26 Eleint, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
Far Hills, Sunset Vale
The next day found the group rested and anxious to see what it had in store for the brave heroes.
The previous day, the Company of the Siren’s Song followed tracks that led deeper into the Far Hills. Before the sun had set upon the travelers, they came within sight of a massive timber stronghold hidden among the hills.
A pair of 15-foot-high doors made of ironbound logs formed an entrance to the stronghold. Thicker logs comprised the walls of the stronghold. Wooden roofs inclined toward the middle, reaching a height of thirty feet at its peak. The stronghold had no visible windows, but a squat watchtower overlooked the entrance. Smoke rose from numerous stone chimneys. Plumes of grayish smoke curled into the equally graying sky which foretold of an incoming storm.
A log guardhouse stood apart from the main stronghold, but was connected by a palisade wall of vertical logs some 15 feet in height. Heavy log doors set into the palisade lead to a courtyard lodged between two buildings.
The peal of thunder echoed across the hills. Soon, a wall of rain was seen moving in from the northeast as dark clouds rolled in over the hills.
“Did Deb happened to mention when he would return?” Caldreas asked the others. The eladrin mage searched the area for any sign of the halfling ranger who, at the break of dawn, had chosen to reconnoiter the area near the stronghold. It was in the halfling’s nature to wander away from the group to scout or flank opponents, but Caldreas and the others were beginning to wonder how they were going to approach the giant’s steading without Deb’s help.
Dred, the dwarven hunter from Hammerfist Hall, loaded his crossbow and approached the others after gathering his gear and finishing off the last of his cold, dry ration which served as his morningfeast. “I’ve seen the area leading to the stronghold from the west,” Dread said. “If we make our approach that way, we’ll avoid the guardhouse and can use the terrain to provide enough cover to mask our approach.”
“What of Deb?” Therand asked. The elven ranger-seeker was concerned about approaching the stronghold without everyone. He knew it would take all of them to accomplish their mission.
“He’ll find his way to us,” Lo-kag, the goliath barbarian said as he gripped his greataxe tighter anxious to get the fight started. “You know he always does.”
“Good,” Dred said with finality. “Then follow my lead and stay close. The rain and thunder should help us get close, hopefully without being detected.”
The four carefully made their way towards the stronghold, staying close to the dwarf as he had instructed. It took some time, but eventually they reached the western gate without incident.
“Well done, Dred,” Lo-kag whispered loud enough to be heard. He grinned at the dwarf who was already busy examining the gate. “I take back everything I ever thought about you.”
Dred returned the grin. “Then, I will do the same regarding my thoughts about you.”
This side of the palisade ran the entire length of the stronghold some two hundred feet or more. Three stone chimneys were visible along the wooden wall. Each rose an additional five feet above the palisade.
“Now how are we getting inside?” Caldreas asked. He looked at the fifteen-foot high palisade towering above him. Above that, the thatched roof angled towards the stronghold’s center.
Lo-kag answered the question. He put his weapon away, gripped the thick logs that made up the massive gates, and started to slowly scale his way up. Within a breath, he had reached the top of the gate and was looking inside into the courtyard beyond. He saw the main building and a more modest giant-sized dwelling is a muddy courtyard. Three heavy wooden doors led into the main building, but he couldn’t see the entrance to the smaller dwelling from where he was.
The others suddenly heard a loud high-pitched bark, followed by a deep feral growl come from the other side of the gate.
Lo-kag lowered himself slightly to avoid being seen from inside but maintained his grip to avoid falling. “There’s two very large wolves inside. I think they’re dire wolves like the one Deb rode. I think one may have seen me,” he called down to the others.
“Kyrr!” everyone heard someone yell from somewhere inside. Immediately the dire wolf’s barking and growling stopped.
After waiting a few breaths, Lo-kag peeked over the gate again. “The wolves have settled themselves across the other side of the courtyard.”
“Then let’s all make our way up to the rooftops,” Dred said. He walked over to a nearby chimney and carefully made his way up. Therand and Caldreas walked over to the other chimneys and did the same.
A short while later everyone was on the rooftops. Therand almost fell when he reached the top of the wall but was able to save himself from falling to the ground below. Both he and Caldreas carefully made their way on top of the smaller dwelling, while Dred made his way along the main building’s rooftop. Lo-kag stayed on top of the gate and kept an eye on the resting dire wolves while trying to avoid being detected.
Dred followed the slanting rooftop of the main building and stopped at a point where he could see the courtyard below. He spotted the two dire wolves Lo-kag mentioned, but also spotted a third dire wolf resting right below where Caldreas was. He also saw a large wooden door near where the wolf lay.
Caldreas, meanwhile, made his way across the thatched roof and looked down at the courtyard below. He spotted the two dire wolves. He called to mind a simple prestidigitation spell he used often to help clear a room full of people in a hurry. Within moments, the area was blanketed by the strong, foul odor of a skunk’s spray. Even Caldreas had to suppress a gag from the stench that was being spread by the wind.
One of the a dire wolves, a smaller breed with almost snow-white fur, raised its head and sniffed the air. It shook its massive head and sneezed once. It whined a little then put its head back down.
The other, a large black-furred beast, seemed to notice the smell but stayed where it was.
Caldreas signalled for the others to wait, and then called to mind another spell. He pointed to a spot near the edge of the roof directly above the muddy courtyard. Colorful sparks suddenly started to burst from the spot followed by tiny explosions.
This got the wolves’ attention.
Both got up, howled, and moved to a spot just below where the sparks could be seen popping in all directions.
Caldreas also heard a third wolf bark out a warning. He looked over and saw the third dire wolf move over to the nearby door. It began pawing at the door, while barking at the same time. He quickly brought to mind a spell and casted it at the wolves below. A sprinkling of sand-like motes rained down on the wolves. All shook their heads as if fighting off sleep.
Therand, who had stayed out of sight to avoid being spotted by the dire wolves, stood up and fired an arrow into the dire wolf with snow-white fur. His arrow struck the muddy ground right behind the wolf.
Dred aimed his crossbow at the black-furred dire wolf and fired. It struck the beast above its eyes. Blood ran from the gaping wound, blinding it. Not wasting time, the dwarven hunter quickly loaded another bolt and this time struck the wolf near the base of its skull. The wounded dire wolf yelped in pain. Dazed by the shot, the dire wolf sprang off blindly and slammed into a wall a short distance away.
The snow-white furred dire wolf looked to where Dred stood on the main building’s rooftop. It hissed in anger and sprinted towards the dwarf. It managed a few steps then fell to the ground fast asleep, unable to fight off the effects of Caldreas’s spell.
The door into the small dwelling opened. A large muscular hill giant, clad in thick furs stood just inside. The giant held a greatclub in its hand.
“What’s the matter with you, Killer?” Caldreas heard the giant yell.
Caldreas casted a spell at the dire wolf by the doorway. Still growling, the wolf suddenly launched itself at the surprised giant. The giant raised its greatclub it time to avoid the dire wolf’s bite.
Therand shot the black-furred beast twice but struck it once. The dire wolf, still blind and dazed, let out a loud yelp.
Lo-kag, who had been waiting to see what everyone was going to do, pulled himself over the gate. He touched the amulet around his neck as he fell to the muddy courtyard below. The amulet’s enchantment immediately slowed his descent. He landed on the ground in mid stride, reached for the greataxe strapped to his back, and charged at the sleeping dire wolf.
His weapon struck deep into the animal. Despite the wound inflicted by the barbarian, the wolf did not awaken from it spell-induced sleep.
Dred saw Lo-kag standing above the sleeping dire wolf. He looked across the courtyard and saw the giant and the wolf who had just released the giant’s greatclub after sinking its teeth into it. Dred took aim and fired twice. One bolt struck the wolf while the other buried itself in the giant’s leg which didn’t seem to faze him at all.
The giant looked out at the courtyard and saw Lo-kag, the goliath raising its greataxe ready to bring it down on the sleeping dire wolf.
To Lo-kag and Dred’s horror, the giant suddenly and violently arched its back and let out a feral howl of his own. He screamed in agony as his lower legs reversed direction and bones shifted inside his large frame. The giant’s face contorted and extended into a long wolf’s muzzle. What were once teeth grew into razor-sharp fangs. He then fell foreward onto his hands. His screams turned into another long howl as dark fur sprouted from his body. His fur-lined clothing tore itself free from his body as his muscles grew in size and strength.
Pushing the wolf aside, the hill giant werewolf rushed at the goliath. It sank its fangs into Lo-kag who tried to fend off the werewolf’s onslaught. But to Lo-kag the hill giant werewolf’s form was just a blur as it let go, shifted several feet to stand behind him, then tried to sink its bloodstained fangs into him again. Fortunately, the goliath was able to avoid the werewolf’s vicious bite.
Just then, two more giants appeared from inside the dwelling. Both wore thick hides, carried bags of rocks, and were armed with greatclubs.
As Caldreas looked at the battle unfolding before him, he couldn’t help but wonder if any of them were going to make it out of the encounter alive.
The dire wolf by the doorway shook its head then turned its attention towards the goliath fighting its hill giant master. It charged and leaped at Lo-kag. The goliath batted the leaping dire wolf aside with the handle of his greataxe.
As the two giants followed the wolf out into the courtyard, Caldreas dropped a spell on top of them both. One of the giants found himself unable to move, while the other’s muscles tightened making it difficult to move any faster than a slow walk.
From atop the dwelling’s rooftop, Therand nocked an arrow and drew the string back of his magical longbow. He carefully aimed at the werewolf fighting Lo-kag, not wanting to hit his ally.
His shot went wide. He nocked another arrow and struck the dire wolf that had just attacked Lo-kag. It gave out a loud yelp but would not leave its master’s side in battle. Without wasting another second, Therand shot at the werewolf again. This time, his arrow struck the hill giant werewolf at the nape of his neck. The creature howled in pain and desperately tried to pull the arrow free.
With the werewolf leaving himself open to attack, Lo-kag swung his greataxe in an upward motion, cutting a deep gash across the werewolf’s torso. He then reversed his swing and sliced the werewolf again.
Dred reloaded his crossbow and fired at the werewolf. The werewolf saw the bolt flying towards him. He turned his head to avoid the deadly bolt, but the dwarf’s shot grazed an eye. Blood flowed freely from an opened wound making it difficult for him to see.
One of the giants in the courtyard suddenly roared in pain as an arrow tore into its arm. It looked up at the direction the attack came from. It gritted its teeth in anger at the sight of a halfling on the main building’s rooftop.
Before he could cry out a warning to the others in the courtyard, Deb was already reaching for another arrow and was preparing to shoot again. The giant watched helplessly as the halfling let fly an arrow that nicked the other giant in the calf. It wasn’t a serious wound, but the giant’s steps faltered.
With blood—literally—in his eyes, the hill giant werewolf tried to bite Lo-kag twice but missed, the goliath easily sidestepping each attack.
Lo-kag also sidestepped a dire wolf’s attempt at biting his leg.
The other two hill giants each took a rock out from large sacks that hung at their sides. As one they both hurled their rocks at the eladrin mage standing on the rooftop directly above them.
One rock flew past Caldreas narrowly missing him. The other rock struck his shoulder causing him to spin and drop. He hit the roof hard and heard his shoulder blade crack. Before he could recover, Caldreas suddenly found himself rolling towards the rooftop’s edge!
He desperately flailed his arms and tried to gain a handhold on the thatched roof. Just as he was about to drop into the courtyard below, he felt his right hand grab a thick handful of wheat used to thatch the rooftop.
His entire body came to a sudden stop inches from the rooftop’s edge.
Caldreas’s muscles strained as he pulled himself back. He looked back down into the courtyard. Lo-kag was surrounded by dire wolves, hill giants, and the largest werewolf he had ever seen.
Across the way, he saw Dred with his crossbow. The dwarf kept firing into the melee, careful to avoid hitting Lo-kag. Over his left shoulder, Caldreas spotted Therand firing his arrows the monsters below. Atop the main building, Caldreas noticed Deb. The halfling ranger’s shortbow kept on twanging with each deadly shot.
For several more breaths, the battle raged on in the courtyard. But as the group would soon discover, the luck of Tymora was not with them that morning.
Read what happens next in “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief”, Part 3