Chapter 16: The Oracle
The small white dragon hissed at them, and Roon noticed it had a thick leather collar around its neck and thought he could spot a brand on its flank. The men, rather than being proper soldiers, were wearing ragged furs cut to fit them and inexpertly stitched. They looked like wild people. The men ran at them and they made no move to flee, simply raising their hands in surrender. “Halt!” the lead man said. Behind all of them was a woman staring at them with dark, glittering eyes. She had black hair and tribal tattoos along her neck and bare arms.
“What are you doing here?” the man demanded.
“We’re here to see the oracle,” Roon said loudly.
The dragon screeched and shook its head impatiently. The man eyed Harshnag, who towered over the rest of them by several dozen feet, and noticed the frost giant’s great axe, which he held out threateningly. “That’s Gertz’s great axe!” The man shouted.
The other men grumbled angrily, and the woman hissed a few words in a strange tongue, and her people’s weapons began to glow. “Attack them,” she said calmly.
Evelyn drew her blades, her sunblade lighting up and her other scimitar shimmering with acidic blackness as she pulled it across her pale skin, drawing blood.
The men screamed and ran at them. Harshnag, with his long reach, easily swept one of the men and crushed him against a wall. Opal started casting a strange spell that seemed to draw the moisture from the air and caused a few men to stumble, gasping as their cheeks tightened against their bones as though being sucked dry. Kilian shouted to their chief, “stop the fight! We are not here to harm you!” But, seeing the message was futile, he dodged to the side and shot a large bolt of lightning, hitting a few and sending them flying back.
Roon stepped behind his companions nervously, casting blessings on his friends, who glowed with renewed energy.
“Step back!” Thia shouted to her companions, and they all jumped away as a massive wall of flame shot up from the stone and tore across the room, dividing the two parties.
It was impossible to see what was happening on the other side, but Roon could hear the screams of those who were caught in the crossfire. The white dragon screeched, and he looked up to see it flying over the twenty-foot tall flames. It shot a weak spray of ice at them where Opal, Thia and Evelyn were all clumped together. They jumped away just in time and Evelyn’s image suddenly blurred as there seemed to be half a dozen of her vibrating in the air. Thia managed to maintain her hold on the fire wall spell.
Men were trying to pierce the fire and a few missiles shot through the flames, missing them by luck’s chance. The dragon was the only threat Roon could see, so he conjured his spiritual weapon and slammed into it, sending it careening back, flapping its wings to keep out of the fire. From the corner of his eye, he saw a few men managed to jump past the wall of fire, their weapons still glowing. Harshnag cut the chief in half with one swipe of his axe. Evelyn easily killed another as he crossed the wall. Kilian threw two of them back into the flames with a gust of wind and incinerated them both, and Opal finished the last man with a conjured sword of fire.
Roon focused on the dragon, frustrating it immensely. “Kilian!” he shouted, and the storm sorcerer looked at him as he pointed to the dragon.
Kilian nodded and shot a chaos bolt at the dragon from below as Roon battered it with his spell, and with one solid hit, it fell to the ground with a bone crunching crack.
The fire wall dropped, and only the woman was left standing there. Around her form was a black aura swirling and spinning. Thia sneered at her and shot a bolt of lightning into the darkness. Then, Harshnag easily ran to her in a few large strides and cut her head from her body, and the spell dissipated.
Roon checked the dragon and saw that it had broken its wing and was lying at an awkward angle. He read its collar and saw a name stamped in runes, beneath which it said in common ‘Shield-biter’. He placed a palm on its scaly hide and felt the light of the dragon’s spirit waft from the material plane. “Dead,” he announced.
“Who’s Gertz?” Kilian asked Harshnag as the giant wiped his axeblade clean.
“Heh,” he seemed to chuckle, “Gertz was a great frost giant.”
“Why did they care that you had his weapon, then?” he asked curiously.
Harshnag shook his head. “It was a long time ago when the chief of the barbarians killed Gertz. They took his axe, but eventually it ended up in Waterdeep, where I found it and made it mine. Odd folk, barbarians, and very territorial.”
“We should keep moving,” Thia said, nodding her head along the way the barbarians had come.
They walked for a few more minutes through a hallway leading into a foyer, where stood a massive wooden door that had been frozen over with ice. Harshnag went to it and tried to prise it open to no avail. Thia and Opal agreed to melt the thing and spent the next ten minutes with their hands on the door, glowing hotly as splashes of ice melted down the side of it, leaving a large pool in their wake. “Try it now,” Opal told Harshnag, and the giant cracked it open.
Inside the long room were six statues depicting the six giant kinds, three on each side. As they passed the statues, Roon noticed only one was not carrying a weapon, but had empty hands where something two-handed might have been. It was a frost giant. At the end of the room was a stone archway with glowing runes leading into a wide alcove. On the ground inside the alcove swirled a strange, clinging mist. Kilian shot dancing lights into the air, bringing the room into full relief.
“Do you know what weapon is missing?” Roon asked Harshnag, pointing to the statue.
He shook his head. “None of these weapons,” he gestured to the others with weapons, “can leave this temple. If someone tried to remove them, they would disappear.”
“So it must be in here somewhere,” Thia said, walking over to the archway and examining the runes. “We have to get through here, somehow.”
“Is it a puzzle?” Opal asked brightly.
“Each rune is in the language of the giants,” Thia said, and Harshnag nodded to confirm. “Stone, Ice, Storm, Hill, Fire, Cloud,” she recited, pointing to each.
Harshnag touched the area of stone above the archway, where similar runes were carved. “Anyone read dwarvish?” he asked.
They all shook their heads. Evelyn seemed to pause, contemplating, then said, “I can.”
“Since when?” Roon asked in surprise.
Evelyn shrugged. “Um, Harshnag, sir? Could you lift me up so I can read them?”
The frost giant grunted his assent and held out a hand for Evelyn to step into, then brought her to eye level with the top of the archway. Evelyn rummaged in her stained bag for a moment, then pulled out the white dwarven skull they’d found in the dragon’s cavern. She pointed it at the dwarvish runes for a full minute.
“Well, this is completely normal,” Thia muttered.
Evelyn spoke. “It says: Oracle wisdom lies within, pass the clouds to get in, but only in the arms of kin, and only by the arms of kin.”
Harshnag lowered the girl and she replaced the skull, looking proud.
“Well, the cloud part is simple enough,” Roon said, pointing to the mist swirling on the floor of the alcove. “The true mist-ery is in the arms of kin part.”
Thia rolled her eyes at the pun. Roon began pacing the floor, thinking hard. Opal was staring at the archway with a dreamy expression on her face. Harshnag simply sat back and let them work. Kilian walked over to the mist and shot a gust of wind, but it was barely disturbed.
“Arms of kin,” Roon said finally. “Arms could be weapons.”
“And there’s a weapon missing,” Thia said, walking back over to the frost giant statue. “Harshnag, can you put your axe into the statue’s hands?”
Harshnag complied, but nothing happened.
“Alright, what if it means actually in the arms of the giant?” Kilian wondered. “Harshnag, could you pick up Roon and try to walk through the wall with him?”
The giant tried this, too, and simply bumped into the stone.
“Hmm.” They were growing more and more frustrated. They had Harshnag try various things. They moved around some of the weapons, contemplated the positioning of the statues, and even tried touching each of the runes with the appropriate weapons. On the left side stood a stone giant with a boulder, the frost giant without a weapon, and a storm giant holding a trident. On the right stood a hill giant carrying a bone great-club, a fire giant wielding a greatsword, and a cloud giant gripping a mithril spear. Thia explained to them that the six giants could represent the six sons of the All-Father. Kilian tried placing himself in the arms of one of the statues. Roon tried detecting magic inside the rooms, which only glimmered for the runes of the alcove, the mithril spear, and their’s and Harshnag’s weapons and staves.
“Wait a second,” Thia said after they’d spent nearly an hour pacing and puzzling. She was standing to the side of the room, where the lights were much dimmer, “there’s a hidden door here!” She pressed her hands into the stone, and a small side door appeared, shimmering into existence.
“There’s one here, too!” Opal called after seeing the elf do this and running to the paralleling side of the room and uncovering a hidden door. This small one was set into one that was much larger.
“Strange,” Kilian muttered, still trying to work out the puzzle and ignoring them.
“I’m going to check it out,” Thia announced, throwing open the smaller door to the left of the room. Opal jogged over to her and Evelyn stood up and followed. “We’ll call if we run into trouble,” she told Roon, Kilian and Harshnag, all of whom were barely listening. Roon had spread out several papers on the floor and was drawing out the giant runes, trying to work out a pattern. It brought on a headache he remembered from his school days.
The women disappeared down a hallway for several minutes, and just as Kilian walked over to the door, saying they should be checked on, Thia’s fey owl came swooping out to land on his shoulder, hoot, then disappear. “Trouble?” Kilian wondered uncertainly.
“Most definitely,” Roon sighed, standing and picking up his healing staff.
Luckily, the trouble wasn’t unfixable. The women had run into a trap with a golem set to throw a large stone down at intruders. While there were some bumps and bruises, which Roon tapped with the staff and easily healed, they were unharmed. Unfortunately, the rooms in the hall, of which there were several, yielded no new information. Most were empty or containing a few broken pieces of furniture.
“I think we need to find the missing weapon before we can get anywhere,” Roon said as they all returned to the main room by the alcove.
“What about this door?” Opal asked, pointing to the one on the right that she had discovered.
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Kilian shrugged, pushing the door open and stepping inside.
Opal skipped past him and the rest followed. “It’s a great hall!” she called to them, and Roon saw it was true. The room was massive, and he was astounded they hadn’t found the door to it sooner. What stopped him short was the roaring fire at the other end of the room, over a cracked fireplace. “HELLO!” Opal shouted, and her voice echoed across the marble.
The genasi passed rows of large, stone tables made for giant feasts. Roon was about to call her back when there was a clatter, a gross skittering of many legs on stone, and a hiss. From a dark corner shot a large, plated creature with a many-legged serpentine body and the hooded head of a cobra. Its skin was shockingly blue, and its tongue flicked between razor-sharp teeth. It went immediately for Opal, who cried out and tried to jump back.
Roon hit it with a massive middle finger, his spiritual weapon pushing it away from the genasi before she could be trampled. It hissed and struck at the hand, which danced out of its way. Opal scrambled back and shot a wave of thunder at it, which only angered it further. Evelyn ran in with her blades and began hacking at its many legs, constantly moving around it to keep from its bite. As her silver rapier hit its plated hide, however, the white-haired girl was thrown back in an explosion of fire. She coughed and managed to get to her feet, hair blown back messily. Then, Kilian, Thia and Roon started shooting the thing with various spells, driving it back toward the fire. The larger door crashed open and Harshnag came thundering in. “Always causing trouble!” He shouted at them, then noticing the serpent-centipede creature, withdrew his axe and with an easy kick to it, had it fall onto its plated back and chopped it in half.
It wriggled, hissing, and Opal finished it off with another blast of thunder, making its head explode. Wiping gore from her front, Opal grinned through the dripping blood and pointed to the back of the room, where the creature had jumped out. “Do you see that?” She asked.
They all turned, and Kilian shot more dancing lights into a stone cubby where there were scattered, icicled bones. It looked like a grisly nest of sorts. Opal ran in first and pulled up a few vials of potion, which she gave to Thia to examine. She handed a gem-inlaid axe to Roon, who slipped it into their bag of holding.
“Oh, but what’s here?” Harshnag said, his low voice echoing in the hall as he picked something up from one of the large tables, the only one who could properly see the top of them without clambering onto something.
Opal gasped, “you’ve found it!”
Sure enough, Harshnag now held a giant-sized great axe with fine, silvery markings on it. They left the hall and shot back into the alcove room, and Harshnag placed the axe in the hands of the frost giant statue. They all waited with bated breath, but still nothing happened.
“There’s got to be more to it,” Roon insisted, still staring at the statue in case it would react to its newfound weapon. “That would’ve been too easy.”
“Why don’t you try running into the wall really fast?” Evelyn asked, staring at Roon.
“Me?” he said in surprise, then smirked, “no, no, Evelyn, it should really be you. You’re much faster than me.”
“Oh,” she said after a moment, “alright, makes sense.” She shrugged and bounced back on her toes, then ran straight through the mist at the wall. There was a slam as she hit stone.
“Roon!” Thia said in disgust as Evelyn stumbled out shaking her head and holding a broken and bloody nose.
“What!” he said innocently, walking over to the girl and cracking her over the head with his healing staff, which instantly healed her nose but left her rubbing the top of her head. Then, he returned to the puzzle, repeating the dwarvish message. “Oracle wisdom lies within—that’s obvious—pass the clouds to get in—obvious again—but only in the arms of kin—and only by the arms of kin…” He paced again, then shot a finger into the air. “Harshnag!”
“Yes?” The giant said wearily.
“You’re a frost giant, and now we’ve got the frost giant’s weapon. Perhaps you, as kin of frost giants, must wield the arms, or, weapon, of this frost giant.” He pointed at the statue.
“I already carried it in here,” the giant said, confused.
“Try touching the axe to the Ice rune on the archway!” Thia said suddenly, snapping a finger.
Harshnag removed the axe from the statue’s hands and walked to the archway, took a deep breath, and pressed the blade to the ice rune.
The other runes darkened, and with a flash, a large bluish portal appeared inside the alcove.
They all shouted in triumph and Harshnag grinned, giving them an approving nod of his head, then returned the axe to its rightful place and stepped through the portal first.
Nervously, Kilian said, “let’s go,” then jumped in after him.
The rest followed and gasped at what they saw in the next room.
They entered a freezing stone room with life-sized statues of hooded giants holding up lanterns, which glowed with cold magical light. In the centre of the circular room lay the corpse of a giant, preserved from the cold, and on the ground next to it, a staff. Roon shivered, and his breath fogged up in front of him.
“Is it King Hecaton?” Thia asked immediately, pointing to the corpse.
“Looks like a cloud giant,” Harshnag said, moving aside so they could all see.
“Is it the oracle?” Kilian asked, “are we too late?”
“I—don’t think the oracle is a cloud giant,” Harshnag said uncertainly.
Roon hopped down from the swirling portal and poked the corpse tentatively with his totem staff. There was a sudden sucking noise in the room, and a spirit rose up from the body and surveyed them. Roon stumbled back in surprise, but it didn’t seem threatening. The cloud giant’s ghost sighed and swayed. “Welcome, travellers,” it said sadly.
“Hello!” Opal said in her usual, cheery voice. “What’s your name?”
The giant dipped his ethereal head kindly, “I am Eigeron.”
“What are you doing here?” Thia asked, stepping nearer.
He sighed again. “My father and I travelled here together to visit the oracle.”
“Who’s your father?” Thia asked.
“Blagothkus,” he said.
“Really rolls off the tongue,” she muttered sardonically.
“Why did you seek the oracle?” Kilian asked, glancing over at Evelyn, who had also moved closer to the body and looked fascinated.
“To ask it about the ordening.”
“How long ago was that?” Opal asked. “How long have you been—dead? Sorry,” she said quickly, putting a hand to her mouth, “I shouldn’t have asked that. Are you sensitive about being—you know—dead?”
The ghost ignored that but said, “a year, perhaps less time.”
“Before, or after King Hecaton’s disappearance?” Thia asked curiously.
“The ordening,” Eigeron said slowly, “has been shattered for some time. Before, even, the disappearance of the king.”
“I thought Hecaton was keeping it together,” the elf said thoughtfully.
Eigeron shook his ghostly head. “So we all thought.”
“Where is the oracle now?” Kilian asked softly.
“It is in this room.”
Roon spun around, then quickly realized the room was empty except for them, their portal and the ghost.
“Be careful,” Eigeron warned.
“Why?” Opal asked, mouth wide.
The spirit turned his head to her. “You may not like what you hear.”
After a pause, Opal asked, “did the oracle kill you?”
Eigeron shook his head. “It drove my father mad, and he killed me.”
“Why?” Opal demanded this time, shocked.
“The oracle told my father he couldn’t fix the ordening and told me that I should arise from my father’s dark shadow.” He paused. “After he killed me, he left.”
“Were you and your father on good terms before this?” Thia asked tentatively.
“I thought so,” Eigeron said. “He saved me, once, when I was young, after my mother was killed and I, captured… But, then, he was always on about dragon conspiracies, and trying to raise an army to vanquish the dragons.”
“Do you think he might be looking to reassemble the vonendod?” Thia asked.
“No, that was not his goal,” the ghost said heavily.
“And what’s preserving you here?” Opal asked. “Is it the oracle?”
“My spirit will not rest until vengeance is done.”
“Someone has to kill your father?” Thia asked, and the ghost nodded.
“But, I am keeping you,” Eigeron said, gesturing to his frozen form. “You will find the oracle in the markings beneath my body. You may move it, then ask your questions.”
They dragged the giant’s body aside with Harshnag’s help, feeling awkward, and Thia pointed to one of the markings. “That’s the giant rune for ‘King’,” she said. “This part here,” she pointed again, “says ‘ask your questions and know truth’”.
“You have six questions,” Eigeron said, “as each one is asked, a lantern will go out.”
Kilian thanked the spirit and Roon pulled out a scrap of parchment. “Alright,” the gnome declared, “what are we going to ask it?”
They sat for the next half hour formulating possible questions to ask. Eigeron’s spirit watched them until, finally, they felt they had a proper list. Then, the spirit offered Evelyn the armour from his corpse, telling her it would reform to fit her. The girl put it on and, sure enough, it magically fitted to her. The armour glinted with gold and the ghost nodded proudly. The giant offered Roon a smoothed, round stone that looked to be an opal with a design inside that Eigeron told him was the giant’s symbol for fire. The stone was warm, and Roon tucked it away to examine later. Finally, Eigeron told Kilian to take his staff. “What does it do?” Kilian asked before touching it.
“It will help you wield the storm.”
The storm sorcerer picked it up reverently and thanked the ghost yet again. His ice blue eyes seemed to go grayer like the storm.
Kilian stepped up to the circle to question the oracle.
“Where is the Giant King, Hecaton?” He asked, shaking hands holding Roon’s parchment.
There was a pause, and a rattling voice issued from the stones within the room. “Unknown,” it said, and the first of the six lanterns sputtered out.
“Maybe that means he’s not in this plane,” Thia whispered.
“Who is recreating the vonendod?” Kilian asked.
“Duke Zolto,” the voice came again. “He seeks to rebuild the dragon slaying colossus.”
The second lantern flickered out.
“Do you know who that is?” Thia asked Harshnag.
“Lord of the fire giants,” Harshnag said with disgust.
Kilian cleared his throat pointedly. “Why was Queen Neri killed?”
This, the oracle answered immediately. “The Queen was betrayed by her daughters, Mirran and Nym, who coveted the throne.”
Another lantern darkened.
Kilian looked back at his companions, then asked the next question. “How do we fix the giant’s ordening?”
“Find a magic conch and use it to visit King Hecaton’s court, where you must route out the evil therein.”
With that, a fourth lantern went out.
“Harshnag,” Thia whispered to the frost giant, “do you know where we can find King Hecaton’s court?”
The giant shrugged. “Somewhere in the sea?”
“Ask about the conch,” Roon whispered to his friend.
Kilian nodded, then balled his hands into fists and asked, “where can we find Hecaton’s magical conch?”
“First, you must prove yourself,” the voice droned. “When human barbarians came to these lands, they fought our kind and stole our relics, burying them. The humans built altars to Uthgar, their god-king, atop these relics and surrounded their altars with burial mounds. You must go to these mountains, retrieve one or more of these lost relics, and bring them here as tribute. Do this, and your path will be made clear. There are many paths you can take. The more relics you can deliver, the more paths you will have to choose. Several evils will stand to oppose you.”
The next lantern puffed to darkness, and the group looked around at each other in concern. “I have a map for these relics,” Harshnag offered in their uncertain silence, drawing out a massive square of parchment and unfolding it.
“What should our next question be?” Thia wondered aloud, their list no longer relevant.
“Kilian,” Roon said quietly, “perhaps you should use the last question to ask about yourself.”
The storm sorcerer looked at him. “I don’t know if I’m… ready to have those questions answered,” he admitted.
Roon gave him a nod.
Kilian stood and asked their final question. “What are the plans of Mirran and Nym?”
The pause before the answer seemed longer this time, as though the bodiless oracle were taking a breath. “They are pawns of a much greater evil named Iymrith, a blue dragon in the guise of a storm giant.”
Then, the last lantern went out, and the room was dark except for the bluish glow coming from the portal.
“We should go,” Harshnag said in the silence.
“The portal will not stay for long,” Eigeron’s ghost warned them.
“Would you like us to move your body?” Kilian asked him.
The ghost stared down mournfully at his corpse. Roon raised his hands and the stone from the ground and walls began to shape around it, forming a perfectly rectangular coffin. “Blessings from the Master of Illusions,” Roon whispered, and the ghost bowed his large head to the gnome, who smiled.
Then, chattering in the cold, they said goodbye to Eigeron, who waved solemnly and sank into the stone coffin to lay with his body. Harshnag was first to step through the portal, and they all followed, feeling very strongly that they had much to think about.