It's a Saturday and we're in Aldershot for the next session of The Evils of Illmire, picking up from where they ended at the watchtower in episode one.
Watching the watchmen Our heroes found themselves at a large rocky outcrop that loomed above them in an irregular oblong shape that ran north-south, the granite protuberance rose rudely from the surrounding environs and was marked out by almost vertical craggy rock faces. 'There must be a plateau,' our heroes surmised, at the northern end they could see the top of an old looking tower to jutting above the outcrop, even from here they could see there was a neglected look to it. Craning their necks, they could just about see the the rooftops of other buildings.
The outcrop dipped in the centre somewhat where the escarpments fell away and a navigable path up through the western rock face to the plateau could be discerned. However, a fortified, gated wall spanned across the dip, blocking the path entirely and ended in a pair of small battlements. Our heroes could make out movement on the rampart and perhaps a figure lurking in those battlements
Our heroes approached and Benny stepped forward, they were under observation by a pair of guards. "We've been sent by Lord Crellmont to speak with Sergeant Wilfret," Benny announced loudly. The two guards turned to face each for a second, pausing before one one turned and replied. "Sergeant Wilfret is indisposed indefinitely." "What happened to him?" Benny pressed. Another pause. "I'm not at liberty to divulge," came the response. "I'd like to speak to someone in charge," Benny was not letting up. "I'm in charge of this gate," said the voice again, somewhat terse this time. "Speak with Captain Frey if you want 'someone who's in charge'." Our heroes were stymied. They were not getting in.
It was hard to get a good look at the guards but even so, our heroes felt there was something 'off' about them. Perhaps the way they shabbily wore their uniforms or their lackadaisical, almost unprofessional countenances made our heroes suspicious. A quick assessment of the outcrop and the tower told our heroes a direct approach might prove risky. There was an unknown number of guards beyond that gate.
Return to Illmire Our heroes thought it best to return to Illmire, their march back was unhindered, shadows were short and the sun was at it's zenith as they walked past the old wooden palisade into the glum town and made for the jailhouse.
Constructed of study brick with iron-reinforced doors and small iron-rimmed windows, it looked as uninviting as our heroes would expect a jailhouse to be. Inside they found Captain Frey along with the two lackeys they'd seen him with previously. Captain Frey was a burly, rough-looking man with an unfriendly face, his companions equally so. Frey gave our heroes a perfunctory greeting Giving the interior a brief look-over, our heroes saw that it was quiet here, the cells were empty and only the trio of men occupied the front desk. Otherwise, the building was empty. Our heroes spoke to Frey, explaining that they were occult investigators and asked the captain what he knew about 'the cult'. Frey shrugged noncommittally, stated that he did not know what they were talking about. Next they told him that Lord Crellmont had instructed them to find Sergeant Wilfret, they explained that they had expected to find him at the watchtower. Frey seemed quite interested in this and shifted in his seat. "He's indisposed indefinitely," Frey explained. "I'm not at liberty to divulge," Frey added when pressed on what had happened to Wilfret.
Then, it was Frey's turn to ask questions! "Why are you searching for Wilfret? I don't recognise you and you're new in town. Where did you sleep last night? Did you go to the Inn of the Weary Wagoneer?" Realising that Frey might link them to the bloody midnight fight from a couple of days ago at the inn which resulted in the death of seven cultists, our heroes quickly made their excuses and left.
There was nothing else to be had from Frey, instead our heroes decided to return to Lord Crellmont. At the manor house, they were led into his gloomy, shaded chamber by loyal Piedlund, Crellmont's condition was unchanged, bedridden and poorly, he rested as best he could. When our heroes told him that they were unable get into the watchtower to speak with Wilfret, Crellmont could not provide them with any more information or guidance on finding him.
Our heroes decided it was time to concoct a plan to get into the watchtower...
All along the watchtower Dusk was encroaching as our heroes reached the vicinity of the watchtower, hazy reddening vestiges of sunlight were shrinking over the western skyline as the dying orange light licked the edges of the outcrop and watchtower. Benny, now wearing the cultist's black cloak with hood pulled low over his face, had walked in advance of his companions, reaching the rocky outcrop alone.
Speaking gruffly, he announced himself to the guards. Stating confidently that he had been sent by Captain Frey to 'deal with Wilfret'. The guards on the gate were hesitant, letting the disguised Benny know they didn't recognise him or know his stated reason for being here. Benny held his nerve, insisting that he had been sent by Frey. The confidence in Benny's voice did the trick and convinced the guards to open the gate. Benny went in. Several guards were waiting on the other side, they wanted to see Benny's face but Benny refused to lower his hood. The guards were having none of it and one of their number forcibly yanked it down. They peered at him: Benny had not realised it, but none of them had been on the gate this morning and thus; none of them recognised him.
A pair of others were called over by the guard and instructed to take Benny to Wilfret. As he was led on, Benny could see several buildings inside the fortification at varying stages of construction with other men going to-and-fro about their business. He could not help but also notice that not only were they out of uniform but none of them were dressed in any black cloak similar to his, suddenly he felt an intense self-consciousness.
Benny was led up to the base of the tower and then inside. From here, Benny could see that the tower was in a truly dilapidated state. The interior masonry and woodwork had almost entirely succumbed to neglected and age, what once would have been the upper floors and rooms above were now heaped in an uneven blanket of detritus across the floor and ground level rooms. Orange shafts of sunset streamed through gaps in the tower's remaining outer shell as Benny saw ropes, swaying ever so slightly, hanging from the rims of what remained of the upper storeys. Benny spotted several men armed with bows nestled on lips of these rims, watching him come in.
Among the piled trash and junk there was a cleared-out spot that revealed a set of stone steps which wound their way downwards, seemingly swallowed by the dark. As the guards descended with Benny in tow, he was met with a warm, fetid stench gently blustering from the unknowable below.
Down, down Spluttering torchlight caused misshaped shadows to dance jig across exposed stonework tunnel walls as Benny's escorted descent continued. The stairs came to their end and opened into a square man-made room. Unbelievably, the stench was now stronger than ever, and pushing Benny to the point of nausea. There were low sounds too, muffled, distorted but surely human coming from beyond the south wall, where a closed door led on to somewhere else. The guards paused for a moment and Benny took stock; other than the door there was one other way out, a natural cavernous tunnel led out of the south-east corner. The door opened and Benny was ushered in.
Benny found himself in another squarish chamber along with two more guards and lit in hellish red by a glowing brazier. There were also a pair of others here. The pair of other men, stripped to the waist and strapped to torture racks, decorated in a wealth of bruises and suffering a litany of injuries, looked in a bad way and did not appear to register the Benny's entrance. "That's Benny the Chuckle," one of the two new guards blurted. " He was at the gate this morning." "Benny the Chuckle is just a cover," Benny replied, maintaining his low, gruff tone. "I'm here to kill Crellmont after dealing with Wilfret." The newer guards looked at each other, open confusion on their faces. "Get Malstern," one of them instructed.
Meanwhile Berta, Galileo and Trim had left the path behind, marching over hilly scrublands and approaching the tower from the north. They arrived at the outcrop unnoticed, their plan; to scale the escarpment.
It was a tricky climb, Galileo and Trim struggled, failing to make progress but Berta's mountaineering expertise served her well and upon reaching the top, dropped a rope and took a sturdy stance, allowing Galileo and Trim to clamber up. From there it was a short distance to the old crumbling tower.
A man revealed There was a wait of a couple of minutes for Malstern to arrive. A scruffy looking man, even by the standard of the others Benny had seen, he was square-faced with an unkept goatee and calculating eyes. "I don't know you," Malstern stated bluntly and confronting Benny. "Why would Frey send you to kill Wilfret?" Benny held his nerve. " It doesn't matter what you think, it's what Frey wants done." Benny put as much force into his gruff voice as he could muster. It worked, Benny could see the hesitation on Malstern's face. After a moment, Malstern had made his decision. "Go ahead, deal with him," Malstern nodded at one of the torpid men on the rack.
Benny turned to face the man; that was Wilfret? Quickly, he assessed the situation, surrounded by Malstern and four men all watching him, Benny did not have confidence he would survive a fight with them. Would he have to go through with the killing?
Meanwhile Berta, Galileo and Trim crept towards the tower, keeping silent, or least so they hoped. On their approach, Galileo had clipped a stone which had clattered and tumbled over the outcrop. Had the noise been noticed? Moments later, the answer came in the form of small volley of arrows.
Galilieo took a hit and went down. Berta and Trim saw flittering movement behind openings on the tower's upper levels.
Berta ran for the tower wall while Trim exchanged fire with the archers. It did not go well for Trim, already burdened by a previous wound, she took an arrow and crumpled. Berta was flush against the wall but her options were slim. While the archers could not easily get a bead on the dwarf, she watched raining arrows pepper the rocky ground close to her, moving would expose her to attack. A moment later, Berta heard the blast of a horn from above. There would not be much time. Remembering that Galileo had previously boasted of possessing a dragon's breath bomb, Berta quickly came up with a plan. She made a lunge for Galileo's unmoving form and dragged him to the tower, a rapid search found the bomb. Berta scanned the tower's outer wall and could just about make out a weak spot further round the base and made a run for it.
Under sustained fire, Berta made it to the slim crack and wedged the dragon's breath into it. Lighting the fuse, she ran back to her fallen companions. The archers kept on loosing arrows and one landed a lucky shot on Berta, it was a heavy hit and she staggered under its force but even so, managed to stagger back before the bomb went off.
With a thunderous crack and palpable shockwave that rippled through our heroes' bodies, a ball of grey, smoky dust instantly expanded from the tower wall, engulfing them in a shower of rocky chips and a blinding cloud of particulates.
Benny's choice Benny was unmoving, wracked with indecision, he had become frozen while Malstern and his guards stared on. The moment was lost though, broken by the shock a deafening boom that had reverbed down the tunnel and rattled the rooms. Everybody unconsciously flinched.
Malstern was the first to react. "Go and find out what happened?" He said nodding at guard. "I don't believe in coincidences," he added, one hand covering a sword hilt.
The longer Benny tarried, the worse it would become for him and he knew it. Glancing about, he assessed his options. Benny did not fancy his odds in fight against Malstern and three of his men. Perhaps he would have carry through with his bluff, could he bring himself to murder the man he was looking for? An innocent man. Benny made his choice.
He relaxed for a moment, exhaling and looking with dark-eyed grimness at the unhealthy pale man lashed to the rack while fingering the inlaid pattern on his dagger's handgrip... ...And ran for the door!
His ruse had worked, in the moment it took Malstern and his men to grasp their swords, Benny was through the door. It was folly going the way he had came so Benny ran for the cavernous tunnel, hearing the curses of Malstern as his pursuers emerged from the door only a second behind.
The dim light of the chamber behind Benny fell away, all but lost to the twists of the rocky tunnel. He made it a scant few steps into the caves before, in the slimmest tinge of light, he could see two ways ahead, without skipping a beat he plunged into the right hand tunnel. Benny did not have the luxury of gagging as the sickeningly sweet stench intensified even further and a few moments later he was swallowed by the darkness. He paused and held his breath. Beyond the drumming heartbeat in his ears, he could not detect any signs of pursuit, no rapid footsteps, no shouting men. Benny pressed on, hearing more than seeing the changes as he entered a cavernous area, he slipped into a corner, hidden by darkness.
Meanwhile Dust had begun to settle, coating the ground in a film of grey residue, as things became clear Berta could see that the tower wall had not been damaged further. With herculean effort, grabbing the unconscious Galileo and Trim, she doggedly ran for the escarpment. Reaching the lip of the rocky outcrop, she dropped her motionless companions, reaching for a piton and hammer in his haversack. Berta was in the process of hammering the piton when the relentless attacks of the archers hit home and Berta slipped into unconsciousness.
When the guards arrived at the prone forms of our heroes, they searched around hesitantly but made no effort to stanch their wounds. The cooling lifeblood of Galileo, Berta and Trim pooled on the rocky outcrop as their souls slipped into the great beyond...
To what fearful end Benny remained hidden, considering his options and wondering how long to linger in his hiding spot when he came to the realisation he had heard something? A shuffling or scraping, a slow scuttling in the dark. Benny strained his eyes.
There, passing through shards of indeterminate light, he saw a fast moving, weirdly bloodless looking pale-skinned shape closing in on him. He saw an amorphous body, stunted legs and flailing pseudopodal barbed limbs. Baleful misplaced eyes caught the weak slivers of light and regarded him malevolently, Benny spotted an enormous, grotesquely misshapen mouth that seemed to split what passed for the beast's entire head and bristled with overlong, monstrously curving teeth.
There was scant time to strategize; as the thing neared, Benny lunged with the strength he could muster, his dagger landed solidly and he felt the blade sink in. The thing released an alien scream, shuddering and reeling back to then unleash an unearthly wail. A wave of terror engulfed Benny like a flooding tide. his legs became leaden and threatened to buckle, he couldn't think, what had... there was... how could... no time... The creature closed again, this time furiously lashing it's terrible limbs in the direction of Benny. The blows rained down thick and fast, too much for Benny to cope with, too many wounds. Toppling to the stony floor, dimness became darkness as the light fled Benny's eyes and oblivion welcomed him.