The Sadaharu sailed into the harbor of Frosthaven unmolested by wind or giant. Fierce winds swirled around the small fishing vessel as it drifted by massive statues of various giant kings and queens that adorned the city. Everything about the city screamed giant. From its huge stoic guardians, to its massive buildings , and even its towering walls.
Sarin and his company were humbled by the sight. They would have smashed into a sheet of ice as they stood dumbfounded by the sight, where it not for the hardy crab sailors aboard. The crab merchantmen were in awe of the ancient city as well, but fortunately they had already witnessed its wonders before.
"Hey...that one looks like Isula. ", noted Nymk as she pointed to a particular fearsome giant statue. Sarin looked at the towering behemoth and nodded in agreement. He wasn't sure if they were carved from ice or stone, but he could definitely see a resemblance. The half elf was never fully convinced that his fallen companion was actually a giant, but the statue definitely made a strong case for her racial heritage.
"Look! A signal ! ", declared Kirgi as he pointed to the docks. Sure enough, a light flashed several times in a row then paused before flashing twice again.
A crab sailor nodded and orders were issued to the crew. The large vessel swung towards the signal as the sailors were careful testing the depth of the harbor. Even though the temperatures around them were freezing cold, some magic in the harbor kept it ice free. Despite the boon, the sailors were careful not to risk sinking the ship , especially after such a long and safe journey.
"Hold! ", shouted Kania suddenly. Despite suspecting something off about the captivating nature priestess, the crab crew obeyed her without hesitation. Sarin warned her against using her natural ability to break wills, but he suspected her commands were followed due to her majestic beauty and charming voice.
As the vessel banked to reduce its speed, a swarm of dark shadows could be seen ahead of them. The shadows were spotted underneath the waves, and the crew were thankful they had obeyed Kania's orders.
"What in the abyss are those things? ", asked Halvor, more out of curiosity then fright.
Kirgi peered into the waves but to no avail. Whatever was there was gone now. "I'll get Flippy to find out! ", suggested Kirgi in a rare moment of insight.
The Sadaharu waited in position for awhile, as the dwarf started making clicking and clacking noises to his new animal companion. The grey skinned dolphin flapped its flippers before diving into the waves. After a few minutes it returned and unleashed a torrent of clicks and clacks.
"Giant frozen lobster men? Does that mean anything to anyone?", asked the dwarf in his ignorance.
The crab crew and Nymk suppressed a shudder. "Polar Chuul.", they said in hushed tones.
Sharliss took account of the resources available to her, as she was confined to her small state room.
They had taken her open palm symbol of Koryis to prevent her from praying for new divine spells. She could replicate her simple holy symbol with just her open palm. It would allow her to cast spells but not recover any. She had used many litanys already in the giant battle, so her divine magic was in short supply. She was an accomplished wizard, but her arcane ability would be no where near enough to over power her Griffon captors. She did not have access to her spell books, but since she rarely used them, she had her full complement of arcane spells at her disposal. The priestess suspected her foes did no know of her arcane power, so she was careful not to reveal it till the time was right.
Besides her arcane and divine spells , she sensed she had even darker innate magics inside of her. It was in a place she dared not tread. They were dark unholy magics that she feared would consume her if she released them. Since she was aware of them, she had suppressed them . Despite her devotion to Koryis the god of peace , and her desire to do good in the world, her concealed powers were an ugly reminder of who she really was. Sharliss had controlled and suppressed these dark gifts , just as she bound her wings to her back. The priestess knew it was a denial of truth, but it had proved an effective way to exert control over her sinister bloodline.
As the priestess contemplated her own nature, a knock came at the door.
Sharliss ignored it , but knew they would enter anyway. It was just a form of control disguised as a courtesy . Similar to the way she suppressed her own nature, she thought grimly.
As on cue, the door opened slightly ajar. "Are you decent? ", chuckled Stormfeather as he entered the room anyways.
Sharliss sat on her bed and remained quiet .
"Awww...where's all that fire and spunk you had earlier? Oh...don't tell me. You are planning an escape . Waiting for the perfect moment to strike and over power me. ", teased the Griffon Prince. To emphasis his point , he turned around exposing his back the priestess, while comically scanning for her in an empty corner.
"After you take me out, it will be an easy task to defeat the rest of the buccaneers, and of course the elite members of the Order of the Griffon. I will assume you will evade my father and siblings, since defeating them would be impossible. I am trying to make this a plausible escape attempt you know. After you take out half the crew , you'll figure out how to pilot the vessel, less it sinks forever beneath the waves, or worse yet it's fiery engines explodes. From there, you will use your magic to calm the destructive storm above us, and then summon a beast to fly you to safety! ", declared the Prince smugly with his back still turned.
Sharliss did not take the bait and continue to remain silent.
Stormfeather waited for an angry retort but when none came, he simply turned around in disappointment. "No fun at all! That's what you are! ", he declared playfully.
"Tell me, what's it gonna take to get a reaction from you. You are gonna be either my future wife or future concubine, so we should get acquainted. I'm a firm believer that communication is key in a marriage .", the Griffon Prince declared to the still silent Sharliss.
Stormfeather studied her closely then leaned in obtrusively close to the priestess. "Unless of course you want to skip all that talk. I can make you scream or moan instead of talking , if that's what you desire.", he threatened in a deep hungry voice. Sharliss suppressed a giggle, as he thought the Prince sounded like his Uncle Frank when he was trying to pick up women in the bar. Despite the odious nature of his threat, the priestess did not respond or show emotion to her captor. It was a small victory but a victory none the less.
Stormfeather sighed disappointed that even threats of a sexual nature did not intimate the lovely priestess. " Ok...I'll tell you what. I want to get some conversation out of you, and you don't want to talk. So let's have a fair trade. You can ask me whatever you like ,and I'll answer your question as honestly as I can. ", proposed the Prince.
Sharliss raised an eyebrow. She certainly did not expect this .
Stormfeather grinned as he saw the inquisitive look on the priestess. "Go ahead...ask anything. How many men on board, where are we headed. What ever you like. I just want to hear your enchanting voice. ", flattered the prince.
Sharliss considered his offer then carefully chose her words. "How did you get Captain Blaze to work for you? Are you pressuring her to do it?"
Stormfeather chuckled. " She's not under any form of duress to the best of my knowledge. We did offer her a ton of gold though, if that counts. The Order of the Griffon and elves don't normally mix, but we needed her ship's unique abilities, and she wanted our cash. Seems like a good trade to me. She seemed torn about the whole thing,stating something about she's already contracted out to someone, but in the end she chose the winning side. Merchant lord, privateer, or whatever she wants to claim to be, in the end she's nothing but a greedy pirate. "
Sharliss considered his statement and shook her head. "All this for a few coins..." , she sighed.
"It's not just a few my dear. That elf drives a hard bargain, but I suppose if you want to work with brigands, expect to be robbed. ", the prince chuckled.
Sharliss grinned at his jest , but quickly suppressed it.
"Ahh...you can't hide that smile from me. I saw that sly grin. Admit it. I'm pleasant company am I not? ", teased Stormfeather.
Sharliss remained impassive once again. She admitted he was somewhat amusing, but he was also ruthless and harbored perverse thoughts of his own sister of all things. It gave the priestess chills just thinking about it.
The Griffon prince gave Sharliss a smug look before retreating from her cabin. " That will be enough one on one time for now. Get some rest, we'll be landing in a few hours. Unlike affable little old me, pops won't take fatigue as an excuse when he begins our forced march. Hostage or not, you will march to his orders, or he will make you march. ", he warned.
The mighty Imperial drifted high above the turbulent storms. An unrelenting maelstrom of wind, ice and snow raged below. The Grommish warship flew proudly above the blizzard, undeterred from its mission.
"So ...does this make me Captain Zax? ", asked the tiefling excitedly.
"...No...I am the captain , though the ship is at your service. ", replied Captain Magnus of the Imperial. The grizzled veteran had suffered humility after humility the last few months. First , his vessel was almost destroyed by a battery of Dragon Golems of all things. Second, his proud ship Republic was renamed the Imperial by the newly appointed Emperor. Magnus argued that you can't go renaming vessels, but the snotty merchant made king dismissed his comment. After that they were sent up north on a diplomatic mission of all things. Magnus would rather bomb these traitorous knights then talk to them, but orders were orders. As they approached the pile of rocks called Narwhal hold , they were given an excellent opportunity to either bomb their foes or watch them and the giants rip each other apart. An order from the Indomitable forced their hand to assist the same people that attacked the capital earlier. Magnus could make no sense of such an order but he complied anyways. After all, he was still a proud captain of the Grommish Skyship Fleet, a proud prestigious military institution. That pride however was once again put to the test as Lord Quick ordered his vessel to be at the services of ...of a filthy tiefling.
"Captain Magnus... the storm is intensifying . Shall we increase our altitude. ", asked one of the Imperial's officers.
"Make it so. ", ordered the Captain . Magnus gazed at the storm battering his skyship , and wondered what was the reason for this mission. The Indomitable would have been a better choice for this expedition, but it was currently grounded and under repairs. The Invincible was better armored, but its hull was limited . It was one of the few pure war ships of the Grommish fleet. The Imperial was a nice balance of armor, speed , and comfort. Magnus often bragged that his vessel was the most underrated ship of the fleet, and a bit of bad weather wasn't going to delay his mission.
"Sir Zax...may I inquire the exact details of this mission. If secrecy is required I will understand, but perhaps if I knew what our goal is , I can better help you accomplish it. ", asked the Captain in his most diplomatic voice. The truth of the matter was he would have been happy to throw the repulsive tiefling overboard. Although most of his crew did not seem to have a problem with Zax's racial heritage, Magnus had lost a nephew during the many tiefling uprisings in the north. The most recent being Duke Ari's rampage during the siege of McDunnalds.
Zax nodded, but peered around the enclosed bridge first. Unlike the Indomitable, most of the vessel was hidden behind the massive shell/hull of the vessel. A few officers and crewmen were on board, but Zax did not seem to be looking for them. "We are on a mission to recover the Warmaster's daughter. ", he whispered .
Magnus nodded. "I figured as much. Do we have intel that she is somewhere in these damned storms ?", inquired the captain further.
Zax nodded, "Look...between you and me...I'm hoping for a very uneventful mission, if you catch my drift. It would please me if we just did a few patrols over the area, and return home empty handed. Lord Quick want's this done more then I do, so just put on a good show to make it look like we did our job. ", added the tiefling in a conspirator's tone.
Magnus was not surprised at the tiefling's subterfuge. He was horrified though at the prospect of abandoning the Warmaster's daughter. Even though he was a northerner, the Warmaster had avenged his nephew by personally breaking Duke Ari's forces . "What about the Warmaster's daughter? ", asked the captain with a hardened expression.
Zax shrugged. "Sharliss is my friend, but its like finding a needle in a haystack here. Hey , I want to rescue her, I really do, but lets be realistic here. If we attempted to land this tub, we'll be smashed by the storms. Even if we do make it to the ground, the elementals would probably tear us apart. If by some miracle we survived, then there's the matter of wresting her from the Order of the Griffon. Fat chance of that happening I think. The proper tools for the proper job I say, and I doubt this flying shell fish can handle it. In fact, I'm surprised its still flying, I was sure this flimsy looking thing was blown to smithereens or something during the battle over Grom City. So let's do everyone a favor and stay safe, put on a good show, before heading home empty handed. ", suggested the tiefling.
Magnus was incensed. To suggest to leave a damsel in distress was already loathsome enough, but to insult his proud vessel was unforgivable. To suggest it wasn't up to the task was as grave an insult as the Captain could imagine.
"A simple fly around sir? Understood. ", seethed the Captain .
Zax looked at Magnus and frowned. "Hey...are you sick or something? You look all red and sweaty. It's not contagious is it? ", observed the tiefling before taking a few steps safely back .
Frank stopped and stared. "I wasn't expecting this...", commented the Champion of the Crab.
Aethulwulf slapped his old subordinate on the back. "This , my friend, is the reason that the full name of my Order is called "Ghost Mammoth". ", declared the Champion of the Mammoth proudly. Aethulfwulf patted the large spectral construct. He seemingly summoned it earlier from a small ice carving . It's shape was hard to make out, but it took the form of a hazy see through mammoth. Above it was a spectral Howdah seemingly attached to the massive beast without a harness. It was a bizarre sight to say the least.
Erland scratched his head, "Wait...I always thought you guys were the Order of the Mammoth because ...you guys ride mammoths. ", asked the Grand Champion.
Aethwulf laughed, "That's funny , especially coming from the Champion of the Squirrel. Oh please tell us mighty Erland why your order doesn't ride squirrels? We ride mammoths, because they are dependable and sturdy beasts. We often wonder why everyone doesn't ride the noble mammoth. Our order on the other hand was named for this magical item recovered from some dragon horde centuries ago. It was the catalyst of my people's initial military successes. It can travel great distances and allow it and its riders to attack the enemy's rear or flank with ease. We seldom it use since its our ace in the hole or trump card so to speak. However, I believe the current crisis warrants it use. "
"Wait , you guys don't ride squirrels? ", asked Frank in shock.
"Don't be stupid Frank. Snappy's order is famous for riding horses, so they can run away from squirrels. ", commented an irritated Surry. Frank had known Surry since their days in the Third Army of Grom, and the Crab warrior noted she was just as shrill now as she was back then.
"Why aren't you guys called the Order of the Horse then ?", snipped Frank to Erland, even though his annoyance was directed at Surry.
"I don't see you guys ride crabs. Your order should be called the Order of the boat then. ", huffed Erland in return.
"Some of us DO ride crabs for your information. ", declared Frank in irritation.
"ENOUGH!", shouted Hero of the Boar angrily. "I don't care for the reasons why your orders are named for what they are. We have elementals to kill and we were promised a ride. ", barked the Champion of the Boar. Although the dark haired woman was the youngest of the Champions, her many exploits garnered her great respect, even from the Grand Champion.
"Errr yes. As I was saying , the Ghost Mammoth is a unique magic item. Similar to the marble elephant that the Great Sampson once possessed. Although the construct it summons is not as powerful physically as its more common variety, it allows the rider to transport a small group vast distances an through seemingly impassable barriers. I believe we can bring our group to Ogremoch's glacier and recover this Orb thing before the elemental's plans come to fruition . ", explained Aethulwulf . The Mammoth warrior was unique amongst the current champions. Despite his skill in battle , he was more known for his tactical and strategic planning then his strength in personal combat. When the previous champion Magdar died , his appointment was greeted with veiled criticism. However , with the backing of Lady Janya of the Mammoth , Aethulwulf had since been proven a wise choice.
The Mammoth warrior easily climbed up the spectral fur of the construct and lowered a rope bridge to the waiting Champions.
"Ladies first. ", declared Frank with a bow. Surry and Hero graciously climbed aboard, with the Crab Champion slyly eying their ascent.
Halvor eyed the dark shadows under the waves. The big knight suppressed a shudder as he thought he saw them returning his gaze.
"Why aren't they attacking us?", Halvor asked one of the crab sailors.
The sailor began to answer but Lady Kania replied first. "Chuul are slow beasts. Unlike sharks who chase their prey, the chitinous monsters rely on ambushes . I assume that since the giants have left, they have taken this harbor over and are using it for their hunting grounds. ", explained the lamia.
"What could they possibly be hunting now? The world is literally falling apart here. Giant Elementals are supposedly stomping the land. The entire north is engulfed by a blizzard, and the waves turn against us. Hell if I know why this ship isn't affected. ", commented Halvor as he watched the storms batter the waves just beyond their vessel.
Kania shrugged. "Perhaps they are just seeking shelter from the storm , like we are. ", guessed the Lamia priestess.
Sarin scowled as he overhead the conversation. "Regardless of why these Chuul are here, they are in our way. I don't know what providence protects our ship, but I won't rely on it forever. We need to get to that signal, and get these people safe. If we somehow accomplish that, then we can hunt down this artifact. ", scowled the paladin. Halvor noted that despite the half elf's insistence on this mission, he grudgingly respected the safety of the refugees first.
"What's this A then B then C stuff. ", snorted Kirgi. "Why don't we both at the same time? ", offered the dwarf.
Sharliss was escorted to the deck of the bronze and iron ship. She appeared unchained but a locked bracelet was placed on her wrist to stop her magic. Sharliss had heard of such devices, and suspected it was some sort of refined dark iron . Despite her shackle, her Griffon guards eyed her warily. A particular brutish knight by the name of Sir Jurgen seemed to be in charge of her care.
Even with her innate resistance to cold, the priestess felt a biting chill. It felt odd being on the deck of the Mighty Acheron once again. In the past she had defended the vessel against the Sahaugin, now she was a prisoner of the Griffon. Sharliss huddled against the fierce winds, but found no protection from the bitter cold she felt inside her heart.
"Lady Sharliss, so good to see you. ", smirked Captain Blaze arrogantly as she greeted the priestess.
Sharliss did not return her gaze and ignored the strutting elf.
"Don't be mad. I saw an opportunity and took it. It's just buisness. ", cooed the elf. "I thought Zax and I had similar interests, but sadly it was not the case. I really thought he was motivated by greed, but such was not the case. I was watching him with my magics. I saw he bravely fought some legendary Kraken monster during the giant raid. I can not ally myself with such a man or tiefling that believes in something as unpredictable as heroism and valor. The Griffon on the other hand, they are motivated purely by power . Something I can easily understand. ", continued the captain.
"Enough chit chat you bitches. The great hunting bird requires this one's presence . ", warned Sir Jurgen.
Blaze bristled at the knight's slur towards her, while Sharliss gave a smug smile at the elf's discomfort.
The small group marched off the deck off Acheron and onto the ice surrounding the vessel. There, a small band of Griffon knights awaited them. Sharliss recognized them as Stormfeather and his band of hand picked knights called the Windtalons.
"Ahh...our lovely hostage has arrived. Pops is waiting. " , commented the Griffon Prince , seemingly unaffected by the chilling wind.
"You know my sister and brother, Lionsong and Iceclaw right ? ", asked Stormfeather as he pointed out a particularly large man and a tall woman. Sharliss nodded and noticed that the large man stared blankly into the blizzard while the tall woman averted her gaze from her. The priestess suspected that the elven Privateer was without scruples, but saw that Lionsong at least felt some small regret for her part in this endeavor. The priestess noted that group was mainly dismounted save for an old man on a particularly large white scaled griffon at the rear.
Sharliss had never seen such a beast before . From all her time studying various manuals , folios, and tomes about monsters she had never encountered such a creature. Stormfeather spotted her look of puzzlement and gladly explained. "Ahh...you spotted Pop's mount. A unique creature. It's half dragon , half griffon, all cranky. Just like Pops! ", declared the prince with a chuckle.
" Took us years to get the damn things to breed, we had no success till Iceclaw accidentally fed our breeding stock some of that Agave juice from down south. ", declared Stormfeather proudly. He paused dramatically with a smirk then laughed. "Only kidding. We bought this egg from a wizard, that's all I know. ", admitted the prince.
"Anyways. Let's bag us some artifacts before Pops starts chopping heads. ", chuckled Stormfeather with levity in his voice, but menace in his eyes.
Zax gripped anything he could find on the Imperial's bridge. The vessel shuddered ominously as Captain Magnus began descending through the clouds.
"Ummm ...Captain? I thought the plan was we were to do some fly bys and return home? ", asked the tiefling in a small scared voice.
"Yes sir. However one of my spotters has noticed something near the target zone. ", answered Magnus curtly but loudly.
"Err, is that good or bad? ", puzzled Zax.
"Good...that means I can ditch you off my ship you miserable creature. ", mumbled the Captain under his breath.
"What was that? ", asked Zax as the ship shuddered violently once again.
"That remains to be seen sir. I will prepare supplies for your landing party if we find signs of the woman we seek. ", barked the Captain once again in a loud voice.