Chapter 13: Thatched Roof Journey
“Why have you come?” the low but distinctly female voice of the ancient green dragon swept through the trees.
“Hello!” Opal said happily, breaking the tension with her odd waving gesture. “How are you?”
A discontented growl rumbled in the forest, and Thia spoke up next, showing empty hands, “great and incredible ancient one, we have come to seek your favour. Zephyros sent us.”
Another growl. “I don’t know this Zephyros…”
“I’ve got this,” Roon whispered to his companions, interrupting Thia before she could tell the dragon about their giant friend. Thia’s eyes widened and Kilian, who had planted himself firmly behind a tree, was shaking his head vigorously, but Roon ignored him. The gnome stepped onto a rock to add a few inches to his height, cleared his throat, puffed out his chest and spread his arms in greeting. “Gnawbone, I presume?”
“That is,” the dragon heaved a sigh and lifted her head, and the half-eaten body of an orc fell from between her bloody jaws, “one name for me.”
“We are the mighty Team Giant Slayer, and we’ve come to Crypt Garden to seek your help. We were told you might lead us to an oracle who could tell us how to defeat the giants. As you may know, the giants have been more active as of late.”
“Giants,” the dragon scoffed, “I hate giants.”
“Precisely,” Roon said happily. “We all know how annoying giants are. So, can you help us?”
“Help you?” Gnawbone considered his tiny form, and she shifted, moving closer to them. As she stepped through the trees, the forest vegetation stretched and crawled out of her way.
“So jealous,” Opal whispered in awe.
The dragon only stopped once her face was a few feet from Roon’s, but he forced the plastered smile on his face to remain despite noticing the dragon’s one nostril was half his size. “What, pray tell, do I get in return for this help?”
“Ah, I’m glad you asked,” Roon said, leaping from the rock and shoving two hands into their bag of holding, pulling out two gemstones, each the size of his head. One shimmered with white, the other a dark crimson. He heaved them onto the ground before the great dragon, and they looked miniscule next to her wicked sharp claws. She bent and sniffed the gems, then hummed.
“I will accept your offering. You can find the oracle in the North, in the Valley of Kedrine.”
Kilian piped up nervously from behind the tree. “A-and do you know h-how exactly we’re to find her?”
“Who speaks?” the dragon growled, and Kilian slowly started to inch his way around the tree and into the dragon’s view. She blew out a hot puff of air and said, “there is a frost giant who wears a helm made of the skull of a white dragon,” she grumbled unhappily at this. “He will guide you to the oracle.”
“Can we trust him?” Bran asked.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” the dragon said.
“And do you know how t-this oracle will help us?” Kilian asked, clearing his throat nervously.
The dragon tilted its head and appraised their group. “Within, you will learn what must be done.”
“That’s extremely cryptic,” Kilian muttered.
“You can leave now,” Gnawbone said impatiently, and she shifted and picked up the gemstones in her teeth, being surprisingly delicate with them. The trees moved out of her way again as her wings burst from her sides and she leapt from the ground with her muscular legs and took flight.
“Woah,” Opal said admiringly. “What about the tree person?”
Roon shrugged. “I’m not willing to find out. Let’s get out of here.”
Feeling grateful to have a reason to leave the creepy forest behind, the group quickly picked their way out of Crypt Garden and back onto the road.
“That was rather unhelpful,” Kilian sighed, watching Evelyn pass her giantslayer sword to Thia. The elf took the sword from her.
Evelyn said, “I think you should use it. Giants are your sworn enemy. Plus, you’re taller than me.” Thia nodded and took the greatsword, which fit much better into her hands than in the white-haired girl’s.
“Agreed,” Roon shook his head in disappointment. “Maybe I should send another message to Zephyros. Although,” he paused, “that didn’t help much the last time. Why would he send us there? This is turning into a thatched roof across the country.”
“Thatched roof?” Opal asked.
“Yeah, like, you know,” he gesticulated to make his point, “messy, tangled, a bit of back-and-forth all over the place.”
“Is that how roofs are made?” the druid gasped.
Kilian shook his head. “Let’s go back to the Harvest Inn for a night’s rest. Maybe Dardron knows tales about the oracle, or where we can find the Valley of Kedrine.”
They all agreed, and continued down the road until nightfall, where they stepped into the tiny cluster of lit buildings and headed for the inn. When inside, they were greeted again by Dardron. Thia asked the man for rooms and Kilian questioned him about legends of the valley. Meanwhile, Roon slipped a particularly interesting wooden statue from its pedestal into his bag, smirking as Evelyn glanced over at him. All they were able to glean from the halfling was another rumour, this one saying there were giants in Waterdeep, part of something called the Gray Force. Seeing there was nothing else to get from the man, they all had an early night.
Roon crawled onto his bed and began his nightly ritual. He pressed his forehead to the carving on his staff and whispered a prayer to Cloakshadow.
He felt the familiar warmth in his chest as the words poured out, but this time, he felt something else. A familiar presence. It was only for a moment, but the scent lingered. He looked up in surprise and turned his head, scanning the room quickly, but he only saw Kilian and Bran sitting in their respective beds. Kilian was reading, and Bran was carving something with a dagger. Taking a deep breath, Roon gently placed the staff against the wall next to him, curled up, and went to sleep. Behind closed eyes, he dreamt of Arden.
Anyone they asked about the Valley of Kedrine or the frost giant wearing the dragon’s skull were told it was common to see giants wearing dragon skulls, and the valley was unheard of. In the morning as they travelled, Roon sent a message to Zephyros, whose only clue was to try the Spine of the World. The Spine was a northerly mountain range where he suspected the valley would be. With a direction in mind, they travelled cross-country back to Yartar, Roon excited to find his tressym, whom he’d left behind in their rush to escape the city.
On their second day of walking they encountered a group of bandits who ambushed them on the road and shot a volley of crossbow bolts into their midst, catching Roon with two bolts in some non-lethal places. The bandits ran in at them, but their group quickly dispatched the men, though Roon was surrounded by a few of them and was seriously injured from a horse’s hoof in the chest. He couldn’t remember much of the fight after that and woke several minutes later with a pounding headache and Opal standing over him, healing his wounds. “W-what happened?” He asked, sitting up and seeing the scattered bodies of bandits all over the road.
“You were sort of, um, trampled,” Kilian said. “You tried to use your blink spell to get out, but you went unconscious. You kept blinking out every six seconds or so and we couldn’t heal you until the spell wore off.”
It was starting to come back to him a bit and Kilian helped him to his feet. Evelyn had captured one of the bandit’s horses, and they helped Roon onto its back in front of the girl, and he nodded off almost immediately as they continued to Yartar, his brain foggy and his chest sore.
As they approached the town, they took a rest and Thia disguised herself, Kilian, Opal and Evelyn. Roon used his disguise illusion spell to make himself look like the halfling owner of the Harvest Inn, and Bran donned his disguise hat, which shimmered and made his form into a light-skinned ginger male with bad acne. Kilian shaved his beard and looked ten years younger despite the streaks of silver at his temples. Roon hadn’t realized the sailor had dimples.
They split off once they were allowed in the town gates, and Roon went straight to the Wink and Kiss Inn, where he was able to coax Beatrice to come with him despite his disguised appearance. The tressym hissed, then followed once he threw her a scrap of meat. He took the flying cat to the transport circles in the upper part of town, where he met his companions and the mage sent them through, Evelyn and her new horse coming through on a second trip, Evelyn spewing a few choice liquids over the floor.
When they looked around at their new surroundings, they were greeted by a dwarf wearing rough clothes and chewing on a piece of straw. “Welcome to Mirabar,” the dwarf said in a strange accent. Mirabar, the great dwarven city beneath the Spine of the World.
The transport circle was inside a stable, the smell becoming quickly apparent.
Kilian spoke up first, “can you direct us to the Valley of Kedrine, or perhaps to a frost giant wearing the skull of a white dragon?”
“Hm, well, it’s quite common for a giant to wear a dragon’s skull. The valley sounds familiar. Yes,” he nodded thoughtfully, scratching his beard, “you can follow the river up through Mirabar to where it forks, then follow east. I’ll warn you, though, there are no roads in those parts.”
“Thank you,” Kilian said, and they all gathered their stuff, prepared to leave the stable.
“Oh, and don’t tell anyone abo ut the transport circles,” the dwarf added. “They’re a secret. That’s why we keep them in the stables.”
They agreed and pushed through the doors, looking down at the awesome sight of the dwarven settlement with its thick stone buildings built partially underground into a hillside. “I could use a rest,” Thia said, and they all agreed and headed down into Mirabar to explore.
END OF PART ONE