Zelcor ambled back from the spot where he’d left his riding dog, looking slightly embarassed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Helanda.
“Oh, um, nothing. On a totally unrelated point, do you think we could stop by Whistledown on the way back to Magnimar?”
“Whistledown? Isn’t that the gnomish town with the animal seller?”
“Is it? I had totally forgotten.”
Scratchy, meanwhile, was trying to decide what he thought of the possibility that a dragon was around here somewhere. With the Shard of Wrath in hand, they could return to Magnimar straightaway, or they could stay and try to find the wyrm, possibly acqiuring fabulous treasure.
Or a horrible death. There was that too.
Theodora was by herself a little distance away, trying to discern the location of the seventh and final shard. It was a bit hard to concentrate when she was SO ANGRY, but presently she managed it anyway.
“It’s down,” she began, “below us. I feel like I’m falling, falling, falling, and …”
“And what?” Milacent prodded.
“AND ALL I SEE IS BLACKNESS, ALRIGHT?!! STOP PESTERING ME!” she took a deep breath and repeated herself quietly, “all I see at the end is an inky blackness.” Stupid shard and its stupid curse.
“Wait, it’s here?” Helanda asked with some alarm, “So we’re going to stay here and not head back to Magnimar?”
“We’re not going to go to Whistledown?” added Zelcor.
“Did you see a dragon?” Scratchy chimed in.
After some discussion, the situation was made a little more clear. They were going to stay here, that was certain. The giants had been hard at work excavating, so there were almost certainly lower chambers the party hadn’t reached yet. As for what was there? The giants had mentioned rift drakes, so there were definitely some of those, and maybe a dragon, even if Theodora hadn’t seen it in her vision from the shard.
They decided to start by clearing out the hallway with the pit traps. There were three doors in the wall opposite the giants’ sleeping chamber that the party hadn’t checked, and soon everyone was around the door in their entry formation, with Zelcor casting his Open/Close spell. Seconds later, a burst of caustic gas was shooting through the door, catching Helanda and Scratchy. They had found the rift drakes, vicious 14-foot-long cousins of true dragons, and the creatures were not friendly. Fortunately, they bled like most things, and didn’t possess the magical abilities of their larger kin, so after a few minutes of excitement Milacent was standing over the corpse of the last one, cleaning its blood off her spine flail. It turned out all three doors led to the same large room, one which contained three pits dug into the floor.
Theodora edged up to one of the pits, her curiosity overcoming her anger. From below, she heard a tremulous voice asking in Giant, “Who’s there?”
“Visitors,” Theodora replied, “who are you?”
She poked her head over the top of the pit and was greeted by the pathetic sight of a hill giant lying on the ground, both of its feet broken. As Scratchy and Milacent moved up with bows to cover it, the giant shrank back in fear.
“What? How did you get here?” it asked, “Did you kill the rift drakes? Where is Jubbek?”
“The rift drakes are dead, and so is Jubbek. We killed him. Now answer my question. Who are you?”
At the news that Jubbek was dead the giant’s expression brightened noticeably. “My name is Togbad! Jubbek hated me! Please, get me out of here, and I will serve you well!
“Not so fast. Why are you in there?”
“Jubbek became angry when I wouldn’t kill some Shoanti prisoners! Everyone in these pits has angered Jubbek in some way!”
Wouldn’t kill prisoners? Theodora thought to herself. This hill giant wasn’t evil, and was willing to serve them. That could come in useful. Did all these pits contain potential allies?
They decided to check the other two pits. One contained trolls, probably prized by Jubbek for their ability to regrow the limbs he’d torn off in his rages. They growled and snarled, and otherwise acted unfriendly. The third pit contained more giants, these with their hands cut off. They too promised to serve, but seemed decidedly less sincere. The party came together to discuss what to do.
“Those giants without the hands will betray us the first chance they get,” Milacent began.
“They can’t really hurt us when they’re maimed like that,” Theodora countered, “there’s no need to kill them.”
“And the trolls?” Scratchy inquired.
“They’re gonna have to die.”
And so it was. The trolls were dispatched with fireballs, and the handless giants were levitated out of the pit and told to go follow the rest of their tribe back home, an order they followed happily. Togbad they levitated out of the pit, healed, and reminded of his promise to serve them.
“Yes, yes, I will serve you!” he responded enthusiastically.
“The first thing you’ll do for us,” Scratchy informed him, “is answer our questions.”
Togbad filled them in on the entire strange story. The giants had been servants of Cadrilkasta, a fearsome blue dragon dwelling in the orc-filled lands east of Varisia. A little over a year ago, Cadrilkasta had found ‘a piece of blue metal’ and directed the tribe to come to this ruin and start excavating.
“And where is the dragon now?” Scratchy asked, feeling both excitement and trepidation.
“She went down into the pit of monsters, and hasn’t come back.”
That last bit was ominous, but bore investigating. The party asked to be led to this pit of monsters, and Togbad brought them to an iron door blocked by a five-foot-tall boulder.
“We built this after monsters started coming out.” Togbad told everyone, then added with a touch of fear in his voice, “are you sure you want to go in?”
“Yes we are,” admonished Theodora, “What kind of monsters were they anyway?”
“Strange, magical things,” Togbad replied, then reluctantly began to push the boulder aside.
The giant struggled, so Milacent and Helanda pitched in to help and soon the way was clear. When the door opened they found a circular room with no floor. Above, its smooth conical walls reached upward twenty-five feet before tapering to a point, and below the walls dropped twenty feet before being obscured by a churning cloud of blue-green fog.
Milacent dropped a rock into the fog, then listened for a sound. None came.
“I think that’s a Mage’s Private Sanctum,” Theodora began, “it’s a spell to block scrying and conceal sound. This one looks like it’s on a large scale, and probably permanent.” She lowered a rope into it until it went slack. Sixty feet, it looked like. “Don’t seem to be any stairs. Scratchy, care to climb down?”
Scratchy was understandably nervous at the prospect of crawling down into the mysterious fog. Fortunately, Zelcor had an alternative.
“I’ll cast Earth Glide into this ring of spell storing,” he began, “and you can use it to go down through the stone. Then you just peek your head out of the wall when you get down there.”
That struck Scratchy as a much better idea, and he took the ring and slid down through the earth. When he was about sixty feet down, he stuck his head through the wall, and was met with a sight wholly unexpected.
The room was a library, its walls lined with book-filled shelves twenty feet high. Far from being the abandoned ruin Scratchy had anticipated, however, it was alive with activity, as people in Thassilonian garb milled about on the floor or flew up to the shelves to retrieve all manner of books, maps, scrolls and grimoires. Scratchy stared in surprise for a few moments, but then the scene changed. All the people stopped and turned to stare hatefully at the spot where he was, with the nearest face a twisted human mockery of Scratchy’s own goblin features. There was a convulsion, as if the room had suddenly shifted, and an instant later the books suddenly began to writhe and fly off the shelves, opening up and spilling forth foul black mists and coils that twisted around and engulfed the library patrons.
Scratchy had had enough. He pulled back into the wall and hid for several seconds. Then he moved to a different spot and stuck his head out again. This time, the room was not full of life. It was empty and dark, its walls riddled with cracks and fissures. The shelves held mostly dust, and in the center lay two large leathery mounds. Most ominously, Scratchy noticed two shapes, crouched and still in the darkness, resembling nothing so much as giant scorpions. He decided he’d done enough recon and returned to the others.
Everyone listened to Scratchy’s account with concern, then Theodora and Zelcor reminded the others that they’d used the majority of their spells for the day. The fight with the scorpion things would come, but it would have to wait until the next day.