After the late night attack of the shadow ants, it was hypothesized that the cause might have been an attraction to the campfire. No confirmation could be determined as none of the critters actually made it to the supposed destination. A decision was made to douse the flames and go dark for the rest of the watch. Sebastian turned kitty and curled up in a tree. Dex and Luke’s subsequent watches went undisturbed and the party had their extended rest.
The next day, guided through the wilderness by Sebastian, we approached the tower. As before the forest was empty (too empty), the air was cold and the sun was a pale version of itself in the cloudless sky. What’s more, the trees were dead or dying. The needles of the largely coniferous trees blanketed the forest floor and left a relatively open view all the way to the tower.
Before the tower itself, we could make out indeterminate movement. Sebastian turned small forest critter and skittered off to investigate. What he found was a group of seven goblin corpses. The most disturbing aspect of the carnage was the occasional flitter of small shadows zipping from body to body and sometimes off into the wilderness. Careful to time his movements between shadow play, Sebastian went in for a closer look. What he was able to determine from the goblin he investigated was that they had not been dead long (a day, maybe more, maybe less) and that the cause of death was a crushed skull. Not the work of small shadows, as their attacks leave no marks…
The party circumvented the corpses on their approach to the tower. As they crept up, their stealth was marred by the clanking of the large dragonborn. The only thing louder than Horatio happened to be poor Luke (natural 1). The only thing louder than Luke was the crash and “Crap!” which emanated from the tower mouth (DM natural 1). So much for surprise, on all fronts.
Horatio leapt before the opening to the tower. He spotted a ragged human inside, one lantern in hand, the other smashed on the floor. His intimidating bellow earned him a magic missile. He rushed inside followed by Sebastian in Ursa Major form. After a not so subtle intimation on our part that we would be entering the tower and closing the portal, something clicked in the poor sop. His eyes filled with dark shadows and his confidence rebounded. With one hand he sent lightning through those nearby, with the other he motioned to a dark area of the room.
Then, he laughed.
As Horatio and Sebastian tried to deal with the man (the dragonborn by putting him in a grapple hold), Luke and Dex turned to the dark area indicated by our foe. They were met eye to eye to eye with a large, floating beholder. Uh oh.
In the ensuing battle, the shadow-powered wizard was rendered unconscious rather quickly. The beholder proved more troublesome. In the end, the party prevailed. This, despite the fact that the beholder sent Dex flying through the invisible barrier guarding the cave entrance, allowing an eager group of shadows entrance to the fray.
In the relative quiet which followed we roped up the wizard and set up a temporary camp amidst the stone dragonborn beds. With the assistance of Luke and Sebastian, Dex proceeded to examine our shadow-infested prisoner. It was guessed that the victim’s eyes were some sort of conduit or focal point for the shadows’ presence. This determination brought an immediate reaction from the dark parasites. A few leapt from the man’s eyes, only to dissipate in a shower of sparks across Dex’s vision. A wave of gut-cramping nausea followed. The result however, was a decrease in the shadows’ presence in their host.
A short discussion ensued. Destroy the conduit by blinding our captive or attempt a haphazard exorcism? We attempted the latter. An area of light was set up in the corner by a combination of sunrods (they’re just giving them away these days) and bonfires, ritualistically enhanced by Sebastian. The exorcism attempt was disturbing but successful. The wizard’s eyes bulged open Total Recall-style. The black, oily orbs leached shadows until the poor man was free from infestation. As Sebastian dimmed the lights, the shadows were goaded into coalescing. Once they became one entity, Sebastian brought the lights up to a blinding brilliance and Dex unleashed an unending spray of fire into the corner.
The shadows were no more. Well, at least the vast majority. It would seem that a few decided to fly at Dex again during the exorcism. The cramping and nausea had been short-lived but more intense. Hmm, probably something to investigate further. It would in all likelihood be unfavorable to the party should their edgy Sorcerer suddenly start aiming in a different direction…
Next up: onward to the portal…