With the flames of Durn’s smithy consuming the bodies behind them, fat sizzling even in the rain, they made their way across Faran’s Outpost. All cases of Witch hunting were difficult. This one seemed to be in an irritating category all its own.
Back in Malkrin’s empty jewelry shop, the heavy cotton of the pounding rain descended around them. They debated, quietly, whether Cern was part of what was happening – how his name had been so conspicuously absent from their investigations, even among the Wolfen. Did that mean he was self-involved and innocent, or that he was a prime conspirator, a puppet-master of little Faran’s Outpost.
Illyria pointed out that the fragments of cotton wool in Malkrin’s cases was exactly the kind of cotton wool found in the chest at the Prospector’s shop.
Was it better, they wondered, to go down into the dark passageway – where the gods were left but their enemies erased from history – or to march across the city and bang on the door of Cern’s tower. From the empty back private room of the jewelry shop, came a grinding sigh. In that room, the trap door stood open again, though they had closed it before they’d left.
Alain stiffened, and Illyria grabbed her head, bending slightly. “Someone is trying to… get information about us. I have blocked it,” the Captain said.
“Do tell,” Illyria responded, holding her temples.
Leaving the door open and unguarded was reckless beyond their ability to accept. Jack descended, crossbow-raised, in the dark. They crowded on the wide, shallow steps and waited, wondering, perhaps, for whom the steps had been made. Jack, unshakable, re-emerged, more ashen-faced than usual. “There is something down there circling and circling, darkness against a deeper dark. I don’t know what it is. Something magic. Something elemental. Lady, do you have the blue stone that bound the woman in the Prospector’s house?”
Illyria produced the blue stone, and they went down together. The hallway was the same, but different. The stones in the floor were smaller, and set in different patterns. There was a mark at the base of the stairs pointing SE twoard the chapel, that said in the Eastern script, “114 Stones”.
Alain lit a lantern. The fire blossomed out. But the darkness gathered close. Almost like a physical presence, the blackness pressed against the edges of the yellow glare of the hooded lantern. They all felt it. Slowly, the Hound reached forward and closed the lantern. The fire seemed relieved to hide inside glass and steel. The darkness fell back, and the gloom revealed itself to them.
The Hound raised the crossbow in one hand, and the softly gleaming blue stone in the other. They advanced, each keeping the Hound in sight – Gavin a few steps behind, Illyria and Alain many steps further back, eyes darting back & forth.
The Hound stopped, narrating. In the circular room ahead, there was something in the center. Like a liquid. inside it was a kind of lighthouse, only instead of throwing out light, it was throwing shadows out across the room, turning and turning. There were diamond patterns of light and darkness across the floor, pointing toward them.
Waiting, Alain, turned his mind toward the pattern of the stones in the floor, because they had a story to tell. Something was in this new pattern of them, pointing toward…. He gasped, and took several steps back.
The Hound and the Witch Hunter shared a glance. Illyria laid a hand on Gavin’s shoulder.
They headed back to the stairs. Illyria stopped Alain. “What happened back there?”
He realized that his mind block had faded, and wasn’t sure how long it had been gone. White in the face, he whispered, “I saw myself… in a room,” he glanced north, toward the Finger, along the line of the hallway, “I was … stabbing… ” he looked away, and Illyria knew he meant her, “someone. I was scattering their blood on the walls.” What he didn’t say, that she heard, was ‘I was so happy.’
As he moved past her toward the stairs, his own voice came down the hallway, echoing. “I don’t want to go….”
Illyria and Alain stiffened, “Why not?”
The echo came back, “That’s because it’s learning all about you….”
Gavin and the Hound left, making their way out into the rain, toward Cern’s tower.
Always, the left-behind, the keepers and the wives, clean things up. Alain and Illyria dragged empty jewelry cases on top of the trap door that could open itself and would no longer disappear when closed.
Cern’s tower was glowing with a soft blue light. Between the 1st and 2nd floors, the tower was ringed with dragon heads projecting from the tower. Each of them was vomiting strong blue light, making a ring of circles around the tower.
Gathered in the rain, they considered the scorched, massive oak door, bound with dark iron, marked with wards in burning silver that hinted at the punishing of evil.
Illyria climbed the tower with alacrity. The water sheeting down its sides does not detract her. Her gloves are like the hands of spiders gripping the rough surface of the tower. She found a window slit into the interior, and moved from one to the other, finally having a whole sweet conversation through the slit.
Returning to the ground, Illyria reported someone would be letting them in. After a few moments bathed in unflattering blue light, the door opened wide on silent hinges. A tiny crystaline elf, dressed in a pointy hat and green waistcoat greeted Illyria in a hollow voice. “Hello. Please come inside to offer us help in our work.”
Illyria slipped into the room, which was decorated like a showroom for a wizard’s entrance room. The thick blue curtains on the walls gleamed with tiny points of stars. The floor was a globe map of Palladium, surrounded by a fiery sunburst, and the lines radiating out toward the walls were marked with various astrological symbols. A rosewood desk in the shape of a basilisk centered the room.
As Illyria entered, a figure materialized out of thin air in the middle of the room. Dressed as a butler, gray hair swept back in severe, traditional form. “I apologize, but the Master of the House is not available currently. You will need to return at a more suitable time, with an appointment.”
Closing in, Illyria asked questions about the house, noticed a form behind the rooms curtains, flailing. The Butler turned to see the mayor’s head emerging from among the curtains. Illyria stepped close, and stabbed him several times in the back.
The Butler turned back around, an expression of severe disapproval on his face. “Interlopers and rude behavior are simply not tolerated,” he said, gesturing up a force field of swirling air in the doorway to the tower, and then, with a gesture, flinging Illyria across the receiving room, into the wall.
The fight was on. Illyria threw knives. The Hound breathed acid saliva and darkness on the wall. Gavin railed against the wall and then tore the tower’s door off its hinges.
Despairing, Alain reached out, and inside the Butler. Possessing him. Ending the fight.
Stilling his companions, he pulled his body inside, setting it up with respect in the huge chair behind the rosewood desk in the receiving area. He explained he had 20 minutes or so. He set off, leaving the little crystal elf and the party waiting in the main room as he moved swiftly through the ground floor of the wizard’s tower, then heading into the devastation of the living areas on the upper levels.
He returned to the ground floor by accidental teleportation. The entrance room was empty. Before the now-struggling Butler ejected him forcibly, he re-entered his own body. He tried to explain himself to the Butler, that they were pursuing evil, but the Butler vanished into thin air as he had arrived.
Beyond Cern’s library, the group found a quiet study, and the stairs running up and down the tower.
“I fear this is the farthest I can accompany you,” spouted the strange little crystal elf. “My master bade me repair the tower with my brothers, and not venture into the catacombs where he and Cern are hard at work. In the room with circles and demons. There are 2 ways down to the room. A direct way, and one that is broken. If you can help us, lady, with the tailoring,” he sketched a bow, “we would be much obliged.”
“We can’t leave you here. You’re coming with us,” the Witch Hunter exclaimed, picking up the little crystal fella.
“I must protest. You are not of the blood. You are not a favored acquaintance. My presence in the basement is not possible!”
The Witch Hunter shrugged, and stuffed the struggling elf under his coat, heading down the stairs. When he passed the level of the ground floor, toward the soft blue glow of the basement below Cern’s tower, the little gnome… exploded.
The noise guided Alain to them. He found the Witch Hunter pulling fragments of the elf out of his side.
They discussed how to proceed. They decided simply to go as easily as they could, and as quickly.
The basement was a place of straight lines and fallen stones. They passed along a long straight corridor, studded with hallways of fallen stones and doorways studded in silver runes. Half way toward the stout door at the end of the corridor, the Bulter reappeared, apparently uninjured. “The Master repeats his request to return another time. He is otherwise occupied. Perhaps in the morning.”
The group demurred. They needed to see Cern. And tonight. “And I was commanded not to trigger the murder trap upon you. Hmmm….” the Butler said as he vanished.
They reached the door at the end of the hall, its walnut surface glowing with silver wards.
Alain gestured everyone to silence and stared firmly at the door. After a minute, he nodded. “Cern will see us.”
He pushed open the door and stepped through.
The room on the other side of the door was immense. There was another one of the strange pools that seemed omnipresent in the tower. A group of steel tanks. Storage cabinets. Work tables. Across the room, down several steps, there were a series of circles. In one of them, a massive demon, wings coiled and eyes burning across the room. In a closer circle, a small, pale girl leaned up against the invisible wall of the circle, crying softly.
Standing on the steps were Mellendor, the elven Prospector and Cern, the Adept. They both turned as the group entered. The older Cern, clothed in a blue velvet robe adorned with stars, turned, stroking his close-trimmed white beard.
He considered them with dark eyes. “Well? What is it?” he seemed unconcerned with either the demon behind him or their attempted murder of his butler.
Ah, the driven.