Chronicles of Khaldun: Isle of Anhak
Side Session 1: The Tower of the Stargazer
Sometime around midsummer, 552 CY (50 AN)
(Session date: September 30, 2015)
Brother O’Dill, Brother Gareth the Scarred, Amberwulf Granitebuster, and Thalia have been tasked by the Church of Pelor-Paladine to investigate the so-called Tower of the Stargazer, an ancient wizard’s tower in a broken, little-inhabited region. It is apparently constantly stormy in the vicinity of the Tower, with frequent lightning strikes at the site of the Tower itself.
It is with the following mission in mind that the foursome finds themselves in the village of Orc Drop, deep in the borderlands. Orc Drop lies fifteen miles from the Tower, and so forms an excellent launch point for this expedition.
After making certain they are fully supplied, the quartet disembarks for the Tower of the Stargazer. It takes four days of walking across broken ground for them to reach the Tower, which they approach in late afternoon of the fourth day.
From a distance, they can see the constant lightning activity around the Tower; the lightning appears to strike the Tower repeatedly, several times a minute. As they approach, they note that four, thin, steel spikes, each roughly forty feet tall, emerge from the ground equidistantly around the Tower at a radius of roughly fifty feet. The metal coating on the Tower, coupled with the four additional lightning rods, makes that fifty-foot-radius a holocaust of lightning strikes, a wasteland of barren rock.
After approaching the Tower, the group deliberates on what to do first. Brother Gareth decides to go first; he runs past the lightning rods, through the barrage of lightning, up the stairs to the Tower. Not having been struck by lightning, he investigates the heavy iron double doors leading to the Tower. Each door has a handle shaped like a snake poised to strike, and a large knocker. Immediately suspicious, Brother Gareth tries agitating the handle with the butt-end of his spear, and his suspicion is confirmed when the snake bites the spear.
While Brother Gareth investigates the door, Brother O’Dill decides to dash across the lightning field, followed by Amberwulf carrying Thalia. Once they are all at the door, Brother O’Dill tries to bash the snake. When that doesn’t work, Brother Gareth tries one of the knockers.
Magically, the doors swing open.
The open doorway reveals a lovely foyer — doors straight ahead and to the left, two coffee tables and pairs of chairs flanking the room. It is free of dust and clutter. Being unnerved by the constant lightning strikes and booming thunder, Thalia is the first to enter. After chiding her for entering first heedlessly, Brother O’Dill and the others enter.
Before going further, Amberwulf grabs the furniture and tries to prop it by the door so as to prevent the door from closing all the way. The group lights torches and lanterns, and prepares to delve deeper.
Trying the door straight ahead, the group finds a sitting room — a table and chairs, a cabinet full of fine china and a few wine bottles, a circular staircase leading up into the rest of the Tower. In the left corner of the room, sits a pile of boxes adjacent to a statue. The statue depicts a king embracing a medusa, after the popular Anhak folktale. The group notes that the booming thunder is swiftly muted as they penetrate deeper into the Tower.
Brother Gareth takes the four wine bottles and places them into his pack. The others investigate the room, and Thalia begins investigating the pile of boxes. She does not touch them, nor does she find anything suspicious regarding them. However, when Amberwulf goes to pry them open with an iron crow, the entire assemblage moves — it is apparently a hollow shell designed to look like a stack of boxes.
The group moves the box-shell, revealing a trap door. After thoroughly investigating the trap door, they open it to reveal stairs descending into the gloom. The group descends the stairs in a staggered fashion.
At the bottom is storage room, filled with crates. Each of them has a label such as, “The Skull of a Virgin Who Loved Butterflies” and “The Sternum of a Sailor Who Studied the Stars.” Young Thalia, immediately uncomfortable, decides to go back upstairs. Brother Gareth accompanies her, and the pair decides to investigate the king-and-medusa statue.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Amberwulf and Brother O’Dill begin opening boxes. They find them to contain bones, as labeled. After moving some boxes around, they find a second door, leading deeper into the basement.
After some investigation, Thalia determines the statue assemblage is on rollers; pushing it reveals another trapdoor. Brother Gareth and Thalia open the trap door and find a ladder leading down into the darkness. However, Amberwulf and Brother O’Dill soon report a second door in the basement, and the group decides to investigate it. They close the trap door under the statue and replace the statue. They then prop the box-shell against the wall so as to block the trap door, lest it close while they are away. Then they return to the storage room.
Opening the door at the far end, they find what appears to be some manner of laboratory. Four tables are placed in the room; one has a microscope and several vials, a couple have dissected animals, and one has a fresh corpse with a Y-shaped incision in the torso, sewn shut with golden thread. The far end of the room is dominated by a machine in a cage — a collection of gears, pulleys, and other such mechanical apparatus. An alcove in the left-hand side of the room features five mirrors. There is another wooden door to the right.
The group investigates the room. They note that the mirrors do not reflect them, nor does it reflect one of the vials — filled with a suspiciously crimson, sanguine fluid — when placed outside the alcove. Pushing the vial into the alcove, however, causes it to reflect in all five mirrors. Brother Gareth takes the microscope and places it in a sack, thinking it looks valuable.
Since Brother O’Dill hopes to bless all these remains, Amberwulf, Brother O’Dill, and Thalia begin moving boxes of bones into the laboratory while Brother Gareth investigates the other door. It appears to lead into a hallway with eight jail cells, five of which contain bodies and one of which contains a fifteen-armed skeleton; tortured moans come from within the hallway. Brother Gareth closes the door and summons Brother O’Dill to investigate. As he steps into the hallway, attempting to communicate with any unquiet spirits here, four of the bodies rise and begin to approach him, phasing through the bars and shouting, “FREE US!” all the while. Intoning a prayer to Pelor-Who-Is-Paladine, Brother O’Dill thrusts forward his holy symbol and holds the creatures at bay. Brother Gareth finds that despite their incorporeal nature, his spear penetrates them with difficulty and he manages to dispatch the ghosts.
The creatures thus destroyed, Brothers Gareth and O’Dill decide to open the cells and investigate the skeleton and the remaining corpse. Unable to open them, they recruit Thalia, who looks around and notices the key ring they overlooked. She opens the cells, and Brother Gareth decides to investigate the fresh corpse first. Thalia stands behind him. As he approaches and is about to unlock the manacles holding the corpse in place, a small worm-like thing leaps out of the corpse’s mouth and wriggles into Brother Gareth’s nose.
Thalia, somewhat panicked, alerts the others. Although they examine him, they cannot find evidence of the worm creature. Thalia retrieves a set of manacles and keeps the key ring; the group decides to monitor him, and if he begins acting strangely, they’ll manacle him and proceed from there.
They next examine the skeleton. The thing appears to be a humanoid with fifteen arms and four spines. It does not appear manufactured in any way — whatever creature this was developed in this manner. Brother Gareth breaks up the bones, and only unshackles it when he is satisfied it will not react.
The bones lie motionless on the ground.
Having expressed interest in investigating the mirrors next, the group returns to the laboratory. Brother Gareth notes he should be the one to test the mirror, as he’s likely to suffer some terrible fate from the worm anyway. He hands much of his equipment off to Thalia, then he closes his eyes and steps into the alcove, opening them to look into the mirror to the right and behind him. He is drawn into the mirror, stuck looking out of the mirror pane into the alcove. All else is dark.
Having seen him disappear, Thalia — taking great care to not look into the other mirrors — approaches and looks in the mirror into which Gareth disappeared. She sees him there, in the mirror, staring back out at her. After determining there is nothing likely to get him out of the mirror, and not wanting to risk breaking it, she decides to investigate the machine. Brother O’Dill takes position to see Brother Gareth, and they find they can communicate by breathing on the pane and writing in the steam.
Meanwhile, Thalia investigates the machine for a long while. Unable to make heads nor tails of it, she decides to start poking it violently with her ten-foot pole.
What happens next is somewhat unclear, but she apparently strikes just the right working to cause a magical backlash. The machine sputters, grinds to life, and dies, reeking of ozone. A loud crash sounds from within it, and all the mirrors shatter. Brother Gareth loses consciousness as the mirror shatters, never to regain it, and the shards of glass slice Brother O’Dill to ribbons, as he collapses into a puddle of his own blood and a pile of broken mirror shards.
Shocked by this horror, Amberwulf throws her flasks of oil into the now box-filled laboratory, concentrating on the machine, mirrors, and pile of boxes around the human corpse, and uses all of her torches to set fire to the laboratory. That done, she scoops up Thalia and the two of them flee the Tower, heading back to Orc Drop.