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Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
De Exilio
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 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
De Exilio
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 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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De Exilio
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 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Lhynard
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De Exilio
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 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Lhynard
Posted by the GM
De Exilio
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 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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