Monday, March 11, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene II

Dietrich and Melas stepped forward into the torch lit room, with Hiram and Cybele directly behind them. The quartet quickly took in the scene: the altar-with-chains in the room's center, a large crate to the right, two smaller ones to the left, a large hole in the ceiling apparently excavated to the surface, the monotonous clatter or rain on the altar rolling away in the blood grooves across the floor, the four ropes - two loose, two taught - hanging extending down from the hole, the torches braced on the floor out of the rain. "So, not the wine cellar then? I'd had hopes" Melas muttered.

Only Dietrich was able to make out the shadowy shapes behind the altar and larger crate, and yelled out, "Come out! Those are not very good hiding places."

The hiders apparently took umbrage at this, rising and throwing javelins with practiced motions; Melas was able to dodge the one aimed at him but Dietrich was momentarily shocked by the felinoid nature of their assailants' faces - cat-man! The javelin pierced his clothing and scraped across a rib, opening a long gash in his side. Less than a finger's breadth in either direction and the wound would most assuredly have been fatal! Hiram wasted no time in providing a counter-stroke, flicking his hand up and letting fly a palmed throwing dart that took Dietrich's assailant in the throat; the beast-man fell with a gurgle and his blood joined the rain washing away in the gutter. Melas fired his crossbow at his attacker, but his aim was low and it merely splintered the wood on the crate.

At this moment Dietrich proved his mettle, for wounded as he was, he nonetheless sprinted, drew and leapt, landing atop the crate and piercing the cat-man's shoulder with an expert thrust. The beast was reaching for his blade when the lady Floriane ended the encounter with a word - an arcane syllable that sparked a bolt of light from her hand to the furred brow between slit eyes, laying the cat man out stone dead.

A quick exploration of the room followed. It seemed obvious to all that the beast men were looting the tomb, but for how long had they been doing so? The shaft extended at least thirty feet into the ruins of the tower, and so could not have been dug overnight. Cybele lowered her head into her blouse and queries "are you well in there?" Causing the men to wonder what madness was this (Tom: she has a chaos armpit with a mouth in it? The inquisition will notice that!; Jim: It's not often you see a woman talking to her own breasts like that) before her familiar, a viper named Renee, emerged with a hiss. The ophidian part of the Lady Floriane slithered up one of the ropes, confirming that this was indeed a night not fit for man or beast - at least not in the tower above.

Hiram, meanwhile, recalled his awareness of the stage to glance down the room's other passage and see it extend at least another 40 paces, with an all but obscured side corridor to the south at about two thirds of that length. With Melas assistance he then opened the largest of the three crates, with the hunchbacked man chucking and saying "likely a pile of skulls!" Instead it contained loose packed dirt to act as a cushion for five urns. Hiram produced yet another anecdote, informing his friends that the chaos beasts practiced fire burial (rather than giving their dead to the sea, as is proper) and identifying the pictographs around the urn as being the life highlights of those whose ashes they contained. With a kick he opened one of the smaller chests - that one contained the skulls! - and while Melas had only been joking Hiram was serious indeed, as these were the skulls of the beast men's most worthy foes, taken to insure that they would not be revived or even reborn.

Certain that something foul was afoot here, the nobles decided to travel further in; Melas bound Dietrich's wound and then followed Hiram - a young actor taking the lead in his most challenging role yet.

Eschewing the cramped passage to his right, and lamenting the loss of an option to his left, where a falling block of stone had closed a separate passage some months ago at the least, Hiram continued straight down the passage until it opened into a room much like the one they left - same size, same central stone altar - but lacking any other exits and containing the ursine body of a bear-man lying motionless on the altar. Unable to tell if the figure was alive or dead from the entry Hiram took several cautious steps forward and focused his senses. It was clear that the bear man was dead from the wounds on his body, and the young actor's ears filtered out the sound of his own heartbeat and breath to find the breathing of Melas (slightly labored), Dietrich (disciplined and steady), Cybele (light and unaffected)... and one other person, nervous and shallow.

Hiram rotated quickly, drawing his blade and stepping back to the altar, hoping that if the figure were behind him his allies would spot him, but knowing only he could search the other corners of the room. At this motion Melas raised his crossbow to fire where Hiram might indicate, and Hiram spotted a figure pressed against the wall to Melas' left. His yell and throw were simultaneous, as were the figure's dodge and upward swipe with his long sword that snapping the string of Melas' crossbow and expending the bolt harmlessly into the room.

The figure continued his motion, moving to face Melas, Cybele and Dietrich outside of sword reach, leaving his back to Hiram. Dietrich leapt to the right, leaving the figure blocked on three sides. Melas considered swinging the crossbow as a club (Tom: his ancestors would understand - the purpose of heirloom weapons is to kill people), but reconsidered: the man had not attacked when he might, and moved with surety to a weaker position... indicating some gentility and great confidence. His mismatched eyes took in the man before him; a half elf by the eyebrows, piercing green eyes and tanned skin, and while the rest was hidden by a scarf, large hat and night black clothing Melas was certain he would know him, mask or no, when they next met.

Cybele prepared a spell of offense, leaving it hanging in the air, and queried the figure as to his name. "I'm afraid I cannot oblige at this time; please stand aside, gentle folk so that I might leave in peace." Hiram was still considering what to do when the figure leapt forward, forcing Melas to either crash into him or step aside and taking the brunt of the Lady Floriane's arcane attack (which went off by instinct rather than intent) with a grimace. Melas chose to let the man depart, and they heard him flee down the tunnel, then the sound of rope and counterweight working - the man must have grabbed one of the taught ropes, sliced it and rode to the roof as the weight fell. (Tom: That probably would have looked really impressive if any of us had been watching.)

Coming up with little of certainty about the masked man they scouted out the room, finding the story of the trapped beast-men leaders carved in pictograms on the walls, and the body having been already stripped of valuables, including its heart. There had been several items cut loose from the bear-mans belt, rings removed from his fingers, an amulet snapped from his neck and so on. "I took him for a gentleman, but it seems he was a common tomb robber. Is there any treasure left?" Melas asked. The only item of value remaining was a greatsword strapped under the body, barely visible beneath the bear-man's bulk.

Ultimately deciding that it could be a valuable clue... and valuable... Cybele strained her highly trained muscles and pulled it free, revealing a very fine blade indeed. "This ought to be worth enough to keep me alive for a few months more," the Lady Floriane mutters, hissing "damnable halflings." "You're being threatened by halflings? Melas gapes. "How embarrassing." There is another effort to roll the body off the altar and reclaim the sword's sheath, and both Hiram and Dietrich take a moment to check over the altar to see if there is any more evidence of what was occurring here. Alas, there was not, and so the quartet of nobles exits, deciding the take the cramped southerly passage in hopes of finding out more...

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