The heroes trudged back to Turtleback Ferry from Skulls Crossing. Maggie looked unusually haggard from the draining magic of the Skulls’ arcane engine. Townsfolk rushed to learn of the heroes deeds. Rumors quickly spread of their success. After Parson Sheed was briefed he proclaimed a festival in the town’s tavern that night. The heroes were feasted and cheered.
A Shoanti warrior traveling through the region was particularly interested. He introduced himself as Duncan and in heavily accented common speech he said “I would join your path that leads to great deeds.”
Albi woke from a dead sleep with his bedclothes soaked in sweat. He scampered into the common room finding no one but the kitchen help awake at the early hour. He slowly recovered realizing it was a dream…mostly. He was still pacing when the other party members entered the Turtle Parlor common room.
“It was a black wood. A fell swamp. It must have been the Shimmerglens. And she was there. Translucent but more real than any dream. She was real. She had to be.”
Maggie looked fully recovered after a night’s rest. She placed a hand on the gnome’s trembling shoulder and his rapid speech slowed.
“Slow down little guy. You’re not making any sense” the tiefling said.
Albi unfolded a tale of tortured misery. He had met the ghost of Myriana within the swamps to the west. She and Lamatar Bayden were ambushed by Kreeg ogres while rendezvousing in the woods. He was made to watch while they savaged her body. The ogres tore her hands and legs from her trunk. She died on the forest floor as he was drug way to the ogres’ lair, Hook Mountain.
The ghost of Myriana rose and her devastation corrupted the land. Her despair over his certain death, and the resulting destruction to her glade, overwhelmed her reason.
Albi neglected to mention how she nearly killed him.
He went on to explain that she could only be put to rest and the Shimmerglens righted by returning the body of Lamatar.
The adventurers shared a rare chill of empathy and purpose wether from the sorrowful tale or the gnome’s passion and damp eyes.
The adventurers prepared for the alpine ascent of Hook Mountain. They visited the Turtleback general store and bought out all the cold-weather equipment.
Most of the first day was spent traveling familiar roads toward Fort Rannick. The floodwaters had receded but the forested trail was washed out in several places.
On the second day the party moved into the mountains. The winter weather made the trek treacherous but between Mal’s exceptional navigational skills and Azrack’s knowledge of the region the party found protected routes towards the lee of the mountain.
From there, they could see black smoke pouring from mountain chimneys and the beginnings of giant sized stairs carved into stone. Scouts moved forward and found a band of Kreeg ogres guarding the cavernous entrance. Despite the drifting snow and packed earth the party surprised the foes and defeated them handily.
Maggie found time to destroy the petrified corpse of a massive giant by looting the preserving Sihedron medallion it wore.
The heroes moved cautiously into the smoky, torch-lit caves of the Kreeg ogres. At an intersection within they found half a dozen ogres and a hill giant behind a defensive wall. The resulting battle caused many severe injuries, but Tal’Vesha’s prayers healed the heroes’ wounds. The Giants had no such divine intervention.
While looting the bodies, Duncan found a strange organic blob. The puffball ruptured, and the resulting cloud dropped him into it torpor. The party placed him in a crevice where they thought he would be safe.
After only moments to recover, an unnatural cloud of fog began filling the cavern. The sounds of ogres could be heard from within. Albi lobbed a bomb into the cloud as the ogres charged forward. The battle shifted up and down a giant-scaled stairway. Massive boulders rained upon the party from a stone giant overlord at the stair’s base. When the frontline fighters descended to engage, a new foe struck the party’s rear echelon.
Wearing the cloaks of a woodsman and the frozen dead face of a corpse, Lamatar Bayden attacked with a sword crusted in ice. He drove the blade into Tal’Vesha’s soft blue underbelly. The theurge was nearly lost before the other party members could destroy the frost wight.
During the battle, Mal also glimpsed a hulking shadowy form who slipped away down a nearby corridor.
Tal’s spells were nearly spent and Albi counted only a pair of remaining bombs. The party debated camping in a mountain pass and returning but ultimately the group decided to press on and decapitate whatever leadership was responsible for sacking Fort Rannick.
Maggie scouted ahead and found another cavern full of filth and animal carcasses. Deeper within a coven of hideous hags chortled and chanted over a massive bubbling cauldron. She stealthily returned to the party and described her findings.
Tal’Vesha cast a globe of silence upon a single coin. After handing it to the tiefling rogue, her chatter notably absent, she charged into the cavern. The rest of the party was close behind and focused their fire on the nearest witch. Without the benefit of their group spellcasting, the hideous women used only brutish claws. None of their attacks could touch the evasive rogue or penetrate Azrack’s plate armor. The first annis hag fell in silence and the wail of her sisters was similarly noiseless. The remaining two were easily defeated.
The party explored the remaining corridor. It opened into an amphitheater covered with snow and ice. In the center rose a tiered stair with flanking stone giant statues that ended in a huge stone throne. Upon the chair sat a great, gray, chiseled form of a stone giant draped in black cloaks. Her voice rumbled in gigantish, “Destroy these mites. They have caused me enough trouble.”
Two nearby statues revealed themselves to be stone giants. They began flinging massive boulders at the party. Maggie suffered a grazing blow as she rushed forward with Azrack only steps behind. Tal’Vesha conjured an obscuring cloud to protect the ranged fighters. Mal slid to its edge and begin unleashing a barrage of lightning arrows on her huge foes.
The seated giantess answered with a fireball blast at Mal’s feet. The flames also scorched Tal and his minions. Azrak and Maggie closed with the nearest stone giant and chopped him down. The giantess using a wand of necrotic power sapped the tiefling’s strength and dexterity. With a flood of sailor’s curses, she barely landed another blow during the battle.
Fortunately, Azrack was made for this fight. His war axe gouged furrows in the stone giant while Albi’s bombs and Mal’s arrows blew chunks from its flesh. When the last guardian fell, the giantess rose from her throne wielding a massive maul.
Her blows crashed down upon Azrack, but the unshakable shield of his ancestors could not be bypassed. With arrows raining upon her and bombs bursting, Azrack struck with the fury of his Order. The stone giant necromancer collapsed at the foot of her throne. She begged for mercy but none was to be found in the dwarf’s vengeful eyes.
The return to Turtleback Ferry was unusually pleasant. The traveling conditions were the best seen since arriving to these parts. The sun actually broke through the clouds and no rain or snow fell the day after the witches were felled. Having made good time, the heroes arrived after nightfall the next day.
Upon hearing of the heroes’ arrival, Parson Sheed summoned them to the town hall. He listened intently to the party’s tale of events and his jaw set when he learned of the impending assault on Sandpoint. He praised the party for again saving Turtleback Ferry and the greater region. He then worried his chin and said, “Our town has little to reward you beyond our enduring gratitude but I will do what is within my power.”
He then explained that he would communicate to officials in Magnimar the impending threat and the heroes’ service to Varisia.
Albi returned to the familiar decayed swamp but this time found a twisted bier upon which laid the corpse of Lamatar Bayden. The nymph was nearly unrecognizable for her joyous face. She chanted and writhed her arms. Albi stood hypnotized until a wash of white light bursted through him. In the place of the bier stood the majestic form or a great white stag.
Whitewillow’s new protector bowed to the stunned gnome. Translucent tears flowed down Myriana’s checks. Her love and gratitude infused Albi like a cinnamon liqueur. As the glade began to rapidly revitalize with verdant greens and vivid flowers, Albi’s vision blurred and blackened. He abruptly sat upright in a darkened room. His room in Turtleback Ferry’s inn. Then he laid his head back on his pillow, fingers intertwined behind his bushy hair, with a broad smile stretching ear to ear.