“What? We don’t have to sink that boat! It’s harmless!” — Vesper Sespech
Vittorio casts a series of spells as the boat approaches the tower. He lights his eyes to see the arcane, conjures an illusion of his own true self to stand beside him, and finally conjures a mass of roiling gloom. He avoids completing the ritual casting, keeping the final word unspoken, and attempts to contain the darkness beneath his cloak as they dock.
The group mounts the winding rock stairway to the Tower’s entrance. The double doors are marked with reliefs of herons, each one with bowed head and one outstretched wing as if inviting visitors inside. The door is, however, locked. As Ettorio looks it over to make sure there are no surprises, the group notices a small boat setting out from the village toward the tower’s island. Vesper surmises that it’s the villager who brings supplies to the tower at twilight. They discuss how best to drive him away. Ultimately Vittorio sends his illusory duplicate down to the docks to glare menacingly at the newcomer. They are rewarded by the sight of the boat carefully and swiftly turning around and returning to the town. Ettorio then devotes his attentions to the lock, which is no real match for the lessons of a life poorly spent.
The door opens, and they enter the Tower of the Heron. The entry still matches Carenza’s map: a seven-pillared hall with a large fountain, a heron statue bowing gracefully at the fountain’s center, and a grand staircase leading up. The room itself shows little signs of wear, but two pairs of guards — one near each of the double doors leading to the tower’s wings — confirm further the tower’s occupation. The men are hairless, somewhat uniform of feature, and with odd tinges to their skin — two with a dullish gray sheen, two with a more coppery tint. Carenza, who has been researching the uses of alchemy in warfare of late, immediately recognizes them as alchemical men, sometimes called magen. One of them uses the butt of his polearm to knock on the doors leading to the water-garden wing. And without speaking, the guards move to attack.
As the blows start falling, Vittorio loses control over the darkness billowing under his cape. The gloom pours out, filling the entirety of the hall. Each flank loses sight of the other. Carenza and Ettorio move into the thick of the fight, while Vittorio and Vesper try to keep sight of the other alchemical men. And, as it turns out, the magen are more than simple human emulations. The coppery-hued magen surge with lightning, and the leaden men elongate their limbs in attempts to overwhelm and strangle the intruders. One strikes at the illusory devil, destroying the image outright.
The skirmish is just beginning to play out when the doors to the water garden wing open. A man in robes and apron, the garb of an alchemist, peers confusedly into the gloom. Then, realizing that the tower is under attack, he fastens a gas mask over his face and begins to move toward the stairwell, hurling canisters of poisonous gas to ward away enemies as he goes.
The sorcerous fog protects both sides as the melee plays out. The alchemist is unable to see enough of the party to more effectively throw his potions, and yet he also benefits from his obscurement. His retreat to the stairs is almost successful before Vittorio vanishes in a burst of brimstone and then reappears nearer the stairs. Cut off, the alchemist then bolts for the doors. But he flees past Ettorio, who reels him back with a noose of shadow. That avenue of retreat cut off as well, the alchemist finally tries for the water garden again.
Ettorio cuts open one of the coppery magen, and it falls to the floor, its form dissolving into a thick semifluid. Caernza kicks in the door to the water garden, and the alchemist expires at the end of a blade. Vesper strikes down the last two magen, the sound of the banshee’s wail still echoing from pillar to pillar.
Looking up from the alchemist’s corpse, the group sees the water garden wing has been occupied. A small workbench with some alchemical supplies is set up among the various fountains, ornamental pools, water clocks and aquaria. The most striking inhabitant of the aquaria regards them carefully — a mermaid, her lower body eel-like, her hair thick and writhing tendrils, and her eyes cool and appraising.