The remnants of our gallant band, Sir Fallon, Sir Willem, Sir Ainsley, and Aidan the Herald, breathed a sigh of relief as the lion stopped moving and set about seeing to their fallen friends.
His eyes straining in the oppressive darkness of the dungeons and hurting from the sudden burst of glittering lights just moments before, Sir Fallon dug a torch out of his backpack and fumbled to get it lit. “Mitra! It smells like sh*t down here…”
“Ugh, that’s for certain,” Sir Willem agreed, tearing a strip from his cloak to cover his nose. “I’m also still detecting a significant amount of magic…”
With the added light from Fallon’s torch, Sir Ainsley gazed around the small guardroom they had fallen into and pointed at an empty side chamber. “Lets move Robert and Sister Carlotta in there. We’ll have to come back for them after we finish exploring.” The others agreed and hauled the corpses of their friends away from the site of the melee.
With Sir Fallon and his torch in the lead, the four cautiously moved into the cell block. All of the cell doors were open or missing, some apparently torn from their hinges or bashed down by some incredible force. The entire area reeked of excrement, the walls were charred and blackened, and the hallway was filled with an ankle-deep layer of spoiled and rotten fruit.
“What happened here?” said Aidan, carefully examining the bent and battered remains of a heavy iron portcullis which had served as the door of the final cell at the end of the hall.
“They were holding an ogre.” Ainsley stepped into the cell and pointed at some overly large manacles. “This must have been its cell.”
Fallon stepped in behind Sir Ainsley and looked at a large hole in the wall, “So, whoever was in that cell must have tunneled through the wall and freed the ogre. Then the ogre broke the gate down and freed the other prisoners…”
Ainsley pointed at the hole, “How’d the ones in that cell get free then?”
“Hey!” Sir Wllem called from the adjacent cell, “I’m detecting a couple more auras in here.”
Aidan stuck his head in the door and immediately retched from the smell. The floor was almost knee deep with feces and rotting vegetation and was swarming with flies and maggots.
“At least its not more roaches.” Willem opined, then plunged his gauntleted hands down into the waste and began fishing around. Moments later he came up with a ring, a rather fresh finger still attached to it. “Check this out.” He tossed the finger to Aidan and reached back into the filth, coming up with three more rings.
Aidan vomited again as he caught the chunk of flesh.
“That’s a goblin finger.” Sir Fallon pointed out.
Gasping Aidan nodded, “yeah, and the ring is a dungeon ring. You use them to keep track of prisoners…”
“So the goblin cut…or tore off…his finger so that the warden couldn’t track him? Then used that blind-spot in the scrying to take the time to dig in to the ogre?”
“These three are different.” Willem handed the other rings to Aidan and the two examined them carefully.
“Aha! That’s how they broke out…” Aidan held up the first ring. “A ring of the ram. It’s out of charges, but still has some residual magic to it. With this they could have blown that whole in the wall in a jiff. They probably just threw it away when it ran out.” He wiped the ring off and slipped it onto his finger, then handed the others back to Willem. “Maybe one of the king’s mages can recharge it for me…”
“What about the others?” Sir Fallon interjected.
“A ring of protection and a ring of sustenance. Someone must have smuggled them in to the prisoners, but, chained up, they probably fumbled and dropped them in this offal while trying to figure out which one was the Ram.”
“Somewhat plausible…” Sir Fallon took the other two. “You’re sure there is nothing funny about these?”
“No, I’m quite certain about the ID on those. I agree its weird that they would leave these behind.” Aiden looked at the piles of filth. “Of course, if I’d been chained up in that, I’d be in a hurry to get as far away as possible…”
Fallon nodded, “who wants these?” Aisley took the ring of sustenance and Sir Fallon put on the other. “Alright, looks like there is nothing down here. Lets head upstairs. The sergeant in charge of this place should have had a manifest of all the prisoners. I want to know what’s up with this witch-lion…and what could have made all of those undead.”
The party made its way back to the guardroom. Sir Ainsley pulled the rope and grapple out of his pack and climbed up to the upper floor. As they were hauling the bodies of Sir Robert and Sister Carlotta up they heard a loud trumpet call from beyond the walls. “Hey guys,” Sir Ainsley called down, “the cavalry has arrived!”
The four companions finished climbing out of the pit and, carefully carrying their friends bodies, walked out of the keep to see a large contingent of the kings army, including a trio of the Sisters of Saint Erentrude, a half-dozen mounted knights, several archers and foot soldiers, and a score of dwarven irregulars. The dwarves had quickly errected a bridge across the pit by the gatehouse and the army was mustering in the courtyard.
As the party emerged they were met by Sir Reginald Starbreaker, the commander of the expeditionary force, accompanied by Sister Eloquence, who led the nuns, and a dwarf, who Sir Reginald referred to simply as “Worthless Filth”.
After the introductions, Sister Eloquence went away with the four companions to see to their fallen. Sir Reginald and the dwarf set the troops to work with practiced efficiency. Archers and crossbowmen moved to the top of the gatehouse and took up defensive positions over entrance. Foot soldiers began setting up camp. The two Erentrudine Sisters went about blessing the remains of the undead to keep them from rising again. “Worthless” set his dwarves to scouring the keep, searching it from top to bottom for any further traps or hazards.
After about an hour a runner returned from the keep carrying a sheaf of papers. “From the commander’s quarters sir.” He handed them to Sir Reginald, “I think you should see these.”
Sir Reginald called the others together and they examined the papers.
“Wow!” Ainsley exclaimed, reading the documents aloud to the others, “Midnight poker games in the gatehouse…only half the recommended garrison…and the sergeant was skimming funds. No wonder the prisoners escaped!”
Aidan peered over his shoulder, “That might explain where the prisoners got those rings. The sergeant would have had free access to their cells. If he was corrupt he could easily have smuggled tools and magic items to them without arousing too much suspicion…”
Sir Reginald nodded. “We’re setting up camp here for the night. We need to be absolutely certain that the prison has been secured before we leave. The king is sending a force to re-occupy the keep in the morning. In the meantime, I suggest that you all get some rest…”
There was much agreement with that and everyone retired to their assigned tents to sleep.