The meeting with Meiko Sama did not seem particularly productive. Exelar wound up asking her about the Bowmen arrangement with the Vorsha, but the only information he got was that it was an arrangement with Khan’s faction. Meiko repeated her stance that we should not expect assistance from Kroenen’s faction, should we decide to pursue Trask into the Cascades. There was another tense moment as Exelar said under his breath that the Bowmen have no honor. This caused Meiko to tighten up as she called her company to leave and they walked back in the mist. The conversation about honor continued between Exelar and Seifer, getting a bit heated before it ended. This is unlike the behavior I normally anticipate from from him. I wonder what’s been going on back in the Rise while we were out that has brought this out.
This would all have to wait, as it was time to make our decision. Again, oddly enough, Exelar was reticent to go after Trask. He said that to do so would make us tools of the Bowmen, advancing their agenda against the other factions while refusing to do any of the work or take any of the risks themselves. I was taken off guard by his stance. I felt that taking Trask off the board would be a would be an unmitigated good. Even if doing so strengthened Kroenen’s position in the Bowmen, that was a more tolerable option for now than allow the corrupted core that ran them to get stronger. Regardless, he didn’t try to stop us from our pursuit. The time spent together around Carrion Hill seems to have aligned the rest of us. Chasing down Trask while he was vulnerable on the open road was a risk worth taking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Even leaving immediately after the meeting, by the time that the air skiff reached the Cascades, it was night. Though not am impediment for me, few others among the companions could operate without some sort of light. We scanned the road on the way up to the city, looking for signs of riders, and came up with nothing. We know that Trask can operate without light. It appears that the men with him were able to do so as well, and were taking full advantage of that fact. Because of the tree cover, we had to fly high enough that even I couldn’t make out the ground.
We continued up and saw fires lighting what should be watch points of the city. They were built in such a way to shed little illumination on their surroundings. Again with our position, there was little we could discern. Seifer had expressed concern that the skiff had been brought down before, and that if we got close enough to see details of the city, it could happen again. Especially as we know nothing about the layout, supply, or population of the settlement. We had come to strike at moving soldiers, not assault a fortification, so we didn’t have the preparation needed. I could see Seifer’s shoulders slump in defeat. Defeat, not in battle, but by circumstances. We gambled on catching Trask in transit and had lost. Now, with no reasonable options to move forward, we decided to return to the Rise.
A Short Trip Back
The trip back was quiet. The air on the ship was thick and no one felt like being the one to break it. Exelar was back by the cabin, head down in prayer. Seifer leaned over a side rail, watching the dark terrain flow past. I balanced on the prow of the ship, meditating and appreciating a view that I could never have anticipated. Quicker than expected, the firelight of Lochaid and the Rise emerged from the shroud of night. We landed in the town. With all the recent influx, we might need to start expanding and adding living area. Not something that I could have imagined when that ship first broke apart in the swells, regurgitating Exelar and myself onto the sand.
Exelar was off of the skiff first, I think he dislikes it for some reason, and was quickly met by a small group of villagers and elders. As I dropped off the edge of the skiff, I caught sight of green and blue cloth. Looks like they made him a flag. A nice sentiment; I wonder who he’s going to have hand it up? Thanking them, he handed it off to Gruendok as they dispersed and Hershel arrived with purpose in his step. The two of them started talking quietly and made their way to the Rise road. I started talking to Gruendok about our resources. Specifically, I asked him if we had any way of quickly sending messages to villages and other locations withing the basin. When he said that we didn’t, I began to form a list in my head. Hershel had paid for messenger birds of some sort while we were in Carrion Hill. We’ll need to obtain some, along with food, shelter, and keepers for them. We also needed scouts, not just patrolmen or rangers, to start gathering information and mapping our surroundings more thoroughly. This Eye of the Watch business was going to require work.
I was about to head up the hill, when I saw a group of people coming up road. I tensed up, ready to fight or flee, but it turned out to be a group from Angler’s Cove. They had come to meet with Exelar. Gruendok spoke to there leaders and then turned to escort several of them up the hill. I decided that it would be a good idea to follow. Coming up the road, we passed the Spire and I was again reminded of the mystery of its recreation and of its inhabitant. Xar’eth was drow, fully in every sense of the word. Though he had made no open move against us – as if that was proof in and of itself – he fully confessed that he was on the surface to find power to restore his family’s position. That made him dangerous in the wrong situation or when presented with the right opportunity. We kept walking.
The meeting with the Covemen was fairly brief. Or rather, was quick to the point. They had come suggesting, and requesting support for, an attack on Bowmen camps within the basin. It was a decent idea as soft targets like the encampments were a smarter target for us than assaulting a fortified position like the Cascades. Additionally, there was the chance that if we hit enough of them and caused enough damage, we might be able to draw Bowmen out from their city where they would be vulnerable. Maybe even a leader. And if none of them came out, we could still take resources and, forces, and material from them. It was a good idea. Seifer voiced his support and stated that he would lead the attacks. We’d need to arrange the specifics soon.
We broke the meeting, agreeing to conference again later, once some arrangements were made. Thinking we were done for now, I wandered outside, thinking more on our intelligence preparations, when Exelar and Nathaniel emerged from the temple, trailing most of our companions. Apparently, Xar’eth had previously discovered a scrying device in the Spire, but it wouldn’t work with another component. This requirement was thought to be the gem that we discovered weeks ago, that Nathaniel had fallen in thrall to and had been hidden away since. If the device is in the Spire, this could prove tricky. I decide to go with them.
Into the Spire
As expected, Xar’eth could not turn away all of us. He looked distinctly uncomfortable as we entered. On the way here, Hershel informed us, after already telling Exelar, that there was another drow in tower, one that claimed to be the cousin to our own. This did not bode well. Following the steps down, we went through a hall and into the larger, open chamber that contained the ornate framing of the scrying object.
Exelar pulled the softly glowing gem out of a pocket and slotted it into a matching divot on the device. His hand never leaving the gem, his eyes closed and he seemed to be praying or communicating with something. A moment later, his eyes snapped open with a new, subtle glow behind them. “There is a dragon here. From the depths and disguised as a drow.” At the same moment, I heard footsteps echoing from a hallway to the side of the staircase we’d descended. There was the intruder, a drow it would appear, but then it laughed. A deep, rumbling, and somehow sharp sound that could never be made by the thin frame it wore. I’d heard it before. It was the deep dragon from the goblin caves.
In an instant, I heard Xar’eth cry out in pain. Throwing a glance his way, I saw him crumpled in a bleeding heap on the ground, two arrows sunk nearly to the fletching protruded from his side. Hershel was nowhere to be seen. No time for that, we faced a true threat in the mad, ancient creature before us. Turning back, I could see even now that his form was melting almost, reshaping itself from a drow into an amalgamation of dark elf, serpent, and something else. For a moment, this thing is vulnerable. I shift my stance and pull a thread of shadow from the air. Twining it longer, I hurl it at the thing in the hallway. It wraps around its neck and cuts a deep furrow before dissipating into whisps. Anticipating a dragons deadly breath, I tumble to the side of the archway that leads into this room. I catch sight of Hershel, now against the wall opposite me, bow in hand.
With a shout of hatred, Seifer charged the beast. As he drew close, he brought down the Thyatian sword in an arc that would have cleaved most men in half. The blade glimmered in the dull light and sunk deep into the flesh of the changing dragon. It’s bellowing echoed of the walls of the chamber, nearly disorienting me, and in return for the wound, it retched forth a mass of stinking fluid that began eating away at everything it touched. Our position saved Hershel and myself from exposure, but the others weren’t so lucky. I anticipated that Seifer would take the brunt of the attack, being directly in front of the thing, but the mass of the acid appeared to diverge around his blade, sparing him the worst of the damage, though not all of it. The others were likewise struck, though they appeared to avoid some of attack. And then I saw Caleb.
Clearly, he had thrown himself in front of Nathaniel to shield him. The majority of his flesh was already sliding off his body into a puddle at his feet. The backplate of his armor was reduced to smoking edges of twisted steel. He died without a sound. Nathaniel pulled himself from his cousins remains and launched an arc of lightning into the thing. I could hear it thundering off the hallway edges and if reappeared outward, striking the dragon-thing again and glancing across Seifer’s shoulder. Wulfgar bellowed a warcry and charged the beast when suddenly a wave of pale light washed over the room, closing my comrades wounds. Finally, I heard Heironeous’ name called upon as Exelar barreled to the hall. A golden light suffused his sword as he brought it down and took the last of the wretched things life force.
The body of the thing slumped into a mass, not unlike the [[The Abomination Returns. A New Player. | abomination]] in the swamps. It’s carcass split open and there was a thing not unlike a kobold in shape. It uttered the chittering laughter that I remember from the goblin caves and rose like an arrow through the stone and earth of the spire, leaving a rancid ooze in its wake.
As we started to take stock, there was a thrumming in the air and Xar’eth’s body disappeared with a flash. Exelar looked toward the gem and then said aloud that he had been teleported outside the Spire. Seifer, Nathaniel, and Wulfgar ran up the stairs at hearing this. Exelar stepped toward the gem, laid his hand on it, and disappeared as well. Hershel had disappeared again, but I had no doubt that he, too was pursuing our ertswhile companion. In an instant, I was there alone with bodies of a friend and an enemy.
On a hunch, I too walked toward the gem, glowing in the embrace of the scryer. I reached my hand out toward it, but did not grasp it. A deep voice echoed in my head, demanding to know who I was, what I was doing. Before I could respond, the voice softened and identified me as “the other drow” and “the one Exelar” admires, then asked what I wanted. Looking over again at Caleb’s remains, I asked if it could return him to life. It could not. I was told that a feat of that kind had to be done by priests at the temple. We would have to find if the temple held any magicks capable of such a feat. I then asked where the others had gone and was told where. Concerned at being the only one left in the Spire after what had just happened, I asked it would be safe to leave the tower unattended. The voice in the gem did not seem entirely sure, so I asked it to move me to just inside the tower door.
A dizzying moment later, that’s exactly where I was. Taking a step forward, I could see the backs of Exelar and the others. Hershel stood facing opposite them, with a bloodied blade in hand. All of them were looking toward the ground. The only words I heard were from Hershel, asking, “Now what?”