Haliryl had insisted that hill giants in the West Mine were responsible for her eggs’ disappearance, but when the party examined the scene, they could find no evidence that supported the claim. Perhaps it was possible that several giants could smash through the forest’s defenses and make their way here to the heart of the wood, but how could they do so without leaving a trace? Weren’t giants much more likely to simply push trees over than to climb them?
Roscoe did manage to find tracks leading away from the tree, but they were no giant tracks. Instead, he felt pretty sure these were the faint tracks of a halfling.
After convincing the guardians of the forest to let them pass (Zoltar’s new breastplate already more than proving its worth), the Outsiders followed the tracks to the eastern edge of the forest, where they disappeared. In their place, they could easily see the footprints of several giants. After resting for the night, the party followed these tracks eastward, over the river. Once across, they could see the mine off in the distance, and a road winding its way northward straight ahead of them.
Along the road, a caravan of some 15 Epherian guards, along with five wagons loaded with large wooden crates, passed in front of them, just 200 yards ahead. While most of the party dropped to the ground to stay out of sight, Hugh put on his pendant for the first time. Whatever he had been thinking when he did so, whatever his plan had been, it was gone in an instant. His mind was wiped like a slate. He felt warm from the inside out, as a sickly-sweet voice whispered a drawling greeting to him, urging him to let go, and to join the guards ahead of him.
At the same time, Locke donned his pendant (with the wax backing) and hailed the guards, while doing his best to prevent Hugh from walking any further ahead, being as subtle as possible as he did so. The two guards at the head of the caravan had begun to walk briskly toward them. Locke met them halfway and told them they were on a special mission from Einsier. In exchange, he learned that the caravan was transporting Comsowan ore from Astrif to Cleris, by way of Melior.
Locke’s gambit worked. The guards continued on their way, and the party headed towards the mine.
From outside the mine, the party could hear unintelligible grunts and grumbling from at least two distinct, very large, very deep voices. It was decided that Roscoe, the smallest and quietest among them, would go scout ahead. Zoltar cast an invisibility spell on him to make sure he was as undetectable as possible.
As Roscoe crept down the mine, he saw a total of four hill giants. One was sitting next to the entrance of a small side tunnel, looking a bit dejected. Another, older one, was laid on a slab, flat on his back. On his calf was a wound that was badly swollen, and the area around it glistened with a gooey substance. A third giant, a female, was seated on the edge of the slab, dabbing the older giant’s forehead with a damp bedsheet. Finally, the fourth giant paced back and forth across the main chamber gesticulating and shaking his head. These last two appeared to be in a heated debate, shouting at each other in giant tongue. On the side of the chamber opposite him, Roscoe could see an egg, sat against the wall, near a low fire, and a large sack hanging from a jutting rock just to the left of that.
Assuming there was enough commotion for him to venture further in, Roscoe entered the side tunnel next to the nearest giant. Unable to see his own feet, he stumbled a bit on a loose rock in his path. He held his breath as the nearest giant lifted his head and looked in Roscoe’s direction…then looked away again. The halfling, using his remarkable sense of direction and a bit of luck, was able to then navigate the side tunnels and emerge again on the opposite side of the chamber, where he’d seen the egg.
Before he went any further, he investigated the sack hanging about six feet in the air. It seemed oddly lumpy, and every now and then it would stir just slightly. Roscoe kicked another rock and the sack writhed violently until a face appeared near the top—a halfling face, one that had been beaten up pretty badly over time.
“Who’s there?!” cried the face in a hoarse whisper.
Roscoe chose to answer. He spoke in a similar horse whisper, explaining little about who he was, and instead inquired as to what was going on here.
The other halfling explained that Hojn, the old giant, got hurt and then got sick, and he’s been getting worse. Mhenag, the female, and the oldest of the three siblings, insisted that Eagle eggs would make him well. The one doing all the shouting was Nohj, who, by all accounts, was an asshole. Ymmij was the smaller one closer to the entrance. They all seemed to want the best for their father, but Nohj believed that if it was his father’s time, he should die in battle, not on his bed.
When Roscoe asked why this halfling was staying with this gaggle of giants, he explained that they weren’t so bad. In fact, except for Nohj, they were pretty sweet for giant folk. Ymmij in particular was really generous with his scraps. In all honesty, this halfling, whose name was Wally, admitted he was pretty invested in this bunch of giants, as life in Epheria for a halfling…ain’t exactly roses.
Roscoe was not moved by Wally’s testimony. He threw a rock across the chamber as a distraction, took the last remaining eagle egg, and ran for it.
Alarmed, Wally screamed, “The egg! Jeezis shits, he’s takin’ the egg!”
Each giant (save Hojn) then scrambled to each of the three side tunnel openings, and began to stomp and swipe at the ground around their feet.
Roscoe could see the ramp up to the exit. Only one giant stood between him and freedom. He only had to time his dash just right. He leapt—
—Right beneath Ymmij’s foot. He rolled, but not entirely enough. His legs were crushed beneath the giant’s weight, and, perhaps worse, the egg was smashed as well, spilling sticky yolk over half of Roscoe’s body. Making him considerably more visible to every creature in the room.
Mhenag rushed him and scooped up his tiny body in one hulking, wrathful hand…