16th of the 1st Month (Moon’s Sealing), 527 AF

With the place seeming secure, Scabbard stalked back to camp with the wizard’s belongings. In the event of a hasty getaway, at least their trophies would be secure. It also seemed wise to ensure the camp was well-hidden, with undead, mysterious lurkers and now stray bugbears wandering the area.

Vana set about healing her companions, and the Smith was well-pleased with their efforts, wiping away pain and weariness.

Taking a careful walk around the ruins, they found a crater that has blown open a tower. It was a stone tower with staircases, and old wooden floorboards. As there was nothing of interest visible at ground level, they decided to leave it for now and proceed. There were several more large craters and the remains of siege engines, provoking considerable interest – it seemed both magical and conventional warfare had been launched at this fortress over its lifetime.

The old throne room, recently the bugbears’ nursery, still had the tattered remains of frescoes showing men and elves fighting alongside each other. Their clothing was reminiscent of artwork depicting the era just after the Flux, when the Grand Old Empire had fallen into anarchy; most of that period’s history is lost. A fragment of text in the old script referred to military action against one General Blood – a very familiar name to the party.

As they surveyed the area, Jack got the impression that the damage and remnants were the result of multiple siege attempts over a period of centuries. Being out of the way in untamed territory, it’s unlikely that any local lords would have attempted to hold the place, at least outside the most ambitious eras, though perhaps one or two may have stormed the fortress to rout bandits making a home there. The party knew that the further they went from the major cities, the more often they would encounter regions which had never really come under the full rule of Arcol, being too remote, too inconvenient, or too treacherous for the kings of old to garrison. It seemed this was one of them.

Casting a reluctant glance at the mass grave within the walls, Vana suspected that some of the bones within were not human, but elven. They were clearly very old, and it was unusual to find so many so far from the Kingdom of Elves. She suspected the grave dated back to the first time this fortress fell, and the place had since been handed back and forth between factions. The architecture of the place seemed somewhat slapdash and rudimentary, perhaps due to lack of resources at the time of building.

The doors to the inside of the fort were barred on the outside. Before heading in, the party decided to examine two towers: on the exterior wall a tiny guard-tower, and the larger circular tower noted earlier. The guard-tower was very cramped, and seemed very small and dusty, as though unused by the bugbears – there was nothing obviously wrong with it, but perhaps they saw no use for it. At the top was a slit window and an orcish skeleton slumped in one corner. Oswyn prodded it suspiciously with a javelin, and its skull bounced away into one corner. After some hesitation, he pried an ornate horn from the orc’s bony fingers; the horn was made of brass but still untarnished despite long years of neglect, and showed orc warriors rushing to the aid of one blowing a horn. Kicking the skull down the stairs just in case, he came back down.

At the base of the tower, there was a clattering noise and a skull appears, flying out suddenly at Vana. She raised her shield and prepared for an assault by undead forces; thankfully, the skull shattered on her shield, and then Oswyn appeared. Examining the horn, Vana decided that it was very poor craftsmanship, but potentially magical. Essentially, the orcs seemed to have just got hold of some bronze and made it into a rough tube, then added some decorations.

Moving on to the larger tower, Jack gauged that the floorboards above looked weak, as though they might not hold a person’s weight. The stairs looked sound, though, so after some discussion, he carefully made his way up to look around – after all, if he saw nothing interesting, there was no point worrying about the state of the floor.

“Best light a lantern if we’re for heading down,” advised Oswyn. He lit a hooded lantern and, since he had the light, proceeded carefully down, shining the torch on the steps in case of weak supports. On one side of the room was a set of racks adorned with skeletons, and three zombies stood before them. As the light fell on them, the creatures moaned ominously and stepped forward, whilst the skeletons began to disentangle themselves. Oswyn promptly scampered back up.

“What’s the matter, Oswyn?” asked Vana.

“Undead, mistress!”

The party hastily arranged themselves to cover both staircases, hoping to fend off the creatures in the bottleneck. The zombies were the first to arrive, and were slow and clumsy. Oswyn’s spear went right through one, but it kept coming.

“Ey, I should have brung a boar-spear.”

After a tricky fight, they dispatched the undead and began examining the area. Vana’s keen sense for stone detected an oddness, and she revealed a secret door that led deeper into the keep. The room at the far end of the secret passage seemed to be a basement area underneath the keep itself, and contained a number of tapestries in surprisingly good condition. Metal threads glinted within them, and Vana suspected they were elven – elves were known to weave tapestries of metal, enjoying the contradiction of turning heavy solid metal into delicate cloth. There was no space to unroll the heavy tapestries properly, but they seemed to show more scenes of humans and elves battling the undead.

Nearby was a guardroom, where generations of bored guards had scratched idle comments into the walls. There was also a couple of jail cells, with the remains of straw strewn across the floor and rusted shackles set into the walls. With only locked doors remaining, the party decided not to break anything for now, and returned to the surface via the secret passage. On the way out, they realised a hidden stairwell had opened under the one they used; triggered, possibly by the opening of one of the other secret doors – or perhaps by the setting of the sun. Worried about the creatures they’ve heard of, the party withdrew to the camp with careful haste.

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