The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 7 – The Fixer-Upper

Grun loved flying. Landing was a somewhat different story. On a nice field, or on a prepared runway it wasn’t bad at all. As part of a noble’s service, those were the most common places one visited because noble’s pretty much only visited other nobles.

Unless the noble in question was the Queen of Gallagrin.

“I can’t help but notice we seem to be heading towards that mountain,” Keeper Qui-kel said.

The Faenirel leader had been a fine companion for the trip, much more inquisitive than Grun would have guessed from her initial reluctance to board the carriage.

“That’s our destination,” Grun said, nudging the Wind Steed team to slow and gain altitude at the same time. It wasn’t a maneuver which came naturally to them, but Grun had landed the team in stranger spots and they trusted his judgement.

“It seems rather vertical,” Qui-kell said. “Where are we supposed to land.”

“On the mountain,” Grun said. “There’s an entrance that will open for us when we’re a little closer.”

“We are rather close already aren’t we?” Qui-kel asked.

Grun urged the Wind Steeds upwards until the carriage was at a forty five degree angle.

“”We’ll be getting a lot closer in a minute.”

Landing in a sky giant’s aerie was the sort of thing respectable drivers never had to deal with. No noble in their right mind wanted to bother a Sky Giant, must less visit one personally.

Unless the noble in question was the Queen of Gallagrin.

Below them the mountain side blurred into a flashing array of greens from the pine trees and slate gray from the jagged rocks that made up the mountain’s face. Grun gave the team a looser rein, allowing them to pick up a bit of speed. Beside the mountain, the wind played treacherous games and having the momentum to beat it into the shape you needed was worth the risk that a faster approach entailed.

“Why are there no straps to hold onto?” Qui-kel asked.

“Aerial fights require quick reactions, and, apart from those, a sky carriage’s route is supposed to be smooth and trouble free,” Grun said.

“This is smooth and trouble free?” Qui-kel asked, her claws sinking into the finely polished wood of the driver’s bench.

“Mostly,” Grun said, gritting his teeth and playing the reins carefully as an unavoidable squall of turbulence shook the carriage.

By the time they reached the next patch of clear air they’d dropped close enough to the mountain that Grun could see the individual pinecones on the fir trees below them. That was a few hundred feet closer than regulations suggested for an approach, but under the circumstances Grun knew it was best to let the team ride the breeze they were on rather than try to regain altitude. He couldn’t quite see the pattern of the landing flags, but working out where to go on the fly was just part of the fun.

Their landing platform appearred seconds later, the mountain cracking open to reveal a narrow passage into the inner sanctum of the Sky Giants. For safety, official sky carriage regulations suggested reducing speed to a canter and signaling the landing crew of your approach.

Grun urged the team to the fastest gallop they could manage and smiled as the carriage lurched forward. Giants, of any ethnicity, shared a culture where physical prowess and daring were cherished highly. Also, the sky giant aerie had kept its gate’s closed which suggested that there were things flying about which even creatures as powerful as the giants found troublesome to deal with and, from his experience with the beasts of the air, Grun wanted to be tucked away somewhere safe as quickly as possible..

Qui-kel didn’t scream, or even whimper. That was a somewhat promising sign, but a glance over at the Keeper told Grun that he was going to want to find something very important to do the moment they landed. Staying near the Keepers claws being a bad idea if she didn’t have to keep them sunk safely into the bench.

As landing’s went, their arrival at Taughuam, the Giant’s, aerie was close enough to perfect that Grun could used it to teach a class. The team’s hooves touched so lightly on the arrival platform that the carriage rolled to a halt without a single vertical bounce.

“Very nicely done,” boomed a giant’s voice. “But we were pointing you to platform nine, not seven.”

Grun winced.

“Sorry, we were following a clear breeze,” Grun said.

“It’s ok,” Ethgred, the giant responsible for coordinating the landings, said. “We know your folks don’t get much practice with difficult approaches.”

Grun scowled, his professional pride stinging. It was such a nice landing, and both platforms were open, so really what harm was done? He knew better than to voice his complaints though. Landing coordinators had absolute dominion over their platforms and Ethgred would be well within his rights to hold up all the landings until Grun maneuvered to the correct location.

“Eth!” Jyl shouted as she jumped from the carriage’s interior.

“Laughing?” Ethgred said, taking a step back as a delighted smile dawned on his face.

Jyl leaped up and caught the sky giant in a hug around his throat. That her arms couldn’t actually complete the circle was only slightly less silly than the fact that even hanging from his neck, her legs ended before they reached the middle of the sky giant’s belly.

The scene was worthy of a giggle, except when Grun noticed that the Queen’s Guard had made the leap to the giant’s neck without transforming at all.

“Laughing?” Grun asked, looking at Qui-kel who was as perplexed as he was.

After a moment, Jyl swung around to sit on Ethgred’s shoulder and the two of them took stock of the people exiting the first carriage.

“It’s just a nickname,” Jyl said.

“No, it’s a warning,” Ethgred said.

“Of what?” Grun said.

“We used to work with the Lady Lafli, but after a few quests it became apparent that it simply wasn’t fair to unleash her on the things that troubled us without giving the poor beasts some sort of warning. So we renamed her.”

“How is ‘Laughing’ a warning?” Grun asked.

“It’s Laughing Death actually,” Jyl said. “Which is just embarrassing. I wasn’t that good.”

“That good at what?” Qui-kel asked.

“I solved some problems for them,” Jyl said.

“What sort of problems?” Grun asked.

“The sort we feared to fight on our own,” Ethgred said.

“Wait. You tangled with things that sky giants are afraid of?” Grun asked.

“I’m much smarter than that now,” Jyl said. “Now I have underlings to do that sort of thing for me!”

“Uh, thank you?” Pelay said, disembarking from the carriage with care.

The moment she was clear, she began taking in the aerie. Her movements reminded Grun of the Wind Steeds when they found a new cloud formation. Quick little breaths to pull in snatches of air and discern what scents it held.

“We’re clear here,” she said after a moment of study.

“Clear of what?” Ethgred asked.

“Shadowfolk,” Jyl said. “Ran into an indeterminate number of them back in Highcrest.”

“What are Shadowfolk doing in Highcrest? I thought the Butcher King slaughtered them all?” Ethgred asked.

“He missed a few it seems,” Jyl said.

“More than a few,” Qui-kel said. “We had two try to attack us when we caught them.”

“My condolences,” Ethgred said.

“You ran away from two of them? How dangerous are these things?” Grun asked.

“Two of them aren’t a problem,” Jyl said. “Or not an insurmountable problem. The issue is that where you find two of them, there’s usually a few hundred lurking.”

“They’re a very careful race and very committed to mayhem once they’re provoked,” Qui-kel said.

“Who set them off?” Grun asked.

“Me, apparently,” Iana said.

“You’re from the Green Council aren’t you? I didn’t think they had Shadowfolk over there?” Grun asked, noticing Iana’s accident.

“I left the Council lands,” Iana said, a scowl hardening her lips.

“Eth, allow me to introduce Princess Iana,” Jyl said.

“A pleasure Your Highness,” Ethgred said with more deference than Grun had ever heard in a giant’s voice. “So is she who you need to hide here?”

“Not exactly,” Jyl said. “We’ve got a family of Faenirel who need a place to stay while we deal with the Shadowfolk threat.”

“The Aerie is not open to outsiders,” Ethgred said. “Only the cloud market is and there’s not much housing available there..”

“We have no wish to burden your honor,” Keeper Qui-kel said.

“They don’t need to stay in the Aerie, or the cloud market,” Jyl said. “There’s the Spectre’s Web.”

Ethgred threw a disbelieving glance at the small woman on his shoulder.

“You want to send them to the Web?” he asked. “The Web?”

“What is this Spectre’s Web?” Qui-kel asked.

“A nightmare,” Ethgred said.

“A refuge.” Jyl said.

“A refuge for nightmares? How interesting. Tell me more,” Qui-kel said.

“When I was here the last time, one of the places I went was to an old dwarven town that’s located deep underneath the mountain,” Jyl said. “Except it wasn’t a town the dwarvens built for themselves. They made it for a arcane researcher.”

“So it is full of magical traps but no actual spectres?” Qui-kel asked.

“Just the reverse in fact,” Jyl said. “Professor Nilia and her research staff are still there, despite being dead for around five hundred years now. The mystic protections and security measures have faded away though.”

“The ancient dead are not things my people disturb,” Qui-kel said.

“Professor Nilia isn’t your usual sort of spectre,” Jyl said. “She and the other original researchers are bound within the circle of their old lab.”

“We still would not walk halls they have claimed as theirs,” Qui-kel said. “Bindings can fail all too easily.”

“Usually, that’s true, but in this case the bindings failing would be a good thing,” Jyl said. “There’s a team of living researchers who are working with them to make that happen. They’ve been at it for a few years now and had only limited success so far.”

“Why would you want to free the dead?” Qui-kel asked.

“Because they’ve asked us to,” Jyl said. “They’re trapped there, prisoners of their own cleverness. They need our help to move on.”

“But once they’re freed what’s to stop them from slaughtering any living thing they can get their hands on?” Qui-kel.

“They’re not hungry ghosts, just bored ones,” Jyl said.

“That’s not all that’s in the Spectre’s Web though,” Ethgred said. “Tell them about the spiders.”

“Oh, yeah, there are spiders there too,” Jyl said.

“What sort of spider?” Qui-kel asked.

“The kind that grow about twice as big as me and can speak,” Jyl said. “Interestingly though, they’re aquatic. So as long as you don’t need to use their part of the lake, I don’t know if you’ll even run into them.”

“And there’s the Hungry Lights,” Ethdred said.

“Ah, true. Those you will run into,” Jyl said.

“Hungry light?” Qui-kel asked.

“They’re bits of pure magic that are so bound together that they resemble floating, glowing crystals. They’re leftovers from Professor Nilia’s original research.”

“And what do these Hungry Lights do?” Qui-kel asked.

“Eat things,” Jyl said.

“Things like people?” Qui-kel asked.

“Yes, but they’re very easy to avoid,” Jyl said. “They glow, obviously, and they move slowly. They also eat slowly, so if one starts bothering you, you can push it away before it gets in much more than nibble.”

“And when we need to sleep? Will we be posting guards just to take a nap?” Qui-kel asked.

“There are plenty of rooms in the town with doors that close. That’s more than enough to keep the Hungry Lights at bay,” Jyl said.

“So allow me to see if I understand this correctly,” Qui-kel said. “In order to protect us from a humanoid threat whose principal menace is the ability to pass partially unnoticed, your plan is to place us in an ancient, subterranean lair filled with bored ghosts and the researchers who are experimenting on them, spiders that live underwater and probably won’t bother us unless we approach their lake and floating people eaters made out of pure magic which we will need to bar our domiciles against?”

“More or less, yes,” Jyl said.

“And what will we be eating in this lovely town?” Qui-kel asked.

“Mostly fish from the lake I think,” Jyl said.

“Where the spiders live?” Qui-kel said.


“And what we will do for light to see by?” Qui-kel asked.

“I believe the researchers that are there just shove the Hungry Lights around,” Jyl said.

“The ones that want to eat us?”


“This sounds lovely,” Qui-kel said. “Let’s go have a look, shall we?”

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