“Tell the Blades we don’t have the amulet anymore, and it was never theirs to begin with!”
“For the thousandth time! We are not with the Wreckwash Blades!”
The negotiation with the Tower Girls was not going well. After taking the two prisoners, the party had tied up one, and had the other one lead them to their leader. Except she hadn’t taken them to their leader. She had led them down some passages, through two secret doors, past a crypt whose undead inhabitants the Tower Girls had destroyed, “accidentally” tripped over an alarm tripwire she said she hadn’t known about, and finally to where they were now, at the bottom of a stairwell, talking to a woman named Karisa who was pointing a crossbow at them.
“Who are you then?” Karisa demanded.
“We’re … independent contractors.” Theodore answered.
“If you’re with the Blades …”
“WE ARE NOT WITH THE STUPID BLADES! IF WE WERE WITH THE BLADES WE WOULD BE ATTACKING YOU, NOT TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!”
“Or we could just leave and tell the Blades where you are,” Scratchy added. “You guys are stuck in a hole with no escape.”
Karisa thought about the situation for a minute, then made some squeaking noises, and a rat moved off into the darkness. Presently another voice called out. “Alright, you wanted to talk to me, here I am. Who are you and what do you want?”
“We’re independent contractors and we’re here looking for an item.” Theodore replied.
“We don’t know what it is.”
“So you won’t tell us who you are and you’re looking for an item whose identity you don’t know? And what do you want what from us?”
She did have a point. Theodore turned to Scratchy and said, “Do the thing with the shard again.” Scratchy agreed, closed his hand around the shard, and concentrated on the location of the next one. Instantly, he had a vision. First of the Crow, then of a plunging descent through its layers, past where they were, hundreds of feet down to a vault suffused with golden light. In its center was an altar with shaped like a seven-pointed star, and laid into an indentation in one of the arms, was a shard of black metal.
“It’s deep,” said Scratchy, “much deeper than here.”
“Look,” Theodore said to the Tower Girls, “we just want to move through your area. The thing we’re looking for is deep at the bottom of this piling. We don’t want your treasure, we just want safe passage.”
“We don’t want their treasure?” inquired Scratchy quietly, but Theodore ignored him. There was a pause, and then the Tower Girls replied.
“What do you know about the Crow?” asked the voice in the darkness.
That was the wrong question to ask a scholarly person like Theodore. He cleared his throat and began. “Well, the Crow is 220 feet tall, and is made of basalt, though obviously enchanted in some way as the Crow, like the other Irespan pilings, remains exactly as described by the Chelish historian Dinovic in his Grand Survey of Imperial Territories conducted in 4411, with no signs of erosion despite nearly constant exposure to wind and sea water. The crows carved onto the exterior appear to be stylized depictions of the common Varisian field crow, but there are at least six depictions of what could be interpreted as the larger Nidalese urban crow. It is also possible that these six represent some other type of bird entirely. This theory is generally frowned upon because it breaks the pattern of a single creature being featured on the outside of each piling, but it cannot be discounted altogether and so needs to be included in any scholarly analysis for completeness’ sake.”
“You don’t really need to …”
“There has been some speculation that the carvings are related to the preservation magic, but the scholar Tendrath in 4612 proved conclusively that they do not correspond to any known version of the permanency spell. Of course it is impossible for us to know with any degree of certainty what sort of magic was used by the ancient Thasillonians, so this is another theory that cannot be entirely discounted. Especially since there are runes written on the exterior of the Crow which are not known to be part of the standard Thasillonian alphabet.”
“Okay, that’s enough.”
“It’s a little known fact that when Lord-Mayor Varnagan Draston-Meir ordered the mining of basalt from the Irespan in 4623, the Crow was set to be the first of the pilings to be dismantled for its stone, after the deck section. There was in fact a survey crew on the Crow on the day that the workers on the deck broke into a chamber and released that horde of giant spiders into the city. After the ban on further mining was enacted, there was some discussion of mining just the free-standing pilings while leaving the deck intact, but it was never taken seriously, and in any event the discussion was ended when the Lord-Mayor, along with several members of the Council of Ushers, was attacked by an angry mob composed of relatives of those who had been killed in the incident. It is reported that members of the City Watch stood aside and allowed the mob to pass through key security gates leading to …”
“OKAY, THAT’S ENOUGH!” demanded a voice. But it wasn’t the Tower Girls. It was Milacent.
“Well, she asked what I knew.” said Theodore.
“Alright then,” said the voice. “There’s a door in here we can’t open. If you can figure out a way to get past it, we’ll let you through.”
“Deal.” said Theodore. Then it occurred to him that the Tower Girls would need some incentive to not ambush them after they went through the doors. “And if we come back alive, we’ll tell you what happened to Natalya.”
There was a long pause at the other end, followed by some furious, indistinct whispering. Eventually it stopped and the voice replied, “Deal.”
The party’s captive, Sasha, sensed that she was no longer in immediate danger of being stabbed, and rushed forward to meet Karisa. The latter untied her and motioned the party forward. The other Tower Girls, including the mysterious voice, did not reveal themselves. But the party did notice rats. Lots and lots of rats.
Karisa led them down a passageway, past a room that had been made over into an improvised dining hall, past a storeroom, and down a flight of stairs. There, after another short passage, they reached the door in question. And immediately the party knew how to open it. Turning to Karisa he said, “You’ll have to leave us alone while we go through.”
“Alright,” answered Karisa. “We’ll leave you alone for thirty minutes, then we’ll come back here and post a guard. Just so you don’t come back through and try to kill us.”
“Fair enough.” answered Theodore, and with that the Tower Girls slunk off into the darkness.
The door itself was actually an enormous double door made of a shining silvery metal. It looked like it could just be pushed open, but upon closer inspection it was revealed that it had no hinges, nor was there a gap between the two doors, nor between the doors and the floor or ceiling. At the center of each door, however, was a Thasillonian rune, surrounded by carvings of eyes. “A door with no hinges,” Zelcor chuckled to himself.
Scratchy, for his part, was more interested in opening the doors than admiring them. He reached out and touched one of the runes, and immediately recoiled in pain as a spark from the door burned his fingers.
Theodore looked at the doors carefully. The Tower Girls hadn’t had to open the paradox box at the Pathfinder Lodge, so they would have had no idea that the Thasillonians liked to lock things with magically rearranging runes, and the pain caused by touching the doors would have kept them from randomly touching the runes and accidentally discovering their function – very clever. Theodore and his comrades were better off, but they still had to figure out the right word to open it, without touching the door too many times. The runes on one door spelled out the word ‘LISTEN’, and the other spelled out ‘THE EYES’. After some consideration, and several burnt fingers, the party rearranged them to form the words ‘SILENT’ and ‘THEY SEE’.
As soon as the last rune was in place there was a light from the seam between the doors, and they swung open to reveal a dusty, cobweb-choked room that clearly hadn’t been disturbed in centuries, possibly millennia. The party moved into this room and closed the door behind them. Milacent pulled out her sword. She had a feeling the time for talking was done.
She was right. The passageway beyond the dusty room led to a flight of stairs down, where the party found the remains of an ancient bath, now choked with filthy, algae-covered water. Here two giant amoebas struck out at Scratchy as he scouted ahead, only to be struck down by Milacent’s sword, splattering protoplasm everywhere. Nearby they found a pool of seawater, evidently formed by some underwater exit to the ocean, where two giant spiders were feasting on the corpse of a dolphin. These too fell before the party’s steel and magic, though not before splashing spider guts all over Milacent and Theodore. Continuing on, Scratchy found a set of stairs headed further down. He was just about to investigate when he heard a sneeze. Then another one. He motioned for the rest of the party to join him, and the sneezing stopped. Scratchy listened very carefully, and thought he could hear the very faint sound of footsteps receding off into the darkness. This was something he didn’t want to meet alone. Slowly, all four of them descended down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, they came to a room but immediately stopped at its edge. It was carved out of basalt, like all the other rooms, but scattered throughout it where large mounds: the type that ants would build, if they were the size of ponies. “Oh, this is bad,” said Scratchy. Giant spiders were dangerous indeed, but giant ants were worse.
“Let’s just get across, you cowards,” scolded Milacent, and she strode into the room, straight toward the exit they saw on the opposite side. The rest of the party followed, slightly less confidently, and sure enough ants the size of ponies began to crawl out of the mounds. Milacent slashed at one and continued on, followed closely by Zelcor and Scratchy.
Theodore was at the entrance, bashing an ant with his morningstar, when he looked around and saw that he’d been left alone. “What is this? Operation Leave Theodore?” he shouted, and began making his way toward the others. Unfortunately, the room was now filled with angry six-legged opponents. One of them bit into Zelcor, who had already been wounded dashing across the room, and drew forth a distressingly large amount of gnomish blood. Milacent stabbed at the ant, wounding it mortally. With its last bit of strength, it lunged at her, but she easily brushed aside its attack as it died. Looking back at her comrades, she saw Theodore and Scratchy each fighting a different ant, and two swarming towards her. She readied her sword to strike, but she needn’t have bothered. Zelcor was badly hurt, but still capable of casting spells. He chanted the words for the sleep spell, and the two ants headed for Milacent dropped to the floor. Now, with the odds more even, Milacent moved to help Scratchy and Theodore. Soon the enemies were defeated, and there was now ant blood mixed with the spider guts and protoplasm covering Milacent’s armor. She tried to wipe away as much as she could of the disgusting concoction, but it was sticky as well as odorous, and mostly she just succeeded in spreading it around.
While Milacent was failing at personal hygiene, Theodore was healing Zelcor, and Scratchy was examining the ant mounds. On one of them he found a set of definitely non-insect three-toed tracks leading inward. “I think we’ve found our sneezer,” he said to the party.
“Oh please,” said Milacent, “tell me we’re not going to talk to them.”