Giant Slayer

From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, New Recruit (Flashback)
I've sought out my fortune...I hope it doesn't kill me

I’ve been at the Brimwill Monastery for a week now, taking Master Hineda up on the offer she extended when she passed through my village. As promised, the training has been far from easy, but already I feel as though the part of me inside that has always stirred at the call of adventure and justice is being molded into something…something more than I could have ever hoped.

The training is long and difficult, filling my days with long bouts of training and meditation, during which I struggle to quiet my thoughts and focus on my future in the service of Apsu; my nights, meanwhile, continue to be drenched in nightmares. Master Hineda assures me that the ghosts of my past will soon be brought to heel, but I feel only guilt at the thought. To forget someone who meant so much to me…that awful night…the promise of life snuffed out so callously…it seems dishonest—almost cruel. If I shut that part of me away, what will remain? And will it be enough to see me through these trials?

The monastery is situated at the very edge of Kaer Maga, overlooking the sudden bluff that sweeps into the plains far below. Here, we are set apart from the dark dealings that shroud the city, and here we are free to focus on our desire for oneness with ourselves. Only then do Hineda and the other masters encourage venturing into the world beyond to embrace that darkness into ourselves as well. As Master Hineda puts it, “Darkness and light must coexist in the world, and so, for us to find true understanding of the universe, we must accept them in our own hearts, as well. Our hearts are the seed, which, above all else, must be cultivated and purified; the world beyond these walls the torrential rains that would batter a small seedling, but which only strengthen a plant whose roots have gone deep. Here, in this fertile soil, that is our goal for each of you.”

I always nod at her words of comfort, but, having always felt like a failure of a dwarf, I’ve never been sure that my ties to the earth have run that deep. Still, I will commit myself to my studies, and hope that, when the time comes, whatever roots I may have will sustain me through the storm.

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, fisherman
A peaceful voyage...for a day

A bit of a strange development in our journey to the marsh. Before we departed on Raag’s barge down the river, he transported Kurst and Omast to the far side of the river, along with a few knights. They appeared to be on a mission, but we decided that if they wished us to know what they were about, they would have told us.

So Elynnar, Leetsa, Torsten, and myself set about making ourselves useful on the boat, with Leetsa manning the crow’s nest with her keen sight and the other two mucking stalls for the first bit before Torsten was instructed to take soundings and Elynnar attempted, rather disastrously, to improve the crew’s cuisine. I, meanwhile, was set to work with the fishing, taking instruction from the ship’s catcher, Urel, who came to respect my hard work and quick learning by the end of the day.

The next day, however, I was fishing alongside him hauling up our latest catch, when the railing broke, and the poor fellow was dragged into the river to be set upon by alligators. I dived in after, fighting off the beats with Leetsa’s deadly help of Leetsa’s arrows as they tried to tear him apart, finally hauling him back on board with the help of the crew, also having to swim for the well-meaning Torsten who’d leapt overboard to help as well.

Just as we managed to resuscitate Urel, however, Leetsa spotted a near-death Kurst atop his horse on the north bank, and the ship was quickly directed that way. The rest of us managed to stabilize the poor soul while Leetsa communicated with the horse, leaning of the man’s mission to find a sunken siege tower in the mud northward where evil thing had apparently taken up residence.

Taking Numbskull, Kurst’s horse, and a pair of others, we raced for the sight of the attack in hopes of saving Omast and the others. We found the tower a few hours later, and I sneaked up to it while invisible, hoping to sabotage it from within, or take it for ourselves, only to slip up at a critical moment and experience the wrath of a two-headed Ettin, who nearly succeeded in flaying me alive before my comrades tore through the beast’s pet dogs and arrived to help me drop it.

After the battle, we discovered poor Omast’s body, and I set about cleaning it, preparing for the journey back to boat before nightfall. Whatever Kurst and his uncle were hoping to accomplish here, I cannot see it being worth the awful cost.

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, Devoted
With revival comes...clarity

I awoke the day after our confrontation with Skreed to find that Leetsa had dealt the killing blow to our enemy, and I had been taken back to the impromptu house of healing in Trunau. Upon waking, I thanked my companions profusely, setting out to find what had happened to little Sydney. It turns out, the girl’s aunt had taken her in, and so the entire town began to set about mending its wounds.

A brutish giant queen, it turned out, was the source of our woes, having hired Skreed to assault the city and acquire an ancient suit of armor and some gem artifact from within the tunnels. I should very much like to meet this giant queen and bring her to justice for all of the pain she’s caused.

And I may get my chance, for, after a rather uncomfortable ceremony well after the attack, in which all of our band was honored and gifted wondrous things, we were tasked by the city council to learn more of this dark turn of events. Currently, we are on a ship bound up the river toward a marsh that apparently holds weapons that may be used against the giants.

So we must leave behind this city that has adopted us, and I the Moreena Women’s Clinic, which I had opened in the house given to my by Chief Defender Halgra and the new leader of the church of Iomede, Leslie Krumpkin (the former head priest now fallen in disgrace after his involvement in rabble-rousing during the attack.) Torsten especially has been much elevated in the eyes of the people, though he is still eager to prove himself, and all of us seem to have found a place here. Yet, I know that Leetsa wishes to further avenge her fallen family, and Elynnar ever seeks the thrill of the unknown. Only Fijit, of all of my new companions, seems content to remain in Trunau, having now fully taken on her apprenticeship under the wise Silvermane, who did survive his wounds. Fijit, however, will meet up with us in the marsh, as she believes she will be of some use in the natural darkness of those lands.

For my part, I’ve built a small shrine to Apsu, spending much time at its base in a search for inner peace. I believe it may be a search that lasts a lifetime, but I am well on my way. Death is now a familiar flavor on my palette, and I won’t fear it again. I have sent a letter back home to my family, informing them of my continued welfare, but also of the fact that the life I’ve chosen is one of service, even to the point of death. I will not seek it out, but neither will I run from it. My current path may very well claim my life, but it is a path I will walk wholeheartedly, for the innocent, the weak, and those who may never know my name, I will stand, fight, and die.

So says Ud Nibbleaxe, Apsu’s true Devoted.

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, fallen
I sought only to protect and serve. May Apsu now decide my fate.

Upon our retreat, we quickly realized that we needed all the assistance we could get, so Torsten and I retreated to convince Fijit to join our efforts. It took some convincing, as Silvermane was still not conscious, but we were able to persuade her of the gravity of our mission.

Somewhat healed and ready for the next bout, we rejoined Elynnar and Leetsa, and I sneaked into the next room, getting off a shot at the flood troll in the dark before we squared off, the beast retreating after I landed a few more blows and my companions raced in to join me. The wolves were next to fall, constricted as they were in the doorway, and then I set about sprinting toward our main foe, trusting that my companions would make short work of the troll.

The troll, however, was quick to heal in the water that it had brought into the cavern, and it only fell after dealing a mighty blow to Fiji’s poor owl. Still, I raced on, attempting to leap the chasm between myself and what could only be the awful Skreed, architect of all Trunau’s woes.

To my shame, I failed the jump, it being far wider than any I’d practiced at Brimwill, and I received a grenade dropped upon me for my troubles. Staggered, I attempted to climb up to Skreed, only to be set aflame as I climbed the rope and have the rope burned away. Feeling darkness sting at my eyes, I clung to the cliff, latching onto Skreed’s ankle and yanking him down with me into the water. As he came up, I channeled my last ounce of power into a stunning blow, landing a few more hits before he managed to rouse himself and drop me with another blast. But even as I fell, I knew that my mission was succeeded. Torsten was closing in, having dropped the troll, and the deadly Leetsa was lining up a fatal shot. Skreed would die, and my fate…my fate was in the hands of Apsu.

As I fell back into the water, feeling its cool embrace enclose my battered form, it was as though the central chamber of Brimwill Monastery opened up before me, and I saw the face of Master Hineda as though she were standing right before me. “Young one,” she said, serene as ever, “why do you cry?”

I reached up to my cheek, finding that my face was, indeed, laden with tears. “Because I am afraid,” said I.

“Of death?” she asked, brushing a strand of long white hair from her face.

“Of what other dangers may await my friends,” I replied. “I’ve known them only a few short days, and yet…they have all become dear to me: Elynnar, with his strange ways and stout heart; Leetsa, who attempts to disguise her courage and compassion with her brashness; Torsten, who confronts his fears even just to step beyond the walls of his home, and yet stands tall in the face of overwhelming odds; Fijit, whose quiet love for life and nature are humbling to behold… I fear that they may all meet the same fate as the boy, Zekant, the brave Durmok, and so many others in this awful battle. I fear for all of Trunau, and the darkness that has been awakened here. I fear that I will not be there to stop it.”

Master Hineda nodded, tugging her dark robe more tightly around herself in the chill mountain air as she motioned for me to join her in her walking meditation around the Great Circle of the chamber and the Garden of Life around it. “You don’t think you’ve done enough for them?” she asked calmly as I fell in beside her.

“It’s not a matter of how much I’ve given,” I said, paraphrasing one of the tenants taught at Brimwill. “It’s a matter of giving my all.”

Master Hineda smiled, resting a hand on my shoulder as she looked down at me from her human stature. “And you have, dear one. All that is left to you is to find peace in that knowledge.”

My heart heavy, I bowed my head. “So I am dead, then?”

“And what is that to you, if you truly have given all of yourself?” said Master Hineda. “For now, is not enough simply to walk with me in the garden?”

I smiled sadly, falling in step with her once more. And, as my meditations turned to thoughts of home—Mother, Father, all my siblings…my dear, lost sister, Urthea—and the path I’d walked thus far, I let my body rest in the knowing that I had given my all, and that I had, at least brought one new life into the world amidst all the horror.

Focused on little Sydney Uthra Lampwright’s crying, infant face, I closed my eyes, and let the darkness enfold me.

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A letter to Second UnderMage of Nethys, Grand Temple In Sothis
4715, 4Th week, Calistril, Starday

Dearest Aunt Aysphyra,
I hope this missive finds you well and in the gaze of the All Seeing Eye of White Faced Nethys. Since I last wrote you, I have continued north into the Hold of Belkzen. Your advice to explore the world and learn what might exist outside of my fathers magic shop and the city of Absalom is proving to be sage and beneficial. I shall never again resist your counsel. When you invited me to the Grand Temple to recover, after my grand folly so many years ago. I remained obdurate in declining and when i finally relented and journeyed to your side my spirit and conscience were healed.

I arrived in the Town of Trunau, a bastion against the orcs, of the Hold of Belkzen. Not long after my arrival, I went to the town Commons to witness a local ritual in which a dagger is given to a child who is now become a full citizen of the town. The newly made adult promises to use their Hope Knife to defend the town and its citizens against the Orcs. Apparently it is also the custom for the new made adult to pick people from the crowd to engage in games on behalf of the Child. Oddly enough I was chosen to participate and thus the first steps into what has so far been the most amazing adventure. I can hardly credit what happened next. I met some of the towns primary citizens my new friends and I were invited to stay at an inn to celebrate the glorious day. The very next morning we awoke to learn that the Captain of the town guard had been found dead in the very same inn, and thought to have committed suicide His brother enlisted me and my new friends aid to investigate the situation. He believed that there was no way his brother would have committed suicide. In fact, our investigation caused us to determine that he had been murdered. During our investigation we learned about a plan for the invasion of Trunau, by the Orcs.

It is an amazing thing that as I pen this letter to you, I prepare with my new found comrades to join the brave citizens of Trunau to defend their city. In just a short time I have come to care about the people of the city, and my new comrades. For the first time in my life, I have sought the terrible Black Eyed Visage of Nethys to aid me in the destruction of the violent attackers. I promise to write again, as soon as I am able. I pray you bless me, my companions and the good people of Trunau in the name of Nethys.

Your loving and devoted nephew,

Elynnar
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A pause in the battle
Torsten licks his wounds

Torsten sheathed his sword and turned toward the black passage in back of them. With a few precise movements of his free hand and a familiar arcane chant several lantern like lights appeared to illuminate their way back over the bridge that spanned the chasm. Fortunately Elynnar Landrias‘s acidic grease spell seamed enough of a deterrent that their enemies didn’t pursue them. Torsten walked backwards watching the passageway for few seconds just in case he was wrong. Satisfied, Torsten Stein turned to follow his friends.

A few moments later their beat up group arrived in the chamber where they had defeated the too large spiders and the bizarre bird like creatures known as Gryphs. Torsten Stein wasn’t bleeding anymore thanks to the last of his healing magic but, welts ,bruises, and half healed lacerations covered his face, forearms, and torso. He eyed the others of the party; Elynnar Landrias was panting from the retreat but seemed ok despite his ripped robes, Leetsa seemed to be nearly untouched except a couple minor wounds, she was eyeing the bridge carefully with a drawn bow, Ud Nibbleaxe was looked as bad as Torsten felt. You could see the dire wolf had sunk it’s teeth into the stalky Dwarf more than once but Ud’s grim stoic face remained determined.

Torsten took a drink of brandy from his skin. With no healing at his disposal he was left with nothing but liquid courage. After a moment the magical lights he cast started to fade so he recast the spell. He could hear the breath of his companions and the water dripping of the cavern sides. No one had spoke since they fled. Torsten Stein, not knowing what else to do, took another swig of his grog, cleared his voice and said, “so what’s next?”

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, baby-killer
I'm feeling a bit conflicted, given my calling as a midwife...

Following the rats’ retreat, we received a brief respite in the form of a visit from a priest of a nearby township. She healed us as best she could, and we also received a messenger with healing aid from Fijit, but soon we had to resume the mission, bidding her farewell. Myself and the others advanced slowly, only to find ourselves set upon by vile creatures of both bird and spider qualities. One quickly injected its young into poor Leetsa, while the rest of us smashed the things to bits. Once the things were felled, I turned my attention to the unfortunate gnome, digging with Incisor into her belly, where the eggs were quickly maturing into more monstrosities.

Delicately, I extricated them, squishing one myself and throwing the other under Thorsten’s boot. Seemingly spared the agonizing death of hatching the monsters, we healed Leetsa and moved on. Foolishly, I went on ahead, not wishing any more harm on the gnome, and I was instantly surrounded by vile spiders. Nimbly, I leapt to one side, attacking as I retreated, while the others shot at the rest of the spiders from afar.

We were dealt a few savage blows, but ultimately squashed the creatures, cleaning our wounds and pressing on. The mysteries of the cavern still eluded us.

I peered into the next room, seeing nothing in the dark, and I called up the rest, only to find that my sight had failed me when Elynnar lit up the room and we were attacked by two enormous wolves and their half-orc handler, an ugly foe whose appearance matched the description of the vile Skreed, the one behind this whole nightmare.

We fought well, dealing many attacks against our enemies, but we were driven back with the arrival of a flood troll, retreating back down the hallway to catch our breath and strategize. I knew not how we would defeat these enemies, but I knew just as well that we could not turn back.

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, defender
May it never be said I didn't stand my ground.

We came upon the Hope Springs, winded from our run from the gate, emerging into the open shore beyond the houses there. A cave giant and two orcs, attached to the larger beasts by chains for the purposes of direction, stood on the far side of the Hope Springs, the giant enlarging the opening they had made under the next layer of the city as we approached. With my dwarven eyes, I made out that there were tunnels beyond the opening, but this had no time to shock me, as I quickly hoisted Leetsa up to the top of a nearby house and positioned myself behind a pile of rocks.

Within seconds of each other, we opened fire, with Thorsten providing support through devastating grenades. Roaring its rage, the giant charged across the springs, its gnarled mouth frothing with fury. Leetsa, Elynnar, and myself continued to fire, filling it with arrows until it ran up directly before me, bringing its fists up high to smash. Elynnar quickly retreated to keep attacking from range, but I knew I could not let the monster pursue someone so unaccustomed to melee combat. So, foolheartily, I leapt up on the pile of rocks, shouting into the giants face as it attempted to pummel both the nearby Leetsa and myself. I landed a solid hit, but it was the efforts of Thorsten and Leetsa that felled the beast in the end, another of Thorsten’s grenades delivering the killing blow by way of fire. It was then I turned my attention to the orc handlers…only to find that they had been pummeled to death in the giant’s mad swings. The battle was over.

Moments later, Kurst arrived, looking far better than the night before, though still bandaged and weary. He commended us for our deeds, charging us to enter into the exposed tunnel across the springs. Curiosity already pulling at me, I readily agreed, as did my companions.

As we reached the opening, I motioned for the others to stay back while I scouted ahead. My keen sight in dark places would make me the best candidate for such things, and I didn’t wish for any of them to be caught off-guard. I believe that this decision may have saved a life in the end, for, as I came upon the first junction in the dark, I was set upon by a swarm of ghostly rats. Calling out to the others, I retreated, attacking where I could and attempting to keep the swarm at bay. It was as my companions maneuvered to help, however, that I was able to strike a blow to the heart of the mass with Incisor, Brinya’s gift to me.

With the rats skittering back into the dark crevasses from which they came, we took a moment to catch our breath. We were sure to face even greater enemies further in…

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, siege artist
The battle drags through the night, and even greater foes loom in our future...

The beast with the flaming ball in his hand charged in among the others, while my companions and I sought to slow them with falling logs and large swaths of acid and grease. Even so, wave after wave of the brutes stormed the palisades, bringing the battle into close combat, until, at last, with the aid of the ferocious Omast, we stood victorious before the gate just as reinforcements arrived.

The gate secured, our tired, bloodied band retreated to the inner quarter at the summons of a fellow dwarven warrior. There we found Fijit caring for a wounded Silvermane, as well as Halgra, who had pulled some of her troops back to rest. We were instructed to do the same, and, after attempting to cleanse myself with the sparse water provided, I spent a fitful night in mingled slumber and dark meditation. It had been a day of profound loss. Zekant, Durmok, poor Sydney’s mother and father, as well as countless citizens of Trunau. It was all I could do to keep my thoughts from turning to revenge and anger.

Upon recalling the crying, innocent face of Sydney, however, I was able to steel myself and recall the reason for which I fight; never for hatred or the return of cruelty, but for justice, and to protect those who cannot stand against the darkness. Though Gervan, Ki Master of the Brimwill Monastery, berated me many a time for losing focus in my studies, I think even he would have been proud of me as I found inner peace that night.

Come the morning, Torsten, Elynnar, Leetsa, and myself were dispatched to the front gate, driving through a swarm of monsters alongside the city guard on a mission to disable an orcish trebuchet at the Standing Stones outside of town. Upon our arrival, we found only three of the beasts guarding the siege weapon, felling them before they were able to load poor Leetsa into the weapon and launch her to her death!

We quickly set about using the siege weapon against the orcs and other foul creatures still pouring into the city, eliminating many of them with great, flying boulders until our supply of projectiles was depleted. Our mission accomplished, we set fire to the trebuchet, making back for the city gate. As we approached, however, we heard cries of a giant near the Hope Springs.

In that moment, dreadful acceptance settled in my chest. We may not be ready for such a powerful foe, but we will face it, nonetheless.

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From the Journal of Ud Nibbleaxe, the heavy-hearted
On a night steeped in darkness, things only look to grow worse...

Upon leaving Rishka bound in Rabus’ tavern, our band attempted to return to the western inner gate, where the fighting looked to be thickest. On the way, however, we heard sounds of distress, diverting our course to come across a poor citizen who was promptly struck down by an orc when we moved to intervene. A swift, but deadly battle ensued, during which I was rendered unconscious at my unwillingness to retreat and leave the dying man defenseless, and, upon my waking at the hands of Fijit, we found the Trunau man dead and heard the rapidly approaching feet of what we could only assume were even more foes.

However, instead of orc reinforcements arriving to eradicate us, we were greeted by Omast and a troop of city guardsmen. Though he was obviously inebriated, I was glad to see the man, and myself and Fijit were quickly dispatched to find Omast’s remaining nephew, Kurst, who had not been seen in far too long. We soon found the lad as his battered body was hauled up the city cliff upon which we’d stumbled, and the kind-hearted Fijit immediately set about tending to his wounds while I raced off to report to Omast and assist in the defense of the western inner gate.

The moment I arrived, Omast dispatched Leetsa and myself to rally his nearby troops, so we were off to the closest tower, arriving in time to see it crushed beneath a massive boulder. The weight of it all growing too much to bear, I was about to collapse to the ground in hopelessness. But that was the moment I spotted a still form on the street nearby. I rushed over, assessing the man’s wounds and discovering that it was, in fact, Silvermane, the master druid who had spoken to Fijit about her studies our first night in the city. Knowing that he could be a powerful ally, as well as simply wishing to help someone in need, I hastily carried the barely breathing man back to the healers at the east inner gate, sprinting back westward as soon as he was delivered.

The gate was under attack almost as soon as I returned, and myself, Omast, Leetsa, Thorsten, and Elynnar were pressed back behind the palisades, fighting for our lives in the close quarters against numerous orcs. Just as we were able to thin their numbers, however, a fresh group appeared beyond the gate, rushing in to turn the tide once more. And, before the fight fell in on me again, I spotted a sparking fuse in the putrid green hand of one orc, shrinking rapidly towards an ominous, metal casing…

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