The storm rages on. Elsewhere in the kingdom, the priest training with Silver soon realizes something is amiss and casts great magics to protect him and his young charge from the cold. A royal messenger arrives to inform Silver the queen has summoned her. Although she is reluctant to leave, the priest tells her, “I’ve taught you all I can. Be gone.”
Planting a tender parting kiss on both of his cheeks, Silver then leaves. Relying on her elvish nature, she makes her way into the city and walks on the snow like Legolas in order to sneak amongst the giants. They are hungrily devouring whatever is left as they wander the streets. All of a sudden, Silver hears the sounds of battle in the distance and a feminine cry of “Oh, my face!” followed by a wise-ass remark of Alaric. She watches as her friends run down the street toward the blacksmith’s and disappear from view.
A giant arm swings down and tears open the wall of a nearby collapsed building. Silver looks at the building and notices the corpses of the family who once occupied it. Saying a quick prayer over them, she then travels down the street to the blacksmith’s and climbs into the rubble.
Down in their safe little hidey hole, Slade is enjoying his Lazy Boy.
“Can I have another glass of that brandy?” he queries David, who serves him a drink. “That’s some mighty fine kielbasa.”
“What happened to your pants?” Alaric says, noting for the first time just how wet the little gnome is. David takes them off, wrings them out in a corner, and reveals a huge hairy bush. Everyone else tries not to notice.
From above, Silver notices that where a few beams had collapsed, they tore up a rug that was disguising a trap door in the floor. Being very polite, she knocks on it.
“Hello? Boccob be with you, whoever’s down there.”
“It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Can’t hide from them anywhere. Probably got some watch tower or something,” Slade whispers.
“It’s me, Silver! Can you guys let me in?”
“Boy, I sure am enjoying this recliner. I would hate for somebody to intrude on this,” Slade says, stretching his arms behind his back lazily.
Rhaine, concerned over the wyvern keeping watch, panics when she realizes Silver can’t get in and demands the party to open the door for the priest.
“We’re having a pants-off party, so everybody has to take their pants off. Look at David, he’s pantsless,” the halfling notes. As Silver wriggles down into the hole, he notes, “You smell like old wrinkly priest balls.”
“That’s part of the magic.” Then, glancing over at David, she remarks, “Geez, David. Do some manscaping.”
There’s one vacant Lazy Boy down in the hole with Silver’s name on it, so she makes her way in. It’s warm and comfortable down here. The party takes this moment to relearn their spells and heal up. Silver delivers another rousing speech to inspire David.
“Caldarraksondorlak, you don’t even know what great wisdom and power Boccob has blessed us all with. If you reach down deep, you’ll be able to see how blessed you really are. Boccob bless us, everyone.”
David puts his pants on, and Alaric throws open the door to their safe little hidey hole as Rhaine casts her endure cold spell on everyone. Outside, the party notices that daylight is already breaking through the half-wrecked building. Alaric smells cold and snow and stinky gnome pants. He helps the rest of his party members out of the hole. Looking around, he sees no tracks. The wind has drifted the snow around, disguising any would-be attackers. They decide they need a plan to disguise their own tracks in case anyone is trying to follow them.
Silver hands Alaric a rope and he fastens it to his waist and to his shield on the other end. David sits on the shield as the ranger pulls it fearlessly through the snow. Everyone else walks in front of them so the ranger and gnome can clear the tracks behind them.
Aeryn leads the way to a central road that reaches toward the north of town. Everything seems quiet; a little too quiet. There are no lights coming from any of the windows around them, and all they can hear is the sound of the wind through the trees.
Every so often, Alaric can detect tracks from a number of giant parties that have been roaming the streets at night. Where those giants are now remains to be seen.
The road leads up into the foothills of the mountains north of Castle Dragonsbane. The party heads north toward the next town. The road is covered in frost and snow and is very, very cold. The party makes its way forward, traveling very slowly.
At midday, they come on a fork in the road. There is a fancy signpost there to the left that is written in common tongue. It says Stepside and Bowlville are to the left and Gateway is to the right. The party agrees to follow the path toward Gateway, but just as they are deciding, the sign wiggles a bit. They then hear a feminine giggle. The sign turns 90 degrees to form a complete switcheroo.
David notices the little creature moving through the snow beneath him and follows after it with his swift gnome legs running in a half-sprint. Silver, however, is the only one fast enough to catch it. She swipes her hand down through the snow and it encloses something firm and struggling. She pulls out a little blue pixie girl with white hair and whitish blue skin.
“Put me down! Put me down!” the creature shouts, struggling.
“I’m not gonna put you down until you tell me what you’re up to.”
“I’m just having fun. I like to see people go the wrong way.”
“I’m not mean. It’s boring up here.”
The pixie talks about giants in a nearby cave and Silver asks her which direction that’s in. The pixie says to follow the sign.
“i just saw you change the sign. I’m not an idiot! You’re being cruel, trying to lead travelers to their deaths.”
A pop occurs and the sign now has an arrow that says “Giant Caves” carved in it.
The rest of the party catches up with them. David crushes the will of the pixie under his own and tells her to be cooperative. She points her hand at the sign and wiggles it. The Giant Caves arrow moves another 40 degrees.
“I was trying to turn you around so you thought Gateway was where Bowlville was. It’s very boring up here.”
The pixie says there are several frost giant tribes up in the mountains here. She also says she lives in a pixie colony in the mountains.
“How would you like to play a trick on the giants?” Silver asks.
“Oh, I’d love that! Sometimes I pull their pants down or roll a rock down the hill and hit them!”
“That could be handy.”
“You could turn one of them into a sexy woman giant to distract the other giants,” Slade offers.
“What’s your name?” Alaric asks the tiny pixie.
“My name is Xipta.”
“If you clipped her wings, she’d have to ride on your shoulder forever,” Slade whispers to Alaric. “Just sayin’.”
Rhaine takes the little pixie in her hand and offers her a nice comfy jar to sit in, which she does.
“Where are we going?” Xipta asks, making herself comfortable in her brand new little habitat.
“To mess with some frost giants!” Alaric declares.
Xipta, a snow pixie, teaches Rhaine the pixie language while they’re walking. The trail ahead is rough, but a path winds up into the mountains. The adventurers stop to eat in a cozy little spot. They have an extremely wonderful and extravagant meal (for being on the road) and then are ready to move on with full bellies.
The party decides to go to Gateway instead of the troll cave; it could take until nightfall to get there, according to their rough calculations.
An hour passes and Xipta complains that they aren’t going toward the giants. Silver says they’re getting information at town first, giving her more time to think about her prank. Xipta stews.
Suddenly a boulder comes flying out of nowhere at Aeryn, just narrowly missing her. Alaric puts David in cover and grabs his shield. Everyone else runs for cover as another rock comes careening toward them. Rhaine asks Xipta to investigate who is hurling rocks at them. She flies off and is invisible beyond 30 feet. Silence ensues. No rocks are thrown. No sound is heard.
Slade eats a handful of snow to stay hydrated.
The party, hugging the side of the mountain, notices that before them stretch grades of rock that are getting steeper and steeper. Alaric throws his dagger in front of him and it tings off another boulder in front of them, echoing through the valley.
“Come,” Alaric says to the knife. It flies back. Silence continues.
“Fags!” Slade taunts.
Slade and Alaric go to investigate a noise in the distance. It is a frost giant sneaking around looking for rocks and boulders to throw at them. Slade tunnels through the snow and goes off to keep an eye on the dim-looking fellow. Alaric pops out beside the giant, causing it to hurl a rock at him. A buolder comes whizzing past his head and narrowly misses him.
“Fag!” he too yells.
Alaric fires an arrow at the giant. It howls in pain and its arms dive into the snow, desperately grasping for another rock. Silver blesses the party while Aeryn employes a distraction tactic by flashing the giant—in vain.
The party prepares for battle. Silver prays, “Boccob, please bestow on me the fine knowledge that I may produce flame and destroy this despicable frost giant, who is without a god, unlike me. Yay God.”
The giant hurls a boulder at Aeryn and it hits her square in the chest, sending her toppling backward. He strides toward the party quickly but Alaric intercepts him by moving to the front of the line. Aeryn gets up and runs like hell back toward her companions. David moves to the side and casts spectral hands while Silver heals her wounded friend.
The giant groans and rocks begin to dislodge from the walls of the mountain as more giants approach. Alaric nocks an arrow to his bow and attempts to shoot the one giant in view, but he misses. Aeryn yells and waves to distract the creature. It works, and the giant runs at a full sprint toward her, removing a battle ax from its back.
Silver feels strength and light from the power of Boccob flowing through her. She feels his utter love and all of her spells evacuate from her mind and all that remains is fire.
“I feel so hot and bothered. I feel as though I’m going to step out from the boulder and throw a ball of flame at him.”
As the power leaves her, it is so much more than she can understand. Flames leave her fingertips, creating a wall of vapor around the giant. A howl of terror escapes his lips. Then all that is left is a completely charred and gnarled looking giant with one eye sealed shut. He scrambles to stand up and flee up the mountain.
Alaric readies an arrow before stepping out into view, firing away at his target. The arrow hits its mark but does not kill. Silver sends more flames at the creature and he goes down on the ground. David hits the giant with burning hands and it doesn’t move. Aeryn cuts the giant’s head off with two mighty sweeps of her sword, spraying blood everywhere. Slade cuts off two basketball-sized giant balls and adds them to his collection.
Out of nowhere, a snowball hits Rhaine in the face (thrown covertly by Aeryn). Everyone ducks.
“Who threw that?” Rhaine says to Xipta. “Was that you?”
Just then, four more giants appear at the top of the hill. The party runs and hides like a bunch of pansies.
Alaric scoops up David and, as he is doing this, a snowball hits him out of nowhere (once again thrown covertly by Aeryn).
The party sets out at a not quite but almost grueling pace toward Gateway, hustlin’, hustlin’, hustlin’… every day they’re hustlin’. And the party dances.
Before long, the skyline of buildings appears. They approach a very solid southern wall where the gate is wide open and snow drifts are stacked up above the very thick doors. Alaric decides to make a false trail, one that loops in a circle. Then they enter.
Gateway is not even a city; it is an outpost. Large walls with spiked tips surround the outer ramparts. Inside there are little more than a dozen buildings. Nothing is more than two stories tall, but there are platforms surrounding the buildings that can be used as watchtowers.
Slade knocks on the first door on his right. When there is no answer, he kicks it in. A musty smell wafts out. This was once a multi-family home. He is in the living quarters now. The party follows him as he goes to the next house and the next. The priest, druid, and mage go into one of the sturdier-looking buildings that is made of wood and fortified with masonry in order to relearn their spells. The building is one large room with support beams running throughout it. It resembles a barracks with spartan beds against bare walls and papers strewn across tables. Four wardrobes line the walls and three big maps decorate the interior. One is marked with cave emblems on it and labeled “Giants,” another map shows Castle Dragonsbane, and still another shows good fishing and hunting spells.
All the party members have entered the building by now. Alaric goes immediately to check out the lookouts on the top of the buildings. He settles on one with the best view, facing southward. Rhaine joins him.
“I think we need some protection.”
When Silver sits down to pray, she gets a message from Boccob that she needs to rest. He takes her magic away. She has been instructed by her god to rest before she can use magic again. She cries.
Rhaine catches movement in the distance from far off. It is nearing sundown. Rhaine warns the party.
“Ermahgerd! Frest gerants!”
In one wardrobe inside the building, Slade finds a false bottom. He knocks on it to gauge resonance; it is hollow. Slade uses one of his ant mandibles to pry up the boards. They are cold and brittle and they loosen up at his touch quite nicely. The boards descend into inky blackness. The wall is a masoned stone that goes down on both sides. There is a makeshift ladder that goes down. Aeryn goes to see what Slade is up to.
“Hey, Aeryn, if you’re gonna follow me, be sure to close the doors so they get raped and murdered and we can get away.” And then, being serious, he asks, “What do you think we should do?”
“I think we should check out this cabinet.”
Silver, back in the main room, is embroiled in a wonderful dream of running through a beautiful field of goldenrods and being cradled in Boccob’s loving embrace.
Meanwhile, the movement down the road is definitely a throng of frost giants, as far as Alaric and Rhaine can see. Alaric tells David there are three giants coming and David informs him there’s a secret passageway that he saw Slade and Aeryn disappear into.
Just then, Alaric notices something tunneling through the snow beneath the ramparts of the city. A crazy mammal thing that somewhat resembles a badger but has a greyish pelt and very large teeth and claws jumps out of the snow. It appears to be some kind of northern wolverine. Rhaine stabs it with a spear a few times, making it very pissed off. David sends a lightning bolt at the creature and eviscerates it. The three of them then leave their post, returning to the inside of the house.
“Someone wake Silver,” Alaric says, as David touches her shoulder.
“What?” she asks groggily, jerking awake.
“Where are Silver and Aeryn?” Alaric asks.
“They’re in the wardrobe,” David tells him.
“What are they doing in there? There’s no time for that!” Alaric says with disgust.
Alaric opens the cabinet and sees Aeryn’s winged helmet from behind. They all go into the hole and Rhaine seals the wardrobe doors behind them. The only light they have to guide them is the one currently balancing on Slade’s head. They follow the ladder three stories downward until they hit the floor. There is an eight-foot ceiling in the bottom room and a door on the opposite side of the ladder. Slade picks the lock and opens the door to an entry foyer with three rudimentary paintings in handcrafted frames, a bench, a small hutch in a corner, and a door to the left. Slade uses ash from the torch to give the family members in all of the pictures mustaches.
Inside the hutch they find a stack of 28 sheets of parchment and a quilling kit. Slade picks the lock of the other door and opens it to reveal another room with a writing desk in the middle of it. The stool that accompanied it has been tipped on to its side. On the desk is a list of names and all but two have been crossed off—Willy Aames and Madeline Jacobs. Slade takes the list of names before unlocking yet another door in the room. As he opens the door, all of a sudden there is light.
This new room is a large room and the light is coming from four freestanding giant candles. There is another door on the east wall. In the middle of the ground is a holy symbol that is not recognized by anyone. In the corner there is a pile of cushions and a man in a robe sitting in a half-lotus position on the cushions. He has his eyes closed as though in deep meditation. As the whole party shuffles into the room, he opens his eyes and closes them again, effectively ignoring them.
“Who are you?” Alaric queries.
“Hello?” Silver adds.
“What she said.”
“You all make a lot of noise. This is my place, so I get to ask the questions. Who are you?” the man asks.
“Giant slayers. I have a ball to prove it,” Slade says, proudly displaying a single giant testicle. David tells the man to show respect to the Queen of Damara. The man invites them in and offers them his hospitality. He says his name is Winstead. He says most of the others (the people from Gateway) have fled into the tunnels, hoping to come out in Stepside. He also says he worships Lethander.
“Oh, Lethander. God of pussies,” Slade says, flipping through an imaginary book.
Winstead tells them the giant are working for the dragon which has lived up int he mountains for hundred of years. It has come out of its slumber recently. He also says if they have the dragon’s name, they can control it. He asks the party if they are here to stop it because obviously they are on royal business. The party says they are. Winstead says every so many years the dragon wakes and wreaks havoc, but that years ago some adventurers defeated it with some kind of artifact. The artifact is what he has been studying down here in his home. He alone stayed behind while the people from Gateway escaped.
“If he repeats history, he always tries to retake that which has been taken from him. The citadel,” Winstead says. He also says the last two people on the list that Slade grabbed stayed behind to help usher everyone out of the city—Willie and Madeline, both unaccounted for now.
“You’re going to need that artifact if you’re going to defeat that dragon,” Winstead informs them. “The artifact has been known to come in one of three forms: in the statue of a bear, in a dinner plate, or in a circlet. It transmutes itself between these things.”
“It’s probably a commemorative plate of a bear wearing a circlet,” Slade posits.
Winstead says the artifact’s last known location was in the hands of the adventurers three or four generations ago. David offers for Winstead to join their party and Aeryn loves this idea, saying it would be a great honor to her majesty. However, Winstead says he cannot abandon his post. Or maybe he just heard what happened to Mia Fanghunter when she traveled with this party as an NPC.
“Why don’t you leave a note?” Alaric suggests.
“Leave a note?! One does not simply leave a note!” Winstead says, sounding indignant at the suggestion. He reiterates that he cannot leave. Instead, he sketches a map to the north, where the natives are. In the tunnels, he says there is a silver mine that goes to the north. He sketches very crudely on the sheet of parchment he was given by David. He marks an area on the way to Stepside where there are weaknesses in the mine shaft. They have to be careful. He also tells them to take a right at the first major fork. Whent hey get down to the end of the shaft it will branch off into three different directions. They need to go right up the middle of the shaft and then it will lead them outside, to the northeastern side of one of the great peaks, then to a plain where they can find the natives. He also warns them to beware of the bears. He warns them that the other shafts are closed because they are dangerous and contain creatures.
“What are those pillows made of?” Slade asks.
“Mine. They’re made of mine. They’re all mine,” Winstead croaks.
Winstead tells them to ask the natives for the artifact because they might still have it. The park asks to spend the night here and he agrees but asks that they be quiet so he can continue meditating. Slade rolls over while sleeping and pisses into one of the pillows. Silver meditates and relearns her spells, Alaric curls up on the pillows, David cuddles up to one of Alaric’s legs, and everybody else rests up.
Int he morning, Winstead rouses everyone and says, “It is time. You must go. Rise, adventurers. It is time for you to rise up and reclaim that which has been lost!”
Winstead opens the door and it swings outward.
“That way—down that passage! Off with you! Find the relic! Save the kingdom! God save the queen!”
The way is very dark and there are many pebbles around. Rhaine carefully selects ten of them. Every so often, the party members hear echoes through the caverns. In formation, they stop to investigate the situation after a particularly loud sound is heard. The sounds cease. They go a little ways further and the sounds start up again. Alaric drags a khopesh against the wall, making a loud clanging noise all down the hallway. All is then silent.
Slade hears what sounds like chittering. It is a vaguely insect-like sound, almost like legs moving. He senses bugs up ahead. Aeryn hears the skittering of legs and sees shiny eyes approaching. What looks like a very large band of crickets appears from seemingly out of nowhere.
Slade greets them with, “Yo, guys! What’s the hustle?”
Their thoughts are quite harried and scattered and consist mainly of “food! meat!”
“There’s a nice succulent priest down there!” Slade tempts them. But the crickets completely ignore him because they are so darn hungry.
“All right, fags, I’m gonna use your cricket legs as bows for a Grand Ole Opry performance!”
The crickets attack the party. Aeryn fumbles, accidentally hurling a cricket over the people behind her and right in front of Silver, the weight of it bowling over David and Slade. Silver strikes it with a flame blade, sending it flying back over the party and into the other crickets, felling several of them. The crickets quickly regroup in their battle lines.
David casts spectral hands and hits a bunch of crickets. They make beautiful music while they fight—a veritable Bach symphony. Clearly no fan of the beautiful music, Slade hits the cricket in front and kills it, putting an end to its harmonic chirruping… forever. Slade kills a second cricket with his sling.
Silver tries to encourage the rest of her compatriots with a rousing speech: “Everybody, imagine that you are feeling the soothing, electrifying touch of Boccob all over your body. Imagine his fingers touching you all over your body. Amen! Hallelujah Boccob!”
Clearly emboldened by Silver’s passionate words, Aeryn kills the next cricket. David pretends like he’s going to do a spell to fake the insects out, so Aeryn dives out of the way and cowers on her knees in order to avoid being hit. The insects are sadly unfazed. In the meantime, Alaric kills the next cricket. David tries to fake out the crickets again and makes fake “alakazam!” and “abracadabra!” noises. However, Aeryn, Alaric, and Rhaine all know he’s full of shit this time.
Silver inspects the walls for mold.
Alaric claves both of the two remaining crickets in half. All seven have now been defeated!