Staff of Winter Convergence, Part Two - Guardians
The Fellowship entered the blizzard, buffeted immediately by the howling, gale-force winds within. Hail and snow lashed their faces, and they stumbled forward. Heraclief stopped them, shouting over the howl of the wind to be heard. “Remember, this is the White Queen’s domain. She uses illusions and enchantments. Things may not be as they seem, and we must all be on our guard!” The companions acknowledged this, and they formed up around Cothu, Tector taking point, with Manzio and Sophia flanking Cothu in the centre and the two sorcerers at the rear.
Pressing on, they struggled through a snowdrift that reached their waists, before reaching an area where the winds had blasted the snow away and they were able to walk normally but for the buffeting gale. Peering in all directions, they spotted a huge figure flying through the blizzard from their left, vast wings somehow keeping it airborne despite the terrible winds.
Twelve feet tall, the monstrosity was lithe and fast, with ripped muscles, leathery skin, and huge bat-like wings. Its eyes glowed with a faint reddish light, and spiked horns curved back from its forehead. A screeching roar came from a mouth full of vicious looking teeth, salivating greenish-black ichor. It wielded a massive greatsword that appeared to be coated with the same foul liquid.
The giant swooped down on them at great speed, wings straining against the wind to stay on target, and lashed out with its huge blade as it passed overhead, slashing Tector, Sophia and Manzio. It landed on the icy ground close to the group and rounded on them. Heraclief unleashed his magic, engulfing their foe in a roaring ball of emerald flame that left it singed and blackened.
As the smoke of the blast cleared, Tector charged toward it. The giant vomited a gout of bubbling green acid which struck the big warrior and splashed Sophia and Manzio as well, burning and blistering their skin. Manzio circled around, firing a crossbow bolt which struck the giant’s shoulder, while Sophia, Storm and Heraclief peppered it with arrows, lighting and fire.
As they faced off, Tector slashed the winged giant with a flurry of rapid strikes, taking a huge blow from its poisoned greatsword in return. Meanwhile Manzio closed in from behind, taking advantage of his position to stab their foe. The giant wheeled round, catching the assassin with the tip of its greatsword as the Vesuvian leaped backwards.
Heraclief conjured a wheel of fire which cartwheeled across the frozen ground, slamming into the side of the giant and burning it badly. Tector pressed the attack, driving the giant to one knee with a huge blow. Manzio tried to finish it but his elven knives did not strike true.
Snarling in rage, the demonic giant slashed Manzio again with its terrible greatsword, leaving the young man bleeding profusely and disoriented from the effects of the poison coursing through his veins. Storm conjured ice javelins, all of which struck home, inflicting terrible wounds. Tector and Sophia tried to finish the giant but both failed to connect. It fixed its baleful gaze on Sophia and its eyes glowed with a burning red light. The enchantress felt her life-force being leeched from her body. Sickened, she watched as some of the giant’s wounds healed.
As the companions closed in to finish the winged giant, the vigilant Heraclief felt the ground shake with a colossal footfall. He turned to see another, even larger, giant emerging from the whirling snow to their left. Fourteen feet tall, it was huge and lumbering, clad in a massive suit of ancient armour, with desiccated bone clearly visible in places. Its eyes were twin points of reddish light in the hollow depths of its helm. It wielded a great mace in each hand, and was wreathed in a shadowy aura exuding sickness and the stench of death.
Heraclief reacted fastest to the new threat, hurling a fireball that engulfed the undead giant in a maelstrom of roaring emerald flames. Sophia backed away to a safe distance, trying to enchant the undead giant but failing utterly. Behind her, Tector, Storm and Manzio finished the winged giant with a lightning orb, a huge blow from Icefang, and precise strikes from the twin elven blades Connal and Nivaughn.
Still feeling the ill-effects of the poison, and seeing that both Manzio and Sophia were in a bad way, Tector called down the blessing of the lord, bathing his friends in a golden light that salved their wounds and seared the advancing undead giant.
Heraclief backed away, trying to give himself space to call upon his flame magic, but was caught by a huge blow from one of the giant’s maces. Tector surged past the swarthy sorcerer, drawing the attention of the undead giant and immediately feeling his life-force being assailed by its deathly aura. Storm crouched, driving three fingers into the frozen earth, and three stalagmites of razor-sharp ice lanced upward from the ground beneath the giant’s feet, piercing its armour, shredding bone and sending it stumbling backwards.
From the rear of the group, Manzio and Sophia struck the giant with bolt and arrow, while Heraclief conjured a roaring wheel of flame that smashed into it and exploded, blasting fragments of armour and bone in all directions. Storm then evoked draconic lightning, which swooped down on the giant, crashing into its chest and sending sparks of electricity juddering through its frame.
Tector pressed the attack, weakened by his close proximity to the scion of death. He parried the blow of one huge mace coming from his left, but the other smashed into his shoulder from the right and he cried out. Channelling his pain into a righteous fury, he unleashed a brutal strike which smashed through the remnants of the giant’s armour at its midriff, cleaving through its spine. The twin points of light in its helm were extinguished, and it collapsed to the ground in a shower of bone shards and rusted metal armour fragments.
Catching their breath, the Fellowship peered cautiously into the blizzard, fully expecting the frost giant jarl to be upon them at any moment. Heraclief called upon the power of his Key of Binding to salve the worst of his wounds, while Sophia and Tector also offered healing to those in need.
Sure enough, their vigilance was rewarded as they spied another huge figure looming out of the snows. A full fifteen feet in height, the jarl had a blue tinge to his skin and carried a huge axe in his right hand. It appeared to have been crafted from an enormous blade of razor sharp ice, lashed to a thick oaken pole with leather thongs, and was bigger than most men! An eerie blue light shone from his malevolent gaze as he strode toward the Fellowship. His blue skin was crisscrossed with white scars like cracked ice, and he wore the horns of some huge beast around his neck as a mark of his prowess.
Heraclief had saved his greatest power for this foe, and his eyes narrowed as the giant approached. “Combust!” he shouted, finger extended toward the jarl. Emerald flames exploded from the huge giant, engulfing him as he howled in agony.
Tector charged forward as the flames died down, trading massive blows with his huge opponent, while Manzio activated his figurine of shadow, appearing behind the jarl. He leaped upward, trying to stab a vital spot, but his blow missed and he overbalanced, tumbling down and landing awkwardly, spraining his ankle. The jarl looked down, and stamped on the assassin with his hobnail boots, leaving him bruised and winded.
Storm hit the jarl with a thunderbolt and Sophia clouded his mind with an enchantment, making him believe that a wall of fire was closing in on him from all sides. The giant was rooted to the spot, flinching first one way and then the other to avoid the illusory flames. Adding to the pressure, Heraclief summoned an efreet of emerald flame to fight alongside Tector, and it slashed the jarl with a flaming scimitar. The jarl retaliated with his huge ice axe, but Tector’s greataxe bit deep into his leg in return.
Behind the giant, Manzio scrambled to his feet, leaped up, and used his hook dagger to launch himself up the jarl’s back. Pulling himself up to shoulder height, he plunged both his knives deep into the jarl’s neck, severing his windpipe and carotid artery. Blood fountained into the air, splashing onto the ground and staining the snow crimson. The jarl’s knees buckled and he toppled over, Manzio leaping aside and landing lightly to one side as the giant crashed to the ground and lay still, his blood sinking into the snow all around.
Limping from his fall, Manzio hobbled past the giant’s body, clutching ribs that he realised were probably broken from the jarl’s stamp. Sophia noticed her friend’s discomfort and offered healing, which the Vesuvian gratefully accepted.
After ensuing that everyone was in reasonable health, the Fellowship slogged onward through the blizzard and the drifting snow. They caught sight of a single stone monolith, around eight feet high, just ahead. Realising that this must be one of the stones of the Ring of Brodgar, they moved toward it.