As they moved forward, the neccesity for an advance scout became less and less, for the walls became higher and more cliff like and the passage itself became narrower and narrower. Shortly before noon, they halted. The walls here where sheer and high, perhaps two hundred feet, and although where they stood it was perhaps fifty feet wide, a hundred feet or so ahead it came to a chokepoint a bare ten feet wide.
As they moved closer they saw that in the middle of the chokepoint there was what looked like a statue, a hideous winged gargoyle like one might see on a temple. They could also see bones and debris scattered near the statue in the chokepoint. Beyond, they could see that the canyon widened out quickly and in the distance a large stone keep was visible.
"The bones," Tibbiddo whispered to Maewyn, "why are they collected there, unless the statue...." The halfling stepped back and tried to shield himself from the ugly beast.
Marri glanced over at Tibbi when he spoke. Though she said nothing immediately, she felt her own fear begin to rise, and wondered if there might be something *special* about this statue of which they were not aware. She did not remember anything about a statue in the journal, but perhaps she had not looked closely enough. "Should I take a moment and glance through the journal to see if this is mentioned?" she asked her companions quietly.
Trying not to look too closely at the Gargoyle nor the 'organic debris' cluttered at it's base, Rurik was carefully examining the cliff face. "Yes, Marri. And feel free to get creative with interpretations. I don't like the looks of this at all."
The obvious solution, short of finding something useful in the book, is to scale the cliff face, go around then come back down on the other side. The problem is, that IS the obvious solution...
Marri looked through the joural but found no reference to anything which seemed pertinent to their situation.
"Tibbs! You climb, don't you?" Rurik asked as he engaged the halfling in a discussion of the relative difficulty of climbing the face from different points of ascent along the cliff wall. "Perhaps there are easier places to climb further back?" he suggested.
Herger suggested tying a rope to the statue and pulling it out into the open. He concluded, "The worst thing I can imagine is that the statue jumps up and kills whoever tries to move down through the chokepoint. If we pull it out here and that happens, at least we can all face it rather than one at a time in single file."
Frightening as it sounded, Tibbiddo shook his head. "Yes, and we can tie the other end of the rope to a tree so it will be immobilized if it does come to life, or a stone so we can throw it over the cliff!" he said with excitement.
Rurik shook his head and grimaced. "I don't know if rope would slow that thing down if it decided to move on it's own.."
Herger said, "I'm not suggesting that the rope hold the thing. We just need to draw it out into the open and see what happens."
Still unconvinced, Rurik waved in the general direction of the organic matter. "See what happens? Why don't we just ask them?"
Pausing, Rurik looked in the direction of the statue and tapped his front teeth with his left forefinger. "Wait here." He stated moments later. "We only need one damn fool getting himself killed in this ghostly business." Taking his leave of the party, the wastelander advanced toward an interview with the dead.
The others followed at a small distance, alert for any change.
Herger's fears proved prophetic. As Rurik approached the chokepoint, the statue's head pivoted toward him and a moment later the creature was lumbering toward him stone arms raised and stone claws outstretched.
Rurik cursed and reversed course abruptly; running back toward the clearing. Forcing a smile, he pantomimed holding a rope over his shoulder. "Luk! Aye gott Woun!" All the while, he cursed himself silently in his mind.
"Dammit, Rurik!" exclaimed Herger. He prepared his weapon and hoped thateither the statue could be hurt, or that the party could get past it and down the corridor while it was at this end.
"Sweet Esmeralda stick a fork in you Rurik!" Marri cried out on top of Herger's exclamation. Shaking her head, she secured an excitedly barking Traveller, grabbed the horses, and pulled out what she was sure was going to be her entirely useless little knife. "Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear!" seemed to be the only other words that popped into her head as she watched the living stone's heavy feet thud toward them.
Maewyn glanced at the moving statue took a deep breath and hoped that her next action would work. If it moves it is alive in some way and if alive it may be able to be put to sleep. As she prepared to cast her spell waiting for the critter to get in range she spoke, "Amber attack."
As the statue closed in, Michael fired his crossbow before readying his cutlass. This bolt went wide and then the creature was among them. Maewn stepped in close but wasn't able to get close enough to touch the creature without being struck. The three men swarmed the creature. Herger delivered a massive blow with his mace that sent stone chips flying from the creature's leg, Michael's cutlass glanced off a stony arm, and Rurik couldn't find a place to hit. Fortunately, the creature moved fairly slowly and the warriors were able to avoid its ponderous but heavy claws.
As it turned to attack Herger, Maewyn reached out touched it and was dissappointed when it did not fall into slumber at her spell. The monster turned and raised an arm above her. Herger stepped in and with a full ovehead swing smashed his mace completely through the arm which fell to the ground and shattered. Cracks spread from the crushed arm and as the monster turned back chunks of it began to fall from it's body. Whatever force had made the stone turn supple had failed and as the creature tried to move its limbs, the stone cracked and collapsed until the parts that had not fallen to rubble were frozen solid.
Herger stood, breathing heavily with the sudden exertion of the fight. He looked around as if expecting something else to happen.
Coiling up his imaginary rope, Rurik proffered his lopsided grin at Herger and winked. "Good call, Herg." he said lightheartedly. "Onward to the keep!"
Nothing else did, and slowly the company came to rest after a short violent outburst.
They continued their advance. Once past the chokepoint they found themselves in a pleasant valley. It was more square than round, perhaps a quarter mile on each side. The ground was covered with grass and here and there a few stands of trees grew. Some few hundred feet from the far end of the valley, the ground rose fairly steeply to a plateau perhaps a hundred and fifty feet above the rest of the valley. The sides were high and steep, several hundred feet above the lower part of the valley and seventy five or so above the high plateau. In the center of all this was a circular stone keep, a hundred feet across and thirty feet high with a tower rising another twenty feet. A stream ran down from the high plateau and fed a pool at the side of the keep.
They made their way toward the keep.
The keep looked sturdily built and defensible. The single door was on the side away from the valley entrance and was large enough only to admit two abreast. The ground floor had no visible windows, but the second floor had arrow slits spaced around the outside. The roof of the keep was embattled, as well. There was no sign of life in the keep as they walked around it.
"Shall we try the door?" asked Herger.
"Do there appear to be any living stone monsters guarding it?" Marri responded. Traveller yipped and ran headlong in the direction of the door.
"The furry one has spoken." Rurik chuckled and curiously followed the excited canine.
The door yielded quickly to their ministrations, and they found themselves facing a corridor eight or so feet wide. To their left was a door and to their right a double door. Ahead of them they could see an iron staircase going up and down and beyond another set of double doors and another door leading to the right.
Moving carefully, the company passed through the double doors to the right and found themselves in what was clearly the Great Hall. Once splendid, it was not in sad disrepair. Torch sconces line the walls and rows of tables fill the floor. Tapestries, rotting and falling down, cover the walls. In the corner to their right, several of the tapestries had been pulled down and arranged in something like a little nest. There was another door off to the left, which was the only way out of the room. All this was revealed by the light of Tibbo's and Marri's lanterns.
Rurik's ever-present grin began widening into full smile ever since the group entered the keep. Untouched as it were, this structure potentially held untold secrets - and could make a fabulous summer retreat. As he spied the nest, he realized he may not be alone in that thought. Gripping his hammer/pick more tightly, he swiveled his head, scouring the area for fellow 'vacationers'.
Herger caught a glimpse of motion as he looked at that door, which stood open. He wasn't sure what he had seen, but it was maybe man sized, but hunched and blended so well with the walls and shadows in the dark room that he almost thought he had imagined it. Whatever it was had gone out the door.
Herger glanced at the nest, then watched the doorway as he cautiously approached. He said, "I think there's someone, or something, in the next room."
Approaching carefully, they moved on to the next room. This room had served as a trophy hall or something. A little light trickled in from a few steeply angled and very high and very narrow windows. By that light and the torches, they could see portraits on the walls and some display armour and weapons, mostly of the polearm/hafted weapon variety. There was no sword which looked like it met their requirements. One portrait was titled Likar and showed a large and smiling man, richly dressed. Two more doors provided exits and the one to the left, leading back toward the center of the tower, was open.
"'Tradition'" Marri said "requires we go right, but 'prudence' might dictate we examine that open door first, even though it is inconveniently untraditionally on the left." Though she was, as always in these situations, afraid, she tried to imitate Rurik's always flippant tone, and thought she succeeded pretty well; especially when she noticed Traveller looking at her quizzically, head cocked to one side. She shot a quick, if somewhat shaky, smile at her dog.
A quick check of the open door showed that it led to the open central area with the staircase that they had seen on first entering the tower. A faint scrape of footsteps came from up the stairs, then was gone.
Tibbiddo looked to the others, "G-g-ghosts?" he asked.
Maewyn shook her head with a smile, "That sounded like a footstep I may be wrong but usualy ghost do not make noise. especially a normal sound like a foot step. So if we hear nothing then we should worry about ghosts...."
Maewyn paused as she realized that her words of comfort were exactly the opposite of what she had intended.
Unfulfilled by Maewyn's confidence Tibbiddo looked to the staircase, visibly shaking. "If some non-ghost is up there, perhaps we should find them before they find the sword."
They crept up the stairs and found themselves on the second level. The stairs continued up. Here, by the light of the lanterns they saw a square chamber with seven doors - two in each of three walls and one in the last. One of the doors in a wall with two doors was cracked open just a few inches and as they watched, it eased gently and silently shut.
Whispering to himself, barely audible, Tibbiddo repeated "I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid" as a mantra.
Herger quietly suggested, "A trap? We've been successfully led this far..." He eased his mace off of the hanger around his waist and flanked the door with Rurik. "Tibbiddo," he whispered, "Open the door. Any attacks might come at 'Human' level."
The trio approached and then Tibbo swung the door open. The chamber withing, a sleeping chamber of some sort was empty. It was lit by one of the arrow slits they had seen from outside. There were no other exits ... or were there? As they looked around for some sign of their prey, Rurik saw a section of the stone wall that seemed to him to protrude slightly in an odd fashion.
Unlike Tibbi, Marri didn't even pretend not to be afraid, but she followed along in the wake of the others, holding onto Traveller's collar and keeping an eye out for anything that might be coming from a direction the others were not focused on.
"Is there another way out?" she asked softly as she watched the others look in the door.
Maewyn spoke sofly to her side pointing to the way they came in, "Amber find an exit that is not the door."
Maewyn walked carefully around the room, the bird that no one but she could see flying around her. Near the place where Rurik had noted the odd protrusion, Amber began flying circles, passing through the wall on each pass.
Maewyn stopped at the odd protrusion smiling at Amber she said softly "Good work."
Maewyn then stood next to the protrusion facing the group, "There is something here that is likely an exit. Amber indicates that there is."
"Would you look at that?..." Rurik muttered with amusement as he moved toward the stonework in question. "The chase has been going so well. It'd be a shame to end it now." he quipped as he examined the area for a way through - always keeping at least one eye open for nasty little surprises.
He quickly determined that there was a counterweighted concealed door that had not quite closed properly. Taking the proper precautions, they swung the door open and examined the interior. What they found was a staircase, apparently built into the outer wall. It went both up and down, with a longish landing on this level. Of their prey, there was no sign.
"Personally I suggest we go up" Marri said, still speaking quietly. "If we have to reverse ourselves quickly running down is so much easier" she finished, thinking she was beginning to get the hang of sounding like Rurik.
Always one to continue good banter, Rurik grinned at Marri's words. "Yes, but if we meet up with a nasty foe at the top, we may have to sue for pause for a quick pre-combat nap." He winked at Marri, then gestured to the elf. "Perhaps Maewyn can convince her clever friend to point us in the right direction?"
Glancing over Maewyn replied to the banter as if Rurick had been serious, "I may be able to convince him to fly ahead but he is very attached to me and never roams far from my side. So this will limit his use as a scout somewhat."
Taking Marri's advice, the company ascended the staircase. It rose a single flight ending in a fairly long landing similar to the one below. After some examination, they found another counterweighted door and carefully opened it.
The room within looked to be in far better shape than the others rooms they had seen thus far. It took up over half the floor of the tower with a wall cutting across it twenty feet past the spiral stairs in the middle of the tower. That wall had a single door placed near the middle. The top of the stairs were covered by a heavy iron door, closed and barred. To their right another flight of stairs led up, obviously to the small tower which jutted from the roof of the keep. The tapestries and wall hangings were in poor shape, but the rest of the furnishings had survived the passage of the years relatively intact. There were chairs and tables, two tiled stoves to provide heat, a bookcase on one wall, and so on. Light came from narrow windows, although there were lamps and candles in profusion as well.
Maewyn moved to the staircase leading to the tower and began a slow ascent. Ahead of her, invisible to all, Amber scouted ahead. She climbed the flight without incident and arrived in what looked to her like a laboratory. As her companions joined her, she examined the smallish room. Alchemical devices shared space on tables with contraptions that no one could discern the use of. Shelves lined the walls, with row upon row of glass and pottery jars. Given pride of place in the center of the room was a large marble table upon which rested a sword.
The sword was longer than was currently fashionable, with a wicked point and the swordsmen in the group could see immediately that it would be effective both with the thrust and the cut. It looked as if it had seen use; there were notches in the blade and the hilt could use rewrapping. Still, it seemed finely made.
Rurik looked suspiciously about the room as he gingerly sidled through his companions to get a better view of the blade. "Nothing's ever this easy," he muttered for his own benefit as he visually evaluated the weapon.
Without actually picking up the blade, he could only make a basic estimate of its quality and value - both of which seemed quite high to him. The workmanship was solid and the sword had obviously been intended to see heavy use, and just as obviously had done.
Marri had to agree with that assessment as she too scanned the room and glanced at Traveller. She quickly tried to remember a description of the sword, or anything about protections on or around it from her reading of the book.
Traveller was nosing around a jar which rested on a low shelf, but seemed unconcerned. Marri didn't recall a specific description of the sword from any of the sources she had seen.
Marri sighed. "This is something we hadn't thought of! However, are we to know its the right blade? Whatever blade it is though, it seems, even to my untrained eye, to be a decent weapon. And, I don't think we really ought to stay here too long analyzing this, as we are pretty sure there is someone... or something ... here with us. Let's take this blade, and continue our search if all think that is a good idea, and determine exactly what it is later. If... well... if no one else wants to chance it, I'll pick it up."
Maewyn walked over to the sword looking it over. So strange she thought to come al this way and then not know. Still a sword was a sword and this look to be a decent weapon. Reaching for it she hestitated just a second to se if anyone said anything if not she would pick it up. "I have been around human to long they are effecting me," Maewyn though about her hasty decision.
Rurik looked up from his examination of the sword and pedestal to watch as the two usually pacifist females jockey to retrieve the sword. He wondered if his own desire to gather the blade was not so much a function of his own sense of duty after all, but rather the sirens call of a cursed artifact. However, none of the other men were making moves toward the blade, so perhaps the curse only attracted women. A wry smile crossed his lips as he briefly contemplated which part of such a curse would be more severe.
Marri held her breath as she watched Maewyn reach for the sword. "Sweet Esmeralda" she thought "forgive me for being afraid, but I am grateful she has made the first move to pick it up."
"Ahem" Rurik cleared his throat as the elf reached for the weapon. "I do have some experience in these matters and will gather the item presently." his voice dripped bitter-sweet, eyes squinted ever so slightly with irritation. "However, if you can't wait and must remove the blade just this second, please follow convention and allow me a moment to clear the room before doing so." Thus spoken, Rurik awaited the elf's response.
Stopping her movement she raised her hand with a smile, "Be my guest. I do believe I can restrain myself a couple of moment for you to do whatever you feel the need to do." She backed away from the blade will to follow convention as well.
Rurik smiled warmly. "Thank you, Maewyn."
Herger stepped towards the Elf as he continued looking around the room and asked, "Can you find any secret doors in this room, Maewyn? Having found -a- sword, I am still concerned about the thing that led us here."
Returning his attention to the matter at hand, Rurik muttered "there is safety in distance" to the others as he continued 'walking' the site. He moved deliberately - almost ritualistically - about the room for a few moments until at last he intoned, "It is time." With a length of cloth and gloved hands, Rurik retrieved the sword.
Up close, it supported his initial evaluation as a weapon of fine quality, crafted for use and not for show. Nothing untoward happened as he examined it.
Maewyn and Amber examined the room but found no other hidden doors or any such thing. They did find a few books on one shelf on the other side of the central table.
"Someone who can read may wish to come over and look at this. I am not sure what I found?" Maewyn glanced over at the literate members of the group.
Herger began checking on the books while Rurik handled the weapon.
Herger had, meanwhile, found a book containing what looked like lab notes. Although he couldn't read the language, he found numerous sketches of the sword with diagrams and labels in several languages.
Marri didn't know about anyone else, but she was certainly glad to see that nothing blew up, or fell down or appeared when Rurik picked up the sword. She breathed an audible sigh of relief. [OOC Anything interesting/useful in that jar Traveller is sniffing?] The books Herger was looking at peaked her interest, but she was growing more and more nervous. Rurik was right: it shouldn't be this easy. So she suggested again with a little quiver in her voice, "Shouldn't we leave now?"
Rurik screwed his face in an odd, thoughtful contortion as he realized he had no place to carry the long, sharp, pointy object - aside from wielding it. Even if he could get the thing secured in his bags so that it wouldn't cut through, he doubted he could fasten it to his person in such a way as to preclude the need for a hand to stabilize the package. The idea of wielding the weapon was somewhat foreign, as the sword was never his weapon of choice, but then again it had never really been an option; his use of the hammer/pick being a function of availability more than anything. Plus, the hammer/pick also doubled as a fine tool for his trade, reducing some need to carry additional items.
Lost so in thought, Rurik found that he had stowed his cloth and was slowly swinging the blade experimentally in shallow arcs. Frowning, the wastelander finally spoke. "Yes, we should move on. Our quarry may have alerted hunters."
Pausing, he looked again at the length of fine-wrought steel within his grip. "I am willing to transport this item, however if a swordsman such as Michael, or a warrior such as Herger could put this to better use, I will give it gladly."
Maewyn did not say anything but she fingered the new sword at her side. Giving Rurik a look she wondered if he had not mention her on purpose did he not consider her worthy of the sword. Was that why he had not mention her name. She looked at Rurik with an unblinking glance not saying anything but her hand resting lightly on her sword. Her lips tight and her stance ridged as if she was waiting for something.
Looking between Herger and Michael, Rurik paused a moment as he observed the elf's odd posturing. She was upset about something, clearly, and he was somehow the focus of that ire. Did she want yet ANOTHER new sword? Was the one she received from her protracted holy campout no longer adequate for her purposes? This elf was an odd duck, for sure. Nothing like the Sea Elves he'd known back in Marienburg.
"Well, if you're more comfortable with your traditional weapon, I'll carry the thing for you. Maybe we'll get a chance to test it?" Michael offered.
Herger looked up from his brief studying and said, "I had always intended for Rurik to wield the blade, but I suppose it doesn't matter. I have four concerns, though, and three of them are related to Ryo-Aldenar's sword. One, as an Elf blade, does it take an Elf to unlock its powers? Two, is it somehow connected to my ancestors and it needs one of my blood to wield it? Three, -is- this even the right sword? Finally, I want to find whoever has been living in this keep and ask them some questions."
"Well, give him the weapon then, and let's begin the hunt." Michael suited action to word and moved to the door to peer into the hallway.
Herger's words broke Rurik's internal dialog, though he lingered one last quizzical look at Maewyn before turning his attention to his friend. Replacing his perplexed expression with his carefree lopsided grin, Rurik responded amiably "Very well, Herg. I shall retain the sword until you wish otherwise."
"Well if that is how it shall be decided let us go. I believe we have some queestions that need answered, I for one am very interested in at least the answer to one of those questions." Maewyn gave Rurik a slight shrug then turned around to exit the room. As she walked out of the exit she pointed in front of her self saying three words, "Amber scout ahead."
Having descended the stairs from the tower, the companions had three choices. The secret staircase that they had entered from, the locked door to the central spiral stairs or the door in the wall to the side.
Marri looked unhappily at the doors. "I suppose you are all going to want to see what's behind door number three," she said.
Amber scouted through the wall and returned in a state of some distress. Maewyn decided that there was not any real danger, but something disturbing on the other side.
They proceeded with caution, and opened the door which was unlocked. The area within was clearly someone's, probably Likar's, private quarters. The remains of beautiful cushions scattered the floor, with low tables placed at various points. What had disturbed poor Amber was immediately clear. In the center of the wall was a cell, grilled with iron bars. Within were the skeletons of half a dozen or so human beings. The rags of clothing and hair suggested they had been women. On tables and racks near the cell were braziers, knives, whips, and a variety of other complicated devices whose hideous function could only be guessed at. The richly furnished room served, at least partly as a luxurious torture chamber.
Marri's stomach lurched as she realized what purpose this room had served. Still she was a true follower of Verena, and since the others were already there, she turned to make herr way back out to one of stacks of the books in the main room, making a serious effort not to look in the back toward the other room.
Traveller had no such reluctance, and Marri had to call her sharply to get her to come away from nosing the iron bars.
Marri glanced at the titles and found she recognized several that were works on history and philosophy. She thought that some of them could be quite valuable. There was one written in the Arcane Language favoured by wizards and she realized it was a grimoire with half a dozen or so spells. There were also books she didn't recognize, some that looked like they might have been written by Likar and others which were just titles she was not familiar with.
Marri packed what she could, intending to read the books more carefully later. She was, with Michael's aid, able to pack up most of the interesting or valuable books.
Maewyn joined Marri in the main room and began a search of the room as Mari searched the books, looking for anything that struck her as important. If it was a book she would show it to one of the others who could be able to tell.
She found on table a wooden box that fell apart at her touch but which proved to contain some jewelry - three rings, three medallions and a large gold earring. On the south wall, there was a chest which was showing its age but which remained sealed. The tapestries and wall hangings were mostly in very poor shape as were some of the other furnishings - things which had once been luxurious but which had succumbed to the years, wooden boxes, plates and some items which may have had some arcance purpose but which were now just junk.
Placing her finds in a pouch for good keeping and dividing among the group later. Maewyn stood near but not touching the box she smiled.
"I believe that I will leave this one for others to open. Chest that seem to not wish to be opened fall in the same catergroy as ancient swords I believe."
Marri snorted in agreement at the elf's words, and backed away as far away from the box as she could get.
Rurik, unabashedly trying to figure out how some of Likar's odd devices worked - and where, cocked his head in the direction of the girls discussing the large chest. Stroking his chin with a mischievous smirk, he queried pleasantly "You want I should open 'er up and see what's inside?"
Herger walked over by the cages and stared at the remains in silent reverie. As the others gathered loot and tried to uncover something useful he closed his eyes and began saying a silent prayer for these poor, tortured souls, invoking both Morr and Sigmar.
After all that work, it was somewhat anticlimactic when Rurik found that the wood was rotted enough that a stiff yank opened the chest. Inside were piles of coins, none more recent than a few hundreds ago. A rough estimate was four hundred crowns, six hundred shillings and forty pence.
Marri breathed a sigh of relief when nothing leapt out of the chest and onto Rurik. Her eyes took on a speculative look for just a moment when visions of all the wonderful meals she could make with all that coin sprang into her head. "Although" came her next thought "I suppose it might be better to donate at least some of it to one of the temples. Likar does not seem to have been a very nice man! And perhaps the souls of those poor girls will rest a bit easier if some of his fortune goes to help others."
"I'd still like to get out of here before our luck changes" she said to the others.
Rurik dropped one of his empty bags by the opened chest and walked over to the cell doors beside Herger. He knew opening the cell doors was centuries too late for those inside, but felt the need to do so anyway.
He found the key on one of the tables near the cell and used it on the cell. Upon opening the doors, Rurik sat outside and away from the opening. "You are now free, though far too late for life" he spoke softly to the forgotten. "Lend us your secrets so we may help you find your way home."
Waiting a few moments, the Wastelander finally stood and respectfully entered the cell. He carefully examined each of them to learn what he could both of the girls themselves, why they were there, and if their final doom was intended or the result of jailer absencia.
Although Marri would be better able to determine cause of death or what have you, nothing about their positions suggested violent death, nor did the bodies seem to bear marks of wounds. His thesis that they simply expired when their jailer left seemed likely.
As Rurik examined the bodies in the cell, and Maewyn and Michael loaded the books, Herger stood near the door between the two rooms with Tibbo. Maewyn went to keep a lookout at the stairs. The door was made of heavy iron and barred from this side. There was a lock as well and the key was in it. She removed the bar and turned the key in the lock, but when she pushed the door did not open. A shiver ran down her spine as she rested with her hand against the door.
From their vantage point at the door, Tibbo and Herger saw it first. About ten feet behind Maewyn, between her and Marri and Michael, a faint pattern of glowing lines had appeared on the floor, and above them, a dark smoke was appearing out of nowhere and was rapidly taking on a roughly bipedal shape, although whatever it was becoming was going to stand about eight feet tall. Marri had turned and saw it too and was close enough to see that the pattern was a pentagram.
Herger yelled a warning to his friends and went for his mace.
"Maybe now's a time to test the new sword, no?" Michael swept Marri behind him and drew his weapon, trying to angle them both towards the doorway.
Marri stumbled a bit as Michael moved her behind him. She pulled her little knife and began to back up. She screamed as she saw Traveller charge the smoky shape.
The others in the party heard Herger's cry and turned to see their peril. The smoke condensed into a creature eight feet tall, with a sheep's head, goat's legs and the body of a muscular man. It had four arms, one of which held a shield, one of which held a mace and the other two of which held a two-handed sword. So terrifying was its aspect that Michael, hardened veteran of many engagements was paralyzed with fear. If he was so affected, was it any surprise that Herger, less experienced, Marri, not a warrior at all, and Tibbo, a brash talker with little experience in war, were also afflicted? Rurik, rushing back to Herger's side at his call, was able to master his horror. Maewyn with the calm detachment of her race was also able to control her fear.
Maewyn took a deep breath and prepared to charge at the creature with her sword. Calling to Amber to attack as she raced forward. She keep an eye on her familar. The first sign of any serious damage to the bird will cause her to tell it to disengage.
Thinking to herself, "Here hoping someone besides me is able to attack I hate to be all alone. In a fight like this the more of us there is the better it will be for...us at least."
With that thought she charged and attacked it with all her might and skill.
Rurik began to reach for his pick from habit only to find his hand encumbered by the newly acquired sword. Still not familiar with the use of a sword in combat, Rurik nearly dropped it in exchange for his trusty old pick. However, he wasn't sure if even his standard weapon would be of any service against a demon should he land a blow. Instead, he swung the business end of the cut-and-thrust directly toward the beast. If this really is Likar's sword, perhaps Likar's demon will recognize it.
So disposed, Rurik attacks with another familiar weapon; The Bluff. "Stand Down, Hellspawn! Your services are not needed here. Return to whence you came!"
Tibbiddo's lips quivered from fright, sending forth gibberish.
The demon turned to face the various shouts and cries, then elected to deal with the charging elf. Amber struck first passing harmlessly and unregarded through the demon, and a moment later Maewyn's sword struck home in the arm with which the demon wielded a mace. The blow was a solid one and the demon screeched in pain, shouting in barely recognizable Reikspiel, "I shall eat your flesh for that elf!" before smashing down with the two-handed sword and delivering a crushing blow to Maewyn's left arm. As she staggered back, the followup blow with the mace missed by a small margin.
That was enough to shock Michael to his senses and that brought Marri to herself.
"Well, that didn't work," thought Rurik as he watched the demon strike the elf. If it's a fight it wanted, then so be it! Without further hesitation, Rurik interposed himself between the beast and the staggered elf "Back to the pits of hell with you!" he roared as he thrust the blade toward the creature.
The blade moved fluidly almost as it it had a life of its own as Rurik thrust out slashing the demon across the horrid sheep's snout. Michael stepped in, covering Marri and drove his cutlass into one of the arms holding the zweihander, shearing it off at the elbow. Roaring in rage, the demon swung backhanded at the marine, but was clearly off-balance and his blow went high. Ichor sprayed from the severed arm and with it the substance of the demon seemed to dissipate. "Curse you!" it shrieked as it shrank, collapsing in on itself as it's ichor gushed out steaming away as smoke.
In seconds the demon was gone leaving only a foul stench and a few last wisps of dissipating goo.
Maewyn staggered with a delayed reaction to the wound she had taken.
"F-f-filthy magic," Tibbiddo forced out of his mouth. He wiped sweat from his brow, and pleadingly looked to the others. "Can we go now, before any more surprises?"
Maewyn gasped as she held her wounds leaning against the wall she slid to the floor. "I would love to accomadate you but I do not know if I will be able to stand let alone move."
Rurik turned to Tibbiddo a moment. "Bag the gold and I'll see what I can do to help Maewyn move out of here."
He then turned to the others, then down at the sword. "I'm fairly certain this is what we came for. Tibbs is right... We should leave now." With a pause, he looked around and made mental plans to return someday and see what other secrets this keep held.
Gold, the mere mention of the word sent Tibbiddo into a frenzy grabbing whatever even appeared metallic and depositing them in a sack. Finally, someone was talking sense and the little halfling didn't want to give anyone any extra time to mount a debate.
"Would we do better to cleanse this place and remain here until we're all fit to travel? One way in and one way out sometimes makes for safety." Michael wipes the ichor from his cutlass with a shred of cloth.
Rurik shrugged while cleaning his (err... Likar's) blade. He was not opposed to further exploration of the keep, in fact he was looking forward to it, but in the end he simply sighed, "I guess that depends on how many more of those things there are."
Marri dug in her little bag and began to clean and bandage Maewyn's wound. She quickly realized that the wound was beyond her skill to heal and further medical attention would be needed. Furthermore, the wound already was showing signs of infection, and she did not have the needed supplies to draw out the infection.
Herger stood agape near the middle of the room and mumbled, "Never have I seen anything more frightening.." After a moment, he realised that he had been holding his forehead where the blade of the dark rider had cut him. He lowered his hand and appeared briefly perplexed. He quickly recovered his senses and went to examine the spot where the daemon appeared, looking over its weapons and the general area.
Now that he was looking for it, he could see very faint lines marking the pentagram on the floor. Whether they had been there before, he couldn't say. The shield, mace and greatsword were ugly, rough and horribly functional weapons. They had no unusual traits that he could see beyond their provenance.
"Oh my! Oh my!" Marri mumbled to herself over and over. After doing as much for Maewyn as she could at that point, she turned to Herger. She stopped him from examining the floor and began to look at his forehead.
The wound on his head was still clear and healed, she saw no sign of further injury.
Staying close to Maewyn, yet giving Marri plenty of room to work, Rurik realized that even the careful ministrations of the halfling weren't going to be enough. Frowning, he looked toward the others, "I'm not sure how bad this is, but it looks like we could use the assistance of her Druid friends, and soon."
So spoken, he looked back at Tibbiddo to see how he was progressing at gathering the gold; and to see if his little friend was pocketing any 'for future emergencies'.
Tibbo had loaded the bags and was ready to depart; perhaps he was still shaken from the encounter with the demon, for he did not seem to have put any aside "for emergencies."
Marri finished looking at Herger's head. "I'm glad to see there hasn't been any further damage there. But unfortunately, Maewyn *is* badly hurt. You are correct that she will need more help than I can give her. And quickly!" She looked at the others. "I know you all wish to explore this place further, but we must get help for Maewyn! We cannot wait!"
Maewyn leaned against the wall. Stretching uot she reached for her familar trying to take comfort for the eage. Closing her eyes she felt the comfortable wieght of it next to her felt its concern for her in it mind.
Half mumbling to herself she spoke, "Too bad winged one I can not send you to seek help."
Having gathered the various items they were interested in at this point, the company fell back outside the tower. They went back out the way they had come in, down the secret passage and then out. From there they moved quickly to their horses and mounted up. They had a day and a half's ride back to the druids. If they pressed a little tonight, they could make it back to their last camp.
Out they rode, past the rubble of the stone monster and down the valley. By the time they reached camp, Maewyn's wound was puffy and an angry red. They made her as comfortable as possible and prepared to spend the night.
Marri made a strong herb tea that even she had to admit was especially vile tasting. Ignoring Maewyn's grimaces, she drizzled it down her throat a little a time. "It should help you sleep. Its little enough, but all I can do I'm afraid." Marri set up all night beside the elf, and Traveller lay quietly at Maewyn's side.
The next morning, the arm was swollen and tender, but Marri did not see any signs of blood poisoning, which was a relief. The party broke camp hastily and made their way back toward the druids' dwelling. Once there, Alinette and Willowbrook came quickly at Marri's call, and examined the wound. They discussed for a few moments, then spoke. "This injury is beyond my power to heal with magic," said Willowbrook.
"But perhaps not beyond Maewyn's own power to heal. Willowbrook, come, I think I have a poultice which may prove effective. And we will need to lance the wound," said Alinette.
Soon Maewyn was moved into the little hut, as Marri watched, Alinette carefully lanced open the wound, which released a deal of pus and blood. Then she carefully packed it with a thick, sticky, sweet smelling poultice, which she then wrapped in a clean cloth. "Now, we shall see," she said.
Another anxious night passed. In the morning, Alinette came out with a smile on her face. "It is helping," she said. "The wound will be slow to heal, but heal it will."
The company chose to rest for a few days while Maewyn healed and she and Rurik took the time to practice with their new swords and get used to them a bit. Marri was able to go through the books and determined that some of them would fetch a pretty price at a bookseller in any major city. One looked interesting and she wanted to peruse it further, it was called "The Tome of the Beasts" and looked to be a collection of ancient myths that Marri was unfamiliar with.
The company chose to rest for a few days while Maewyn healed and she and Rurik took the time to practice with their new swords and get used to them a bit. Marri was able to go through the books and determined that some of them would fetch a pretty price at a bookseller in any major city. One looked interesting and she wanted to peruse it further, it was called "The Tome of the Beasts" and looked to be a collection of ancient myths that Marri was unfamiliar with.
Marri determined to give the book a thorough read as they continued along. The others she would sell when next they reached a major city.
Later that afternoon, Marri sought out Herger. It was warm, and she found him outside sitting under a tree. She settled onto the ground beside him.
"Old friend," she began "what should our next steps be?" Shaking her head, she continued "This has been a much harder journey than I could even have imagined when we first started out." Traveller came to sit beside her and she began scratching the small dog at her favorite spot behind her ears. "I am tired. I am afraid most of the time. I so much want to be home, in the Moot, surrounded by my family, baking bread for my sister's sweet children."
She sighed. "But I know we cannot return until we finish this quest. Or I suppose, die in the attempt." Marri snorted as she continued, "You know, I had no real idea of death until this journey? Still, I think we must move on, don't you? I mean, once Maewyn is healed of course! But... I have always with me the fear we shall not be in time!"
The little halfling seemed to have more to say, but she fell silent, and simply continued to pet Traveller while she waited for an answer from Herger.
Herger offered his friend a smile and reached out the pet Traveller, whohad settled between them. As he enjoyed the serenity of the grove and listened to the sounds of the forest about them he said, "It is the same for me, Marri. I could not, in my wildest imaginings, envision the things we have gone through to this day. It almost seems like one of the great stories Uncle Theo used to tell when I was much younger."
He thoughtfully, and habitually, rubbed at his chin as he continued, "It's time to move on, I think. We should move towards the next step of our journey. I don't think that returning to Nuln would be such a good idea, so we should by-pass the city and only stop at the smaller towns around it. I'm sorry that we won't be going past the bakery again, but I think that it would put your brothers in even more danger than when we arrived at Nuln before."
He said, "I think that we still have a long way to go, and that we will see more frightening and terrible things before our journey ends. So, the sooner we continue, the sooner we will finish."
Marri sighed, trying to imagine things more frightening and terrible than they had already seen. She shook her head. It was beyond her imagination. "And for the best, perhaps. I am not certain I could go on if I imagined anything worse!" she thought.
"I agree, Herger. Let's rest and eat well while we can, then continue on our way. And no, I do not wish to put my brothers in any more danger! Perhaps when this is over I shall be able to visit them again, assuming... " Marri didn't finish her sentence. She felt that Herger, like each of her companions, was probably all too aware that he might not make it home again so she saw no reason to speak of it.
With the party healthy and in good travelling trim, it took them only five days to make the return trip to Dunkelberg. From there they planned their route with the aid of Marri's friend the doctor. Their best bet seemed to be to follow the road toward Nuln, but leave it at Segeldorf and strike off cross-country to the Southeast. They could follow the Reik down to Wissenberg and there either cross and continue on horseback along the Upper Reik to Pfeildorf, or take a boat from Wissenberg to that town. They would continue along the Upper Reik, either by land or river, until they reached the Black Mountains, at which point they would turn north and follow their line to the Blackfire Pass.
In Dunkelburg, Marri sold the books she had found, saving only the lab notes, the Tome of the Beasts, which she was still reading, and the Grimoire of spells which would only be of interest to a wizard. That night at dinner, she shared the profits with her companions to the tune of 150 GC each.
The next day, having made their purchases and preparations, the party set off downriver on horseback. They wanted to cross the Blackfire before winter set in, so they moved as quickly as they could. Within a few days, they had reached Segeldorf and set off cross country and within the week had reached Wissenburg, where they ferried across the Upper Reik.
Three days later, they spend the night in Pfeildorf and replenished their supplies. After a restful night in an Inn there, they continued along the Upper Reik, then turned north to follow the line of the Black Mountains. Maewyn was glad to be back near the mountains which were the focus of her Druidic power. They rested for a few days at the foot of the Blackfire pass, including the night of the full moon which Maeywn spent alone in the wilderness.
Then it was five days across the pass to Erikspall and another night in an Inn before the last days ride to Lin-Adelle and the elves. They arrived on Konistag the 25th of Erntezeit.