After a restful night in the water gardens on the base of the pyramid, our heroes decided to investigate the tower in its centre.
It rose a hundred feet into the air, shaped like a arm reaching up into the sky. High above the "Palm", a giant sphere floated, slowly rotating. There was a single entrance and several windows higher up. They were all covered by a shimmering, repulsive light. The same kind of light that was blocking the ramp back down into the pyramid. A crystal shaped slot was set in the stone next to the entrance.
Putting two and two together, the party took the crystal they retrieved from Mud Slap's body and placed it in the slot and turned. The shimmering light disappeared, and the air from inside poured out.
The smell hit them like a freight train. Rot. Sickness. The stench of human waste, unwashed bodies, and, oddly enough, a faint hint of cinnamon.
Maklor, being the stealthiest, decided to check things out first. Sneaking in carefully, he found the first floor to be the broken and disordered remains of what had once been a laboratory. A staircase to the next level wound up the far wall, and wandering around were emaciated lizardfolk and humans. Seriously, these things looked like they hadn't eaten in weeks. They shuffled aimlessly, a glassy, unfocused dead look in their eyes. Some appeared to have unhealed injuries.
An accidental noise from Maklor and their head snapped towards him, although their eyes retained that curious, unfocused aspect. <Karyn> and Mulligan rushed in to help their friend. As they traded blows, <Karyn> noted that their foes didn't seem to feel or register pain; blows from swords or maces didn't even cause a flinch.
Mulligan cast a spell of Sleep on one of the humans. A few seconds later he was woken by a stray firebolt. Yet instead of attacking, he began screaming and clutching his arm as he backed up against the wall, his eyes darting around wildly in confusion.
A blow from a lizardwoman knocked out Mulligan. <Karyn> and Maklor were engaged with their own fights and couldn't come to his aid, when suddenly the man from the wall attempted to knock over the lizardwoman. He failed, but managed to buy time for <Karyn> to rush over and rescue them.
I was then, as the last foe was struck down, that a curious scuttling noise came from the stairs. They looked up and saw a cauldron, no larger than an average cooking pot, scurrying down the steps. It had no face, but the whole group felt like it was staring at them before it went rushing back up the stairs like some kind of insect.
They had no chance to take this in; a new pair of lizardfolk rushed down the stairs. Unlike the lethargy of last group, these ones were twitching and running like five year olds on a sugar high. They were also fans of biting.
It was a rough fight, but our heroes kicked butt in the end. Deciding 'screw this tower' for the time being, the group went out, bringing the human with them, and sealed the entrance behind them. Over a light lunch of trail rations (which the man tore into like, well, like a man who hasn't eaten real food in weeks) the man told them his story.
His name was <person>. He lived in a village far away from Ticago. One day, when hunting near the forbidden area of the swamp (a place owned by a Swamp Hag by the name of 'Natty Gut-Ripper') he heard sweet music playing. Something compelled him to follow the music. He remembered drinking something tasting of cinnamon, and the rest was all like a dream. Blurry memories of fighting and screaming, and something that looked like a monster made of vines. Next thing he knew he was sitting in the tower, his arm engulfed in the pain of what <Karyn> identified as a dislocated shoulder.
Maklor decided to take a closer look at the upper level. With Mulligan manning the crystal, he used his grappling hook to climb up to the second story window. He witnessed an unsettling ceremony where the cauldron seemed to be forcing a woman, still in the trance, but seeming to come out of it, to drink the purple potion from inside of it. As soon as she had done so the same unfocused expression returned to her face.
After several attempts at storming the tower and brainstorming several plans, Maklor eventually managed to sneak in through the top window as <Karyn> and Mulligan made a distraction on the ground floor. Grabbing the cauldron, Maklor threw it out the window. It landed on the ground, its contents splashing everywhere, as its legs paddled uselessly in the air before going still. Inside the tower, the lizardman and human woman instantly came out of their trance.
Their stories were pretty much the same as <man>: they heard the music and felt compelled to drink something. The only curious detail was that the woman was not from a remote village close to Natty Gut-Ripper's territory. She was from Ticago, and apparently had not been far from the town when she heard the music.
Searching the lab revealed two vials of acid in a chest, and a curious message in a book titled "Instructions For Mud Slap": "remember to rub the belly".
A trapdoor and ladder lead up and out of the second floor of the tower. Poking their heads out, the crew could see the "palm" of the tower was covered in an overgrown garden. There was a stone platform in the centre and, off to the edge, two large, slow moving masses that, upon sneaking to and back from, Maklor saw were a pair of creatures made of vines.
Diplomacy didn't seem like an option, so they set about slaying them. It was a battle in which Maklor and <Karyn> somehow managed to miss the giant vine creatures with their vials of acid, at least one adventurer was almost "eaten", and Mulligan pulled off an amazing critical with his dagger.
Upon striking the final blow, the vine creatures wilted away. One of them left behind an odd shaped crystal on its corpse.
The platform in the middle of the clearing had a pedestal next to it with three slots, after some trial and error the group figured out that if they placed this crystal, and the one they got from Mud Slap. In the slots, a teleportation gate would open. Poking his head through, Maklor saw that it lead back to the town council house back in Ticago.
Ondo and the elders were shocked to see <Karyn>, Mulligan, and Maklor suddenly pop into their meeting area, to say nothing of the prisoners they brought with them, but Ondo listened with increasing anxiety as they described what had happened.
This was when Ondo revealed that his father had worn a similar crystal around his neck, and had always taken it with him when Mud Slap had come to take him to meet with the Sorceress. Unfortunately Ondo's father had been outside of the village when the fog exploded outward, and no one had seen him since.
That was when Ondo made a request of our heroes: "My dad died defending this village from hostile lizardfolk, my father has probably died while visiting a valuable trading partner. I have done nothing worthy of honor in my life. Please, I'm begging you, let me come with you. If not to rescue my father, then at least to bring back his body for a proper burial. Let me do this one right thing."
Time will tell how our heroes will act…