|Absolom, Justicar (Human Level 4 Cleric/Level 1 Monk)|
|Thaddeus, Under-City Scout from Swallow (Human Level 5 Ranger)|
Ser Valerius and the Dragon
|Sablius the Bronze Dragon|
He offered to give Sablius a home in the manor he was going to build in Wince. There he could be protected, could have a safe place for his hoard, and could consume the occasional livestock. He made his case to Sablius. Valerius was very persuasive and was obviously becoming a strong father figure for the dragon. The dragon agreed to accompany him back to Wince.
He told the rest of the party of his plan the next day. Princess Murti exclaimed, "Seriously? We're THIS close to the Western Gate! Now you're going all the way back to WINCE?! That's farther back than when I met you people! I just need your help to get through the Defile. Once on the other side, it's only one or two days south to Horek! There we can free my imprisoned royal guard and I can re-take my throne in Kalmath!"
Valerius explained, "I'd like to help you, but I have bigger priorities than the internal politics of Kalmath. Once we get out of this citadel, you can re-join Knott, Jilani, and Babu, along with those guards we freed, Willie and Drew. They'll take you the rest of the way."
Princess Murti sighed exasperatedly and rolled her eyes in defeat.
From the burial shrine of the dwarfish hero Oron, they explored more of the lost citadel. They found the upper floors of the tower and their commanding views over the Defile of Castragon far below. They asked Sablius if he could fly. Sablius, excitedly taking everything in, replied, "I've never been into this room before! What's 'fry'?"
|Princess Murti of Kalmath|
In another tower, they located a trap door and a chute leading to the lower floor. Valerius and Absolom climbed down the chute. On the lower floor of the tower they could see three ballista pointing towards the entrance door, set to fire at anyone that opened it. They cut the string and climbed back up the chute, only to have the rotten ladder rungs disintegrate under Valerius' weight. Valerius fell with a thud. At that, Gravy lowered a rope and the pair climbed back to the top.
They then carefully re-entered the shrine with the statues of the dwarfish gods with glowing eyes and three ogre carcasses and descended the stairs.
Amilia the Scullery Maid
Using Thaddius' map of the citadel, they found their way to the great hall where they hoped to study the battle plans drawn on the wall map. They were surprised to find a young human woman setting the table. The woman was as startled as they and made to run. They quickly calmed her and showed her that they meant her no harm and wished to talk. She hesitated and the party began to speak with her. While doing so, they inspected the adjacent kitchen, noting that a door in the south wall was barricaded shut with boards.
|Amilia the Scullery Maid|
Amilia led them upstairs via a wide spiraling ramp. Once in the corridor leading to her quarters, Valerius stopped her. He instructed his lion and Sablius to stay back in the antechamber with Balatan, Princess Murti, and Amilia. The rest of the party advanced cautiously.
They entered Amilia's quarters to find a dormitory with six beds. A tall gaunt ashen figure with blood-red eyes stood in the center of the room. He was carrying a spear with a long curved blade. In a strange halting voice he spoke to them, "Ah, unesspected guests. Plead, come in. Come cloter toe I may pick with du."
The vampire-oni tried repeatedly to charm Valerius, eventually succeeding. Unfortunately for the vampire-oni, Gravy had prepared a blessing to restore Valerius to his senses. The oni then used his icy cone of cold on the party and tried to escape, but was cut down before he could make it to the door. Upon the vampire-oni's death, Amilia started as if coming out of some kind trance or charm. She promptly thanked her rescuers.
Entering the room into which the oni tried to escape, they triggered a automatic reloading arbalest rigged to a rotating turret. Whichever door opened, the arbalest would rotate and fire. The trap was ineffective and missed and was quickly destroyed. Within the room the party found 17 trunks and chests. 14 of the trunks were filled with trade goods seized from caravans. Three of them were locked. Valerius threw two of the chests against the floor and walls until they smashed open. In the first chest they found a pile of gold coins. In the second was 100 gemstones. Thaddius, annoyed at the commotion and noise, opened the third with his thieves' tools, revealing 30 wooden carvings and scrimshaw. While counting the gold, two of the coins revealed themselves to be cleverly disguised golden beetles that crawled over Gravy, trying to bite him. Gravy eventually crushed each bug.
The Secret Exit
The party then took another corridor, filling in the blank areas on their map. They crossed the entrance hallway and found secret stairs down to the defensive octagon below. They took another door and another corridor, turning left, and through a door at the end of a hall. Opening the door triggered a heavy blade to swing down and hit Valerius square in the shoulder.
Inside the room was a four-poster bed and piles of paper but was otherwise abandoned. The party searched the room and found a hidden footlocker. Absolom, using Thaddius' tools untrained, was able to open the footlocker. The locker began shouting "Help! Help! Help!" which it repeated a total of 25 times. The party readied itself for battle but no one came.
Within the footlocker they found several spell books, a dirk with a black blade, and a satches of gems and coins.
The papers on the floor included merchant log books and a manuscript written in an exotic alien language.
Gravy also found a secret door leading down a long corridor to a dead end. Thaddius approached the dead end, only to collapse a false floor and pitch forward into a thirty-foot pit lined with spikes. The injured Thaddius was helped out of the pit by Gravy. Absolom, meanwhile, located a lever that reset or deactivated the false floor. Once made save, the party crossed and located the hidden door at the dead end of the corridor. Behind the hidden door was a small room and a ladder leading up. At the top of the ladder was a hatch. Thaddius opened the hatch and the party was outside on the side of the mountain. There was no obvious path down to the stairs but the two towers could be seen about two hundred yards down-slope.
The party back-tracked and exited the sleeping chamber. They took another corridor. A side door on the right was locked. Thaddius tried a key found on one of the dead oni and the door opened. Inside was another sleeping chamber, a matress on the floor, some blankets, and a trunk. Within the trunk was some lamp oil, ten gold bars stamped with an exotic seal of some type, some loose coins, and two sealed wax scroll cases. Gravy found a secret niche in one of the walls of the room. Within the niche was a fine hammer of dwarfish craftsmanship, a phial of liquid, and a bag of gold coins.
The Fochlucan Bandore
The next door down at the end of the corridor was closed. Thaddius listened closely and heard the sound of some twangy stringed instrument and strange haunting mournful singing. They cautiously opened the door and found an old man sitting on a tatami mat and playing some type of long lute. The man stopped playing and looked up. He was blind but he smiled at the newcomers.
|Just an old blind man.|
"Please, please, come in. I so rarely have guests! I normally play for my masters. Would you like to hear me play for you?"
The party hesitated. Was it really just an old man, another slave? Was it an oni in disguise?
Valerius was the first to respond, "Later, old man! First, answer my questions!" With that, he called upon the goddess Justica to compel the old man to speak only the truth! The old man was unperturbed and inscrutable.
Valerius asked his questions, "Are you one of the oni?"
The old man replied, "I am but a simple old man, playing his fochlucan bandore."
"Are you some other type of shape shifter?"
"That's a very strange question."
"Is this your true form?"
"This is what I am. I am but a blind old man."
"Answer my question with either a yes or a no! Are you an oni?"
"How very rude!"
"Yes or no!"
"I don't know how to answer your question. It's very confusing."
"YES OR NO!!"
"I.. I..", the old man rolled his blind eyes and cursed, "畜生! Ohhhhhhwoooooo!Waaaaaaooooooo!"
The old man gave up his disguise and turned into an oni. He instantly turned invisible. The party split up, each taking a different corner. Absolom called upon the goddess Justica for aid. Miraculously, a corner of the room was illuminated with sprinkling gold faerie dust, revealing no hidden oni.
Suddenly, from another corner came an icy blast! The oni was once more visible. Valerius and Thaddius engaged the blue creature in melee. The oni waved his hand and darkness fell upon the room, making it difficult to hit the creature. The oni turned into gas and tried to escape into the hall. Valerius caught up with him and, with a holy strike blessed by Justica herself, the Oni was forced back into his solid form. No longer able to take gaseous form, the oni found his way blocked by the dragon and leonine mount that filled the corridor. He was trapped!
The Rod of Wonder
The oni then turned and pulled a strange rod out of his robe. The rod was clockwork, composed of many rotating metallic gears, rings, and puzzle pieces. The oni rotated a gear and slid a fitted piece into place. The round metallic orb at the head of the rod began to glow.
|The Rod of Wonder|
Valerius and Thaddius pressed the attack. The oni used his wand again, this time pointing it at Thaddius. The oni shouted, "Zzzzap!" and mimed firing some kind of discharge at Thaddius. The oni then bellowed laughter in some kind of believed triumph! Thaddius was otherwise unaffected. Absolom, back in the room, realized what had just happened and shook with laughter of his own.
The oni once more spun and rearranged the various bits of the wand and suddenly the room filled with monarch butterflies, blinding everyone save Absolom!
No one seemed to be able to hit the trapped Oni. The oni again reconfigured the mechanical rod contraption, once more filling the room with darkness. The darkness could not save him, however, as he was eventually defeated by the party, with Gravy delivering the killing blow!
The party then sat down and rested while they waited for the butterflies and darkness to dissipate.
Inside the room, they found that the old man was sitting on a locked chest. Gravy looked under the tatami mat and found the key that opened the chest. Within the chest they found some gold, gems, a quiver of silver-tipped arrows, a pouch containing a few pinches of some kind of silvery powder or dust, and some pieces of clothing.
The Silent Guard
The party returned to the burial chamber of Oron the Dwarf and inspected a door they passed earlier. Valerius opened the door and a cloaked figure behind a table fired a crossbow at them, missing. Valerius and Absolom called out to the shadowy figure, insisting that they meant no harm and that they were here to help. No one responded so they cautiously and slowly entered. They found the robed figure to be nothing more than a dummy, a mannequin connected to a crossbow rigged to fire at whomever opened the door.
The room was filled with junk. Forty minutes of sifting through the junk yielded two sacks with gold and silver, seven bejewelled swords, a tarnished silver place setting for six, and a purse filled with coins.
The A-Team is Formed
The party returned to the lower level via a different staircase. At the bottom of the staircase was a hidden door that opened into the defensive octagon. The bodies of the two guards caught in the fireball the day before were gone. Off to one side they found a small niche, a guard post. Within they found one of the guards resting, recuperating from being blasted the previous day. He reached for his weapon but the party took no offensive action and explained their purpose, apologizing for the day before.
|Ashlor of Horek|
Suddenly, Ashlor recognized Princess Murti. He immediately fell to one knee, bowing, and pledged his blade to her cause! He was instructed to stay with her and the rest behind the party.
The party then explored some empty rooms including an well filled with water and phosphorescent slime, two unused barracks, and a garbage heap which they judiciously avoided. Inside one room they surprised a young woman wearing wizard robes. The woman was watching out a spy hole into a corridor outside the room. Valerius and Absolom becalmed the woman, showing her Amelia.
|Nevra of Thither|
The group of rescued slaves of the oni were quickly becoming a party of their own. A young bronze dragon, an exiled princess, a half-elf adventurer and warrior, a female wizard, and a dragon-born priest, banded together! The party started referring to the new party as "the A-Team" and to themselves as "the B-Team", suggested that they were merely henchmen for the other, more interesting group of adventurers.
Nevra told the party what to expect and filled in their map. She told them to avoid one corridor and its pit traps.
The "B-Team" then proceeded down an unexplored corridor which led to the entrance tower. Valerius opened a door to the right and was immediately attacked by a jittery goblin, one of the guards at the entrance. Valerius moved into the room and engaged the goblin in combat, the other goblins, trapped in the room, fought viciously for their lives, but were ultimately defeated by Valerius, Absolom, and Thaddius.
The Last Report of Gramble
The "B-Team" then explored some more empty rooms before returning to the storage room outside the dungeon. They moved some furniture and found a door, likely leading to the room behind the barricaded door in the kitchen. They nervously proceeded with caution.
In a small room at the end of the corridor they found the long dead remains of a dwarf warrior. Suddenly, before anyone could act, Valerius seized as if gripped by a giant fist. He then hunched over into a crouch and shouted, "The citadel is under attack! I must report immediately to my commander!" and ran off down the corridor.
The party gave chase. Valerius reached the barricaded door and found it locked. He slammed into it with all his strength and burst it from its hinges. He then ran up the ramp and into the chamber of old man-oni with the lute, his blue bulk lying in a corner.
Valerius called out for his commander, "Sir, it is Gramble! I must report that we are under attack by the wizard Taskern! To arms!" but no answer came. Thaddius, Gravy, and Absolom caught up with him. Valerius, mad with fear, saw the humans as threats, "Intruders! Invaders! What have you done with my commander? I will kill you!"
With that, the possessed Valerius rushed at the party. Absolom called upon the power of his goddess and cast out the spirit within Valerius. The spirit left Valerius and fled to the back of the room.
Gravy then stepped forward, and as confidently and as dwarf-like as he could manage, said, "Gramble. I am your commander. Report!"
Gramble, confused but convinced, gave his report. With his final task fulfilled, the ghost faded from existence.
Ogres in the Cellar
Confident that they had cleared the upper two levels of all inhabitants, the party decided to descend the ramp. They had earlier detected the strong musky smell of ogres in that direction and saved it for last. Thaddius roved ahead stealthily. There he saw ten ogres, some sitting, some sleeping, some fighting. They were in a large mining chamber that seemed to have no other exits. He returned to give his report.
Valerius noted that the ramp leading down was weak and shored up by hastily placed support timbers. He reasoned that the removal of the timbers would cause a cave in that would trap the ogres. Weary from their day of exploration and fighting and low on energy, the party opted to collapse the tunnel.
Afterwards, both parties left the citadel and descended the long flights of stairs that hugged the side of the cliff. Sablius was like a cat let out of the house for the first time. He was frightened of the sky, cold and white with occasional flakes of snow, and the vast spaces around him. Eventually, the reached the road at the bottom of the defile. It was mid-afternoon. They rejoined Knott, Babu, Jilani, Willie, Drew, and even Homer, who had camped here while they waited. There was no sign of the gnome they released from the dungeon the day before. In fact, no one had seen the gnome since they were released.
The entourage now consisted of 11 people and a dragon. The group decided to escort Princess Murti the final few miles to the Western Gate, where they camped for the night. The A-Team would continue the journey with the princess while the B-Team would head back to Wince with Sablius. As they settled in for the night, the red sun setting across the forbidding wasteland to the west, Valerius talked of leading a force of men to re-settle the Secret Citadel, and once more establish law and order within the Defile of Castragon, but that would have to be an adventure for a different day!
TO BE CONTINUED...