Chapter 19: Bagpipes
“Actually!” Roon shouted as Thia and Opal made for the door to catch up with Kilian and Evelyn, “I’d better stay back and help the, er—kid.” He gestured behind them to the other room where the elderly elven man lay, barely conscious on an altar.
They nodded and Hiccup grabbed Opal’s arm. “You!” The goblin squeaked, “can you turn into something smaller?”
“Uh, sure,” Opal said.
“Do it!” Hiccup told her. “Sir Nibblesworth—stay here with them!” The squirrel jumped off his staff and skittered to Thia, where he crawled onto the elf’s shoulder.
Opal flashed and transformed into a hawk, landing on the staff where the squirrel had been moments before. Hiccup put a hand on her feathery back, took a step forward, and the two of them disappeared.
“Great,” Thia said sarcastically, throwing up her hands. “I guess I’ll just wander the sewers, then.”
“Okay,” Roon said, then jogged out of the room to heal the elf.
Kilian and Evelyn stood in the tunnels. Evelyn’s sunblade gave off a dim orange-ish glow, and they crept quietly, listening for any signs of the fleeing sorceress. The curved stone walls were wet and there were odd squeaks of fat rats moving curiously about the newcomers.
They heard an echoing footfall from behind them. Kilian threw up a hand to stop Evelyn, and they both turned back. The girl held up her sword, and Kilian shot out dancing globules of white light to float down the tunnel. “Aye, there you are!” A voice shouted.
From around the corner stepped the short, burly figure of a dwarf. They both stepped back in surprise, but the dwarf didn’t seem threatening. He stood confidently in half-plate armour and a cloak that billowed oddly despite the lack of breeze. On his back was slung a set of bagpipes and a crossbow, and the dwarf was grinning. He had coarse, ginger hair that grew in mutton chops down his cheeks and reached to the middle of his chest. The hair hung in two thick braids that connected at the end, but his chin and upper lip were bare. He wore a long, coloured kilt and his green eyes glinted in the lights. “Well, isn’t this a nice place for a meeting?”
“Uh…” Kilian said. “Are you friend or foe?”
“Name’s Flint Frostbeard,” the dwarf grinned widely, showing sparkling white teeth. “You must be the giant slayer’s I’ve heard so much about.” He gave a short bow.
“TGS,” Evelyn told him.
Kilian gave the dwarf a suspicious look. “Have you seen a sorceress run past here? She has curly dark hair, nice robes, and is on the mission to kill.”
“Can’t say I have,” Flint said.
“What are you doing down here, then?”
“I was looking for you. Although,” the dwarf scratched his bare chin appraisingly, “I did expect a bit, hm, more?”
“Oh, there are more of us,” Evelyn assured him. “Do you want to see my bag of hearts?” She lowered her blade and started rummaging in her stained pack, which was now barely holding together under the weight of the ghastly smelling internal organs she kept inside.
“Perhaps we should focus.” Kilian reminded her. “This Isabell woman can’t have gotten too far.”
“I could help,” Flint offered. “I’m here to find you, of course, but I suppose I could help dispose of this sorceress.”
“Come on,” Kilian said impatiently, and the dancing lights shot down the tunnel. They would have plenty of time for discussion later.
Opal and Hiccup appeared at the edge of a fresh stream. The stench of the sewers was still near, but this was separate.
Opal squawked and flew off Hiccup’s shoulder, transforming back into her genasi form. “There!” She shouted, pointing up the stream where Isabell was standing.
The sorceress spun, looked at them in surprise, then put her hands together and dove into the stream.
Before she could break the surface, however, a silver boomerang flew past and hit her square in the temple. She hit the water hard and began floating down the stream, facedown. “My boomerang!” Hiccup squeaked as it sunk below the surface.
Opal dashed after the body, which was being carried off, and grabbed her by the robes, hauling her to the bank. She threw the woman down. Hiccup ran behind her, wheezing, and retrieved his boomerang with a triumphant whoop. “You had a lot of pent up anger against her, didn’t you, Hiccup? What do we do now?” Opal asked quickly.
Hiccup stared at the water-logged body. “She killed Sir Nibblesworth the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth.”
“Right,” Opal nodded. “What should I do with the body?”
“Whatever you want,” the goblin said.
“She’s still breathing,” Opal realized, noticing the subtle rise and fall of her chest.
Hiccup reached into a pocket and slowly pulled out a dagger, staring cross-eyed at the body. “Don’t forget to take the wand,” he said.
Opal searched her robes, pulling up the carved stick with a gem at the base. She stood and studied it, then jumped at the angry shout of the little goblin. Hiccup was repeatedly stabbing the sorceress in the chest, his clothing quickly blooming with red splatter.
“Er, right,” Opal said awkwardly as Hiccup stepped back, heaving and happy, to go wash his dagger.
The sorceress was very dead, now. Opal traced a few drawings of flowers into the mud around the woman, then washed her hands in the stream. Satisfied with her work, she said, “can we get back to the others?”
“We’ll have to walk!” Hiccup declared.
The group converged in the room of the smashed stone gnomes, and Opal quickly told them about Isabell. Roon came leading Lee, who was looking healthier, but still elderly. Kilian and Evelyn smiled awkwardly at the group as they introduced the dwarf, and Thia gave him an imperious look. “A dwarf,” she said, nostrils flaring with dislike.
“An elf,” Flint said, equally unhappy.
Evelyn reached into her bag and pulled out her dwarf’s skull, facing it toward the newcomer. Flint raised an eyebrow as Evelyn slipped it away. “Was that a dwarf skull?”
“Uhuh,” Evelyn said.
“Evelyn collects weird things,” Roon explained.
“Teenage girls and their things,” the dwarf said, shaking his head.
“Here’s the wand,” Opal offered it to Thia, who took it.
“We might be able to use it to reverse what happened to Lee,” the wizard said, examining the stick with interest.
They all walked back to the room with the altar and began searching it for clues.
“There’s something here,” Thia said, pointing to a darkened stone gnome statue on the ground. “It has a necromantic energy coming from it.”
“What does it do?” Roon asked.
She stepped closer and bent to look at it. “I’m not sure. Can we put it in the bag of holding for now?”
“If I touch it, will my arms fall off?”
Thia arched an eyebrow.
Roon took a few steps back. “How about you pick up the creepy statue, and I’ll hold the bag open. You can throw it in.”
Thia shrugged and grabbed the statue, and suddenly her bronze skin paled and she gasped, falling back and dropping the statue, then scrambling to her feet. Her veins had darkened momentarily. “Woah,” she said, shivering.
“I suggest we destroy it,” Flint said, taking a square hammer from his belt and holding it up.
Hiccup moved in and poked it with his staff, and nothing happened.
“Hiccup,” Kilian said, “how did Isabell steal the life from the elves?”
“She used a crystal,” the goblin said, wide-eyed.
“That crystal could be inside the statue,” the sailor said thoughtfully.
“Well, then we should smash it and find out,” Flint told him. When no one objected, he smashed the hammer down.
The hammer recoiled on the stone, but it was unharmed. Kilian said, “allow me,” and held up a hand toward it. With a high-pitched tone, the thing shattered, and stone flew in all directions. They all jumped back with yelps, then saw a large obsidian, crystalline piece the size of a fist lying on the ground, unscathed.
“It’s a phylactery,” Thia breathed.
“What’s that?” Evelyn asked.
“A sort of arcane focus,” the elf said. “But it’s incredibly evil. Only a vile person would use it.”
“Do we destroy it?” Roon asked her. “Or use it?”
“Yes,” Flint said. “Destroy it.”
“Well, sorry to say you’re not in the group, so you don’t get to make those decisions,” Thia snapped.
Flint glared at her. “I don’t answer to elves.”
“It could be useful to have,” Roon admitted. “It might help Lee if we can figure out how to use it.”
“Maybe if we break the crystal, the stolen life forces will return to the bodies,” Flint suggested, looking over to the strewn elven corpses beneath the altar.
“It couldn’t hurt to try,” Kilian said.
Without any more argument, Flint smashed it with his hammer. This time, it cracked. A bunch of white lights shot up and floated around the room. One sunk into Thia’s chest and her skin resumed its normal colour. Another disappeared into Lee’s chest, and the elf’s hair darkened and the lines around his face vanished. The rest went into the corpses on the ground, and they watched in awe as each of them stirred and stood, looking young and fully alive. There were six elven boys in all.
“I don’t believe it!” Roon said.
Flint grinned and hooked his hammer back to his belt with a flourish.
“What happened?” One of the boys asked, rubbing his eyes wearily.
“You’ve just been saved by the Giant Slayers,” Flint declared.
“TGS,” Evelyn clarified.
“Any of you kids have rich parents?” Roon asked curiously.
“Roon!” Thia admonished, “they just came back from the dead.”
“Yeah, Roon,” Evelyn agreed, “they’re probably traumatized. Hey, kids, want to see a rakshasa hand?” With that, she rifled through her bag and pulled out the severed and rather rotted hand of the gamemaster they’d met in Everlund.
“Woah!” All the boys said excitedly, rushing in to get a closer look.
Their travels back out of the sewers took longer as they helped the boys, who were still a bit unsteady on their feet, out of the dark maze of slimy tunnels. When they reached the surface, many of the boys ran off and Roon offered to take Lee back to his grandmother. They all agreed to meet back at the inn and speak with Flint once they were there.
An hour later, Roon returned with a tin filled with tea from Lee’s grandmother and sat with the rest. Kilian used a quick prestidigitation spell to remove the stench off each of them, then they looked at Flint expectantly. Hiccup sat next to them in an invisibility guise, but Roon occasionally caught a glimpse of the food slipping off someone’s plate and disappearing into an invisible mouth.
“Well, who are you, then?” Kilian finally asked. “And how did you hear about us?”
“You’re not exactly subtle, are you?” Flint said jokingly.
“Um, mister Flint?” Evelyn said quietly. “Since you’re going to be part of our group now, I’m going to give you a present.” She turned and dug through her bag.
“Oh no,” Roon sighed.
“What do you mean,” Thia snapped to attention, “part of the group, now?”
Evelyn took out a small figurine of a humanoid creature with tentacles on its face and handed it over to the confused dwarf. “He gives me nightmares, but you can have him now.”
“Sorry,” Flint smiled, taking it, “it will give me nightmares?”
She nodded shyly.
“Ah—thank you,” the dwarf tucked it away, looking more surprised.
“So, what’s your story Flint?” Opal asked curiously. “How did you find out about us?”
“Well, it started with my problem with the giants. They killed my clan, see, and then I heard about a group calling themselves the Giant Slayers, travelling about Faerun and making a big deal of themselves. So, I decided to look for you. I thought perhaps I could help.”
“We could use any help offered,” Roon said happily, and Thia huffed.
“Where are you from?” Opal asked.
“The village of Thornwall. Listen,” Flint added, taking out a large book and slamming it on the table, “do you mind if I get your signatures? I’m a bard, see. I record stories and retell them, so they’re never forgotten.”
“Gladly.” Roon reached for the book and the dwarf gave him a bottle of ink and a quill. “This page here?” The dwarf nodded, and Roon drew a fine depiction of male genitalia with his name scribbled inside. “There you are. That’s my signature.”
“Lovely,” Flint beamed, then passed the book to Evelyn, who refused to take the ink.
“I prefer blood,” the girl said, and to Flint’s surprise, she drew a bit from her scarred arm and used it to draw an X in crimson.
“Very nice…” Now the bard was looking rather uncomfortable as he passed it to Opal next.
They all signed the page, and Flint assured them he would gather great tales from their adventures. Then, they all excused themselves and went to bed with the decision to stay in Mirabar for a few days while Opal waited for her new breastplate to be completed. That, and they needed a map to the yak folk.
Over the course of the next few days, they listened to stories from Flint, and travelled about the city to purchase supplies and a map indicating the location of the iron slag mines, atop which the yak folk supposedly lived. There, they would hopefully find Duke Zolto, who held the conch and the key to their finding Hecaton. Roon set about putting his name to a few shop keepers to find a buyer for two of their adamantium staves, and on the second night, he received two notes from messengers. The first note offered him twenty-five hundred gold for each staff. The second letter said the offer was not trustworthy and the staves were worth more, and told him to meet in the alley behind the inn that evening. After some nervous discussion, they decided to meet the person and see why they wanted the staves.
Roon disguised himself as a halfling man and Flint stood behind him, invisible and watching carefully. Thia had changed her appearance using Bran’s disguise hat, and now appeared to be a plain human woman. Everyone else sat on the two rooves over them, watching the exchange and ready to jump into the fight if necessary. The man appeared only a few minutes after them. He was tall and barrel chested, with a bushy unkempt beard and a scar across one eye. The eye was milky white, but the other was green and searching. “Did Roon send you, then?” The man asked in a growling voice.
“Yes,” Roon said in a false accent.
“And you have the staves?”
“We don’t have them on us,” Thia said in a strong voice. “We wanted to talk to you first and see what you meant by your message.”
“I would like to offer five thousand gold per staff,” the man said evenly.
“And what would you do with them?” She asked.
“Use them,” he said simply.
“To find the adamantium?”
Thia and Roon shared a look. “Why are you looking for adamantium?” Roon asked in his false accent.
“Are you working with the giants?” Thia added.
“That is my business.” The man’s posture visibly stiffened.
“I think it’s our business,” Roon said.
“It can be very dangerous in the wrong hands,” Thia explained, crossing her arms.
“It can be used for shields, weapons, armour,” the man listed.
“Is that what you’re going to use it for?”
The man smirked.
“I don’t think we want to sell to someone if we don’t know their purposes…” Thia started to say, and Roon subtly whispered an incantation under his breath.
The man’s workable eye went soft and his body relaxed. The charm spell had done its work.
“Friend,” Roon smiled, dropping the accent, “tell us what we need to know.”
“I was hired to retrieve the staves,” he said dully.
“They didn’t give me a name.”
“That didn’t bother you?”
“It’s in my line of work—getting things for people, no questions asked. I’m a mercenary.”
“Do you know anything about the ordening?” Thia asked.
“Okay, just checking,” she said, and looked again at Roon.
“We don’t have the staves right now,” Roon said, “but I can grab them.”
“Lead on,” he said, gesturing ahead. Roon and the man passed Thia and went toward the front of the inn.
Kilian landed in front of them, and stood up, gazing at the mercenary imperiously.
“Do we have a problem?”
“No,” Roon sighed, then turned to them. “I’ll pop inside for a moment and grab them. Wait here.” And he did just that. He went into the inn, took the two adamantium staves from their bag of holding, and returned carrying them. The money was exchanged, and the man gave a gruff farewell.
“Follow him,” Roon said, and Kilian nodded and flew up with Evelyn. He heard Flint pass by them, still invisible. Roon, Opal and Thia returned to the inn and sat together, waiting to hear back from their friends.
Less than an hour passed and all three of them returned, looking unhappy. “He saw us,” Kilian explained in annoyance. “He’s more observant than we gave him credit for.”
“Well, let’s hope this doesn’t come back to haunt us,” Roon said quietly.
“I think we made the right decision,” Kilian said.
“No use worrying about it now. Let’s get drunk.”
The next day they picked up Opal’s new breastplate, then went with the new members, Hiccup and Flint, to Marteen’s airship. Soon, they were back aboard, the wind rustling their hair as they flew to the Iron Slag Mines. A silver dragon passed them on their flight and landed aboard for a short while. The dragon was young and surprisingly friendly, just a curious passerby who was interested in the ship. They conversed for a short time, Marteen’s men nervously standing near the ballistae just in case, and the dragon introduced himself as Dalinare. Then, he flew off and wished them luck in their journeys.
It was another day, nearing nightfall, when they neared the town of yak folk. Marteen was the one who pointed it out, and Roon used his spyglass to look closer. The town was lit but sleepy. It was built within the midsection of a large mountain, and there were giant steps leading from the valley upwards. As they neared, they contemplated how to approach the town, and decided to wait until morning to ask questions.
Marteen’s men began to anchor the flying ship.
Suddenly, there was a rumble from within the mountain and something burst from the darkness on large wings and flapped straight toward them.
“What is that?” Thia squinted.
Roon brought up the spyglass. “Some sort of winged creature with three heads…” he muttered, then added, “each head is different. Lion, goat, and I think that lizard one is a dragon’s head…”
“It’s coming this way!” Marteen shouted to his men to prepare for an attack.
“It doesn’t look friendly,” Roon agreed, sliding the spyglass into his pocket just as the beast’s three heads roared horribly, and it spun toward them, a gust of flame shooting over the deck of the ship.
They all attacked at once. Flint shot his crossbow and a bolt hit, then seemed to explode out of its body, leaving a gaping hole. Hiccup was casting some sort of spells with his squirrel-topped staff. Thia and Opal were working together, casting energies to pull the lifeforce from the creature. Kilian swirled up like a storm and lightning shot from his fingertips. Evelyn had blurred into many forms and both arms were bleeding. Her swords were licked with black magic, waiting for the beast to come nearer. Roon bolstered his friend’s strength with light magic and shot a few sacred flames as the creature landed on the bow of the ship, causing it to shudder momentarily. Marteen’s men shot and before the creature could get off another breath of fire, it was felled by well-placed bolt of fire from their goblin friend. It collapsed, its many heads twitching and then going still.
“You can expect a lot of this, travelling with us,” Roon assured Flint.
The dwarf looked pleased. “A celebratory song!” He announced, pulling out his bagpipes and blowing out a tune of quick victory.
Thia cringed at the music and kicked the goat’s head with a toe. “Where do you think this came from?”
“Somewhere in the mountain,” Kilian frowned. “It’s a chimera.”
Evelyn was already hacking off bits of the creature and stuffing them into her over-full bag.