You speed from the bushes, rounding the ruined pillar just in time to catch the monster as it falls from the sky toward the unsuspecting back of the young magician--whose eyes widen in surprise as he sees you round the corner, axe raised.
You leap past the magician and intersect the startled Giak in its flight. No sooner has it boggled at your sudden appearance than your axe catches it full in the chest, splitting the startled monster in two. In a spray of blood, the mangled Giak falls to pieces on the ruined floor of the temple.
It was over before it began. (Combat ratio of 10, roll of 7--yeah, it really was over before it began. He didn't even wound us.)
The remaining Giaks scream at you in their horrible language, then flee the field. Given that the dead Giaks you can count amidst the ruins number a dozen at least, and now the mage has backup, you can understand their retreat. Nevertheless, you are glad you don't have to fight further.
The mage approaches and extends his hand in friendship. Just as you take his arm, a spell of fatigue passes over his eyes and he nearly collapses. You help him sit on a fallen block of stone.
‘My eternal thanks, Kai Lord. My powers are nearly drained. Had you not come to my aid, I fear I would have ended my days atop a Giak lance.’
Once he has caught his breath, he explains that he is Banedon, of the Magician's Guild of Toran. He was on his way to warn the Kai Lords of the Darklords' impending attack... but the warning came too late.
He shows you the letter he was to bear to your masters. Your heart sinks as you read that the Darklords gather their strength, and a vast army has mustered just beyond the Durncrag Range.
‘I fear we were betrayed,’ says Banedon, his head bowed in sorrow.
‘One of my order, a brother called Vonotar, had explored the forbidden mysteries of the Black Art. Ten days ago he denounced the Brotherhood and killed one of our Elders. He has since disappeared. It is rumoured that he now aids the Darklords.’
You explain to Banedon your own tale, and he silently slips a gold chain from around his neck and hands it to you. It is a Crystal Star Pendant.
‘It is the symbol of my Brotherhood, and we are both truly brothers in this hour of darkness. It is a talisman of good fortune—may it protect you on your road ahead.’
With promises of goodwill and future friendship, you both return to your respective missions.
You bid him farewell and continue on into the thick woods ahead. Then something tickles your senses: a noise in the underbrush--is that yellow eyes?
You throw yourself to the ground just as a black-tipped arrow speeds past your head! The Giaks! They did not flee--they merely set up an ambush!
You race through the wilderness, picking your path at random as you try to escape the army of small monsters cackling evilly behind you. Bursting clear from the trees, you catch a glimpse of a cave in a hillside.
You glance back; the Giaks are not in sight yet, and the cave would not be easily discovered by one not looking for it.
Without wasting further time to think about it, you throw yourself into the cave and slither deeply in to hide. The Giaks come up around you, and you can make out their outlines searching at the cave mouth for you.
Luck is with you, and the Giak voices eventually move farther away, the harsh notes of their language barking with frustration.
For a moment, you simply lay back and let yourself relax. After a few deep breaths (and once the sound of the Giaks has moved beyond hearing) you pull yourself together and begin to plan your next move.
You shimmy up the cave entrance to look around. It looks clear. But just then a sudden curiousity strikes you. You look back, deeper into the cave, and only then do you realize how deeply it runs. You have not found the depths of it, and you have no idea what dangers or treasures might be hidden in the darkness.
If you wish to explore the cave further, turn to 33.
If you wish to leave the cave and descend the hill in case the Giaks return, turn to 248.
(P.S. Thanks to Joe Dever, for writing this amazing story in the first place! And to Gary Chalk for these wonderful, evocative old fantasy images!)