Given the options for their return home, the team chooses the middle ground – a hike through the mountains. It’s a little longer than the route by ship, but somewhat less dangerous than the road these days, and given their current run of luck, the group figures it’d be the best way to go. The route takes a winding path through the hills, and the group cuts off a little travel time by working their way up the slope where they can. At the top, late in the evening, the group runs across an abandoned watchtower. Dorn checks the door, and it is unbarred. The inside of the tower is dark, musty, and odd-smelling; a few hesitant halloos with no response tells the group that it’s empty.
The group enters, finding that there are signs of conflict – overturned tables, broken benches, dried blood – but no bodies. The group believes the tower was given up for lost. Clearing out a space, they start a fire for the camp, and that’s when Shayla and Lazan begin to hear strange noises: a barely perceptible ticking sound. The group splits up to investigate, but rickety stairs keeps Kevara downstairs on the lower level. Dorn and Loranys, in heavy armor, remain with her.
Lazan, Shayla, and Caelissa head upstairs, but on the upper floors of the tower, they hear nothing. Heading back down to the bottom floor, they check the kitchen next, discovering the complete disaster in the room. Amid the destruction, the ticking sound is louder and faster, sounding like rattlesnakes. Further searching reveals that the wood in the kitchen area is rotting, though the wood in the rest of the tower, while broken, is unharmed.
Undaunted, they go outside to seek the source of the sounds, but a scan around the grounds reveals nothing. Returning to the main room, they investigate a door they had ignored before because it was blocked by heavy furniture.
This was actually an important clue – the door was barricaded with the intent of keeping something IN, not keeping something OUT. A subtle clue, but kind of an important one. Unfortunately, the group didn’t pick up on it.
At that moment, the floor in front of the door begins to undulate, the tiles breaking up from the ground. Once they’re sufficiently broken away, a strange insect-like creature clears away a small section of the floor and then drops back out of sight. The group rushes to investigate, but the hole is far too dark. Dorn drops a sunrod down the hole, and the team catches a glimpse of a tunnel before a creature like the one they saw before grabs the sunrod and takes off with it. Dorn decides to break down the door, and as usual does too good of a job… he finds himself barreling through the door, and into a wide open pit that tumbles him down thirty feet into a soft, spongy tunnel floor coated in slime. Dorn is a little bothered – the chittering sound the group heard is now much louder, and echoes through the tunnel.
Kevara pulls out a rope and they try to haul Dorn up, but the rope is slick with the slime from the edge of the pit, and Dorn just slides back down to the bottom. Despite numerous joking (and not-so-joking) suggestions that they leave Dorn down there, Kevara jumps down and the rest follow.
The group heads up the tunnel, following the fading light of the sunrod. They run across more than a dozen of the strange creatures like the one they saw earlier, but they take no notice of the party and continue reinforcing the tunnel walls. Further down the tunnel, the group runs into three more creatures – much larger, and a strange combination of humanoid and insect – with larger claws and obvious defensive capabilities. Kevara thinks for several moments, trying to remember something her old teacher told her about: she believes that they are Seiq’Ikrah, the Eldest’s army that was believed to have been wiped out during the Thirteen’s War. With this knowledge in mind, they attack.