The ladies were awakened in the middle of the night by a sudden, violent tremor in the ground. The floor beneath them lurched and deep rumbling sounds could be heard in the distance. They all rushed out into the common room to see the few other guests sleeping in the inn (lots of locals, but not a lot of travelers using the place in the winter) gathering in a similar state of panic. They ran outside just in time to hear what sounded like a massive explosion echoing through the valley, clearly coming from the north, but could see nothing in the overcast night.
They waited, shivering, for several minutes but the ground did not stop quaking, and still there was no sign of the cause. The tremors continued, but grew weaker, and finally they returned indoors. Hira stoked the fires in the common room up and tried to calm the panicked patrons, as well as the villagers who were similarly awakened and had begun congregating in the caravansary to learn what had happened.
By dawn the tremors had still not stopped. Going back outside, they could see now that the entire peak of the second mountain, which Hira had called Duvan'ku, looked like it had been blown away. The mountain was clearly several hundred feet shorter than it had been, and still the grown quaked.
After several wide-eyed appellations of "Holy Shit!" and "What the fuck!?" and similar blasphemies from the Amazons, Hira spoke up.
"If you still desire to go up the mountain, I am coming with you...I have to learn what caused this."
Had Enough looked at Battle Cry, her face white, "You don't think the squire actually had anything to do with that do you?"
"My vision was interrupted by the Earthquake, but from what I could gather, he is still up there and was at least alive right before it happened..." Battle Cry responded.
There was more astonished and exasperated cursing from the girls.
"Vengeance is hard..." Princess sighed.
"Let's go then," said Worthy of Armor in her usual matter-of-fact manner.
Hot Flanks turned to Hira, "So which would be the faster way up there, going around to Verdegris or climbing strait up the side?"
"Climbing would probably be most efficient. Even in the summer it is four days ride to Verdigris." Hira admitted, "The village of Rhund lies at the foot of the near peak. If the weather holds we should be able to reach it before dark. Finding a path up to the ridge will be a challenge though, and there is the giant to be concerned with..."
"Sounds like we'll have to do some climbing and kill a giant then," Battle Cry said, almost gleefully.
The other girls assented and quickly packed up their gear for the rushed journey. The villagers were more than happy to lend the girls ropes, pitons, climbing axes, snowshoes, furs, and other gear to aid in their travels. They left Mfara and the mule at the caravansary for safekeeping and headed out with laden packs.
They strapped on their snowshoes and practically ran up the pass, following a semi-worn trail between the two villages. About an hour on, they ran into a group of travelers heading south who informed them that the village of Rhund had been flattened by the earthquakes, the lake at the Stojanow's headwaters further dammed by rockslides, and the giant out, about, and angry. They thanked the refugees and rushed on.
"Anyone every fought a giant before?" Princess asked. "They're more or less human, right? So stabbing with the Handsome Prince should work?"
"If you can reach their vitals, sure," said Hot Flanks. "But given that it's a FROST giant, a few fireballs should deal with it pretty handily. I suggest we keep our distance and just blast the thing..."
"How about we ignore the thing and focus on our mission," Don't Fail said. "As dangerous as the giant may be, an exploding mountain and six hour long earthquakes with a known psychopath involved seems like a more existential threat to the region..."
They ran on.
A few hours later, their muscles aching but at least warm from the exertion, they came to the base of the mountain. The mountainside was strewn with rubble and the river was reduced to a trickle from the blockage. They scrambled up the side of a rock pile and looked down on the village of Rhund, almost entirely collapsed. Sitting on the edge of the lake that formed the headwaters of the river, was a massive blue-skinned man, easily thirty feet tall, with a sparse white beard, dangling his feet in the icy waters and wearing nothing save for a tartan kilt.
As Hot Flanks leveled her club at him, he turned and smiled. "Ah," he said, "you look like the right girls." Hot Flanks hesitated and he stood, rising to his full height. "I have a letter for you. I'm sorry it took so long to deliver, but I didn't not have your names to forward it along."
They all looked confused, but Don't Fail was the first to speak, "You...have a letter for us?"
"Just a short missive really." The giant knelt down and placed a folded and sealed piece of paper on a nearby rock, then stepped away. "From a mutual friend."
"We don't have many friends in this place," Battle Cry spoke up. "and fewer still who would leave a message with your like. What kind of trick are you pulling?"
"No trick little ladies. A friend sent this to me with the request that it be delivered to a band of six female adventurers of a southern persuasion. She did not give names, so I must assume it is you, since I do not know your names."
"Lady Bivant?" Don't Fail asked quietly, gesturing with one hand to indicate that Princess should attempt to flank the giant. Princess disappeared into the shadows of a nearby boulder and Don't Fail cautiously approached the giant and his letter.
"Would it make you more comfortable if I were farther afield?" The giant asked, taking a gigantic step back and kneeling down with his hands palm-down on the ground. "This way I will be in less of a position to cause you harm."
"Thank you," Don't Fail said, and she picked up the letter and walked back to the others, stepping backwards and keeping her eyes on the giant.
"The seal is not Lady Bivant's," Worthy of Armor stated. "I do not know it."
"Let's just read it then," said Hot Flanks impatiently, her club still pointed at the giant.
Don't Fail scanned the letter with spells to detect and read magic, in case it may be a trap, and, finding nothing, broke the seal. It read:
bq). Let us know if we can help,
— Former people in charge of Kryptgarten.
"The Squire?!" Don't Fail exclamed. The girls eyes went wide and they turned, just in time to see Princess, perched on a rock just behind the kneeling giant leap, blade drawn, at the towering man's exposed back. Princess slammed into something in mid-air, feet from the giant's skin, and slid down to the ground.
"That was not very polite," said the giant, rising to his feet, a gigantic maul suddenly in one hand and a tiny metal rod balanced on the tip of the opposite finger. "If you do not like the message, killing the messenger is not the answer." He tilted his head, stretching his neck muscles with the sound of a collapsing glacier, and looked down at Princess. "How can we fight if we still haven't even been properly introduced? My name, for instance, is Sorrassar."
"What, can't even spell Sorcerer right?" Princess quipped.
"Alright," Hot Flanks said, stalking forward with her club, "I'm Hot Flanks. She's Princess. Our sisters are Battle Cry, Don't Fail, Worthy of Armor, and Had Enough...and you're dead!" She pointed the club and shouted "May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!" A fireball streaked from the end of the club, then burst against the unseen barrier, leaving the giant unharmed.
The giant sighed, a deep, mournful noise, like cold wind through a graveyard. "Those are NOT your names," he said. "Very well, if that is how you're going to be." He pointed the finger with the tiny rod balanced on it at Princess. A beam of coruscating, rainbow colored light engulfed her and she vanished.
Princess reappeared sitting on her big, plush, four-poster bed, in her chambers in the palace of the Crown Duke of Threskel, a thousand miles to the south and east. "Noooooooooo!" Princess screamed, stabbing Handsome Prince into one of the pillows, just to make sure it was solid. The door opened and her father smiled, "I was wondering when you'd get home..."
Meanwhile, back in the north, after seeing Princess be "disintegrated", the other six girls burst into action. Hot Flanks dropped the club and charged with her sword, Mantooth, the blade struck the magical barrier protecting the giant and shattered it with a flash of light and the sound of tinkling glass.
As the barrier collapsed, Worthy of Armor drew her scimitar and hurled it at the Sorrassar, the whirling blade cutting a deep gouge in the giant's leg before returning to her hand. Hira raised a hand to the sky and a brilliant ray slanted down from the dim winter sun, right into the giant's eyes, blinding him and burning his face.
Had Enough charged in through the gap, her claymore held high, but was caught by a mighty, underhanded blow from the giant's hammer which sent her sailing into the air. Don't Fail pointed a finger at her, and she froze, suspended, fifty feet off the ground.
Battle Cry was only a step behind Had Enough, singing an old Hlondathan battle hymn and running flat out. She jumped, kicking the giant in the knee, then scrambling up to lock on to his arm holding the hammer, wrapping her arms around his elbow, straitening her back, and bracing her feet into his arm pit to immobilize the limb.
From her position hanging in mid-air, Had Enough dropped her sword, leveled a crossbow, and planted a bolt in the giant's side. Then Don't Fail's spell wore off and she tumbled back to the ground, only to have her movement arrested again, only a few feet off the ground by a second application of the spell.
The giant tried to shake Battle Cry free, but was unable to, despite his greater strength. Finally he was forced to drop his tiny wand and grab Battle Cry with his free hand. She kicked him, hard under the chin as he swung her away from his arm and began to crush the life out of her.
Hot Flanks, meanwhile grabbed the dropped wand and pointed it at Sorrassar, grinning maniacally. "Hey Battle Cry," she yelled, "what do we want?!"
"VENGEANCE!" came the gasping response, as Hot Flanks read the runes written on the side of the wand out loud. The blast of light shot at the startled giant who dropped both Battle Cry and the hammer as he raised his hands in a futile attempt to ward off the magic of his own wand.
The light engulfed Sorrassar and he vanished.
Once everyone had picked themselves up, Hira informed, thanks to a locate creature spell, them that Princess was still alive, just in a palace thousands of miles to the south.
"Holy shit!" Battle Cry said, "That wand sent her HOME!?"
"She's going to be pissed..." Hot Flanks added, tucking the wand into her belt. "I wonder where the giant ended up?"
"Who cares," Had Enough said. "At least he's out of our way."
"Yes," said Don't Fail point at the quarter-mile-high, sheer cliff-face of the mountain. "We still need to get up there..."
Worthy of Armor began unpacking the climbing gear they had borrowed from the villagers and tying ropes together. "Let's get started then..."
As the others got ropes ready and switched out their snowshoes for climbing harness, Hot Flanks sat down and painted a trio of strange symbols on her cloak. Once everyone was ready, she splashed a handful of water from the lake on the first symbol and put on the cloak, which turned into a large pair of wings. "Okay," she said, tying one end of the rope to her belt and picking up an armful of pitons and the giant's hammer, which was much smaller than when he held it. "I'll fly up and set the spikes, then you guys can just clip and scamper up the rope..."
They did just that. She flew up, hammering pitons and feeding the rope through them, trying to pick a path up the cliff with additional handholds. The others followed, climbing slowly. Occasionally Hot Flanks stopped and grabbed the rope as her wings started to revert to cloak, spitting on the next symbol to renew the effect. After three hours, the exhausted girls reached the top off the cliff and rested in a large cave with a large depression, like an empty pond, in the middle of it.
The tremors had, but this point stopped. Tired as they were, the girls only rested an hour, eating a light meal of week-old horse meat, before continuing.
Outside the cave, they found a narrow path leading around the side of the mountain and up, winding towards the peak. They walked single file, keeping a rope tied around their wastes, linking them together with about six feet of slack between each of them. The wind howled, threatening to send them tumbling to their deaths, but eventually they made the top intact. They walked over the ridge of the peak and stopped, dumb-founded by what they saw below.
On the mountain ridge between the peak they had climbed and the second peak, called Duvan'ku, was a large, ancient city, but this was not what amazed them. What amazed them was the huge army of walking corpses, hundreds of thousands of them, snaking their way down the north side of the mountain, and with them, resting on palanquins born by their undead slaves, was the Squire of Kryptgarten and his companions...
"We have to warn Phlan..." someone whispered.
To be continued...