After riding on for another hour, the party could see Stonekeep on the horizon. They were so close! Oh, no, wait, it was still 20 miles away, it was just THAT BIG.
They also ran into a pack of Fire Giants carrying wagons of looted treasure and seven human girls in cages. After a brief discussion with each other, they decided that even if it slowed them down a little, they had to free the girls. In the interest of keeping things moving quickly, they offered to buy the girls from the giants, first.
Arial identified that the fire giants were elementals, and likely to enjoy magic items, especially gems and flaming things. Beware noticed that the party treasury had a 'fire emerald ki focus' in it that their monk had shunned in favor of weapons, so he offered that for the slaves.
The giant thought about it, and offered two of the slaves. They scavenged together a bunch more magic stones and/or flaming things, but the giants never offered more than five slaves. Heyyou offered to wrestle one of them as a bet to make up the difference but lost... Ariel almost convinced the giants that the loss meant that they got *all* the stones in return for all the slaves with a very convincing and confusing bout of doubletalk, but the giant leader refused to go higher than six.
Arial: "Okay, bring them forwards then, so that we can pick the six we want."
The giants complied. Arial walked along the cages, examining the girls.
Arial: "Hmm... hmm... okay, I think I want -- FIREBALL!"
Most of the giants were surprised by her sudden change in tactics. All of the rest of her own party was, too. One giant responded quickly with a fireball of his own, then (after the quick-reacting monk took out three of the giants with a gout of fire breath) threatened to set fire to the rest of the girls unless the party stopped fighting. Beware tried to position himself to knock the girls out of their fireball formation with one of his own attacks tuned to be nonlethal, but reading that action to go off if the fireballing giant carried through on his threat...
Which he did, since Arial wasn't about to not keep attacking. Unfortunately, Beware was unable to knock more than one girl out of the enemies-only close burst 10 that the giant exploded with. Then, while the party was blasted back onto the ground, the leader put up a wall of fire between them and the girls.
Unfortunately for them, Warren knew Mass Resist Elements and cast it on the party, making them resist fire. While Asm danced around devastating the minion ranks, the one brute caught with the rest of the party on their side of the wall of fire was surrounded and destroyed... and the wall of fire kept the other giants from attacking anyone but Asm, who could mostly take it.
As the party started running around (or in Beware's case, through) the wall, the giants decided to flee with their wagons of stolen goods -- the leader even offered to leave his special girl (the reason he'd never gone above six) if they let him leave in peace. Asm agreed, and a few more readied actions happened before Heyyou decided to take an AoO on a giant and triggered another bout of reading actions flying all over the place. The surviving giants did all manage to get away anyway, but the party disabled two of the wagons, forcing the giants to leave them behind.
Beware flew after the fleeing giants on his summoned black fly figurine, but they'd regrouped and he didn't want to attack them alone -- not when they already had the girls, which was the loot they hadn't been able to let the evil giants get away with.
The girls were not fighters -- they were dancers whose tropue had been attacked by the giants. The party let them keep the heavier loot, giving them Beware's horse to haul it with and sending them back towards the city they'd just left a little while ago. It was probably a three hour trip for them on foot, but that was the best they could do -- they certainly couldn't turn back to escort them!
So, with the portable loot in their portable holes, they headed on to Stoneturn Keep.
At the keep, they were intercepted by an elf who warned them that they were all going to die, but tried to give them some advice to help them survive.
(1) Don't enter the keep.
(2) If you do have to go inside, stick to the guard tunnels along the outer wall
(3) Don't pick up any treasure -- if it's still there, it's probably evil or VERY well guarded.
(4) Don't trust anything that looks new or clean or undamaged.
(5) You probably want to get to the library through the portal in the central courtyard. The one guarded by a dust dragon whose very breath would instantly kill you all.
(6) The safest way to do that is to climb up to the roof and then over, but you can't do that along the outer wall because it's space-distorted to prevent that. See the trees bending into strange shapes near it? Same reason, you can't just fly over.
With all that in mind, they headed into the keep, found their way into what looked like the guard tunnels, and ran into a suspiciously clean kitchen... where the alternate route was a doorway braced shut very securely. They decided that maybe they could walk through the kitchen and just not touch anything...
Which was wrong. The kitchen cockroaches started to form into a large composite form...
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