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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Lord of the Lost
Journey to the Last Sea Part 6: Out of the Fire, Into the Woods
Mounted on the impressive fire drake they had pummeled into submission, the heroes rode hot on the trail of the ssurran merchants. Rokkon had rejointed them, and the half-giant ranger's tracking skills had been more than sufficient to follow their fading trail over the ash and cinders covering the rocky ground around the Lava Gorge. Sark had called down a reptilian behemoth of some sort with his magic, and flew overhead on leathery wings, scouting for the reptilian traders. They rode for a couple of hours, following the fading trail.

Cries of alarm from somewhere ahead could be heard, and meant that trouble had found the ssurran merchants. Rushing down a small rise, the heroes saw the edge of the Lava Gorge ahead. The air was like a furnace and the heat distorted their vision, but they clearly saw half a dozen giants with dark skin and hair like flames alongside a titan with skin like obsidian and molten flames for hair rise from a steaming vent nearby. One inix was dead and a wagon had been set alight, but the rest of the merchants seemed unhurt for the moment. But it was clear to the heroes that they were the only thing standing between the ssurrans and a brutal death at the giants' hands.

The fire giants charaged in, ready to slaughter the merchants.

Charging into battle atop their mount, the heroes engaged the giants in close combat. Gurthmore's axe cleaved into two of them, staggering the pair, as Rokkon cut one down in short order. Chuka-Tet and his scorpion leaped into their midst, claws and sting biting flesh even as his staff cracked a giant's skull. The titan roared, swinging its burning sword and unleashing a wave of flame. But the heroes endured, and Gurthmore sent it flying with a swing of his axe. Rokkon was on the titan in an instant, his axes cracking its stony skin spilling out magma-like blood. It brought its sword down at the goliath, but he parried with his axe, slashing a tendon in its arm before gutting the primordial creature. The remaining giants fled, not seeing any profit in further battle.

Hassh'nek and the other ssurrans thanked the heroes profusely, and expressed amazement that they had survived the shadowy assassins that attacked them in Ravage. The wily merchant was happy to see them though, and explained they would soon camp on the edge of a mysterious forest, the Somber Woods. They reached the woods no more than a day and a half later, and set up camp near nightfall. The forest was pale, the trees twisted and their dying bark covered in phosphorescent lichen and strange fungi. Chuka-Tet could sense the place was unhealthy, and that the spirits considered them intruders. The ssurran merchants set up a tent, explaining that they would sleep further from the edge. The heroes braved a small clearing.

The Somber Woods really lived up to their name.

As the moons rose, eerie wails sounded from the forest and ghostly figures emerged from the trees. They glowed like the strange, phosphorescent lichen that clung to the bark of the gnarled trees. All were powerfully built and had bestial faces crowned by jagged horns. They were armed with crude spears and axes, and a kirre with ghostly pale fur ran alongside them. "Tribute," the leader growled, "give us tribute, outsiders, or pay the blood price for entering our woods." Chuka-Tet could sense these were tulgars, primal spirits bound into mortal flesh. Dangerous and powerful, he thought it best to negotiate.

The tulgars emerged into the light of the heroes' campfire.

"We come in peace," he clicked, but his overtures were met with stony silence. Rokkon and Gurthmore put on a brave face, trying to intimidate the primal warriors, with mixed success. But Arshaka's words and Rokkon's insight were enough to get them to stay their attack. The goliath realized they would have to each give a mighty tribute. More than goods, each would have to be a personal thing, a part of what and who they were. Rokkon gave up Champion's Fang, the axe with which he slew Yarnath, the master of Slither. Gurthmore showed the moves he used to defeat the champion of Nibenay in the arena, exhausting himself in the process. Arshaka told the story of the heroes' struggle, sharing a piece of himself with the tulgars. And Chuka-Tet promised to serve them for a year and a day, coming when they would beckon without delay. Although spiritually linked and perhaps vulnerable, the heroes' tribute was deemed worthy. The tulgars vanished back into the Somber Woods, and the heroes rested in relative comfort, watched over by the spirits of that forlorn place.
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