|Trollhound--Pathfinder Copyright Paizo|
We continued searching the rooms. Lev followed the winding stair carefully into the darkness above but found no one on the landing. He then saw a room farther up, door ajar. Lev has shown much more confidence of late. Before this he would hover in the background, complaining bitterly if he exposed as much as an inch of his flesh to the enemy. Now he strides confidently into battle, taking the point as we searched the darkness for our foes.
Kelm followed him upstairs, then Sizzles. What they found was an unsanitary mess, and one of the major reasons people don’t like trolls. We went to the second set of stairs, Lev leading once again. He quickly returned. “There are two sleeping trollhounds chained to the far wall,” he whispered.
We discussed our next step. Arrows from a distance? Fireballs? Sneak past? What would you do, little Pino?
“Don’t you magic guys have sleep or anything else?” Cane rumbled. “This makes me angry.”
“Anybody have a silence spell?” Kelm asked. He was greeted with silence.
“I suggest we get them barking,” Lev said. “The patrols will rush in and we like ‘fireball, fireball,’ and ambush them.”
“Wrong!” Kelm replied dismissively. “They wouldn’t come running. They’d get cautious and start looking around.”
“They’re giant trolls!” It was Lev’s turn to be dismissive. “Once they see us in there they’ll be like, ‘Roar!’”
“All right,” Kelm conceded. “Let’s do this then. I’m throwing a thunderstone,” he added, jokingly.
From the top of the stairs Lev slapped one of the beasts with a ray of cold as Cain fired his bow. We heard its yelp of surprise, “Ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh!”
I imbued my bow with Flames of the Faithful as Cane brought one of them down. We attacked the other one. Lev hit with a bolt from his crossbow, cackling maniacally. Kelm threw alchemical fire and they began squealing. “Take that, you regenerating fooks!” he cursed.
I then knocked the other down with a flaming arrow and Cane calmly finished the job, roasting them both thoroughly.
We then cautiously entered the next chamber. There was a large stone table in the center of the room where a man’s headless corpse lay. The walls were decorated with ancient carvings that had been defaced with graffiti in several languages. Refuse and old bones littered the room, roaches crawling over them like a living carpet. A closer inspection showed that the man had been tortured slowly, “in a lovingly fashion,” as Cane put it. We left him there.
Lev went ahead, peeking around the corner. He saw stacked boxes, barrels, crates, and bags filling the room from floor to ceiling. A line of crude shells lined one wall. A rough hole was broken into the southern wall leading deeper into the complex. Lev craned his neck looking into it before entering.
We followed him, coming abruptly to a room where we heard two grunts of surprise. “Man flesh!” one of the troll’s two heads said hungrily, as if a fully-dressed Crystalhue goose had walked into the room. “Bleearghh!” his second head agreed.
|Nagrundi--Pathfinder Copyright Paizo|
Lev then harried it with cold, while I bloodied them with a shot from my longbow. Piea knocked them down as Cane finished them with burning fire, never to regenerate.
Next we found a 30 foot natural cavern with dripping stalactites, gnawed bones littered the floor. Many grisly severed human heads were arraigned in a large circle drawn on the floor with dried blood.
I found a niche in the northwestern corner of the room with a stash of treasure, probably taken from these unfortunates:
• 1902 silver pieces
• 888 gold
• rose-prism ioun stone in a pouch
“Too bad you don’t have a girlfriend,” Cane sneered unnecessarily when he saw the stone.
“Or a pet,” I muttered under my breath.
We left the grisly scene by way of a hall. Piea still didn’t seem right, gasping for air and swaying on her feet although she refused all offers of help. “Something I ate,” she retched. I remembered her stopping by a “fast-food” hut outside of Tuskland. The one run by MacDonelly, selling ground meat on a bread roll (called a “Big Don”) from a window along the roadside. She doubled over moaning, “It burns.” We were forced to leave her there huddled and shivering in a dark corner of a room, calling piteously for her Arven.
Lev again took the point but marred his performance somewhat by tripping over a rock. Of course, that’s when we came upon the trolls’ leader in a large room as filthy as the rest. He was huge, wearing thick armor, adorned with human skulls like a Swordlord wears jewels. A huge chair—his throne I guess—sat in one corner. He hadn’t gotten to tell us how good we would taste when Lev hit him with a fireball. He charged with a roar, hitting me soundly across the bridge of my nose. Lev retreated to the back while Sizzles took a hit for her lover, who had accidentally whacked himself on the head with the broad side of his greatsword. Vlad then did his best to heal everyone as Lev hit the troll weakly with his morningstar. I used my last spell of searing light.
|Hargulka--Pathfinder Copyright Paizo|
Cane hit him cruelly as Vlad continued to spread healing amongst us. Kelm was picking away at him from a safe distance when the troll hit Cane atop his head with its morningstar. In desperation the creature suddenly fell forward crushing Cane and myself beneath him, slapping his hands to his neck and detonating two fireballs on his necklace, immolating himself and doing your dear uncle little good.
“Awesome!” I heard Kelm exclaim through the ringing in my ears as I crawled away from the corpse, wiping gore from my eyes.
Dimly I heard shouting down the hall as more trolls approached. We solemnly regrouped.
“They killed Nagrundi!” one of them cried while entering from a narrow passageway. I made a tactical error by not positioning myself to slow their entrance and was scolded for my lapse by Kelm. There were three of them.
“Mm, man-flesh!” one of them cried, still thinking of his belly. We would empty it soon enough.
“Piea, damnit, we need you,” someone called, but there was no answer. We could only pray that the trolls had not found and eaten her.
Kelm cast mirror image, creating three copies of himself, but was hit anyway as he moved to block their charge, effectively limiting Lev’s ability to use his necklace of fireballs. He used a line of cold instead.
Meanwhile, Sizzles bit one in a place that caused it to cry out in humiliation. “I’ll eat you!” he pointed at the wolf who growled a challenge before tripping him up. As the monster fell with a loud crash Cane drove the point of his sword deep into his flesh. Stupidly, the creature stood, allowing us all another shot at him. I crushed his trachea while savagely stabbing him.
Another one attacked Kelm but suddenly slumped over, as if exhausted. The Lev miscast a spell, which blew up in his own face.
“I’ll kill the mofaux standing right in front of me,” Cane announced, then reconsidered. “You think that’s a little harsh?” he asked himself.
Seeing his colleagues down the third troll turned to run but couldn’t escape quickly enough as we shot him down. As suddenly as it had begun the violence was over. All was quiet except for the sound of crickets and blood dripping from my sleeve.
We found on the toadies:
• 17 silver
• 42 gold
• +1 large hide armor
• +1 darkwood thundering morningstar
• rusty key
By his throne a map was tacked to the wall as way of decoration. It was drawn on the back of a thylacine's hide, not very well tanned. Besides the location of their lair we saw that they had marked the location of Tuskland itself with a symbol for ‘Good Eating.’ There were arrows pointing to sites of planned raids and routes of attack and retreat. Lev studied the script that had been scribbled upon it carefully. “The trolls have been carrying out a series of organized attacks in locations where civilization has intruded upon the Stolen Lands," he marveled. "Fey regions have been marked Avoid!”
“Are they afraid of them?” I wondered.
“Aren’t you?” Kelm grunted, sending a shiver up my spine. “I suspect they’re allies.”
We found a chest, which we opened with the rusty key, finding:
• a dragon carving in exotic wood worth 200 gp.
• gold necklace with jade pendant 500 gp
• 7 pieces of jewelry worth 750 gp
• 5 gemstones 100 gp each
• 3 smashed bottles of wine
• engraved silver tankard 52 gp
• 1484 copper
• 3550 silver
• 652 gold
As we cleaned up the mess—including Piea, who was in the trolls’ privy hugging the bucket—we buried what human remains we found and burned every last ounce of troll-flesh. Lev immediately began planning using the citadel as a foundation for a second city. We should name it Trollsylvania.
On our return we made Piea ride upwind from us—her horse with its ears laying back unhappily—until she and I could scrub ourselves clean in the freezing Tuskwater. To cap it off we realized that we had forgotten to collect the trolls' blood, losing a handsome bounty.
We wintered in Tuskland, I nursing my wounds and catching up with my correspondence. Little Billee is in and out of the house as usual but I have not see his father much and discovered that Bert Askew has taken his place at the dinner table. Your Mother seems as happy as I’ve seen her since your father joined Erastil on His holy mountain. She has a beautiful smile—something you share.
One cold, crisp day I took you and little Billee out into the countryside following the Skunk River into the forest. Little Billee and his dog chased birds, squirrels, deer, and anything else unlucky enough to cross their paths. You, though, were as sober as the judge I once was.
|Skunk River--Painting by Rachel Perry|
“Uncle,” you said. “Tell me again about your encounter with the fey of the forest.”
“So, once again I talked about the beautiful Tiressa and her companion Falchoas whom we met near here the previous year. Since then we’ve kept the woodcutters and hunters clear of this area despite their complaints. The fey can be difficult friends, but they are worse enemies.
That’s when a familiar dark shape approached us from above, landing on the branch of a nearby elm. He watched for a while, dark eyes shining brightly. You were shy at first, peeping out from behind my cloak until I encouraged you to come out and meet him. “Here,” I said, “hand him this scrap.”
You extended your hand, giving a little yelp as he suddenly took flight, swooping to the ground next to you to accept the token. Soon you had made a new friend.
“Tell him your name,” I said.
“P-Pino,” you stuttered, unsure.
“P-pino,” he repeated.
You squealed with delight. “Pino, Pino!”
“Yes, little girl, I was fooling,” said the bird. “Marquand speaks of you often.”
“What’s your name?” you asked shyly.
The bird contemplated us for a moment for he has never told me his name. Finally, he gave what passes for a shrug amongst birds, “Some call me Stack-o-lee,” he said.
There was wonder and delight in your eyes but before we would continue we heard barking and little Billee arrived in a rush causing Stack-o-lee to take flight.
“Get him, Huckleberry!” Billee cried, but the bird was far above, circling once to drop a present on little Billee’s head. “I’ll come see you in the city, Pino, fare-thee-well!” He gyred out of sight.
After dunking Billee’s head in the Skunk several more times than strictly necessary to clean him off, we headed home.
Soon after a messenger arrived bearing a communiqué from Brevoy that ended our winter’s sojourn. Soon we gathered at our stronghold.
|Pathfinder Copyright Paizo|
“Varnhold is 40 miles to the northeast as the crow flies,” Bert Askew told us as he pointed it out on a map. However, the Levenies mountain range stands between us and them. The fastest way is through Varnhold Pass, otherwise you encounter the watchful outposts of Brevoy: Fort Serenko—a wooden fortification—and the village of Nivakta’s Crossing.”
“Maybe we can annex them,” Lev speculated.
“You can’t claim anything of Brevoy’s,” Bert Askew lectured. “That would mean war!”
“Well, we can’t go north,” Kelm had come to the same conclusion. “We have to go through the pass.”
“We can still go through Brevoy,” Lev countered. “It might be good to talk with people about what’s going on and get more information.”
“I don’t want to go through Brevoy,” Kelm said with finality.
“Anyone else have an opinion?” Lev challenged the rest of us. “Should we gather information, maybe get some clue as to what we’re walking into, or just walk right into it?”
“I like the walking right into it,” Kelm whispered mockingly.
“Why don’t we send some scouts ahead and see if it’s friendly?” asked Cane.
“Why would we send scouts when we can go ourselves?” Kelm replied. “Where’s the adventure?”
“Send Skot Skevins!”
“When has Skot Skevins ever done anything quietly?” Kelm shook his head.
“We could go to the outposts and act like we’re somebody else.” Cane said brightly. “See what’s going on.”
“Why do we have to act like we’re anyone else!” Lev cried in outrage. “We should be like, ‘Yo! We’re interested in what’s going on with our neighbors next door.’”
“Are you going to get more information from a guy who works in a coal mine or from somebody who is trying to hide that information from you?” Cane reasoned.
The answer, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed sweet Pino, is that you get more information from the guy who’s trying to hide it from you because he has more information to give!
Once more the strident words of Bert Askew echoed through the palace as he schooled us. “Restov said they can’t assist you openly because they don’t want to anger House Surtova. Brevoy is splitting. It looks like civil war—the northern lords versus the southern lords. Restov is trying to settle these lands to the south so they don’t have to fight a war on two fronts.”
“Aaaahhh!” Kelm moaned, suddenly understanding. “They don’t want to tip their hand about what they can bring to bear.”
“They can’t openly align with you because House Surtova would see that as an act of war. Nobody is supposed to know that it’s a diplomatic mission.”
And so, at morning’s light I depart the city once more, leaving you and your mother behind. Mind what I said about watching out for trolls and do your homework diligently. Help your mother with the household chores and I’ll bring you back a treat from Oleg’s when I return. Oh, and keep an eye on Bert Askew for me. Make sure he minds his manners in his dealings with your Mother.
Your doting uncle,