After escorting the prisoners out of the steading, we turned our attention back to exploring the main level. We knew the west side presented us with two choices: 1) enter the great hall and face an enemy force likely too powerful for us to defeat; or 2) enter what we believed to be a kitchen to try to convince the few orcs in there to either assist us or NOT assist the giants. What we didn’t know was what was waiting for us on the east side of the steading, so we concluded it would be a good idea to find out before deciding what to do next.
After a brief discussion about how to proceed, we moved into position in the hallway leading away from the entry area. As we approached, Kissandi spotted a secret – not really secret, but certainly hidden – door leading directly into the great hall. We decided there was no reason to concern ourselves with this door, and instead gathered around the double doors leading east. We could hear many voices speaking in what was presumably the hill giants’ tongue, so we had a pretty good idea of what was on the other side of the doors. Everybody readied themselves in case we were spotted and needed to act fast. Once the group was ready, I opened one of the doors as slowly and as quietly as I could. I – with Kissandi peering inside as well – was able to see three young hill giants in what appeared to be sleeping quarters. Other voices were coming from farther into the room, so we knew there were more than just the three of them. With those inside being preoccupied with what they were doing, they did not notice us. Just as I had done opening the door, I slowly and quietly closed it again. Kissandi and I quickly whispered to the group what we had seen inside, and we all agreed there was no need to start a fight with the young hill giants at this time. We quietly made our way back down the hallway, with the kitchen as our next destination.
We arrived without incident in the hallway that leads from the great hall to the kitchen, then proceeded to take up our positions. I was to cover the door leading from the great hall just in case there were any stragglers, while the rest of the group would be barging into the kitchen in a show of force intended to intimidate the few orcs we expected to find in there. I moved to the door leading to the great hall while the others gathered outside the kitchen door and had a brief whispered discussion, presumably to decide who would be throwing open the door. Kissandi stepped forward, firmly grasped the scalp we removed from the fire giant, leaned heavily into the doors, and pushed them back with great force. I could see her pause ever so briefly, and the sounds of activity coming from inside made it clear she was looking at more than just a handful of orcs. No matter! Kissandi strode forward confidently as planned, and I could see her toss the scalp out in front of her as she walked into the room and out of sight. I heard her say in a loud voice, “THIS will be your fate as well unless you help us defeat the giants!” For several seconds, not a single noise could be heard coming from the kitchen. It was clear Kissandi had gotten the attention of everybody inside, but what would their reaction be? Bui stepped inside the room to join Kissandi, and I could hear him saying (to the orcs, I assume), “If you help us, we’ll let you live!” It was obvious at this point that we were going to have a very tough fight on our hands, so the rest of us rushed forward to join the fray. I saw Tyzzer and Rowena step into the room as I was making my way to the doorway. It was at this point that all hell broke loose!
I made it to the kitchen doorway, and peered around the corner. Instead of entering a small kitchen with a few orcs, we walked into a kitchen suitable for feeding an army! There were two large ovens on the west wall, two large work tables in the open areas, a couple counters in the southeast corner, and numerous barrels, containers, and kitchen utensils all over the place. The kitchen staff consisted of two female hill giant cooks (near the ovens), three ogres (evenly distributed around the kitchen), and 15 orcs (essentially all over the kitchen as well). The giants were not armed, the orcs all had stone knives suitable for carving meat, and the ogres had extremely long spiked chains. Tyzzer, Kissandi, and Bui had already entered 15-25 feet into the kitchen and were facing the bulk of the enemies, while Rowena had hung back closer to the doorway to provide ranged support from a safe distance. Kissandi and Bui were both shouting to the rest of us to NOT attack the orcs, and instead to concentrate on the ogres. It was clear the ogres were directing the orcs to fight, while it was equally clear the orcs were more afraid of the ogres than they were of us. The ogres used the orcs as a protective shield while staying close enough to attack with their long chains. Meanwhile, the hill giants saw no reason to get very close to the fighting, instead relying on hurling at us whatever was handy.
Trying to hide in these conditions was out of the question, so I knew I’d have to rely on my speed to be effective. With almost all of the enemies’ attention being drawn to the others, I was able to dart into and out of the fighting a couple times. I landed a few good hits, but there was no way this strategy was going to be effective if the enemy decided to roll up our left flank. Then…
Way to go, Rowena!
She nailed a handful of baddies with a spell that resulted in five of them (one ogre, one hill giant, and three orcs) falling to the floor, sound asleep! That’s just what the doctor ordered! Now I could finally dive into the action! As I was bolting forward, I could see that Tyzzer, Kissandi, and Bui appeared to be starting to gain the upper hand on the right flank. When I arrived at the downed ogre, I plunged my knife into him and made sure he didn’t get up again. When I looked up, I could see one of the orcs fleeing the battle and cowering behind the table at the north end of the room. It was at this moment that Kissandi broke from the horde on the right flank and ran to finish off the downed hill giant. She was going to need some help, with the other hill giant so close. I scrambled over the table and moved into position next to Kissandi, who had just started to work on the sleeping hill giant. We finished the job quickly, but at the cost of one boiling hot cauldron being thrown at us by the other hill giant. I was able to sidestep it, but Kissandi wasn’t so lucky. She was hurt, but still battled on!
A quick look around showed things were definitely looking up for us. The three previously-sleeping orcs had awoken and were trying to make their way for the south doors, obviously no longer interested in fighting. The hill giant stood alone in front of an oven, looking more desperate than intimidating as she reached for whatever she could find to throw. Toward the center of the kitchen were two ogres – one still untouched – and a handful of orcs. Since the ogres were our primary targets AND I knew Kissandi would have no trouble with a hill giant cook, I decided to head directly for the closer of the two ogres. That meant climbing over the table again, but this time I stayed on it to try to catch the ogre off guard. Unfortunately for me, he saw me coming and swung his chains at me when he thought I had lost my footing. Unfortunately for him, I was only pretending to lose my footing in the hope that he would take the bait and swing at me. The gamble almost proved costly, as the ends of his chains whistled past the tip of my nose. Avandra was looking out for me, and with her help I was able to close in on the ogre and land a devastating blow. Shortly thereafter, Bui’s glorious presence sapped what was left of his will to live. Two ogres down and one to go!
We were able to make quick work of the remaining ogre, so I hustled after the orc who had slipped out the north doors while the rest of the party went to help Kissandi finish the last hill giant. The terrified orc was cowering in the dining room just off the kitchen and he refused to return. I told him there was only one hill giant remaining, but he said he was not moving until she was dead too. Moments later, the party finished off the hill giant and I was able to convince the orc to return. The other three surviving orcs also returned, and we gathered as much information as we could from them. They told us of a powerful giant – more powerful than the chief – who used trained large wolves in battle. When we had finished interrogating them, they agreed to help us. However, they were not able to produce a volunteer to carry out the plan of spiking the giants’ drinks. So, Kissandi chose a volunteer and told the other three to go free. The “volunteer” orc summoned his courage and delivered as many drinks as possible to the giants in the great hall. Our goal was to make them as drunk as possible, in order to give us an advantage when fighting them. Once the orc was done, we sent him on his way as well. All the pieces were now in place for us to launch a most audacious plan, involving me standing face-to-face with the giants in the great hall. Gulp!
We had discussed the plan earlier, so everybody had a general idea of what to do. We returned to the entry room and reviewed the details one last time. We were fortunate to have gotten this far without any major problems, but I was wondering if our luck would run out while I was standing among the giants. I suppose there was only one way to find out. Bui, Rowena, and Tyzzer went outside to set up the location for the “performance,” while Kissandi and I approached the main doors to the great hall. I removed my bracers and gauntlets to appear as ordinary as possible. Kissandi paused for a while, and I am pretty sure she asked for guidance or protection from the Raven Queen, or both. I was glad she did, because I was beginning to think we would need all the help we could get. We waited a moment to listen – just to make sure the party was indeed still going, which it was. Kissandi and I pushed open one of the massive doors just wide enough for a human to fit, I took a deep breath, then casually strode into the great hall as if I was just a traveling performer who had lost his way.
I’m not sure whether I was surprised or not that I was able to walk nearly past the fire pit before any of them noticed me. I suppose they were busy having a good time, and there was no reason for them to be on their toes since they were in the great hall of their fortified steading. It’s not like somebody could just slip in and start killing everything in sight and hope to survive. But, I digress…
As I approached the fire pit, the hill giant there who appeared to be in charge of cooking the meat saw me. He didn’t seem as surprised that I appeared as much as he seemed surprised at seeing a halfling for the first time. He said something to get the attention of a huge – even by their standards – hill giant seated in the center chair along the north wall. I glanced around quickly to see the hill giant chief, five hill giant guards, one stone giant, and a massive bear. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt especially tall in my life, but at this moment I was feeling especially small. The chief was also clearly seeing a halfling for the first time if the look on his face was any indication. He asked me who I was, and I explained that I was part of a group of traveling performers who had gotten lost. We were hoping to find a safe place to stay for the night, and in exchange we would be willing to put on one of our shows. The chief was reluctant, demanding to know how I had gotten inside. I told him his guards stopped us at the front gate, as I had no doubt he had instructed them to do. I did assure him at this point that his guards were actually doing their jobs quite admirably, making sure some group of strangers didn’t just come waltzing in. I further explained to the chief that his guards demanded proof that we were indeed who we said we were, so my colleagues were outside performing for the guards. I was allowed to enter, since the guards had concluded that one little halfling couldn’t possible be a threat to a steading full of giants. This explanation still did not satisfy the chief, but it seemed the extra alcohol may have finally put him over the top. He appeared quite pleased at the idea of seeing a group of traveling halflings.
I thanked the chief and turned to leave. After taking one or two steps, I stopped and turned to face the chief again. I asked him if it would be possible for one or two of his guards to help us with our belongings and our animals. Our group was weary from far too much traveling, I said, and the extra help would allow us to get started sooner. Reluctantly, the chief agreed and ordered Lugnut to accompany me outside to help. I again thanked the chief, then turned to walk with Lugnut to rejoin my colleagues outside. Along the way, I was telling him what a wonderful show we have, and that all of them were in for a very special treat. As we approached the main doors to the great hall, I could see that Kissandi had left to alert the others that we were on the way. When we reached the entry room, I assured Lugnut that the lack of torches was because they were all outside being used for the performance and pointed to the light coming from outside the main gate. At this point, we could hear very clearly what sounded like a carnival going on outside. Rowena really outdid herself this time! It took a little convincing to get Lugnut completely outside, but his curiosity got the better of him and he rounded the corner of the doorway with a look of great anticipation on his face. I almost felt bad about the “surprise” he was about to receive. As planned, the party jumped out of the shadows and made such quick work of Lugnut that he was not able to yell for help and barely was able to put up a fight. Things were going pretty much according to plan, but we decided to change things a bit at this point.
Luck had been on our side while we were in the steading, but fatigue was beginning to take its toll. When we devised the plan to face the giants in the great hall, we had not counted on having such a grueling battle in the kitchen. We did win that battle, but the victory came at the cost of sapping more of the precious little energy we had remaining. So, instead of returning to face the giants inside, we decided to wait outside and hope they would come to investigate. After a few minutes, the chief was yelling for Lugnut. We could not make out what he was saying because he was speaking in the hill giant tongue, but it was clear his patience was wearing thin. We were hoping he would send out one or two of the guards to find out what was happening, but the chief decided he wanted to find out for himself. We could hear the sound of several giants approaching, so we remained hidden just outside the main gate in order to ambush them. Unfortunately, they stopped in the entry room and the chief began shouting again. We heard Lugnut’s name a few more times and what was undoubtedly a lot of cursing aimed at us, but none of them made a move out of the darkness. In an act of desperation, I stepped into the doorway to try to convince the chief that Lugnut and the other guards were still around the corner enjoying the show. I did not need to see or even hear the chief to realize he was no longer buying the traveling entertainers story and was just trying to figure out what was REALLY happening. The chief grunted something, then we could hear footsteps leading away from us and presumably toward the bodies we had hidden at the base of the stairs.
The giants now knew that something was terribly wrong – from their perspective – and we knew they would want to strike hard and fast to exact revenge on those who invaded their steading, killed many of their comrades, and freed prisoners. Knowing this and knowing they would likely muster all their available forces, standing toe-to-toe with them in the doorway was no longer a very attractive option. We quickly decided that we needed to put some distance between us and the steading so that we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. We stopped about 200 feet away in order to see if anybody was following us. After a while, a hill giant guard came out of the main gate and looked around. He found Lugnut’s lifeless body and went back inside. We decided to continue watching and listening. When we heard the howling (wolves perhaps?), we decided the time had come to fall back to a safer location.
Should we make our way to the cave and try to get an extended rest, or should we try to set up an ambush for those who are tracking us? A successful ambush would likely give us the time we need for an extended rest, but a tough fight may be more than we can handle without resting first. We stand, once again, at another crossroads…
Priorities (in no particular order):
Major quest: The stone giants, frost giants, and fire giants have hidden strongholds in the mountains. Look for a map or some other clue that reveals where these allied strongholds are located.
Special Quest: Free the Dwarf Slaves– The hill giants have captured several dwarves, and the dwarven clanholds (Bofgim, Thokak, Vonhak) have posted generous rewards for their safe return. PARTIALLY COMPLETED – FIVE SENT WITH JAVOK
Minor Quest: Rescue Zandor Caskerhill – The hill giants have captured Zandor Caskerhill, a human merchant who has ties to local nobility in Estias, the Finnara family. Locate and rescue him. COMPLETED – SENT WITH JAVOK, ALTHOUGH ZANDOR WAS KNOCKED OUT BY KISSANDI
Minor Quest: Find the Abandoned Temple – The hill giants have built their stronghold atop an old dungeon complex, within which is rumored to be an abandoned temple. Find this temple, explore it, and bring back proof of your discovery.
Total Party Loot = 20,308 g.p.
Engraved stone tablet from Belastraya to Laerthar (Rowena)
2 Milestones: 5+ encounter since last extended rest.
Time: Currently around 2 am on January 10, 994.