By sundown the slayers found themselves half-way up the south-western-most slope of Hirok below Ekit’s Watch on their way to see the wizard. It was dark and the group was passing into a dense clump of scrub when Vorwulf detected something moving in the bush. He spotted some human shapes prowling around the bushes one of which had its bow drawn on him. He knocked an arrow and a voice rang out with Bers’ name. The slayers had run into the Hill-Landers (see The Dragonslayers Pt. 10 & 14) Han the half-faun ranger/archer, Skran the half-faun/half-Hill-Giant and Baalkra the satyr. They were wearing plate armor painted a dull, dirty black. They explained that they had been spying and were on the wrong side of the battle lines to the south amongst the Black Soldiery on the side of the lich of Black Brow whose forces were currently sieging the city of Achoran on the south bank of the Nirix River in the south. They had left in disgust but had got all the info that they needed and were thusly returning home to report when they ran into the dragon-slayers. They asked after Dead-Eye and were sorry to hear of his death and Bers introduced them to Vorwulf his pupil. Vorwulf wasted no time in grilling them.
The group was told that the Hill-Landers had found that a large part of the lich’s army was composed of the Black Soldiery, a gaggle of thugs, criminals and sell-swords who wear black painted armor identical to that they were wearing. They also had seen that the Blackbrow forces had undead dragons on their side with a draeco-zombie and a “dragon-skelly” on the south-side of the river. They have heard a rumor of another more powerful undead dragon but also heard it was sieging a fortress somewhere in the Cleft-Rills region farther to the east. The command structure of the “black army” is 3 disciples, young necromancers, at the head of the siege forces with 3 units of zombie warriors and “skellys” led by a Death Knight serving as general followed by 3 fighter liches serving as captains and 3 vampire warriors as lieutenants. The shields of the undead soldiers bear the standards of a rampant rooster against a purple field, a green snake biting its tail on a brown field, a red hawk on a light blue field and a sword through a coin on a blue field. These corpse-fighters fall dead every dawn and rise at dusk. The black soldiery number in around 100 fighters and are well-paid they have a similar straight forward military hierarchy with a general, 2 captains, 2 lieutenants under each captain and 2 sergeants under each lieutenant and all are well-paid. They also revel in the rapine, pillage, and murder that they engage in. On the battlefield their dead are raised as zombies along with any other war-dead raised by the disciples. Vorwulf lets them know that they no longer have to worry about 1 of the disciples anymore. They pass on a couple of passwords used by the Black Soldiery but were not sure if they were still good or not. They left shortly after Bers asked about Sir Chinsalis. It had been some months since they had last seen him just before departing for their spy mission several months ago. As far as they knew he was currently tied up in a crusade against the druids of Strignor back in Chago far to the west.
After the Hill-Lander spies had left Vorwulf found a campsite that was well-hidden amongst the brush which clumped against the hillside with Ekit’s Watch in clear view. The first two watches passed without incident but on the third, Vorwulf’s watch, he spied a pair of bat-like creatures which he deduced to be vampires flying towards the mage tower a leather sack in tow. With his spyglass in hand he watched them land on the battlements at the top of Ekit’s Watch. Come morning and after Vorwulf briefed the rest of them about the vampires the shaman decided to cover them all in war paint before moving out to the tower. A couple of hours later by mid-morning they found themselves gathered on the small platform and at the front door of the tower at the top of a 20 foot-tall flight of stone steps their steeds left at the bottom.
Grom (the shaman): “Open up wizard! We want to talk to you!” He shouted while banging his fist on the door, the others had volunteered him to be the spokesman for some reason.
Moezra (the mage of Ekit’s Watch): “What do ya want! I’m busy. GO AWAY!”
Grom: “We’re the dragon-slayers! We have come to trade wizard!”
Moezra: “Oh? You are huh? Just wait right there.”
They heard a loud mechanical click and the platform dropped out from beneath them and all but Vorwulf fell into the hole. The ranger/dragonslayer leapt away and acrobatically flipped back onto the steps avoiding a 20 ft drop to the ground. He looked up at the tower and spotted something small and winged watching from a window on the third floor. The others slid down a glass-smooth chute which shot them into a pitch black chamber each slamming into a floor of moist earth. They wasted no time in getting to their feet and lighting a lantern finding themselves trapped in an oubliette, a stone walled bottle-shaped room with a rusted trap-door sealing the top of the bottle-neck 20 ft up. They could see the opening to the chute from which they were dropped into this prison. Bers used her Cape of Bat-Flight to fly herself and Kyr back up the chute. Grom cast a spell on himself and growing wings followed. The rusted trap-door was held shut by a powerful spring mechanism and was impossible to just smash open for several reasons. They retreated back to the oubliette where Bers dropped Kyr and pulled out and slipped on her Gauntlet of Transmutation. She flew back to the iron trap door at the top of the chute but found it protected from the gauntlets power by magical wards which pulsed with energy when the gauntlet touched it. She flew back to the oubliette and in frustration she flew full speed into the wood door sealing the top of their cell smashing it to splinters.
Grom: “Into the tower it is then.”
Grom followed with Kyr in tow.
Meanwhile outside Vorwulf pulled the cowl of his Cloak of Invisibility over his head rendering him invisible to sight and slashed the air with his Silver Scimitar. The sword opened a dimensional door and he stepped through instantly emerging on the top battlements of Ekit’s Watch. When he landed on the south battlements he found that they were a level above the north battlements connected by two sets of stone-steps. Below him on the northern battlements he saw a trap door granting access to the interior of the tower and next to it in a pair of large iron cages 2 naked girls were cowering. Being the heroic type he immediately leapt to the floor below with the intent of approaching the cages but was nearly struck by a bolt of black energy which shot from a position very near the cages. He could see the shadow of a small winged creature from where the bolt had struck. He shot at the creature but missed due to it also being invisible. Suddenly with a raven-shriek the mage named Moezra shot up into the air from the trap-door. He was carried aloft by a pair of large black wings and Vorwulf could see that the mage had the head of a raven and talons in place of feet. The dragon-slayer shot him with an arrow wounding him then the mage struck back by calling forth lightning from the cloudless afternoon sky which Vor readily avoided. The dragon-slayer did an acrobatic tumble into the trap-door.
Gil (Grom’s Player): “Dude! You’re running away!?”
Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “Hell yes! That guy’ll kill me up there!”
Vorwulf found himself on the top of a stone staircase which wound down into the third floor chamber. The octagonal chamber was large taking up the entire level of the tower. It had a 12 ft. high ceiling and had narrow columns in sets of three in front of its huge floor to ceiling lead-pane windows at the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast walls of the chamber. The floor was tiled with marble and at the center of the floor was a 5ft high dais set with 4 gold 16-candle candelabras and an inactive magic circle inscribed deeply in its surface. Unlit torches sat in sconces in the east and west walls next to floor to ceiling length tapestries; one portraying a white dragon the other a purple one. A leather chest with no lock sat against the opposite wall from the adventurer and a pair of solid iron chests cast with lions’ feet and heads (the heads at one end) with no discernable locks sat against the west wall below the white-dragon tapestry.
Cris: “Man, I don’t like the looks of those chests.”
He ran down the steps and towards the passageway which opened in the floor to the southeast in front of one of the windows. He readied to leap into the opening which presumably led to the second level. A plate of solid steel manifested over it stopping him dead in his tracks. He turned but could see nothing but was still able to hear the rustling of feathers and the beating of Moezra’s black wings.
The battle lasted for 4 more rounds with Vorwulf and Moezra exchanging blasts of lightning and arrows, some of which were silver, most of which missed as both were invisible. The mage’s familiar the small invisible creature was slain in the beginning of the third round which suddenly appeared after the deathblow, an arrow to the chest, revealing itself to be a shadow-imp just before its corpse evaporated away into nothing. Moezra pulled out a magic dagger with a starmetal blade which darted about the room and fought on its own wounding Vorwulf significantly in the last round. At the end of the third round Vorwulf while near the iron plate over the stairs connecting this floor with next, made a successful Will save versus illusion revealing the plate to be an illusion. The mage blasted out a large window with a misplaced bolt of lightning and melted the entire staircase leading down into the chamber from the battlements when he lost control of one of his spells. The wild magic melted the stone into a large puddle of greyish goo. Moezra was killed at the beginning of the fourth round his corpse studded with 5 arrows. After the battle the room was in a shambles and its walls were studded with nearly a dozen arrows. The illusion sealing off the stairs dissipated.
Vorwulf, assuming the others were “stuck in a hole” at the base of the tower somewhere took the mage’s head with his silver scimitar and looted the feathery corpse without actually searching it. He snatched 3 rings (worth about 3 silver pieces each), the curved starmetal dagger which fell to the floor inert after the mage’s death rattle, a phenacite talisman with a starmetal inlay, an ivory wand with decorative runes, an elephant hide spellbook, and a red velvet bag with platinum embroidery portraying the silhouette of a flying raven. He found it to be a bag of holding stuffed with goodies some of which were 4 potions (all labeled), money & jewels, some lotus pollen & seeds and a rod which was made of infernal slag.
After he stowed the booty he used a magic ability on his scimitar sending a Prying Eye which emerged from the pommel stone down the stairs. The prying eye saw a shut and locked black iron door with a rune glowing white on its face at the foot of the steps with no other way to go. He then sent the eye outside and decided to rappel down using his ropes and climbing gear. After gearing up he slid down on the rope through the blasted-out window and successfully swung around to the entrance platform. There he found the front door unbarred and opened it cautiously. He was confronted with a gory sight.
As Vorwulf battled Moezra at the top of the tower the others found themselves in the entrance level after escaping the oubliette. The windowless chamber they found themselves in was dimly lit by a candelabrum at the far end by a set of steps which rose to the next floor. The high ceiling, well-above 10 ft. above their heads, disappeared into shadow. In the floor behind them at the south end of the chamber was the shattered trap-door they had broken through. Directly behind them recessed between a pair of thick round pillars was the assumed front door with a heavy wooden bar across it. The room appeared to be storeroom with another pit in the floor to the east and the curb of an open well-head to the west. Crates stood against the east wall and barrels against the west behind the well. The entire central section of the octagonal room was occupied by thick square pillars placed every 5 feet from the walls. All could see a hulking humanoid shape standing at the foot of the steps at the far side of the storeroom. They approached it aggressively until they got a clear view of it.
It was a powerfully built creature, at least 10 ft tall with a pair of twisted bull’s horns jutting from its ugly forehead and deep sunk yellow cat’s eyes. Its wide multi-fanged mouth appeared to be grinning though it was hard to tell as it lacked lips. Its feet were split hooves and a horse-like tail swished and twitched behind it. Its scabrous fingers curled into jagged yellow claws. They could easily see magical symbols and runes carved deep into its pale flesh, all wet and red but not bleeding.
Gil (Grom’s player): “Man, that’s gruesome!”
Isis (Kyr’s player): “Yeah it’s gross; let’s kill ‘em!”
Jen (Bers’ player): “Ugh! What is it? Is it attacking us?”
Cris (Vor’s player): “Probably a demon. Demons are weird things.”
They all were forced to make Courage saving throws versus Horror Factor and all 3 (Grom, Kyr and Bers) failed and suffered the effects of the Feast of Flesh spell. Small bits of flesh stripped off of their hides and were sucked into the monster even from under their armor. All three were significantly wounded by this. As the creature approached the shaman was able to negate the effects of the horror and the other two met the beast in the middle of the room. In the first round the shaman spent his time trying to cast the Mass Bull’s Strength spell but failed and Kyr activated the Shield ability on her helmet. Bers landed a power attack on the creature but her axe reflected harmlessly from its chest the ward inscribed their glowed brightly when struck. Kyr also landed two blows to Bers’ other two but each time their weapons were deflected by the runes which flashed with infernal light. The creature’s claws were meanwhile dealing significant damage and Bers could feel a sinister cold trying to take hold in her very bones.
Bers: “We’re not doing anything to it!”
Kyr: “Maybe we should hit it in the head!”
Bers: “Let’s just hit it harder!”
The demon took another power attack from Bers’ weapon, now the silver-bladed great sword that she had taken from the ruins at Black Brow (see the Dragonslayers pt. 6) after dropping her axe, the blow from which proved harmless. The creature returned her power attack with one of its own but she parried it easily and countered finding her weapon all but useless again. Kyr reactivated her helms Shield ability and the shaman while casting the Mass Bull’s Strength spell lost control and unleashed wild magic. The wild magic worked in their favors however, by doubling the effects of the spell granting them all a massive increase in raw physical strength.
Kyr: “Maybe I should use my Doom Sword! I need to use my Doom Sword; I think I’ll use my Doom Sword!”
The other 3 players in unison: “No!”
The players settled on a strategy of trying to push the monster into an oubliette or the well since they couldn’t seem to harm it. Bers tossed her sword to the ground and successfully pressed the creature towards the open mouth of the oubliette in the east part of the room but was disheartened when it moved in another direction on its turn. Kyr readied by the well-head for the creature to get near so she could try to force it into the well. The shaman successfully tripped the horned creature and it fell into the remaining barrels shattering them to bits and spattering their contents everywhere.
Grom the shaman: “Aw. That’s a waste of good ale!”
Lamp oil and fine ale splashed and flowed over the flagstone floor. After rising from the flags the creature picked up and tossed a barrel, which was full of syrup, at Bers whom dodged it. The barrel shattered leaving the west wall oozing with syrup. The third round was spent forcing the creature to the well where it simply wound up straddling the mouth with a hoof on both sides of the curb. Grom healed Bers as his first action since as Bers was badly hurt by this time and found himself forced to make 2 recovery checks in order to survive a pair of nasty and successful claw swipes. Their luck turned as at the beginning of the fourth round Bers successfully pressed the creature into the mouth of the oubliette from which they had escaped earlier after it unsuccessfully tried to push her back into the well as one of her items granted her the effects of the Might of the Mountain spell making her immovable by force. Granted the respite from battle Bers walked to the front door and after looking for traps and finding none she lifted the bar and set it aside. The shaman yelled his warning too late as a claw reached up from the open pit for the fighter’s ankles. Bers jumped back and the demon crawled from its hole.
The battle began anew. Bers failed her save versus horror and suffered more damage realizing that she was now badly injured. Grom attempted to press it back down into the pit and was successful but it used a simultaneous attack to grab him as it fell taking him with it back down into the pit. In the pit the shaman jumped to his feet from the damp earthen floor and tried to cast a spell in the pitch black of the pit and the creature broke his concentration disrupting his attempt to cast the spell with a successful claw strike. The creature climbed back out to confront Bers who had overcome her fear and attacked but got her sword slapped from her hand and after having just picked it back up! It clattered 15 ft away and she chased after it snatching it back up. Grom flew up from the hole after casting a fly spell on himself behind the monster but careful to fly to a safe height. The creature struck at him as he flew by. The sixth round commenced and all three adventurers were feeling the strain of battle. Bers struck at the beast’s head as she realized it had no runes carved into its face and was surprised that the blade finally sunk into its flesh and struck bone. Grom after pulling out his Mace of Supernatural Power flew struck the monster in the head for a second time splintering one of its horns. A black syrupy ichor leaked from the wounds and clung in heavy spidery strands to their weapons. Bers brought her sword down on the demon’s deformed skull as it tried to grab at the blade and the door opened flooding the chamber in blinding daylight. Vorwulf opened the door in time to see in full light Bers’ blade shear the monster’s skull to the shoulders splattering her, the shaman and him in stinking thick pitchy blood.
Isis (Kyr’s player): “See! I told you; hit the head!”
Jen: “Oh yeah! You did say that. Why didn’t we try that before?”
Isis: “I don’t know, somebody said no or something! I don’t remember who.”
They spent the next few minutes post battle drinking healing potions and the shaman found a sea-chest in a far corner and took what Vorwulf identified as a pair of white harpy feathers, taken from harpies native to the Icefere to the far northwest, from it.
After healing up they decide to move up through the tower in order to “clear it out” and rescue the girls that Vorwulf told them about imprisoned at the top.
To Be Continued…