“Did you do the magical looking downing thingy there?” — Scylien, asking Yavanna Culand if she had attempted to locate Jenna below Kith’takharos Keep.
Mila regains her senses on the second level of Tarass Shar Orn. She last remembers conversing with the amulet wearing lizardfolk. Now she is alone. Confident a rational explanation exists for these odd circumstances, she climbs the stairs to the first level.
The iron scent of fresh blood fills her nostrils before she reaches the first level hallway. No battle sounds break the silence, yet Mila maintains a wary posture. She passes two toppled barricades and the hacked bodies of eight fighting men. Flames have blackened the walls and ceiling all the way from the stairway to the depression that once held the lift. Three lizardfolk stare into the dark shaft. A bloody women wearing mage’s robes lay beside them.
Zzhastor Brune informs Mila that her friends are on the surface. She speaks the Draconic phrase that calls down the lift and all four of them ride it to the surface. The fake tree opens, and they walk out into the warm night air.
The Band searches for signs of Jenna. In a widening circle, Jager sniffs the ground and foliage surrounding the lift. He finally catches a faint scent on some bushes west of the lift, at shoulder level. He suspects that Jenna’s captors brushed the leaves as they took flight.
Jenna’s life depends on swiftness, and so the Band must move fast. Yet a mere direction is a weak clue when the foe flies through vast swamp.
Zzhastor Brune intrudes on the Band’s frustration with an inopportune request. He wants help in finding swamp plants to create a concoction that will awaken his people before they all succumb to the Dreamseeker. Perhaps the Dreamseeker will even be weakened as more Harlass Orn wake and decrease the nightmares on which it feeds.
Cold stares rather than sympathy greet the request. In other circumstances the Band would willingly help Brune. Now they refuse him without hesitation. He can tag along if he wants, but they won’t slow for him.
The Band treks west for a day, accompanied by the lizardfolk Brune, Nastin, and Hulshon. Few words interrupt the grim mood. Kith’takharos is still another day’s travel. Jager locates a favorable camp site on a small island. Guards are posted, and everyone else except Jager settles down for some sleep.
Jager walks away from camp until he is sure no one will hear him. “Burke!” he yells, just once.
Minutes pass and Jager grows impatient. Then he hears a voice from above. “Hey, Jager,” says the shade of Burke. The Changeling stands on a tree limb.
Jager does not hide his contempt for the traitor, or his distaste at what he must do. Burke will finally have Jager’s forgiveness if the Changeling can find Jenna. The Band will remain encamped until Burke returns.
Burke springs from the tree into the air. He floats west, into the darkness.
In the morning, Burke pokes his head out of the ground at Jager’s feet. He has not found Jenna, but he did learn of a lizardfolk attack on Kith’takharos the same night Jenna was taken. Perhaps these events are related? Burke promises to continue searching.
The Band reaches the environs of Kith’taklharos in late afternoon. The smell of recent fire hangs in the air. Because of the lizardfolk attack, Jager asks Brune to remain some distance from the village while the rest of them check out the situation.
As the Band walks up the main road towards Kith’takharos Keep, they note that the damage seems localized to the Keep and the Jade Leaf compound. This strikes Jager as an odd attack pattern, and suggests a possible diversion. With that observation, Mila splits off from the group to seek Jenna with her Mark of Finding; Scylien joins her.
Men are still collecting lizardfolk bodies for disposal. Dorian Orsova hobbles out of Kith’takharos Keep, supporting himself with a cane. He explains how the surprise attack almost overwhelmed the defenses, and expresses concern that the lizardfolk somehow bypassed both the guards and magical defenses. Then Xanthus Bome arrives, and he goes with Jager to escort the Harlass Orn into Kith’takharos.
Meanwhile, Mila suspects that she should be able to sense Jenna in Kith’takharos. Something prevents her from finding Jenna, a sort of “void” in her search pattern centered beneath Kith’takharos Keep. This oddity intrigues Mila, for she has never encountered a phenomena that would prevent the functioning of her Mark.
The Band’s opinion of Zzhastor Brune finally warms when the scholar points out that his people built a peculiar structure below Kith’takharos Keep. The location of this place matches well with the void detected by Mila. Brune recalls that the structure could only be reached by teleportation of the same type utilized by the transit towers. In specially designed chambers, Mages performed dangerous magical experiments and deciphered the powers of ancient magical objects. He knows no particulars, because he is a scholar and not a Wizard.
Scylien and Brune visit Yavanna Culand to discuss how the Band might gain access to the rooms under the Keep. Hours pass as Yavanna and Brune speculate on how to proceed. Scylien maintains a polite boredom. When Yavanna mentions the Empiricon Codex, Brune realizes a solution.
Now a lizardfolk Shaman enters Kith’takharos under a flag of truce. He bears a message for the Band from the “Mother,” presumably Jenna’s undead mother. The mother offers a trade: Jenna, in return for the three artifacts. While Jager seems willing, that doesn’t mean he settles for the enemy’s terms. He claims the artifacts are hidden some distance away, and that it will take time to procure them.
The Shaman leaves to communicate with the Mother and soon returns with an agreement. Three days hence, the Band will make the exchange at a nearby lizardfolk village. This should buy time to attempt an alternate plan.
The Band travels with Zzhastor Brune, Nastin, and Hulshon to Brune’s old office near the ruins of Harlass Orn. In fact, this office initiated the group’s journey through the Transit Towers many months ago. Brune accesses a hidden area the Band did not find on its first visit. Here, Brune employs the Empiricon Codex to alter the teleportation device in his office, so that it will transport the Band to the complex below Kith’takharos Keep. He’s one hundred percent pretty sure it will work.
Such assurances must be enough. It’s either that or give Jenna’s mother what she wants without a struggle. That galls Jager. But then, most everything galls Jager.
Brune also crafts an elixir that will awaken the remaining Harlass Orn. Nastin and Hulshon leave with the elixir for Tarass Shar Orn.
Then Zzhastor Brune activates the mechanism in his office, and the Band appears in a room with faint ambient light. An initial disorientation sorts itself out fast, as everyone realizes they are upside down, and the floor at their feet is really the ceiling. The fall results in a few bumps and bruises.
The spacious room appears airtight. The walls are solid slabs rather than blocks. Not even the tip of a dagger fits between the door and the adjacent wall. The door has no interior handle. After some consideration, Fixit reads a Knock scroll, and Jager pulls the door open.
Jager examines the corridor outside the room. It extends about twenty feet both right and left before making a ninety degree turn in the direction of the room. Both the corridor and room show surprisingly little dust and no footprints. The Draconic letter “A” is carved in the rock beside the door. When Jager steps into the corridor an alarm sounds. A loud voice emanates from the surroundings, speaking Draconic and warning of an escape. At either end of the corridor, gates crash down to block the passage past the bend.
The Band of the Nine Towers has been trapped.