The group arrives at their newly acquired keep, and enter the main grounds through an open section in the crumbling outer wall. The grounds once housed several utility buildings, including a stables and several guard barracks. Only the keep and the largest of the barracks still stand. As Theranion surveys the layout of the grounds, Silver and Zendril check out the barracks.
The barracks are in complete disarray. A section of the wall in the dining hall has crumbled, leaving debris scattered across the floor. The kitchen area and surrounding rooms are full of rats scavenging for food. Silver cleans out the infestation with some sanitizing fire spells before heading to the other rooms on the first floor. The remaining rooms on the first floor include a storage area and several officers' private bedrooms.
The second floor of the barracks contains a large bunk room with a separate weapons storage area. Most of the bunks in this room have rotted and collapsed into worthless heaps of wood. When Silver and Zendril reach the top of the stairs, they are beset by several large spiders. During the battle, Zendril is poisoned by one the spiders, and becomes very ill. A healing potion helps restore some color to his face, but he remains weak for next half hour afterward. After the battle, they decide to get some fresh air, and meet up with Theranion and Nataya outside.
The central keep is a fairly large building, about 200 feet on a side and 40 feet high, with towers extending another 20 feet into the sky. Despite a hundred years of neglect, the walls are in good condition, and appear structurally sound. The keep is also surrounded by a deep moat, with the bridge as the only way across. It is currently drawn halfway up; too far up to jump and grab, but low enough that a rope of suitable length could be used to climb up.
While Nataya prepares her rope and grappling hook, Silver decides to put his swimming skills to good use. He is barely up the opposite bank, however, when a giant constrictor snake bursts from the water and strikes at him. It misses by mere inches as he hastily dodges its attack and kicks it with his heel. As the snake prepares for another strike, Silver draws his sword and attacks.
The snake strikes again and wraps around him, but not before he sinks the sword deep into its hide. As the snake tries to squeeze the life out of him, he desperately twists the sword to aggravate the snake's wound. A minute later, and the snake collapses to the ground, releasing its grip on (a slightly thinner-looking?) Silver.
Shaken, but undeterred, Silver waits for the others to cross the drawbridge before proceeding to the front doors. The doors are old and faded, but still as solid as they had been a hundred years ago. The doors open into a large entrance hall, 50 feet wide and 35 feet deep, with a vaulted ceiling and a sweeping second-floor balcony. The far wall is dominated by a cathedral-style central window, which looks out to an inner courtyard.
The group is barely inside, when two groups of mongrelmen rush into the entrance hall from the side corridors. A frantic melee ensues, and the party unleashes a barrage of spells to hold back the onslaught. Battered but victorious, the party nurses their wounds for an hour before proceeding to explore the keep.
Silver has come away from the battle with only a few scratches, and decides to scout ahead while the rest of the group has a chance to catch their breath. He sneaks up the stairs of the north tower, making silent notes of any and all creatures he sees. Among those he observes include groups of mongrelmen, gnolls, and flinds. They are engages in various activities, either standing guard, lazily patrolling the hallways, or just lounging around.
Silver finds this discovery a bit worrisome. Gnolls and flinds commonly use abandoned castles and such for their own strongholds, but he knows from experience that mongrelmen are subterranean dwellers, and do not normally associate with above-ground creatures. In fact, the only way these creature would ever cooperate is if they were under the command of a more powerful creature.
Once Silver returns to the party with his report, the group heads first to the eastern hallway on the second floor, and proceeds to clean the area of creatures, room-by-room. With surprise on their side for a change, they breeze through several of the rooms before reaching the rear of the keep. Upon entering a small study, however, Theranion�s eyes light up. He begins rifling through the rows of old books lining the large bookcase along the wall.
After he is done, the group opens a second door, which opens to a large room that appears to be the lord's bed chamber. In the room are two giant beetles, which have turned the broken furniture into a makeshift lair. Silver readies his sword, but Nataya signals for him to wait. She recognizes that these beetles are non-aggressive vegetarians, and are easily frightened away. After Theranion carefully walks around them and opens the windows, Nataya lets out a loud shout and charges the beetles. The beetles immediately take to the air, fleeing out the window...
The group leaves the main bed chamber of the keep, and heads down to the end of the eastern hallway. Beyond the double-doors at the end of the hallway is a large warehouse area. The entire room is coated with spider webs, and the group can make out a dozen or so large black shapes in the rafters overhead. With a glint in his eye, Theranion unleashes a fireball spell right in the center of the forms, and signals the group to exit the room with all due haste.
They slam the door behind them, letting the flammable webs take their toll on the spiders that lurk among them. After a few minutes, they enter the room to survey the damage. All but three of the spiders are lying on the floor, dead. The other three are charred, and flee down the shaft of a cargo lift when the group approaches. The group does not stay long, as the stench and leftover smoke start to overwhelm them.
They exit the room through the south tower, and head up to the roof to take care of the gnoll and flind guards stationed there. Theranion and Silver quietly open the tower doors, and unleash spells on the two closest groups of guards, catching them by surprise. Silver has a bit of fun with his Flaming Sphere spell, chasing down each of the guards with the ball of flames. Meanwhile, Nataya and Zendril each find a comfortable perch from which they shoot arrows at the disorganized guards.
Nataya finally gets the opportunity to test her new bow, shooting at the chest of one of the flinds. The arrow strikes home, and the flind's body jerks and goes stiff for a moment as tiny blue sparks shoot from the wound made by the arrow. Everyone in the group does a double-take upon first seeing the effect, and glance over at Nataya with quizzical looks. She merely grins, and goes back to shooting arrows at the guards.
Once the flind and gnolls have a chance to retaliate, they raise their crossbows, and fire back at the party. When one of the flinds' bolts hits Silver a little while later, he abandons his flaming sphere spell, and charges at the miscreant that hit him. The flind reloads his crossbow, and looks up just in time to see the flash of Silver's sword swinging down on top of him.
After most of the guards have been killed, the remaining few turn to run, heading for the north tower. Silver and Theranion each hurl a spell at their heels, while Nataya and Zendril get in extra shots with their bows. Silver than charges after the guards that survived, chasing them down the tower stairs and through half the keep. He returns to the group a few minutes later, a little tired but with a satisfied smirk on his face.
Once the group has a chance to rest, they head back down to the second floor, this time through the western tower. They enter the western hallway, and proceed to check out the first door on their right. Theranion catches only a slight glimpse of the room through the partly opened door, and his eyes nearly jump from their sockets. Inside is a two-story library, with a balcony overlooking the first floor, and every wall filled with rows of shelves and books. He immediately claims the room for himself, even before the rest of the group can see what's inside.
The room contains another surprise, however. The group hears movement down on the first floor, including the sounds of someone (or something) shuffling books around. One of the creatures, a grey-skinned humanoid, suddenly spots the group, and lets out an evil hiss.
A few seconds later, and there are four of these creatures storming up the stairs toward the group. One of the creatures successfully strikes Silver, and immediately starts changing its appearance to look like him! The party quickly figures out that these are doppelgangers; creatures that can change their appearance at will to that of anyone they see.
The doppelgangers are normally an equal match for the group, but Silver and Theranion manage to keep them trapped on the staircase, which is only wide enough to accommodate one of the creatures at a time. The group uses this to their advantage, and takes care of the creatures one-by-one. The last one tries to flee, but a lucky shot by Zendril cripples the creature, making it easy pickings for the rest of the group.
Afterward, the group looks around the library, and notices the doppelgangers were pulling dusty books off the shelves, apparently looking for something. The group does a thorough search of the room, and Theranion discovers a secret door built into the bookcase on the second floor. He opens the bookcase, which reveals a thin passage winding down a steep set of spiraling stairs...
The group cautiously descends the stairs, with Zendril out in front to search for any potential traps. The stairs lead down for almost 30 feet before coming to a thin corridor, somewhere deep under the main keep. The corridor makes a sharp turn to the right, and ends in a solid steel door. Zendril checks the area and the door for traps before proceeding, but finds none. He opens the door, takes one step into the room beyond, and hears a loud "click" under his foot (this is gonna hurt...)
A barrage of energy bolts erupt from holes in the far walls of the room, shooting the group from various angles as first Zendril, Theranion, Nataya, and Silver are each knocked down by separate blasts from the bolts' impacts. The group manages to get back on their feet, but Zendril is still lying on the floor, badly burned and coughing up blood. Nataya rushes beside him, and administers healing spells for his injuries and an herbal salve for his burns.
The group pulls Zendril from the room, and lets him get some rest. Meanwhile, Theranion carefully probes the room for any more trap triggers, then signals the "all clear" to the rest of the group. The room is a hidden treasure room, but with only a fraction of the treasure it might have held in its prime. There are pieces of old artwork scattered about the shelves, and two large locked chests. Theranion uses a Knock spell to force open the chests (and trigger any traps) from a safe distance.
There are enough coins and bits of treasure in the chests to buy an army, literally. After taking stock of all the treasure, the group is several thousand gold pieces richer, and has 2 new magical items to identify. Theranion eagerly sets about the task of identifying the items, using his lore skills and spells. Meanwhile, the group gets some much-needed rest.
After resting, the group heads back up to the library, and finishes cleaning out the remaining rooms on the second floor. Most of the "intelligent" gnolls and flinds still in the castle harass the party with hit-and-run tactics, but otherwise pose little problem. Silver makes a special trip to the first floor of the warehouse section to finish off those pesky spiders that got away earlier. Along the way, they clean out the servants' areas of rats and other small pests.
At long last, the group heads back to the front of the keep, and prepares to enter the last (and largest) tower. As they open the doors to the tower, they find an angry mage waiting for them. The mage has set up this tower as his temporary base of operations while he has his underlings search for the castle's hidden treasure cache. He is surrounded by 6 doppelgangers, who engage the party with a mere gesture from the mage.
As if the doppelgangers weren't bad enough, the mage unleashes his own "treasure" on the group, using a Wand of Magic Missiles to soften up the party without hurting his underlings. The group is driven back at first, but with Zendril and Nataya running interference on the mage, Silver and Theranion unleash a barrage of freshly-memorized spells against the doppelgangers.
Once the doppelgangers fall, Silver then charges straight at the mage, grappling with him and pinning him to the wall so he cannot cast any spells. However, the mage proves incredibly strong, far stronger than his build would suggest. The mage gives him a mighty shove, and as Silver regains his balance, he notices that the mage's face distorts unnaturally under the strain.
Again, Silver grapples with him while the rest of the group watches, with their weapons at the ready. Silver pins him for a moment, but this time, the mage grabs him, and throws him clear across the room! This time, the distorted face is more noticeable, and the group realizes that this "mage" is actually another shape-shifter, but one much more powerful than the doppelgangers they faced earlier.
They unleash a full assault of missile weapons against it, and it drops its mage disguise entirely, revealing its true form - a greater doppelganger. These creatures can not only duplicate the appearance and identities of other creatures, they can assume the knowledge and skills of their victims by ingesting the brains. As the group finds out, this includes the spellcasting abilities of wizards.
In its true form, however, it engages the group in melee, tearing savagely at the group members with its claws. It cares little for the magical finesse it showed earlier, preferring instead to rip its opponents apart. As fierce a fighter as it is, the superior numbers of the group soon overwhelm it, but not before it does some serious damage in return.
With the main areas of the castle cleared of creatures and the ringleader appearantly destroyed, the group decides to return to town for some much-needed rest and supplies before tackling the dungeon area under the keep...
After their initial effort to clean out their new keep of the monsters infesting it, the group has taken two days to rest and restock much-needed supplies back at Dagger Falls. Now that everyone has had a chance to recover from the battle with the mysterious greater doppelganger and his minions, they are ready to tackle the hard part of the keep; clearing the dungeon beneath it.
They return to the east tower, and descend the stairs to the dungeon below. A door at the bottom of the stairs opens up into the northeast corner of a room containing a row of empty shackles along the walls. Scattered on the floor are the remains of one or more torture devices. There is a small hallway which leads off to the west, and a wooden door adorns the south wall.
The group first decides to explore the western hallway. They travel down a few dozen feet, and come the hallway opens up into a section lined with rows of private cells, once used to confine the most dangerous of the keep's prisoners. At the opposite end of this section is a door, which leads to the head jailer's quarters. The group finds nothing of interest here, save for rotting wood and a damp stench which pervades the area.
They next try the door on the south wall of the first room. It opens to another thin hallway, which leads to a small network of servants' passages to other parts of the castle. The hallway also leads to the keep's various underground storage rooms, which are capable of holding several months worth of food supplies and other necessities during times of siege. The group begins exploring the storage rooms one-by-one, to make sure they do not overlook any creatures hiding within.
In one of the rooms, they are attacked by a pair of giant scorpions. The creatures are quick and deadly. One of the creatures manages to strike Zendril with its tail, and he falls to the ground, paralyzed and slowly dying as the venom spreads through his body. Nataya quickly runs up and drags him away from the creature while Silver and Theranion engage it. A dose of anti-venom keeps Zendril from dying, but he remains helpless for a half-hour afterward.
Most of the other creatures they encounter are easy enough to dispatch, but in the last and largest room, blood stains can be seen on the floor, and bits bone from unidentified creatures litter the area. The group readies their weapons in expectation, but are still taken by surprise when the creature strikes from its hiding place.
A tunnel centipede lunges straight at Silver from the darkness, grabbing him with its powerful mandibles. He barely escapes being cut in half by burying his sword into the beast. As soon as he breaks free, the creature rears back, and attacks again. The beast is absolutely HUGE, with most of its bulk still inside the large tunnel leading to its lair. It gets in several hits on each member of the group before it attempts to retreat back into its lair.
The group fires missile weapons and bursts of magic down the tunnel after it, killing the creature before it can escape or regroup. Unfortunately, the magic used proves too much for the tunnel, and it collapses inward around the dead creature. The group quickly clears out of the room to avoid the backlash of dust and debris.
The group next consults their make-shift map of the dungeon area, and notice that all the rooms and hallways they've explored run along the outer portion of the keep, leaving a large blank area in the middle. They know their map couldn't be off more than a few feet, which means there might be another hidden portion of the dungeon area.
They begin an exhaustive search of the inner walls, looking for anything out of the ordinary. When they finally make it back to the dungeon entrance, a search of the west wall reveals just what they were looking for. When studied carefully, a section of the wall reveals a shimmering outline so faint that it can only be seen from a few inches away.
The shimmering marks the boundary of a specially designed Wall of Force. Theranion soon finds a tiny crystal button buried in the mortar of the wall, and deactivates the wall by removing it. Beyond the section of wall lies a natural stone tunnel, apparently here since before the keep was built. The sounds of trickling water can be heard somewhere down the tunnel, far off in the darkness beyond...