After tramping through a marshy landscape the hills rose sharply ahead into a steep and craggy shale escarpment hundreds of feet high. Tucked into a narrow defile between two of these crags was a stone-and-timber longhall and tower, weathered and gray. The hall stood nearly one hundred feet above the base of the cliff, with only a single wooden stair climbing in a series of switchbacks up the gate. All was silent save for the raucous caws of the ravens that congregate atop the hall’s tower and ridgepole high above. Fortunately they had been able to avoid their own raven watchers during their escape from Kalsgard, two days to the north.
They made camp in a small wood and waited till dark. They padded forward, and saw the rickety wooden stair climbing the cliff face in a series of switchbacks to the fortified hall ninety feet above. The stairs and rails were built of timber planks, silver with age, and climbed haphazardly through a series of railed landings on their winding ascent. In some places the stairs and landings were secured directly to the rock face, and in others they hung free upon wooden supports and buttresses driven into the rock. Lichens and moss covered the stairs and rocks, with pale vines, roots, and blooms of nightshade, willowherb, and bog tea sprouting from occasional crevices in the stone. Upwards they climbed.
Some 50 feet up one of the short flights of stairs rose to a landing abutting the cliff face. A small hollow in the rock was plastered over with what looked like a huge wasp nest. A sudden movement caught their eye, and a large shape lunged at Dinald, biting deep with sharp mandibles. He flinched backwards in horror, avoiding its grasping pincers.
It was as large as a cow, with a head something like a cross between a fly and a series of strange fungal growths. Buzzing wings held it aloft, and a coiled sting threatened from the rear of its body. Spells and arrows flew at the creature, as the group jostled fro position on the narrow stairwell. As he drew close, Ragnar too received a painful nip.
Further confusion entered the fray when three silent shapes dropped from above, two at the head of the stars near Ungo, and one at the rear behind Uksahkka. Blowgun darts puffed, but failed to find their mark. The new arrivals were clad like their assailants on Snorri’s funeral ship -but these were not men. Raven beaks and feathered heads peeked out of their hoods, and their feet ended in birdlike claws. Black wings sprouted from teir backs, though they wielded weapons in feathered hands.
A wave of frozen air crackled again through the air at the flying monstrosity, which plummeted to the valley floor below. At the top of the stairs Ungo found himself flanked by a pair of the newcomers, and their Tian blades bit deep as he shouted for help. Although outnumbered the new comers were helped by the narrow stairwell, and their trick of disappearing in the blink of an eye, only to move into sight again with a blade stuck in someone’s back made them extremely difficult opponents.
Numbers did eventually triumph however, but not without a cost in cuts and wounds. Even when wounded, the attackers would not retreat. Quickly they made their way to the top of the stairwell.
A wide porch surmounted the rickety conglomeration of stairs and landings below, providing a moonlit panoramic view of the boggy plains that extended to the hazy horizon. The looming gray stone hall of the fortress blocked further progress. Inset arrow slits with heavy wooden shutters flanked a bronze-banded portal that lead within. Above, three more arrow slits looked out over the precipice. Eiravel fiddled with her lockpicks and hoped that the door wasn’t bared from the inside. The primitive lock clicked open.
Peeking though she saw rows of pillars supporting the roof of a long hall. Torches set into pillar sconces and two fire pits set with iron spits in the center of the rush-strewn floor gave the room a ruddy glow. Several doors opened into rooms on either side beneath ten-foot-high balconies lined with feasting tables. At the far end of the hall, a 15-foot-high balcony with the master’s high table looked out over all. Smoke holes cut into the roof high above allowed in more light and the croaking of the many ravens that roosted on the roof’s ridgepole could be heard. Quietly they moved inside, and made their way along the silent hall.
A fluttering from the rafters above made Ragnar look up, and then he saw the ravens swooping down- dozens of them; in a few moments they were surrounded by the birds and flailing wildly around them while trying to protect their eyes from savage beaks.
No sooner had they beat of their attackers when doorways either side of the hall swung open , and eight or so armed and armored retainers rushed out, wielding swords and battleaxes. From the far side of the hall four dark clad figures with unmistakable Tien features rushed out, quickly flanking Ungo and stabbing him with well practiced blades. The fight was on.
Bloodied and with many wounds, eventually they stood occupants of the hall. DInald used up many of the charges in the healing wand he had found, and Eiravel used up the majority of her healing magics. Numerous potions were also spent. Ungo sighed.
Exploration of the hall revealed several bunkrooms, and a locked room which proved to be a wine and food storage area. A corridor at the rear of a hall revealed a kitchen, and, surprisingly, a rear entrance to a picturesque dell squeezed between the steeply sloping flanks of the nearby crags that rose a hundred feet or more overhead.
A narrow waterfall rushed in a torrent down one of these slopes and collected in a catch pond next to a thatch-roofed lean-to with two large fieldstone chimneys. A small torrent exited this pond, wending its way toward the great hall, where it disappeared into a metal grate in the hall’s foundation. A path from the lean-to led over a narrow bridge of rough-sawn logs arching over the stream and farther down the defile, until it was lost among the
rocky outcroppings beyond. It seemed to be a some secret way down into the forests below: a back door.
Another door led below the tower area to a room hewn from bare rock , and a wooden stair led up along the walls to the north. Tables and workbenches filled the chamber, holding all manner of alembics, crucibles, burners, and assorted tools, as well as a large glass case set into a niche holding what appeared to be a humanoid body. A variety of dried herbs and plants dangled in profusion from hooks on the bottoms of the stairs, and sacks and chests holding additional equipment and components were shoved underneath the stairs. A torch mounted on one of the stair posts illuminated the chamber with a flickering glow. Suddenly, the body started to stir and rising jerkily to its feet, pressed its face against the thick glass.
“Letzzz…….me…..freezzzzz…..” slurred a flat voice in a strange monotone. Dinald and Ailukka looked at one another. Rasha noticed that several small lumps appeared to be moving under it’s skin, and he saw what looked like a large wasp crawl out of its mouth.
“Um….I think this may be in here for a reason” said Rasha. “Probably best if we leave it alone.”
Ignoring the tower stairs for now they made their way up to the balcony surrounding the main hall, but discovered only an armory and a storeroom containing piles of valuable furs and wool bales. Heading back to the tower stairs they climbed up to the first floor, and off a side landing noticed another room. Inside they could hear faint clattering and movement. Ungo stumbled and his axe clattered against the wall. There was more noise in the room as Eiravel opened the door and stepped back.
The chamber reeked of stale wine, rank sweat, and wild animal spoor. A rough bed sat at the far end, and a pot-belly stove rested between the windows, next to a coal bucket. Across from the stove was a small table holding several empty wineskins and a small oaken statuette.
Behind this stood a large man wielding a battleaxe, but even as they looked his features seemed to blur and twist into some large and ferocious hybrid of man and bear. Dinald gulped, remembering old wounds, as the thing snarled and lunged forward.
Ungo’s and Ragnar’s blades bit hard, but it was like cutting into an oak door. Swings of the creature’s axe caused deep wounds, though fortunately they managed to escape its slavering jaws.
Howling with frustration Ungo rolled around to the creatures side and as he rose swung C***slicer in towards the back of its knee; the stroke paid off as his axe bit deep, and he toppled to the ground. Bloody blows rained down. As they stood back panting it’s features transformed into those of a large, bearded man.
Moving quickly up to the topmost floor they entered an L shaped room surrounding two other doors. The night chill blew in through high windows open to the elements. A
fireplace stood aainst one wall, its ashes cold, next to a stack of firewood. A trap door with a wooden ladder leading to it opened in the ceiling to the southwest. Six light cots were spaced about the chamber, with a small footlocker next to each.
As they moved in three beaked and dark clad shapes materialised as if from nowhere, identical to those they had encountered on the wooden stair outside. Their blades stabbed into Eiravel and Dinald, all but cutting them down.
At the same time a beat of wings announced a number of ravens sweeping inwards through one of the open door- but also a much larger raven, three or four times the normal size. This had blood red tipped feather and perched on a high beam. With a strange gesture of one of its claws a gout of flame gushed down upon Rasha. Everyone rushed into the general melee.
Dinald was again beset by ravens, and this time some of their beaks bit home as he struggled to cover his eyes; he screamed as he fell to the floor.
Recognising the large raven as a Fey creature, Rasha gritted his teeth and fired his arrows at the creature, while Uksahkka engaged one of the dark clad figures with AIlukka, with Ungo and Rasha trying to dispose of the ravens. This they managed to do, in a difficult melee which involved the black clad figures seemingly disappearing and reappearing almost at will, and with deadly blades.
A lucky shot from Rasha struck deep into the Blood red Raven, and with a caw it flew off into the darkness. The combat focused on the dark assassins.
Eventually the fight was over, with Ungo, Eiravel and Dinald all down; the others were all somewhat wounded. With their much diminished stock of potions they managed to get everyone on their feet.
Investigating one of the smaller rooms revealed a sorry looking fellow, who had obviously not been fed for many days. Unfortunately this was not Ulf.
The man introduced himself as Lute Haggersly, and it seemed that he was a merchant recently elected to the Rimerunners Guild’s board of shareholders. He had the misfortune to vote against a measure proposed by Thorborg Silverskorr and then had the additional temerity to not be intimidated and bullied into capitulating. The net result was that he had been abducted from the road on a trip to some of the outlying villages around Kalsgard and was brought here, as he understood that he might be worth a sizable ransom at some point.
When asked about what he knew of Ravenscraeg’s inhabitants, Lute revealed that he had primarily been dealt with by a half troll sorcerer has called Goti Runecaster, who had tried out various noxious brews that he had concocted and threatened him with infestation by something called a hellwasp swarm. Jorgan the Axe had worked him over a few times as well.
Lute revealed that he had not been questioned and had no idea of his eventual fate. What he did know however was that the fortess was commanded by some sort of hideous purple ogre.
“What’s more the ogre is actually none other than Thorborg Silverskorr,” he said, “the leader of the Rimerunners Guild. She came here and then transformed into the ogre thing- just to scare me I suppose for a bit of fun. It worked I can tell you.”
This was interesting news, and they wondered if this was one of the Oni that the Seal had mentioned to them in their visions outside Brinewall.
Investigation of the roof space revealed yet more aggressive ravens, but little else. It seemed that they would need to investigate the sub level beneath the tower.