The party made their way down the hill underneath the Fortresses great shadow. As the dark closed in the beacon-like form of Cassi exploded into brilliance, expelling night’s shadow, and Mord, from her immediate vicinity. They wasted no time making their way underneath the vine-covered battlements. No fear clutched their hearts, only the excitement, the rush of imminent battle. In the courtyard there was no movement, no sign of life, only the crash and rumble of the storm overhead. A thick mist blanketed the ground, clinging to their boots, but their minds were concerned with many things in this alien place, the vines on the walls, the curiously smashed buildings, and of course, the looming presence of the fortress itself…
Then the storm came down upon them and the very flora in the courtyard came to life against our heroes. Lightning and fire split the sky and they were momentarily taken aback by the sheer size of their foes, great trees swinging their mighty limbs about them as lightning and fire crackled where once twig and leaf had been! The mist took upon itself some sinister power from the use of magicks and it became an enemy of our heroes as well, sending out blasts of fiery energy which dazed their senses, particularly the courageous Dragonborn Cleric Psu-doo Barhd.
Armour nor shield nor stealth could protect our heroes completely from the maelstrom of energy that assailed them as these elemental trees rained blows upon them. Perhaps once upon a time, our heroes were made only of hardwood, and would have burned to ash under such an onslaught. By this day however, our heroes had grown to steel, and we all know what happens to steel when placed in the fire don’t we? It turns red in furious rage. Whilst the shadowy shape of Mord did his best to wrestle the power of the mysterious mist, our heroes brought down first the fiery trees, until only the great lightning tree was standing…before long it too toppled to the ground as our heroes overcame this first threat. A sense of apprehension lay in the air…they knew tougher times lay ahead.
Briefly the group split, in reality they were never a group, simply a band of happenstance. Mord and Scratchfury fearlessly made their way to the keep’s gate and entered silently inside. Whilst the three of Amauntor caught on the wind the sounds of distress. Suspicious of foul play they did not respond and instead sent the cleric to climb the walls and serve as a spotter. He looked down upon a macabre torture concocted by a brutal mind. Three humanoids stood secured by spiked chains in the courtyard…but the three remain unconvinced and wary…they were not about to expect finding friends amongst the walls of Emerald Queen’s fortress, and Mord and Scratchfury had been away for some time. Whoever the prisoners were, they had survived this long…they could wait.
The main hall had long been overgrown by vines, the signs of battle many decades earlier partially obscured by the reclamation of nature. But these vines moved and twisted with disconcerting consciousness. Most disconcerting of all however, was the wall of vines that supported the limp corpse of some arcane mage. What was this place? The heroes thought. Nature’s wrath was truly vengeful but this place came with the stench of decay and madness. The walls trembled, the vines moved, the body twitched and a voice laced with madness spoke to them forbidding them entrance to the higher reaches. Yet it spoke with hatred of the Emerald Queen and certainly seemed curious as to the intent of our heroes. Its curiousness was twisted upon itself, with Cassi’s words of reason and eloquence she calmed the creature’s (it was known as a Life Vine) suspicions. Then that impish gnome Scratchfury outwitted the creature superbly, drawing forth his crowbar mightily he proclaimed it as the CROWBAR OF DESTINY, a gift from the WORLD OF TOMORROW… the Life Vine’s greed overtook its reason as it stared first suspiciously then lovingly at this most mundane stevedoring item.
The group could barely contain their derision for this sad creature but Umbri’s mind ticked to a different beat. He had studied the great white rune drawn across the ground of the main hall, and with a cunning smile he raised it with the Life Vine. Whatever the connection, the Life Vine displayed true fear towards the symbol, requesting its destruction in bargain for passage. This he did not receive as diplomatic word were replaced with harsh ones, and the currish creature succumbed, allowing them passage. Bitterly, it advised them they explore these levels, lest he decide to send them upstairs to follow you…and so – Wait, but where was Mord whilst all this was taking place?
Well friends, he was strangling Ettins. I mean it’s what he does best! Although how this reluctant hero managed with both heads we shall never know! I have had the pleasure of meeting him and asked him on many occasions how it happened. All he ever does friends is smile into his beer mug and say it’s ‘the same way you garrotte a hydra, only easier’…
He had spied the slumbering forms of two great ettins with their massive heads, off in the western rooms of the castle. His suspicions had been first raised by the gaping holes through the walls, that looked like someone had simply ran through it… Surprise was total as he wrapped his wire of death around the one he saw as his most major threat: the one with the shamanistic trinkets, but once battle was started, it appeared as though the very rocks fought alongside the ettins, albeit reluctantly. Perhaps it was the cramped confines of the barracks rooms, or perhaps our heroes had thrown off the nervous energy of the first battle for they truly did show these creatures their mettle. Mord inflicted grievous wounds on the SpiritTalker before the great beast forced itself from his vice-like grasp and retreated from this shadowy form. But Mord continued to slink around the outskirts of battle attacking the Galeb Duhr when they least expected and appearing to flank the Ettins towards the end. Scratchfury confounded the Ettins as his phantasmal shapes had them crashing their clubs down into nothing but flagstones. Umbri blasted his foes with holy words, his pure devotion seemingly acting as protection enough. Cassi’s faith lent her inhuman strength as she stood toe-to-toe with both Ettins, flicking their strikes away as if they were scratches of attention from a malnourished Chihuahua. Psu-doo Barhd smiled for few needed healing such was their prowess.
They continued their search of the ruins, finding more dust and empty shelves than treasure but still treasure enough. Secret rooms were discovered, riddles both obscure and well-known were answered and ambrosia lead them to a potent ring and gloves. Then they came across the kitchen, and in it, Grimlocks. Our heroes attempted restraint and reason, but there is little reasoning with something as savage and mistrustful as a grimlock – eaters of flesh, gnawers of bone, especially ones of their species as hungry as these! Yet they dispatched them again, even their pet, monstrous hellhounds with the tails of scorpions! Dispatching all before them they did until they came full circle, bursting through the doors out the inner courtyard where the ‘prisoners’ revealed their true devilish nature. Even aided by the invisible blades of shadowy creatures known as Dark Stalkers, the Chain Devils could not stand in the face of the radiant three. Their very presence seemed to make the creatures more vulnerable to Amauntor’s judgement and it was as if the wind itself whispered in the ears of the PC’s the magic number ‘sixteen….sixteen….sixteen…’ That was of course until Umbri landed many a lethal blow and his ring flared with divine energies as it let loose the full power of retribution on his foes.
Now our heroes stood within the inner courtyard of the Fortress, knowing the lower rooms were free of danger. They bore few scars, the paladin appeared pristine as if the mess of combat and violence was incapable of touching her. Mord’s armour was splashed with the misty pattern of blood flying from arteries, a gleam was in his eye. Psuedo-barhd and Scratchfury looked confident – the cleric’s greatest prayers were yet to be called upon and the mage’s most intricate illusions remained at the forefront of his mind – their might was truly great to behold. Umbri had felt the sting of the fortresses denizens the most but he was unperturbed. Uncannily, he felt that it was almost right that he was the target, but looking down at the Ring of War on his finger he knew he had dished out as much as he’d taken. They turned their eyes skywards to the spiralling minaret of vines at the top of which, they presumed, reclined the Emerald Queen.
The Galeb Duhr had informed them of the three advisors…undead. Chuckles broke out amongst the group, which slowly turned to friendly laughter. Under the crackling sky however, it looked positively manic. ‘Bwahahaa-Bwahahaha! MWAHAHAHAhahaha! Undead. Amauntor. How hard can it be?’ they thought.
Hinano stopped. Cries of protest rang out throughout the inn. Hinano smiled to himself, adjusted his cloak and rose from his chair.
‘That is all for tonight. There is plenty to tell you all tomorrow.’
‘But not all of us will be ‘ere on the morrow.’ A voice called from the back.
‘Then you’ll have to find me again sometime.’
‘That’s balls.’ Muttered a child sitting by the fire.
‘That’s suspense.’ Retorted Hinano.
‘That stories not even very heroic.’ Said a women from the back. ‘so far this has been a cakewalk for them. Where’s the heroics and struggle?’
‘That may be true…but if you stay till tomorrow you may find that Fate saw fit to make some changes.’ Hinano turned to the barkeep an old grizzled Half-Orc… ‘Isn’t that right ol’ Sarky?’
The Half-orc glowered back darkly…