022. The Path to Cloudstone

 

The party heads up the narrow trail leading up a sheer mountain face.

Several hours into their trek up the hill, they happen upon a small cave.  Barlo gets out to inspect it, and finds 4 Dwarf Soldiers sitting around a fire.  Startled to see a human, they draw their swords and begin to fight!  Barlo holds them off and draws them out of the cave.  One of them looks up and sees the Giant Freakin Tree Mech and almost faints.  Barlo convinces them that they are friendly to the King and need to get to Cloudstone.  The dwarf soldiers agree (what choice do they have against them), but insist that they send a platoon down to escort them back to the King as prisoners.  

Barlo agrees, and one of the dwarf begins to light a signal fire.  As the flames of the signal fire reach up and lick the clear night sky, further up the road, almost at the edge of the horizon, they see another signal fire come alight…

Barlo finds the dwarves in the lonely cave to be fairly friendly and welcoming.  One of them, recalling rumors he had heard, says, “I heard of the heroes striding along on a giant, but you are one.  Where are the others?”  Barlo says there are others, but they remain inside Ekrak.  The boy is kept a secret.  Peering down the cliff at the sea of crimson pine trees far below, he notices the moon, 2 days past full, darkly red and rising like an omen above the jagged peaks of the scarred ridge.

While they wait for the party from Dragon Gate to arrive, Barlo partakes of some Dwarven ale, and convinces Monicrunk to climb down out of Ekrak to join them.  They drink and the dwarves sing songs about the Wicked Queen of Parthen, and of the brave Dwarf Giant Slayers, and the Good King Cloudstone, the White Beard and the Fearless.  They sleep that night drunk and hopeful.

That morning they are awoken when a party of Dwarf guards, led by a handsome captain, arrive to meet them.  The captain introduces himself as Tully Stonebreaker.  He is strikingly charming and is there to escort them to Cloudstone.

It takes them a day to get to Dragon Gate, a small encampment with two towers and two fearsome dragon statues.  All of the party, save for D’Understanding and the boy, get out of Ekrak to stretch their legs and eat and drink with the dwarf soldiers.  They learn that Tully is a dwarf fighter, quite skilled with a two-handed hammer.  Juxmonochrome does some snooping and finds plans to Cloudstone Castle, which is a castle built in the largest mountain in the Scarred Ridge.

Again, the spend the night singing Dwarf songs of giant slaying, wicked human Queens and heroic dwarves and the gods that created the mountains.

The next morning, they set out for Haven Cave, the last stop before Cloudstone.  Tully Marches alongside 8 dwarf guards, and while most of the party decides to march as well, Toggaf, Barlo, and The Boy stay inside Ekrak.  So far, the boy is still a secret to the dwarves.

Just past noon, Tully is startled when a boulder crashes on the path in front of him and continues to tumble down the mountain.  As he looks up to see where the boulder came from, he sees the large silhouette of a Cloud Giant.