Hello brother! Sorry it's been so long since my last letter - we're sitting here watching a pond for a while, so it seems like a good opportunity to do some writing. Especially since I'm not in a mood to talk to some of the others just now - but I'll get to that.
Last time we were in town, the mayor showed us an old box brought in by a farmer. It had washed down to the farm in one of the streams that runs off the mountain - an old oak box which still had a trace of evil to it, as if it'd been holding something nasty, although there was nothing in it when it was found. The farm is roughly level with where the map shows a 'Tower of Blood', so we thought that might be worth investigating.
It took a couple of days to get to the farm. The farmer seems to be supplementing his business by selling dubious 'souvenirs' and renting accommodation to explorers heading up the mountain. Ilde gave him a taste of his own medicine by telling tales of evil clowns on the mountain... I'm not sure I entirely approve, but it was certainly entertaining. The farmer showed us the stream where he had found the box - the water is cloudy, with a pink tinge, and trees alongside it are stunted - and we decided to follow it upstream, but first we stopped by the farmhouse.
The farmer's young daughter had a nasty scar on her arm, from the water in the stream, but Bimpnotten used her magic to cure her. It was wonderful to see the little girl's face, and now she wants to be a healer herself when she grows up... although for all that this was a good deed, I hope she doesn't follow Bimp's example on other things, but I am getting ahead of myself.
After staying the night, we set off up the mountain, following the stream. A little way up, Thonk took a nasty blow to the head, heralding an attack by goblins. We killed a few, but the rest fled; we thought it unwise to chase after them in the broken territory, knowing how such creatures love ambushes. Instead we proceeded on our way, and were rewarded by the sight of a tall red tower... undoubtedly the same 'Tower of Blood' shown on the map!
It stood about sixty feet high, and even from the outside Thonk could sense a great deal of evil inside. Undeterred, we opened the door to find several skeletons lying on the ground, nail-studded clubs amidst their bones; we decided to disarm them first, and were not tremendously surprised when the skeletons started to move and attack us, but they were smashed to pieces easily enough and ceased to bother us.
There were stairs both up and down, and before heading upstairs we placed some saucepans against the cellar door to give us notice if anything came through it.
The first floor above the entrance looked to have been an old laboratory; it held some cupboards, a bloodstained table, and a clogged sink with the dessicated remains of a dead rat in it. Osh smashed one of the cupboards open, and a vial fell on the floor and broke; he licked up the contents, determining that it was a healing potion, which roughly made up for the glass splinters he got in his tongue. Orcs seem to have little sense of pain.
Besides some reagents we have taken with us, we also found a big jar containing things that looked a little like black sausages, but to our consternation began to move. Leeches! In fact, as we confirmed when we later exposed them to sunlight, vampire leeches! But the lid ensured they were no great threat to us, and they were easily enough dispatched afterwards.
On the next floor, we found four child-sized coffins. Two gave off a palpable aura of evil, but were empty; the other two - lids already off - held only a faint glimmer of evil, and contained dessicated corpses which we identified as kobolds. The tower had been badly damaged; by the time we began our search night had fallen, but during the day the room - and the coffins - would have been exposed to sunlight through a hole in the walls, which I suspect explains the two corpses.
Proceeding upstairs, we found a library; the bookshelf was full of elderly, crumbling scrolls and volumes that also had an evil aura to them, and none of us were eager to read through them. There were also some bloodstained goblets on a table, and those we also left alone.
The next floor, the second highest, was almost bare... except for a large pentagram in the middle, a severed arm on the floor with puncture marks in the wrist, and a very nasty-looking knife near it. We skirted around the pentagram, being careful not to touch it, and agreed to leave the knife alone for the time being.
In the topmost room we found a large open coffin holding a skeleton; the moon shone through another hole, and we suspect the coffin's original owner was destroyed by sunlight during the catastrophe that devastated the mountain. We also found the occupants of the two other coffins from downstairs: little vampiric kobolds, who attacked us ferociously but were swiftly destroyed, as Sootha killed one and I knocked the other down for Bimp to slay with a well-placed stake. We found a few valuables in the big coffin and then headed back down to investigate the basement, which stank of rotting flesh. There we found two more vampire-spawn - former dwarves, who attacked Osh, but were slain with no great difficulty.
Having eliminated the threats, we agreed to cleanse the tower. Bimp performed a magical ritual near the pentagram, and then we considered the rest of the building. The wooden supports would be easy enough to ignite, and that would take care of the papers, but we did not trust it to destroy the knife; I picked it up with tongs from the laboratory, placed it in a bag, and carried it to the stream where we dropped it in, trusting to the corrosive waters to destroy it.
Having finished with the tower we decided to head on, looking for what the map showed as a forest. Within a couple of hours we found a patch of smoke, and scouting ahead I found what must have been the remains of the forest, now nothing more than charcoal in the middle of round holes in the rock. In the middle of all, staring at a large and murky pool, I found a very strange-looking creature, something like a man crossed with a cow, bipedal but with fur and big horns, carved into ornate shapes. He looked very sad, and one arm was badly burnt - as if by lye, rather than fire.
I called my companions up, and we made his acquaintance. His name was Gung-Dah, and he told us his tribe had once lived in this forest, before they angered the gods and they destroyed the place, smiting it with fire.
(I cannot help but notice that everybody who lives near the place seems to have some sort of story in which their ancestors' sins were responsible for this catastrophe. Surely they can't all be to blame here? Perhaps people just like to feel involved.)
His people now live far away, but their would-be leaders are required to return here to prove their worth, and he believed himself to have failed in the first trial. The requirement was that he should bathe himself in the pool, and so prepare himself for the next quest.
This might at first seem a simple enough requirement, but the state of his arm showed otherwise. The pool was fed by three separate streams - one a murky blue, one a brighter blue, and the third a murky greyish-yellow - and each one flowed strongest at different times of day, so that the colour of the pool changed over time. I experimented with a piece of beef jerky and discovered that the first and third streams were both extremely dangerous, the former turning it slimy and soft and the latter attacking it in a flurry of bubbles. The middle one seemed less harmful, but the blue did not match the colour Gung-Dah recalled from his tribe's elders.
It seemed the bright blue stream was most active from sunrise to around midday, the yellow from a little after midday to sunset, and the murky blue from sunset to a little before dawn. We thought it might be safe at midday, when the bright blue had had time to flush out the others, but we discovered (at the cost of severe burns to Sootha's pinky finger) that it was nothing of the kind. Three hours later, the water was a bright green shade, and we tried again with a strip of jerky; it seemed far less noxious than the yellow stream that was then feeding it, with only slight bubbling, but still not quite enough that we would want to bathe in it. Some of my companions who knew a little of alchemy suggested that the yellow and the murky blue might neutralise one another, which I suppose makes sense; we thought perhaps a little earlier in the day might work, but meanwhile we would watch and experiment some more with the jerky, which we did until nightfall intervened.
During the night, while Sootha and I were on watch, we were attacked by three kobolds. (Not, I am glad to say, vampiric ones!) Since this was a potential water supply in the middle of a largely waterless wasteland, I thought the kobolds might know something, so while the others killed two of our attackers I made sure to knock the third one unconscious and take him as a prisoner. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better if I had just broken the poor creature's neck.
I was vaguely aware that gnomes and kobolds are not fond of one another, but Bimp had hitherto struck me as a reasonably decent sort, and I was appalled when she started threatening to dunk our prisoner in the pool if he didn't tell us what we needed. Ilde was doing her best to win his confidence, by treating him gently and giving him food, but Bimp's continued threats did nothing to help matters, even when I told her that I would not stand for such behaviour.
Meanwhile, I am sorry to say, Thonk - who is supposed to be a paladin of Bahamut - did nothing to dissuade Bimp from this talk. In fact, he picked up the corpses of the creature's former comrades, and started dunking them in the water in full view of our prisoner! The poor creature undoubtedly felt destined for a horrible death and panicked, trying to knock Bimp into the pool; instead he succeeded only in falling in himself. I tried to pull him out of the water, but he slipped out of my grasp; as I prepared to leap in after him he was already floating to the surface again, and I realised it was too late. My own arm was already burning, in tremendous pain from the caustic waters, and as furious as I was at Bimp I did not dissuade her from healing me. I will note to his credit that Osh had also tried to rescue the creature, offering him an axe-haft to grab on to, but only remembered too late that we had bound the kobold's hands; still, at least he tried to do something. (Norton was asleep through the whole affair, which may be just as well.)
Gung-Dah was dismayed by Bimp's treatment of our prisoner, but he appreciated that Ilde and I had tried to handle him honourably; it may be necessary to have stern words with certain people on the matter if we are to continue travelling together. But in the meantime we returned to the problem of the pond. Gung-Dah suggested that perhaps it was not enough merely to wait for the right time; perhaps we had to take a more active part.
I thought we might be able to learn more by examining the streams themselves. By mixing them together in wooden bowls, and consuming more jerky, I determined that a mix of three parts murky blue to one part yellow was innocuous, but it did not provide the right colour, nor did mixing it further with the light blue help matters. Eventually, looking around the area, we noticed signs that somebody else had interfered with the flow of the streams before, and that there were piles of rocks and charcoal present. This led us at last to the solution: by selectively damming the streams and forcing them to flow through charcoal gathered from the burned trees, we were able to filter out the murk. The resulting mix was a bright blue, and following Gung-Dah's lead we all bathed in it; he had already carved designs in his horns, which were stained a brilliant blue, and his fur also acquired a bluish tinge, as did the rest of us (although naturally it is rather less noticeable on me than on my fellows).
We have agreed to go with him on the next stage of his quest, and assuming I don't die in the process, I'll write again soon - but for now, it's time to head up the mountain to a cave!
Love from your sister,
Osh: "You subscribe to Slashing Weapons Monthly?"
Unrecorded: "Who can summon acid-resistant beavers?"
Osh: "Before we torch the building, has everybody been to the toilet?"