The party gathered as close as they could to the the green tower, now standing in stark contrast to the reddish dust-tinged sky. From their vantage point they could see that it rose out of an excavation, the entrance to which was blocked by a wooden palisade some 20 feet high. The figures moving beyond it looked human, but the fact that they rose to nearly half the height of the palisade meant only one thing: giants.
There was a puff of dust, and Scratchy appeared beside the party. Zelcor’s magic had rendered him flying and invisible, and he was just now returning from his scouting out of the compounds.
“Four giants by the wall,” he began, “with giant shaggy elephant-looking things beside them.”
“Mastodons”, Theodora informed him.
“Right, Mastodons,” Scratchy continued, “with three more on a hill with a large building on it. They have ballistas, more mastodons, and some other kind of giant; taller, with orange hair that flickers like flame.”
“A Fire Giant,” Theodora said helpfully.
“What about the spire? What’s around there?” Helanda asked.
“There are more giants digging around it. They seem to have cleared around an entrance in the side.”
“An entrance?” Theodora interjected.
“What are you thinking?” Milacent inquired.
“Maybe we can just sneak in that way, and bypass all the giants?”
“I can cast Fly and Invisibility on all of us,” Zelcor added, “and we’ll glide right past them.”
Scratchy was less convinced. “Do we want to leave all these giants behind us?”
“We’ve beaten plenty of giants already, they’re no problem,” Milacent replied, “Let’s sneak in.”
After slightly more debate, the requisite spells were cast, and the party took to the air invisible. Scratchy carried Fleabait in a harness tied to his back, but there was no way for Zelcor to carry his riding dog, and they had to leave him behind. “He’ll be just fine,” Zelcor reassured himself. After all, what’s the worst that could happen to a small animal, tied to a post, in the middle of a violent wasteland?
The invisible flight went smoothly until the party drew close to the entrance in the green tower. There, the party’s lack of flying experience plus their inability to see one another caught up to them as they all attempted to funnel through the single opening in the tower’s side. There was a clang of someone bumping unseen into Milacent and her armor, and a (mostly) successful attempt to not curse audibly.
A giant near the tower stopped working and moved over to where he heard the noise.
“What is it?” one of his companions asked.
“There’s something strange over here,” the first one replied, “I heard a noise.”
“Are you sure it’s not bugs?”
“Maybe, maybe not.” He answered, then decided to investigate the way giants usually investigate things: by swinging his weapon.
The arc of the pickaxe swept perilously close to Theodora, who flew as quickly as she could past the giant and into the tower entrance. Maybe she could have been quieter about it, but at least she didn’t have armor squeaking or noisy footsteps to worry about. The bug comment, in the meantime, gave Scratchy an idea. He reached into his pack and grabbed the Shard of Pride, and an instant later there was an extremely realistic illusory swarm of wasps where the giant had swung his axe. The giants struck fruitlessly at the buzzing swarm, and every party member who wasn’t already in the tower took advantage of the distraction to slip past them unnoticed.
With everyone inside, the party found themselves in a rough-hewn passage descending deeper into the earth. Interestingly, there were sounds coming from below. As the party drew closer, they could tell that they were sounds of fighting, intermixed with … cheering? The noises were odd, but the party didn’t have long to wait before finding the source. After 30 feet the tunnel leveled out, and scouting ahead Scratchy peeked around a corner and was greeted with an odd sight. Four hill giants dressed as Shoanti barbarians were engaged in a desultory fight with one another, while beyond them a group of female hill giants did their best to act interested in the spectacle. In their midst, on a throne made of lashed-together mastodon bones, sat the only creature watching with genuine enthusiasm: the largest hill giant they had ever seen.
Scratchy came back to the rest of the party to discuss what to do. The hill giant chieftain and his harem were not alone: there was also a fire giant standing in a bodyguard position and a saber-toothed tiger sprawled out on a bed of furs behind them. Very quickly, a plan came together.
The giant chieftain, in the meantime, was losing his enthusiasm. He had commanded that the fight be realistic, but these fools before him were clearly not striking as hard as they could. An immense rage swelled up from inside him, and he sprang to his feet, grabbing the spiked club he kept by his throne.
“Idiots!” he screamed, “That is not what I told you to do!” and he brought his club down on the ‘Shoanti’ unfortunate enough to be closest to him. The others backed away from his as the chief brought his club down again and again. He was on the verge of killing his follower when, apparently with great effort, he brought himself to stop. While the others watched nervously, he walked back and slumped down into his throne. “Idiots,” he mumbled to himself, then waved a tired hand at the fighters. “Just stop,” he commanded, “You are too stupid and cowardly to have a real fight.”
That was the moment the party had been waiting for. Theodora appeared across from him, her appearance magically altered to resemble a female hill giant. “Join us!” she shouted, pointing to the fire giant bodyguard, “We’re taking over!”
The fire giant wavered, but the Charm Monster spell Theodora had just cast on him mixed with years of silent resentment, causing him to take his greatsword and swing it at the chieftain he had been serving faithfully just moments before.
That chieftain’s bad day was just beginning, however, as Scratchy’s arrows slammed into him, bringing up torrents of blood. The four giants he’d been watching turned to see where the attacks were coming from, and they were greeted by the sight of Milacent and Helanda charging into their midst, slashing and stabbing.
The fight quickly descended into a massacre. The four ‘Shoanti’, already badly wounded, went down quickly before the two fighting women’s blades. The saber-toothed tiger and the chieftain’s wives lunged at the treasonous fire giant, allowing the chief to get away and move toward the impudent humans who were causing all this trouble. With a snarl he swung his club at Helanda, and it clanged noisily against her armor. It was at this moment that Theodora noticed that one of the spikes on his club was a triangular shard of blue metal. Could it be? She reached forward, uttering the words of a Telekinesis spell. There was a struggle, but the chieftain’s great strength was no match for Theodora’s magic. The club flew out of his hand to Theodora’s feet, where she pulled the shard from its bindings. Instantly, she was filled with barely controllable rage, and she remembered that the shard they had come to find was the Shard of Wrath. Furthermore, she realized that the ioun stone she would need to control the shard’s curse was in Scratchy’s pack, and she was now going to feel its full effect. These two facts made her very, very angry.
Milacent by now was moving to strike the chieftain, and without his weapon he quickly devolved into a bloody heap of stab wounds. His pet saber-toothed tiger put up a better fight, but soon joined its master in death. As the party moved to finish off the wives, they heard the unexpected sound of a door opening. In the area where the four giants had been fighting for show, there was a set of double doors that were now swinging open. The individual responsible was another hill giant, but the color went out of his face when he saw the chieftain’s corpse. He closed the door again.
“Oh no,” Theodora hissed through clenched teeth, “that is just not going to do.”