Ghoul court

Session 7 resumes with Group One, Thorg (aka “the Bloody”), Reeny Reenmel and Huggra, attempting to apprehend the escaped assassin in the mysterious caverns beneath the Keep.  Meanwhile, Group Two, the others, confers with Carspadmir and Zeleth, then decide to retrieve Group One’s gear and meet up with them below.

PCs present:  Thorg, Mike, Huggra, Ebin, Grunk, Orwill, Reeny

Group One:  Having killed a bizarre humanoid create at the underground lake, the three waded to a small island and tried to decide where to search.  They headed to a westward passageway filled with fire beetles, thought better of it, then doubled back.  Huggra noticed the heat signature of a figure splashing through the waster and running north, so they gave chase.  The party withstood severa barehanded yet powerful strikes from the unarmed man as he led them on a winding path through uncharted tunnels.  Finally, they emerged in a great, pillared hall and continued to head north.

Soon, other figures became apparent peering from behind the pillars ahead.  Their eyes glowed a sickly yellow but the elf could not see them against the cold background of the hall.  The man they were chasing hesitated.  Thorg caught up and entreated the man to join them in fighting this new common foe.  The tongue-less man seemed to agree but was reluctant to respond to other questioning.

Group Two.  Back in the main keep, Zeleth the Prefect expressed his displeasure to Dame Carspadmir at not being notified of these caverns, the alchemical lab, or the attempts by the dwarves to seek some unknown object beneath.

The remainder of the party quickly retrieved the gear of Group One and, led by Greytar the Mage, who had discovered maps of the caverns in the Keep’s old archives, they descended the great stairs to the first level.  Aided by the maps, they quickly made their way through levels two and three, encountering only silence, until they finally found the passage down to the lower level, where they surmised the passage from the lab must lead.

After a short while spent attempting to defeat fire beetles who blocked their way, they found tracks in the fungi and lichens carpeting the caverns which led them to the same great hall where their fellows had caught up to their quarrey.

Full Party.  At the sight of new foes, the man once again broke away and attempted to flee north.  Suddenly stopping at the entrace to a huge cavern, the party caught up to him and was able to subdue and capture him.  Then they noticed what had given the man pause – the huge cavern was filled with more than a dozen pairs of glowing eyes.  Moreover, the cavern was ringed with what appeared to be tall, black pillars which came to a point at their tops.  It was as if they had entered the maw of a gigantic dragon.

Tossing a light into the cavern, they saw the largest tooth of all, smooth and black, taller than a man and carved with strange, orcish runes.  A figure was seated on a stone at its base, a dragon skull on his head and a huge, double-bladed battleaxe cradled in two hairy paws.  His fellows gathered near him, bestial, emaciated, simply skin and bones, but their eyes glowing hungrily at the sudden appearance of so much tender flesh and blood.

The erstwhile king of the creatures called out from his stony throne in the orcish tongue, so Huggra the elf parleyed with him.  They said they had been bound to this place for many centuries by their high priest; all were worshippers of what they called the Earth Dragon, and this was its shrine.  An eternity they had pledged to stand guard but the weight of lonely centuries crushed their ever more fragile minds and a complete lack of sentient flesh made them wither almost to nothing.  Only release or feeding would satisfy them now.  They begged for someone to remove the terrible curse on them.

As they spoke, they could not help but notice the huge piles of coin, gems and jewelry littering the floor along with the gnawed bones of many unfortunates, for these were ghouls who plundered the crypts and graves of the cemetary above.  Then someone noticed that the axe the creature bore was somewhat familiar, very similar in appearace to the blood red axe of the Principality’s standards.  The party, bearing the subdued prisoner, made their way back to the surface to confer with Carspadmir and her advisors and attempt to discern the meaning of this, and what steps to take next.

Remove the curse, destroy the creatures, or both?  Their king had admitted that, though they would like to aid any attempt to remove their curse, the proximity of living flesh would inevitably drive them mad with hunger.  It was Orwill who hit on the solution – feed the orcish ghouls with their orcish prisoners, taken in the many raids on the Caves to the east.  Pikemen were summoned to escort the group and deal with the pesky beetles, while Carspadmir, Hagalpin and Greytar accompanied them to the ghouls’ cavern.

The plan was for the orc prisoners to be used as bait to attract most of the ghouls, then the party could deal with those that were left while protecting Hagalpin, who was to remove the curse from the gigantic dragon tooth.

And it worked.  Mike whipped the terrified orcs into the cavern while Reeny intimidated them with his martial prowess; three and a half feet of halfling warrior was difficult to resist.  Many ghouls fell upon both the orcs and their guards.  Huggra, Orwill and Thorg covered Hagalpin with bowfire, and Ebin held forth his holy symbol to the ghoul king and those nearby.

The king’s guards lept to attack Hagalpin but Ebin turned even more of the fiends, and, after several attempts, Hagalpin removed the curse from the dragon tooth.  With that, the surviving ghouls collapsed to the ground, released from their existence.

It was Carspadmir herself who strode forth and claimed the axe from the dead hands of the ghoul – the Red Axe of Ulek, heirloom of the house of Corond and token of the true Prince.  It had been lost more than two centuries hence when the Prince sent his right hand to subdue the lands across the Jewel in the name of Ulek.  The traditions of Ulek held that lands could be annexed to the realm only by one who wielded the Axe, their former lords bowing before it upon their submission.

He rode out but was never heard from again, and no record existed of his eventual fate.  But it was within the Keep that he fell during a siege, and in a crypt outside the north wall that he was interred with all his earthly possessions by lowly servants who did not realize the great treasure he bore.

Very soon, ravens were on the wing to all nearby friends and allies of Ulek, seeking promises of aid and succor to the agents of the crown.  Hopefully the replies would be positive, and quick.  Only then could it be decided what to do with the Axe, surrounded as they were by many enemies and wild, hostile lands.

Footnotes:

  • The garrison now refers to the party as, variously, “The Head Takers” or “The Head Hunters”.  Thorg is called “Thorg the Bloody” or “Thorg the Bold” for both his habit of coming close to death in most battles plus his headlong dive down the tunnel after the escaped assassin.
  • The humans of the garrison – most of the rank-and-file and subordinates – are grumbling about why the dwarves hid the fact of the alchemy lab and the attempts to access the caverns.
  • The loot was substanial, although the jewelry turned out to be priceless heirlooms of the Principality.  One more headache, along with the axe.  None of these can be allowed to fall into enemy hands.
  • The party found some strange fungus in the caves:  some good for eating, some that heal and some that are poisonous.
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