Almost an hour’s walk from the road where the group had met Uran and Rile, they reached the goliath camp. If it wasn’t for the hulking, white-skinned brutes milling around the area, they may well have passed by without noticing it as the forest clearing showed little to no sign of un-natural tampering; though it was surrounded by various shelters (most appeared to be sleeping quarters, several larger ones may have been used for meetings and official business however), they were all constructed from the surrounding forest – thick but malleable tree limbs had been carefully bent and tied down then covered in brick-a-brack from the forest floor and nearby bushes, creating a stunningly covert encampment. Euven was particularly impressed.
“Grab a seat” Uran suggested as he gestured towards the centre of the clearing, where several other goliaths were sat around on the ground, eating, drinking and chatting. The group followed his advice and sat in contemplative silence, surveying the campsite around them, happy for a well earned rest after almost a week’s worth of hardships. Rile returned several minutes later by himself (Uran having gone to seek medical care for his stomach wound), bearing large tankards filled with a dark brown, foamy liquid. “Guhlayl for all!” Rile roared pleasantly as the drinks were handed around, “guh-layl” being goliath slang for Gol Ale.
The mercenaries tentatively sniffed at the brew, noses twitching as they detected how overtly strong it was, with the exception of Grimlock and Tarkus, who both downed theirs in an instant, the dragonborn’s eye fixed on his goliath companion as he raced him to the finish line, only managing a tie. All eyes were on The General, whose face suddenly winced into a painful expression, Tarkus on the other hand appearing completely content, being something of a guhlayl connoisseur. Grimlock leant forward and placed his head between his legs without saying a word, himself seemingly unsure as to whether or not he was going to vomit. The silence was broken moments later when the dragonborn let out an almighty burp, answered with a hearty cheer from the nearby goliaths.
“Good effort!” a voice called out.
The adventurer’s turned to see a particularly well-built goliath approaching. He was covered in thick, leather armour from the neck down, had a pair of broadswords (both seemingly as large as the ones belonging to Uran and Rile) strapped to his back and an impressive scar running diagonally from the top left of his scalp to just under his right eye. He eyed Grimlock as he reached them, “Woh! Big fucker aren’t ya?”
The General said nothing.
“Okay…well, greetings! The name’s Destel, I’m leading the rag-tag bunch of misfits.”
“Greil” the wizard said, getting to his feet and shaking Destel’s hand. He proceeded to introduce the entire group, all of whom waved or nodded politely.
“So,” Destel began a new branch of conversation, steering it away from pleasant greetings, “I guess the most pressing question from my current perspective is, what the heck are you all doing way up here?”
“We are hunting a black dragon” Greil answered without hesitation.
Destel seemed momentarily lost for words, “”Well, you don’t say. That just so happens to be why we’re camped out here in the wilderness!”
“Oh?” the wizard enquired, pressing for Destel to continue.
“Yeah! We heard reports of the beast about five days ago, heard it had fallen from the sky somewhere around here, not too far from Cavahall. Our illustrious leader sent us out here to stake a claim to it – a massive dragon’s skull mounted at the village gate would look damned impressive.”
“Agreed” Grimlock grunted.
“See, he knows. Anyway, seems someone beat us to it, and what a mighty bitch she is.”
By now the whole group were listening with noticeable intent, so much so that no one witnessed Euven slide his still full tankard over to Tarkus, who happily chugged it down.
“Her name’s Nala, she’s a sunspeaker, also from Carvahall.”
“Sunspeaker?” Greil enquired.
“Magic user. A wizard I guess you’d call her, but sunspeakers don’t really wield magic the way you humans do. Theirs is almost entirely offensive, and impressively so, no telekinesis or card tricks or shit, though they do dabble in some clairvoyance. It is through sun speakers that we are able to speak with our kinsmen who have left this world. She was more of that second branch, not so interested or capable of being put to military use like most sunspeakers”
“I see. So Nala reached the dragon first?”
“That she did. Fuck knows why. But she set to defending it like her very life depended upon it. When we first reached the area, we were on our guard, but weren’t exactly expecting resistance from anything other than the target. We were set upon from all sides by elemental constructs. I saw my men thrown through the air, beaten to a pulp and torn to shreds within a matter of minutes. I was forced to call a retreat and we escaped to this clearing. Word was sent back to Carvahall telling them of what happened. I was expecting reinforcements… all we got was a solitary messenger, ‘Stay put’ he told us, ‘Form a defensive position and do not attempt another assault’. I was livid, I can’t lie, but I’m not about to be the one ignoring direct orders. So we holed up here. This area has remained safe for now, but we send out regular patrols and several of those have been assaulted. I’ve lost nineteen soldiers in the last four days, including the ones lost in the initial battle…” Destel paused, visibly shaken, the onlookers all remained silent. “All because of that fucking whore” he finished.
After a suitable pause, during which the goliaths present all fell into sombre silence, the mercenaries tentatively began to ask questions. They discovered that the constructs Nala had summoned to be her warriors were nigh on undetectable, seeming to materialise out of thin air in the blink of an eye, and they learned a little more of her past – it was clear she was not well liked, though little reason was given for this, only vague notions that she was somehow ‘bad’. After being segregated from the village, she had turned to prostitution.
Only one question stumped the goliath leader, a vague and obscure one uttered out of the blue by Grimlock, “Does she have any weaknesses?”
A pregnant pause prefaced Destel’s reply; the topic shift from the current discussion of goliath patrol structure to a clear and definite threat had thrown him, “Urm….no.”
The talk drew to a natural conclusion as questions dried up and Destel invited the party to stay the night, pointing out that there were several shelters unattended, their former occupants killed during patrols. The mercenaries gladly accepted and the former jovial air slowly returned to the proceedings, as more alcohol was consumed and a gargantuan boar was spit roasted over open flames.
Euven, wanting to learn more of sunspeakers and their clairvoyant abilities, took Destel to one side after obtaining permission from Greil. He learned little more than what he already knew or had surmised. Though Destel seemed distracted and very keen to get back to the roasting boar, Euven also had questions about the relations between humans and goliaths, in particular the presence of any tensions between the two races. After learning that tensions, though mild, were present, he tacked one last small and unassuming question onto the end of the discourse, and was told that the goliaths had not seen any well armoured and/or suspicious looking dwarves in the area recently.
They returned to the large camp fire together just in time to catch the last half of an epic tale being recounted by Greil: how The General had lost his eye. The story was well received, particularly by the goliaths, who all requested to see the wound multiple times, marvelling at the massive scar and showing their own off to the dragonborn. Grimlock remained stoic and silent through the whole affair, but Greil was sure he spotted the flicker of a smile on his compatriot’s face as the muscled warriors worshipped him.
As the witching hour approached, most residents of the camp slumped off to their shelters, some with an obvious stumbling gait. Only two sets of eyes remained open longer than the others – Euven and Greil remained seated around the fire, watching the orange embers slowly fade as they discussed possible courses of action for the next day. Renegade sunspeaker or no, they had to find that dragon. The pair turned in after half and hour’s discussion; little did they know that sleep would not be with them for long.