“Ohhhhhh… That looks foreboding,” said Felicity.
“What about this place doesn’t?” said Furnok with a wink.
The halfling’s expression was sheepish. “The hilltop outside?”
Besilana led the others through the rain to the door of the tower across the courtyard, Felicity on her heels. The door was unbarred, and pushed open easily at the paladin’s touch. The upper portion of the tower near the gates had collapsed, and the interior was dark. A scattering of husks and a few bones lay on the floor. The gleam of coins could be seen scattered across the floor within.
“What do we have for light?” asked the paladin, peering in from the threshold.
Felicity pulled a dry torch from her pack “Anyone got a light?” Furnok produced a tinderbox and sparked her torch alight. Taliesin pulled out his own torch and used magic to light it. The rogue frowned down at his mundane method of combustion then shoved it back into his pack. With a nod at her companions, Besilana stepped into the tower.
The half-elf was taken completely by surprise when webbing flew at her from above. Only when she found herself trapped in place and barely able to move did she note the beady multi-eyed creature lurking fifteen feet above in the rafters! Besilana struggled free of the webbing and moved farther into the tower, trying to keep the monster’s attention on herself.
“What’s… happening Besi?” asked Felicity, the words of her sacred flame on the tip of her tongue.
“There’s a spider up here. A big one.”
Taliesin entered the tower, his torch lighting up the interior. Figuring the venomous spider would resist his attempts to poison it, he readied his staff to strike. The giant arachnid leapt down at the Besilana, but the druid’s staff struck it in the side of the abdomen, drawing its attention to him. The spider’s fangs found elven flesh and Taliesin collapsed to the floor of the tower, looking suddenly very pale.
“TALIESIN!” Felicity cried, releasing her checked power and sending a beam of light lancing into the spider.
“Shit! Shit! SHIT!” Furnok yelled as he rushed in against his better judgment. Though his dagger could barely pierce the spider’s chitinous shell, his rapier sank deep, and the spider staggered.
Besilana shouted desperate Elvish oaths as she pressed the attack with her longsword. Her blade hacked into the spider’s head between the cluster of eyes and clutching mandibles. It keeled over and its legs curled up against its body as it died.
“Oh, thank the gods,” breathed Furnok, turning his gaze on Taliesin. “Is he … still alive?”
Felicity rushed to the fallen druid, swiping out her healer’s kit and making quick work of reviving the fallen druid. She fussed over him. “Stay still. Are you okay? What day is it? What’s your name?”
Taliesin slowly opened his eyes. “I’ve seen those things descend upon prey before. I should have known better.”
“I should have spotted it sooner, cousin,” said Besilana.
“You are not a warrior, my friend,” said Furnok, his tone greatly relieved. “Though you have the heart of one, surely.” He paused a beat before adding. “Aren’t druids supposed to get along with animals?” Besilana laughed with relief at Furnok’s jest.
Taliesin smiled wryly. "Well, we did invade its nest. Can’t really fault it for its actions.
“I suppose not,” said Furnok.
“They are elegant creatures though. You have to admire their lethal qualities.”
“From afar, preferably.”
Felicity snorted. “Elegant … if you say so.”
“Do we need to take another minute?” Furnok asked Taliesin. The druid chanted briefly and healed himself fully. “Oh. A spell. Of course. How not.”
“I am ready,” said Taliesin. “Though I won’t be doing that again today.”
Felicity smiles “Well spells are really handy, luckily a pack of unguents and herbs and bandages is pretty handy too.”
Besilana nudged a few of the coins on the floor with the toe of one boot, drawing the rogue’s attention. “Oh, right,” he said. “The glitter.” Amidst the rubbish were copper and silver coins and an ivory box about the size of a large book, which Furnok held up. “This looks valuable.”
“It’s pretty. What do you suppose is inside?” asked Besilana.
“Shall we see?”
Felicity jumped up excitedly. “OH, OPEN IT!”
“Heh. All right.” Furnok turned it to face the ladies, and opened the lid. The box was empty.
“It’s empty!” cried the halfling. “Pretty box still!”
“Oh,” said Besilana.
“That’s … a bit of a letdown,” said the rogue, peeking over the top.
“We’ll find something else of value to put inside,” said the paladin.
“Aye. Worth about forty gold, if we can find a proper buyer.”
“Oh! Oh oh oh! Let’s fill it with stuff!” exclaimed Felicity.
“Or a storage box for … yes, stuff.” Furnok smiled and shrugged helplessly, handing the box to the halfling.
With glee in her eyes, she took it and started rummaging in her pack. She produced plant seeds as well as dried flowers and leaves and relocated them from her pack into the box.
“Good idea, Felicity,” said Besilana.
“Mmmm-hmmm.” The halfling nodded to her friend enthusiastically, her grin spreading wider.
Taliesin found humor in the girls’ excitement over an empty box. The rogue smirked along with him. “Surely there can’t be worse beasties than this hereabouts,” he said ironically.
“Shall we press on?” suggested the paladin.
The party returned to the steps and past the doors at their top. Beyond was once a great audience chamber, as shown by the tattered banners and tapestries on the walls, destroyed furniture, and heaps of rotting cloth thrown into corners. Once richly appointed, it had been thoroughly searched, sacked, and despoiled. Leaves and dirt covered the floor, and cobwebs hung from walls and the ceiling above. Looking up, they saw that pieces of beams and chunks of stone poked through, indicating that the upper stories of the place were totally destroyed and likely to be impassable to anything larger than a rat.
The northwest and northeast corners presented an open doorway and a closed door respectively. Additionally, two corridors exited the chamber, one to the west and the other to the south. Doors flanked each passage. Besilana took a quick glance and then went down the western hall to the double doors at its end. Then the paladin pointed west. “Left first, Mother always said.”
“I’ve heard the same rule, the rule of sinister. I agree, left it is,” said Felicity.
Besilana led them down the short hall then took a moment to listen at the double doors. Satisfied by what she didn’t hear, she pulled them open. In the partially collapsed chamber beyond, the remains of cots and plain wooden chests indicated that this was once a barracks room for castle guards. Two giant lizards were in the south end of the room, near an intact chest. They looked up as the door opened.
Felicity went statue still hiding between the paladin’s legs. “Those things are big…” she whispered.
One of the lizards cough-barked at Besilana, and she held very still. “Taliesin? Any chance you can … make peace with these creatures?” asked the paladin.
“I can make an attempt. I no longer have the magic to speak to them,” said the druid. He advanced slowly, raising his hand in a gesture he’d been taught had a good chance of pacifying domesticated creatures. He hoped it would serve the same function with wild beasts. After a tense moment, he recognized their body language relaxing. One lay back down, thumping its head down on the chest.
Taliesin nodded and turned back toward his companions. “I have an idea. Would someone mind getting some of the toad flesh that we might use to lure them to the other side of the room?”
“Like … go back outside and field dress the toad?” asked Furnok.
“Just cut off a leg or something. I’ll do it myself if you all are okay with me leaving the lizards alone.”
“Could do. Does anyone have an axe? My blades aren’t great for hacking toad-flesh.”
“I do,” said Besilana.
“Or we can just leave them alone?” said Taliesin. “I don’t think they’ll bother us if we just close the door.”
“Is it a big chest?” asked Furnok. The paladin kept her eyes on the lizards as she retrieved the handaxe from her belt and offered it handle-first to the rogue. “Guess so. Okay. Hang tight. Be right back.”
Perhaps five minutes passed before Furnok returned with a wet bag he scrounged up from somewhere.
“So. That was gross,” he said.
“But appreciated,” said Besilana.
The rogue handed the bag to Taliesin and the axe, handle first, back to Besilana. “This is cleaner than it was when I gave it to you,” she told him. “Thanks.”
He shrugged. “Weapon and tool maintenance is important.” To Taliesin, he said, “Got each of its stumpy limbs and the tongue. Think that’s a delicacy?”
The druid nodded. “That should do nicely. Thank you. Be ready to move quickly.”
Taliesin slowly moved to the far north side of the room, as the lizards watched him with mild interest.
Then he dumped the contents onto the floor and readied himself to back away quickly. When the meat hit the floor wetly, the lizards gained their feet and started slither-walking over to investigate. They looked up at the druid for a brief moment before they started chowing down on the offering.
“That is just wrong…” said Besilana, stepping into the room. One of the lizards bark-coughed immediately and locked eyes with her.
“I guess it’s only me,” said Taliesin. “Back away, Besi, and I’ll try and get the chest.” She nodded and stepped back outside of the room, at which point the lizards returned to their meal. They ignored the druid as he picked up the heavy chest and carried it out of the room. Furnok closed the doors with a soft click.
“That was super smart Tal!” said Felicity.
Besilana nodded. “Yes! Very good work.”
“I’m glad we didn’t have to kill them too,” said the druid, setting the chest down. Felicity grinned, her excitement over the chest apparent.
“What’d yer cleverness get us?” Furnok wondered aloud.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Besilana opened the chest. It held a few dozen copper coins, a light crossbow, a case of 24 quarrels, and a suit of old, but functional scale mail. The paladin held up the armor and considered the possibilities.
“Would probably turn aside thrusts a bit better,” Furnok opined.
“Would you mind allowing me to use your chain shirt if you opt for the scale?” asked Taliesin. “It has become apparent that I could use a bit more protection.”
She nodded. “I think it’ll fit you, sure.”
“Unless you would like it Furnok?” said the druid.
Furnok coughed. “Bit big in the chest,” he muttered. “I’ll stick with my leathers for now. I’d have to learn how to move in chain. The extra weight is more difficult than it seems.”
Besilana nodded. “It’s true. I had to learn to move and fight in armor.” She shirked out of her tunic, then the chain shirt, and began to don the scale mail. Furnok appreciated the brief glimpse of the half-elf out of armor. She only had on smallclothes under the armor and didn’t seem terribly modest about the brief moment of exposure.
Taliesin put on the chain shirt. “It’s not unlike the heavier hide armors that some of my kind wear. Thank you, Besi.”
“We might be able to sell your leather suit, Taliesin,” said Furnok. “If you think it worth hauling back to town.”
The druid nodded. “I don’t mind getting some coin from it. Definitely worth bringing back with us.”
Once she was armored up, Besilana considered the door directly to the south. Once more, she listened briefly before opening it. The chamber beyond appeared to have once been the domicile of the majordomo of the castle, but it had since been stripped of everything save broken and ruined furnishings. One wall cresset remained near the outer wall.
“Nothing?” asked Furnok, peeking inside.
“Not that I see,” said Besilana, pausing a moment to scan the interior. She noticed that the cresset’s nondescript torch stub was a baton made of silver. “Oh, wait a moment.” She entered the room and retrieved the baton, which came out of the cresset without any resistance. “This might be valuable, yes?”
Furnok nodded. “That’s the spirit! Take everything not nailed down. And if it is nailed down, find a prybar!” He laughed as he examined the baton. “Could probably fetch ten gold for it,” he guessed.
“Oh … Well, I’m sure the owner doesn’t need it anymore,” said Felicity. She looks around the room, but didn’t notice anything further of interest or value.
Besilana smiled. “If nothing else, I can’t afford to stay at the Welcome Wench too much longer with the money I had when we got to town…”
Furnok smirked at her. “Well, if we keep going at this rate, you won’t lack for funds too much longer. Just gotta survive, eh? Adventure!”
“And let’s not forget the ‘donation and offering fund’ we’ll need to keep if we stay in Homlett too much longer,” Taliesin said.
“Ooooohhhh that’s true,” said Felicity. “We will need to pay for our stay the longer we stay so we’ll need to collect the things to sell no matter what they be. Wow, we need to eat and drink and have fun when we get back and for that we need money.”
The rogue nodded. “Gotta keep the widows and orphans fed and clothed. Respectively. Or was it both? Ah, who can keep it straight?”
“Oh! Besi! We can stash some away for the temple too! It never hurts to help!” said the cleric.
The paladin nodded in acceptance, then opened the next door on the south wall. A few mangy pelts, stuffed heads, and shattered antlers indicated the former status of the chamber. All worthwhile items appeared to have been looted.
“I never quite understood the human habit of hunting for sport,” said Taliesin.
“Nor I,” said Besilana.
Furnok didn’t take offense. “Nor me. I suppose it fills the void left from their small … inheritance.” He cast a sly look at Taliesin.
“As if that would help,” said the druid. The rogue nodded and shrugged helplessly.
Besilana opened the northern door, the last in that hallway. The remains of moldering foodstuffs and kitchen work tables were visible. A wooden cask near the fireplace on the north wall looked inviting. The paladin moved over to check it out, and as she approached a pair of giant ticks dropped out of the chimney.
Taliesin moved into the kitchen and doused one of the creatures with poison, but it appeared unfazed. Besilana swung her longsword at one of the ticks, and sliced through its wet-looking fleshy carapace. The giant bloodsuckers tried to latch onto the half-elf but her newly acquired armor kept their disgusting faces at bay. Felicity’s sacred flame seared the injured tick, and Furnok waded in after. He impaled the wounded tick on his rapier, ending its life before pivoting around the paladin to get at the other creature with his dagger. Unfortunately, the flashy move cost him accuracy on the down thrust, and the blade only hit the stone floor.
The remaining tick weathered the druid’s poison spell, but it could not long evade the paladin’s flashing sword. It desperately tried to sink its teeth into her leg, but it had no better luck getting through or around the scale mail. Felicity’s sacred flame burned down atop the bug, and Furnok managed to finish it off with his dagger.
Besilana glanced over at the rogue. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I think so,” he said.
“This ruin is crawling with creepy critters!” exclaimed Felicity.
“Why are the ticks so gods-damned big out here? Must be something in the water,” said Furnok.
“Horse-ticks,” said the halfling. “I’m surprised the bandits managed to not get eaten in this place!”
“I’m surprised they never bothered to exterminate this place,” said Taliesin.
“Maybe that’s why all the doors are shut,” said the rogue.
Besilana nodded at him. “That makes sense.”
“Ooooooooohhhhh smart!” said Felicity. “Wait, what does that make us?”
Taliesin shrugged. “We seem to be getting more proficient at least. No bloodshed on our side this time.”
" Anything in that cask?" asked Furnok.
Besilana turned to examine the cask, but it only contained wine that had turned to vinegar. “Oh. Ew,” she said.
“Worst kitchen ever,” said Furnok.
The paladin led the others back to the great hall and toward the open doorway to the northwest. Dusty crates, casks, and jugs lined the shelves of the one-time storeroom past the open portal. Rustling and squeaking betrayed the presence of rats here. The giant rodents lurked on shelves along the walls and around the staircase.
“Mother of Forests!” cried Besilana.
Taliesin’s poison flooded the nearest rat’s mouth and it fell stiff as it took a breath. The paladin’s sword cleaved another in half. A third dodged aside as Felicity’s sacred flame lanced downward. Then the rats swarmed: two on Besilana and two more coming out of holes in the wall near the cleric and druid. The Ehlonnan ladies bled, and Furnok moved up to assist. He slew the rat threatening Taliesin, and whipped his dagger at the one that had bitten Felicity, but the blade clanged off the stone wall.
Fortunately, Taliesin’s poison was up to the task of finishing the filthy creature off. Besilana killed another, and after the last rat evaded another sacred flame, it grabbed the body of one of its fellows and dragged it down the stairs.
“This place gets more thrilling with every open door!” said Felicity. Then, she looked down at the blood on her leg and grabbed her leg. “Wait, ouch…”
“Oh, Felicity. Did they bite you too?” asked Besilana.
“Yeah, but I’ll pull through.” Her grin returned through the pain. “Let me tend to you real quick.” She pulled out the healer kit and sets to work bandaging her friend’s bites before seeing to her own.
“Even I begin to tire of the fauna in this place,” said Taliesin. “What would motivate all these predators to remain here?”
“Rats in the cellar. Practically the beginning of no bard’s tale ever. And yet.” Furnok as he retrieved his dagger, frowning at its slightly blunted tip. “Anything in the store room worth mentioning?” He wandered in to answer his own question and returned a few moments later with a jug of oil, and a small gold ring he said he’d found on the stairs.
Once they were ready to continue, Besilana led the others toward the northeast corner. The battered heavy door there appeared to have been repaired, and it was currently bolted, as well. “Huh. That’s odd, innit?” asked Furnok.
“I might be able to force it,” Besilana said uncertainly.
“Should we check the open hall before bashing down the locked door?” asked the rogue. “You know. Prevent a flank?”
“Sounds legitimate,” said Taliesin.
“Being caught unaware from behind would be bad for sure,” said Felicity.
Besilana nodded. “Agreed.”
“Though it occurs to me anyone down that way would’ve heard us and come to check it out by now,” said Furnok. “Surely.”
They proceeded to the end of the southern hallway, where it opened up into a damp corner chamber with a hole in the outer wall. The moat had leaked in, moistening the floor. A large adder was coiled up in the corner. Its tongue flicked out at Besilana as she entered.
“I hate this place,” she sighed. “Taliesin? Cousin? There’s a very large snake in here.”
“Nope!” cried Felicity, failing to shush herself.
The viper appeared to be tensing to strike, as Taliesin emerged from the hall. “Back away slowly,” he advised. “It might leave us alone if we don’t invade its territory.”
“You gonna charm it?” asked Furnok. “Convince it to let us use it as a battering ram, maybe?”
“Let’s leave it alone,” whispered the halfling.
“Is there anything in the room worth charming it for?” asked the druid. Then he saw something glimmering among the wet stones upon which the snake was laying. “Okay, I’ll try. Might at least calm it down a bit.” Whatever he did, the snake uncoiled.
“Do we have any toad meat left?” asked Besilana.
“Most of the body is outside still,” said Furnok. “You get it.” He stuck his tongue out at her.
“The rat corpses might be an easier food source,” said Taliesin.
Besilana nodded. “I’ll be right back.”