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The Whisperer in Darkness

Day 12: Explosive Exit

The sentry waves the wagon onward. Norman cracks the reins. The horses resume their unhurried plod, as relaxed now as they were before their ordeal, and the carriage moves beyond the checkpoint into the large grounds of the tower camp, bordered by forest on every side. The one stone building is surrounded by a number of men sparring with each other or shooting arrows into bales of hay. A few look up as the wagon passes and issue polite greetings. The two drivers respond in kind. Brotherhood spies have observed that deliveries are offloaded behind the tower, so Norman directs the horses towards this end.

The carriage comes to a halt beside a door in the back of the tower. According to the Boss, offloading usually takes 10-15 minutes. Any longer and the fortress denizens are likely to begrudgingly offer assistance. Wistark hops down from the drivers bench and passes into the cellar. It is empty save for a number of large, stacked boxes. He returns to the group and together they begin to offload the metal drums from inside the carriage. Ignatious promises the prisoner freedom in return for his silence and escorts him into the cellar with the drums. Once they are inside, Moor cuts the man’s throat and hides him in a dark corner, unwilling to risk any complications.

The delivery continues. The drums are so large and heavy that they must be rolled into the cellar – it is fortunate that there is a slope. A fortress camper comes around the tower to say hello. Ignatious leans on a drum and engages him in light conversation. The camper enjoys the trivial banter so much that he starts to think he has found a new best friend. Wistark emerges from beneath the tower, one drum closer to the end of the job, and gets in on the chatter. The disguised wizard produces a visible shiver, blows out a deep breath and asks if there is any chance of a hot drink.

There is. The camper leads his new pals to the ground floor of the tower. Wistark and Ignatious notice that combat training around the fort seems to be coming to an end, with many of the men visibly packing away their gear. Inside the tower they are treated to warm drinks and vittles by buddy no. 1, and soon Norman and Gravilla appear for samples themselves. There are only two other men in the room, also in the midst of packing gear, so introductions do not take long. Ignatious learns that there is a dragonborn on the second floor, kept captive in a huge cage.

The four Punishers express an innocent curiousity in the big lizard, eventually coaxing permission to see him out of the three blokes (who are not officers and don’t really care either way). Draining the last remnants of their drinks, the party proceed up a spiral staircase to the second floor. On the first floor they see a man packing his bedroll. Clearly the emptying of the camp really is imminent. The second floor is quite dark, its one room dominated by a huge cage built around its sole occupant – Grimlock Skullfucker.

The massive, muzzled lizard looks up with one dim eye and sees the group in front of him. The eye brightens. Wistark grins at his long-term ally, rendered speechless by the reunion. Ignatious steps forward tentatively and says, “We’re going to let you out. Don’t eat us”. Grimlock scrutinises the former soldier and nods in such a way that it is clear that he has assented to the command only for the time being. Even a former rescuer might be eaten should they ever get in his way.

Grimlock’s prison is cleverly crafted. The great, wooden cage has no door, indicating that it was designed not to be opened but dismantled. It will not be easy to break it open quietly. The party survey the cage and realise that Grimlock’s hands are tied close enough to its back that someone could reach in and untie them if the prison could be forced away from the wall. As the group concentrate on solving the puzzle, Wistark goes back downstairs. The Boss made a personal request when he helped them to form the rescue plan and it is time to make arrangements.

The bedroll packer is no longer on the first floor, and only one of the men is still in the ground floor room. Wistark goes outside and walks around the tower back to the carriage. Two amicable men greet him – they have finished offloading the cargo. Wistark thanks them for their work and they wander off to drink away the toils of ten minutes of manual labour. The wizard proceeds into the cellar. It is much less empty now that the large drums are inside. Wistark prises free the lid of one of these containers. It is filled with smooth, black oil. He drops one end of his hempen rope inside then dips its other end (enough to soak it) and exits the cellar with it dragging behind him.

Whatever these people are up to, the Boss believes it is bad. They have been receiving supplies for some time from the camp in which the Punishers were imprisoned a few days before. Though the Boss claims to be still in the midst of putting the pieces together, he knows enough that he wants to hinder the progress of their purpose. He has therefore requested that the tower be blown to smithereens once Grimlock is rescued. Standing near the carriage, Wistark cuts a section of rope, using it as a practice fuse to make an estimation of the amount of time until demolition. Once he is confident that his guesswork is close to the mark, he sets alight the main fuse.

Fire begins to lick its way along the rope towards the cellar and the oil drums within. The wizard walks back to the tower’s second floor. Grimlock is now ready to escape, his cage defeated by the efforts of the party. The violent dragonborn has even been convinced to stay quiet and follow orders for the time being. Three minutes until demolition. Wistark recommends that the party exit via the east windows and abseil down the tower walls to prevent anyone from seeing Grimlock outside his enclosure. Climbing ropes are flung out of the windows – Ignatious and Norman hop out and abseil towards the waiting carriage. Two minutes thirty. Ignatious reaches the bottom, freeing the rope to Gravilla who takes it and abseils after him.

Grimlock and Wistark alone now remain on the second floor. The towering monster turns away from the east window, and the climbing ropes that would grant an unnoticed escape. He lumbers towards the stairs, unaware or uninterested in Wistark’s expression, then picks up speed. He reaches the staircase and charges down it, his voice rising from nothing into a dark howl. By the time he reaches the ground floor his howl has become a roar. He stops at the entrance of the tower and bellows at his greatest volume so that all will know that Grimlock Skullfucker is now free. Wistark runs after him, terrified that the previously discreet rescue operation will become a one-sided slaughter.

The wizard looks out past dragonborn bulk onto the expansive grounds of the camp… which are completely deserted. There is not a soul to hear a thing. This is far too good to be true. The carriage rolls into view, Ignatious on the reins, and Wistark ushers Grimlock towards it, becoming more anxious with every passing second. Soon all are inside, save for Grimlock, who climbs up the carriage to stand proudly on its back. Ignatious cracks the horses onward. The wagon rolls slowly at first then begins to pick up speed. Loud noises issue from the forest ahead. There is an explosion. Large sections of the upper floors of the tower blast outwards in all directions, too soon to be Wistark’s detonation. A giant, metal machine rolls into view, flattening trees like matchsticks, and points a long nozzle at the carriage. It fires a great projectile that tears open the wagon and obliterates the horses. The Capital Punishers tumble out like insects knocked from a jar. Escape will not be easy.

Encounter: War Machine

Unpleasant gases issue from the great machine. The hatch on the top of its head is unlocked and thrown open. A familiar figure emerges from inside the metal hulk – Sir Richard Fenn, commanding officer of Norman and Gravilla and head of the Necronomicon Project. While surveying the group with unreserved malice he declares, “I wouldn’t bother approaching if I were you.” He raises a clenched fist and opens it, revealing a black ball, the size of a large orange, “It would do you no good. My part in this is done. You will learn nothing from me.” He drops the ball down into the bowels of the beast and says, “Run back to your masters” before descending into it himself.

Sensing that shit is about to go down, Wistark shouts out, “Something bad is about to happen!” and legs it into the woods. Grimlock, who had up until then been planning to jump forward and kill Sir Richard, decides to follow suit. Confused at her chief’s betrayal, Gravilla stays exactly where she is on the back of the dragon, getting on her knees so that can say a prayer to appease the spirit of the dragon as the laws of Narvik dictate. The machine explodes from inside, propelling her skyward like a scorched ragdoll. Thirty feet away, Wistark and Grimlock too are smashed off their feet by the blast. They lie incapacitated for several seconds, deafened and paralysed.

Grimlock jumps to his feet. Wistark gets up behind him and totters unsteadily, blood seeping from a wound on his head and from his dismembered finger, the scab agonisingly torn loose. Grimlock runs out of the forest to look around. The field is cratered and scorched black in several places, made almost unrecognisable by the large hunks of rubble from the tower and small sheets of jagged, rusty metal from the war machine. The dragonborn sees Gravilla’s body lying some distance away. Without hesitating even for a second he charges over at full speed and manages to stabilise her just in time. Norman too is found, groggy but alive. Of Ignatious there is no sign. For a few minutes the Capital Punishers sit or stand idly where they are, silently applying bandages, all panting in complete exhaustion. Norman attempts to heal Gravilla’s scorched legs, but it is not wise to do such things while sporting a thoroughly smashed head – his hands are so shaky that his attempt not only fails but makes the pain far worse.

Ignatious does not enter the scene, and Gravilla speaks of a message that she received from the dragon’s spirit before it passed on – the warlord is dead. Unimpressed by such an uninformed claim, Wistark walks towards the war machine, now nothing but a smoking hull in a circular crater, to search for his lost ally. Grimlock and Norman get to their feet and follow him. The trio spend several minutes looking for some trace of Ignatious but the explosion was thorough in its work, hiding any clues there may have been. Wistark surveys the forest in which Ignatious was last seen, yet the nearest vegetation reveals no indication that anyone fled beyond it. Norman steps close to the destroyed machine and then scrabbles his way into the mess of fried timber beneath its blackened wheels. Once again there is no sign of the missing warrior. These findings suggest that he was vaporised in the explosion. The party have done all that they can. They head south into the depths of the forest in silence, walking until sunset, and then set up a hidden camp in which they might finally be safe.

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