“The map ends right ahead, boys…” Valgoth said with a grin, as Fydon’s mouth dropped open at the prospect of the riches within.
The heroes prepared at dawn , sharpening blades, tightening armor straps, preparing arcane powers, and praying to their gods. This was the culmination of weeks of perseverance, and they would not stumble now. The wind swept field before them was a daunting sight; moving across a snow white field would make them targets for whatever evil lay ahead behind the great wall surrounding the mountain entrance.
Alas, as usual, Fydon needed no prompting to head out alone to survey get a closer look at their goal. The half elf darted from bush, to snowdrift, to rock with grace. Had the party not been intently watching his progress, they would surely have lost track of the rogues movements. Even still, had Fydon not signaled back an all clear, they too would had been oblivious to his location once he settled in.
The smoke to the north showed no sign of and immediate danger, and the muddy tracks in the ice and snow heading south along the mountains at least showed that a large force had recently left the walled mountain stronghold; but for how long? There was no secure route to take that was obvious, even after Gage reached out with his powers of vision. The way in would need to be direct to avoid lingering in the open, where none of the party had the same knack for remaining unseen as Fydon.
Jogging forward as briskly as they could, they knew it was inevitable that their approach be noticed. The blare of a great horn broke the silence of the snowy plain, and from the great gate ahead the beastly sentries made themselves know. A hill giant hoisted the large portcullis, as hobgoblin longbowman readied themselves at his side. The truly horrific danger was a two headed beast known as an ettin, strolling out to all but block the gateway with its massive girth.
There would be no melee; Dorian would not risk open combat before reaching a more advantageous position. The arcanist reached into his pouch to draw fourth one of the alchemical black rattlecap mushroom components. Drawing on his power and that of the fey mushroom, Dorian let loose a fireball of magnificent power. The spell melted a path of snow from the field as it sailed directly at the guardians of the gateway. Within an instant the hobgoblins were no more, and the ettin dropped, still smoldering. The giant dropped the now flaming pile of rubble that was the portcullis, and fell back in a shriek of fear and pain. The way was clear, or was it?
Coming from the North like phantoms from the snow, a line of riders appeared. Hobgoblin heavy cavalry assumed a charge positon and lowered their lances. Astride a behemoth wooly rhino, the commander led the way as they barreled forward, shaking the very ground beneath them. “Scatter” was the echo screamed by several of the heroes, yet one did not. Dorian, still holding the fey mushrooms, began the same incantation as moments before. Again a great ball of flame flew from his outstretched hands towards his enemies. The great blast was just as massive as the last, but the enemies were better suited to evade the fiery explosion.
The line of cavalry broke, and the three riders to the left of the commanders were annihilated by the explosion. The remaining riders pressed on through the flames continuing their deadly charge, and scattered among the heroes. The hobgoblin commander and his great beast stayed on course, and met the cleric Bor head on. The lance skewered the battle priest, as the artic rhino trampled the brave cleric underfoot. Bor’s blood left the snow crimson around him, as he grasped his holy symbol, voicing a prayer to Gorum to heal his faithful. Bor would not die without a fight.
The remaining horsemen likewise lanced at the scattered heroes, inflicting dire wounds and charging past to circle around for another strike. The advantage still belonged to the hobgoblins, but the party was not without options. The blast from the fireball had forced them to break their line, leaving them singled out among the party. This allowed a much needed counter attack, which came without pause. Valgoth lunged out with the hammer Agrimmosh, crushing through the armor of one rider to fell him. Cyrus assumed a defensive posture, almost daring his enemies to attempt their charge again.
Spells flew, blades swung, and soon the field was still once more. The grunts of the wooly rhino almost muted the sound of Fydon piercing the throat of a downed adversary, as Cyrus looked at the rogue coldly. The displeasure with the rogue’s callous disregard for honor was visible in the paladins eyes. “We need to clear the field immediately” Valgoth barked, as if trying to clear the tension between his comrades.
The great entrance to the mountain complex was ancient carved stone, the runes around it denoting prayers to Minderhal, god of the stone giants. This was clearly a place holy to stone giants, and was indeed ancient, as the runes dated to the great giant kingdoms of antiquity.
It took half the party to shoulder the great doorway open, revealing the massive cathedral beyond. Awe inspiring stonework created a giant sized temple, complete with a massive domed ceiling, pews, and amphitheater. A grand stone statue of Minderhal stood watch along the far wall, while a great anvil and forge dominated the cathedrals center. The forge was cold, and a reservoir of hardened slag ringed the platform. Its magical aura astounded Dorian, and Valgoth too sensed its power. Valgoth was haunted by blinks of visions and a swelling of power in his hands; the forge called to Agrimmosh…
The heroes investigated the forge area, and the grand statue as well, which revealed hidden door at the base of the statue. During the discussion, Fydon took it upon himself to check the far areas of the massive cathedral. He investigated a stairwell that descended to a dark chamber choked with flies; the room divided by large drapes. To one side were large barrels, and to the other were a pair of sleeping giants. Fydon decided to take matters into his own hands, and drew his rapier. He stalked over to the larger male giant, and drove his blade into its thick neck. With a roar and gurgle of blood, the giant rose in a frenzy, waking its mate. Fydon began to flee, but the long arms of the brute grabbed him before he could make it to the stairs.
The bloody hulk squeezed with great strength and slammed the rogue to the cold floor, while his mate moved in with a large rock. “Hold it steady, I squish with rock. It die” the ugly female grumbled as she cruelly grinned. The rock smacked into the half elf with a wet crunch, as blood sprayed from Fydon’s face. The giants laughed as the female lifted the rock yet again for another deadly blow.
Without pause or fear, Fydon’s party charged into the chamber, engaging the giants with ferocity. Quickly, Dorian cast an enchantment on the weak mined brutes, causing them to lash out at each other. The unforeseen consequence however, was the feeble minded creature used Fydon as a weapon to do so. Now free from the grasp of the male, Fydon staggered away as the warriors moved in and cut down the pair of giants.
Gage began to heal the gravely injured Fydon, just as Cyrus became furious at the rogue. The paladin had enough with his fellow’s irresponsible actions, as he felt the jeopardized the entire party. Bor stood firmly behind the paladin, as Valgoth lend his support to his long time companion. The debate eventually ended, but both walked away with cold eyes for the other.
Moving forward, Bor ended the debate by entering the staircase hidden within the statue of Minderhal. The party quickly regained their composure and followed suit. The passage led below the dais and forge area of the cathedral, and an oval chamber housing the belly of the great forge lay before them. But the chamber was not without an occupant. Lit by numerous candles, an elderly stone giantess kneeled as she worked metallic powders into runes on the floor.
“In times now lost, my ancestors built the sacred forge in the cathedral above to honor He Who Makes and Unmakes. Minderhal’s Forge is a repository of awesome power, but long have its fires lain cold. Only with Minderhal’s great hammer, Agrimmosh—which I sense in your hands— can the effects of long ages be unmade and the flames restored. I, Etena, am Keeper of the Forge. I inherited my position from those who walked this world before me, and those before them. I am the guardian of the sacred forge, but I am not its creator. Were that the case, I would have long ago renewed its fire, but this task is beyond my ability. You, however—you, the bearers of the Hammer of Unmaking—you have the power to relight the forge".
The stoic giantess went on to speak of the duergar that have come to this land seeking the power of the forge, and it is they that brought the hobgoblins. She seemed forthcoming with the heroes in her statements, in that she wished to see the forge relit once more. Agrimmosh was needed, but so was dragon fire, which she claimed the duergar possessed. She bid the heroes return to her with the power of dragonfire, and she would assist them in the task ahead.
Armed with this new knowledge, the party was invigorated with purpose once again. They began to sweep the cathedral in search of where these duergar were held up, but instead found more giants within a feasthall. The giants were so perplexed at the entrance of the party, that they met them only with confused stares. This was all it took for the heroes to gain the upper hand, and they flew into an all out assault on their foes. Valgoth and Cyrus fearlessly strode towards the hill and massive frost giant, but Fydon, overzealously hurled a smoke stick at the towering frost giant. The smoke choked the air, but did indeed give pause to the giant as Cyrus attacked.
Valgoth began his trained maneuvers of giant fighting, using traditional dwarven techniques for battling the oversized brutes. Bor summoned creatures of fire to assist the paladin, and Dorian and Gage harnessed spells once more. Quickly, the frost giant was slain under the assault, and the remaining hill giant, fearful for its own life, pointed the party towards a far doorway in exchange for its release. It fled through the doors back into the snowy valley, as the heroes nodded at each other’s efficiency in combat.
“Together no evil can stand against the righteous” Cyrus said, as he glanced at Fydon.
“See, he loves ya after all” Valgoth exclaimed as he slapped the rogue on the back. “Now tighten your boots, we’ve duergar to chat with”…