“That front door there,” Orjulun says, pointing at the front door of the ‘keep’, “is the same as it was in my dream. The party, there were six of them, were at the door when a beam of light engulfed them and shrank them and they disappeared.” Looking at Arturus, who is searching for secret doors, he continues, “I’m certain of it.”
From ten feet away, Rastorn studies the front porch, before asking Orjulun,”Did you see the source of the ray?”
“No. Not really. It came from above, I think. It was a dream . . . and it was days and days ago. I’m sorry.”
“Melias, at least if we take the front door, we know what the hazard is,” Rastorn says. “Who knows in what ways the chimney or back door might be trapped? Plus, they may have already sprung the trap and it only works once. I say to see how it works, we use a long pole to test the door or send someone ahead. I vote for Percy.”
“I would be honored!” Percy announces as he strides toward the porch.
“Hold on, Percy, nothing has been decided yet and I’m not certain another door would not be a better choice. Does anyone have any useful spells for situations like this?” asks Orjulun.
The porch is small, considering the huge scale of the mansion. The door is of normal size and wooden, with metal straps bolted in for increased durability. The door handle is large, but mundane, as is the knocker. The porch has a small roof for rain cover and a large, green, glass lamp hangs from the middle of the ceiling of the roof. The lamp does not have any clear means for gaining access to the inside to light it.
“Yes, some sort of magic would be best used here. To err on the side of caution is not such a bad thing. Can anyone summon something to open the door for us? Perhaps our direct line to the gods has some sort of whispering in his ear that can aid us in our goal? SeLiem does still have that Commune scroll, right? Melias asks, as he turns toward SeLiem. “I wouldn’t be too adverse to setting up traps after we enter as well. In case someone is following our progress.”
With his arms crossing his chest, SeLiem says, “Maybe we should knock.” He observes the glances from the others and chuckles, “I’m kidding. Look, I feel they probably – The Eight, that is – used the back door. I don’t know why I feel this way. I guess judging from their action in the surrounding area, it seems logical. They worked their way uncovering all of the secrets they could find up to the back of the manor. Would they bother walking around to the front again just to enter when there was a door handy out back?”
“I’m not so certain it was The Eight who killed the Spiders and Trolls and other beasties. My guess is the ‘Mind-jumpers’ did that when they got here,” Rastorn suggests. “Which makes them pretty damn blood hungry, doesn’t it?”
“Sounds plausible,” Claire agrees, finishing with the chainmail and tossing her bracers aside. “But, would the mind-jumpers use the front door or the back?” She nods to Arturus. “Thanks, by the way.”
Arturus takes the magical Bracers of Defense and ditches his banded mail. “Much lighter . . . and quieter, too,” he says.
“If Orjulun’s vision is accurate, they shrunk when trying to use the front door. But, I’m sure they were followed by The Eight,” Melias remarks. He glances at the small pile of treasure, noting none of them appear to be interested in it. Including him. “The Eight left the warning on the tower, but when? And for whom was the message intended?”
Rastorn picks up the tiny bag of twenty gold pieces left unclaimed and tosses it to SeLiem, then winks. “The answer to that is in the burn pile, my Elven friend,” he tells Melias, speaking in an almost sugary-sweet voice. “I took the liberty of executing a brief ocular examination of said pyre and discovered the remains of the obvious leader of the Dwarf and the ‘big, green friends’. I’m guessing that even Arturus has a good guess at what that spherical object is . . . or was, correct Mister Arturus?”
A distracted Arturus mumbles, “A skull, I’d assume.”
“A skull? It was four bloody feet wide!” Rastorn exclaims in a high-pitched voice. “Hopefully when your penis comes back, some of your lost brains will come with it! Hold on, come to think of it, you did do most of your thinking with your groin didn’t you? How else would you explain all the bed-hopping you’ve done? Two whores in Darkuth – that cost you a pretty sum of copper, I’d bet – your ‘sworn enemy’ a merchant in ASU, followed the next day by an actual true enemy – whom just days before you swore to kill on sight! I guess as long as you can get your Elven jollies, it just doesn’t matter who your partner is, does it? I’m guessing this might slow you down a bit, though, eh stud?”
Arturus shakes his head and rolls his eyes. Once the Bracers are on and comfortable he looks at Rastorn and says, “I was at least proving my manhood. You were also doing something diabolical in ASU, if I remember right. As for the orb, I don’t even recall seeing it. I sure don’t remember a burn pile.”
Rastorn looks flustered as he replies, “Uh, oh yes, why it slipped my mind, er, you did have that memory loss, didn’t you. Well, hold on, ‘diabolical’ may be a bit harsh . . . anyway, what I was saying is that there is a sphere in the burn pile outside the walls. I think it is the remains of a Beholder, the insane floating creatures that shoot deadly rays from their multiple eyes.” He tries desperately to regain a semblance of the cockiness he had before his error was so innocently and painfully revealed, as he continues, “My hypothesis is the Beholder used its Charm Monster abilities to turn the Trolls and the Dwarf into its slaves. It had the Dwarf construct armor for the Trolls and the Trolls became it’s personal bodyguards.” He exhales and continues, somewhat buoyed by the attention he is receiving, “A Beholder would, by nature, get the respect of an eviction notice.” He looks around and discovers he still has most everyone’s attention, so he adds, “If this group we chase can take on several armored Trolls and a Beholder, we’d better be prepared to cast first and ask questions later, don’t you think? They sound like highly volatile and dangerous veterans to me!”
“Casting first and asking questions later is probably a good way to get killed. If we run into them I say we should be as nice as possible,” Arturus suggests.
“That’s fine, Arturus. You go be the sacrificial lamb. I’ll hang back with the Cleric and the Bard and anyone else with a strong sense of self-preservation and blast them . . . hopefully before they cut you in half and send both pieces at us as their Zombie soldiers,” Rastorn retorts.
“So, I’m not going to knock on the front door?” Percy asks innocently.
“Not before we know it is safe, my dear, dear, friend,” Orjulun answers with a broad smile.
“Yeah, I hope they do rip me apart. Then I wouldn’t have to listen to you any more,” Arturus says. She steps away, perplexed at how little Rastorn’s comments had affected her and certain she would have been far more threatening and angry if still male. After last night’s watch and exploring her new body, she felt rather different mentally as well as physically. She wonders if she should actually change her name and really become a woman fully instead of just in appearance. Stepping back toward the group, she says, “Alright, I have decided as long as I am a woman I might as well play the role and get used to it for now. However, I am still attracted to women, so no one get any ideas. Call me Arianna until I can grow a pair.”
“Maybe The Eight killed the Trolls. The Trolls ignored the letter, so they killed them and burned their bodies. It makes sense, right?” Orjulun says.
Arianna looks down at her hands and body, to make sure she is still present and visible.
“So, you are saying the party just walked past a Beholder and several armored Trolls right up to the front door?” Rastorn asks Orjulun, somewhat sarcastically.
“They could have already been burned by then, right?” Orjulun replies.
“I have a headache,” Percy says.
“This is useless! SeLiem, cast Detect Traps on the front porch area and let’s get going!” Rastorn shouts, barely able to control his rage.
“I thought we were going through the back door?” Orjulun asks.
“The back door has the greater chance of being trapped!” Rastorn shouts at Orjulun.
“We already know the front door is trapped – we have no idea about the back door. It could be unlocked for all we know,” Orjulun replies, with uncharacteristic directness.
Percy jumps onto the porch and tears open the front door. He looks up. He looks down. He looks to the right. He looks to the left. He looks straight ahead. Then he sticks his head back outside and looks at the party. “All’s clear.”
Orjulun and Rastorn look at each other, then cautiously step onto the porch together.
“We’ll need a light source, though. It is dark as pitch in there,” Percy comments, still standing in front of the door and not allowing anyone else the ‘privilege’ of being the first target.
As they step onto the porch, Melias and Arianna sense something is not right on the porch. Something is . . . not as it seems. The feeling is similar to the same sensation that alerts them to the presence of a secret door, but slightly different.
“Get off that porch, fellas. Either my woman’s instincts really kicked in fast or it’s an Elven thing, but something tells me something is wrong here,” Arianna says, waving her arms.
Claire raises her crossbow. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Rastorn jumps off the porch so quickly, he trips and falls when he lands.
Orjulun looks around, shrugs, and steps off.
At first, Percy looks confused, then he smiles and says, “Ah, ah, ah, Arianna. You’ll not take the lead position from me.” He walks into the building and shuts the door behind him.
It takes three tries for Rastorn to get his hood off his face, as he struggles to his feet. He roars, “Did that idiot just throw himself into danger again?”
“We can still take the back door, as originally planned,” Orjulun quickly suggests.
“Just a moment . . . nothing happened. We are safe. Muscles in there isn’t shouting for help. What’s the problem, Art- . . . er, Arianna?” Rastorn asks, as he tentatively approaches the porch. “SeLiem, cast the damn Detect Traps spell . . . please.”
Melias and Arianna study the porch area without stepping onto it. The area around the door seems fine, the floor seems normal, and the wall is what one would expect. They both still feel something is not right. They decide a closer inspection is necessary. As one, they turn and look at SeLiem, to see if he has decided to cast the Find Traps spell yet.
When he notices them staring at him, SeLiem says, “Before we go anywhere let me cast some spells. I should finish healing you all.” He casts two healing spells on Claire, one on Arianna, and one on Melias.
As the last spell is cast, Percy cracks open the door to let light into the building. He has his lantern out and is trying to make fire with his flint and steel to light it. “I think I may have heard movement inside the house. Could be rats, though. I heard some squeaking noises, too,” he casually tells the group, while lighting the lantern.
“So, is the porch safe – or isn’t it?” Rastorn asks Arianna, impatience evident in his tone. He then looks to SeLiem and Melias, trying to see if anyone is willing to make the call.
“We can still take the back door. How about you, Claire? How about we two walk to the back door?” asks Orjulun.
“Split up? Good plan,” Rastorn says, sarcastically.
Percy waves his hands at the group. “I’m inside already. Everything’s fine. There is an open door right in front of you.”
Arianna shakes her head and steps onto the porch stairs to further inspect the porch. “I can’t tell what’s wrong, but I know something is. So, we can’t let this go unnoticed, but we can’t stop at a door because something is off. I guess we just proceed with a bit of extra caution.”
Holding up a hand to stop anyone from moving further, Rastorn announces, “Tell you all what, if anyone wants to know if anything they just picked up is magical – hold it up right now. I’m going to cast Detect Magic and check out this porch that gives transexual Elves the heebie-jeebies, so I might as well identify if your items are magical while I’m at it, right?” Then he casts. “The only thing magical on that porch, except Percy’s armor and arsenal, is that green lamp hanging up there. It is radiating some massively powerful Alteration magic.”
The lamp hangs from the roof over the porch by a long chain three feet above Percy’s head.
“That armor shines brighter than Percy’s,” Rastorn says of Claire’s new armor, when she steps in front of him so he can detect magic upon it.
“If you will all step off the porch and take a step back . . . maybe two. I don’t think it’s trapped, per say . . . at least I don’t think the porch is trapped. I think the insides are the trap. This entrance is a charade,” Melias says, as he waves them all back. “Please, come back towards me and I will check the lamp out very carefully. I think we might be able to do something with it and open a different door of sorts.”
“Orjulun,” Melias calls, “I don’t suppose anyone was messing around with the lamp in that prophetic dream of yours, eh?”
SeLiem casts Detect Traps, just as Melias steps onto the porch.
Percy starts to step outside slowly, then suddenly speeds up and slams the door behind him. “There’s a Troll roaming around in there!” he shouts, as he rejoins the group. “We’ll have to go in and destroy it, before it can escape!”
“No one touched the lamp, as far as I can remember. I think they just went to open the door and a – hey, it was a green light that zapped them! It could very well have emanated from the lamp,” Orjulun tells Melias.
Rastorn takes four steps back before asking Melias, “What do you plan on doing?”
“Maybe we should break it!” Percy suggests.
“We could try to dispel the magic,” Orjulun suggests.
“Do you need a ladder? I saw one in the barn, if Percy wants to go fetch it,” Rastorn says.
“Why don’t we just continue on and leave it for later?” Percy asks.
Melias shakes his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, Rastorn. And no, Percy, we can’t leave it alone. As Arianna can attest, there is more to this porch than meets the eye. It seems to be some sort of doorway and I’m betting we’ll find what we’re looking for beyond it. Now if everyone is far enough back…” The Elf looks for traps on the lantern and around the porch in general. He looks for any kind of mechanism which seems to hint at movement. He has Arianna hand him a fallen branch with which he touches the lamp.
“It isn’t currently trapped,” SeLiem says.
The rest of the party ignores him, since the only one who noticed he cast Detect Traps was Melias and he trusts his own skills over anything SeLiem can cast.
The stick does not trigger any effect, other than causing the lamp to glow faintly. Melias is able to move the lamp around slightly to look it over. He sees no latch or seam.
While Melias was looking at the lamp, Percy had run to the barn and brought back the ladder. He leans it against the outside wall of the mansion next to the front door and Melias is able to climb it for a closer look.
“So, you believe this is similar to the cross-roads we entered here through? A portal to a different place is opened by the lamp, somehow?” Orjulun asks.
Rastorn takes a step closer and watches Melias’ investigation very carefully. “Interesting hypothesis, Melias, but what do you base it on? It could just be a lamp that lights magically at night when guests come to the door.”
Orjulun shakes his head. “Maybe, but I do remember that the light in my dream was green. I’ve been trying to recall everything since we’ve been here and that is the one thing I can see clearest now. I think the lamp shot a ray at them and transported them somewhere else. Maybe it took them to the true keep or to a secret portion of the keep.”
“Didn’t you say that they yelled something like ‘But we are so close’? That tells me they didn’t go someplace good or that maybe they were killed by the ray,” Percy comments.
“They wouldn’t know if they were going someplace good or someplace bad when it happened. The Elf who said that may have just assumed it was a trap, when it was actually the only way to really get inside,” Orjulun explains.
Even on closer inspection, Melias finds no way into the lamp and no other clues. He finds he can detach the lamp from the chain if he wishes, though.
Orjulun moves to the edge of the porch and tells Melias, “If there is no way inside, then you can assume it is not a normal lantern. If it is some sort of portal, then we would need to learn its trigger. Possibly a Command Word or an actual switch on the lamp. It could also be set to go off only if certain specific things happen, like the way a Magic Mouth works.”
“If that is the case, then we may have needed to have more than three people on the porch at the same time . . . or, maybe, it works only by invitation and is programmed for specific people to come through,” Rastorn says.
Orjulun places his hands on his hips, frowns, then says, “Since you see no switches on the lamp and Rastorn would have spotted any external switches with his Detect Magic spell, we may need to activate it through magical means. Any suggestions, Rastorn?”
“No. None. Percy already touched the knocker and opened the door, so any obvious actions that may be triggers for the spell have already been attempted. I’d say cast an Identify and see what you learn or dispel it or attack it – sometimes that works.”
After a few seconds the silence of deliberation is broken. “So, while you were trying to recollect details from your dream,” Rastorn says, as he turns toward Orjulun, “have any other useful details returned?”
Orjulun answers, “Not really. Just six adventurers standing -”
“Wait! Six? There were only five mentioned in the poster,” Rastorn interrupts Orjulun to say. He pulls a copy of the wanted poster and reads it. “Yes. Eva the female Human Transmuter, Linus – also known as ‘Little Big Man’ – the male Hobbit Thief, Blitzarrow the male Elven archer and tracker, Reputa the Priestess of Raim, and Honeysuckle Goldenrod the Half-Elven Druidess.” He looks back at Orjulun and says, “So, who was there that I didn’t name?”
“‘Archer and tracker’ – that sounds like a Ranger! Rangers are noble men and women, not criminals!” Percy exclaims.
Orjulun closes his eyes and bows his head, “There was . . . an Elf with a bow in his hand . . . and – yes – a Hobbit . . . and-“
Rastorn sticks the poster in front of Orjulun’s face and says, “Here – look – there are drawings of each of them. What did the person who isn’t on the poster look like?”
Orjulun studies the likenesses and can be seen mentally checking each one off the list in his mind. Finally, he looks back at Rastorn. “There was another Warrior. A very young Human male in chain armor. He stood right to the left of the Elf and carried a longsword and shield. He had short hair, cut like a school boy. His forehead was sort of prominent and his nose was slightly hooked.”
“Hmmm, who would be traveling with a group that is running from the law? We better assume he is just as dangerous as they,” Rastorn proposes, as he tries to make eye contact with other party members. He shakes his head as he looks at each of them.
Melias narrows his eyes at Rastorn and says, “Knock it off, already. We know you’re in it for the money. You’re not going to convince us so easily to kill them for the reward.” He folds his arms across his chest and taps his chin thoughtfully. “Six of them. Eight of the others. No wonder they weren’t found. And there just so happens to be six of us, too. Orjulun, where were they positioned in your dream? You set us up as best you can,” he says as climbs down the ladder.
Orjulun positions everyone as well as he can. All six are on the porch, with Arianna closest to the door (in Blitzarrow’s location) and Claire standing next to her (taking the position of the unknown Fighter). Melias takes Linus’ spot a little behind Arianna and Rastorn takes Eva’s position in the middle. He tells SeLiem to stand near the rear (where Reputa was) and, once everyone is in their place, he walks over to the furthest position, where he remembers Honeysuckle stood.
The group looks around.
Percy asks, “Is there something we should be doing?”
Orjulun answers, “Well, I imagine they were reaching to open the door. They may have even used the knocker first.”
Arianna tests the knocker.
She opens the door. Inside, she can see Percy’s lantern still sitting on the floor and a Troll hiding around the corner. She quickly shuts it again.
Still, nothing happens.
Rastorn asks Orjulun, “Was there anything else they were doing? Anything at all?”
Orjulun shakes his head. “No. This is exactly what they were doing,” he answers.
The party walks off the porch and then walks back up, being careful to end up in the same positions.
They pull weapons according to Orjulun’s memories, but that doesn’t work either.
“Was it raining then, too, Orjulun?” Rastorn asks.
They try to approximate weight and that also fails to trigger any effects.
“At least the Troll isn’t trying to escape,” Percy comments. “We can still slay him when we go inside.”
Claire asks, “Was the door open, Orjulun? Was there a Troll then, too?”
“No, it was closed when the light engulfed them.”
With everyone in position, Melias looks around uneasily as the group is in a rare and awkward silence. He clears his throat, and then says, “No, we are so close!”
“Maybe I need to move the ladder off the porch, for this to work,” Percy says, as he pulls on the tall ladder and begins to move it into a position where he can toss it off the porch. When the ladder is moved, it catches the chain holding the lamp and the lamp unhooks and begins a rapid slide down the length of the ladder. Percy reaches around the ladder, trying to catch the lamp, but, in so doing, ends up pulling the ladder the other direction and essentially pushing anyone in a better position to catch the lamp too far back to reach it.
The lamp crashes onto the stone porch and shatters into a thousand pieces.
Everyone freezes in place the moment it hits.
Everyone is silent, except Percy ashamedly whispering, “Oops.”
Melias shakes his head and slaps his forehead.
A green smoke floats from the remains of the lamp, then rapidly grows to a large enough mass to fill the entire porch area. It smells of lilacs and cinnamon and is soon waved away by everyone, except Rastorn, who instantly jumps off the porch and takes up a defensive position on the wet lawn.
The smoke left something behind, though.
Laying in various positions around the party’s feet are . . . people. Seven people to be exact. To be more exact, the six people the party has been searching for and one other.
“It’s them!” Orjulun shouts in surprise.
Rastorn quickly begins preparing a spell and shouts, “Kill them – quick, before they can kill us!”
Melias unsheathes his sword and moves it to Rastorn’s chest. “Harm one hair on their heads and I’ll carve you hollow. It’s my guess,” hes says over his shoulder to the others, “Six of them are the ones from Orjulun’s dream. The seventh is quite possibly one of The Eight. If there is any you do not recognize, Orjulun, bind him tight.”
Arianna looks down and simply says, “Oh my.” She bends down and holds the palm of her hand open and says in a soothing whisper of a voice, “We’re here to help.”
Continued next week!
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