In your dream you are sitting in a comfortable living room. Is it large and well-appointed, probably a parlor or lounge in an expensive inn or public house. A chandelier hangs overhead, a half-dozen oil lamps burning at regular intervals around its perimeter. A large hearth stands along one wall, a comfortable fire burning within. Above it hangs a painting of some sort, a scene playing out against a night sky.
There are people in the room, but in the way of dreams only the relevant ones come into focus. There are two. The first is a broad-shouldered man in his early fifties. Despite his age, his hair is dark and full, though the occasional gray strand stands out in stark contrast. His eyes are even darker than his hair-with an edge that speaks of years of rough life-but they soften as he looks at the woman who is with him.
She is young enough to be his daughter, but there is no familial resemblance. Her hair is raven-black, thick, and straight, falling nearly all the way down the back. It is a black that will never fade. While his flesh is sun-worn tan, hers is naturally swarthy. While his shoulders are broad and his jaw straight, her features are angular and slight. When she meets his gaze from across the room, though, she smiles and shakes her head as if at some inside joke.
The young woman crosses to the older man, bringing a cup in each hand. As she moves, you notice that she wears a sword on her hip, one just slightly more delicate and slender than the one that rests near the man. Her blade has an ornate basket hilt, the sort that is the pride of weaponsmiths in advanced domains like Dementlieu or Richemulot. Her steps are graceful, taking into account the weapons weight and length with unconscious ease.
She hands one cup to the man, already drinking from her own.
He thanks her, and she shrugs before seeming to spot the painting over the hearth. She points at it with her cup, asking him something about it, but only word cuts through the fog of the dream. She calls him "Dad."
Beatrice wakes from the unusually vivid dream and tells herself it is nothing. She goes about her morning, but as lunch arrives she finds that the dream has not faded the way dreams do. She remembers seeing the woman and her father as clearly as if she had actually been in that room with them.
After lunch she resolves to go up to Androlov Manor, where Dechan and Carrie are studying and Alliama is tending to her garden. Sebastian is also still in residence, planning his next move after the heroes' exploration of the rune towers.
As she steps out onto the porch, she meets Kyler. Master Radu has released her brother from his labors early. Radu is preoccupied with still more unexpected events around the Kosivikh exhibit.
Anson is still out with Cormac, but Kyler agrees to accompany Bea to the manor. His first thought is that Professor Radu might be able to hypnotize her and bring back elements of the dream that she might not remember clearly now--like the details of dark painting, or the features of some of the people in the background.
They talk on the way to the manor, and then Bea describes her dream again when they arrive. The heroes agree that the dream sounds more like a messsage or a vision than anything mundane. Carrie suggests that she can think of two possibilities--though she is not versed in dream magic. The first is that someone sent this dream to Bea, and that would mean that the only details to remember would be those that were created by the spell. The second is that someone opened Bea's mind to look in on events as they were happening, the way David's new acquaintances might do.
With no clear idea of whom Bea has seen, or where the scene took place, the heroes set out to find one or the other.
Kyler draws the woman, working from Beatrice's exacting description. It is a clear, vivid image. No one seeing this picture could mistake her in the Enclave.
He then draws the man, creating a good likeness, but the man fits the description of many in Darkon.
Carrie uses a spell to make a copy of the image of the woman.
Dividing up the pictures, the heroes set out in small groups across the Enclave, hoping to find either the man and his daughter or the room where Bea saw them resting...before something terrible can happen.
While Kyler and Bea created their sketches of the man and woman from Beatrice's dream, Alliama washed off the grime from the manor garden. When the heroes split, she and Dechan take the two original sketches and make their way to the guardhouse inside the pallisade gate.
To sweeten the deal, she brings along a sweet potato pie.
The Dawnblades at the guardhouse immediately put themselves at the disposal of the Lady of the Manor. Their ranking officer, Anderann, does most of the speaking, but the men are eager to assist. If they notice anything amiss in Alliama's forthright, non-courtly delivery, they never let on.
Dechan does smooth over some of her questions, and the men listen politely and attempt to help both heroes to the best of their abilities. When they show the picture of the woman, one of the men believes that she is a gypsy woman who came through town with her family a little while ago, but when he gets the rest of the description--including the basket-hilted longsword, he quickly changes his opinion on the matter.
Anderann takes the pictures and offers to have them distributed among the watch and the Dawnblades. He also notes the description of the room where they were seen in Beatrice's dream. Again, this description of scrying does not put the Dawnblades off even a little.
If anyone in the Enclave has seen this woman, or a room matching the description Alliama and Dechan gave, Anderann is certain they will turn it up.
Sebastian and Bea accompany Carrie to the Double Rose with the copied picture of the woman. Neither of her companions is well-versed in playing cards for money, when Beatrice offers to bankroll Carrie, the game is on. Sebastian loses, but Carrie wins enough to cover herself and her bank.
During the game, the heroes begin to gather information about the woman in the picture. Based on the reactions they get, there is no one at the Double Rose who has ever seen this woman--although several would like to if they get the opportunity.
Carrie suggests that they could try the Golden Stallions later. The clientele are even better off than those at the Double Rose, and the room that Bea described was certainly well-appointed.
First, though, they want to check on Kyler, who has been at the Blakros Museum.
The three heroes are on their way to the Blakros when they hear an imperious shout, a woman's voice that expects to be heeded. In an instant, Carrie is reduced from the determined young woman the heroes have come to know into a girl. Her shoulders slouch and her head drops just slightly enough to create a clear picture of fear and dread.
"She found me," Carrie says.
The woman who found her is maybe fifty years old but still lean and muscular. A basket-hilted sword hangs on one hip, and feathers adorn her blonde hair.
Carrie explains to her friends that this woman is her mother. And, her mother did not know where Carrie had gone this past year. They were "on a job" around Tempe, and Carrie decided to set out for the Enclave after they got into an argument one night.
She tells her friends to go on ahead, and she'll catch up later, if she's able to. Then she walks to her mother, braced as if ready for a scolding, or a beating. Bea and Sebastian remains a polite distance away. They go nowhere.
When Carrie reaches her mother, Pious deKebrenor embraces her, squeezing her tight. Then she begins to talk, Carrie responds, and the two have an emotional exchange, often talking over one another, hands cutting the air as they make points.
Finally, they embrace one more time, and Pious hands her daughter a small wooden box. Pious freezes, staring at it in clear recognition. Her hands come up to her mouth, freezing inches from her lips. Then she stares at her mother.
Pious nods, once, and pushes the box forward. All sense of threat or anger are gone.
Carrie takes the box, and the two exchange just a few more words. Then Carrie returns to her friends, bringing the box with her.
She is stunned. The box bears an eye sigil similar to the one that is on the man's ring she always wears on a necklace. When Sebastian asks her whether it's something from her father, she whispers that it is.
Carrie explains that her mother is staying at the Double Rose for the next few days. While she intends to visit her mother during her stay, Carrie has no intention of leaving the Enclave with her. Pious has come to give Carrie her blessing, and the pistol is a sign that she believes her daughter is ready to carry on the family work as she sees fit.
While the others approach the guards or the socialites of the Enclave, Kyler goes to the Blakros Museum. There he seeks out Curator Sonnend, whose specialty is paintings.
Sonnend is overjoyed, for he rarely gets to focus on his specialty in light of all the forms of art that are to be found in the Blakros. Upone hearing Kyler's description of the painting barely seen in Beatrice's dream, Sonnend takes Kyler directly to the Marin Richmond collection.
Richmond was a Dementlieuese artist, and it was a genuine coup for the Blakros to get his Studies of Darkness. Unfortunately, as Sonnend explains it, the Blakros has not been able to display the collection, because other artists--Darkonese artists--have also had their collections purchased by the Blakros.
The paintings are still crated in the storage rooms of the library. There are eight in all. Each is a different study in black. They are painted in such a way as to imply shapes and motion within the darkness, using various shading, texture, and other artistic inflection with the skill of a master.
Kyler senses in his study of these works that there is something special about them, just as Sonnend did before him. Each creates an increasing sense of some dark emotion, from discomfort to dread to fear, until the eighth and final. This, the darkest by appearance, instills a sense of hope, of possibility. It makes the others palatable, even survivable.
Kyler takes his leave of Sonnend after helping to unbox and study all eight of the paintings. He says that there may be others coming to see them, and he requests that Sonnend leave the paintings as they are. The curator happily agrees, and readily says that any friend of Kyler's is welcome to come and study the paintings.
Kyler leaves the museum, hoping to find his sister.
Kyler is making his way back across the Enclave, following the King's Way towards the Double Rose, when a dwarf comes seeking him. The dwarf is a warrior riding a strong pony. He is clad in chainmail armor and bears a heavy steel shield over his back. At his hip is a warhammer engraved with the sigil of Moradin, the Forge Father.
His name is Gimbin, and he is a priest of the Forge Father. He introduces himself, and he says that he has been sent by Sonlinnor Argan with interesting news.
Voices have been heard from within Valorn Tower. For the first time since the departure of The Missed, there is a sign of life within the tower. The groundskeeper, a dwarf named Thorbinkrol ("Loyal Keeper of the Stronghold"), heard it.
Thorbinkrol said it sounded like a woman's voice, and she called for Kyler specifically.
Gimbin cannot tarry long; he has been tasked by Sonlinnor Argan with reporting this event to the leaders of the Enclave, both secular and ecclesiastic, but with specific instruction to find Kyler first.
Gimbin bids Kyler good day, and then leaves for the heart of the Enclave.
Kyler continues on for the Double Rose, now more eager than ever to find his sister. When they meet not long after, he explains what he has just learned. He and Beatrice plan to head straight to the Dwarven District, bound for the Sonlinnor Argan before approaching the tower directly. They ask Sebastian to alert the others at the manor; the justifier agrees.
Glass-enclosed lanterns hang from posts, ready to provide illumination in the Dwarf District. The streets are well-tended cobblestones, like those found in the Fine Shops or Noble Districts, and along the King's Way. The streets are tended by the dwarves, leaving them smooth and easily tended.
In keeping with dwarves' architectural tastes, the structures in this district are usually squat and built of heavy stone. Most residences are in the form of apartments rather than houses, often separate rooms behind or over workshops.
The air is filled with the sound of craftworking, from heavy hammering to careful carving, and frequently smells of smoke. The majority of people in the street are dwarves, but some humans venture here, as well, seeking dwarf-crafted items.
Kyler and Beatrice pass the tower bridge on their way to the Temple of Moradin. The resolute figure of Thorbinkrol can be seen some three-fourths of the way across. Kyler greets the old dwarf, and then calls out that they are bound for the sonlinnor before they return. Thorbinkrol waves them on.
At the temple, they find Argan awaiting them. The old forgepriest is eager to ensure that Kyler is the first to investigate whatever is happening within Valorn Tower. Argan could not keep the voices a secret from the leaders of the Enclave, but he could certainly do his level best to ensure that Kyler got their ahead of anyone else.
Kyler thanks the priest. He learns that Thorbinkrol originally doubted what he had heard. He assumed it was some trick of acoustics from within the town, or possibly some deception played on him as a joke. But as the morning drew on, and the murmurring voices gave way to a single, louder voice that called out for Kyler himself, he realized that something serious was afoot.
Kyler and Bea make their way from the temple back to the bridge. They are just greeting Thorbinkrol again when they hear Alliama scream.
Sebastian house roused Alliama from a nap and brought Dechan and Carrie down from their studies. When they learn that Kyler and Bea have gone to the tower to investigate voices...without them...they race about collecting their gear.
They takes the shortcut steps outside the palisade gate, planning to reach the Dwarven District as fast as possible. But as they reach the steps, Dechan hears a woman's voice in his mind, telling him that David is in trouble.
Somehow, he recognizes the voice as Annoura, the woman the heroes saved from Darkshelf Quarry, who teleported away after touching David's forehead.
Dechan sends Carrie and Alliama on to the tower. He and Sebastian rush towards David's home with Big.
The houses in this district are smaller than those in the wealthy portions of town, as are the lots on which they stand. Some have good-sized yards, while others encroach on their neighbors, with barely two feet of alleyway between houses. Apartment-style dwellings are somewhat cramped, the buildings less cared for than in nicer districts.
The people here are far from poverty-stricken, but broken fences, cracked cobblestones, and the occasional drifter appear here and there.
Dechan and Sebastian spot David and Gwendolyn an instant before the attack begins. They are passing by the twin doors of a double home, when something impossible happens. A third door opens between the two doors that stood there.
Creatures poor out. They appear to be men, but their faces are blank, with slits for nostrils and no mouths or eyes. Most of these men wear plain leathers, while one wears a stylized suit adorned with what appear to be sharp talons that protrude from its folds.
The last thing to appear in the door is the man in the red robes who threatened David in June of last year. His face is concealed within a full hood, and his hands are clad in black leather gloves.
There is a creature on the man's shoulder that looks like a cross between an arboreal monkey and a cat. It shifts from whimsical to threatening in an instant, with the slightest shift in posture and expression.
The footsoldiers split their efforts. Three rush Dechan and Sebastian, occupying them. The fourth stands with their leader, guarding the door and then defending themselves against Big as the great panther lunges straight for the warrior in clawed leather.
The largest warrior badly injures Big, overcoming Big's Feywild-born resistance to physical injury. The injuries elicit a cry of fear and pain from Alliama, as they are channeled through the empathic link she shares with the panther. Across the way, Alliama and Carrie break into a dead run, desperate to get to David's house before it's too late.
Near enough to the steps to hear Alliama's cry, Kyler summons a crow, which he sends past Alliama. The turmoil on the steet helps him find the battle, and he sees what is happening. Three footsoldiers have taken flanking positions around Sebastian and Dechan, while two more are tearing into Big. Kyler and Bea start moving as hurriedly as possible towards the battle, but Kyler retains his vantage from the crow, intent on learning more.
Big retreats, but returns moments later after Dechan has used the Coin of the Good Companion to heal him at range.
The delay has taken long enough, though. David and Gwendolyn have been left dazed by some overwhelming psionic attack. Both waver on their feet, even David, who has spent years honing his mental defenses. The remaining two footsoldiers lead both into the central door, guiding them past the man in red robes and into the endless corridor beyond.
Abruptly, Annoura joins the fight on the heroes' side. She is tall, graceful, and strong, very different from the trapped slave that David helped free under Darkshelf Quarry. She literally appears in the street, already charging straight at the largest of the faceless men. The warrior injures Annoura badly, too, before Big tears him down.
Kyler, still viewing the battle remotely, sends a crow at the man in red robes. The creatures slashes across the man's face, narrowly missing his eye. As the bird flies away, though, it leaves no scratch. Also, the man's red robe falls open, exposing a twisted, humanoid creature possessed of many tentacles.
Next, Kyler sends the crow into the hallway. The bird crashes into the floor, dying the moment it crosses the threshold. Kyler knows only that he lost his magical link to the crow as the threshold. He summons another and continues to watch the battle as he and Beatrice hurry as best they can towards the scene.
The faceless warriors attempt to flee after they have taken David and Gwendolyn. The man in red robes and his minion both take their leave, but the rest of the soldiers are not so fortunate. Sebastien proves more than capable of ensuring that even those who flee cannot escape his wrath as a justifier of Ezra.
In the end, four of the six footsoldiers and their leader in the clawed leather all lie dead or dying on the Enclave street.
Annoura remains after the battle is won. As Dechan heals his injured allies, including the monk herself, she speaks.
She explains that the creature in red robes is a minion of the enemies of ESSPA, the secret that David has been attempting to unlock. When Dechan mentions that the creature in red robes is somewhat familiar, Annoura is not surprised. She says that the creature knew the surest way to guarantee David kept searching for ESSPA was to tell him to stop.
The creature is a minion of the illithids of Bluespur, a domain lost to the Core since the end of the Great Upheaval. The masters of Bluetspur want to find ESSPA for their own evil purposes.
They may have recently found a way to make that goal a reality. She speaks to Dechan and Sebastian of a merchant who had an encounter with ESSPA during his stay in the Enclave not long ago. The merchant is not as gifted as David but possessed just enough of a spark to put himself in proximity. That proximity brought him to the attention of the red-robed man and his masters. Now, they pursue him.
Annoura gives Dechan a lead coin that will protect the caravan master from the creatures hunting him. By saving the caravan master, the heroes will also be sealing a possible window that the enemy could use to find ESSPA. If the masters of Bluespur find ESSPA, the entire Core could be in jeopardy.
The merchant's name is Curtullen Rank. He is the master of the First Rank Merchant Caravan. He is a portly man in his middle years, recognized by his red beard, which he wears in a long braid that rests on his belly. The caravan is based out of Karg but travel from Martira Bay to the Enclave and back.
Finding the merchant caravan will not be easy, though. The man left a few weeks ago. He should be most of the way to Martira Bay right now, but if he is captured, then the domain-possibly the Core-would be in jeopardy.
Annoura promises that she will return to ESSPA and draw on help from there. The heroes must find Curtullen Rank; theirs is a journey of space. Hers is one of time. With help from within ESSPA, she hopes to catch David and Gwendolyn before he emerges from the long hallway down which they were taken.
With time apparently of great importance, Annoura does not overstay her welcome. She spots a faceless man who is still breathing his last breaths. She touches his forehead as she touched David's at Darkshelf Quarry. The faceless man shudders and dies. Annoura teleports away on the energy she took from him.
A little over five minutes from the beginning of the battle, two groups come to aid the heroes, only to find that the battle is done. The first is a group of Keepers of the Veil, from the nearby ranch on the western edge of the Enclave. The other is a patrol comprised of a Watch officer, a Dawnblade, a Keeper of the Veil, a Donavon Swordsman, and a handful of others.
The guards form a circle around the scene, and when Alliama begins to study the anatomy of the dead warrior in his clawed leathers, a tighter circle around her is formed. The men hold up cloaks to conceal what she is doing, and one guardsman turns pale when he glimpses her work.
Alliama uses her skill at anatomy to compare this creature to a human body. It has organs similar to heart and lungs, but they are different, and interconnected. Nothing connects to what should be the mouth or nose, and there is apparently no digestive tract.
She cuts open the stomach and releases a puff of vapor. At the same time, she is overwhelmed by emotion, experiencing the pain of Big's injury just as she did the first time through their empathic bond. She realizes after the fact that she screamed again, just like the first time; the guards spin about looking for trouble.
Kyler and Beatrice have also arrived by this time. They draw a connection between this creature--and its psychic masters in Bluetspur--and the Marin Richmond Collection at the Blakros. Perhaps the two are connected in some way.
Another odd thing about the faceless warrior: his armor is not mangled. Considering how Big tore him apart, his clawed leathers should be in tatters. Dechan casts a divination and determines that the armor is enchanted. It is divine (metaphysical) magic, with auras of alteration and enchantment. The former could explain how the armor shifted to cut Big when the panther attempted to grab and maul its wearer, but Dechan is at a loss to explain further.
During the study, one red-faced Watch officer catches Beatrice's eye. He re-introduces himself as Keynaven; he says that Bea probably doesn't remember but they met a long time ago, when they were children. She was leaving town, and he was playing with some friends along the edge of the Enclave.
When Bea remembers meeting Keynaven the day she and her friends went looking for Werthan the Miller, Keynaven blushes deeper.
Alliama offers Keynaven to come to the manor house for dinner sometime after she sees the two talking, and the young man's reaction. Kyler smacks her on the back in reaction.
The commander of the Watch patrol spots Keynaven and shouts for him to come back and join the others.
Dechan has asked the Watch to ensure that the enchanted leather armor is taken to Androlov Manor. The commander agrees, and he chooses Keynaven to deliver the armor.
The heroes see that the guards are going to clean up the bodies and have them taken care of appropriately. Knowing that pressure is on them now, they hurry in the direction of Valorn Tower.
Valorn Tower is positioned in such a way that, as the sun rises, it stands in the shadow of the highest hill of the Enclave and the temple perched there. It is also in the direction of Danviegle, Lamordia.
The tower's gracefully sloping walls are thick and sturdy, tapering as they ascend. It rises three stories. There is no ostentation in the design. The roof does not even give the appearance of rising higher than the Enclave temple, or Androlov Manor.
The front doors, however, are memorable indeed. The ash valves bear a high-relief sculpture depicting the branches of a great Ash Tree encircling the resplendent dawning sun, in a Tepestani knotwork pattern. The roots mirror the branches, save for their stylized leaves, giving the entire form the shape of a single, ornate circle.
Powerful magic seals the doors. None have entered since the day the heroes of The Missed departed from this realm. Still, the old bridge makes it clear that the tower is not set apart from the Enclave, but part of it-a quiet promise that the doors will one day swing open again.
A lone figure stands mid-way across the bridge, a squat fellow leaning on a stout cane.
The heroes meet Thorbinkrol the groundskeeper near Valorn Tower. The old dwarf is a kindly fellow, who has seen a lot, including the Darkonese Civil War (he fought for Nevuchar in a detachment of mountain dwarves out of Tempe), and the recent business with the dwarven banshee breaking loose from his confines. This current business, he believes, is more similar to the latter.
Kyler asks for details from the groundskeeper himself, and Thorbinkrol is happy to oblige. Last night, periodically through the evening, Torbinkrol heard a woman's voice. At first he doubted his ears, or assumed it was a trick of acoustics. But, by dawn, he had gone for a sonlinnor, who also listened and agreed-the sound was coming from within the tower.
Though her voice was distant, she was clearly calling for Kyler Valorn.
Kyler thanks Thorbinkrol, and he asks the old dwarf to let Sonlinnor Argan know that the heroes are investigating the tower. Thorbinkrol moves off as rapidly as he is able, promising that the dwarves will ensure that the tower remains secure while Kyler and the others investigate.
When Kyler approaches, the ash doors swing open. From within, torches light, one after another, climbing in a repeating spiral to the ceiling. Inside is a stairwell with doors set in the outside wall (where there are no corresponding exterior doors). A portrait-sized frame appears to have been hung next to each door.
The tower is hollow, with no rooms but just steps spiraling up the inner walls.
Kyler steps inside and attempts to summon a crow. No crow appears. He realizes that this tower exists in a separate space, surrounded by ley lines or some similar magic. The only reason a crow would not come is if he is in a domain where no crow lives.
Suddenly, a creature appears before the heroes, it attacks! The fish-tailed, wall-eyed creature has the chitinous body of a lobster and the tentacled head of a carrion crawler. The creature's arms, though humanoid, end in a set of massive, crab-like pincers.
The battle that follows is tense, and the heroes must focus all their efforts to bring down the creature. Kyler and Carrie both attempt to maneuver about the battle invisibly, but the creature reveals that it can see invisible creatures! It flies up above the door to crush Kyler in one of its massive lobster-like pincers.
The others move to aid Kyler, climbing or racing around the tower steps to fight the creature where it floats. Beatrice scales the tower door where it connects to the wall, testing the creature's supernatural resistance with a variety of weapons. Her silver dagger cuts cleanly, but it is too small a weapon. Later, when she sees magic injuring the creature, she draws the Kukri of Bloodletting and begins delivering more telling blows.
Alliama fires arrows at the creature, but the heroes quickly see that only the magic of an acid arrow (and not the acid itself) is able to penetrate the creature's shell. She joins the battle with her scimitars, which are magnificent weapons but far less effective since they bear no enchantments.
Dechan and Carrie barrage the creature with spells and prayers, injuring the creature with lightning, sunlight, and raw energy, and also revealing that the creature is immune to fire as well as acid.
When Kyler sees that his elfin katana is no more effective than Alliama's scimitars, he shifts to his enchanted hands, derived from his pact. The blows inflict significant damage.
Sebastian also reacts to Beatrice's findings. He draws the silver longsword he has been carrying since Bea gave it to him, and he wields it against the creature.
The creature has an incredible ability to sustain damage, rivaled only by its capacity to deliver it to multiple foes simultaneously.
As different heroes escape its grasp, it reaches out to crush two different foes at a time. At the same time, its tentacles slather topical poison on others. Sebastian and Beatrice are both poisoned and burned in this way. Virtually all of the heroes are crushed at some point by its pincers.
The heroes involved in the battle begin to show greater and greater wounds, with the group becoming injured at nearly the same rate as the creature. Just before its morale breaks, it crushes Beatrice in one pincer, dropping her, bleeding, to the steps. Her kukri falls to the floor at the entrance.
Then it teleports to the entrance and attempts to scuttle away, only to slam into an unseen barrier at the threshold. The heroes realize that it is trapped in here, and they pounce.
Sebastian delivers the killing blow, leaping from the steps thirty feet above the floor, relying on his Boots of Landing to cushion his arrival and keep him on his feet. As he comes down, he drives his silver longsword through the creature's carapace, slaying it.
The creature falls in an acrid, steaming cloud. All flesh bubbles and sublimates into a gray fog that obscures the shell. When the fog dissipates, all that remains is a filthy heap of fractured green shell pieces, as if several dozen small turtles had been crushed on the floor and allowed to slowly desiccate.
The heroes rush to bind wounds, bringing Beatrice back to consciousness, though the fall to the steps left her with a wrenched back that will haunt her until she can rest.
They are also able to look about the tower for the first time.
Each step rises one foot, with a span of about a foot. Every ten feet along the outside of the tower stands a red door. Tall, wide, short, round. Doors to great halls and little trap doors inexplicably placed against the outer stone wall.
Some doors appear brand new, while others impossibly old. There is a delightful menagerie of hardware upon them: Tepestani scrollwork. Fine and ornate Dementlieuese mechanisms. Heavy gargoyled knockers from Darkon. Horses from Nova Vaasa. Bats from Barovia. Falkovnian raptors.
Next to each door is a wooden picture frame, which is empty.
The tower is filled with the glow of countless torches. It rises at least two hundred fifty feet (far more than three stories).
Kyler, who dropped to the ground floor next to Sebastian, using a bound vestige's power, begins to race back up the steps. As he passes Sebastian on his left, though, he notices that someone is suddenly standing on his right.
Someone new stands inside the main entrance. The slender man wears the colorful attire of an entertainer, complete with a scepter that sprouts silk streamers from one end in a rainbow of colors. The porcelain skin of his face stretches in a wide smile. A hearty laugh full of mystery and secrets tumbles from his crimson lips as he meets Kyler's gaze.
Moments later, his voice comes from above. He stands at least sixty feet overhead, already making his way to the ground floor in broad spirals. Kyler continues to climb, and the two spiral each other, always visible to one another even as the others lose track of each in turn.
The Laughing Man speaks, "When the son and the father are the same; the dark shall be rent anew."
The heroes above the entry are halfway between where the Laughing Man began, and where Kyler began. Kyler hurries enough to meet the Laughing Man ahead of his friends.
The Laughing Man does not answer. He continues to speak to Kyler. He explains that this is a tower of blood, and in blood all impossibilities become truth. Life and death both require blood-in differing amounts, of course. And life and death are terms that can be applied to so many things. And through application, blood can make them real.
A lot of blood has already been applied within this tower. Long ago. Before it even was a tower. The old blood calls out for new, and as each call is answered, doors will open.
The call was answered last night by a young woman in need. Of course, something slipped through the cracks as the portals were opened. The birthing process can be dangerous at times, and that really is what we're talking about.
Creating new pathways through reality where none was ever intended. Place to place, maybe eventually time to time. Who knows what limits the Wanderer might have baked into this cake?
His performance complete, the Laughing Man bids the heroes farewell. And then he is gone. The heroes are left to investigate the tower.
The fortieth door, which is 40' above the ground, lies just beyond where the Laughing Man stopped as he spoke with Kyler. It stands next to an occupied picture frame.
It reveals, against the fulvous whorls of a fiery sky, the colossal silhouette of an iron dragon menacing a single figure: a man, riding across the sky on the back of a horse, the color of pitch, its hooves dissolving into smoke as they pound the air. The man levels a strange pistol with six chambers for bullets at the eye of the dragon, the muzzle flash assuring the viewer that these are unquestionably the last moments of so fearsome a creature. In the bottom right corner, the artist's mark reveals the overlapping initials K.M.V.
Kyler studies the painting. The frame is affixed securely to the wall. The canvas is incredibly well preserved.
The heroes sustained some serious injuries battling the creature that slipped into the Lands of Mist when the portal connection was created--assuming the Laughing Man could be taken at his word. As Dechan says, if they find an equal threat on the other side of that door, they are in no condition to best it.
Kyler also points out that they have reasons for haste. Curtullen Rank's knowledge may pose a threat to the entire Core. There is a woman calling for his help from the other side of the door. And it's possible that their path may move parallel to Annoura's, and lead them to David and Gwendolyn.
Dechan draws on the power of the Bartholomew Medallion to determine whether he has overlooked anything. As he does, Kyler finishes making his point with the words, "...it's all related." Under the power of the medallion, these words take on a particular significance.
Dechan asks for a show of hands from people who are interested in opening the door now.
Carrie offers a tepid willingness, stating that she still has her fireball committed to memory. Depending on what waits on the other side; she has her most powerful spells ready.
Alliama also leans towards opening the door. So does Beatrice.
After a moment, Sebastian, who was most vocal on resting up before opening the door, sees the group's opinion begin to sway.
The heroes are not eager to throw wide the door in their current condition, but they feel they cannot wait under the current circumstances. Perhaps, they reason, they could get some help--at the very least Anson Malghetti.
Kyler tests the exit. Whatever trapped the creature at the threshold does not seem to bind the heroes. He can see the dwarves at the far end of the long bridge.
The heroes quickly realize, though, that returning to the Enclave is not as easy as it might appear. Sebastian tries to leave, and he quickly sees a thick ground fog rise up from below the bridge. He retreats, and the fog stops encroaching.
Rather than leave, personally, Kyler writes a detailed account of what has happened for both Kalromen and Anson. He sends the account out of the tower with a crow.
Back at the door, Kyler notices that the painting is not entirely substantial. Like shadow magic, he believes that he can see through the canvas now, to the stone wall beyond. The painting is still present, but it is not so vivid as he originally believed. It is as if, on second contact, he has managed to see through the illusion of the painting. The frame, however, is very real.
The door opens without need for Kyler's fresh blood. Instead of peering out forty feet above the ground below Valorn Tower, it opens onto a large room. The door opens on a chamber familiar to Beatrice. The dark painting adorns the wall opposite the door.
The heroes step through the doorway into a large living area. The ceiling is some twenty feet overhead and has the rustic look of a cabin. The hearth-and its eye-catching painting-stands between to exits leading into another chamber. There is a plaque beneath the painting. Opposite the hearth are two other open doorways. Overhead, a bannister on a second-story balcony shows a long row of doors.
The room around them is dominated with numerous couches and chairs. These are not richly appointed, but they are also not simple peasant fare.
A young woman rises as the heroes enter, hurrying towards them. She has a swarthy complexion and dresses in traveler's clothes. Beatrice recognizes her immediately.
Behind her, on the couches, three young girls, the oldest possibly eight, stare after her.
The heroes ask her name. She says her name is Ivy.