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Heroes of Mystara - Chapter 5by Jesper Andersen
Walking the length of the gorge took about forty minutes and then the group came to a small, secluded valley a few hundred yards across. At the far end they could see what appeared to be the smouldering ruins of a tower and a cottage next to it. The ground was scorched around it and pieces of flagstones and timber from the roof were scattered in a wide area as if the tower had exploded from within.
'Hello?' Ikaros cried out as they approached with caution. 'Anybody home?'
'Looks like we're too late' Petja said, as he kicked a piece of rubble. 'Maybe ol' Balagarn suffered an accident while he was trying to teach his pups to roll over or something and the roof caught fire?'
'Naw, this is something else' Whitemane said. 'Look at the way everything is scattered. His tower blew up, I bet. Maybe he dabbled in alchemy. I hear that's a pretty common way for wizards to go' he chuckled smilingly. Next to him Thaminor was listening intensely to catch a sound of birds or animals. But all was quiet like a grave...
When they reached the base of the tower they could see that not much was left. The tower and cottage had burned out in a fire but there was nothing left to explain the apparent explosions. The party decided to rest and salvaged whatever they could from the tower for firewood. It was Petja who first heard a noise in the rubble of the cottage. He went closer with a torch and his rapier drawn.
'Be careful Petja! It could be one more of those Hell Hounds' Wulfgar said as he strained to see into the darkness. 'I don't think so', Petja said, and continued: 'you can come out. We don't mean you any harm. We have food. Surely you must be hungry?'
A moment later, a twisted iron plate was pushed aside from within to reveal a small storage room beneath the kitchen floor and a dirty, ragged man crawled out. 'Don't hurt me!' he cried. 'I'm just an old man!' 'Relax, old-timer, we won't hurt you. Can you tell us what happened here? Who are you?' Petja asked. 'My name is Mikhail and I was the servant of the mage Balagarn, who lived here' the sooth-covered man replied. 'Three days ago my master received strange visitors, suntanned men with strange foreign accents. My master grew pale and nervous when he greeted them so I got the impression that he knew whom they were. They retreated to his private rooms at the top of the tower and after an hour I hear loud shouting. I ran outside as the top of the tower exploded in a burst of magical energies and coloured smoke. Hiding behind some rocks I saw the foreigners emerge from the burning tower and cottage with several of master Balagarn's prized possessions and then they formed a circle and chanted and vanished into thin air. They left their terrible dogs behind, and I have been hiding from them for almost three days now'.
The party sat Mikhail down by their campfire and gave him food and wine and a blanket over his shoulders. As they questioned him further, they learned that there had been eight men to visit Balagarn. They had all been wearing the same white sleeveless tunics and white leather boots and bronze girdles, bracers and headbands decorated with red gemstones. Almost like a sort of uniform. Mikhail had heard them call their leader Zajimarn and amongst the things he had seen them take from Balagarn's tower were also Palando's magical staff.
'Well', Petja said, looking around at the ruined tower, 'I am no expert on mages' business, but it sounds to me like ol' Balagarn crossed the wrong people and got visited by a hit squad'. 'So how in all the Hells do we find them now?' Whitemane asked. 'We have to think', Ikaros replied. 'We know they wore light clothes and were suntanned. We know they had foreign accent like men of the southern or eastern kingdoms. And we know they wore uniforms so they must belong to an order or society of some kind'. 'But they could be anywhere by now!' Wulfgar protested. 'How in Odin's name are we supposed to find the staff now?' 'I don't know', Ikaros sighed, 'but I better think of something 'cause I don't wanna spend the rest of eternity washing socks for some ****** off ghost'.
The next morning the party accompanied Mikhail to the village and headed back to Rymskigrad.
Next chapter: An unlikely meeting