Entering the grounds, the group surveys their surroundings. The cobblestone road continues from the forest right to the main building, which is the furthest structure from the front gate. Left of the road is a dilapidated barn and extremely long stable. To the right is a narrow tower and large servant’s home, which matches the design of the main house. There is a hedgerow maze to the right of the mansion and an unkempt garden to the left. On closer inspection, the party sees the front wall of the barn has completely collapsed and almost its entire length can be seen without setting foot inside. A large forge is visible within and several portions of unfinished giant-sized full plate armor hangs throughout. Outside the end door of the stable is a pile of dead monstrously large spiders. There is a note stuck by a knife to the door of the tower. The overhang above the door has protected it from the rain. The door to the servant’s quarters is open and a pit filled with offal and dead Kobolds and broken weapons and armor and other items can be seen half a step inside.
Orjulun recognizes the main building as the place in his dream where he saw a party of adventurers get zapped at the front door.
“The top of that tower has . . . what do you call those slots archers shoot out of? If anyone was in there, they would have attacked us by now,” Percy comments.
“If we decide to sleep out here, that would be the most defensible position,” Rastorn whispers to Arturus and Melias.
Arturus has yet to respond to Claire’s requests to have her potion returned.
“Which structure should we search first? The barn would be the easiest, so should we check it while we are right here?” asks Orjulun.
“It seems to me most of these dwellings have already been searched by the group we follow. I’ll bet the Trolls came from the barn. In the attack the barn was destroyed and all the Trolls were taken outside and burned,” Melias says. He looks toward the fire pit and asks, “How long do you think it’ll be before they are completely regenerated? I wouldn’t want a group of armored Trolls surprising us in the night. Maybe we should set that pit on fire again?” Without waiting for an answer, he remarks, “What a strange collection of denizens.” Reaching the note on the door, he says, “Well, perhaps someone knew we’d be following, eh? Should we check it out, or is it some sort of protective spell on the door?” He makes eye contact with the two Wizards as they both approach. Pointing to the gardens and then the maze, Melias says, “I believe those areas are the only areas not searched by our predecessors. Those and the keep.”
Claire walks closer to the door to read the note pinned to it.
Rastorn answers Melias’ first question, “It would take quite a fire to burn in this rain. It is my opinion that the Trolls will take several more days to regenerate. They are badly burned.”
Orjulun listens closely before replying, “I have magical fire from the wand which will burn regardless of the weather, but I’d really rather save it for when we are under attack. It looks to me like the Troll will have to reconstruct an entire body from the one hand. That would take many days. I think we are safe for now.”
Failing to see that Claire has already seen the note, Rastorn says, “I think we are out of Detect Magic spells. Perhaps we should send someone to read the note and be prepared in case something happens to him. I vote for Percy. He is the sturdiest of us all.”
“I will gladly go, so others can be shielded from danger!” Percy announces with gusto.
Rastorn rolls his eyes. “Not yet, brave soul, I think we are going to search the barn first and see if any clues were left behind.”
Percy strides into the barn and begins searching. He quickly discovers four Troll beds and the bed of a much smaller creature, perhaps a Dwarf or a fat Hobbit. The beds are just spots in the hay that had been flattened by use, the larger four were smelly and heavily molded. The barn was obviously used for making armor for several months, although it served for constructing horse shoes and other common implements prior to that.
“Trolls don’t usually stay in barns as long as these ones did, I don’t think. I’m guessing they had some sort of leader who made them stay here while the armor was being constructed. Maybe the smaller creature,” Orjulun ventures.
Rastorn strokes his chin and says, “Kobolds in a building so close to Giant Spiders . . . that is odd, Melias. I’m betting they lost more than a couple of their numbers during the stay.”
“Where to next?” Percy asks Arturus, as everyone completes their brief search of the barn.
Arturus does not respond.
“Perhaps we should leave this decision to the lady in our midst. Just because she is here to observe, doesn’t mean she can’t have input into our decisions,” Orjulun suggests.
“You mean Claire, right?” Rastorn asks, grinning.
They realize Claire has already read the note and wander to her.
“What does it say?” Percy asks.
“It says, ‘We have reclaimed the keep. You, your dwarf, and your tall, green friends have until sunset to vacate the premises.’ It is signed by a number eight.”
“No mention of Kobolds. They must have either come later or weren’t given an opportunity to leave peaceably,” Orjulun comments.
Melias nods, then checks the door for traps. As he does, the rest of the party separates to search each area more thoroughly.
In the tower they discover a giant dead snake with a human-like head just beyond the door, but no other clues or treasure. The tower has a second floor with arrow slits all around.
The massive horse stable holds several more dead Giant Spiders and the husks of dead Kobolds. The spiders are splattered, as if by some huge hand. Nothing else of interest remains.
The servant’s house is empty, except various lice-ridden blankets and broken traps, most of which have bits of dead Kobolds still entwined in them. The pit at the door is filled with a horrible, stinking mass of dead Kobolds covered with maggots and Rot Grubs, offal, and broken weapons. A single set of shiny Human-sized chain armor is visible deep in the pile. An oversized horn is set up in the open window of the second floor.
The maze is simple and leads to a dry fountain in the middle. A stone bench there has been slid back to reveal a tunnel. The tunnel leads below the small cemetery to the back right corner behind the mansion. All the coffins were ransacked from below and all the bodies are gone. Tracks are obvious in the soft earth, many Humans and smaller folk had walked the area recently. They were obviously searching the entire tunnel and area beneath the graves.
The cemetery, which is behind the maze, has no markings on any of the tomb stones, which had all been knocked over and even broken in some cases. Many very small footprints are clearly visible around this area.
Directly behind the mansion is several rows of trees that are downed similarly to those in the forest. Arturus spots an oddly hollowed tree and an investigation reveals a gem, a bag of twenty gold pieces, a dagger, and two potions.
The back of the mansion has a smaller door near the center. All the windows are smeared from within and cannot be seen through.
Two hundred three-foot-square holes litter a heavily churned garden beyond the trees.
At the back left corner behind the mansion is a stone in-ground pool filled with stale water and muck. The water is dark grey and tufts of hair float atop it.
“I believe Kobolds fit into the ‘tall green friends’ category,” Claire says, rereading the note. “As for the rest of it, I think those holes are what happens when the fuzzballs come above ground. Anyone have any ideas about the fur on the pond, though?”
“Actually, Claire, I think the Trolls are the tall green friends. Remember, Kobolds aren’t much taller than a halfling,” Arturus says. This is the first she’s spoken since she was told how her sex had been changed. Laying the treasure she had found on the ground between them, she plucks the gem and says she’d like to keep it, if no one objects. Still gazing at the gem, Arturus continues, “Personally I have the feeling there is something lying in wait on the bottom of the pool. Probably something very nasty. There could be something also valuable down there as well. What say we rest in the building with the arrow notches and search some more come the morn?”
Claire shrugs. “Oh, okay, that rules out the option that a bunch of Dwarves or midgets raided the place. I have to admit, though, it doesn’t seem like any trap was left for us, just-” She stops mid-sentence when she sees the gem being pocketed. “Ah-ah-ah,” she says, “give me that, give me the potion I asked you about, or both. Preferably both. I’m getting stiffed properly and I’m the only record of these events, remember?”
Melias rolls his eyes.
Arturus looks at Clarie and says, “I haven’t a clue what potion you’re talking about, nor do I care. Ever since this party had been formed, I rarely take anything. I wasn’t really asking so much as politely telling everyone I’m keeping the gem. Take the gold if you want or the dagger. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were magical. Just because you’re keeping records doesn’t give you special treatment. We did fine before without such a person.”
Melias steps into the middle of the group, standing over the tiny pile of treasure. “Here’s my take on things. The Kobolds were brought in by The Eight. A small army of Kobolds would make an excellent pillaging group for such a powerful collection of people. They point their fingers, the Kobolds run off and do what they’re told. If a few of them die in the process, it’s no big deal. Meanwhile, the leaders stay in the back and attack with spells and missile weapons when necessary.” He glances around and scratches his head. “I only really have four questions. What happened to the Dwarf who was minding the Trolls? We didn’t find his body. Who’s shiny chain armor was that in the pile in the pit within the servant’s home? Where did The Eight go after this? Within the keep, I’d imagine, but which door? We might be able to conclude that whichever door they took would be trap free and safe for us to wander behind. And fourth, what did they do with all those bodies they stole from the cemetery?” He nods at Arturus, “Maybe you’re right . . . Rastorn, too. That tower is probably the best place to stay the night. Let’s hope that weird snake thing doesn’t come back to life in the middle of the night.”
“So, my friend, how much precaution do you think is needed about that tower, watches, and that snake creature?” Arturus asks Melias.
“Let’s push the snake out, at the very least, and try to reinforce the door from the inside. Then we can bunk upstairs. It’ll give us a great view of what’s around. I think we should hang blankets in front of the arrow slits to keep our light from shining out and signaling others as to our where-abouts,” Melias responds, although he is not feeling very friendly toward Arturus at all. “Oh, and she’s right. You did borrow one of her potions before you lost your brain. Since you didn’t use it, maybe it might smooth things over if you gave it back to her. Just because she’s rude and greedy is no reason to keep it to yourself.” He looks at the Bard and shakes his head. “I certainly hope you do more than sing and write because so far, I’m unimpressed.”
“Thanks. I needed that. I was still coming off the swell of pride from . . . well, it’d be tactful not to mention that.” Claire tells Melias, as evenly as she can manage. She takes the dagger. “Percy, do you think you might be able to pry a fang loose from that snake? It’d be good material to reinforce things. As for where they went, perhaps they didn’t enter the keep? That’d explain the chainmail left in the pile.”
“Well, before we camp for the night, I want to get a better look at that chainmail,” Melias says. He looks at SeLiem and considers having him levitate down, then immediately thinks better of it. “Maybe someone can lower me into the pit?”
Arturus reaches into his pack, locates the potion, and hands it to Claire. Turning toward Melias she says, “I’ll lower you down if you’re sure you want to do that. Maybe we could try and fish it out instead, though.”
“Fish it out, you say? A capital idea, Arturus. But, I don’t have a hook. Do you? I’d much rather fish it out – as you put it – than wade through smelly Kobold corpses.”
“I have a battle axe we can try and use or daggers we could try and bend into a hook shape. There is an anvil and hearth in the barn,” Arturus says, holding up his rope.
Melias glances at the others. “Does anyone have a grappling hook?”
“Wait here. I’ll fetch a metal hook I saw in the barn. I’m assuming it was used for metal-working, but it should suffice,” Percy says, before running to the barn.
“Well, if no one is interested in the potions Arturus found, I’ll claim them,” Rastorn says, adding pointedly, “Or does the greedy green grifter think she deserves those, too?”
Orjulun studies the pit, “Take care when you pull that armor out, Melias, those giant maggots can move quicker than you’d expect.”
Percy returns with a long pole with a hooked tip.
Orjulun places his fingers to his lips and says, “Hold on, Melias, I thought I saw the body of a smaller creature in the burn pile. Maybe that is our Dwarf.”
Melias nods to Orjulun’s comment, while accepting the hooked pole from Percy. “Thank you, Percy,” he says, “that will be perfect.”
Orjulun says, “Getting the armor out of the pit is simple, but it is still covered in offal, rotting flesh, and Rot Grubs. Any ideas? You could always leave it out in the rain.”
After fishing it out, Melias replies, “Yes, I agree; let’s leave this chain armor out in the rain. If there’s anything left on there in the morning, we’ll deal with it then.” He keeps the chain armor on the hook as he walks outside and sets it behind the building. When he returns, he tells Arturus, “As for that dark pool water, I’m not sure I really care to find out what might be in there. I’m sure the people we seek aren’t. Maybe we should leave the pool be and just head into the keep? Does anyone have any ideas how to find out which door they entered? The rain will probably wash away any real clear evidence, if it hasn’t already.”
Orjulun tells him the front door of the keep is exactly what he saw in his dream. “That door is magically trapped,” he concludes.
After modifications, the party stays in the tower all night. During Percy’s watch, strange noises can be heard in the forest. He later describes it as mass hoots, whistles, howls, and jibber-jabber teamed with the crashing of trees. Sleep, the rain, distance, and various walls blocked the sound from everyone else.
In the morning everyone prepares their weapons, magic, and armor for what they assume will be an adventurous day. They travel as a group behind the tower and recover the armor. It is spotless. Sizing it up, the only people who would fit in it who would wear armor would be Claire, SeLiem, or Arturus.
There’s a gleam in Arturus’ eye when she looks at the armor but she says, “Let Claire have it. I’m sure it’s magical and she’d probably want better armor than what she has.”
Continued in Chapter 12 next week!
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