Friday, May 9, 2014

PBM: Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 6

In which the party finds a tower in the river...

GM
Just past the cemetery, the river running to your right begins to widen and then rejoins the main branch. An old broad-crested stone weir, with a tall tower in the middle divides the river into two, splitting it around the city. A high, stone footbridge runs from the weir-tower to the ancient walls of Veljevo Castle, though a fifty foot section of the middle of the bridge appears to have collapsed long ago. The water above the weir has pooled into a shallow retention pond, and the accumulation of pollutants behind the weir make the water a deep, greasy black, and makes the smell almost unbearable.

At the north end of the pond, where the river narrows again, is a relatively new-looking suspension bridge. The bridge is just wide enough for a wagon to cross, accessed by long wooden ramps, and held up by chains connecting to pilings driven into the ground about twenty feet on either side of the river, avoiding the foul-smelling black sludge of the river-banks. Even at the narrow point above the pond the river here is still very wide, such that you can just barely make out the far bank through the rain.

Donovan
Donovan glares at the ox, “Don’t cross me, Mr. Brisket, or I’ll make you live up to your new name.” He then sits back and lets the cows do their job, finally pulling the wagon to a stop by the bridge. He climbs down from the driver seat and looks up at the darkening sky, realizing that he has lost all track of time with the rain and the distractions from the cemetery and the hobgoblins. He walks over to the edge of the prairie and relieves himself in the grass, then returns to the back of the wagon. “I’m starving, and I doubt much of anything is going to bother us in this weather. Let’s have some lunch before we cross the river…”

Frantiska
Frantiska looks back at the cemetery as they ride away, trying to ignore the nagging sense that something is following them. When the wagon stops, she dismounts and cups her hands, taking a drink of the rainwater and releasing Thistledown to graze at the near-edge of the prairie. As the others start getting into the food, she wanders down for a closer look at the weir and the castle beyond it—though it requires all of her training and determination to not flee from the stench. She walks quite close to the edge of the river, stepping carefully to avoid the sucking black mud, and briefly considers wading out across the weir to check out the tower. Luckily, the thought of drowning in that disgusting black ooze wins out over her curiosity about the old ruins and she turns and walks back to the wagon instead.

Hrud
Hrud stands at the edge of the river, looking at the weir and the structure standing forlornly on the other side, his nomad spirit stirring within him. “«I’d like to see what’s in there.»” Turning back to the party sitting on the wagon, he asks “«Do we have any rope? I don’t think I need it, but better safe than sorry.»”

Frantiska
Frantiska grabs a rope and an oddly-ridged, heavy-headed arrow from her saddlebags. “Apakah kita melakukan ini?” she asks, walking back down to the weir. She gives Hrud a strange smile, as if somehow elated at the thought of wading across a disgustingly polluted stream and climbing a rickety old tower, and thankful that someone talked her into it, not that he had actually said anything of the kind. “No anchor on this side,” she says, tying the rope to the arrow. She strings her longbow and takes careful aim at a chink in the wall of the tower.

Donovan
Donovan sits at the back of the wagon, a hunk of cheese in one hand and a hunk of bread in the other. He takes a bite, then sighs when he sees Frantiska and Hrud playing down by the weir. “Hey!” he shouts, trying to be heard above the rain and the river, “Stay away from the water. That stuff will kill you!”

GM
The arrow bites deep into the old stone of the tower, and a few sharp tugs on the rope tell you that it is sufficiently secure. Brother Rant tosses a handful of nuts and dried fruit into his mouth, then ties a scarf around his face to guard against the stench before walking down to the weir. Teldicia comes behind him. “Are you two really going out there?” she asks, coughing and gagging a little. Rant looks at the rope, shrugs, grabs the end and walks as far away from the river bank as it allows, then kneels down, pulling it taught and bracing it.

Hrud
“«I don’t intend to drink it, Dawn-of-man»” Hrud says, as he gathers his two-handed spear. As he passes the Rant, he says, “«I have heard tale of clerics purifying food and water, is this something you can do?»”

Making his way to the rope pulled taught across the weir, the barbarian stands to the cleaner side and, looping his his arm around the rope, begins to walk across the weir, using the spear as necessary for balance or support.

GM
Rant nods, «Normally Tyr could do that for me, yes. But the water fro Barren River has resisted all attempts by our priests to cleanse it. Also, do not misconstrue Donovan’s words—even touching the black water is dangerous. People who have fallen into the river have suffered an amazing number of strange maladies and boats taken up-river may rot out within a day.» As Hrud steps onto the weir, Rant calls after him one more time, «Just be careful!»

Frantiska
Frantiska slings her bow back over her shoulder, takes hold of the rope, and edges her way out onto the weir behind Hrud.

Hrud
“«I will!»” Hrud calls back. However, as the makes his way further out, the smell, which was merely unpleasant from the side of the river, becomes almost tangible to the barbarian’s sensitive nostrils. ‘Maybe this was a bad idea …’ he thinks to himself, but refusing to loose face with the others – especially now that Frantiska has stepped out after him, Hrud presses forward, albeit a little more carefully than before.

GM
You slide across the weir, taking care not to get anything but the soles of your boots wet. When you are about half-way to the tower, you hear a horrible, piercing shriek. Immediately thereafter, two creatures come hurtling out of the black water of the pond, strait at Hrud and Frantiska’s heads. As they fly over, narrowly missing the both of you, you see what looks like a three-foot-long toad with a long, caudal tail, and a pair of flying-fish style wings instead of front legs. Their broad mouths are full of very sharp-looking teeth.

Frantiska
Frantiska reaches down and pulls Sir Guy’s Spoon from her boot. Maintaining a grip on the rope with her other hand, she slashes at the fish-thing flying overhead with the enchanted shortsword.

Donovan
Donovan heaves a giant sigh, “I just wanted some lunch…”. He hops down from the back of the wagon and runs down beside Rant, preparing to cast a sleep spell if more of the flying, frog-fish creatures should emerge from the murky waters of the pond.

Lyra
Lyra drops her apple core in the grass as she hops down from the wagon and picks up a quiver, bow already in hand. She nocks and draws, waiting for their next pass.

GM
As Hrud stands dazed and wincing at the horrible sounds, Frantiska rips the sword out of her boot-sheath and swings it in a high, arc over her head. The blow has enough force that it looks like it should have gutted the fish-thing, but instead lands solidly on the thing’s abdomen and sends it hurtling onto the bank where it lands with a dull thud and stops moving.

The second creature, sailing right past Hrud’s head, splashes into the water of the stream below the weir and then re-appears ready for another leap.

Lyra stands, feet planted pointing towards the river, gripping her bow tightly. She knocks and arrow and lets fly, the string snapping painfully against her forearm and the arrow fishtailing into the mud of the riverbank, nowhere near the fish-thing.

Teldicia starts to move when she sees the creature readying to leap from the water again, as if wanting to run down and help, but stops just shy of putting her bare feet in the muck at the edge of the river. Her forehead crinkles a bit and she stares at the water for a second before shouting, “Watch out, there are more of them, a LOT more!”

As if on queue, fifteen more of the creatures poke their slimy, toothsome heads above the surface, preparing to leap at Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan, apparently expecting such an event, throws a handful of sand towards the lake. You see five of the creatures suddenly go limp and begin to sink back into the water.

Hrud
Slashing wildly at anything that gets close, Hurd risks a glance back to the group standing on the shore. Nodding at the smelly sludge below him, he shouts “«Fire»!”

Frantiska
“Hrud, Saya pikir mereka mencoba untuk mengetuk kita di dalam air.” Frantiska gives Hrud a lite shove, “Dapatkan ke menara jika Anda akan,” then twines the rope around her wrist a few times to make sure she is secured. She lowers the dulled sword to a ready position and waits for them to jump.

Lyra
Lyra frowns, and adjusts her stance closer to what she’s seen Frantiska do.

Donovan
Donovan smiles as the creatures pass out, “Well, I did my part…”
Having used up most of his other options, he pulls out the hand crossbow and takes aim at the fish-thing on the down-river side.

GM
The remaining fish-things hurl themselves out of the water at Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan and Lyra’s arrows and bolts fly wildly from the shore, coming nowhere near to hitting the fast-flying creatures. Luckily, the creatures are no more accurate. Frantiska swats two of them out of mid-air with her shortsword. Hrud draws the green-bladed broadsword and opens another from the gills to the tail with a wild swing. The remainder land downriver with several large splashes.

As the things pass, Hrud begins inching his way further out onto the weir and shouts something. Rant, stills bracing the rope, shouts a translation for the others, “Hrud says to keep shooting!” At about the same time, the first fish-thing leaps up at Hrud from the lower stream, this time hitting him right at knee-level with its whole body. Hrud’s knees reflexively bend to absorb the blow, preventing any damage, but causing him to lose his footing on the slippery weir. The barbarian’s feet slide out from under him, and he finds himself submerged up to his waist in the pond, dangling with one arm still hooked over the rope.

Teldicia, still standing near the edge, looking skeptically at the water grumbles “Fuck it,” under her breath and then shouts at Rant, “Keep it tight!” She runs forward and jumps, landing upright with her feet planted on the rope and runs across it as if it were as solid and stable as yonder bridge out to Hrud and Frantiska.

Lyra
Lyra relaxes her shoulders a bit. It’s just velocity and angles, with teeth. Aim at where it will be, not where it is.

Frantiska
Frantiska looks between Hrud floundering in the water, Teldicia running across the tightrope, and the eight or so creatures getting ready to leap again. “Help him!” she yells to Teldicia, then lets go of the rope to get out of the girl’s way, pulls the pick-axe from her belt with her off-hand, turns and plants herself facing the down-river troop of fish-things, ready for another onslaught.

Hrud
Using the rope, Hrud scrambles back up on the weir, determined to make it to the far side.

Donovan
Donovan growls as his shot goes wide and reloads. “You know,” he says to no one in particular, “I actually have just the defensive spell for this situation prepared, it prevents physical contact by all manner of small, dumb creatures like this. Of course, it requires me to touch the subject to be protected, which doesn’t really help those three out there…” He moves a little closer to the river and levels his crossbow at the downstream cluster. “…unless, of course, I could reach through a hole in space-time to touch them…” he hazards a sidelong glance at Lyra.

Lyra
Lyra glances over to Donovan as she draws past her cheek. “It could also be used like a fishing net to strand those things on land, or bypass the river entirely. But it’s a little late for the latter, and the former would dump them right at our feet. Would you be able to ward all of them?”

Donovan
Donovan shakes his head, “Not really. Just one of them. Unless they were hugging each other…”

GM
Teldicia runs out the rope to where Hrud is dangling, hooks her ankles around it, and lets herself fall, catching the rope with one elbow and swinging so that she is hanging underneath of it by her legs and the one arm, her lithe back still a good foot above the water. She grabs Hrud’s wrist, at which point it becomes painfully obvious that he is much to heavy for her small arms to lift. But the slight added support makes it quite easy for Hrud get himself back to an upright position, despite the searing pain that suddenly shoots through his head.

Just as Hrud is standing up, the creatures leap again. Frantiska sidesteps closer to Hrud to intercept the things. Her pick catching one in the gill and whipping it sideways into a second, sending both flying back downstream. Sir Guy’s Spoon, comes down hard on the back of one’s neck with a horrible cracking sound. Two more are shot out of the air by Lyra, who looks just as surprised as the fish-things. The last two leaping from downstream fly wildly over the heads of the three now out on their weir. But…!

The one from the upstream side, the first to attack, and the largest, flies right over Hrud as he begins to stand and clips Frantiska in the back her head with its tail as it sails past, sending her sprawling face-first into the river below the weir. She vanishes underwater. Her head appears briefly allowing her to gasp a breath before the current from the hydraulic jump sucks her back under.

Frantiska
Frantiska claws her way to the surface, flailing about wildly in the water—made all the more wild by her attempts to keep a grip on her weapons. As her head breaches the surface, she manages to gasp out a cry of “THISTLEDOWN!” before being dragged back under. As she gets sucked down she regrets screaming and thinks that maybe she should have gulped a deep breath instead…

Lyra
Lyra pulls the corner of her cloak over her nose and mouth, the foul-smelling mud sucking at her boots as she approaches the bank. “Fish nets, eh?”

Donovan
Donovan drops the crossbow and tears open his pack, looking for another rope or the like to toss. All he finds is a roll of bandages--strong enough, he thinks, I just hope I am. He grabs the roll of bandages, ties on end around his crowbar to create a grip and give it enough weight for throwing. He hefts the heavy crowbar and gets a running start, ready to throw it as far downstream as he can. Then stops, dead in his tracks as a torrent of black water sprays out of the empty air beside him.

GM
With an explosive gush, the waters of the Barren River pour out onto the land. Hundreds of gallons pouring out onto the riverbank every second, mingling with the rain and eating a huge gouge in the already muddy and sodden ground on its way to rejoin the river. Donovan is forced to dance backwards as the ground by the doorway begins to dissolve away. You see one and then another of the fish-things splash out through the doorway, tumbled end over end by the rushing sluice. Then a much larger shape comes splashing out into the mud. Thinking quickly, Donovan tosses the crowbar and manages to hook Frantiska’s belt, though not without leaving a bad bruise on her back, before she is flushed back into the river. The force of the water yanks him off his feet and begins dragging him towards the gate himself…

Lyra
Frantiska safely through, Lyra ends the torrent as abruptly as it began, and backs away from the bank. Donovan won’t like finding out what’s on the other side.

Frantiska
Frantiska gasps and crawls blindly in the direction she assumes to be up, swimming through the muck, guided by the hook yanking on her pants until her hands contact something more distinctly solid, then collapses onto the muddy ground.

Hrud
Hrud starts to thrust the spear (pointy side up) down where Frantiska went under when he notices the eruption of foulness over on the shore. Seeing the elf woman alive and (relatively) safe, the barbarian decides that staying on the weir is certain death. The closest thing to him being the tower, he makes for it as fast as possible, looking for a way inside – hopefully before the chaos of the last few seconds dies down and brings the attention of the creatures back to him.

GM
The tower juts up from the center of the weir, some forty or fifty feet tall, and has a tapered look to it, with the base half-again as wide as the top due to its function as a dam dividing the river over the weir. Water surrounds it on three sides and runs right up to the base of the tower. To the south there is a stone and earth levee which keeps the rivers separate and runs out to connect to the island which is effectively Old Phlan, though it appears to have been heavily eroded. In fact, it looks like it has eroded enough that there is no way to circumnavigate the tower on foot.

There are no entrances near the bottom that you can see, though you cannot see the other side of the tower without swimming around it. The only opening you can see is the broken bridge about three-quarters of the way up on the south side. Because of the tapering structure and crumbling stonework, it looks like it would be an easy climb for you, despite being slick with rain.

Lyra
Lyra looks over the muddy gouge. How long would the land bear the scars of her impulsiveness? But Frantiska is alive, and that is what mattered. Stepping carefully through the thick mud, Lyra makes her way over to where she collapsed. “Should we take her over to Brother Rant, or the wagon?”

Donovan
When the water stops, Donovan scrambles to his feet and carefully makes his way down the muddy slope. He heaves Frantiska onto her back, grabs her under the armpits, and begins to drag her towards the wagon as best he can, taking advantage of the reduced friction the mud grants and trying to at least keep her head and upper torso elevated out of the mud.

GM
As the gate closes, you hear a grunt, and notice Brother Rant still straining to anchor the rope, sweat beading on his forehead. Clearly noticing this too, Teldicia curls herself back up on top of the rope, stands up, and walks carefully across to the far side, reaching it about the same time as Hrud. She reaches up onto the side of the tower, finds a fingerhold, and easily steps up off of the rope, her feet planted flat against the sloping wall of the structure. When it becomes clear that no one else is depending on the rope for support, Brother Rant lets go, allowing it to slump into the water, and sits down on the muddy ground, breathing heavily, his arms shaking slightly.

You hear a high-pitched shriek, like the one that preceded the frog-fish-things’ attack, from somewhere much further downriver. Perhaps thirty-seconds later, you hear another, fainter shriek, even more distant.

Hrud
Hrud makes his way to the base of the tower. Standing on the levee dividing the river, Hrud props the spear (point down, lest he fall) against the tower and begins to climb. The stonebiter arrow nearby catches his eye.

Hrud wiggles the arrow a little, but feels certain that it’s not going to budge without a fight. A quick glance down at the sludge helps him decide that risking another dip in that foul murk is not work it. Instead, he unties the rope from the arrow and ties it around the spear, which he then drapes over his shoulder; the weight of the weapon holding the rope in place.

Turning his attention to the tower, Hrud begins to climb. The barbarian’s head throbs evilly at each push or pull of his weight up the structure. It couldn’t have been the sludge, because he was already in it when the headache struck. Teldicia, she was trying to pull him up when it happened. Did she do this? How? One of the stones slips loose from the wall, nearly causing him to fall. Questions for another time, Hrud reminds himself. Right now, focus on the climb.

Lyra
“I think I can carry her if you can get her weapons, and hold my bow and quiver. Do you think she has some dry clothes in the wagon? Hers are soaked through, and if the river can eat away boats, I’m not sure how well cloth and leather will hold up.” Lyra helps Donovan carry Frantiska to the wagon. “Brother Rant, are you well enough to tend to her?”

GM
Brother Rant stands and stretches, “Yes, though I must say, the green-haired maid is heavier than she looks.” He grabs Frantiska’s feet and helps them haul her to the wagon. “Amara, bring that lantern please, so we can get a better look at her injuries.”

Lyra
Lyra smiled. “You could’ve tied it off rather than holding it. I could’ve sworn we’d gotten a tent, which would have a set of stakes with it.”

Rant
Rant looks slightly bemused, “At the time, I was not able to see anything sufficiently sturdy to tie it to in direct line with the weir. It seems I should do a thorough inventory of the stores you have collected once time allows…”

Lyra
Lyra wipes off the bottom of her boots in the grass as best she can, and climbs into the back of the wagon. She takes off her leather gloves, tucking them into her belt, and sets about trying to find spare clothes for Frantiska, or at least a blanket.

GM
You can just barely make out the forms of Hrud and Teldicia scaling the side of the tower and then vanishing into it, occasionally illuminated by the odd flash of lightning. A few minutes after they disappear, a faint wavering light appears through the small window on the north side of the tower.

Frantiska
Frantiska coughs herself awake, expelling another gout of the disgusting black liquid from her lungs, and rubs her eyes with her, amazingly, clean hands. In fact, all of her skin is somehow still clean, as if the sludge simply cannot adhere to her immaculate flesh. She rolls herself over and deliberately heaves a few times to make sure no more of the water is inside of her. As she kneels on all-fours in the back of the wagon, her arms, somehow no longer the tight mass of coiled muscles they were only minutes ago, shake violently.

Sadly, the same cleanliness does not extend to her clothing. Her dress is black, reeking, and dripping—not only with the disgusting water, but literally dissolving in the contaminated sludge, liquefying and dripping off her body in putrid globs. Shuddering she jumps out of the wagon, her legs almost buckling underneath her, and begins tearing off the offending clothes and flinging them away before the wagon becomes contaminated as well. Only when she is completely naked does her head snap around, casting an enraged, near-murderous glare at Donovan and Rant, certain in her mind that they are enjoying the spectacle.

She stands there for a moment, the perfect picture of elven beauty and indignant rage, then her face goes pale. She pivots and looks at the pile of discarded items, then plunges her hands into the mess, pulling out her bow. Ruined. Even if the water were not corrosive and putrefying, the wood, strung and fully tensed, cannot handle that level of saturation. She sifts through the pile again, realizes that the pick and Sir Guy’s Spoon had been in her hands when she went under, and comes up with her last remaining weapon, a simple short-sword. She drops to her knees and begins sobbing, this has been, without a doubt, the worst day ever! she thinks.

Lyra
Neither speaking nor actually looking at her, Lyra hands Frantiska a blanket.

Frantiska
Frantiska reaches out with one hand and wraps the blanket around herself. «Thank you,» she says in elvish.

Lyra
In the wagon, Lyra unstrings her bow, and cares for it as best she can to ensure it’s not damaged by the rain, then sits with her feet dangling out the back to let the rain wash the mud from her boots. «Mr. Donovan, can you ward the oxen with that spell you mentioned when we make to cross the bridge? I doubt all of those things have gone so far as it sounds. I’ll take no chances with the weir again; I can see to it that Teldicia and Hrud cross safely back.»

«Frantiska, you are welcome to my bow, and any spare clothing that fits you. There should be a set to replace the clothes I’d given earlier.»

Lyra sighs and pushes a soaked lock of hair out of her eyes. «If it comes down to it, I can make a supply run to town, but I’d prefer that be a last resort.» She gives Donovan a half-hearted grin. «I told you, I’m not used to camping.»

Donovan
Donovan averts his eyes as Frantiska starts stripping, resisting the urge to look as best he can. He walks down to the side of the wagon by the river. “I can see a light, which means Hrud and Teldicia are probably still alright. Lyra, can you contact them the way you did Professor Aumry?” He looks up and down the river. “As for crossing, I think we should wait and do it in the morning. It looks like we’re all done with adventures for the nonce. I think we should drive a little further up-river and a little west, so as to be away from the bridge. We can camp on the prairie tonight, and hopefully get an early start tomorrow. The animals will enjoy the chance to graze, I imagine, and hopefully it won’t be so gods-damned wet in the morning.”

Meanwhile back in the tower…

Hrud
As easy as the climb is (which is a blessing, given the headache that accompanies it), Hrud decides to go to the very top of the tower.

GM
As Hrud crests the top, his hand comes free of the tower, holding an ancient, loose slate tile. The sudden loss of his grip nearly causes him to fall, but he is sufficiently experienced to recover, despite the slippery conditions. Keeping his weight on the wall, he peeks his head over the top and finds a very slightly peaked, tiled roof. The tiles are arranged so that the runnoff is mostly channeled to the corners of the tower, though numerous tiles are missing. In one place enough tiles have been displaced that it looks like Hrud might be able to drop into the tower from above, if he could safely navigate the rain-slicked roof.

Hrud, with Teldicia following close behind, side-crawls around the structure and drops lightly down onto the long, cantilevered remains of the old bridge. There is an unpleasant rattling and splashing sound of a few loose rocks being dislodged to splash into the river as the two of them put their weight on the bridge, but it otherwise seems stable enough. The entrance to the tower looks like it probably had a door at some point, but that is long-since gone, leaving a crumbling stone archway with a couple of rusty, iron hinges driven into the sides, looking for all the world like some gaping, black maw. The inside of this top-level of the tower is very dark, but seems to be a single room. The only feature notable in the dimness being an even darker area in the middle of the floor indicating either a hole or perhaps an open stairwell leading down into the pitch blackness of a lower level.

Hrud
Gathering the rope into a pile on the bridge, Hrud double-checks where it’s knotted around the spear. He lays the spear down on the bridge across the doorway and kicks the pile of rope towards the hole. “Kita bisa menek metu yen lantai menehi dalan.” He says to Teldicia, not knowing if she understands him or not.

Waiting to hear – or possibly see – if his actions have prompted any reaction, he steps a foot into the room to check on the stability of the floor.

GM
Teldicia takes a step forward and looks down into the hole, “این در آن وجود دارد سرد است” she says, uttering a string of sounds complete alien to Hrud’s ears. The tower remains cold and dark, and silent save for the sound of rain falling through the holes in the roof and splashing into a larger body of water below. The floor seems reasonably solid.

Hrud
Another dull throb in his head reminds Hrud that things are happening between his ears – things he doesn’t quite understand. He is aware, however, of the fact that he can, at least for now, connect with another mind. Hrud tries to reach out to Teldicia with his mind, to let her know “We can talk like this. I don’t know how, or why, or for how much longer, but I can do it.” He tacks on a mental image of the two of them lighting a fire and looking around.

Not sure if his attempt succeeded, the barbarian begins to carefully feel his way around the perimeter of the room, staying well away from the dark opening in the floor. He looks (feels) for anything of interest – particularly anything flammable that could be used as a source of light.

GM
Hrud feels an almost immediate response, a voice in the back of his head, like the words that run through his head when he is thinking of what to say, repeating themselves until they find meaning, except very feminine. Oh good. I was wondering when you’d reach out. You’ve always been able to do this right? I mean, I can listen, but I can’t initiate. The voice in his head rambles a bit, somewhat chaotic and hard to follow for a while You can’t see can you? I can’t see much either, other than you, you’re bright as a candle, but it’s cold in there. Nothing alive at least. No remnants of a fire. The exterior walls are warmest from yesterday’s sun, but the rain is dissipating that fast. I can find the edges of the hole, and tell that there is water pooled below.

You can vaguely make out her movements in the darkness, hear her light footfalls and the sloshing of her sodden dress. Here. This corner. To your right, stay close to the wall. Ooh! Watch out for that, it looks sharp! Here. You feel her press a bundle of something and a long stick into your hand. These seem dry, and probably flammable. Do you have flint?

Hrud
“Flint, yes,” Hrud thinks in response to her last question, completely unaware that he’d also mumbled the words aloud, though in his native tongue. “This is the first time I’ve ever mind-talked,” he continues to mumble-think as he drops to his knees. “Didn’t you put it (the ability) in my head? When you touched me?”

Setting the Fang of Mace beside him, within easy reach, he situates the stick between his legs so I won’t roll away and retrieves the flint & steel from his belt pouch. Just as he’d done thousands of time before on the Ride, Hrud begins to strike.

Teldicia
What? No, it’s nothing I did. It was there since we met? Not as much as that waif Lyra, but more than nothing, and you’ve been broadcasting static like crazy. Even worse when I try to listen to you. It’s about to drive me crazy. Anyways, maybe something in the water woke you up. Maybe something else.

After a few strikes, the rags take the spark, and slowly bloom into a flame. It’s not a proper torch, no pitch or tar, but compared to the deep blackness before the small flame is blinding. Your head throbs, but after a moment your eyes adjust. The first thing you see is the green-haired woman, standing close to you, the lightweight dress she’s been wearing plastered tightly to her curvaceous form by the rain. Warming up are we? says the voice in your head, in a very overtly suggestive fashion.

Once the flames are going, you find you have to twist the torch regularly to keep the rags from unraveling as they burn, and you don’t think it would be safe to hold it above your head. The room you are in is small, roughly the dimensions of the top of the tower, minus the thick walls. You can see the peaked roof above you—a rotting wooden frame overlaid with slate tiles, many of which are missing, allowing the rain free access into the structure. The floor is wooden, thick solid boards, slick with rain and mold, and showing numerous odd gouges—claw marks most likely—from something large, with three widely-spaced, very sharp, claws on each foot. An even, circular hole is set in the center of the room. You can see the remains of a wooden, spiral staircase attached to one edge of the hole, but it appears to have collapsed past the third stair down. Immediately beside you on the floor is the skeleton of a small humanoid, not more than three feet tall, but not build like a child, maybe a goblin. This corner is relatively protected from the rain, and the stick you hold looks like it was once a short spear, and the rags were the creature’s clothes.

Other than the single corpse, which seems to be missing a leg, now that you think about it, there is nothing else on this floor. Waving your torch towards the hole and peering down, you see a glint of metal at the bottom of the shaft, maybe thirty feet below you.

Hrud
Broadcasting static? “Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Warming up … ?” Embarrassed, doubly so by the fact that – due to their connection – there is no way to pass it off (not that Hrud was ever known for being smooth), he turns his attention to the claw marks on the floor and then to the hole.

GM
The claw-marks are extensive, criss-crossing each other and ranging about the floor, and vary in age, some looking years old, others appear much fresher (judging by the discoloration of the wood where it has been scratched). Despite the obvious age of the place, the accumulation of mold is large limited to the corners near the walls, so it is likely that whatever made the marks either comes here frequently or else uses the tower as a permanent dwelling. Numerous other scuff marks also mark the floor, largely concentrated in a direct path from the entrance to the hole, looking large several fairly large, heavy things have been dragged in and dropped in the hole over time.

As you stare at the floor, squinting to make out details in the wan light of the torch, the throbbing pain behind your temples continues to build. Teldicia circles the room in the opposite direction from you, staring down into the hole. Have you ever fished? The rope’s wet, but it shouldn’t be too hard to climb down. Getting back up might be a problem. If I lower myself down, do you think you could haul me back up?

Hrud
“I … can.” Hrud mumbles, the pressure behind his eyes making him tear up a little. “We may want to hurry, it looks like this is a lair of some sort.”

“My head is killing me. I have to break contact. If you still want to do this, just yell and I’ll pull you up. Take the torch. Magic items most important.”

GM
Teldicia takes the torch, hooks her legs around the rope, and slides down. After only a couple of seconds you hear her yell, “گه مقدس! من نگه دار تا. شما باید برای دیدن این!”

Hrud
Words! That was the signal! Hrud starts hauling away at the rope.

GM
You haul Teldicia up to the lip of the hole and she swings her legs over and carefully raises the makeshift torch. She babbles something you can’t understand, then stops and looks frustrated and begins trying to pantomime. She makes a happy, excited face, points down in the hole emphatically a few times, rubs her thumb and first two fingers together in an odd way, then points at your eyes and back down the hole.

Hrud
To Hrud’s (throbbing) mind, Teldicia’s motions don’t convey that there are any creatures down there, but that there may be an issue with getting what’s down there out. He thinks for a moment – wishing (not for the first time in his life) he were a good deal smarter – then has an idea. He points to his head, then in the direction where the rest of the group is waiting for them on the river bank, and says “Lyra?”

GM
Hrud reaches out and finds Lyra’s mind, only to discover that it is completely closed off. Its feels like the mental equivalent of banging his head against a brick wall. He pushes harder, then throws his mind full-force against the barrier, it feels very much like ramming a door, all of his faculties bearing down to crush the offending barrier. Then…he is through…though not without his headache rising to blinding intensity. You feel that the resulting mindlink is tenuous, like a bad call-call with a lot of static on the line.

Hrud
“Teldicia says … lot of stuff to take, bottom of tower, need help getting it out. And light.” The mental presence starts to fade.

Lyra
“…You?” The words melt away to images as quick as thought before the link fades completely. Rant dropping the rope into the water, exhausted. Frantiska retching up foul black water, her clothes drenched. The ox, pony, and filly placidly grazing next to the wagon and tent a safe distance from the river, the first stars of evening filling the sky. And as the link fades, Hrud sees a door opening into the tower where once there was only crumbled bridge and open doorway.

Lyra’s brow furrows in surprise and confusion. “Hrud? Hey! Donovan! They found something in the bottom of the tower, we’ll need light and maybe a teensy bend in space to get stuff out.” She pulls her cloak around her to keep the rain off, and hops off the edge of the wagon. She grabs the lantern and takes a few strides away from the wagon, just in case. She angles it carefully to minimize the rain getting through, and holds up the light to have a look at what they’d found.

GM
The light from the lantern beaming through the dimensional doorway suddenly illuminates the lower level of the tower, several orders of magnitude brighter than the makeshift torch Teldicia is holding over the hole above. At the same time, a trickle of water begins pouring out the other side of the door, running out onto the already muddy ground. As the waters subside through the gate, the light is reflected and magnified as it bounces off of a large pile of metallic objects—heaps of gold and silver coins, golden goblets and plates, statues and sculptures of bronze and brass, even the remains of a full-sized bronze war-chariot. A mixture of humanoid and animal bones, most of them cracked open as if gnawed upon, and broken weapons litter the floor. Various odds and ends, ranging from a small, smashed boat, to moldy tapestries complete the pile of debris. All of the items are strewn haphazardly, as if they were simply tossed into the hole from above.

The southern wall has a large, rusty-looking iron bar, maybe six-feet in length, protruding perpendicularly from it.

Teldicia lets out a whoop and slides back down the rope, swinging slightly to land on the upturned hull of the boat, rather than in the remaining water. She waves to Lyra, then motions for Hrud to climb down. She looks around at the heaps of stuff, then looks back at Lyra and asks, “Should we just hand stuff through to you guys?”

Lyra
“Huh. Know any art dealers in Melvaunt?”

Lyra waves back and looks around. “Brother Rant, Mr. Donovan, there should be extra sacks in the wagon. Overexerting myself while I’m trying to concentrate on the gates might become problematic, but I can hand things through and hold the light.” She frowns a bit. “Do you think those bones were gnawed on before they were thrown down or after?”

Hrud
Kneeling on the floor in the room above, Hrud slowly removes his hands from either side of his head. He expels a sigh of relief when he realizes that his skull is not, in fact, splitting down the middle. Leaning over, he sees Lyra’s portal and the light coming in through it. Gratitude and relief wash over the barbarian, dulling – but by no means expelling – the lingering ache in his skull.

Seeing that Teldecia is now down and off the rope, Hrud retrieves his spear from the doorway. Untying the rope from the spear, he passes it through the upper stair until its touching the floor – no sense in leaving behind a perfectly good rope. Before he descends, though, the barbarian takes a closer look at the goblin skeleton, just to make sure he hasn’t missed anything it of value it might have been wearing.

Then, his inspection complete, he wraps his legs and free hand around both ropes and shimmies down to the bottom. The rope he leaves in hanging until they’re finished. Just to be safe.

Turning to the others, he asks, “Apa ana apa mabur geni-ambegan naga ing Phlan?”

Donovan
Donovan moves up beside Lyra to get a better look through the gate, his eyes widening. “Gnawed bones, piles of gold, and an entrance forty feet above the ground…” he looks meaningfully at Lyra. “Lets get this done quick.” He steps through the gate, looks around, and starts pointing at things, “Grab those first…”

Lyra
Lyra furrows her brow. “I’ve never tried it before, but I should be able to hold it open, but I’ll be completely tapped out and need to rest after. Fifteen minutes at best, but I’d like to leave enough leeway that I can establish another, so let’s call it ten.”

Donovan
“Right.” Donovan grabs the most valuable thing he can see. “We’ve got ten minutes people, lets get this stuff in the wagon!”

Donovan looks at the heavy statues, water-logged tapestries, and piles of loose coins. “Lyra, we may have to come back, this looks heavy.” He grabs the shield and piles it with the cloak, ring, chalice, scroll-case, and as many gold coins as he can lift and hauls it back to the wagon. “Brother Rant, do you think you can help Hrud haul some of those statues out?”

Lyra
Lyra whispers to Donovan as he carries a load to the wagon. “If we’re going to be camping reasonably nearby, an hour of meditation buys us another five minutes or so.”

“If we move fast, or come back after I’ve rested, I can reposition the gates to load it directly into the wagon. We might want to reposition anyway to keep the paintings out of the rain. Frantiska! There’s a big statue of the Simbul in here! And a chariot!” She pauses, confused. “How did they get a boat in here?”

Lyra ducks through and grabs the iron decanter, all smiles. “Endless water, just what we need more of today.”

GM
Teldicia stacks the paintings and hauls them out. Rant steps cautiously through the gate and looks around, «Hrud, Donovan asked us to haul out the statues.» His eyes fall on the chariot, then he turns back to the gate and measures it with his arms. “Lyra, can you change how large your doorway is?”

Hrud
Having (what he assumes is the same idea as Rant), Hrud starts loading whatever he can on the chariot. When Rant has a moment, he points to the metal bar on the wall and says, «Do you think that opens the tower to the river somehow?»

Lyra
Lyra pauses from gathering up coins, brow furrowing more in concentration the longer they take. “Anywhere from twenty inches by sixty, to eighty by eighty, oriented however I like on both ends.”

GM
Rant smiles and starts loading more things in the chariot, “Make it big as you can, please, Miss Lyra. Does anyone have a guess as to what will happen if Hrud pulls that lever?”

Lyra
When everyone is clear of the gates, they disappear, reappearing at the end of the wagon, and next to the chariot so it just needs a push to move into the wagon.

“We can use the chariot to move the heavier items through, now. We just lost two minutes doing that though.”

Frantiska
Frantiska pulls the wet blanket tighter around herself, grabs her belt from the goo that was once her beautiful dress, and climbs into the wagon. She fishes out her tobacco pouch, looking more annoyed than enraged now, and breathes a sigh of relief to see that the contents are still dry. I guess I wasn’t under that long. She rolls and light one, then watches in fascination as Lyra opens the dimension door and everyone begins looting the tower, at least I didn’t almost drown for nothing. When Donovan hands the first load up into the wagon, she takes the dry cloak and puts it on, cinching it around her waist with the belt, looking quite surprised when it fits perfectly and conveniently has arm-slits. She then puts Amara to work helping her neatly arrange the items in the wagon as the others load them.

Donovan
Donovan helps load the last of the stuff into the chariot, though he is breathing heavily after the first statue, clearly unused to physical labor. With everything loaded he moves around to the back, ready to lend his shoulder to shoving the overloaded two-wheeled contraption through the gate.

Lyra
Lyra also goes over to assist in pushing the chariot through the gates.

Hrud
Hrud puts his back into pushing the chariot.

GM
With four of you shoving on it, you easily nudge the chariot through. You now, for good or ill, have a chariot sitting in the back of your wagon. You also have a very full wagon.

Lyra
Lyra wedges a heavy bag of coins behind each wheel to keep the chariot from rolling, and places the decanter next to the crate of food. “At least two magical, by my reckoning. The shield likely is, and the decanter of endless water definitely is. I suppose checking the rest can wait until morning.” Lyra makes a little nest among the bags of coins and sits down to meditate. She opens one eye. “We might want to turn the chariot sideface to be sure it won’t roll out.”

Hrud
A hiss of effort and an incessant throb are all Hrud is aware of as he shoves the chariot out of the tower. There is a moment, however, as they pass through the portal when a familiar scene flashes in his mind’s eye:

A majestic, chocolate-colored horse; dead at his feet, dead by his hand

Hrud gasps, the reaction going unnoticed among the gasps of the others as they contribute to the push. Frantiska nearly died, and it was his fault – his idea to cross the weir.

The horse reborn, walking out of the fire.

A moment later, the chariot was out and the party was regrouping and, as far as Hrud was concerned, rather overwhelmed at the amount of treasure they’d just recovered. Surely someone—or something—somewhere was going to return to this ‘lair’ and see that it had been raided.

Retrieving the rope before Lyra closes her magical door into the tower, Hrud catches sight of Frantiska sitting on the wagon. The elf woman is still beautiful despite her bedraggled (for an elf) state, still proud, but there is now a weight pulling at her delicate features. She was covered, but acted as if still exposed in some way. Hrud, never having had much in the way of material possessions, had a hard time empathizing with what it was like to loose something precious. A brush with death, however, especially in that foul murk … he could understand how that might ruin someone’s day.

Hrud waited until Rant’s activity carried him next to where she was sitting, going over the spoils of their misadventure. He wanted to make sure his question was translated properly, and her reply as well.

“«Frantiska, when you were under … Did you cross over, even for a little bit? Did you see the other side?»”

Frantiska
Frantiska rolls another cigarette, its been a really long day. «No Hrud. There is quite a firm line between almost drowned and actually drowned, thankfully.» She turns to the others, “The plan is to camp just north of the bridge, correct?” She climbs out of the wagon and up onto Thistledown, checking the spare swords strapped to her saddle. “Oh, Lyra, this cloak has informed me that it is also magical…and aware…”

Frantiska guides Thistledown over closer to the wagon while she waits for the others to be ready to depart. «Actually, Lyra,» she speaks in Elvish, her voice low, making it hard to hear her over the rain, «I don’t think this cloak and I will get along well. I’m stuck with it for now for modesty’s sake, but once I obtain proper clothing, one of the rest of you will probably make better use of it than I would.»

Lyra
«I’d at least wish to find what it knows about how it ended up there, and who put it there, but I’m leery of something that would get along poorly with a lady such as yourself. What’s the problem? It … isn’t being disrespectful about its current circumstances, is it?» There’s a slight hint of anger in Lyra’s eyes and voice. Although perhaps to not get along with Frantiska it merely needed to be male, and she didn’t seem to be advocating being rid of the thing entirely. «I’d offer you my cloak, but it’s soaked. But there should be a spare set of clothing here somewhere. Maybe I should just pop into town for a trunk of dry clothes and cloaks in the morning, and unload whatever of this I can take with me. We’re not so far from Jerome’s that it will be more than an hour or two before I can come back.»

Frantiska
«The cloak isn’t the best communicator. From what I gather it encouraged it’s previous wearer to explore the tower, found a dragon there, and was not able to save its wearer from the thing’s claws, then was stuck there.»

Lyra
Lyra carefully climbs around the chariot, digging through a pile of blankets. Eventually, she carefully pulls out a chemise, hose and dark grey linen dress. «Probably ill fitting on either of us, but at least it’s intact and dry.» Her eyes slid over the chariot and its glimmering burden. «Perhaps we can find a tailor in Melvaunt.»

Hrud
Hearing Frantiska’s reply, Hrud mutters something along the lines of “«Not yet, then.»”, for which Rant can only shrug, having no context for either the question or the reply.

The barbarian gazes out over the unsightly river, and is suddenly struck with an idea. “«Do we have any old pots or jars? A container that is easily replaced?»” he asks the cleric.

GM
Rant reaches into his pack and pulls out a couple of empty stoppered glass flasks, of the kind commonly used for holy water, «Will these suffice?»

Hrud
“«Yes, quite nicely. Will you be needing them back?»” Hrud glances at the pile of treasure beside them, “«I can buy you more … »”

Donovan
Donovan climbs up into the drivers seat of the wagon and snaps the reins. “If a dragon lives in that tower, we might want want to go ahead and camp on the other side of the river, just to have more cover under the trees. Any objections?” He turns the oxen towards the bridge without waiting for an answer. “I should be able to identify the shield and the scrolls in the morning. And I’ll make sure to scan the pile for other magical trinkets as well, unless one of you is prepared to do that now?”

Lyra
Lyra checked the steadiness of the chariot as the wagon lurched into motion. “Were you going to ward the oxen so fish monsters don’t hurt them?”

Donovan
“Oh yes!” Donovan quickly casts protection from vermin on the upstream ox.

Hrud
Hrud hurries back from the river to catch up with the wagon, two vials of river sludge clinking softly in his belt pouch. “«The kobolds captured me outside the city walls as I slept. We should be careful in where we choose to camp.»”

Lyra
Lyra leans up to be able to whisper to Donovan. «Hrud contacted me, not the other way around. I believe he is also the source of the psionic interference I was sensing last night. I’m really not quite sure what to make of this development.»

Frantiska

Frantiska and Thistledown ride ahead across the bridge and begin searching for a place to camp.