After a night of rest, the group was prepared to face whatever lay below the mill.
The opening sat atop a square shaft about 5’ wide. There were holes where the iron rungs of a permanent ladder had probably once been mounted, but they were empty.
Tekla lowered Alera into the shaft on a rope. After a dozen feet or so, the remains of the ladder started to appear. It was clearly very old, and rust and time had done a large amount of damage. In total, the shaft was about 25 feet deep. At the bottom, it met a low, narrow passageway that ran off to the south. Ominously, the passageway was crawling with leafy vines – the sort of vegetation that would never grow naturally so far from the sunlight.
Once Alera was certain the area was safe, the party made its descent. The tunnel led them a few hundred feet to the remains of a door. It had been smashed apart by something heading north. As the group approached, they noticed murder holes hidden in the walls, but could detect no one behind them.
Beyond the doors lay what the historians in the group realized was an old underground fort of the type widely used by the forces of the Fire Lord. The entire place was overrun with vines and plants of all description, but at first it appeared to be deserted. The ranger detected traces in the dust that implied that someone had recently been moving about. More footprints came out of some of the rooms than went in.
As the party investigated the area that had once been the jails, they found a new and disturbing looking plant. A vine, thick as a man’s wrist and covered in wicked thorns. Four of them had broken into the fortress through the wall at the back of the jail, and had creeped into the cells.
Three of the cells were occupied by corpses tangled in the vines. In the fourth was an unconscious but living man. The vine was wrapped around his ankles and wrists, pinning him against a wall.
The party left the trapped man for the moment, and made certain the rest of the fort was secure. They found no living or undead threats, but they did find an ominous and disturbing tunnel that had been burrowed directly into what was probably the commander’s quarters. It lead off to the south, and seemed the most likely route by which the invasive force had arrived.
Confident that they were as safe as could be reasonably expected, the party returned to the prisoner. He remained unconscious, so Tekla attempted to sever the vine with a knife. The vine jerked and nearly impaled Tekla’s armored hand, and the prisoner cried out in agony as the thorns dug into his flesh. Switching to her sword, Tekla used all her considerable power to sever the vines in a single stroke. The prisoner sagged away from the wall as the vines’ strength fled, revealing some manner of purplish plant growing in a crevice in the wall, with burrowing tendrils embedded in the man’s back.
The man told them that he was called Traveler, and that he and his companions had been following a friend of his who’d fled their home with an old religious icon. They were taken and split up. Their friend seemed to not be himself, and told Traveler that there was “something special” planned for him. Traveler said that he believed that the old icon had some sort of hidden power that had overwhelmed his friend’s mind. The unfortunate man was now determined to summon what appeared to be a dangerous Fae god.