Halls of the Minotaur – Session 2, Part 4

In which the players feel like they are stuck in Zork.

As the sun dips below the western horizon, and the sky over the Thornwood shifts from blue to rose, Oswald the woodsman awakens to the sound of laughter. He sits up, rubs his eyes, and looks around. His eight companions on the Isle of Mists are also beginning to stir, emerging from a six-hour enchanted sleep (the length of which was dictated by a roll of 1d6, as per the module’s instructions). Oswald hears the laughter again, and surveying his lush surroundings, catches a glimpse of two female figures gliding through the mist to the south. He hops to his feet and gives chase.

The figures are lost to the mist, of course, but following their laughter leads him to the south shore of the island, where he is surprised to see a delicate silver bridge rising in a graceful arc and leading away across the waters of the lake. He is surprised because the bridge was definitely not there when he had scouted that side of the island earlier.

He hollers for the others, and they gradually gather at his location to observe this strange phenomenon. There is some fearful discussion of elfin enchantments, and what might happen of someone set foot on the bridge, interrupted by the impetuous Thelma, who strides down to the water’s edge and up onto the bridge. She gives everyone an irritated glance over her shoulder, and, one by one, they follow.

The bridge delivers them to a peaceful glade on the far side of the water, high with green grasses and thick with bluebell flowers. A semi-circle of towering old-growth oaks encloses the glade, somehow protecting it from the encroachment of the thorny vines that choke the rest of the Thornwood. In the center of the clearing stands a striking statue of a woman, carved of white marbled stone. Closer inspection reveals her pointed ears, which provoke some murmuring about her heritage. Her hair is elaborately braided, and she wears a long robe. Curiously, she holds one arm extended before her, palm up, as if holding something, and her blank stone eyes appear to be focused on that open palm.

It doesn’t take long before the party tries to put things in her hand. Coins, single, stacked, by the purseful, weapons, flowers, grass. It goes on for a good 20 minutes of real time, reminiscent of nothing so much as being stuck in a text adventure game wherein every combination of inventory item and location detail must be exhausted. For naught. Something does in fact belong in her palm, but that thing is in the possession of one of the thornlings who absconded into the thornling lair with Osric‘s body.

Eventually, now well after dark, they give up, start a fire, and sit down to a meal in front of the statue. Colby’s salted beef is sliced up and passed around, and with a little encouragement Daisy opens her cask of ale, which is swiftly depleted. Between the eating and drinking, some speculate on the fate of the other group. Some stare into the fire pensively, others wander the glade and look up at the vastness of stars in the spring sky. Despite the circumstances of their coming to the Thornwood, they feel peaceful and relaxed in this place.

After this pleasant repast, everyone starts packing up to head back to the island, but just as they’re ready to go, they hear a cry from Thelma: the bridge is gone!

Sure enough, the silver bridge has disappeared as mysteriously as it came. What strange magicks are at work? Some of the villagers voice distrust of this place. Soon enough, Stillman volunteers to swim back to the island through the mist, and Perry and Durwin tie one end of the 50′ of rope around his waist as a safety line. He dives into the cool water of the lake and swims out into the mist-filled darkness. The island should be about 20′ away. After a few minutes of swimming, all 50′ of the rope have been played out, and Stillman is nowhere near dry ground. He turns back.

He climbs back ashore at the glade, reports the lack of island, and the three men stare out into the mist, shaking their heads. They return to the rest of the group with this disheartening news. It’s agreed that, come morning, if the island is still being withheld by some eldritch enchantment, they will try to wade along the lakeshore back in the direction they came from. Watches are assigned and everyone beds down in the grass.

Oswald is again the first to wake to the sound of laughter, this time distant and fading to a memory even before he opens his eyes. The first rays of the sun are just touching to tops of the trees, and when he gets up he sees that the mist at the water’s edge has withdrawn to reveal the silver bridge, returned. Hurriedly, unsure of how long it will remain, he alerts his companions and starts gathering up their belongings. With some still rubbing sleep from their eyes and yawning, the nine stumble out of the glade and back across the Gloaming Bridge to the Isle of Mists, perhaps never to solve the mystery of the white lady.

Back on the island, once everyone has gathered their thoughts, Finmunni thinks to ask if she can smell any gold or gems. Now, I don’t know how the rest of you are playing dwarves at level 0, but their unique olfactory ability seems like it should be innate to me (as opposed to learned at level 1), so I’ve been allowing 0-level dwarves to use it. It is pretty powerful, though, so I do require that a dwarf must specifically state that she is smelling for gold.

I inform the dwarven stonemason that she smells something to the northwest, and her nose leads her into the high reeds along the shore. There, with assistance from Devon the undertaker, she uncovers the remains of a wooden longboat, half sunk into the mud. A search of the aged craft turns up nothing of interest, but face down in the reeds alongside is a skeleton, clad in embroidered cloth and clutching a greatsword with a silvered blade and golden hilt. Finmunni contemplates what it would take for her to use this blade, but I rule that it’s too unwieldy for one of her stature, so Devon (he of STR 14) eagerly snatches it up and takes a few practice swings. 1d10 damage! Holy crap!

Meanwhile, Durwin has climbed one of the fir trees at the center of the island to see what he can see. From near the very top, over the thick mists that cling to the island like cobwebs, he can see the stalwart oaks of the secret glade, but aside from them only the twisted trees of the Thornwood, spreading in all directions. To the southeast, thrusting up from the treetops, is the stone spire that is the object of their quest; they have journeyed far astray. Little does Durwin know that, even as he scans the fortified keep high atop the crag, his eyes pass over Gareth, Esma, and Sigbert, hidden from view by stone walls and several hundred feet of distance.

Back in the direction they first came from, he can make out the pale fires of the braziers on the dock, still burning. He climbs back down, sticky with fragrant sap, and tells the others that the fires appear to have remained lit since their initial passage to the island. Perhaps they can return by way of the “path” that allowed them to walk on water?

Everyone gathers at the eastern shore and forms into a single-file line. Oswald takes up the rear, tasked with making sure no one strays from between the two flames, which are clearly visible even through the otherwise opaque mist. The group proceeds carefully back the way they came, marvelling at the feel of the water underfoot as they stride back across the lake.

As Oswald, the last of them, steps onto the stairs that lead up to the dock, the brazier fires go out, and he feels his trailing foot briefly break the surface of the water. Standing on the dock, everyone takes one last look at the otherworldy Isle of Mists before turning to their next task: the spire of stone and whatever it may hold.