Greyhawk: Gem of the Flanaess
Part One - Chapter Eight: Into the Ruins
By noon on the 26th day of Goodmonth, in the Common Year of 580, the Company of the Green Dragon had defeated the six ogres in the chamber containing the Fountain of Pure Light and was headed to the uppermost chamber of the cavern complex known as Blackthorn. But as the band approached the chamber, they heard the sound of ogres and orcs ahead of them and sent Kelgor on to scout it out. Within the chamber, Kelgor observed another gathering of about two score of orcs and three ogre masters as they were relocating the bodies of those the band had slain a few hours before. Obviously, the band’s presence in the caves had been discovered and there was little doubt that the rest of the complex had been warned as well. This almost certainly meant that the band had little time before they would be hunted down. In fact, the six ogres they had just killed were probably doing just that. After Kelgor reported his findings to his companions, the band agreed that they needed to get out of the caverns as soon as possible. They had managed to defeat the orcs and ogres in their previous battles, but not without taking a beating in return and they could not expect to do as well against the hordes that might soon be set against them, especially if they were attacked from above and below. So the band came up with a quick battle plan, utilizing what few spells and magic they had left, and continued on to the upper chamber. Upon reaching the upper chamber, Corvyn, Kelgor and Brom established a frontline of defense around the entrance to the stairwell, while Zeke and Tadwin stayed to the rear in order to allow them the best opportunity to cast their spells – and there they waited for the orcs and ogres to come to them. As soon as the ogres saw the lights of the band emerge from the stairwell, they commanded the orcs to gather what weapons they had, which consisted of hammers, picks, shovels and rocks, and ordered them to kill the intruders. Soon afterwards, forty screaming orcs hell bent on revenge for the slaughter of their brethren were charging at the band of adventurers that had dared to attack them in their home. Initially, the band fared well against the horde of orcs, which wore no armor and wielded only improvised weapons. But soon the wave of humanoids crashing over the band and around them became almost too much for our heroes to handle. Corvyn, in his heavy armor, stood strong and was taking down orcs two at a time with a single swing of his sword, while his newly acquired boots of speed quickened his pace. But the rest of the band struggled to stay on their feet as their injuries began to take their toll. Several times early on, those that had the means to heal wounds were compelled to do so and momentarily forgo any attacks. But eventually Zeke unleashed a number of color spray spells that quickly reduced the number of combatants that came against them, while Tadwin used every offensive spell he had and even resorted to shooting his crossbow. Meanwhile, a mound of dead orcs gradually formed around Corvyn, and despite being badly beaten early on in the battle, Brom eventually found a few opportunities to get in some devastating sneak attacks. Kelgor, on the other hand, while he managed to kill several orcs early on, spent much of the second half of the battle tending to his own injuries. Somehow, though it was often a very close call, the band managed to kill every last orc, leaving only the three ogres to take down. By this time, even Corvyn struggled against the might of their blows and was forced to back off. But Kelgor was there to take his place and the ogres found him difficult to hit. Then each member of the band stepped up and played a critical role in killing the ogres. One at a time, the band focused their attacks on an ogre, and one at a time the ogres dropped. Once the battle was over, and the band had survived what may have been their toughest battle to this point, they quickly healed up their injuries, thanks in large part to a healing wand purchased by Zeke back in Greyhawk. Then, having no desire to face any more orcs or ogres, the band wasted no more time and proceeded to scale the rope-like ladder back up to the surface world 250 feet above. Having reached the forested cave entrance, the band cut the rope ladder, knowing full well that the orcs would attempt to pursue them, and headed back in the direction of the nearest farmstead. In fact, despite having cut the ladder, the band was so concerned about being pursued that they pushed on well after sundown, almost to the point of exhaustion, until they reached the farmstead. As soon as the band arrived at the farmstead, they told several people there, whom they had been introduced to previously by Lord Lockswell, about the cavern complex known as Blackthorn and what the band had seen there. A messenger was then sent on to Lord Lockswell to warn him about the threat which lay hidden beneath the forest. At last, feeling some measure of security, and offered a place to lay their weary heads, the band settled down for the night to rest. On the following day, Earthday, the 27th day of Goodmonth, the band traveled to Lord Lockswell’s Manor and spoke to the ranger lord in person, giving him a much more detailed report of all they had seen and done within the cavern complex of Blackthorn. Lord Lockswell thanked them for their efforts and for the information and rewarded them with a hearty meal and a comfortable night’s rest. The next day, the band headed back to Greyhawk, this time cutting directly east through the forest and on to the ferry crossing at the village of Two Ford. The following morning, they boarded a barge and that evening, on Starday, the 1st day of Harvester, arrived once again in the Free City of Greyhawk. Over the next two weeks, the band took time off from adventuring and focused on personal matters, studying and training. Corvyn had a composite bow made, Brom learned a few new extracts and Tadwin learned several new spells. Brom also sold a magical scimitar to the Thieves’ Guild and by doing so managed to gain a contact with the black market at Devin Halfhock’s Pawnshop in the Thieves’ Quarter. Tadwin sold a ring of protection at the Wizard’s Guild and in return bought a magical backpack and a magical amulet. Brom likewise bought a magical backpack. And during these two weeks, business at the band’s pawnshop began to pick up and they even sold a magical suit of splint mail for a decent price. By the end of those two weeks, the band was anxious once again to seek out adventure, though this time, rather than follow up on a rumor they had recently heard, the band felt they were ready to investigate the most famous of the nearby adventuring sites – the ruins of Castle Greyhawk. It was on the morning of Sunday, the 16th day of Harvester, when the band set out and made their way across the Selintan River and a few miles into the Cairn Hills. Not long after passing the last of the farms and well into the hills, about a mile away from the ruins, the band met their first opposition. Here, as the band made their way through a series of switchbacks that climbed one of the low hills, a band of 8 orcs tried to ambush them. Having dealt with threats far more dangerous than a small band of orcs, the band had no difficulty in revealing to the orcs’ their poor, and ultimately fatal, decision to attack the Company of the Green Dragon. With 8 dead orcs behind them, the band continued on and soon came upon the broken statue of a falcon as it leaned against a tree by the side of the trail. Somewhat out of place, the 7 foot tall statue seemed to serve as a visual clue as to the kind of unusual things the band might expect to encounter in the ruins of the castle, which could now be seen just ahead of them. Just a little further on, the band came within sight of a narrow stone bridge that arched over a 100 foot deep chasm and ended 300 feet away at the base of the ruins’ central tower. Corvyn led the band towards the bridge and almost immediately they could feel a great sense of foreboding. The feeling quickly became that of fear and dread as they began to cross the bridge, bringing with it an uncanny sense of vertigo from the great height and causing most members of the band to crouch down and crawl on their bellies for the entire length of the bridge. Hanging on for their very lives in utter terror, the band slowly made their way across the bridge until they could stand once again at the front gates of the castle walls. Cautiously the band crept through the open and smashed doors of the outer walls and gazed in awe at the sight before them. Even from a distance, it had been clear that the fortress castle was now nothing but ruins. The menacing, thick stone walls had been torn down by the wind and elements, or perhaps the magical forces unleashed by their creator. No one knew – it had been so long before that even elder elves could not recall precisely how the castle came to such an unceremonious end. Standing just inside the gates, the band could see the once mighty pillars of a magnificent courtyard lying crumbled and broken, strewn about the stone walkways where weeds and brush had snuck up through ancient cracks. The overwhelming feeling of dread and foreboding that first touched the band members’ insides on the stone bridge intensified here, threatening to choke off their very breath and lives if they did not turn back. The shadows were long and deep, the hiding places many, and the mystical aura wrestled with their consciousness, warning them that the stones of the ruins should remain undisturbed. But they knew that their footsteps were not the first to fall upon these paths in recent times, as the trail they followed clearly testified. Nor were theirs the first bones to pass through the gates, as other bones, aged, white, hideous bones, littered the boulders and walkways. Some of these walkways led to a central building, once a terrific domed chamber, now reduced to a roofless mass of broken stone and fallen pillars. Other walkways led to gates to the east and west of the central building, and from there over two more stone bridges leading to the remains of two more ruined towers. Having heard rumors that the tower to the east, the so-called War Tower, might be the least dangerous of the three, the band opted to head in that direction. After traversing another narrow stone bridge, this one less intimidating than the first, possibly because it led away from the central tower, the band approached the War Tower. Only the first floor of this tower remained intact. Portions of the other floors still stood in some areas though none of these areas looked safe. A small fort constructed exclusively of stone stood to the south of the tower’s entrance. This building did not appear to be part of the original castle. As the band drew near to the tower, a small but tough looking band of ten dwarves emerged from the small fort and waited for the band to approach. When the band got close, one of the dwarves stepped forward and greeted them, saying his name was Stillguar and that he and the other dwarves were guardians of the War Tower. As such they claimed taxation rights on all gold removed from “their” tower. The band had heard rumors about these dwarves and was not pleased with the idea of sharing any hard-earned gold with them, feeling that the dwarves had no legal authority there and that their taxation was just another form of robbery. Still, the band could not be sure how skilled the dwarves were in combat, and Kelgor frowned on the idea of attacking them. So the band listened to Stillguar as he explained to them that they would have to pay the dwarves one third of the gold that the band removed from the War Tower, or be willing to play a gambling game called the “Great Risk”, which sounded very risky indeed. Upon learning the amount of the dwarves’ taxes, the band, Brom in particular, was even further incensed by the dwarves’ audacity. But still they agreed, for the time being, to the dwarves’ terms, as outrageous as they seemed to be, for the band secretly began to form ideas on how they could eventually get even with the dwarves. With the band having agreed to their terms, one of the dwarves, obviously a cleric, cast a spell and looked over each member of the band, apparently noting how much gold the band currently had with them. The dwarves then pulled several long planks out of the front room of their fortress and placed them over a large pit that lay in front of the entrance to the tower. This pit was clearly being used by the dwarves as a kind of tool to help insure that adventurers could not enter or leave the tower without paying the dwarves’ their expected taxes. The band made their way across the make-shift bridge, over the 20 foot deep pit that ended in water and up to the huge doors of the tower’s entrance. These doors, decorated with the image of a great war wagon and eight chariots flying through the air, were so massive though, and so heavy, that the band could not pull them open. The band tried several ways, all unsuccessful, to get the doors open, while the dwarves observed them from across the pit and snickered at the band’s fruitless efforts. Finally, Stillguar called out to the band and asked them if they needed any help. He offered to provide the band assistance if the band was willing to renegotiate the terms of their agreement to half of all the gold taken from the tower. This, of course, only angered the band more. But Kelgor made a counter-offer of 100 gold pieces up front, which Stillguar accepted. A few minutes later, the dwarves had crossed over the pit and had pulled one of the doors open. They told the band to knock on the door upon their return, as the dwarves would close it behind them, and they would again open it to let them out. And with that, the band entered the tower. Just inside the front doors of the tower was a majestic hall with a great war table to the right, eight pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling, and a pair of thrones resting atop an inclined platform on the far side of the chamber. To the left was a set of stairs leading down, a set of stairs leading up, and a pair of double doors set between them. Behind the thrones was a tattered but stately curtain portraying a scene similar to that on the front doors. And in the center of the room were the bones of a dead warrior grasping a torn bag of gold nuggets. Sensing a trap or an ambush, the band cautiously moved towards the dead warrior, and as they half expected, animated skeletons wielding short swords jumped out from behind the eight pillars and attacked. Being mere skeletons, the band had no difficulty in cutting them down using only their weapons. After gathering up the gold nuggets, the band looked around the war table and the gold-trimmed thrones made of hornwood, but did not take anything. Behind the curtain they found another huge set of double doors, but did not investigate. Instead they opened a door behind the war table and entered a short hallway which led them to an old kitchen in a terrible state. Pots and pans had been tossed around on the floors and tables, knives were stuck into the wood, and things were in a mess. Among the debris scattered about, the band found a golden object that had been smashed beyond identification and a magical scimitar just lying on the floor. Two doors leading from the kitchen led to pantries that were completely empty except for a flask of wine which they took. A third door led into a bedroom in disarray with three beds, a desk, and a chest. Sheets, pillows, feathers and broken chairs lay all around as if a whirlwind had hit them. Due to its proximity, the band assumed the room had been the quarters of the three cooks who once worked in the kitchen. But they got little opportunity to investigate the room for as soon as they entered they were being attacked by flying objects, from pots and pans to knives and broken chairs. Tadwin was among the first to be struck by an object, which did no real harm to him, but it frightened him so much that he had to be restrained by Corvyn to keep from running away. Then Kelgor was struck and he too would have run if Zeke had not slammed the door shut. Kelgor and Zeke then battled over the door for some time while the others merely tried to avoid being hit by flying objects. Brom quickly looked inside the chest and found it empty. Then he opened a closet door and found two giant scorpions about the size of large dogs which then attacked him. It was at about this time that Brom was struck by an object and he too felt the irresistible urge to bolt. Moments later, Kelgor finally got the door open and took off running. He was soon followed by Brom and Tadwin, whom Corvyn finally let go. By now, both Corvyn and Zeke had been struck several times by the flying debris and appeared to be immune to the fear caused by it. So they stayed and fought the two giant scorpions while trying their best to avoid being hit by anything. Fortunately, neither Corvyn nor Zeke were stung by the scorpions and they managed to kill the over-sized insects fairly quickly. They then did a quick search of the room and soon after, went to track down their fleeing companions. Kelgor, Brom and Tadwin, meanwhile, had run back to the front doors of the tower and were pounding on the doors in an effort to alert the dwarves. That is where Corvyn and Zeke found them a short while later. Soon, the three panicked companions were able to calm their emotions and their fears quickly subsided. But at about that time, one of the tower’s front doors opened up and several dwarves looked in and asked if the band already wanted to leave. It was obvious by the mirth in the dwarves’ eyes that they were amused by the idea of the band wanting to escape the tower so soon. But the band, no doubt somewhat embarrassed by their recent actions, tried to save face and assured the dwarves that it was only a false alarm and that they were not yet ready to leave. So the dwarves closed the door once again. After learning that Corvyn and Zeke had killed the scorpions, Brom asked Corvyn to retrieve the scorpions’ bodies. When Corvyn then brought the dead scorpions back to the hall, Brom took the time to gather what poison he could from their tails so he could make future use of it. The band then considered their next step. It was realized at this point that the kitchen was haunted by poltergeists which were notoriously difficult to permanently destroy and in fact may have been the restless spirits of the three cooks who once lived there. So there did not seem to be much reason to return there. But by this point, there were a few questions that gradually began to surface in some of the band members’ minds. They had heard rumors that the towers had been visited for many years by many bands of adventurers. How then they wondered, after all this time, was it possible that skeletons still roamed about the upper chambers? And how was it possible that the upper floor had not been picked clean of all gold?