Among the Clouds

The huge metal door closes with a loud thud, and the quiet sets in. Everyone shares a glance with one another, all of you trying to process everything that’s just happened in this amazing place. From a massive window carved too high for you to reach, you can see the clouds silently passing by; close enough almost to touch, you think. Who would have thought when this all started, that you’d find yourselves with this unlikely band, sailing aloft in a flying castle!

<?php $var=’kindra’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>Unable to resist, Kindra springs up on to one of the massive ice beds and curls up with one of the massive furs laying there. Content that her companions are safe, filled with an inner peace that only one who is sure of themselves and their goals can be, she drifts off into a peaceful slumber, high among the clouds…

Watching the unshakable Kindra spring on to one of the beds and fall immediately asleep, Zane‘s glance turns finally to Melissandre.

What did she mean earlier when she seemed uncertain about our next steps? Why do I get the feeling I’m missing something?

Zane‘s eyes drift out the window and his mind fills with thoughts of the stories he will tell of this day and all the days before… what wonderment! Who would even believe such a tale! A nervous excitement begins to build that all that he once wished for, and has proclaimed repeatedly is actually coming to pass…

Could his dreams of being viewed a hero actually be coming true?

With a snort, Serevinn lays his massive weapon against the corner of the room, and surveys the accommodations. Adequate, but this is no time for rest! Can an alliance with the giants really be trusted? Many stories exist of how the feud between giant and dragon has raged for millennia; could the Dragon Cult be a foe worthy of the two ancient enemies finally allying?

Is this truly the group of companions that will best serve my purpose and my oath to Kelemvor?

Serevinn casts his gaze downward in uncertainty.

With a long, heavy sigh, Thorogrim slumped down against the wall in a corner, his gaze fixed on the surface beneath and behind him. With a practiced snap of his fingers, he lit the end of his last cigar and took a big pull off of it, watching the smoke sail upwards to the high window above.

“This is quite the predicament we’ve got ourselves into… ” he said with obvious sarcasm. “We’re floating in a castle controlled by giants heading Moradin knows where, to do something that might take us miles off the hunt. Even these giants didn’t know where the Cult was heading. What are we gonna do, ya think?” Thorogrim tapped his temple twice and stared at Zane.

“Blagothkus seems to want to help us… I’m as surprised as you are, my hairy friend.” Zane replied with a smirk.

“Hmmmph!” Thorogrim grunted in displeasure.

<?php $var=’melissandre’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>”But without knowing where they’re heading, we have only to follow the trail of carnage they’ve seem to leave in their wake.

Melissandre‘s face was impenetrable to Thorogrim. “So you think we should continue North?” She looked at Zane. “What about all the treasure the Cult has stored here in this castle? Who will return it to them?”

“Aye, and that hoard couldn’t be carried by fifty wagons!” Thorogrim chimed in.

“You’re right, Mel…” Zane started, his brows furrowed in frustration. “We can’t just abandon all that the people of the Sword Coast have lost… they’ll never recover….”

“Maybe the Giants can help?” Melissandre offered with a hopeful tone.

“Aye, perhaps… but Blagothkus seemed intent on travelling back to rally more Giant support… and I can’t say it sounds like a bad idea…”

“Well wherever we’re goin’, we ain’t gonna figure it out tonight.” Thorogrim grabbed one of the huge furs from the beds of ice and pulled it tight around his shoulders. “I need ta get my beauty sleep so I can be as pretty as this one tomorrow.” Thorogrim jerked his head in Zane‘s direction.

“Perhaps…” Zane‘s eyes were cast down, a dozen thoughts no doubt running through his head.

Melissandre, her mood somewhat subdued curled up on one of the other huge beds, almost lost in the many huge furs that provided warmth to those who were easily chilled.

Even in this place… she thought to herself. Laying a tentative hand on the wall of ice towering over her, she felt no chill. With one more glance at her companions, Melissandre closed her eyes. Even in this place…

Serevinn turned to Zane. “I will stand the watch.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned to move closer to the huge icy door from which they entered.

“You’re awfully quiet on the subject of what comes next…” Zane prodded the half-dragon, hoping for some insight into the quiet paladin.

Serevinn stopped. After a moment’s pause, he turned his head to look back and Zane and said, “My god has been quiet for some time. I have displeased Kelemvor.”

“How?” Zane asked.

“No longer am I on the same path I once was. His will is all that matters.”

“But you’ve saved so many lives… how can that not be a good thing?” Zane regretting saying it as soon as he said it.

“Saving lives is not my purpose.”

“… and ours?” Zane asked pointedly. “Are we not stronger together than alone?”

“Perhaps…” Serevinn turned back to take his position by the door, and with a placid look on his face he finished, “Sleep now.”

With an understanding nod, Zane walked over to the last bed and pulling the furs around him closed his eyes, trying to block out the sound of the already snoring dwarf.

The heroes all jumped at the same sound; a huge slam against the icy door. Serevinn, his massive maul already in-hand stood at the ready. Kindra too had apparently waked earlier and seemed to have perched herself on the ledge of the massive window, 12 feet off the ground.

How the hell did she get up there? Zane thought, his eyes fixed on the door.

“Who goes there?!” Snarled Thorogrim, grumbling as he got to his feet.

A loud, monotone voice echoed back from behind the massive slab of ice, “You come… eat food….”

Rolling her eyes, Melissandre said, “Ogres…”

“I’m surprised there are any left…” Kindra piped in. “I wonder if the big giant is upset about that?” Kindra sprang from the window ledge into the middle of the room. “You know, it’s not even very slippery if you’re careful…” and in a flash she was at the door and leapt up to grab the huge handle.

Ah hah… Zane thought.

<?php $var=’serevinn’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>Serevinn moved to the door and extending his long arms, he was able to pull the door open, Kindra an incidental weight still pulling on the doorknob while pushing on the door below with her feet, almost oblivious that the door was moving, her eyes squinted closed with the strain.

“Oh, thanks big guy!” she chirped, releasing the handle and dropping back to the floor.

Before the party stood one of the ogres of the castle, gesturing to one of the tall staircases leading to the upper level.

“Up der.” it said in the same almost unintelligible voice as it walked away, heading across the huge icy courtyard.

With little choice and the promise of a meal that didn’t consist of traveler’s rations, the heroes gathered their things and headed in the direction the ogre suggested. In the light of the morning, the ice reflected the sun’s rays and even felt warm despite the altitude. Looking through the still open gate, the heroes could see naught but clouds passing by; the castle was certainly still moving… or maybe it was the clouds?

Arriving at the top of the huge stairs, Thorogrim panting heavily already, the heroes came upon another massive room carved from the same ice as the floors and walls. In the middle was a massive wooden table, so tall none could see the top, and chairs to match. The funishings were quite welcoming, and considering all that had happened, the heroes could not help but wonder what had changed… they were enemies of the Cult the night before, and now apparently were allies of the Cloud Giants!

The room was empty, but without a moment’s pause, Kindra was already up on one of the chairs, and pulled herself up to the table level. Her eyes grew wide with the sumptuous feast before her: grapes as big as watermelons, loaves of bread large enough to crawl into, meat still steaming from the fire. Goblets and utensils comically large were set out and Kindra motioned back to her companions, “Look at this!”

The heroes made their way to the table. No one greeted them, no one seemed to be around. Even Thorogrim‘s keen ears could not hear any commotion or movement on this level.

Unsure whether to avail themselves of all that lay before them, the heroes looked at each other, shrugging their shoulders. “Well, they wouldn’t have served it if it wasn’t meant to be eaten, would they?” Thorogrim offered.

As if in answer to the question asked, Arunir entered the room. In the morning light and rested from her incarceration, the heroes could see that she was indeed, beautiful. Dressed in white and her long white hair braided intricately, her arms, neck, ankles and hands all adored with magnificent jewellery and gems that were surely priceless.

With a warm smile she greeted the heroes, “Good morning to you, little ones.” It was clear she meant no offense, perhaps a term used by all giant-kind to refer to the smaller races. “Please help yourselves to this modest offering; you have given us back so much already, we cannot repay you properly, I fear.”

With that, Thorogrim grabbed with two hands one of the massive bones from the leg of some beast and tore into it ravenously. Pausing for a moment and looking up at the shocked eyes of his companions, he corrected his posture, and through a moutful said, “Thank you, m’lady.”

Another bigger grin spread across Arunir’s face. “Please eat and drink your fill, and then my father beckons you join him afterwards.” She closed her eyes and performed a tiny, ever-so-slight bow. “Just through there.” Arunir pointed back from where she had come, and then turned to leave.

The heroes finished quickly, curious to speak again with Blagothkus, ruler of the Flying Castle.

Leaving the dining room, they turned into the hallway Arunir indicated. The sun shone through windows carved from the icy walls and lit up the hallway; a welcoming effect.

At the end of the hallway, the heroes saw a massive archway, adorned with sigils and glyphs that could only have been carved by giant-kind. As they approached, the room before them stretched out, and a thick blue carpet ran the length of the room, rising to meet a massive throne of ice upon which sat Blagothkus. Ogres could be seen on the sides of the room, backs turned to Blagothkus and facing the heroes. Arunir sat beside Blagothkus in a smaller chair, a high back reaching above even her.

<?php $var=’zane’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>”Come!” The booming voice of Blagothkus echoed down the room to the heroes who still stood in the archway.

Sharing glances with each other, the heroes seemed paralyzed to move forward.

“Fine then…” Zane whispered, frustrated as he started forward, his chin high with regal bearing.

“Here we go…” mumbled Thorogrim under his breath. “Keep your fingers crossed, lass” he finished in Kindra‘s direction.

The heroes approached the massive throne, and Zane stopped to address their host and with a bow, called out: “Thank you, Blagothkus for your hospitality.”

Blagothkus removed his massive morning star from his lap and leaned it against his throne. Standing, he stepped down the three stairs from his throne to be at an even level with the heroes.

“No… ” Blagothkus paused and looked back at Arunir. “… it is I who should again thank you. You have given me back my daughter safely.” The words came slowly for the lord of the castle.

This isn’t easy for him… Melissandre thought to herself. He’s not used to being helped, and certainly not from ‘little folk’.

Blagothkus continued, “With my daughter I have communed with the spirit that lives throughout this castle. I have not…” he paused again, and looked back and Arunir.

Zane could see on his face a hesitation, almost reluctance, but he refused to interrupt the Cloud Giant.

“I have not thought much of the struggles of the small races. We do not see your kind often, and you have proved yourselves worthy of our consideration.”

He paused again; his words echoing through the almost-empty throne room.

“I was wrong.” Blagothkus paused there… and Zane knew he needed to say something.

“Lord Blagothkus, your words are kind, and my companions and I are all pleased that Lady Arunir is now safe. It is we who are thankful to you for your kindness in these trying times.”

Holding his head high again, Blagothkus nodded several times. “Yes, you speak truthfully, for the Cult has proven themselves a worthy adversary that all giant-kind should rally against. I will return to the mountains of my people and we will amass a force no one can stand against. You have recovered some of the wealth the Sword Coast has lost, and it is to glorious battle we can now set our sights.”

Blagothkus’ eyes gleamed for a moment… a glossy, dreamy look that betrayed his desire to do battle once again.

Arunir, seated still with her hands folded in her lap cleared her throat gently.

<?php $var=’blagothkus’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>”Yes… and so as my daughter’s rescuers, I will grant you this boon. Seldom before have those not of giant-kind entered our lands, but as ambassadors of the smaller races, I grant you the option of returning with us.”

Arunir looked now at the faces of the heroes… scanning them for a reaction.

Thorogrim‘s bushy eyebrows raised as high as they could. A dwarf?! Being invited to the fortresses of giants?! Kindra eyes widened but she quickly composed herself. Looking at Melissandre, Zane found again her wearing the stoic mask that would not offer any insight to what she was thinking. Surprisingly, it was Serevinn who’s look made clear his thoughts, and Zane remembered immediately their conversation from the night before.

He struggles with every decision…

“You honour us with your welcome, Lord Blagothkus. My companions cannot express their gratitude, so it falls to me. We find ourselves now in your esteemed company, but it is only after trial, loss and hardship that we have arrived here. Many others have suffered and will continue to suffer at the hands of The Dragon Cult, and it is those who have lost everything already that haunt our dreams.”

“So you wish to return south, then?” Blagothkus asked in surprise. Arunir’s eyebrows rose.

“We must not forget those who everyone else has…” Zane continued. “To set our gaze upon your magnificent homeland would please us all greatly, but I fear that many more will die unless we return what has been taken from the people.”

Standing now, Arunir stepped down the huge stairs as well to join her father’s side. “You are wise, Zane Sevenstrings. And you may be right. Perhaps you should return that which has been taken.” Arunir’s eyes gleamed much as her father’s did, but not at prospect of battle. “However, you cannot hope to carry such a treasure with you.” Turning to look up at her father, “Father, let us return with my saviors to their homeland and return the stolen treasure to their people, shall we?”

Blagothkus turned to look down at his daughter. For a brief moment, you could swear it was the look of one who often indulges another.

“The trip would take many days, daughter.” Blagothkus replied. “And the return to our home should not be delayed.”

Just then, a large black raven swooped in and perched itself on the icy window ledge behind Arunir. Squaking loudly, the raven flew into the throne room and settled at Kindra‘s feet then boldly hops closer, a flat parcel wrapped in oilskin strapped to its belly. It eyes Kindra enigmatically for a few moments, then speaks in a familiar voice. “Leosin Erlanthar sends his heartiest congratulations! Please use the gift this bird brings to meet me in Waterdeep as soon as possible. The Fate of the Sword Coast is about to be decided!”

Thorogrim‘s eyes widened in alarm. “Leosin! How did he manage this!”

<?php $var=’thorogrim’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>Kindra bent down and gently unwrapped the parchment from the raven. Immediately, the raven took to the air and flew out through the window. Unravelling the parcel, Kindra‘s eyes narrow as she scans the parchment.

“What is it?” Zane asked.

“I actually don’t know…” Kindra replied, turning the parchment around to face everyone else.

“Those are destination sigils.” Melissandre quickly offered.

“To where?” Kindra asked.

“May I?” Arunir asked politely with one of her large hands outstretched. Kindra placed the parchment in Arunir’s palm and the princess stood upright and looked at the tiny piece of parchment with keen understanding.

“To Waterdeep, of course.” She smiled. “You have powerful friends, it seems.”

“Indeed.” Blagothkus mumbled. “Perhaps you have another means of returning than I can offer.”

Zane thought from a moment and said, “But we have not the means to use such a scroll, do we?” Zane looked at Melissandre first.

“I… I’ve never tried…” Melissandre replied. “And I’ve heard of mistakes being very bad…”

Zane looked at Thorogrim second, “I’d trust the lass before I gave it a try!” Thorogrim replied quickly.

Arunir bent low again and rested her large hands on Thorogrim and Melissandre‘s shoulders. “Be at peace, my friends, for I am practiced at the arcane.” Her smile was reassuring and confident, and Thorogrim couldn’t help but smile back.

Blagothkus spoke again, “Then it is settled. You shall return to your friend and when the time is right, we will return the wealth we protect to you.”

Zane looked straight up at Blagothkus and met his gaze, “You honor us with your offer, Lord Blagothkus. We accept with many thanks.”

Nodding with satisfaction, Blagothkus inhaled deeply and ascended the stairs again to sit on his throne of ice.

“And when the time is right, use that I gave you last evening to contact us. It’s magic is connected to this Castle; they are one and the same. The magic of my gift is the same as the magic of this castle; they are endless.”

Grabbing again his morning star, Blagothkus waved his other hand towards the heroes. “I bid you farewell, little ones. Be safe until we meet again.”

<?php $var=’arunir’; include ‘randompic.php’; ?>With that, Arunir gestured for the heroes to follow her.

Making their way down familiar stairs, the heroes quickly realized where ARunir was leading them.

“The room with the runes and the disappearing floor…” Kindra whispered to Melissandre.

“Yes.” Arunir replied. Her hearing was not hindered by her height, apparently. “If you must leave us, then I wish you to be close to the spirit of she who you carry with you….”

Arunir stopped on the stairs and turned to face the heroes, much closer to their height since she was several steps ahead.

“My mother.”

As the party reached the bottom of the stairs, the runes again lit up to welcome Arunir and the heroes.

“If you have your things, I will send you on your way.” Arunir waited for the heroes to reply.

“It is with a heavy heart that we leave you.” Zane said.

Smiling, Arunir gestured for the heroes to stand behind her. As soon as the heroes entered the chamber, the floor disappeared just as before and below them, the clouds sailed by. “I’ll miss this.” Kindra said aloud.

Holding the tiny parchment aloft, Arunir began speaking in the tongue of magic. Waving her hand in front of her, a bluish gate began to take shape in front of her. Through the portal could be seen a dark room lit by torches, but it was faint and indistinct.

Lowering her arms and turning now to the heroes behind her, Arunir finished, “Go. Be safe, and know that you have allies here.” Meeting the gaze of each of the heroes in turn, Arunir said nothing and watched as the heroes reluctantly moved forward.

Thorogrim went first, and with an outstretched arm, lifted one of his feet quite high so not to break the edge of the portal, ringed with blue and white. To his surprise, he felt nothing and so continued to move forward, letting his entire arm disappear through the plane formed by the ring of magic. “Moradin protect me….” he muttered to himself as he stepped through completely and disappeared.

Kindra, without another moment of hesitation leapt through like a bullet; completely off the ground as she disappeared behind the portal.

Serevinn, Melissandre and Zane followed, and left behind them Arunir, Blagothkus and the Castle in the Sky.

… to be continued.

Author: Graeme