The main party traveled west afoot and invisible, paralleling the Blueflood while Aldeberon delivered the party’s horses to the Druid, who claimed he intended to fight the seeming threat engulfing the region and would be happy to watch them. Using the Goat of Travelling, he soon rejoined the party as they neared the Paren River, where it met the Blueflood. Aldeberon had paralleled that river, more or less, for some time, with no sign of a crossing. As they crested the slope leading down to the great river, the party spotted a small party of Ogres and Bugbears sitting by a fire and two small boats. Aldeberon, the only one visible, hailed the group, which sent half its number to investigate. They came in a wide line, likely fearing a trap. With arrows on their longbows, the lead Ogre ordered Aldeberan to surrender. Instead, Iban and Cadwallider each dropped a Bugbear with a sleep spell and Parker backstabbed the Ogre, while Aldeberan attacked from the front. The others began heading down the hill at a steady pace to ensure the boats were not taken. The group at the top was soon destroyed, but this freed up the Bugbears at the boats to begin shooting arrows at the now visible party members. The second Ogre was slain by a hit from Cadwallider’s magic missiles and an sudden attack by Nordak. When it fell, the surviving Bugbears broke for the boats, only to be cut down before they could even get them into the water. One surrendered, though he was little questioned and soon slain.
The boats were only large enough for 3 persons, at most, so the party needed to shuttle across the Paren. They planned on holing the boats and sinking them for later. However, on the other side, they found a third boat which now gave them the option of taking the great river, rather than going overland. As they saw it, the river provided easy transport and might avoid some of the marauding bands they’d been running across. However, on the water in tiny boats, they’d be potentially sitting ducks. As they debated this and the sun lowered, they spotted three flying creatures coming up from the southwest. They took cover, except for Havok who remained invisible. The things were high up, but one dove down and circled briefly over the slaughtered Bugbears and Ogres on the opposite shore — it was a griffon, with a human rider. After a brief check, the rider flew off to rejoin the other two who had continued north-northeast. Fearing detection, the party decided they would head out immediately before the riders returned, and soon they were down the Paren and sailing west down the Blueflood. To the south, they saw some light smoke highlighted by the lowering sun, and a short time later they had a very brief sighting of a lone griffon-rider, seemingly paralleling their route. They quickly put ashore in a wooded area on the south bank and hid themselves in a forest, where they’d await full darkness. The owl was sent out in the deepening twilight to scout for danger, and came back to report that the smoke they’d seen was chimneys from a small Halfling village in a shallow valley about a mile away. Nothing seemed amiss there, so Iban wrote a short note to warn them of the impending dangers and had the owl drop it on the first Halfling it saw, Hogwarts style.
As darkness settled in, visibility dropped low (though the moon soon rose, nearly full) and the party ported their boats west for a few miles in the woods, until they hit a small stream that they used to sail back down to the Blueflood and continue on their way. With the owl to act both as a navigator and sentry, they had no further incident that night, and were able to rest a little in shifts (not very comfortably, of course). As the sky brightened the next morning, they found they had sailed most of the way to the Dwarf Bridges. Here, the high cliffs of the north shoreline came somewhat lower, and they soon came to a rapidly falling stream they felt they could traverse alongside on foot. Here, they did hole the boats, which they weighted with rocks and tied to spikes driven into the rocks in case they might need them again — doors were hard to come by here, after all.
The party took the stream north and soon realized it was the very stream that flowed from the cave and secret entrance to the imperial ruins they’d explored so much of. Bypassing that place to the east to avoid any new garrison, they soon hit the track and, with invisible people ahead, followed it until they reached a bridge in the late afternoon where they camped. Next morning, with all the party invisible now, they continued along the track in a tighter group. In the afternoon, they came to a large valley, several miles across and wooded through its northern portion. On the track coming the other way, they soon spotted a party of 8 Trolls,. The monsters seemed watchful and wary, looking all around them, and the party speculated they had word from the fliers of the party. After they passed, the party continued on the path. At one point in the valley it came quite close to the deep woods to the north. At this point, a large number of great black cats came out, sniffing and listening, Displacer Beasts on the hunt — they obviously sensed the party, but could not see them in the plain daylight. The party had no desire to fight and sacrifice their invisibility, so Cadwallider used his wand of conjuration to summon 5 Manes which he ordered to distract the beasts and them to escape, This worked flawlessly and the party continued on. Across the valley the party came to the ruins of a small village or town. However, the buildings were all made of a red stone they’d not seen anywhere in these highlands. Further, the only opening to each building were doorways only 2′ wide but over 8′ high. The buildings seemed old but in good repair. Arduin said he’d passed through here without any troubles, and the stream that passed through the center of the ruins had a stone bridge, much like the others they’d seen elsewhere (old but in excellent repair, and likely dwarf-made).
A few miles on they camped off the side of the track for the night. At one point, they heard a marching force heading west, sounding like Bugbears and Ogres based on their loud voices. About 10 minutes after they passed, however, they heard the sounds of shouting and battle to the west that soon faded off. A few hours past that, the sounds of softer feet moving back east were heard, though this time without any talking or other extraneous noise. The next morning, Nordak spent some time examining the various tracks and determined that a sizable force of large creatures (Bugbears and Ogres) had passed west, but as many as three score smaller feet wearing rudimentary shoes or boots had moved east over the top of them. He also found a few drops of blood here and there, which Havok thought might be from wounds suffered in a fight the previous night. In my case, there was no sign of who’d passed east ahead of the party, which pushed on.
The party now came to the fort Arduin had spoken of, similar in size to the one they’d previously explored and commanding a right-angle turn in the path to the south. Arduin reported that he knew of a hidden path that led to the back side of the fort and into some caves which seemed unguarded. This he thought, would be a good way to infiltrate the place. But the party was a little skeptical of the unguarded part, and decided to be more cautious and observe the fort for a time before trying anything. So, they split into two invisible groups. One group would move north of the track to better watch the fort, while the others went south into the rough hills beyond to look for a secure campsite, a cave or other secure location. The southern search eventually yielded a box canyon a few hundred yards long, with a back end that could be climbed in extremis; a search revealed no signs that any humanoids had been anywhere near the place. This found, that group went to inform the others, who had in the meantime observed a force of Bugbears and Ogres moving from the south along the track and into the fortress, the gate of which swung open to admit them without a word. When the party was together again, they went back to the canyon to rest for the night and decide what to do next.
During the last watch of the night, the sentries heard a noise of someone walking up the box canyon. They readied themselves for a fight, but then heard Arduin’s voice, saying it was only him. This was unusual and unexpected. When confronted, he told them that the party was surrounded and it would be best for all concerned if they just dropped their weapons and surrendered. As the rest of the party awoke, they began to hear more noise, and Iban woke Parker to send out her owl — it returned almost immediately to report that “hundreds” of monsters were in the box canyon and approaching slowly, while others had maneuvered behind them at the top of it. The party pressed Arduin, who merely said that they all needed to surrender, a compulsion which they all felt (except Parker). It was clear some sort of betrayal was occurring, but the party was confused and conflicted despite the clear danger. Finally, as Arduin pressed for them to surrender and drop their weapons, Havok used his ring of wishes to wish all their magic gear and treasure would appear in the secret room they used as a camp in the dungeon (thus meeting the compulsion and saving their gear – hopefully; of course, Arduin’s gear and treasure also vanished, much to his displeasure). Arduin, now visible, directed Ogres to bind up the party members, pointing out which were spellcasters and in need of gagging.
This done, he suddenly transformed into an Ogre Mage, the very one the party slew in the dungeon months before. He named himself Kenji-goto, and this was his revenge for the slaying of both himself and his faithful goblin servant, and the plunder of his treasure. He had stalked the party for a long time, he claimed, slowly charming them then working his way into their confidence. Now, he had both fulfilled his pledge to the Giant King, who was going to make him the Satrap of the ruined fortress and the guardian of his western flank, and had exacted his revenge on the party. Gloating now, he told the Frost Giant seemingly leading the army around the party to slay them now. But the giant said no, the king had ordered them all taken for questioning (Arduin/Kenji-goto said there was no need – he knew everything they knew, but the giant was not listening). At this point, Iban burst his bonds through sheer strength before the Ogre by him could react, and he ran invisibly to escape. However, from above a lightning bolt shot down and nearby slew him, the caster a now visible and flying human wizard. He ordered Iban to surrender or die, and he complied. Clearly, he could detect invisibility. With four Ogres standing at the four corners of Iban, the party was marched off in the darkness, soon striking the track and passing beyond the small fort. Under very heavy guard, they marched through the night and later in the morning they came to a vast and strong citadel-fortress built into a small mountain…
– Experience: 355 XP each.
– The Ogre Mage was presented some papers from one of the Bugbears and he suddenly flew off into the darkness.