Actions

Work Header

Goblins & Giants

Chapter Text

The first thing Nattux Tsvetanka heard as she woke up was a huge blast. Scrambling off her cot, she noticed her twin brother wasn’t on his. Pulling some outerwear on, she grabbed her cloak and bag and sprinted out of the yurt to see what was going on.

Screams greeted her. Immediately she knew what was happening, but she hoped she’d never have to deal with adventurers in her lifetime. The stories told by some of the old refugees of other clans were horrifying, and now here she was, watching them relive their worst traumas. Nattux rushed forward past some firefighting townsfolk and towards the plaza, the main public space. The noise seemed to be intensifying as she got closer, and before she reached the open-air square she saw one of the elder teachers. He frantically waved her over and she took cover with him behind an upturned wagon.

“{What in Abyss-}” Her harsh whisper was silenced by the teacher, who cut her off with the explanation she was about to demand.

“{They just came into the village and started destroying everything! The scouts hadn’t reported anything, and the plume of smoke past the horizon was too far away to be a threat. They’ve all but massacred the vanguard sent to defend the front district and now they’re somewhere close.}”

“{Sounds bad, teach. Any good news or should I start making funeral arrangements?}”

“{Your brother said that he had a plan, but he needed a distraction.}”

“{Perfect. It’s showtime.}” If Nattux could do one thing, it was get people’s attention.

Popping out from behind the wagon, she sprinted towards the fountain in the center of the plaza. As she jumped atop it, she gazed over to the other side of the street. Walking out of a burning structure were four humanoids. In the harsh light of the flames they seemed almost fiendish – a dwarf with a mace in one hand and a holy symbol in the other; an elf with a lute and a forest green motley; a human, nearly naked, screaming for blood at the top of his lungs; a dragonborn, her scales tinted with blood. As they stepped onto the street, their attention turned towards the small figure in the red cloak.

Nattux knew somewhere in the back of her mind that she probably looked ridiculous, but she was far too angry to care. Her passion had always inspired her playing, and rage was just as rich a source as joy. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her brother rolling a small barrel into position, slowly and silently. Time for the show to begin.

“Hey Noonsleepah Potleaf!” The words resounded across the plaza as the adventurers and Nattux stared each other down. The dwarf burst into laughter, followed by the dragonborn. Fuming, the elf took his lute and stepped forward.

“Nah, ah, ah! I’m not trying ta fight’cha, tall boy. I’m here ta play circles around ya!”

“Kill!” yelled the human barbarian.

The dragonborn put a claw on his shoulder, holding him back. “No, you know what? I want to see this.”

The elf glared daggers at Nattux. “I could obliterate you where you stand, wretched greenskin!”

Her lips pulled into a tauntingly sly smile. “Ya music’s that bad, huh? Sounds like a typical elf ballad. Lemme guess – it’s about fae and the woods, right?” At that, the dwarf laughed even harder at the bard.

The dragonborn, keeping her composure, smiled deviously. “How about a contest, then?” Turning to the bard, she shrugged. “We can always just kill it after.”

His composure now back, the elf stood tall, trying to emphasize his height. “Very well. I’ll lead this dance.” His fingers picked at the lute strings with more ferocity than they ever had before. Notes blazed from the instrument as Nattux countered with her harmonica. Back and forth they went, notes clashing, sounds of fury coming from both contenders. Nattux pierced and slashed at the elven song, attacking the tune with the same witty rhythms and countering with a dissonance she’d developed through countless cutting contests.

As the sound reached a crescendo, Nattux suddenly began to twirl atop the fountain, flourishing with the harmonica. This coda took the group by surprise, its intensity prompting the elf to stop playing and behold the spectacle. After the final note, he regained himself and glared. “What the hell was that?”

Nattux’s saccharine grin turned malicious. “The last thing ya’ll evah heah.” After she winked, the entire party turned around to see another goblin behind them, barrels of gunpowder set up. The flame in his hand was reflected in his eyes.

Nattux was wrong – the last thing the marauders heard was a loud boom.

Chapter Text

“{Sorry about using up the powder, sis. I was saving those barrels to make fireworks for your performance at Summer’s Start next week, but it seemed prudent to use them now.}” Nattux sat with her twin, Nattil, on the edge of the fountain. She allowed herself to relax and let his raspy voice help her calm down. She would regain her composure, and then she would deal with the huge, bloody mess in front of her.

While Nattil didn’t have his sister’s skill with words or instruments, his knowledge of physics was incredible. Long hours spent studying force and energy paid off when the tribe had found a deposit of niter. His experiments had led to some impressive results, but his lack of magical aptitude meant that his sister usually ended up picking up the pieces and healing or mending them back together.

Nattux playfully nudged his shoulder. “{Hey, now, that was the best bang you’ve ever made, for me or otherwise. Don’t apologize for saving our lives, nerd.}” In her native Goblin, Nattux’s accent wasn’t as pronounced. Nattil smiled at her words, making eye contact. “{You must quit apologizing for so much stuff in general, vala. You’ll need to be more self-reliant after I leave.}”

Nattux held a quick breath and prepared for the incoming reaction. “{You’re leaving?! When was *this* going to happen? You’re just going out there, where there’s more of those people, even after this disaster?}”

“{What happened is *why* I’m going out there, brother. You saw what they did – they cut through our defenses like an arrow through mist. We need some power or knowledge to protect ourselves, and it’s probably easier to find it out there then to make it in here.}”

Nattil was silent, digesting this information. Before he could say anything, Nattux again cut to the point. “{And no, you can’t come along on this trip. First off,}” she started, seeing him about to jump in, “{the family needs you here. Second, two goblins will provoke more suspicion than one. Third, and I know it’s hypocritical, but I’d be constantly worried about you. I’m not planning on being gone long, but the village is still vulnerable. I need you to protect it.}” She turned to him. “{Please? Just for a bit.}”

Nattux’s charm was one of her most potent weapons, but her brother had learned to adapt to it over the years. “{Just because I’m the youngest doesn’t mean I’m incapable! Besides, I’m the smart one.}” Nattil smirked at her. “{Who discovered the niter reactions? Who’s trying to compose a new and original goblinoid script?}”

Nattux rolled her eyes. “{Exactly the reason you should stay here. Are you planning to bring your lab with you if we travel together? And you know I’m clever enough to survive out there. Who’s had to clean up your experimental explosions? Who’s had to heal countless burns and gashes, huh?}”

Nattil looked away. “{I’m sorry. You’re right, that was unfair. Still, though, I just…I just want to be useful. I’m going to worry about you too, you know.}”

Nattux softened. “{I know.}” With a wry smile, she tried to lighten the mood. “{I also know that no matter what I say, you’ll just find your own adventure anyway. I guess…be careful? To the both of us. Heh.}”

The two sat on the fountain in silence, trying to focus on what had just happened and what would be. The commoners and experts rushed by with their tasks. As soon as the adventurers were confirmed dead, they’d gone hard to work tending to the wounded and making plans to rebuild; after curing as much as she could, Nattux found Nattil and the two wordlessly made their way to their usual spots at the base of the fountain.

“{I’ve been hearing about a kind of explorer college somewhere out to the west. I was thinking that if I went there, maybe I could learn something new and bring something back.}”

“{That sounds supremely your style, brother. I was going to travel east and try to hone my magic some. I know there’s a couple of other humanoid settlements in that direction, so who knows? Maybe your big sister’ll bring home some strapping orc~}”

“{Pfft. I’m sure they’ll fit comfortably in the yurt, on your bed.}” Another silence. “{Seriously, though…I love you.}”

“{I love you too, vala.}” The two hugged, each preventing the painful reality of the situation from sinking in for just a little longer.

Chapter Text

“Owwww!” Nattux half-yelled, half-whined as she set off another trap. The woodsmen in the area had been busy, it seemed, and this was the fourth snare she’d just narrowly avoided. The first one had interrupted her practicing – even after getting it sized down, the lute she’d taken from that elf was still a bigger instrument than she was used to. Unfortunately, her reflexes didn’t save her from falling onto the ground. Brushing herself off, she at least found solace in the lack of pointy rocks here.

Getting up, Nattux wondered at the hostile welcome the forest had to offer. Deciding to try hopping through the trees, she managed to avoid most of the other traps, and eventually she made her way to what looked like it used to be a village. The buildings left standing had people huddled within and around them, and most of the livestock that was still there was either scared or brutally slaughtered. Nattux made sure that whatever had done this was gone before she dropped from her tree and walked slowly into town.

The few people that bothered to notice her started to panic but calmed when they realized she was smaller than they were. This fact didn’t have too much relevance to Nattux until she almost tripped into a depression in the ground. Looking at it, she realized that it was a giant footprint.

“{Whoa, what in the world...?}”

“They came and took all of it! Every last bit!” A hin male only a little taller than Nattux whispered harshly as he came to stand at her side above the footprint.

“So, you…you were here fa’ this? What happened?” He gave Nattux a look. “I can guess the main details, a’course, but I was wonderin’ if ya had any more infa’mation about…this,” she said, gesturing to the hole.

“Hill Giants. They took the livestock, the crops, the money, some of the villagers…and my wagon!” The man was dressed in a fine vest and some colorful, almost gaudy clothes. The closest thing Nattux could compare him to was a performer; she wondered uncomfortably if she looked like that to other people.

The man was too mad to notice her scrutiny. “And here I was with medicines that might actually have worked! Even if they hadn’t, the prices of those components alone…” He trailed off, finally noting Nattux’s skeptical look. “Have *you* ever tried extracting bile from a seventh-born piglet or siphoning pure alcohol from the swill these towns normally produce? It’s not easy, young lady.”

“Sounds profitable, I guess. Ya evah actually cure anyone with all that, or do ya just inadvertently kill people?”

“Now see here! No death has ever actually been attributed-” The hin was about to launch into what was shaping up to be an impressive tirade before a huge man dressed in one-piece swimsuit tromped up behind him.

“Viktor, are you sti’ill going on about that?” His voice was predictably deep, but warm and with enough of a hint of laughter for Nattux to like him almost immediately, despite her usual annoyance with boisterous men.

Viktor turned and scowled at him. “May, that was our livelihood! Unless you plan to support us through lifting exhibitions, we’re sunk to the bottom of the Styx!”

May shrugged. “So, we go and get eet back. No one, not even a giant, can outmatch May the Magnificent!” He began a series of flexing poses.

“We’re not going to take on a tribe of giants by ourselves! I don’t think we’ll find much in the way of help around here, either…I don’t suppose you would care to trek with us, young lady? I can promise you a potion that’ll win the heart of any suitor, man or goblin!”

Nattux crossed her arms. “OK, first of all, I ain’t stupid. If ya could make legitimate potions, ya wouldn’t be wheelin’ around dirt-farming towns tryin’ ta sell bottled lies. Second, fuck you! Goblins fall undah humanoids, we just look greener than ya. Third, do I *look* like I need any a’ya potions?” She indicated with her hands; even under the red hood and leather armor, she felt pretty sure her irrepressible charm shined through.

May immediately dissolved into laughter, looking down at Viktor. “She’s e’even sharper-tongued than you, Viktor! Maybe she should be the one selling – ‘bottled lies’, was eet? A-heh heh heh.”

Seeing this and Viktor’s misery, Nattux tried to disarm the situation a bit. “Still, it seems like ya need help, and I did come out here fa’ some adven’cha. Maybe I can give ya guys a hand.” She smiled. “D’ya have anyone else in mind, or izzit just us?”

Viktor sighed. “Unfortunately, it’s just myself and you two scoundrels. Fine, then,” he added, starting towards what was left of the inn. “Try not to die too quickly; we’ll be counting on you, I’m sure.”

Chapter Text

“Why don’t you ever carry me?” Viktor’s complaint bounced through the hills.

“You don’t ever have such good jokes, Vik.” May replied.

“Unless you count that sweater vest combo.” From atop May’s shoulder, Nattux began laughing, and her quip also drew some chuckles out of May.

Viktor turned and mumbled. “I like this vest. It was a present.”

“In fairness, Vik, eet does look like a comfortable vest. Who gave it to you?”

“My first child actually purchased this to give to me when I returned to the village. She has impeccable taste – takes after her father.” Viktor’s smile was sincere as he started to speak about his family. Nattux decided to listen, thinking of home. Viktor’s six children reminded her of her own big family. Was Nattil OK? He was younger, sure, but not a kid. Still…she hoped he’d found some good opportunity to get the knowledge he craved. Maybe he’d made it to that college. She hoped so; hopefully he at least had found some companions to watch his back.

“…so, young lady, what’s your family like? Do you have any children?” The hin’s voice brought her back to reality.

Nattux scrunched up her face. “I’m 26, old man. And no, before ya ask, I’m not contemplatin’ any kids anytime soon.” She settled back into the crook of May’s left arm. “I have gotta big family, though. Tons a’ extended relatives, mostly aunts and uncles. Since we left, I’ve kinda been thinkin’ about them all, missing them. Wonderin’ what they’d do if they had to go save a wagon from giants.”

“Well, what would they do?” May asked.

“Most of ‘em are artists, so probably mostly what I’d do, which is a combo of diplomacy and trickin’ them. Aunt Allina just got back from this pilgrimage, so maybe she learned a bit of magic? It’s weird. She’s been on a bunch to other areas and temples and stuff, but she left on this one 3 years ago. She says she has a relationship with this god, Ixip, but doesn’t know how to worship him, so she’s gotta go find out how divinity and religion works. Said Ixip saved her life a coupla’ times, but she never said how – she’s been tellin’ her stories to a scribe and she says we hafta wait until the book comes out.”

“Not many goblin authors that I know of.”

“She’s actually illiterate, but she’s the only one.”

“Fascinating…do you-” Viktor’s question was cut off as a yell pierced the air from atop the hill before them.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!”

Nattux took one look at the figure flying back-first towards them and hopped off of May’s shoulder, leaving him free to catch the woman who’d just crested the hill through the air. Putting her down, he looked quizzically at her as she spun to address the group.

“GIANTS! ONE OF ‘EM’S RIGHT OVER THE TOP! CHARGE!” As quickly as she came, the lady left, moving as fast as she could to the hilltop and over to what Nattux could only assume was a fray. Viktor and May shared a look.

“You want to go fight them with her, don’t you?”

“Ees the sky blue, Vik?”

Fortunately, there was only a single hill giant over the hill. Watching May charge in and Viktor pull out a few bottles of some unknown substance, Nattux began to play her harmonica. Conjuring the image of a young blue dragon, she sent her illusion directly at the face of her opponent. As he raised his huge arms to cover his head, the mysterious lady and May both took the opportunity to attack his legs. May’s large wooden hammer smashed into the giant’s calf, causing him to stumble, and the lady carved a deep cut into the parts of the leg that she could reach. Viktor saw an opportunity and reared back and hurled one of his potions at the off-balance giant. Feeling the corrosive content hit his skin, the man howled before bringing down a massive fist onto May, who caught it but was straining not to be pushed prone.

Seeing a need for urgency, Nattux switched to her lute; not her instrument of choice, but one that would free up her mouth for a key spell. She’d heard vicious invectives during her time in bars and even used a few herself, but her favored psychic attacks were a type of her own creation. Though not a wizard, her studies and experience had left her with a significant bent towards the school of Necromancy, and while her attempts to weave death into song hadn’t yet revealed the nature of mortality to her, it had produced some dangerous sounds nonetheless. Her practice had culminated in an original piece, which she’d appropriately titled The Dance of Death.

Nattux’s song permeated the air in an almost palpable miasma. She could swear time almost slowed; her vision definitely darkened, though she couldn’t say for sure if that had happened to anyone else. In her native Goblin, she announced the arrival of death to the hill giant. “{This is your last dance!}”

Haunted by the dance of death, the massive man finally crumbled to the ground in a heap. Dusting herself off, the lady looked the group up and down. “Well, well. Y’all are pretty handy in a fight, huh? Thanks for the help. Name’s Nabina.”

As the others introduced themselves, Nattux slowly willed herself to come back into focus. Her use of death-music had only ever been in controlled experiments, and even then it had taken a lot out of her. Breathing, she returned just in time to introduce herself to Nabina.

“Nattux Tsvetanka. Pleased ta meetcha!”

Chapter Text

“OK, tell me ag’in how that one went.” Nabina sat next to Nattux, leaning against the cave wall while she practiced her lute.

“OK, two guys are talking in a bar when one of ‘em reveals that he’s half-minotaur and half-centaur. The other one asks him, ‘Where’s ya bull’s head?’

‘I don’t have one,’ said the guy, ‘my uppah half is centaur.’

‘OK, then, where’s ya horse legs?’

‘I don’t have them, my lowah half is minotaur.’

‘Well, how do ya expect me to believe ya anything but a regular guy?’

And the second man says, ‘Just look down!’” Nattux collapsed into a fit of giggles while the elf next to her looked on blankly. “Eh, it sounds bettah in Goblin.” The two were sitting a little further from the fire than Viktor and Jun, who were more focused on keeping warm than on chatting. Some of the things they were saying were wafting over towards the pair of ladies, but neither spoke the language of the Hin.

“Nice blade,” Nattux ventured, gesturing to the sword Nabina was oiling.

“Thanks. It was me father’s father’s, forged in the time of need and famine. This metal’s as much a part of me as me own arms, as it was for me da and as it will be for me own kids.” She stopped wiping down the blade and stared into her reflection. “Probably g’win to have about six or seven, meself. How about you? D’ya think ye’ll have any after this is all spoken and done fer?”

The look on Nattux’s face could split stone*. “Nonononono, not gonna happen. At least, not fa anotha’ decade or so. I gotta whole lotta life to live before I’m evah gonna be ready ta settle down.” Seeing Nabina’s confusion, she decided to try and change the subject. “So, d’ya fight giants often, or was today a special case?”

“They ‘ent ever attacked me before today. Somethin’s got ‘em riled up somethin’ fierce.” Nabina shifted. “That one today asked me somethin’ about ‘The Land of Under Rocks’. Got real mad when I told ‘im I didn’t know what in the hells that was and that I didn’t want ta help him search for it. I guess I’m searching for it now, in any case.”

Nattux chuckled. “Irony.” She looked over at the men. “Hey, which do you think is hottah?” She asked, not bothering to keep her voice down.

“We can hear you, you know!” Viktor’s sharp voice cut through the cavern over towards the pair. They laughed along with May. In the back of her mind, Nattux truly relaxed for the first time since she’d set out on this adventure. She thought of her brother, and instead of anxiety, she felt hope. Maybe he found his adventure after all.

Chapter Text

“You were brave to make it this far, tiny goblin.” The orc lord eyed Nattux as he sat upon his golden throne. His muscles rippled outwards, a waterfall of flesh held taut by perfectly-defined skin. Images of warriors fighting massive monsters decorated his already impressive physique.

Nattux stared defiantly up at him. “You don’t scayuh me, you big bully. Ya probably can’t even take me on yaself, so ya sent ya boys to get me instead.” The orcs nearby stood stock still in the presence of their leader, but Nattux could sense a couple of smiles struggling to break free. She looked around at the tackily overdone décor and the ostentatious displays of wealth. “If ya gonna execute me, get on with it. Blood’s only gonna improve the quality a’ this carpeting.”

Unexpectedly, the lord laughed. “No, nothing so wasteful as an execution. You bark loudly, goblin, but if your prowess is any indication you’re worth far more than you appear. Still,” he said, rising from his throne and walking down to Nattux, “You do appear quite…worthy.” The other orcs began to form a circle around her, still silent, as the lord came to stand directly in front of her. She could smell the scent of sweat and pheromones wafting off his scarred skin, and as he cupped her chin in one massive hand she marveled at how measured his touch was.

She had to make an effort to keep her voice level. “Oh, my. So the rich, powerful lord prefers women who can’t fight back~” The lilt in her voice didn’t fully disguise the audible grin in it. “Be careful, ‘ya highness’, I might be a bit more than you can handle.”

“Oh, of that I have no doubt, small one,” the orc lord said sarcastically. “Hence the henchmen. They shall aid me in making sure you pay for your incursion into our territory.” The circle began to move in closer. Nattux felt her heart flutter as the orc lord began to shed his top, revealing even more bulging muscle and artistic tattooing.

She could hardly wait as he began to unravel his lower wrap, letting it drop to the floor. Now all that stood between them was a simple undergarment. Carefully, slowly, tantalizingly, he reached down and prepared to pull it off as the circle cheered him on…

-

“Hey. HEY! Madam, if you would please just wake up!”

Nattux was cut off mid-snore. “*snork* Ah? What? Aww, Vik, what the hell?! I was just getting to the good part!”

Vik looked unimpressed. “Well, whatever show your mind held for you isn’t as important as solving this puzzle. We’re getting ready to go.”

“What? Why? It’s like noon a’ something, we still…” A realization dawned on Nattux. “Oh, yeah, you all can’t see in the dark, can ya?”

“No, and also everyone is awake because it’s daytime and not nighttime.” Vik turned towards the front of the cave. “You know, the time when people are active and stores are open and such?”

“{No need to disrupt my sleep just because you all have bad eyes,}” Nattux grumbled in Goblin before making her way out of the cave with him.

The day was, thankfully, pretty dark. Storm clouds covered the horizon, and the sky above them was buffeted by winds. Slightly thinner clouds battled for supremacy with the sun, giving Nattux’s eyes a period of relief before she had to get used to more light. “So, where we goin’?”

“Well, the way I see it, y’all’s hill giant’s probably a member of a nearby tribe or clan. Mine confronted me as I went north, so if they’re part a’ the same social circle he’s probably in that direction.” Nabina drew a crude map in the dirt with a stick to illustrate her theory.

May nodded. “Eet’s a good thing we ran into you. Er, that you flew into us. Ehehe. Otherwise we’d probably not know where to go from here.”

“Yes, yes, quite fortunate,” Viktor agreed quickly. “So, northward bound, then. Shall we?”

For a few hours, all that was out of the ordinary were the peals of thunder and scars of lightning decorating the distance. Like blades in a duel, the flashes deftly carved the horizon into pieces, and Nattux could only shudder as she imagined confronting a village of giants. Probably nothing good awaiting us. Well, I’ve never been a shrinking violet. If they mess with us, I’ll play them their deaths.

Each member of the party seemed to be digesting their anxiety in their own way, quietly. Nattux, fed up with the silence, began to practice on her lute. Before she knew it, she was actually starting to really get a feel for the chords, and May had a noticeable bounce in his step. She began to sing in her native Goblin, partially to better improvise lyrics and partially to give the song some mystique for her audience. As she played, she noted a change in Nabina’s mood as well.

“So what was that thing that giant said about the Land of Rock?” Nattux asked while she took a brief break from vocalizing.

“Somethin’ about the Land o’ Under Rocks, ‘e said. Said his king was killing the Black Rock Crag, something about destroying this ‘Monster of Dark Hiding’…not very ar-ti-cu’late, you know?”

As the group pondered what this could mean, they slowly made their way through the foothills until they reached the base of a mountain. From here, the ghost of a party could be heard. The scent of roasting meat wafted down from the left of the mountain, and high fires lit up the night sky. Approaching, the group found the village they sought in the midst of revelry, and the only things standing between them and the hill giants’ celebration were two large, unkempt guards.

Oh, joy. Bouncers.

“What d’we do?” Nattux queried the group.

“There are simply too many to fight by ourselves. Maybe we can bribe them?”

“With what, Vik? They have our only wagon!”

“What if we tell ‘em we’re here to hunt down that Crag man?”

“The Land o’ Under Rocks guy? Could work. What’re ye thinkin’?”

“We’re specialized killers. We got word that there was a contract for Black Rock Crag, and we’re here to negotiate prices.”

Nodding their assent, the group began to slowly approach the bouncers.

“’ey, Mack, look at this.” The leftmost one nudged the right.

“Whaddya want, squirts?”

“We ain’t here to talk to the hired help,” Nattux strode forward proudly. “We came because we heard you all were having some…’problems’…with an enemy a’ ours. Calls himself Black Rock Crag?”

The two looked at each other confusedly. “And – and *you’re* gonna kill the Black Rock Crag? What, just you little people? You en’t got no giant friends?”

“’Course en’t no giant friends, Caol. Who’d be friends with small little people? You’d squish ‘em when you weren’t payin’ attention.”

“Yeah, hey, real deep, guys, but time’s money and we gotta get inside to your king there, so if you don’t mind…” Nattux trailed off expectantly. The two guards bemusedly waited for her to finish.

“…please take us to your leader.” She finished incredulously.

The two sentries suddenly got the implication. “Uh, right! Here,” said Caol, offering his hand as a platform. Nattux gingerly stepped on, suddenly aware of her own frailty. The other adventurers followed suit, and the odd entourage entered the camp.

Chapter Text

“So,” snorted the king, “I heard you have an issue to discuss.” Elbows deep in some kind of delicious-smelling meat on his throne, the biggest hill giant yet sat and gorged himself as his people danced and partied in the camp around him.

“Yes, ya highness. We’re here because we heard you wanna get rid a’ Black Rock Crag.”

The king waved away the formality. “Please, I’m Tog. King of many things, yes, including the world’s best meat-smoking technique, but I am always Tog.” Nattux’s mouth watered just standing this close to so much beautifully cooked meat. “So, you’re here for Crag? How can you be sure you’ll kill him?”

“Well, we’ve gotta long track record of bounty huntin’, Tog. We’ve roasted an entire merc outfit of trolls *and* we were the ones who burned down the Tower of Yonnynoun.”

Tog seemed to be buying it. He shifted uncomfortably. “Um, I am…unfamiliar with the tower exploit, but I, er, did hear about the troll destruction. Impressive.” He shifted his weight again. “Still, this Crag…how much do you know about vampirism? A vampire as well as a giant – are you sure you can handle that?”

It took every bit of Nattux’s willpower not to immediately let out a pained groan at the realization that she was trying to convince this king that they were capable of slaying a giant with vampiric powers. Unfortunately, that willpower was concentrated on not digging into the meat around her, so she very audibly let out a sound that reminded Tog of air escaping from a squished and dying animal.

A moment of silence passed between them. “…OK, in fairness, we knew that there was a giant, just not a vampiric giant. We’re still repairing our information network after that troll raid.” When in doubt, just keep lying? Hopefully?

Tog lay back, drifting through thought. Finally, he spotted what he was looking for and pointed to a pair of hill giants who were drunkenly kissing near one of the communal tents. “Prove you can take down a giant and I will hire you for this.” Leaning back in his throne with a smug smile, he finished, “I told her to stay away from him. Now he pays.”

Nattux hopped down onto the hand of Caol, who lowered her onto the ground where the rest of the party was. “OK, y’all, he says he’ll hire us if we can take down that guy ovah there makin’ out with his daughtah.”

Viktor look at her, eyebrow raised. “…hire us?” he whispered to her as they made their way over.

“I’m only plannin’ on stickin’ around long enough to take that wagon as part of the deal, don’t worry. When we set out, I’mma ask for it to help us find the guy.”

When they finally made their way across the dance floor (Nattux, May, and Nabina exhibiting some very respectable moves on their way over), they stood at the feet of the two caressing hill giants. “Hey! Buddy! Come down here for a sec, please, I gotta talk to ya.” The young man looked visibly annoyed, but broke off the kiss and leaned down.

“Make it fast before I crush you down, little bug.”

“Her pop hired us to kick ya-” Nattux was interrupted by May, who stepped forward.

“We challenge you to a contest of strength!” He said in his usually bombastic manner.

At this the boy roared with laughter. “Bring it on, tiny man!” He immediately grabbed May and started heaving him towards the center of the dance floor.

“C’mon, May, show this punk whatcha got! Teach ‘em regret! Give him a hangover he’ll never forget!” May’s muscles rippled as Nattux’s words gave him fire; before the giant was five steps away May had twisted his thumb, spraining it. The giant howled and brought his other hand down to crush the bodybuilder, but missed as May ran up his arm. Nabina gave a warrior’s call before tackling the giant in the calf, and Viktor likewise cheered the fighters on.

As they wrestled with the big oaf, Nattux began to play her harmonica. A goblin melody harmonized with the already-playing giant music, and the crowd that had stopped to observe the fight was moved to the beat. The party, enriched by the tussle, reached a fever pitch, and Nattux took the opportunity to truly feel the emotions stirring through her. As she watched May struggle with life and death, she felt inspired to create another of her necromantic musical creations. A sinister undertone developed beneath the beat; a tune evoking the loss reminiscent of death, and the chill of the grave swept over the young man. “{Memento mori,}”, Nattux whispered, her message reaching his ears and his ears only. As the Dirge of the Damned rang in his ears, the mortal fear common to all living things reached into his muscles and softened his grasp. The resulting weakness allowed May to slam into his neck with an amazing tackle, felling the giant and bringing him to the ground with a sickening snapping sound.

Everyone stood stock still – the hill giants, the party, even the music dissipated into silence – until the king rose from his seat and cheered. “We have a winner!” The party once again sprang to life, the revelers erupting into cheers and hoisting May the Magnificent up into the air before showering him with alcohol. Nattux made sure it was consensual before creeping over to the dead giant. With Nabina consoling the distraught hill giant princess and Viktor talking to the king, it was the perfect chance to study the corpse. As she took the time to investigate it, her harmonica felt slightly heavier, and she pondered the sensation; she was never sure if it was actually gaining weight via the souls harvested by her necromantic magic, or if it was all in her head. As she had so many times before, she dismissed the question as being irrelevant for the moment. It’s a party. Stop worrying about whether or not you’ve suffered from a persistent delusion all your life and enjoy yourself. She took a deep breath, finished her consultation, and hopped off the forgotten body to join Vik in talking to the king about that wagon.

Chapter Text

“Ahhh, now this is much bettah.”

Nattux sat atop the newly-acquired wagon and looked out over the rolling hills. Since leaving the hill giant party, her party had made pretty good time thanks to their new acquisition. The giants had been nice enough to supply them with a couple of beasts of burden, and Nattux was further easing the burden by practicing her rituals and producing a steady stream of unseen servants to help pull.

May’s snoring leaked out from within the back of the wagon – when he’d found out he wouldn’t have to pull the cart, he’d collapsed in a heap of relief – and the sounds of cards and cursing meant that Viktor was probably teaching Nabina a new game. Nattux wasn’t sure where exactly the rest of them planned on heading, but she didn’t think she was ready to head back home just yet. There was still a ton of world out there to see.

Nattux lay back on the roof and began to indulge herself in some cloudwatching. She was tracing the outline of a chimera in the contours of a cloud before realizing that one of them appeared to be a castle. More importantly, the cloud castle seemed to be flying around, or drifting at the very least. Knocking on the roof, Nattux yelled down to Viktor. “Pass me up ya spyglass, I need ta see somethin’!”

Through the lens, Nattux could see big blue giants atop the castle battlements; cloud giants. They seemed to be hunting for something. A couple of them were also looking through telescopes, and Nattux found herself staring down the barrel of one of the sentries’ spyglasses. She cautiously waved; a slight movement of raising her hand and dropping each finger in sequence, and the sentry responded after a moment of nonplussed confusion. He looked like he was about to mouth something to her before the castle sped away from the caravan and she lost sight.

Turning her attention from the spyglass, Nattux saw banners across the horizon. Further away towards the foothills of a nearby mountain were a series of armed dwarves practicing drills. Deciding now would be a good time to stop stargazing, Nattux acrobatically pulled herself into the wagon via the side window, earning some small applause from Nabina.

“Looks like stuff’s gettin’ serious out there.” Nabina began to shuffle the deck on the table. Viktor was likely in the back. “So what do ya think we should do now?”

“I’m all for headin’ down the path and seein’ where it gets me,” Nabina replied. “I came to protect me an’ mine from these giant rumblin’s and that’s what I plan to do. Me family has to be safe before I’ll return back home. Can’t be complacent.”

“Yeah, I get whatcha mean.” The two played a few games, chatting and relaxing. “I guess if everyone and their motha’s lookin’ for Black Rock Crag, we should get on that too. The king did say that the hill giants weren’t the only ones tryin’ ta get him.” Nattux laid a particularly devastating hand on the table. “Who knows – we might even become famous or somethin’!”

Nabina scowled and tossed her cards aside. “Lucky deal.” She dealt the cards this time, fingers shaking a little with anticipation. “Do you…do you really think we’re ready for some kind of vampiric giant? Ye gods, think of the blood that beast must drink in just one night!”

“I’m certain we’ll devise something, should we pursue such a creature. But why should we?” Viktor emerged from the back room looking refreshed and relaxed.

“Well…I mean, this whole upheaval of the peace isn’t just gonna go away, Vik.”

“Well, perhaps, but…well, we already have the wagon...” Despite himself, Viktor knew that without some effort, the world would continue to be shaped by whatever was happening in the realm of giants. “Look, even if we wanted to hunt down this agitator, where even would we-”

Viktor was interrupted by the sound of splintering wood and disrupted soil as a gigantic fist emerged from under the ground and tore through the newly-acquired vehicle. All three of the adventurers let out surprised screams and tried to spin away from the protrusion, but it began flailing around and managed to grab Nabina before she stabbed it through the palm with her sword. A loud yell resounded underneath them, and the party was thrown onto the road as the wagon finally and completely gave way. The horses were already distant, pulling the reins into the horizon as May sleepily poked his head out from what was left of the back room.

“Wha-?”

“UHEHEHEHEH!” The booming voice came through clearer as a head emerged from the ground as well. So *that’s* why the cloud giants and dwarves were active in this area.

“I HAD THOUGHT I HAD FELT SOME MEAT. THERE IS NO CONNECTION TO THE EARTH OR STONE IN YOUR BONES, AND NOW YOU VERMIN UPON THE EARTH ARE CONSUMED BY TRUE INHERITORS OF THE ROCK.”

“W-wait! Don’t eat us! We’re…oh, dammit, I got nothin’. Kill him!” Nattux slung a blast of magical energy at the face as the party tried to ready itself for combat.

“RUDE INSECT. YOU SHALL BE THE EXAMPLE FOR THE OTHERS.” The giant’s hand came down upon her, and in a second Nattux was trapped in a prison of stony, jagged fingers. May made a valiant attempt to free her; though the giant’s hand remained closed, May’s greatclub rattled his knuckles.

“UHEHEHEHE!” The stone giant chuckled as his other hand closed around Viktor. “TWO TINY SNACKS. HARDLY FILLING, AND YET STILL SO TASTY. COME. YOUR BLOOD BECOMES MY STRENGTH.” Before Nabina or May could do anything else, the giant had disappeared into the earth, taking Nattux and Viktor into the deep, musky Underdark.

Chapter Text

It was all Nattux could do not to vomit as she was pulled through the earth at a frightening speed. As she involuntarily burrowed, she found herself wondering about mortality – not a new subject to her, by any means, but one whose relationship was a bit frostier at the moment than she was comfortable with. I wonder how Viktor is doing. This has to be even more hellish without being able to see in the dark. Is Nattil going to be OK? If I die, will he ever even know? Is he just going to think I abandoned him?

Through the slits in the massive fingers surrounding her, Nattux could just barely use her darkvision to see the craggy walls and trailing fungi. The tunnels they sped through soon gave way to a vast cavern. She could hear a waterfall behind them, and at the edge of her darkvision she could see hundreds of feet of structures carved into the rock. Large spires and stalagmites housed humanoids moving around – the buildings themselves were carved with intricate symbols and patterns, and the winding streets conveyed the populace around them like a living river. The people moved slowly and deliberately under the watchful eyes of stone giant sentries stationed at each intersection. As they descended towards the cavern valley via a path, the stone giant’s fists moved closer together, offering Nattux and Viktor the chance to talk.

“Vik, there’s a whole city down here!” Nattux whispered.

“You can see that?” Viktor asked.

“Yeah, darkvision, remembah?”

“I had heard that was only out to a certain range!”

“Nah, it’s just like normal vision but black an’ white. Anyway, there’s more stone giants here. Looks like an occupation.”

“Dastards! Truly this must be that Black Rock Crag and his cronies.”

Nattux rolled her eyes, despite Viktor not being able to see her. “You think?”

The two fists smashed together. “QUIET.” For the rest of the ride, Nattux tried to focus mainly on memorizing what she could see. She passed information to Viktor through magical messages, but such whispers were short and limited. The giant had picked up his pace, and before a minute had passed they were within the city limits and being put into a particularly stuffy stalactite building.

Thrust through the windows into separate cells, Nattux and Viktor could only watch as the giant smiled at them. “I SHALL SAVE ONE OF YOU FOR LATER. AND ONE, ONE I SHALL HAVE NOW. BUT…WHICH?”

Viktor was bone-white. Nattux began stammering out the beginnings of a ruse. “W-we know about your enemies! I-If you don’t kill us, we can tell ya about the cloud giant hunters in the sky and of King Tog’s approaching army!”

The stone giant laughed, confirming their suspicions. “THEY SPEAK MY NAME IN FEAR. I DO NOT CONCERN MYSELF WITH THE PARANOIA OF A FAILED KING. EVEN THE CLOUD GIANT SENTRIES FEAR BLACK ROCK CRAG.”

“What about the dwarves?”

“WHAT ABOUT THEM? I WILL DO TO THEM AS I DO TO YOU.” His massive hand reached into the cell. In desperation, Nattux fell back on her first illusion spell. Mind wild with fear, she generated a booming voice to rival his own and placed it directly behind his right ear.

STOP!” The giant actually took a step back, ears ringing. Nattux continued on with a composition on the fly, a dissonance whipped towards the mind of Black Rock Crag that told tales of mortality and whispered of oblivion. Every insecurity she could think of, every piece of mortal anxiety she could fathom, and every vision of death flashed before Black Rock Crag’s undead eyes as Nattux invented the Canon of the Corpses. Black Rock Crag began to stumble away from the stalactite, disbelief and fear on his stony features as the voices and their echoes burrowed into his brain and gnawed at his subconscious.

Now worrying about how she’d escae the cell, the click of a lock focused Nattux’s attention. While she’d been distracting the giant, Viktor had been hard at work picking the lock on his cell. Finally successful, he had exited his prison and grabbed the keys; now, he stood triumphant as her door swung open.

“Vik, I could kiss ya! Let’s get the hell outta here!” The two scrambled up the staircase deeper into the stalactite, Nattux leading Viktor by the hand until they could find something approximating a torch. As they went further and further up they could hear Black Rock Crag cursing them and slamming his fist into the side of the structure. A few of the medium-sized humanoids, now clearly duergar, rushed to confront them, but as the rock began to split they decided to run upwards in a similar bid to escape. Just as the steps began to splinter under their feet, they crossed the fissure made by the angry giant and arrived at the threshold of a floor too high even for him to reach.

Their momentary relief left them when they spotted two more dwarves staring them down from across the hallway. Both wore heavy armor and eyed the two party members with suspicion; the male dwarf, clearly a guard of some kind, advanced towards them with his weapon raised. “Unhand the halfling and step down, and you may yet live.”

Too frazzled to be properly intimidated, Nattux didn’t budge. “He’s my friend. Back off, Bonesmash Rotlivah, before I do to you what I did to that giant down theah.” Stress turned to energy as she brandished her hands, now crackling with energy.

The lady spoke, her long dark hair flowing down onto her pauldrons as she advanced. “You were the distraction that moved Black Rock Crag away from the tower? Thank you. Without that, we might not have been able to infiltrate as well as we did. Kraoum, they are not our enemies.” For the first time, Nattux realized that she was standing ankle-deep in a hallway of fallen duergar prison guards.

“I’ll be keeping an eye on the sharp-tongued mongrel, milady.” Kraoum stowed his greatclub but didn’t relax his posture.

“Yeah, make a carving, it’ll last longah.” Nattux posed seductively to annoy him while Viktor approached the mysterious lady. Where Kraoum’s armor was a silvery affair with golden trim, hers was ebon mail accented with pure blood red stones.

“Madame, we’re certainly glad we could assist. We’d like to ask some questions of you, if we may – we were brought here by that monstrosity, and we don’t know where we are.”

“You are in the duergar city of Tilza Urakesh. My city, in fact,” she said, giving a small toss of her head. “I am Head of Adamantine House. You may call me Riesa.” At this, she curtsied.

“Excellent to meet you and your acquaintance, Riesa. This is my own friend, Nattux, and I am Viktor. We were about to be food for that vile creature before making our daring escape.”

“Ah, Crag. Always a shame when an associate betrays your trust, no? It would appear we’re working towards the same goal at the moment.”

“A-associate? You mean…you were dealing with that unholy thing?”

“’Unholy’? What exactly do you mean by that, Viktor?” As she spoke, Riesa’s incisors flashed and Nattux could swear she saw them pop out a tiny bit.

Viktor yelped and scrambled back; Nattux stood in front of him and resumed the conversation. “What he means is that we were gonna be eaten and he’s still a bit shook up by that. We are indeed also lookin’ for a way to put him down. On the surface, he’s been shaking things up and we’re worried that it’ll destroy our homes and loved ones.”

With a smirk, Riesa put the fangs away. “Apologies,” she said with a lilt. “Didn’t mean to scare the daylights out of him.”

“Oh, believe me, lady, if we’d had daylight, that fight woulda gone a lot different.” The two chuckled at Nattux’s joke. “So, why are you here? Did the two of you get captured too?”

“No, I was freeing Kraoum from a nasty bit of business he’d been caught up in. I’ve got an idea for throwing off the yoke of occupation and I’ll need him. Besides, he’s such a dear friend.”

“Well, if you’ve got all that ya need, we do too, so if ya don’t mind I’d rather leave than stay.” At this, the two pairs began to make their way out of the prison together.

Chapter Text

As they crossed the threshold of the stalactite and made it into the city’s ‘ceiling’, as Nattux thought of it, she began to breathe a little easier. She patted Viktor by the hand; she’d been leading him since their torch was too conspicuous to use underground. “Don’t worry, we’re inta’ the rock now. No chance a’ the floor collapsing under us.” I hope.

“The luminous lichen on the outskirts of the city will allow you to see well enough once we get there,” Riesa informed the two surface dwellers. Kraoum grunted and continued forward, ignoring them.

“So where ah we, anyway?”

“We just escaped from The Hanging Sword. It’s a prison my people use because of the isolation – no entrance or exit except through the outskirts above it in the cavern ceiling. You came on a peaceful day, actually. Sometimes prisoners are hung from the stalactite itself and left to swing for a few hours.”

Viktor grimaced. “Joyous news, thanks.” As he stumbled over a particularly prominent rock, Nattux caught him. “When do we get to the illumination? I never thought I’d be so glad to see fungus in my life.”

“It’s down the walls and among the floor of the cavern. We’ll get there.” The group walked for a while in silence. Kraoum’s demeanor had noticeably worsened as they walked; after tripping over a rock similar to the one that had caused Viktor to stumble, he drew his greatclub and smashed through the nearest rock formation with an impassioned yell.

The yell echoed through the caverns as rest of the group looked on in silence for a few moments. “Kraoum, if you would…?” Riesa took Kraoum aside and began to whisper to him in Dwarven.

Nattux took the time to reconvene with Viktor. “So, how you holdin’ up? I think if I get another look at the city, I can find the hole Crag burrowed and brought us down in.”

Viktor looked miserable. “I can’t see, I’m cold, my clothes are probably ruined, I was almost eaten, my wagon was destroyed, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to see my children again.”

“OK, noted. Not great. We can still make it outta this, though. OK? Just keep repeatin’ that. We can still make it outta this.”

“Sure.”

“C’mon, don’t be like that. We just survived a vampire giant. I’m not gonna let anythin’ else happen to ya.”

“’Let’?! I’ll have you know I was the one who picked that lock…” As Viktor launched into a tirade, Nattux was glad he couldn’t see her grinning. As long as he was indignant, he wasn’t afraid or despairing.

Continuing on, the quartet finally made their way to the city limits. The moss marking the outskirts was indeed luminous, and Viktor audibly sighed with relief upon regaining his sight. The two duergar in the party quickly shuffled them into darker alleys to avoid the stone giant sentries and eventually the group arrived at a somewhat rundown manor.

“She’s seen better days, but she’s still my home,” Riesa said, her characteristic lilt taking a turn towards the dejected. Upon entering, the two surface dwellers immediately noted the lack of servants and other waitstaff. A manor of this size seemed like it would’ve needed at least a dozen, but all that met their eyes were cobwebs and shadows. “Here,” said Riesa, handing an elaborate candelabra to Viktor. “Let me show you to your rooms.”

---

After a short trip down a few hallways, Nattux sat on a bed in a slightly-derelict room, staring at the ceiling and thinking. Vampires. Of course. OK, how do you kill a vampire? Images flew through her mind: dousing Crag in sacred water, luring him back up to the surface, Kraoum smashing a giant stake into Crag’s heart with his greatclub. Though the last one left her with a smile, none of them seemed feasible. As she traced the cracks in the ceiling, she wondered about blasting open a hole in the cavern roof and letting in sunlight. Just as she turned over and resolved to go to sleep, Nattux was suddenly struck by something.

Hopping out of bed, she crept down the hall towards Viktor’s room, trying not to wake anyone up. The creaking floor fortunately didn’t make too much noise under her light frame, and when she knocked she heard a tired grunt. “Vik, it’s me.” She heard something that sounded like acknowledgement and decided to enter. She heard the sound of a shutter being opened, and a lantern on the nightstand filled with luminous moss lit the room.

“Hey, you used ta make medicine, right?”

“The ‘bottled lies’ you mentioned, yes. What of them?” Viktor intoned in a sleepy voice.

“You evah try to make alchemical fiyah?” At that, he perked up a bit.

“Ahhhh…I think I see where you’re going with this.”

Nattux’s smile was only barely visible in the light.

Chapter Text

“You’re doing fine. Just pour it in steadily.” Victor stood upon a stool in Riesa’s kitchen, slowly stirring a cauldron and trying to instruct Nattux on which ingredients went where. Riesa and Kraoum stood likewise around the mix, looking into it and watching the two surface-dwellers with awe. The faint light from the liquid cast eerie shadows onto their faces.

“OK, here it comes.” Nattux poured a pitcher of ground up herbs and minerals into the concoction. The reaction was immediate: the orange liquid began to display shades of red, and a hissing sound erupted from the pot. A noticeable smell not unlike black powder brought Nattux back to her days with Nattil, and she wondered if he had made any potions recently. She was, at the moment, silently thankful of the countless times he’d asked her to help him on a project.

“Now for the finishing touch. Mademoiselle Nattux, if you please?” Viktor put on a bit of showmanship for the duergar, who were looking on intently. Kraoum seemed to have calmed down after the chance to rest, but he still had a look of annoyance on his face that even Viktor’s charm couldn’t scrub away. Nattux curtsied and produced a vial of holy water Kraoum had brewed with a flourish, causing Riesa to involuntarily flinch. With an apologetic look, Nattux neatly and succinctly poured it into the cauldron, which shone with a radiant light afterwards. The glow had intensified, and the resulting bright orange-red mixture promised extra efficacy against Black Rock Crag.

“Damn that giant,” Kraoum muttered under his breath. “After him, we should take to the surface and kill them until none are left standing.”

“That’s…a bit extreme, huh?” Her work done, Nattux hopped off the stool and began to dig through the cabinets for bottles.

“What purpose do they serve? They’re too big, they’re ugly, and they’re brutes.”

Nattux stopped searching to quirk an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, who needs a race that’s big, gruff, and likes to go around beatin’ stuff up with blunt objects?” Kraoum scowled but fell silent. The air thickened as Nattux came back with several bottles. They all peeked into the cauldron as she ladled the substance into the glass, being careful not to let it touch any bare skin.

“OK, we have our weapon. How do we get inside?” Viktor turned to Riesa.

She smiled, fangs showing. “He is currently occupying the Amphitheater of Arnos. It’s beautiful, but not very secure; to take advantage of his hubris, we’ll sneak in and attack while he rests, probably at twelve-rings. If he’s anything like me, the fullness of rich blood makes him torpid.”

“…Twelve-rings?” Viktor asked.

“Yes. You know, twelve-rings? Of the quartz? Right before one-ring? Kind of late for your kind- oh, right. You measure time differently.” Riesa thought for a moment.

Kraoum clarified before she could think of an example. “Midnight.”

“Then that’s when we do it, ladies and gents,” Nattux said, holding up the radiant bomb.

---

Waiting was the hardest part. In the parlor, Nattux and Riesa played a game of dragonchess while counting the chimes of the quartz column within. After ten vibrations, the column fell silent, indicating one more hour of inaction. The anxiety in the atmosphere was almost oppressive.

“Check.” Nattux moved her queen into a good attacking position.

Riesa countered with a block. “Have you ever done anything like this before?”

Nattux moved. “Not really, no. It’s been a week a’ new experiences for me. You?”

“Not for a while, no. There was one other vampire I knew before that needed to be murdered. He was a cruel, ruthless man. Got into a fight with some drow and decided to use adventurers like yourselves as cannon fodder, serving him under pain of death.”

Nattux was reminded of a goblin proverb: Force dictates opportunity. Essentially it meant that the powerful could do what they wanted and the least powerful would have to acquiesce. She never really liked that saying, but she couldn’t deny its truth. “What did you do to him?”

“The same thing he did to all his other thralls. I tricked him by telling him I had information on the organization he was hunting. He followed Kraoum, stepped into my library, tripped some seals, and ended existence as a splatter on my carpet.” Riesa moved the final piece into position. “Checkmate, darling.”

“{Damn.}” Nattux rubbed the back of her head and sighed. “I never was all that good at this.”

“Don’t feel bad, I’ve had decades to practice. Besides, you’ve got nothing to prove to me. Your addition of holy water to the mixture was inspired, if somewhat distasteful.” She shuddered for comedic effect, and Nattux laughed a bit.

“Just wondering - does it feel odd, killin’ a vampire?”

“No more so than it feels odd for you to kill something organically alive.” Riesa checked one of her smaller timepieces. “We should start out. I’ll fetch Kraoum.”

“I’ll get the bombs and Vik.” Nattux scrambled off the oversized lounge chair and headed for the door. “I’ll bring the heavy canvas bag so they don’t shine through it.” Taking a few deep breaths, she headed towards Viktor’s room.

Chapter Text

Breathe in. Breathe out. This was it. Nattux, having snuck into the upper stands, heaved as quiet a sigh as she could. Her enemy lay on the stage, probably the only surface in the city that he could find to fit him. Viktor and Riesa had lured the two door guards away with a combination of acting and magic, and Kraoum stood ready to charge onto the stage and crack Black Rock Crag with his hammer. With one more breath, Nattux crept from her hiding spot and began to sneak towards the front row. When she reached the limits of her range, she hurled a radiant bomb directly at the sleeping form of the stone giant vampire.

The blast seemed to echo through space – not loudly, but definitively, almost like the ring of a bell. The giant woke with a scream, and Nattux ducked back behind the first row of seats. She felt the familiar rush of adrenaline take her over, and as Kraoum came barreling into the amphitheater she couldn’t help but smile.

In the heat of action, she felt the familiar darkness creep at the edges of her vision, and her brain clicked into a new mode of understanding. Suddenly, the visions were much more real; she knew how to direct the phantasms lurking within this altered state. Though she didn’t know exactly what it was, Nattux reached within herself and forced whatever it was out into the mind of Black Rock Crag through a Chorus of Screams.

A phoenix, surrounded by purple fire, blasted its way out of his head and into the amphitheater. Crag screamed, an echoing sound, and in that note of fear Nattux heard her own destiny. She would not die here, no; come a single note of anguish or the whole cacophonous choir of the universe, she would master sound and death and turn these forces to her will. She would not rot in this cavern, in this city. She would see the sky again. She would refine her technique. She would bring the undead back to her village, and in doing so she would help them rebuild.

No more raids. No more slaughter. Not ever again.

In her burst of jubilation Nattux screamed and stood atop the bench she’d hidden behind. Hurling note after note at Black Rock Crag, she slowly chipped away at his mind. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kraoum charging in to engage the now gibbering giant, who completely ignored him in favor of her. She held eye contact as Crag charged her and began to punch and grab, dodging until she couldn’t, and as he lifted her up she shrieked the song that would end his life.

Flailing in pain, he threw her against a wall in an attempt to disrupt the song, but Nattux would not stop. Her senses dulled, her mind broadcasting only pain, her single priority was to continue singing. Sing him to his death, girl. Sing him to his rest.

The phoenix finally exploded into a ball of purple fire as Nattux lost consciousness.

---

“…tux! Oh, I think she might be waking up!” Nattux could hear Viktor’s voice ringing in her head, along with several bells and a collection of chimes.

“{Ugh…I wish I didn’t remember how this happened.}” Nattux sat up and massaged her head. What was that all about?

“Are you OK? Riesa and I didn’t get here until after Black Rock Crag was half-immolated. We saw you up against the wall and assumed that Kraoum could handle the rest.” From the looks of the amphitheater, he had. Rubble littered the ground. “What happened? He said you’d been singing, but that you were picked up and slammed and then Crag’s ears started bleeding…”

“I…for a sec there, I…I’m not sure how to describe it. It was as if the line between livin’ and dyin’ didn’t matter anymore, not like I was undead, but more like…the only thing that mattered was movin’ forward. To the fut’cha, I mean.” Nattux shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “I know what I wanna do now. I know why I’m out here. I know why I’m riskin’ my life – I know what’s more important than survival.” Viktor had gone from looking hopelessly confused to nodding, a grim reassurance on his face. “I gotta get back up to the surface! C’mon, Vik, we gotta get a move on!”

Chapter Text

Moving out of the Underdark wasn’t actually all that hard.

For one thing, the assassination of Black Rock Crag had sparked a war between the occupying stone giants and the native duergar. By the time Nattux had been half-carried back to Riesa’s manor by Kraoum, half the city was lit up by flames and spells. The violence cast the buildings into a light they weren’t meant for, and the weird coloration of the stones they were carved from amused Nattux as she tried to rein in her possible concussion.

For another, Nattux was barely conscious throughout the packing process. She’d recovered enough to walk on her own by the time everyone was ready to go, but her condition was severe enough that she slept almost through the entire time everyone else was preparing – not that she had a lot to pack, of course, since she’d been dragged down into Tilza Urakesh carrying just the figurative clothes on her back. Still, she took an unreasonable amount of enjoyment in drifting in and out of consciousness on the comfiest chair in the parlor while the other party members scrambled to gather up everything they thought they’d need.

After about 8 hours, most of the noise seemed to die down. The group took this chance to make a break for the nearest tunnel to the surface, a former mineshaft that had once served the mountain dwarves before becoming a spot of vicious contention between them and the nearby duergar citizenry. Though unused and long abandoned, the party still tried to ascend as quietly as possible. Nattux plod along with them, doing her best but still needing a guiding hand every so often. Fortunately, the focus of nearly everyone else was on the city proper, and the trek up the tunnels and through the earth was less than perilous.

“We’re making good time. We should be there in less than a chime,” Kraoum grunted, stepping on the head of an attacking lizard as he secured his greatclub. Packs of them had attempted some attacks here and there, but they were easily dispatched.

“Ah, on the surface, we refer to similar time periods as ‘hours’. Just so you aren’t confused.” Viktor tried to be helpful. Kraoum grunted back.

“Hey, relax, big guy. It’s been a long walk, but we’re almost there.” Nattux wasn’t entirely sure where ‘there’ was, but it’d no doubt be a welcome reprieve from stale air and continuous walking.

After a little further, she could finally see the first rays of moonlight peeking into the cavernous Underdark at her. Re-energized at the thought of being back in her native environment, Nattux began running ahead and eventually burst out of the cave and onto a rocky mountainside. She looked up at the stars and though it took some searching, she eventually found a few familiar constellations.

“{The Spear…The Ostrich…The Boss…}” She stopped naming them after hearing the others exit behind her. “Welcome to our home!”

Viktor took a deep, appreciative breath, but Riesa had a concerned look on her face. “About how much night do we have left?”

“It’s about midnight, so maybe around 6 hours. Oh, I gotcha, we should find some cover for you before sunrise.” Riesa nodded and scowled a bit at the sky.

After leaving the sparse tree cover around the cave mouth, the party got a much better look at the surrounding area. In the distance, there were a few spiraling towers and a castle presiding over some buildings and what looked like a festival plaza. Deciding to set course for that landmark, Nattux was struck by the size of the castle on the horizon. Were they all that tall? It seemed like it was literally reaching for the heavens. By the time they pulled into the town surrounding it, it almost seemed to block out the entire sky.

Even though it was the middle of night, the town was still fairly lively; youths were running around, the pubs were still playing music, and when they walked into an inn, the innkeeper barely gave the disheveled party a second glace. Though he did raise an eyebrow at a goblin and two duergar, Nattux got the impression that he’d seen a few unusual things before. After booking a room, she headed upstairs with her three friends, confident that literally nothing could keep her from a soft bed.

She wasn’t entirely correct. From the common room a voice pierced her ear. “{Sis?}”

Chapter Text

Nattux turned around to find her brother standing at the foot of the stairs, mouth agape. “{Sis, that really is you!}” As if on cue, they both ran towards each other and hugged more deeply than either had ever thought possible.

After a few moments, they parted. Nattil looked Nattux up and down. “{I thought I saw you, but since everyone around here’s so big, it’s hard to be sure.}” Though late, the bar was still lively; at a more crowded time, seeing anyone smaller than Medium size would’ve been almost impossible.

“{Vala, I’m so glad you’re safe! You wouldn’t believe how we got here!}” Though the others had all but disappeared into their rooms, the two goblins walked back over to Nattil’s table and sat down. Sitting with him were a human boy with herbs braided into his hair, a tall orcish young lady with a mischievous smile, a gnoll who looked more than a little tired, and a tiefling trying to woo said gnoll.

“Outsiders, meet my sister, Nattux! Nattux, these are the Outsiders, my friends and classmates!” Nattux was surprised at how little an accent Nattil had developed, though since linguistics had been one of his passions, perhaps it wasn’t so unexpected. He’d always been good with the more technical aspects of language, even if she’d known more about weaving words together.

After greeting everyone, Nattux pulled up a chair and noticed the papers in the center of the table. A thought clicked. “Wait, ya said ‘classmates’? So the Explorer’s College does exist!”

“Adventurer’s College, actually. You’re looking at the first goblin ever admitted!” Nattil beamed at his sister.

“And the first ever expelled if we don’t actually pass this next test for Spellcasting,” the orc gently nudged Nattil, who turned a slightly darker shade of green.

“Hey, I’m in no danger! You’re the one who can’t tell arcane from divine!” As the two went back and forth, Nattux surveyed the rest of the Outsiders. The name seemed obvious enough – the most ‘normal’-looking one was the druidic human, who at the moment was taste-testing his drink. The gnoll, after a weary wave to Nattux, put her head down on the table, and the tiefling began to try to console her. Presumably it had been a long day.

“In any case,” said Nattil, bringing the conversation back to Nattux, “how did you get here, anyway? We’re a long way from home, after all.”

“Order a fresh round and settle in, ‘cause you’re not gonna believe this.” Over the next hour, Nattux told her brother everything:

 

...The giant raid in the nearby human village and Viktor’s wagon...

 

“So the giant’s raid creates poor conditions for the humanoids, which in turn sends them after us to replace their losses…” Nattil looked thoughtful.

“I’m not so sure it was need that sent those pa’ticular assholes afta’ us, but I get’cha overall meaning.”

 

...The hill giant party and subsequent fight for the wagon...

 

“Wow, what a scam!” For the first time, the druid spoke. “I mean, justified, of course, but still. Nice job getting the wagon out of that without fighting everybody.”

“If this guy May can truly punch out a giant, I’ve gotta meet him,” said the orc, who introduced herself as Vivalda.

“Well, I did help out a bit, but yeah, he’s pretty strong,” Nattux agreed. “And just you wait – it turns out we actually did fulfill our end of the bargain.”

 

...Black Rock Crag’s sudden appearance and her and Viktor’s abduction...

 

“{Oh. Lady. Ruruni.}”* Nattil’s jaw hung open the entire trek down into Tilza Urakesh and through the prison escape. When Nattux finally finished this part, the entire table was staring at her with varying expressions of awe and fear. Even the gnoll had pulled her head up from the table and was aghast. Nattux almost wanted to remind them that she’d survived the ordeal, but she knew better than to interrupt the emotional flow of a good story.

“Wh-what happened next?” The tiefling stammered.

 

...The joining with Riesa and Kraoum and the murder of Black Rock Crag...

 

“YOU ALMOST DIED?!” Nattil was so loud that the late-night patrons that weren’t already listening in actually turned around to look at the table.

Nattux decided to dial the intensity back a bit for her brother’s sake. “Well, yeah, but I didn’t. Vala, I’m fine now, all healed up. It was just a close call. Not the first time for either of us, you know.” At this point, the other patrons were just as enraptured as the Outsiders.

 

...And, finally, the story of how the group reached the Adventurer’s College.

 

At this, the table burst into cheers.

“Forget the exam, this rules!” The gnoll’s mood had completely turned around, and now she and the tiefling were raising their drinks and downing them with renewed spirit. The other patrons raised a cheer as well, and the bartender took the opportunity to pass out more rounds.

As the mood lifted, Nattux took the opportunity to lean back, relax, and give her brother a knowing smile. “You really shouldn’t worry, vala. If livin’ with you didn’t kill me afta all these years, nothin’ can!”

 

*Ruruni is the matron goddess of goblinkind (or, at least, is recognized as such in Nattux and Nattil’s village).