(Cydra) The Year 271 Campaign (Low Magic experiment)

the Jester

Legend
Me- Sir Percival- roars in anger. The air is suddenly deadly cold. Frost forms on our heroes, who groan in pain as the cone of cold blasts over them. Only Kyle manages to tumble out of the way in time to evade the deadly cold. Gulping in terror, he casts mage armor as the thing’s eyes flick momentarily in his direction.

It is large, broad-shouldered, with bright blue skin and little horns. It wears a cruel demeanor across a broad, flat face. It wears fancy, exotic-looking silk garments. It laughs at Kyle, and then at the rest of our shivering heroes. With a single cone of cold, it just brought most of them nearly to their knees.

But not quite all of them.

Me roars again and paws the floor with one foot, as if he were a bull. He charges the monster and swings with all his might- and connects! His blow cuts into it with incredible force. Bones shatter as flesh and muscle are torn apart. The blue giant gives a surprised yell and drops to the ground, its chest hacked open!

But-

“Its wounds- they’re healing!” cries Sir Colder.

“Ready torcheth and oil!” orders Sir Cedric.

Sir Jorgen and Sir Fwaigo do so, and Otis tries an acid splash directly to the face, dropping it in the monster’s mouth and melting its teeth!* Soon the party is covering the monster in oil and burning it, and soon after that the creature stops regenerating.

“Whew!” declares Kyle. “That was a close one! That guy had magical powers the likes of which I’ve never seen before.” He glances at his master, Otis.

The wizard cocks an eyebrow. “I believe that this creature was an ogre mage,” he states. “I have heard of such things, but I thought they were only legends.”

“Look here,” calls Sir Cedric. “A door, with thtrange markingth upon it.”

The party crowds around. Indeed, a door made of metal is just off of the ogre mage’s chamber. Its face has a strange inset area. The area is shaped like the perimeter of a square, but with round, almost tower-like areas at each corner.

Dahlia and Goer- er, Sir Fwaigo- look at each other. “That piece of metal,” she exclaims. They had found an odd, flattened piece of metal with a rounded end up above, in the manticore’s nest. Not being sure just what to make of it, they had put it away until they had more of an idea. Now they pull it forth and find that it is the right size to fill up one side of the inset area, with the rounded end fitting into one of the corners.

“There must be more of them,” Sir Jorgen thinks aloud.

“Perhaps the other stairways?” suggests Sir Colder.

The party troops back up the stairs, preparing to examine the other stairs in the other corners of the courtyard. As they ascend, Kyle says, “We should be careful. Didn’t we hear that there were two-”

As they emerge in the shattered courtyard of the tower, they fall under instant, furious assault by a second manticore- the mate of the first! She had been out hunting, and now she is out for revenge! Tail spikes cut through the air, and Sir Cedric’s shield deflects a few of them. But then his sword hand takes a hit- and his pinky breaks.

“Crikey!” cries Kyle.

Sir Cedric screams out in pain and horror, “MY PINKY FINGER!”

Otis fades into invisibility as the beast howls and snarls. It springs for him, its nostrils dilating, and Otis shrieks as it rakes him with its claws. Still invisible, he scrambles to get away from it.

Meanwhile, however, Sir Fwaigo has drawn forth his longspear, and he and Sir Percival- who nobody can stop thinking of as simple Me- proceed to harry the manticore from either side. It tears back at them, enraged at their temerity. Sir Cedric, recovering from his momentary loss of morale, angrily smites it at the ankle, hamstringing the beast. He shouts something about his pinky incoherently at the monster.

Then, from behind the cover of some rubble, Otis casts a volley of three magic missiles at the manticore, and she gives a last frustrated yowl and then falls dead before our heroes.

“After that, I don’t think I can go on without resting,” Otis gasps, wincing at his wounds. Dahlia and Sir Cedric move to bind the wounds of the others as best they can, though after the ogre mage they are essentially out of healing magic. Even so, they stop the bleeding and splash some whiskey on the cuts (as well as a little down Cedric’s gullet).

Then the party moves back outside of the ruin to camp. They ensure that they move off a little ways so that they won’t be seen easily by, say, any black magic cultists heading towards a dark ritual on New Year’s Eve. While they are camped, Otis muses, “I wonder if that door is the Gate of Fire.”

The others chew this over for a while. The door had nothing to especially indicate that it was fiery in nature, but it certainly wasn’t an average door. Reluctantly, our heroes agree that Otis might have something there. It’s far from a sure thing- but the possibility cannot be discounted.

Watches are set, and our heroes lay down to rest.

Next Time: Our heroes explore the rest of the stairways! Will they find the hypothetical other three keys? Will they find any black magic cultists, or will any find them? And how long until the inevitable return of Sir Harth?? :]

*Crit!
 

the Jester

Legend
The ruins of the ghost tower cast strange, crazed shadows all around our heroes when they awaken early the day after their confrontation with the second manticore. A chill breeze washes over them; clouds loom above, and sleet begins to spit down on them as they prepare for their forthcoming explorations of the next passage down into the dungeons below the ruined tower. Winter has swept its mantle across the land. Icy puddles melt as the day warms up, but refreeze by dusk. The flat piece of metal with a rounded end that our heroes had found in the lair of the first manticore looks as though it would fit directly into one side of the strange depression on the oddly-marked door below the south-eastern stairway. The party has surmised that there must be three more pieces like it, to complete the square formed by the depression in the door. Thus it is that they troop down the next stairs, in the southwest of the ruined courtyard. The southwestern passage leads to a set of crumbling, dusty hallways. At first there is nothing but an empty hallway that doubles back on itself, but abruptly it opens into a chamber bearing the markings of an ancient bedroom whose furnishings have poorly withstood the ravages of time.

The party cautiously enters the chamber and begins to search, hoping to turn up another of the odd keys. “I wonder when the cultists will arrive,” Kyle mutters to himself thoughtfully.

As the party searches, the air seems to waver before them. A spectral form materializes! Dahlia blanches, remembering their previous encounter with a spirit in the haunted house in Kamenda City. A small bloodstain over the apparition is obvious. The figure is translucent and its image wavers and shifts. Clearly this is indeed some kind of ghost.

However, before our heroes can respond to its sudden appearance, the ghostly figure gives them a hard look, and then does a double take. In a wispy, ethereal voice, it states, “You are not who I expected.”

“Um, who were you-” Kyle begins speaking, but the ghost ignores him.

“But you have the key.”

With a tremulous sigh, the ghost fades from view.

Puzzled but pleased not to have to fight such a terrible creature, our heroes make a quick search of the chamber and easily uncover another flat length of metal with the same rounded edge. Examining the two of them together, the party cannot tell them apart: they seem identical.

“I’ll bet there are two more of those things,” Kyle remarks.

“Obviously,” Otis nods. He gazes at them thoughtfully.

“They must be the key to that strange door,” suggests Goer. Er, I mean Sir Fwaigo.

“The Gate of Fire,” Otis opines.

“Maybe. We don’t know that for certain,” Kyle cautions.

“Should we open it at all?” wonders Sir Jorgen. “Maybe we can destroy the tower instead.”

“But would that help?” Dahlia sighs. “The door is beneath the tower.”

“What if we could block the entrance to it?” suggests Otis. “The rubble might be enough to slow the black magic cult down enough that they can’t do their ritual at the proper time.”

“Which would really slow them down a year.” Sir Fwaigo smiles.

“If it has to be on New Year’s Eve for their ritual to work,” Kyle warns. “Remember, we aren’t totally sure about that.”

“Bah!” Sir Cedric snorts. “It ith altho pothible that they cannot perform the ritual on just any New Year’th Eve; perhapth the thtarth mutht be aligned correctly or thomething. We jutht don’t know. Tho, regardleth of whether we can pull down the tower or whatever, I think we thould retrieve the other keyth.”

“Just in case,” nods Sir Fwaigo. “As my lord says, we can’t take the chance. We don’t know what these bastards are after or what this ritual is really all about, do we?”

“Not really,” replies Kyle.

“We know enough!” declares Otis. “We know they’re trying to open a gateway to Hell!”

“We do?” asks Sir Cedric.

“It’s called the Gate of Fire,” Otis sighs. “What else could it be?”

The discussion goes on interminably for a time, but finally the party decides that they don’t really have a way to check any of their speculation other than continuing with their plan to gather the keys. Whether they will open the mysterious door or block the passages remains in question, however, and Dahlia points out that it is quite possible that simply collecting the keys could foil the enemy.

Thus it is that they descend the next staircase, and soon they find themselves in an odd chamber. A number of goblins stand motionless and unresponsive in the room, as if frozen. Otis fireballs them without a second thought, but to the party’s surprise they are unmarked. However, they don’t move at all. Hesitantly, our heroes enter the chamber; a quick search turns up the third key.

“All too easy,” snorts Otis in disdain, and our heroes ascend back to the top of the ruined courtyard. Icy rain slathers down on them, but it is letting up already. The sky is grey; the sun hides behind the dark clouds.

Beneath the final staircase, the weather’s fine.

Next Time: A puzzling chamber, the final key and a fiendish trap!
 

the Jester

Legend
Beneath the Ghost Tower of Inverness, our heroes come upon a strange room. The floor is laid out in a grid, with squares of many different colors. At the opposite end of the room is a statue of a kingly-looking fellow with his hand outstretched. Our heroes look uneasily at the area for a few moments; Kyle, especially, looks for obvious traps. But his nervousness makes him careless. “I don’t see anything,” he gulps.

Sir Colder takes a single, hesitant step forward onto the corner of the grid. Nothing happens. He glances at his companions. They seem to be waiting with bated breath. Sir Fwaigo makes an impatient “go ahead” kind of gesticulation. With a shrug, Colder does so, taking another step.

Zap!

A blast of electricity shoots through him. He spasms in agony for a moment. Then it stops. Gasping, he looks back at his friends again. “Careful!” he calls. “There’s some kind of trap after all!”

“What happened?” asks Sir Cedric.

“I tripped some kind of shock or something. I... I’m not too sure.” Confused, he looks back at the square behind him, then forward. “Anyone got any ideas, here?”

Sir Fwaigo takes a running jump and lands with a thump and- no zap. Pausing for a moment, he takes a step-

Zap! He dances on the square for a moment as electricity runs through him.

“It mutht have to do with that thtatue,” Sir Cedric splutters. After a moment’s consideration, he casts resist electricity on himself. Then he takes a step onto the colored tiles. Nothing happens. Slowly, he moves another tile forward; still nothing.

Frowning, Sir Colder takes another step forward. Zap! “Ouch!” he yelps, then curses. “What am I doing wrong here??”

“Hold thtill, Thir Colder!” cries Sir Cedric. “Perhapth I can deactivate it onthe I reach the thtatue.” He advances on the statue, occasionally feeling a trickle of lightning, but his prayer protects him from the worst of it. Upon reaching the statue he begins to search it. After a few moments, he discovers the final key held in its grasp, and manages to pull it free.

“Let’s see if that changes anything,” Sir Colder grins, and steps forward-

Zap!

“OW GOD DAMMIT!!” Colder curses angrily. “What am I doing wrong here?!”

***

Back on the surface, our heroes find a medium rain awaiting them. Still, being underground brings a certain kind of oppressive gloom even a hurricane couldn’t match, so a little rain isn’t so bad. Plus, it isn’t too cold.

“I wonder what’s behind the door,” Kyle says, rubbing his hands together.

“Whatever it is, I doubt whether it’s good for us,” Otis responds dourly.

“I’m sure the black magic cult wants whatever is behind there. Maybe we can go in and get it first.” Dahlia looks at the others.

“Why not just collapse the remaining tower sections into the stairwells?” suggests the wizard. “We could probably make it so tough to dig out that they wouldn’t have time before new year’s eve. Even if they have a way to open the door, they won’t be able to reach it!”

“I like it,” Sir Colder says.

“My master,” confides Kyle, “is brilliant.”

“Well, what do you think?” Otis presses. “Collapse it?”

Our heroes stare at each other for a few moments. They all agree: collapse it.

It takes three days, and by the time they are done they are dirty, stinky and exhausted. They leave, heading several miles away to a little rill of water they had found the day before. There they wash and rest themselves for a night.

It is on that night that they are captured by Sir Harth.

Next Time: Why won’t the collapsing of the towers matter? What does Harth want? What are the gates? What is the connection to the cyst at Goblin Gorge? And what shocking surprise will our heroes learn about elves???

The next update or two should show us to the conclusion of the Year 271 Campaign (arc 1).
 

the Jester

Legend
Sir Fwaigo is on watch when they are taken.

He walks back and forth, yawning occasionally, but alert. There is no visible reason for him to fall asleep; no visible reason at all.

Especially given that the fire is just embers, banked low; and especially given that it is an overcast, moonless night. Sir Fwaigo sees nothing at all.

***

The group awakens to find themselves bound tightly. Me- Sir Percival- immediately begins to struggle, but it is, for the moment at least, hopeless.

Laughter dances across the early morning, and our heroes look upon a terrible sight. Leading what is surely the black magic cult, Sir Harth stands before them triumphant. “Fools!” he sneers. “I’ve beat you at last, and now you shall only live long enough to see my triumph!”

Otis groans around a gag. “This is terrible,” moans Kyle.

“It doesn’t matter,” cries Sir Colder. “We’ve collapsed the stairways! You’ll never dig them out in time for your ritual!”

“Oh, but you’re wrong,” Sir Harth chuckles. “We will get through your little barrier with ease.” Gloating, Sir Harth turns and calls, “Come, my friend! Show yourself.”

Something moves into view from the ruin itself. It is a horrific ball of angry-looking eyes, with a great sharp-toothed maw snarling and spitting. A huge central eye stares balefully out at them as the creature approaches, and atop its orb writhe nearly a dozen eye stalks!

“Oh, no, my friends,” Harth smiles wickedly. “We will not have any trouble at all.”

With that, one of the eyes fires a cold grey ray that blasts a hole in the ground. Where soil and grass once were, now there is only a crater and a puff of dust. It happens without a sound.

“We won’t even have to dig...”

Harth’s gloating is interrupted by Dahlia, who has seen enough. She wild shapes free of the bonds holding her, turning into a bird. She catches Sir Harth, his cultists and the strange eye-monster off guard and begins speeding away as swiftly as her wings will carry her! A few rays of light from the eyes of the monster shoot past her, but she manages to avoid or resist them, and soon she is out of range!

But what do I do now? she wonders. I can’t take out Sir Harth and his cult and that monster by myself. I need help. Maybe in Kamenda City...? Sir Martin should be there- either he, or Baron Rusk, may be able to help me. She grits her teeth. I have to move quickly. We may need some time to muster forces to attack that thing. Grimly, she realizes that the beams that shot at her were different colors, and most of them didn’t seem to disintegrate matter. That means it has unknown but highly dangerous and varied abilities, she groans to herself. This is trouble. Big trouble.

She wings her way north.

***

The others struggle, apparently unsuccessfully, to free themselves. The strange eye creature begins clearing one of the stairwells of rubble, simply annihilating it with no mess and no trouble. All that work for nothing, thinks Sir Fwaigo regretfully. It takes several hours, but once the passage is clear enough, the cultists carry our heroes downstairs, one at a time, and lay them against the goblins. One by one they grow rigid, drawn into the goblins’ magical stasis. Satisfied, the cultists leave after a moment more.

Then, at last, Sir Cedric rolls off of the goblin. In the darkness, the cultists could not see the sweat on his brow. It took all his concentration to keep from being put into stasis, but somehow he had managed.

Carefully, he rolls himself until he is in a position to saw at his bonds with the sharp edges of the goblins’ boots’ accoutrements. A few minutes later he is free. Chafing his wrists to restore his circulation, Sir Cedric hesitates for a long moment.

If I try to pull my friends free, and I fail, then we are all caught again- except for Dahlia, he thinks uneasily. Yet if I go for help I leave them at Sir Harth’s mercy. Either way, I am taking a huge chance.

Sir Cedric searches himself, but he has no liquor, beer, wine or even mead with which to fortify himself. He looks around uncomfortably. The thought of all of them being lost to Harth is unpalatable. But the thought of leaving his friends is frightful. To leave their manly muscles in danger- it is unthinkable.

And yet, it must be done.

Sir Cedric steals up the stairway. Near the top, he does his best to sneak up and look before he leaps (so to speak). It is already late afternoon. The position of the shadows favors him at this point. The eye monster looks to be working at one of the other stairways. Nobody is looking his direction.

Sir Cedric sprints for the wall. He clambers through a hole at waist level, glancing over his shoulder only once. “Nobody hath theen me,” he mutters to himself. Then he hurries off towards Kamenda City. I must alert father, and the baron, he thinks.

Next Time: The next update will be the finale of this story hour. It will bring us to the conclusion of arc 1 of the Year 272 Campaign. A shocking surprise about elves! One last chance to spoil Sir Harth’s plan! The Battle for New Year’s Eve!!
 

the Jester

Legend
Final Character Update:

Sir Fwaigo ("Goer" to his friends): fighter 5
Otis Optimus: wizard 6
Sir Cedric, Lord of Whitewater: knight 3/cleric 3
Kyle Goldenbow: rogue 3/wizard 3
Sir Percival (also called "Me" because he cannot pronounce his own name): barbarian 3/scout 2
Dahlia Laagos (last name adopted when she was given ownership over the ruins of Castle Laagos): druid 6
Sir Jorgen, sheriff of Whitewater: fighter 4/rogue 2
Sir Colder: fighter 4/rogue 1

Note: the Knight class was specific to the Year 271 Campaign, and bore little (if any) resemblance to the knight class in the PH2.
 

the Jester

Legend
Finale: New Year's Eve

Sir Cedric moves as quickly as he can. The horses are taken. He moves off on foot, clanking along as quickly as he can in his heavy armor. He is huffing and puffing after a mile, but he perseveres, jogging through the night.

Somehow he manages to avoid loose rocks, snagging roots and potholes that might trip him. Despite the darkness, despite his quick pace, Sir Cedric makes good time and avoids injury. Soon dawn is cracking over the eastern horizon. Bone-weary, Sir Cedric nonetheless continues moving on until he finds an outlying farm, whose owner is surprised and happy to make so much money for an old nag of a horse like that. But the important thing is that Sir Cedric is now mounted, and on an unfatigued mount at that! They eat up some more miles, and finally in late afternoon Cedric halts and collapses into exhausted sleep for a few hours.

When he wakes up, it’s evening. He rides a few more hours, risking two hours of darkness; but progress is slow and the horse is tired.

Dawn seems an eager knight riding hard, and it’s not long before the city of Kamenda comes into view. In the early afternoon, Sir Cedric reaches the walls, where he gives the pass word and moves in, quickly seeking an audience with his father, Sir Martin.

“My son!” Martin cries, upon receiving him. “We had feared the worst!” He clasps Cedric to him for a moment. A glimmer of water forms in the corner of his eye. He straightens and blinks it away. “Dahlia returned alone, and told us of Harth and the terrible creature with him.”

“Father, he hath my friendth! We mutht go to their aid!” Cedric exclaims.

“Of course, my son, we will.” Sir Martin’s face is grim. “We are mustering right now. It will take us another couple of days to get a force big enough to deal with that monster. We may fail entirely. But we will make our best attempt- and, with any luck, we will destroy Sir Harth for good this time.”

“And what of Dahlia, father? You thaid that you had thpoken to her?”

“Yes. She told us that Sir Harth had captured all of you, and only she had been able to escape. She told us that he planned to sacrifice all of you on New Year ’s Eve. We began summoning men to fight almost immediately. But she is not here. She flew away- perhaps to Whitewater- to plan and heal.”

Sir Cedric paces unhappily. “We mutht thuctheed,” he says. “We mutht rethcue them.”

“We will do our best,” Sir Martin replies stoically.

***

Time is running short. Days slip past, and the New Year is starting to peek our from beyond the horizon. When they have just enough time left, Sir Martin and Sir Cedric lead out all the troops they have managed to gather- about two hundreds of men. It is a considerable force of soldiers, but many of them are barely-trained rabble. About half are veterans that fought in the most recent war with Tydon. They march forth with deadly serious intent. It is a journey of three days to get to the Ghost Tower, and the afternoon is getting deep when the army arrives.

The ruins of the tower and its surrounding wall look uninhabited as they march towards it.

***

Behind the walls around the tower, the beholder squints, narrowing the focus of its disintegrate beam until it bores a hole just begin enough for one of its small eyestalks to fit into. It drills other pairs of holes here and there along the walls as well, then inserts the appropriate eyes and begins laying the groundwork for the oncoming force’s destruction.

***

Beams of light shoot out as the army approaches, and the army halts and sets up a shield wall. There is no obvious effect, and after a minute, the army begins advancing closer to the wall. The lead members of the army- whom the rays from the eyes are continuing to bathe- approach the holed walls in several opportune areas.

Then-

Suddenly, most of the men who have been bathed in the eye rays turn on their fellows and begin to attack. There is a cry of fear as the noteworthy knight Sir Brand begins laying into the rabble he leads with his great axe.

“What’s happening!” cries someone near Sir Cedric.

“It mutht be the rayth of light!” Sir Cedric snaps his fingers. “We mutht path beyond the wall, quickly!”

The army is in disarray, unfortunately. The unexpected turning on their fellows by a dozen of the first wave- and more every moment- is not encouraging to the soldiers. The rays continue to bathe the uncharmed folk, turning more allies to enemies. The press of people starting to move back pushes Cedric away from the walls. He howls in frustration, then forces his way forward.

A cloud of living terror boils out through the portcullis, where another score men are bringing a huge ram up to batter their way in. Screaming in fear, they begin to retreat from it, backing off for a few paces, and then turning and fleeing in abject terror.

The eye beams stop for a few moments, only to resume again from somewhere else. The army begins to disintegrate as people turn to stone and disintegrate where the beams touch them. More men are turning on each other. The sound of steel clashing on steel and the coppery smell of blood fill the air.

Things look very ugly indeed.

***

Dahlia wings her way beneath a grey sky, heading south and west from Castle Laagos. The clouds overhead are ominous and threatening. The Rise of Battle (once called Inverness) comes into view as evening starts to roll in. A large cloud of dust- as if from a sizeable group of travelers, or a battle- is atop it, near the Ghost Tower.

Dahlia circles at a distance, then banks to her left and closes the distance between her and the tower, intending to fly in close enough to get a good look at the situation. But she squawks and banks away again when the beholder comes into view. Bodies and statues of men dot the area near the Ghost Tower, and there is bloody combat where men have seemingly turned on one another. Her stomach twists at the carnage. Things have gone very, very wrong, she thinks in despair.

From the air she spies Sir Cedric. She lands near him and transforms into her true form, then hurries over to the knight.

“Dahlia!” he cries.

“What’s happening?” she asks grimly.

“Thith beatht ith overcoming the entire forthe! It guardth actheth to the tower and our friendth! None can approach it without being dethtroyed by itth eye beamth!”

Dahlia settles her sight on the beholder. “I’ll do what I can against that thing,” she says, filled with trepidation. She extends her hands and begins making pulling gestures at the sky, muttering to herself like a crazy old hermit. After a long moment there is a flash of lightning as a bolt descends from the looming clouds overhead and strikes the beholder. It gives a harsh cry of surprise and begins heading towards her.

“Save our friends!” Dahlia urges Sir Cedric. She begins calling another bolt at the beholder, and with a crack of thunder another lightning bolt zigzags down from the sky to strike it! The stink of ozone fills the air as the beholder grimaces. It is smoking and small electric arcs are still playing over it as it roars and begins firing eye rays at Dahlia. She resists disintegration and death, but the pain of the beams is almost overwhelming. She throws off attempts to petrify her, to make her flee in fear, to charm her. More rays stab out in other directions, charming, petrifying and killing more soldiers.

A ray blasts into Sir Cedric and he grits his teeth and staggers, wounded. Another hits him and he falls to the ground asleep. And at last, Dahlia’s luck runs out. A brilliant ray of energy stabs out from one of the eyestalks and hits her in the center of her torso. Dahlia groans and falls.

“We can’t hold!” one of the soldiers cries. He throws down his spear and shield and turns to flee. Observing him, the men next to him start to retreat as well. Another man starts to exhort them to firm up, and a ray from the beholder turns him to stone.

It’s a rout.

***

Dahlia’s eyes flutter. She is very uncomfortable and sore, and seems to be in a strange position. She-

Her eyes fly open.

She is tied up, hands behind her back. She glances around her. Night has fallen. The stars are out, winking down from above. Her friends, similarly bound, are here as well.

Dahlia tries to wild shape, but she can’t. The beholder glares at her balefully. Somehow it is negating her powers!

Sir Harth stands at the head of a circle of thirteen cultists. A number of glassy-eyed soldiers are there as well, clearly in the beholder’s thrall. One of the cultists holds a pair of leashes that lead to a pair of elfblood youths. The treacherous knight smirks in the light of the torches that the cultists hold, their flames whipping in the wind. The night is cold.

“What’s going on?” groans Dahlia.

“It looks like Sir Harth has captured us, and is about to perform his ritual.” Sir Colder looks pained.

“You fools thought to deprive me of the elf by turning him over to the Keepers,” Sir Harth says suddenly. His voice is loud and mocking. “But we have figured out another way to open the gate. Two elfbloods, with as much elf as possible in them, should suffice. Ahh, my friends, you will witness a great thing tonight!” He grins, walking towards them. Gravel crunches under his boots. “And then, of course, you will die.”

Sir Cedric spits at Harth. For an instant the smirk on his face is replaced by a look of malevolence so dark that all of our heroes quail. Then he smiles again and sighs, “Ah, Sir Cedric.” He paces for a moment. Then he turns to the cultists and says, “Come. And bring them.”

“What is this ‘great thing’ you want us to witness?” Sir Fwaigo demands.

“You will see,” Harth gloats.

The soldiers herd our heroes down one of the stairwells surrounding the tower, and soon they are in the chamber in which the mysterious door stands. Sir Harth now has all four pieces of the key, and he presses them, one by one, into the door. There is a thrum of power. With a loud grinding sound, the door slides open.

Beyond the mysterious metal door is a 40’ square room with but a single feature: a large archway set into the far wall.

The cultists begin unpacking certain unsavory items and set up an altar before the arch. Slowly they decorate it with odd oils and light pungent incenses. A vague, nearly-formless lump of black stone is placed as the centerpiece. Our heroes watch in horrified fascination. The room grows smoky from the thuribles, and their eyes begin to sting and water. There is something strange in the smoke that makes everyone’s head swim.

Sir Harth has donned cult robes over his armor and has taken up a long dagger made of what appears to be glass. He and the cultists begin a dark ritual. The soldiers stand behind the party, ready to slay them if they try anything tricky. Sir Cedric scowls helplessly as they take the elfblood youths and prepare them for sacrifice, to spill their blood over the altar and the archway. He struggles against his bonds, but to no avail: a master ropesman has tied these knots. A few blows from the mailed fist of the soldier stops his struggles for the moment.

The youths are heavily drugged to prevent their struggling. The first is brought next to the arch. Harth’s glass knife rises and slashes out. Blood sprays over the space beneath the arch, splattering the wall into which the arch is set.

Immediately there is a flare of orange light. A vertical line of blazing orange suddenly bisects the arch’s space.

The cultists bring the other youth forward.

Something wet lands on Cedric, and there is a soft thump behind him. A hand steals across his mouth, urging him to silence, and he can feel a blade cutting through the ropes that hold him tied. He turns his head. A lithe, small figure he does not recognize is seemingly freeing him. She is cowled; her face is only half-visible.

Sir Cedric does not question his good fortune. She steals away and, as Cedric watches in amazement, she slits another soldier’s throat from behind without being seen. Then she begins to free Kyle...

Sir Cedric smiles and quickly takes the spear from the slain guard behind him. The guards are just starting to realize that something is going wrong as Sirs Cedric and Jorgen lead the attack!

But simultaneously, Sir Harth, that villain, has slit the other youth’s throat. Blood splashes across the archway and the space beneath it, sizzling and smoking. Orange light spills out as the line begins to widen like an opening door. Churning, eye-burning light flows forth. The sound of Sir Harth’s laughter rings out maniacally.

Then the battle is on, as the soldiers struggle to stop our heroes from bursting free at the last moment. Sir Harth cries out, “You’re too late!” He and his cultists- along with the beholder- move towards the blazing, stomach-churning light beneath the archway.

“Stop them!” the lithe figure that freed Sir Cedric cries. She fires a trio of arrows from her bow, his fingers a blur. But it’s too late. The villains escape into the light.

She exclaims musically in Elven.

“Who are you?” demands Sir Jorgen.

She throws back her cowl. She is an elf! Our heroes gape, but she answers none of their questions for the moment. Instead, she cries, “Make ready! This is not over yet!” She gestures. “The villains kept your gear over there. You likely only have a few moments before the elves return. You must be ready to fight them!”

“Fight them?” Kyle says incredulously. But most of the party is already sprinting for the pile of equipment that the elf woman indicated.

“They have changed in their exile,” she replies ominously.

The party straps armor into place and grabs up weapons. The elf nocks an arrow and stands in a position of almost unbearable tension. As the party moves back towards her, she cries, “Hurry! I can see them coming!”

“We’ve only met one of your kind before, and he was-” Kyle starts, but the elf interrupts him.

“Hurry!! They come!!”

“But they’re elves, right?” persists Kyle. “Can’t we talk to them, or...”

He trails off in horror as a half dozen figures emerge from the archway. Yes, they are humanoid; but their resemblance to the elf that came out of nowhere to help them ends there.

But our heroes have seen them before. Oh, yes.

Awkward-looking and unnatural, with the odor of a sick room clinging to them, the creatures are wearing resinous armor and carrying odd ribbon-dagger weapons. The smell brings it back more forcefully than anything: the cyst at Goblin Gorge.

The elf is already grimly firing arrows into them. “Stop them!” she cries. “Don’t let them come through!”

Our heroes charge to the attack. The battle is brief and furious. The creatures can unleash mind-twisting powers that stun or blind. They can create clouds of hypnotic vapor. Their weapons leave nasty cuts.

But our heroes, together with the elf, attack fast and furious, and put the strange, warped elves down.

The elf turns to them. “I know you have many questions,” she says grimly, “and I will answer them when there is time. But for now, we have to go after Harth and his band and stop them!”

“Where does that portal go?” demands Otis.

“Into the past,” the elf declares. “They seek to gain a powerful weapon and then come back here to use it to make themselves rulers of the land.”

“But-“

“I must go to stop them,” she states. “I cannot do it alone; I need your help. Please.” She takes a deep breath. “But either way, I must go.” She puts her bow away and draws out her rapier and dagger.

“I’m with you,” says Sir Jorgen.

“And I,” announces Sir Cedric.

“We all are,” Sir Colder tells him.

Otis frowns. “Oh, why not.”

Together they go through the blazing portal.


The End of the Year 271 Campaign: Arc One
 

Dawn

Visitor
Excellent story telling from the DM and action from the players. Just read through it from the beginning.
Are you finding that the low magic makes the players rely more on their skills and creative use of everyday items?

Next update?
 

the Jester

Legend
Dawn said:
Excellent story telling from the DM and action from the players. Just read through it from the beginning.
Are you finding that the low magic makes the players rely more on their skills and creative use of everyday items?

Next update?
Yeah, the lack of magic- at the end of the story hour, I believe there's a +1 weapon and a +1 suit of armor in the party- does make them rely more on themselves and their creativity, which is one of the great successes of the campaign. That was one of my goals.

As to the next update... I hate to disappoint you... but that was the last one. The campaign arc ended there. We will eventually get back to this game- though Arc 2 will be vastly different from Arc 1- but I suspect it will be a while. ;)

Yes, I really did intentionally end the campaign like that.
 

Baron Opal

Visitor
I have enjoyed reading your experiment, and look forward to the chronicleing of the next arc, in the not too distant future, I hope.

Two questions:

What changes are you going to make to the house rules for the next arc, if any?

IIRC, you have a pretty major player handout for your standard campaign world. How much detail did you write for the time between the standard campaign and this one?
 

the Jester

Legend
To those of you who read and enjoyed this story hour, HEADS UP!

We're a couple of weeks away from starting Arc 2!!!

In other words- more story soon... :)
 

Brain

Visitor
We're about to play this game again today. It will certainly be different, beyond the portal. I'm excited!
 

the Jester

Legend
Question to the players: given the nature of the arc from what you can tell so far, should Arc 2 have its own story hour thread? Or should I just continue this thread?

Question to the readers: given that Arc 2 will be dramatically, drastically different from Arc 1- should it have its own thread? Or should I just continue this thread?
 

Baron Opal

Visitor
Breadcrumbs would be appropriate. But still, I think continuing it here would be appropriate as they are the same characters in the same meliu.
 
I think you should keep it in this thread - having it bumped to the top periodically might attract new readers, and the 1st Arc was well worth reading.

You might want to change or add to the title, though, to let people know there's new stuff.
 

the Jester

Legend
Wow- pretty much a consensus so far. I'll continue the story in this same thread.

I'll post the next update after work tonight; though I'm almost done writing the second one to come, I want to go back, reread and edit a lil bit before posting. :)
 

the Jester

Legend
ARC 2 BEGINS HERE: An Age of Madness!

It feels like it has been seconds. It feels like it has been weeks. It feels like it has been years.

Slowly, our heroes begin to open their eyes. Groaning, Sir Jorgen and Sir Colder are first. They ache from their wounds, but they feel worse than just that. Something feels wrong- crawling up and down their skin, itching and burning.*

Dahlia’s eyelids flutter and she slowly inhales very deeply, then opens her eyes- and gasps. She is quite disoriented; her companions are scattered around the ground, outside in the Ghost Tower of Inverness’ courtyard. Crushed and shattered rock all around seems to indicate that some sort of massive explosion or detonation took place below ground. Overhead, the sky is a dull red color, and it makes her eyes watery and sore to look at it. Neither sun nor stars are visible in the firmament.

Suddenly, in the distance, an intense flash of maroon light washes across the entire sky. The itching, burning sensation that our heroes are feeling across their exposed skin increases notably, all over all of their bodies, only to gradually subside back to its initial disconcerting level as the sky resumes its abnormal red color. The mysterious elf that rescued the party from Sir Harth’s clutches, whom they followed here, lies senseless and moaning on the ground. She appears to be bleeding from the nose and ears. As the sky flashes, she gives a cry of pain.

“Oh no!” exclaims Dahlia, dragging herself upright. Otis and Sir Cedric remain unconscious nearby, lying senseless, but the elf is in terrible shape. The strange hermit begins checking her for signs of poison or disease, and cries, “What’s wrong with you??”

“The sky... the flashes...” the elf gasps. She coughs; her spittle is bloody. She winces, then says, “Stop him. You must stop him. He’s... a fool. Weapons are forbidden... with good reason.” She moans.

“What is the sky?” asks Goer- er, Sir Fwaigo. “I mean, how is it hurting you? It’s not hurting us...”

“It’s... a weapon... spell so... powerful... it wiped out... the elves of this island.”

“Would it help if we could get you under cover?” Dahlia asks. The elf nods and responds faintly.

“Extend... my life... a few more minutes...”

Immediately the party begins checking the area for any kind of available cover. The Ghost Tower itself is far from featureless, but it has no obvious doors or windows; so there is no way in. However, the courtyard (which now consists of broken rubble) does have one area that is torn up pretty badly, beneath which Dahlia finds a remnant of the old dungeon. Together, then, Sir Jorgen and Sir Colder haul the elf down into what remains- a 20’ wide, 40’ long length of hallway ending in one of the metal doors that required the four-part metal key. Fortunately, Jorgen notices that all four parts of the key are in the door. A stroke of luck, the sheriff thinks.

Dahlia, meanwhile, has administered a few goodberries to both Sir Cedric and Otis. Slowly, they both stir and come to; neither feels very well. Both are badly wounded; but then, the entire party is ragged and worn and barely standing. “My goodneth!” Sir Cedric sputters. “Quickly, my former thquire!” he calls to Sir Fwaigo, who is already pulling out a bottle of brandy. “A drink!”

“What’s going on?” Otis groans as awareness returns to him. Quickly, our heroes fill him in on the elf’s condition and her words so far. “We must hurry!” the wizard declares immediately. “Sir Harth is out there somewhere!” Then he pauses and exclaims, “Salt!”

“Salt?” asks Colder.

“Yes, the so-called ‘elves’- remember, we defeated at Goblin Gorge them with weapons coated in salt. Remember that goblin, Zeem, and her temple, after the weird creatures- the elves- had brought their cyst in?”

“Of course,” Sir Fwaigo replies.

“We must be prepared-” Otis stops as he notices the condition of the elf. Sir Cedric and Dahlia are already leaning over her.

“What can we do?” entreats Cedric.

“Nothing,” the elf whispers. “Nothing for me. But... stop Sir Harth. You must defeat him!”

“What ith he doing? Where ith he going?” Sir Cedric queries.

“Can’t be sure... I know... he is seeking weapons from this time. He wants... to use them... to take over your homeland. Thankfully... he does not... realize how meager... his ambitions are.” The elf groans again.

“Who can help us here?” Sir Fwaigo demands. “Who can aid us?”

The elf fixes him with a dying eye. “You don’t understand...”

“Are we in the future or the past?” Otis inquires.

“The past... at the height of... the Age of Madness. The elf-slayer is... just one powerful weapon... of many.”

“Which one is Sir Harth after?” asks Colder.

”Can’t be sure... doesn’t matter.”

“What kind of weapons are we talking about here?” asks Kyle.

“Many... different, powerful... magical weapons. Some of them can even... draw moons down from the sky... to crush entire islands. Some of them... make the air unbreathable for miles.”

Sir Colder and Kyle exchange a glance.

“So who can help us?” Fwaigo- Goer- asks again.

The elf fixes her eyes on him. With a groan, she says, “You... don’t understand. There isn’t anyone... at least, not many. Most... gone. All the elves, maybe... by now. You may not find... ANY... friendly folk. This is... a very dark time.”

“Did you live through it before?” Kyle asks. When the elf manages a weak nod, he asks, “How? Surely some of your people made it...”

“Not... here. On Island... of the Elves.”

“But what about the dragons?” Kyle inquires. “Surely they weren’t slain here...”

“Some... some slain, some fled... bad time... very dark...”

“And how do we get back home?” Fwaigo demands. “We followed you here- guide us! Who can help us? Surely there’s someone... or a way back...”

The elf says nothing.

“We must find Harth,” Otis states. “There is no time to waste.”

“Great,” murmurs Jorgen. “But how?”

“I can check for tracks,” Dahlia offers.

“It’s dangerous up there,” Kyle shivers. “And we need to rest first.”

“I don’t think that you comprehend the magnitude of our situation,” Otis sniffs. “Time is of the essence. We dare not delay.”

“We’re in no shape to go exploring,” Colder argues back. “You and Cedric- hell, and myself- can barely stand!”

“We don’t even know where we’re going, or where Sir Harth went,” adds Jorgen. “We need to know where to go before we head out.”

“We could always check the Ghost Tower,” Sir Colder suggests.

The group debates for a few minutes, and in the end they decide that Dahlia will go look for tracks while the others guard the poor elf. It is then that they realize that, while they were talking, she has died.

Somberly, our heroes look at each other. They are alone, now, in a world blasted by magic far more powerful than anything they have ever seen.

“Great,” groans Kyle.

Next Time: Our heroes look for clues- and decide what to do!


*Everyone woke up with 1 point of con damage. This was enough to knock Otis and Cedric unconscious, given their wounds from our previous adventure.
 
Last edited:

the Jester

Legend
“Well, I guess I still may as well look for tracks,” Dahlia grumbles to herself, and so she ascends the pile of broken rocks that leads up to the surface. As she emerges, the sky flashes again, and the druidess feels a flare of crawling itch scrawl itself across her skin. She shudders. Something is profoundly unnatural here... profoundly.

She is wary and cautious, but there are no real signs of life that she can see. An eerie, distant rumbling noise comes periodically from the distance all around, and there is still no sign of stars or sun. Dahlia bites her lip; this time is terrible, terrifying... shattered.

Spiraling out about half a mile from the Ghost Tower of Inverness, she begins to search for signs of Sir Harth and his cultists- or anybody else. Any clue as to how long ago the villains arrived, any sign of other life- anything.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the party carries the dead elf up to the surface and begins building a cairn of the shattered stones over her. It is a slow process; the rocks are difficult to walk over, requiring that our heroes painstakingly pick their way over the uneven ground. Carelessness could cost a broken ankle- and here, in this hostile world, that could be enough to doom the entire party.

Only Sir Colder and Sir Jorgen wait down below, in the short piece of hallway that our heroes have found. Sir Jorgen studies the metal door at the end. “I wonder what’s behind this,” he muses aloud, approaching it.

“I don’t know if that’s a good-” Colder begins, but it’s too late. Jorgen pushes on the metal door. He is looking intently at the four-part key, already impressed into- and fused with- the door’s face.

It swings freely open.

The party has seen the chamber before; it is where they were nearly sacrificed by the dastardly Sir Harth and his black magic cultists. It is where the Gate of Fire, or whatever they went through to get here, was located, and activated after Harth’s spilling of elven blood. But now, there is no portal. Jorgen grunts sourly. Sir Colder sighs and follows him as he enters the room. “I’m pretty wounded, you know,” he comments off-handedly.

Sir Jorgen nods. “We’ll be careful.”

Colder sighs and the two look around. The walls, floor and ceiling of the chamber are all made of the same smooth, blue-gray metal that the key and the doors were fashioned from. The room has three other doors leading into it, but they are buckled and damaged beyond opening by the force of whatever titanic explosion destroyed so much of the dungeon level below the tower itself. The room itself shows signs of having been in use in relatively recent times; an old fire pit, with a considerable buildup of ashes, is near the entrance. A pile of refuse in one corner seems less than ancient, as well. In the ceiling, near the center of the chamber, is a 5’ diameter hole. Neither the refuse nor the fire pit nor the hole were in the room when our heroes were here before- although, Sir Jorgen reflects, that time is technically yet to come, at least from what he can tell. It’s all so confusing... but there is work to be done!

Sir Jorgen pulls out a rope and grappling hook while Sir Colder merely shakes his head.

***

While the rest of the party works on the elf’s cairn, Me- Sir Percival- pulls out his spyglass and surveys the scene. Standing on a particularly high pile of rubble, Me turns in a full circle. It is impossible to know which way is north; there is nothing to orient on. So he starts by looking in the direction of the flashes. Distantly, he can see mountains. The Ghost Tower is located in a range of hills running perpendicular to the direction of the elf-killing flashes. Left, as Me turns, is a smudge of mountains, then an area that is glowing red and covered with some kind of haze or smoke. Turning further, Me sees what looks like fire for miles and miles- covering perhaps a sixth or fifth of his entire viewing arc. Frowning, he keeps turning; there are a couple of forests further along, the hills... back to the flashes.

Sir Percival- Me- frowns. He doesn’t understand what he sees, but he certainly doesn’t like it.

He goes back to piling stones on the corpse of the elf.

***

Dahlia, meanwhile, has hit paydirt. Well, something like that; she’s found traces of someone, all right. Poop. Poop from humans- and there is a lot of it all around. A couple of months old, she figures. If it’s from Sir Harth and his group, at least that will give us a clue as to how far behind them we are, she considers. There were fourteen of them, plus the weird eyeball-monster. Together, they would generate a lot of poop. Enough to leave clues for us- hopefully a lot of clues.

She keeps searching for signs, but though she finds obvious signs of human presence, the trail is cold enough that she cannot discern a trail. Shrugging to herself, she returns to the Ghost Tower deep in contemplation. There is very little alive here, she thinks. The thought makes her cold. We have to eat. We must be very careful.

***

Meanwhile, Jorgen, after several attempts, manages to catch his grappling hook on something up the shaft. After tugging it several times to ensure that it is solid, he begins to climb. Sir Colder, weak from his wounds, watches anxiously as Sir Jorgen vanishes up the shaft. Uneasily, Colder realizes that everyone else is out on the surface- and they are unlikely to hear any sound of trouble.

But a moment later, his fears are assuaged, at least momentarily, when Jorgen’s voice floats down to him: “There’s a ladder up here!” Though muffled, the sheriff is completely comprehensible. “I’m going to climb it.”

“Wait a minute!” Sir Colder protests. He grits his teeth and grasps the dangling rope. “Mangle dangle,” he moans, and begins pulling himself up the shaft. About 20’ above the ceiling of the room below, he discovers that Sir Jorgen is right: there are bronze rungs anchored in the wall of the shaft.

Above Colder, Sir Jorgen emerges from the top of the chute. The air is full of a warm, thick, rolling mist that limits his vision severely. The ground is broken and uneven, with loose rock all around. He can see no ceiling, but the entire area is suffused with a dim light for which Jorgen can discern no source. “If we can’t see more than about ten feet, we’d best be very careful about moving too far from the shaft. We’d better tie off if we’re going to do that,” he mutters to himself.

“We’d better wait for the others,” Colder says as he pulls himself out of the shaft and stands up in the misty area. He glances around. “I can’t see a thing.”

Jorgen lights a torch, giving them some brighter light; but the thick, cloying fog does not recede, and the majority of the room remains masked from view. A moment after the torch begins to burn, however, a strange loud sound issues from somewhere in the mist: like a screech mixed with a loud, violent exhalation. It is a strange cry, unlike anything the two heroes have ever heard before.

Fwoosh, fwoosh...

“Wings,” whispers Jorgen.

The two draw their swords.

***

Dahlia picks a small piece of cloth from a jagged stump of burned brush. This has not been out in the weather- if there is weather anymore- for more than a couple of months. And it’s the same color as the cultists’ robes. It isn’t conclusive, but it’s enough; I’m convinced. It was Harth’s group. But if only there was some way to track them! She glances back over in the direction of the Ghost Tower and sighs. Perhaps there are clues in the tower,[/] she reflects. Either way, we have lost the elf- A momentary poignant sorrow wells up in her breast- but we still have her mission. We have to stop Sir Harth.

Dahlia begins walking back towards the Ghost Tower of Inverness. When she reaches them, most of the others are finishing the cairn, but there is no sign of Sir Colder or Sir Jorgen. They must still be down below, Dahlia thinks.

“Hey, Dahlia,” Kyle nods to her. “Did you find anything?”

“Lots of poop,” she replies.

***

Skree!! Skree!!!

The beasts swoop in at Jorgen and Colder: three weird, winged creatures, with long, pick-like heads. They are like something from a previous era, some terrible precursor to birds, and they are as big as horses.

Alone, our two wounded heroes brace themselves.

Next Time: Colder and Jorgen, outnumbered and alone, against a trio of pteranodons!
 

the Jester

Legend
Sir Jorgen and Sir Colder are as prepared as they can be for the approach of the enemy. Colder’s foot braces the butt of his longspear; he is readied for a charge. Jorgen’s sword is held out as well, ready to stab and fend any approaching foe. Then, with a terrifying shriek, the three pteranodons swoop in! Each of our heroes slashes out as an enemy comes within reach. Blood spews where Colder’s spear strikes home, impaling the beast! It roars and struggles, but when he yanks his spear free from it, it dies in a shower of gore. Sheriff Jorgen hacks into one of the flying reptiles as well. The beasts skree loudly as they fly by, trailing blood. In seconds they have swung back around, and there is another brief clash. Colder’s spear bites one into the shoulder of one of the beasts, and Sir Jorgen throws himself across its path and hews out its neck; unfortunately, the other monster bites Colder savagely across the shoulder. He screams as flesh tears and bones grind, and then he drops limply to the ground.

“We could use some help up here!” shouts Sir Jorgen, desperately trying to keep the beast located by sound as it vanishes into the mist. “Hey, guys!”

Unfortunately for Jorgen, the rest of the party is too far away to hear his cries. They are outside of the little section of dungeon that remains after the devastating blast that did so much damage to the earth around the tower.

Jorgen is alone, as Colder slips closer to death, and so he takes a deep breath, firms up his resolve, and readies his attack. A moment later, when the flying reptile swoops in again, he cuts it down! With a final loud skree, the beast plows into the ground and rolls to a bloody stop.

Jorgen hurries to his fallen companion and begins bandaging him. He continues to shout down the hole, hoping someone will hear. When the sheriff is satisfied that his companion is stable and is unlikely to slip away, he sets to the task of pushing the pteranodon bodies down the hole. “We have to eat something,” he mutters to himself.

Outside, meanwhile, the rest of our heroes are just starting to wonder what Jorgen and Colder have found, and they clamber back down into the blasted remains of the dungeon beneath the Ghost Tower of Inverness and mosey over to the strange metal door with the key set into it. Peering through the doorway, they are surprised to notice the corpses of three strange reptilian winged creatures. “Those weren’t there before,” comments Dahlia.

”Me!” Me says.

Jorgen’s voice drifts down from above. “Hey, you guys, come help! Colder’s hurt! Wait, I’ll drop a rope...”

Realizing that something bad has happened, our heroes hurry to aid Sir Jorgen with Colder’s unconscious form. Soon the messenger has been lowered to the metal-walled room by rope, and a few moments later Jorgen has rejoined his companions.

“What did you find up there?” asks Goer- Sir Fwaigo.

Jorgen gestures at the pteranodons. “Those things. The chamber up there is all misty; I couldn’t see far enough to really know what’s up there. The flying lizard things seemed to have plenty of room to fly about, though, so it must be a pretty big area.” He turns to Dahlia. “What about you?”

“There were people here, but the most recent signs are weeks old,” she answers.

“Sir Percy took a look around with his spyglass, too, didn’t you, Percy?” Goer prompts Me.

“Me! Fire... red haze... woods...” The dumb half-orc shakes his head. “Me,” he finishes solemnly.

“I guess the real question,” Kyle says, “is: what do we do next?”

“We must find Sir Harth,” Otis opines.

“But we don’t know where he is,” Kyle points out.

“There might be some clues in the Ghost Tower,” Sir Jorgen suggests. “I say that we explore that first, and see what we can find out. In fact, there’s already this fire pit down here, and the refuse. There’s bound to be a clue or two in here!”

Dahlia, Kyle and Jorgen get to work examining the area more thoroughly. The trash includes feces, discarded food remnants (such as pig bones, onion husks, etc), a few broken arrows, discarded bits of worn clothing, the stubs of a couple of torches, etc. The evidence is circumstantial, but our heroes believe that the fire and trash were from Sir Harth and his cronies. Dahlia’s skill with tracking allows her to ascertain that there were about a dozen figures that traveled around the area, probably for quite some time before leaving. Still, the trail is cold- about as cold as the traces she found outside.

“Well, I know thith,” Sir Cedric declares. “In order to purthue and defeat the thcoundrelth with Thir Harth, we mutht firtht retht and recover our thtrength.” A melancholy look crawls onto his face. “In thith terrible land- I only hope that there are children thomewhere.”

“Here, my lord, have a drink,” Goer interrupts his liege, passing him a bottle.

“Ah! Well thaid, Goer!” Cedric exclaims.

“And regardless of the other part, I must agree with Cedric as far as we should rest.” Kyle groans. “I can barely stand!”

“Time is of the essence,” Otis warns direly.

“So is our strength,” replies Sir Jorgen.

***

The party manages to rest undisturbed in the central room beneath the Ghost Tower of Inverness. Their careful watches are peaceful. Upon waking and poking their heads above ground, they find that the sky remains maroon, and the jagged flashes of maroon radiance continue. They seem to be the only feature distinct enough to orient on. The debate- strike out overland or explore the tower- reignites briefly, but Otis is the only one arguing for an immediate departure. Scowling, he gives in, especially as he has no idea of where to go.

So it is that our heroes ascend the rope and the shaft to the misty area where Jorgen and Colder fought the pteranodons. The meat from the beasts is laid out in strips on the rocks below, drying out for use as rations; even without a fire, there is a certain amount of preservation that can be done. At the top of the shaft, the party uneasily spreads out a little bit, but if spread apart more than about 10’ they can’t see each other. “It’s like pea soup,” Jorgen mutters to himself, then turns to the task at hand. He runs another rope from the top rung of the shaft, and the party clings to it and heads off into the mist in a random direction. They run out of rope before they run into a wall.

“Room big,” comments Me.

The party begins a sweep of the radius of the rope, moving steadily to the left. Soon a wrought iron staircase becomes visible in the mist ahead. It spirals up out of sight. It seems to have a significant amount of some form of guano layered on it, and the pervasive fog has made the whole thing quite moist

Skree!

Suddenly, with a terrifying screech, another pteranodon flies at our heroes from out of the mist, obviously coming from some kind of roost above on the stairs! Cedric gives a cry of surprise but manages to ward off its pick-like beak attack. The beast flaps out of sight, vanishing into the thick fog.

“Make ready!” cries Goer, and a moment later the beast reappears.

This time Cedric is ready, and in a mighty pair of blows, he severs the creature’s head from its body! “By the power of my pinky finger,” he intones solemnly.

“Look there!” cries Kyle. Where he points, a mound of... something... is just barely visible through the mist.

“Let’s check it out,” urges Sir Jorgen. The party carefully makes their way over to the strange nest.

A large mound of earth and stone, stained with blood and scattered with bits of dried grass, straw and hay, looms out of the mist as our heroes approach. The corpse of some kind of large beast is rotting atop it, festooned with arrows and showing the signs of stab and chop wounds. From the smell, it has been here for a month or more. After a brief examination, Otis pronounces it a type of sphinx, specifically a hieraco-sphinx. Then he busily explains to his apprentice, Kyle, how he could tell. (“It’s all about the head,” Otis elaborates.)

“I wonder if there are any clues on it,” murmurs Sir Jorgen. “Perhaps the fletching of those arrows will tell us something.” He moves onto the mound and approaches the corpse- when suddenly, an ugly brown beetle erupts from the body! It is about 2 ½’ in length. The back of its carapace has markings that suggest a skull on it. It has vicious looking mandibles and short, fuzzy antennae. It appears to have been burrowing through the sphinx’s corpse. Jorgen cries out in disgust, pulls out his sword and cuts the bug in two. “Be careful,” he calls, and as he speaks, another beetle chews its way out of the body to see what all the fuss is.

“What’s going on?” Dahlia cries. From her position, she is too far removed to see anything through the mist. “I can hear noise, but...” Frustrated, she draws her scimitar.

Indeed, most of the party is in largely the same boat as Dahlia. The mist curtails visibility so severely that only a few of our heroes have a chance to see what they are being attacked by. More beetles burrow up, but between Sir Jorgen and Sir Colder, they are cut down almost as fast as they arrive. Me squishes one easily as well, when it comes close enough for him to see it, but otherwise it is Colder and Jorgen that carry the day. The beetles are slow, stupid and uncoordinated; thus, our heroes easily defeat them.

“Now let’s check that fletching!” Jorgen chuckles, and indeed, a close examination reveals it to be very similar to that used in our heroes’ time. “It’s not conclusive,” the sheriff muses aloud, “but it’s persuasive.”

“Me!” agrees Sir Percival.

“Looks like the nest has already been looted,” announces Sir Colder, after inspecting it.

“Well, we can go up the stairs,” Kyle points out.

“Yeth!” declares Sir Cedric. “We mutht athend the thtairth!”

“Very well,” nods Sir Jorgen, taking the lead. The others fall in behind him, Cedric pausing to take a gulp from Goer’s wineskin on the way.

The party ascends about 20’ to the ceiling, and then continues up through another shaft. The staircase leads up into a well-lit area free of the mists. Instead- oddly, for being inside a tower- the group appear to have come to an area of thick forest, with trees and dense undergrowth all around. The ground is rich loam, soft and dark brown. There is a narrow pathway twisting away through the otherwise daunting undergrowth. The air is hot and humid, and the ceiling 30’ overhead is brushed by several of the trees.

“What the hell is all this?” Dahlia blurts out. “A forest?? Indoors?? That makes no sense!”

In the trees, something hears our heroes and moves to observe, discretely. At least for now it will not reveal itself.

Next Time: Our heroes play with monkeys!
 

Advertisement

Top