Terror in the Tower, part 3

This Beckett Family Adventure follows Terror in the Tower, part 2. 


Background

The session began with the PCs at the ruined Temple of Pholtus, a few hours from small village of Lakesend. This was their third foray to the temple. The first time, they spotted harpies flying about the tallest tower in the complex. They entered the tower, but a battle with animated guardians inside caused them to return to the village. During their second visit, they fought a swarm of goblyns in the temple’s cellars. This time, they left the horses and a few of their party a half-mile away. The main group then made a thorough search of the ruins, finding evidence of recent inhabitation. The group now stood in the cloister, deciding what to do next.

Cast of Characters:

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family.  A few are retainers.

Wyrm Cormallen: Elfin druid/Magic User, distant relative to most
Granny Beckette: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Thurin: Half-Elfin thief, quirky and flaky daughter of Granny
Jade Cormallen: Half-elfin ranger, distant relative to most
Asher: Elfin thief, ward of the Cormallen clan, friend to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond Beckett: NPC fighter, stoic and responsible
Rayner Beckett: Thief, bastard half-brother to Raymond
Sergeant Blaine: NPC fighter, porter to the Beckett family

Narrative:

Day 12, Ninth Moon (Midday)

The Becketts huddled together in one corner of the ruined cloister. A light rain steadily drenched the weeds of the central courtyard, pooling into large puddles in the mud. The few saplings that grew wild in the courtyard seemed strangely bejeweled, for every leaf sparkled with dozens of clear rain droplets. The smell of soil, moss, and wet leaves hung heavy in the air.

After conferring with a few kinsmen, Lord Roger then called for Sir Raynard, Sven, Bjorn, Granny, Thurin, and Rayner. He waited a moment for all to come close and then said to Raynard, “Brother, you will remain here with this small group, while we explore the tower. Keep Granny and Thurin safe. This is our fallback area. Hold down the fortress.”

The young knight nodded matter-of-factly, looked about at the kinsmen in his charge, and said, “Granny, take care of Thurin. She still looks weak. Let her get some rest. The twins and I will watch the entrance to the cellars. Sven and Bjorn, stay alert. You know what horrors lie down those steps. The debris that you piled across the opening will not stop anything determined to get out. Rayner, you will stand guard at the main doors. Let us know if anything comes that way.” Turning back to his brother, the knight added, “Do not be too long, Roger, or we might come looking for you.”

Lord Beckett replied, “If you hear three horn blasts, we are in trouble. Otherwise, stay put.”

Sir William, leaning against a cracked stone pillar, added flippantly, “Screams might also indicate that we are in trouble, cousin.”

Roger spoke again, saying, “Wyrm, Jade, Daniel, William, Lewie, Raymond, Blaine, and Asher—you are coming with me. We shall have a closer look at that tower.”

Raising his chin to the lead-gray sky, Daniel asked, “What about the harpies, or whatever they are? Do we have any plan for dealing with them?”

Playing with her dagger, Jade asked, “Have we seen them out in the rain thus far?”

Rubbing his jaw, Daniel retorted, “No, but I’d rather not assume that they are afraid of a little water. Should we try cloth or wax in the ears again?”

William spoke up, whining, “Oh, not again. Some of that crap is still lodged in my ears. I doubt it worked anyway.”

Brother Lewie, removing torches from his backpack, spoke next, “I would not fear their song just now. We are on the ground. If we reach the top of the tower, where there are gaping holes in the walls, then we shall have real reason for concern.”

Cracking his knuckles, Daniel spoke again, “Thurin already shot one, as did I. That seemed to shut them up well enough. Besides, Roger is a crack shot and can knock them out of the air, two at a time.”

The eccentric elf named Wyrm turned quizzically to Roger and asked, “So Lord Beckett, what is your final word on the winged creatures that you call harpies?”

Roger, nocking an arrow and drawing his hood over his head, said simply, “Enough talk. We run to the tower. Move out.”

The group readied its weapons and lit a few torches, remembering the darkness inside the tower. As Brother Lewie lit his torch, he asked aloud, “Has anyone noticed that the tower seems to have no windows?”

Jade raised her eyebrows and laughed, “Maybe the builders were afraid of heights.”

Hiking up his green robe to keep it out of puddles, Wyrm muttered under his breath, “I have another idea on that, but we shall see.”

When all were ready, they pushed open the stout oaken door at the side of the cloister. Swiftly they exited, one by one, jogging into the steadily falling rain. The ground of the courtyard was hard-packed dirt, choked with weeds. Muddy puddles lay everywhere, and the group scrambled toward the tower, weaving whenever possible to avoid the larger pools. Try as they might, they were not quiet, for William’s plate armor clanked as he ran, and several scabbards clinked rhythmically against chain hauberks.

Jade, Wyrm, and Asher seemed entirely unfazed by the rain, as if they enjoyed it. Roger, Raymond, and Blaine were simply stoic in this regard. Daniel and Brother Lewie, however, seemed to have the natural human aversion to getting soaked to the skin. Both noted silently that the rain seemed to find a way under one’s hood or coif, eventually working its way down one’s neck. At least it was not cold.

The kinsmen crossed to the tower quickly, but as they ran, they all noticed a rank odor coming from some low crumbling buildings to their left. They had smelled it before—a mix of rotting vegetation and animal feces. Partly from curiosity and partly from concern, Asher slowed up while looking at the crumbling outbuildings. However, Roger grabbed her by the shoulder of her tunic and yanked her along, saying “Do not tarry here.”

The tower loomed above them, and many stole glances upward as they ran. From its base, it looked impossibly high, as if thrust into the very clouds. One by one, the group scrambled up the broad stone steps and piled into the entry room. It looked much as it did a few weeks earlier. The double doors were missing, but their rusted hinges, bent and snapped, still clung to the cracked stonework. A carpet of dead, moldy leaves covered the floor of the entire room, perhaps twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. The remains of a human skeleton still lay in a corner, half buried by the wind-blown leaves. The rictus grin of its skull still peered up blindly. The smell of moldy leaves hung heavy in the air. A set of inner doors were also missing, but just beyond the doorframe was a pile of moldy wood—perhaps the remains of the doors. Beyond that pile was a darkened room, about thirty or forty feet wide.

Before moving beyond the entryway, the kinsmen readied their weapons and torches. Jade spoke softly to those around her, “Remember not to touch the armor. Those damn-fool Varangians set the things off last time by swatting at one of the helms.”

Daniel, grabbing a torch and moving to the front, added,

“We should not have to worry about the armor again. We sliced up both suits until they went still, and then we took their weapons.”

As the group moved into the dark room, with the torches hissing softly, William was the first to speak. In the dark and quiet room, his words of surprise seemed overly loud. “What in the Nine Hells?” he blurted out, pointing with his Cimbrian broadsword. As kinsmen entered and their eyes acclimated to the flickering shadows, they spied the two suits of armor, reset in their original positions, one to each side of the main staircase in front of them. Instead of a centuries-old Aquilonian short sword in each hand, the masterful bronze creations now held small, blackened, curved blades, each about three feet long.

Slowly the group spread out to get a better look. “Be careful,” warned Jade, her eyes scanning the stonework for any hint of secret doors or strange mechanisms. Making his way toward one suit of armor, Brother Lewie said aloud, “We have seen blades such as these before.”

William’s voice betrayed a hidden concern as he muttered, “Goblyn blades. Why are these things armed with goblyns blades?”

With an arrow nocked, Roger peered all around the room, checking the ceilings and the corners for unseen threats. This far into the tower, the sound of the rain grew faint, and the hissing of the torches seemed louder. Lord Beckett relaxed for a moment, saying, “Perhaps the statues did our work for us. Perhaps they slew a force of goblyns and took their blades.”

Feeling uneasy, Asher blurted out, “Then where are the bodies?”

Seeing no enemy and sensing that the room was secure for the moment, William pushed up his visor, saying, “It is possible that their bodies dissolve upon death.”

Brother Lewie responded quickly, saying, “Stay on your guard, big brother. If the bodies dissolved, there would be pools of that black filth all about, not to mention the stench. There is little here.”

With her keen eyes, Asher pointed a dagger at the floor, saying, “There… and there. Those black flecks on the floor, and that black smear. What is that?”

Brother Lewie brought a torch closer to the indicated spots and crouched down to inspect the marks. After a few seconds, he whispered, “These marks, my good elfin lass, are the signs of our previous venture inside this tower. This is where one statue felled Bjorn, thrusting a sword just beneath his ribs. On the far side of the room, you will likely find a pool of my own blood. Not the fondest memories. Remain on your guard.”

William clapped his visor down again. Roger, Jade, and Asher approached the steps in the center of the room, while the others waited quietly, keeping their eyes on the motionless suits of scale armor. Asher crouched down nimbly, dagger in hand. Her elfin eyes scanned the stonework and the dust, looking for any signs of a mechanism or a trigger for a trap. After a few seconds, she whispered to her companions, “I see nothing amiss here.”

The central steps led up a few feet to a stone landing, from which two curved staircases continued upward along the walls of the tower, one on the left and one on the right. These had no railings.

As he stood guard to one side, his eyes on one of the suits of armor, Daniel staggered. A whirl of images assailed his senses in rapid succession, like a silent and hazy play unfolding in his mind. In fuzzy, gray, scattered images, he saw a mob of angry men storming this very room, charging toward the stairs. Men in robes on the steps above fought off the mob. Something like thunderbolts or candles rained down on the attackers. That was it. In just seconds, the images were gone. Daniel gasped, unsure of what to make of the scenes.

Just then, Roger and Jade started up the stone steps and stood upon the square landing, at the back of which stood a large stone statue of a robed man, his arms outstretched and his palms facing forward. Those palms instantly began to glow with the golden light, causing the darkness to recede. Everyone in the room reacted at once, whirling about in surprise. Roger and Jade halted in unison, surprised and unsure of what to do. Then the two glowing points of light became blinding, finally erupting from the statue’s hands like thunderbolts.

One burst struck Roger square in the chest and seemed to go right through his chain hauberk. A burning heat singed his chest, but it quickly faded. A similar bolt of light struck Jade in the side, for she turned away from the light as it streaked toward her. She cried out as it hit, more in surprise than in pain. Both rangers immediately hopped back down the steps and off the landing.

Raymond, his sword and shield at the ready, never took his eyes off the statues. Ever stoic and calm, he asked flatly, “What in the name of St. Cuthbert was that?”

Brother Lewie responded, “I think the Saint had little to do with that display, cousin. It was distinctly Pholtan, if you ask me.”

Roger, noticing that the front of his leather jerkin was singed, asked aloud, “A defense mechanism? Perhaps it allows only priests to pass.”

At the base of the steps, Jade spied an elegant engraving at the base of the statue. That writing may give us a clue, she thought. Without warning, she scrambled back up the steps and onto the landing, kneeling before the statue to read the writing. Simultaneously, Roger pulled himself up the side of one of the curving staircases, looking to bypass the landing completely. Both rangers paid for their actions. For one second, golden light gleamed from the statue’s palms, and then tiny golden flares blasted the two rangers again.

Jade groaned in pain, but forced herself to scan the words of the engraving. She yelled out, “This is Aquilonian text. I do not understand it! Wyrm! What does this mean?”

The elfin sage was to the rear of the room, however. Much closer, Brother Lewie stepped up immediately and shouted, “Spell the words! Quickly.”

As Jade read the letters, one at a time, Roger pulled himself up onto the stairway and peered down at the statue. The hands began to glow again. Unsure if he was in danger, he looked up the curving stairs, which led into a large dark room. He could not see much beyond the doorway.

Down below, Brother Lewie hastily shouted words in Frangian, translating them one at a time from the Aquilonian, “The first word is Pholtus… unus… that means ‘the one’… That’s Pholtus again… verum means ‘true’ or ‘the true’… Pholtus again… and radians means ‘radiant!’”

Just then, the statue’s brilliant hands unleashed a third pair of luminous bolts. For a third time, they struck the pair. Roger grunted in pain, yelling, “Speak the words, Lewie! This is becoming a problem!”

“Hurry!” yelled Jade.

All eyes went to the cleric, whose eyes went wide.

“I forgot what I just said!” he gasped.

“Oh, ****!” yelled Lord Beckett, dropping his bow and arrow and ripping the cloak from around his neck. As the statue’s hands began to glow once more, Roger flipped the wool cloak toward the statue. He missed his mark slightly, but the wool did fall over one of the statue’s hands and its head. Yet, the golden gleam was visible beneath the material. Roger grabbed his bow and arrow and scrambled up the stairs, but he was too late. Golden bolts blasted from the statue’s hands, one burning a hole right through the cloak. One luminous sphere struck Roger in the shoulder, ricocheting off his steel pauldron like a shooting star. The other missed his head by an inch as he fell flat on the stairs. Grunting again, he yelled, “Lewie!”

The cleric finally gathered his wits and spoke aloud in a firm voice, “Pholtus the One, Pholtus the True, Pholtus the Radiant.” The priest’s words echoed throughout the stone room, but they echoed also in Brother Lewie’s mind. That was sacrilege, Llewylyn, he thought to himself. It needed to be said, he continued, but the Saint is listening. Pray that he is in a kindly mood when you next need his help.

Roger’s cloak, still draped across the statue’s head and upraised arm, began to smolder, sending thick white smoke guttering upwards into the darkness. Sir William pulled a torch from Asher’s backpack, lit it from another torch, and threw it up to Roger. All of the others grew still, waiting to see what happened next. Silence seemed to fall in the room. No one moved. The only sound was the soft hissing of the torches, mingled with the barely audible rain outside. The wool cloak continued to smolder, sending forth a foul smell like burning hair.

For a few seconds, the companions remained on edge, but the statue’s hands did not glow again. One by one, the kinsmen exhaled. Many still gazed cautiously at the two suits of armor, but the armor did not stir. One by one, the kinsmen marched up the stairs to join Lord Beckett. Roger finally exhaled deeply and gave Lewie a caustic look.

“My fault,” the cleric muttered with a sheepish look.

Roger took the lead once again as the group moved to the top of the stairs. Brother Lewie moved next to him with a torch. Sensing the cleric beside him, Roger added flatly, “My mother made that cloak for me.”

“I never told you to throw it over a flame-hurling statue,” quipped the priest.

Raymond and Sir William were in the front now as the group came to the top of the stairs. Brother Lewie held his torch high so as not to blind the others. The room in which they found themselves seemed less of a room and more of a large stone ring. A central stone staircase seemed to fill the center of the tower, but it was inaccessible here. Instead, it formed a solid core around which they now moved. A strong smell of rot and mold filled their nostrils as they advanced.

As quiet as they tried to be, the sound of a dozen boots echoed off the stone walls and ceiling vaults. Jade and Asher, however, slinked forward without much sound. Asher gently placed her hand on Roger’s shoulder, whispering, “Allow us to look for warmth before you go forward.”

Roger nodded and held his arm aloft, signaling the others to stop.. The two elfin women crept forward, a few inches at a time, scanning the darkness for any signs of body heat.

As the rest waited in silence, a hideous feeling suddenly overcame Brother Lewie. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. It was strong—a presence of some kind that seemed to awaken suddenly. He could not make any sense of the feeling, but every hair on the back of his neck stood up at once, and his instincts screamed ‘danger.’ His mind raced, thinking of what it might mean. Exorcism was the first thought that passed through his mind. He had studied this briefly with his mentor, but old Father Abelard had described the presence of a demon as a feeling of great age and tremendous malice—a presence that seemed to be everywhere yet nowhere. This is not what Lewie felt at this instant. There was no malice, and the danger seemed close, but not intangible. Frustrated at his inability to discern his feelings, he simply blurted out, “Something is not right here. I have a really bad feeling, Roger.”

Perhaps the elves heard him, for they slinked back to the group. Jade whispered, “It is black around the bend, but there is no heat in here. I think we are alone, yet I have a weird feeling too.”

Sergeant Blaine, sensing the tension in the air, gripped his halberd firmly with his left hand. With his right, he reached down to his belt and grabbed the hilt of his elfin longsword, pulling it an inch or so out of the scabbard. Legend says that the blade should glow in the presence of goblyns, he thought to himself. The blade remained dim in the shadows.

The dust grew thick on the floor, and the air here was stale. Cobwebs hung down in places from the stone vaults above. Raymond and Wilhelm were in front, their heater shields before them and their swords drawn. As they led the way counter-clockwise around the circular room, they came across piles of rotting cloth. Small holes on the wall suggested that wooden pegs once adorned the wall here. Sir William cautiously pushed the moldy piles about with the tip of his broadsword.

With an arrow nocked on his bowstring, Roger whispered, “This was a cloakroom.”

The group continued to wind its way around the central staircase. Off to his left, Sir William finally noticed the entrance to the central staircase. Just to his right, Raymond stepped forward, peering into the darkness. The torchlight behind him caused the gloom to retreat a bit, but the light danced on the walls, as did the many shadows. Then, perhaps twenty feet in front of them, they spied a large niche of sorts, covered in shadow. Some large object, perhaps chest high and as wide as a desk, seemed to sit in the niche. Raymond stepped forward to investigate, and the others followed, bringing the torchlight with them.

Then they saw it.

Raymond stopped dead in his tracks. Then he slowly withdrew, inch by inch. His teeth clamped together, and he found himself unable to speak. His sword arm shot up clumsily and pushed the air behind him, feebly motioning for the others to withdraw. William’s jaw dropped, though he managed to keep hold of his sword. It was Brother Lewie, holding the torch behind them, who first uttered a word, as flickering light finally illuminated the niche.

“Good God!” he stammered. The torch fell from his hand, causing shadows to dance on every wall and the figure before them to become dim.

In the niche, a dark, hulking, humanoid figure had been squatting, and now it stood up to its full height of about nine feet. It seemed naked, pale, and gray, with large feet that splayed out like tree roots. Its lean, bony arms hung down so far that its dagger-like claws almost touched the ground. Where a man’s head would have been sat a disgusting circular mouth with three rows of small pointed teeth, much like a lamprey’s. From the top of this ‘head’ and from its back writhed thick, giant tentacles that had to be nearly ten-feet-long. All of this, the kinsmen saw through flickering shadows for just a few seconds. Then it lumbered forward.

Each footfall shook the floor and reverberated about the small chamber. Worse, perhaps through a trick of the light, the figure’s outline seemed to blur a bit in the shadows. In the darkness, it loomed over the party, its ‘head’ nearly touching the ceiling. The tentacles writhed silently for a moment, and then it charged.

THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD.

In a fraction of a second, Raymond and William both raised their shields against the charge, and William screamed as the creature crashed into them. Shadows flickered and blurred.

William felt as if a heavy warhorse slammed into his shield, and the shock threw him back a yard, though he kept his feet. With another THUD, the creature’s foot stomped the dropped torch, snuffing it immediately. The chamber grew dimmer, and the creature lunged at Raymond with one arm. Raymond screamed, as the creature’s massive claws impaled him through his chain hauberk and through the stomach. Before the others could act, they watched in horror as the thing raised the stout warrior like a rag doll and tossed him ten feet through the air. He struck the stone wall with a sickening thud and fell in a heap.

William shouted anew and spurred himself to action. He hauled back and dealt the creature a mighty blow with the Cimbrian broadsword, but it felt as if the blade had hit concrete instead of flesh. The knight’s bravery, however, jarred the others to life. Sergeant Blaine rushed forward with his halberd held high, and Jade nocked an arrow in one smooth motion. She loosed one arrow and then another, but the first deflected off of a bony spur on the creature’s arm, while another missed by inches. Then the snap of Roger’s bowstring resounded through the room, and a goose-feather shaft seemed to sprout from the creature’s chest. Black ichor sprayed from the wound, spattering William’s breastplate, and the thing shook violently. Its reaction was terrifying though.

It charged forward again, driving into the party. THUD THUD THUD THUD. It backhanded William, nearly knocking the blade from his hand, but then it lunged forward and smote him with its other giant arm. The force shattered the knight’s wooden shield. Oaken splinters, leather straps, and twisted, iron edging exploded off his arm, which went numb from the blow. In the next second, its tentacles lashed out, one wrapping itself around Asher’s face. She gasped for air and flailed desperately to release its grip. A second tentacle shot out and grabbed Sergeant Blaine’s ankle as he charged. As he wound up to cleave the creature, it upended the sergeant, crushing the chain links of his leggings into the flesh of his ankle, and whipping him against the wall without letting go. He grunted aloud in pain, and his halberd clattered across the stone floor.

A third tentacle lashed out at Roger, but he ducked and loosed another arrow into its chest. Again the elfin arrow produced a hideous effect. The creature charged forward again, driving all before it. THUD THUD THUD THUD.

It backhanded Roger into the wall, but Lord Beckett kept his feet and his grip on his bow. The tentacle holding Sergeant Blaine lashed the man about like a weapon and struck Jade. Another tentacle grabbed Asher and raised the elfin lass to the creature’s maw, mashing her face against its own.

Jade then recovered and loosed two arrows in quick succession. One seemed to deflect off the creature’s tentacle, while another seemed to go right through it. Jade and Roger were both speechless when they saw that.

Daniel, his mind racing, realized the circular layout of the tower and turned about, racing clockwise around the room. In seconds, he found himself behind the hideous thing, and after a half-second’s pause, he drove his Aquilonian shortsword deep into the thing’s back. The creature arched its back, as black ichor shot forth from the wound, splashing across Daniel’s face. It immediately backhanded the nobleman with its bony hand, knocking him from his feet and sending him five feet across the floor. Daniel felt as if a bull had knocked him flat, and it hurt to breathe. In that half-second, William brought his sword down hard on the creature’s arm, but to his horror, his Cimbrian sword struck the arm as if striking a tree. Wide-eyed, he shouted, “Saint Cuthbert! What are you!?” As if in response, a tentacle lashed out and wrapped about the knight’s great helm.

Wyrm huddled in the rear, trying to weave an incantation. Meanwhile, Daniel jumped to his feet and lunged forward once again, driving his sword deep into the creature’s back with all of his might. The alien creature shuddered violently, black ichor now gushing from its back. It then hurled Sergeant Blaine across the room. Wyrm and Jade barely dodged the armor-clad body, which hit the ground hard, crashing through backpacks, destroying a lantern, and snuffing out another torch in the process.

William could no longer see, for a tentacle was crushing his helm around his head. Unable to breathe, the knight dropped his Cimbrian sword and grabbed frantically for his elfin longsword. Just as he grabbed it, the creature’s claws raked the knight’s chest, carving deep rivulets in his iron breastplate. Panting while trying to keep his focus, William eventually freed his longsword from its scabbard. The tentacle was starting to pick him off the ground by his head, and pain shot down his neck and spine. With adrenaline coursing through his veins, the knight shouted, “Hell spawn! Let’s dance!” He then laid about himself with wild abandon, eventually driving the enchanted blade into the tentacle around his head. This time he felt the blade slice into flesh, and the tentacle released its grip. Yet, black ooze shot forth in a fine spray, catching Roger in the left eye. Lord Beckett squeezed it shut instinctively, and it burned like acid.

The creature whirled about to face Daniel in the deepening gloom, and the young nobleman’s blood went cold. In that half-second, Daniel saw only the rows of teeth, glistening with clear slime and moving ever so slightly. Despite the burning in his left eye, Roger prepared to send another arrow into its torso, but a tentacle then lashed out like a whip about Lord Beckett’s neck. His bow and arrow clattered to the stone floor, and he clutched at his neck, gasping for air. He felt the thing tightening like a noose about his chain coif. Through his leather gloves, he grabbed at the powerful snake-like tentacle. It felt like a python, but with scores of bony suckers. Chain links pressed into the flesh of his neck, and he gasped in pain. With his left hand still pulling at his throat, he dropped the right to his belt and yanked free a hand axe. He hacked at the tentacle with all his might, but the creature’s outline seemed to blur and shift in the gloom. He struck home, again and again, but it felt like striking a giant tree root.

In the midst of this desperate confusion, the entire room suddenly filled with lead-gray fibrous strands. Roger, William, Daniel and the hulking creature seemed engulfed. Jade gasped in horror, “Varda’s mercy!” Yet, the old elfin sage calmed her fears somewhat, whispering, “That is my doing, child. Act quickly to help your friends.”

Daniel’s mind was past the point of panic. It was already dealing with the insane so he did not hesitate when the webs engulfed the chamber. He spied the base of the circular staircase, which was free of webs, and he fought his way toward it, ripping at the strands with all his might. Roger and William also fought to free themselves, while Brother Lewie rushed to check on Sergeant Blaine. Yet, Roger noticed that Asher was still held aloft by one tentacle, pressed to the creature’s circular mouth. He yelled to his kinsmen, “Put that thing down. Asher is still in its grip!”

Daniel had just reached the safety of the staircase, when he heard Roger’s words. He immediately peeked his head back out and saw a narrow opening between him and the creature. He did not hesitate. He lunged forward to the waist of the hideous thing and then plunged the Aquilonian blade hilt-deep into its chest repeatedly. Black ichor splashed his nose and mouth, causing him to gag with revulsion. Yet, the tentacle holding Asher released her limp form, and the creature began to curl into a fetal position, secreting a clear slime as it did so. Daniel struck home once more and then pulled back to the staircase, with strands of clear slime trailing from his blade. He watched in fascinated horror as the thing continued to writhe and curl in on itself. In less than a minute, it appeared to be a slime-covered boulder pressed up against the wall. Roger’s words finally ripped Daniel’s attention away from the creature. “Daniel, get back here!” he yelled.

The group’s first instinct was the run down the stairs as fast as possible. However, Wyrm pointed out that the thing was no longer moving. Roger, his left eye shut and still burning, realized their vulnerability though. Raymond and Blaine were barely moving, though their occasional groans signaled life. Asher was unconscious or dead, and hideous circular teeth marks ringed the pale flesh of her comely face. Daniel, his face covered in foul black ooze, was gagging and spitting repeatedly. William could barely see, and he could not remove the helm from his head. The iron great helm, now pockmarked with small round sucker marks, was crumpled on his head as if it were made of tin.

Brother Lewie wasted no time, yelling for William to drag Raymond down the stairs. He then asked Daniel to carry Blaine. Jade would have to drag out Asher. It was Wyrm that peeked into the niche and noticed a heap of coin and gems. He acted quickly, knowing that they might not be back anytime soon. He pulled several sacks from his pack and filled them as fast as he could manage. They were quite heavy, for there seemed to be thousands of silver coins. As he ran his fingers along the floor to gather the coins, he kept one eye on the slimy mess against the wall. At even the slightest movement, he planned to bolt for the door.

It took some doing, but Daniel eventually threw Blaine over his shoulders and muscled him out. As he did so, the young nobleman kept spitting in the hopes of getting the foul taste of out his mouth. His stomach was churning, and he felt nauseous.

Meanwhile, Roger’s eye burned something fierce, and he mumbled to the priest, “Cousin, I think I am blind.”

The cleric shot back, “There is time enough to be blind once we get everyone out of here. In the meantime, keep moving.”

Jade dragged Asher towards the stairs when the elfin lass suddenly lurched back to consciousness, gagging and screaming. Jade nearly struck her down out of fright. Brother Lewie rushed to the young girl, and she gasped for air, saying that her throat was on fire. They could not alleviate her pain, but they did get her out of the tower. The whole time, she complained that her stomach was sick and that her whole throat burned.

The group slowly made its way down the steps, past the stone statue and the Aquilonian suits of armor, and out the ruined doorway. Back into the rain they went, most feeling wet and miserable. They went to the temple’s main entrance, where young Rayner spotted them. The others came out to help when they saw kinsmen being dragged and carried. Before they had time to relate their tale, young Rayner reported to Roger that he spotted at least four humans skulking around the ruins, just minutes ago. The Becketts were not alone.

Daniel turned to Roger and whispered, “We are in trouble, brother. We have at least four people that are barely conscious, plus a few more that are combat ineffective. We have harpies in the tower and a potentially hostile group skulking around the ruins.

Counting the arrows in his quiver, Roger whispered back, “We better start solving problems faster than we acquire them.”

Daniel asked, “Do you think we can make it back to the village before nightfall?”

Roger whispered, “At this point, I hope we can make it back to the horses!”

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