Episode 4: A Giant Leap for Critterkind

After spending the night sheltering against a hefty snowstorm in the foothills of the Spine of the World, the weather has cleared enough the next morning for the adventurers to spot the pass between the mountain peaks that will lead them to the Miklos Glacier. The path looks steep and treacherous, but it’s well-travelled enough that the group don’t have too much trouble traversing it. They cross an ice bridge that gracefully spans a crevasse, with Raddak struggling to resist the urge to pull the beautiful golden spear from the centre of it, even after he ascertains that removing it would cause the bridge to vanish. A little further on, they come to a frozen waterfall, one-hundred-and-fifty feet high, where the path seems to end at a small, ice-covered pond.

“This can’t be it,” says Mirik thoughtfully, gazing at their surroundings. “Isn’t this supposed to take us to the glacier?”

Raddak points to one side of the waterfall.

“There’s something over there, look,” he replies and, trotting across the frozen pool, he discovers a shrine nestled against the rocks with a tall figure carved into the stone above it; a representation of Thrym, the Giant God of Ice, caught in mid-leap with his hammer raised above his head. Legend tells that wherever his hammer falls, ice is created.

“What should we do, put somethin’ into this little offerin’ bowl?” Loli ponders, taking a gem out of her backpack and popping it hopefully into the dish before taking it back when nothing happens.

“Not sure,” replies Raddak, then suddenly remembers an item that he swept up along with the rest of the dragon’s hoard at Oyaviggaton; a very large bracelet decorated with stylized horses and lions. It could even be giant-sized. He surreptitiously pulls it from his Bag of Holding and regards it thoughtfully, then places it on the shrine in front of him. For a moment, it seems as if nothing has happened. Then he sees a set of huge steps outlined with a faint glow, twenty-five feet apart from each other and climbing the face of the waterfall to the top, over a hundred feet above them.

“I think we need to head up there,” he says nervously, quickly returning the bracelet to his Bag of Holding before any of his friends notice it.

Gathering up all the ropes they have between them, Raddak flies up to the first step while Mirik casts Spider Climb on herself so that she can bang pitons into the ice and secure the ropes. Most of them are solidly attached, but the third and the sixth ones are wobbly to say the least. Still, Moon, Loli and Yaseino make it up to the last step without too many problems, and when the sixth piton fails after Yaseino ascends to the top, Raddak only needs to Dimension Door twice to save Loli and Moon from a very long fall back down to the frozen pond.

At the top of the cliff the monk can see that the path continues, still well-worn by the feet of travellers, but scattered here and there with the prints of bears and other large creatures as well. They pass a destroyed camp just beyond some crossroads, where the bodies of two dwarves lay broken inside a tent that has been slashed by large claws. A scrap of an itinerary with the words ‘of Mkoz’ is half-buried in the snow next to them, indicating that maybe the dwarves were traders of some kind, so Mirik wraps the corpses gently in the tent canvas and builds cairns for them with Loli’s help. Raddak says a short prayer over the graves and the group travel on, a little saddened.

That is, until they’re attacked by four huge, hungry polar bears. One bounds over to Yaseino, slashing at him with its claws and biting him, so Loli sends a crackling, blue witchbolt at it, electrifying its fur. Moon kills another with her daggers, while Mirik conjures a pair of tigers that immediately launch themselves at the bears, two of which are now making a beeline for the rogue. One turns and attacks Yaseino on the way past, and he punches it with an open palm before kicking and elbowing it in true ninja fashion. Raddak finishes one off with a chromatic orb as Loli kills another with her eldritch blasts, and silence falls once more over the snow-covered mountain. Moon, who has a growing collection of fangs in her pack, yanks out a polar bear canine to add to it.

The path climbs higher, getting steeper as it ascends towards the peak, and when a cave entrance looms on the right-hand side Loli peers in and sees a small campfire burning. A deep voice is heard from the darkness within.

“Bugger off.”

“Can I come in?” she says cheerfully, ignoring the gruff command.

There’s a brief moment of silence from inside, followed by a resigned sigh.

“I just want some peace and quiet,” the voice answers. “And you’re gonna get yerself killed on this mountain if you don’t leave pronto.”

Loli isn’t in the mood to give up.

“Are you alone in there?”

“No, my entire family is here with me,” the voice replies sarcastically. “Look, you can come in, but you have to be quiet.”

“Can my friends come in too?”

“Are they loud?”

Loli steps into the cave and grins at the big, hairy, humanoid shape sitting beside the fire.

“Nope!” she says. “But a couple of ‘em are a bit hurt an’ could do with a safe place to recover.”

The shape jumps up on seeing how bloodied Moon and Yaseino are, and he uses spells on them to heal their wounds before telling them to rest. It’s only now that they can all see that their host is a werebear. He introduces himself as Dalo, and tells them that the mountains are dangerous, not only because of the bears, but also because of the dwarves who mine sapphires there, and the yetis, orcs and giants who call the place home. He says they will die if they continue into the mountains, and that they can stay in the cave only if they agree to leave first thing in the morning. Raddak clears his throat to speak.

“We don’t have a choice. Some berk’s crashed a castle up here and we have to pick it up,” he says, not letting on that he and his friends are actually the berks in question.

“There’s a whole lot o’ strife goin’ on,” Loli chimes in.

“And lots of dragons,” finishes Raddak, nodding eagerly. “The Cult of the Dragon have been calling them to arms.”

The werebear looks thoughtful.

“So who sent you here?”

“The Council of Waterdeep,” replies Raddak, puffing up his chest in importance. “The factions have all gathered and are working together to try to stop the Cult of the Dragon from raising Tiamat.”

Dalo’s ears prick up when the group tells him which factions were in attendance at the meeting, and even more so when he hears the name of Delaan Winterhound from the Emerald Enclave.

“He’s a personal friend,” the werebear says. “Visits me from time to time. Do you have proof that you know him?”

Moon shows him the letter from Lord Neverember that grants them investigative powers, and Dalo nods slowly and smiles a little.

“Then I welcome you,” he answers. “And you have proved to me that you are the ‘Champions of Waterdeep’ that Delaan spoke of when I saw him a couple of weeks ago.”

The adventurers shuffle their feet and blush a little, but Dalo doesn’t notice. He does, however, share with them all the information he knows about the glacier and the activities that have been taking place recently.

“There are a few settlements around here. Give the Orc village of Broken Tusk a wide berth, likewise Mkoz, home of the dwarves. The Frost Giants live in Uldoveld, and they’ve been repairing Skyreach Castle under the direction of their legendary Jarl, Brunvild. It seems that when his brother, Blagothkus, took over as pilot from his wife, he may have been able to guide the castle to the ground rather than crash it, so they have a wizard called Allac helping them to restore the controls. He’s an odd bloke, tampering with the natural order of things. Lives with the yetis and has gone a bit native, but he might help you.”

The werebear leans forward and pulls some cooked meat from the fire, offering it around to the adventurers as they listen.

“If I were you, though, I’d try to get the giants on your side. Blagothkus had a plan to unite the giants against the dragons, so there might be a chance. But you’ll be like fleas to Brunvild. Negotiate with him, that’s my best suggestion. Giants do like Remorhaz eggs, and there’s a lair on the mountain above the glacier.”

“Have you seen a white dragon flying over?” asks Raddak, nibbling his food.

Dalo nods.

“Yeah, it has a contraption on its back, and it seems to be ferrying people around. Brings people here, then leaves again with nobody except for one dead bloke.”

“Arveiaturace, the White Wyrm,” breathes Moon.

“It sounds like the Cult of the Dragon might be trying to take possession of the castle too,” says Raddak. “We can’t let that happen.”

That evening, Raddak sends a message to Lord Neverember to advise him of their progress.

“Try to get the giants on side,” the Lord Protector replies. “Help them to fix Skyreach Castle and convince them that you are allies. Good luck.”

He turns Ziggy into a snowy owl before retiring for the night, and the watches pass quietly, except for a bit of a surprise when a winterwolf triggers a trap that Dalo has set up.

“Well, we have breakfast,” he mutters, before turning over and going back to sleep.

The next morning, they thank the werebear for his hospitality and leave the cave, heading in the direction of the glacier and, hopefully, the castle. A couple of times they spot the white dragon ferrying her passengers to a point way off in the distance, and one time they’re jumped by a pack of hungry winterwolves that they’re forced to fight off, giving Moon another fang for her collection. But after two more days of travel and two more nights spent in the relative comfort of Loli’s tiny magical hut, they wake early to ground-shaking thuds and deep, booming voices from overhead. Moon steps out of the protective dome with Gotham curled up on her head like a hat, and sees two huge Frost Giants striding towards her. She smiles and waves, addressing them in their own language.

“Hello!”

The two look down at her, then at each other and chuckle.

“That tiny person is talking to us,” one says. “In giant, too.”

Moon nods in an exaggerated manner.

“Yes, hello! We are trying to find Jarl Brunvild, we need to talk to him about the dragon attacks. Could you tell us where he is, please?”

“Hurh hurh,” the other giant laughs. “Why are you going this way, then? Brunvild is in Uldoveld, not at that crashed castle. Besides, he won’t listen to you. We are Frost Giants, and we can defeat dragons without your help, or anyone’s help. You’re no more than fleas to us, really.”

“That is true,” Moon agrees. “But there are things happening that the Jarl needs to know about. Do you think he would be happy if he knew that we had offered you information, and you had done nothing about it?”

The first giant looks at the second, and Moon can almost hear the cogs in his brain turning.

“If this is important information, Brunvild will be pleased with us,” he says, resting his club on his shoulder and scratching his beard. “Tell you what, tiny person, we will take you to Uldoveld and you can meet with Oromis. If he thinks you should talk to the Jarl, then so be it.”

“And my friends, too?” replies Moon, gesturing towards the hut where Raddak, Miri, Yaseino and Loli have appeared, and who are now waving sheepishly.

The giant laughs again.

“Why not,” he chuckles, then picks Moon up and places her on the top of his head. He looks at his friend and points to the Tabaxi, grinning broadly.

“Look Ben, I’ve got a new fur hat!”

What would easily have been another twenty-four hours of travel for the adventurers takes only an afternoon on the heads and shoulders of the Frost Giants, Bill and Ben. When they arrive in the settlement of Uldoveld they’re met by another giant called Oromis, who listens to what his two comrades have to say with a curious expression on his face. He looks down at the group, who have been set gently onto the stone floor.

“I will take you to see the Jarl,” he says. “But I will need to declare you as part of my personal entourage and, because of this, I will give you some advice. Brunvild rules over the giants, the orcs, the yetis and the dwarves, and thus he will see you as mere fleas and not be inclined to give you much attention.”

“Yeah, we’ve ‘eard this,” Loli replies in a bored fashion, looking at her nails.

“So, I would suggest that you appeal to what he likes,” continues Oromis. “That is, gold, treasure, and valuable possessions. Offer him these, and he might just listen.”

While they’re waiting to be summoned into the great hall, Raddak quietly takes out the giant bracelet and casts Legend Lore on it to see if he can find out what it is. In his head, he hears:

“The blood of the brother runs through these veins,
Lost on a voyage and not seen again.”

Knowing that the bracelet had been found in Arauthator’s hoard, in a lair that included a trophy room with two dead giants, Raddak suspects that he knows why the brother was not seen again.

The great hall is beyond anything the adventurers have imagined. Everything is enormous, and groups of rowdy giants who had been drinking and laughing on either side when they walked through the doors all turn to look at them in silence. If a saloon bar piano had been playing, it would have stopped mid-tune. They self-consciously approach the throne with Oromis, and all bow to Brunvild when they reach it.

“Mighty Jarl Brunvild,” says Moon in the giant language. “We are grateful for the audience you have granted us and bring news of an imminent threat from the Cult of the Dragon.”

The Jarl glares down at them.

“And what have you brought as an offering?” he booms, this time in the common language, already looking as if he is about to dismiss them. Raddak steps forward, pulling the bracelet from his Bag of Holding.

“This,” he squeaks, holding it up.

Brunvild’s expression changes, and he leans forward to take the bracelet with a hint of sadness in his eyes.

“This belonged to my brother, Storvik,” he says, much quieter this time. “He went hunting the dragon at Oyaviggaton and has not returned. Where did you find this?”

Raddak gulps in fear.

“Stashed in the hoard of Old White Death, deep inside the iceberg,” he says in a cracked voice. “We also found a dead giant there. I do hope it wasn’t Storvik.”

The Jarl places the bracelet on his own wrist and leans back in his throne.

“Why have you come here?”

“We need your help,” says Moon. “We believe that the members of the Cult of the Dragon are gathering all the dragons in order to raise Tiamat from the Nine Hells. The factions and delegations of the Council of Waterdeep have joined together to fight this tyranny, and they have sent us to request the honour of being accompanied in this battle by the mighty Frost Giants.”

Raddak speaks as well.

“The Council have also requested the use of Skyreach Castle. We understand it was crashed here on the glacier?”

The Jarl considers his response for a moment before answering.

“You have presented yourselves honourably, openly and honestly,” he says. “But you must know that you are merely fleas on the back of a great bear…”

The adventurers all nod slowly in unison as he continues.

“Giants only make alliances with other giants. They do not make alliances with fleas.” He narrows his eyes. “However, I will offer you the chance to prove yourselves worthy by completing three challenges. The first, you will choose a champion who must grapple a giant for two rounds of combat. The second, you must each imbibe the Spirit Mead and await a vision. The third, you must steal a Remorhaz egg as an offering. What say you?”

“Aye,” the adventurers reply a little awkwardly, already wondering how the eff they’re supposed to grapple a giant.

Striding outside, Jarl Brunvild is followed by the other Giants from the great hall, all jostling for a good position to see their champion, Ulfgar, limber up. After a hasty discussion, Mirik is selected as champion by the friends as she can Wild Shape into an animal, but then Raddak has an even craftier idea. As this is by no means a fair fight, something of which the Frost Giants are well aware, he waves his hands and utters an incantation to cast Polymorph, turning the surprised reptilian into a Giant Ape, King Kong-style. Mirik roars and beats her chest with her fists in a frightening display, immediately grappling Ulfgar’s arms behind his back. He escapes and attacks her, but she grapples him again and, this time, manages to pin him for the required two rounds. The giants are quite taken aback, but they honour the victory.

For the next challenge, Brunvild leads them to a huge statue of Thrym, the Giant God of Ice, where they are met by a Frost Giantess with her face painted white. Spirit emblems jingle around her neck as she leans down to pour a dark liquid into a drinking horn, before offering the Spirit Mead to each of the adventurers in turn. Yaseino is torn as he doesn’t drink alcohol, but the Jarl assures him that he will most likely throw it straight up again, so the monk concedes and takes a reluctant swig. The others do the same, wondering what they’ve let themselves in for.

Darkness takes each of them.

Loli and Raddak each experience a vision of Pindalpau-pau, the Mother of Reindeer. Twenty feet tall and with a soothing voice, she tells them that she has embraced them in the herd and, as she speaks, tiny crystalline ice figures step from her mouth, transforming and growing into the forms of the adventurers. She raises a hoof which becomes a hand, marking their arms with the blue and white rune for ‘rebirth’, and tells them that they have been reborn of winter.

Yaseino and Moon both find themselves out on the glacier as the God, Thrym, beats his huge hammer on the ground, raising spike and spears of ice and creating deep chasms. He leaps into the air and lands close to them, pushing past them and then bringing his hammer down on the surface of the glacier, splitting it open. Two shards of clear, pure ice splinter off his weapon and skitter across the ice to stop at their feet, and each of them reach out to pick these up.

Mirik, meanwhile, sees an ancient, white-haired yeti being carried by croaking ice toads. As the yeti reaches her, it parts its fur to reveal a sleeping fox pup, and she hears the fox’s voice in her head telling her of the ancient giant kingdom of Ostoria, and of the giant’s war with the dragons. It declares her to be the spirit-heir of a long-dead giant warrior called Salakko and says that it is her duty to lead the giants in this ancient war.

As each of them come round from their vision they are violently ill, but they manage to recount their experiences to the Jarl and he is very pleased with the outcome, telling them that they have been honoured and accepted by the Gods of Giantkind. He leads them to a building to rest and recover overnight and, seeing as how the door is locked behind them, the exhausted adventurers decide that they don’t need to post watches for the night.

They sleep deeply and could have happily stayed asleep for much longer, had it not been for a guard arriving just after dawn to take them to the Jarl for their third challenge. He greets them and shows them an adult Remorhaz which the giants have raised from an egg; it’s a huge, terrifying centipede-like creature, with iridescent blue and orange chitin, and sporting a large frill along its body. The friends gulp in awe as Brunvild continues, explaining to them that the eggs of the Remorhaz are valued by the giants because the young can be trained, whereas captured adult Remorhaz cannot.

“The breeding ground is forty miles to the northwest of here, and you’ll need these,” the Jarl says simply, handing them a couple of special blankets. “The eggs are very fragile and must be kept warm. If they are exposed to the cold for more than one minute, the young inside will die.”

Raddak puts them wordlessly into his Bag of Holding, looking wide-eyed at his equally wide-eyed friends, and the Jarl chuckles.

“Good luck, although I think you may need more than that if I’m ever to see you again.”

The journey to the breeding grounds is an uneventful one, but on arriving the friends aren’t sure what they are supposed to be looking for. They can see the Remorhaz surfacing through the snow and diving beneath it, but there don’t appear to be any holes. Yaseino burrows into the loose snow and sees a cavern with an adult creature wrapped around three eggs but, when he sneaks back up to the surface to tell the others, its mate bursts through another area of snow and attacks them, unhappy at their intrusion into its territory. It grabs Mirik in its huge jaws, and the poor druid takes fire damage just from her contact with the creature. Yaseino gets the same when he tries to aim a kick at the Remorhaz, so instead he aims his Fist of Unbroken Air at it, attempting to push it away and to make it drop Mirik.

Loli fires a crackling Witchbolt at it, while Moon hits it right between the eyes with an arrow, but when Raddak casts Freedom of Movement on Mirik, she’s finally able to escape the clutches of the Remorhaz’s mandibles. She sprays it with poison as she leaps away but it attacks her again, knocking her unconscious.

As Yaseino and Moon keep up their ranged attacks on the creature, Raddak blinds it and this is finally enough for Loli to finish it off with a twist of her Witchbolt.

After Raddak brings Mirik round and heals her up, the companions all follow Yaseino down through the snow to the Remelhaz’s lair but, without the element of surprise, the creature is ready for them. It darts forward away from the eggs it’s protecting and snatches Yaseino in its mandibles. Raddak’s attempt to blind it fails this time, but he does manage to heal the monk enough for him to knock the Remelhaz prone with his Fist of Unbroken Air. The Remelhaz is not impressed, and promptly swallows Yaseino. Horrified, Moon, Loli and Mirik launch a barrage of attacks at it as it heads towards Raddak, grabbing the Kobold in its mandibles as well. He retaliates by polymorphing himself into a Giant Ape, and it only has a second to register its surprise before Loli Witchbolts it to death, just as she did to its mate.

After pulling a very manky-looking Yaseino from the Remelhaz’s stomach and waiting for Raddak to stop being a giant primate, the adventurers gather up the three eggs, wrap them in the blankets that Brunvild gave them, and put them carefully into the Bag of Holding for safe-keeping. Moon yanks out a Remorhaz fang for her collection, then they sneak away from the breeding grounds under Raddak’s Pass Without Trace spell, managing to flee without any further confrontations.

During their journey back, they encounter a group of orcs who set up their camp right next to the adventurers without realising that their Tiny Hut is there, but the friends manage to sneak away without drawing attention to themselves. They also avoid another group of orcs by stealthing past them while Raddak casts Pass Without Trace again. This seems like it would not be worthwhile given that the orcs are under the rule of Jarl Brunvild and are unlikely to hurt them, but the group don’t want risk having the eggs taken away from them before they return to Uldoveld, figuring that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Striding confidently through the doors of the giant settlement, Mirik, Yaseino, Loli, Raddak and Moon make their way straight towards the great hall, drawing confused gazes from all the Frost Giants that are going about their business in the streets of Uldoveld. When they reach the hall, Jarl Brunvild narrows his eyes at the little band of adventurers.

“You are back, but you have brought me nothing?”

Raddak grins, makes the ground briefly rumble with Thaumaturgy for effect, then reaches into the Bag of Holding, pulling out each of the three Remorhaz eggs in turn as the Jarl’s eyes grow wider and wider. Nodding in satisfaction, he directs a couple of his brethren to take the eggs to the hatchery, then beams at the group.

“You have gained our respect and are thus welcomed into our tribe as worthy allies and spirit giants, born into small but mighty frames. We have been repairing Skyreach Castle and will be sending reinforcements there tomorrow. We would like you to join them.”

“We would be honoured,” replies Moon as her companions nod in agreement.

“Then it is settled,” says Brunvild. “Rest this evening in Uldoveld. We leave for the Castle at dawn.”

While Moon goes out drinking with her new-found Frost Giant brothers, Raddak communes with his God while the others sleep. Closing his eyes, he breathes deeply and asks three questions.

“Will the spirit of Blagothkus be able to tell his brother what happened that caused the Castle to crash? Should we tell Brunvild what happened? And could our relationship with the giants be salvaged if he finds out?”

After each question he gets the impression that the answer is ‘No’, and he feels much better prepared for the day to come. Before going to sleep, he also sends a message to Lord Neverember to tell him that they have forged an alliance with the Frost Giants and will be heading to Skyreach Castle the next day.

“Glad you are alive, we were concerned,” comes the response. “Maccath has arrived, now allied with the Arcane Brotherhood. However, a greater danger may lie ahead. Be careful.”

Raddak goes to bed a little worried by this, but sleeps deeply enough that even a very merry Moon returning in the late hours of the night doesn’t disturb him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s