Cast of Characters
Wood Elf Barbarian – Red
Lord Malvolio Blackwold
Yuan-Ti Wizard – new DM candidate
Andelle (Ann for short)
Wood Elf Druid – new player convinced to try D&D by her wargamer sister and brother-in-law
Human Wizard – 12 year old boy
Aasimar Paladin – Emergency DM
Dragonborn Fighter/Bard – older teen girl
When Del roused herself from meditation, she was not where she remembered sitting down. Instead of the stone of the strange cages near the maze, she was in a small room with walls and ceiling of glass. Through it, she could see the rocky walls of the cavern and the glimmer waters of the underground lake below.
“What happened?” She frowned, looking at the others, who were all crowded close since the room was quite small.
“Mau went through this doorway and disappeared,” Balthasar answered from where he stooped, examining some strange polished stone figures on a little altar. “I guess it pulled everybody up here… except for her and Hazudra.”
“That is strange,” Del murmured as she stretched. “Where to now?”
“The only way is down,” Tyrone sang, gesturing. “Did you figure out what those are, by the way?”
“Sssssome godssssssss of magic,” Blackwold hissed in reply, putting the polished stone figure he had been examining back on the altar. “But none I know.”
With that, the group descended the wrought-iron spiral staircase in the center of the room and came into the one below – what appeared to be living quarters. A bed was pushed into one corner; while the other three were taken by a stove, some cupboards, and a small chest. While Bobby opened the chest to find a broom of bound twigs, Balthasar opened the small door on the front of the stove from which a muffled snuffling and scratching could be heard.
From the dusty metal innards, a small grey creature tumbled, wings the size of frying pans whipping the air about and ears as big as its apple-sized head swiveling this way and that. Once it regained its footing, scrambling upright to stand on two tiny legs, it found itself in the shadow of Blackwold as the wizard leapt toward it. The creature’s tiny arms shielding its face and ears, which folded flat down as it cowered, and the clang of metal on stone made it flinch.
“What a find!” Blackwold exclaimed, holding the little creature up in a cage that had appeared from thin air. The small grey thing squeaked angrily at him and tried to squeeze between the bars.
“It’s a homunculous,” Tyrone stated confidently. “A wizards’ familiar.”
“A what?” Del murmered.
“Looks like a demon to me!” Balthasar exclaimed, although his frown softened as he continued to look at it. The homunculous did not give off the evil energy of a demon that the paladin knew as a cold aura, so Tyrone had clearly labelled it correctly.
“It’s not a demon. It’s a creature wizards use to help them cast magic,” Tyrone explained patiently.
“So a magic bat?” Del asked, still confused.
“I guess that works.”
“You will be my pet now,” Blackwold hissed at the little thing, to which it squawked loudly in response and made a rude gesture toward the wizard.
“You ingrate!” Blackwold snarled, shaking the cage viciously.
“Be nice to him!” Del exclaimed, startled by the wizard’s response.
“He was clearly trapped in the stove for some time, so he probably does not appreciate being caged further,” Balthasar explained, having been meticulously inspecting the stove internals, which were covered in small scratches.
Blackwold glared at the homunculous, and it returned the steely gaze. “Fine,” he conceded eventually, conjuring an ornate collar and leash. “But you had better not run off.”
The homunculous accepted the collar after a moment of indecision, and Blackwold dismissed the cage. When the wizard gestured for the bat-like being to sit on his shoulder though, it screwed up its face in contempt, continuing to hover nearby, its wings more than capable of keeping it aloft. The party then continued down the spiral stair, and as Del fell in step behind Blackwold, she offered the homunculous a bit of dried fruit. It seemed to smile but shook its head. Opening its mouth, it pointed to the place in the back of its throat where, instead of an esophagus, there was only a wall of clay.
“It’s a construct, so it doesn’t eat,” Tyrone chuckled. “It says its name is Grahz.”
“How do you know that?” Del wondered aloud.
“People with the right kind of magic can talk to it,” the Dragonborn smiled with a strum of his ukulele, eliciting an amused smile from the wood elf.
Although the next floor was full of a small library and a writing desk, most of the tomes were moldy or wasting away. The only things seemingly untouched by time were three scrolls hidden in a writing desk, and the two wizards quickly snatched those up, excited to have something to copy into their spellbooks whenever they got back to a town somewhere. As they discussed how they would divide three scrolls between two people, the others descended into the ground floor of the tower, where the front door hung ajar. The rock Hazudra had thrown to open the door had skittered off to one side, where it had come to rest in a collapsed tangle of metal bars that occupied the one corner of the room not full of collapsing writing desk or alchemical station.
As they peered around them, the room began to move and a soft sigh of sound saw scaled forms slide out of every nook and cranny of broken furniture, unblinking eyes trained on the warm bodies in the room. Long bodies coiled up before launching heads, fanged jaws open wide, at the intruders. Two stopped inches from Blackwold’s face, fascinatedly swaying back and forth in his gaze before the wizard simply grasped each around the neck. Others bounced off Balthasar’s shining armor, fangs not strong enough to peice metal, but a few found purchase in soft skin.
“Ssssnakessss!” Blackwold shrieked in glee. “Come, my friends! I have a little treat for you!”
A muscled body wrapping around his legs, Bobby scampered back up the spiral stairs after blasting the hungry creature with fire. Ann leapt over him, landing as a wolf in the midst of the snakes and easily swallowing one whole as Tyrone sidestepped one of the snakes’ lunges and skewered it.
“He didn’t do anything to deserve that!” Del exclaimed as Blackwold began to reel Grahz in, but before the wizard could catch the homunculous, Balthasar’s sword came down, beheading both of the snakes Blackwold held with a flash of ethereal light.
“What?” Blackwold demanded angrily as he continued to struggle with the homunculous and the paladin cast a scowl his way. “You thought the thing wasssss a demon!”
“But it’s not,” Balthasar snapped. “And it’s not snake food either.”
“The ssssssnakes were only hungry! They could have been our friendssss!”
“Your friends,” the paladin corrected. “They were intent on eating the rest of us.”
“They need a lot of food,” Blackwold mumbled, looking at the now-dead bodies of the snakes and yanking harshly at the homunculous’ leash in an attempt to stop its struggles. Each snake was so large that it was easily capable of swallowing a human adult; Grazh would have barely made a snack for any of them.
The others ignored him, fanning out to investigate various items in the room but keeping an eye on the wizard as he yanked again at the leash. After a moment, he joined Bobby and Ann in pillaging the run-down alchemical station for magical components, but the homunculous’ struggles knocked over what was left of the glass vials, scattering glass shards all about.
“Somebody else take this thing!” the wizard growled, fed up with Grahz’s protests.
Tyrone quickly stepped forward. “Do you want this collar off?” he asked kindly of the little thing after coaxing it to land on his outstretched arm.
Grahz nodded furiously, beaming after the dragonborn obliged. “You can come with us or go wherever you want. It’s up to you,” he told the homunculous, and after a moment of thought, it climbed up onto his shoulder and sat itself down with a little grin. With that, Tyrone rejoined the investigation efforts and went back to digging throught the drawers of the writing desk, one of which revealed itself to have a false bottom.
“Hey, look! There’s some treasure here!” Tyrone announced, and after everyone had found what they could, Balthasar opening a door in a false-backed cupboard that led to a staircase down, everything was gathered up to be divided out.
“What do we do with the leftovers?” Balthasar enquired, gesturing to the few peices of gold and silver that did not evenly divide out.
“The noblesssss could keep track of them,” Blackwold offered.
“Or we could let Grahz have them,” Del suggested, to which the little thing’s grey ears perked up. “I could make a little backpack for him out of some of the cloth I have.”
The suggestion was agreed upon, and Grahz was soon grinning impishly about his new tiny cloth backpack and payload of coins while the party descended back into the tower basement. The stairs let out onto a hallway somewhat familiar to the others, and when Del asked why none of them entered the first room they came across, which contained nothing but a freestanding but broken stone arch, the others informed her that the room was what had transported them into the very top of the tower. Those with magic believed it was liable to do so again, so they recommended it not be tested, just in case it transported someone out into open air.
As Del continued to question and a few of the others investigated another room that contained a few empty armor racks, a quiet thump came from down the hall. Del and Ann stopped their discussion to look towards the noise and saw a door open at the end of the hall that had prior to that point been shut. Both moved to investigate after noticing that Bobby was not with the others, and Grahz made a squeek that notified Blackwold and Tyrone to the two elves moving, Balthasar being too caught up in his examination of a molding set of leathers.
The room beyond the open door was full of strange contraptions, all smeared with dried blood, and in the middle of the floor lay an unmoving Bobby, a glistening sword stuck through his chest. With an exclamation, Ann rushed forward to pull the thing out; her healing magic could undo the damage. Unfortunately, the moment she touched the thing, it sprang forth on its own and took a swipe at her.
“I’ve got this!” Tyrone trumpeted, surging forward to duel the flailing, floating weapon. “Make sure he’s okay!”
Ann returned to casting a spell to mend the young wizard, although a loud cough splattered her face with droplets of blood. “Look out!” Bobby wheezed in warning, although Anne quickly reassured him that Tyrone had everything handled, especially now that Balthasar had now appeared, the sound of steel on steel finally rousing him.
As the wizard quieted down, the three left unoccupied frowned, sounds of shuffling feet reaching their ears even over the din of Tyrone’s duel. They stepped forward, having noticed the one hallway that led out of this room, and as they drew near, it became apparent that something had been roused.
A number of skeletons, only floating bones held together by malice, stumbled into the hallway leading back to the torture room and the three standing in silence. The abominations raised rusted axes and swords, some in the back even aiming shortbows, before charging forward.
Balthasar, again drawing his sword, rushed forward with a roar, and Tyrone quickly followed, having managed to bury the floating sword so deeply in the wall that it no longer posed a threat. Metal rang on bone as the two battled the advancing line back to the doorway, and over their heads flew arrows from Del’s bow and flicks of fire and acid from the wizards. Ann, summoning her considerable magical prowess, gathered her energy and threw a pebble into the hallway, the exhale of her breath setting the thing alight as it flew. It skipped once, twice, along the stone floor, and then with as burst of light, bloomed into a roiling ball of fire the size of a horse.
The skeletons stumbled on regardless, bones crackling and blackening before some crumbled beneath them into a pile of ash. Still, a number rushed through the obstacle, coming out the other side as flailing aspects of fire that turned up the heat on Balthasar and Tyrone. The two began to tire as the embers and ashes cast from the flaming skeletons clung to them, blackening their faces and armor, burning their skin, and sullying their weapons; but as they faultered, Blackwold rushed off into the back of the room and Del dropped her bow to bolster the flagging Dragonborn.
His finely stitched clothes smoldering and his wide shield almost beginning to char, Tryone accepted the aid and spun behind the young elf, his weariness almost causing him to stumble, especially when a large wooden table came skidding past. Blackwold, having turned one of the large torture devices upright, was using his magic to roll the thing across the room like a seige tower, although the wizard’s slight frame was not making the effort easy. He struggled and puffed, the wooden edge of the table grinding splinters away on the stone until Bobby and Tyrone threw themselves behind it too.
Seeming to sense the danger of becoming trapped in the hallway where Ann’s roiling flames could chase them down and consume them, the skeletons rushed foward all the faster, dropping bows in favor of clubs and flailing all the more wildly against those keeping them out. Fingers like claws raked at armor and skin alike, and steel rained down blows. Del and Balthasar stepped back under the weight of their enemies’ fury, but where they wavered, the wooden seal came forward, crushing boney and blackened arms and legs and bodies between it and the wall.
With a final crunch, the flailing of the skeletons faded to nothing more than a failing skritch-scratch sound against the wood, although that even disappeared as the fire turned them to harmless ashes. In relief, Del and Balthasar both flopped down against the walls, the others following suit shortly later.