There was little in the tower other than the rude tables, benches, chairs, and stools. Heaps of old blankets and brown cloaks lay by the walls, and several sacks near them were filled with foodstuffs. On the tables were bottles of cheap wine (mostly consumed), knucklebones, dirty plates and mugs, and nothing else. The stairs ended in a smashed doorway, though the rafters of the ground level still held the roof above securely. Two doors were closed on the northeast section of the tower that was walled off.
The brigands obviously lived in the place, eating, sleeping and gaming while awaiting further raids. The rafters held various smoked meats, sausages, and bags of onions and herbs. All told, the provisions there could have supplied all the brigands for a full week. Under the ascending stone spiral staircase were five large barrels. The two largest contained water, and the next two, beer. The smallest held about forty gallons, and was nearly full of wine—the same sour, cheap stuff on the tables. A bale of blankets was stuffed under the stairs, evidently loot from some hapless merchant.
The prisoners shifted uncomfortably in their bonds but offered no complaint, still uncertain about their future. Felicity looked between the two prisoners then back to her companions. Taliesin sat at a table to rest.
“Be at ease,” Besilana told the prisoners. “I swore to spare you, and we will show you mercy.” They didn’t appear to be worried about the paladin showing them mercy. They seemed more concerned by the fact that Furnok was sharpening his dagger while giving them meaningful glances.
The half-elf frowned at the human, who shrugged and put his blade away. Then Besilana turned her attention back to the captive bandits. “If you’re Chico,” she said to the archer, before turning to the swordsman, “what should I call you?”
“The Man,” he said.
“Chico and The Man?” said Felicity dubiously. “That sounds like a nickname and not a real name. What is your real name? Are you embarrassed about your real name? Is it something like Francis?”
The Man pursed his lips like he had something sour in his mouth. “Manfred.”
“Oh! I like that name. It means The Man makes sense!”
“Right? I thought it sounded tough.” He looks embarrassed to have spoken with excitement.
Besilana smiled. “She’ll get to you like that.”
“It does sound tough!” Felicity continued. “It’s impressive indeed! Is that why you joined up with such a dangerous group? I don’t think you need them to be tough.”
The Man shrugged. “Pay was better than the river pirates were offering out of Nulb.” Chico nodded agreement.
“Oh, you poor gentlemen. Pay is what you are searching for? Have you tried adventuring? I’ve found that adventuring can lead to some excellent finds worth a good amount of money and you don’t have to go around hurting good people and you get to be your own boss!” she said excitedly.
“Too dangerous,” said Chico. “Odds of survival are much higher when you’re in a large gang. Clearly.” He nodded at the many bodies of his former companions.
“That’s one area where the natural world and the civilized world act the same,” said Taliesin. “Falling in with the strongest presence in the area.”
“Especially in a place as messed up as this old keep,” added The Man. “I mean, who could have predicted a small band of efficient killers would show up and rout the tower?”
“Yeah, but we’ve been adventuring, and you haven’t,” said Felicity. “And look at your companions. Surely you would be safer being in charge of yourselves? Yes, there is danger, but in danger comes great reward, no?”
“What, are you hiring or something?” asked Chico.
“You don’t hire adventurers! You choose your own path and make a name for yourself and stop following silly murdering bands of cultists!” Felicity seemed pleased with herself. Furnok exchanged a glance with Taliesin as the druid’s elf ears twitched incredulously.
“I am wondering who hired you, though,” said Besilana.
Apparently disregarding Besilana’s inquiry, Chico said, “You know what? Yeah. That sounds good. Let’s be adventurers, Man.”
“That’s the spirit!” said Felicity. “Be your own boss! Travel the countryside! Find great treasure so that the bards sing your name as heroes!”
Slowly catching up, The Man nodded. “Yeah. Yeah! Sounds great. So, just cut us free and we’ll leave here and never work for the cult again!”
Besilana frowned. “Are you convinced, Felicity my dear? Because I fear that I’m not.” The bandits’ budding smiles withered on the vine.
“I don’t know, that was a weak change of heart,” the priestess agreed. “I think you need to feel it in your heart, in your gut, that you gentlemen are cut out for greater things in life. Adventure, women love adventurers, there is money, fame and fortune!”
“Women, sure!” said Chico enthusiastically, waggling his eyebrows.
“Mm,” said The Man, disinterested.
“Oh come on, Man,” said Felicity. “Have your moniker spoken in tales of heroism, gold piled at your feet, gamble and drink and fun and the tales you tell your children will be of slaying beasts and delving into dungeons and adventure!”
“Perhaps they’d benefit from the wisdom of more experienced adventurers. Rufus and Burne, for example?” suggested Besilana.
“Oh! Oh, yes!” the halfling exclaimed.
“I think,” said Furnok, “that these two will say anything to secure their freedom. And that you’re wasting your time.” The rogue shrugged, going to loot the fallen and inspect the contents of the room. Felicity looked over at him, stars in her eyes, even as Chico and the Man started stuttering out denials.
“She’s just being what she is,” Taliesin said. “Still planting flowers and hoping they will grow.”
Furnok shook his head. “Are we going to escort them all the way back to ”/wikis/hommlet" class=“wiki-page-link”>Hommlet? I think not."
Felicity’s smile began to fade, as her gaze shifts from the rogue to the prisoners. “Well, shoot. Okay, can I at least have your word that you will leave this region and not return to your evil ways? I would hate for us to stumble upon you in a new roving band and have to put you down for good.” She looked genuinely sad at the prospect.
“Of course!” said the prisoners as one, emphatically.
Felicity slumped. “I wish I could believe you, but your words ring hollow, and as an adventurer, I can’t have you at my back like a dagger poised to strike.”
Besilana sighed. “Then we’ll have to take them back to Hommlet.”
Furnok gave her a dubious look. “These fellows are not Wil.”
Taliesin nodded. “I think we would be putting many more good people at risk if we leave our mission for these two.”
“I don’t mean to take them back now,” said the paladin.
“We should just hang them and be done with it,” said Furnok.
“No-no-no-no-no!” said the prisoners.
“After I swore to spare them?” said Besilana.
“I didn’t,” said the rogue.
“We aren’t murderers!” exclaimed Felicity. “We’re … self-defense-ers!”
“It isn’t murder. It’s lawful execution,” reasoned Furnok.
“Because you’re an appointed city official who has the right to declare execution?”
“Yes. We are.”
The halfling frowned at that. “I’ll have no part in your civilized execution,” she said icily.
He nodded. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”
Felicity walked toward the door to the outside. Furnok watched her go, opening his mouth as if to comment further, but then closing it again.
“I know little about the right and wrong of civilized people,” said Taliesin. “Where I am from, if there is a threat from another creature, and you gain the upper hand, you end that threat. It’s a matter of survival. But that said, I do not force my beliefs on any of you just as I expect you not to force yours upon me.”
“Look, we don’t know nothin’ about adventurin’,” said Chico. “What if we went back to Nulb. Back to pirating?”
The Man nodded. “At least let us die with weapons in hand!” he demanded of Besilana. “You swore!”
Everyone turned at the loud cawing of the ravens when Felicity walked outside. She quickly came back inside and pushed the door closed, panting against it. “Nope!” she cried.
Furnok chuckled. “We could let them take their chances with the damned ravens. Call it the justice of nature.”
“No argument,” she said. “Holy crap I’m not going back out there…”
“What, simple as that?” said Furnok, surprised at Felicity’s sudden reversal.
“I obviously can’t talk you out of slaying these men who abandoned their attack upon us. But if they were allowed outside they can at least make a run for it.”
“I haven’t decided anything. I made a suggestion.”
Besilana nodded, her eyes dimmed with tears. “They may stand more of a chance against the ravens than they would against us.”
“Which, if they succeed, will leave them free to return to villainy…” said Furnok.
The cleric’s expression turned grim. “For what good it may do them.”
They turned as one to look at Taliesin. The druid nodded. “I have no idea what those ravens will do. They aren’t natural. They may see these two as kin. But there is honor in arming them and letting them fight for their freedom.”
Besilana turned to address the prisoners. “Have you anything of value to share with us?” she asked, unable to keep her voice completely free of desperation.
“Value? What do you mean? Like the location of a hidden treasure?” said Chico, bewildered.
“No. Anything you can tell us about the cult. Or the temple.”
“Oh!” he said. “Oh … Uh, not really. We joined up two weeks ago,” he said despondently.
“There are more of you?”
“Sure, I mean. There are a few bands out raiding right now. They come back to deliver their haul and rest, and another group goes out on rotation. But this … was everyone here … on the surface, anyway. I don’t know about below the Temple,” said Chico.
“Above our pay grade,” added The Man.
“There’s a dungeon below the Temple?” asked Besilana.
“That’s what we heard, yeah,” said Chico.
“But you haven’t been down there.”
“No way,” said The Man.
“Have you seen that place?” asked Chico. “Raiding is one thing. You gotta be a special kind of crazy to go in there.”
“We’re not crazy…” said Felicity. “Wait…” Furnok covered a smile with his hand.
“But there is someone crazy enough to be in there,” prompted Besilana.
“Well, we haven’t been looting the region to line our own pockets,” said Chico. “Or if we have, we’re getting robbed. So to speak.” Besilana shook her head, turning back to the others.
“Useful and penitent, these two,” said Furnok. “Or, no. The other thing.”
Taliesin looked at the prisoners. “How soon ’til the next band rotates back here? Lie to me like you have been lying to them and I will kill you.”
“It varies, but a couple days, maybe?” said The Man, sounding sincere.
The druid nodded, then turned to address his companions. “We need rest. Overnight at least. We can secure their bindings and decide their fate in the morning. I’ll know if they try anything. Can we agree on that?”
“Yes,” said Besilana. Felicity nodded.
Furnok shrugged. “As you like. What’s in those rooms?” he asked, pointing at the doors.
“Quarters,” said Chico.
Furnok approached the door on the north wall. “Shall we?”
The first room contained a comfortable bed heaped with quilts and pillows, a table and two chairs, a small desk and stool, a chest of drawers, and a padlocked iron box. On the table were a few pewter dishes, a bottle (full of good brandy), and some slightly wrinkled apples.
Felicity peeked inside and said, “Oh, apples!” Furnok simply walked in and began casing the joint.
“Might be some information in that box,” suggested Taliesin. “Or coins, I guess.” He stayed in the living area to keep an eye on the prisoners.
“Did anyone find a key for that lock?” asked Besilana.
“Sure,” said the rogue, grinning as he produced a crooked piece of wire.
The half-elf finally smiled. And picked up the bottle of brandy. Felicity made a sour face at the bottle and picked up the apples.
Furnok made short work of the lock, but there was a click preceding him cursing and jerking his hands back as he tried to raise the lid. His fingers were bleeding, and he shuddered, losing his balance. “Feelin’ a little woozy,” he said.
Besilana wasted no time moving to support him, laying healing hands upon him. His eyes fluttered as Ehlonna’s power flowed into him from the paladin. “Ta, Lana. That … was unpleasant. Poisoned needles, I guess.” He frowned.
“Sounds like it,” she said. “Do you need to lie down?”
“No. I’m good for now.” He used his crowbar to lift the lid of the lockbox, revealing several hundred coins within.
Inside the fold-down top of the desk, Besilana found quills, an inkwell, and several sheets of parchment. One sheet bore a list of possible victims (including the jeweler at Hommlet). The other sheets were blank. Then she rifled through the chest of drawers, which concealed a short sword, a suit and hooded cloak of brown velvet trimmed with fur, plus normal clothing and odds and ends.
“I like this cloak,” the half-elf said, shaking it out. She tried it on and decided it agreed with her.
Felicity fretted over Furnok’s fingers needlessly. “I’m fine, Lis,” he told her. “You already over me being a ‘cold-blooded killer’?”
“Psh! You’re our friend and despite disagreeing with you, you are only doing what you think is in our best interest. I don’t forget that, even if I don’t like it.”
He snorted at the halfling. “Well, if you want to make up, that bed looks comfortable, and I could use a foot rub.” He grinned.
“I am trained in many skills of pain management…” said Felicity. “Massage is one of them…” she continued muttering before trailing off.
“I have priority on the latter,” called Besilana.
“Fine, I’ll go second,” said Furnok. “I’m not greedy.”
Besilana checked under the bed, but didn’t find anything more. “Shall we look at the other and call it a day?”
“Sure,” said the rogue.
“Any traps in the other room that my companions are about to check?” Taliesin asked the prisoners. “We will deal with them either way, but this is a good chance to earn some credit with those of us that think you better off dead.”
“Traps? What? I don’t … think so?” said Chico. The druid nodded, satisfied.
In addition to five rough beds, the room contained a round table, three stools, a chest of drawers with a lantern atop it, and a padlocked ironbound oak chest. Besilana busied herself looking through the chest of drawers, which contained nothing but old clothes, but kept an eye on Furnok.
The rogue handily picked the lock on the oak chest. Inside were a potion of healing, a heavy sack of gold, and three bolts of silk. Furnok cased the rest of the room, but didn’t come up with anything further. They returned to the living area of the tower.
Besilana frowned at the exit thoughtfully. “So, if the tower door was barred from the outside, how were they getting in and out?”
“There’s a lever on the inside,” said Chico. “There. It wasn’t actually locked.”
“Not to those inside,” clarified The Man.
Sure enough, there was a now-useless lever near the door. “Ah. I see,” said Besilana. “So. Bed, then?”
“We have a grisly chore left first,” said Furnok, indicating the bodies of the nine bandits.
“Right,” said the half-elf.
The heroes dragged the corpses into the common bedchamber, laying them in a line. It wasn’t a proper burial, but until such time as they could accomplish it, at least the bodies wouldn’t be defiled by the giant ravens.
The prisoners were moved to the eastern corner near the bandit leader’s bedchamber where Taliesin could keep an eye on them. Besilana and Felicity laid claim to the large, comfortable bed, closing the door behind them. “Greedy!” Furnok called out to them. “Not very pious, at all! What sort of holy women are you two?!”
“The best kind!” the halfling yelled over her shoulder.
“It’s just going to be wasted otherwise,” said the half-elf.
The druid chuckled at all of them. “Get some sleep, Chico and the Man. Tomorrow is a big day for all of us.”
* * *
The night passed uneventfully, with the prisoners sleeping fitfully under the watchful gaze of the murderous nature-elf. Thunder cracked heavily early in the morning, startling everyone who had been sleeping awake! Besilana rolled out of bed, and Starsong was in her hands before her feet hit the floor. Once she realized there was no danger, she set the blade down and got dressed. Felicity followed suit, and a minute or so later, the ladies joined their male companions in the tower.
Furnok was helping himself to whatever breakfast was available, grumbling about having no coffee. Taliesin brought the prisoners some food, then joined the others while they ate. Afterward, the druid ushered everyone to a huddle away from the prisoners to speak.
“I have decided that they are not a threat if we leave them bound here. They will be found soon enough, but you saw them. We’ll be in the temple by then and they aren’t going to go in there after us. So it seems to me the Furnok and Besi have choices to make. Besi you promised to spare them, but how can you justify that knowing they are murderers, and will kill innocent people again. Not an easy choice, but it’s yours to make. And Furnok, you have to decide if you are willing to respect Besi’s decision. Also not easy.”
Furnok scoffed. “Do what you will, foolish as that may be.”
“Okay, then. That’s one.”
“It may be a mistake, but I feel that it’s a mistake I have to make,” said Besilana.
“Specifically … which mistake, Besi?” Taliesin asked. “Killing people you vowed not to harm, or having blood on your hands for the murders they will commit?”
“Honoring my vow feels like a mistake.” Her frustration was palpable.
“Maybe don’t make vows so quickly in the future,” suggested Furnok without heat. “Few enough deserve them.”
“Fair enough,” she said.
“All right, then. Let’s get this show on the road,” said the rogue. He headed over to check the bindings one more time, securing the prisoners as best he could. “I’d wish you luck, gents, but I was of the opinion that we should just hang you, so.” He walked away without finishing the thought.
Felicity lingered near the bound men for a moment. “Remember this kindness,” she advised before joining the party near the tower exit.
“Friends, I would like to say a few words. We’re about to go into untold danger, but we’ve faced terror before. May Ehlonna bless us with her light and gaze within this place of evil so that we may emerge victorious. May we be her shining light, burning out the darkness…”
It was raining steadily, if not hard. The lightning and thunder came fairly regularly as the party made its way around the perimeter of the temple building. The oddly peaked and gabled roof seemed to set the viewers’ teeth on edge. Gruesome visages glaring from the walls were everywhere – as projecting ornaments, as supports, in bas-relief, etcetera.
The building was huge, extending over four hundred fifty feet north and south and nearly as wide east to west at its widest point. The walls rase about thirty feet, supported by arched buttresses and many pilasters. The roof peak was about twenty feet higher than the walls, making the whole edifice no less than fifty feet tall. Only three doors were visible, all at the south end of the Temple. The narrow windows appeared to be barred.
“I can hardly believe that we’re here,” said Besilana.
“There’s no room for caution in a life lived to the fullest,” said Taliesin.
The party crossed to the front of the temple, casting their gazes upon the Grand Entrance. The bronze doors of the entry were held fast by huge iron chains, and all cracks were sealed with soft iron. Graven upon these massive gates were runes. The writing glowed and seemed to burn with silvery radiance, making their eyes teary.
The heroes felt a magical impulse to avoid the doors, but most of them overcame it.
Besilana peered at the door closely. “Warding symbols, I suppose. This may be one of the ways the victors of Emridy Meadows sealed the place.”
The rogue’s eyes widened, and he moved swiftly away from the doors.
“Furnok, something wrong?” Taliesin called after him.
“Are you joking?” he shouted back, from at least sixty feet away, not even really looking in the direction of the doors. “How can you even stand there?”
“Well it was hard at first but it got better…” said Felicity, watching as Furnok disappeared into the high grass to the south. Taliesin sighs and took off after him. Besilana followed, leaving Felicity alone near the temple doors. “Guys?” she said.
They found Furnok slightly farther away, sitting on the ground, frowning into a stand of weeds.
“Magic of some sort,” he said, sounding like himself. “Antipathy, perhaps. Powerful.”
“It’s okay,” Taliesin told him. “It happens to all of us from time to time. Anxiety is a bitch. I have some herbs for that, if you think it will help.”
The rogue looked up at the druid scathingly. “Herbs don’t do anything about magic,” he said acidly.
“I do make jokes from time to time, oh serious one.”
“Hilarious. I’m all right now, but I think if I see the runes again, I won’t be able to approach.”
“Close your eyes?” suggested Taliesin.
“Yes! We can lead you,” said Besilana.
“All right. I can try, but I think the magic is smarter than that.” Eyes closed, he stood up and swallowed, holding his hand out for someone to guide him.
The half-elf took him by the hand and started leading him. “If it fails, maybe we can try the side doors.”
As soon as you closed to within ten feet of the doors, Furnok resisted, pulling his hand free and moving away again. “I can’t. I can’t.”
“All right. Just… wait there,” said the paladin, heading toward the western door. It was also made of bronzewood, but smaller and lacking any wards. “Over here, everyone,” she called. “This door doesn’t have any runes.”
Felicity joined her and Taliesin led Furnok to the other door in a wide arc. “Okay. That was not great,” said Furnok.
“I could tell,” said Besilana. “I’m sorry you went through that.”
Taliesin nodded. “That’s powerful magic to last as long as it has. This place is already living up to its reputation, unfortunately.”
“Probably the least of the trials ahead,” said Furnok.
“Any dangers on this door?”
“I don’t see anything,” the rogue surmised after a minute.
Besilana nodded. Once everyone was in place, she attempted to open it. The door was slightly stuck, but she managed to breach it. With a steadying breath, she led her companions into the Temple’s Upper Works.