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Tag: the_great_glacier

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Chapter 3 — Tosvin's Map
It was only a few minutes later that the pounding on the door finally ceased, and they heard the hell hounds outside barking loudly. The door shook violently a few more times, and the elephant trumpeted. Then, the barking faded off into the distance and the commotion stopped.

   Perhaps five minutes later, they heard the barking again. Then Tosvin then appeared suddenly among them. His battleaxe blade was covered in red and other colors.

   The fortress is clear, came his voice in their heads. Move your animal and follow me.

   Mythlos gave the command word, and the elephant returned to its figurine form. Tosvin went to the doors and opened them with his claws. His hell hounds rushed toward him, and he patted each on its black head, as they wagged their tails. Then, he stepped off the ledge and floated to the ground below.

   Hakam, likewise, stepped off and floated smoothly to the snow. Solisar spoke a word and did the same, inviting the others to follow.

   The blood snow was gone, so nothing prevented them from entering the fortress now through the main doors. They passed the charred bodies of three oni mages — Belvin's summoned fire elemental had done its job.

   When they entered the main doors, they saw two more glaives lying on the ground close to the central, red-glowing column of ice. A pool of red blood could be seen to the left of the column, and as they headed in that direction, they first saw a pair of over-sized lower legs, severed at the knees, wearing thick boots. Next, they saw the headless and legless torso of a giant with pale white skin, still clutching its axe. Tosvin led them to the left to the stairs that Cassiera had earlier found.

   The high steps of ice led up to a mezzanine and split north and south. They turned north and climbed to the second floor of the fortress, passing into another irregularly shaped room with six walls. There were two stone tables in the room, sized for giants, and there were smoothed stones scattered about that perhaps served as chairs.

   Tosvin approached the largest wall, waved his hand over it, and spoke a few words of his accursed tongue. Blue, glowing lights appeared behind the ice of the fall, faintly outlining a map, which Leokas immediately recognized as the full extent of the Great Glacier.

   What is your female's name? he asked.

   When they told him, he spoke it with his mandibles. "Iggreth Ilthian."

   A red dot appeared somewhere far to the northeast.

   I shall be gone for many hours, said Tosvin. I cannot carry sentient life through the Astral; I shall have to carry your female back to you over the wind. Take whatever treasures you find among the slain. They have nothing of value to me. With that, he vanished again.

   "Iggreth Tosvin," said Solisar. A dark blue dot appeared atop the red dot.

   "Solisar, this map can tell you the location of Iyraclea!" said Szordrin.

   "While true, I caution against that," Solisar replied. "She is a powerful priestess; she may have protections against scrying that would inform her of our presence. We do not want her able to track us back to Jhothûn."

   "Which means that she might be able to scry on Ilthian as well," one of them said, "once she determines that the girl is missing."

   "Iggreth Samber," said Szordrin, followed by, "Iggreth Walker." No dots appeared.

   "Try someone else we know to be on the Great Glacier," said Hakam.

   "Iget Skata!" said the minotaur, and Solisar repeated the message correctly. No dot appeared.

   "Iggreth Bjorn," said Leokas. There was still no dot. "Have they all been slain?"

   "Does the map find dead persons...?" asked Hakam. "Iggreth Uregaunt." No dot appeared. "So all the giants could be dead," said Hakam, "but I suspect it means rather that the cloud giants have completed their cloud palace and sailed."

   "It has been months since we last saw them," said Leokas.

   "Iggreth el Sadhara," said Szordrin — still no dot.

   "I am going to go loot the corpses," said Mythlos.

   "I will go with you," said Szordrin.

   Kytharrah followed as well.

   "Do not take — do not even touch — any of Tosvin's things!" warned Hakam.

~~~~

They methodically began outside with the enemies that they had slain themselves. One of the oni mages wore a gold bracelet and a jeweled electrum ring. Another bore a potion that tasted and smelled like a healing potion. The ogres only had nasty, ragged hide armor and their clubs. The oni's greatswords looked imposing because of their sizes but were non-magical and of inferior quality. The same could be said of their chain shirts.

   On the first floor of the fortress, they entered the ogre and oni rooms. There they found several personal treasures stored under blankets or pillows. One of the oni had a gold idol to an unknown god that appeared like a cross between a troll and an ogre. The same oni had a sack of gold coins weighing at least ten pounds. Among the ogres' smelly belongings were a total of 101 golden coins, two vials with unknown contents, (one with a magical aura, the other without,) and a sheet of parchment with lewd drawings of an ogre female on one side and a spell of divine magic on the other.

   In the northeastern room, which Cassiera had not explored, the ice walls, floor, and ceiling were insulated with thick metal, making the room smaller. In the center was a fire pit with still-hot coals. There were three iron bunk bends without bedding of any sort. Here, stored under one of the bunks, they found a stash of scrolls with blood stains on them.

   Coming out of that room and continuing counterclockwise, they came to another door to the north. On the floor was a tiny, tin signal whistle. The door to the north was locked and the doorhandle had a magical aura.

   They returned up the stairs but turned left at the mezzanine. This led up to a room that was clearly a kitchen. A door on the north wall led to a foul-smelling room filled with several skinny goats and one skinned fox hanging from the ceiling. There were no other exits from this room.

   They returned to the map room. Another open doorway led from this room to the east. They passed into a large open area perhaps 60 feet wide and 80 feet long. On the north side, near where they stood, was an elaborate staircase of ice leading up to the next floor, with two sets of stairs running along the north wall that led up to a mezzanine from the west and east and then joining and leading farther up and to the south. The room was divided in half by a rift and a large opening in the floor. They looked down to the floor below and saw the body parts of the frost giant and the glaives of the destroyed barbazus. A bridge of ice crossed to the other half of the room, supported by the red-glowing ice column. Sitting on the bridge was the large, bearded head of the frost giant, its eyes staring blankly.

   They passed the decapitated head and crossed the bridge to the other side. The southern wall had a large set of metal doors that were swung wide open. When they passed through, they found a well-furnished room. They saw a woman's body lying face-down on the floor in a pool of blood. She had thinned-out, long white hair and wrinkled bluish skin on her bare legs, as if she had frozen to death, but she had clearly been slain by a massive axe blow to her back. They rolled her body over and were struck with the sheer ugliness of her wretched, old face.

   Within her room, they found a couple hundred platinum coins and six gems in a pouch on her desk; a magical flail of some sort, which had hung on her wall; and a grayish, gnarled staff, which Kytharrah picked up for Leokas to make more arrows. Any pity they might have had for the hag ended when they found a bowl on her nightstand that had three severed human fingers in it.

   They returned back over the bridge and through an open doorway to the northeast. Here, they found a room that mirrored the map room. On the northeast wall, a large mat had been placed on the ground. Its size indicated that it was probably where the frost giant had slept. A sack sitting there confirmed this, when, opening it, they found a typical assortment of grimy items: three throwing rocks, a large, ragged cloak, dried animal dung, some berries, a large whetstone, a hand-held wood chopper, a giant pewter tankard, and a pouch. The pouch contained several gems. They thought the red berries might be of interest to Belvin, so they collected those as well.

   Just as at the western side of the fortress, stairs descend to the south leading to a mezzanine. Heading back up at the other side, they came to a room, which was a mirror of the kitchen they had seen. It was not used as a kitchen, however; there were red blood stains in the frozen floor and iron manacles drilled into the walls.

   Having completely explored the second floor, they now moved up to the third. This was the floor that the ice elemental, which Tosvin had called an orglash, had patrolled. It was bisected twice by hallways into quadrants, and a hallway surrounded the whole floor, except for over the stairwell. In each quadrant was a single, irregularly shaped room of ice.

   They began with the room in the northeast. Opening the door, they found a macabre sight: blood, internal organs, and charred body parts were scattered everywhere. The whole room reeked of scorched flesh. Cloth mats still burned in places, filling the room with smoke. The creatures here looked something like trolls, but they were slighter and had white skin. They also wore clothing, and some wore forged scale mail and had carried mean-looking warhammers. The room also contain a large anvil. Some of the trolls also had bite marks. They counted eight bodies, but so severe was the carnage that they were not certain of their count. Hidden behind the anvil, they found a small pouch with a few hundred platinum coins.

   The next room was empty, except for two giant-sized bunk beds without bedding, but the third room was similarly disturbing in the level of violence found there. This room had six bodies, and these were a different sort of troll, larger and all naked. These, too, had still smoldering flesh from their burns, and their dark blood was splattered all over the room. The trolls had possessed a sack of four gems.

   The final room was likewise the sight of a brutal massacre, although in this case, no fire was used. Dismembered heads and arms were scattered everywhere, once belonging to eight ogres. Four bunk beds were splintered. In one case, it appeared as if a single swing had cleaved the bunk and the two bodies sleeping in it in half. Amongst the blood and other bodily liquids was yet another bag of gems and silver coins, and one of the ogres, who appeared to have been their leader, had several magical items: a ring of protection, a greatclub, and hide armor. Kytharrah also took a large javelin for himself.

   While Szordrin and Mythlos removed the armor from the ogre's body, covering their noses, Kytharrah picked up a small, white, spindle-shaped stone from a pool of organic muck. Then he giggled, when the stone leaped out of his hands and began circling around his head.

   "An ioun stone!" Mythlos exclaimed.

   "Solisar will likely know its powers from its shape and color," said Szordrin.

   Before returning to the others, they noticed that the ledge near the pedestal of ice was no longer a ledge; an ice bridge now crossed over to the south to where the hell hounds also waited for Tosvin's return. Upon investigating further, they noticed that an icicle-shaped key with a snowflake motif on the handle was currently inserted in a hole atop the pedestal.

~~~~

Meanwhile, Hakam was startled by the voice of their friend the bard in his head. "Leaving Lethtar, heading to Sundrah. Gnomes everywhere! Still no blessing from Tymora. No one knows Samber. Even checked wizard guilds. Everyone alive? Have you Ilthian?"

   Hakam quickly responded, "Ilthian recovered; Cassiera dead. Genie will grant three wishes if true heir to frost giant empire is found. Continue to send anything you learn."

   "That was Jayce," he informed Leokas, as Belvin brushed Kamil's fur. "He still has not learned anything of Samber."

~~~~

When the others returned from exploring and gave a report, Belvin was intrigued by the kitchen, and he had Kytharrah lead him there. With the help of the minotaur's nose, he searched for molds and spices that he might be able to use in some of his primitive magics.

   He returned to the others carrying the skull of a fox.

   "Where did you find that?" asked Szordrin.

   "And why do you need it?" asked Solisar.

   "Belvin has a thing for heads," explained Mythlos.

   "Secret druid magic," said Belvin.

   "Does that belong to Tosvin?" asked Hakam.

   "He will not notice," said the druid.

   "Put it back!" ordered Hakam.

   "Make me," said Belvin.

   "Stop your bickering," said Leokas, as he tried carving an arrow from the gray staff that Kytharrah had brought him.

   "Would you be able to carve me some wooden figurines, my friend?" Belvin asked Leokas.

   "Not from this wood. It is a strange wood like none with which I have ever worked."

~~~~

It was the middle of the night before Tosvin returned. The group huddled in the map room by the blue glow of the map. They had been watching the blue and red dot traveling together in a straight line across the map, heading southwest toward the Lugsaas Chain, where they were. At last, the dots reached their destination. They soon heard the sound of Tosvin's clawsteps coming down the stairs in the next room. He entered the map room, carrying Ilthian in his insectoid arms. He set her down ignominiously, though not harshly, on the ground, and her body slumped over.

   Some of them quickly rose up and moved over to her.

   Fret not, mortals. She is unharmed; she is unconscious from the effects of Iyraclea's magic. A bit of positive energy will repair that. Tosvin placed a single claw to her blue-haired head, and Solisar understood him to offer a prayer to Auril, the goddess of winter. Ilthian stirred awake.

   Of course, Hakam was the first person she saw and acknowledged. "Hakam! You are alive! You came back for me!"

   "How did you retrieve her without the Ice Queen being alerted?" Leokas asked the gelugon.

   I am skilled at illusions, said Tosvin, and while she has more power than me, she is limited by her inferior mind. I can outwit her, at least for a time. Now, my part in our deal is complete; begone from my abode at once. The way is clear for you as I promised. I have much to prepare before the Queen discovers the recovery of one of her prisoners and the slaughter of her troops here.

   "No, you have not returned our sorceress' gear nor our pack animals," said Hakam boldly.

   Tosvin vanished and then appeared a few moments later. He dropped Cassiera's magic bag on the ground. Your animals were likely consumed by the ogres and trolls, said Tosvin. Such was out of my hands. I trust that the treasures I have so politely granted you take from their corpses more than compensates you for the loss. Again, I say, begone!

~~~~

The journey back to Gharreil was difficult. At night, the snow was more frozen and slippery, and they did not have the galeb duhr's bridge to speed their descent. They made use of the crampons and gear from the undead climbers, and Ormur, the magic rope, helped significantly, but they also had Cassiera's corpse, a camel, and many pounds of new loot to manage.

   As they traveled, they had to explain the death of Cassiera to Ilthian, who was so in shock that she was silent for most of the journey, not even conversing much with her friend Kytharrah. She did, however, explain more of what had actually happened.

   "You would be so proud of me, Hakam," she said. "Tosvin had me chained in a very cold room. He sent a tiny winged creature — an imp, I think — to me twice each day to bring me food and water. The imp told me all of the horrible ways that Tosvin would torture me. He told me that my friends had abandoned me, that all of you were probably dead. He told me that I should join his side and that I would be rewarded with anything I wanted.

   "Well, I knew that he could not give me the thing I want most... and I also knew that Tosvin had not punished me at all yet. I decided that I might be able to make the most of my time and help the rest of you. So I learned from the imp all about the legal structure of the Nine Hells, and I learned how to understand the devil language. I memorized the numbers of gelugons in Iyraclea's army and where all of them are positioned across the Great Glacier by tricking him into telling me such things. I do not know where those places are, but I am sure that I can remember their names if you ever want to know."

   Solisar interrupted her rambling. "That is amazing work Ilthian! You and I shall have to talk in more detail about this later."

   She smiled for the first time since learning of Cassiera's death. Then she continued, "The imp kept trying to get me to join the devils, promising me great power and riches. I realized that the imp, not being a true baatezu, could never gain such powers that he was offering me, yet I could see that he desired power. So — and this is where I think you will be most proud, Hakam — I tricked him! I convinced him that if he reported to the Ice Queen that Tosvin had betrayed her, she would defeat Tosvin and then make the imp one of her trusted servants as a reward. The imp believed me! He did go to the queen, and he came back here with her and a large group of smelly monsters.

   "She did stop Tosvin, but she did not free me as I had hoped. When she was led by the imp to me. She made the imp turn into a cloud of black smoke by just speaking a single word, and then she asked me what I was. I said that I was a forokell, and then she said to be silent. She said some magic spells, I think, and looked me over, and that is all that I remember."

~~~~

After a dreadfully slow descent into the galeb duhr's basin, they discussed whether they should camp or continue on. One of them urged haste for Ilthian's sake, since they feared Iyraclea might scry on her.

   "While I think we should act quickly as we can," said Solisar, "I trust that the devil at least bought us some time. It is in his best interest for us to not be discovered as well. I think hiking in this darkness and terrain is a poor idea; we are all exhausted. Let us rest here. I shall see if I can find and speak to the galeb duhr again."

   "Maybe he will like my new shiny stone," said Kytharrah. "It dances around my head like his stones."

   "It can make whatever rocks float that it wants," said Leokas. "He will not care about your Ioun stone."

   Solisar pondered this. "I wonder what sort of stones the galeb duhr already has in his collection...."

   Solisar granted himself the ability to speak the Terran language and called out for the rock creature. It answered back from a distance, and the sun elf approached it to speak. "Good creature," he said. "We are trying to go back to our homes; may we ask permission to rest here in your basin once more."

   The galeb duhr agreed. Then Solisar asked, "Please do not be offended, but we suffered a great loss yesterday. One of our friends was killed by the evil monsters of the peak. We need a diamond to raise our friend. Do you know where we might find any?"

   The galeb duhr did not know what a diamond was at first, but when Solisar explained the color and hardness, the galeb duhr answered that no such rocks were in its mountain deep below the ice. Still, it once again built them a strong shelter from the cold with its magic.

~~~~

"Good morning, Lunk," said Cassiera.

   Kytharrah the minotaur looked very confused. His "little sister" was supposed to be dead. Also, she would never say that he was slow. Besides that, why was she wearing Szordrin's clothes, and why did she smell exactly like Szordrin?

   "Szordrin, leave him alone!" said Leokas. "Do not be cruel." Szordrin spoke a magic word and morphed back into his normal tiefling form.

   It was the next morning, and Hakam used his magic to preserve the real Cassiera's body. Then he created food for everyone, and he and Belvin continued to protect them from the cold. Solisar used his magic to identify a few of the items they had taken as loot — the magic hide armor had no special properties beyond simple enhancement, one of the potions protected against good outsiders, and the ring that Cassiera had taken from one of the barbazu would allow the wearer to walk on water. He also read the magic on the new scrolls they had picked up. Szordrin and Mythlos made guesses as to the cost of these new items and their large assortment of new gems.

   No further calamity or encounters occurred on the remainder of the journey back to the magic gate. They reached the crevasse and descended before highsun.

   Hakam placed a hand upon Ilthian's shoulder and prayed a short prayer in Alzhedo. She shivered at his touch, but it was unclear whether the cleric noticed.

   Szordrin chuckled.

   "What did he cast?" asked Solisar.

   "He is trying to obscure Ilthian from scrying," said the tiefling.

   "Is that not a good idea?" asked Leokas.

   "It only works on inanimate objects," answered Solisar in Elven, so that Ilthian would not understand.

   "We do not know yet if she has a soul," said Hakam. "It is an extra precaution."

   Hakam then called on the power of daylight to shine on the wall. Moments after he cast the spell and the magical gate opened in the ice, Tosvin appeared, blocking the entrance.

   "What do you want?" Hakam demanded, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

   They all sensed a chill in the air around them and the sky above began to grow darker.

   Do not be fools! Unhand your weapons. I am here to protect the both of us. Did you not think that your footprints leading down into this rift would not be traceable by the Queen's minions?

   The weather continued to change with shocking quickness. They heard thunder echoing over the glacier ice and then the sound of objects falling from the sky and striking the frozen ground. It was hailing and snowing all around them, except where they stood at the bottom of the crevasse.

   I am covering your tracks with my powers over ice, said Tosvin. I am still the guardian of the portal after all. He stepped aside. Now, you may pass.

   They all did so. As Leokas stepped into the magical dome surrounding the ruins, he alone heard Tosvin's voice. The female I returned to you is a great danger to both you and I, fellow guardian. The Ice Queen will be able to scry to her and thus you. Do not fail our master by endangering the secrets of Jhothûn to the discovery of the Queen.
Session: 80th Game Session - Thursday, Oct 20 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — An Icy Claw Deposed
The pounding on the door continued, as the wintery elemental without tried in vain to force the doors open, but the magically created elephant pressed itself against them and stood firm.

   Hakam stepped up to the manacled devil and spoke boldly, dropped the bag of holding on the ground and pulled out Uregaunt's magically preserved, scorched corpse. "The intruder is slain," said the cleric, "and his kind will never pass through the portal again. Our original deal is still in effect. If we free you, you will return Ilthian...."

   "Wait," said Leokas. "I want to understand more what is happening here before we agree to anything else."

   Another drop fell from the cauldron, striking Tosvin on the head, and his body twitched in pain.

   "What happened here?" Leokas asked.

   As you know, I am the guardian of the portal, said Tosvin. Somehow..., the queen found out.

   "What did you tell her?" asked Solisar.

   Worry not, elf mortal. A baatezu tells no secrets. Tosvin convulsed as another drop struck him.

   "How was she able to do this to you?" asked Leokas.

   Because of the blessing of the goddess, she is more powerful than I; she took me unawares. They heard the sound of Tosvin's wicked laughter in their minds. She has told me that I will stay here in this torture until I tell her where Gharreil is. Does the stupid female not know that I suffered 1,001 days of torture as a cornugon before my promotion to a gelugon? I can outlast her punishment.

   Another drop fell, and Tosvin's laughter ceased.

   "And where is Ilthian now?"

   Iyraclea froze her in magical ice and took her, but I am certain that your female is of no concern to the queen. She only chooses males with the blood of sorcery.

   "You told us that she still lives!" Hakam exclaimed.

   And I insist that she still does. The queen does not destroy what she does not yet understand. She will need to be retrieved from one of the queen's storehouses. Of course, if you unbind me, I shall retrieve her, as our deal stipulates.

   The adventurers looked around at each other, nervous about how to proceed.

   Tosvin made a hiss of pain from between his mandibles and then spoke only to Leokas' mind. I know that it is important to you that the Gharreil portal remain guarded. Leokas could not deny that he still felt a sacred duty to see that Jhothûn remained hidden.

   "Before anyone is freed, you are going to help us with other mysteries," said Szordrin. He stepped forward, showing the interlocked rings on the rod fragment he carried. "Have you ever seen this symbol?"

   I have not.

   Nor had Tosvin ever heard of anyone named Samber.

   "Why is Iyraclea searching for Gharreil?" asked Solisar. "What is her plan and purpose?"

   She believes that Gharreil and its capital contain ancient and powerful magical artifacts from the time of the giants. She wishes to supply her army of giants and other races with weapons with which she can move south as a conquering queen.

   "Is it true?" asked Mythlos. "Does Jhothûn contain such treasures?"

   Tosvin nodded. Gharreil has some. I believe that there are more beyond the portal. Did you yourselves not find any?

   When visiting with the Prince of Jhothûn, the group had only been permitted access to a few rooms, so they did not know.

   "With which races and peoples has she made alliances?" asked Solisar.

   Alliances? She makes alliances with no one. All serve her.

   "What manner of creature is Iyraclea?" asked Szordrin.

   She was once a creature much like yourselves. By her magic she remains young and would likely be considered beautiful in your mortal eyes.

   "Is she an elf or a human?"

   I pay no heed to the subtle differences amongst your kinds. She has long hair of gold and eyes the color of moonlit snow.

   "How can we free you?" asked Leokas. "Are your binds magical?"

   "They are," said Solisar.

   They can be melted with magical fire, said Tosvin. The bindings also block my connection to the Astral Plane.

   "I can summon another fire elemental," said Belvin.

   "Why have your warhounds not freed you?" asked Szordrin.

   Do dogs have hands in your world? Nor do they in the Hells. I needed someone with hands to open the door.

   "How can we be sure that she is not watching?" asked Leokas.

   She is too proud for that, nor does she aspect that I have allies.

   "We are not your allies!" said Hakam.

   "What about the elemental outside?" asked Szordrin. "Will it not report to her?"

   The orglash? It will not be a concern.

   "What of the rest of her minions?" asked Szordrin.

   "We slew several barbazu, three ogres, and three oni," said Solisar. "How many more are within?"

   All the more reason for you to free me sooner rather than later, said Tosvin. I know not how many of her troops are within, but the fortress has three floors and nine guest rooms to serve as barracks. However many there are, I assure you that none shall live to speak to Iyraclea. Tosvin squirmed under the pain of another drop.

   Hakam spoke. "We shall free you only on the following preconditions, because your freedom was not a part of the original agreement. First, you will uphold the original deal; you shall return our companion Ilthian to us with the greatest haste, unharmed. Second, you must ensure our safe escape from this fortress and back to the portal in Gharreil. Third, you must not harm us from this time forth through either direct or indirect action."

   I had already agreed to your first request, and a devil never breaks his word. Your second request I shall agree to upon my freedom as a fair exchange, though I cannot permit you to pass through the portal unless the portal permits it. If the portal permits it, I shall let you pass. A painful drop interrupted the devil's words. Then he continued again. I cannot promise the third arrangement. I shall agree to not hunt you down elsewhere, but if you ever return to the Great Glacier, or if the Ice Queen's armies ever march south and I am leading one of them, I shall not hesitate you slay you if you be on the other side of our blades.

   May I also remind you that if you leave this room, I can immediately call my hounds in to melt my bonds. And if you stay here, eventually your magical animal will return to its figurine form, and the orglash will burst through, followed by my hounds. Do you not understand? You
have already freed me, further agreement or not. How good the outcome to yourselves is is now your new choice.

   The adventurers saw that what Tosvin spoke was true. They were not in a position to arrange a more beneficial deal. Another drop fell, and Tosvin's cry of pain broke the silence.

   So Belvin summoned a fire elemental. The burning creature held on to the icy manacles around Tosvin's appendages and quickly melted through each of them.

   Tosvin leapt free and stretched his spiked tail. He waved his arm, and a false wall on the side of the room faded away. On the other side was Tosvin's fearsome battleaxe and a shelf of ice. The devil took his axe in hand, slipped a ring onto one of his claws, and tossed a small pink stone into the air, which began to orbit his head. Then he turned to them. I shall return shortly, he said. Then, he was gone.
Session: 80th Game Session - Thursday, Oct 20 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Battle of the Twin Peaks: Part II
Kytharrah set Szordrin down in view of the two hell hounds, who simply stared at them from their steaming metal mats and sniffed. The whole area smelled of sulfur, which reminded Szordrin of hot springs he had once visited in the Underdark. One of the warhounds licked its lips hungrily.

   "Tosvin assured us that you would not attack us!" said Szordrin, pointing at the large, double door. It did not look like the dogs understood anything he had said, but they had not attacked.

   "Tosvin!" he called, but there was no answer from beyond the door.

   "Thank you, Kytharrah," Szordrin then said to the minotaur. "Good boy. Now take your grappling hook and rope from your pack and leave it here. Then go as fast as you can to get Cassiera."

   The minotaur smiled, because Szordrin had never been proud of him before. He even called him his new name!

   "Quickly! Go!"

~~~~

"Knuse dem!"

   Leokas and Hakam turned to see a hairy, ten-foot tall ogre coming through the door.

   Before either could respond, a strange cloud of mist blew through the ogre and came toward them as well. It was not the elemental, but it did have a humanoid shape and perhaps horns.

   "Pin them at the door!" shouted Leokas, and he let fly three arrows. They passed through the approaching misty form and struck the ogre. Two went deep into the ogre's gut, but the other did not seem to pass through his hide armor.

   Kytharrah had just reached the ground again on his quest to get Cassiera's gutted body. He heard Leokas' cry and remembered a time when Solisar and Szordrin were looking over his things. "You should throw this whenever we need to pin someone in place," they had told him. The young minotaur had had no idea what they were talking about at the time, but it seemed to him like this might have been what they meant. So he grabbed one of the two strange bags hanging from his belt and tossed it — over Leokas and Hakam and over the gaseous form. It was a lucky throw. The round bag burst open, covering the wounded ogre in a thick goo, which immediately hardened upon exposure to the air.

   "Meg sittende fast!" shouted the ogre, as he struggled to pull himself free, but his large, warty feet were glued fast to the floor.

   So the battle was joined again. Solisar cast an unknown spell. Mythlos charged forward, and Belvin was right behind him, with a blade of fire growing out from his clenched fist. The moon elf swung his sword at the incorporeal figure. It looked like the moonblade made contact with something, as the figure twitched and began to materialize. Hakam stepped to Mythlos. "The strength of the bull be upon thee!" he said, laying a hand on the elf.

   The strength of the bull would not be enough, however. The form took full corporeal shape, revealing a hulking, blue-skinned, white-horned giant standing ten feet tall. He wore an ornate chain shirt and bore a massive sword at his back. He held his giant-sized palm forward, and a magical blast of icy cold shot forth. Leokas leaped out of the way, avoiding most of the burst, but Belvin, Hakam, and Mythlos were covered in a hoary spray of frost. Belvin wobbled about, stunned by the bitter cold. Mythlos fell flat to the ground.

   "Mythlos is down!" Leokas warned. Hakam knelt at Mythlos' side, as Solisar waved his magic wand from the southern wall, but the magic was resisted. Belvin then gave a feral yell, and a column of flame roared downward from the ceiling of the passage and scorched the oni, blackening much of his skin. It spat and reached for its greatsword. Having successfully sent positive energy into his companions body, Hakam stood quickly back to his feet, drawing his own sword. The cleric parried a powerful blow from the giant, and then Leokas stepped back into view and launched another arrow. It struck the oni in the forehead, and the magical giant fell backward to the ground with a thud.

   "Nice block, Hakam!" said Leokas, as two more arrows sailed from his bow and struck the glued ogre. It roared in pain.

   Mythlos, restored to health, stood up and took in the situation. The ogre was still struggling against the glue, and the oni lay at his feet. Suddenly, the oni twitched. Mythlos slashed at him, cutting his body wide open.

   "Are you not coming up?" Szordrin shouted down from the ledge. "The dogs are tame!" The tiefling had tied two ropes together and dangled them down. Mythlos and Belvin ran for the rope, hoping to ascend before more reinforcements could arrive, the latter healing himself as he ran.

   "Kamil! Come, my camel!" Kamil, in his shrunken form, galloped around the corner from the east where he had been hiding.

   "Bevege seg, Prompansikt!" said a voice from within the palace, and someone shoved at the stuck ogre.

   This shove helped him burst free from the glue, and two other ogres now rushed past him.

   Kytharrah giggled as he rushed over to Cassiera. "He said, Prompansikt" Then he saw Cassiera and remembered his task, ceasing his giggling. He somberly stuffed her intestines back into her belly and picked her up to cradle her body on his arm.

   "Ormur!" Solisar called from the southern wall. The magic rope slithered out of Mythlos' bag of holding and came toward the sun elf rapidly, as he moved over to join Kytharrah. "Tie me to the minotaur!" he shouted, and he grabbed unto Kytharrah's back. The friendly red beast began climbing up the wall with his magic, with Solisar securely fastened to him.

   "More are coming!" warned Leokas, as he nocked another arrow. The ogres were now twenty feet away, shaking their heavy clubs.

   From Kytharrah's back, 30 feet up the wall, Solisar sent a spell into the passageway, and a burst of glittering dust filled the area. The ogres covered their eyes.

   This was followed by a powerful shout from Hakam. "Feel order's wrath!" A three-dimensional grid of beams of blue energy filled the passage. All three ogres roared out in agony and two dropped to the ground, still. The third wobbled about just within the open doorway. Leokas struck him in the arm with an arrow, and the ogre fell with a final moan.

   Kytharrah reached Szordrin, and Solisar commanded Ormur to free him.

   "Kytharrah, go back and get Hakam. He will not be able to climb the rope without falling." The minotaur did not delay.

   "What should we do now?" the tiefling asked Solisar. "We are too short to reach the door handle, and there are no secret doors."

   "Whatever we do, stay hidden," said Solisar, dragging Szordrin away from the ledge. "Remember, that elemental is patrolling on the other side of this rift. Corellon's mercy that it has not heard the battle yet!"

   Leokas continued to stand his ground at the passage opening, arrow nocked. He saw one of the ogres get up, but he held his fire for a moment. The ogre stumbled into the wall, blinded from the glitterdust. "Hvor alle gâ?" he said.

   Then, the ogre was shoved forcefully against the wall by something or someone invisible. The ogre stumbled to the ground again and ceased moving.

   "More still!" warned Leokas. Knowing that he could not hold off an invisible foe, he rushed to the southern wall, and used his spider-climbing magic to begin ascending.

   Belvin, climbing on the rope below Mythlos, heard Leokas' latest warning, and pointed his finger at the ground, speaking a curse in Sylvan. The snow turned red like blood, the same magic the undead ice climber had used on them. If anything alive was still coming through the doors, it would have its power drained when in contact with the ground.

   Kytharrah reached Hakam, the last of the party still below, as the cleric stood just at the edge of the blood snow. Kytharrah picked him up. "Wait!" said Hakam. "It is regenerating."

   Hakam pointed at the oni mage. A stretch of intestine hanging from the monster was moving back into the creature's side.

   Up above, Szordrin and Solisar heard Hakam's statement and understood.

   "Fire?" asked Szordrin.

   "Or acid," Solisar replied.

   They each peeked around the corner. Not seeing the elemental across the rift, they both stepped out again. Solisar sent a burst of magic down at the oni's body, striking it. The intestine stopped its movement, at least momentarily. Szrodrin read from a scroll of fire, but he made a mistake while waving his arms to finish the spell.

   "The Hells! That was my most expensive scroll," he cursed, as the magic lettering vanished forever.

   Below, Hakam healed himself and ordered Ormur to tie him to the minotaur. Just as Kytharrah reached the wall, he sniffed something. He grabbed his axe. "Sneaky!" he shouted, and he swung into the air but did not connect with anything.

   "Ormur, untie me! untie me!" shouted Hakam. Then he spun around, clutching his holy symbol. "Be held!" he shouted at his invisible foe.

   Solisar heard the minotaur and glanced down. By his magic, he could clearly see the two invisible oni mages, passing through the air with their magical flight, thus avoiding the blood snow. He sent another burst of glitterdust down on them. "More oni, flying!" he warned.

   "Step aside!" said Szordrin. He rushed to the ledge, as Mythlos was pulling himself up, and readied himself. "Thric austrat!" he called out pointing at the glitter-covered form of one of the flying, invisible oni mages, just before the creature reached the ledge. Yellow bands of magic appeared and wrapped themselves around the oni's wrists and ankles, and he dropped like a rock, falling 70 feet to land directly atop his companion. Both glitter-covered oni lay still.

   Leokas and Belvin joined the others up above. "The elemental!" said Leokas, pointing across the rift.

   The creature of wind and ice had at last discovered them. It flashed from the other side like the gust of a hurricane. It flew to Kytharrah and Hakam faster than either could have anticipated, lightning flashing in its eyes in anger. It struck Kytharrah with a powerful slam, knocking the minotaur back. Hakam bravely swung into the whirlwind-like creature, shouting, "I smite thee, creature of chaos!" but it was like trying to swing into a hurricane, and his sword was nearly yanked from his hand by the force of the wind.

   "Strike!" shouted Belvin, in Sylvan, and a bolt of lightning obeyed, lighting up the elemental's form.

   Szordrin quickly took a tiny piece of parchment from his component pouch, rolled it into a cone and placed it to his lips. His voice was then heard loudly on the other side of the rift. "Come on! The patrolling guard has left its post. The path is clear."

   Shockingly, the bluff worked. The elemental was about to pummel Hakam and Kytharrah a second time, but it stopped and looked up to the north peak. Then it burst through the air and back to its post, crossing the distance in under a second.

   Kytharrah grabbed a nuzzing Kamil, as Ormur tied Hakam to the minotaur's back. "The strength of the bull be upon thee," said Hakam, and Kytharrah rushed up the wall one last time.

   Up above, Belvin was summoning a fire elemental to ensure that the three oni would not regenerate their wounds and come after them again. Mythlos had the figurine of wondrous power ready for when the elemental figured out that it had been fooled.

   "No," said Hakam, when he came over the edge with Kamil and Kytharrah. "Use it to block the door."

   "I could not reach the handle," said Szordrin.

   "Minotaur!" said Hakam. "Open it!"

   Kytharrah pulled down on the latch to the double doors. They were not locked.

   Everyone rushed through.

   The room was large and mostly empty. On the far wall was Tosvin, his insectoid body stretched out, arms and legs shackled to the wall with thick bonds of solid ice. Above his head was some sort of massive, iron cauldron. They saw a drop of clear liquid drip from a hole in the bottom. This struck Tosvin's head and sizzled like acid. The gelugon writhed in pain, an unnatural sound escaping from his throat. Then his massive compound eyes stared in their direction.

   They all heard in their minds his melodious voice. Well done, partners.
Session: 80th Game Session - Thursday, Oct 20 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Battle of the Twin Peaks: Part I
"Whoa, Man! Get a shave!"

   Krynn, the satyr, made a disgusted face, lowered his head, and sprang forward, charging at the easternmost barbazu guard and ramming into it with his curved horns.

   The hellish guards had no idea whence this new creature had come, but they also did not care. One of the door guards disappeared and reappeared behind Krynn, flanking him. The one to the west stepped forward to get a better view of the strange intruder. The guard that Krynn had rammed dropped its glaive and swung its claws. Krynn avoided the first swing, but the second left a gash across his bare, hairy chest.

   "Ha! You will have to try harder than that, devil. This gorgeous chest is made of fey skin!" By the time the fawn finished his sentence, his skin had sealed itself back up; there was not even a scar. He swung his head at the devil a second time, while drawing a long, wavy dagger from a sheath hanging from a belt around his waist.

   The guard behind Krynn prepared to swing, but Krynn was not alone.

   "Strike!" shouted Belvin. The guards had not noticed the dark cloud that had quickly formed overhead. A bolt crashed down from the cloud, striking the devil and shocking it. A half-second later, an extra large arrow plunged into its back, the first shot fired by the young minotaur Kytharrah in combat. Leokas' teaching had worked.

   One by one, the rest of the Misfits sprung from around the corner and began unleashing magic. Unfortunately, the devils had a level of resistance to magic, and all eight magical projectiles sent at the devil with the arrow in its back were deflected, and it took a swing at Krynn's back. Again, there was a streak of blood, which immediately went away.

   It still caused the satyr pain, however, and he hopped to the side with a strange bleating sound. Krynn then spun around and swung his wavy dagger, but the devil deflected it with his claws and then lunged, grabbing the satyr in its claws. The tentacles of its "beard" sprung forward, snapping with the strange orifices at the ends. A few of them made contact with Krynn's face. He yelled out and kicked the devil away with his hoofs.

   "Strike!" shouted Belvin, as another bolt fell from the sky, just as Hakam stepped out and struck the devil with a ray of intense light from his outstretched palms.

   Mythlos magically appeared through a rift, swinging his sword madly at the solitary devil guarding the door, but the devil avoided the first swing and ducked to avoid decapitation. Mythlos' moonblade stuck itself in the ice wall beside the door. The door guard screamed in rage, tossing its glaive to the side and instead swinging its fist. It punched Mythlos on the side of the jaw and then caught him by the neck with its other hand. It pulled the moon elf closer, and then Mythlos too found the ends of the devil's tentacles sucking on his face, before Mythlos was able to free himself and remove his sword from the ice.

   The remaining of the four devils was calling out loudly in its Infernal tongue. Leokas, who had been turned invisible by one of his companions, now appeared behind this guard and filled him with three arrows.

   It was not enough to take it down, however; it finished its summoning and there was a powerful smell of sulfur as four repulsive and writhing blobs of pseudo-humanoid flesh appeared on the battlefield — lemures. The devil who summoned them then vanished.

   The lemures surrounded Leokas, swinging their claws. Leokas was struck by several blows, but his armor protected him. He leapt to the side and stuck to the wall like a spider, using another magic trick that they had planned beforehand. He scurried up the wall and out of the reach of the four minor devils.

   Kytharrah had dropped his bow and charged at the nearest barbazu, reaching behind his back and removing his battleaxe as he ran. He slashed at the devil, as the devil turned to face him. As it was about to return a swing, it was pummeled by two bursts of magic from Solisar's wand. Enraged, the devil cursed in its tongue, and then it, too, vanished.

   Back at the door, Mythlos swung a blow of devastating force at his opponent, leaving a silver wound diagonally across its chest. "Use silver weapons!" the moon elf shouted, before stabbing the devil in its gut.

   Leokas, still stuck to the cliff wall, heeded this advice. He jumped back to the ground, landing adjacent to the slow-moving lemures, taking a few scratches from their claws as he nocked two silver arrows simultaneously and sent them flying through the air at Krynn's remaining opponent, who was dodging another head butt. Cassiera was sending a non-stop barrage of magical bursts from her fingertips at the same devil, and Belvin called down another lightning strike. It swung a claw weakly at Krynn, but four clones of Szordrin ran along the ice wall, and all four completed the words of a spell. There was a loud boom near the devil, and it reached up to cover its ears. Cassiera's next three pulses of magic knocked the devil to the ground, and moments later, Hakam decapitated it, sending its essence back to the Hells and leaving only its glaive behind.

   "Minotaur! To Mythlos!" shouted Leokas, as he shrugged off more painful scratches from the four lemures that once again were attempting to surround him. He got back onto the wall and began to climb, hoping to get to the ledge high up that Hakam had found the day before for a better tactical advantage. Belvin sent a bolt into the crowd of lemures and rushed to help his friend.

   The minotaur obeyed Leokas' instructions, turning and charging at Mythlos' opponent at the door. He struck the devil with a staggering blow. With its black blood spurting out, it attempted one more attack with its claws and failed, before Mythlos finished it off with a final swing. Then, the moon elf healed himself.

   "Huzzah!" shouted Krynn, raising his dagger and leaping ten feet straight into the air, but the battle was not over yet. They heard the sound of one of the bearded devil's voices high above.

   "It is summoning!" yelled Solisar in warning, before waving his magic wand in the direction of the lemures and blasting one of them.

   "Let them come!" Krynn shouted, and he pounded his chest. As if in answer, with a flash of flame and smoke and the smell of more sulfur, another bearded devil appeared ahead of Krynn and swung. The satyr deftly jumped over the swing with a hearty laugh, jumped over the devil's head and stabbed it in the back.

   Mythlos charged at the newly summoned barbazu, passing Belvin, who was now surrounded by moaning lemures. The devil struck Mythlos on his left thigh, but the elf continued moving and cut off all of the devil's tentacles with a swing. Cassiera struck him with her magic, and Kytharrah ran up, joining the new melee and contributing a solid blow from his axe that left black organs hanging out of the devil's belly. It roared and spat at Mythlos' face, swinging its glaive down, but Mythlos parried the blow and cut both of the devil's arms off in a single swing. It fell forward into the snow and burst into black smoke.

   Solisar heard the devil up above them speaking with the hell hounds. "Are you not going to help us?" He heard the dogs growl in response.

   Leokas reached the ledge and peeked quickly to see if the elemental creature Hakam had seen patrolling the fortress hallways yesterday was there. It was not, yet neither could he see the devil on the other side of the missing bridge, which he could have sworn he had seen seconds earlier as he climbed the wall. He crouched behind the ice pedestal for cover if the elemental should return and to get a clear shot if the devil should come into view. It did not.

   "Cassiera!" the four Szordrins shouted. "Behind you!"

   She spun around, hand to the hilt of her scimitar, but the barbazu that had teleported behind her was already swinging. A look of shock came over her face, and she felt a wet, spongy mass touching her hand. Looking down, she saw her intestines hanging out of her body. She then fell back onto the snow.

   The Szordrins, Krynn, and Kytharrah rushed to her side. The minotaur struck with a blow that knocked the enemy's glaive aside and took a chunk from the top of its skull. Solisar waved his wand, but the devil deflected the magic and teleported away, just as it looked like it was about to fall over.

   Dropping to their knees, the Szordrins each removed a potion vial from his belt, and one of them placed it to Cassiera's lips. Her head tilted to the side and all the liquid poured out. Szordrin touched her neck. There was no pulse. "How can you be dead?" he called out. "I wasted a potion for you!"

   "Little sister?" said Kytharrah, trying to comprehend why the potion didn't heal Cassiera.

   "Maybe some alcohol will help...." started Krynn, and then his summons ended and he vanished.

   Several yards away, Belvin was surrounded by lemures. Mythlos tried to step over to engage them, but Hakam stopped him. "Mythlos, your wound is spurting blood; you'll pass out!"

   The moon elf tried to heal it with his sword, but this failed. Hakam put pressure on Mythlos' leg; the blood kept coming.

   Three arrows from up above dropped two of the lemures, freeing Belvin, whose arms and face had been bloodied by them. The wild elf, rushed over to Mythlos with glowing hands and was able to stop the blood flow from Mythlos' thigh with his magic.

   The lemures kept approaching. Mythlos spun around and obliterated one with a swing, cutting it cleanly in half. Hakam stabbed his sword into one of those lying on the ground with arrows in them, and its form also burst into smoke and vanished.

   Leokas was about to shoot at the remaining lemure, but he heard the sound of wind rushing behind him. He tumbled forward over the ledge to get out of sight of the patrolling elemental and began coming down the wall again, dropping to the ground from ten feet up.

   One of the Szordrins touched Kytharrah after completing a spell. "Lunk, carry me and climb up that wall as fast as you can." All Szordrins pointed at the far wall leading up to where the hell hounds were.

   "But," he protested, looking at Cassiera.

   "Are you fast or not?"

   "I am fast. Uh, which you?"

   "The left one. Not that left; your other left!"

   The minotaur picked up Szordrin, rushed to the wall, and began climbing up using Szordrin's magic, as Solisar shot at the remaining lemure with his wand and then Mythlos finished it off. A lightning bolt annihilated the last of the fallen lemures before Hakam could stab it.

   The field was cleared of enemies but at great cost. Leokas reached Hakam's side, and the two looked in the direction of Cassiera's body.

   "Anachtyr will bring her back," said the cleric. "I can take care of this in the morning."

   "We will need to keep her body safe," said Leokas.

   Solisar hustled over to her still form. Then there was the sound of a creaking door, and the sun elf heard a loud voice in a dialect of Giant with which he was not very familiar. "Smash them!"

   Leokas and Hakam turned to see a hairy, ten-foot-tall ogre coming through the door.
Session: 79th Game Session - Thursday, Oct 06 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Reconnaissance
"Barbazu," said Solisar, before anyone could ask, "more baatezu from the Nine Hells."

   Hakam stabbed his sword through the chest of the nearest devil. Its body burst into black and red smoke and dissipated, leaving only its nasty glaive behind on the snow.

   "Oh, you are bleeding a lot!" said Cassiera, looking at Kytharrah.

   "Wounds from barbazu are slow to heal," warned Solisar.

   "It seems so. My sword will not heal the wound at all," said Mythlos, after he placed the flat of his sword against Kytharrah's wound.

   Blood was flowing quickly out of the minor gash below Hakam's arm as well.

   "We have to do this the natural way." Belvin approached the cleric and ripped some cloth from his sleeve, then used it to tie off blood flow.

   "Help me hold the minotaur's wound closed," said Hakam. "Minotaur, lie down."

   Kytharrah obeyed, and several of them applied pressure to hold the wound on his massive, hairy chest closed. Then Hakam applied positive energy to the spot. This combination seemed to work.

   There was then some debate about whether to heal the other barbazu to interrogate it, but eventually Solisar spoke up. "We tarry too long; if we do not move on, new guards may come."

   So Cassiera ended the discussion by beheading the final barbazu with her scimitar. It, too, vanished in its death on the Material Plane, leaving behind its glaive but also a tiny ring.

   Mythlos quickly cast a spell and rushed over to pick the ring up. "Its magical," he said.

   "Be careful," said Solisar. "If it is from the Hells, it might be cursed for you."

   "It has an opal for a stone," said Szordrin. "Does that indicate anything?"

   "No," said Solisar. "An opal is used for a wide assortment of magical items." He then added, "The ring emits a moderate aura of transmutation magic."

   "The glaives are not magical either," said Mythlos.

   "Nor do they have poison," said Cassiera.

   "Perhaps it is some aspect of the devils themselves to leave such wounds," suggested Hakam.

   "What now?" asked Leokas.

   "We need to contact Tosvin again," said Hakam.

   "What will we do for the next twenty hours till dawn?" asked another.

   "We should just return to the genie and use our wish to retrieve Ilthian," said another.

   "I was sent to investigate the dealings of the ice queen," said Solisar. "For that reason, whatever is going on here at this fortress is of great interest to me."

   "We slew the door guards easily enough," said Cassiera. "Can we not simply press on and enter the tower?"

   "Not if it is the ice queen's palace!" said Leokas.

   "I do not believe it is her palace," said Belvin.

   "We should at least scout it out a bit first before deciding anything," said Cassiera.

   "Do we have enough magic or mundane items to disguise some of us as barbazu?" asked Szordrin.

   "We are all low on magical power," said Hakam. "That is part of the issue."

   "There is no limit to my ability to change form," said Cassiera. "The doors were large; let me at least see if I could slip underneath them."

~~~~

So she did. In her smallest viper form and made invisible by Szordrin, she squeezed herself under the giant metal doors to enter Tosvin's fortress.

   She found herself in a roughly octagonal room carved from solid ice. There seemed to be large metal doors in each face of the room. In the very center was a large square-based column of transparent ice. From within came a mysterious red glow that provided light for the room. The column was about fifteen feet on each side. The room itself probably had an area of a thousand square feet.

   She could not see, hear, or sense anyone else in the room currently, but her tongue picked up a variety of organic scents from the floor of the chamber, none of which she recognized.

   She slithered slowly and carefully to the right, moving along the cold edge of the wall to the next door. Like the main doors, she was able to squish her serpent body underneath.

   The first thing she noticed was the pungent smell of body odor. This next room had a strange shape, somewhat like a trapezoid but with a somewhat curved far wall. There was a very large bed to her right, and three large bedrolls set out upon the floor. Lying on the three rolls were three enormous, hairy humanoids, each of them snoring loudly. She estimated that each was nine or ten feet tall, but it was hard to say for certain, because they were curled up asleep. They had dull yellow skin, and she noticed quite a large number of warts on the giant-sized foot she could see sticking out from under a ragged blanket. Each hairy giant had a sack by his head and a nasty looking club.

   She bravely climbed up one of the bed posts. From here, she could see the one sleeping in it. This creature was also giant-sized, but the similarity seemed to end there to her. This one was bigger than the others but not by much. His skin was light blue, and he had a pair of short, ivory horns protruding from his forehead. He was sleeping in an expensive looking chain shirt over some silken clothing, and he wore a golden bracelet and an electrum ring on one of his massive fingers. A huge sword leaned against his bed.

   She quickly slipped away and back under the door. Next, she peaked around the corner of the glowing ice column in the center. She spotted another barbazu standing guard in front of one of the doors, the northernmost one. She quickly pulled her tiny head back and slithered in the other direction, despite the fact that she was invisible.

   She squeezed under another door, to the southwest. This room smelled much better than the other, but it was the same shape, with similar ice walls. It was furnished with two large beds and two large tables. A quick climb up one of the tables gave her a view into the beds, and she confirmed that they were occupied by two more horned, blue monsters, like the one she had seen in the other room.

   Not wanting to run out of invisibility, she only checked underneath one more door, this one to the west. She found an icy staircase with steep, wide steps that led up to a mezzanine, split, and continued up in both the southerly and northerly directions.

~~~~

She returned to the others, took humanoid form, and became visible again, as the spell wore off. She explained to the others what she had seen.

   "I think you saw ogres and oni mages," explained Solisar. "Oni are cousins to ogres that originate in the eastern human realms of Kara-Tur. They are inherently magical creatures and are far more intelligent than the common ogre. They are formidable, being able to fly, change form, and turn invisible."

   "I do not think we should believe the devils," said Cassiera. "We definitely were told to come here by Tosvin."

   "If they were the ice queen's guards, why would they lie?" asked Leokas.

   "We need to rest and regain our magics," said Hakam.

   "Where?" said Szordrin. "I do not have my rope trick prepared, and I am out of such scrolls too."

   "I have one prepared," said Solisar, "but it is not enough for the whole party."

   "Can I go play with the griffons while you talk?" asked Kytharrah.

   "I do not think we have the power to storm the fortress without resting," said Hakam, "but we could probably fight off a scouting party that finds our resting place, so I think that it is safer to hide, rest, and come back tomorrow. This will also allow us to clarify Tosvin's status through my magic, and it opens up the option of a stealth infiltration of the fortress using other spells."

   "I think we should go in now and ambush them in their sleep," said Cassiera.

   "That seems a risky plan," said Leokas. "These are giants!"

   "I have an idea," said Solisar. "We could allow ourselves to be captured. There is a chance we will be imprisoned wherever Ilthian is. Then, in the morning, we send a message to the genie and wish ourselves to freedom."

   "Except that they may just execute us!" exclaimed Szordrin.

   "We should at least explore a bit more first," said Leokas. "This rift in the peak extends further west." He began walking in that direction.

   "I think there is also an opening up above us, there," said Hakam, pointing.

   70 feet or so above the tunnel leading to the door, they could indeed see what appeared to be an opening or at least an indentation.

   "Kytharrah could toss me up there as a viper," suggested Cassiera.

   "I can fly up there and take a look," said Belvin, and he started to remove his armor.

   "Spare us!" said Szordrin. "Let me make you invisible first."

   "Wait," said Hakam. "Let me use clairvoyance first."

   Hakam did so, praying for the power to see into the opening above. It was indeed an opening, an artificial one. He looked around with his disembodied visual sense. Below and behind him, there appeared what looked to be an ice bridge that had broken off. On the other side of the rift, in the southern peak, was an opening equally as high off the ground, to which the supposed bridge probably connected. To the north, he could see into what was probably a third or fourth floor of the fortress. There was a wide hallway extending back for a bit under 100 feet before the floor seemed to descend, perhaps at a stairwell. Midway to that point, another perpendicular hallway intersected with it, and immediately before his "eye" to the left and right connected further hallways. Just before the "broken" bridge was also set a strange pedestal-like object made of ice.

   Then, something large passed before his vision. It was clearly an elemental creature of some kind, very much like the air elemental El Sadhara had once summoned to destroy them, one that had nearly killed Hakam. He shivered at the memory.

   "What is it?" asked Cassiera, seeing his body quiver.

   He described the creature to them. It was like a creature of living cloud, yet a cloud of sleet and snow rather than of rain. It floated down the hallways, patrolling, with dark pockets, flashing with lightning, for eyes, and two appendages serving as its arms.

   "A creature summoned by the ice queen, perhaps," suggested Solisar.

   Hakam then described the "bridge" to them. Though they could not see the other opening from their angle, Belvin would be able to fly up and reach it. This he did, as an invisible pteranodon. He landed on the ledge and poked his reptilian head into the large, door-like opening. He saw a long room, extending from west to east, fifteen feet back and about 75 feet long. Directly ahead of him on the southern wall of ice, was a very large, black, metal door, fifteen feet wide. At each of the far ends of the room, he also spotted a very large, muscular dog. These dogs looked something like hounds, with coal-black fur. They were the size of draft horses. One was sleeping, but the other immediately lifted its big head and sniffed the air in Belvin's direction. Smoke came from its nostrils, and its eyes were the color of fire. The animal, if it could be called that, rose to its feet quickly. Belvin saw that it was barded in a shirt of linked rings. It moved toward the opening, and Belvin launched himself high into the air to escape.

   The others below looked up to see a large hound-head looking down at them.

   "Puppy!" said Kytharrah happily.

   "It is a hell hound!" warned Szordrin, when he saw the smoke coming from the mammoth dog's nostrils. "Take cover; they can breathe fire like a dragon!"

   They moved out of sight from its gaze.

   "Not just a hell hound," said Solisar. "While I have never seen one myself, I believe that that was a Nessian breed."

   "As in 'from Nessus'?" asked Szordrin.

   "Yes, from the lowest layer of the Nine Hells. These warhounds were bred to serve as guard dogs for the Lords of the Nine."

   "Why would one of the Lords of the Nine be here?"

   "No, that was why they were bred; that is not their only purpose. It most likely means that something or someone important is behind the door they guard."

   "The ice queen?"

   "Or maybe Tosvin is locked up by her behind those doors," suggested Hakam.

   A pair of pteranodon prints pressed into the snow nearby them. "I cannot find my armor," said Belvin's voice. "It is still invisible like me."

   "Change back into a pteranodon," said Solisar. "I have another idea, but we must hurry. I still can speak in any language by my magic, but only for a few minutes more, I calculate. Belvin, fly me as fast as you can to the galeb duhr. Perhaps I can convince it to shelter us in hiding for the night. If the rest of you take the stairs it built for us, when it removes the stairs, there will be no tracks, and we shall be safe for the night."

   This seemed a much better idea to them than his original plan to be captured. "You will need more gems to use to bargain with it," said Cassiera. "Here, take these."

   "Give it the least valuable ones!" said Hakam.

~~~~

Solisar was able to convince the galeb duhr to help them one more time, after handing over another assortment of gems. His companions arrived a half hour later, having descended the great staircase of stone. The galeb duhr removed the staircase and shaped the ground and rocks with its mind to form a secluded, cave-like structure for them for the night. Despite this, Solisar still used his rope magic so that at least eight of them would have an additional means of protection and would not be traceable by scent. Leokas felt like this was more than was necessary, but he also did not enjoy sleeping in the white emptiness of the extradimensional space. It felt too unnatural. (Belvin agreed with his assessment.)

   Cassiera spent much of the night outside in serpent form, since she needed only a few hours sleep, hiding near the galeb duhr's motionless form among the rocks and monitoring the icy cliffs above. It was too dark to see anything, however, once night fell.

~~~~

The next morning, Hakam and Belvin rose to pray, and then they protected their companions from the bitter cold, and Hakam created them breakfast.

   Afterwards, Hakam sent a short message to Ilthian. "We will rescue you today with a magical spell. Do not resist the magical sensation! Please respond verbally now without alerting anyone around you."

   There was no response.

   "She is dead then," said Mythlos.

   "Well, we tried," said Leokas.

   "Come on, let us go," said Belvin. "This was a waste of time."

   "Tosvin must have displeased his queen," said Hakam. "Perhaps this was all out of his control. Let me send to him first."

   So he sent this message: "You lied and broke your word: This tower is not yours. Does Ilthian live? Where are she and our belongings? How do we retrieve them?"

   A response was not long in coming. "She lives, but you would need me to help retrieve her. I have been... detained by my queen. My dogs will let you pass. Come."

   Hakam repeated what he heard in his mind.

   "We must be careful," said Cassiera. "He said that we would need his help, not that he would give it."

   "True, but he is bound by his oath to help us," said Hakam. "What I fail to understand is why is door guards attacked us."

   "I think that Tosvin is still in that fortress," said Belvin, "being 'detained'. The guards were under her orders not his."

   "The good news," said Solisar, "is that the guards, and thus the ice queen, have no way of yet knowing who we are or why we were here."

   "So Tosvin needs our help again," said Cassiera.

   "What does he gain from us helping him?" asked Szordrin.

   "He needs us to un-detain him," said Cassiera. "He is trying to get us to break him out. It is what I would do if I were evil." She glared at Hakam, but the cleric surprisingly did not reply that she was evil.

   "I still don't see why we are going out of our way for a simple peasant," said Szordrin.

   "It is because Hakam likes her," said Cassiera.

   "Helping Tosvin will be hurting her, the ice queen," said Hakam, ignoring yet another comment from Cassiera. "I think we should go see him."

   "I agree," said Leokas.

   "I can use my magic to speak with the galeb duhr again," said Solisar, "to see if he will build us another bridge."

   "By now," said Leokas, "they will have discovered the remains of the barbazus we destroyed. They will be ready for us when we return. We need a plan to ambush them, so we can clear the way to Tosvin. Perhaps the galeb duhr can built the stairs to a more tactical position, but I do not see from the terrain where that might be."

   "What if we were able to fly directly to the upper entrance and bypass the guards?" said Cassiera.

   "We could fly on our griffon friends!" said Kytharrah.

   "Not everyone is your friend," said Szordrin.

   "That actually might be a good idea," said Leokas.

   "I do not think they could carry you, minotaur," said Hakam.

   "We have enough rope," said Mythlos. "Kytharrah could hang from two of them."

   "Thard Harr could let me speak with the griffons," said Belvin. "I of course would carry Kamil myself."

   "How would we find the griffons again?" one of them asked. "We never did find their nest."

   "The galeb duhr said that they hunted goats in this basin."

   "I do not see any goats," said Belvin.

   "They love to eat horses," Cassiera said. "Belvin, can you take the shape of a horse?"

   "Of course I can."

   "We can use you as bait," she continued. "Solisar, you can speak with them when they fly down to investigate."

   "I would not risk our partner's life like that," said Solisar. "Moreover, my spell will not permit me to communicate with creatures that do not have a language. We must rely on Belvin's magic for that."

   "I cannot speak with a griffon if I am a horse!" said Belvin. "It doesn't have the right sort of throat."

   "I think we should simply ascend the steps," said Leokas. "When we get higher up, perhaps Belvin can locate them for us. If not, we shall have to come up with another plan."

~~~~

The galeb duhr helped them yet a third time, and an hour later, they found themselves near to the top of a new set of stone steps. Belvin could detect that a pride of eight griffons were somewhere on the opposite side of the peak, but they had no way of contacting the flying beasts.

   When they reached the top, Leokas found clear devilish footprints in the snow. The next set of guards had been looking for whoever had killed their companions.

   They discussed methods of scouting out the area ahead, and at last, they settled on using clairvoyance magic again. Hakam prayed and then focused his remote vision on the scene between the two peaks. "There are four guards now," said Hakam. "All 'bearded devils'. Two are at the door; two others are posted in the open. One is looking west, the other is facing east."

   "They could easily call for more reinforcements though," warned Leokas.

   "We need to destroy them quickly then," said Solisar.

   "They are less likely to call for reinforcements if they think we are weak and easy to defeat on their own," said Hakam. "Remember what Solisar had said earlier; they know nothing about us. We have the advantage of knowledge. We could send a smaller group with the rest of us waiting in ambush."

   "Whatever we decide," said Mythlos. "My sword and I are ready."
Session: 78th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 29 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Managerial Changes
What is a jungle reptile doing here?

   Cassiera's snake eyes saw two hideous humanoid creatures standing guard before a large, metal, double door, which was nestled back in an alcove 65 feet back. The guards were about six feet tall and had long tails. Their skin was red and scaly. They were naked and appeared to be sexless, but each carried a saw-toothed glaive in its sharply clawed hands. Their most distinguishing and disturbing feature, however, was the "beard" each bore. Instead of hair, writhing, snake-like tentacles grew from their chins, each ending in some sort of biting orifice.

   One of the creatures immediately vanished from her sight, leaving the other to guard the door.

   We are here to see the one who hired us, thought Cassiera in her mind, in response to the telepathic question.

   The Ice Queen expects no visitors, came the reply.

   Cassiera turned and began slithering back.

   The second guard appeared before the others in the party, and they all heard its voice in their minds. You shall go no further!

   "We were invited by Tosvin, General of Iyraclea the Ice Queen," said Hakam boldly.

   Solisar immediately cast a spell, and they all heard the sound of rolling dice.

   The guard spoke something in its own tongue and glanced around for the source of the sound. The other guard suddenly appeared standing ten feet from Szordrin, near the edge of the drop off down the steep slope behind them.

   Tosvin has been removed from power, said the guard before them.

   "We just spoke to him a few hours ago," said Hakam. "He told us to meet him here."

   "Has he been replaced?" asked Solisar, as he stepped back to a safer position next to one of the more powerful warriors. Mythlos stepped to place himself between the flanking guard and Szordrin, while Kytharrah stepped up to the front by Hakam.

   Cassiera's humanoid form filled her tunic. "Now you know what it told me up ahead," she said.

   The flanking guard lowered its glaive toward Mythlos, who had his own weapon at ready.

   He has been removed for some time. Now begone! The guard shook its glaive at them and its animate beard quivered.

   "Solonor, grant me the mercy of the hunter," Leokas prayed quietly, "to slay my foe quickly."

   "We shall happily leave once you have turned over our companion who rightfully belongs to us per the agreement we made with your previous employer," said Hakam.

   "And the dogs that are ours," added Cassiera.

   The flanking guard swung its glaive, which was deflected by Mythlos' sword. You had your warning, said the other guard telepathically, and then it charged over the snow at Kytharrah. The swing drew a bit of the minotaur's blood and sent a tuft of his fur flying.

   "Be wary of their beards and glaives!" Solisar warned.

   Everyone joined into the battle with haste. Hakam prayed for divine power from Anachtyr. Cassiera lobbed a vial of alchemist's fire. Solisar and Szordrin each scattered silver powder around themselves. Belvin began calling for a creature from one of the planes. Kytharrah and Mythlos each stepped forward and engaged their foes in melee. Kytharrah took another nick from his opponent's blade, and Mythlos struggled to connect with his foe.

   Then Leokas let fly two arrows. The first struck the guard in the center of its bare chest, plunging in deep and causing the guard to stagger back before a second arrow struck it in the shoulder. As it wobbled, it swung weakly at Kytharrah and missed.

   Hakam then stepped forward. As he swung his sword down on the monster, its pole arm caught him under the arm and drew blood. Hakam's sword connected, but the gash it left in his opponent immediately sealed itself back up.

   Three projectiles of magical force then slammed into the guard from Cassiera's fingertips, causing it to drop to its knees, allowing Kytharrah to land a powerful swing of his massive axe, sending the guard flying onto its back in the snow in a pool of black blood.

   On the other end of the battlefield, another sound of rolling dice was heard, as a fire elemental appeared behind the remaining guard, flailing its fiery appendages. The guard seemed unharmed by its blows, but when it turned back to see what had appeared, this gave Mythlos a tactical advantage. Stepping in closer to negate the effectiveness of his enemy's pole arm, Mythlos took another pair of swings. The guard avoided the first swing, but the second left a silver, glowing gash across its chest. It screamed out in pain.

   Leokas rushed back to get a clear shot and loosed two more arrows simultaneously, but he missed. Szordrin also had his shortbow out and fired a shot. It struck the guard in the skull but was deflected away without even drawing blood. Nevertheless, Leokas was impressed with his teammate's aim. "Impressive shot!" he exclaimed.

   The guard dropped its glaive to the ground and gave a terrible cry in anger, its beard extended. It lashed out at Mythlos with its deadly claws, roaring with each swing, but Mythlos easily avoided the swings. Kytharrah and Hakam rushed over, and now the guard was surrounded on all sides. Cassiera send more magical bursts from her fingertips, but her magic was somehow resisted this time. Solisar was able to overcome the enemy's magical resistance with his wand, however, and two more bursts struck the guard.

   "Strike!" shouted Belvin, as he pulled his own bow from his shoulders and nocked an arrow. A bolt of lightning shot from the cloudy sky and electrocuted their opponent.

   The minotaur and the moon elf then dropped their convulsing foe to the ground in a spray of black blood.

   "That was not quite the welcome I had expected," said Hakam.
Session: 77th Game Session - Wednesday, Sep 07 2016 from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
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Chapter 3 — Wild Empathy
"What comes after twenty?" asked Kytharrah, after they had been climbing the magically constructed stone staircase for some ten minutes.

   "We have walked more than twenty steps, lunk," said Szordrin.

   "I am fast!" protested the minotaur.

   "Twenty-one," said Cassiera.

   "You want 401 next," said Solisar.

   "One hundred is a very lot, isn't it?" asked Kytharrah. "Four hundred must be a very, very, very, very lot," he said, counting the "very"s on his long, clawed fingers.

   "Yes, indeed it is. 401 is twenty twenties and then one more," said the sun elf. "You counted twenty steps twenty times, didn't you?"

   "Yes, how did you know?"

   "Because I already counted 400 steps and know that you cannot count past twenty," said Solisar, smiling.

   "What comes after twenty hundred one?" asked Kytharrah, after they had gone up 16 more steps.

~~~~

When they had gone about twice twenty twenties of steps, Leokas, whose eyes had been on the skies the whole time, spotted a flying creature. He immediately warned the others. "It is white, so it is hard to make out against the ice, but it is not a wyvern or dragon," he said. "I believe that it is feathered. It is large, perhaps the size of a small horse."

   "It must be one of the creatures of which the galeb duhr warned us," said Hakam.

   "Should we hurry along then?" said Cassiera.

   "I am too winded for that," said Mythlos. "These steps are going to be the death of me."

   "It passed beyond the peak again," said Leokas. "It has four legs, as the galeb duhr said. I think it is a hippogriff or griffon. Both creatures are extremely fast flyers, especially the latter beasts. If they pounce on us from the air, they will certainly knock us to our deaths."

   "Do you still have the rope tightly around me, minotaur?" asked Hakam.

   "Are they dangerous?" someone asked.

   "Not as dangerous as some other predators," said Leokas. "They are not said to savor the taste of humanoids, but they are rumored to have a great appetite for horses."

   "Kamil is not a horse!" said Belvin.

   "Do they know that?" asked Cassiera.

   While they were all glancing up at the one flying beast, a second swooped suddenly down and landed on the stairs some ten yards ahead of and above them, almost without a sound. They now gazed upon a powerfully built, majestic creature, reminding them of both an eagle and a lion. Its head was bird-like with a sharp beak and white feathers. The feathers blended into white hair that covered its body except for its massive feathered wings that came from its back and shoulders much like those of a dragon and spread out some 25 feet from tip to tip. It sat crouched like a lion on its hind legs. Instead of paws on its front feet, its toes seemed more like talons. It pulled its wings partly in and tilted its head sideways to stare at them curiously with one of its large black eyes.

   Hakam put his hand on his sword.

   "Be nice, everyone!" said Cassiera.

   The griffon sniffed loudly through the large nostril holes on its black beak. Kytharrah sniffed back.

   "Does anyone have food?" asked Cassiera.

   "I saved some extra from last night," said Kytharrah.

   "Genie food decays rapidly if not eaten," said Hakam.

   The griffon stepped a few yards closer.

   Cassiera began humming a song and stared directly into one of the beast's eyes. Then she stepped boldly toward the creature. It never took its eye off her as she walked precariously along the edge of the steps and past its large body, turning its head like an owl to follow her with its gaze. When she passed it fully, still humming, she continued carefully walking up the remaining steps, while being sure to continue looking back. When she had gone another ten yards from it, it turned quickly like a feline and pounced forward toward her by ten feet. This startled her, but she maintained her concentration and continued climbing.

   "Come on," said Leokas. "Now is our chance to ascend behind it."

   Just then, they heard a shrill screech, and another griffon landed behind them. It was only five feet away and extended its long neck to sniff at Kamil.

   Belvin turned back in the saddle and began speaking soothing words to the beast in the Sylvan tongue. It bowed its head low and extended its wings. Belvin dismounted carefully and also bowed.

   The others made their way up the remaining steps. Cassiera had reached the last of them and stepped onto the icy ground again. Here, a wide ledge passed along the side of Tosvin's peak, and she began to walk along it in a clockwise direction toward the great cleft that they had seen from below. The griffon still followed her, as the others also made their way onto the ice.

   "Here, I happen to have a few pounds of food left," said Hakam to the minotaur, once they reached the top as well. "Toss some to the monsters."

   The minotaur threw the food off the edge toward the griffon in the rear, and it immediately ceased paying any attention to Belvin and leapt into the air with a powerful downward thrust of its wings. It went into a dive and caught the foot in its beak before gliding off into the distance.

   Cassiera stopped humming and motioned behind the other griffon. It turned to see Kytharrah with the second pound of rations in his hand. The minotaur tossed it behind himself, and the griffon launched itself over all of them and scarfed the morsel down.

   "Belvin, come on!" shouted Mythlos, and the druid remounted and urged Kamil up the remaining steps. The griffon watched them continue on, but seemed satisfied, at least for the moment.

~~~~

Leaving the griffons behind them, they soon reached the split in the peak, the summits of which were still 500 feet above them. The split itself was perhaps sixty feet wide.

   "Where is the entrance?" asked Cassiera.

   "The rock creature seemed to think that the monsters were entering the peaks themselves," said Hakam. "I imagine there must be some sort of entrance ahead."

   Kytharrah was sniffing the air. He recognized the smell of sulfur, but he did not know the word for it.

   Looking into the rift, they thought they could make out an opening in the wall of ice to the right.

   "I will shift into my snake form and scout around that corner," suggested Cassiera, and the others thought this a good idea.

   She soon slithered out of her pile of clothes over the snow, which felt especially cold against the bare scales of her viper form. She slithered some twenty yards before peeking her tiny, flat head around the corner cautiously.

   She heard a voice in her mind. What is a jungle reptile doing here?
Session: 77th Game Session - Wednesday, Sep 07 2016 from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
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Chapter 3 — The Galeb Duhr
"I feel tired," said Kytharrah, as he climbed his way out of the crevasse.

   "All of a sudden?" asked Hakam.

   The minotaur nodded. "I felt sleepy lying in that red snow, so I climbed out."

   "It must be a curse she placed in the snow," said Hakam.

   "I am not sure what magics they were casting," said Solisar. "I did not recognize the form of any of the spells, accept that they were all druidic magic."

   "Hmm," said Belvin, contemplating this.

   "What were they?" asked Szordrin.

   "Some sort of undead, I presume," said Hakam.

   "Can someone help me down?" said Mythlos. He was still standing atop the column of ice on the other side of the chasm. The minotaur hopped over and assisted him.

   "How are the rest of us going to get across without the bridge?" asked Cassiera.

   Kytharrah roared and swung his axe at the pillar of ice.

   "What are you doing?" asked Mythlos.

   "Knocking this stupid ice over," said the minotaur.

   "That actually might be a good idea," said the moon elf. "Where is that magical rope?"

   "Why?" said Kytharrah. "We don't need to climb."

   "You will see." Mythlos set down the bag of holding he carried for the party and opened it. "Ormur," he shouted into the bag, "tie yourself around this pillar of ice."

   The rope launched out of the bag like a striking snake, flew through the air, and tied itself around the column of ice. Mythlos took hold of the other end. "Now, start swinging again," said Mythlos.

   Belvin understood what his fellow elf had in mind. He spoke to Kamil and then had the camel rush the crevasse and leap to the other side. Dismounting, he chanted a spell, and a blade of fire erupted from his hand. He held the magic flame against the other side of the ice from where Kytharrah was striking.

   In this manner, they melted and chipped away at the column until it fell like timber, being guided down by Mythlos' pulling at the rope. The column was just long enough to form a new bridge across the chasm.

   This allowed Leokas, Szordrin, Cassiera, Solisar, and Hakam to cross, although Hakam did so with great difficulty, assisted by rope. By the time he was on the other side, the others were examining the fallen bodies of the ones who had ambushed them. The male was almost burned to a skeleton now.

   "Were they mummies?" one of them asked.

   "Perhaps of a sort," said Hakam, "but they still had internal organs." He noted the upper half of the woman's bloodless body. "Perhaps they were preserved by the cold instead of by the sands. The male burned quickly because there was no moisture in his body. Dark magic, in any case."

   "They had gems," said Mythlos, removing a pouch from a belt that the woman had worn.

   "Careful!" said Solisar. "They might be cursed."

   "You and Szordrin can appraise them later," said Leokas.

   "I know a thing or two about gemstones, also," said Cassiera.

   "Nevertheless, we should continue onward, we may still yet have 1,000 feet to climb today."

   "We should at least make use of their climbing equipment," said Cassiera. "Their boot spikes might help some of us." She gave Hakam a look.

~~~~


They reached where Tosvin's peak rose up higher from the ridge in a steep slope of ice. Leokas guided them in a northwesterly direction, approaching the edge of the basin again.

   "There is where we climb up," said the ranger.

   "It is covered with rocks," said Hakam. "Won't that cause a landslide?"

   "It is called 'scree'," said Leokas. "It is far safer than trying to climb these ice walls. The slope there is gradual, like on the snow field, and if you stumble, you will get rocks and stones in your boots, but at least you won't be dead. It will be slow going, but it will be safe."

   "I wonder why so many rocks are here at all," said Cassiera. "Why aren't they buried under the glacier ice like everything else?"

   No one had a good answer. Soon, they found themselves scrambling up ground that continuously slipped under their feet. Still, Leokas seemed to be correct; except for getting pebbles in their footwear, they were gaining altitude.

   Then, they all heard Kytharrah begin giggling. He was pointing at some medium-sized rocks that were jiggling around. "The rocks are dancing!" exclaimed the minotaur.

   Szordrin also had spotted the movement, yet he did not find it funny. Suspecting a magician was nearby and animating the stones, he let fly a series of magical bursts from his hands. Cassiera followed his lead, but she sent her magic careening into three separate stones.

   Perhaps in response to the pre-emptive magic attack, ten of the stones began rolling towards them rapidly and flung themselves through the air at the adventurers. They were relatively easy to dodge; since their path was not smooth, they could not roll in a straight line, but Mythlos was struck by one of about four feet in diameter, only narrowly avoiding the full brunt of the blow. He drew his sword and swung at the rock twice, and his blade ricocheted off.

   Solisar cast an unknown spell upon himself, while Szordrin pulled a piece of gum arabic from his spell component pouch and then waved his hands and vanished. Kytharrah drank one of the potions on his belt that made him feel tougher.

   Hakam clutched his holy symbol and touched one of the rocks. "Be flattened!" he commanded. Instantly, the rock changed shape, and now it rattled around atop the scree, looking like a ten-foot-wide pancake.

   Then, it stopped rattling, and all the other rocks became inanimate again as well.

   Solisar cast a spell upon his eyes so that he could see invisible creatures, and then he glanced around, trying to spot whatever mage had enchanted the stones. He saw nothing but Szordrin's invisible form, and he reported this to the others.

   "Shall we press on again then?" asked Cassiera. "Is it safe?"

   The others nodded in agreement, as it seemed that whatever magic had animated the rocks was past, but the minotaur picked up one of the rocks and smashed it against a larger boulder.

   "Minotaur!" scolded Hakam, but it was too late. Immediately, three boulders ahead of them began shaking with life, one ten feet in diameter and the other two well over fifteen feet in diameter.

   "We should have climbed the ice," Cassiera bemoaned.

   All three of the rocks rolled down the hill toward the minotaur. He avoided one and even struck it with his axe as it passed, but he was sideswiped by another. Before the third boulder could reach him, Mythlos had summoned forth the elephant from the magic figurine. The huge pachyderm shoved against the boulder, stopping it in its roll and shoving its solid mass back several feet.

   "What is this? Call off your rocks!" Cassiera was shouting down the scree field toward the basin.

   Most of the others looked back to seat a strange sight. Another small boulder of about two feet in radius was shaking back and forth, but this boulder very clearly had two stumpy legs coming from its side... and two very large, dark eyes and massive stony lips. This "rock man" seemed to have no body separate from its head, nor did it have arms. Cassiera did not know the body or facial language of such a creature, but she was fairly certain it was dancing about in anger.

   "Is it a fey of stone?" asked Belvin aloud from atop Kamil.

   Solisar cast another spell, tossing a piece of glass or metal into the air, and they all heard the sound of rolling dice. Hakam held his holy symbol toward the rock creature and shouted, "Be shattered!" A visible crack appeared in the rock creature's face, and it roared in a deep, grinding voice.

   In response, the smaller of the three shaking boulders launched at Kytharrah, smashing into him and knocking him down to the ground, out cold. Leokas rushed to the minotaur's side and force-fed him a potion. Belvin was there a moment later, jumped down from Kamil and touched his companion with positive energy. Kytharrah sat up with a gasp.

   The agitated rock man kept shouting in some strange language. The elephant continued to strive against one of the larger boulders, holding it back, but it was beginning to lose the pushing match, and it trumpeted in frustration. The other rocks were rolling around the party, gaining momentum for another attack.

   "Szordrin, what is it saying?" shouted Cassiera, aware that the invisible wizard's earlier spell should still be functioning.

   "Where is Szordrin?" asked Mythlos.

   "It says, 'Go away, fleshy things! This place is sacred to rocks,'" they heard Szordrin translate.

   "We don't care about your rocks!" Szordrin's voice then shouted at the rock creature.

   The rock creature roared more words.

   "I mean, we do care about your rocks!" Szordrin corrected.

   Solisar was trying to find an item in his spell pouch. He pulled out a tiny clay model of a tower and it vanished from his fingertips as he spoke a spell's final words. "We mean your rocks no harm!" he shouted, in what sounded like grinding teeth, clicks, and guttural growls to all the others.

   "'You did harm one of my rocks,'" they heard Szordrin say. "'The big, hairy, red one did it, and you squashed one!'"

   "'And you cracked my head,'" added Solisar, translating.

   "Hakam, heal him!" Cassiera pleaded.

   "I am not going to heal it!" argued the cleric.

   "Heal it, or I'll shoot you with my fire!" she said.

   "Solisar," called Hakam, "tell it that I will heal it, but if it does not call off its rocks, we will shatter it into pieces."

   Solisar obeyed, but left off the last part about shattering it.

   The three boulders stopped moving. Kytharrah climbed to his feet, leaning on the one that had knocked him unconscious. "Too rough play!" he said, shaking his finger at the rock, before patting it amicably and turning to join the others.

   Hakam and Solisar walked slowly downhill toward the being of rock, and the others followed. Hakam touched its stony surface. Energy transferred from flesh to stone, and the crack on the creature's face sealed. It spoke more words with its rocky mouth.

   Szordrin came visible again and translated. "'You trespass. You want way to gold and gems under the mountains. Tell me why I should not squash you with my rocks.'"

   "Treasure under the mountains?" said Mythlos.

   "Tell it that we have no desire for its gold or gems," said Hakam. "We give our word. We meant no disrespect to his holy rocks. We are trying to retrieve a friend of ours taken up to the top of this mountain."

   Solisar translated for Hakam. The creature then "sat" its "head" on the ground and pulled its rough-hewn legs to its sides. Now, with its mouth closed, except for its brooding eyes, it looked exactly like any of the other mid-sized rocks.

   The creature opened its mouth again. Its words came out slowly and deeply. Solisar translated. "'Is your friend one of the flying blue monsters or the disappearing and reappearing red ones?'"

   "No," said Hakam.

   "'Is your friend one of the big hairy ones or the big gray ones or the big, shiny white ones or the bigger blue ones?'"

   "That is a lot of monsters," said Belvin.

   "No," said Hakam, and Solisar continued translating. "She is our size, a bit shorter than me, the same height as this woman here with us. She has long blue hair and pale skin with blue markings."

   The creature had seen two creatures shorter than Hakam, wearing thick clothes. One was more curvy than the other. They tried climbing up the peak and then a blizzard came. "They still wander around over the way you came and have never left, but they do not come to my rocks."

   "It must speak of the two undead we destroyed," said Hakam. "Ask him how long ago this blizzard was."

   Solisar did so. "'Hundreds of melts and freezes ago,' it says."

   "How long has it sat in this basin?" asked Cassiera.

   "It says that it has been here since before the ice came," said Szordrin.

   "The ice separated it from its sibling," said Solisar. "They both broke off from their parent in this valley, which used to be only rocks and dirt. Its sibling left to find another rock field, and then the ice came."

   "How sad!" said Cassiera. "What does it do by itself?"

   "It sits and hums poetry to itself," said Szordrin.

   "What are you?" asked Leokas.

   The creature said that it was called a Galeb Duhr, but whether that was its name or its kind was not clear to either Szordrin or Solisar.

   "What about our dogs?" one of them asked. "Has it seen them?"

   "It doesn't know what a dog is," said Szordrin.

   "Tiny, fuzzy creatures with four legs," said Cassiera.

   "Like me!" said Kytharrah.

   "You are not tiny," said Belvin.

   The rock creature had seen no dogs.

   "If so many other creatures have come and gone, why did you let them pass and not us?" asked Hakam.

   "'They do not come this way. They go up the ice. They have long bodies and climb. Or they fly. They do not come to my rocks.'"

   "Where do they go?" asked Hakam.

   "'They go inside that peak. The closest one.'" The galeb duhr slowly lifted up one of its appendages and pointed with a stony digit. It became clear that the appendages served as both its legs and its arms.

   Solisar asked his own question of the creature; then he explained to the others, "I asked it how long ago the first monster came to the peak and which monster it was. It says that one of the blue flying monsters with big eyes like a bug and a long tail came many melts and freezes ago. This must be Tosvin."

   "Ask it what the best way to reach the peak is," said Belvin.

   The galeb duhr explained that the way everyone else went was straight up the ice slopes (but they had longer arms and legs) or by flying or being carried or by disappearing and reappearing at the top.

   Hakam asked, "You said that everyone wanted to take the mountain's treasures but also that the monsters never came this way. Which one is it?"

   "'Those who come into my valley of rocks have no interest in the peak; they are creatures like you, not big creatures. They do not come very often, only once every ten melts and freezes or so. The big creatures come and go often.'"

   "Now that you know our true intents," said Hakam. "Will you let us go up this way? It is too difficult for us to climb the other way, and our friend is in danger, so haste is important."

   "'You broke one of my rocks,'" said the galeb duhr.

   "Is there any way we can make that up to you?" asked Cassiera. "Hakam, can you fix his rock?"

   "I did not pray for such power this morning," he said.

   "We got some pretty rocks from those dead people," said Kytharrah.

   "We did?" said Mythlos. "What rocks?"

   "Yes, Kytharrah!" said Cassiera. Then she had Solisar translate. "If we gave you some of our gems, would you let us go up this scree field?"

   The galeb duhr hummed in a low, almost imperceptible tone.

   "Szordrin, bring over that sack of new gems."

   He did so, and Mythlos came over also. "I hope you don't plan to give it the valuable ones," they both said.

   "Not that one;" she said, "it's a golden pearl, isn't it? And that one is a spinel. What about this one?" she asked, pointing at an unpolished black stone.

   "Not that one," said Szordrin. "I think it is black corundum. It is the same stuff as emeralds and rubies. If polished, it will be worth more than all the rest in this rotted pouch."

   They offered the galeb duhr a handful of gems. It held open one of its feet/hands, and Cassiera set them there. It then held the gemstones up to one of its large eyes and examined the five stones. A big smile formed on its hewn lips.

   "'You are good creatures,'" it said. "'I will make your way easier.'" The rock creature put its arm/leg down and closed its eyes, looking more like an inanimate boulder than ever. The rocks all around them began to vibrate, and some of them instinctively readied themselves for another attack. The rocks did not launch at any of them, however; instead, they all began lifting off the ground — nearly every stone in the basin except the ones upon which they were themselves standing. In one of the most incredible feats of magic any of them had ever seen, the rocks began floating toward the slope and stacking themselves together to form a high arch, which began to support an enormous staircase ten feet wide and 1,000 feet high. The entire construction took about fifteen minutes to complete, and the galeb duhr did not open its eyes or move during the entire process.

   The galeb duhr then grunted and opened its eyes.

   "That's a lot of steps," said Hakam.

   "How long will the steps remain?" asked Leokas.

   The galeb duhr agreed to leave the steps there until nightime but no longer, but he would allow them to walk through his valley again.

   They thanked the rock creature and walked toward the first steps. It called something out at them, and Solisar translated. It warned about a group of flying animals nesting in the cliffs above it, which sometimes swooped down and carried away goats searching for grasses to eat in the basin. It said that the animals had four legs with claws at the ends, very large feathered wings like birds, and feathered heads and beaks. They were about twice as long as the galeb duhr.

   It then gave a final goodbye, and they began to climb.
Session: 76th Game Session - Thursday, Aug 25 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Alpine Climbing
~ seventh-day, 7th of Uktar, The Year of Wild Magic, highsun
outside Gharreil


At highsun, the party left Galadrel behind in the care of the Prince of Jhothûn and stepped through the portal to Gharreil. Since the sun was overhead, they were able to enter the ruins without using any magic. They made their way to the center of the city, to the promenade of columns where they had encountered Tosvin over a month ago.

   There was no sign of him, so Hakam used his magic to send the ice devil a message. "We are waiting at Gharreil, having satisfied your request. We wish to exchange our proof for our companion Ilthian and our sled dogs."

   A few moments passed, and then Hakam heard Tosvin's reply. "I deal with Iyraclea's concerns presently. Come to my tower to retrieve the female. Northernmost twin of tallest peaks west of Gharreil. Climb snow field."

   Hakam relayed this information on to the others, and then they gathered their things and returned to the surface.

   When they had climbed back out of the crevasse, they took in the environment around them. To the west was a northern bend of the Lugsaas with its sharp icy peaks.

   Leokas pointed in the distance. "That split peak there must be the twin peak Tosvin mentioned." To reach them, the party would have to climb over or onto a ridge, for the tall, split peak was beyond that. "I see no snow field though, and this ridge is not climbable without climbing gear."

   The split peak was also a bit to the north, so they decided to trek along the snow and ice around the next bend. Having done so, they could now clearly see the snow field to which Tosvin referred, a relatively gradual slope falling between two mountains and leading to a saddle point connecting them.

   It was not gradual enough for Hakam, however, who lost his balance on the ice, fell to his knees, and slipped back several yards before stopping himself. "Perhaps we can make a rope team," Hakam suggested. They tied him and Kytharrah together and continued. Some of the others also struggled but not by as much. Solisar could walk atop the snow by the magic of his boots, but he still needed to mind his balance. Kamil was heavy enough to crunch into the ice surface instead of sliding, and his four legs gave him superior balance.

   After an hour's climb, they reached the saddle point. Now they overlooked the surface 500 feet below and behind them. On the other side, the ridge dropped down very steeply into a basin formed by a ring of mountains, with a final depth of about 100 yards below them. The bottom of the bowl was full of boulders and rocks, in addition to ice. The split peak was more clearly visible on the other side of the bowl, rising some 1,000 feet above the other mountains.

   "I do not see any tower upon that peak," said Hakam.

   "Perhaps it is on the far side," suggested Leokas.

   On their right, there was an icy ledge hugging the mountain slope to the north. The mountain rose up quickly to peak another 800 feet or so higher. To their left, the ridge flattened out and headed west away from the mountain to the south, which rose up to about 1,000 feet in height. Either path looked like it would take them to the other side of the bowl, though the left path seemed both safer and shorter.

   "If we had any plans of stealth," said Solisar, "we shall have to reconsider them; there is no cover from here to those peaks."

   "We should not require stealth if Tosvin knows we are coming and desires it," said Hakam. "Nevertheless,... Anachtyr, vest me in thine armor." He touched his breastpiece.

   Belvin chanted something in Sylvan.

   "What magic are you working?" asked Leokas.

   "I was asking Thard Harr to show me any pits or covered crevasses," the wild elf replied.

   "That is a good idea."

   "Just because I am wild does not mean I am not wise," said Belvin.

   "I never claimed you were not, my friend," said Leokas.

   Kytharrah sniffed the air and perked up his ears.

   "To the left then?" asked Cassiera. "It seems the safer way."

   The others agreed.

   The ground was mostly level here, and they crunched easily atop the snow as they rounded the peak to their left, moving in counterclockwise direction. After perhaps fifteen minutes, they saw a short woman rounding the peak from the other direction. She was dressed in Iulutiun clothing, and carried climbing equipment — a pack, rope, and an ice axe swinging at her side. On her feet, she wore strange boots with spikes at the bottom.

   Szordrin spotted her first. He immediately cast a spell to understand any language she might speak, then shouted out a greeting in Common.

   "Ai!" said the woman in a friendly but raspy voice. "Tung-ashugit! You climb too?" She had wrinkly skin and looked rather old.

   "Play?" said Kytharrah.

   "Wait," said Hakam. "Hold still. Stay."

   "We are heading to that peak," said Leokas, "the one that is split."

   "Yes, yes. Come, come," said the woman, turning herself to walk in that direction and motioning for them to follow her, "This way good."

   They followed her, and Kytharrah bounded ahead of the others. Shortly, they could see that the ground split up ahead, and an ice bridge crossed over an open crevasse. The woman walked over the bridge without any issue, and motioned for the others to follow.



   "She has no smell," said Kytharrah.

   "No smell at all?" asked Cassiera.

   The minotaur shook his head.

   "Let me cross first," said Hakam, "since I have the ring. Minotaur, make sure the rope is still tied tight to me."

   "The bridge will collapse," said Belvin in Elven.

   Hakam and Cassiera looked back at him, since they could not speak that language. "What?" asked the yuan-ti woman.

   Solisar cast a spell upon himself.

   Belvin motioned to Cassiera and Hakam.

   "Why wait?" said the old Iulutiun woman. "Bridge safe. I walk over. See?"

   "Minotaur, hold the rope. I'm crossing over," said Hakam.

   The bridge was about ten feet wide and twenty feet across, and the bottom of the crevasse was 50 feet below. The cleric stepped out onto the bridge. Once he had stepped forward a few yards, just as Belvin had predicted, the bridge cracked. Hakam tried to leap back, but already he was falling, as the ground beneath him gave way. His chest and arms struck the ledge of the broken bridge as he fell, but he could not get a grip on the ice. He tumbled down, and then his magic ring caught his fall and caused him to drift downward like a leaf.

   The woman on the other side of the crevasse immediately began waving her hands and chanting. Hakam landed on his feet on the snow amongst the rubble from the fallen bridge. The woman pointed at him, and he saw red beneath his feet. Glancing down, he watched as the snow all around him turned red, looking as if it were frozen blood.

   "Pull me up!" he shouted, and he took a step back and shot a burst of searing light from his palms up at the woman.

   She shrieked in agony, but her voice was cut off suddenly. Mythlos, in a daring leap, had jumped the twenty feet across the crevasse and struck the woman with his sword. The single slash completely cut her in half diagonally from left shoulder to right hip, as the moonblade glowed with positive energy. The two chunks of her body tumbled to the snow. There was not a single drop of blood. Her flesh fell like frozen meat.

   As this was happening, another figure, looking also like an Iulutiun climber, rushed from around the corner of a mountain slope to the left, also chanting.

   "He is summoning something!" Solisar shouted to the others in warning, as he cast a spell and rushed north closer to the edge of the basin to spread out from the others.

   Leokas immediately loosed two arrows at once, which each struck the man in the chest. Belvin shot a sphere of fire from his finger tips, which the man avoided, while still chanting. Cassiera struck the man with three of her magical bursts of force and moved toward Solisar.

   None of these attacks broke the man's concentration on his spell. He didn't even seem to be in pain from the two arrows in his torso. He pointed a finger, and a large wolf of ice appeared, taking shape from the snow and looking like an ice sculpture come alive. The wolf opened its mouth, and a blast of bitter cold air and tearing sleet came forth. Szordrin dove to the snow to avoid most of the spray of ice. Belvin nearly fell from Kamil's back, as the camel also jumped.

   Kytharrah had pulled up Hakam, and as the cleric got back up to his feet, the minotaur jumped across the chasm to join Mythlos, in a single standing hop.

   The man pointed again and shouted out another command, this time facing Mythlos. With a terrible rumble, a column of ice rocketed out of the ground from under the elf and the minotaur, launching both of them high into the air. Mythlos maintained his balance atop the column, but Kytharrah did not. He tumbled off and fell 25 feet to the ground, striking the edge of the crevasse with a loud grunt and then falling off the edge another 50 feet.

   "Fanilrahd! Solisar shouted, and the minotaur began floating down at a safe rate. With another yell, the sun elf then dispelled the magic of the ice wolf, causing it to burst into snow, just as it was about to bite into Szordrin.

   "The gods will not permit...," Hakam spoke boldly, beginning a magical empowered speech to hopefully enthrall their opponent, but he was cut off by the sound of an explosion. Szordrin had unleashed a fireball. Their enemy fell to the ground and was still, his clothing and flesh on fire.

   "I could not tolerate hearing another of your sermons," said Szordrin.
Session: 76th Game Session - Thursday, Aug 25 2016 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
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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
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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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