The trek to the ruin was fairly uneventful. The group dodged a distant orc patrol or two and arrived about 36 hours after having left Argel-ys-Aberva. They approached the ruin from the northeast, seeing a part of the wall that surrounded the keep upon the highest rise in the area. Moving around to the northwest past a small section of wall, they spotted two orc guards, standing on top the small section of crumbling wall. Stanislau sent his owl familiar out to scout the rest of the area via the air. It returned several minutes later, Stanislau sensed the animal’s fear at what he deduced was a large number of orc guards. The group quickly decided to make for the ruin – a three story keep of gothic design. It was clear the inside was hollow, as a tree could be seen growing in the center of the first floor. They quickly charged up, hoping to avoid being seen by the two nearest guards. Alas, luck was not with them…one of the guards jumped down to investigate the noise from his left, while the other drew an arrow and aimed directly at where the group had stopped. The guard on the wall was dropped by a single arrow, while Gellak popped out from behind his cover and cut the orc on the ground in half. Oxyl then crept quietly forward, looking into the keep. There were 6 orcs milling about inside, along with a rather stupid-looking ogre. They decided that Stanislau and Oxyl should climb the outer wall and attack from above, while the rest of the group charged in through the large opening in the western wall. They did exactly so, surprising the occupants inside, resulting in 2 dead orcs from arrows and swords. The fight broke out in earnest, but lasted only a few short rounds. Gellak took the ogre out quickly with his magic great axe, while the other 5 handled the orcs rather easily. Oxyl noted after the fight concluded that the sounds of battle did not ring as loudly as they normally would – could there be some sort of magic at work here? None was detected, so they returned to the task at hand.
In the center of the floor was a large set of stairs dropping down into the hill. Oxyl again crept down to investigate. Turning to whisper back up the steps, he found that his voice did not carry at all. He returned to the top to report that an ogre slept in an alcove at the bottom. Plan of action: rush down the steps, surprise the ogre and kill him as quickly as possible. Oxyl later noted they always seem to have trouble getting a plan to come together. It took more than one round to kill the ogre….fortunately he didn’t get a chance to cry out, but might have had Gellak not dropped him as he stood to fight. They caught their breath for a moment, standing in a corridor that went off in both directions (north and south) and turned west again. They decided to go to the right, hearing some banging around from that direction. Oxyl once again padded forward to check out the source of the commotion. Three orcs were in a room throwing daggers at a box and taking bets on whether the knives would stick. As luck once again would have it, one of them turned and saw a somewhat surprised – but definitely not shocked – dwarf standing about half way up the hallway. Once again, a fight broke out, with arrows coming from down the hall over the dwarf’s head, and two or three non-orcs rushing down to kill the occupants. The fight lasted almost a minute. These orcs were definitely not the garden-variety kind that had dropped so easily upstairs in the courtyard. They were better equipped and armed, carrying masterwork falchions and well cared for chain shirts. They obviously had some skill at fighting in close quarters, as well. A check around the room resulted in the discovery of a locked strongbox that contained a handful of platinum pieces and somewhat larger amounts of gold, silver and copper, 3 small diamonds, 2 rubies, 20 tiny pearls and a bottle quickly identified as a potion of Cure Serious Wounds. (19pp, 126gp, 227sp, 346cp)
After healing a few wounds, the group set off to explore the corridor in the opposite direction. Again – and as always – Oxyl moved as quietly as he could around the corner and down the hall. It didn’t take long for him to come scrambling back, a bit disconcerted. The room at the end contained both a troll and a hill giant. They were being dressed down by a rather loud and oddly dressed orc. Badger noted from the description that he appeared to be a shaman of some sort, most likely Gruumsh One-Eye. Once again, they paused to put their thoughts together about how to vanquish the current opposition (with Oxyl rolling his eyes at some of the suggestions…). They drove forward, with Oxyl and Gellak in the front, followed by Halladorn and Stanislau. Gellak turned left immediately to take the troll who had just started up a tunnel dug into the wall for quick entrance for he and the giant, while the others concentrated on the hill giant and shaman. The troll put up a brave fight and struck Gellak several times before dying. Meanswhile, the giant was doing his best to strike the dwarf, who deftly dodged a couple of strikes while returning the swings by doing a bit of damage. There also appeared several duplicates of the shaman, having drunk a potion of Mirror Image. Gellak arrived to help crush the giant, along with Halladorn from behind, and a nicely placed Flaming Sphere. The battle lasted a while, with the orc shaman being slashed and grappled into submission. They tied him up and gagged him, then quickly checked the two sets of double doors in the room. One led to another corridor, while the other went directly into what appeared to be a gaol of some sort. There were a total of 6 cells. Three were empty. One contained a jumbled pile of equipment. The last two were inhabited. The first held a human who identified himself as Owen, a ranger that got caught snooping around the Bloody Ridge just two days previous. The other held the wizard Coanor Ethilfin, who was much worse for the wear. He was chained up on the wall and was muttering to himself. Seeing Gellak he broke from his daze and cried out for help. They got him down and hit him with a Cure Light Wounds, which brought him around a bit further. In tears he described what he knew of the outcome of the battle where he was captured and the Red Banners fell. The dwarf Yurrim was caught and beheaded by the hill giant, who put his head on a pike in front of the cave entrance that tunneled into the complex. He also had seen Glim, the gnome alchemist quickly dropped and left near the east entrance to the keep. He knew nothing of Gellak and Kerig. That left Merogo….. At that, tears again streamed down his face as he told of being forced to watch the unfortunate halfling be killed and eaten by the troll right in front of his eyes. As he told this part of the tale, his gaze was fixed upon a pile of bones in the corner: the grisly remnants of the troll’s meal…..
(TO BE CONTINUED)