The winter months pass and Denig debates with himself the wisdom of showing the heart-shaped gem, which he thinks is clearly powerful, to a local magician. Pick and Dagaard are convinced of its magical properties and feel that although a local wizard, if one could be found, might provide information but the temptation to acquire it from the party might be too much. Pick and Fulton feel that such an item of power should be in the hands of someone like the Alabaster Lady who will know what to do once the item’s powers are revealed. So it is with glad hears and a new crew member that the Ulmo’s Beard sets sail for home.
Captain Reiss has finally had the chance to complete his crew that was rendered short-handed by the ship’s sudden departure from Cara Celairnen. Aerandir is a dark-haired half elf who has been marooned ashore for many years in the deserts of Far Harad and upon reaching Duslan has been seeking a ship North.
The day had started with a clear sky. The ocean had sparkled like a sheet of diamonds under the yellow sun at midday. The light winds had pushed the ship at an easy pace across the wavelets; making good time towards the long awaited destination.
Mid-afternoon, one white cloud. Rapidly, it was followed by more that piled up on upon the other. Soon the mass of clouds were dark and brooding. Crack went the mast pennant in the increasing wind as crew scrabbled to reef in sails and batten down hatches against the coming storm.
Soon the storm engulfs the ship. Winds howl and lash the rigging with piercing screams. Waves roll the the vessel from side to side. Pitching from a high mountain of water into the depths of deep valleys shadowed by green walls of death. Sailors cling to safe rigging points, tied to the ship by safety lines. At the helm the captain roars his defiance as the storm.
A sudden crack, the main mast is felled like a tall tree: its weight threatens to drag the whole ship into the watery depths. Sailors leap to free the vessel from the death grip of the sea. Hatchets rise and fall and soon the mast floats free. With prayers and imprecations the crew wait for the storm to claim its next victim.
Miraculously, the Ulmo’s Beard, battered and bedraggled, is reprieved. The remaining sails are jury rigged and Captain Reiss sets a heading that he hopes will make landfall. For days the ship limps on. Food and water supplies are depleted. The horizon remains an empty line between two shades of blue.
The Captain’s concern is palpable. Without landfall soon even of quarter rations the ships company won’t survive. However, Ulmo’s fortune favours them when all hope seems lost. A lone cloud on the horizon. Hope is restored. Could it be an island?
The island is surrounded by a rocky coast but the presence of trees offers some hope of water and food. Ulmo’s fortune seems to favour the ship’s company more as there is a small anchorage that will allow the gig to land with relative safety. Captain Reiss sets about organising the shore parties. One under the Bosun and Carpenter to select a tree for a replacement mainmast. Two others to forage for food and water to replenish the supplies.
Pick, Denig and Dagaard are assigned to the foraging party for the west of the island along with crew mates Fulton, Aerandir and Chad Sweete. The west coast is covered to the shoreline with a dense scrubby wood that is difficult to traverse. Denig reasons that any game that may have established itself on the island will probably be near the margins. So the party set out following the edge of the wood and head inland. A few hours into their exploration they hear an inhuman screech and take cover in the woods but see no sign of the source of the sound.
The sun is beginning to reach the height of its wandering across the blank blue sky when the party begin to notice signs of cultivation and herding. Small flocks of goats wander the hillsides of the interior. Stands of wild wheat and vines that have been crudely cultivated grow. Soon the party come across an enormous cave. The hard packed dirt around the cave shows signs of regular traffic. The mouth of the cave is wide and over 15 feet high stretching back beyond visible sight.
With caution the party investigate the cave, Denig and Aerandir remaining outside to cover the party with their bows and Fulton acting as a message relay. The inside of the cave is simply furnished with a pen for goats, a simple bed, a stool, and a firepit; best of all at the rear of the cave are supplies of grain and bread; barrels of wine and a supply of water. However, everything is of enormous proportions and this is a concern to Pick and Dagaard.
Fulton enters the cave ahead of a flock of goats to warn the explorers of the return of the owner of the cave. Abandoning any thought of filching food or water the four adventurers hide at the back of the cave as the goats mill around. Soon a giant presence blocks the light from the cave entrance. The sound of a huge stone being rolled across it is a death knell for any light. In the darkness the dwarves can make out a giant figure. He seems disturb by something in the cave but unable to locate its source continues with his chores. “Here we are my lovelies,” he croons to the goats, placing straw in their pen. “Shadim will sing to you soon. The hot eye in the sky will pass and you will have fresh grass to eat in the cool of the day.”
Meanwhile outside the cave, Aerandir and Denig, having hidden from the giant as it returned home, are at a loss as to how to rescue the rest of the party. Denig has noticed that this giant has a hideously scarred head and has been blinded by the wounds he as received. The arms of the giant are also scarred in a similar way. They decide to try and attract the blind giant’s attention by throwing rocks at the stone door. Denig takes up a position to cover Aerandir and the half-elf plans a retreat to a safe distance if their plan works.
The inexorable passage of time in the darkness drags. Shifting his position behind the well, Fulton although it could be Chad shift some loose stones. A splash. A moment of silence. “Ooose there?” mutters Shadim. Of course only Fulton has understood any of Shadim’s words as they are in a dialect of Apsyaic. Opting for boldness Fulton reveals himself to the blind giant and weaves a tale of guile introducing his companions one by one so as not to alarm the giant and making them out to be great heroes. In return, Shadim tells his own tale of how he has always lived on the island and has no memory beyond it. He reveals, that once a man lived here and gave him the name Shadim, which means laughter and song. The man went away and now a great bird came. It steals goats from his flock; its great talons blinded poor Shadim and now he is powerless to even try to protect his lovelies.
Moved by the story and the promise of supplies for the ship if they can rid the gentle giant of the giant bird, they party set out for the site of the nest armed with the knowledge of a mountain trail that will lead them to the peak above the nest. The trail is at the end of a valley covered with quartz containing rocks that sparkle like diamonds. Dazzled by the sunlight or distracted by the thought of diamonds, it is not clear which, the party are surprised by the giant bird, a Roc. Chad is carried aloft screaming in agony, a talon piercing his shoulder. Aerandir looses and arrow in an attempt to save his crew mate but the bird is too fast. Unfortunately, the Roc’s grip on Chad is not secure and the poor sailor is dropped and plummets to his death on the rocks below.
The Dwarves stand back to back scanning the skies, along with Aerandir. Simultaneously, Denig races to save the life of Chad and Fulton runs for the cover of some nearby ruins. The Roc swoops out of the sun, and again blinded by the difficult light, Aerandir misses with his bow. Fulton is snatched and carried aloft screaming. Within moments his pleas for help are lost. Meanwhile, looking at the broken body of Chad, Denig decides to use the arrow of time and firing it into the leg of the sailor transports him back to before he was snatched. A puzzled Chad appears with an arrow shaft in his leg. Fearing for Fulton, Denig prays for swift feet and sets off up the mountain track to the Roc nest. His companions, pausing briefly to settle Chad, follow at their best pace.
Even with the blessing of Cloch it takes over an hour to reach the peak above the Roc’s nest. Denig uses what cover is available and is able to overlook the nest. Inside it are two huge chicks but no Fulton. Taking advantage of the situation he shoots one of the chicks severely wounding it. This proves to be a disastrous action as the chick cries out and its companion screeches in alarm. Racing out of the sky the Roc barely gives time for Denig to raise his bow; his shot goes wide. Denig is badly wounded and knocked down by the vicious bird’s cruel talons. In a matter of moments, he is unconscious and bleeding from a leg wound. The combat is over and if not for the grace of Cloch he would have died on the mountain top. Healed and recovering, Denig takes stock of his near death experience, thanking Cloch for his favour, while waiting for his companions to join him at the mountain top.
When the party catches up with Denig a plan is soon hatched. They will wait for the Roc to return to the nest and attempt to down the bird using the two archers. The Dwarves will act as ground support for if or when the Roc attacks the party on the peak.
It is not long before the Roc returns carrying one of Shadim’s goats. She drops it by the injured chick showing her motherly concern. Both Denig and Aerandir shoot at the Roc their arrows embedding deeply in the bird. It is not enough though and she launches skyward causing the party scuttle back to the partial safety of the rocks on the peak. The battle breaks into sporadic episodes of the party trying to locate the Roc and firing at it as it rushes into attack. The sharp-eyed Aerandir is more successful at spotting the beast earlier than Denig but neither finds it easy to hit the Roc as she dives from on high. Occasionally, Dagaard leaps out for a swing as the bird passes with some success but not without injury being raked by sharp talons. However, Pick spends the time disorientated and unable to contribute to the battle. Eventually, the archers shots begin to tell and the Roc flies away nursing the wounds and abandoning her chicks.
The chicks dispatched by the archers, the party is surprisingly reunited with Fulton who tells a daring tale of how he escaped becoming dinner for two Roc chicks and taking refuge in a cave. He goes on to tell everyone that at the back of the cave is a man-made staircase. The party agree that this should be investigated before returning to give the good news to Shadim.