"We have no evidence that the lizardman was particularly native to here," Martin pointed out. "He could have just been working up and down the river, or cutting through the swamp.
"He could have just been swimming, fishing," Harrick supported. "On the other hand it does mean that travel on and off that island would be relatively difficult. Probably more difficult than the bandits would be really happy to do on a regular basis."
"Unless they have some other method on the other side of the island, that we can't see."
"Well, we can keep going up the road to where we can ford the river, and work down the other side," Robin suggested. The Goblinwater was narrow and relatively easy to cross. They put off discussing plans and moved their camp back away from the river to a defensible shelf on the southern slope of the hill. There was no way for Harrick to set up his usual brush perimeter, given the lack of vegetation. Terzin replaced the no-breathing stone with the healing stone and went into the tent for some rest; he would be all right by morning. The others settled down for a quick meal including some of Brother Martin's trail biscuits, which weren't particularly fun to eat but were sustaining. Brother Martin took the first watch, then Harrick in the deep night, then Jared; Robin got to sleep.
At least until Jared woke them all up just before false dawn. A spark of light in the distance had caught his eye; a torch, some goodly distance away on the other bank of the river. It moved about, bobbing gently as the carrier made his, her, or its way through the swamp toward the east. Then it stopped moving for about a quarter hour. Vague shadows jumped around it. It began moving again, getting slightly larger, as if coming in his direction.
That's when he woke the others, very quietly. They watched in silence as it grew nearer. It was too far away for even Harrick to see much of what might be there. Still a couple hundred yards away, the light began to sink down toward the ground, as if the bearer were descending a flight of stairs, and disappeared.
Harrick looked up the slope and saw that the tower was back. Just about then it began raining gently. He looked at the others questioningly; they nodded. Waking up Terzin, who was feeling completely restored, they climbed the slope cautiously.
The tower was thirty-five or so feet high, round, with one doorway (no door), and two windows about halfway up, hidden behind stone shutters. There were crenellations around the top, and a definite sense of Earth elementalism about it. Terzin threw a rock at it. It bounced off noisily. The rain was picking up. He picked up a stick from the ground and passed it through the doorway. Nothing appeared to happen to it, although it was too dark inside to see clearly.
He shone his lantern through the doorway. Its light revealed a circular room filling the entire lower floor of the tower. The walls were of heavy stone blocks in several shades, as if they had come from different quarries, almost seeming to form patterns at times. A stairwell worked its way up the wall to the left, vanishing into the next level ten feet or so above. In the middle of the floor was what looked like the remains of a campfire. On the other side of the fire was the crushed remains of a person.
The general feel of the place was enough to put everyone's hackles up, but they decided to go in and look around anyway. Nothing hideous happened. Terzin, Jared, Harrick, and Martin went to look at the body. It still had its flesh on, unlike any of the others they had found. Robin lit her torch from Terzin's lantern and began moving cautiously up the stair toward the second floor.
The corpse had been wearing banded mail, which had not helped him in the least and was entirely beyond salvaging. Jared took one good look at the way the man had been smeared across the floor and threw up, much to his mortification. The dead man had also been carrying a rather nice battle axe, protected from damage because he had been crushed over top of it. Terzin picked up the man's pack in case anything could be salvaged from it, and gave Jared the axe once he'd recovered a bit, just in case the group ever ran into something he didn't care to punch. Jared in turn gave his spear to Martin, so the entire group was reasonably well-armed.
Harrick looked around for runes, gargoyles, grooves where the floor above might slide down and crush someone below, but found nothing. No traces of elemental magic in the body or the axe. Jared and Terzin risked the chance that the tower might disappear and leave them to fall, and moved toward the stairs after Robin.
"I'd say the body's a day old," Martin said. "Last night? Some time within the last twenty-four hours." He asked Terzin to leave the lantern, pulled out a small notebook, his pen and ink, and began writing something. When he had finished he pulled the page out of the notebook and put into the dead man's pouch.
The main way to keep the disquiet dead from rising again is to remember them, and people are often buried with those remembrances for Gabriel's use.
"Should we take him out and bury him?" the orc asked.
"Let's see what's upstairs first." They followed the rest of the group to the second floor. "This doesn't make any sense, his condition doesn't match any of the other ones."
"Unless whatever killed him is leaving him to putrefy... which is a possibility, but...."
The second floor was pretty much the same, except for the absence of a corpse. The walls were thick enough to block the sound of the rain, and the only light came from the torch. Her nerves prickling, Robin kept climbing to the third floor. Still empty, still creepy. The only feature there was the two windows. No apparent way to get up onto the roof.
"I do not like the feeling of this place," Martin stated.
"I don't think any of us does," Robin replied, looking around.
"My advice, if I have a vote, is that we simply leave. Gather that poor unfortunate and go."
"Since there doesn't seem to be anyone or anything in here...." She looked at the shuttered windows and considered opening one. There was always the chance that it looked out on someplace other than where they had come in from.
Terzin threw his stick at the ceiling, looking for a way up to the roof. It bounced back. Harrick checked for runes that might hide a trap door, but there was so much Earth magic in this place that even if there had been something he might have missed it.
The pattern-ness of the walls seemed clearer here, and Harrick remarked on that fact.
"Stop looking at it," Terzin said. "It could be one of those mystic runes."
"What you know about mystic runes would fill a thimble; be quiet." He looked at the walls, frowning.
At about that time he and Robin both realized what the pattern was: it looked a lot like the one on a tortoiseshell. And no doubt it served the same purposeas an identifying marker for other animals.
"We're leaving!" Harrick announced. No one questioned; they ran down the stairs, grabbed the body and high-tailed it out the door. "That is the largest Earth elemental I've ever even heard of!" he averred when they were a good distance away; he wasn't ready to bet that the thing couldn't move.
"What did the stones represent?" Terzin asked.
"They're the patterning on its scales, basically. "
"Oh, I see."
"They're not stones from different quarries, they're scales of different colors. I haven't even heard of an elemental that big before."
"We'll be able to tell the people at the Keep, at least, to avoid the hell out of it in the future."
"It must just sit there..." Martin muttered, looking at it.
"It sits there, and waits for people to come in," Harrick agreed. "The bloody thing lives in the hill!"
"And it sits there, and it waits for those points in time that it thinks somebody's going to come along and need someplace to shelter. There's the tower, and you go in, and it squishes you and eats you. And sucks everything out of you."
"It was probably asleep when we went in."
"Good thing," Robin muttered.
"Glad we didn't light a fire," Harrick said.
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