In which a chimney is climbed.
The stalwart three, accompanied by the bat-winged, horned, clay-skinned creature known as Horpt, make their way up the cobweb-filled stairwell, quickly reaching a landing that ends in a blank stone wall. But it’s not a dead-end: set into the wall is a column of rusted iron rungs. Gareth raises his glob of candles and looks up to see that the rungs run right up past the ceiling, along one face of a square chimney that rises out of sight.
“Can you see in the dark?” Sigbert asks Horpt, who is perched on the fisherman’s shoulder.
“Would you please fly up there and tell us what you find?”
Horpt’s known world is getting bigger by the second, and he hesitates for a moment, a look of doubt and concern creasing his brow. Then he shrugs and bounds into the air, his little leathery wings flippy-flopping in the stale air to carry him upward. He disappears into the dark. Esma makes a comment as to how they shouldn’t trust the creepy little thing. Five minutes pass.
“Horpt?” Sigbert shouts, concerned.
“Yes?” comes the faint, echoing reply.
“What do you see?”
“Hole goes up and up and up!”
“Okay, come on back.”
Five minutes later, Horpt flaps back out of the chimney, exhausted. He lands on Sigbert’s shoulder, breathing heavily. Gareth drops the remains of one of his candle globs, now useless, but not before lighting another with its dying flame.
Climbing arrangements are made. Everyone goes through their gear and figures out how to arrange it in order to be able to use both hands for climbing. They lost a number of items in the hurried escape through the water slot, but they still have to juggle a fair amount of equipment:
Gareth’s gear: Hand axe, golden scepter (from totem cave), catseye ring (from raven familiar), 3 black arrows (from wizard’s lab), 2 candle globs (10 minutes of light each), 1 torch (10 minutes left), flint & steel, coin purse. Most stuck into his belt, flint & steel in one pocket.
Sigbert’s gear: Morningstar (from witch doctor), knife, small hammer, jade dragon amulet (from witch doctor), fishing net, 30′ silk rope, pouch of herbs (from witch doctor), 2 waterskins (1 full of water, the other from witch doctor, full of weird liquid), 2 clay dragon figurines, coin purse. Big items in his fishing net, which he is using as a sack, smaller items stuck into his belt.
Esma’s gear: Black dagger (from wizard’s lab), 5′ pole (née spear), 4 glass flasks full of acid (filled up in wizard’s lab), 3 clay dragon figurines, coin purse. Everything on her belt, but there’s no place to carry the pole, so she drops it.
After arranging themselves for climbing, there’s the question of how they will light their ascent into the dark chimney. They solve the problem by having Horpt perch on Gareth’s shoulder, carrying a lit candle glob. Up they go!
Gareth is counting rungs, which are about 1′ apart. He reaches 100 after about 2 minutes of climbing. At 4 minutes, he passes rung #200. Everyone is beginning to sweat, and droplets of wax from the candle glob are spattering Sigbert and Esma. It’s hard not to feel claustrophobic, 200′ up from a stone floor, clinging to the wall of a 5′ wide chimney.
At 300′, I make everyone make a DC 10 Fortitude save. Gareth and Sigbert fail, and each lose 1 temporary point of Stamina as their arms and legs begin to tire. They pause to catch their breath for a minute, but are concerned about the time limit on their light source, and the fact that it will be hard to strike flint and steel while on a ladder.
At 400′, everyone makes another Fortitude save. Gareth and Sigbert fail again, -1 Stamina each. That Esma is a powerhouse! Even so, everyone is breathing heavily and pausing occasionally to wipe the sweat from their eyes.
At 450′ feet, Horpt says that he sees that the chimney ends up ahead. There’s a moment of anxiety over the possibility that it could be a dead-end. At 500′, in the last flicker of the candle glob, Gareth sees that the iron rungs end on the underside of a wooden trap door. “We’re there!” he calls, and Sigbert and Esma are bolstered by the thought.
Gareth has to wait for his labored breathing to calm before he can listen carefully at the trap door, and detects the rush of wind beyond. Nothing to indicate danger. He heaves the trap door open, and is blinded by the ambient sunlight in the large room beyond. A sudden gust of air rushes up the chimney past the climbers, whipping through their clothes and hair, extinguishing the candle. Horpt lets out a shriek into Gareth’s ear, terrified by the bright light and open space, drops hurtling back down the chimmey.
“Horpt!” cries Sigbert.
“He’ll be fine,” says Esma, rolling her eyes.
One by one, the three pull themselves out onto the floor of the square chamber, blinking in the bright light. About 15′ up, the building’s structural timbers are visible, and beyond that the ceiling is lost in shadow. Once their eyes adjust, they realize that the light is not actually that intense, leaking in through arrow slits lining the walls, and through a set of half-open double doors on one side. In one corner of the room, three aged barrels are stacked on top of a large wooden crate.
“Horpt, it’s okay!” Sigbert shouts down the chimney.
Esma gets up and walks over to one wall, where she peers through the arrow slits. Even though she can only see a sliver of the view, it takes her breath away: they are hundreds of feet above the Thornwood, which stretches out like a green carpet into the distance before giving way to open grassland. And miles beyond that, the glitter of sunshine on water. Could it be the sea? This is the first time she’s ever seen the sea.
Gareth investigates the double doors. I ask him to describe his actions, and he says he stands about 5′ away from them, peering through the opening to see what he can see. I tell him that some sort of wooden bridge or walkway arcs away across open space into the distance, and about 15′ away he sees what looks like a stone gatehouse. And I ask him to make a DC 10 INT check, which he passes, so I tell him that, due to his height and where he is looking, he notices a thin tripwire across the doorway, about 1′ off the floor. He follows it to the stone door jamb, and sees that on the right side it disappears though a tiny opening into the masonry. Gareth shares this information with the others and everyone agrees to proceed with caution.
Sigbert manages to coax Horpt out of the chimney, and closes the trap door behind him. Horpt refuses to look out the arrow slits, and just sits on top of the trap door, clearly anxious.
Sigbert goes over to check out the view to the south. He is dumbstruck by the vast world stretched out before him, and thinks that one distant body of water may even be Blacksalt Lake, where he plies his trade as a fisherman. An eagle careens over the treetops far below, before wheeling and ascending on an updraft. At first Sigbert thinks his eyes are playing tricks, but then he realizes that the eagle is far larger than it should be — its wingspan must be at least 12′! The bird rises and swoop around the east side of the tower before disappearing from view.
After picking his jaw back up off the floor, Sigbert joins Gareth in investigating the containers in the corner. Two of the barrels are empty, but one contains 6 ballista bolts, which are not described by name, but identified in short order. They crack open the crate and a bunch of mice run squeaking across the floor, abandoning their nest. the rest of the chamber is searched, but nothing unusual is discovered.
No one has eaten in six hours, and no one has any food. They’re not starving yet, but after all of their exertions and near-death experiences, stomachs are growling. Sigbert passes around his water skin and everyone takes a mouthful. Since Gareth and Sigbert are injured, and the tower they’re in seems safe for the time being, they decide it’s as a good a place as any to recuperate. As the sun lowers and the sky begins to darken, watches are divvied up, with Esma taking the first.
Gareth and Sigbert try to get comfortable on the cold stone floor. Horpt and Esma stare at each other distrustfully. A time for rest has finally come.