-one from her tower window.

   "Do not forget your dwarven arrows," said Belvin. Leokas had been storing them in the garden this whole time lest they melt. "We may well need them today."
Session: 65th Game Session - Thursday, Feb 04 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — The Immoth
~ first-day, 21st of Eleasias, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Gotokok

On the morning of the sukkiruchit, the first day of the tenday, the village was at its busiest yet, but the adventurers were instead preparing their dog sleds and teams to ride alongside Skata to the Lugalpgotak Sea and then north into the Lugalpgotak Mountains.

   They had explained to Tirmuk their change in plans, but he assured them that if they ever returned, he would still be able to lead them to Hykopgruk in exchange for a new kayak.

   It was another cold but calm day as they set out traveling directly to the east, and they encountered no wildlife or monsters.

   They stopped for lunch, and Skata sat on the ground looking sad. "I ate all my food the other day on the walk to the little village," she said. "I did not plan very well."

   They offered her some of their meat, but she laughed. "That would only whet my appetite and make me feel worse," she said. "I could eat double the full amount you have left and still be hungry!"

   "Have you ever been to the Plane of Air, Skata?" Leokas asked her, when he had finished eating.

   "No, I have not," she said. "Annam All-Father gave Toril to his children. Only the titans have abandoned it."

   By the end of the day, they had reached the Lugalpgotak Sea. The vast sea was covered in pack ice, icebergs ranging in size from a few yards to floating islands of ice that looked large enough to hold entire villages. Many seals lounged on the ice.

   "Ulutiu, who betrayed Annam All-Father, sleeps deep below these waters," said Skata, "or so the tales say, though I do not believe it."

   When they asked her more about this, she told them that it would be best not to talk about such things.

   She had them continue for a half hour more until they reached a stream, an outlet from the sea. The stream was covered with transparent ice at this point. "This is the first of three streams we have to cross," she told them. "We should cross and then rest for the night." With that, she took a couple steps and hopped across the twenty-foot-wide stream. Then she looked back and realized that the others could not so easily get across.

   "Now, I didn't think about this problem before," Skata pondered. "I can just hop across, but I don't think little creatures like you can jump that far, can you? I'm so sorry! I keep forgetting how disabled you all are with your short legs."

   "Can't you just carry each of us across in your hands?" asked Szordrin.

   She agreed and found herself giggling with each person she carried over. "You don't weigh anything!" she exclaimed. The sled dogs did not like being moved in this manner. A few tried to bite her, but her thick giant skin prevented them from causing her any harm. "It tickles!" she said.

   They made camp by the water, now on the northern edge of the Sea. Skata took her harp from her hip and began to strum a peaceful melody. Considering the fact that the harp was human-sized, her skill at strumming each note was impressive. Mythlos — and his magic toad — sang a tune with lyrics that Jayce had taught him.

   "You have a beautiful voice," she said.

   "You play excellently," said the moon elf.

   She laughed. "It is nothing. My people are lovers of music and art. I know no one in my home who is not a better musician than I."

   "Jayce would have loved to visit then," said Mythlos.

   "Who is Jayce?" she asked.

   "A friend," said Mythlos. "He was left behind on the island."

   "Tell me about this island," she said. "Remember, Bjorn and I first saw you when you slew the dragon. We know nothing of the adventure you had that brought you here."

   As it grew darker, they filled her in on some of their prior adventures. She was delighted with every story.

   Leokas showed her the omlar gem. "Is the pebble we seek for you anything like this?"

   "No, it is a stone, not a carved gem like this one. These are Dethek runes, and the symbol of arcane fire. E, A, M...."

   "Yes, it spells the name 'Samber'. That much we know."

~~~~

The night passed peacefully. The 22nd of Eleasias was calm and cold, as most of the days had been. By mid-morning, they had reached a second stream. Skata once again carried each of them across.

   "That there is my home," Skata said, pointing at a the mountain range of white they could see in the distance. "See the palace?" They could not, not even the elves.

   They continued traveling along the coast of the Sea. Here, the water was jammed with high, floating cliff walls of ice.

   Around mid-afternoon, they reached the final of the three streams. This one was wider than the other two, but not too far for Skata to jump, though she needed to get a running start to land far enough from the shore not to crack the ice with her landing.

   At last the elves could make out what she had been pointing at earlier, a blip of dark against the white of the mountains, some fifteen miles or so away. Leokas found it odd that the blip was not surrounded in cloud.

   "I do not think we will be able to reach the palace until after dark," she said, "but I think we should press on anyhow. I would like to sleep in my own bed tonight, and I need a warm bath."

   She led them along the Sea, heading east, for about one more hour; then, she had them turn to the north and head into the foothills of the Lugalpgotak Mountains. Two more hours passed, and they were well into the foothills now. The slope of the land kept increasing. The dogs began to grow weary. "Put the dogs on the sleds," she said. "Let them rest. I can drag the sleds uphill. The rest of you will have to walk the rest of the way. It is going to become too rough for sleds anyway."

   The terrain did grow rougher, and large rocks began appearing through the ice. The sun had also set fully now, so it was dark, and they were all hungry, having exhausted their food supplies. Even so, they had traveled in far worse conditions.

   Then Leokas spotted something airborne. "Skata," he warned, "look!"

   Everyone turned and saw a large prismatic object floating toward them. Soon, they saw that it had a roughly humanoid body, with two legs, two arms, and a tail. It was about nine feet tall and seemed to be a creature carved from solid ice.

   "That is not a frost giant is it?" asked Szordrin.

   "No," said Skata. "I do not know what it is." She bent down and began to make a boulder-sized snowball.

   "An elemental of some sort then?" the wizard guessed. "From one of the para-elemental planes?"

   The creature floated nearer. They could now see that it had sharp claws on its hands and feet. Icicle-like projections grew from its face like a beard. It came to rest fifteen feet from them. They noticed that Skata's feet were no longer resting on the snow; she was floating a foot or two off the surface, much like Vashti used to do. She had packed her snow boulder into a ball of packed ice.

   Cassiera's magical yuan-ti eyes could see an aura of green around the sharp tip of the strange creature's tail. It was poisonous.

   Now that it had landed, they could also see that its body was covered in glowing runes, somewhat like tattoos, carved into its icy body. It had a rope around its shoulder, but otherwise was unclothed and appeared sexless. It looked them over carefully. Then it spoke slowly, with a deep calculated voice. "What are you?" It directed its question directly at Cassiera.

   "Who is asking?" she replied.

   "I do not have a name," said the creature, "though I have been called Isskegg before."

   "A fitting name," said Skata.

   "What does that mean?" asked Szordrin.

   "It is Jotun for 'ice beard'," she said.

   "I am Cassiera," said the yuan-ti.

   "I did not ask you who you are; I asked what you are. You are not an elf. You are not a dwarf. You are not a giant. You have strange skin on your neck for a human. What are you?"

   "I am a yuan-ti," she said, "one of the many serpentfolk of the world."

   "Hmm," the creature said, almost humming. Then it turned and gazed at Szordrin. "What are you?"

   "Do we even know that yet?" said Hakam.

   "Yes, I told you all back in Chult that I am a tiefling," said Szordrin.

   "A tiefling?" said the creature.

   "A tiefling. I am a human with fiendish blood in my ancestry, but I am mostly human."

   "Hmm," the creature said.

   "What are you?" asked Mythlos.

   "It is not your turn to ask questions," said the creature. So they remained silent. It looked at Mythlos next. "You are a silver elf, yes?"

   Mythlos nodded.

   "You are a copper elf. You are a cloud giant. You are a green elf."

   "A wild elf," said Belvin. "My people find the term 'green elf' offensive."

   "What are you?" the creature asked, staring intently at Ilthian.

   "I am a forokell, sir. Now it is our turn, I think," she said bravely.

   "Yes, yes. It is your turn to ask me questions."

   "What are you?" repeated Mythlos.

   "I am an immoth."

   "Are you from another plane?" asked Szordrin.

   "Perhaps once. Now, I have no home."

   "What do you want from us?" asked Mythlos.

   "I desire knowledge."

   "What sort of knowledge?" asked Szordrin.

   "Deep knowledge, old knowledge, knowledge of other times and places."

   "We could tell him of the blue dragon's treasure perhaps," suggested Mythlos.

   "Or the ruins of Calim's harem palace," said Leokas.

   "What will you do if we give you this knowledge you seek?" asked Szordrin.

   "I will let you pass."

   "And if we give you no such knowledge?" asked Skata.

   "I will eat you," said the immoth matter-of-factually.

   "Show him Samber's journal," said Leokas. Szordrin did so, approaching the ice creature carefully and handing it to it.

   The immoth took the book in its sharp claws and turned a few pages. Apparently, it could read extremely quickly. It tossed the book back on the snow in front of Szordrin. "No," it said. "This Samber seems a powerful mage, but the words that give him his power are not on these pages. I desire words, words of knowledge, words of power. Can you tell me where to find him?"

   "We fear he is dead," said Hakam.

   The immoth shook its head. "That will do no good."

   Szordrin next tried the fragment he carried with the logo of the Interlink Consortium.

   "Hmm," said the immoth as it studied the symbol intently.

   "Why are you hunting that symbol down, Szordrin?" asked Hakam.

   "It represents the scum of Toril," was the tiefling's only reply.

   The immoth shook its head again. "I do not know this symbol, but there is no power in it."

   "If you ever see it again, find me," said Szordrin.

   Mythlos unrolled one of his arcane scrolls. "What about this?"

   The immoth seemed able to read the scroll and understand the spell it contained. It stepped back suddenly, moving more quickly then they had yet seen it move. "No, no, no," it intoned. "I cannot control fire; I am a being of ice."

   "What about this one?" said Szordrin, holding up another scroll. "It is a magic of shadow, not of fire."

   "Hmm," the immoth hummed. "Hmm," it said again. "I have found many words of shadow magic of late, but I have not found this one. I will have it." It snatched the scroll from Szordrin's hands. Then, it started to turn around and walk away. "There is no more to talk about now." It stopped suddenly. "You may have this rope, and these useless stones," the immoth said. It tossed the rope it had carried to the ground and with it a pouch that it must have held in one of its large hands the whole time. Then, without saying anything else, Isskegg floated away.

   "Well, then, that was weird," said Skata. She reconnected with the ground and tossed her snowball down the side of the mountain.

~~~~

"The rope is magical," said Szordrin, after casting a spell.

   "And this bag of coins weighs more than my armor," said Mythlos. "It is all gold too."

   The magic rope was knotted through a small wooden ring, which had Dwarven runes on it. They showed it to Skata, who struggled to read it, since the runes were so small to her eyes. "Yes, this is Jotun," she said. "Ormur er meg nom., which means, 'My name is Ormur.'"

   "Ormur, Ormur, Ormur," said Belvin. The rope quivered in response as if alive.

   "Ormur, tie yourself into a figure eight knot," said Leokas. The rope obeyed, resulting in a beautiful knot.

   "Now this will come in handy," said Leokas.

   Szordrin picked up the rope.

   Hakam took issue with this. "That rope is certainly worth more than the low-power spell you gave that creature!"

   "Not from its point of view!"

   "We should keep climbing," said Skata. "Settle your disagreement later. Come."

~~~~

At last they came upon the fallen cloud palace. The complex was a mile wide, spread out now over several hills. It had fared relatively well from its slow fall from the sky. Walls and colonnades that had connected the various towers were broken apart, but the towers themselves stood upright for the most part, though some had more tilt than others. The construction was rather simple; the palace seemed to have been constructed from massive stone bricks. If cloud giants were lovers of art, architecture was not considered a great art. This is not to say that the palace did not appear impressive, but it did so from its shear size, not from the beauty of its edifices.

   Skata had them stay away from the main gate. "I will take you up to my tower through my bedroom window. I do not want anyone else to know you are here."

   "What about the dogs?" one of them asked. "We cannot keep them from barking."

   "They seem exhausted from the long day now. In the morning, I may have to think of something. There are other dogs in the palace. Giants keep pets just like you elves and humans do. Our walls our also thick. I do not know; I shall think of something.

   "Come now, who is first? Hop onto my hands."

   One by one, all rode on Skata's hands like on an elevator, as she used her magical power over wind to float the several giant-sized stories to the top of her tower and let her passenger step onto the window sill of her chamber. It was somewhat terrifying seeing such a large-sized room.

   "Where will we all be staying?" asked Ilthian, once they were all within the room.

   "You can all hide in this closet," Skata suggested. "Just be careful not to knock over my boots and hurt yourselves. I will bring you some pillows from my bed to sleep on. What will work for a chamber pot? A tea cup, perhaps? I shall go find one. If there is not enough room among my boots in there, some of you might fit in this bottom clothes drawer in this dresser, if I empty it first." She removed a large weight of clothes from the bottom drawer and tossed them on her bed.

   It was a somewhat awkward arrangement, but the adventurers were so tired from the long day's journey, they put up with it and rested for the night, wondering what a day in a cloud giant palace would entail on the morrow.
Session: 64th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 21 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Skata Karisdottr
Around dinnertime, there was some murmuring in the guest camp, and folk began pointing at a strange fog that had appeared in the distance and was now approaching at a fast pace over the snow. This was all the more strange as there was otherwise no significant wind, barely even a breeze.

   Hakam prayed, "Anachtyr, purge all hidden things from around me!" A ripple emanated from his body, but nothing invisible revealed itself. He bravely approached the incoming cloud. Leokas nocked an arrow.

   Suddenly, from within the cloudy mist, a tall figure emerged, first one enormous brown boot, wearing a snowshoe, followed by the rest of her massive figure. Tall was an understatement — the woman standing before them was over seventeen feet high. Her sharp-featured face looked about the age of a teenager, yet the muscles of her bare arms were defined like that of an athlete from the Thulbanian Games. Her skin was milky-white, much like an albino, yet it had a blue tint to it, similar to Mythlos'. Her long hair was the color of polished brass and was braided in two pigtails held in place with silver combs. She wore thick and high fur-rimmed boots, a skirt of leather and fur over leather leggings, and a fur-rimmed tunic. Her clothing was decorated with intricate patterns sewn in with thick golden thread, and she wore white gloves and, around her neck, a necklace of pink pearls. At her hip belt hung a huge brass mug inlaid with jade stones, a couple velvet pouches, and a human-sized golden harp.

   Many of the Iulutiuns drew their iuaks, while others rushed to grab weapons from among those being prepared for trade. "Isejotun!" was a cry that the adventurers heard, but the arctic dwarves nearby tried to calm the Ulutiuns, and the giantess herself shook her head. "Ekki et isejotun, et skyejotun," she said with a booming but pleasant, youthful voice. "I am a cloud giant, silly little peoples," she said in Common, "do not be afraid. I mean no harm." The arctic dwarves quickly translated this information to the frightened humans.

   Leokas lowered his bow, not that the giantess seemed bothered by it. Her eyes quickly scanned the crowd. She spotted the adventuring party and her face lit up with excitement. "Oh, there you are! You are even tinier in real life." She crouched down and rested her arms on her knees to get a closer look at them, and her head was still a good eight feet above the ground. "Oh my gods! look at your tiny pointed elf ears," she said, staring at Mythlos. "And look at you!" She glanced over at Hakam. "You aren't even as tall as my knees. So cute! May I pick you up?"

   "First, introduce yourself," said the cleric.

   Before she could answer, an arctic dwarf ran up suddenly from somewhere in the village proper. The adventurers had not noticed this particular dwarf before. He bore a large harpoon of some sort, which was oversized for him, and it looked like he might shove it into the giant woman, but he stopped short and shook it at her while shouting out with a booming voice, demanding that she declare her name and purpose.

   The giantess stood back up to her full height and placed her hands on her hips. "I am Skata Karisdottr," she said proudly. "I have come here to take this little group of funny people back to my granduncle's palace."

   "Who is your granduncle?" shouted Szordrin, but the giantess had burst out laughing, almost snorting, and didn't seem to have heard the question. "Put that stick away, short, little runt," she said to the dwarf, "before you hurt someone."

   "I am not a runt! I am Nurthal of the Inugaakalikurit of Novularond," he said, "and I have slain many giants!" but despite his efforts at sounding tough, his high-pitched voice only made the giantess laugh more.

   Once she could stop herself from laughing, she replied, "Well, perhaps you have indeed slain an isejotun, though even that is doubtful, but I am a skyejotun. I could simply float just out of your reach and drop a boulder on your head."

   Thankfully, two other arctic dwarves came beside Nurthal and had him lower his weapon. They apologized to Skata for him.

   She then turned her attention back toward the party. "So, you should rest;" she said, "we have a long journey to the palace tomorrow. Would you mind building me a pillow of snow? I think I'll sleep over there, so that I don't accidentally roll over and squish any of you when I sleep; I do tend to toss and turn a lot."

   "Wait a moment!" Szordrin protested. "Who is your granduncle again?"

   "I never told you his name," said the giantess. "He is Nafni, chieftain of my tribe of giants."

   "How does he know us?" the tiefling demanded.

   "He does not know anything about you at all," said the giant.

   "You just said you were to bring us to his palace."

   "Only because I live there. If I have my way, he will not know of your existence until after you return with the prize. It is I who want you. I need you to help me win the wager I made with my elder brother. He thinks you cannot do it; I think that you can."

   "Why would you make a wager about us?" asked Leokas. "How do you even know about us?"

   "I've been watching you for days now."

   The adventurers stared back at her, confused. The villagers began to disperse, as it seemed this strange visitor had no concern for them directly.

   "Come, sit, and I shall tell you my story." With this, she bent down to unlatch her snowshoes. Then she sat crosslegged in the snow, shaking the ground as her weight settled. The adventurers also sat down to listen.

   Skata smiled and giggled. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "It's just that you look like the dolls I had when I was little, sitting to have tea with me."

   "How do you know us?" Leokas asked again.

   "Yes, yes," she began. "Back on the twelfth of Eleasis, Bjorn — he's my brother — and I were in the family den, bored, as usual, and so we looked into the scrying pool to see what was happening outside. This tends to be how we spend our time when there is nothing else to do on a given day. We scanned around until we saw a white dragon that looked like it was about to dive down on its prey for a kill. I don't particularly like to watch such things — I can't bear to watch weak creatures suffering — but Bjorn loves to, says it's just a part of nature. So I wrestled with him for control of the runes to change what we were watching, and then we both saw the six of you and stopped our little fight to watch. It was amazing! You with the furry face and your magic that kept the dragon from escaping; the pretty little lady and her neverending flasks of fire; the tiny, brown, handsome man and his purple grid — what was that? — and beam of light; and you," — she pointed at Mythlos — "you kept falling over and getting back up again like a little wooden wobble-doll toy I had as a girl! We laughed so hard, my brother and I; it was the best.

   "After that we became addicted to watching you in the pool each day. Of course, we had no idea what you were saying, since we could only see you, not hear you, but it became pretty obvious that you had no idea where you were going or what you were doing, and you certainly don't belong on the Great Glacier, which made it all the more exciting to watch. We quite enjoyed when you annihilated that awful, ugly mohrg. (We had to look up what that thing was afterwards in the library.)

   "You have a library?" asked Belvin.

   Skata looked insulted. "We are cloud giants, not barbarians!"

   Szordrin and Mythlos grew excited. The former asked, "Do you have a magical laboratory?"

   Skata gave him a funny look. "What did I just say?"

   She waited a few moments. "Shall I continue?" They nodded, so she did. "So anyhow, then Bjorn and I got in a heated argument about what other feats you six little people could perform. He thinks that you are all just overly blessed by your goddess Tymora or something like that. But I think there is more to you than that, even if you all are barely two feet tall! So I made a wager with him about the pebble, and he is holding me to it. Thus, I need you to come back with me and retrieve the pebble, and with such a victory over my brother, that will put me over him in the ordning."

   "What pebble?" said Leokas. "You never told us about any pebble yet."

   "Oh, of course, because you interrupted me and started to ask questions about Granduncle. I want you to sneak into a frost giant lair and steal a tiny pebble. Well, not just any pebble. This pebble is covered in very small runes, all over its surface. It will be found in an unassuming pouch, probably deep in their storerooms. They are too stupid to know what to do with it; it won't be well-protected."

   "Why don't you just attack the frost giants and take the pebble yourself?" asked Szordrin.

   "I'm only thirty-seven years old!" said Skata. "I could hold my own against a single frost giant, because they are useless runts, but I'm a young maiden, not a warrior. I'd be overpowered by a whole tribe of them."

   "Yet you made a bet that we could defeat them?" said Cassiera.

   "Not defeat them! I just think you are small enough to sneak in and get back out undetected."

   "Why don't you use your powerful magics to shrink yourself and sneak in on your own?" asked Szordrin.

   "I wouldn't win the wager with my brother that way, now would I? If I win, not only will I pass my own older brother in the ordning, but I will also restore my tribe to the clouds!"

   "Wait, Szordrin, I think we could do this," said Leokas. Then he asked Skata, "Why do you want this particular pebble? What does it do? What do you mean, 'restore your tribe to the clouds'?"

   "To answer that requires another story," said Skata. "You see, my tribe lives in a cloud palace ruled by my granduncle, Nafni, as I had said, my father Karis' father's brother. For years, we sailed the skies on our cloud, stopping on high mountains here and there, visiting our kin or other races in whom we choose to show interest. A few years ago, however, something happened. I do not know what, and neither I nor my brother are high enough in the ordning to know, but we... crashed. Not quickly, thank Stronmaus, but gradually. Even so, it was beyond the power of the runecasters to stop, and we came down to rest in the western tip of what the humans of these parts call the Lugalpgotak Range."

   "Is that by the Lugalpgotak Sea?" asked Szordrin.

   "Yes," said Skata. "Thankfully, the temperatures here are not so much colder than they are high up in the sky where we are used to living, so we do not suffer greatly. Still, a cloud giant does not belong so close to the ground, and we long to soar again.

   "And this is where you come in. I made the wager with my brother after I did a little research of my own. I have always shown talent greater than other giantesses my age at school, and I am quite skilled at finding what I need to in the palace library. I found a book of history that wrote of an old cloud giant settlement in the Novularond before the coming of the Great Glacier 3,909 years ago, when Ulutiu betrayed Annam All-Father, all honor be to him. This cloud giant settlement was sacked and destroyed by a powerful frost giant jarl. (The frost giants were far more numerous and powerful then; they were not the barbaric and stupid runts they are now.) In any case, this tribe of cloud giants died out and all of their possessions, including at least one unused cloud palace levitation runestone. The book claims that the descendants of the same tribe of frost giants still live within the same cavern complex as they did nearly 4,000 years ago! The runestone must still be in their treasure chambers."

   "How are we supposed to find this pebble?" asked Leokas.

   "Here is the best part: the book included a map! The map was not made by giants; it was made by human explorers, from before I was born, from far to the south. They stumbled into the giants' treasure room by accident through human-sized tunnels when exploring for gems. These explorers quickly fled the caves, but they recorded the map and years later traded it with some scribes, and it eventually found its way to our palace, and someone inserted the page into the book. You would simply find your way through the tunnels and into the frost giant lair, locate the runestone from among the junk I'm sure those runts have collected, escape, and return to me. Easy as eating a pie."

   "What would be our reward?" asked Szordrin.

   "We are cloud giants! I am sure there will be something that I can provide you as a suitable reward. What sort of reward do you seek?"

   "Do you have any expert swordsmen among you?" asked Mythlos. "I desire to become better skilled at my blade."

   "My people tend to favor clubs or axes," she replied, "but don't you think you are a little bit little to be trained by a giant?"

   "Do you have any magical weapons our size that would help us in our quest to infiltrate the frost giants' lair?" asked Szordrin.

   "Not magical weapons your size, no."

   "Perhaps in one of the dollhouses you mentioned?" asked Belvin.

   "I gave all my dolls to a younger cousin decades ago; I am not a little girl anymore! Even so, why would my dolls have had magical weapons?"

   "I don't know," said Belvin. "I thought maybe because you were cloud giants, not barbarians...."

   "There is something we need," said Leokas. "We need to cross over the Southern Shield. If we won your wager, and your palace was restored to the air, would you be able to fly us over?"

   "I myself do not know where this Southern Shield is. Is it a mountain range? That might be possible. In any case, you must come to the palace before heading out to the frost giants' lair; I will need to give you the explorers' map, and I can sneak you into the library if you wish to prepare yourselves beforehand.

   "Now then, I am tired. Are you going to make me a pillow of snow or not?"

~~~~

They agreed and made a large pile of snow for her. That evening, after she had gone to sleep a good distance from the guest camp and fair grounds, Nurthal, the dwarf who had challenged Skata approached them secretly. "You are foolish to trust that giantess," he said. "Never trust a giant!"

   "I think we'll be okay," said Leokas. "Thank you."

   "If you ever change your minds," said Nurthal, "here is my calling rune." He handed them a small slab of stone with a rune carved in it, two parallel horizontal lines with the lower line intersected by a perpendicular line.



   "What happens if we touch the rune?" asked Szordrin.

   "Nothing," said the Dwarf, "but if you have the magic to contact me, the rune will help." He turned and left them.

   "Should we get him to come along with us?" Szordrin asked the others.

   "I don't think that would be wise," said Hakam. Leokas agreed.
Session: 64th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 21 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Gotokok
Gotokok seemed about the same size as Koyoss in terms of the number of snowhouses, but just outside the cluster of homes was a large area with permanent stone half-circles. Villagers were working on building shop counters of snow and hanging roofs of animal skins, turning these structures into shops for the trade fair.

   The party had arrived two days early; however, there was already a good deal of bustle in preparation for the fair, and many other visitors had already arrived as well. A cluster of temporary snowhouses were erected near the fair grounds, where visiting Iulutiuns were staying. Wariik and his sons found a spot and began to build.

   The others began searching around for someone who could speak Common. They eventually came across a man who had similar hair and skin color to the Iulutiuns but was much taller and less broad. He wore an Iulutiun parka for warmth, but he also had an ornate sash as a belt that further set him apart as an outsider.

   "My name is Liang Jin," he said, while squinting, giving a slight bow with his hands folded in front of himself.

   Hakam introduced himself and his companions and explained how they were in need of a translator and of help in understanding certain cultural expectations among the Iulutiuns.

   "I speak fluent Common and High Shou, the language of my homeland, far to the east, in Kara-Tur. I have lived here for a year, so I also speak Ulutiun, but I am not fully fluent. My master, however, is, though he is not likely to leave his snowhouse. He is a very private man."

   "Who is your master?" asked Szordrin.

   "I am a monk, a disciple of Lin Man-Shu, follower of the great Mad Monkey. Fellow disciple Bai Shun and I traveled far over the Eastern Shield to find him. He believes that true isolation in a great wilderness leads to the pure physical perfection we seek."

   "You came over the Eastern Shield?" asked Leokas. "Did you encounter any remorhaz?"

   "Shun and I spotted one in the distance, but the gods spared us an encounter with the great beast." Jin continued, "It is said that there are far more remorhaz in the Southern Shield than in the Eastern Shield."

   "Do any of the Iulutiuns speak fluent Common?" asked Hakam.

   Jin continued squinting. "There are a few. Iirkik, the medicine woman, does. She is a sort of outsider in the community, for she worships the god Ulutiu, whereas the majority of Iulutiuns reject the gods altogether. Moreover, Ulutiu is said to be either a dead or sleeping god."

   "Why don't the gods simply show up and reveal their power here as in the rest of Faerûn?" asked Leokas.

   "They have no power if they have no worshipers, remember?" Hakam replied.

   "Is there anyone else?" asked Szordrin.

   "I know that Nirval, the village anagakok, speaks Common," answered Jin, "but she is also treated more as an outsider."

   "What is an anagakok?" asked Szordrin.

   "They seem to be the closest the Iulutiun people have to a wizard," explained Jin, "but their powers are mostly concerned with survival in the cold. They have a very strange ritual they must pass to receive their powers. It physically changes them forever."

   "How so?"

   "If they survive the process, they grow fur, much like the yeti."

   "I can see why she would be an outsider," said Mythlos.

   Jin squinted and shook his head. "No. It will seem strange to you, but the Ulutiuns are used to such a thing. They find her strange because she keeps many animals as pets."

   "Such as?" said Szordrin.

   "Penguins, for example. The Iulutiuns treat dogs and kupuk as almost family, but all other animals are thought of as food sources."

   "Would you be able to show us to this Nirval?" Hakam asked.

   "It is growing dark now," said Jin, "but her house is over there." He pointed to one of the snowhouses on the edge of the village.

   Before they rested for the night in the visitors' camp, they also priced kayaks and found that trading a single sled dog would get them four of the one-person boats. They decided to hold off on trading for anything until morning.

~~~~

That night, at moondark, just at the end of his shift as watch, Belvin spotted a troupe of four large humanoid figures in the darkness, passing by the village. Three of the creatures seemed very hairy, had long arms, and hunched over somewhat as they walked. They carried large clubs of some sort and had a cluster of javelins on their backs. They seemed to be led by a slightly larger, horned humanoid with a chain shirt and a greatsword and bow strapped to its back. It was not hairy like its counterparts. All four carried large sacks, as if they were on a long journey somewhere. The creatures stayed some 20 yards beyond the edge of the village.

   As usual, Belvin waited to see what would happen rather than sound an alarm.

   One of the creatures spotted the elf and stopped. Belvin could hear them whispering in a foreign tongue amongst themselves. The bigger, horned one seemed to be ordering the other three; then, it turned to look directly at Belvin and waved.

   Belvin waved back.

   The hulking humanoids then turned and walked further off, until Belvin could no longer see them in the darkness.

   "Anything out there?" asked Cassiera, as she came to replace Belvin for the final watch.

   The wild elf shrugged.

~~~~

The next morning, Hakam found Leokas and Ilthian and told them that they were all going to speak with Nirval, the anagakok. First, he used his tongues spell on himself. Then he recovered Wariik and Hitlak. Szordrin also asked to come along.

   Nirval indeed looked like a yeti, albeit a small one. Only her eyes and lips could be seen through the white hair on her face. She did not wear bulky clothes but dressed instead in a simple skin tunic. She was very welcoming and friendly, and invited them in to her inner lulik. On the lower floor, she had a pool of water in which three penguins were playing. None of the adventurers had ever seen a penguin before, though they had already been introduced to penguin stew by Chamuk while in Koyoss. The flightless birds seemed quite playful.

   "What is that?" asked Szordrin, motioning to the strange furry thing around her shoulders that he at first mistook for a thick scarf until it moved.

   "That is Kiigaa," Nirval said. "He is my ice worm. Do you wish to pet him?"

   Szordrin declined.

   Nirval spoke excellent Common, but Hakam chose to speak in Ulutiun by means of his magic so that Hitlak and Wariik would hear everything. "We were hoping you could assist us in matters regarding the customs and mores of this land with which I am not familiar," he began. He then explained how Ilthian had accepted an engagement gift from Hitlak and reciprocated with a gift of her own.

   Nirval answered with the same information that Lelchik had told them. Until the parents of each party gave approval, the marriage would not occur. However, she further explained that the engagement could only be broken by mutual agreement of the two parties or by a rejection from either set of parents.

   "I do not oppose the marriage," said Wariik. "My son needs a good wife, especially since his elder brother has found one. I admit that I at first feared that my son chose Ilthian for poor reasons — as Inum says, 'Beauty is deceitful; its promise of happiness is as false as its guarantee of permanence' — but as they rode in my sled together two days ago, I saw that she has a good and kind character. I would be happy to have her as a daughter-in-law. My only concern is that I cannot judge her fertility, as I do not know her mother or her sisters, and she has rather slight hips."

   "I will not break the engagement!" said Hitlak, appearing somewhat exasperated. "I will be true to my commitment. Besides, I know that Ilthian is meant to be my wife, for Najlak prophesied that I would find my wife before winter comes. It must be her! Also, I do not disapprove of her tiny hips."

   For her part, Ilthian was silent and seemed to be contemplating matters. (It also probably helped that she could not understand the Ulutiun word for "hips".)

   "Neither of you could be her father," Nirval observed, looking at Leokas and Hakam, and speaking in Common. "Where is the young maiden's father or mother?"

   "He is far away," said Hakam.

   "Nearly on the other side of the continent, beyond Chult," Leokas added.

   "I have never heard of Chult," said Nirval. "You seem a powerful person, though," she said to Hakam. "I see you wear the symbol of some god or other. Can you not use the power of your god to contact this maiden's mother or father?"

   "Her father is a... simple man," Hakam explained, "and he would not understand the customs of Alpuk. On their island, matters of marriage are handled very differently."

   "So you have not even tried to send word to him then?"

   "We believe that a powerful magic prevents it," said Leokas. "We have tried contacting others on her island and failed."

   "One of our goals is to travel back to the island and return her to her people, but that may be a very long time," said Hakam, "and we cannot even promise that we will survive the task. It is fraught with danger." Hakam repeated himself in Ulutiun so that Wariik and Hitlak could understand.

   "Perhaps Hitlak could travel with us," suggested Szordrin, and this was translated by Nirval into Ulutiun.

   "I would not be of any use to you outside Alpuk," said Hitlak. "I am a good hunter, but I am humble. I know that I am not yet as great a hunter as my father or even as brave as Dygtuk. I also have never traveled even as far as the Lugsaas. You have slain a white dragon; I have only ever slain a white bear.

   "Ilthian is a woman of great honor. I know that she will keep her promise; I know that she will return to me when she can. I have only seen sixteen winters. I still have four years before others in the village will begin to think me lazy. Besides, Najlak only said that I would find my wife before winter, not that I would marry her. I will be patient." He ended by giving Ilthian an awkward but genuine smile.

   Hakam roughly translated what the young man had said to his companions and Ilthian.

   "Will you return to him, Ilthian?" Nirval asked her kindly, "if your mother and father permit it."

   "My mother and father will almost certainly not permit it," said Ilthian, "but I often go against father's wishes. However, I have learned from Hakam that it is wrong to go against one's own commitments. Hitlak is very kind, but even if he were not, I agreed to marry him, so until... unless my parents undo it, I am happy to remain engaged. I promise to return here if they do permit it.

   "Please do not translate the part where I said I think that they will not permit it," she added.

   Nirval translated, and Hitlak looked very happy.

   Hakam told Hitlak and his father that they could go, but that he had a few more unrelated things to discuss with the anagakok.

   "Thank you for your help," Hakam said, after the two Iulutiun men had left. "Might we ask you some further questions?" Nirval nodded, and Hakam continued. "Are there other important matters of culture we are likely to encounter that we should know about?"

   "You should know that Iulutiun culture is an honor culture," she said. "It is the worst of crimes to dishonor another. Such things lead to blood feuds. However, on the whole, we are a very peaceful people. We have had no wars since over 2,000 years ago. After these Keryjek Wars, the Angulutiuns and Iulutiuns established koatulit and sukkiruchit, such fairs as you now attend, so that better understanding will always exist among the different tribes and settlements."

   "Have you ever traveled to the Southern Shield and encountered remorhaz," asked Leokas, "and would you be able to guide us there?"

   "No to both of your questions," she replied. "I am not a powerful wizard; I would not survive long against such beasts. They can generate intense heat with which they melt tunnels through the snow. Dreadful creatures! No, I stay local and help the village when they go on communal hunts. I have helped them slay a white dragon — indirectly, of course, by spells that strengthened and protected the warriors — and only once, but the people of Gotokok have no reason to travel to the Lugsaas. I think you overestimate the use of magic in these lands."

   "So you do not have a magical study or a place where I could scribe new spells?" asked Szordrin.

   "I do not. I have never scribed a scroll. My magics are more subtle. See, my spellbook is but a simple leaflet compared to yours." She held up a small bundle of pages of animal skins.

   "How did you become a wizard then?"

   "I became apprentice to another anagakok, from another village. At that time, I had no fur, but had smooth skin as all other Ulutiuns do. For a month, he taught me these spells and the secret lore of survival that all anagakok must learn. Then, on the coldest of nights, we performed a ceremony together. After many long hours of meditation, his power transferred to me, and I took on the appearance you now see."

   "Why do you keep such strange pets?" asked Szordrin.

   "Oh, don't be like the others! I do not understand why everyone does not keep such pets. Penguins are so much fun; they make me laugh, and I find Kiigaa comforting. Is that not why you keep a similarly furry creature around your neck?"

   "No, Ferry is magical and very useful," said Szordrin.

   After they had crawled through the tunnel leading out of Nirval's snowhouse, Ilthian spoke to Hakam. "I did the right thing, didn't I, Hakam? Are you proud of me?"

   "You did the right thing, yes," he answered.

~~~~

The rest of the day was relaxed, as there was not much for the adventurers to do in such a small village as Gotokok, where they could not speak the language. They had discussed whether or not they should leave now, but Szordrin and a couple of the others were curious about the trade fair and what weapons might be available. Beyond that, the only guide they could find, one Tirmuk, was not willing to leave until after the fair. So they waited. As in Koyoss, the people were very welcoming, but this did not help with the boredom.

   As the day grew on, however, more and more visitors began arriving, and the number of temporary snowhouses began increasing, until things began to get crowded.

   Some of the new arrivals looked like the Iulutiuns yet wore parkas of caribou hide instead of seal and muskox hide. Their parkas also had pointed instead of rounded hoods. These arrivals rode in on caribou sleds instead of dog sleds. Other guests wore parkas of wolf skin. Still others looked just like the Iulutiuns in manner of dress, but they came in sleds pulled by exceptionally strange beasts. These looked like very large dogs at first, but they had enormous tusks, almost like a walrus, and very long, prehensile tails, which they kept curled up in a spiral most of the time. They had a hairy mane, much like a lion, but they appeared almost fur-less otherwise. Their paws were wide, clawed, and webbed, allowing them to walk easily upon snow.

   Most noticeable of the guests, however, were the white-haired arctic dwarves, the Inugaakalikurit. They were as short as the wild dwarves the party had met in Chult, but even wider. They had sunburned skin and long curly hair. The males sported short goatees with long, curled moustaches, instead of the long beards they had thought all dwarves grew. Both the men and women dressed in simple tunics made from polar bear hide — which bothered Belvin — and went completely barefoot, despite the snow and cold. They had relatively high-pitched voices, which further set them apart from the humans of the region. These dwarves spoke a strange dialect of Common, in addition to their own language and that of the Ulutiuns, so they could communicate relatively easily with the adventurers.

   Leokas wanted to ask one of the dwarves about passage underneath the Southern Shield, so their group approached one of the fair booths where some dwarves were setting up shop. One of the dwarves spotted them and wobbled over to Hakam, pointing at his firearm. "What manner of weapon is that?" the dwarf said excitedly in his higher-pitched voice.

   "It is called a musket," Hakam replied, lowering it for the dwarf to examine. The cleric began explaining to the dwarf in detail how it functioned, and the dwarf took this information in with awe.

   "Where did you acquire such a thing?"

   "I purchased it from a gnomish village in the kingdom of Tethyr," Hakam answered.

   "Did you come here to trade these weapons?" asked the dwarf. "Where is your booth tomorrow?"

   "No, it is my personal weapon; I did not come to trade it."

   "My name is Garik," said the dwarf. "I am a craftsman of a very special kind of arrow. I do not usually make deals before the fair officially starts, but this seems a unique case. Here let me show you...." He abstracted a long arrow from a quiver and held it out. Leokas took great interest in this. It had a tip that looked like it was shaped from solid ice yet with a master craftsmanship as precise as any magic arrows he had seen. The arrow head was barbed and aerodynamic. "Our people are not known for powerful magics and we do not typically share the impressive craftsmanship of our dwarven cousins, but this here is an example of one of our worthy exceptions. It is a kerrenderit, carefully grown and crafted with nurturing care and magic over many long months within our deepest ice caves. Only our greatest hunters carry such arrows."

   "Pardon my ignorance in such matters, but what makes it so special?" asked Hakam.

   "The barbs do significantly more damage to a target then a normal arrowhead," said Garik, "and their shape makes them fly straighter, truer, and farther through the air. As a byproduct of the enchantment I use to create them, they also are better at passing through magical protections than a simple arrow."

   Garik noticed the interest that Leokas was showing and said, "If you are not willing to trade your musket for this arrow, perhaps your partner here would wish to trade something for it. Perhaps he carries another kind of magic arrow in one of his quivers."

   "How many arrows do you have?" asked Hakam.

   "I only have five kerrenderit here for trade. Again, they take many long months to create."

   "You are not the most accurate with your musket, Hakam," said Leokas. "It might be worth it to you to trade it for something easier for you to use."

   "I don't have a bow, and I'm no better at archery!"

   "Trade the gun for the arrows for me, and I'll compensate you so that you can get a more fitting ranged weapon for yourself later."

   "The gun cost me a platinum bar," said Hakam. "Would you give me one of the ones you received from Walker?"

   "Instead, would you be happy if I traded you the three dogs that are my share?"

   "That would be fair," Hakam agreed.

   "I believe that remorhaz are immune to the cold, like most creatures on this glacier," warned Szordrin. "The arrows might not be worth it to us."

   "The arrows are not imbued with the energy of ice," explained the arctic dwarf. "They are simply crafted from ice. Their power will still wound frost giants, white dragons, and winter wolves. I guarantee it!"

   "What is your offer, then?" asked Hakam.

   "I'll give you three of my five arrows for the musket," said Garik.

   "You will need ammo and smokepowder as well," said Hakam. "If I throw both into the trade, will you give all five of your arrows."

   The dwarf seemed delighted by this offer. "If you all give me proper training in how to load and fire the weapon, it's a done deal."

   Hakam agreed. Leokas received five new magical arrows — which he was careful not to bring inside a snowhouse, lest they melt — and the Calishite and the dwarf spent an hour or two learning and practicing the use of the musket.

   Meanwhile, the others had several conversations with the other Inugaakalikurit. They all agreed that there were no tunnels under the Lugsaas Chain. It was explained to them that all of the saas were primarily solid ice, formed from the violent manner in which the Glacier was formed thousands of years ago. Moreover, even if there were tunnels through the ice, they would be unstable, as a glacier was not a static thing. "Perhaps if you were to descend into the deepest Underdark," said one, "but then, the dangers you would face would be a hundred times as bad as a swarm of remorhaz." Szordrin even used a spell to read thoughts on one of the dwarves but this benefited him nothing. "There are countless expanses of tunnels beneath the Novularond," said the dwarf, "but none below the Lugsaas," but he thought, Why would anyone want to go to the Lugsaas? Why would anyone want to leave Novularond? Why did I even come on this trip. I hate this trade fair. They don't even have anything but the most basic of magics! Who needs another harpoon or ritiik? I'd much rather be sunbathing and enjoying a snowcone. Why do I always let Joylin talk me into coming each year? She's not even interested in me...!
Session: 64th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 21 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Sled Ride
Hakam and Belvin protected them from the elements once again. Wariik and his sons were bundled up in the typical Iulutiun fashion and were also wearing wooden snow goggles. Around highsun, they began mushing, leaving the tiny village of Koyoss behind them. They had arranged with Wariik before leaving a signal for him to give if he needed to communicate with them anything of great importance, and Hakam had readied an appropriate spell if needed. As they glided along behind the happy running dogs, Leokas — hooded in a new Iulutiun parka he had traded for just before leaving Koyoss — kept glancing back behind to ensure that neither white dragons nor Hilur were following them. Stormshadow seemed to be enjoying herself running beside the other dogs.

   Since he was stuck on a sled with Ilthian, Hakam had to answer more of her curious questions. "I heard you talking with Szordrin and Lelchik about me," she said, "about marriage. On my island, some of us are married, but they always have been. The Maker made them that way. I am not married. It sounds like, in this place, people who are not married can become married. I am no longer surprised by such things, as my island seems to be the strange one, but how does that work?"

   Hakam did his best to explain the concept of marriage. "In other lands, people do not start out as adults as you did; they come into the world as babies and grow in size and intelligence until they reach the age of majority, which in Calimshan is fifteen years old.

   "Oh, then I am too young to be married? My father is not yet fifteen, yet he is married to Mother."

   "In Calimshan, yes. I do not know about here in Alpuk, and on your island it is different."

   "Why do people become married? Why are they not content with the role in society the Maker,... I mean, the gods gave to them?"

   "Because their role changes as they grow and change themselves. In Calimshan, once a boy or girl becomes a man or woman at his fifteenth birthday, his role in society now changes. He no longer has to obey his parents' every command, he sets out to establish a trade for himself, and he has a responsibility to his family to take a wife. If a Calishite is not married by the time of his twentieth birthday, he brings disgrace on his family. It is a shameful thing!"

   "Am I to become married to Hitlak then?"

   "I do not know," Hakam replied, "but you did make a binding agreement, even if that was not your intent."

   "Can one become un-married?"

   "You can."

   "Are you married, Hakam?"

   "No."

   "Have you ever been married?"

   "No."

   "What about you, Cassiera?"

   "My people are very different," the yuan-ti woman answered, as she stood at the back of the sled. "We have families, of sorts, but we do not marry. There is very little love in the yuan-ti culture."

   "Love?" said Ilthian. "Hakam never said anything about love. What does that have to do with marriage?"

   "It has little to do with marriage," said Hakam.

   Meanwhile, on Leokas' sled Szordrin was asking about the ecology of the Glacier. It seemed strange to him that any animals could survive on the glacier at all. How were there enough plants to sustain even the small herd of muskoxen they had earlier seen?

   "From what I have heard about such lands," explained Leokas, "the animals migrate throughout the year. In the spring, presumably some resilient plants break through and grow for a short time, even in a place like this. The animals feast, storing up fat to survive the long winter, and they travel slowly from spring to autumn. I assume that the ones we saw knew of food somewhere to the west of where we were and simply came to the water to drink."

~~~~

It was a cold and calm day, and the sky was clear, which meant that they had to be careful about sunburn and snowblindness, but they were making good time. By highsun, they could spot hills to the west, and the elves claimed they could even see some green. Wariik had them stop for lunch and loosed the dogs. They all rushed to drink from the stream, barking happily. Everyone, except for Mythlos, got out some meat and began to eat. Wariik tossed some to the dogs as well.

   As he gnawed on some seal blubber, Wariik pointed to the hills. He growled and then lifted his head back and howled. Then he smiled.


   They did not, however, see any wolves that day. By mid-afternoon, as they traveled along the stream, the hills vanished from their sight behind them. They did see a cluster of eleven fat seals, reclining on the far shore of the stream, which ignored the travelers, and a herd of seventeen head of caribou, but the day was free of any predators.



   After they had stopped for the day and eaten dinner, Wariik and his sons began constructing a snowhouse for themselves with impressive speed. Leokas volunteered his help, and when they had finished, Wariik gave Leokas a slow nod, clearly indicating that he was impressed with the elf's knowledge of snowhouse construction.

   That night, Leokas, Cassiera, and Belvin kept watch, in turn, but the night was free of predators as well.

   Just as light was appearing on the eastern horizon, however, Belvin spotted two massive white bears approaching.


   The bears cautiously approached, sniffing the air. The dogs began barking and growling loudly and formed a tight circle. The bears sat on their rumps, some 20 yards away, and watched their potential meals with curiosity, but they did not come any closer.

   As the others began waking from the sound of the dogs barking, they looked up to see the wild elf approaching the bears slowly, making low grunting noises and speaking to them gently in Sylvan. The bears stared at Belvin intently and lay down fully on the ice.

   Belvin reached the larger of the two bears and bravely reached his hand out to stroke its fur. The bear seemed not to mind and even showed signs of enjoyment as Belvin began to scratch it behind the ears. Everyone else remained silent and still, not wanting to startle the bears and ruin what Belvin was doing.

   As Wariik came out of his snowhouse, he stared in complete shock, for Belvin crawled up on one of the bear's backs and was speaking to it softly. The bear got up and began to trot around in a wide circle. The other bear followed close behind, wanting to join in the play.

   After a few minutes of this, the bear Belvin was riding rose up to its full height of nearly ten feet, and Belvin fell to his back on the snow. The bears then began to walk away. Belvin was unhurt and let the animals leave. He got up and returned to the others.

   Wariik began rambling in Ulutiun. They could not tell whether he was angry or just excited. Leokas gave Belvin a nod, but Hakam shook his head.

~~~~

After the encounter with the polar bears, the party saw no other wildlife for the day.

   Today, Hitlak managed to communicate that he would like Ilthian to ride with him, so Ilthian traded spots with Hitlak's brother, and Dygtuk rode with Hakam on Cassiera's sled. The young Iulutiun was exceptionally quiet, not that Hakam could have understood him anyway. Ilthian and Hitlak appeared to be teaching each other words in their languages during their ride.

   Around highsun, they reached a fork in the stream, where two smaller streams joined together from the south to become the one they had been following. They stopped for lunch. After finishing eating, Wariik pointed to the west and said, "We go."

   Wariik kept them on a course driving directly into the sun for the whole afternoon. Before nightfall, they came to a large body of water, perhaps 20 miles across at its widest point. "Risuak... Lake," he said. "Good water; good fish. We stop."

   Like the stream they had been following earlier, the water was blue and crystal clear. The bottom of the lake was only five to twenty feet deep, and they could indeed see that it was full of many varieties of fish.

   Hitlak took a fishing pole from his sled and began teaching Ilthian how to fish. As he did so, he came up behind her and held her hands in his as she held on to the pole, showing her how to move it. They heard her speaking back to him in Ulutiun more and more.

   Leokas approached Hakam. "Can't you see what's going on?" the elf said. "We need to do something about this. Ilthian doesn't understand what is happening here."

   "She made an agreement," said Hakam.

   "Did she? Is it ethical to hold someone to an agreement about which they have no understanding?"

   "Wait till we reach the village," said Hakam. "I'll seek out someone there who can speak Common and I will learn more about their customs to discover what options she may have."

   "The sooner the better," said Leokas.

   Wariik and his two sons caught more than enough fish to share with the group, and they all enjoyed something different than seal meat for dinner.

   After dinner and building a snowhouse for himself, Wariik began pointing at the sled dogs, his own snowhouse, and the cloudy sky and saying the word jititip.

   They eventually understood that it was going to snow and that he was instructing them to build snowhouses for their dogs, one for each team, and he and his sons began constructing one for their six animals.

~~~~

That night, it indeed snowed. For five hours, from shortly after midnight, during Mythlos' watch, until dawn, when Leokas had the post, a mixture of snow and sleet came down, leaving two inches of precipitation the next morning.

   Today, Ilthian wanted to ride with Hakam again, which made Hitlak visibly sad. She spoke something to him kindly in Ulutiun, but this made him look even sadder.

   "I think that I told him I would ride with him tomorrow," she said, "but I might have accidentally said, 'yesterday'."

   Leokas looked at Hakam and mouthed, "Now's your chance; talk to her."

   Hakam walked over to him and whispered, "It's not her decision!"

   "She is not even seven-years-old!" said Leokas. "She is not old enough to give consent."

   "I do not even think she is that old," said Hakam. "You may have a valid point, but I already agreed to look into this more one we arrive at Gotokok. Be patient."

   On this their third day of traveling by sled, they glided alongside the lake, heading in a counterclockwise direction. At late morning, a few hours before lunch, they came to an Iulutiun village. "No Gotokok," said Wariik, "This... Vekkak."

   Vekkak was an even smaller village than Koyoss, with probably two-thirds the population. The villagers were intrigued by the strange array of travelers. They did not stay long, but Wariik traded for some seal meat for some fish.

   Setting out from Vekkak, they soon reached the stream that fed the lake and began following this south. It was covered in a thin layer of translucent ice with puddles of water here and there.

   At mid-afternoon, Wariik stopped them and gave the signal for Hakam to use his magic so that they could speak. Hakam used his power to loose his tongue to understand all speech. Wariik then explained to Hakam that Gotokok was several hours from this spot, on the stream but on the other side. They would need to cross the stream, which was risky, but he thought that here was the best spot to do so. The ice was indeed thicker here, fully opaque.

   "What do you think?" Szordrin asked Leokas.

   "I would guess that the ice could support us, but we could form rope teams just in case."

   This they did, and they cautiously crossed the stream, one at a time, and ordered each team of sled dogs to pull the sleds across one by one empty. There were no problems, and everyone crossed safely without the ice cracking.

   Now on the west side of the stream, it was only a few more hours of sledding until Gotokok.
Session: 64th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 21 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — The Huuk
Hilur stepped boldly forward and in a deep voice sang a short melody, while staring directly at Mythlos. He smiled, and all the crowd of Iulutiuns began chuckling. Lelchik, trying not to smile herself, translated. "He says, 'My friend, I ate some caribou meat last night that made my stomach sick. I thought of you.'"

   "Your sled has more life than you do," said Mythlos.

   "You forgot to sing," whispered Ilthian, but Lelchik already began translating.

   The crowd did not seem to respond well. Hilur's smile grew larger. This time, he turned and faced the crowd and sang a similar tune to them while pointing at Mythlos. "'My friend here has a temper so bad,'" Lelchik translated, "'that it makes dragons cower in their caves.'"

   This time Mythlos sang, and he matched the tone and style exceptionally well, but the crowd did not seem impressed with his improvised lyrics: "Indeed I do. Do you wish to be next?"

   "'My friend,'" sang Hilur through Lelchik, while staring at Mythlos again, "'your breath smells worse than year-old seal blubber.'" The crowd roared with laughter.

   Mythlos seemed stunned. He answered and sang, "If you hadn't lost your sense of smell, it would have."

   Lelchik translated this, but then she whispered to him, "You sing our song very well, but your insults are too defensive."

   Hilur's next insult was, "My friend, your skin has the fair texture of tirichik stew."

   "What is a tirichik?" asked Szordrin.

   "Better than the texture of a dire rat carcass!" sang Mythlos.

   Lelchik did not even translate this one. "Rats do not live on the Great Glacier," she warned. "Quick, something else!"

   "I'd rather crawl than rent one of your sled dogs," sang Mythlos. Lelchik hesitated but then translated. The crowd moaned and murmured.

   Hilur looked exceedingly angry. He paced around quickly, thinking. Then he faced Mythlos and sang. The crowd erupted in hysterical laughter, and Hilur began doing what appeared to be a victory dance.

   Lelchik said, "He says, 'My friend, I found moldy, hard bread bits in the bottom of my sack this morning that looked like teeth. Are you sure you did not lose any?'"

   The villagers began to disperse again.

   "I think that means we lost," said Ilthian.

   Lelchik nodded.

   "What does that mean for us?" asked Szordrin.

   "It might be for the best," said Lelchik. "Hilur is appeased. Some of the older villagers may now consider you dishonorable, but most are not likely to treat you any differently, although do not be surprised if your performance is not forgotten...."

~~~~

That night, shortly after dark, there was a great commotion in the tiny village. Hunters were rushing around, gathering up their bows and spears. Only Belvin knew this, because the rest of his companions were toasty warm inside Chamuk's snowhouse. Typical of Belvin, he simply observed.

   Perhaps an hour later, the hunters returned, bearing a massive, muskox-like creature among them on a sled. The creature had a humped back and snow-white fur. Belvin watched with curiosity as they butchered the animal and began to divide up the meat among themselves.

   Then, he noticed something else in the distance, in the fog, beyond the hunters, to which they seemed oblivious — two faint, glowing circles of blue, green, and yellow light. The lights were hovering and shifting about and changing colors. They looked somewhat like lanterns in the darkness, yet their movements were not like that of a person holding one.

   Belvin carefully crawled into the snowhouse and silently summoned Leokas out of trance. The two elves returned outside together.

   "I don't recognize these things," said Leokas. He approached one of the men who carried a large chunk of freshly cut meat and pointed at the lights. The man shrugged.

   "If he is not worried, nor am I," said Leokas. Belvin nodded. Then the two went back to resting for the night.

~~~~

In the morning, Chamuk brought them seal blubber for breakfast. They did not find this particularly appetizing, but they tried not to offend her and chewed on it until she left.

   When they exited the snowhouse, they located Lelchik and requested her aid as a translator once again. Leokas asked her about the strange lights the night before.

   "The aurora polaris?" she suggested. When Leokas answered in the negative, she did not know what else to suggest.

   With Lelchik's help, they traded the dragon head for several dozen pounds of meat and some arrows. Then she introduced them to Wariik. He agreed to guide them to the sukkiruchit in Gotokok on the next day, since they were going there anyhow.

   While arranging this, a young Iulutiun woman came up to Lelchik and delivered a message to her. A serious expression crossed her face.

   "What is it?" asked Szordrin.

   "I was wrong about Hilur," she said. "He still was not satisfied with his victory in the huuk last night. He has apparently now requested yijikak. That is, he is asking permission of the elders to murder Mythlos for insulting his dogs during the huuk. Now, do not fear; the elders typically take at least a month before making a decision on the matter. Even so, it may be in your best interest to leave Koyoss sooner rather than later."

   When this was suggested to Wariik, he agreed to leave a day early, and soon he and his two sons were helping the party to load their newly purchased sleds. Each of the three sleds required a single pilot, standing in the back. Leokas, Belvin, and Cassiera were chosen, as they had the best skill in handling animals. One sled would bear a miniaturized Kamil, another would bear Mythlos and Szordrin, and the third Hakam and Ilthian.

   While Wariik, through Lelchik, explained how to steer the dogs, the youngest of Wariik's sons walked up to Ilthian. "Hitlak uyung'a," he said, among other things they could not understand, while pointing at himself.

   "Ilthian uyung'a," Ilthian replied.

   Hakam looked shocked. "Have you understood their language all this time and did not tell us?"

   "No," she said, "but uyung'a is clearly how they say, 'my name is....' I am a quick learner."

   Hitlak handed something to her, and then exposed his large teeth to Ilthian with a giant smile.

   It was a necklace of smooth black stones. "It is pretty," she said. She immediately placed it over her neck and smiled back at him. "Thank you!"

   "Laali," he replied. He turned to go.

   "Wait!" she said. He stopped. Then she pulled a small wooden bracelet from her wrist. "Here, this is something I made from some scraps from Erol's shop. I do not see much wood around here; would you like it?"

   The man smiled even bigger and took her gift. "Quana! Quana! Nakurmiik!" he said. Then he hurried off.

   Szordrin and Hakam took Lelchik aside and asked her about the exchange, fearing that Ilthian may have agreed to something unknowingly. Indeed, she had.

   "If she gave him a gift in return, that is a sign that they are now engaged to be married. I know that Hitlak has been seeking a wife...."

   "How long is an engagement?" asked Szordrin. "What happens next?"

   "Both must receive the permission of their parents," explained Lelchik, "at which point the marriage is complete."

   "Then we do not have anything to worry about," said Hakam. "Her father and mother are thousands and thousands of miles away."
Session: 63rd Game Session - Friday, Dec 11 2015 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 1 — Koyoss
At mid-afternoon, they saw a most welcome sight — smoke rising in the distance. As they drew nearer, they clearly saw white domes atop the snow and people in thick, dark clothes moving about.

   "What's our story going to be?" asked Leokas.

   "We shipwrecked and are stranded?" replied Hakam.

   "But we have no idea where the ocean even is relative to where we are," said Szordrin.

   "We could claim to be explorers," said Hakam.

   "Who have no gear?" said Leokas.

   "We can admit to having magical protections," said Hakam.

   "Fine, we'll claim we are shipwrecked explorers," Szordrin agreed.

   One of the inhabitants of this ice village spotted them and motioned to a companion. Then the two trudged through the snow toward the party.

   "Do not present arms," Hakam warned.

   The two figures were stocky and rather short — shorter than even Hakam, though taller than dwarves, but not by much. They were dressed from head to toe in thick animal furs. An opening in the circular hoods of their parkas revealed human faces with flat features and yellowish skin. Both of them had black hair parted in the middle. One of them had a small tattoo of parallel lines between lower lip and chin.

   They could not tell the gender of the greeters until they spoke. The first had a feminine voice. "Ai! she said and smiled, revealing noticeably wide teeth.

   "Huming-a-akpin?" asked the other, with a male voice.

   "Open my ears and loosen my tongue," Hakam quickly prayed. Then he greeted them in return.

   The man nodded and smiled, but then repeated his question. Hakam heard, "From whence do you come?" but the others heard again, "Huming-a-akpin?"

   "We come from the far south, from Calimshan," said Hakam by his magic.

   "I do not know of it," said the man, "but of course it must be south; there are no lands north of here!"

   "Indeed," said Hakam, "but where is 'here'?"

   "You are in Alpuk, on the Great Glacier."

   Hakam spoke to the others in Common. "He says we are on the Great Glacier."

   "That is nearly in Kara-Tur!" exclaimed Leokas. "We are as far from Chult as one can go and still remain in Faerûn."

   "What are your names?" the man in the parka asked in his tongue. "My name is Uknar. Her name is Chamuk."

   "Tung-ashugit!" said Chamuk, which Hakam heard as "Welcome!"

   They heard the sound of a muffled cry. It sounded like it was coming from inside the woman's parka. The woman saw their confusion, smiled, and laughed. "Ba... by," she said in Common. She pulled down the neck of her parka until they could see the black-haired top of an infant's head, keeping warm against her mother's chest.

   Hakam then introduced each of those in his party, after which he asked, "Are your people willing to trade with us? We are badly in need of supplies, particularly food."

   "That is very clear," said Uknar. "I do not understand how you are not frozen solid. Yes, usually my people are very happy to trade."

   "Who are your people? They are not known to me."

   "We are Iulutiuns," said Uknar proudly.

   "Ask him if they can spare a guide for us," said Szordrin. Hakam translated, explaining that they were lost and trying to return to their homes.

   "There is one woman who might know the way south over the Southern Shield," said Uknar. "Her name is Lelchik. You will stay in Chamuk's snowhouse, and I shall go and get Lelchik. Come." He motioned for them to follow him into their little village, and they followed him eagerly.

   As they drew nearer, Szordrin, through Hakam, asked Uknar about the animals they had seen earlier. He explained that they were probably muskoxen or rothé. They sounded too large to be caribou.

   They passed some wooden drying racks covered in animal pelts and some raised platforms which looked to have piles of meat on them. There were several kayaks resting in the snow near the "shore". They counted somewhere between 30 and 40 snow domes, many of them connected by tunnels. Most of these were about ten or twelve feet in diameter, but one dome was about twenty feet in diameter and fifteen feet tall. The village had only a single, tiny stone building with a pyramidal roof and a door. There were thick-furred dogs everywhere — with coats of white, black, or gold — and many ice sleds as well.

   Villagers gathered around, many of them pointing at the strangers or Kamil and commenting in their tongue. Hakam explained to them that Kamil was a camel, a type of pack animal. Several of the dogs ran over to sniff Stormshadow and Kamil. Leokas instructed Stormshadow to heel. Uknar spoke to Chamuk and motioned for them to follow her. Then he got down on his hands and knees and crawled into one of the snow houses through a tunnel. Chamuk took them a little farther and then pointed down at another snow tunnel. She then got down on her knees and began crawling, calling back from the tunnel for the others to follow.



   The entrance was only three feet high. Ambient light filled the ice-walled tunnel, which turned 90 degrees after about five feet, and they crawled single-file through another three-foot-high doorway into a small dome of about six feet in diameter, which was a foot below ground level. It was surprisingly warmer in this small dome, perhaps 20 or 30 degrees more than outside. (This dome clearly had a superior construction to the makeshift domes that Leokas had had them build on the previous nights.) Two other small doorways were here. Chamuk pointed at one of them and motioned for them to go through, all the while speaking cheerfully in her language, but Hakam was farther back in the tunnel and could not make out her words. Once she saw that they began to crawl through, she herself turned and crawled through the other doorway.

   This second snow-tunnel also dropped down another foot, such that they could almost stand up. After a yard or so, they had to duck down again and crawl through yet another tiny opening near the floor. This took them to a much larger dome, twelve feet in diameter. As they stood up, they felt the air here was easily 40 or 50 degrees warmer than outside. The dome's walls were covered in animal fur pinned to the ice walls by animal bones. A solid chunk of ice served as a window and allowed a surprising amount of light in. Two-thirds of the single large room was elevated by two feet and contained six beds made of solid ice and covered in layers of animal skins. A small stone stove was in the middle of the room, and a small leather strap hung from the ceiling above it. There were also two small side chambers, each plugged with a block of ice. Various cooking utensils hung from hooks in the wall.

   Cassiera climbed up onto the sleeping platform. "It's warmer still up here," she said.

   They heard someone coming through the tunnel. One of the villagers poked her head through the opening near the floor and looked up at them. She had her hood down, and they saw that she had long gray hair in a thick braid. She too had a tattoo on her chin and earrings made of bone. "Welcome to Koyoss, travelers," she said in Common in a pleasant voice and with only a very mild accent. "Uknar sent me. I am Lelchik. I am the only one in Koyoss who can speak Common fluently. I trust you find this lulik warm enough."

   "Yes, it is wonderful," said Hakam.

   "I am impressed," said Leokas.

   "Although, I suspect you have some magic with you," she continued, "else you would have frozen solid from your lack of proper clothes."

   "I am a cleric of Anachtyr, the God of Justice," said Hakam. "He has protected us from the cold."

   "Hmm," she said in a tone that implied she did not put much stock in his explanation. "It is hundreds and hundreds of miles from where such clothes would suffice," she said. "How did you get here?"

   "We were shipwrecked...," Leokas began.

   Hakam interrupted. "Actually, we were sent here through a portal by a powerful sorcerer."

   "I can believe that," said Lelchik. "I myself am a storyteller; I have heard such stories before in the southern lands. When I was young, I traveled to the south to learn of life in Vaasa, to learn new tales to put to song."

   "Vaasa is one of the Cold Lands," said Leokas to the others.

   "I found it rather warm myself," said Lelchik with a smile.

   "Can you guide us there?"

   "I am far too old for such travel," she replied. "The journey to Damara or Vaasa is a difficult one. The Great Glacier is surrounded by the Saas, 'Shields' in the Common tongue. The Lugsaas, the Southern Shield, would have to be crossed, and there are very few passes over those mountains. You would need a guide, and you would likely run into remorhaz, polar worms. The Lugsaas are swarming with them."

   "Remorhaz?" asked Szordrin. "Polar wyrms, as in white dragons?"

   "No, 'worms' not 'wyrms'. They are not dragons. They are the size of large dragons, but they are more like a kind of insect."

   "They have no backbones," said Belvin, who had once heard tales of such monsters.

   "How would we reach the Southern Shield?" asked Leokas.

   "When I was young," answered Lelchik, "the pass I took to enter Vaasa was near a lake called Taak. The closest village to Taak Lake is Puttak. At the time, I lived in Hykopgruk, a village on the southern shore of the Lugalpgotak Sea. I rode with a team of kayaks down Utaak Stream to reach Puttak, where I traded for a guide. From there, we continued down the stream to the lake and then traveled on foot to the pass. But that was long ago, and I would not remember the way any longer."

   "Might there be a way to pass under the Southern Shield?" asked Leokas.

   "Not that I know of," said Lelchik. "The dwarves might know."

   "Do you have any magicians here?" asked Szordrin.

   "We are a small and simple village. We do not even have an anagakok among us. We have a diviner, named Najlak, but she is probably not the kind of magic-user you seek. The isejotunen have powerful magics, but surely you do not wish to encounter them!"

   "Are they ice dwarves?" asked Szordrin.

   "No, 'isejotunen' is what they call themselves. In Common, they are called 'frost giants'. The giants live in the Novularond, the vast mountains erupting from the center of the Great Glacier. There you will find both giants and the Inugaakalikurit — and sometimes yeti also."

   "Inu... gaa...?"

   "The dwarves," she said.

   "What about more mundane supplies," asked Leokas. "Do you have arrows, for instance?"

   "Yes, our hunters use arrows, but do not expect large amounts of supplies. Our village is simple and small. Even so, we are known all over Alpuk for our sled dogs. We train the best dogs here, better even than in Lilinuk.

   "If high-quality weapons are what you seek, however, you should know that an annual sukkiruchit or 'trade fair' is happening in Gotokok in half a tenday. Ulutiuns from all three tribes — and even Innugaakalikurit — travel there from all over the Glacier."

   "Is Gotokok on the way to the Southern Shield?" asked Hakam.

   "It is."

   "Could you guide us at least as far as Gotokok?" he asked.

   "I could, but I also know that Wariik and his two sons are going there in two days. He is far and beyond the best hunter and guide in our village and a good man. I had hoped that one of his sons would marry one of my daughters...."

   Just then Chamuk's head popped into the room. She had removed her parka, and they saw that she too had long hair in a braid. Her child hung bundled in a harness in front of her. She carried in a large pot in her stubby-fingered hands, with a delightful aroma coming from it. She held it out for them and spoke in her tongue. Lelchik did not know that Hakam's magic allowed him to understand the younger woman, so she translated. "Chamuk says that this lulik is yours for the time of your visit here. It belongs to her parents, but they are guests at another village for several months. You are free to help yourselves to any meat in the andlitiving."

   "What is that?" asked Szordrin.

   "It is a meat closet," she explained, pointing at one of the blocks of ice that sealed an opening in the wall. "It should be full of raw meat and blubber."

   "Is there a smokehouse?" asked Belvin.

   Lelchik nodded, then continued. "She also offers you some fresh penguin stew, but asks you to save some for her husband, who has yet to return from a seal-hunting trip."

   They politely thanked Chamuk for the dinner. There was only a single ladle, which they had to share; there were no bowls. The stew was creamy and delicious, but Szordrin thought it could use a little salt and removed the magic spice jar. He sprinkled some salt into the ladle before having another portion.

   Chamuk seemed intrigued by this, and Hakam explained to the two Iulutiun women how the magic of the jar worked. Szordrin let Chamuk taste some of the salted stew, and she smiled a big smile.

   "What would go better with this stew is rosemary," said Belvin.

   They taught Chamuk the word "rosemary" and had her speak it while removing a pinch from the jar. She had never tasted such an herb before. They then introduced her to garlic and a few other flavors as well, before Chamuk left them to themselves.

   They decided that they would try to trade with some of the villagers for rations before it grew dark, and they requested if Lelchik would translate for them, and she agreed.

   They crawled back outside into the cold. They spotted two men on opposite sides of the village who seemed to each have a collection of sleds and dogs. They discussed among themselves whether it might make sense to purchase one or more to speed their journey, and then they approached one of the men.

   His name was Kagiik. Through Lelchik, he explained how he was the best dog trainer in all Alpuk and that the other trainer, Hilur, was a loser with weak dogs.

   "How fast can a sled dog travel?" they asked him.

   He explained that they could go 24 to 32 miles per day on good ground and carry a driver and cargo or two or three passengers. Each sled required between six and eight dogs to pull.

   "How much does this cost?"

   Lelchik translated that each sled cost three and a half caribou pelts and that each dog cost ten pelts.

   Mythlos and Szordrin debated on the cost of a sled or a dog from the southern lands, but they were uncertain how ten caribou pelts converted into gold pieces. Szordrin removed some copper pieces and showed them to Kagiik.

   He scowled and shook his head. Lelchik explained that such shiny metals had no practical purpose on the Glacier.

   Mythlos set the bag of holding down and began digging around inside it. He then pulled out the white dragon head and set it on the snow. The man gasped and began talking. Lelchik explained that Kagiik was quite impressed. He would happily trade a dog for a dragon head with the meat still intact.

   "What good is a dragon head?" asked Szordrin.

   They were told that dragon meat is a delicacy and that the bone and scales had many practical uses. Moreover, if a hunter placed a dragon skull outside his snowhouse, it would garner him or her great respect.

   "You slay dragons?" said Szordrin, surprised that they could do so with their lack of technology or magic.

   "Smaller ones, yes," said Lelchik.

   "How?"

   "Usually, the hunters will set an ambush by leaving bait, such as a caribou or muskox, in a crevasse. When the dragon appears, they attack from above, casting nets and harpoons to prevent it from escaping and staying far away from its cold breath. When dragons are slain, the whole village participates, and the whole village celebrates with a day-long feast."

   Kagiik appeared to be growing impatient. "He wants to know if you will be trading for a sled and dogs or not," said Lelchik.

   "If the dragon head will only get us a single dog, I think not," said Leokas. "Ask him how much a kayak is worth."

   She told them that Kagiik would arrange four kayaks for them in exchange for the dragon head.

   "But there are six of us," said Leokas, "and our animals."

   "You might be able to trade for an umiak instead," suggested Lelchik.

   "Wait!" said Szordrin. "How many dogs would he give us if we provided a magical jar of never-ending spices?"

   Lelchik explained the offer to Kagiik, and he seemed very interested. Szordrin demonstrated, giving the man a taste of various seasonings.

   "Give him some paprika," suggested Leokas.

   "Let him taste cumin," said Belvin, "and he will certainly make the deal."

   Shockingly, Kagiik was delighted. He offered them three sleds and eighteen dogs for such a magic item. Apparently, the Iulutiuns had little for spices, and spice was therefore highly valued in their culture.

   "He says that you have made him a rich man," said Lelchik.

   "Would he be able to offer eight dogs per sled instead of six," asked Hakam, "since spice is so valuable?"

   Kagiik could not, but he told them through Lelchik that he would give them his eighteen best dogs, mukteff, golden-furred dogs from Nakvaligach that were very rare in Alpuk. So they agreed to the trade.

   As they left Kagiik and proceeded to where Lelchik told them they might procure some meat, they saw someone rushing toward them. It was Hilur, the other dog trainer, and he looked furious. He yelled at them, waving his arms and spitting. They looked at Lelchik for help.

   "Hilur claims that you have severely insulted his honor and the quality of his dogs by not even visiting him to make an offer of trade. Such a slight means that people might never trade for dogs again with him. He demands a huuk to restore his honor."

   "A huuk?"

   "You might call it a 'singdown'. The whole community serve as judges." Even now, they saw the villagers gathering.

   "And if we refuse?" asked Leokas.

   "If you refuse, he is likely to claim a right of wijikak, an 'honor murder'. Honor is sacred to our people."

   "How can we even participate?" asked Szordrin. "We cannot speak your language!"

   "You can sing in your own tongue," Lelchik offered, "and I shall translate the insults."

   "Insults?" asked Leokas. "So it is a competition of wits. What are the terms?"

   "The winner retains his honor, and the loser has none," she explained. "It's as simple as that."

   "Mythlos, you are the best singer among us," said Szordrin. "You should be our representative."

   Mythlos hesitatingly agreed. By now, the whole community had surrounded them in a circle ready to observe and judge.

   "Let the huuk begin," said Lelchik.
Session: 63rd Game Session - Friday, Dec 11 2015 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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