[In the oral tradition of the Goliath, Naali’s recollections of her adventures are not written as such. For convenience they are captured here.]
Zol, Vult 10 (Escape from the ainkla den)
Honored Noma, You see me before you beneath the warm night sky of Xen’drik, weary but alive, victorious in my war party’s flight from the hive of the evil ainkla. Seeing the velvet night with its unfamiliar stars, I can hardly believe what we have endured this day but for the utter exhaustion I feel.
Upon my awakening and recovery after the ainkla Queen’s death, it was clear from the sounds around us that more of the grotesque insects were coming toward us in confusion and rage. As I lay on my back listening to the others discussing what to do, I observed cracks in the ceiling around the columns. “Blow the columns and block the passageways,” I offered as I stood up.
The Orange one grinned strangely and stepped forward, unleashing a wave of magic. Still they stood. I charged at the nearest and hacked at it, and still it stood. As I turned in frustration to Fane, I saw Drudge fending off an attacking ant as Elrick released a mighty burst of energy that sped past me, destroying the three columns nearest to me.
We all charged across the chamber, hacking at ainkla trailing our steps. As we gathered on the far side to race out of the chamber, the Orange one blasted the columns closest to us—a foolhardy risk, but one that bought us the seconds we needed to put the collapsing chamber roof between us and the advancing ainkla. The wizard was so entranced with his display of destruction that Fangrim hauled him out by the collar of his robes, magic still crackling from his hands.
Drudge was furious with the Orange one for putting us in further danger, but slowly his anger became a laugh of relief as Elrick began his usual ritual of magical cleansing. He is ever attentive to his cleanliness.
We went forth toward a dank chamber that held enormous cocoons of ainkla silk. The wealth contained in this room would dazzle the dreams of the greediest clan leader, although the size of these ants was so large the silk was of far inferior quality to the strands woven into the collar of the amulet you bade me keep on your passing. Still, the sheen and strength of the floss was clear as we set about opening the bundles to see what they held.
As with the tiny ainkla of the mountain meadows, these cocoons were filled with prey, much of it already dissolving, putrescent flesh. Despite the smell and filth, I saw Drudge stripping a hank of silk from a coccoon. We explored the cocoons one by one, eventually discovering a few survivors of the airship crew. Two were conscious, although disoriented, and one fell unconscious. We found the sad corpse of Captain Jan. He had been killed before he was wrapped by the ainkla, which was a mercy he deserved. Fane and Drudge gathered weapons and identifiable belongings from the dead so their kin would learn of their fates.
It was clear the collapse of the Queen’s chamber had weakened to hive—I heard various crashings and rumblings echoing through the passageways. Fangrim and I began to fashion a harness for the unconscious man so I could carry him out on my back while Fane and Drudge gathered the weapons and items they found. Fane said there is a shield for me in the bundle, a shield with the sparkle of magic about it. I am pleased.
We assembled to exit the hive, Fangrim and Drudge assisting me with the soulless human. It was clear the structure was collapsing behind us, and we moved quickly, despite our weariness and load. Even with the athleticism of our people, the human was a heavy load after such a day, and it took all my strength to bear his weight, especially jumping across collapsed cavern floors and swimming across a stretch of water undermining the hive’s foundations.
It was as if the Thunder Beings were at our heels as we dashed madly for the humid air of the outside, the dust and rubble of the final collapse rushing at our backs as we emerged from the crumbling tunnel mouth. Never have I been more grateful to see the night sky, even if the stars are not those of my mountain home.
The party now numbers eight with the addition of Jacob, Matthias, and the groggy human, Yeslick. With those who await at the beach we will be a fellowship of eleven—an auspicious number.
With this short rest we now trek out toward the campsite Elrick insists awaits us near the beach. I am determined to sleep until the Icehorn melt, and well you know my determination where sleep is concerned, Noma. Still, I will not shirk my duty to keep watch on my turn should Fane ask me.
Whether the Orange one’s camp is there or not, I am glad to see the end of this braschtek-bhan, god-cursed day, Noma.
Zol, Vult 10 (Battle with the ainkla Queen)
Honored Noma, We have slain the ainkla Queen in the depths of this hive, although not without pain of our own.
The eerie green glow of the death chamber proved to be disgusting creatures emerging from the rotting, acidic filth of the ainkla. They came at us in strength and they were slippery as rime under my feet. Although their touch stung mightily, they fell before our attack.
The darkness and cramped spaces in this hive make my hearing more acute. As we slayed the slime creatures, I heard the pulsating sounds of a shock nearby, and a faint shout. I lead us forward toward the sounds, relaying the distance with Fane, pushing on in hopes of finding Fangrim in this nightmare place.
There was another dim light ahead as I emerged to see swarms of infant ainkla and their guardians attacking a most unexpected target—the Orange wizard, who had stayed at the beach to make camp. He looked bleary but had killed many already. I dashed to the center of the fray and claimed all enemies while my companions attacked around me. When we were done, corpses of ainkla lay smoldering in the dust all around us.
Fane, unwilling to abandon hope of Fangrim, urged us forward on my lead. I led deeper into the hive, following a dank smell that reminded me of the cold damp of Bog Idrankel in the lowlands. I heard the passageway widen into a vast space, and as Fane came forward his shield illuminated a mouldering, fetid, sandy chamber with tall pillars weakly supporting the roof. I heard Drudge as he recognized movement across the large room-it was Fangrim!
Just as we saw our companion, a monstrosity emerged from the darkness-the ainkla Queen-a foul, two-headed beast far larger than any of her warriors. As she came at us, stinging from Drudge’s initial bowshot, the hideous stench of her came over us, filling the room.
Fangrim was beset by attackers as well, and the weakened wall behind him gave way, burying him in damp sand. Fane, seeing his distress, charged across to help him. He is a brave leader, Noma.
The ainkla Queen was a formidable foe, and her protectors were many and fierce. We slew them one by one, Fane’s voice echoing in the chamber as he urged Fangrim back from his sandy trap. Wounded and fading, my o-ka left my body, and I watched with my spirit eye as Elrick, Fane, and Drudge smote the bitch, the damp ceiling collapsing over her carcass.
When I awoke, Drudge was looking down on me, a vial of potion in his hand—unneeded for this time, but I am grateful for his intent. Although we remain in the hive, with the addition of Fangrim our party now numbers five. I hope we leave this place soon; this day seems neverending.
Also know, Honored Noma, that Fane begins to make me graschak-khen, the Rain Shadow for our war party; it is a worthy role of protection and one I have long apsired to. I am on my warrior’s path.
Zol, Vult 10 (In the ainkla den)
Honored Noma, Your last daughter is within the hive of the giant ainkla. I hear their dry clacking movements all around us. I have never missed the cold, clear air of the Icehorn more than I do at this moment.
We have avoided the attention of the ainkla by care and stealth, and their own strange ambivalence. The big-jawed ones are fiercer and smarter—we avoid them in particular. Signs of Fangrim are evident, to me as well as Drudge, but we descend ever deeper into the hive, guessing the proper direction with only our ears, eyes, and noses to guide us.
We have come to a death chamber, deep underground. It is a bad place. Viscid green pools lie on the ground, which is littered with putrifying ainkla. There is something evil here, more malevolent than the ainkla. Drudge and Fane see something overhead… A strange green glow begins to brighten their faces.
We are in danger!
Zol, Vult 10 (searching for survivors)
Honored Noma, Our party faces troubles beyond even our fall from the skyship and escape from the deep waters. In our search for survivors of the crash we came across strange signs of unknown beasts heading for the jungle. At Fane’s order we followed, although the Orange one stayed behind to make camp. A maze of trails we found in the forest, like the mountain paths our goat herds have written across the slopes of home. But these creatures were not goats, they were insects, the tiny ainkla who infest a careless campsite; but grown monstrously large, like Orkla Headsplitter’s prized hunting hounds.
For their size many of them died easily, for we attacked them without mercy. Again Fane became surrounded by them, with fierce onces attacking him with enormous pinching jaws. Reluctant to see our leader so endangered, I launched myself across the river and charged the beast. You will shine with pride at my feat, Noma—I slayed the monster with one fell blow.
When finally we had slayed them all, my disgust with these freakish creatures was too much to contain, and I crushed their spirits from their corpses with my sword. You have told me many times that the spirit of nature makes all things in her wisdom, but these creature, Noma…they were wrong.
Two haggard survivors remained to tell us of others taken by the evil ainkla to their den. Drudge is frantic, for his fellow half-orc Fangrim is among them. So we follow the tracks of Fangrim now, deeper into the strange and forbidding jungle, tracing the martial steps of the ainkla. I like it not, but I wish not to see Drudge’s heart fall if his kinsman is killed. So we go on.
Zol, Vult 10
Honored Noma, There is so much to tell you…our journey has already proven itself beyond imagining. I rejoice to be again on the earth, but how we came to be earthbound was quite unexpected. There are forces in the wide world which the people know not, and I believe I shall meet all of them, so odd has this voyage become.
I kept my eye fixed on the horizon for the entire passage, yearning for a glimpse of land again. At last today I saw it and was filled with joy—the sailors of this air ship likewise, which did nothing to alleive my mistrust of this machine. As welcome as the sight of land to me, my gladness was overtaken by disbelief when an enormous airbornes battle ship traveled past us. I know not what magic may cause such a craft to travel through the air, but it is mighty. There was an aura of darkness about it, so laden with armaments and weaponry. I was glad to see it outpace us.
Jan, the chief of this air ship, was telling us about the battle ship people when there came a confusion of noise from the belly of our craft. I know you will not think less of me, dear Noma, when you hear that I felt terror at this sound. It was bad enough being suspended in air for this travel, but to hear a sudden unexpected noise was almost too much. Soon nearly the whole crew emerge on the deck, eyeing us strangely and arraying themselves for battle. Denna, the half-elf, turned toward us, blood across her features and evil in her heart. I made ready for battle as soon as I saw her eyes.
Kael strode forward to her to tend her wounds, and she pulled him down to her and sucked his soul from his body. No longer was he Kael, our comrade, but some empty puppet. Denna had stolen all their souls, and they attacked us. Drudge and I were each hit with ballista bolts, Fane was badly injured in the midst of the fighting, and the wizard…well, the wizard may be a strange being but I cannot deny the might of his powers. I am ashamed to tell you that my fury at Denna’s betrayal impeded my skills…it was ever so in my training, as you know.
As the tide of battle turned finally in our favor, Denna shocked us again by opening a gateway in the air! I have never seen this, Noma, not even from you. She grabbed Kael and lept through the gate, leaving behind only a strange device on the deck. I knew it was bad, but before any of us could decide what to do, it exploded and broke the air ship in two.
I thought in that moment I would feel your hand upon my shoulder, pulling me to the next plane, but perhaps you held your hands beneath me instead, for I landed safely in the water below us. Drudge and I gathered Fane and Elrick and swam for the shore. Wreckage surrounded us, and I feared for the scavengers which must live in the sea as they do in the air over the Ironhorn, waiting for the weak.
We came up on the beach of this land, not knowing where we are. Drudge and I must test our skills and find our way to a city where we can reprovision and meet with our contacts. It will be a challenge, and we must be the guides of our party now. This land is strange to me—it speaks different sounds and colors from our home in the Icehorn.
Zol, Aryth 24
Honored Noma, this journey is destined to be a strange one. I have met my companions, and Fane has named our band the Torchbearers. Our party is a curious mixture of downlanders. Perhaps the strangest is the orange one, a wizard called Elrick, who favors colors of fire and seems unnaturally fussy about…well, everything.
Our commander, Fane, seems melancholy on this journey. He is troubled. He bears the weight of his duties bravely, though, as a true warrior, and for that I honor him.
I like not this ship of the air upon which we travel. The people are beings of the earth, and I feel the loss of it keenly. The movement of this bloated craft makes my head spin, and I long for the touch of the ground. I will not show my weakness to the companions—I will master it and focus on the journey. I must be strong for the work ahead.
Follow your daughter, Noma, to the birthplace of the people. I go forward.
Sar, Aryth 21
Honored Noma, Today I met Fane of Araldusk, the one who would choose the war party. It seems his heart is in shadow, and yet there is vast strength in him, despite his short stature. I am certain he had never seen one of the people, although he contained his surprise with great control.
When we journeyed to this city, Drudge led me to believe I would be tested in battle for this role, and yet Fane did not test my battle skills. Instead, I felt as an Elder with a crowd of young ones, answering the swift questions of lively minds. It is my skills in the natural world he seemed most concerned about, and my time with the Wardens of the Eldeen Reaches has served me well, honing the gifts our our people.
His questions were pointed and clever. Perhaps this was a form of battle after all, although not one I would choose to practice often. But he took my measure and in many ways, I took his. He has my respect, Noma, and I believe I have his. I am accepted by this warrior into his party. Already I advance towards the glory due a daughter of the Stormrider.
Drudge is chosen as well, for which I am grateful. The other members of our party are known to me only by name, but Drudge is acquainted with them, and smiled strangely when I asked, but told me it would do no good for him to explain any of them. So I wait until our departure date, when we are to take a ship that travels on air-
yes, Noma, such things exist in this world-and travel to the people’s homeland, Xen’drik.
I hope your spirit will travel with me on this strange journey to the long-abandoned birthplace of our people, although our history there was rife with persecution at the hands of the Giants. Perhaps I will exact some revenge upon then during our travels. For now, Fane has sent Drudge and myself to provision for the journey, and rest from our journey from the Reaches.
Sul, Aryth 1
Honored Noma, Drudge has returned from an adventure with word of a new call for warriors! I would go to seek this opportunity. He says we must travel to Araldusk to see his compatriot, Fane, for whom I must prove my worthiness. I find myself relishing the idea of a challenge like that, among people who will see me for my abilities, not my marks.
We set out tomorrow for a journey of several weeks. My blood is up and I long to set forth.
Honored Noma, I have been over a year among the downlanders of the Eldeen Reaches. They are small folk, but aside from their discompsoure at my size, I have experienced none of the distrusting glances and shunning I felt from the people. In this respect I am well pleased with my choice to descend from the Icehorn.
This place is so different from the alpine meadows and icy crags of home. I am learning so much about these new places, and feel content here. I miss the open sky, which is hidden by enormous trees, so different from the alpine trees on the cold slopes. The land’s spirit is evident here, but of a different tone than the Icehorn. It is languid and comforting, enclosed and secretive. That has meant an adjustment for me, and yet I remain true to my origins, keeping the mountain’s strength in my heart.
I decided to stay on among the Wardens of the Wood and make my way. Their work suits me, and my natural skills have allowed me to achieve distinction among them. We also protect travelers, and as you know I would always protect those who would be harmed.
I have found a friend among the Wardens. He is a half-orc ranger, bastard son of a war-chief among the orcs. His name is difficult, and I call him Drudge, which better suits his demeanor anyway. Ever you teased me about my seriousness as a child, and yet Drudge surpasses me. In this I gladly give way to him, as I have had enough gravity in my life to last all my days. He is a good companion in battle, and deadly with his bow.
Noma, I have reached the right place for me now. I move forward, rather than dwelling in past injuries. I am becoming who I am.
Zor, Eyre 5
Honored Noma, how I grieve for your passing. Gone now are your measured words of counsel that so guided me in my childhood, protecting me from my resentments of the suspicions of the tribe and helping me find my way through this curious journey.
My path grows more confused by the day in your absence. Once friendly faces now turn on me with doubt, and even the tribe’s children, with whom I have always felt close kinship, have begun to avoid me. Rumilia insists this is my imagination, and yet I mistrust her words.
Despite reaching the age of ascencion among the warriors this week, I have not been accepted among them, and despite my acknowledged skills I am shunned and avoided when hunting parties or raids are spoken of. How can any proud warrior of our people withstand this insult? Kalikko has ever wished me ill, and with Rumilia’s stature he wields even more power among the people.
The snows are beginning to recede now as the days grow longer. Spring is returning to the Icehorn and I know this brings an important opportunity. Facing the choice of staying with the people, bound with suspicions and doubt, or seeking my own path among the downlanders, I choose to trust your words to me after I berated Kalliko at Rumilia’s wedding—You are not bound to the people, but to the mountains; their strength is your strength, their power your power.
I will leave the people, and trust you spoke truth, that I carry the spirit of the Icehorn with me as I venture out to seek honors among the downlanders in the wider world.As any warrior, I have fear, Noma. But I call upon the heritage to which you so often alluded; I call upon the spirit of the Icehorn to guide me, to give me strength, to lead me to my destiny. Now I am a traveler in this world.