Having returned to Saltmarsh to lick their wounds, recover, and report the companions find themselves with very nearly nothing as far as clues in regards to the odd behavior of the sea monster and who may have sent it after them. Allowing some extended down time for Lars to study and learn a couple of his newly acquired spells the companions soon begin to discuss just where exactly they should head out to. Knowing that the Count of Roshtar wishes to see them and hear their report on what occurred in Saltmarsh in person it is to the southwest that they decide to turn their horses. Gathering their travel packs together the companions trot out of the small town of Saltmarsh, their mounts well-fed and rested as well as themselves. The familiar clattering of Monieus’ wagon approaching behind them, the companions turn and watch in surprise as the wagon pulls up next to them, completely outfitted with sturdy and strong horses, the old nags nowhere to be seen.
“Good morning friends!” Monieus cheerfully waves from the wagon. “I was able to get those nice older horses to a great retirement pasture and purchase these fine strong beasts.” Monieus grinned widely, clearly proud of the purchase he had made.
“Where might you have gotten the money to make such a purchase sir?” Doubt was heavy in Tamull’s voice making it quite clear that he expected the means of purchase to be less than clean.
“I do not appreciate your insinuation, Paladin,” Monieus responds jovially. “I merely salvaged the goods the smugglers had stored in the caves.” And with a shrug Monieus urged the horses on with the companions following in the wagon’s wake. After a week of easy and light-hearted travel the companions soon find themselves outside the city gates of Roshtar.
Locating an inn and getting Monieus situated as well the companions immediately split up to complete a few personal errands. Lars begins to quietly gather information about the location of the Tower of the Shattered Sphinx, finding nothing of use at the local bar he soon heads across the city to the library. Through some quick and efficient searching Lars soon finds a piece of parchment with indistinct writings on the location of the tower. Questioning the librarian as to what exactly the paper says, he’s told to search out the Sage Kurtz who will surely be able to help him. Unfortunately the man won’t be back in the city for a couple days. During Lars’ search the other companions find themselves preparing to search out and speak to the Count, except Ragnarok of course who was still rolling about in the sheets with the local wenches.
With the return of Ragnarok and Lars the companions make their way through the busy streets of Roshtar, a large castle, clearly their target destination, looming at the far end of the city. With Tamull in the lead the castle’s guards find their questions answered and escort the companions to meet with the Chancellor first. The Chancellor seems friendly enough and soon has the companions in a waiting room complete with food and refreshment. The older man informs the companions that they are to attend the Count’s council meeting which will take place in a couple hours before leaving the companions to themselves. Milling about rather aimlessly the companions have no other choice but to wait, thankfully the Chancellor returns right on time, escorting them further into the castle and into a large chamber they can only assume is the council meeting chamber.
Entering the room the companions are greeted with the not so friendly stares of the council members, the much more finely dressed man seated in the middle clearly the Count Tobin of Roshtar. Keeping his hard grey eyes centered on the companions the Count asks for the companions what their business had been in Saltmarsh. For some reason Ragnarok takes control of the situation and immediately begins a rather bland and bare-bones account of what occurred, dancing around the truly important and stunning parts of the tale. With the Count clearly more and more unimpressed with the words coming from Ragnarok’s mouth, Tamull quickly takes over the tale in hopes of appeasing the Count and not only getting the important information about the smuggled weapons out, but also smoothing over the roughness of the conversation. It is too little, too late however. With Ragnarok’s paranoia getting the better of him the fighter immediately comes to the conclusion that the Count is not to be trusted and very likely is into some no good business. Sasha begins to feed off of Ragnarok’s emotions and soon the Count is motioning for the guards to escort the companions out of the chamber and castle before the hostility can rise further. The others are perfectly fine with the guards ushering them from the castle, but Ragnarok pushes his away, making yet more of a scene and further damaging the companions’ reputation with the Count. Finding themselves roughly escorted out into the street, the companions dust themselves off and make their way back to the inn, more than one of them fairly certain they missed out on a potentially very large reward for their work in Saltmarsh…
Arriving back at the inn, Lars quickly tells the others about his strange dream and the piece of parchment he had located in the library. Deciding that few things are more exciting and noble to do than a rescue mission the companions quickly agree to enter this Tower of the Shattered Sphinx. During the downtime of waiting for the Sage Kurtz to return to town, Ragnarok sends out yet another letter to the group of fighters he had found in Tir Asleen.
With the Sage Kurtz finally back in town two short days later, Lars quickly makes his way to the university where the Sage was said to be lecturing. Entering one of the large lecture halls Lars can’t help but smile as he catches the tale end of what is being said:
“And remember, X never, EVER, marks the spot.”
With the students filing out the door past him Lars fights his way to where Sage Kurtz is standing and packing up his supplies. Showing Sage Kurtz the piece of parchment Lars is delighted when the old man immediately and easily reads the inscriptions. The Tower of the Shattered Sphinx was created from the stones of the dismantled statue of a huge sphinx. It is located across the mountains to the southeast within what is now the kingdom of Boerah. Thanking him profusely for his assistance Lars donates a hefty sum of money to the school before returning to the inn and his companions. Telling them what he learned of the location of the Tower the companions decide to leave for it immediately.
Traveling hard and fast the companions soon arrive at the mountain pass to the kingdom of Boerah, within which the Tower of the Shattered Sphinx is located. After a somewhat awkward conversation with Ragnarok during which the guards became extremely suspicious and distrusting of the companions, Tamull took over talking and was able to satisfy the guards’ questions and gain the companions entrance into the kingdom. Taking the north fork in the road the companions soon find themselves feeling as though they must surely be in the right location for the tower and yet no sight can be seen of it…riding to the top of a nearby ridge however, Tamull quickly spots the tower in the distance and waves to the companions that they much now travel to the west.
Turning and progressing down the somewhat overgrown trail, the companions are forced to walk single file, the reaching branches of the dense forest and sharply thorned bushes slapping and scratching against arms and legs alike. The forest air becomes heavy with the smell of green and growing vegetation, the companions can almost feel the water in the air from the humidity.
Suddenly the trees clear and the companions are rewarded with the sight of a tall stone tower. Feeling lucky that they had so easily arrived at the tower the companions boldly move forward, only to be stopped in their tracks by a towering wall of brambles, their large and numerous thorns spiking outward to stab any who venture too close. Had that wall of brambles been there a moment ago though?…No one is quite certain. Unsure of how to proceed the companions suddenly jump back as a mangy and thin rabbit bursts from the brambles, veering off to the left down a faint trail that surely had not been there a second ago. After both Ornith and Lars’ raven, Caravec search the beginning of the trail, it is clear that no other choice exists but to proceed down the newly discovered trail. Shrugging to one another the companions proceed down the trail, perhaps this will lead them to the tower.
Moving down the trail single file with Ragnarok in front attempting to hack and slash his way through the encroaching undergrowth with his battle axe, the companions have to eventually stop for a moment as the fighter places his now sap encrusted axe back in its holder. Clearly a battle axe was not meant to clear vegetation.
Continuing down the path for several minutes the companions are soon faced with monstrously large trees growing incredibly close to one another. Tamull finds the trees slightly odd, but Sasha is awed by the presence of such trees and moves forward to touch and investigate them, gasping aloud and nearly throwing herself back from them however as the bark seems to come alive with the swarming bodies of ants! With the swarm quickly moving to cover both Sasha and Ragnarok the companions can do little else aside from attempting to destroy the swarming insects.
Realizing that their weapons would have little effect on such a foe, Ornith quickly back up away from the swarm as Tamull first pulls Sasha from the swarm while Ragnarok fights free himself, giving Lars ample space to work with his spells! With his friends out of harm’s way Lars ominously waves his arms about, summoning forth a mighty swarm of rats! In delight the companions watch as the swarm of rats seem to be laying waste to the ants, soon however the air become heavy with the pain-filled squeaks of dying rats, the ants chewing at the dead bodies scattered about. Leaping forward with brightly lit torches the others quickly dispatch a few more ants while Lars readies one final spell to throw at the crawling insects. Yelling for his companions to move aside the wizard performs “Burning Hands”, crisping the remaining ants into piles of ash!
Shaken, but not deterred, the companions search around the now quiet trees until they find a path now taking them deeper into the forest. Not having walked too far Ragnarok suddenly stumbles into the blackened waters of a rancid smelling pond.
Hastily pulling him out of the slimy waters the companions can only place hands and bits of cloth across their noses to somewhat dispel the rank odor of rotting muck and fallen trees. Bubbles issue up from various places within the murky water, unsure of what these bubbles may entail the companions quickly make their way around the pond and to the other side where they find the trail once again. Staring at the bubbles Tamull doesn’t notice the leafy vine snake out from a nearby tree and encircle his neck, quickly attempting to strangle him!
Lars leaps to the aid of the paladin, immediately casting “Flaming Sphere” at the murderous vine while Ornith studies it intently, quickly figuring out that this is an assassin vine, a plant that is very well adapted to constricting its prey before dragging it down to its roots for fertilizer. Tamull is able to smash his vine to a pulp, but not before yet another vine snaps itself around Ornith’s neck! Ragnarok leaps forward with his axe however, managing to sever the vine cleanly. Rubbing their necks the companions quickly leave the stinking bog and deadly vines behind them.
Feeling somewhat dirty and violated the companions quickly reenter the forest, now thankful this time for the surrounding clean leaves and fresh air. The trail becomes winding now, but the larger trees give way to smaller, thinner birch trees, soon the companions are dumped out into an open field. The field is littered with the bleached bones of various animals and creatures. Ornith can identify some, but not all (deer legs, raccoon skull), but there are numerous bones and fragments that she has never before encountered. Cautiously moving across the field with the constant fear of something falling or diving at them from the sky the companions eventually make it back to the sheltering cover of trees. This time the trail they find seems to be leading them back toward the tower, perhaps they are finally making their way to their goal destination.
Soon after reentering the trees a large black and white spider descends from a tree right next to Sasha, causing the young rogue to jump and assume the worse. The spider however begins weaving a large web, seemingly uncaring that there is a group of armed adventurers right next to it. Shying away from the large spider Sasha urges them to continue down the trail, who knows what a spider may do after all.
Walking on down the trail Ornith notices some odd looking boulders covered in moss. Unsure of what to expect Sasha is sent forward to inspect the boulders with her goggles. The rogue quickly jumps back from the boulders announcing that the ground near the boulders feels unstable, as though there may be some kind of pit beneath the surface. Directing everyone to move past the boulders carefully to one side the companions are not caught off guard as the boulders suddenly move aside, the earth erupting upward in an explosion of dirt and insects, a large mound of animated vegetation emerging, its tendrils flailing out attempting to attack the companions!
Wasting no time the companions immediately launch into an attack, arrows and swords laying about the beast. Lars lets loose a massive fireball at the creature, bursting it and parts of the damp forest into flame! The animated vegetation crumples to the ground, but the companions watch in horror as vines snake out and begin pulling materials inward in an attempt to reconstruct itself. Before anyone can react another vine whips out from the mound of leaves and grasses latching onto Ragnarok. The fighter struggles, but can do little as he is dragged further into the maw of the beast. Sensing that time is of the essence and with Ornith only landing half her shots on the enemy and the other half dangerously skimming Lars’ beard, the wizard lets loose with “Magic Missile”! Panic rises in the group as the missiles hit the creature, but do not bring it down. Ragnarok lets out a final yell as he is completely swallowed by the creature! Unable to do anything else Lars summons a bolt of lightening, striking at the creature, but still not bringing it down! In desperation Ornith puts two final arrows into the plant creature, finally bringing it down in a crumpled heap! Thinking the creature defeated this time around Lars quickly drags Ragnarok’s body from the vegetation, calling out in dismay as he notices the leaves and mosses reassembling themselves once again. Ornith fires two more quick arrows, but it isn’t enough. Dropping Ragnarok, Lars whips out his quarterstaff, bludgeoning the creature in a splatter of wet leaves and moss. This time around there is no reforming!
Quickly moving past the boulders the companions are happy to finally see the trees truly opening up onto the weedy and slightly overgrown lawn at the foot of a tower. Cautiously leaving the trees the companions explore the lawn, eventually finding to their dismay that there appear to be no doors or windows.
Searching the stone walls more closely however, Tamull finds an inscription in a seemingly foreign language. Pulling Lars over to read the inscription, he recites the words out loud the companions can only stand in puzzlement. The entrance to the tower must have something to do with this strange inscription, they just have to figure it out.
“What does man love more than life?
Hate more than death or mortal strife?
What do contented men desire?
The poor have, the rich require,
The miser spends, the spendthrift saves,
And all men carry to their graves?”