The giant’s mouth gapes open in a yawn that shows dagger-length teeth as it stretches its long arms above its head. It utters something in a booming voice that sounds like a much louder version of the gnolls’ language.
“I don’t speak that one,” Nasti says.
“I don’t either,” Nova says. “Do those chains look solid enough to you?”
The tiefling glanced at the point where the metal links connected to the stone appraisingly. “The wall will give before the chains do. And, given his strength, it’s not impossible. But we may be safe for a few minutes.”
“I was hoping I’d hear you saying that he could never break the chains,” Nova says.
“Nope,” Canter says. “The chains keep us together.”
“What?” Nasti says, but the familiar ignores her. “I could try the languages I do know.”
She does, but gets no intelligible response, so she follows Amaya back to just outside the first gate where the half-elf starts treating her arrow wounds. Unfortunately, the giant apparently finds a gnoll corpse within reach while trying to figure out what’s happening. Its anger is obvious as the sound of it attempting to free itself from the wall begins.
“Thaaat’s not a good sound…” Canter says. They head back down the hall to handle it.
Nova is first in range and summons the void to impair the giant. Amaya advances and swings at the giant, but her sword scrapes off its thick scales. Nasti’s lightning bolt is a bit more effective, but even as the electrical current causes its flesh to split, some of it seems to knit right back together again.
In rage and pain, the giant flails about, but Amaya easily evades its blind grasping. Nova heals the least of the half-elf’s pain, and the warrior puts her sword to work with a bit more precision. Given the rapid healing, it dawns on Nasti that the giant is likely some kind of troll. Based on a story she recently heard from Naryalla, she thinks that fire might slow down its regeneration and produces flame to test the theory. The giant burns quite well, and she cries, “Hit it with fire if you have any!”
Amaya nods over her shoulder at Nasti, and the gesture costs her. The troll’s sharp teeth sink into her arm, tearing through armor, flesh, and muscle with equal ease. She sees stars from the pain, and with blood on its tongue the giant roars – a primordial sound that leaves the cousins shaken. Nova grits her teeth and maintains her concentration on the void, but the troll seems to ignore the cold. “Aroden on a stick!” Nasti swears.
Nova sends significantly more healing energy into Amaya, who uses the vitality to good effect, striking deeply into the troll’s flank. Nasti produces more flame, which staggers the giant and throws off its aim when trying to murder Amaya. The oracle’s cold spells injure it further and it wails piteously as it falls dead, still chained to the wall.
“When we tell the story later, he was NOT blind and chained to a wall. And he had two heads,” Canter says.
“I’ll leave the tale spinning to you,” Nova says.
They relieve the troll of an enchanted iron medallion, and Nova reaches over to remove the helm. After she lifts it, she wishes she had not. Where its eyes should be, the troll instead has additional mouths, slack-socketed and drooling blood now that the giant is dead. Her own eyes widen in horror and she turns away, hands covering her face.
“What the…” Nasti cannot finish the sentence.
“That’s not…” Amaya tries.
“Lower the helm, please,” Nova says. The half-elf obliges.
Once they have recovered from the shock of the troll’s appearance and caught their breath, Nasti steps over the fallen troll to examine the western edge of the Armory entrance hall. The floor behind the troll’s body drops off – only the tiefling’s night-touched eyes can see the bottom fifty feet below. Near the northern wall is another glowing beetle in a cage, and on the wall next to the cage is a winch. Ropes from the winch connect to a wooden platform on the edge of the drop-off.
“We have to tread carefully; that bellow means they all know we’re here,” Nasti says.
The cousins step onto the platform and Nova reaches for the lever. “Down we go,” she says as she pulls on the handle. The platform lurches down a couple of feet before settling into a relatively smooth descent.
At the bottom, an irregular tunnel with an incongruous flagstone floor heads north. After a short distance it ends in a wide set of steps that lead farther down. The bottom of the steps open into a much larger chamber.
Directly in front of them is the head of a toppled statue – a warrior in heavy armor – and they can see the other parts of the statue farther north. Near the stairs, orb-shaped steel cages that contain fire-like radiance hang from the room’s cavernous vaulted ceiling. A chandelier-like construction dangles from the ceiling deeper in the chamber, its brighter blaze casting eerie shadows on the far wall. Demon arches stand near each of the room’s four corners, thick flames dancing in them. Large braziers occupy niches in the walls between the arches, their fires finishing off the weird interplay of light in this vast hall. A stooped giant stands guard near the western wall, leaning on his massive club.
“You not gnolls,” the giant observes.
“You aren’t either. I’m Nova,” she says. “Are you protecting this Armory?”
“Rock,” the giant says, hooking a thumb at its chest. “No protect. Only guard hall. You kill Blind-o?”
“We had to. He was not smart like you and could not speak our language. We would have been happy to talk to him, but he just attacked in a fury.”
“Ooo, that’s good,” Nasti says in an undertone.
“That sound like Blind-o,” Rock says. “Him not right since collect magic boulder.”
“Magic boulder?” Amaya says, and Nasti’s eyes get a little bigger.
“Boss say get. Blind-o get. Then go blind. No good.” The giant shudders a little.
“That IS no good,” Nova says. “Can you tell us where to find your boss? That’s why we are here. We came to warn all of you.”
“Me no think boss like if me tell. You get it. You go back now? We no fight?” He sounds hopeful.
“Not warn you about ‘us’, but about the army on its way here right now. We have learned that the Knights Luminous, which is a human clan nearby, has learned of this place and the Magic Boulder and are coming now to kill everyone and take it for themselves.”
“Well, that not good. But they no here now. Just you. And Rock. You go. I get message to boss. Maybe he say we go. Good?”
“I’m glad you will tell the boss, Rock. But we came to offer our help to the boss. You saw that we defeated poor Blind-o without much trouble. We can help.”
“Well, you heard, but the end result was the same,” Nasti says.
“You kill Blind-o, so Rock no think you here to help.”
“Boss no work with little smooth skins. Just Rock.”
“Your boss is a giant, like you?” Nasti asks.
“Nah, him gnoll. But … maybe more? Rock no know. Mean like snake, tho. Anyway, you go? Or Rock gonna have to do stuff?” He sounds reluctant.
“Please let us through, Rock,” Nova says. “We just want to meet with the boss. Blind-o was a mistake, and we didn’t want to do it. If we were here to fight, why would we have stopped to get to know you first?”
“We couldn’t reason with him, just like you said. He wasn’t right in the head,” Nasti adds.
“Sorry, lady. You nice, but job is job. Army maybe come and kill Rock. But Boss DEFINITELY kill Rock if he just let you through. Ya know?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t kill him,” Nasti says in Elven.
“We could tell him that we put a spell on you and you could not move. We ‘are’ magic users. That would make us look more valuable, and you wouldn’t have ‘let’ us past,” Nova tries.
“No think boss go for it, but you try spell if want. Else, go now, or Rock have to try stop. So it goes.”
“I’m not that kind of witch,” Nasti says to her cousins.
“We can’t really do that right? No … No? Okay, I thought so,” Nova says quietly. Raising her voice again, she says, “Okay, Rock. We’re sorry it has to be this way. You seem like a nice giant.”
Amaya dashes forward and carves into Rock’s leg with her sword. “Ow, geeze, lady!” Rock complains.
Nova exchanges the worst of her mind with the worst of Rock’s, causing the giant further pain. “What all that Darkness?” the giant says, sounding haunted. The oracle blinks away images of cannibal feats and other savagery.
Rock swings his massive club down three times – all around Amaya. “Those warning slams!” he says unconvincingly. Amaya strikes back, drawing more blood and knocking the giant off balance.
Nasti struggles to control her shadow magic, and sends Canter to breathe hallucinogens into Rock’s face. The giant is not overcome, but he does seem unsettled by the familiar. “Ahhh! Flying cat-thing!” Rock swings widely in an arc that threatens Canter and Amaya but hits neither. Then he steps back and quick-lobs a boulder that clips Canter in the side.
“Let’s try to just knock him out,” Nova says. “He’s just doing his job, and his boss sucks.” Her ray of frost saps a bit more vitality out of the giant.
After Amaya’s next flurry, he says, “Rock regret career choices…”
“Just got to sleep,” the half-elf advises.
“Rock woozy, not sleepy!”
“Please, Rock. Just stand down,” Nova says, holding back rather than cast another spell.
“Rock no want die, but no see way around.” In desperation, the giant manages to catch Amaya twice with his greatclub. His face falls as she takes the punishment without staggering much. “That no good.”
Amaya can only nod agreement as she leaps up and strikes him with the flat of her blade. Rock slumps to the ground, unconscious from his wounds and the cousins’ mercy.
“You know how to tie people up. Right, Nasti?” Nova says. The tiefling nods and sets to work binding the giant with the entire length of Amaya’s rope. Canter whistles innocently.
“Very nice. Did Chendrea teach you that?” Nova says.
“A lady never tells. But I’ll tell you-” She cuts off as she notices a rhythmic boom coming from beyond the fiery demon arches. It alternates between the north and south arches, every six seconds.
“That doesn’t sound good. Let’s go check it out,” Nova says.
“Do your magic hand thing at the fire doors,” Amaya says.
“I was wondering if these use the same key,” Nasti says. “Wait for the next boom.”
Nova does, and when the fire disappears, they see a large stone box in an alcove. Amaya promptly steps inside, and Nasti hisses at her, “Amaya-!”
“I think we should wait,” Nova agrees. “Amaya come ba-” She cuts off as the stone box ascends with Amaya in it!
They wait for several tense seconds before hearing the boom again and Nova has to step away from and back to the fiery demon arch to part the flames once more. To her cousins’ relief, Amaya steps off of the lift when it is clear.
“What was up there?” Nova asks.
“There was another demon arch on the other side,” the half-elf says.
“So we just all go up together, turn off the arch, and go through?
“Looks like it.”
“Second floor: ladies’ sundries, toiletries, portals to the Abyss, please watch your step…” Canter says.
The work out the timing and all get aboard the lift which takes them upward. The upper demon arch opens on a wide landing with steep stairs heading up to the south and down to the west.
“West or south?” Amaya asks.
“Another demon arch up here,” Nova says, gazing up the southern stairs.
“My immediate inclination is up,” Nasti says. They ascend.
When the flames from the arch drop, Nova’s eyes widen in alarm. In the center of an otherwise empty chamber is a green-scaled dragon with a pair of large horns jutting from its snout. Or rather, a cluster of identical such dragons. Images swirl about the wyrm, making it difficult to tell which might be the real thing and which is mere illusion. A portcullis is in the southern wall, but she sees only rock and earth beyond its bars. The western wall supports stairs that lead up to a pair of closed copper doors.
The dragon grins and shouts something in Draconic1.
“Whatever that is, I don’t think it’s alone…” Nasti says.
1 “Leave them to me! Don’t interfere!”