Chapter 15: Harshnag
The staff took them Northeast to a cave not far from where Bran, and the white dragon, had fallen. The entrance to the cave had thick, jagged claw marks where it had been torn forcefully from the rock. “Perhaps you should go in first,” Kilian suggested to Roon in a soft, worried voice.
“Me?” Roon asked in surprise.
“Well, you’re tiny, aren’t you?”
Roon gave him a reproachful look, then muttered “fine,” and snuck into the entrance, pressing against the wall and trying to keep as quiet as possible. Inside, a smaller funnel entrance brought him into a wide cavern, in the centre of which sat a modest pile of gold. It looked to be a new burrow for the dragon they’d just slain. He strained his eyes in the dim light and saw against the opposite wall was a pedestal of stone, atop which sat a white skull that looked to be dwarvish in size and sitting at its base peering up at it was an infant white dragon. The creature was still the size of any full-grown human man, but it was curled innocently, its horned head tilted and staring at the skull. Curiously, Roon crept back through the entrance and found his friends waiting, relaying what he saw.
“A baby dragon!” Opal said excitedly. “We could raise it!”
“Uh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea…” Kilian said uncomfortably.
“I could kill it,” Evelyn volunteered.
“I could temporarily blind it with a spell,” Roon said. “That would give us time to search the cavern thoroughly for adamantium, and then we wouldn’t have to feel guilty about killing a baby.”
“A baby dragon,” Kilian reminded him. “And we don’t know if it has another parent out there.”
“I’ll try and talk to it,” Thia offered, pushing past them and entering the cavern.
Roon scrambled after her. The elf crouched low as she entered the cavern and said in a soft voice, “hello, little dragon. We’re not here to hurt you. We’re just looking for something.”
The dragon continued to stare at the skull, completely ignoring her, its back to the entrance.
“Hello?” Thia said again, a little louder.
“The skull’s doing something to it,” Roon muttered. He picked up a fist-sized stone and chucked it at the skull. His aim was true, and the rock knocked the skull of its pedestal and both when clattering to the stone floor. The white dragon spun and hissed at them.
“Sleep,” Thia said quickly, raising her hands and sending the spell shimmering across the ground to crawl up the dragon’s legs. It yawned and collapsed, instantly asleep.
Thia stood. “This will only last for a minute or so. Let’s search the cavern and get out of here before then.”
They quickly went searching about the cavern. Roon began shovelling gold into their bag of holding while Thia used her adamantium staff to direct her. Evelyn walked to the dwarf skull and took it quietly while Kilian checked the pedestal for magical qualities. “Can I see that skull?” He asked.
Evelyn stared off distantly and shook her head.
“Here,” Thia said, pulling up two staves. One was the same adamantium staff, and the other was wooden and carved with tiny totem figures along its entire surface. Roon held open the bag and she placed them both inside, both shrinking and vanishing. “That was it,” she said in disappointment. “No more parts to a weapon. Just another staff.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Opal said. She was watching the baby dragon carefully, and it was stirring.
They left the cavern without any more prompting. “That dragon is going to grow up bad,” Roon told them. “We killed its mother, and now it knows our faces. This won’t go well.”
“White dragons are really dumb,” Evelyn offered.
“What if it can’t survive the winter?” Opal whined. “It’s all alone!”
“We have bigger problems,” Kilian said seriously.
As they headed back to the road, they passed the slain dragon, from which they’d harvested various scales, teeth and claws, then passed Bran’s marked grave not far off. As they did so, Evelyn paused, reached into her bag, and placed a lump of coal on the top of the freshly dug earth. They’d used magical means to pull up the frozen layer of dirt and rested his body inside. Roon swallowed the lump in his throat as they continued through the snow, Evelyn’s horse trudging behind with bags strapped to its back.
They made camp half a mile before they reconnected with the path, and Thia asked to see the totem staff from Roon’s bag. He pulled it out and handed it to her. She lay it across her knees and began muttering, one hand glowing slightly purple as it moved across the wood. While she worked, Kilian built a fire and Roon, Evelyn and Opal set up their tent. By the time they were all seated again around a crackling fire, Thia handed the staff to Roon, if somewhat begrudgingly. “This is a staff of healing. I think you should have it.”
“How does it work?” Roon asked.
“I don’t know, exactly,” she shrugged. “You’ll have to attune to it. Hold it in your mind until you form a connection with it.”
Roon nodded and held the staff to his temple. Then, he licked it. Beatrice the Tressym meowed and began licking the bottom of the staff. “Yep,” Roon said happily, “this will do nicely.” He wondered if the staff could have saved Bran’s life if only they’d found it first.
The following day brought them back to the river, which they followed until late afternoon. The river forked, leaving them with another decision to make. Thia sent her owl into the sky and looked through its eyes. The tiny gray-feathered thing soared up, following the river. While the elf was distracted, Roon bent and tied the laces of her boots together. The weight of Bran’s death had left them all heavy-hearted, despite Roon’s desperate attempts at making the others smile. It wouldn’t do well to go into a world-ending fight while down-spirited.
The owl returned and took the righthand fork, and Thia blinked out of its eyes. “It’s hard to say, either way,” she said. “We just have to pick a direction.”
The elf moved to take a step, and stumbled over her feet, landing in a pile of snow. Spluttering, she rolled over, shaking snow from her dark hair and glaring at Roon.
“I have an idea!” The gnome said placatingly before she could launch herself at him. “There’s a spell I learned a long time ago. It’ll take some time, but as of yesterday, we have the right ingredients. It should give us an idea of what will happen when we choose a path.”
He reached into the bag of holding and took out the white dragon’s tooth. With a small dagger, he carved the symbol of Baravar Cloakshadow into the bone. He took out a handful of dice, careful not to use the weighted ones, and scraped off a bare patch of earth. He held the contents tightly in his hands and whispered the augury spell. The contents hummed as the magic set in. After a few minutes, Roon whispered, “we’re going left.” He rolled and dropped the tooth and dice onto the frozen earth. He looked down and read the dice, seeing a light beyond their plane that showed him more than etched pieces on tiny cubes. “If we go left, we will meet both good and bad results.” He sighed, unhappy with the result.
“That’s not very helpful,” Kilian frowned.
“It could be,” Opal said brightly. “It means that we’ll find something, doesn’t it?”
“Opal’s right,” Thia relented, her bootlaces back in their original state. “It’s all we’ve got.”
Roon took back the tooth and dice and dumped them into his bag, then stood. They forged a path left, following the river uphill. The river narrowed as they ascended, and still they saw nothing for hours. The snow became so deep that even Thia, the tallest of them, was having difficulties pushing through. Eventually, they saw a herd of mountain goats standing about some boulders and Opal had a go at speaking to them. One of the goats perked up and trotted closer, and the two spoke in—was it—goat language? “They’ve seen giants,” Opal relayed as the goat returned to its comrades. “There were some that went North only yesterday. He asked for some food, but I didn’t have anything a goat would like,” she added sadly.
They travelled for another quarter of an hour, the sun dropping behind the mountain peaks and making the air chillier as they walked. Opal gasped and ran ahead of them. “Tracks!” she declared, pointing at giant footprints headed down the slope, northeastwards. “It looks like there’s four of them.”
“Four giants. That isn’t so bad,” Evelyn said dismissively.
So, they took the trail of the giants, fording across the narrowest part of the river and following the mountain range until nightfall. Thia sent her owl again to the skies and told them, “there’s a big fire in the distance. I can see two giants sitting by it. They look to be fire giants.”
“I don’t get it,” Roon shook his head. “Why would giants be up here, in the snowy mountains?”
Just then, they heard a thump and everyone ducked behind the trees. Beatrice flew up and landed on a branch, and Evelyn just barely managed to shove her horse back out of the way as a fire giant walked past. It bent, picked up a log, and added it to the large pile already accumulated in its arms up to its eyes. Then it turned and tromped back. They all sighed in relief. “We’re lucky its hands were full.”
Evelyn shifted and seemed distracted. The girl opened her bag and glanced down at the dwarf’s skull, then closed it again swiftly.
“Evelyn,” Thia said in an uncharacteristically gentle voice, “can I see that skull you found?”
Evelyn stared at her, seeming to have an internal struggle. “Uh, you don’t want it.”
“I just want to look at it,” the elf said.
“It’s got brain bits on it,” Evelyn said quickly. “Uh, besides, it’s dwarven. You wouldn’t want to touch it.”
Thia appraised her for a moment. “Just because I’m better than someone doesn’t mean I can’t investigate their body parts.”
Roon snorted derisively. “Elves.”
“I really don’t think you should touch it,” Evelyn said with finality, and the conversation stopped there.
“Alright, let’s focus,” Kilian said. “What do we want to do with these giants?”
“Kill them?” Evelyn asked uncertainly. She still seemed confused by something.
“I have my giantslayer sword,” Thia said. “I say we run in and—”
“She has a sword? Hmm.” A low, deep voice said behind them.
They all spun, and saw, standing well over them in height, a bluish white frost giant with a large axe gripped in one hand.
“I had a human slaying sword,” he said, tilting his head curiously.
“You want to kill the fire giants, no?” The frost giant asked.
“W-well,” Kilian stuttered.
“That’s alright,” the giant waved a hand as if it were no concern, “that’s why I’m here, too.”
“We actually came to find you, I think,” Roon said, noticing the giant wore a white dragon’s skull as a helmet. “Gnawbone sent us.”
“Pshaw, Gnawbone. That one’s an idiot.”
“We’re here to ask you about an oracle…?” Roon added questioningly. “We’re trying to save the world.”
“That’s nice,” the frost giant seemed distracted.
“What’s your name?” Opal asked conversationally as the rest of them took a few more steps back as subtly as they could.
“Harshnag. But, listen, let’s get to the killing, alright? Ready? Yes?” He was practically bouncing on his toes in anticipation.
“Wait!” Opal said, but the frost giant ran past her wielding his axe and screaming a battle cry.
They all looked at each other, then ran into the fight. Roon paused at a tree, looking up at Beatrice, who meowed down. “Stay here,” he said loudly, then took a quick piss. “Hate it when I have to pee during a fight,” he said as he jogged through the trees after his companions.
The fight against three fire giants, caught unawares as they were, and with a frost giant on their side, was swift and effective. Evelyn dealt the killing blow on one, Kilian finished off the second, and Harshnag cleaved the head off the third with his axe. His axe, curiously enough, glowed blue when it hit, and sparks of frost shot from it. With the fight done and the bodies searched, Roon went to warm his hands by the roaring fire.
“Now, that was fun,” said Harshnag joyously, wiping blood from his face.
“Will you tell us where we can find the oracle?” Opal asked hopefully.
“Hm, I can do you one better,” he grinned, “I can take you to it.”
“Why are you out here? Better yet,” Roon said, “why are fire giants so far north?”
“I’ve been chasing after them, killing them where I could,” Harshnag told them, adding a few tree trunks to the fire and taking a seat. “Not sure why they’re in the mountains. Fire giants aren’t very smart, see. They think that what’s happening with the ordening is an excuse to kill.”
“And what do you think?”
The frost giant sighed. “I want to see the giants united.”
“Do you know why they need the adamantium pieces?” Thia asked.
“To rebuild the vonindod, of course,” he said simply.
“The vonindod. It was an old weapon used to kill dragons,” he clarified. “Of course, it could be used for killing just about anything. Dragons are just what it’d been used for. Dragons and giants aren’t exactly—friendly with one another.”
“And how do you destroy it?” Kilian asked.
Harshnag shrugged. “You disassemble it.”
“And leave its parts buried and scattered across the land to make it more difficult to repair,” Roon realized.
Harshnag nodded. “Get some rest, giantslayers! Har,” he chuckled and pulled a massive, ratty blanket from his pack and draped it over his legs, leaning back. “Tomorrow, we go to find the oracle!”
They travelled for nearly a tenday northeast, Harshnag leading the way. They had to take breaks often, so strenuous was it to keep up with a long-legged giant while trudging through feet of snow. Eventually, they were so high into the mountains, that Roon thought the air felt more difficult to breathe. On one evening as they sat around the campfire, Roon took out the heavy burlap sack filled with powder, which he’d purchased from the shady dealer in Yartar, and set it on his lap. “I’m going to try this,” he declared.
“That’s not a good idea,” Kilian said wisely.
“Thia?” Roon offered it to her.
“Yeah, alright,” the elf said, licking her finger and dipping it into the powder.
Evelyn again seemed to be having a conversation in her head, so odd were her expressions. Then, she said, “I’ll try it, if that’s okay.”
Roon offered it to her next, then took some himself when Opal shook her head. Harshnag seemed mildly impressed but refused to try any himself.
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur once the sensation of weightlessness set in. Every moment seemed to last an hour, and scenes shifted about in Roon’s vision as though awkwardly staged. When he tried to speak, only nonsensical babble came out. He stared at Thia, and she was staring wide eyed at Harshnag, as if seeing him for the first time. Evelyn bravely started poking Harshnag with a stick. Grumpily, the frost giant ripped the stick from her grasp and threw it over the treetops, where it crashed into some far-off trees. Roon used his illusion spell to make himself look like a gnomish-sized Thia, then snorted with laughter. Evelyn was pointing at him urgently, then back to Thia, thoroughly confused. Finally, tired and too dizzy to do much about it, Roon stumbled a few feet into the trees and lay back, staring up at the stars. He heard Thia lie on her back next to him, staring at the sky with an expression like it was about to come raining down on them. The rest of the night was a blur, but Roon woke up in the morning feeling as though he’d swallowed a shirt, and vaguely remembering taking watch with Evelyn, and convincing her to jump up and down in circles shouting “poppycock!”
For the rest of their journey, they were able to find out a lot about Harshnag’s past. Kilian was suspicious of the giant and asked him many questions. Years ago, he’d been in a group known at the Grayforce. The group was made up of mostly humans, and they’d saved Waterdeep. It had been a hundred years since then. He proudly showed them his axe, the one Roon recognized as magical, and told them it’d been a gift from the nobles of Waterdeep. Sadly, his human companions had died of old age, and the Grayforce ended in the times of peace afterward.
They asked him about King Hecaton, and he admitted he knew very little about the sovereign. The king disappeared after the mysterious death of his wife, Queen Neri, who was supposedly killed by ‘little people’. From what Harshnag could tell them, ‘little people’ could mean humans, elves, gnomes, or whoever else was smaller than a giant. He didn’t seem to think there was much difference, much to the indignation of Thia. The murder of Queen Neri had come as a surprise. She’d been seen as a kind and beloved ruler.
Finally, they reached steps carved into the mountain. They were clearly made for giants, and it was an arduous trek, especially while trying to coax Evelyn’s horse forward. Eventually, though, they reached the top of the steps to overlook a wide, deep chasm, with a stone bridge laid across it. It was too foggy to see the other side. The bridge was wide for any human or gnome but looked rather narrow for a giant to cross. As Roon suspected, when Harshnag walked over the bridge, he did so hesitantly with his arms out to steady himself as wind rushed up through the chasm. He glanced over to Kilian and saw the man staring out at the abyss nervously. Roon, however, was nervous for another reason. Something in his gut told him they were stepping into a dark place filled with unfamiliar magic. He whispered a quick, desperate prayer to Baravar.
They all crossed, Roon steeling himself and going last after Evelyn and her horse. The fog cleared near the end and before them stood a tall, imposing dark stone structure with pillars holding up the large, rectangular doorway. Each pillar depicted a different kind of giant. Roon saw some he recognized: a hill giant carrying a rock, a frost giant cutting a tree, a fire giant with human prisoners chained to it, a cloud giant floating next to a flock of birds; then, there were others he didn’t recognize: a giant hurling a bolt of lightning and another climbing a mountain. Opal pointed to them and asked Harshnag what they were as they stepped over the chasm and onto solid ground. “Storm and stone giants,” he told them. “King Hecaton is a storm giant.” Roon also noticed that the doorway, while currently open, was made to slide down on stone slits to block the entrance.
Nervously, he stepped into the landing last. “What is this place?” he asked in a hushed voice, though it echoed against the stone walls.
“This is the Eye of the All-Father,” Harshnag grumbled.
The place was dark. Kilian shot dancing lights over their heads, which bobbed there, too joyous for the somber setting. Evelyn unsheathed her sunblade and it glowed faintly, casting her face in an eerie, orange-ish glow. They were barely three steps in when they saw flickering torchlight moving on the distant walls and heard a commotion. Roon readied a spell in his hands as a group of humans led by a small, white dragon, jogged around the corner and stopped to stare at them.