Worn and a bit bedraggled by their journeys and the battle that brought them together, our heroes arrive before the imposing edifice of The Manor. The massive double doors of the entrance are propped only slightly open in a way that isn’t entirely inviting, and although Philip, Son of Philip waits outside for their arrival with supplies and provisions, it is not clear that he has actually ventured inside ahead of them. From the outside, the Manor looks to be a hodgepodge of architecture and construction, almost as is a single, smaller core of the building has been added to and revised over the imposing building’s lifetime. In the fading light of evening, our heroes peruse the exterior as best they can by lantern-light, noting the variety of stone and wood used in the various turrets and gables visible from the front. As Heather and Philip take their leave to visit a couple of outlying farmhouses on their way back to Northbarley proper, the group venture inside.
Inside, the group find that the Manor appears to have been deserted for quite a long time. Windows have succumbed to age and undisturbed dust covers the floor. Sticking close together at first, then gradually fanning out in pairs or individually, they explore the empty building. Ghrome finds the tavern and dining area and quickly sets up shop while a few of the others explore the Manor’s spacious garden. Still impressive after years of neglect, exotic ivies and flowering plants have somehow managed to hold any invasive species from outside mostly at bay. Mharsh finds his way to a second and third floor gable that must once have served as a luxurious master suite and claims it as his own. Meanwhile, Kamile and Brie explore more of the upper floors. They browse the library and some of the upstairs rooms before finding their way up to the rooftop and a small observatory at its center. The cupola structure on the roof holds an ancient brass telescope which, though dirty and in need of some service to its mechanical tracking apparatus, seems otherwise to be in astonishingly good condition. Some among the party select books from those around the Manor, a locked door to the cellar is found to be magical, and the fermented barley drink brought by Philip begins to disappear with alarming speed. Eventually, satisfied that there are no immediate threats awaiting them in some corner or other of the great mansion, our heroes find their way respectively toward places to rest.
A night in the Manor
Concerned about the locked cellar door, Kamile Cocksmith decides to take his rest in the tavern area, just behind the bar. He is awoken some time later by what he assumes to be the light of morning, though when he rises to look out of the window, he is greeted by a strange sight. Contrary to the prior night’s geography, the Manor now seems to sit atop a great hill where, underneath, he spies a group of what look to be fauns and satyrs reveling in the midday sun. When finally one of them notices him watching and moves to approach the Manor, Kamile retreats to show the others. On his return, the daylight from the window is gone, replaced by the cool night breeze from outside.
Settling in his spacious chamber in a second floor gable, Mharsh struggles to get comfortable in his too-small bed. Despite his feet dangling off the side, the bed is nevertheless a welcome relief after weeks of travel, and he soon drifts into sleep. He is awoken by sounds in the night to discover a procession of frogs traveling across the floor. They emerge from the base of one wall, where a hole he had not noticed has opened, and move steadily in a more or less orderly file toward the opposite wall. There, another similar hole awaits where they pass out of sight. As the last of the frogs enter the room, the hole behind it closes and the frogs continue their progress. This last frog, however, appears to have lingered too long, and is too late to join its fellows before the opposite hole closes as well. It seems unperturbed, however, and is content in watching Mharsh from the floor.
One of a few who chose to sleep in the garden, Brie settles in quickly in spite of her odd surroundings. She is welcomed by dreams of home, slightly altered in the visions, but pleasant and reassuring all the same. In her dreams, she remembers the bluebird – the symbol of her god – watching over her through scenes of her youth, years before she found her calling. She is awoken by the birdsong, only to find that it is no longer a mere part of her dream. The bluebird perches on the garden’s black metal lattice and watches her. When she sits up to greet it, it flits down and alights on her shoulder, accepting her as a companion henceforward.
As Asa, also in the garden, prepares herself to enter the elven trance that functions as her people’s sleep, she reflects on a certain feeling of familiarity that she has been getting from the otherwise dour Manor. She can still feel the forest’s distress that brought her to this place, but it is mixed here with a feeling oddly like home. As she slips deep into the trance, she finds that the feelings of unease, so vague and uncertain in the forest, here seem to have a clear direction and focus. When she emerges back into the conscious world, her tracker’s senses detect at once something altered about the dust on the floor. Where the night before the dust, like in the rest of the Manor, was uniform and undisturbed, it was now around her shaped into striations and runnels, the direction of which corresponded exactly with her strong feelings of direction from the night before.
The last of those choosing to sleep in the more familiar setting of the garden, Ghrome finds a snug, isolated corner to make his home for the night. He wakes mid-night to the glow of a profusion of faintly luminescent mushrooms that has broken out on the metal lattice above his bedroll. He wonders at its sudden growth for a moment before noticing the small scuffling noises to his side. One the floor beside him, a tiny man dressed as a woodcutter, complete with tiny axe and bag for his night’s take, shakes his head and stares ruefully up at the mushrooms. He seems not to notice Ghrome watching as he lays his sack on the floor and sinks down beside it, weeping for his bad luck. Not certain why, Ghrome reaches up with his knife and saws some pieces of the fungus loose, then sets them on the floor next to the figure. The tiny woodsman gathers it up gratefully and leaves. When Ghrome wakes, he finds a small pile of polished stones and semi-precious gems waiting in the spot where he left the mushrooms. Upon inspection, some of the stones seem to match some of the rarer, and more distantly found materials used in the Manor’s construction.
Eschewing the direct company of the others, the druid nevertheless remains close to the comforting and exotic foliage by positioning herself atop the second floor balcony that overlooks the garden. Vines climb to spill over the iron railing, and she makes her bed among them. Whether through original design or by overgrowth over time time, the nearby foliage is near enough to the wilds of her home as she awakes. A child’s humming, clear and artless, drifts to Arihanna’s ears and pulls her from the momentary confusion. Pushing through the foliage, she finds the girl singing and gently touching the vines and flowers. Their eyes meet for a moment before recognition and terror overcome the girl’s expression. She drops her delicate basket, into which she had been gathering the driest flowers on the bud and ducks into an overhanging thicket to flee the tiefling. A door slams, and Arihanna can hear the child on the other side, muttering in fear, giving little prayers that the druid not follow through.
Having kept to herself much of the time since arriving at the Manor, Rhohanna retires early to what must once have clearly been a guest room on the first floor. As she plays her concertina to keep up her and her fellow travelers’ spirits, she is uncertain, but thinks that she can hear something playing along with her, just beyond the edge of hearing. It is a strange type of harmony, imprecise and unfamiliar, made stranger still by the fact that she cannot entirely hear it. It begins just after her, and preternaturally ceases when she stops, even mid-note. She shouts to the rest, but perhaps because they are in other rooms, they hear nothing of these other sounds.
She is awoken in the night by noises, and pays them little mind, thinking they must be merely the scurrying of vermin beneath the floor. As it becomes louder, and sleep drifts further away, however, she looks to the ground, where a floorstone is being pushed up from underneath. She watches as the stone is displaced to the side by tiny hands. One after another, the tiny people clamber up through the hole and begin to survey the room. They are dressed as tradesmen, and mill about with half-purpose until their foreman comes up last. He organizes them into teams and they scatter to the corners of the rooms to begin measuring the angles and junctions. When Rhohanna wakes again, she finds that the corners around both floor and ceiling have been packed with bits of dry, flaking plaster in an attempt to round them off.
The adventurers reconvene by morning light, each eager to share their odd stories of the night prior. Any further investigation of the phenomena, however, is delayed by Philip’s arrival. He brings unfortunate news that one of the nearby farmsteads has been attacked, and asks the new arrivals to help investigate. When they arrive, they find Heather already going over the grisly scene. The house and part of the barn have been burnt, and among the obvious kobold tracks are others less clear. With some relief, Asa identifies the larger, heavier tracks as reptilian rather than draconic, and the group guesses the other scraped-off areas around some of the more gruesome remnants of livestock to be some sort of large insect. Kamile and Ghrome investigate the farmhouse interior and find the family’s meager savings beneath the floorboards, which they decide to split as partial payment for their continued services.
The surviving family members have already been taken back to Callum for treatment, so the heroes decide to question a wounded horse. The horse is as helpful and descriptive as one would expect, but they do manage to glean a few uncertain facts, mostly about the lizards and biting insects. Sending their new horse friend back to Callum with Heather and Philip, the party decides to take advantage of the morning light and give chase to the attackers. The kobold raiders are easy enough to follow with the bulky lizard tracks. Nevertheless, the crafty creatures manage to double back and set an unlikely ambush to their pursuers.
In the battle that follows, winged kobolds are shot from the sky, and the shamanic beastmaster of the creatures unleashes a small horde of giant centipedes that combine to overwhelm with their ferocity and venomous bites. The lizard, inexpertly altered and augmented to look more like a dragon, is ridden by a larger kobold wielding a crossbow-like device that has been built to launch fire bolts. Brie fends off the enormous lizard’s charge while Kamile and Ghrome try to neutralize the rider. Mharsh is overwhelmed by kobolds and centipedes, and both clerics fall before the beasts. Their comrades, though, take full advantage of their bravery and dispatch the raiders.
The clerics are stabilized and woken, but weak as the heroes set up camp to recover by daylight. Afternoon’s light is beginning to fade by the time they are ready to travel, and their return to the Manor is slow but uneventful. By evening, they find candles lit in the windows to welcome their return.
To be continued in Part Three