The party set up their tents but Silaqui was restless. After the sun set, she decided to follow the giant and human tracks eastwards under cover of darkness. She drank a potion of Mage Armor , then cast Pass Without Trace on herself, and headed out, following the footsteps along a winding tributary, while Dravis began first watch. (With only three party members left at camp, their watches were slightly longer—two hours and forty minutes, as opposed to only two hours).
After two hours of hiking, the elven ranger reached the eastern edge of the bottomland. The tracks continued to follow the tributary eastward into one of the narrow canyons that Gydion had spotted on his last reconnaissance. She drank a potion of Darkvision before entering the canyon, creeping stealthily along, close to the rocky ledge on her right.
Another hour passed. As she crept along, she heard pebbles falling around her. She looked up to see nocturnal kangaroo rats scavenging along the cliffs. The dry canyon was alive at night with animals unnoticed during the day. Just then, a great roar broke the silence—sending the rats scurrying—and a fiery explosion high above her lit up the night. Silaqui drank a potion of Spider Climb and clambered up the rocks to investigate. She clambered up, and then sideways, and then up again, trying to track the source of the commotion. After a few minutes of this, she finally rounded a corner and saw a reptilian-like shape launch itself from the lip of the canyon above, and fly eastwards. Frightened and alone, she climbed down and headed back to camp to report what she’d seen.
Meanwhile, Dravis had gone to sleep and Draken was keeping watch. Suddenly, a pair of barghests lept out of nowhere, biting him through his armor. Flat-footed and off-center, the dwarf raised the alarm, yelling out and waking his friends. Regaining his balance, Draken cleaved through them, seriously wounding one. The barghests attacked again, but missed. Draken cleaved a second time, dropping one of the creatures; the other one disappeared into thin air.
The rest of the party grabbed their weapons and rushed out of their tents and saw Draken standing over the dead barghest. “There were two of them!” he told them, “One of them became invisible, or teleported”. Looking around, Gydion spotted the second creature above them, on top of one of the large boulders that sheltered their campsite. The barghest stood very still and focused its Crushing Despair spell-like ability on Draken, sapping his faith and causing him to lose 2 points on all his rolls. The rest of the party attacked with missile weapons, doing little damage, easily absorbed by the creature’s damage resistance (5 DR/magic).
The next round, the creature growled and sprang ferociously at Draken, intent on avenging its mate death. Unfortunately for the barghest, Gydion’s lion companion, Kingsley had held his action, and as soon as the beast landed, the lion mauled it, killing it with one bite. The party disposed of the bloodied barghest bodies in the river, and Draken continued his watch. Gydion took the final watch, which was uninterrupted save for Silaqui’s return. Although the group had decided against lighting a fire, thinking it would compromise their safety, the ranger didn’t need smoke to find her way back; she easily followed the tributary, and her own footprints, back to camp. She was able to catch a few hours of sleep before dawn. When the sun rose, she told everyone what she’d found over breakfast. “It was much bigger than a rift drake!” she insisted, when the others expressed doubt over her assertion she’d seen a bona fide fire-breathing dragon. Gydion then meditated to regain his spells while the rest of the group broke camp.
The group retraced Silaqui’s steps, and after two and a half hours, found a smouldering campfire. The giant footprints continued east, but the human footprints ended abruptly at the site. Closer inspection of the ashes turned up human bones. “Well, maybe they ate one of them, but perhaps the dragon you saw flew off with the other prisoners?” said Dravis to Silaqui, hopefully. The elf, who was tired from her all-night adventure and was relying on her Endurance feat to stay awake, looked grim. Alas, whatever their fate, things didn’t look good for Tarram Shinnerman and the other missing humans from Shinnerman’s Fortune.
Two hours and 4.5 miles later, the Giantslayers were rounding an oxbow in the tributary when they heard low, guttural voices ahead. The voices emanated from some large boulders across the brook. The rogue/fighter Dravis, who knows the Giant language, interpreted: it was a female giant, yelling at a bunch of others to “pick up the pace”; the others were grumbling their responses and protests. Dravis and Silaqui swam across the brook with a rope and fastened it on the other side so that Dravis could ford the river. Gydion turned into a bird and flew across, followed by Kingsley, who padded silently across. Silaqui then climbed one of the boulders, but when she reached the top, a loud siren was heard. The ranger had set off a magical Alarm spell! Dravis heard someone shout “Gristlecrack, we have company!” as an obese, blue, female giant with red hair—who had been sitting down—rose to her full height. They had finally found the giants who’d kidnapped Tarram Shinnerman!
A full nineteen feet tall, Gristlecrack was now eye-level with Silaqui, atop the boulder; the giant raised her giant club and smashed the elf for over 40 points of damage. The other party members rushed between the boulders and found five huge trolls, growling loudly and baring their fangs. Dravis attacked one with his two short swords, followed by Draken, who cleaved through two of the beasts with his magic hammer, Agrimmosh. Gydion and Kingsley went on the offensive as well. On their turn, four the trolls bit and tore mightily—though two of them suffered poor aim from the Fear effect generated by Draken’s Fingernail Armor. The fifth troll, on the other hand, emitted a maniacal laugh, and disappeared into the air. It sounded like the mysterious wizard who’d been tormenting them ever since they first left Trunau, two months ago!
Silaqui fired an elemental Fire arrow into the giant’s face, followed by two more arrows, severely wounding it. Draken, Dravis and Kingsley continued their melee assault while Gydion invoked a Flame Strike between the trolls, causing some serious fire damange they could not repair with their trollish Regeneration ability. Just then, they heard maniacal laughter as a Fire Ball exploded in the middle of the battle, damaging both heroes and trolls alike. The party looked around, but the spellcaster was nowhere to be seen. Had it been cast by the troll who’d mysteriously disappeared? If so, he or she must be using the Greater Invisibility spell, Dravis thought.
The fight continued for several more rounds, reaching fever pitch as Silaqui dropped Gristlecrack, her blue hide riddled with arrows. The trolls looked worried, but there was no escape as Draken, Dravis and Kingsley made quick work of them. As the battle came to a close, the invisible spellcaster trapped Gydion in a Resilient Sphere, but the Druid freed himself by invoking his last Limited Wish.
While the party healed their wounds (Draken used his Channel Energy, which was supplemented by potions and scrolls from the others), they scanned around for the invisible, laughing wizard, but it was no use. He was gone. They also searched the boulders for any prisoners, but found none. What happened to the humans?—Silaqui grew despondent, desperate to know. The party decided to press eastward (since they were heading that way anyway), following some other giant tracks which, Silaqui determined, were roughly four days old.
Two hours of hiking later, the canyon widened, its slopes relaxing once again into more of a valley. At about this point, a smaller, narrow gorge headed south, while another headed north. It was now late afternoon, so the party sent Gydion, in eagle-form, to do reconnaissance. An hour later, he returned and reported the valley continued eastward as far as he could see, following the tributary. The southern gorge seemed desolate, save a small stream, and ended abruptly after growing more and more narrow over four miles. The northern gorge, however, contained a fast-flowing brook, and widened after about 3.5 miles. A forest of aspen and birch dominated this part of the gorge, in the center of which was an old, ruined church-like structure in the middle of a clearing. Though the sun was very low in the sky, the party decided to head there. Two hours later, as the light finally faded to darkness, they spotted the temple in the gloaming.
The barghests and trolls carried nothing of value, but Gristlecrack’s backpack contained the following items:
a +1 short sword,
1 potion of gaseous form
1 scroll of mirror image
1 gold bowl engraved with images of dwarves fighting giants (worth 400 gp)
1 gold flute (worth 1,000 gp)
1 small diamond (worth 900 gp)
2 opals (worth 500 gp each)
679 gp, 180 sp, & 900 cp
…and a collection of 14 grisly feet (dwarven, halfling, and human)
Next: Thieves, and Leaves, in the Temple