Harrick immediately told his companions about the stones' magical properties, and they pondered their next move in this light. They faced two distinct problemsthe bandits, where the quartet's feelings still ran rather high, and the cave-dwellersalong with assorted lesser mysteries such as the vanishing tower. They came to no immediate agreement on their ultimate course, and decided to talk to Brother Martin about the Shy Tower, since it was on their way to both the caves and possible bandit hideouts anyway.
"I have to say you're looking much better," he greeted Harrick.
"Feeling better, too."
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
"I have a question for you. Have you heard anything about the tower that's supposed to be or not be on that hill to the south?"
"Bits and pieces. I've traveled up there a couple times myself, but haven't found anything other than remains."
"The first time we went up there we saw plenty of those."
"I've seen it from a distance, but never when I was within an hour's walk."
"We were closer than that, unfortunately I was in the process of hacking up an internal organ."
"It was wise you didn't go up, then," Martin nodded.
"There were other distractions as well," Robin put in, narrow-eyed.
"That and bandits, yes," Harrick amended.
"Do you think this might be connected with the bandits?" the priest inquired.
"I haven't actually considered that, although it's not impossible, I suppose."
"It's a possibility that we're dealing with two unconnected phenomena," Martin mused. "That there's a fata morgana in the area, and that there's also some curse on that hill, that's killing whatever is up there. I don't think it likely, I think that there actually is a legitimate tower, but... I don't know anything about the circumstances of it. I suppose it would be worth checking out in more detail."
"I was thinking that it might be a ghost, actually." *
"You think the tower might be a ghost?" he repeated Harrick's theory in surprise.
"It could be, yes," Terzin supported.
"The whole bloody thing could be shifting into an Elemental realm, I don't know," Harrick shrugged.
"Hm. I have to admit, that's something that hadn't occurred to me," Martin admitted.
"Why not?" Terzin wanted to know, earning himself one of the looks that people quickly started using whenever he'd been around for a while.
"Do you know how long it's been appearing there?" Robin asked.
"As long as I've been here, but that's only been a few months. People have made comment of it before then, but it turns into one of those local folk myths, people say 'Oh yes my grandparents mentioned that.'"
"How far back does the Keep keep records?" Harrick wanted to know.
"The problem is that there are no records of anything from this area before the end of the Winter. It could have been there for centuries, the farthest back it can go is about eighty years. But it wasn't until twenty years ago when King Daniel came up here with men and cleared the area out and reclaimed the Keep."
"This has only been here for twenty years?" Robin said, startled.
"Well, the Keep has been here for a very, very long time," he explained. "We only reclaimed it twenty years ago from the Winterkin who were in the area. Or at least, let me be more blunt, reclaimed the area. They weren't using this as an outpost, they'd burned the interior and left it to rot. Their gods won't allow them to stay in a man-made structure for too long. Goes against the nomadic principles on which they are founded."
She looked at the others. "Want to leave in the morning?"
"Are you traveling out again?" Martin asked.
"Yes," Terzin told him.
"Could I accompany you?"
"Could be dangerous."
"I am well acquainted with danger."
"Very well," Harrick shrugged. It was hard to judge the Brother's physique beneath his heavy brown robe, but his face and hands did not appear either overly soft or weak. It occurred to him that they still didn't know which god the man followed.
"If you insist," Robin agreed dubiously.
Martin smiled reassuringly. "Honestly, Jen's gotten better at baking than I have, and there are other people here who have some knowledge of the medical arts. The Keep will not be left untended in those realms."
Terzin shrugged as well. If the man didn't think he was capable of handing an adventure, he wouldn't offer to come along. If nothing else he would serve to divide their enemies' attention further if they were attacked.
During the rest of the visit Martin quizzed Terzin on the topic of the snake-god Yaa. Ignoring the pained and long-suffering expressions of his comrades, he couldn't keep himself from spinning a few more tales on the topic, explaining that vicious goblin tribes of the far, far south worshipped this deity and ate human brains (raw). **
In the morning they departed with Francis and Brother Martin in tow, walking a little ways off the road on the north side to stay out of easy sight of bandits, and avoiding the swampier ground to the south. Martin had changed into a different robe, one with slits in the sides for more freedom of movement, and leggings underneath.
They reached the tower hill without incident, only to find it empty. Maybe it only showed up at a certain time of day, when viewed from a certain angle, when it was misty? They climbed the hill and looked around for fresh skeletons. Hard to tell, though it seemed like there might be a few new ones.
"All things considered this wouldn't be a bad place, if you were running a bandit camp and didn't want anybody to find your midden, just drag all your stuff up here and dump it," Harrick speculated aloud.
"You mean to tell me the bandits are using the myth of the Shy Tower in order to scare everybody away?" Martin asked.
"I've seen it, so I doubt it's actually a myth, but they could be taking advantage of it," he suggested, with Terzin's agreement.
"A distinct possibility," Martin shrugged. They spread out to look for signs of bandit presence, although the rocky ground took tracks poorly.
Terzin spotted the new corpse. Like the others, it had been crushed and very thoroughly cleaned, although it wasn't human but goblinoid. Maybe a gnoll. A great spear near the body had been splintered in three places, the point twisted and partially snapped off. The remaining edge was still remarkably keen, however; it hadn't been blunted in combat.
"Does anyone else worry that this is what happens to you if you're here when the tower shows up?" Terzin asked, glancing up the hill.
"That's a legitimate concern," Martin agreed.
"I can only gather it would be extraordinarily painful to look up and suddenly realize that a tower has decided it's going to be on top of you," Harrick said. "So yes, that could in fact be a problem. There's always the possibility that he got jumped by a bullette or something."
"In which case we'd better stay away from this thing," Robin replied, looking at the mangled body.
* We started this scene, then kind of restarted it again after some OOC conversation. I spliced the two bits together in the way that seemed to make the most sense, which required inserting some lines out of direct sequence.
** There was a lengthy riff on Mormonism here, OOC.
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