61. Rings of the Sihedron
4th of Gozran – Oathday – 193rd day in Varisia
Beneath the ruins of Xin-Shalast
“Strange”, Alice commented as she examined a simple silver ring she was holding between her thumb and forefinger. It had a tiny Sihedron star rune etched on its side, and the Hidden Beast had been carrying it in one of its tentacles. It was typical we stripped our slain foes of all valuables, and the Hidden Beast was not an exception. We had made our fortunes that way and paid for our equipment, weapons and armor.
“Can I have a look, Miss Alice”, Saffron asked the pale-faced magus, and Alice handed the ring over to the witch. “Yes, I see”, she immediately said, sensing the magics imbued in the small item. “This is a very powerful ring. I sense an extraordinary combination of considerable abjuration and illusion magics – this offers protection to its wearer from physical and magical harm, and from poisons and diseases. And from the weather too, it seems.”
“Makes sense, given the climate here”, Alice noted offhand. “Its protective capabilities match that of mine, Harsk’s and Alfred’s rings of protection”, she continued, “but yours, Alpharius, is weaker.”
I looked at the small bronze ring with a small red gemstone in my right middle finger and wondered how many times it had saved me from an errant blade swing, or pushed aside an axe-blow, if any. Wiser people than me said it helped, and given what I had learned of the considerable effects of magic in the past six months or so, I was forced to believe them. “I can take the ring”, I said eventually. Logic dictated to take the one which had more power.
Alice pursed her lips. “It has the Sihedron, and was worn by a powerful monster in the shadow of Karzoug..” She left the words hang, not finishing her sentence, but I understood what she was after. It was a bad sign, and the ring had a stain of evil. The god-touched would have never carried one if he could help it.
I gave it no second thought. “Whatever helps me get my brother back”, I told her and took the ring from Saffron before replacing my old ring of protection with it. I felt nothing change.
“But I’m having this”, Alfred voiced from the back before sliding a bloodied ring, another loot of war from the Beast, into his finger and vanishing from sight. He did not hide from me however, thanks to the shroud under my armor allowing me to see invisible things. “Don’t use that to sneak into rooms of proper ladies to steal a peek, sellsword”, I told him, trying to put on my best deadpan expression.
Morgiv was waiting for us exactly where we had left him. He seemed both anxious and relieved to see us, and burst into chatter in Thassilonian when he saw us approach. I did not understand the words but I could guess what he was asking. Is the Hidden Beast dead, is it safe now, and so on. Harsk was smiling widely, nodding his head while keeping his responses brief, telling what had happened. Soon Morgiv almost jumped to his lap. “Morgiv help you. In anything. Ask anything. Morgiv help!” He blabbered to us all in his bad Common, shaking our hands wildly in turns. He went on, talking again in Thassilonian.
“He says it was foretold we would defeat the Hidden Beast”, Harsk translated to me and Alfred – Alice and Saffron of course knew the old language. “Hopefully he had bet for us then”, Alfred, the old gambler, guffawed.
Saffron went to the pitiful skulk to ask something. Morgiv listened intently, then nodded, his head bobbing so much I feared it would come loose. This in turn made Saffron beam like the southern sun. “What?” I asked her.
“Master Morgiv and his friends are willing to search for the library for us”, she chirped, so sweetly I expected honey to flow from her mouth.
“So we’re going to sit here and twiddle our thumbs while those little bovine men play hide and seek in the ruins?”
“Well, Master Alpharius, I’d rather wait somewhere else where there is warmth, safety and food”, she replied, still smiling but her eyes hardening. Night was approaching, and we had had a long day. Ah, I realized, she’s talking about her pixie green. Recalling who inhabited the place gave me a headache.
After sleeping under the starry skies without needing any furs or blankets, we returned to the chilly wrongness of Xin-Shalast. Into the now vacated lair of the Hidden Beast Saffron had drawn a waypoint she could home into with her teleportation magic. The waypoint and the lair was a fall back position of sorts as the lair’s underground location offered at least nominal protection from our foes. It wasn’t like the storm or cloud giants would be walking in to hunt us, but we knew the Runelord of Greed had minions that could scour the narrow tunnels of the dark underbelly of the ruined city. It was better than arriving in the middle of the city and finding ourselves next to a pair of runegiants anyway.
Morgiv was drowsing in a corner and woke up to our arrival. He scrambled up to his feet and pulled with him a nondescript sack. He went to Saffron, talking eagerly in Thassilonian. Alice translated.
“He found the library, but he and his family couldn’t find any books fitting to her description”, she began, and I could see the disappointment in the red-head’s face. But the skulk had something else – several potions, scrolls and a magical staff. “For healing, restoration and resurrection”, Harsk muttered in surprise as he and Saffron went through the items.
“And elixirs of the peaks”, Saffron added, “to help us scale Mhar-Massif.” It turned out the pallid scavengers were not useless after all.
“Which brings us to the the question”, Alfred said after clearing his throat, “if Saffron’s book is not in the library, is it up there with Karzoug?”
Alice was frowning in deep thought. “It would make sense for Karzoug, and his subordinates, to gather everything worth the while closer to him after the events of Earthfall.”
“You might be correct, Miss Alice”, Saffron nodded, finally relenting.
“So up?” Alfred asked.
“Up”, Harsk concluded.
Escorted by Morgiv, we made our way in the shadows through the city, back towards north and the foot of Mhar-Massif. Columns of lesser giants were streaming up along the golden road where they were assigned into groups, each headed by a storm or rune giant. I did not feel pity for the creatures, but realized what they were – slaves, either by choice or unwillingly. They were a part of Karzoug’s army and I would happily see them all perish if it was required to stop the runelord.
I wasn’t eager to scale the snowy slopes while being threatened by massive other-wordly spiders and ancient dragons, but Morgiv proved his worth again when he showed us the hidden path up the mountainside. From the northern edge of the valley, a rugged and narrow cavern led upwards, terribly difficult to climb, but offering a way up inside the mountain without any risk of detection from the valley floor, the slope or air. It was perfect for us as we could simply hover up. The others emptied elixirs of the peaks, and after some spell casting and prayers we started our ascension in the pitch black, only the lights of the god-touched and the pale-faced magus showing us the way. It was like diving through an underwater cave, turning and twisting past jagged rocks and protruding icicles ten feet long that reminded me of teeth of some massive beast. But of course, instead of swimming we flew, like leaves carried by the wind, upwards and upwards. We made steady progress, and the trip took an hour or so. I estimated we ascended more than ten thousand feet. It still boggled the mind. Up in the mother of mountains incapacitation or death by altitude sickness, cold and lack of breathable air would have been our fate were it not for the powerful magics we employed to protect us.
I imagined seeing a vista of the world opening before my eyes when we finally emerged from our hidden path near the peak of the mountain. Part of me thought I could glimpse everything, like a god, spread my vision all the way to Magnimar and Sandpoint, Canorate in faraway Molthune even. Instead I saw an endless mountain range of snow and ice-covered peaks, rising from thin veils of grey-white clouds. It was as if Golarion was made only of rock and ice, and the everpresent proximity of a formless evil breathing down your neck – the nightmare dimension of Leng groping for a handhold in our reality. I wondered would Karzoug break the barriers between our planes and let the foulness of Leng flood into our realm if he was able to return to Golarion, and the thought made me shudder.
Above us, not far now, stood the spires of Karzoug. The stern face of the runelord carved into the crown of Mhar-Massif and the two-thousand feet tall granite tower just below it immediately stole all attention. It was impossible the tower remained upright, but Karzoug must have imbued it with magic to maintain its integrity and stability. But it wasn’t the only building nearby. Directly above us and rose a triangular fortress with a trio of guard towers. To our far right, I could spot a collection of weird pyramid-like structures, and above them, three massive spires with hundreds of arches and balconies jutting from their facades. Each of the spires easily were the size of the triangular fortress, which itself was not a small structure but more than 200 feet at its sides. Xin-Shalast really made a man feel small.
There was no uncertainty where we were headed, however. Nothing interested us but the white granite tower with the screw-like ramp spiraling around it all the way to the top. But despite the apparent lack of guards present, there were other obstacles we had to defeat. Namely, the Occlusion Field.
Alice and Saffron both sensed its presence as we started the last leg of our climb.
“It pushes me back”, Saffron complained, raising her hands before her and feeling an invisible barrier like a mime artist. Then she staggered back, as if struck.
“Are you all right?” Harsk asked, baffled, jumping forward to hold the witch steady. “A pulse.. of energy”, she gasped and grimaced, holding her stomach. Mister Jenkins screeched in panic somewhere in her numerous pockets. “The field reacted, somehow, and attacked me.”
Alfred cursed and spat to the snow. “What then?”
“Aren’t the runeforged weapons supposed to help us get through”, I asked, frowning. The mad wizard Vraxeris, master of the wing of Pride in Runeforge, had written something about a flaw in the Occlusion field, something we could use to pierce through, and how the runeforged weapons were key in the plan. I didn’t wait for an answer but with the Carmine Avenger in my grip I climbed a few steps in the snow, past the point that Saffron had reached.
I felt nothing resist me. There was no attack. I turned to the others.
Alfred, emboldened by my example, hurriedly paced up after me, only to hit an invisible if not impenetrable wall. He willed himself through with considerable effort. But only after a short moment he decided it wasn’t worth it and with a new curse, stepped backwards out of the area of the Occlusion Field. He shook his head. “We need new a new approach.”
The pale-faced magus looked at me, still within the field, unharmed. “Macharius is your identical twin, isn’t he?”
I nodded. “Very much so.” We had differences in our appearances, but they were few and far between.
“Maybe you can walk within the Field because it thinks you are him?” She suggested.
There was a simpler alternative. I raised my right hand, showing her the back of my hand and the fingers. “Or it is the Sihedron ring.”
“Of course”, Saffron exclaimed and slapped her forehead. “Can I test the hypothesis, Master Alpharius?” She asked me, holding her hand open. I shrugged, walked down to her and gave her the ring. Quickly, she put it on, rose on her broomstick and gently hovered up. She went past her previous mark, and nothing seemed to happen. She gasped, expecting pain, and then chuckled. “It is true. We need more of these rings.”
“Or we could go back to Garnet and see if she still has the Sihedron medallions we’ve taken from our deceased foes”, I offered, my mind working quickly. A Sihedron is a Sihedron, I argued to myself, so the medallions could work too. No-one seemed to listen to me.
“Vraxeris also wrote that approach without destroying the runewell might prove fatal”, Alice reminded the others as Saffron floated back to us. “So we have the alternative of destroying or disrupting the runewell.”
I snorted. “Where’s this well?”
Alice turned to me and smiled. “Remember the big empty reservoir at the bottom of the granite tower?”
During our flight above Xin-Shalast we had spotted the side of the massive, several hundred feet wide basin at the foot of Karzoug’s tower, and it was a strong candidate. But how could we destroy such a structure? By removing one polished stone at time? I asked as much from the pale-faced magus.
“We could try simply disabling it with our runeforged weapons”, she offered, and the fact she was serious made me laugh dryly. “Go ahead”, I told her and gestured Saffron to give the ring to the magus. Alice narrowed her eyes at me and snatched the ring, clearly provoked. Harsk tried to stop her when she put on the ring and started to climb, but she waved the dwarf away.
“You can be a real ass sometimes, half-elf”, Alfred told me as she watched the magus disappear under a shroud of invisibility magic but I just smiled. “Let’s just be prepared to go after her”, I replied, still smirking. I meant little harm to the woman, but I liked to be right. Even though a part of me screamed at me to run into the Field and to get my brother out of there.
We waited thirty or so minutes before Alice returned. She needed not to say anything – her face told enough. I let Alfred ask the obvious. “There was no way to break the runewell?”
“It was not functioning anymore”, Alice said, her words ice cold.
“But.. the wizard’s writings indicated the Field is maintained by the runewell..” Saffron began, only to be spoken over by the god-touched.
“There must be another source for the Field. We need to get into the granite tower.”
Alice nodded and sighed. “I actually went to see what was in the tower, and got all the way up to the entrance without being seen. It was guarded by three cloud giants.”
I had to admire the magus for her courage. But our options seemed limited. This however was no concern to me. On the contrary.
“Soo.. we get the rings or the medallions?” I asked, wearing my best smug smile.
Instead of returning to Magnimar, the others decided to remain in Xin-Shalast. Our best bet was to look for the Sihedron rings, and it was most probable that the highest ranking minions of Karzoug, who had to venture up to the peak of Mhar-Massif, carried them.
At a distance, we observed a rune giant leave the peak and walk down the long, steep golden road to Xin-Shalast proper. I would have preferred to try and take the ring from anyone else but those behemoths, but again, our options were limited. Our only advantage was that they usually walked alone across the city, overseeing small groups of lesser giants. But even that advantage was minute, as not many rune giants usually walked the ruins of Xin-Shalast.
“We should try the fortress on the hill, near the center of the city”, Harsk suggested when we had made the long descent back to the ruins and had emerged from the secret cavern. One of Morgiv’s skulk friends was waiting for us, and shook its head violently, then croaked something in Thassilonian.
“There’s bound to be a hundred of the bigger giants or more within”, Alice translated.
“Well, we’d need only four rings”, Alfred offered, shrugging. I snorted. Trust the sellsword to see the positive in anything.
Still, glutton for punishment as most us were, we asked the skulk to take us to a rune giant first. Fear was evident in the prey creature’s face but Morgiv had apparently willed them to help us despite anything we asked, so it started to a jog, leading us into the heart of the northern districts.
Hour or so later, we were hiding behind a pile of massive stone tiles, observing a rune giant give orders to two storm giants. All of them were armed, so it looked like a patrol or sorts instead of a work crew. “They’re on their own”, I noted, taking in the surroundings, and shook my magic wand of gravity bow to a desired effect. Alice cast runes of magic into the air, powering herself, while Harsk prayed and Alfred drank a potion. He began to grow in size as I turned to regard the others. “You know we’re going to fight a forty feet tall monster with twenty feet tall underlings, armed with swords bigger than us?”
“Yup”, Alfred said eagerly and groaned as his skin turned into metal. I shrugged.
Saffron teleported us next to them and we engaged.
The rune giant had six of my bane arrows sticking out of its face, the skin decayed and ruptured where they had pierced it, but it didn’t want to die. It reeled, stepping clumsily over a corpse of a storm giant. Alfred, now ten feet tall thanks to Saffron’s magic elixir, was hanging wildly from its leg, and it tried to thrash and throw the sellsword off. Each stomp produced a miniature earthquake. Its red eyes radiated single-minded hate. It had taken considerable damage but it fought on like an animal. The massive longsword cut air and struck earth near the sellsword, but did not connect.
“Kill it!” I screamed from the top of my lungs to Alfred as I scrambled for more arrows. Alice, Saffron and Harsk were all preoccupied with the other storm giant, a blue skinned benemoth of white hair and nothing but muscles and armor. It had been a formidable sight, but its friend had died easily to our coordinated surprise attack, and I knew it would not last long either. The rune giant was the problem, the true challenge.
Alfred roared a wordless cry of war and hacked once with the battleaxe in his free hand. The blade, powered by elemental energies, sliced deep into the thigh of the rune giant. It let out a bellow of pain as a fountain of black blood spurted out, drenching the sellsword. Alfred had hit a major artery, a lucky strike. I raised my bow anew, taking aim. Trying to hit anything but their head and neck was waste of effort.
But I never had to release the bowstring nor command Dûath from my side to Alfred’s help. The behemoth finally decided to die, and it fell to one knee first as the leg Alfred had ruined gave in, and then planted its face on the ground with a crash that must’ve been audible for a mile around. Its second underling did not last longer but perished to the combined magical attacks of the god-touched and the magus, but had the decency to die quieter.
“That.. was relatively easy”, Alice muttered in disbelief as we gathered around to draw breath and take stock of the situation. Only Alfred was bloodied, but it was the rune giant’s blood, not his own. I realized none of us had suffered a blow. “Luck”, I whispered, to which Alfred guffawed. “Speak for yourself. I say it was pure skill”, he laughed and brushed giantblood off his face. He looked like a savage. He was the only one of us who had heartily enjoyed the short clash.
Harsk was already busy, scaling the rune giant’s corpse. “Found it, thank the goddess”, he shouted and with a grunt pulled a ring off the monsters finger, easily the width of the dwarf’s thigh. But when it came loose, it immediately shrunk to fit the dwarf’s own finger. “Three to go.”
I heard the weird flying creatures hoot and scream in the distance. We would have company soon. “Time for us to move on”, I told the others.
We had to push for the fortress the skulks called Shahlaria. I thought us mad to try to enter a heavily fortified position filled with giants but the skulks knew of underground entrances that could serve as less-guarded ways in. But even then we could find ourselves quickly overwhelmed by sheer numbers. And when I made my point, Harsk brushed it aside. “It’s fine if we cause a ruckus – then the giants and the rings will come to us.”
Sometimes I really wished I could commit myself to a god to have such faith in our ability to survive anything.
The sun was casting its final rays and shadows were becoming longer when we reached the eastern entrance into the hill on which Shahlaria stood. We stopped a hundred or strides away and got into cover – two storm giants were stationed at each side of the yawning tunnel. On the other side on a wooden platform was also a massive black bell, one you could strike with a hammer or maul and produce a hell of a clang.
“We need to get the giants before they can sound the alarm”, Alfred mused from his position below a ruined house.
“Or I can silence the bell from here, make it so that it doesn’t make a sound when struck”, Harsk suggested. His magic tricks were welcome.
We gathered around and let Harsk cast a spell of silence on the bell before Saffron translocated us closer to the giants. Again, our surprise attack was successful, but before it died one of the giants managed a howling call of distress that echoed in the tunnel behind it. And within moments, rumbling steps could be heard approaching from the darkness. Sounds that only biggest of the giants could make.
“We need to go in”, I told the others, surprised how calm I was.
Alice laughed, incredulous. “What?” It would have been smarter to engage the enemy at there. But our hand was forced.
My eyes didn’t leave the tunnel mouth. “We are compromised here in the open. The winged monsters are up there, looking for us.” With Dûath keeping low beside me, I began to step towards the cavern, giant-bane arrows resting across my longbow. Alfred needed little persuasion and followed my lead. I imagined Saffron, Harsk and Alice all exchanged looks behind me but they too eventually came. The heavy footsteps continued to approach. Inside the tunnel was a fifty foot wide and sixty high passage, bored into soil and rock. It veered to the right, blocking line of vision beyond fifty strides or so. Saffron was last to enter the tunnel and cast a dense fog to the entrance to keep anyone outside from seeing us. Somewhere ahead, the giants still came, grunting, their sounds a cacophony of danger in the dark space that would’ve sent lesser beings running to their mother.
I didn’t think about the danger. We needed the rings. I needed to get to the white granite tower. I would get there and find my brother or die. It was simple as that.
The first giant emerged to sight – my elemental powers had granted me ability to see in the dark – and without a word I corrected my aim higher and let loose my first two arrows. I had expected storm giants, but instead we got the rune-kin. Their red eyes glowed in the dark, as did the numerous runes on their skin.
Come to us, I thought to myself as the arrows hit their mark on the monstrosity’s exposed throat, burning and decaying the skin, rupturing veins. The victim howled in pain and rage and the pressure of the sound in the narrow tunnel was physical. I planted my feet better on the ground, and selected more shafts while telling my panther to stay close. In this fight, he was a spectator. Alfred, again in his massive form, charged past me, the light of Alice shining from his shield, his axe held high. He roared his own warcry as he ducked under the rune giant’s slash and hacked twice at its legs and pelvis.
A second rune giant came running, making the ground tremble and small pebbles fall from the cavern ceiling, and it went straight towards Alfred, who was already locked in melee. In its own way it was funny to watch the dwarf run like the wind as he went to intercept the rune giant that was fifty times more massive than he was. But he had his deity with him. Harsk literally blazed with bright light, as if his armor tried to contain the sun itself, but the brightest was his holy sword. Shadows danced in the darkness as he ran, andwith a bellow to his goddess he stabbed the second rune giant deep into its instep. It was hardly the most critical part of its body, but the sword of the god-touched transmitted a furious charge of holy energy into the evil giant that crackled along its skin all the way to its head, willing it to perish.
The first giant, gurgling blood but still very much in the fight stepped back from Alfred, the runes on its onyx-black skin burning and smoking. The sellsword laughed and taunted it to resume the fight, but the giant had other ideas. It was a quick learner. It rotated its upper body just a fraction, as it it was presenting one of its runes to the sellsword. Then the rune exploded in cone of electricity and fire that engulfed Alfred and licked the magus fifteen feet behind him. From the corner of my eye I was surprised they survived the attack, but I wasn’t letting the giant try anew. A volley of arrows hit its neck, face and throat, and it raised its arms to protect them.
It was a mistake that cost it its foul life. I don’t know how but Alfred, half his face charred and the other bloodied, charged and leaped into the air. I had seen him do the same once before, in Hook Mountain. His speed and extended reach allowed him to bury the blade of his legendary axe deep into the chest of the giant. His momentum was too much even for the behemoth, and like an oak it began to slowly by surely fall back. The axe deep in its chest Alfred came down with it and just before the giant’s corpse collapsed to the earth, the sellsword leaped anew, slashing across the beast’s throat with the sharp side of his shield.
The ground shook as the second giant’s longsword pummeled the earth, narrowly missing the dwarf who rolled like a barrel between his foe’s feet. Again the dwarf, himself in mortal danger, turned his attention to his wounded friends. He used the second’s respite to reach out with his sword hand, and from the fist leaped tendrils of healing energy that found Alfred and Alice. I cursed him for it since behind him, a third rune giant came to view, carrying thirty feet long sharpened logs I think the giant thought were spears. It made a hair-rising whoosh sound as it pierced the air, but luckily for Alfred, who was the intended target instead of the dwarf, the spear burst into the corpse of the first giant.
The second giant pivoted after the god-touched and presented me with its back as it tried to find a tiny enemy scrambling at its feet. I saw the runes on its hide begin to smoke and scintillate and yelled a warning before hammering it with a trio of bane arrows to the neck. A burst of ice cold energy, courtesy of Alice I thought, sailed in the air and found the third, spear-toting giant. It struck it straight in its chest but the damnable monster just roared in laughter, immune to such attacks. But the second giant was quick to react, and forgot about the dwarf. A rune on its forearm burst open and with it came a torrent of lightning and fire. It was an act of desperation, I realized later, but a formidable one. This time, Alfred narrowly escaped the brunt of the harm, but Alice was too slow.
I watched the second giant’s feet give in as it finally died to the score of arrows I had peppered to its head. I saw Harsk, shouting Alice’s name, run past the collapsing behemoth, his eyes and mouth radiating a glow of pure white light. I turned my head to witness the charred form of Alice, slumped face down on the ground, shake and come back to life.
I saw the third giant pacing, almost leisurely, behind the god-touched. It let the last spear fall to the ground and from its belt drew a longsword. I screamed a warning to Harsk. It was for naught. His howling prayer to his goddess turned into a wordless gurgle of pain as a blade tip almost two feet wide punctured his adamantium-covered torso and drove him down like a needle pinned ant.
You stupid little bearded bastard, I thought in horror and rage. I cursed his name. I cursed the rune giant and felt my form began to blaze with the heat of elemental fire. I was burning just below my skin. I vision went red as my eyes flared alight.
Saffron finally entered the battle. I had heard cackling and words of magic, but if she had contributed to the fight, I did not know. But now she commanded the remaining giant, and thick, unnaturally black blood began to flow freely from the giant’s eyes, nose and ears. The witch’s strange powers made it chortle and tremble, and it stepped back, releasing the dwarf in the process.
It was the last thing it did. The fires within me were conducted along the length of my arms into my bow. I let loose two arrows in one shot, and for a fleeting instant they both flew like shooting stars before finding one ruined eye of the giant. Charged with whatever powers I carried and willed into being, they pierced the soft matter easily and vanished within the monster’s head, and less than a heartbeat later, the giant’s head, big as a wine barrel, exploded in a fiery cloud of bone, brain and blood.
I felt no elation. I was horrified and was running towards Harsk when the bits began to land in wet splashes. Harsk was pushing his luck. He was god-touched, but I knew enough of the deities and how ultimately every soul upon death was at the hands of Pharasma, the mistress of fate. All souls were hers to judge and I didn’t think it probable she’d let Iomedae bring Harsk back a second time.
But my pessimism was unfounded. Or rather, this time the soul of the dwarf did not pass to the Astral Plane. Harsk’s armor, full plate made from the adamantium we had found from the barracks of Xin, began to shimmer and shine in white light. The huge rent in the back of the dwarf’s armor began to diminish and blood flow ended. Saffron glided down from the air, first to arrive next to the god-touched, and for once, she was silent, awed. Alice, still a smoking husk but alive thanks to Harsk’s intervention, rose painfully to one knee. Alfred came jogging as well, looking worried.
Harsk’s armor shone for few seconds more until we heard a long groan and the dwarf rolled around and muttered something. His armor was miraculously undamaged. He was, miraculously, still breathing.
“Godsdamnit”, I whispered.
“I knew it was a good idea to enchant my plate with that spell”, he muttered, still on his back, his eyes closed. I didn’t understand but whatever he had done, it had been farseeing.
The tunnel before us began to fill with shouts and commands of other giants, so we didn’t linger. Three rune giants equaled three Sihedron rings, and we thanked our luck, put them on our own fingers and escaped to the safety of Saffron’s pixie land.
Heartily enjoying an earned moment of rest, we had sat down into a circle on the soft grass and Harsk had just magicked a heroes’ feast for us when Alice, sitting cross-legged beside me, suddenly grimaced and jumped up.
“Did a bee sting you”, Alfred guffawed.
Alice didn’t answer and sat back on the grass. The others let the matter be and resumed their idle chatter and eating but I noticed she was visibly appalled and distressed. Discreetly she pulled the Sihedron ring off her index finger and leaned closer to me. “Have you felt.. your mood swing while you’ve worn the ring?” She asked me under her breath. I frowned at the question. My emotions had been running wild like a herd of mammoths those past days, but I could not account them to the ring. The wrath and wildfire within me were contained, at least that was what I let myself believe.
“No, I haven’t”, was my simple reply.
Across the banquet of foods and drinks Saffron had heard our exchange.
“I’ve been studying the ring”, she began and rolled the ring on her own finger absentmindedly. “And based on what I’ve identified and what I’ve read earlier, I believe this is a tool for enforcing one’s authority.” She took off her ring and watched us through it. “I also believe one can use this for one-sided communication.” Now even Harsk and Alfred, already both somewhat drunk, stopped to listen to the witch.
“So Karzoug can speak to his underlings with the ring?” Alice asked, in mounting horror. Saffron nodded. “Indeed, Miss Alice.” She let Mister Jenkins climb from her sleeve and carry it away. “I wonder.. if he can use this to gaze through the wearer’s eyes as well.”
That was enough for me. In disgust I pulled the ring off my finger, as did Alfred. Harsk merely shook his head, like he had known all along. He had not put his foul ring on, deciding wisely to wait until it was absolutely necessary.
The ring was resting on my palm and I gazed upon it murderously.
“If you can hear me, listen to this, you ancient piece of shit. I will come for my brother, and then we will come for you.”