The hall suddenly opened into a large dinning chamber lavishly adorned with tapestries and standing suits of armor of gigantic proportions. It was difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of everything in the Ice Giant's castle. The table itself spanned much higher then their eyes could see over with enormous chairs surrounding it on all sides. A thick fur rug lay across the floor with hair reaching up to their knees. Quickly Azifar peered around the room but could not find what he was searching for.
"Dam Lorin they are not here!" Azifar stared in astonishment as the rest of the Syndicate party was no where to be found. Was this the room they had arrived in? It had to be, Azifar thought. Had they all been forced to flee, captured or worse?
Before any further questions could come to mind a massive door spanning forty feet in height suddenly swung open and crashed against the hinged wall. The towering form of an Ice Giant crashed into the room as Azifar and Lorin spun about in horror. The monster easily stood the height of six men with arms and legs corded with thick muscles.
"Thou shall not evade my wrath!" The Giant shouted shaking the ground. Suited in blue-plate amour and wielding a massive sword easily the length of five men, the Giant moved with amazing speed, thundered into the room knocking aside a huge chair.
Calling to Tunare, Mother of All, Azifar reached out his hand feeling the sudden surge of arcane power race through his arm as a bolt of lighting blasting into the startled Ice Giant's exposed face. An agonizing scream echoed through the chamber as the Giant tumbled back rocking the ground beneath the Wood Elf. The pounding footsteps of still more Giants echoed down through the hallways sending chills down their spines.
"Lorin this way, it is our only chance!" Azifar again raced back down the corridor of which they came again coming face to face with another monstrous Giant. Booming out a curse the Ice Giant swung its massive axe splitting into the ground where Azifar stood just moments before, sending cracks racing through the floor. The Wood Elf not slowing raced by as the giant cursed again pulling at its embedded axe.
The hall illuminated by the moonlight from the high window twenty feet above the floor. Azifar again called upon Tunare as suddenly Azifar and Lorin's feet left the ground and floated up to the sill. Abandoning the axe the Giant whirled and stormed down the hall just as Azifar and Lorin reached the high perch. With a snarl it reached out to crush the tiny intruders but just as the Giant drew near the two figures leaped from the window gliding softly down the sheer castle wall.
The feet of the two had barely hit the ground when off in a sprint they raced through the vast courtyard. Massive torches were being lit all around them as the sounds of alarm spread through the keep as more Giants scattered about seeking the intruders. The courtyard was gigantic in size and the two darted instead to the left taking shelter under an over turned cart of colossal size.
"Lorin we must decide if we are to flee into the night or continue with our task but decide quickly we must as already the garrison has been alerted to our presence. So old friend what shall it be?" Azifar stared directly at Lorin.
"We must discharge our task My Friend," Lorin said. "Would be much harder to try again, they would know that we will come at them again and would wait on us and set a trap in hopes of catching us. We have them confused let us use that time to complete what we are here for."
Lorin eased his head around the corner and took in his surroundings. "They are still within the castle, perhaps they think us still within". Lorin sat back and pulled off his pack and began to rummage inside. Pulling two items from the pack, Lorin handed Azifar what appeared to be a potion.
"Twisterkahn gave these to me before we left, he said that a time would come for us to use them and I would know when. I think this is that time. Damn wizard always seems to know everything before it happens", Lorin said with a smile.
Lorin pulled his pack back on and looked at Azifar, "Well my Friend should we use these invisible potions to escape or should we go back in and complete our mission. The duration of these are not set, Twisterkahn said they may keep us invisible for 5 minutes or maybe even 20. I would like to go back my friend, The Syndicate runs from no one nor do we fail in our tasks, besides it grows cold and I wish to warm up some."
An evil grin starts to spread on Lorinís face as he says, "Lord Dragon didnít say that we couldnít take a few of them out. I for one would sleep better knowing that there are a few less giants in the world."
Azifar shook his head, "I will never understand you my Friend, many years ago you were sent to me and you were nothing more then a boy playing at being a Paladin, now look at you. You are counted one of the most powerful Paladins in all of Norrath. We have been on many raids together and I owe you my life many times over, as do others. Do you not grow weary of this, when will you slow down and let others take some of the load?"
"My old Friend," Lorin said, his face becoming serious. "Thou owes me nothing, nor do others. I owe my all to the Syndicate, they who took me in and taught me all that I am this day. You speak like I am the only one that is this way. I remember many times where a certain Ranger would not run but instead would stand in harms way so that others would live. Many times have I healed thee and many times have I called upon the power of my god to pull you back from deaths door. I have lost count of the times when I lay on deaths door and you would not leave me. Who was the first to speak up when this mission was talked of we are of the Syndicate Azifar. We will stop when they place us in the ground, until then with the Gods grace we will keep on serving them and Lord Dragon."
"Leave it to you Lorin to make light of the situation," Azifar said smiling. "Here we sit and talk of friendships and not far from us are many large giants that want nothing more then to make a meal out of us. Well lets get this done and over with," Azifar said getting to his feet and uncorking the potion bottle.
The clear liquid chilled from frigid air with the slight taste of something Azifar could only guess mirthwood went down in a single gulp. Watching in astonishment Azifar gazed at Lorin as he slowly faded from sight, then a tingling in his eyes brought Lorin back into view the two forms made their way back across the courtyard following the footprints in the compacted snow. The massive front doors were left open as five huge giants charged out into the night's sky. The thundering bellows of the giants was deafening but still Lorin and Azifar raced back into the castle.
Running back through the great hall the two passed through into several rooms to make their way to the large staircase leading down into darkness. The Wood Elf had little trouble navigating the massive stairway with his keen sight but knew Lorin would not have it so easy. Reaching out taking the mighty Paladin's shoulder Azifar lead the two down the massive steps. The stairway took much longer than either of them had hope since the height of each stair was taller than a man and would be near impossible to ascend again.
At the bottom the winding staircase opened into another hallway with the faint torchlight illuminating the way. Many massive doors reinforced with iron bindings lined each of the walls. The chill of the dark hallway ran icy waves through Lorin and Azifar as they slowly continued onward. The immense door at the end of the hallway was left ajar as the two peered into a vast room filled with instruments of torture.
Inside the lightly light room four Ice Giants stood around a massive table roaring with extremely hostile tones. Barely visible from the floor atop the tall table was a sight that sent a sigh through Lorin and Azifar, the man they had been sent here to find. The man dwarfed by the mammoth Ice Giants was caged in what appeared an oversized birdcage. The Ice Giants sneered and violently reached up and smashed the table sending a large goblet of mead crashing to the floor.
"We know these mice are here for you, now tell us what we seek or I will make you beg for death!" The Ice Giant roared and slammed his fist down again rocking the cage. The figure entrapped in the cage remained silent and motionless that infuriated the Giants further kicking the goblet as it flew through the air crashing into the wall.
"You will speak little man! Oh and as for your would be savors I think they will not be joining us in this life timeÖ" The Ice Giant said with a sneer as Lorin and Azifar following the Ice Giant's gaze gasped in horror. In a massive block of ice stood the frozen forms of the eight other members of the Syndicate party. Their bodies motionless, faces locked in a look of horror frozen in time by the block of ice.
"You have tried my patience to its limit little mouse now speak or I promise you will wish your fate was as merciful as that of your frozen companions!" The Ice Giant in fury glared down upon the silent form trapped in the cage still unmoving.
Azifar quickly scanned the area around the frozen bodies of Syndicate Family. It would take longer then they had to free his friends of the ice, at first attempt the Giants were sure to be right on top of him. Azifar looked to Lorin and started to whisper when the words caught in his throat, glad that Twisterkahn had included the ability in the potion to see invisible as well.
Lorinís Face was red as a weapon pulled from the hot forge, his eyes were locked on the eight frozen forms. Slowly he rose to his feet and reaching over his back and drew his SoulFire sword. Anger and hatred could be seen on his face, if Azifar didnít act fast he knew they would both die.
Azifar had seen this look before and he knew what Lorin would do. Azifar reached out and grabbed Lorin's ear and pulled down hard. Lorinís attention on the frozen forms was broken, Azifar drew his face to him and said in a hushed tone, "If you do not get under control my friend then we will soon be dead." Lorin pulled back from Azifar, lifting Azifar up a little.
Azifar pulled again harder on the ear with both hands, he felt the wetness of blood on his hand and his grip began to slip. Azifar again pulled on the ear and brought Lorinís face back to his. Boy was he strong, he hadnít made a sound and Azifar knew that he had torn part of his ear. Azifar could see that the pain had finally registered on Lorins face, effectively breaking his concentration on the frozen forms.
Not waiting for Lorin's words Azifar said, "Ok listen to me, we need to either kill these Giants in here or get them to leave. The potions will ware off soon so we have to decide how to do this. Do you think that sword of yours can free our friends of the ice?" Understanding came to Lorins face and he said, "Aye it will, but will be most slow. How will we pull these foul beasts from this room?
With a smirk Azifar glanced around the room and said, "Concern yourself not with these Giants you just get up there and free our friends and I will take care of the rest." Before Lorin could begin his protest Azifar dashed across the room. With a deep sigh Lorin turned his gaze to the block of ice that entombed his friends and set off.
Cloaked under the aura of invisibility Azifar made his way up to the caged form. The Ice Giant's fury continued with threats of agonizing death covered the soft words of Azifar, "Fear not Delar Necrobane we are here. Already plans are put into motion to free our companions but we must keep the Giant's attention centered here. Remain steadfast friend and prepare to strike." With only a slight nod to even acknowledge the words were heard the brave Cleric remained steadfast in his defiance of the monstrous Giants.
With another prayer to Tunare Mother of All, Azifar softly glided from the tabletop to the floor below. Pulling forth a coil of rope from his pack the Wood Elf darted among the feet of the Ice Giants. So consumed in their torment of their captive they never noticed the slack rope weaving. With a final smirk Azifar again made his way to the door and prepared for the fun to begin.
"Your time is up little worm! What is thy answer?" The Ice Giant bent low glared into cage.
For the first time the figure's head did raise slowly. The Giants already convinced the small man would not answer them were momentarily started by the bold and fierily look in the High Elf's eyes.
"My answer is thisÖ You will unlock this cage, free my friends and escort us to the front gates of this castle. You will then bring three chests of gold to pay for the looted cattle you stole from the noble barbarians of Halas and vow to never enter the lands of men again. Then and only then I may decided to spare your pathetic lives." Unflinching the noble Elf glared into the now started faces of the four monsters.
At first the Ice Giants were literally dumbstruck not believing their own ears at the bold words of the small High Elf. Their confusion quickly turned to anger as the Ice Giant seething with rage raised a mighty hammer to crush the Elf right along with the cage.
A reply from behind them stopped the hammer's decent, "That was a mighty generous offerÖ Far more than I was prepared to give!" Azifar shouted and let loose a flying bottle of flaming oil. The hungry flames leaped up the back of the first Ice Giant and splashed on another. The Ice Giant frenzied in horror crashed into the third Giant whose feet entwined in rope fell backwards, crashing into a chair. The last Ice Giant charged the steadfast Wood Elf with the huge hammer still posed over head but just as he neared his target the ropes went taunt and down he crashed with the hammer slamming his own head.
The sight overwhelmed the Ranger and a burst of laughter filled the room. The humor was short lived though as the two giants rolled out the flames and the other slowly climbed to its feet. Knowing his advantage was short-lived Azifar charged the still dazed Ice Giant whose own hammer bludgeoned its now cracked skull. The Giant through its daze glanced slowly up to see the Ranger thrust the blade of his Short Sword of Ykesha deep into its eyes. The Ice Giant threw its hands up try to fend off the deadly blows as the Ranger whirled around slashing again and again into the fiend's face.
The enraged Ice Giant who had fallen over the chair reached down raising it over its head and let it loose flying toward Azifar. The flying chair ended up smashing into the slowly rising Ice Giant sending it sprawling back to the ground to receive many more slashes from the Ranger. The other two smoking Ice Giants careful to untie their entangled feet charged across the room. With the first Ice Giant down unconscious and slowly bleeding to death and definitely out of the fight Azifar turned calling again upon the powers of his goddess Tunare lurched forward morphing into a wolf. The transformation only momentarily started the closing Ice Giants but the pursuit was quickly on the way.
With the Ice Giant's attention fully on Azifar, Lorin called upon the fiery powers of his SoulFire blade and the mighty two-handed blade leaped into flame. The hungry blade sizzled and scorched the mighty frozen tomb of the frozen Syndicate party. The blazing sword made quick work on the frozen cage but the going was slow and Lorin only prayed it would be in time.
With a howl Azifar taunted on the Ice Giants whom all three were now chasing him through the darkened hallway. Darting and weaving through their legs leaping about as the Giant stomped and kicked about the hallway. Every once in awhile an opening occurred and the wolf bit deep into the vulnerable tendons on the backs of their ankles only furthering their rage. Azifar was truly beginning to have fun darting and weaving until one Ice Giant drawing in a deep breath blasted out a numbing cone of frost. The ice bit deep into Azifar's flesh though his fur protected him from the majority of the blast.
Momentarily stunned a second Ice Giant kicked out sending the wolfen form of Azifar slamming into the wall. The explosion of pain and burning in his chest told him that many of his ribs were shattered and his lungs were filling with hot blood. The pain was agonizing but with a growl Azifar leaped backing into the fray knowing every second he could buy would be one more spent to free his friends.
It was then that the last of the Syndicate members were freed from their icy tomb. Though shaken from the ordeal they were all very much alive. Lorin not wasting any more time charged forth leaping onto one of the near by chair and scrambled up to the caged form of Delar. With one might slash from his blazing sword the cage door was ripped from its hinges. Lorin whirled around and charged to the mighty battle in the hallway.
In a desperate attempt to lash out Azifar leaped into the face of the Ice Giant that kicked him biting and tearing into its face. The Giant pounded on the wolf but still the beast would not let go! A second Ice Giant reached back swinging at the wolf but only slammed the face of its ally for Azifar leaped away at the last second. The Ice Giants totally confused and enraged again charged the demon wolf.
The strength was quickly washing from Azifar's body. Already his body was screaming in pain and exertion. Azifar darted forward again taking a mighty bite out the wrist of an outstretched hand. Just as Azifar charged for to leap again into the face of an Ice Giant a mighty blast lifted him from his feet and again he crashed into the wall. To his horror he looked down seeing his own rear legs mangled. Trying desperately to regain his feet, Azifar crawled forward.
Lorin turned into hall and gasped at the broken form of Azifar's body. A thick trail of blood poured from his broken body as he crawled forward with his front two paws. Before Lorin could break the trance of horror a mighty Ice Giant raised its mighty leg and crashed down on the crippled form of Azifar.
"NO!", Lorin screamed as the foot crashed down with a massive crunching sound. Seething in rage Lorin charged down the hall slashing out with his flaming SoulFire sword. The first Ice Giant had hardly turned about when the fiery blade skewered its leg sending it crashing to the floor. Again the mighty blade slashed out and severed the arm of the Ice Giant as it feebly tried to protect its body. Bellowing in agony the Giant tried to crawl away from the angry fire blade but Lorin leaped on its back slashing again and again!
The two remaining Ice Giants turned to face the fire-wielding demon and instead faced the full fury of the Syndicate. Tarzool began playing his mandolin with its strange alluring tones entrancing the one Ice Giant to turn on its former ally. The last remaining Ice Giant assaulted from all sides turned to flee was surrounded by a cloud of darkness summoned by the dark necromancer Demandred. The doomed Ice Giant stumbled on the stairs and was cut down by the fury of Lorin and his SoulFire. The entranced Ice Giant soon followed the other Ice Giant into death.
Together the members of the Syndicate surrounded the broken body of Azifar. The enchantment that transformed the Wood Elf into a wolf had ended and all that remained was a twisted bloody form of the Ranger.
"He died a warrior's death. His goddess Tunare will no doubt be waiting for him in open arms. Azifar is in a place away from mortal pain." Lorin said but even his voice wavered slightly as the weight of the death of his old friend fell upon his shoulders. Lorin was not alone for all of the members of the Syndicate stood surrounding the fallen warrior. Slowly with great care Azifar's closest friends and fellow Syndicate bent down and retrieved his body. With a soft word from Ranco and a flash they were gone.Long Live the Syndicate,