The three mile trek to the occupied tower was mostly uneventful. Two of the three miles north by northeast of Ennton were covered by the King's Road, so it wasn't until you had to leave the Road at the start of the third and final mile that things started to get interesting.
The third mile would lead you through Willoughby's Wood, where well trod forest game trails would lead you the rest of the way to the tower. However, as you yourselves tread these game trails, you would soon come to notice that the game that made these trails were strangely absent. Even stranger to you would be the lack of the woodland wolves which made a habit of following adventuring parties who moved across their territories, hoping to feed off the trail of corpses that adventurers tended to leave in their wake. But while a woodland lacking its usual inhabitants would be strange on its own, the genasi of the party would find this phenomena flat out worrying when paired with how the elements around them were behaving. The wind whispered worriedly of something unnatural nearby. And with each step the party took, the earth beneath their feet subtly shifted in unease. And as you drew ever closer to your destination, the shifting became less and less subtle with each step.
Eventually, the tower came into view. It wasn't much to look at as far as towers go. It stood at about thirty feet in height, was approximately twenty five feet in width, and looked to have been worn down considerably by the passage of time since the days of its construction.
You stop at the treeline some eighty feet away from the tower. From there you can see the tower's front door. Two of the occupying strangers stand guard at either side of the door. The trees have prevented them from seeing your approach so far, but getting any closer without being noticed won't be so simple beyond this point.
With everything that they had come across, or lack there of, Aura was ready to be cautious approaching the tower. Crouching in the bushes Aura points to her Hawk familiar and speaks in a whispered tone. "I'll send him in to scout. See if there are any more guards elsewhere and assess how armed these guys are. Also see if he can tell they if they are humans or whatnot, though I top down view that might be a little harder." With that the Hawk would take off into the sky and make a pass or two over the tower to see what can be seen with Aura looking through his eyes and quietly relaying what her and her bird friend can see.
Perception check through hawk vison: Advantage on perception using sight- 23 Stealth just in case it is needed- 19
With the strangers guarding the door looking out at the trees, neither of them were paying much attention to what was going on above them. This allowed the hawk to easily swoop down and get a good look at the strangers. Both strangers were men wearing black hoodless robes decorated with a strange plethora of accoutrements that ranged from mundane twigs and leaves to macabre animal skulls and appendages. Ten feet above the door was a window that allowed the sun to shine into the tower's interior. The hawk landed here and peered down upon nine more strangers. Eight of these strangers, all of them men dressed similarly to the men guarding the door, were working on what appeared to be strange arcane experiments. The ninth stranger was an androgynous elf dressed similarly to, yet much more ornately than the men. The elf stood in the center of the room and watched over the eight men as they worked.
The hawk remained at the window just long enough to take this all in before taking off and flying further up the tower before anyone in the room noticed the hawk's presence. Further up the tower there was an other window to allow sunlight into the upper level of the tower. From this vantage point, the hawk spied a second androgynous elven stranger speaking with an elderly blue skinned tiefling woman with long black hair, short brass horns, and sharp red claws.
"The adventurers should be here soon." The fiendish crone said to the elf while she inspected ten black sacks covered in stitches and arranged into two rows of five along a long wooden table. "I trust you two will be ready for them once they arrive?"
"Yes, Nanna May." The elf replied.
"And I needn't worry about anything going wrong on your watch, need I?" Nanna May asked as she nodded in satisfaction at the sacks.
"No, Nanna May." The elf replied.
"Good..." Nanna May said as she turned to face the elf. "We stand to gain much today. And if we play our cards right, we stand to gain even more tomorrow. So you two make sure those cards are played right! Am I understood?"
"Yes, Nanna May." The elf replied.
"Perfect." Nanna May approved with a slight nod of her head. "Run along now, Emmyth. And make sure Elnaril understands as you do."
"Yes, Nanna May." Emmyth intoned one last time before turning away and descending a staircase leading to the lower level of the tower.
Jørmund frowned as Aura quietly told everyone what her hawk was seeing. It seems that whoever was here was expecting the group to arrive and had already planned for it. He was glad that earlier in the morning he bestowed magical gift to Rala's armor so that it would hopefully better protect her.
"Well I see two ways to deal with this, we can try to get closer or start swinging now. I might be able to help us get closer without being seen as easily. However my armor and size are not easy to hide. I don't care which we do but the longer we wait the more prepared they are." He knew the others would like to at least make some sort of a plan, but Jørmund was ready to start swinging his mace and throwing a few spells at the guards outside. If the group couldn't decide would.
___________________________ Rala has a +1 to ac till the next long rest or Jørmund dies.
During the walk up to the tower, Flicker had been very quiet, their arms wrapped around themself as if they were cold... which was odd, since it took a lot more than the average person for them to be even slightly chilly. In truth, it was less the temperature that was bothering them than fact they had just trekked through a forest - areas with large amounts of wood, vegetation and anything that was particularly flameable almost always put them on edge. The general unnaturalness of the forest in question only added to this. Once they approached the tower, with Aura pausing to allow her bird to scout the area and relaying the information it had gathered, Flicker's agitation further grew.
"Oh, so they're expecting us?" Flicker muttered, more to themself than their comrades. "Great. Just great." They shifted their weight awkwardly from foot to foot before glancing over at Jormund as the earth genasi spoke. "Yeah, we're not the most inconspicuous group in general." They unfolded their arms to gesture towards their own face. Genasi varied grately in appearance, even among those of the same element. Flicker themself actually looked mostly like a wood elf, but the orange glow that enamated from their eyes and hair gave away their extraplanar status. This glow changed depending on Flicker's emotional status. Right now, in a state of suppressed anxiety, it was dull with hints of brighter, more volatile sparks. Not enough to give the group away right now, but would definitely hinder further attempts at stealth.
Coming back into her own senses while her bird landed on her shoulder she shook her head. "Not really sure how they would have known we are coming, but regardless they aren't fully prepared for us at this very moment. The main problem is we have to clue what they are capable of. Sneaking closer might take too long I say we start with a long range surprise attack maybe at least take out the two guards and go from there. I have a couple spells that will reach that far. Start off with a scorching ray on one and someone else hit the other." She waved her hand over her familiar and the creature disappeared into it's own pocket dimension until she was ready to call on it again. "After that we charge. At least that is my thinking. Unless we think we can charm there pants off and convince them to just leave, which, as fun as that would be to try, I doubt would work."
She looked to the group, she wasn't usually the planner, so she wasn't sure if her idea was the best course of action, her only thought was striking before they had a chance to get totally prepared, and if they could take out the two guards in one fell swoop maybe they would be able to charge the tower nobody the wiser.
Arkisz stooped to avoid a low-hanging branch as the party approached the end of their relatively short trek, marked by the appearance of the dilapidated tower previously described to them by the town elders. His eyes, like the rest of the party, scanned the scene before him as thoroughly as they could from such a distance. It was somewhat of an odd situation they had come to face, or at least it appeared so -- had these individuals been bandits hoping to ambush mercantile wagons, they would have probably hidden themselves better - or if they had hoped to set an attack to pillage the town, one would think they'd have done so before being noticed - or at least, this was as far as Arkisz could reason. Truth be told, the whole affair had an air of concern to it, moreso than one might normally feel.
Nevertheless, the Vedalken watched on as one of his companions, Aura, sent forward her familiar to acquire a better view in nonchalant fashion. His brow furrowed as she relayed what the bird saw, the lot of them crouched in the cover beneath the trees. A worrisome scenario indeed. He listened to the thoughts of his fellow travelers as his eyes once again searched, following along any other treelines in sight to ensure there wasn't further threat lurking nearby - but it seemed they had enough on their plate as-is with the tower seemingly full of hostile individuals. His eyes turned back to the hushed planning.
"Hmm. It is indeed odd that they are expecting our approach. Perhaps a forward scout had been set up outside the town and avoided our detection. In any event...the span between us and them may be rather difficult to creep through without detection - it is quite open." He spared a look at the rest of the party, as if to measure how prepared they seemed to fight. "While it may seem a somewhat simple solution, a surprise attack could be effective. My ability to deliver at range is not the greatest, but I can manage if this is the path we choose - albeit I am not sure if there are many other options." He concluded, his steady voice simply neutral and informative as he did so. He watched the faces of his comrades to gauge their reaction to Aura's plan in the meantime.
To much of the crowd she had gathered with, the trip through the woods seemed to be troubling. Rala had enjoyed the whole trek thus far. The ground was soft and loamy, unlike the cold cobblestones of her hometown. The shade was nice and the air in the forest was a great deal cooler than being forced to bare the open sun in the city streets. Had her new companions not been so on edge, she'd have thoroughly enjoyed her time in the forest away from her enemies. Alas, she had been picked up by an odd group and as such their odd sense of caution had worn off on her. By the time they had reached the tower she was her old dangerous self, a dagger already in hand as she listened silently to the others muse over their plans. She toyed with the sharp blade in her hand, spinning it's dangerously sharp tip on her calloused palm until they seemed to have come up with a plan, simple as it may be.
"An ambush is fine, but no need to rush things. We have the upper hand here still. If we can, try to take one alive. I want to know about any traps before we enter" Rala mused ruefully, leaving the rest to their imagination. Putting her blade back into it's hilt, this time the older woman would draw her bow with a sigh. "They won't even see it coming"
Without a further moment of dallying or delay, the woman knocked an arrow and prepped it for the upcoming onslaught. She aimed for the guard on the right and with a deep inhale she loosened her grip on the bow string, letting the arrow fly towards it's target.
Aura listened to the group, it seemed most were on the same page, though even if they weren't Rala made a move so it was time to act. "Guess we are doing this." Aura muttered an incantation pointing at the guard on the left as Rala readied an arrow, three white streaks of fire shot out of her finger in rapid succession as Rala let her arrow fly. Hoping it would be enough to take the guard down, if not hurt them enough that they wouldn't be able to call for help.
Rala's arrow soared through the air. Swift as the wind and thrice as deadly, it struck the guard to the right directly in the forehead. The force of the arrow sent the man stumbling, his back hit the wall and he opened his mouth to cry out, but died before any sound could escape as the arrow punched clean through the skull and embedded itself in the wall behind the guard, pinning him to it.
The guard on the left saw this and opened his own mouth to shout a warning, but only a quiet, pained gurgling came forth as the first of Aura's rays struck him in the throat. The man clutched at the scorched flesh of his neck just as the second ray arrived, struck him through the heart, and forced him to stumble back against the wall as well. All signs of life left the man's eyes. But just as he began to sink down the wall, Aura's third and final ray struck him in the head. When the corpse finally hit the ground, it did so with a charred stump where its head once was.
For a moment, all was quiet. Then the door to the tower pushed open from the inside and one of the androgynous elves leaned out. The elf briefly regarded the two dead guards in a calm, speculative manner before pulling back inside and shutting the door.
It was quickly that a plan was decided upon, and even quicker that it was executed. Arkisz was content to listen through the musings of his comrades, finding Rala's approach rather agreeable - they did indeed have the upper hand, or at least it seemed so. Taking one alive wouldn't be the worst idea. Most people, even if bandits, could usually be reasoned with if given-
The thought itself was interrupted by the swiftness of the attack. Rala had readied her shortbow and loosed an arrow in but a second or two, the projectile launching forward at one of the bandit guards. As Arkisz's eyes followed and he began to shift his focus to the components of a spell, his eyes flicked to Aura, who had already begun casting. It was a swift follow-up to the arrow as three beams of searing energy shot forth and struck one of the guards only but a second or so after the first was struck by Rala's arrow.
The Vedalken lowered his hand, seeing as though an additional attack was now unneeded. He glanced at the two of his companions in what one could only assume was the equivalent to a silent nod of admiration. "Well then. Nicely done." In other circumstances, it would've been more like him to question the outright brutality with which the guards were dispatched - but these bandits had shown previously that they were ready to kill innocent people themselves, so the thought stayed itself on its own. The stillness that followed the attack was short-lived as a figure popped its head out of the tower door before quickly disappearing inside once again.
Arkisz began moving from his spot in the treeline as the figure disappeared from view, their advantage of surprise clearly no longer in place. He drew a fine-looking Bastard sword from a scabbard resting on his left hip as he increased his pace to a fast jog. His head turned, sparing a glance behind him to make sure his companions followed, even though they assuredly would. The more time they allotted these 'bandits' to prepare and/or barricade themselves in, the worse.
As he drew closer to the tower he would focus again, remembering the procedures for casting this particular spell easily. His unoccupied hand would draw a motion and the spell would activate, allowing him to Detect Magic within 30 feet, which he measured the height of the tower to be, roughly. He would then shift his hand to slip the shield from his back, gripping it readily as he approached. Although the spell may not be entirely necessary, something odd was going on, and any heads-up as to nearby magic would be welcomed in his eyes.
Rolls: None. Conditions: None. Active Infusions: Enhanced Weapon(Arkisz's Longsword), Enhanced Defense(Arkisz's Armor) Known Infusions: Enhanced Weapon, Enhanced Defense, Replicate Magic Item, Mind Sharpener. Spells Prepared: Catapult, Faerie Fire, Grease, Cure Wounds, Detect Magic. Spell Slots Remaining: Two 1st Level Slots.
For the time being, Arkisz wouldn't be able to sense much due to the stone walls of the tower acting as a barrier to his spell. The wooden door wasn't thick enough to block the spell though, and through it Arkisz could sense the ambient magics that were usually found in an arcane laboratory. Although since the presence of the laboratory had already been discovered by Aura's hawk, that wouldn't be what drew Arkisz's attention the most. That would be the dimming embers of magic he sensed from the lifeless corpses of the two strangers who had been guarding the door. From what Arkisz could sense, the two strangers had some sort of abjuration spell about them. But whatever had been protecting them, it was like no spell Arkisz had encountered before. It held a weird sort of quality to it. But that was all Arkisz could glean from the dead. A moment later, the last remnants of the magic that had affected them faded away. Any further knowledge would have to be gained from the strangers who still lived.
As Arkisz shifted his focus away from his magical senses and back to those that were more mundane, he would find that sound could be heard through the door. Strangely enough, the sounds that could be heard from within weren't those of a frantic scramble to prepare a defense that one might expect to hear when signs of an impending attack are discovered. Rather, it sounded like everything was still business as usual in the tower. Like they had just taken one look at the corpses outside, shrugged, and just carried on with their work as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Flicker visibly winced when Aura set off a series of Scorching Rays at the guards, and the discomfort remained on their face after they saw what such an attack had reduced one of the guards to. "So much for taking one alive," they said. They also tensed up when someone popped their head out of the door of the tower, only for the figure to retreat back inside without even the smallest hint of concern.
"Weird," Flicker muttered. More agitated sparks jumped from their hair as they regarded their group once more. Arkisz seemed to want to get closer to the tower, so Flicker quickly followed after him. The fire genasi watched as their companion performed Detect Magic and remained quiet for a moment so he could get the best read on their current situation. After a moment, Flicker spoke again. "Anything?" they said, giving a pause so that the Vedalken could answer. They then continued, "The door's made of wood, so I could burn or break it down very easily." As if to demonstrate, they cast Produce Flame, causing a small fire to form in the palm of their hand. "But I have a feeling they're probably waiting on the other side for us. What do you think we should do?" Their question seemed to be more directed towards Arkisz than the rest of the party, but anyone was free to answer.
As Flicker joined Arkisz, the fire genasi would get a better look at the guards. More specifically, at what the two corpses were wearing. With their knowledge in religious matters, Flicker was quick to realize that the flora and fauna adorning the robes of the guards weren't just decoration. They had religious significance. Flicker couldn't tell more than that at a glance though. They would need to stop and think for a moment if they wanted to draw more detailed knowledge from their mind.
Because Flicker is proficient in Religion, they recognize that the decorations on dead guards' robes have religious meaning. Flicker may make a Religion check if they wish to recall more useful information.
Aura winced at the damage her spell had done. She hadn't expected them to be so week that a single arrow would take one out. She should have opted for an eldritch blast instead. Hindsight was 20/20 however, nothing could be done about it not. "How was I supposed to know they would be as weak as paper..." Aura muttered under her breath following Arkisz and Flicker closer to the tower. Aura had fully expected more of a fight at least someone to come out and try to hold them off. This was odd everything about this made her skin crawl...She put her hand on the ornately decorated stoppered bottle attached to her hip, the bottle the group would be aware was her genie vessel. "They are most definitely waiting for us. I could call out my familiar again and peep through the window. Or we can go in guns blazing so to speak. They seem content to stay in the tower." As she spoke she waved her hand again and the hawk appeared on her shoulder once more just in case. "Of course I could also just stand out here screaming insults at them and hope that annoys at least one of them to come out...Maybe hope they don't know how many if us there are. Might be able to make them think there are just two of us, though not sure that will work since they knew we were coming..." She was aware that Flicker was not talking to her necessarily but still voiced her opinion anyway.
Flicker had been so busy glancing at the bodies of the guards, inspecting the strange symbols on their robes, that they had barely heard what Aura had said. "Hmm?" They turned their head towards the air genasi. "I mean, you could try, but given they're on alert now, your bird will probably just get shot out of the sky if it's spotted." They then frowned, the glow of their hair briefly becoming brighter before dimming again. "Wait, hold on, everyone shut up," they said, though no one had actually been talking at that moment. Dismissing the flame from their hand, they pointed to Aura. "You've got like a flying or climbing spell, right?"
Plasm had been lost in their mind for most of the travel, to the point of triping here or there. What kind of anomaly could cause such an ordinary natural state to appear do... extraordinary? Possibly a new apex predator? An Unnatural force of hunting and killing? Dark forces of some demonic cult? It wasn't till the Warlock literally walked into a tree. Falling on their "bottom", Plasm sat their blindingly as they snapped back to. This all took place roughly around the time Rala and Aura had silently dispatched the two guards. It took Plasm a few moments to Falling return to reality before they stood back up. "It appears I had missed something... have we arrived to our destination?
Aura looked at Flicker confused at just being told to shut up when nobody was talking. "I have spider climb yes, but that would be the last stronger spell I could cast. The window looks low enough that I can use levitate to get up there..." Aura looked up to the window judging the distance. "Are you about to suggest someone go in through the window alone? If you are that is the world's worst plan...Levitate can move up to 500 pounds. Someone can carry another person in there this way there are at least 2, and I can get in my vessel and my familiar can bring me up with you. Split 3 and 3, pincer them maybe. We just have to decide the groups."
"We have. Ready yourself as they know we are here and may have been waiting for us." Jørmund told Plasm.
He followed Aura up to the tower watching the top for anyone who may have had the idea to start dropping things on the heads of those who were by the door. He did one more check to ensure his half-helm and shield were secure as he neared the rest of the group.
As Flicker told everyone to shut up Jørmund rolled his eyes and moved up next to the door. "They may not expect anyone to go through the upper window but if anyone does they should not go alone. Aura is correct in that being a very bad plan. If you want my opinion I suggest we knock the door down and get this over with." With a slight shift he braced himself ready to start forcing the door open.
Plasm was extremely confused as Flicker told everyone to shut up, seeing as no one had said anything at the time. The Warlock storied this curious interaction away for later pondering. "What if whoever is in charge flees while we deal with the minions? Maybe Aura's familiar could keep an eye from the outside for any escapees". Plasm would then look to the windows, "Flanking these bandits does sound like a good option to me"