Having spent a lot of their recent adventuring time just mucking around, Kern (with Bjorn), Erijay, and Riley (with Gurruk and wolves) decided to get down to business. They loaded up and headed for Stonehell, ready for an attempt at rescuing Duncal, heir to the previous March Baron, from his mountain troll captors deep in the dungeon. They made quick passage through the upper levels, stopping only to pass once more through the cordon of their former hirelings. Who had gotten rid of the untrustworthy hobgoblins and were now joined by a handful of the March Barons former guards, lost by the party on several previous expeditions. Wondering who was left to come back from the great beyond to surprise them, the group made their way without delay down to the fourth level. Following the previously mapped route, they skirted the gentleman ghouls lair and headed for the great stairway down to the trolls level. Along the way, they ran into a group of the ghouls led by the butler they had spoken with previously. With much haughtiness, the parry was informed the group was going to get some `groceries` for tonight’s feast. They were rather coy about their shopping list, but did say the main course would be full roasted human stuffed with a halfling puree. Although (with a glance at Erijay), fresh elf would be a fine addition to their larder. When told the elf was not for mealtime, the ghouls shooed the party along while muttering something about the lower class of visitors these days.
Coming to the stairs, they descended by the light of torches set in sconces. Reaching the bottom, Kern halted the rest of the party while he scouted forward. Passing below a raised portcullis, Kern spied a huge octagonal room, in the centre of which appeared to be a large pit or sunken floor. The construction here differed from the upper levels. Instead of fitted stone, the floors and walls looked like they were poured of seamless cement. The ceilings were flat instead of the curved architecture seem thus far. Unable to see the far wall, however, he donned his ring of invisibility and crept slowing across the room. Just as he reached the pit, a metallic sing-song voice came from the darkness ahead, speaking in rusty archaic common: ``Who crosses my chambers without leave and without paying the toll`. With their scout caught, the others moved forward in support. Erijay and Gurruk checked out the pit, and found it occupied by a pair of five-headed draconic creatures. Gurruk tried using his animal empathy to draw the creatures into his service. While willing, the hydras seemed bound by another power that prevented them from joining with the wild man. Kern, meanwhile, moved closer to the voice, hoping to actually see the source before answering. He found a pair of high balconies in the corners of the room, and on the southernmost one stood humanoid creature. Dressed in strange iridescent banded mail over a layer of basilisk hide, his grey skin showed features of just about every demihuman and humanoid imaginable. Again the creature challenged the merchant, demanding a toll for safe passage. Inquiring as to how much the toll was, Kern was told either 2000gp or two items of surface magic would allow safe passage in and out (should they return alive from the troll halls). Balking at the fee, the group pulled back to the stairs to confer. They decided to use force, and Bjorn started preparing the censor to summon the air elemental to help them.
Bursting forth into the room, Bjorn directed the elemental at the strange humanoid. Kern turned his crossbow on the same target. Gurruk, backed by Erijay, tried once more to reason with the inhabitants of the pit. Riley and the wolves covered Bjorn to ensure he was not disturbed while controlling the summoned elemental. The elemental tore into the humanoid creature, and despite Gurruk`s best effort, the two hydra crawled out of the pit and attacked he and Erijay. The creature was taken down quickly, and the elemental was directed onto the hydra. One of whom had brought the elf maid to deaths door, in spite of a flurry of lighting bolt and magic missiles. They too soon fell, and after battle cleanup began. Gurruk began carving up one of the hydra to get it`s hide to make into armour. Kern and Erijay searched the humanoids body. In addition to the odd armour, they found a handful of strange triangular platinum coins and a ring. This Erijay put on and found it to be a ring of hydra control. Too late. Kern meanwhile claimed the creatures fallen crossbow, which he suspected of being magic. They also noted he had strange cat-like, metallic eyes.
There was little time to ponder these discoveries, however, as visitors arrived at the southern entrance into the room. A half dozen of the same creatures, accompanied by another dressed in a bodysuit covered in small iridescent plates. Bjorn directed the elemental on these newcomers, blocking them in the doorway. While the bulk of the invaders could do nothing to harm the elemental, the one in the bodysuit raised a hand covered in a fine mesh glove and pointed it extra planer creature. A bolt of lightning shot forth, followed by another and another. Worried their airy protector was going to defeated, the party tried to join the fight and help. Erijay started reading spells straight from her spellbook, blasting away with a lightning bolt and magic missiles. Meanwhile, Kern used a lever on one balcony to drop a portcullis, barring their foes from entering the room. The creatures were slaughtered except for one who was spared and convinced to talk. Little was learned except his people controlled this area and they called themselves Vrilya. Taking the Vrilya captive, Erijay also grabbed the glove from the pile of the dead. Which was timely, as a commotion could now be heard at the north end. As the party headed for the north entrance, they saw a pair of tigers throw themselves at the dropped portcullis there. Behind the two cats came another band of Vrilya. These cut down the felines, who transformed on death into human form. The Vrilya then rushed the portcullis, and were preparing to force it open when Riley spoke up. He offered them the life of their captive (as well as the imposing menace of the still swirling air elemental) for free passage to the halls of the mountain trolls. This caused some discussion, and after a few moments the Vrilya leader accepted the offer. With the condition that the party not come back this way; instead the Vrilya would show them another back up to the upper levels. The party agreed, and Bjorn dismissed his elemental servent (who couldn`t fit into the narrow corridors ahead). The party them formed up, and with a squad of Vrilya in front and back, were lead deeper into the dungeon. As they passed the fallen weretigers, Kern was shocked to see that one was Sanaja, his recent co-captive in the temple of the yg-ti. Curious ….