After leaving the ogre lair, the party made good time upriver. Before long then spotted the escarpment across some grassland, about a mile northwest from the riverbank. As they headed toward it, they could just make out some sort of manmade structure on top of the bluff.
About halfway to their goal, Roger heard the sounds of hooves and a group of eight men on horses charged from around a hillock. The party quickly dispatched them and searched the dead. The men bore the manacle brands on their arms that the PCs had seen before. Gathering up the horses, the party hastily disguised themselves to look like the patrol. To explain the presence of the extra horses, they loosely bound Fyodor to appear as if he were a prisoner, and led him on a rope.
The group had nearly reached the cliff and could see ravines cut into the face which led into the side of the escarpment. When they were perhaps fifty yards away, there were hoots and shrieks as a pack of rock apes came charging up, throwing rocks and generally raising a lot of noise. The fight was over quickly, but the party decided to turn aside and make a wide circle toward the read of the escarpment.
They rode southwest for a few hours, then turned north. The ground was less flat and more rolling after a while. It was early afternoon when a bellow from ahead alerted them to a cantankerous hill giant in their path. The giant was easily twelve feet tall and demanded meat in crude Common. Martin rode forward a bit and offered the giant one of the horses they had taken from the dead patrol, but the giant was spoiling for a fight and demanded all the horses, throwing a boulder the size of a pig at Martin! Fortunately for the wizard, the rock missed him, and battle was joined.
The giant lay about him with a tree trunk cudgel, and Fyodor charged him with his spear. The party managed to slay the brute quickly and find its lair (just on the other side of the hill). In the cave was a rotted sack of food and another with a mix of coins, some quite old. The maxim about ogres and shiny coins seemed to hold true for giants as well! The group decided to press on to get closer to the the ruins before dark. By nightfall, the party was still a couple miles away, so they made camp on the plains.
It was after midnight when the sound of panicking horses alerted the party that something was drawing near. Six huge trolls came lumbering out of the dark and attacked the animals, causing them to start pulling their pickets and trying to flee. The characters jumped to defend themselves and the beasts.
The fight was brutal. The trolls ravenous and powerful. Fyodor attacked with his blade [i]Trollcutter[/i], but was lacking his armor since he had been off watch, resting. Martin managed to ensnare three of the trolls in a [i]Web[/i] spell. Roger and Cromartie fired arrows at them, but all the wounds kept closing and the trolls kept fighting. Roger lit the web on fire and the trolls inside shrieked in pain.
By now the horses that had not been slain had bolted. The three trolls in the web were dead from the flames and the party was holding its own against the remaining three.
Then Fyodor fell.
The three trolls surrounded him. He scored several hits, but was literally torn apart. With the loss of their best melee fighter, the party had no choice but to retreat. They fell back, leaving the trolls their prizes of horse and man-flesh.
After giving the trolls a few minutes to gorge, Cromartie crept forward and harried them with arrows to make them charge, then he retreated, still peppering them with arrows, drawing them off. The last the group saw of him, Cromartie was perhaps a hundred yards ahead of the trolls, leading them toward the rising sun, still firing arrows every so often to keep their attention fixed on him.
THe rest of the group set about recovering what mounts and gear they could. Roger found part of Fyodor’s skull and wrapped it up to take with, in case a priest could work some resurrection magic.
Of Fyodor’s gear, only the magic shield from the goblin lair, and Trollcutter survived. Roger took these with him as well.
It was day now, the party decided to retreat to the giant’s lair and lick their wounds while preparing their next move.
Upon arriving outside the cave, the party smelled woodsmoke. Someone (or something) was inside the lair. A cautious approach and hail were made. It turned out that two fighting men, a traladaran peltast (known as Spearhunter) and a dwarf warrior named Ollimarus, got separated from a caravan they had been guarding and had found the cave last night. Deciding neither group meant the other any harm, the exchanged news and the party invited the two warriors to join them, having lost both of their fighters.
During the night, giant flies came circling the rotting head of the hill giant that was staked out nearby, and some harassed the party, but the disgusting insects were driven off.
The party worked it way in a wide circle past where the trolls had attacked them and continued around to approach Xitaqa from the north. As they approached, Pavel sought beasts or birds to use his Speak with Animals spell on, in order to gather news. When he spotted shapes flying from the area of the ruins, his hopes were dashed when the group saw they were giant bats diving to attack. The bats were no match for the characters, though and soon they were all dead.
The group was now quite close to the ruins and could see it was some sort of tower, with part of the top crumbled or broken. The ravines they had seen from the escarpment side seemed to wind through the ground below them, like tunnels open to the sky.
A cautious descent into a nearby ravine revealed that there were carved stone edifices with doorways periodically along the walls. They were very ancient, but a few had doors in the frames. As a few of them investigated this, the sound of approaching feet was heard around the bend in the ravine. Roger crept forward and spied a goblin patrol with several baboons on leashes approaching.
The ensuing fight was over quickly. Martin’s Sleep spell once again used to great effect. Pavel healed and woke one wounded baboon, then used his spell on it to ask about the ruins. He tried to enlist the creatures in the party’s cause, but the beast wanted none of it and had little useful information to give. It scampered off quickly and left the party by itself again.
By now the day was getting old and the shadows long. The group moved along the ravines, which wound around and joined up with others. Roger climbed out occasionally and got his bearings on the tower. The edifices led into what looked like ancient dwelling cut into the sides of the passages. Most were empty, some held goblin beddings, a few had some goblins inside, which the party quickly dispatched. One dwelling had a tribe of baboons, but rather than fight them, the character quickly shut the door and left the beasts in peace. The simians did not pursue.
One of the last structures they looked in turned out to be an improvised stable, with a fine warhorse tethered inside. There was room for more mounts, so the party stabled their own beasts there for the time being, reasoning it was the last place anyone would expect to find a stranger’s horse.
Around the corner, the group found a open space with large bronze doors at the base of the tower facing in. There was also a structure partially sticking out of a wall by the tower with a heavy stone door that looked like it was part of the tower complex as well.
The party decided to forgo the bronze doors and check the stone one first. Ollimarus opened it up, revealing a cobwebbed and dusty room full of shelves, covered in scrolls and tomes. As he stepped in, he cautiously checked above the doorway. Thus he saw the gigantic black widow spider that dropped on him from atop a shelf! He blocked its bite with his shield and slashed with his axe. Spearhunter stabbed at it from behind the squat dwarf as well. The creature was badly hurt and retreated up into the webs. The party shut the door and considered the situation.
Martin wished to see some of the papers inside, so they decided to quickly open the door and let him scan the shelves right next to the entrance. Ollimarus readied his crossbow and spied the arachnid up near the ceiling in the webs. He fired and it dropped behind the bookcase with a thud.
The party explored the rest of the room, Martin nearly being killed by a SECOND giant spider. After it was dead, he discovered an exquisite ebony writing set on a web covered desk that was crawling with tiny, immature spiders. He managed to sweep the bugs off and grab the set.
The documents were old and crumbling, written in a strange language. Martin found one set of three leather bound books that had survived the ages slightly better than the loose parchments.
The party cleared a path through the webs to a set of low stairs going up to a door. Beyond it was a large octagonal room with a few doors leading out, a low fountain basin in the center, tapestries hanging on two walls, and a jackal-headed statue in one corner.
A low growl came from behind a tapestry and out burst a hug white wolf and a hobgoblin warrior. The other curtain revealed a second white wolf. Martin’s Sleep spell dropped one wolf, but the warrior and the other kept charging. The wolf let loose an icy blast of breath on Pavel and Ollimarus.
The fight was bloody, but the hobgoblin and wolf finally fell. The sleeping wolf was also dispatched. Martin discovered gold ingots hidden under the rubbish in the dried out fountain. More hobgoblins lay behind one door, which led to the main entrance foyer (with the bronze doors). Another jackal-headed statue was there too.
One of the other doors in the fountain room led downward, the other way had a spiral stairway going up. The party carefully worked their way to to the top of the steps, passing a landing, to reach a closed door. The sounds of angry voices could be heard behind the door.
The room contained a bizarre invisibility effect that covered most of the room, the prisoner Stephan, an evil wizard who left almost immediately, and an angry (invisibile) minotaur. The party managed to get past and pull Stephan (who was bound to a chair) out of the room, getting to the opposite stairway (where the wizard had been seen fleeing). Pavel had taken some hits from the monster in the process, but when everyone was clear of the room, they spiked the door shut and went up the steps after the wizard.
Bypassing a strange painting gallery with two statues of jackal-headed men, the group headed for the top floor. In the mage’s chambers, he blasted Ollimarus with a wand of fire. Roger managed to lasso both the mage and the dwarf as they fought, pinning the wizard’s arm, but not his wand hand, which he used to blast the dwarf again and ignite the rope. One of Spearhunter’s javelins struck home before the mage was freed. Fortunately for the dwarf, his axe hand was unpinned and he slashed upward at the wizard’s face, cutting open his throat. The mage collapsed in a bloody spray.
The room contained much treasure, including a silver needle and golden thread that seemed to be connected with the Sukiskyn Tapestry, according to Stephan’s story. Roger explored the room and the rooftop and declared the room safe enough to rest in (it now being nearly midnight). Nightly and Pavel healed those who were wounded and checked Stephan’s health. Then the party blocked the door and settled in for the remainder of the night.
The following morning, the party left the wizard’s quarters and descended tot he gallery once more. The gallery’s paintings were quite old and depicted portraits of more jackal-headed humanoids in fine robes. Some of the pictures had spy holes in them and hid secret doors to a concealed corridor which circled the room. Roger carefully tossed a rope around one statue and dragged it partway toward the door. Even though they were only four feet tall, they appeared to be solid pink jade. Each easily weighted over three hundred pounds. The group decided the statues would be too difficult to transport and left them there.
Before re-entering the room with the invisibility, Martin cast an illusion of the wizard to order the creature to back off as the party passed. Sounds of confused snorting followed, but the beast did not attack.
The phantasm of Golthar the wizard led the group down the steps to the room where they’d fought the ice wolves and the hobgoblin. There was still one door they had not explored: the one leading down.
The stairs led to an underground chamber, divided by alcoved walls. The room appeared to be a crypt, but no sign of remains were to be seen. As the group started to explore, Roger and Ollimarus started around a corner and were suddenly flanked by a pair of attacking gelatinous cubes! Roger backpedaled from the nigh-transparent ooze, but the dwarf was caught leaning and the corrosive slime burned into his arm, secreting paralyzing toxins into his system.
Ollimarus was engulfed by one cube as Roger retreated. Nightly managed to evade the other cube and cast Resist Fire on Ollimarus before the party peppered the cube with oil and flame. Martin using the wand he had taken from the mage. Pavel circled the room to attack from behind, but was also engulfed by the cube. The cube without a victim was destroyed first, followed shortly by its counterpart, freeing the dwarf just before he suffocated.
Ollmarus’s gear was mostly demolished. His backpack and nearly all its contents were in tatters. His shield was corroded beyond use, but his axes and mail had withstood the acid. Pavel was not so badly hurt, having only been in contact with the corrosive and toxic slime for a short time. Nightly used her healing magic to free them from the effects of the poison and healed the wounded as much as possible.
At this point, the party decided to use the rest of the daylight to get out of the ruins and Stephan to safety. They quickly left the tower and headed for their mounts. Taking the warhorse as an extra mount (so Stephan could ride), the galloped through the ravines toward the river. Once in the open, the headed back to the dead hill giant’s lair. Finding it empty, the picketed the horses and caught their breath.
When Stephan was asleep. Pavel took the needle and thread they’d found and set it to the tapestry Fyodor and Roger had “brought along” from Sukiskyn. The needle moved on its own, stitching the glowing thread through th efabric. It pulled together parts of the tapestry making it into a coherent map. Then it outlined a path from from an area the resembled Xitaqa’s location to a location in the northern mountains. The thread around the destination pulsed and glowed for several seconds.
Among the wizard’s treasure had been a scroll case holding a page written in the same ancient language they’d seen in the spider-infested library. Roger looked over the books that Martin had taken and compared it to the letter. He was able to piece together what it said.
I Baistqet, high priestess, do command your return to Hutaaka. The starts have changed and our power wanes. Strange creatures harry us from the mountains and our people grow restless. We are stretched too thin. Bring the treasures of the temples and the people of the lowlands to feed the one. The sacred tapestries and your silver needles show the path.
After completing the rough translation, Roger spent the rest of the evening appraising some of the treasure they’d found. By his estimates, if they could get the loot back to civilization, they’d see a tidy profit indeed.