The Troll Tower
Tulwhyn Silverleaf never dreams of pleasant things. His rude awakening by Tolem was cause for restlessness but was welcome all the same.
“Get up, Tully,” the lean half-orc said as he nudged him. “We’ve gotta get moving, and we’re burning daylight.”
Tulwhyn mumbled something and roused himself from his bedroll. He wiped his eyes to help clear the nightmares and thought on what must be done today. Once nightmare gone, the next waiting a half day’s march away. His small band of adventurers were set on destroying a trio of phylacteries that contained the shattered soul of an evil lich, not a small feat by any means. Yet they press on, striding ever forward toward danger in the hopes to extinguish the evils of the world. Such are the ways of heroes.
Daire and Sovie gathered camp quickly, Kayla, Brayden and Tolem helped pack supplies for the day. Tulwhyn helped where he could, but knew that a true wizard’s power does not lie in picking up after one’s self. He provided himself some quick cantrips to tie up his things and seal up his bags. Afterwards, they had set out on foot, headed east toward a rising sun. Tulwhyn wished they still had horses. It wasn’t necessarily the walking that was so bad, riding still had its way of taking your strength. Carrying all your own supplies was very much a burden. Sometimes he wished he could strap his bedroll and bags to Brayden’s back; that mountain of a man never seemed to tire. But Tulwhyn wasn’t going to complain, regardless of the burden, he knew it fell to each person to pull their weight.
They had just walked through a deep valley, and crested the eastern hill. “There,” Sovie pointed. “You can see the spire in the distance.”
Tulwhyn peered as best he could, but the sun was in his eyes and it was still a good distance away. The lithe eladrin woman was correct. “From here it looks so crude,” he concluded. He noticed what appeared to be a storm hanging over the tower. They headed toward the ominous darkness, knowing their job was never an easy one. Yet they set upon their task faster still, moving to a light jog. Tolem moved even swifter still to scout ahead, as was his usual duty.
What they thought a storm was not actually so, a dark but obviously fabricated cloud cover blanketed the sky over the tower and its closest surroundings. The party pressed onward, while continual and concentrated glances at the tower eventually revealed its complication. “Perfect,” Daire exclaimed. “An entire tower filled with trolls!”
Brayden beamed. “What’s the matter old man? Not up for a challenge?”
“If by ‘challenge’, you mean ‘watch you take blow after blow while I keep you alive,’ then certainly,” the healer muttered with a half grin.
“Sometimes I think with as much healing as you do for me, I should be praying to your god, just to give thanks.”
“I’m sure she’d appreciate that,” Daire said. “But let’s not lose sight of this reality. A frontal assault against that many trolls is out of the question.”
Tolem came out of the northern stretch of wood line at a blazing pace. “I ran its perimeter, and there’s only the bridge to get across that moat.”
“Tully, could you conjure that floating platform?” Kayla asked.
“We could use it to cross around at the back end of the tower where they’re not guarding it,” Sovie mentioned.
Tulwhyn weighed the options of creating Tenser’s Floating Disc. It wasn’t easy or even free to cast such a ritual. Expensive components and dire concentration are required for such things. That is very much the way the world worked, though. Something so helpful was rarely without cost. He then calculated how much he’d need the disc to carry. He was grateful for Kayla’s small halfling frame, it compensated somewhat for the large frames of the other men in the group. “It seems our best option,” he considered. “I’ll need some time to call it up though, and we can take it around back once I’m finished.”
“That’s fine,” Kayla said. “We’ve got enough woods here to conceal us from the top level of the tower.”
“Likely that’s where they’d scout from,” Sovie mentioned.
Tulwhyn mustered his mental acuity, and started dragging his staff through the dirt, creating a circle of power, a design running through the center, marking off individual spaces. In each space he placed the material components. A phoenix feather, to get it airborne, was placed first on the exterior. A twig of elm, a sprinkle of sand, a vial of water, and a tinder stick rounded the center to represent the other four elements, providing power. Finally a polished flat stone of onyx was placed in the center to represent the platform. The ritual takes several minutes of quiet incantations and inflection of will into the circle itself. Tulwhyn kept reciting his words and watched as the onyx took a new shape, flattening further but ever expanding, slightly hovering in the air.
His trance-like state is fragile, he knows, and practices at keeping it composed and calm. Unexpected jarring from a very beautiful eladrin woman can break the concentration of even the most practiced half-elven wizard.
“Tully, hurry this up!” Sovie shouted in a hush. “We’re about to have company!”
Tulwhyn’s eyes were already open, but he reopened them wider still to see a small scouting party of trolls wander vaguely in their direction. That’s when he felt it slip completely. He’d been hanging onto the ritual’s power with his subconscious since Sovie shook him, but the sight of the impending doom ambling toward them made him unwillingly sever the connection before the ritual was finished. The flat disc, now grown quite large from its humble beginnings, snapped back to size with a thunderous crack, and a small but potent shock wave threw Tulwhyn from his kneeling posture. He felt an incredible pain course through the back of his skull as his head hit a rock, and his vision shot with stars. He then heard shouts, grunts, and wild footfalls, but could place none of it. He faded away for the deepest of sleeps.
His eternity was cut short. “Up!” shouted Daire, “I won’t have my nephew helpless!” He could feel his uncle’s hand grip his forehead and a renewed clarity washed over him. “C’mon, boy. Time for plan B.”
The young wizard composed himself and watched as his comrades have taken the fight to the trolls. Brayden led the charge, Sovie and Kayla secured the flanks, and Tolem hovered gracefully between them all using his bow to poke out eyes and skewer calves. He weighed the risks of his quickly formulated plan, and steeled his resolve. This had to be done. Too much depended on their success.
An invisibility spell, while not easy, is nowhere near as complicated as a ritual especially if it’s only on one person, namely the caster. Tulwhyn looked up at the top level of the tower, where a platform overlooking the bridge jutted out from the tower’s reach for the dark sky. A large troll, adorned in more well crafted furs and armor, shouted down commands at his troops. Tulywhn hid for a moment behind a tree and closed his eyes briefly. He glanced down and saw the magic coursing over his form, and then turned toward the bridge at a careful run.
All around him was fury. He closed in on Sovie who had just gotten the advantage; she sidestepped a troll’s war club that crashed into the ground and kicked its hand, turning her foe. As she spun her eyes glowed bright blue as did her sword, and she lanced the troll’s throat in an upward thrust. Tulwhyn knew Sovie couldn’t see him, so he ran around the tumult and started crossing the bridge, which was now littered in trolls, and troll parts. Brayden’s greataxe was doing its job, but it was Kayla he thanked silently. She had goaded the ire of two trolls, and with a few sidesteps and quick jabs with her sword, caused one of them to fall in the tar-filled moat below. Tulwhyn took his opening and darted past the battle, heading in the giant double doors.
The interior of the black spire was every bit as crude as the exterior. Black stone and unfinished wood planks were what made up the armory he ran by as he headed toward the giant spiral staircase. He was forced to dodge several trolls inside who were just now arming themselves to head outside and meet their attackers.
His idea to head directly to the top of the tower had paid off, at least in part. He figured the phylactery was going to be guarded by their leader, who was clearly on the third story. The troll was also alone, which didn’t settle Tulwhyn’s nerves, but helped. Tulwhyn looked around for some clues. The front of the room was open air that exposed the large platform the troll’s boss was using to direct his troops. The chambers were strewn with trinkets and other prizes these giant ugly creatures must delight in, but something else caught Tulwhyn’s eye. A goblet rested on top of some kind of jewelry box, its lock sealed.
A few silent strides and Tulwhyn reached his reward, but being silent and steady handed remained of utmost importance. He carefully removed the large goblet and tried to concentrate on his spell to unlatch the inner workings of the lock without a key. His haste brought a small popping sound to the box when it unlocked, he quickly replaced the goblet and turned to the front of the room. The troll boss heard him, and glanced backward. Tulwyhn stopped breathing, and could feel sweat beads form on his face. The boss turned back to the clamor.
Tulwhyn breathed, and slowly. He remembered the simplest of cantrips, his minor telekinesis. Mage Hand, as it was taught to him, was ever so useful in almost any situation, if not terribly practical in a fight since it could only lift things that weighed very little. He mentally reached out for the goblet and levitated it a few feet aside, so he could concentrate on the box. He ever so carefully opened it, hoping it made no noise. He was relieved when it opened silently. He was not relieved to find the box almost entirely empty, save a few coins and gems. No phylactery. Tulwhyn cursed to himself.
A roar of anger whirled him around to see the troll boss eying up the opened box and floating goblet, which instantly came crashing to the ground at the expense of Tulwhyn’s now heightened fear. The boss hunched over to get a better look, and smell the air in front of him, searching out Tulwhyn’s distinctly foreign scent. That’s when Tulwhyn saw it: a small bottle, tied off to a leather thong worn around the troll’s neck. It was so obvious. It was also so amazingly well guarded. Tulwhyn glanced down toward the spiral staircase, and a small cadre of trolls were making their way up. There was no way he was escaping back down.
A fraction of a moment passed until Tulwhyn revised his plan and remembered to keep things simple, however complicated it may get. He swiftly reached out his Mage Hand and grasped the bottle around the troll’s neck, and with one deft motion, flung it over his head and out into the open air, plunging toward the ground. The troll turned to watch it fall and screamed.
Tulwhyn realized his aggressive action forced his invisibility to wane, and took the next few steps of his plan. With the troll’s back still turned, Tulwhyn jumped past the stunned creature into the sky, plummeting toward the ground.
His vantage point was most lucrative, he could see the bloody fight below perfectly. A fortified end of the bridge was being slowly punctured by his fellows, but most importantly, he saw the tiny bottle below. He watched it as is smashed into the ground, a small purple wisp escaping from its shattered remains.
The ground came closer now. Tulwhyn remembered the last part of his plan, to break his fall with his enchanted robes. He wasn’t sure it’d work, it was a tiny conclusive relief to cushion his mind before setting his course of free-falling action.
For the second time that day, Tulwhyn saw stars flash before him. This was coupled, or tripled, perhaps exponentially multiplied by the infinite pains that wracked his limp form as his hazy vision looked to the side and saw the boots of his friends. He was turned over, and he cried out as his fractured bones carved new paths through the sinew and muscle inside him.
He looked up to watch around him as Brayden, Sovie, Kayla and Tolem surrounded his now useless self, until his uncle once again appeared right in front of his face, chanting words Tulwhyn’s vast intellect couldn’t comprehend. Yet clarity surged through him, but a drowsy mellow settled over his body making him even weaker, though in much less pain. He watched in awe as his four saviors fought mercilessly back across the bridge.
“Time to go, hero,” Brayden said as he wrapped his arm from behind Tulwhyn, ensnaring his chest.
“Not…done…yet…” Tulwhyn breathed as he muttered a few more enchanted words. His view of the bridge was clear with the exception of a legion of trolls crossing it to give chase. His mangled hands raised and formed a glowing orange ball between them, and as a simple flick of his wrists sent it careening toward the center of the bridge, it grew thrice larger and crashed with a mighty explosion into the wide-eyed trolls. The fireball crumbled the bridge and lit the tar moat ablaze, permanently sealing the vulnerable trolls within their island prison.
“Take that, bastards,” Tulwhyn huffed as his eyes settled closed, a crooked smile fading away.