"Sunless Citadel (Part 1 of 3)" - December 16th, 2000
Collin has called Kerbach, Gremage, Zeek, Kit, Oren, Cedric and Doomnoodle to meet with him on the second floor
of the Castle Bar. It has been a few days since the group decided to focus on the mysteries of the Sunless Citadel.
For the moment at least they will delay any journey to visit Timmrick of the Whispering Woods, a reportedly all-knowing
sage. Also delayed will be their attempt to use a blue stone key to open the entombed lair of the Fire Lord and
his brigands…sealed some 10 long years.
As they agreed at their meeting a few days ago, each member of the party had sought out additional information about the Sunless Citadel. Their meeting tonight over mead and ale was to bring that information together. Ockrote had closed off the second floor so that the party could meet and discuss important matters in private.
Collin stood and raised his glass for a toast…and the other followed suit. "To the Marked Ones…if Marked Ones we be!" Everyone repeated the toast and drank from their cups and mugs. Once all had regained their seats, Collin continued, "It is important we know all we can of this fallen Citadel…before we attempt to explore its depths. First we should review what we already knew…and then we'll bring together any and all information we have gained in the past few days. Kit, if you will be so kind…."
Kit smiled a devastating smile, lamplight shining off her dark skin. "Of course, lovely songbird. The Sunless Citadel lies beyond the mountains to the east, along the Old Road to Dumit…long abandoned due to goblin raiders and their kin. In a former age of this world the Citadel was a proud fortress…but long before there even was an Azure Kingdom, the Citadel was swallowed by the earth itself. A tribe of mountain goblins infesting these ruins ransoms a single piece of magical fruit to the highest bidder of Greenmark once a year in the month of Tercex. They've been doing this for the past 12 years. Usually, the fruit sells for about 50 gps, which is all the townspeople can bring themselves to pay a dirty goblin. The fruit, apparently an apple of perfect hue, heals those who suffer from any disease or other ailment. They sometimes plant the seeds found at the center of each fruit, hoping to engender an enchanted apple tree. When the seeds germinate in their proper season, they produce a twiggy mass of twisted sapling stems. Not too long after the saplings reach 2 feet in height, they are stolen - every time. It is assumed that the jealous goblins send out thieves to ensure their monopoly of enchanted fruit. This Sunless Citadel is very likely filled with treasure…and I'm interested in how these low goblins came to possess magical fruit! From what magical source does this miracle spring…?"
Gremage leaned forward, his white eyes making contact with each member of the group...finally settling on Collin. "I have heard it said that the goblins offer another apple for sale...in the dead of winter...in the Month of Iron. This apple is corpse-white and utterly poisonous...and brings death to those that even touch its albino skin. My teacher and master Trask warned me of this apple long ago."
Kerbach drank deeply from his mug, sloshing some ale on the table as he set it down heavily. "Some men hired to guard a caravan from Dumit to Greenmark told me that the Old Road ran right past the ruins of the Sunless Citadel...but that the road fell into dissuse 'cause the goblins raided and raided...without end. Some say that an ancient dragon cult built and maintained the Citadel prior to its fall into the earth. Mayhap I will get to add a dragon's claw to my necklace of worthy foes!"
Cedric opened a small tome that he had drawn from the folds of his cloak, and began to read from some carefully
drawn notes. "A sheperd from the east said that his fellow herders won't graze their stock too far a field
these days. Stories are spreading among them of new monsters that maraud the night. He specified that the monsters
appear to attack mostly in the east...near the Ashen Plain and the Citadel. When I suggested the goblins were at
fault he laughed out loud. He said these creatures, what ever they may be, left no discernible trail. He also said
that the cattle and people that had wandered out alone and had been found dead the next day, were pierced by dozens
of needlelike claws...."
Ockrote had come up the spiral stairs with several pitchers of ale and a fresh bottle of mead. He apparently had been listening to some of what was said. He cleared his throat and then began to talk. "You're talkin' about the Sunless Citadel, aren't you? Just about a month ago a group, much like yourselves, was talkin' about goin' there! A warrior, a mage, a brave-knight, and a man-of-the woods asked me about the place...and I told them all I knew. Which wasn't much! I did tell them that the last time anyone asked me about the Citadel was about thirteen years ago. A grim man by the name of Belak stopped by the Castle Bar...and he had this huge tree frog on his shoulder! Can't forget something or someone like that. This Belak asked me a few questions, but when he figured out I knew little more than he did, he left. Be careful my friends...I have not seen hide-nor-hair of the adventuring group that traveled hence one month ago. I would very much like to see you all again!"
The party's meeting lasted much into the night, as money was pooled from everyone's earnings and provisions planned out for the adventure. Winter gear and food to last several weeks was purchased. Several days later the party set out from Greenmark...headed on the Old Road, through the Ashen Plain and to the ravine that for this past age of man has embraced the Sunless Citadel....
The party continued to converse for awhile, making plans and preparations for their journey to the Sunless Citadel.
There was some arguing, but for the most part, the team worked together to solve differences within the party.
Some time later, Ockrote returned with refills for everyone's drinks. After setting several mugs and a pitcher full of liquid on the table, Ockrote spoke up. "I took the liberty of contacting someone I thought would want to talk to you. She has an interest in the journey I know you are planning…do you mind if I let her come up here?"
Several members of the party nodded in affirmations as Collin answered out-loud, "Of course Ockrote, send this person up…we would be glad to talk to her."
Ockrote went down the spiral staircase, and a moment later a woman about 65 years old came up the stairs. She was wearing robes of fine quality. Her eyes had a look of desperation in them. "I have been told you would journey to the Sunless Citadel. My grandson and granddaughter made that journey just one month ago, and never returned. My name is Kerowyn Hucrele, and I am asking…begging for your help."
Kerback sat up in his chair, wiping a bit of ale foam from his mustache. "There is no need to beg…fine lady."
"Well beg I must. Talgen is a brave warrior and his sister Sharwyn has quite a talent with magic. Why they insisted on adventuring though, I will never understand. The Hucrele family has quality lands, plenty of gold, and a name to be proud of…so there was no need to delve into dark ancient caves and keeps in search of excitement. A knight called Sir Bradford convinced them to go with him…he and a ranger named Karakas. Sir Bradford spoke of smiting ancient evils…and would draw his sword Shatterspike forth and swing it above his head. He convinced them to go with him…and now…now they have not returned…." Kerowyn began to cry, her sobs drowning out any further words.
Zeek rolled the runes and bones, and studied the results. "Noble lady. Cry not. We will journey to the Sunless Citadel, and we will bring back one of the two you lost…this I swear to you!"
Fear crept across Kerowyn's face. "ONE OF THEM! Why only one of them? What do you know?!?"
Zeek looked a bit shocked at the reaction. "The spirits…they say that one of your grandchildren is at peace…while the other is in torment. The runes were very clear."
Kerowyn choked back sobs, trying to catch her breath. "They wear a signet ring…each of them…with a quail and arrow symbol upon it…the shield of the Hucrele family. If you find them…and they are dead (sob) I will pay you 125 gp a piece for the return of each ring. I will take this as evidence that they are at peace at least…. (sob)."
Collin stood up from his seat. "And what if we bring your grandchildren back alive?"
"Then I will pay you double…for each of you…double for each of you if they're alive. It will break me…but I will pay it. I just want them back. (sob)."
Kerowyn Hucrele made polite goodbyes through her tears and took her leave of the group.
It was the 7th day of the Month of Iron, and the snows had laid a heavy white blanket upon the land. The party
had spent almost every last dime on provisions and equipment for this adventure. They all hoped to find the Hucrele
family members, and collect a reward. Then they could have the best equipment…and begin the process of cleaning
out and converting Gorin's Lair to their own devices.
The old road had been long abandoned. It winding path through the Ashen Plain was subject to constant goblin attacks, and a new road to Dumit had been established to the north, through the Forest Green. The old road was little traveled, and time and weather had taken their toll. But the party trudged on, hoping to push on on this first day, and have less of a hike the second day.
In later afternoon the old road began to descend into a wide valley, filled with briars. Up ahead they spotted a bridge of wood and stone constructed over a small stream. Kerbach told the group that he sensed trouble up ahead. Gramag sent his owl skyward, and the owl was able to communicate that their was indeed danger up ahead…waiting in the briars. Kerbach took the lead in climbing the stone stairs that led to the wooded bridge surface…and from the briars emerged a large creature. Its eyes were yellow, and its mouth filled with dirty broken teeth. Its fur was speckled with grey, though at one time it must have had a large amount of yellow-brown fur. Lumps and tumors stuck out here and their from its skin, and it arms hung nearly to the ground.
Each member of the party took up positions on either side of the bridge stairs on their side of the bridge. Kerback stood his ground on the bridge…a sword in one hand, and a hand axe in the other. Collin called out in the language of the giants, "What do you want…why do you approach us?"
Kerback through a hand ax at the tall creature as it approached. The ax flew well off course and landed in the snow and ice covered briars. The troll answered in the language of giants, despite this failed attack. "I tend this bridge, and to cross your party will pay me 25 gps…otherwise you will not cross, I will see to that!"
Kerbach swung his sword, and the other members of the party began to fire missle weapons at the troll. He was clearly enraged and began bellowing and swinging and chomping at Kerbach. Zeek was able to jump over the stream and come up behind the troll, tripping him off the bridge and into the water. Collin and Gremag peppered the troll with attacks, while he got in a few vicious attacks on Collin. Kerback jumped from the bridge onto the shore to join once again in the battle with the troll. Cedric took the more direct route, actually jumping from the bridge into the water, swinging his large ax at the beast.
The troll roared and finally seemed to fall under the crush of the many blows, sinking into the water and floating downstream with the current. The party attempted to grab the troll so that they could burn him and truly kill him…but a combination of the extreme freezing temperature of the water and the troll's continued attacks on anyone that came near him, allowed the troll to float away downstream.
Zeek searched for where the troll slept, and found his rotten bedroll, some treasure, and a few clay pots of goblin liquor in the briars. The party travelled a few miles down the old road to put some distance between them and the troll, and made camp for the night. The next day they traveled for two hours across the Ashen Plain, and arrived at the ravine that holds the Sunless Citadel.
The party made camp behind a rock outcropping about a quarter mile from the spot in the ravine where they planned
to make entry. A scouting party had determined that entering the Sunless Citadel by descending slowing on foot
in the ravine was impossible, due to the instability of the rock and debris that littered the bottom of the ravine.
Instead, the party decided to enter the Citadel by climbing down ropes into the ravine at the location where they
believed the Citadel had sunk into the ground.
Old wooden post and columns were planted into the ground on both sides of the ravine. In the Dwarven alphabet, the gobins had written graffiti that warned of death to anyone who entered the ravine. A knotted rope in good condition hung from one of the leaning posts, and hung down into the deep darkness of the ravine. Kit descended first, and had to fight 3 dire rats, while the rest of the party made their way down to the first rock outcropping below the lip of the ravine.
From there, a 5' wide stairway in disrepair wound down to two more outcroppings, before finally descending to a courtyard out side the Sunless Citadel. The outlines of the Citadels wall and towers could be seen in the faint light filtering down from above. An unstable rubble field surrounded the Citadel's ruins. Kit rushed ahead of the party to get to a door that led from the courtyard to inside the Citadels' structure. A pit trap opened before her, and she barely avoided falling into it. Circumventing the pit, Kit was then attacked by a dire rat that leapt up from the pit. Kit killed the rat, and rushed into the Citadel leaving her companions behind. Once the party caught up with her, Kit was told to quit rushing ahead.
Four dead goblins were in this initial tower room…three on the floor, and one speared to a wall. When the spear was withdrawn…the goblin slid to the floor, and carved Draconic symbols were now visible in the wall behind him. The symbols spelled out "Ashardoalon." This is the name of a powerful dragon of legend.
A few rooms later, behind a stone door with the image of some sort of water dragon carved into it, the party encountered a rusted iron keg with rusted iron pipes leading out of it and into the floor. Sloshing sounds could be heard from inside the keg, even though no one had moved or shook the keg. The party investigated, and eventually decided to leave well enough alone!
Next they encounted a rather large irregularly shaped room with green symbols painted on the wall. A pitiful kobold named Meepo was whimpering in his bedroll, about the loss of the kobolds' dragon wyrmling, Calcryx. The goblins had raided, and taken the dragon from its iron cage in this room. Meepo hit on the idea of the party helping to recapture the dragon for the kobolds…and offered the party safe passage to the kobold queen. The party accepted the offer.
Meepo escorted the party through dark passages and down a large hall with carved-dragon pillars. Finally they came to the throne room of Yusdrayl. Six kobold guards flanked her as she addressed the party in Draconic. Kit took the lead in negotiations, due to her drow appearance. Gremag and Cedric quietly translated the proceedings to the rest of the party.
Kit played up her Underdark ties, and claimed the "above-grounders" were her slaves. Yusdrayl offered the party safe passage through the areas of the Sunless Citadel that the kobolds control as well as a choice of rewards from some magical items on an alter behind her. There was a feather,, 2 scrolls, a small flask, and an iron key in the mouth of a stone dragon carving/relief. All the party had to do was get the kobold's dragon wyrmling, Calcryx, back. As the negotiations proceeded, the party became more and more visibly upset with the things Kit was saying to Yusdrayl. At one point Yusdrayl asked why Kit's slaves were talking in such tones to her, and Kit blamed it on Collin actually being a mercenary.
Though the party never made a counter-offer to the kobolds, and never really discussed the deal in any depth, they began to agitate and become aggressive. Kerbach told Kit to tell Yusdrayl that she better give the party ALL her magical items or the party would kill her and all her people. Kit did not translate this, and was trying to stop a conflict from starting, when Kerbach charged through the kobold guards and began hacking at Yusdrayl with his sword. Then began the slaughter….
The kobolds tried to defend their colony and their queen from the "above-grounders," but the party killed every single kobold guard and bounder using superior physical force and magical abilities. It was not without a cost. In defense of their home, the kobolds inflicted major injuries to Kerbach and Kit, and not one of the party escaped without some sort of injury.
Once all the kobolds strong enough to put up a fight had died defending themselves, Meepo meekly asked if he would be allowed to escape with the women, the children, and the elderly of his kobold clan. The party asked what was in it for them, and demanded to know where the kobold gold was. Meepo showed them through all the rooms of the kobold-controlled tunnels, and explained their was no treasure beyond what the party had already taken from Yusdrayl in their bloody attack. After much discussion, it was decided to allow the women, children, and elderly to leave with their lives.
All of Yusdrayl's magic items were taken, and the stone dragon's snout bashed until it broke and released the iron key.
The party opened the last unexplored room in the kobold-controlled tunnels and found four goblin prisoners. The prisoners begged to be let loose from the chains that restrained them. The goblins appeared happy to be saved from the kobold-captivity…after all, only two fates awaited them. They were to be ransomed back to the goblins or cooked in a kobold pot and served for dinner. Gremag used a charm spell and the goblins were questioned. The goblins confirmed a vision that Zeek had experienced…involving a Twilight Grove deep below them in the earth. The goblins whispered fearfully of a strange human named Belak who grows strange plants in the unnatural light of this Grove. Belak is the one who harvests apples from the Gulthias Tree, and gives the apples to the Goblins to distribute on the surface. That is all the goblins knew about Belak, since it is actually their Chiefton who deals directly with him. They did know that the midsummer fruit has healing properties, while the midwinter fruit steals life from the one who consumes it.
When the subject turned to lost human adventurers…the goblins insisted they knew nothing about the humans. If you believe that these goblins have been captives here for over a month, then it is easy to believe they know nothing of the human adventurers that disappeared about a month ago. The party left the goblins chained up, with promises that they would come back for them shortly. It was decided to check out the unopened door by the entrance to the Sunless Citadel…before pressing on…
THE DRAGON PRIEST'S TOMB
The first room beyond the circular tower entrance was in severe disrepair. In some places the walls had fallen
in completely, leaving large piles of rubble here and there. But there was a wonderful door set in one wall. This
stone door had a relief carved into it of a rearing dragon, and the door's keyhole was situated in the dragon's
open mouth. As Kit approached the door, a large rat charged her from the pile of rubble…and a thrown crossbow bolt
from Kit's hand-bow cut the critter down in its tracks.
The iron key from Yusdrayl's throne room was placed in the keyhole, and the lock clicked open with a loud click. Beyond was a long chamber with 4 recesses in the walls. Three of the recesses contained cracked and scorched looking globes sitting on pedestals. The fourth recess contained a similar globe and pedestal, except that the globe was in perfect shape…and it was glowing with a soft blue light.
When the party approached this glowing globe, a horrible music sprang forth from it…sending half the adventuring party running from the room in abject terror. Zeek placed the globe in a bag and tried to muffle this forlorn and frightful music, while Collin played his own music to counter its magical effects. Several means to stop the music was attempted, but in the end Zeek was forced to smash the globe…thus ending the horrible sounds.
Beyond this room was a hallway, which Zeek and Collin entered…triggering an arrow trap. Every step taken in the room caused an arrow to be fired at the source of the pressure on the floor. Both Zeek and Collin were hit by at least one arrow. Zeek leapt to the end of the hallway, and entered the next room. Disabling the trap proved difficult, but the party pooled its resources and it was disarmed.
The next chamber had a statue of a dragon carved from red-and-white marble. When the party came close to the statue, its marble mouth opened and closed, speaking the following riddle:
"We come by night without being fetched; we disappear by day without being stolen."
Collin spoke the word "Stars," as though it was an automatic response. He had hardly had time to think about it! A hidden door opened in the wall seconds after he had spoken this answer to the riddle.
The next room was long and thin, with 3 alcoves set into the left and right walls. In each of these alcoves stood a statue of a tall elf in plate mail carved from red-and-white marble, except for one alcove…which was empty. At the end of the long room was an archway, but in front of this archway was a 10 foot long, 20 foot wide pit. At the bottom of the pit were long spikes set into the floor. Through the archway trickled a greenish light.
As the party made its way down the length of the room, Kit noticed a secret door in the back of one of the alcoves. Behind the secret door she located a short dead-end hallway that only went about 20 feet. Wiping away layers of dust, Kit read the following words carved into the back wall of the hallway:
"A dragonpriest entombed alive for transgressions of the Law still retains the honor of his position."
Kit found a hidden trapdoor beneath her feet, and upon opening it, found a small tunnel running towards the room leaking the greenish light. Most of the party made its way through this tunnel and came up through the floor of the dragonpriest's tomb. It was a torch hung in the corner that was providing the greenish light. The party approached a large stone sarcophagus in the center of the room. It was carved in the image of a dragon laying on its back, its head stretched up into the air, its wings wrapped around the "body" of the coffin. Six metal binding held the large stone lid in place. Zeek began working on these bindings.
At about that time, Kerboch (who had remained on the other side of the pit) ran and jumped the pit…in order to join the party in investigating the sarcophagus. As he landed, a impish creature appeared out of mid-air and clawed at his neck and face. Kerboch nearly fell backwards into the pit encrusted with spikes. Kerback swung at the creature with the flat of his large bastard sword, striking it hard. The creature attacked again, and this time Kerboch felt poison entering his body. Kit threw a cloak over the winged hell-spawn, as Kerach swung his sword again. Kit managed to capture the creature, but Kerbach knocked Kit unconscious with his massive blow. Kerback dove onto the trapped creature, and swinging it by its leg, he smashed it into the floor. Incapacitated, the creature was easily bound.
Kerback woke the bound creature and threatened it. The Quasit said that its name was Jot, and that it had resided in this hall for at least a thousand years…since the end of the last age. He told the party that a dragonpriest had broken the law by assuming the form of a troll with a polymorph spell. As punishment, he was entombed here by the other dragonpriests…and Jot had been magically bound to protect the tomb. Jot then made it clear that his job was done and that he wished to leave. He went on to add that if the party did not release him, or chose to harm him, he would call in favors owed him by more powerful fellow demons, and cause the party all sorts of hardship. It was decided to let Jot go, and he left with assurances that he would not seek revenge upon the party….
The party turned its attention to the sarcophagus, everyone working together to remove the metal binding holding it closed. The party was well aware of what it was probably releasing from its tomb, and was fully prepared. The lid removed the huge and horrible gray-skinned creature rose from its grave…violent blows raining down upon it from the party. The dragonpriest/troll swung about with its huge arms, its large toothy mouth throwing thick strings of drool with each snap of its jaws. It centered its attention on Zeek and sprung at him…clawing and biting at him. Zeek fell back severely injured, while the rest of the party continued to pour on the attacks.
The dragonpriest/troll collapsed to the floor. The body was quickly stripped of its jewelry and valuables, and then thrown into the spiked pit. Flammable liquids were thrown in and lit aflame. Scrolls and other treasure were located in the sarcophagus….
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