Week 24, Finding the Castle
We left our heroes looking for an approach to an illusion-shrouded black castle in the mountains. We had camped at the edges of the illusions for a day, as a polite way of making our presence known. Nothing happened except the by-now-usual wild storms at midnight.
Approaching the castle, we encountered a long valley filled with mist. It looked ominous (and is definitely enchanted) so we sought a way around it. Soon, it became clear that this was a sort of mist-moat circling the castle at a great distance. Crow-sized birds can be seen in the mist from time to time.
We come to a cliff where the mist spreads out in a sort of pool. Skirting the pool, Pfusand climbs the cliff and scouts around. She finds herself on a ridge. About a hundred yards away stands a huge stone statue, arms folded, facing toward her. In the distance is a peak that might be the castle.
She returns and reports all this. Still hoping for a gate, we turn around and head back the other way. And lo! we eventually come to a valley with a gate-wall built across it, behind with the mist-moat churns and steams. The gates are solid, massive doors, flanked by statues of winged sphinxes or some such creatures, and further flanked by towers. We have spent most of a day tramping around these mountains and it is nearly sunset.
Pfusand hails the gate, but nothing happens. Tom notices a hidden door to the left of the gate, very small, about 3.5 by 2.5 feet. Beygar notices something moving about at the top of the wall. Pfusand approaches one gate and knocks. A gargoyle barks, "Go away!"
"Why?" she asks, but gets no answer. She tries the other door and another gargoyle growls, "Beware!" but likewise says nothing further. He try various other hails and exhortations but nothing happens. So we back up fifty feet to be well away from the gates should they open suddenly, and wait.
About half an hour later, a rock the size of a tennis-ball hits Cantrel on the forehead. The victim and Beygar once more spot something scuttling around at the top of the wall, like a helmet just barely taller than the parapet, or a very fast tortoise. Cantrel lobs a rock back but the Something dodges neatly.
We resume waiting. About an hour before midnight, the evening storm starts up. Cantrel asks Wu to check out the statues before the gates -- they are enchanted and shielded in complex ways. Wu figures it would be rude to pry further. Loudly, Cantrel wishes for "something useful to happen." We hear a faint cackle.
By now the storm is well under weigh. Some of us see snakes up in the clouds. And down on the ground, the magicians in the party see living beasts overlaid on the sphinx statues. Or maybe they're griffins. They are kneading their claws like pleased cats. Then they leap up into the clouds. Wu scrys the statues and discovers they are still magic, even after the departure of their, uh, tenants.
The storm produces no rain and eventually passes. No ghostly griffins return to the statues. Tom hails the gate again and a rock lands next to him. He contemplates using his Tools skill to throw it back with exactly the same degree of precision, but decides against it. Wu knocks on the gate. The little door to the left opens and an ugly little man sticks his head out. "GO AWAY!" he snaps and slams the door.
So naturally several of us start knocking on the little door. It opens again and a spear comes stabbing out. Lorelei grabs it and the door snaps shut, breaking off the spear head. More knocking gets us a shower of rocks. The little guy appears at a window and tells us we have no business here. Nor will he tell us who the master is. We say we do too have business were and won't leave. "Mores the pity." Pause. "You don't want to come in. He's not a nice person." "Can't be worse than Gorlach." "I'd be careful the names I let drop, if I was you."
After a lot of back-and-forth chatter, we discover that this inviting soul is the gatekeeper. He says he only admits messengers, whom he avoids and refuses to name, but they definitely aren't us. He closes his window and we go back to waiting.
Around dawn, the gatekeeper opens his door and emerges with an axe and a piece of cloth. He goes over to the griffin statues and begins polishing them with the cloth. Lorelei approaches and asks very politely if he couldn't send a message to the castle announcing that we are here. No. He returns to his little door and comes back a few moments latter with some brushes and starts cleaning the gates. Cantrel tries the side door. "Won't open," the dwarf remarks, nor does it.
Cantrel starts to pick the lock and hears deep growls from within. "I'll get mad if you hurt the dog," the dwarf remarks. Tom volunteers to help him wash the walls. That's okay by the dwarf, who shows no great gratitude either. He goes back for a second set of brushes and Cantrel slips in behind him.
The dog is a squat and ugly thing, with inordinate numbers of teeth. It growls non-stop but the dwarf thinks it rather remarkable that it hasn't attacked yet. Cantrel offers the dwarf some wine, which is received fairly well. The dwarf then opens a cabinet, utters a battle-shriek, whacks at something with his axe, and extracts 75% of a rat, which he gives to the dog. Then he takes out an empty kettle, sniffs at it, puts it on the floor and gives it a brisk kick several times. "Time for my lunch," he remarks to Cantrel as he fetches dishes, including some for Cantrel. The kettle fills magically with stew. Cantrel returns the favor by chipping in some wine.
He goes back out after lunch. As he leaves, Cantrel calls for some of the others to hunt down some rabbits for the dog. Tom and Beygar oblige. Thanks to our help, the dwarf's chores about done now. When he comes back in, Cantrel whiles away some time teaching the dwarf mumblety-peg. After a bit of that, the dwarf leaves the room by another door, leading INward. Cantrel follows. (These doors seem to open only for the dwarf.)
Cantrel finds himself in the mist. The dwarf was just emptying a the garbage. "Wouldn't stay out here," he remarks to Cantrel as he goes back. Then something like an animated statue of a lion pounces on Cantrel and very fortunately misses. Cantrel finds the doors CAN open for other people with a sufficient amount of scientifically applied panic, and retreats through the dwarf's quarters to the outside. "AAUUGGHH!" he reports.
After we get some more details from him, Wu scrys the mist more carefully. It seems that it absorbs magical energy. Interesting how the animated statues cope with such an environment.
The dwarf emerges briefly and leaves us some bowls of mushroom soup, the first friendly gesture from his direction. We eat the soup and consider what to do now. We decide to split up. Cantrel, with his flight spell and his winged horses, will try flying OVER the mist, while the rest of us will explore the rest of the perimeter.
Cantrel makes a brief test flight over the mist. Apparently its absorbing property doesn't reach upward, nor does anything horrid rise out of the mist to get him. He does see the dwarf on the walls, shaking his head. "Not safe in there," he calls. But then we knew that. Cantrel returns and lands.
By this time, the rest of the party has reached a second standing statue, like the one Pfusand found. And there we leave them.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.