AiS 037: Hidden Secrets

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With the owlbears slain and their nest comprehensively looted, the party prepared to enter the tower proper. Before they did so, however, Johann, patrolled around the tower to see if he could get a sense about what lurked in the upper levels. Worryingly, he caught a glimpse of a large white and gold feathered wing on one of the upper levels, but the angle was such that he could not make out more of the creature.

As Thangrimm prepared to listen at the door, Warg’s patience snapped. Aroused with bloodlust after the battle with the owlbears he craved more violence and surprised his dwarven companion by suddenly kicking in the stout iron-banded door.

Beyond lay a dusty room—ripped clothes, food wrappers and a table lay scattered about the area. A staircase rose up to the upper levels. Two doors led to a ruined kitchen on the ground floor; poking about the chambers the party found an ornate golden ring hidden behind some broken pots in the kitchen, but nothing else of interest.

Pushing upwards, they reached the tower’s first floor. This floor comprised a single large room, but part of the west wall had collapsed. Mouldy tapestries hung on the walls and fluttered gently in the breeze. A narrow spiral staircase led to a higher level. As the party approached the stair the distinct sound of a large claw scraping on stone reached Johann’s ears—was this the sound of the creature he had glimpsed earlier?

“Creeping” up the narrow staircase wearing full plate armour and carrying a tower shield, Thangrimm lost all semblance of the element of surprise. In the chamber above standing over a bloody and eviscerated pony corpse crouched a large creature easily the size of a human. It had the body of a mountain lion and the wings and head of a majestic eagle. It hissed and flapped its wings as Thangrimm and then Genobar emerged into the room. Both heroes spotted two large crossbow bolts protruding from the beast’ flank.

Neither of the heroes wanted to fight this obviously noble beast and while Johann blocked the stairs so Warg couldn’t see what was going on, they both tried to calm the creature. An offered sandwich along with much healing magic managed to calm the beast and it even allowed them to retrieve the pony’s bloodied saddlebags.

With the beast pacified, the heroes continued upwards. Here the spiral staircase led to a stone trapdoor that gave out into the solar atop the tower. Shelves lined the walls and a small hole in the ceiling let in a dim light; soot stained the back of a fireplace in one wall and more general trash lay about the place. Investigating the room, Alice discovered a secret niche in the back of the fireplace. She also discovered a necromantic trap warded the niche. Carefully, she deactivated the trap and opened the hidden compartment. Within, lay a golden amulet and a small, thin leather pouch. Taking the two items, the party searched the rest of the chamber but found nothing more of interest.

It seemed the heroes had comprehensively searched the tower, and thoughts turned to resting therein overnight. Using their wild empathy and handle animal skills several of the party managed to bring their mules through the stinking owlbear den into the kitchen, which the party claimed as their primary camp.

The night passed essentially uneventfully. The heroes maintained a watch atop the tower, and these watchers could dimly make out several campfires on the distant road and streams of faint smoke emerging—they thought—from isolated farmsteads set deeper into the hills.

Johann made an interesting discovery during his watch, however. Looking down at the tower’s base, he noticed something he had not seen before. Amid the chunks of masonry scattered about, he noticed a single circular stone set into the ground near the tower. It was overgrown with weeds and brambles, but it seemed out of place to the canny dwarf.

The next morning, Johann shared his thoughts with his fellows and they decided to investigate. While Thangrimm cooked breakfast, the rest of the party set to excavating the ground around the stone. Clearing the undergrowth away and digging around the boulder took about an hour and when they had finished they discovered it was no boulder—it looked a lot like a capstone. Excitedly, they broke for breakfast before trying to move the stone aside.

The stone was heavy and it took the combined efforts of most of the party’s warriors, and their two harnessed mules, to eventually shift it. Below, a shaft dropped down about five feet to a tiny five-foot square chamber. A narrow set of rough-hewn steps led down to the west. Fetid, stale air arose from the shaft.