Thursday, March 22, 2018

#6: The Old Keep

We gather at the base of the “Tower of Carrock”, the half-constructed legacy of leaders past, and of Aibreann’s parents.  Tussugar, Aibreann herself, Drachus, Rould, Audric and myself. 

I don’t know what it is we expected to find.  There are stockpiles of blankets, dry goods and provisions for the town, but beneath the tower—in the cellar—we win access to a chamber behind a locked door.  Stale air confronts us, revealing another storeroom stocked with barrels, but also elaborately carved, moth-eaten furniture that is altogether out of place in a town such as Carrock.  We also find a large chest, on which are engraved the initials ‘ECV’—belonging to Aibreann’s mother, Ethelenda. Drachus reveals these to be the handed-down possessions of Aibreann’s parents.

In examining the room, we discern that most of the belongings are mundane in nature, though artfully crafted, if worn from time and neglect.  The chest is full of women’s clothing, presumably having belonged to Aibreann’s mother, but within the chest, Audric detects a magical aura, and with Aibreann’s blessing, rummages through the chest.  None of the items within are the culprit, but he does discover a hidden panel at the base of the chest containing a pair of books and a leather pouch; the aura emanates from the pouch.

One of the books appears to be a book of spells, the other a journal.  Within the pouch, there are three black marbles.  When handed the journal, her eyes tear up—this was clearly an unexpected find.  We hand the items over to Aibreann, expecting to revisit their importance—and potential value—later.

Recognizing that we need a guide to find Oldkeep, we ask around the various hunters of Carrock, setting up a meeting for later that day.  Back at the inn, Aibreann confronts us about our findings earlier that day.  She entrusts the black marbles to us, as we intend to use them in service to and defense of Carrock.  The journal is a pregnancy journal from her mother; it refers to the book of spells, revealing that it was plunder taken from band of orcs.  It’s identified as “particularly suitable to a young apprentice”.  She entrusts that to us as well, then reveals one last secret—that there is something else she wishes us to see.

Drachus and Tussugar, along with Rould, gather around the table.  Aibreann reveals one of the last pages of the journal, where the final entry—several pages—the only thing scribed on the page of the journal is the same mark found on the faces of the creatures we killed.  The mark looks like it may be some sort of a rune or a character of a foreign alphabet, but beyond that it holds no meaning to us.

I use my magic to examine the runes; they appear to be similar, or in fact a wizard mark; an arcane sigil, a wizard’s personal rune.  I explain to Tussugar that it may be that the creatures were in Carrock seeking the book; more likely, however, they were searching for the blood of the book’s author, Aibreann.

Tussugar reveals that he needs to ‘amend’ the story shared with us before.  When he says “he watched them both die,” he actually witnessed Ethelenda attack and kill her husband, Reginald; Tussugar retaliated, striking down Ethelenda with his axe.  Ethelenda was the ‘Witch Queen’ of Tussugar’s tale, though whether the Witch Queen existed before—as a separate entity—is unknown, as Tussugar did not arrive until later.

The hunters arrive, three of them, answering our call for aid.  One among them—short and bearded—reveals that he found the tracks, that he knows the woods better than anyone, and offers to come willingly.  His name is Arkhen.  Though short—perhaps 5’3—he looks strong and capable.  He agrees to leave in the morning.

We spend the night, preparations having been made, and awaken fresh—if anxious—and ready to go.  If we hurry, we will arrive with daylight to spare.  I spare only a moment to remind Tussugar to watch over Aibreann, and we depart.

Arkhen doesn’t know much about Oldkeep; being a day out from Carrock, it would mean spending the night in the wild to visit it, which is a dangerous proposition.  He has been there enough times to know of its location, but hasn’t been within the walls.  Our journey is uneventful, and two hours before sundown we reach Oldkeep, approaching it from the west.  The north wall is mostly intact; the south wall, however, is mostly collapsed, standing only a handful of feet high.  Inside the walls—or remains of the walls, is in interior structure, perhaps a storage chamber or shelter.

I conjure forth an unseen servant to carry a torch in advance of our investigation.  With cover provided by Rould and Arkhen, Audric & I approach the interior structure.  I notice movement within--perhaps an animal, perhaps something more threatening—but we continue our approach.  The ground inside the walls is cobbled, but most is crushed and ground with the passage of time, consumed by the earth.  Nothing is tended, but we do notice scuffs.  We find scatter—it has an odor to it, so it is not old.  There is a subtle unpleasant odor.  We see movement again; this time obviously humanoid, a gangly limb.  I order the unseen servant to raise the torch to the height of the interior structure of the keep.

The realization occurs to me that the detritus I’ve stepped in is in actuality a severed, gory arm.  As the fire reaches the top of the keep, long, clawed hands reach over the wall, and a dark, rubbery creature scales down the wall.  The creature has empty eye sockets, and evil intent.

It rushes me and Audric, and we suffer greatly from its claws and deadly bite.  Audric’s retaliation against the creature is mighty, however, and the aim of our new comrade Arkhen is true.  We flee melee, narrowly avoiding disaster, and Arkhen slays the creature with a well-placed arrow as it rushes forward to finish us off.

Its wounds begin to stitch and mend, the corpse to move with unnatural life, but that ends when we set flame to the creature—revealed to be a horrid troll.

Within the interior structure of the keep, we discover the troll’s lair, as well as a dilapidated stairwell leading below.  I send the unseen servant down with the torch, where we discover what appears to be the troll’s nest or bed.  The torch illuminates runes that are very similar to those found in Moonglow Cave.  Unsure how to proceed, but in need of secure shelter for the night, we ponder our findings, and make to explore the cellar further…