This was definitely not the most fun game day for most of the players (or even the DM, for that matter). I think it was because we took too long of a break between sessions, and so players didn't quite have their head in the game. Frustration over how long it was taking to explore this fortress was causing stress, and as room after room turned up empty and clueless, player frustration reached peak levels. But the day had a truly epic ending, so all is well. . .
We picked up where we left off, with the party in a room with a now dead minotaur, whose head Pontus immediately cut off to keep as a trophy. Exploring some secret doors eventually helped everyone map out the rest of the area of what appeared to be Markessa's private quarters and those of her bodyguard. One room had a pentagram on the floor, with a gold necklace in the middle. The party has learned their lesson about messing around with such obvious arcane/demonic traps, and left it alone. During the time spent searching, they also had time to look through the papers they had collected from Markessa's desk and found the following letter.
It is agreed that old Klim has grown soft hearted. I shall look forward to having you sit on the Inner Council with me. There will soon be many openings. It is imperative that the operations fail at the hands of the outsiders. Others will be blamed for their escape and any destruction they have caused.
Do not concern yourself with this decision. Turosh Mak grows too strong and we would need to move the base anyway. We will deal with him once we have dealt with the others, but for now, everyone must play their part.
Despite the fact that it has been almost 48 hours since Pontus saw Markessa packing up to leave, the party felt that she was their only clue as to where Dame Gold and the other slaves might have gone, and they needed to track her down. They explored another branch of the escape tunnel she used, allowing Pontus to set off a pit trap which did a small amount of damage to the barbarian. After working around that, they followed the tunnel to a secret door which opened into a natural cave tunnel the went left and right. Hearing some sounds coming from the left, they decided to check them out.
The sounds were coming from a about a dozen drow in a large cave, standing around some wagons. Behind them was a large tunnel opening the went south. In front of them, the cave opened up into the wide hallway of the lower level of the fortress. The drow appeared to be a merchant of some sort and his guards. By the looks of the shackles on the cart, it would seem they were here to buy slaves, although there were no slaves loaded yet, and the pack animals that would be pulling the carts were not around at the moment. Two of the drow guards saw Pontus and immediately fired crossbows at him, which missed. Sarril then dropped an Ice Storm into the cave, killing all of the drow and almost killing Cassius, who had snuck into the cave to attempt a backstab.
The party assumed Markessa must not have come this way, and backtracked through the cave to follow the other path, which eventually led to an abandoned encampment, and a small tunnel leading out to the hillside, too small for a caravan of slaves to be led out. From the hillside, the party could see the road and look back on the fortress. Turosh Mak's forces were surrounding the fortress and orcs could be seen along the battlements of the walls.
This is the point at which the party started to become frustrated. Backtracking yet again, they decided to check the remaining doors of the lower level fortress that they hadn't checked before. They found another natural cave leading to some warg breeding pens (the wargs did not bother them thanks to some herbs they had managed to get earlier). The breeding pens led to a large goblin cave where dead goblin and warg bodies were strewn about from the previous day's encounter. This cave wound around to the east and ended in a door from which Cadwin could hear buzzing sounds coming from the other side. The party decided to leave that door alone. Backtracking again, they went to the northern end of the fortress and checked all previously missed doors (Note: I played "Yakety Sax," the Benny Hill theme song, whenever the party decided to backtrack - this might have added to the frustration, I'm not sure). All doors led to empty kitchens, dining halls barracks and a latrine. All except two final locked doors.
After failing to open the door through any other means, Sarril cast Shatter on the door to destroy it. Inside was a large room with row and row of cages full of human slaves in terrible condition. Some were missing, many were dead, others were lethargic and non-communicative. But the few that could speak told the party that the "overseer" took about a dozen slaves two days ago in a hurry. They could not see where he went. One slave was able to confirm that Dame Gold was with them at some point, though he didn't know if she was one of the ones taken. Since they party could not find Dame Gold, they assumed she must have been taken. Pontus gathered some food and water from the kitchen and distributed it to the slaves. Sarril then cast Strength on Jarrus, who was able to break open all of the cages to free the slaves.
The slave room was split into two halves and the northern half had three large cells. Two of the cells contained lethargic slaves unable to speak and barely able to move. The last large cell contained a white circle on the floor with a statue in the middle of it. The far wall had a hole blown through it that opened into a dark cavern. When Jarrus tried to break the door of this cage, he found that it was unlocked. When Pontus went inside to examine the cell, a pile of rags in the corner lifted up to expose a disgusting abomination. A "human" with no eyes, ears or nose - only a mouth, and no legs, but four arms. It crawled on four arms up to Pontus and said "Be ye the thrice cursed messengers? Woe to the world!" Pontus replied "Yes, yes we are" but being without ears, the thing did not hear him. Since it did not attack, the party left it alone and decided that the slaves must have been taken down the drow tunnel into the underdark, and that's where they needed to go. So off they went (queue more Benny Hill music).
The drow cave spiraled down into the mountain for a long way. The party followed it for about 30 minutes, before realizing they didn't really want to play around in the underdark and started discussing giving up on the slaves and trying to get back to Greyhawk. Turning around, they walked back up and took the other cave exit out to the hillside where they picked up Markessa's tracks and were about to head out.
At this point, the group had a long discussion about where the slaves could possibly have been taken. They reviewed the map multiple times, made some conclusions, and were about to quit out of frustration. I decided to drop some hints. Primarily that at each apparent cave exit they spent the time to look for tracks - everywhere except for the cave leading out the back of the slave pens. And no one questioned why the slave pen with cave opening in the back of it was unlocked. Well, it turns out it was too difficult to lock from the other side, and that's exactly where the slaves were taken. The party headed back up to that set of saves. While the tunnel entrance from the back of the slave pens was too narrow to fit a wagon through, slaves could be chained and walked through there just fine. On the other side, the tunnel opened up into a wide cavern where there were wagons, pens for pack animals (which were gone), shackles and chains, and barrels of food and water. There were also a recent set of tracks leading out one of the many tunnels - obviously the direction the slaves were taken. The party followed.
It took a couple of hours, and it was evening when the party finally emerged on the other side of mountain, overlooking a valley. From here an obvious trail wrapped around this mountain peak,
It is morning on the 25th Day of Reaping, 580 CY. The Bad Ass Motherfuckers are coming for the Slavelords, and yes, they are riding on the backs of wyverns.