The party had made a huge dent in the ogre forces last time. They had snuck into the fort through the secret passage behind the waterfall, taken out the ogres on the wall and in the courtyard, and in a bit of serendipity found a group of ogres residing in the barracks that the party was able to burn to the ground and eliminate all who resided inside. But no Black Arrows had been found alive yet, plus there were likely plenty of ogres remaining, including Jaagrath Kreeg and his two sons (Silas and Hookmaw) inside the keep at Fort Rannick, plus who knew what other horrors were yet to be found.
The party took a minute to regroup, and Jakardros was able to provide a quick layout of the first floor of the main keep. The doors had been broken down during the ogre's initial attack and had repaired (to a point) so the party crept forward and slipped into the main hall. What might once have been a well-maintained entrance hall was now swathed in horror. Dried blood caked the stone walls; bits and pieces of armor, weaponry, and flesh littered the floor; and flies clouded the air. Tapestries that once bore the insignia of the Black Arrows had been torn from the walls and now lay on the floor in shreds, coated with filth.
Kheo crept forwarded and did some scouting. He reported he had heard voices coming from a room to the left, a room Jakardros stated was the armory. The party opted to move to the room to the right, the workroom. As they opened the door and looked in they saw lathes, sawhorses, and other tools laying in scattered, shattered ruin on the floor. The walls were smeared with gore, in some places forming messy graffiti. The graffiti, written in Giant, included such phrases as: "Me Big-a-Big, You- Small-a- Small, I Eat Your Head!" and "You Never Think Me Write All Over with You Bloody Neck, I'm Holding You by Mig-a-Mug and Use You as Paint Brush! Har!"
The painter of these happy verses was taking a break from his work to chew on the mangled, decapitated body of his latest "paintbrush." One of the few literate Kreegs, Gragavan was an ogre who fancied himself something of a poet. Shortly after taking the keep Gragavan found that one of the Black Arrows, a lanky mumbling simpleton named Petter, had kept a diary of utterly inane "poetry" that proved even more puerile than his own. He promptly hooked off the ranger's head and had been using the man's putrefying corpse as a calligraphy brush ever since. He laughed and hurled Petter at the party and then drew his weapon and charged.
Vale and Stike quickly moved forward and headed off the assault and drove the huge ogre fighter into retreat. Vale took the brunt of the damage (something that would happen several times this evening), but between the two fighters and some well-placed aerial support the ogre was soon vanquished.
The party then moved to the room on the left where Kheo had heard the voices, the room Jakardros identified as the armory. The wall where the door once was has been smashed in and the door propped up so that it worked, more or less anyway. This large room was filled with several heavy wooden racks, all bristling with pikes, long swords, and quivers of barbed arrows.
When the party opened the door and looked in they saw two ogres are at play in the armory, trying on human-sized suits of armor and helmets, guffawing at each others "tiny man clothes" and then shuffling about in them. Upon interruption they roared and attacked the party, the poorly fitting armor affecting their speed and agility. Again it was Stike and Vale who delivered most of the damage and these two ogres were soon defeated.
Back in the hallway Jakardros pointed out that several of the smaller rooms that lined the outer wall of the keep were guestrooms. The party inspected the guestrooms along the left side of the keep and found that while the rooms had been turned but the ogres hadn't bothered to go out of their way to ruin the furniture - at least not yet anyway.
Jakardros then pointed out that the general barracks room was the next likely space to inspect. Stike and Vale stepped into the room and could see that these barracks were once comfortable and well appointed, but they were now filled with nothing but splintered bunks, torn bedding, and smashed tables and chairs.
They also saw four ogres and they squatted and squabbled amongst themselves. The point of contention was who would get to wear a hollowed out horse head. Irate at having their argument disturbed the ogres snatched up their clubs and rusty hooks and moved forward to attack the intruders.
Stike and Vale stood fast and took the brunt of the attack, but several of the party members decided it was best to run around the outside hallway to the doors on the backside of the barracks. It took a couple of turns for them to reach their destination, but just as they opened the rear door to the barracks from up the hallway a huge ogre responded to the noise and charged down the hallway.
One of Jaagrath's sons, an unfortunately handsome ogre named Silas, swung a mean looking ogre hook as he moved forward. Although Silas's body resembled his hulking father, his face was strangely symmetrical and free of warts, bone spurs, and gristle - far too pretty for Jaagrath's liking. Jaagrath had shaved off the entire right side of Silas' face, leaving a pulped ruin with skull showing through in places. Every week or so, Jaagrath "fixed" his son's face with his hook, just to keeping him looking "right."
While Stike and Vale were able to finish off the ogre's in the barracks, it was up to the rest of the party to fight off this latest incursion. Silas was able to deal damage to several of the party members, but the party gave as well as it took, and Stike and Vale arrived just in time to provide the final fatal blows to the huge ogre.
With the post-fight silence having returned to the hall, the party was quickly able to check out the remainder of the first floor of the keep. They first found the library, a room that included a long table with benches to either side opposite a bookshelf filled with dozens of books, most of which have been torn from the shelves, mangled, and then messily stuffed back in place. Jakardros noted that the rangers had used this room as a place to keep important documents about their order, atlases, bestiaries, and other books that held their interest, although the remnants were likely useless at this time.
The next area was the mess hall, kitchen, and pantry, all the contents therein smashed and destroyed, save for one barrel in the back corner of the pantry. After a careful inspection the party determined the barrel contained pickled fish - a delicacy whose smell the ogres simply couldn't stomach.
The last room to inspect was the infirmary, the room from where Silas had launched his attack. Once used to house the wounded and sick, this chamber was now a slice of blood-drenched nightmare. Hacked pieces of bodies littered the sick beds. The floor was slick with gore, strewn with mangled organs and heaps of entrails. A dead fat man sat at one of the operating tables, arranged as if he were merrily spooning chunks of his own disembodied organs out of a brown bowl. His guts spilled out of a large slash in his belly. Silas had a bit of a cruel artistic streak in him - his medium was death. Jakardros identified the fat man, once a cleric of Erastil who dwelt here, as Silas's latest masterpiece.
The only thing remaining on the first floor for the party to inspect were the two sets of stairs, one that led up to the second level of the keep, and one that led down to the cells. Jakardros said that upstairs was where the commanders quarters and the chapel were located, and that was likely where Jaagrath would be located. Outside of the keep itself were the upper ramparts. The party quickly decided that upstairs would be their next destination, so after a quick rest to do a little healing the party moved up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs the party could see down a long hallway, with several doors to the left and right. Ahead and around the corner to the right was the commander’s quarters, so the party decided to check out the chapel, the first door to the right.
The walls within this enormous chamber were mounted with dozens of trophy antlers, some taken from stags that must have stood as tall as dire bears. Most of the antlers were draped with bits of rotten flesh, strips of skin, or coils of viscera. To the west, a marble altar has been heaped with the mangled remains of at least a half-dozen dead men and women. A crude image of what might be a three-eyed jackal has been painted in blood on the wall above the altar's alcove.
Jaagrath, the dread "pappy" of the Kreegs, quietly and calmly sat here as he created taxidermy terrors out of dead rangers, horses, bits of giant eagle, and the many antlers found here. His "masterpieces" hung about the room on bloody hooks - men with eagle heads sewn to their bodies, a horse with a woman's face where its own face once drooped, dead men with huge sets of antlers jutting from their bodies, and men with stags' heads and hooves.
Jaagrath Kreeg was "pappy" by blood but also by might. He stood easily 14 feet in height, and his arms were the size of the Mushfens' largest boa constrictors. He preferred to squeeze the life out of foes face-to-face, casually gnawing off cheeks and lips so their screams resonated through his skull (he liked the funny buzzing their cries make in his head). He maintained dominance over the rest of his kin through a number of brutal means ranging from rape to mutilation. None dare disobey his commands.
Jaagrath was irate at having been disturbed. He had assumed the other ogre's could handle any disturbance that might interfere with the running of the keep, but instead there now stood several puny humans interrupting his artistic endeavors. He swung his huge ogre hook and charged. Again Stike and Vale stepped forward to take the brunt of the attack (although it continued to be Vale who actually took the damage) while the rest of the party arrayed itself around the chapel and peppered the huge ogre with arrows and magic.
The party's quick action and concentrated fire soon had the ogre chieftain lying defeated in his own blood. Jakardros told the party that if the ogre's knew their chieftain was dead they would likely flee, but otherwise the party could expect a fierce fight from whoever may remain in the keep.
The next room to be inspected was the commander’s quarters. As the party opened the door they could see that the walls of this room were decorated with finely crafted long swords, stuffed animal heads, and a map of the Hook Mountain environs. A large oak table surrounded by several chairs has been smashed to splinters, and an immense bed has similarly been ruined. An open cabinet that once contained several bottles of wine has been crushed as well and broken bottles and the faint scent of wine lingers around its ruins.
This is where the commander of the Black Arrows, Lamatar Bayden, once resided. The current occupants was Jaagrath's mistress and seer, a sorcerer named Dorelia. The ogress was attended in turn by one of her lovers, Harlock "Hookmaw" Kreeg. Hookmaw was Jaagrath's son and half brother. Jaagrath tortured the boy day and night when he was young, and when he came of age, as a special rite of passage, papa pulled his teeth and had replaced them with a specially forged set of metal teeth strapped to his face by a too-tight leather harness that squeezed his skull tortuously.
Dorelia Kreeg herself was Jaagrath's daughter and wife. Dorella was the only spellcaster among the Kreegs, and was both feared and prized by her kin. The ogres believe she had the "touch o' spirits," granting her magic powers. Dorelia had her head bashed in by one of her dozens of brothers when she was young. She "ain't never been right" since, but the nearly fatal head wound seemed to have granted her a strange magical gift.
Hookmaw raged and wailed at the party members in the doorway, while Dorelia intended to use her spells to weaken and confuse the party members. Only her spells fizzled, the Silence spell that Selinor cast into the room depriving her of the ability to cast her spells.
From behind the party a doorway across the hallway opened and two more ogre's appeared and quickly jumped into the fight, but it was almost too little too late. The two ogre's were quickly killed, and with Hookmaw quickly waylaid as well, Dorelia was too was soon killed in a flurry of blows.
A quick inspection of the remainder of the second floor of the keep revealed no more ogres alive. No more were alive outside of the keep either, hiding on the ramparts or in any of the towers. There was the bell tower left to inspect, but the party wanted to comb these rooms a little further before moving on.
The last two ogres had emerged from a room Jakardros called the Tribunal. Smashed chairs and a ruined table sit in this once regal chamber. Along the curved east wall hung tattered remnants of several regional maps. The two ogres had hung three Black Arrow ranger corpses from the rafters here and were in the process of bleeding them into grimy buckets.
Next to the tribunal was the map room. Wood and glass cases lay in ruins; the hundreds of sheaves of parchment within were now spilled about, spattered in blood and torn to shreds. This room contained dozens of maps of the Hook Mountain region and other Varisian locales. Now, only a few remain intact; one detailing several of the smugglers' tunnels beneath Riddleport (worth 50 GP to a smuggler), another detailing the first few poisonous levels of Viperwall (worth 400 GP to an interested party), and another of the hidden paths of Lurkwood's interior (worth 700 GP to explorers set on investigating the mist shrouded woods). Several party members considered stuffing these maps into their tunics, but instead opted to leave them for the Black Arrows to sort through later if they should choose to.
Although the Kreegs had done quite a number on the contents of the commander’s quarters, the party noticed that the bottom of the wine cabinet contained a hidden compartment. At the bottom of the lowest drawer the party pulled away several thin slats of wood to expose what was hidden within: a flat wooden coffer, a pair of soft green leather boots, and a tiny jewelry box.
The coffer contained dozens and dozens of parchment sheets, all containing beautifully-written love sonnets to someone named "Myriana," who (if the sonnets were to be believed) was so beautiful that the moon itself was "blinded when it spied her dancing on the tarn," and who is "the truest grace to know Whitewillow's soft embrace." Jakardros told the party that "Whitewillow" is a section of the Shimmerglens said to be particularly close to one of the portals to the First World. The boots were a pair of Boots of the Mire. The jewelry box contained a silver locket on a chain; inside the locket was a lock of silky golden hair.
All three of these items were surprises to any of the surviving Black Arrows - none of them knew Lamatar Bayden had a creative side, much less a poetic side. After a few minutes of thought, both Vale and Jakardros agree that Lamatar did in fact leave Fort Rannick for 2 to 3 days at a time, once each month, on what he called his "communion walks," lone treks made through the region, supposedly to put him closer to the realm he had been charged to guard. Jakardros noted that the commander was on just such a walk the night the attack on Fort Rannick came ... but how would the ogres have known when exactly to strike the fort unless one of the Black Arrows told them when their commander was leaving the fort for a night?
Both Jakardros and Vale become hopeful upon learning of Lamatar's affair, and clung to the possibility that their beloved commander may yet be alive, and was only hiding out in Whitewillow - perhaps preparing to strike back against the ogres. As they discussed the possibilities Jakardros asked Kaven to go ahead and inspect the watchtower. Selinor and Reynard offered to go with him and followed the youngest of the Black Arrows up the steps.
At the top of the steps was a bell tower. A cracked bell hanging from a huge oaken frame takes up most of this chamber's upper half. The ringer has been removed and replaced with an upside-down dead ranger, a steel helm strapped tightly to his skull. A broken worktable and three chairs sit below, stained with the dead man's blood
Beyond the bell was the door to a small room and Kaven quickly moved over and opened the door. This simple room might have once been a jailer's den, or perhaps even a torture chamber, but someone had gone through great pains to re-purpose it. The air now smelled of sweet exotic incense, and veils of multicolored silk drape from floor to ceiling throughout. Between the rustlings of the veils, glimpses of giant cushions were revealed. The floor was strewn with luxuriant red throw rugs and sheets.
Lucrecia greeted intruders with open arms and a smile. "Finally, my heroes have come to rescue me," she purred with a slight smirk. Then, in her sultry voice, she turned to Kaven and said "These oafish Kreegs would have had quite a lot of trouble taking Fort Rannick without the lovely details you provided us. Well done, my love!"
Panicked that his darkest secret has been revealed, Kaven bolted out the door started forcing his way down the steps. With the ruckus raised Selinor and Reynard knew that the rest of the party would soon be there, but until then they themselves had to deal with the traitor and Lucrecia. Selinor managed to flip his silenced coin into the room to prevent Lucrecia from casting more spells, but just as the rest of the party arrived the lamia matriarch smiled slightly at the advancing fighters and with a blink she was gone.
Reynard was insistent that she shouldn't have been able to do that, but no doubt she had a trick up her sleeve just for this particular situation. The corpse of Kaven the traitor lay on the steps leading down from the watchtower, an exposed wrist revealing the Sihedron Rune that had been hidden there all these past few days. It was hard to tell which Jakardros was more mad at - that Kaven had been the one truly responsible for the death of the Back Arrows or that he hadn't been able to put the clues together to identify him as the traitor.
A quick look around the room revealed no magic items but the party did find a single scroll in a small scroll tube on which Lucrecia has listed every citizen of Turtleback Ferry who received a Sihedron tattoo from her as "favorite customers of The Paradise." Kaven's name was on this list with a circle around it. The list itself bore only this intriguing header: "Those who have agreed to grant their greed to the master's need."
The party conducted another sweep of the upper floor of the keep, but Lucrecia could not be found, nor was she found on a sweep of the first floor of the keep. Neither were any ogres, so the party moved downstairs to the cells in the basement. These grimy, blood-spattered cells were empty save some fetid straw mats and vermin-ridden blankets, and save for two barely alive Black Arrows rangers. Jakardros and Vale quickly freed them and took them upstairs to get some healing and nourishment.
With the ogres slaughtered to the last, the party had liberated Fort Rannick. Yet the Order of the Black Arrows essentially remained dead; Vale, Jakardros and two emaciated trainees alone could not carry the torch, as much as they might wish to - they would need help, and quickly. Jakardros, Vale, and Shalelu, never far from Jakardros's side, huddled up for most of the evening and long into the night discussing what the next steps were to be.
Finally the next morning arrived and Jakardros asked all of the party members to join him and the Black Arrows. Jakardros explained that if the ogre's mounted an attack on the fort right now they couldn't likely hold it, even with the extra firepower the party could provide. However, with Jaagrath dead, Lucrecia gone, and with the sheer number of ogre's that had perished it was highly unlikely that any attacks would be forthcoming, especially with the winter months approaching.
Jakardros's proposal was that the he, Vale, the two trainees, and Shalelu would stay here and prepare the fort for a possible rebuild in the near future. They could disperse with the dead bodies and filth and clean the place up in the short term, but a group of that size could only do so much. Jakardros asked the party to report back to Mayor Maelin Shreed in Turtleback Ferry with the news of what happened at the fort and to ask the mayor to provide as many volunteers as he can to bolster the Black Arrows forces.
Jakardros also told the party that Shreed should also contact Magnimar. Shreed and Turtleback wouldn't be able to finance the rebuilding of the fort - that would have to come from Magnimar. The Mayor was a savvy businessman though and knew that there were plenty of merchants in Magnimar that would benefit from keeping the Fort open and the Back Arrows functional, but even in the best of situations new supplies would not be able to start arriving until after the winter months were over. "And besides," Jakardros grinned, "You've got that scroll with the names on it. If anybody gives you any grief just wave it around and see what they have to say."
This in turn led to a longer discussion - Jakardros also wanted to go look for Commander Bayden, but simply couldn't do so now. But what he really wanted to know was what was behind the ogres. Jaagrath wasn't smart enough to pull this off by himself, and Lucrecia might have been wily and smart, but that in and of itself wouldn't have been enough to gain the compliance of the ogres. There had to be someone or something else behind the attack on the Fort. And with the ogres considerably weakened, this would be the perfect time to counterattack, but again, given the circumstances, Jakardros had no forces with which to attempt such a thing.
As the discussions went on a plan was formed - The party would first return to Turtleback Ferry and get the news out as well as the requests for further assistance. Then they would return to the fort and commence a search for Commander Bayden. The party would then take off for the highlands and investigate the decimated ogres and see what was behind their attacks.
Over the past two sessions the party had acquired: Seven +1 Hide Armor's, six +1 Ogre Hook's, a +1 Human Bane Ogre Hook, three Potions of Cure Serious, a Wand of Acid Arrow (43 charges), an Amulet of Natural Armor +1, a Belt of Giant Strength +2, a Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, a Ring of Protection +1, and Boots of the Mire. Dorelia's spellbook revealed: (4th) confusion, (3rd) deep slumber, dispel magic, lightning bolt, (2nd) blindness / deafness, hideous laughter, invisibility, mirror image, (1st) charm person, identify, mage armor, magic missile, shield, true strike, (0th) acid splash, dancing lights, doze, ghost sound, mage hand, mending, message, prestidigitation.
And we’ll pick it up from there next time. For tonight's efforts each party member earned 21,000 XP, giving them (51,000 + 21,000) 72,000 XP earned so far, with 75,000 XP required, and eventually 105,000 XP required to reach Level 10.