Jonesomon (Specialist 5)
Ranza (Changeling 4)
Gnarl (Wood Gnome 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Thrax (Fighter 4)
Next morning, Hobbs suddenly remembered the rusty dagger from the offal cavern. He dug it out and poked at it a bit, discovering the pommel could be removed. And when he did so, out rolled a huge ruby. Useless junk indeed!
That done, once every else was up and prepared, the party descended once more to explore the tower below, making their way down the hillside covered in an overnight snowfall. At the base, Gnarl used the Greenstone of Earthseeing to search along the cliff face looking for secret places. Finding none, the party entered the tower. There was no wind (or invisible assailants) this time, and the party started to search along the floor. They soon found a loose flagstone, which when pried up revealed a narrow shaft. A dropped torch showed it was about 60' deep, so Hobbs was lowered down with a rope to have a look (the shaft was too narrow for any of the larger folks). At the bottom was a box, fitted so tightly into the shaft that hinge and padlock were barely accessible. Further inspection by Gnarl revealed it was made of lead, and was incredibly heavy. Possibly impossible to lift even if they could somehow get a rope around it. Instead, the wood gnome jammed an iron spike through the latch, and the party then rigged the block and tackle to generate enough force to snap off the lock (but only after consulting the quilt of augury to ensure it was safe to do so). After a few false starts, they succeeded and Hobbs once more went down into the hole. Carefully opening the lid, inside he found a sheet of parchment and a rectangular object wrapped in purple cloth.
Hobbs brought the objects back to the surface. On the parchment was written, in fine penmanship and perfect Common, the following: "Are you sure you want this? Be careful what you do with it". Humm. The object was found to be a book, bound in a cover of woven spider silk. Ranza volunteered to have a look, and although she really couldn't read much of it, she understood enough to confirm it was a tome of incantations and rituals for the witches' wood gods, and was the Book of Seven Souls they had been seeking.
The party considered heading immediately to the witch and trade the book for more information. But in the end decided they should finally breach the fortress to carry out an initial scouting mission and recover Allisan's sapling. But first, they would retreat to the magical tower if available (it proved not to be) or the colossus to get a nights rest. Something about this ruined tower creeped them out even more than the shade hounds at the colossus. Once there, the giant eagle Elsivar greeted them and announced the hatching of her egg. She was in a good mood with the birth of her hatchling, and gladly ferried everyone up to the statues chest cavity, where they were fortunate to avoid any shade hounds and settled into the secret room for the night.
Next day they headed up the valley towards the fortress. Fording the river and avoiding the ruined bridge, they found themselves standing at the base of the 500' cliff atop which perched Fortress Iacarta. There was some talk of climbing the rockslide formed by the collapsed wall and cliff, but no one wanted to risk the donkeys by crawling up that way or leaving them behind. So they instead picked up the switchback road that lead from the fallen bridge and up onto the plateau. All went well for the first little while. But then about halfway up, a sharp eyed Hobbs observed something leap off the ruined bridge tower below them. As it got closer, he could see it was a shadowy form in the shape of a winged lion. I swooped down on the rear of the column, lashing out with tooth and claw. It also proved difficult top hit, phasing in and out of position. But enough blows connected to knock it out of the sky. Examining the corpse, it looked in substance and style very similar to the shade hounds they'd fought back at the colossus.
Continuing, the party reach the front gate of the Fortress without further incident. Rather than enter by the open gate, they opted to skirt around the ruined tower to their right and scramble over the fallen wall into the interior of the fortress. Inside, they observed there were four massive towers still largely intact and set into the outer wall; two round and two rectangular,. Against the face of the mountain was the tumbled ruin of a keep, while east of that was the fallen ruins of the small trade town that once stood inside the walls. And finally on the north side of that was a small grove of trees and another smaller tower. Assuming that was where they'd find Allisan's tree, the party headed that way. Along the way they examined a triumphal arch, carved with martial figure and topped with a weatherworn eagle & dragon statute. Once they reached the wood, they could see it was more a jumbled grove, thick with brambles and undergrowth. Meanwhile, they also noticed the tower alongside it was quite unusual. It was actually two towers, one square and ancient, the other round and somewhat more recent. But still older than the rest of the fortress. But ignoring those structures for now, the party plunged into the thicket behind Gnarl, who'd cast a find plant spell to quickly home in on the oak sapling.
Thanks to Gnarl, it did not take long to find the healthy young tree in the middle of the maze. But as they pushed forward the last few yards, suddenly the brambles around them detached from the surrounding trees and coalesced into vaguely rotund humanoid figures. These raised arms and lashed out, driving poisoned thorns into Thrax and Ranza who'd been walking point. Ranza was hit badly enough to become entirely engulphed by one of the black brambles and it drove poison thorns deeper and deeper into the changelings flesh. The others tried to help her, but it was almost impossible to hit the creature without hurting her as well. It expired (and the other black bramble retreated) just as Ranza lapsed into unconsciousness. Thrax immediately leapt into action, grabbing Ranza and usied his sword to wind walk the two of them. This staunched the bleeding and stabilized her, then he rose into the air on raced south with her, hoping to get the changeling to Mikan and Allisan's in time to save her.
The others dug up the sapling and dragged themselves, bitter and glum, out of the thicket. Once they emerged, they noticed a pair of figures standing outside the massive round tower to their south. They watched the party for a few moments, and then began to approach ...
Book of Seven Souls