The group, as drawn by Jake. See more of his
Before they ventured any farther north, our heroes took a detour to visit Thistle and have Mercy take a look at the chest they buried just outside of town. Upon their arrival, they immediately went to visit Jern, but found his home empty. They inquired about his whereabouts with the local villagers, but none had seen him in over a day.
Kjell, Dhampir Inquisitor (Andrew)
Thomus, Human Rogue (John)
Blue, Human Fighter (Jake)
Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson)
Mercy, Half-Orc Ranger (Jammie)
After failing to find Jern, they went on to dig up the the chest they buries weeks before. Unfortunately, when they arrived at the site, they found the chest had already been excavated. Worse, they were not alone in the woods. Four archers confronted them, ordering them to lay down their weapons and come with them to meet their master. Although none in the group wanted to give in, everyone but Rurik finally gave in. Rurik, with typical dwarven stubbornness, started advancing.
The archers peppered him with arrows, and Rurik could feel the poison beginning to take hold. Meanwhile, Kjell tried to call off Rurik's aggression with a command spell, but as soon as he began casting, the archers pelted him with poisoned arrows as well. It didn't take long for both of them to collapse into unconsciousness.
Everyone was manacled, hooded, and led off into the woods. Blue and Thomus were charged with dragging the still-unconscious Rurik and Kjell for the beginning of the journey, but by the time they arrived at their destination hours later, both the incapacitated party members were back on their feet.
Eventually the woodland ground turned to gravel, and the group was led into a tower. They heard servants talking as they entered, and they were forced up a spiral staircase. When they did stop, they were imprisoned one to a cell, and their hoods were removed. Finally able to see again, they realized they were sitting in a prison with none other than Jern, the man they had gone to Thistle to find.
Jern explained that he had been brought here for the same reason: Blake Marquis, the wizard in charge of this tower, was trying unsuccessfully to open the chest they had buried. Someone Blake was working for would be coming soon to collect the box's contents, and he was desperate for a way to open in before their arrival. He went on to reveal that Blake Marquis was a vampire aspirant: a human who was working for vampires in the hopes of being turned. However, Jern points out that he doesn't appear to be a very powerful mage, but his staff of power makes him quite dangerous. Jern also mentioned that he had a plan to escape, but had been biding his time...
A guard soon came to bring one of the prisoners up for questioning, and settled on Kjell, thinking a dhampir might be the easiest to coerce given the nature of their leader. Unfortunately or him, Kjell was all too willing to feed into his assumptions, and bluffed him into releasing his bonds. As soon as he was released, Kjell went to work disabling the guard and releasing everyone else. After an annoying but relatively easy combat, the guard was subdued, their weapons were recovered, and the group was ready to take on the tower's master.
They ascended a ramp that took them to the roof of the tower, where they encountered Blake Marquis, the tower's master, still trying to open the stubborn chest. A dangerous battle ensued, with the wizard levitating and raining spells down on the party. Thomus leaped up, however, and managed to grab onto the wizard, which interrupted his ability to cast spells and provided a key break for the battered party to gain the upper hand in the fight.
Meanwhile, a loud thud shook the tower. Another followed, and another, each time getting closer and closer. Not long after the wizard was finally defeated, those thuds were so loud and so close that the tower itself shook with each one. A large black scaled claw came into view, grabbing onto the edge of the tower, and a huge draconic head raised itself into view. The dragon hoisted itself up further, revealing wounded wings that forced it to climb the side of the tower rather than just flying in.
In horror, the group froze, nobody sure exactly what to do except for Rurik, who immediately ran back down the ramp. When the dragon didn't immediately attack, Blue decided to drag the chest over to it, thinking that if he gave it what it wanted, perhaps the dragon wouldn't kill everyone. Seconds passed without anything else happening, and the group decided that Rurik probably had the best idea.
Want a gargantuan black dragon? Find one here.
The map is from this issue of Dragon Magazine.
Suddenly, the dragon lashed out, clawing Blue and Kjell... and that was it. Everyone began to retreat except for Thomus. In a last ditch effort to save his companions, he grabbed the staff from Blake's dead body, kicked the door to the roof closed, and snapped the staff in half - triggering an explosion the likes of which few have ever seen.
Moments later, the heroes ascended the ramp to the top of the tower again. The top of the tower had been heavily damaged by the blast, but not so much that any part of it collapsed. Thomus's body was nowhere to be found. The dragon had been blasted from the tower, and fell through the trees at the base of the tower. Though they could see where it fell, it had already begun crawling off through the woods, no doubt licking its wounds.