We retreated from the gate into the giant stronghold that evening, resting up and healing our wounds, and setting out the next day to find a new guard in place. After luring the new giants and their pet bear into a trap, we managed to overwhelm them, pressing on into the valley.
Before too long, however, we fell into an ambush of our own, set upon by a band of brutes shoveling manure, as well as a fierce, cloaked giant that seemed to blend into the trees. My friends and I were pushed to our limit as, without the aid of the departed Umlo, we were nearly overcome. Through sheer obstinance, however, we emerged victorious, wounded and creeping ever deeper into the giant stronghold.
Soon, we came upon a vast crossroads, dotted with seemingly endless giant encampments. Beyond them stood a towering cathedral that, upon inspection by an invisible Elynnar, we learned to be some sort of inner sanctum, and likely the location of the dragon we’d glimpsed earlier, as well as Volstis’s general, Urathash. To the north seemed to be a sort of brawling pit, while the slaves the giants had captured from the nearby settlements seemed to be held to the south.
Compelled that we could not leave the slaves to their cattle-like fate, I heatedly demanded action, though both Torsten and Elynnar refused, citing that the risk was too great; that the mission must come first. Leetsa, however, always up for a fight, stood at my side, and, together, we set out to see if we could free the poor individuals held in the giants’ pens.
Fury in my heart, I slew a defenseless giant along the way, brazenly rushing into battle as we encountered another band near a slave pen. A furious battle ensued that saw Leetsa fallen, and, only then did my senses return. Filled with remorse at sealing my companion’s fate, I flew from battle, snatching up Leetsa’s form and barely escaping with my own life.
It was with a judgmental look in my direction that Torsten patched up the battered Leetsa upon our return.
Subdued, I entered the tunnels Elynnar had since found near the cathedral along with my companions, soon encountering a giant with a pair of great lizard pets. Glad of the distraction, I made quick work of them, along with my friends, only to find a greater threat deeper in the tunnels.
In a large, etched chamber, the walls themselves fell in on us, the beast-filled murals coming alive and swarming our party, even completely slipping from the wall’s surface to attempt to envelop us. Between assaulting the manifested creatures, and damaging the murals beyond recognition, however, we were able to defeat the paintings, finding that the chamber itself was a guide to the greater tunnels, and the valleys beyond.
With the aid of a giant compass we discovered, we learned that four items of great value were scattered around the valley. A chapel to Aduromi, Priestess of Crystals, lay to the northeast, a set of mystical fire geodes hidden within that could be used to relight a fabled giant forge. To the northeast was a shrine to Jogrothir, the Hunter, where a powerful horn lay hidden that wielded some power against the valley’s many drakes. Another shrine lay to the southeast, once presided over by the priestess Mymrith, who used magical clay to prepare giants for the afterlife. And, to the southwest, lay a temple that seemingly held a tablet withing that contained the incantation to reignite the mysterious giant forge, along with Aduromi’s geodes.
A lengthy debate ensued, during which we argued whether reigniting this forge was something we wished to pursue at all, since this seemed to be Urathash’s goal in the first place. In the end, however, we determined that it would be best to hold the keys to the giants’ plan in our our own grasp, rather than leave for them to discover, and so we set out, passing eastward through the dark passage to see which of these artifacts might prove useful.
All the while, my spine prickling at the illusion of danger with every step.