Back from the Mill
The sounds of the mill had stopped, aside from the creaking of the great water wheels below. On the top floor of the now corpse-ridden building the party stood over a dead elf and his deceased henchmen. Raoul walked over to the bleeding corpse, laying his hand on Oggrash as he passed to relieve the orc from his rage-induced fatigue. After pulling off the twisted spiral flesh mask the dead elf wore, the paladin was able to see the face of the man who had been hell-bent on the party’s death.
“I think this guy might have been important around here. I think his name might be Ironbriar? Justice Ironbriar sounds familiar…”
Patrick’s eyes widened a bit as he heard Raoul speak. The sorcerer stepped close enough to verify that the dead elf was in fact one of the Justices of Magnimar. While Patrick considered what the killing of a Justice might entail for his future Oggrash walked into the office in the back of the room.
Inside the walls were covered with the tanned and stretched faces of numerous people, thirteen once Ogg finished counting. Just the skin of the faces, each in a particularly disquieting grimace or silent scream of pain. The rest of the room was mundane, squalid even. A scratchy blanket covered a cot. The only items of note were a ledger, some valuable looking old books, and a spellbook with an ornate cover depicting two snakes, one red and one green. Ogg flipped through it, recognizing many languages across the pages. Garus joined Oggrash in the room and began reading through the ledger.
“Looks like this was that Ironbriar. He was getting payments from someone called the “Red Mantis”, for “Vorel’s Legacy,” said the druid. “Looks like they wanted to get ahold of that mold from Foxglove Manor. Doesn’t look like Ironbriar ever managed to get any from Aldern before we showed up.”
In the corner of the room a ladder led up to the roof. Oggrash climbed up to find the rookery, empty now. The remaining crows had fled. After gathering the books form Ironbriar’s room the party slowly made their way back through the dusty, blood caked mill. Grodd picked up the strange masks and the war razors off each still cultist. As they came to the door Garus walked up to Grodd. With a few arcane gestures the weapon laden gorilla shrank into a tiny statue of himself. Garus pocketed the beast and the group left.
Korba returned to Patrick and the two shared their thoughts for a moment.
“She followed the bird to a clock tower under the Irespan, to the north. Seems like that might be our next stop,” the sorcerer told the others. “She didn’t get close enough to figure out anything about what’s going on inside.”
“Oy, you lot!” shouted a mill worker, passing by the smoking and strangely still mill the group had just left. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing to worry about, sir, you might as well be on your way. Nothing at all happening here, we were just looking to secure some business!” beamed Raoul to the worker.
“Yeah, coz everyone working down here wears armor and looks like they spent a shift in the local abattoir!” quipped the worker as he slowed to stare at the group. The gang looked themselves up and down. There was an undue amount of blood to be seen for a friendly meeting of wood suppliers and millers. Ogg stepped forward, drawing himself up.
“We’ll be seeing the city watch soon enough,” he growled.
”But you’re probably best off not telling anyone you saw anything. Let the guards deal with whatever comes next today.”
“Yeah, sure, well, yeah,” the worker stammered as he backed off. “Just doin’ my civic duty and whatnot. Best be on to my shift.”
As the millworker hurried away Oggrash walked to the riverbank and began splashing water on his chest and pants, trying to remove the worst of the sawdust and blood that was forming disgusting cakes on his person. The others joined him. After a few minutes serving propriety, the group set off to the north, heading for the Arvensoar.
Magnimar’s upper and lower cities were split by a great cliff that ran from the edge of the Irespan south to the middle of the wall separating the town from country. The Arvensoar was a towering obelisk jutting from the base of the cliff, up the cliffside, and on into the air above the city. Inside the great tower were stairs and lifts connecting the upper and lower city. Also housed in the tower, keeping a watchful eye of the traffic on the stairs and lifts, was the seat of Magnimar’s City Watch. The party, now dry from their walk up from the river, were waiting in a chamber for the arrival of Acacia Uriana, the Captain of Magnimar’s Guards. The door to the antechamber opened, and fierce woman in chainmail over a blue tunic strode in.
“Didn’t take you lot long to cause some trouble, did it?” Captain Uriana quipped as she halted before the party. “You’ve been here maybe a week? I mean honestly. I knew Hemlock said you were direct, but burning down the oldest mill in the city? Well, what have you got to say?”
Garus stepped up and spoke, “We found evidence pointing to some rather grizzly cultists, ma’am.”
“Oh, cultists, sure. You know, this city is lousy with gods and cults. Some people think the whole place was built over some evil demi-urge’s sandbox. You don’t see my men torching every shop with an elf or an effigy in it do you?”
“Ma’am, this cult was led by Justice Ironbriar. He is dead.” Garus said in a low voice.
Uriana straightened up, as if a cord attached to her spine had just been pulled taught. The room grew very tense as the assortment of aides and other watchmen suddenly lost interest in what they were doing. Uriana sighed, and motioned to a guard by the door, who closed the entrance firmly. The room seemed to relax slightly as Uriana gestured the group to a desk to one side of the room.
“Well then. Who knows about this?” asked the Captain.
Raoul spoke. “A few mill workers saw us on the way out, and the mill is not really a going concern anymore.”
“I’ll have to tell the Lord Mayor. We need to keep this quiet. The death of a Justice, and in such circumstances makes things… difficult. Do you understand this?”
The group nodded as Captain Uriana kept speaking.
“Do you have proof?”
Oggrash produced the various tomes gleaned from Ironbriar’s room, and Garus produced a few of the Masks, including Ironbriar’s tanned spiral of flesh.
“We are planning to investigate the clocktower under the Irespan tomorrow,” Oggrash said. “It seems Ironbriar was involved with someone there.”
Uriana leafed through the books and considered her options. She looked back up to the group and spoke in a level tone.
“Well, at least you seem to have proof for this bloody quest you seem hell bent on bring from Sandpoint. I’ll send a few guards to check out that clock tower. We’ll have someone keep an eye on you after you leave, too. That’s as much for my protection as yours.”
The meat of the conversation was over, but formalities remained. The group gave their statements to a taciturn Sargent then departed the Arvensoar with a pair of guards following at a plausibly deniable distance. Raoul suggested the group visit his old acquaintance Tira at the temple. Everyone received the general blessing of welcome healing, while Raoul took a moment to pray and converse with Tira. Eventually they ended up back at their inn, settling into a meal and drinks.
As the evening wound down, a man holding himself like a guard but dressed as a commoner came in and slowly worked his way toward the group’s table, eventually sitting nonchalantly on one of the benches the group had staked claim to.
“No need to draw any attention, I’m from the Guard,” he said as he sipped a mug a shrugged off the skeptical looks from Garus and Oggrash. “Just came to tell you the facts and the fictions. That clock tower is a right nasty bit of building. It’s a shabby deathtrap. No one goes in our out during the day, but sometimes a fool gets it into his head to try and climb it. Usually ends up with them falling off at some point and making a mess. And that’s all that we know for sure.”
“Some good rumors for scaring the weak-kneed though. One lady told us there is a snake woman living in the tower, which sounds like bullshit. Another guy said there was a scarecrow man inside, and I’ve got no fucking clue what that is about. Well, enjoy your drinks!”
The totally-not-a-guardsman lifted his mug in cheers, stood, and continued ambling around the inn.
The Shadow Clock
The next morning the party gathered and prepared to head to the Underbridge. A guardsman found the group and informed them that no activity had been seen overnight. After locating an alchemist the party purchased some potions to prepare for the excepted fight to come and made their way down the cliffs to the base of the Irespan.
The Shadow Clock stood in the shadow of the great bridge. Where the supporting pylons of the Irespan were ancient yet strong, the Shadow Clock appeared young but crippled. The structure rose from the shanty town up into the shadows, reaching to within tens of feet of the bottom of the bridge. The tower was made of an amalgam of limestone blocks, with wood and metal supports holding the rickety tower up in an improbable lean. Scaffolding surrounded various parts of the exterior. The clock itself was motionless, stuck at a permanent three o’clock. At the top of the tower a crumbling angel sat, leaning dangerously towards the edge as if to dive down into the street below.
The party arrived at the door to the decrepit tower. Vinder scanned the main door and found no traps. Garus and Grodd went in first, followed by Raoul, then Oggrash, and finally Vinder. Beyond the door the entire ground floor of the tower was a single room with no ceiling. Starting in the far northwest corner a flight of rotting wooden stairs lead up into darkness above. The interior was a hollow shaft, with four massive bronze bells hanging as dark silhouettes against their moorings far above. The northern and eastern walls were home to six collapsing offices. A single wagon sat in the in front of the old offices.
Grodd sniffed the air, and caught the smell of many work animals. Under the layers of horse and donkey the odor of something almost human lingered. Garus, sensing this, picked up a small stone, cast a light spell upon it, and tossed the pebble into the darkness under the stairs to the northwest. The light the stone cast was bent back oddly, as if some spell or charm was covering the space under the stairwell. Raoul stepped forward and saw a large misshapen monster lurking in the corner.
The creature was an amalgamation of human, horse and cow flesh stitched together into the form of a fat man. Covering the creature were clumps of straw and rotting rags of clothing. Hanging form the scarecrow-golem’s belt were three bloated and decayed human heads that almost looked like ripe pumpkins. In one great paw the beast held a wicked over-sized scythe. A deep, broken voice moaned out of the beast.
“Why you come here? She no happy!”
Oggrash quickly cast a spell that caused multiple flickering versions of himself to appear, overlaying his form as he tensed to fight.
“Who isn’t happy?’” asked the paladin.
“SHE no happy! Leave NOW!” roared the golem.
“Is it evil?” whispered Vinder, who had come up behind the paladin.
“Oh, yeah,” drolled Raoul.
“Kill it,” stated Vinder.
Raoul charged directly into the golem, drawing his sword and driving home a heavy blow into the stitched flesh and rags. Garus quickly cast a strength enhancing spell upon himself. Vinder braced and launched a scorching ray of fire into to corner, but the golem shuffled to the side as Vinder loosed the spell, and the searing flames crashed into the stones in the corner.
“I NO LIKE FIRE!” bellowed the beast as Oggrash charged in. The half-orc swing too fast as the golem screamed, and his sword flew through empty air.
“NO LIKE TIN MAN!” growled the golem, sweeping it’s’ scythe at Raoul. The scythe glanced off the paladin’s heavy armor as the paladin stood his ground, failing to draw blood. Raoul took advantage of the miss, lunging in and striking with his sword again.
Grodd lumbered forward, clawing and biting at the golem. The gorilla’s claws found flesh, but seems to have little effect on the beast. The golem had been backed into the corner and surround by the half-orc, the paladin and the gorilla. Garus moved closer to prevent a break through the line, and wracked his brain to recognize the creature.
“It must be a flesh golem! Be wary, they can going into a rage!” the druid called forward. Oggrash grunted.
Vinder loosed another ray of fire, hitting the golem and seeming to slow it, but failing to harm much beyond the dazed expression the creature displayed.
“I’ll give you some rage! ARRRRRRGGGH!” cried Ogg as he let his own berserk rage loose, blood magic swelling his muscles and increasing his speed. The bloodrager channeled and focused his fury into his great sword, causing it to glowing with eerie light, and Oggrash swung wildly. The swing found flesh, then bone, then air. The great stroke cleaved the golem in twain from shoulder to hip, and the bisected beast fell to the floor with a pair of fleshy thuds. Oggrash stood panting over the corpse, letting his rage subside as the dying golem twitched in the straw and dirt.
Vinder walked up to the body and grabbed a shimmering cloak.
“Wouldn’t have expected one of these on a golem. Cloak of Elven Kind, good for hiding!” quipped the arcanist as he shook the cloak and slid it over his shoulders.
Garus searched the large room as Oggrash calmed himself. The druid found a moldy satchel full of gold and silver coins in the rubble. The others meet at the foot of the great stairwell wrapping the wall of the clock tower, and as Ogg and Garus joined them the group headed up.
Vinder lead the way, testing each step as he went. At the first corner the a few boards crumbled and feel down onto the corpse below. Vinder prepared a feather fall spell. Vinder moved ahead and the group spaced out as they continued to climb the north wall. Raoul was trying to walk carefully, but as he reached the middle of the stairs, his armor and weight were too much for the stairs and his foot plunged through. The paladin caught himself on the rickety stair that was before him. Ogg moved down to the heavily armored paladin and gingerly helped him up. As they settled on the stairs, the wood beneath them creaked again. Oggrash looked up to Vinder apprehensively and gestured to the smaller man to continue up along the wall.
Garus looked up and down the stairs, then shouted “Hold!”, and jumped down to the floor below. The druid walked to the center of the room, and positioned himself directly below the four great bells above. Closing his eyes, the druid stilled himself. At first it appeared as if nothing was happening. Then slowly Garus started to meld into the ground. His boots grew and gnarled like tree roots. His arms raised, lengthening, twisting and growing into branches. The druid’s whole body elongated and turned to wood. After a minute or two Garus had morphed entirely into a tree, with stubby braches jutting out around the trunk almost exactly like a spiraling staircase.
Vinder jumped out and grabbed a branch, pulling himself onto the makeshift stairs.
“Didn’t know druids did interior carpentry!” he chuckled as he started to climb.
Oggrash and Raoul found a set of thicker branches that brushed the stairs and worked their way onto the Garus-tree. After a few minutes of much less treacherous climbing the party pushed through the canopy of the Garus-tree and found themselves on the rafters holding the four silent bells. One of the bells seemed to be loosely rigged, a trap the druid had let them climb past. A hole in the wall of the tower led to more rickety stairs, this time on the outside of the dilapidated tower. As the three made their way onto the platform by the hole Garus morphed back, branches first wrapping around the bell’s rafter like great vines, then roots and trunk shrinking back into the more humanoid form the druid was born into. Finally, as the tree was almost entirely Garus shaped again, it pulled itself onto the platform in the corner, and Garus completed the reversal.
Raoul began climbing the exterior stairs. The view was terrifying. Only a haphazard collection of planks tenuously anchored to stone separated the paladin from a hundred foot fall to the slums below. The dark underside of the Irespawn loomed heavy overhead. As Raoul rounded the stairs with the party in tow, he felt the familiar ache of evil in his head once again. Grodd grunted lowly, smell the stench of faceless stalkers lurking somewhere nearby. After completing a quarter-turn of the stairs, the group was faced with the choice of more stairs to the rooftop and hole in the side of the tower leading to darkness.
The group gathered in the small wooden room the size of a large closet or storeroom. A single door lead into the top of the clocktower and a small wooden cage holding a single raven sat in the storeroom. Vinder took a place by the hole to the stairs, Raoul stood firmly in the center of the room, and Oggrash and Garus opened the door and pressed into the room beyond. Three leathery faceless stalkers were waiting.
Ogg let the rage flow through his blood again and charged the nearest abomination. His sword struck true, hitting the stalker in the shoulder and lodging deep into the torso. The walker gaped stupidly as it fell to the floor. Grodd followed in behind the druid and bloodrager. The gorilla lunged at the second stalker, but failed to hit as the creature twisted away to charge Ogg. Ogg dodged the stalker in turn. Raoul moved into the inner room, guarding the exit to prevent anyone from coming in our out. Vinder, standing by the fractured wall, heard noise from below. He moved through the storage room towards the sound of fighting, casting an alarm on the inner door as he passed the paladin. Garus moved up to the stalker that had failed to hit Oggrash and landed a strike on the leathery foe. The creature struck back but missed the druid.
The magical alarm went off as a fourth stalker burst into the room and barreled into Raoul. It swung a sword at the paladin and hit, but it glanced harmlessly off Raoul’s armor. Oggrash, still raging, cut down the stalker facing Garus with a mighty slash across the monster’s back, severing muscle and spine. Grodd again pummeled bit the stalker on Raoul, drawing blood as it tried to avoid the gorilla. Garus moved across the room, shifting into the form of a great cat, attacking the last of the original three stalkers. The faceless one fell to the floor as Garus dug claws into its’ chest and clamped his feline jaw down over the stalkers face, cracking bone.
Vinder planted his feet and sent a torrent of magical missiles into the stalker facing Grodd and Raoul, and the paladin viciously hacked into the creature’s leg. Staggering, the stalkers tried to flee to the stairs. It made it to the door, but the damage to its leg and the disorientation of the missiles caused it to stumble as it hit the stairs. The abomination pitched forward and flew off the edge it the open air beyond. An unintelligible screech fell away, then abruptly silenced with a wet smacking sound.
The group looked around the room they had just coated in blood. The fight had taken place within the workings of the clock itself. On the south wall mass of broken and abused machinery sat behind the backside of the clock face. On the sides of the room great gears sat motionless, rusted fast. The stairs and supports up to this point had been hasty, poorly built repairs, but this room had a solid floor. Vinder and Garus briefly looked for any clues to the room’s current use, but found nothing. The party headed back to the stairs to finish the ascent and find whatever was waiting for them at the top.
As Vinder and Oggrash ventured back onto the last flight of stairs, the sunlight weakly filtering in some the sides of the bridge was cut off by a browing layer of dark clouds. A black wraith with horns drifted out of the clouds and began circling the tower at a range of some hundred feet or so. The creature emitted a screeching keen as it passed. Vinder and Ogg both immediately recognized it as a demon of the Goddess Lamashtu, Mother of Monsters. The creatures circled, but did not approach, and the heroes climbed the final stairs to a small landing just below the tilting angel statue.
The rooftop landing was a small circular area atop the conical roof of the tower, surrounding the onyx angel. The platform was perhaps ten feet across at the widest point between the statue’s deteriorating supports and the edge of the roof. As the group caught their breath, each prepared himself, magically or otherwise, to fight the circling demon. The creature was slowly spiraling in towards the rooftop.
After a few moments, Raoul walked counterclockwise around the statue, and saw a bizarre snake-like creature with the torso and head of a woman. She was covered in some combination of scales and armor above the waist. Her face was obscured by mask with fanning points radiating above her long, jet black hair. In her hands was a trident. In the sunken eyes of the mask there was sickly green glow where her eyes would have been.
The snake-woman struck at Raoul with lightning speed, slithering across the small space and badly bruising the paladin through his armor. Garus signaled to Grodd and the two both heaved against the statue of the angel, trying to push the stone icon over and onto the snake-lady. Grodd lost his footing on the grimy roof and staggered, rocking the statue but failing to knock it over. The demon slowly circled ever closer.
Vinder stepped forward to get a clear line of sight, drew a wand, and loosed a volley of magic missiles into the demon as it swooped past. As the missiles found their mark, the demon contorted and then disappeared. It had been an illusion.
Oggrash charged into the snake-woman, greatsword arcing, but missed as the woman contorted to the side and laughed. Raoul hacked into the woman’s serptine body, silence the laugh with a screech of pain and rage.
“You fools have no idea what you are doing!” she cried as she drew back form the paladin’s holy sword and swung her trident at Oggrash. The tines hit, drawing two great bloody gashes across the half-orc’s chest. Just as Ogg reeled back from the blow the statue gave an ominous creak and Grodd and Garus pushed it over onto the snake-woman. She dodged the falling hulk by an inch, bunch had to close with the bloodrager and paladin to do so. She now had no space to fall back. The toppled angel neatly blocked the walkway behind the frustrated woman.
Vinder, now cut off from the fight by supports and the fallen angel, quickly opened a dimensional door and popped up out near the stairs. He lined up to face the snake-woman and let fly a lance of lighting. The attack was dodge, discharged into the statue behind the serpent. Raoul and Oggrash both attacked with a flurry of blows, but only the bloodrager managed to hit with an off-balance swing. The snake woman chanted, and both her closest attackers dropped unconscious to the roof.
Garus began chanting while Grodd leapt to the fallen half orc and slapped him across the face waking him. As his eyes opened Oggrash saw the druid summon a great ball of ball of water and hurl it towards the snake, but the orb missed. Ogg attempted cast a spell morphing his greatsword into a magical whipie and pull the snake-woman down, but the woman was able to resist the magical affect. In retribution he woman stuck Oggrash again with two rapid blows of her trident.
With the snake-woman trapped between the group and the fallen statue, everyone but Vinder piled in to swing, strike, claw and bite at the woman. She artfully twisted and dodged most of the blow, buy the cat-formed Garus was able to land a few deep claw wounds across her long, sinuous body. Utterly pinned, the snake woman ach chanted a spell off and this time Vinder dropped to the wooden boards. Grodd stepped back and cuff the arcanist, waking him from the magical sleep. Vinder began pulling a patch of his makeshift robe.
With a roar Oggrash raised his greatword high. As the woman came out of her chanting trance, she dried to dodge. Instead of sliding back, the woma bounced off the fallen statue and back into the arc of the bloodrager’s blade. He struck true, hacking into her sholder in one stroke, then pulling back the blade and thrusting it deep into the her chest. The green light in her mask’s eye flickered and faded, and the whole of the woman’s snake tail twitch, the went slack. The fight was over.