In our twelfth installment, the group leaves behind the hospitality of Heksaag to travel beyond the Great Giants, a windy corridor with towering, sheer stone walls that winds through the Djenndan Mountains allowing passage from east to west. As they make their journey through the pass, into the Protectorate, and onto the city of Cyopolda, their resolve will be tested by the maddening realities of the harsh landscape and the even harsher people who inhabit it.
The following player characters found their way to Cyopolda:
- Sookta, the Djenndan blacksmith, played by @xSubNuke
- Bubby, the human survivalist, played by @Terri
- Nysteld, the human seer, played by @saelbrin
- Jamia Copperdrum, the Pulnagá mercenary, played by @katherinehunter77
The caravan was led by Entan and Roth’is, driving a wagon full of small animals the survivalist had acquired in trade for four muskox, followed by Dyrakos and Kishsahat in the adventure party’s supply wagon, where a formerly intoxicated Hodjai slept under a blanket between the newly acquired barrels of pickles and the large sacks of beans. As the sun rose between Heksaag in the foothills to the mountain range pass, the giants appeared almost as animated shapes, like great beasts waging a slow and incomprehensible war. After a relaxing week in the comforts of the foothills and enjoying the boons of being the “Heroes of Heksaag,” the adventurers got an early start out toward the pass in order to take advantage of their good weather. They wanted to make it to the Protectorate by nightfall.
The wind that whips through the mountain corridor became more audible as the adventurers approached, giving the looming giants an ominous ambience. Gur’oru had told them all the story of the first large rock formation they would see as they entered the pass. It was the tale of Nul-Ges, the warrior god of dances and the youngest of the Great Giants. It is said that he defied the mountains and led the first group of Djenndan out into the wilds. But when the winds protested and pushed them back, Nul-Ges dared to climb atop the rocks to face the winds in combat. At the top of the mountains the winds danced with Nul-Ges, but he was too great a warrior and they could not defeat him. When he stood to deliver his final blow to kill them, the winds begged mercy in exchange for the secret to all the treasures hidden within the mountain. Nul-Ges was intrigued, and agreed to spare them. “Tell me of these riches,” he commanded. The winds claimed that the riches were hidden secretly below the stones of the pass. Nul-Ges commanded the winds to retrieve these treasures for him, but the winds said they had no power to push back stone, that he would have to move the stones before they could unlock the wealth that lay beneath. So Nul-Ges toiled for a year and a day digging at the rocks, creating the mountain pass that exists there today, but still he found no treasures. And that was when the winds revealed their trick. Instead of finding a treasure of the mountains, Nul-Ges had freed the winds from their mountain prison. The winds roared through the pass Nul-Ges created and trapped him, buried immovable in stone. He now stands as a warning against ever being motivated by greed, or ever trusting the winds not to betray you.
Whether or not Nul-Ges created the pass, it was clear how unnatural it seemed as they approached. The wind that blew was deafening at times, and when it decided to lessen its roar, the echoes of falling rocks danced all around the pass. The pass itself was only about thirty feet at its narrowest and fifty feet wide at its widest points. The edges of the path that met the sheer rock face on the north and south of the pass were littered with large stones and mountain rubble. Some boulders collected there were as large as Dyrakos’s wagon, while others were the size of a barrel of vinegar. The traversable pass was not an easygoing path, but it was fairly well-traveled and easy to spot the best areas of the road to point the cart. The main difficulties seemed to be braving the winds, watching out for falling rocks, and hoping that there were no brigands lying in wait behind any of the larger stones.
When the loud winds calmed for a moment, Roth’is told the story of one of the other Great Giants, the tale of Kelrak. To the Djenndan, Kelrak was the greatest warrior ever to have lived. Kelrak was mortal, but as a favor to the creator’s son the gods themselves taught Kelrak how to wage war. And when he came of age, Kelrak soon discovered that he was faster and stronger than anyone, and so he began to challenge all the great warriors throughout the land. The Veterans all accepted Kelrak’s challenges, as he was a cocky and inexperienced fighter, but Kelrak defeated them all just the same. He grew so confident of his fighting skills that he believed he could not be killed. When Kelrak had challenged and defeated all Djenndan who claimed to have skills in battle, he then challenged the very gods responsible for creating him. In a surprising battle, Kelrak defeated the god of fire and war, who retreated in shame, and the god’s spilled blood forged the deserts of the south. It seemed that he could not be defeated, yet he still grew older with every passing year. Kelrak fought angrily. He defeated and killed the god of flight, as well as the god of imaginings, and finally turned his blade toward the god of dreams before the winds approached him and asked what it would take to convince him to stop killing the world makers. He said with a word, “Immortality.” And with that the gods granted his wish, and turned him to stone.
Entan’s horse reared briefly toward the end of Roth’is’s story, as a falling rock landed on the south side of the pass with a crashing sound that startled the group. Entan’s horse was increasingly jumpy, as were the rest of the adventure party. Dogedan’s barking became masked by the roar of the wind, which flowed unrelentingly like a mighty river. The chapping noise continued for a long hour before finally easing its assault. The air was tense, so Roth’is told another story while he could still be heard.
He began to recount the tale of Chiss-laat, the shamanic god of stars who tended her skies like an orchard bearing fruit. It was said that Chiss-laat granted “distant sight” to those worthiest among mortals, and that she could be in many places at once. Her gifts were great, but somehow when tending to her garden she lost her way. The Gundaakrudak hold that Chiss-laat was tricked into the nothings beyond the sky. In any event, the followers of Chiss-laat believe that the stars of the night sky all represent the fruit of Chiss-laat’s trees, and that Chiss-laat knew how to navigate through her garden, but when she was lost the knowledge of how to travel to her many garden trees was lost with her. The Gundaakrudak say that the tallest spires of the Great Giants take the form of Chiss-laat, still reaching toward the nothings beyond the skies to help her find her way back home.
Hodjai stirred for a moment in the back of the wagon, but remained soundly asleep. The wind was like a sonic blanket that kept him shielded from the daunting tension of the pass. Roth’is began to recount the tale of I’akragan, the great mover, a sluggish god of stone who is said to still be in the process of being born from the mountain. But Roth’is stopped short, and Entan drew the wagon caravan to a halt. At the center of the pass an old man stood; it was clear that his goal was to stop their group and speak with them. The tension caused by the relentless noise of the falling rocks and wind grew even more erratic, as the group gathered around Entan’s wagon to see what the fuss was about.
The man was small, old, and frail-looking; he wore simple robes with a leather-cinched satchel of hanging bags across his shoulder and chest that connected to a waist belt from which there were other, larger sacks. The man had his hands behind his back. Kishsahat hopped down from her wagon and surveyed the surrounding areas. She could see nothing but rocks.
“What brings you through the pass?” croaked the old man. The group exchanged glances, not knowing quite what to say to such an odd question. Jamia noticed immediately that this man seemed like a threat. Finally, Sookta offered that they were simple travelers, looking to do trade in the Protectorate. Then the adventurers returned the man’s question to him, skeptically. His answer served to make things more tense. It seemed as though he wanted the group to pay a toll, of sorts, in order to be on their way safely. This was a shakedown–a robbery. But the old man was strange, and told the group he was on a quest to “see.” See what? The man was unclear and oddly poised for being alone in front of a group of strange, obviously battle-hardened adventurers.
Nysteld dismounted from her horse and stood with the group of adventurers to the right of Entan’s wagon. Kishsahat placed her hand on her club to prepare herself for an attack. The seer stepped forward and spoke out, catching the attention of the old man. The group learned that his name was Aiden. Nysteld tried to quell Aiden’s veiled threats, but the confident way she addressed the old man caused him to take note of her. It seemed to Aiden that Nysteld thought of herself as someone worthy of his attention. But the old man had no interest in speaking rationally with anyone, least of all a young wizard. He commanded the group to hand over the contents of their wagons. Sookta scoffed, growling his words through his nose. “You want this wagon, you come and take it!”
“It would give me pleasure.” Aiden reached into two of his chest-bound pouches and withdrew his hands with a flashy show. Shouting a nonsensical phrase, he cast his hands toward the dirt in front of Entan’s wagon. A flash of light and a crack of sound burst forth, causing the already frazzled horse to leap in place, then try to turn and run. The mare caught her back on the wagon hitching and tripped, which launched the wagon sideways and threw Entan, Roth’is, and all the small animal cages into the dirt. The commotion was intense, surprising everyone around, but enough of a signal to draw out Aiden’s mercenaries, who emerged from all sides. A fighter with a gleaming curved sword danced around on Aiden’s left and approached the group, while a mercenary spinning chain sticks approached from the old man’s right. From the wagon flank a mercenary with a Peacekeeper-style broadsword advanced, as well as an extremely obese, simple-minded mercenary wielding a quarter staff. The adventurers were instantly surrounded and caught in a dangerous battle.
A fifth, unseen mercenary must have been nearby, because Sookta took an arrow in the shoulder from behind just after launching an attack on Aiden. Nysteld cast a spell of her own; she drew her hands from her waist pouch and sent a pulsing energy bolt directly toward the old man. He seemed to absorb the blow in a knowing way. That’s when the extremely large mercenary with a quarter staff approached Nysteld’s flank and struck her in the back of the neck. It was a shocking blow that sent Nysteld forward a few feet before she was able to regain her footing and turn to meet her attacker. Meanwhile, Kishsahat used her war club to dispatch the curved-blade mercenary. The bladedancer dropped instantly when she bludgeoned him with a powerful blow. Jamia exchanged weapon strikes with the mercenary wielding chain sticks before disembowling the attacker with her heavy cleaver. Dyrakos began to incant a story of inspiration to the group, and they felt strength surge into their assault. But he stopped short when a hidden archer shot him in the arm. Bubby scrambled to his feet and started recovering the animal cages, hoping to save them from the fight.
The wind roared again, but not more loudly than Aiden. The old man shouted a strange phrase, spinning in place, and suddenly the earth beneath everyone’s feet erupted in flames. It burned the surprised group shockingly, but the flames stayed on a few of the party members legs for a time. Dyrakos had seen enough. He snapped the reigns on his horses and rushed past Aiden to try to get Hodjai and the supplies to safety. Luckily, the wagon did not catch on fire. The mercenary holding the broadsword had nearly reached the primary melee at this point, but was surprised when he almost stepped on Bubby who was still gathering animal cages. The mercenary stabbed his weapon, mostly out of surprise, and managed to stick the survivalist in the arm. Then he kicked Bubby aside as if he was inconsequential and continued toward Sookta, Kishsahat, and Jamia. When he moved past Bubby, the survivalist grabbed his dagger and jumped up, sticking the mercenary in the center of the back. He howled, confused, and clutched at the dagger just out of his reach.
Nysteld was burned and shouted to everyone else to spread out, but Jamia and Sookta were content to stand in the flames, more heated by battle to care about being burned. They attacked Aiden, wounding and bloodying the wizard, making him angrier than ever. But Nysteld was nearly overwhelmed by the shifting commotion of the spell and the sudden oncoming attack of the giant mercenary. Just as she danced out of the erupting flames, the mercenary hit her again with his quarter staff, this time squarely in the face. Nysteld cast another energy bolt at the man. He squealed in fright, and turned to run away. Nysteld was singed and bleeding now; she stumbled backward, realizing that she could not risk another damaging blow. She rushed away from her fleeing, dimwitted attacker and jumped on her horse. Dyrakos had the right of this, she thought, as she galloped toward the supply wagon further down the path.
Kishsahat tried to strike Aiden with her war club, but even after he took damage from the blacksmith and Jamia, the old man caught the war club with his hand mid-swing and disarmed her. She stepped back and drew her curved sword as Nysteld galloped past. Aiden cast his hands from his waist pouch and shouted an odd word. The air around Kishsahat’s face, head, and shoulders erupted into smoke and flames. But she made no sound at all. She simply took the brunt of the explosion and emerged in an attack.
In the final moments of the battle, Aiden raised his hands to cast another spell, but Jamia slashed her heavy cleaver through the man’s arm and across his chest. She severed the old man’s arm at the middle of his forearm and sliced open his chest and robes. Aiden howled in pain, blood spilling like the gusting winds from the stump of his arm. He fell to his knees and began to curse the adventurers. He wailed and cursed, but his sounds were stopped short by Sookta’s hammer. A deep thunking noise softened the wizard’s skull and made him fall limp. Kishsahat retrieved her club from Aiden’s other hand while Jamia dispatched the last mercenary with her cleaver.
The battle was gruesome and harrowing for the adventurers. Additionally, Entan’s wagon hitch was destroyed. His horse was gone. It took an hour of repairs for Sookta to build a makeshift wagon hitch out of the parts of mercenary armor and intestines available to him after the fight. But the group was successful in connecting Entan’s wagon to the back of their supply train so they could continue their trek through the pass. The group removed their injuring arrows and bound their wounds before continuing on their way. Entan thanked Sookta profusely for fashioning the hitch that allowed them to save his cart. As they pressed on through the pass, the winds started up once again, overshadowing everything with their howl. They had survived, but at serious cost. Nysteld, especially, felt as though she had gotten too involved in addressing Aiden’s rantings of being a “Seeker,” and had nearly gotten herself killed. The group reflected under the quieting roar of the wind.
Toward the end of the day the bruised and bloodied caravan emerged from the pass into a wide landscape that stretched out before them beyond imagining. Half a mile outside the pass, a crude road formed from the merchant traffic that frequents the area. From there the road meandered west and grew increasingly noticeable as the travelers grew in number. The edge of the pass is only three days travel from Cyopolda, the Warm City, a sprawling city and the largest gateway to civilization in the Protectorate. The adventurers camped for the evening along the scattered road, and over dinner Jamia chided Hodjai for sleeping through a battle.
The next day the adventurers found the travel easy and the weather kind, and as they resumed their trek they encountered numerous farmers all about the countryside. There were standing merchants, traders, and common folk busying themselves with the labors of daily building and gathering. Carts could be seen at various points along the way, and the adventure party stopped to meet a farmer-merchant named Engaang and purchase some fruit and vegetables. It was the first greenery Dyrakos had seen since leaving Pelmora. Dyrakos purchased all the cucumbers on the cart, and had Bubby load them into the wagon. Jamia and Sookta both bought star flower fruit to ease the burns they got from Aiden’s strange flames. The adventurers pressed on toward the Warm City, hoping to regain their health and their poise as the finally approach their sought after relic. Where will it be? How will they find it? We find out in our next installment.