The Road to the Tower
Octorum 7, 887 Af.
Sif awoke from a dream that her companions were in trouble, and she and Kasret rode to rescue them. She quickly told Venfaren that she had to go, and went to the inn to get Kasret. Kasret had slept off the worst of the binge, and when Sif came knocking, was able to drag himself out of bed to hit the road. While he was gathering himself, Sif found a stable willing to rent them a horse. The two mounted up, and headed after their companions at the best speed the horses could make.
They sped as quickly as they could, attempting to overcome the lead their companions had and hopefully make it in time to prevent whatever had caused the dream. Their only stop was when they discovered the remains of the other groups fight - the remnants of V5 made it clear that they were on the right trail. Kasret was still recovering from the long week, and spent the time while Sif investigated purging the toxins from his system. Sif found the remains of V5, Durdeg's dead horse, the bodies of the ogre and two orogs, and a lot of blood. Durdeg's fate was a concern, with both his horse and defender casualties of the fight, but she held hope that he made it out OK if the others did. Sif looked over the body of an orog, and decided it would work with her newest spell. It took some work, but she was able to get it on the back of her horse and tied down, and the two set off again. They saw a storm farther to the east, in the direction the others went, and spurred their horses on.
Meanwhile, the other three had rested for a bit, healing themselves as best they could. They were approaching the storm, and were beginning to worry about getting too close in their current state. It soon became clear that there was not one, but rather two storms over the tower - a thunderstorm, and a competing wind storm. They were not sure what it meant, but they began to think that it was not something they could deal with without full access to their resources. About six miles from the tower, they reached a crossroads, where a man sat in a wagon, staring at the storm in the distance.
They stopped to ask the man what he was doing there, and learned their first current information about the tower. The man told them that he was there to make sure if anything came from the tower, he could warn the village he was from. He told them that things had started to go wrong around the tower a few months back, with strange things wandering out of it. He specifically mentioned a dancing bear that wandered through the town recently - it hadn't hurt anyone, but it certainly could have if it had stopped dancing and started eating. In addition, they learned that people who got too close were either driven back a long way from the tower, while those that made it closer never returned. This was finally enough to convince them that it was time to rest for the day, recover they energy, and continue on in the morning. This would allow everyone to heal their minor wounds, and give Durdeg time to rebuild his steel defender, changing the look to a bear cub for V6.
This stop allowed Sif and Kasret to catch up to them at last. They came together around dinner time, and quickly updated each other on the very basics of what they had been doing. Sif then decided to show the group why she had decided to bring a corpse along. She animated the bodie, bringing a zombie version of the monster under her control. This was not initially well received by the group, as discussions of the evil of raising the dead for ones own purposes were held. But after a brief time, everyone decided to move on and accept it as another option available to the wizard. Sharlot created a dome of force that they could sleep in, and the group were able to get a good nights sleep in safety, while the horses, wagon, and zombie remained outside.
Octorum 8, 887 Af.
The next morning, the group awoke refreshed and ready to continue on. They gathered their belongings and set off on their way. They could clearly see the tower in the distance, and knew they could arrive by lunch time. Their approach was not smooth, as they had several encounters that seemed to be an attempt to drive them away.
Their first encounter was when they began to hear hooting and screeching noises coming from the surrounding hills. They slowed, waiting to see what they would encounter. The noises grew louder, until a group of apes came over the hills, surrounding them on all sides. The apes started to fling rocks in their general direction, although they did not come close to hitting anyone. The group was ready for battle, but did not want to rush into a fight they didn't have to, so they decided to try to scare them away. Sif sent a bolt of fire towards one of them, striking a rock next to the beast. This had an effect, although not what the party hoped for. The apes gave up on throwing rocks, and turned to flinging feces at the group. Their shots were starting to come closer to hitting, although they were clearly not a danger. Ignoring the apes, the group forged ahead. By the time they were out of the little valley, the apes stopped their calls and went back to where they came from.
They continued on, alert for anything else that might cross their path. After travelling another mile, they saw a graveyard paralleling the road. Sif sent her familiar to check it out, and found that it consisted of two rows of six graves, each open and containing skeletal remains. They looked over the site from a distance, trying to determine if there was danger, but eventually had to approach. As soon as they came even with the low rock wall that bounded the graves, they heard creaking noises and saw the skeletons begin to stand. Not wanting to take any chances, the group quickly assembled into battle formation. Sif had another spell that she wanted to test, and felt that this was a good opportunity. As the party held the line, the skeletons marched towards the opening in the wall. As they all clumped together to exit, Sif unleashed her spell. A streak of bright light flew from her hand, reaching the middle of the skeletons and exploding in a massive ball of fire. Eleven of the twelve skeletons were within the area of the flames, and the bones broke apart under the heat and explosion. The one remaining skeleton was set upon by the others - Sharlot sent a crossbow bolt at it, breaking its ribs, and it fell. With the danger past, they inspected the graves. It looked like the graves had never been filled in, and a rock with a strange symbol was in the middle of each one. They attempted to dig up the stones, but found that they were each part of a large boulder buried beneath the graves. Having no convenient way to take the stones, both Sharlot and Sif took rubbings of the symbols for later investigation, and the group continued on their way.
They had closed to within a mile of the the tower when Carta made out something going on on the top of the attached keep. Something happened, and a tiny spec flew through the air, approaching them quickly. Carta pulled his sword, alerting the rest of the group to incoming danger. They followed his gaze, saw the quickly growing speck, and cleared the road. Carta stood ready, relaxing a bit as it became clear the object would fall short. When it did, it hit the ground hard a short distance in front of them. They could see that it was a stone sculpted into a head. As they watched, the mouth on the stone began to speak, telling them that they were not wanted and to turn back now. Cautious but undeterred, the group decided to leave their horses and wagon behind, hopefully out of range of whatever shot that stone head, and continue forward.
They were finally closing in, and had one more hill to climb over before getting to the hill that the tower and keep sat on. When they reached the top, they looked down and saw a giant reptilian beast waiting for them. It had the scaly body of a crocodile, and five long sinuous necks leading to five heads with vicious looking teeth. The group recognized it as a hydra, and the magic users warned that it would need fire to stop it from regenerating. At the moment, it was not approaching, so they took the time to strategize. As they discussed possibly going around it, they suddenly heard a voice from behind them. Some quietly muttered arcane words, then it told them that they didn't want any part of this and they should go home. All of them heard this and took it as sound advice. They turned as one and started to head back where they had come from, noticing a man in long robes watching them. The man stepped through a hole in reality and disappeared, but they didn't really care. The important thing was that they should leave and go home.
As they reached their wagon, they started to realize that the wagon as currently the closest thing they had to a home, and the desire to go home went away. They looked at each other, unsure of what had just happened, but determined to make it to the tower. They immediately set back, and returned to the hill. This time, the hydra didn't stay in place, but moved to attack. All thoughts of evading were gone, and the battle was joined. Kasret charged in, wrapping his blade in green flame as he moved to strike. Durdeg and the newly created V6 moved with him, with Carta right behind. Durdeg summoned fairy fire, lighting up the beast and making it easier to hit the beast. Sif moved in position to ensure that fire would keep the creature from regenerating, creating a sphere of flame that she could keep burning the beast with. Sharlot strummed her lute, sending waves of vicious mockery at the beast so that it would have a hard time attacking.
Kasret struck the first blow, his green flame imbued sword cutting deep. The beast lost a head, and the other four turned their fury on the Bugbear. Striking like a viper, the heads quickly tore into Kasret, ripping at his limbs and torso and opening up wounds all over. Both Carta and Durdeg tried to deflect the strikes, but in its fury at being wounded it pushed straight through. The group pushed on, concentrating on delivering as much damage as they could to knock out the other heads. Between them, they were able to do enough damage to knock another head out of the fight, and the ball of fire and other attacks kept it from regenerating. The three remaining heads attempted to attack again, but its previous rage had fallen behind its pain, and the front line fighters were able to deflect the attacks. Seizing the advantage, the group threw everything they had at the beast, and with another head removed, it fell to the ground, its life blood pooling up around it. The party quickly moved up the hill, prepared to deal with whatever else they might find.
As they went through the gate, the door of the keep section opened up, and the man they had seen earlier poked his head through. With a sigh, he told them that if they aren't going to turn back, they might as well come in. Without another word, he pulled his head back inside, leaving the door open behind him.
The group followed the wizard into the keep, warning them to be quiet. When asked why, he told them that the witch would attack them. This elicited a response from the archway into the tower, as a female voice called down that she's his wife, but no longer wants to be. The party realized that they have stepped into a different problem than they had expected, but they were prepared to take this on. The wizard tried to get them all to go to his library so he could talk to them, but they wanted to get the full story, so Sharlot held back and went into the tower to find the wife.
Once in the library, the wizard introduced himself as Michel Torbrek, master of the tower. They questioned him about what was going on, and while he provided answers, he was clearly not in the soundest state of mind. He explained that since he was attacked by a demon he had summoned for research purposes, his wife had not helped nurse him back to help and had in fact ignored him ever since. Their marriage had collapsed, and at this point, they both wanted the other out entirely. Since neither was willing to leave, and neither was confident in their ability to force the other out, they had reached a shaky peace where they split the tower and keep into sections, with his wife getting most of the tower, the wizard getting most of the keep and basement, and sharing the dining and kitchen areas. Michel seemed inordinately proud that he had more livable area than his wife, which the party took as a sign that he was mentally unbalanced.
Meanwhile, Sharlot made it up to the first level of the tower, looking for the wife. The large round room had several cages against the walls. The only occupied cage held a gorilla that took notice when Sharlot entered the room. It started to make some hand motions towards her, then began to rattle the bars of the cage. Sharlot began to approach, when the wife called down to her to ignore it, and come up if she was going to talk. Sharlot did, and the wife introduced herself as Ereldia, witch and unfortunately the wife of Michel. Sharlot began to question her about her relationship, learning that it had been in trouble for a long time, as the husband began to ignore her and take her for granted. She had built the tower, she told Sharlot, and the man tried to claim it as his own. In addition, her husband was constantly distracted by his magical experiments, only coming to her when he needed something. He had been wounded a few months back, and wanted her to baby him, even though he certainly had enough magic to heal himself. Sharlot commiserated with her, drawing out the story of how she had been wronged by her husband, and how it had been years since they were truly a couple.
Michel finally got down to the crux of his issues, and asked for their help. If they could steal his wife's key to the tower, he could expel her and take it over for himself. The party realized that this was probably not something they wanted to take on, but they could still solve the issue of strange things going on at the tower. Sharlot had finished talking to the witch, and rejoined them, and the group quickly came up with a plan. At this point, they had been together for long enough that they didn't even need to plan - for the most part, they came to the same conclusion about how best to proceed and went with it. They decided that the best way to take care of the issue was to rekindle the love between the two. Michel resisted, and tried to bribe Kasret with an aged bottle of whiskey for his help. Kasret took the bottle, but still threw in with the others in how to best resolve the situation.
The group continued to explore the issue, eventually determining that the wizard had, indeed, been neglecting the witch for a long time. The witch was not perfect, but they decided that on balance the wizard needed to change more to show his wife appreciation. They had learned that at one point, the wizard had accidentally killed Ereldia's cat - it turned out that it was a large bobcat, but her cat nonetheless. After explaining to him, and maybe even getting through a little, that he had to take a personal interest, they convinced him to pick her some flowers and find her a new cat. He left with Sharlot to teleport to a far off jungle where he found a tiger cub. The two then returned before the tiger's mother realized what they had done. They then sent the wizard to get himself cleaned up and ready for dinner.
Sif began to prepare the dinner, working over the cauldron that the wizard remembered fondly. As it came close to being finished, she went to get the witch to bring her down for the meal. Sif asked her to briefly take over the cauldron, and she was stirring away at it when the wizard made it back. This stirred something in the wizard, and Sif smiled as she took the cooking back over. The party arranged for the two to be seated close to each other as they served the meal. Michel presented his Ereldia with the tiger cub, which she loved, and a necklace that Sharlot had acquired at the Willem's Wondrous World Carnival, which she did not. She recognized the item, and threw a fit over it being cheap. As Michel shrank away from her cutting words, the group saw that there was plenty of blame to go around here. Sharlot turned the kitchen into a zone of truth, in the hopes that this would allow the two to talk honestly. It worked, although the details surprised them.
They discovered that Michel was a wizard, while Ereldia was a witch in league with one of the fairy queens. The two had great power between them, especially when acting in concert. They asked the two about how they fell in love, and after the expected references to the beauty of youth, they got into some of their shared interests. It turned out that a lot of the interests they shared involved bringing destruction down on others - blighting crops, inciting violence, and straight up killing people. The two were reminiscing about the good times, and starting to believe that more good times could come again. When they asked about children for the two, they revealed that they gave their only child to the fairy queen as part of the bargain for power, but that was the only reason they had a child so no big deal. The party was appalled, but aware that they likely couldn't win a stand up fight. So while they had them in a reasonable mood, Carta attempted to get some concessions from them. He convinced them to agree to not harm the innocent. When the two agreed to this, he was worried about how they would define the innocent. In the end, the two agreed that, in honor of the group helping them to find each other again, they would not harm anyone who they had not seen harming someone else. This was the only thing that Carta asked for in exchange for his help, and he felt confident they would honor this.
That done, the two clearly wanted to get some alone time. They brought out gifts to give to the party - a jug that could magically produce liquids for Durdeg, a baton that could conduct a phantom orchestra for Sharlot, one of Michel's old spell books for Sif, and an 80 year old bottle of whiskey for Kasret. Kasret was warned that it was made out of some special mushrooms, and could have some unpredictable effects when consumed.
The party felt that this was probably the best outcome they could hope for, wished the two well, and left. As they passed under the gate, each one wondered what they had unleashed on the world this day, and hoped that it would not become a major problem in the future.
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