After defeating a shape-changing Oni, the party head upstairs to discover a group of ogre guards led by a fire giant. They finally find Princess Murti in the company of some goblins, a giant minotaur, a devious dwarf, and a young bronze dragon named Sablius! Not all is as it seems in the Secret Citadel of the Shape-Changing Cyclops!
First, A Flashback
|Absolom, Justicar (Human Level 4 Cleric/Level 1 Monk)|
|Thaddeus, Under-City Scout from Swallow (Human Level 5 Ranger)|
First, A Flashback
It was four months ago. Aline was absent-mindedly shopping in the bazaar of swallow. She came across a mysterious tent. Upon entering the tent, she was surprised to discover it larger on the inside than on the outside. A bearded old man doddered on a bench. The shop was filled with curios and artifacts, so she perused a while. She turned around and was shocked to see the old man standing behind her. He held out his hand, saying, "Aline, these are for you."
She held out her hand and took the two round stones offered to her. The old man said, "Give one to a friend. Someday you will need help. On that day, call upon that friend, and he will appear."
She examined the the stones. They were ordinary river rocks. She looked up and the old man was gone! In fact, the entire tent was gone! She found herself in an empty stall in the middle of the market, surrounded by people.
Time passed. A few days ago, she met Valerius, proud defender of justice and paragon of virtue. She slipped one of the stones into his pack.
Today, Valerius was in Swallow. He was attending the trial and sentencing of the villain known as the Spider. Valerius was confident in his conviction and was certain that justice would be served this day.
Speaking before a private ceremony in the Temple of Justice was Zhamach, the assistant to Magistrate Orthat. Zhamach performed the ceremony of truth. He grabbed the dark elf Spider by the sides of the head, and stared intently into the villain's eyes.
Zhamach had insisted on the closed proceedings. He did not wish to alarm the townspeople by revealing the existence of the dark elf race. Valerius insisted he be able to attend and Zhamach found no way to deny the paladin. In front of his trusted confidants within the Temple of Justice, Zhamach declared that the Spider was guilty of the crimes of which he had been accused. However, after praying to Justica on the matter, he announced that the sentence of death was to be commuted. The Spider would be taken to the dungeons beneath the Temple of Justice and held there against his will for the remainder of his natural life, where he might learn the error of his ways and one day repent.
|Zhamach, Priest of Justica, assistant magistrate of Swallow|
Valerius was outraged, but kept his calm. He betrayed none of his emotion to his superiors. And suddenly, surprisingly, he was standing in a dark room of dwarfish manufacture in the company of his oldest friend Absolom, as well as his colleague Thaddius, the newcomer Gravy, whom he had met twice in Flinch, and the dragon-born priest Balatan, who had journeyed with him from Flinch to the Wave Echo Cave mine and back again. The slain body of a dead man, ten feet tall with blue skin and stubby ivory horns, lay sprawled and dead amid half-a-dozen scattered suits of dwarfish armor.
Meanwhile, twenty-three miles away in Swallow, Aline was standing in the inner sanctum of the Temple of Justice, perhaps more bewildered than the startled priests and curates assembled around her.
An Oni Among Us
The princess explained that the creatures were called "Oni" and that they were once common in her lands before being driven out. She said the oni were starving the bronze dragon, a type of dragon known for their good nature, in an attempt to force it to eat helpless victims and turn it to evil. For the past several hours, they had been goading the dragon to kill her but it refused.
After exchanging greetings, the party filled Valerius in on the current situation. They explained that they wished to save Princess Murti and that she had been captured by these mysterious blue ogres.
So apprised, Valerius sat and meditated in order to summon his holy mount, a celestial lion! The majestic beast's appearance was heralded by mighty roaring and electric guitar and was backlit by glowing smoke effects and lasers. It was very impressive! The lion was white and as large as a pony. Little vestigial wings, like those of a dove, sprouted from its shoulders.
|Valerius and his resplendent Celestial Lion Mount|
Ogres and a Fire Giant
They continued their quest to rescue Princess Murti. They explored a hallway and found a set of stairs leading up. They took the stairs and entered into a large room, and ancient shrine to lost dwarfish gods. The room was illuminated by the glowing eyes of the two statues that bore silent witness over the tall chamber. Within the room were three brutish ogres wearing chain mail. They were on guard and watching the exits. A large gong stood on the far wall.
The party rushed in, ganging up on the nearest ogre. The second ogre rushed to the aid of his colleague while the third sounded the gong in alarm. All three ogres were quickly dispatched when, suddenly, a large door down a corridor between the statues was thrown open.
Down the hallway came an enraged fire giant carrying a blue flaming sword. The team assembled to meet this new threat. The fire giant responded by firing a cone of frigid ice from its sword of azure flame. Three members of the party were caught in the blast but survived.
Valerius, riding his leonine mount, charged and engaged the giant in battle at the entrance to the room. The giant clutched its necklace and threw a small fireball into the room. Valerius called upon the holy power of Justica to land a branding smite upon the giant. The giant began to glow. Sensing trouble, the giant tried to escape. It turned to flee down the hall but the rest of the party surrounded it.
Suddenly, the party was engulfed in darkness, a magical darkness that filled the corridor. The party attacked the hidden giant ineffectually. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the darkness vanished, leaving naught but a puff of smoke where the giant had stood.
Valerius quickly rushed down the hall to where the giant was headed, hoping to catch a glimpse of where it may have gone. He let his lion lead the way. The lion turned back to the corridor. Valerius then charged back into the dwarfish shrine.
Suspicious, Thaddius took another look at the puff of smoke. It was still there. It was not dissipating. Thaddius called the other back. Together they threw attack spells at the puff of smoke until it exploded, leaving the charred body of a blue giant with horns dead on the floor. Thaddius had seen through its clever ruse!
Meanwhile, back in the shrine, Balatan had seen the door through which they entered open and close by invisible hand. When the puff of smoke was killed, leaving the dead giant, a great howl of anguish filled the chamber. A side door then mysteriously opened and slammed shut.
Certain they were on the trail of another invisible giant, they gave chase. They hustled down a corridor but stopped short at a closed door. Wary of a trap, they inspected the door first and entered cautiously. There they found a room filled with weapons and practice targets. After ensuring no invisible beings lurked within, they continued on through another door, taking a corridor to the left.
|The Secret Citadel of the Shape-Changing Cyclops!|
Opening the next door, they found themselves in a long high chamber, the burial vault of an ancient dwarfish hero. The room was well lit and filled with goblins! Among the goblins was a dragon, twenty feet long with bronze scales! Next to the dragon was a ten foot tall minotaur wielding a silver wand in one hand and a rod made of a thigh bone and covered in leathery skin, stretched taut with black staples. At the head of the room was Princess Murti, blindfolded and gagged, her wrists manacled above her head and chained to a post. A pile of coin and treasures were piled knee deep around a sarcophagus on a raised dais.
The minotaur pointed his wand at the intruders and addressed the dragon, "Intruders, Sablius! Here to take your gold! You must kill them, Sablius! Do not listen to their lies, KILL THEM!"
The party rushed into the room and engaged the goblins. The minotaur pointed his wand at those in the hall and bathed them in a cone of ice and frost. The dragon followed up by breathing forth a bolt of lightning that incapacitated Absolom and Gravy! The cold and lightning also eliminated over half of the assembled goblins. The minotaur followed up with a bolt of lightning of his own, fired from the silver wand.The bolt struck Valerius and Thaddius!
Balatan tried reasoning with the dragon, speaking to it in draconic, appealing to their mutual heritage. The dragon simply looked at Balatan like he had no idea what he was saying. Balatan was forced to defend himself from the dragon's claws and bites. Balatan, however, was unable to land a blow against his foe.
Valerius and his lion entered into melee with the minotaur while Thaddeus went to save Princess Murti. Before the ranger could free her, a dwarf appeared from thin air! It was the same dwarf they encountered in the company of the two mercenaries below! Thaddius held off the dwarf's axe while he freed the princess. The princess removed her gag and hood and rushed to help Gravy and Absolom.
Before she could make it, Gravy got a second wind and leapt to his feet! The priest of Thumn then gave a prayer to the moon, revitalizing his companions so they might continue fighting. Absolom returned to his senses and immediately regained his feet.
|Princess Murti of Kalmath|
Sensing the dragon's confusion, Absolom and Gravy began a dialogue with the creature, speaking to it in the Common tongue. The dragon listened to them. The minotaur shouted at the dragon, but could not overcome their words. The dragon stopped fighting. Balatan, meanwhile, left the dragon to join Valerius in fighting the minotaur.
The minotaur struck Balatan with the rod of bone and flesh. The rod immediately drained Balatan of ten years of life! Weakened, Balatan fell to his knees.
Thaddius moved to help Valerius, followed by the dwarf with whom he was fighting. Now all four were locked in mutual battle! Gravy revived Balatan who stood and re-entered the fray.
The minotaur fired another lightning bolt, this time at Balatan, Gravy, and Absolom. The bolt took Balatan and Gravy down again! By this time, the dwarf had changed form into that of a massive armored ten feet tall giant! Absolom spoke a prayer of rejuvenation and brought Gravy and Balatan from the brink.
Eventually, after suffering magic missiles and barely avoiding the life-stealing rod, the party was able to defeat the minotaur! The great beast reverted to his true form as an oni and fell dead.
The armored giant that was the dwarf, desperate to escape and gain reinforcements, flew to the corridor, turning invisible as he went. As he did so, the party unleashed arrows and spells at the fleeing phantom. Luckily, several of their missiles struck the invisible foe and it fell, dead and visible, to the corridor floor!
|An Oni in its natural form|
The party was exhausted from the long battle. They rested for an hour and bound their wounds. They spoke with the dragon and learned its story.
Sablius was six years old, still a wyrmling. However, the oni known as Krugli, the minotaur, had raised Sablius from a hatchling. Sablius had never seen another dragon and had never left this crypt. Krugli used the rod to artificially age Sablius. He also taught Sablius to speak the common tongue and the foreign language of the oni. He brought Sablius treasure captured from merchant caravans to sate the draconic instinct to hoard treasure. He also brought prisoners, taken captive in those same raids, for Sablius to eat.
Sablius had no desire to eat these defenseless beings, but Krugli starved Sablius, tortured him, and used his magic charm power upon him and eventually forced Sablius to reluctantly devour his helpless victims.
However, now Sablius was free. Sablius wished to see the world. Absolom asked if Sablius would like to accompany them to Horek. Sablius refused. He wanted to see the world but did not wish to leave his lair and his hoard. Absolom understood.
The party inspected the hoard but left its treasures to the dragon out of respect. However, Thaddius made an offer of exchange. He offered the mace of Tzann in exchange for a gilt suit of gleaming plate mail armor. The dragon accepted.
Absolom and Thaddius then removed the sarcophagus lid to inspect the remains of the dwarfish hero interred within. Upon doing so, a loud voice shouted "Thief! Thief! Thief!" repeatedly for a total of 25 times. Wincing at the noise, they inspected the contents. The inner coffin was made of iron and still intact. Atop it were found two short swords, a crystal ball, and two palm-sized river rocks, each inscribed with a magical rune.
The team decided to rest for a few hours in one of the empty side chambers. A watch was placed outside the door with Sablius. Over the next few hours they identified the short swords as being magical in nature, as was the crystal ball. The two river rocks began floating and hovering around the user's head. One rock magically enhanced strength while the other enhanced charisma.
The hours passed uneventfully and the team was not disturbed. After a long rest, Balatan found his vigor and vitality returning to normal. Refreshed and restored, the party was ready for a new day.
They decided that they must make this a safe lair for Sablius, they must defeat the remaining foes. Somewhere in this citadel they were told there was a vampire, a fox with seven tails, an old man, and others. Where they in fact oni in disguise? Or where they what they appeared to be?
TO BE CONTINUED!