DM When last we left our heroes, they and their band of marauders had brought grim justice to many of the giants of Rukhaus Steading. Now, having hard fought the lord of the giants and laid him low, they seek to rest in the very house of their enemy. Five hours have passed since they gathered together the massive treasure haul possessed by the giants. The sound of snoring fills the room.
DM The room they have chosen to sleep in is the room beyond the double doors, used for meals and also the council meetings of the chief. It contains a long table, a great chair, a lesser chair, and six stools. A rough map of the area drawn on a large animal skin, showing past and planned raids, hangs on the wall opposite the fireplace. Several shelves, a smaller table and chair, and some miscellaneous items (a mug, some paper scraps, an old knife, a rock paperweight) round out the furnishings. There are hides on the walls and the floor.
DM It’s late at night when the first boulder shakes the steading. Then, a slight pause, and what sounds like a small mountain crashing into the walls. The entire structure shudders.
Julian Julian wakes up enough to try to figure out what is going on.
Julian “Must be other giants?” Julian guesses. He addresses the guards. “These walls were built by giants too. They should protect us long enough to find out what’s happening at least. Find a window, see what you can see?”
Shael Shael collapses back to sleep, putting a pillow and pulling his blanket over his head. “Hell is other giants.” he complains.
DM “There’s no windows, Lord Julian. The hill giants are simple brutes, they don’t have the skill…or gentle touch. Should we head out to the guard tower?”
DM More rocks shake the steading.
Julian “All right. Watch yourselves.”
Julian Julian sits up until they return, expecting them back in a couple minutes or sooner.
Shael Shael grumbles, “Well it’s going to be at least…” he growls as he flings his bedding off and stands up to follow-after the scouts. “Can’t sleep, might as well join them to see what the problem is.” he complains.
Shael “There’s a decent chance it’s an illusion, stay sharp and keep guard.” he adds, heading out.
Julian “Yeah…” Julian looks around and sees that nobody else is getting much sleep either. “All right. We’ll need to move.”
DM The men are climbing the tower when a shower of rocks demolishes it. One of the rocks crushes Boren, and the other three drag him free of the wreckage.
Julian This causes them to withdraw again into the main steading.
DM Another and another rain down in the courtyard. Shael hears the runes being discharged one by one, when he suddenly hears the mental pinging of his alarm being tripped.
Julian Julian has the idea of moving downstairs to escape the assault as the main party rouses.
DM The sound of the rocks is drowned out by the roar of something beyond the west door.
DM Julian and those within the room can actually see the walls shake from the mighty sound. An intense heat radiates from beyond the wall.
Shael Shael rushes over, keeping low, and orders them – “Back, back —” he hurries back to their redoubt.
Julian He finds Julian and the main party rushing to prepare a defense against whatever lies behind the western door.
DM One rock tears through the ceiling, dropping a mound of debris on Regdar. He claws his way out of the wreckage, urging his companions to leave him.
Shael Shael stops, motioning the others to move on, and heads back to assist Regdar from the rubble.
Julian With Shael’s help Regdar clambers free and gets out of the danger zone as fast as he can.
DM They make it back to safety, if this can be considered safe. Whatever is on the other side of the door has not yet opened it, or knocked it down.
DM But it’s clearly generating a ton of heat.
Shael Shael bursts through the door with Regdar and, glancing at the opposite portal mentions, “Ah, guess you know – there’s something coming.”
Julian “Thanks Shael.”
Julian “Did you get any look at what was outside before the tower fell?”
Julian “Sounds like a damn army.”
Shael He shakes his head then glances at the other scouts, “Any luck?” he wonders.
DM “Those rocks…it ain’t hill giants, that’s for sure. Something much bigger,” Regdar grunts through the pain.
DM The knights shake their heads. “It’s dark out there, we’re the biggest source of light for miles. We’re a giant glowing target.”
Julian “All right. Sorry to send you into that. It didn’t seem that the place would start coming apart so fast.”
DM “You should have seen them, Lord Julian. These rocks are…well, hell, they’re probably bigger than the giant king was here.”
DM Almost as if to underscore Regdar’s point, the battered corpse of Lord Wolken crashes through the ceiling.
Julian “I think… we may be safer heading down than out. Heading into the teeth of whatever it is out there, when it could be a full army, and us lit up in the night…” Julian frowns. “I think not.”
Julian “Second thought. We are absolutely heading down and not out.”
Julian “Whatever is on the far side… it’s hot. Lord Kryss and I will take the lead, we are both protected from flame. Others behind.”
Julian “Shael, you’re with us too.”
Shael “Ready when you are.” Shael murmurs.
Julian Alhandra casts a blessing upon the three lords.
Julian Then they open the door.
DM Beyond the door, filling most of the stairwell and much of the room, is a dragon. Not a noble creature like those described by Kryss, but something twisted, primeval and savage. Its mottled grey and brown hide is easily sixty feet long, a legless and triple tailed body. Clawed forearms grip the ground and poison dribbles from the creature’s maw.
Julian Kryss knew it already without the door ever having opened. Before words can be spoken or missiles can be loosed the dragon warrior blurs into his racial foe.
DM The dragon screams with rage as Kryss tears into its hide.
Julian Julian bares Lightbringer and assails the beast from the other side.
DM “A gods cursed dragon!” Sir Rochefort cries out.
DM Lightbringer sears through dragonhide and earth to do the creature harm.
Julian “This is no dragon.” Kryss growls. “It is a wrack!”
Julian “A mockery of true dragons!”
Shael Shael slips around the flank of the dragon to join Kryss – it seems safer back here, maybe? – and his twin katana lash at the beast as he makes his circuit.
DM “It looks exactly like a dragon to me,” Sir Rochefort growls. “Nothing mocking about it.”
Shael “Oh my God, it’s fine — just in our way, is all.” Shael says with exasperation. “Hit it with the pointy end, just like all the other things that get in our way.”
DM Shael’s assault sends more blood to the ground from the creature.
DM Sir Rochefort runs at top speed towards the dragon. “The glory will be mine!”
Julian Alhandra draws her sword and prays to Tal, and the weapon begins to glow with a white light.
DM The other knights follow Sir Rochefort’s lead.
DM Alaric hangs back slightly, loosening his crossbow. He fires a bolt at the creature to judge the effectiveness.
DM It bounces off the scaly hide. The dragon swings its head towards him, and unleashes a gout of magma.
DM Then it blasts through the secret door, scrambling along the steading’s wall, twenty feet off the ground.
DM Its wounds begin healing.
Julian Peregrine grimaces and tries to shrug off his wounds, but the volley of arrows he launches still skitter harmlessly off the creature’s scales.
Julian Kryss races up the wall after it using his magic slippers.
Julian Julian struggles to free himself from the searing, clinging magma.
Julian Hengist tries to close in with the Runesword, while Horsa flings an axe into the dragon’s wing.
Shael Shael turns the corner from the secret room he jumps, stumbles, rolls along the ground, bumps into a giant chair, but in the end somehow winds up on the table — the UnMetal lengthens into a might spear aiming as it does straight for the dragon’s heart.
Shael Shael misses by quite a wide margin because, as it turns out, he was not on the table after all.
DM It stretches out, and falls just short. The dragon snorts, acrid smoke coming from its nostrils.
DM Sir Rochefort looks at Julian struggling in the cooling magma and redoubles his own efforts to free himself.
DM “Damn it, surround that thing, clip its wings, don’t let it breathe again!” he yells.
DM Peregrine the Hawk purses his lips. “It might be more to our advantage to use this opportunity to flee down the stairs into the depths…the dragon and whatever assails this fortress can weaken each other.”
Julian Alhandra tries to climb onto the table, but the smooth wood is too slick. She nocks an arrow and lets fly at the dragon’s eyes instead.
DM The dragon lets out an ear shattering scream at the painful shaft.
DM Earmanaric struggles up the table to plunge his lance at the creature’s breast. Piercing it, he puts all his weight into holding it there. His companion knight is not so skilled at climbing tables, and remains on the ground.
Julian Julian shakes his head. “We can bring it down!”
Julian “See!” He points as the dragon writhes on the point of the lance.
DM A crossbow bolt lands right above the lance, barely scratching the scale.
DM The dragon lashes out. Its claws scrape against Kryss’s armor, and its fangs bite down hard onto brave Earmanaric’s torso. The knight’s face turns pale. The dragon’s tail sweeps Hengist off his feet.
DM It climbs higher onto the ceiling.
Julian “Then aim for the eyes. The scales are too thick for arrows.” Peregrine replies coolly.
Julian As if to prove it, his own arrow aimed for the eye bounces off a scale on the creature’s nose leaving barely a scratch.
Julian Constrained by no such limitations, Kryss pursues his retreating foes.
DM Kryss’s axe hacks through the dragon’s spine, sending it twitching and shuddering to the ground below. Its death shriek is horrific. Kryss falls back, his face clouded. “I…something’s wrong.” The others feel a shadow over them that passes, except Horsa, who clutches his heart. “The flames!” the troll yells.
DM Rocks smash through the ceiling, one nearly burying Alaric.
DM He crawls from underneath it, dragging a broken leg.
Julian “Horsa?” Julian moves to help his huscarl.
Julian “Get below. Now!” he calls to the others.
DM The trollkin’s eyes are wide, and he looks past Julian like a man haunted. “Fire…Ragnarok…”
Shael “Grab what you can, let’s go —” he works with Bear Friend to retrieve the giant’s body.
Julian “With me, Horsa, by God, the end is not yet!” Julian clasps his huscarl by the shoulder.
DM Horsa shakes off the vision and runs with Julian. A rock smashes through the ceiling, and the trollkin shoves his lord out of the way, taking the blow himself.
Julian Bombarded by falling rocks and ceilings the battered party races for safety.
DM They descend deeper into the earth, the sound of the boulders growing low, to a distant tremor. A trail of blood and ash winds its way up the stairs.
DM At the bottom of the stairs is a room stained with blood and gore. A few smoky torches burn along the walls. Several benches and tables are pushed out of the way against the walls, revealing a floor of black stone, much worn by the tread of countless feet.
Julian Julian lets out a long breath as the thread of boulders fades. “What the hell was that…”
Julian “Never mind. Wounded to the back.”
Julian “We’ll scout whether this place seems safe to rest.”
DM Several doors lead off of this one, and three hallways.
Julian After ascertaining that the initial room contains at least no immediate threats, Julian sets up the worst wounded under the table and sets a guard over them.
DM The stonework is ancient but holding up well, patched in places with new mortar or shored up with newly hewn stone. All natural cave areas have stalagmites, but for ease of passage the giants have removed stalactites from the central caverns.
DM Passageways have ceilings that are arched, and buttressed every 10 feet, with the peak of the arch about 18 feet overhead. The ceiling height in most smallish rooms in the dungeon is 30 feet or so, again arched and buttressed. In the large rooms and chambers, the ceilings are 45 feet high. The roof in the natural caverns to the southeast is of varying height, the passages about 25 feet high and the large areas some 40 feet or more.
Shael While Julian is keeping the wounded distracted, Shael wards their rear to deter anyone following.
Julian He also sets a watch upon each of the open hallways and on the secret door while Shael locks the others against any passage but their own.
Julian The lords themselves, finally, will breach each door in turn until they find a place that seems safe to rest.
DM Julian hears screams and moans coming from the massive door to the east.
Julian Julian catches his fellow lords’ eyes and brings them to that door first.
Julian Once they are ready he opens it.
DM A long hallway with heavy doors, each having a barred window, runs to the east. Beyond the range of Lightbringer’s glow, it is difficult to see what lies at the end of the hall, even in the dim light. The moans and screams are coming from within those rooms.
Julian Julian dashes that way.
Julian He wills Lightbringer to brightness as he goes.
DM As he brings the brilliant blade closer, he notes two hulking bugbears near a bronze gong. They look up in alarm as he rushes them.
Julian A javelin from his offhand strikes the closer, then he fills it with his shield.
DM The bugbear cries out as the missile pierces its flesh.
Shael Shael follows Julian after the bugbears.
DM “Close that door you fools, there’s a dragon out there!”
DM One of the bugbears rushes Shael, the other strikes the gong.
DM Shael easily deflects the attack, though the sound reverberates through the dungeon.
Julian Kryss runs quickly forward, but his throwing axes are quicker still to close the distance between him and the bugbears.
DM The axe bodily picks up the first bugbear and sends it spinning into what quickly becomes the bloody carcass of the second, before depositing the entire mess into the wall at the end of the hallway.
DM It returns to his hand.
Julian “You should make a throwing katana.” Kryss suggests.
Julian “If you had a throwing katana, he would never have gotten to hit the gong.”
Shael Shael frowns and considers for a moment. With a shrug he murmurs, “Yeah, I guess.”
Julian Julian meanwhile looks into the barred windows.
DM The nearest windows to Julian require him to pull himself bodily up to the height, and within he can see three skeletons, each with a shiny ring and gemstone.
Shael Shael looks for the cell with the screamer, despite the noise of combat from behind them -
DM The next windows as Julian drags himself up, reveals orcs within, most missing arms and legs, untreated wounds. They writhe in pain, and are the source of the loudest screams.
Shael Since they are not actively being assaulted, Shael moves to join the battle as quickly as he can.
Julian Julian flings the massive bar to the ground and kicks the door open, then moves to the next-most-screamy (or perhaps only moany) door.
Julian The party’s retinue stand their ground and stoutly give as good as they get.
DM Meanwhile, to the south, Earmanaric turns to Hengist, and claws feebly at him before collapsing to his knees, his tongue protruding.
Julian Julian looks in the next loudest cell.
Shael “Jules, turning into a war out here!” Shael calls to him as he notices the Paladin is still searching the cells.
DM A man sits in the cell, screaming back and forth, carrying on at least three parts of an argument…Julian cannot hear who…or if anyone…provides what must be a fourth and fifth portion. The man has several chunks taken out of his arms, shoulders and torso.
Shael “Over here!” he points southwards to Julian and then rushes to Earmanaric’s side to help the poisoned fellow.
Julian Kryss, who is not so good with medicine but excellent with axes, moves to take care of the onrushing bugbears.
DM The axe splits the skull of the nearest.
DM The other bugbears fling javelins at Kryss.
DM The brave knight falls beneath the twisted giant’s axe and his demonic looking ape creatures’ fists.
Julian Peregrine tries to take advantage of the ape’s change of focus as the others battle the twisted giant.
DM He explodes forth in a whirling dervish fury, cutting down both the wounded ape and vile giant in one go, accepting the brutal blow of the final ape in return.
Julian Julian is quickly there to draw the beast’s attention away from them.
Julian A prayer to Tal-Apollo knits Aethelric’s near-mortal wounds.
Shael Shael kneels beside the poisoned warrior and calls on Serra to purge the venom from his body.
DM Earmanaric gasps and sits up, his face still pale, but breathing normally.
Julian While the other lords engage in dramatic religious heroics Kryss goes about the simple efficient business of killing bugbears.
Shael Shael pats him on the shoulder and says, “Take it easy — call if you see any enemies approaching…” he includes the trollkin in his request before standing and rushing to the remaining battle.
DM Two more bugbears fall to Kryss’s axe as he wades in.
DM The rest begin forming up ranks to tackle the mighty warrior. The first pair hold their shields ready, while the rear horde flings a hail of javelins at him.
DM The blood ape leaps at Julian, but Tal is his shield and the attack does not even come close.
Julian Everybody up north piles onto the discomfited ape.
Julian Including Julian.
DM He burns the demonic creature’s heart out of its chest, watching both the light and rage fade from its red rimmed eyes.
Shael Seeing that Julian has the north taken care of, Shael shifts directions and moves to engage the bugbears instead. “Hey guys.” he says absently, shutting the door behind him. “This is called a killing field.” he smiles, tilting his head to the side, “Ready?”
Julian Kryss darts forwards and burps.
Julian And it lasts several long seconds.
Shael Into that, a fireball bumps into the mix.
DM Only a pair of the hairy goblins remain in the room, though the lords can hear more coming from further south.
DM The pair fight back bravely, but mere hulking goblins, even ones as strangely quiet as the bugbears are no match for the lords of Dragonfyre.
DM As one of the final bugbears standing discovers, a pair of javelins sticking in its burnt back.
DM It topples forward, leaving only one bugbear alive.
Shael Shael slides into the last gob’s DMs – ‘get sum?’ his deadly blades inquire redundantly.
Julian “Well fought. The prison is just as secure from the inside as from the outside. Let’s hold there.” Julian turns and gives the order."
Julian He checks the remaining cells as the others file in. Hengist and Horsa are posted to hold the doors.
DM The party, battered and aching, settles in, taking stock of the situation.
DM What will become of our lords, Loyal Readers? They are pressing ever forward into danger, while unknown doom lurks behind. Will they ever escape this house of horrors and get to spend their human arms in civilization? Or will they become the next giant meal? Find out next week!
DM In addition to the alarm gong, the guard room contains a table, two stools, torches, and a ring of keys that open four of the five cell doors. The room with the jewel carrying corpses is the only one that lacks a key to the lock. The cells are also reinforced with a heavy giant bar across each door.
DM Within the first (westmost) cell, the insane man rants about slick tendrils of oil, worming down his throat.
DM Sir Rochefort identifies him as a wealthy merchant from Almaaz.
DM The second cell holds a less battered man, only having multiple bruises and no broken bones. He identifies himself as a miner, who is being kept to help the giants with their tunneling down below. He was from Storton before being captured in an ogre raid.
DM The third cell holds a one armed elf, whose skin has been peeled off. A crude lump of black metal has been fused to his shoulder where the arm used to be. “My name is Ja’huhl, captain of the Order of Juniper. I was born upon the winter solstice one hundred and twenty seven cycles ago. I have told you before, I will provide you with no more information than this.”
DM The tormented orcs in the fifth cell howl in Orcish. They jeer and mock, claiming that the giants will soon be brought low by what awaits them in the caverns.
Kryss Kryss takes a moment to pull Alhadra aside and asks her how things went with her team upstairs.
DM She explains how they fought their way through the giants, and describes the brutal and grim work of killing giant children…children seven feet all, and armed with very real weapons, but children nonetheless. When the queen and the rest of the retreating giants burst out into the hallway, Maddoc was quickly surrounded and beaten to a pulp, but then they pulled together and managed to beat them back.
DM “Sir Rochefort does seem to feel that a noble of Almaaz is worth ten of any other place, but he is a solid fighter,” she offers. “No one failed to pull their weight.”
Kryss “Typical,” Kryss replies. “That was a motley crew to have to lead. I’m impressed.”
DM “Motley? Surely my lord jests. Over half of them of noble blood and the rest your own handpicked warriors of Dragonfire Dyrr…are they not performing to your expectations, Lord Kryss?”
Shael “They are not a unit, just some guys and gals who are good and putting the pointy end in things – by definition, motley. Keeping them cohesive is impressive.” Shael agrees.
Kryss “I’m letting you know that I am aware of your impressive abilities, and I am thankful again. Time and again Dragonfyre has called upon you, and each time you have served it well. Ask of me a favor, and if it is in my power, I will grant it.”
DM Alhandra smiles at the praise. “My lord, I am merely doing my duty. However, I have heard tell that Dragonfyre’s mighty lord is also a worker of metal. I would be honored if you would work my armor upon our return.”
DM Pergerine the Hawk draws his blade, leveling it at Regdar. “Thief! Scoundrel! Hand over what you have stolen from me!” Regdar draws his own sword. “It is mine, Dervish, and I’ll not have your filthy hands befouling it.” The item they appear to be contesting over is the multicolored feathered headdress that was found in Ruk’s bag. A feathered headdress that Sir Earmanaric had actually claimed when they were going through the loot hours ago.
Kryss Kryss steps up, “What’s this about? You are foolish enough to bicker over cursed trash? Both of you best drop that until Shael can take a closer look else I determine you a threat to the success of our mission.”
DM Neither one back down, but turn to cautiously keep Kryss in view as well. “You think you can simply bark orders at the lord of Storgard?” Regdar glowers.
Kryss "You invoke the name of a land that wouldn’t exist were it not for me and my brethren to come to your aid. I insist that got recognize might claim in the name of all the children still playing today due to my heroism.?
Kryss Kryss turns to the other. “Do you make such a claim on the headdress as well?” he challenges.
DM The Hawk narrows his eyes. “I will not be accused of theft, nor disrespecting my hosts, on my honor as a warrior. I do not know how this headdress came into my possession, but it is right that I should have it. It is fair to look upon, and my prowess in battle was no less than any others.”
Kryss Kryss’ voice drops about 8 octaves. “I will not allow this bickering to threaten this mission. Give me the headdress and I will secure it until we have completed our duty. Then we will decide its fate.” Kryss looks to Julian for support.
Julian “Warriors, my lords, I ask you to postpone disputing our winnings until we have won them. I think we will have at least one assault to see off before we can rest easy here. Maybe two.” Julian hardly looks up from binding Boren’s wounds.
Kryss “Agreed. Give me the headdress, Hawk. Lord Julian has spoken.”
DM Regdar looks as though he would like to gainsay Julian, and Peregrine actually opens his mouth to scoff at him, but both shudder at Kryss’s tone. Peregrine reluctantly hands the headdress to Kryss.
Kryss Kryss hold the headdress up to admire it one last time before folding it up and stowing it in an enormous pocket. “Thank you both for being reasonable about all this.”
DM No less than four looks of fury directed his way suggests that reason has little to do with it.
Kryss Kryss considers the matter closed.
Julian Julian, who was a little less distracted from the uncharacteristic dispute than he pretended, soon makes time to ask Shael whether a cursed feather thingy is making party members behave irrationally.
DM Shael is able to connect the headdress to the couatl, a race of feathered dragons. He is unable to identify whether it is cursed, or just irresistible. It is quite pretty.
Kryss Kryss agrees that his studies often references the couatl as keepers of draconic lore.
Julian While Shael investigates the headdress, Julian turns his attention to the prisoners. He leaves the madman to himself, judging that the cell is probably the safest place for him until the giants are defeated, and the orcs to themselves, not speaking the language.
Julian However he offers to release the other two if they will agree to work with the party and not hinder their efforts. “We are not your captors or their slaves, Captain, we are men and knights, their enemies.” he addresses the mutilated elf.
Julian “Their leader above is dead by our swords, and now we mean to slay his folk here below.”
DM Riles the Miner promises to aid the men in any construction or labor intensive work they may have for him but will not fight. “Ain’t no warrior, I’m afraid.” Kryss is able to size him up and affirm this as well. The Juniper Order captain on the other hand, considers them speculatively. “If you are the giants’ foe, you are my ally,” he says finally. “Though they have an army of goblins and orcs to aid their foul designs, and one of the Fomor walks among them down here.”
Julian “You say they kept you to help with tunneling? Do you know the layout of the place, or what they are tunneling for?” Julian asks Riles.
Julian Julian nods to the captain. “I think we will be fighting them soon enough. A fomor, you say? Do you know much else about their forces?” He has both cells opened.
DM “They don’t tell us much, and when they talk it is in that gobblety gook. Mostly, it’s a lot of point ‘n if we don’t figure out what they wanted, they stomp a few of us flat. Which is better’n the ogres gave us, let me tell you. The sound of an ogre raping a man to death is one that will haunt you for a lifetime, and I’ve heard it often enough to last an elf’s.” Riles things. “Sometimes they have two bigguns working with us, but they don’t look like the others. Look smarter, less ugly. Sometimes they’ve got orcs and dwarves too. Most of the tunnelin’ seems to be building…they’re tryin’ to expand the tunnels’n caverns.”
DM Captain Ja’huhl nods grimly. “The fomor leads most of the torment and darkness down here. I do not think his chieftain likes him much, and leaves him alone. He has brought forth horrors from the dark, of the very substance of nightmare. There is a lindworm he has enchanted from the crags it laired within to prowl below, and darker things still. The goblins seem marginally better treated than the orcs…I suspect the orcs are enslaved while the goblins are a more willing minion.”