The morning comes that the group must leave Harrowglen. Honora is still gravely concerned about the possibility of the roaming agents of the vassalage catching them, and inflicting grave collateral damage on the townsfolk in the process. Bron and Brisery prepare to set out downriver for Lanthorn, and Bron promises Honora that they’ll go first to the Valysans. The four in turn cross the river, and begin the long loop around Selpike through the southern hills. They plan to aim for the town of Whitemere as the last stop before Mathraine.
They travel for several days, under the mixed advantage of particularly warm winter weather. The snow melts and the ground thaws. The hunting isn’t ideal, and Baden’s a little out of his element, but they make decent time through the hills.
On the sixth day they spy ravens in numbers. Approaching the site of the birds’ interest, they find the remains of a coarsely butchered immense elk, nine feet at the shoulder. Bralta recognizes it as likely from higher in the mountains. Immense footprints and the scoring of a crude stone knife along the bones confirm the group’s suspicions. Giants. Two of them, and headed north. The prospect of giants raiding Whitemere becomes a grave dread, and the four begin to make greater haste following the trail.
They reach the Whitemere valley swiftly, hoping to be in time to prevent any giant mischief. The giants are easy to spot — on the near side of the lake, a good distance from the walled town. One of the twelve-foot creatures wears split bones across his clothing and along his club; the other has reeking clothes stitched together with moldering entrails. The two are playing some sort of ball game with a large object. Concerned that it might be a person in a bag or some similar victim, the group approaches. But as they draw nearer, they can perceive that the giants are playing with a severed head larger than either of their own. The head has a slaty grayish blue skin and pale hair and mustache, a dirt-smeared platinum headband still in place. As they draw nearer, its eyes open and fix on the party.
“Help me,” it mouths.
The giants are delighted to spot the approaching small folk. “I get the bones!” calls out the one bedecked with bone adornments. “I get the guts!” shouts the other. They stride to the attack, and Honora and Baden are quick to intercept. Baden claims one for himself and offers Honora the other, but she focuses more on keeping the attention of both and aiming her strikes at the group’s target.
The giants are just as strong and terrible as lore makes them out to be. But they are also crude fighters without much wit, and though Honora takes some terrible blows from them, she and Baden and Abbron pay back as good as they get, even better. Only Bralta has difficulties adapting to the huge targets, somewhat giving the lie to the rumor that all dwarves learn giant-fighting from an early age.
When the giants are overthrown, the group turns to the head. The head asks to be returned to its post before the mists rise again. He indicates a rise over the lake, where huge stones lie exposed to the weather — the remains of some giantish colonnade. The four craft an impromptu travois from the gear of the hill giants, and charitably load the head aboard.
As they make the ascent, they converse with the head to learn the tale of its curse. The disembodied mist giant introduces himself as Orinor, and says his fate was the will of his king. He had used his gift of divination to discern his king’s fate, and revealed the circumstances under which the monarch would lose his throne. The king took it poorly, as they often do, and sentenced Orinor to serve as an immortal sentinel.
On the rise, the players find several giant skeletons among the tumbled pillars, and a large stake set to look out over the water. An immense throne on a small stair is occupied by the bones of a headless giant. The group considers the logistics of getting Orinor’s massive head into place. But as Abbron is offering a solution, Orinor speaks again.
“You have been… kind to me. I had not expected that. I will return to my post, if you would place me there — but I ask that you consider more. If I were to be reunited with my body, and healed, this curse would be lifted. But it would be at risk to yourselves. I will not ask that you undertake this… but if you did, I would use my gift to see what I could for you.”
“To see into the future?”
“I see things in the future, if vaguely. I see many things in the present more clearly.”
“How much could you tell us?”
“I believe the customary number of questions is three.”
The four soon agree to the proposal. There’s little time to rest and prepare themselves for the trial, so they simply move Orinor’s head to the throne where it can be rejoined with his body, and wait. When night falls, the mist begins to rise off the lake. And as the mist creeps around the stones, they become whole again — the pillars become tall and uneroded, the colonnade gains a roof, the throne becomes smooth and whole. The mist also restores flesh to the seated giant’s body. Honora quickly levers Orinor’s head into place, and calls on the power of Valysa to make the wound whole.
Orinor shudders, and takes a deep breath — then he stands, and roars laughter. Baden and Honora tighten their grips on their axes. And the bones begin to rise. Four giantish skeletons, one of which has a single eye socket gleaming with pale fire.
“Will you fight along with us?” Abbron asks Orinor, his eyes warily on the hulking undead. The mist giant, though a mere scholar by his own admission, takes up one of the hill giant clubs and braces.
The giant skeletons are remarkably quick for their size. Honora moves to pin down one; Baden isolates a second. Abbron and Orinor challenge a third, while the cyclops fixes its missing eye on Bralta.
Fortune favors the heroes. The undead giants are strong, but the sacred power running through the paladin and the avenger is stronger. Abbron pummels a skeleton with thunder and lightning, and Orinor proves that although he may be “a humble scholar,” he is still a mist giant, with all the strength of their kind. Blow after blow lands home.
The skeletal cyclops has the most vicious attack. It claws away Bralta’s physical form, rending her insubstantial, then burns away a part of her ghostly form with its gaze. Honora pulls her back to physical form with a burst of divine energy, then finishes the cyclops. Her axe claims another skeleton, Baden’s a second, and Abbron finally blasts away the last.
Orinor bellows with laughter again. “You fight well, little ones! A bargain is a bargain. Think on what you would ask me, and I will answer your questions when you are ready.”
The mist giant strides down to the lakeshore while the four begin to discuss the questions to ask. He drinks deeply, strips and wades through the water with the delight of the recently re-embodied. Finally he returns, settles into the seat, and rests his hands on his knees. Abbron steps forward.
“Ask,” says Orinor.
“What is the Rider in White?”
Orinor closes his eyes, and pauses. “A wraith. The ghost of the last survivor of a lost village — the ghost of the entire village. He alone remembers all the names of those who died. He… despises the living for drawing breath while those close to him do not. He craves stillness and silence in the land.”
Orinor pauses, nods. “Ask.”
“How do we sever the link between the Stoic Man and his creator?”
Another pause. “There is a knife in Lanthorn. It has tasted the blood of the creator and the flesh of the created. Bless it to cleanse away the blood of the father, and drive it into the son’s flesh.”
He exhales. “Ask.”
“Among our enemies are those who wander. Where can we take the nomads by surprise?”
A final pause. “The Fool watches from behind glass. He sees clearly… unless the glass is clouded. The Assassin sits in a tower in Lanthorn, called to aid his ally when the need is there. They are patient, and they are vigilant.”
His divinations complete, Orinor rises to his feet. He thanks the small folk again for their aid, and wishes them well. Then he walks into the fog and is lost to sight. The mist clears, and the stones become weathered and worn again, as the sun rises.