Monthly Archives: December 2009

SOW Chapter4: Exploration of Fortress Ironfell – Interlude

Exploration of Fortress Ironfell

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Noe
Noe who?
No we don’t know where the spirit talker went.

As the Brigade finishes breaking camp, Noe looks puzzled and seems to be listening to voices that the other members of the Brigade cannot hear. He nods and makes some animal noises and then starts to head out of the room they were encamped in. James asks, “Noe, where are you going?”

Noe pauses and looks back shaking his head, “Fox Woman has told me that I must look at something. I’m not sure I should trust her, but I know I must. I will be right back. If I am not back in a few minutes, then I shouldn’t have trusted her and you should come rescue me as we have friend Bingus.”

James starts to move toward Noe, “But if there is danger then we should accompany you.”

Noe smiles, “No, no, it is not danger that I worry about. Fox Woman give out secrets that are sometimes best left hidden, she is a bit of a trickster. No one fully trusts her, but she is one of the Great Elders and so I know that she does not mean to put me in unnecessary danger. I appreciate the offer, but the way she phrased the request I think that if more than I go then the secret might not be revealed. Give me a few moments and then follow if you are concerned.”

Bhenedict speaks, “Noe, this is nonsense. If you are going somewhere we will come with you.”

Noe nods, “I undersand your concern. Perhaps it would be better to consider that I am answering the call of nature as it were. Give me a few moments of privacy for that.”

James and Bhenedict look at each other, “Very well, but if you are gone for more that one minute we are coming to find you.”

Noe replies, “Very reasonable,” he speaks something to his spirit which has the shape of a panther again. The ghostly cat moves over to Bingus and curls into a ball next to him, “be right back.”

As soon as he has left the room Bhenedict nods to Bairdyn and points to the door. Bairdyn hurries to the door and with the utmost stealth leaves the room to follow Noe.

Moments later however, he returns alone and crestfallen.

Bhenedict growls, “What happened? Where is that fool.”

Bairdyn shrugs, “I was following him as he headed back to area where we fought the dryad. But when I looked into that room he was no where to be seen. I searched and search but could not find Noe. I did however find a lute that was sitting on the throne that I know wasn’t there when last we looked.” So saying he showed the lute to the group.

Bingus concentrated on it and after a moment pronounced, “It isn’t magical.”

As they are speaking James notices that there is a yellow feather stuck to Bairdyn’s boot. Then stepping out into the overlook James spies another yellow feather and looking down the hall he sees a second followed by a third. Excited he calls out to the party. “To me, quick!” and once again in a rush the Brigade follows the scattering trail of feathers.

Rushing down the passages, James runs full into a man coming up the stairs as he rounds the corner to head down the stairs. The two of them fall to the ground but quickly gain their feet and draw their weapons and lower them at each other. Almost instantly the newcomer lowers his hand crossbow and and stops drawing the short sword he had been reaching for. With a smile he says something to the group that clearly does not understand.

Quill the Lion

James warily calls back to the others, “I do not understand this man but I recognized the language as Supernal.” Bingus nods as he also recognizes the language.

The man looks confused for just a moment and then starts again in Common, “I said, ‘Greetings to you, Brindol Brigade!’ I have come to assist you on your grand adventure. There are forces at work here that need the hand of a scribe and so Quill the Lion has come to your service.” As he held out his hand they noticed that he had a birthmark on his right wrist that looked vaguely like a lion.

James feels a glimmer of familiarity as the man speaks, “How is it that you know of us and that you find yourself here in this deserted ruin far from any civilization?”

Quill continues, “Why, Noe told me of your recent adventures though I have heard stories circulating in the taverns in the towns and villages near and far that tell of your great deeds. As to how I got here I arrived on my mount and only just a few minutes ago left it in the stables. I was about to come meet you when I saw this trail of feathers and started to follow it.”

Bhenedict hung his head, “‘Noe told you of us’? Ah, that would explain things.” He looked at the others and made a circle with his finger at this temple. “And where did Noe go after he told you of our adventures?”

Bingus suddenly looked behind him and noticed that Noe’s spirit companion was missing.

“He was going out into the storm with a woman. I told him that the storm was too severe to travel in but he indicated that the woman would guide him.”

Eoffram offered, “A fox woman no doubt.”

Quill replied, “No, by no means, she was quite older. Noe kept refering to her as Grandmother.”

Bhenedict grumbled, “Of course he did.”

Quill asked, “Do you doubt my words?”

Bingus explained, “Friend or not, we are convinced that you are really another personality of our friend, Jereon. You and Noe are the same person under some kind of magical multiple personality disorder.”

Quill laughted long and hard, “I can assure you that I am not Noe and have never been. I am my own man and do not suffer from any miagical disorders. But given when Noe told me I can see why you would jump to that conclusion. Trust me, I am not Noe, nor Iroon, nor Jeroen, nor Asa, nor Aenied, nor am I Mathias.”

Warily the Brigade decided to accept the company of Quill still unconvinced thinking that perhaps this was still another personality in their friend, Jereon. As they continued to follow the feathers back the way Quill had come Eoffram scowled and asked, “So ‘Quill’ is it, what is it that you are good at other than running into people as they round corners?”

Quill winked and with a knowing bounce of his head, “Ha, pretty much anything. I’m a bit of a renaissance man. But for the most part I hang around the back and control the battlefield with my crossbow. Should any creatures approach more closely I’ll deal with them more eviserally.”

Bingus asked of everyone, “What is that smell?”

It was subtle so the others had not noticed it at first but when Bingus pointed it out they too smelled it. Bairdyn offered, “Some kind of fruit maybe or…no…oak?”

Bhenedict thought for a moment, “No, I’ve smelled this before.” He sniffed the air and as he did so moved closer to Quill where the smell was stronger. “This is some kind of wine smell if I’m not mistaken.”

Quill smiled again, “Ah, yes, quite a good year don’t you agree. I hope you liked it.” And so saying he continued on following the feathers.

The feathers lead the Brigade through the fortress past the guard’s post to the stairs that lead to the lower level, and then from the first level to the lower level leading back to the dungeon cells; the trail finally ending in the cell that had held the Birdman. There on the formerly solid floor they find a perfectly round hole. At the hole’s top there is a smooth-walled shaft that leads straight down into darkness but just below the floor, a battered platform can be seen. The platform seemingly connected to an aged pulley system set to raise and lower the wooden platform. The round platform has a width, head and shoulders wider than a tall man and upon its surface it is emblazoned with the fading crest of Clan Ironfell.

 

 

SOW Chapter4: Exploration of Fortress Ironfell

Jimmy becomes James
Old man with canaries found
Defeated foul things

James the CleavengerEntering the Ironfell Outpost Jimmy feels an entirely unexpected and at the same time calming and overwhelming sense of focus and purpose filling him completely. Unsure of its source he looks about the ancient dwarven outpost’s interior seeking outward for the source of his confidence but seeing nothing but filthy, stinking halls and dark shadows of the outpost. The halls putrid with discarding waste, old gnawed bones lying in corners amidst rotting feces bring him pause as he perplexes over his unsought calmness. Tthen in an instant, revelation comes to Jimmy with swelling power and understanding as the living spirit of Magnus overcomes himMagnus, the Lord of Mendelland, thought dead to his followers these past 10 years, but here alive in bosom of Ironfell’s outpost–an awaking takes place within Jimmythe stirring of Magnus’s protecting spirit, and also to him a spirit of vengeance, vengeance against evil in dark times such as these. Focused and certain James the Cleavenger is reborn and at once, finally certain of his path and his future. He knows full-well that he is on the correct path … the path his life has always led to as inescapably as night follows day and the arising of the new day.  

Having defeated the troglodytes, the Brigade conducts a quick searching noting nothing but unwholesome piles of refuse, including a piles of bone, (likely those of villagers) chewed and split, sucked clean of marrow gathered in corners adding to the incredible stench of the gatehouse, a stench somehow even worse on the second floor than it had been on the first. Choosing to move before the imminent, certain retching set-in the Brigade moves through a door to the west and follows a long narrow hallway to the north until they find their way blocked by a portcullis, locked in a down-set position. At the right of the blocking bars James peers through an arrow slit set in the right wall overlooking a courtyard. It being a vast chamber with an arched ceiling supported by massive carved columns–the sun clearly shining through a portion of the ceiling which had collapsed, covering the floor below with a vast pile of wind-blown sand, even as Bhenedict and Bairdyn work on the portcullis and James idly watches he notes three sets of doors exiting the chamber, west, north, and east while the southern entry is open, clearly marking this as the main chamber beyond the entryway in the gatehouse to the fortification–then suddenly a large shadow, the shadow of a massive bird briefly races across the courtyard, quickly followed by a second shadow. James shouts, “The harpies, those the satyr spoke of, in the sky above!”

With a low grunt and a shout Bhenedict’s muscles ripple as he yanks and lifts the heavy gate high enough for Bairdyn to quickly set a spike in the track of the gate to blocks it’s fall long enough for him to find the controls to lift the gate mechanically. Searching frantically he thankfully finds them without hazard through the north door to the hall and around the corner. While Bairdyn hurries himself with the controls Eoffram and Bingus take positions at two more arrow slits set on the east wall beyond the portcullis. Worrying over the circling shadows Noe calms his self stepping in front of James and summons his companion spirit, the white panther, into the large courtyard. The panther, regal, beautiful but lacking true physical form floats easily in the open air of the chamber, looking real enough to tempt the two circling harpies into a quick attack. harpies

Diving through the open hole in the ceiling suddenly those within the arrow slits can see the hideous repellent harpies who arrive with dire announcements of coming woe. The monstrous females have broad wings, and a human neck and face. Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw their lamentations as they attack the panther uselessly. Realizing their error they turn to flee too slowly as a cacophony of attacks are unleashed by the Brigade through the arrow slits dropping one the harpies through a combination of magic and material weapons before it could escape through the hole in the ceiling.

James witnessing the fall of the harpy’s body upon the sand piled beneath the egress spies something hidden moving under the sand when suddenly the fallen harpy is dragged soundlessly into the pile leaving not but a few oily feathers to mark it’s passing. And speaking aloud says, “I think we would do well to avoid this chamber.”

Moving onward through the door used by Bairdyn and turning right the party finds a wider hall, a northern overlook, again there are arrow slits, apertures open to the same courtyard but this hall is clean and 20’ steps wide … free of the stench and squalor previously witnessed and on the north wall there are three doors, previous quarters by their appearance, likely for the mine-thane and the head of the guard, the third door being a private latrine. Beyond this hall and turning again to the south they find the mirror image of the western hall, this one set of the eastern side of the fortification. Again here they find their path blocked by a portcullis, but this time they find themselves on the right side of the portcullis to access the controls. Not wanting to return to the gate works they ignore this hall opting to checkout a door off the wider hall leading further east this door stands out different than the opposite end of the hall that had no door. Moving beyond the door they find yet another portcullis blocking a second southbound hall, accessing the controls they just passed they lift the gate opening the way and move 60 more paces before reaching a locked set of double doors. Beating on the door they listen, hearing nothing at first, but soon after answered by cacophony movement and noise behind the locked door. Unable to open the door, the Brigade decide to tear it down.

beastmen

First feeling more than hearing the beating, a soul, sodden upon abuse … his mind twisted, shattered, a man formerly a villager in Dunesend, not truly, not quite a man, raises an alarm pounding his fist in unison to the thrashing he feels above.

shifterMoving up quickly the stairs the man and his fellows, all twisted reflections of what they once were, climb without thought other than a violent need to end the pounding; a pair of long-toothed, shifter hunters leading their way. The shifters, the group leaders make haste to gather their mobs attention at one leaping ahead while the other sees to the defenses on the lower level.

Not trusting his muddled crew of simpletons, the shifter orders the man-things to pile debris in front of the door … a simple task, before he moves back down the stair to guard the lower level with the other shifter; fully expecting any intruders diligent enough to fight past the troglodytes to move through the wasted villagers quickly. Carefully he pauses on the landing of the wide stair which leads to the lower dungeons triggering a guardian, a construct set at the statue of the dwarf.

As the shifter expects it is not long before the sounds of battle are heard from above, followed by heavy footfalls upon the stairs, and then the sure sounds of metal scraping stone as the construct, the iron serpent attacks.

Halfway down the stairs Bhenedict spots a rusty metal statue depicting a dwarven miner, with an upraised pickaxe in one hand and a smith’s hammer in the other. Around the statues waist, a gleaming belt of iron.

snakeheadMoving in for a closer look Bhenedict watches as the belt seemly moves of its own accord dropping to the ground, unwinding, revealing itself to be an iron cobra somehow animated by fell magic beyond his understanding and then, before he can react, his mind is fixed somehow held rapt by the serpent’s gaze, Bhenedict stands helpless as the metal serpent attacks.

Seeing his friend in trouble Bingus lifts his orb for focus and summons a cyclone of winds that lifts the snake high into the air preventing further attacks upon his friend Bhenedict. The snake strikes but held high by the wind, its attacks are useless and the balance of the Brigand moves forward to attack even as the two shifters counter attack from below rising past the final section of the stairs. Without the help of the serpent the half-beasts find out quickly that they are no match for the embattled Brigade, but held in place by Bhenedict’s skill at arms, he now recovered from the snake’s assault, the shifters cannot escape Noe, Bairdyn and James who together make short work of them while Eoffram destroys the animated snake as that is still held aloft by Bingus’s spell. Having successfully cleared the path; the Brigade moves onward into the lower level of the fortress.

mine map

Descending down the last flight of stairs the air grows stale. Stale, dead air hanging like the cobwebs filled only by decades of dust and the corpses of their makers. In great contrast an indistinct sound, a bright, cheerful tweeting of whistles and chirps sounds from somewhere deep within this dank hall, maybe beyond the door at the west end. Turning left at the base of the stairs the party cautiously approaches the door, fearful of an arrow slit set to the left side of the door. Reaching the door without incident Bhenedict opens the door and the soft song of the bird’s increases slightly in volume, but it is still far off…definitely closer and clearer but then fading again. Beyond the door, a new chamber, a narrow hall with four more doors, two on the north wall, and one on each the west and south wall stands before the Brigade. As the party spreads out to check these new doors Bairdyn announces that he hears chirping beyond the southern door while at the northern doors Bhenedict and James find only large abandoned storerooms filled only with fine layer moldy debris, the deteriorated remains of times now long past. Deciding to follow the chorus of bird sounds the Brigade turns again to the southern door, opening the door cautiously the sound of the chirping all but disappears as the door opens to reveal a larger chamber unadorned, empty but clearly set-up as a guard’s chamber with another door on the far side of the room. Approaching the door the whistling returns this time with renewed vigor, but this door has a bar set on the party’s side of the door and the door has a small barred window. Peeking through the window reveals that they have located the keep’s dungeon in the room past this door.

old man with canaries

Hoping they might yet find survivors from Dunesend. Bhenedict quickly unbars the door opening it to the larger chamber beyond. It is clearly an ancient dungeon, with four small cells, two on both the west and east walls, the cells set in the center of the chamber…each cell set with solid walls except for the front of the cells, each of which has a locked portcullis styled gate; all locked in a downward position. The control of these cells, winches and pulleys, are set on the outer walls of the cells well beyond the reach of any captives. Bhenedict finds all but one of the cells to be empty, the last cell, the one furthest from the entry door, on the eastern wall of the chamber holds an aged man who sits on his stone cot surrounded by the a small flock of bright, chirping canaries…seven birds in all, the man’s face lined by years of sun and worry. He sports a snow-white beard which matches his receding hair and he wears the simple garb of a desert peasant. The old man seems in fair health, at least physically but he also seems distant and unaware, paying the Brigade no heed as he whistles and chirps at his tiny charges within the cell.

“Elder, by what name might we call you?” asks Bairdyn.

In answer the man only nods and smiles. This goes on for a moment or two until James offers the man some water; the old man reaches out cupping his hands to accept the water when Bhenedict raises the gate releasing the man from the cell. As he steps out the old man holds his hands in front of him as the small birds land on the man’s hands and arms taking turns drinking the water within his cupped hands.

“How was it that you were brought here?” asks James.

Again in response the man smiles and nods in his distracted, unfocused way, his mind apparently shattered by whatever turmoil had landed him here.

Without a thought to why, true concern for the man overcomes Bingus as he realizes that perhaps he has a way of communicating with the Birdman. Maybe the elder’s plight reminds Bingus of his own recent tribulations or it is just the goodness of the gnome’s his heart, regardless of why he instinctually knows the man needs his help. Bingus suddenly sits down at the entrance to the crypts fumbling through his pouches.

Pausing James turns and asks “What are you doing Bingus…you’re not pulling a Jerion are you?”

“No,…” answers Bingus “It is just that I have an idea that might be just the thing we need now. With a ritual I can enchant one of these birds and then use them to deliver a message to anyone I describe. I’ll describe the old man as he seems to understand them.”

“What makes you think that will help us here? He seems rather helpless,” quizzes James.

“Of course, don’t you see that we were meant to save and rescue him…that is what Brindol’s Brigade is, what we are…heroes.”

“I suppose you’re right but can you really do it?” asks James.

“You rescued me didn’t you? And at the very least I can let him know that we are here to help and that we can be trusted.”

Looking through the pouches once more Bingus adds, “I have everything I need if we can just get me close enough to one of the canaries while I do the ritual.” And, choosing one of the canaries he makes an attempt to communicate with the old man though none could tell if it had any real effect as the old man’s actions didn’t change appreciably. He nodded as the canary twittered at him and smiled afterward but otherwise made no noticible improvement.

Not wanting to waste time or risk any surprises, Eoffram points out, “There is yet another door on the west end of the hall, mayhap we should check it out before we are discovered.”

Agreeing the Brigade retraces their steps ending at the west door, Bhenedict taking the lead. When he sees the markings on the door he announces, “This is the passage to the Ironfell crypts…the final resting place of their dead. We would be ill-advised to disturb them and I for one will not allow it.”

Examining the door Bairdyn says, “I’m afraid we wouldn’t be the first, look to the scratches here on the floor and wall, these are new.”

Looking again Bhenedict looks closely before he nods in agreement and adds, “You are right my friend, then its decided…we better take a look-see for ourselves just make sure everything is still proper within.”

Cautiously Bhenedict opens the door. Noting the darkness within Noe lights the way with a torch while James keeps an eye on the old man who without comment allows himself to be led about by the Clevenger.

Duplicating Demon 1Moving down the long hall of the crypt chamber, Bhenedict ignores the smell of old dead, marching until eventually the hall turns back on itself. Beyond the turn Bhenedict finds the walls to be lined on both sides with heavy metal doors etched with glowing Dwarven runes detailing the names of the interred. When suddenly with a booming crash one of the doors, the fourth on the right side, slams open so hard the metal nearly yields to the force of the thrust, screeching its distress as it smashes into the adjoin crypt. At once there is a sound of heavy breathing in the air, along with an acidy sulfuric smell and a glowing blood mist light from the now open crypt.  Bhenedict’s stout body fills the narrow passage in this section of the crypt and in an ill-advised rush other members of the Brigade press hard at Bhenedict’s back as he stills himself for whatever may follow. Then in a rush a demonic-looking creature leaps from the crypt.

Duplicating Demon Splitting

The monster smells of rotted flesh. Charging it widens filling the full breadth of the hall; eventually emerging as two complete creatures hell-bent on Bhenedict destruction.

They speak in low growls one to the other

“Tell me exact what I’m supposed to do.”

“Does he realize he’s in danger?”

 “Another victim dies tonight!”

“I hope he weeps sweetly.”

“I have to have a taste!”

Duplicating Demon SplitBhenedict swings at the creatures with his heavy hammer missing his mark as they rip in to him leaving bloody welts. Forcing his way through James answers the creatures’ attacks until it subdivides again flanking James and hurling Bairdyn in an all out melee as a third and fourth version of the monster joins the battle. Mustering himself, James draws his new found strength and fury as he directs a devastating attack at the first creature but as his blow strikes home he finds he has somehow skewered Bhenedict on the end of his long spear instead of the monster…Bhenedict now looking near death yells in sudden confused pain. Seeing his danger, James rushes to heal his friend, never seeing a second version of his friend now somehow now behind him; this new Bhenedict claws at James leaving wet red streaks, the second Bhenedict re-manifesting taking on the pallor and form of the monster.

Coming to his feet in an agile roll Bairdyn takes advantage stabbing at the back of this reformed killer only to find his dagger now buried in the side of James who has somehow taken the creature’s place. The monster now twice removed from the Brigade’s attacks reorients drawing near to one of the surrogates and absorbs the duplicate into itself obviously healing in the process while yet another duplicate this one at the back of the party explodes horrendously in painful, mind-numbing blast that catches Bingus, Eoffram and Bairdyn. Dazed they stagger. Yet even as the others reel, now healed, Bhenedict takes advantage of the distracted monster grabbing it and knocking it back into the crypt from whence it came and then in a mad rush thrusting it hard up against the back of the cold stone back wall of the cell, pinning it there with his shield while striking at it with his hammer barely even noticing the half eaten, dismembered bodies of the dwarven dead upon the floor which he stands…a grotesque tribute to the gluttony of the monster he has pinned.

Outside of the crypt the Brigade rallies, James and Noe flank the remaining monster destroying it with their combined attacks and when it falls it is clear that the death of the proxy adds to the pinned monster’s pain as it howls. Turning Noe and James rush to Bhenedict’s aid and together the three of them finally dispatch the original monster.

Shocked and stunned at having been nearly defeated the Brigade gathers catching their breath. Looking about James is quick to note that the old man has gone missing and he brings this fact to the party’s attention but too worn for any quick pursuit he and Noe see to the care and binding of the others’ wounds; while the pair care to the others, Bairdyn asks Bhenedict a question, “Seeing that these unfortunate dead have already been about as disturbed as they are gonna be,  do you think there would be any harm at me taking a look in some of these already desecrated crypts?”

Amidst the carnage in the bowels of the crypt Bairdyn makes a find, shining dwarven gauntlets, the work of a dwarven master craftsman, given the ruin of their surroundings these stand out as obviously special. With care Bairdyn recovers first one then the other from the pile of gear discarded from the corpses the monster had feasted upon. Having recovered the gauntlets he delivers them to Bhenedict.

“Oh, these are special, Gauntlets of the Ram, I believe … built for pushing even the largest of foes. Well, I don’t suspect their owner would mind if I put them to use. It’s not like I could return them to him now.”

Calling out James says, “I found some feathers floating out in the hall past the door with the arrow slit … the Birdman must have gone that way. We should go find him.”

In agreement the Brigade starts to retrace the path left by the drifting canary feathers. The trail leads back up the stairs and higher yet up the narrow stair in the guard’s chambers of the first and second levels of the fortress and beyond into the halls, but the group hesitates hearing a loud, constant howl varied in pitch and level … a sound radiating from the outer hall. Moving forward at a slowed pace they find the outer hall cloaked in shadow, dust and sand fairies dancing in mad streaks, a crazed reaction to desert winds, the source of the howling. Moving into the northern overlook they peer through arrow slits into the courtyard to witness that a storm of sorts is brewing blocking off the descending sun from the hole in the ceiling filling the courtyard with deep shadows. Passing through the overlook Bhenedict comes to the unexplored passage which leads north from the overlook. Spotting more feathers there Bhenedict says, “It looks like he went this way.”

“We should follow him.” replies James “… but we’ve not traveled here before and there are stairs leading back down to the ground level and remember we still don’t know what became of that blue wyrm, the behir. I will be right behind you.”

Moving down the hall it turns to the right before descending down a south facing stair. The sound of a woman’s voice is briefly heard rising from the base of the stair. Preparing themselves for the possibility of battle the party moves down the stairway amid a heavy scent of decay which lays sharp in the air as the stairs reach a chamber dimly lit by the dancing light of lanterns set high on pillars. Strange sussur trees erupt through the flagstone floor of the large chamber. Rare strange ‘deep-root’ trees of the underdark a type completely unknown to the Brigade. The trees grow to the full height of the chamber, 40 feet and more, with branches long and gnarled, and with banyan-like aerial roots. Few leaves grow on the sussur and at their base their gnarled roots ripping into the stonework of the floor. In front of the stair at the side of one of these trees a strangely dressed man spots Bhenedict and sounds an alarm.

Immediately others combatants rush forward to battle amidst an beast-man with jackelsapproaching wave of snares and shouts. Among them more strangely dressed villagers, and a bestial bear-like man, larger than any of the previously seen shifters armed with a huge axe. Also in the mix, a pair of horrid appearing hyena things, half-dead by appearance, perhaps gifts of the Ghostlord.

Rushing towards the fray, Bhenedict is astonished when he is abruptly encased in a sharp brier, trapped within its network of thorny vines, vines that burst from the ground without warning to bite into his flesh setting forth fresh streams, ribbons of dwarven blood at the end of their three inch long barbs; the vines lock him in place. The powerfully built man charges the trapped dwarf, his eyes black shadows beneath his ornate helm, spear leveled pointing at the dwarf’s heart but as he runs at Bhenedict a cloud of magically summoned daggers appears in his path, courtesy of Bingus. Heedless, the crazed man dies as he runs full speed into the deadly cloud; then leaping in front of the cloud, the beast-man attacks blocking further access to the chamber; holding the Brigade at bay with an arcing sweep of his great axe. The blade slices deep into the first rank of the Brigade injuring both James and Noe. Noe answers calling out to his spirit panther which suddenly appears behind the man-beast clawing at the hulk’s back. His attention drawn to the spirit, the shifter turns long enough for James to stab out from the second rank using the full reach of his long spear to skewer the shifter like a pig on a spit and the monstrous man collapses to the floor.

The fall of the shifter provides an opportunity to Bairdyn to take initiative working his way deeper into the chamber. Looking past the strange trees with their awful gnarled roots he sees a dais set in an alcove on the same wall as the stairs but centered within the chamber. There in the alcove a beautiful eladrin maiden sits upon an ornate throne. Seeing Bairdyn a scowl crosses the lady’s face twisting her beautiful features in evil fashion as she orders the rest of her followers to attack, a cadre of humans dressed as if they had come from some frightful masquerade with the flanking hyenas. Quickly the group moves to defend their Queen by surrounding the halfling but acting quickly Bairdyn flings his dagger at the maiden in a smooth, practiced motion before his attackers can close their noose about him but as the dagger flies the maiden vanishes in a shower of thorns reappearing behind the tree which stands in front of entrance from the stairs.

dryadStaring into the now empty alcove, his dagger cleanly piercing the back of the throne, Bairdyn sees a sparkle of gold and gems at the throne’s base. In a rush it comes to Bairdyn that the maiden must be the Queen of the Wastes; even as Bairdyn struggles to remember her name, the name given by the satyr … Shephatiah, the men and hyenas surround him at all sides.

Realizing Bairdyn’s plight, Noe races to aid his friend calling out to Eoffram who creates a shaft of light, a dire radiance formed of cold starlight, lancing down from the ceiling above, bathing the Queen in excruciating light that discourages any advance with its deadly intensifying light and then at the same time turns his attention to Bairdyn, concentrating to create a freezing black shadow, icy darkness drawn from the depths of deepest night. The darkness encompasses one of the hyenas hemming in Bairdyn; its clinging shadows blinding the hyena and providing a quick escape route for Bairdyn. Making his break, Bairdyn takes full advantage of the inky darkness stabbing the defenseless hyena in passing killing the beast before it can escape the darkness.

From behind the tree, the radiance of Eoffram’s spell blinds the Queen making it difficult for her to clearly see the party and revealing the Queen of the Wastes in her full glory, her true form, that of a menacing dryad; the brier witch that in her hatred had starved and enslaved the people of Dunesend for purposes only known to her. Staring fitfully into the light at the scattered members of the Brigade through slanted white pupiless eyes, eyes filled with only with hateful spite. Behind her the brainwashed villagers die fighting for her, their minds addled by the time they’ve spent with her. Gleefully she torments Bhenedict causing the thorny vines to tighten their hold feeding off the dwarf’s pain.

Distracted by the light and her feasting, the Queen never sees James as he leaps from behind Bhenedict and the thorns, spearing the Queen through where she stands, at a downcast angle pinning her to the stone floor. She falls awkwardly bent but still suspended by the spear. As she dies so do her men as Bairdyn and Noe wade through them weaving a bloody path through the followers; finding the men beyond salvation having been totally corrupted by her will, only the last hyena fleeing into the deeper chambers beyond.

As the Brigade begins to take measure of the room, Bairdyn is quick to point out the gold and gems he spotted behind the Queen’s throne. With the death of the Queen the last vestiges of thorns finally falls away from Bhenedict and in the still pungent air of the chamber the hunt for the old man continues but there are no clues immediately evident. The Queen’s chambers include four other rooms, each holding additional trees and little else. There is also one additional body found, this one in front of the throne, another unfortunate victim from the village. The man‘s heart had been ripped from his chest as if in some abhorrent ritual sacrifice but there is no sign of the heart. The south wall of the main chamber has two single doors, one on either end, and a single set of double doors in the center of the south wall. Marking his position within the fortress Bhenedict declares, “These center doors that will lead to the gatehouse by way of that courtyard we mean to avoid.”

Examining the side chambers finds more arrow slits guarding a center hall and in the hall, finally, a telltale sign … feathers dancing in the hot drafts caused by the storm outside.

In no shape to face whatever horror might still be lurking within the pile of sand in the courtyard, rebuked by the storm the Brigade turns back retracing their steps heading back up the stairs. Reaching the upper level they move quickly through the upper halls making their way back to the gatehouse before descending to the first floor of the fortress. Passing through the smelly troglodyte’s quarters once again sound caused by the howling winds increases until they arrive at the opened main doors to the complex where they fine the path they had traveled around the bluff is gone, swallowed by the raging sandstorm. The swirling sands masking the sky, turning day to night and making it impossible to tell how long the storm might last. However, on the sand-strewn floor past the portcullis, Bingus notices a telling trail of yellow feathers matched with tracks laid down by bare feet making it clear that the Birdman had left the fortress, setting out into the deadly sandstorm.

For a moment the Brigade even braves the storm calling out uselessly in the face of the oppressive sands but within minutes they are forced to retreat back to the shelter of the empty fortress realizing that at least for now there was no way to follow the Birdman. Even if the storm broke the night would be soon so any hope of picking up the trail to the mines would have to wait for morning.

“Aye, we should make camp within the fortress until morning,” declares Bhenedict.

“We cannot stay in the gatehouse, it is most foul,” insists Eoffram.

“It might be best to stay on the upper floor, away from the thing in the sands and the hyena,” offers Noe. He turns and speaks to the air in a bark reminicent of the hyeana’s sound. He adds, “The hyeanas say that their brother who survived will not likely attack us by himself.”

“The cleanest area has been the courtyard overlook … where the latrine and private bed chambers were. They were large enough to accommodate all of us and with one door they are defensible,” adds James.

“Agreed, we will stay there but we will still need to set a watch. We are all in need of rest. Bingus, Eoffram and I can all see in the dark so we should each be paired with one of you. James your rest should be not be interrupted so you take first watch with Bingus, Bairdyn and I will take the second watch, leaving the third watch for Eoffram and Noe.”

The matter of the watch decided the Brigade makes their way back upstairs to the center-most chamber within the overlook eating a quick unappetizing meal of trail rations washed down with weak tea.

As the watch begins quietly James thinks back just a few short months ago to a time when his troubled life was still simple. After his family had died he had lived on the generosity of the people of Brindol. His shelter provided by a small hovel at the Shrine of Bahamut. How fitting that he should be defending them now … then suddenly, his reverie is shattered by a frantic chirping.

Looking about the Birdman’s canaries are nowhere to be seen, yet their shrill warning still somehow echoing from the stonewall. Turning James notes that Bingus appears oblivious to the ruckus and calls out to his watch partner shouting at him to wake the others. Then cracking open the door, James peers into the corridor beyond spotting movement at the arrow slits along the south wall of the overlook as three gray-skinned creatures with long, spindly arms are somehow squeezing through the narrow gaps.

Flashing back to the Nexus where the Brigade had fought one of these cavern chokers before, James has a fair idea how dangerous these things could be. Steeling himself he sets his spear with his heel guarding the only access to the room in time to catching one of the attackers on the tip of his spear but as second unseen attacker, this one clinging to the outer wall, above the door like a spider reaches in, its arm stretching grotesquely to match the length of the Clevenger’s spear. The choker grabs James easily lifting him off the floor and then, while still clinging to the wall the creature climbs through the top of the doorway entering the Brigade’s chamber, still carrying James but never allowing him to touch the floor. With a quick flick of his wrist Bairdyn flings his dagger at the invader but with a lightning fast reflexes the thing shields the attack using James and the daggers bites deep into the Clevenger’s leg.

cavern chokerBhenedict quickly fills the doorway gap preventing further egress into the room by the, would-be, ambushers. As he does so Eoffram makes short work of the Clevenger’s attacker slaying the choker with another blast of frigid darkness. Noe again summoning his panther adds to the chaos and another dagger cloud courtesy of Bingus together they bring swift death to the ambushing chokers. Quickly the battle turns the way of the Brigade and then from the overlook hall a poison spray blasts Benedict. Looking to the sprays source, he spots a hulking troglodyte with a skull mask showering him with a poison spraying staff. Bhenedict charges, thrusting with his shield catching the troglodyte curse chanter below its chin with the edge of his shield so hard he lifts the monster off the ground with the ferocity of the blow. At once the dwarf realizes that his attack was magically aided by the power of the gauntlets he now wore. Taking full advantage of the troglodyte’s fall, he lifts his hammer high bringing it down with thundering force upon the troglodyte’s head smashing the mask and the head beneath it to pieces ending the battle as suddenly as it had begun.

In the aftermath the party conducts searches, James looking for sign of the canaries or the Birdman but finding nothing, says nothing of the matter. While upon the troglodyte Bhenedict finds a signet ring, the ring of the Ironfell clan. Handing the ring to Eoffram, Bhenedict asks him to examine whether or not it might contain magic and after a quick review Eoffram declares that the ring does have a magical aura such that it likely allows for quick passage throughout the fortress. Thinking that sounds right to him Bhenedict declares that the party should return to its rest and preparing to take his turn at watch with Bairdyn.

When morning arrives … or whatever time it is as the Brigade finally rested rise from their slumber, they find that the storm has not abated rather seems to have magnified. They are breaking camp when Noe has to answer the call of nature.