Dragons are Gathering

"We are Worshipers of the Mother Hydra”
Chiat eats the goo

After rescuing Sumiyah, (the kidnapped illusionist from the necromancer’s chambers), the party made a strategic retreat to the Great Hall to bandage wounds, rest, and prep for further exploration of the Keep.

Sumiyah couldn’t give her friends any information about her kidnappers or the lower levels. The last thing she remembered was prepping a spell to help Wexler (aka Sparkles) and Osiris in their battle against the transformed prisoners. Despite multiple attempts to remove them, ink smudges still cover her face and neck. Luckily, Chiat’s heightened sense of smell helped the party find her before the necromancer had time to turn her into another drooling zombie guard. Regardless, Sumiyah holds to the claim that she doesn’t smell like overripe bananas and dander.

The party began exploring the Keep’s Tower. Separated from the rest of the Keep, they had to cross the Towers’ drawbridge to gain access. Closer inspecting revealed the drawbridge’s chains and winch were rusted into a solid mass. Substantial work will need to be completed before the bridge will ever be raised again.

Further exploring revealed the tower to be vacant. The occupants were either killed by the party or somehow escaped. A kitchen and dining room on the first level of the tower left mute clues of partially empty plates and turned over chairs that the tower bandits were in the middle of a meal when they left. This was the last meal for whoever rushed out last night to be ambushed by the party.

The last room on the first floor held a few clues. The party deduced this sleeping chamber housed the two Sutak they fought with the strange missile weapons. Amidst the rigidly militant organization (and a few tufts of Sutak hair) of the chamber, was a curious cabinet holding a rotting human torso with strange “nibble/sucker” marks on it. Comparing the size of the cabinet to the Sutak missile weapons, this looked to be some sort of “feeding chamber” that might be used to sustain the weapons.

A spiral staircase in the center of the Tower twisted both up and down to further levels. The group choose up, and climbed to the next level, which was entirely taken up by two rooms; a barracks and some sort of recreational area.

The sleeping changer had eight beds spaced around the room. The general disarray of the barracks mirrored their poor fighting skills. Tossing the bandit’s belongings and pilfering what valuables they could find revealed a unique similarity among the bandits. Somewhere hidden in each bandit’s belonging was a small, square ceramic vial about the size of a shot glass. The scuffed white containers had odd runes on one side, and when opened proved to be nearly empty, with only a small residue of a thick blue-tinted mucus substance that smelled faintly of fish or the ocean.

Forever charging forward, Chiat wiped as much as he could out of the vial on his pinkie and tasted the mucus, happily declaring “I eat the goo”. Discovering no more than a fishy taste, he scraped all the remains he could from all the vials and swallowed it. The disgusting taste made him grimace, but no effects could be detected other than the flavor of slowly licking a three day old fish.

The next highest level housed spacious sleeping chambers for a single person, (most likely the bandit leader), an armory, and a well stocked library. A balcony overlooking the drawbridge was obviously another line of defense in case the Keep itself was overrun.

The real treasure was the library, stocked with dozens of books, scroll, manuscripts, and carvings mostly in excellent condition. A desk covered with books and notes showed active research was currently being done somewhere in the Keep. Twin vials of Dragon’s Blood, a rare and expensive ink used in creating scrolls were split among Chiat and Sumiyah. The desk held strange metal discs engraved with curious runes and glyphs that were connected by a metal loop, binding them all together.

The volumes in the library touched on the following topics: Local History, General History, Creature Ecologies and Anatomies, Necromancy, Notes on Nachash Arcane Translation and Etching, Herbology, Astronomy, and Weather. The original texts of most volumes have the margins filled with notes and corrections by multiple later readers. The notes reference other volumes and frequently additional pages of notes are placed into the volumes.

A Herbology book lays open on the desk with fresh notes surrounding the topic of Alambas, a powerful rare herb for treating burns that grows on saltwater coasts. Hand-written notes consider the herb a strong candidate as a material component for creating a cloak to defend against fire attacks, specifically the magical fire of true dragons. The portion of the Herbology text that describes Alambas was contributed by Tanis Haustik, a local expert, and details that Alambas can be found in the area called The Brass Stair along the southeastern coastline. The notes are scattered, but the complete design for the cloak can be pieced together with a few hours of research.

From this floor the staircase lead to the Tower roof, affording an excellent view of the pass and valley.

Circling back down the Tower to the bottom of the spiral staircase, the heroes explored the basement, a dreadful place occupied by torture chamber, small prison cells, and a kennel that housed a hell hound. Osiris hacked up the hell hound before too much damage was done to the party, but Sadie did get her backside bit as she ran back up the stairs.

The tiniest prison cell held Umberto, a local ranger that had been tortured by the bandits nearly to death. Osiris gave him his only healing potion to help restore him. Umberto was extremely grateful, and limped up to the keep level to recover with the guards and female survivors.

A different spiral staircase wound its way down further into the towers foundation, opening up in the Keeps ancient Stark family crypt. Most of the sarcophagi were broken open. They expected a fight and weren’t disappointed when zombies in glowing armor rose up from the debris and attacked. Their armor was stronger here, with weapons passing through them multiple times rather than just once, as with the bandits.

After a few rounds of fighting, the combat awakened another, much older guardian. Dressed in armor emblazed with the Stark Fist and wielding a huge battle axe, a skeletal guardian emerged from the last sarcophagus and battled the heroes.

After the battle ended, both the guardian’s axe and breastplate detected as magic, and Osiris traded his own for the magical ones. From a hidden stash, Sumiyah found a curious bag of miniature humanoid skulls dipped in platinum.

The crypt level turned out to be much more ancient than the Keep above and was built more than a millennium ago by the Nachash. The construction was unusual black stones that were fit together so tightly without mortar that a knife blade could not be inserted between the stones. The floors were built with a wavy ripple pattern most likely to help the snake bodied Nachash more easily move along them. The walls were also constructed to accommodate the Nachash physiology. They were wide at the floor, but tapered together as they rose to the ten foot ceilings, forming a trapezoidal cross section.

The lower levels were divided by the current occupants. A few rooms were converted to workshops or living spaces, but the majority was untouched, remaining the same as they have been for centuries.

The converted rooms included a fully stocked and functioning workshop/research facility (where more research notes and engraved discs were found), a connected living space, and a separate larger living space that contained a large shrine and statue to the Mother Hydra.

Chiat took a serpentine necklace he found hanging on the statue and, of course, put it around his neck without a thought. Nothing bad happened (yet).

The remaining rooms were secured behind an animated door guardian. What at first seemed like an ornately carved snake head, came alive and began asking questions when the PCs neared the door. Chiat suggested the rest of the party take cover in case his idea went badly, and then he strode up to the door and began answering the questions. The exchange went something like this:

Carved snake head, “Who are you are and why do you seek to pass?”

Chiat, “We are worshipers of the Mother Hydra.”

Carved snake head, “Why do you wish to pass?”

Chiat, “So we can worship the Mother Hydra.”

Carved snake head, “How will you worship the Mother Hydra?”

Chiat, “Faithfully.”

At the last response, the door opened, allowing the party to pass. The corridors beyond were ancient, many of them were untouched for centuries, but there were a few things that showed recent intrusion.

The first feature they encountered a seven-foot tall statue of a lizard-like humanoid with the lower half of a snake, a Nachash warrior. The statue had an inscription in a strange language, which the party couldn’t read. There was a modern notebook and pen lying near the statue with notes showing that someone had been working on translating the inscription.

The translation was only partially complete. “Life is for service, and death is the blessed reward we bestow. Be humbled…”

Using the serpent medallion taken from the Mother Hydra statue, Chiat opened a set of locked double doors that were covered with more Nachash writing. The notebook held the translation: “Only those who follow the humble serpent’s path may enter. Those who trespass will be slain, those who steal will be cursed, and those who imagine themselves more than slaves of the gods will he damned.”

Inside was a circular room with a ten foot stone snake that slowly worked its way around the circumference of the room. Golden chains hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. Crushed skeletons in broken armor littered the floor. The thief had a glint in her eye at the sight of the gold, but they chose to close the doors and move on.

Another room held a strange glowing orb surrounded by a strange device. Each hero received a message communicated directly to their minds asking them why were they in the room.

Chiat responded “To worship the Mother Hydra”. The word “Oh” echoed in their heads, then there was no further communication, and they left the room.

Exploring the last corridor triggered a pit trap which in turn disturbed a colony of gray mold, releasing a cloud of spores into the air. Osiris and Wexler (formerly known as Sparkles) fell into the trap itself. Wexler got the worst of it. Osiris’ height and ability to hold his breath made climbing out of the trap and not breathing the spores easy, but Wexler had inhaled the spores and has been wracked by coughing spells ever since.

Further exploration revealed three additional rooms. A crypt room holding a broken sarcophagus that had the Stark fist carved into it, a sand pit fills with broken eggshells, and a dome shaped chamber with the walls and ceiling painted with unfamiliar constellations in a night sky.

Further study in this room revealed that although the constellations were unfamiliar, the stars themselves are mostly the same stars found in the night sky, with a few notable exceptions. There were more stars painted on the ceiling than there are in the actual sky. Other than these extra stars, the painting in the chamber is amazing accurate. It seems odd that so much care would be taken to make such an exact replica of the night sky, but include additional stars.

As the heroes explored deeper into the caverns a slightly nauseous feeling tinged in the pits of their stomachs, and grew into a feeling of sickness and sense that something is wrong the further they explored. The last unexplored space is a wide stone staircase that leads down into a thick darkness. The feeling in the pits of their stomachs has grown and seems to emanate from this darkness.

Whatever lies on the other side of the darkness, it is the source of the evil that has gripped this keep.

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"What Can Happen to Her in Eight Hours?"
The scent of bananas and dander

The party had regrouped and was waiting for a response to the keep’s alarm bell.

The illusionist freed the female slaves they had discovered chained to the Great Hall’s floor (and knocked senseless with one of her own spells). The women were dirty, battered, and bruised, but did not seem overly excited at their release. Their sullen and listless disposition as they huddled together was probably just shock from their horrific ordeal over the last few days, or the residual effects of being recently stunned silly by the illusionist. The adventures would have liked to help them more, but with reinforcements most likely arriving any second, the party had more to worry about than the surviving townsfolk.

After taking a few minutes to tend wounds, check weapons, and examine their defenses, the heroes began looking for some additional advantage, and checked a door leading out of the Great Hall. It opened to a kitchen with a fire still burning in the fireplace. A well stocked, if unkempt room, the kitchen had more closed doors opening to other rooms, and a staircase leading down to a musty and smelly cellar.

The search was interrupted by the sounds of replacement guards in the courtyard, calling out for their now deceased comrades. The barred main doors of the Great Hall rattled as the replacements tried to enter. They made a few more battering attempts, but the illusionist had barricaded the door too well.

Sadie and Sparkles (the thief and cleric) concentrated on the staircase leading down. Sparkles was concerned someone or thing was going to come up from the cellar, but the party didn’t want to investigate it just yet while an immediate threat was trying to knock down the door. Sadie tried to shut out any outside distractions and extend her senses down in the stairs to ferret out any threats, besides the musty smell of mold with a sharp undertone of vinegar, she couldn’t sense anything out of the ordinary.

Then a message burst into her mind, “There are five of them right outside your door.” It was in the familiar voice of Chiat, a mage she had worked with before, but the message was in her mind, not spoken. This was surprising as Chiat didn’t accompany them to the keep, but regardless, she heeded the message and turned her attention to the kitchen door that lead out to the courtyard.

The party hadn’t barred that door yet, so Chiat’s message saved them from a nasty surprise when the door opened and a raider stepped into the room. Chait yelled to the bandits, “Intruders in the kitchen! Rush in and kill them!” A few of the bandits did rush forward, packing themselves into a nice bunch as Chiat threw a few of them into the abyss of a magical sleep.

Although the party managed to dispatch the rest of the guards quickly with overwhelming numbers, it was surprising to see that two Sutak accompanied the human raiders. More surprising were the weapons the Sutak carried. Roughly cylinder shaped and looking somewhat organic, they spit out projectiles at an amazing rate. Sadie used the doorframe as cover as a line of the projectiles slammed into the adjacent door and walls. The heroes watched in horror as the “arrows” divided into three tentacles below the sharp barb embedded into the wall. Each tentacle began writhing and twisting on its own, revealing curved thorns down its length. Luckily the Sutak didn’t have a chance to get off another volley, and were quickly killed.

The entire battle lasted less than a minute. After getting briefly reacquainted with Chait the bodies were quickly pulled into the Great Hall to hide any signs of battle. They had barely removed the corpses when they again heard voices of more guards calling for their comrades. Chait’s subterfuge successfully allowed the party to dispatch the last group so quickly, that the guard hadn’t had time to reveal the adventurers presence.

A quick peek revealed there were only two confused looking guardsmen in the courtyard calling for their mates. With a smirk, Osiris chopped the heads of a few bodies, kicked open the doors, and tossed the heads into the courtyard. As the heads rolled to the guards’ feet, he yelled that their heads would join the pile unless they surrendered. The cowardly of the two broke and ran for the tower they had come from. The other drew his sward and traded curses with the ranger, but he didn’t advance. (The ranger is 7’ tall and wields a two-handed axe.)

With a surge of power, Chait caused one of the head to float up in the air in front of the remaining guard. This proved to be too much for him, and he ran after his companion back into the tower screaming for help.

Guessing that company was on its way soon, the adventurers quickly set up an ambush targeting a choke point where guards would be coming from the main tower. Caltrops covered the narrow opening where they expected troops; the thief found a perch on the roof top, giving access to both sides of the caltrop-mined area, and the rest found covered hiding placed with good fields of fire.

The party had about 10 minutes of preparation before a half-dozen warriors in sickly glowing armor charged out of the tower and into the courtyard. The first two went down in a howl of pain as they ran across the caltrops. As the remaining guards stopped short, Sparkles blasted the group with a brain-melting thunderclap, weakening the entire group and stunning most of them.

The adventurers launched various missile and melee attacks, many of which passed through the ghostly glowing armor without touching the defenders. Despite the advantage the armor gave the bandits, superior numbers won out against them. Carefully crossing the caltrop zone, the party advanced on the blasted and stunned raiders, eventually cutting them all down.

As the part of the group beat down the raiders, Sparkles, the illusionist, and Osiris, were dragged into a different battle.


(This is a short cut scene describing what the adventurers did not see.)

The Transformation

While the adventurers prepared for the next wave of reinforcements, the five rescued women sat together on supply barrels, listlessly rubbing their chain-chafed skin. Frequently each would scratch or pick exposed skin and scabs. They seemed almost oblivious to the excitement, movement, and hurried planning of the party around them.

Each was whispering, almost inaudibly, to no one in particular, “I don’t know why, but I think I should be scared of something.”

“I keep thinking that I should throw myself into a fire…to burn the darkness way.” A brief smile flickered across her lips, and then vanished. “Something won’t let me walk to the fire.

“Don’t think about it, it only hurts more.”

“I should be happy we are free, but I want to tell them to leave.”

One suddenly shook uncontrollably, cold sweat dripping down her face. “Something hurts; I hear it whisper to me.” The others watched as her once blue irises quickly flowed black, and then leaked into the whites, covering them completely. The convulsions racked her again, this time gums bled and fingertips split open as black fangs and talons sprouted.

Initially the remaining women traded listlessness for terror as their companion transformed, but this was short lived as they each starting convulsing on their own. As a group, flesh torn and putrefied, blood and eyes turned black, skin split and bones cracked until they were no longer recognizable as human.

A thunderclap struck outside, startling the group. They looked up and saw an armored man duck into the Great Hall with them. As a group they screamed and leaped at him intending to pacify their pain by rending flesh from his bones.
-—————————————
(Now back to the summary)

After blasting the guards with a thunderclap from his position by the Great Hall, Sparkles took cover in the Hall. He glanced at the five survivors they had freed to ensure they were still safe and was horrified with what he saw. They were no longer a group of sullen slaves, huddled together in the corner. Instead he saw black-taloned undead putrefying before his eyes. They seeming to be recovering from some sort of group seizure, the convulsing had caused an eye to pop out on one woman, while all suffered from dead chunks of flesh falling loose, leaving oozing strings of pus and mucus.

Sparkles tried to send the undead beasts back to hell, but whatever force it was that turned them so fast into these creatures, was too strong to overcome. He barely had time to raise his shield before they launched a screaming mob attack at him. Osiris heard the commotion and rushed to Sparkle’s side.

As the two battled, they saw the illusionist preparing to cast a spell from the kitchen door, a black column of smoke wrapped around her form and yanked her out of sight.

They finished wiping out the she-beasts about the same time the rest of their party finished with the guards outside. Gathering together back in the Great Hall, they took a quick inventory of their situation.

All those who tapped into magic were out of spells, and Chiat was ready to lock the doors and settle down for a long night to recharge. Osiris objected, arguing that he was going to follow the kidnapped illusionist into the (unexplored) cellar to find her. After seeing what happened to the other survivors, he didn’t want the same fate befalling his comrade. Sadie agreed and prepared to go looking for her with the ranger.

Torn between a night’s rest to regain his power and going into the darkness wounded and weakened, Sparkles asked, “What can happen to her in eight hours?”

Chiat had already began meditating, intending to spend the night in the Great Hall, when his ring, a gift from his tutor during his apprentice ship, flared with power, waking Chiat. Somehow the ring had restored a portion of his power without a long rest. He was surprised, as this had never happened before. Grateful for the power, he decided to help look for the illusionist.

More than a little ashamed at his moment of weakness, Sparkles realized that looking for the simian was the only course of action that they could take. Strapping on his shield and hefting his morningstar, he followed the rest of the party down the kitchen stairs into the cellar.

The cellar was filled with barrels, boxes, bags, crates, and stacks of goods, most likely the ill-gotten gains from their raiding. Across the room another staircase lead up, but it was clogged with garbage and debris, and would be impassable until cleared.

The only other exit to the room was a darkened hallway. A shuffling noise in the corner of the room turned out to be three kidnapped women from the town. Contrary to the earlier sullen and unresponsive women that turned into vile creatures, these were happy to see the adventurers and were worried about their families back in town. The party ushered them back upstairs to the relative safety of the Great Hall with the two men-at-arms guarding them.

A quick peek at the hallway revealed dozens of niches in the walls filled with ancient bones: the party had entered the keep’s ancient crypt. A crossing corridor gave them three options: To the left, the passage was choked with a jumble of stone sarcophagi piled to the ceiling. Ahead and to the right, doors blocked their way.

Deciding to approach the door straight ahead, they moved forward. A few feet from the door, the tarnished decorations became alive. A lion’s head of brass roared to life with eyes glowing red, “Who are you and what do you want?”

Startled, they quietly walked backwards and listened at the other door. No one detected anything on the other side of the door, until Chiat sniffed at the air. The Northerner’s keen sense of smell picked up the sharp odor of overripe bananas and dander that always seemed to linger around the simian illusionist. (Looks like infrequent bathing does have its advantages.)

Picking the lock had no effect, so the ranger hacked it down with his axe. The room inside was empty, the back wall covered by a curtain. A pulse of magic from the mage and the curtains flew aside, revealing a bed, a desk, some sort of rune circle on the floor, and two large snarling wolves.

Another flow of magic and Chiat waved the wolves to sleep. Taking a breath of relief, Osiris took a step into the room to finish off the wolves, only to be slammed back into the doorway by a barely visible disturbance of swirling air.

In the next few seconds, a flurry of actions filled the room: A cloaked figure suddenly became visible as she violently shook and slapped a wolf, trying to wake it up. In response, Chiat pummeled the woman’s head with magic missiles. Sneaking past the ranger and the barely visible force, Sadie edged over to the other sleeping wolf, stabbing it several times in the neck.

The woman’s efforts awoke the wolf, who immediately leaped across the room onto the thief that had just killed his mate. Chait worked around the swirling melee trying to attack the cloaked necromancer. Watching him close on her, she quaffed a potion and disappeared, as Chiat’s arms closed on empty air where she had just been.

After trading several blows with the strange force, the ranger succeeding is dispersing it and the room calmed once more. Sniffing the air around him, Chait zeroed in on the source of the familiar smell of his colleague, the empty bed. Looking around and under the bed, they felt the simian’s invisible form lying on top of it. (Ever feel up a sleeping monkey?)

Closer inspection reveal some sort of light-bending metallic powder covering the illusionist’s form, rendering it undetectable until the powder was scrubbed off. Leaning more towards quick action, the mage quickly grabbed ink from his pack and smeared it all over the sleeping form’s face.

The illusionist eventually woke up, but without a mirror, she didn’t notice her new ink make over. Ransacking the room revealed the necromancer’s spell books and a magical dagger among other mundane items.

Now that their group was together again, the beat up, tired, and drained adventurers gathered up the female survivors and men-at-arms, barred the doors, and hunkered down for a little rest before exploring further.

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“If We Can See the Dragon, Then He Already Knows We’re Here”
First steps into the world

The mission was straight forward: escort a group of 60+ settlers over a mountain pass and into the fertile land on the other side so they can expand a village and claim plots of lands for their families. Of course that wasn’t the whole story, as the mission was just a cover by The Counsel to advance a few agenda points.

The real objectives are:

  • Explore the keep on the other side of the pass. Rumors exist that the keep was built on Nachash ruins. Determine if this is true and recover any Nachash artifacts, if they exist.
  • Determine if the keep can be restored. If it can, The Counsel will provide the necessary resources, and the group will be granted title by the Empire.

The first week of the trek went well. The party interacted with the settlers, who turned out to be a pleasant, hard working lot that were grateful for the escort to their new lives as landowners. They couldn’t show their gratitude with coin, so they expressed it with fresh cooked meals, small acts of domestic service, and the promise of the first bottles of a specialty pear ale, once the orchards at their destination brought on fruit.

The pleasant journey came to an end when the party came into sight of Yewfall, the last village nestled into the foothills, before the beginning of Crystal Gorge Pass, as the group witnessed the tail end of a raid on the village. Vicious horsemen riding horrific mounts with skeletal heads and rotting strips of flesh hanging from their flanks had already taken most of what they wanted. Bloody and mangled corpses of defenders lay scattered among the buildings, and several women were tied by their hair to the village’s well. A few raiders in slightly luminescent armor dragged the village’s barrels, bags, bales, and crates from buildings into the roads where their ghastly horses would swallow the goods whole.

At the far end of the village, the party managed to intercept a couple of horsemen, saving a village woman from being kidnapped. Combat with the raiders was very revealing. While the raiders were mounted, weapons would pass straight through them, but once they were unhorsed, the head separated from the body just as expected.

One the other hand, the beasts could be harmed with weapons and were susceptible to the faith of the Priest of Osiris. The ranger sunk a holy water-dipped arrow into the neck of one abomination. The priest focused his power on the protruding arrow and amplified the holy water to explode the creature’s head into a black spray of putrid flesh and bone.

By the time the party finished their battles, the raiders had ended the raid and were heading up toward the pass. The party, along with the villagers they escorted, helped the villagers tend to the dead and wounded. All told, five died defending the village and six women were taken by the raiders.

One raider was unlucky enough taken hostage by the party. His insults and threats of death unless he was released quickly turn to whimpers and promises to tell them anything, as the party got creative with a long board, a cloak, and an endless supply of water.

Once the raider’s attitude was adjusted, he told the group all he knew: The raiders are using the keep as a base of operations. They have support of powerful necromancers. Uchdor, the Bandit King (as he calls himself) who continues to gain followers. Their plan is to eventually take over Foothold. Once they were done getting info out of the bandit, he was turned over to the villages to stand trial for his crimes. Justice was quickly and efficiently (if a bit painfully) served.

Now with additional reasons to explore to keep, the party took off to cross the pass and track down the raiders. They lost a day at the Crystal Gorge Bridge, an ancient store structure whose center had collapsed decades earlier. As a temporary fix each year, a wooden patch was constructed to bridge the gap, but jury-rigging rarely lasts through the winter. Since this is the first mounted trek of the spring, the delay was necessary to eliminate a five-day detour around the gorge.

A strange discovery at the bridge was the raiders’ tracks. The tracks from the unholy creatures the raiders rode went across the bridge, disappeared at the edge of the gorge, and then reappeared on the other side of the broken bridge.

Once over the gorge, the raiders’ tracks were easy to follow, as they were the only ones in the snow. The pass itself was steep and switched back on itself several times. The tracks disappeared on the second day, as a snowstorm moved in and blanketed the pass in six inches of fresh powder.

After the snow, different set of tracks showed up, this set bloody, coming down from the pass towards the party, and then moving off the road towards a large tree. The tracks belonged to a wounded gobbo scout. He was friendly enough and told what he know about the keep, the bandits that now lived there, and the dragon that is at the top of the pass. The party traded some bandages for some excellent quality arrows that the gobbo had made himself.

True to his word, there was a dragon perched on an abandoned tower at the top of the pass. After a short discussion, the party decided discretion was the better part of valor, and the skirted the dragon as much as they could, leaving him to sun himself on the tower in peace. It might have been a trick of the wind, but after they had passed, it sounded like the dragon gave a deep rumbling chuckle.

The trip down the north side of the pass went quickly. The group arrived at the keep with a couple hours of light remaining and spent the time surveying their surroundings. The gobbo had told them the bandits were lazy and didn’t guard the keep well. From what they could see he was right. Rarely did they see anyone on the keep walls, and when they did spot someone, they were just relieving themselves or tossing garbage over the edge.

They decided to make their entrance through a breach in the southwest wall, but first a 200’ cliff needed to be scaled. The thief was up to the task and through good planning and poor defenses, the entire group made it up the cliff, through the wall breach, and into an abandoned building without incident.

Night had fallen and there was little sign of occupants, so the party climbed into the keep walls and walked into the front gate house with weapons drawn. With surprise and superior numbers, the adventurers then made fast work dispatching the gatekeepers, both alive and undead, without raising the alarm. The ranger made one grisly discovery. He knew one of the poor creatures that was now a zombie.

With the front gate cleared, they checked out an empty chapel, and the thief dispatched two sleeping guards in another building. They bypassed the stable that had a light burning inside, and headed for the great hall that had smoke trailing from its chimney.

With a plan in place, two members of the group yanked open the great hall doors as the simian Illusionist loped into the room and stunned a group of sleeping guards. The rest of the party quickly surround the stunned forms, preparing to cut them down in their beds, when the party noticed the “guards” were each chained together and secured to the floor. A hurried check found them to be not guards, but battered and beaten female slaves.

The commotion in the room scattered a colony of bats that took flight and left through the high windows, which alerted the guards at the top of the staircase on the far side of the room to investigate. The ranger and priest climbed the stairs and held the guards at the landing, but the guards were able to sound the alarm bell. Meanwhile the illusionist barred the outer doors, and searched for a way to free the slaves.

With the door and stairs blocked the thief looked for another way to join the fight. Climbing onto the guano covered loft looked like the best way to reach the high windows and sneak onto the keep walls behind the guards. A lifetime of athletics and training paid off as she leapt off the furniture, ran two steps up the wall, and grasped the loft in a perfectly executed maneuver. Until her worm-rotted hand holds broke off, plunging her more than a dozen feet into a back-flop cushioned by a decade long collection of bat poop.

The ranger and priest worked well together clearing out the guards at the top of the stairs, giving the thief time to recover from her poop bath. Taking the climb a little slower, her second attempt went better and the thief managed to make it out the upper windows and crouch on the roof in the darkness next to the castle wall.

Despite being covered in guano, the thief’s positioning was excellent and she was able to quietly ambush the reinforcements from a nearby tower, dumping their bodies over the keep’s walls. The ranger and priest cleared the final guard and took control of both the guard tower and great hall.

Now the party is regrouping to assess the situation. The alarm has been sounded, but it appears that all the nearby guards are dead. The group as a few minutes to plan and prepare before the replacements are roused, armed, and find where the party has holed-up. The doors to the tower and great hall are barred, and the simian has the keys to free the slaves.

What will they do next?

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