Shadows Over Ustalav

Rattle of Bones
31st October 4711

Early the next morning the group returned to Harrowstone, this time determined to explore the ruin’s interior. Standing at the gateway it looked a forsaken place, a perception enhanced by the cold drizzle and grey skies.

Cautiously Sif pushed open the main door, which with some stiffness opened inwards into a square antichamber. Streaks of mold stained the walls ,and the floor below was a thick, gray carpet of fungal growth. Sturdy wooden doors beckoned from every wall, marked by encrusted brass plaques. Wiping these clean revealed the Wardens Office lay to the west, the Stores and Chapel to the east, and the Prison to the north.

Opening the door to the Stores revealed a short passage leading to a sturdy door, which Keryn was unable to open with her lockpicks. “I expect there’s a key lying around somewhere let’s come back when we find it” suggested Christov.

The group opened the door labelled ‘Warden’ revealing another short corridor with a number of smaller rooms situated on the north side. These smelled of mildew and decay, and seemed to contain filing cabinets and a few desks. “Probably for prison business” suggested Ysabot. “I suppose there might be something of value in all these files but I don’t fancy spending the time it would take in here looking for them, and ferrying all this stuff out would be a mammoth task.”

At the end of the corridor was a larger office, and the door opened to reveal a spacious room smelling of mildew and rot. A long desk and chair sat to the south, while to the northwest a narrow alcove contained a closed safe. Thick layers of dust covered everything in sight. “I’m going to take my time on this safe” said Keryn," so make yourselves comfortable." As she worked away Trig kept watch at the door, while Ysabot stared out of the bay window at the beating rain outside and the darkening sky. “A storm on the way I think.” she commented.

Twenty minutes later there was a click from the safe, and Sif came over to look, munching on a sandwich. Inside was a cashbox containing a significant amount of coin, and a number of potions which Ysabot easily identified from the alchemical marks. “Well worth the effort” beamed Keryn.

The group headed back to the foyer and this time opened the door labelled ‘Auditorium’. As it was pushed the door to this room fell off its hinges with a crash of dust. Rows of simple wooden benches were arranged towards what appeared to be a caged pulpit area at the far end, but thick sheets of what appeared to be cobwebs draped everything within in gossamer threads.

As the group cautiously moved into the room Trig screamed as three horrific spider forms descended rapidly from above, quickly scrambling upon and biting the surprised Sif and Christov. Both experienced a burning sensation on their wounds, but fortunately this seemed to have little immediate effect. In the rapid melee which ensured the creatures proved to be no match for numbers and cold steel. The group stood panting at the still jerking forms. “Crab Spiders” muttered Ysabot, and Sif stared in fascination at the creatures, which had bodies the size of a dog’s.

Against a wall Trig discovered a cabinet, and inside there appeared to be some more healing potions and some Holy Water. There was also a slim wand. Ysabot looked at it and handled it “I’ll keep this for now- we can get Kendra to identify it back at the house. Might be useful later on.”

So far the indications of the fire had been non- existent in the rooms they had traversed, but opening the far door revealed a larger room where its effects were evident. The northeast wall of the room had partially fallen, revealing the dark, murky waters of the pond outside. Moldering training dummies and other similar equipment hinted that this room must have once been a training area for the guards. In the northeast part of the room, the floor around a dark, jagged hole was surrounded by black scorch marks, and the wooden rails had burned partially away.

As they moved nearer they recieved their first reminder that the prison was indeed haunted.With an eerie keening which set the hairs on the back of Sif’s neck on their ends, three blackened skulls rose up from the rubble, and even as they watched in surprise and horror, burst into flame. Trig hacked at one ineffectually with her sickle, and it lunged at Keryn, the flames causing her to scream in pain. Ysabot’s staff crashed down on the skull, shattering it into fragments. “Skeletal undead, blunt weapons. How many times do we have to say it?”

Christov was indeed using a blunt weapon, and after the initial surprise he and Sif quickly despatched the remaining two skulls. Peering closer at he shaft it appeared to go down maybe twenty feet. There was no stairwell, but there was evidence of a pulley and winch system.

“Some sort of elevator-maybe for lowering supplies down below” suggested Christov. “Well we have a route down below if we choose to take it.”

“Let’s check this level out first. There may be an easier route anyway” suggested Sif.

There was another door on the northern wall of the Training Room, and Sif pushed this cautiously open. She was stood at the side of what appeared to be alarge oven or furnace. There was also evidence of the fire, which had burned away the entire east wall of this room, and the fetid waters of the lake lapped at he rooms edges. The view was somewhat panoramic, if a little eerie.

Christov pushed past, and saw that the frontage of the oven was of baroque ironwork, grotesquely fashioed into form of a gargoyle – like face. He surmised that the furnace in this chamber once heated Harrowstone. A soot-caked copper plaque read “Ember Maw.” As he stared at it he was surprised to see the red glow of flame suddenly flare into life,and the face seemed to move and writhe, as though in torment.He drew his weapons, not sure what to expect.

The furnace door flew open and a gout of flame shot towards him, hitting him directly in the chest and staggering him backwards. Fortunately his breastplate seemed to absorb much of the impact,and he managed not only to stay on his feet, but also dive for cover into the alcove which led to a door in the northwestern corner of the room. Sif stepped forward but then leapt back again as flame shot out at a different angle, just missing her. Christov was trapped on the far side of the furnace.

As he drank one of his potions, Christov considered his option. He could try the door to the west and try to link up with the others that way, or he could try to rush back. Eventually he determined on the latter, and as Sif jumped forward into the line of fire and then back again, Christov rushed across to rejoin the others. As Sif had stepped out, flame had again shot out towards her, and again fortunately missed.

“What is it? What should we do about it?” asked Sif.

“Possibly a Haunt. Everything here is haunted.” suggested Christov.

“Well let’s just ignore it and go the other way” said Ysabot. “It can hardly chase us can it?”

So it was that they found themselves back at the foyer room, this time ready to open the door marked ‘Prison.’ This opened into a corridor with several doorways leading off it. Christov heard a noise behind him and quickly turned around. The other doors had all opened, and a horde of shrieking and smoke covered faces were rushing into the room and making for the front door. Around him his shocked companions were jostled and bumped by the escaping crowd. Then just as suddenly all of the doors slammed shut. With the figures gone. Ysabot opened the front door and looked outside. “Nothing.”

“Well that was a bit odd.” said Keryn.

“More haunts, I assume.” said Christov. “I saw some steps leading upward in that corridor. Let’s search upstairs.”

They emerged into a narrow north- south corridor, with what appeared to be an open area with wooden benches, some stacked in a jumble and others overturned in disarray, to the north. Weakened by fire, the entire east wall had collapsed away,creating an unintended entryway to a wooden deck beyond. The view of the lake beyond would have been beautiful if the silence were not so eerie. “A dining area?” suggested Trig.

To the south was a semi- circular caged area, with a desk and a couple of chairs inside. Access to this was gained by a metal door which was unlocked. “I guess this was a Guard Post” said Christov. Two doors led from the cage to an unsafe looking balcony over the main entrance, so the Guard would have had a means of escape if there was any trouble.

The rest of the eastern half of the floor seemed to comprise individual cells-some with the long dead occupants still inside.

“Smoke or starved to death” said Christov.

“Not a pleasant way to die.” said Ysabot sadly.

“No.”

The group moved towards the westren side, and here the cell blocks seemed to be arranged in north- south corridors. On the southern wall was a larger and more comfortable looking cell however. Trig looked at Sif, and she smashed the door down with her hammer.

Although this cell was rather spacious, it contained no concessions to comfort. A skeletal body dressed in the rotting remains of a prisoner’s robe lay slumped against the eastern wall, wrapped in numerous chains on which were affixed numerous weights emblazoned with several different holy symbols. Sif went over and fingered the chains in puzzlement. “Father Charlatan I presume” said Christov drily.

“Well if he becomes undead he’s chasing us nowhere in those chains” commented Ysabot. “Wait! What’s that?” She turned her head to where the others were stood outside.

An eerie, mournful dirge floated through the air, coming from somewhere on this floor. Sounding as though it came from far way, it seemed nevertheless to be getting closer.

“Just another haunt” commented Christov. “We know the executions took place on the balcony to the west, its probably connected with that. Let’s see if we can open the door out on to it.”

The group moved westwards through the cellblock and the strange piping grew louder. “What was that noise?” asked Trig fearfully.

“Sounds like the rattle of bones” responded Ysabot, and stopped.

“Rats?” asked Trig.

“I don’t think so” said Ysabot pointing. At the edge of the range of her illumination spell a skeletal figure had staggered to its feet, its eyes glowing with green balefire. She stepped aside just in time as a skeletal arm reached through one of the cell door windows to claw at her. A dry rustling in the darkness came from all around, accompanied perhaps by the flapping of leathery wings.

“I think we may have a problem.”said Ysabot, and immediately cast a spell on herself. Sif looked across the corridor and seeing the glowing green eyes of the skeletal figure reaching through the cell window at Ysabot. Ysabot was facing towards her and Sif noticed with a shock something she had never noticed before, having not had the opportunity: Ysabot’s eyes glittered with reflected light, like those of some dark predator. For Sif’s superstitious mind these two sights were too much for her, and she quickly retreated back towards the stairwell. “Sif wait!” cried Trig, and ran after her.

Drawing his weapons Christov rushed forward to engage the figure in the corridor, only to encounter two others emerging from the cells, as two more emerged behind Ysabot and Keryn.

The battle raged, with Christov battling three of the silent forms, while Keryn and Ysabot fought two others with mace and vials of Holy Water close behind him.

For Sif however things had gone from bad to worse. Her retreat toward the stairwell had pulled her up short, with another of the skeletal horrors stalking silently towards her. Rushing up behind this there also appeared to be a group of Stirges, and the eerie piping seemed to swell louder in her head. Blinking twice the corridor ahead of her seemed to stretch outwards to an impossible length, and at the end of this she semed to spy a wraith- thin figure dressed in a tattered robe and hood. It seemed to be playing a flute in its bony hands, and around its shoulder swooped a horde of smaller shadows. She stood paralysed with fear.

Trig pulled up close to Sif and saw three stirges swoop down on her; she appeared frozen in horror. One of the creatures pecked down on Sif’s upper arm-only a seemingly minor wound but she keeled over as though poleaxed. Assaulted by two of the undead skletal figures Trig had little time to give thought to anything else for several moments, seeking to both protect herself and bat the swooping Stirges away from the prostrate Sif.

When next she had a chance to look down she saw with a shock that Sif appeared to be wrapped in chains of some dark metal, and that these seemed to be tightening and constricting the prostrate Northerner. Finally crushing one of the hovering Stirges an idea occured to Trig, and she pulled out and triggered the Haunt Siphon she was carrying on her belt. One end of the chain seemed to dissolve away, and a stream of green smoke appeared to drain away into the siphon, which then clicked shut as though full. Still dodging the raking claws of the two undead horrors, Trig noticed that the length of chain seemed to be reduced- but she had now used her only Haunt Siphon.

“Over here! A Haunt Siphon now!” screamed Trig. Keryn rushed over, even as Ysabot smashed a flask over the head of one of the Skeletal Prisoners, and had the satisfaction of watching it collapse into a pile of shattered bones as the Holy Water seemed to literally disintigrate it.

Keryn rushed over to Trig and activated her own Siphon, and this time the chains seemed to completely vanish as the noxious green smoke poured away into the Siphon. Sif looked in a very bad way. Trig and Keryn however, still had to deal with a number of foes.

Over in the west corridor Christov and Ysabot had finally disposed of their foes, and as she started to make her way over, Ysabot seemed to experience a period of dizziness and a strange amplification of the eerie piping music. Guessing immediately what had occured, and shaking her head she activated one of her Siphons, and had the satisfaction of seeing it become filled-apparently from nowhere; the piping wavered but continued however.

As he moved across Christov too experienced a period of dizziness, but he was staggered to a halt. As had Sif before him, he experienced a vision of a wraith -like piper heading towards him, as he watched fascinated but powerless to move. At that point Ysabot triggered her second Siphon however, and the figure then seemed to vanish with a soulless and hollow wailing. The Siphon clicked shut.

Christov blinked and looked down at his arms- they were wet and sticky with blood. Examining closely there seemed to be a line of peck- like wounds down both his arms- a phenomenon which also seemed to have been duplicated with Sif. “Ghostly Stirges?” he thought, as he looked round at Trig adminstering to the fallen barbarian. Around them he could here the hissing of several of the skeletons trapped inside cells, as they attempted to reach and claw mindlessly at the hated living.

“I think,” suggested Trig,“that that might have been the Piper and possibly Father Charlatan. That was a close thing!”

Ysabot and Keryn cast their healing spells on Sif, who slowly opened her eyes. Somewhat shamefacedly, she got slowly to her feet, drinking several of her potions.

“There was a man”, she said, “A priest. He told me that I was safe but was recovering from near death wounds, but that I just had to rest till you got back. It all seemed so real.”

“I guess that was Father Charlatan” said Christov,“He was trying to keep you in his power I would imagine. He was a con artist after all.”

After debating briefly what they should do they decided to have a quick scout of the ground level to see if there was an alternative route down, before calling it a day. It was clear that Sif especially had had quite enough of the gloomy and cursed halls, and the afternoon was starting to draw on.

Re-entering the corridor to the north of the Foyer they opened a door leading to the west wing, which led to the circuit of an access corridor with several rooms off it. One of these was a small shrine to Pharisma, while in another ancient branding irons flung themselves at the already nervous Sif, and she was forced to flee the room. Other rooms had long since been smashed and looted.

At the north-western extremity of the corridor pushed open on rotten hinges to reveal tangled mounds of moth-eaten fabric sat on several wooden tables, each surrounded by workbenches. Various sewing tools including shears, needles, rolls of thread, boxes of chalk, and other objects lay scattered over the floor. More ominoisly Christov spotted the arm of what appeared to be a skeleton protrudes from a stained heap of fabric on the far side. He walked over and saw that it was the skeletal remains of a woman, clad in a faded blue dress. “Not a prisoner then” he thought, turning round to address the others.

When he did so he noticed that they were all staring at him. Then he realised that they were actually staring PAST him. Slowly he turned back round.

Standing before him, rising from the mound of moldering fabric that served as her tomb, was the wraith of what appeared to be a beautiful young woman dressed in a tattered but lovely blue dress. In fact, much about the ghost was blue,including her hair, the tears that ran from her pale blue eyes, and the clouds of smoke that drifted from her lips as she spoke.

“You are the new Guards.” Her voice seemed to come from a very long way away. “I sense you have stopped the two above, but there remain the three below. You must stop them.”

“I know who this is!” said Christov excitedly, “This is the Warden’s wife- Versorianna!”

“I am Versorianna. You must stop them. I seek to contain them but they work against me and I grow weary. You must stop them.” said the wraith. Her pattern of speech seemed somewhat single- minded.

“Wait. Wait.” said Christov, “What happened to the Warden?”

“The warden is gone. My husband was wrenched from this place by the men in dark robes, after they slew the other man.” Blue tears ran down the cheeks of the ghostly woman.

“The other man? The Professor! How?”asked Christov.

“With a thing of Mist and Sorcery. And then they smashed his head with a fallen stone. To make it look like an accident, I would suppose.” responded Versorianna.

“I see. And now the prisoners are escaping?” asked Christov.

“Yes. The Spider plots and weaves in his web below. I have tried to contain them but he does something….” she paused, “which eats at my will. I can now contain the two you have defeated, but you must defeat all of them, so that I can contain them too.” she continued.

“The Spider? The Splatter Man? asked Christov.

“Yes. That is he. The Splatter Man. You must defeat him most of all. Once you defeat them I can contain them.” she paused, “If you can find me some Focus… the Warden’s Badge would suffice, I can expunge them entirely. They must not escape.”

“What would happen if they did?” queried Trig.

“I do not know. But they would be free, and Ravengro would not be safe.” she answered.

“The letters- they might be what is weakening Versoriana” interjected Ysabot. “Perhaps once her name is spelt out-like the Splatter Man’s old victims,that is when he can break through and escape.”

“Can you help us in any way?” asked Christov.

“Sometimes I can see and hear things, but I am bound to this room”, answered the wraith. “But things there are, in the storeroom to the east, which belonged to the Five. Some power they might have against them, though their use is not without risk.”

“That must be that Strongroom” said Keryn. We need to get into it somehow.

“We must do this”, said Christov to the others. “We will do this Versorianna.” The wraith nodded, and then seemingly collapsed into the pile of rags below it.

View
Quiet Day, Quiet Night.
30th October 4711

Sif’s experiences were discussed over breakfast, mostly when she was out of the room.

“So,”asked Ysabot diplomatically, “Does this mean Sif will be killed by the Splatter Man next?”

After breakfast Sif and Kristov went shopping; they had decided to go up to Harrowstone the next day, but rope and other supplies would probably be advisable. Kristov determined that he needed better protection, and the two headed for Jorfa’s.

After some discussion Kristov decided on an expensive Breastplate, and he spent the rest of the morning having one of Jorfa’s pre made sets fitted. Sif wandered off to the new checkpoint she had noticed near Kendra’s house. A couple of bored looking townsfolk were present, obviously not too happy at being there; unfortunately they had only come on duty at 8 am and so had seen nothing the night before.

At the smithy Kristov learned that the Sheriff had recruited Kurt, one of Jorfa’s apprentices, along with several others to boost the numbers of deputies. In addition other townsfolk had been allocated to man four watchpoints into the village, to relieve the presure on the Guard.

Ysabot spent the day brewing more potions, and the group mentally prepared themselves for their expedition to Harrowstone on the next day.

View
Quiet Day, Unquiet Night.
29th October 2711

With members of the group in poor physical condition,the day was spent recuperating and using healing spells. Sif’s swelling went down considerably, and she fealt somewhat better.

Early in the morning Ysabot bought several ingredients from the Apothecary, and spent much of the day brewing potions for the use of the party. Trig and Christov lounged around thumbing through several of the Professor’s books.

“That moppet, I costed it up at Allendru’s. Bit of a specialised item as it mostly works only for children or simple people. None of us are children and it’s not for me to say if anyone here is simple enough. It’s only other use is to protect against Witches hexes, and what is the chance of any of you actually meeting a Witch?” Ysabot raised her eyebrows. “Anyway he will give us 720 gp for it- that would be 120 gp apiece.”

“Oh, one other thing” said Ysabot, turning back towards the group. “Rufio told me that he heard Councilman Hearthmount talking with Father Grimburrow about the problem- he was giving him a precis of the Harrowstone Problem as we outlined it to him -with a few slight modifications. Apparently the Councilman tipped off the Sheriff about Gibbs, after he saw him near the covered bridge acting suspiciously from one of his upstairs windows.”

“I doubt whether that will fox the old Priest, but I imagine that story will be all round town by now, which will no doubt bolster his standing. I suppose it’s to our advantage to let the matter stand- he’s invited us all to Tea on Wednesday apparently- the invite arrived this afternoon.”

It was late when Sif finally went to bed. As she prepared for sleep, a glance to the window revealed an unnerving development—the window was now barred! As she looked around the room, the furniture too seemed to be missing, apart from a simple bench. Looking round again at the bed she saw that this was now a pile of moldy straw.

Outside the view too seemed to be different; in the distance she could see the flickering lights of a settlement. Pounding on the door, which was locked, brought no response, and nor did cries for help. Panic started to rise inside her, and then she noticed her name appearing on the wall above where the bed used to be, one letter at a time written in dripping blood.

As the ‘F’ started to appear she picked up the bench, and retreated to a corner of the room, and it was then that she noticed the darkness. It started in the opposite corner, and then crept forward until it totally engulfed the room, except for a tiny semicircle around her feet. And then she heard the tittering, and sensed that there was a presence moving in the darkness. Out of nowhere a cadaverous face, eyes glowing with green balefire, thrust itself leering in front of her face. She choked, and then screamed, before being engulfed by darkness.

Christov was the first on the scene, and pushed open the unlocked bedroom door. All appeared normal, except that curled up naked in a corner was Sif. He slapped her awake, and she screamed and leapt forward, eye bulging and hugging Kristov close. He fealt dintinctly uncomfortable, for the second time in a couple of days.

Behind him Ysabot raised her lamp to the wall. Sif’s name was clearly spelled out in letters of dripping blood.

View
Second Desecration
28th October 2711

It was 7 am when Trig heard the loud knocking at the front door. She stumbled downstairs to see one of the Deputies speaking to Christov.

“The Sheriff sends his compliments and says there has been another vandalism at the monument. He thought you’d like to be there.”

Minutes later Trig, Christov and Keryn stumbled out into the cold early morning mist, and followed Deputy Vrodish south towards the monument. They could see the red glow of torches ahead, and emerged near the statue where another Deputy- a female halfling- was standing guard.

A dead cat was sprawled nearby, and a bloody letter E has been painted in blood across the base of the plinth. A few yards away Sheriff Caeller was casting around for a trail. He looked somewhat haggard.

" V E… still fits with Versoriana" thought Christov.

Trig and Christov approached carefully and assisted with the search. After a few minutes a trail was discovered, leading in the same direction as with the previous desecration. It lead into the same small copse where they had lost the trail last time, but on this occasion Trig spotted some impressions which led directly to a one storey shack not too far away.

Some spots of blood on a woodpile revealed a still bloody kukri concealed beneath.

“This is Gibb’s shack” said the Sheriff, “A known troublemaker and the one who was the ringleader in the disruption of the Professors funeral. A dangerous man.”

He drew his longsword and handaxe and kicked open the door, without bothering to knock. The filthy shack contained a cot on which was sprawled a middle aged man with a hook nose, his dirty white nightshirt splattered with blood. Before he could struggle to his feet Christov’s and the Sheriff’s swords were pointed at his throat; he was taken completely by surprise.

“The game is up Gibbs”, said the Sheriff,“Killing people’s pets and pouring their blood on the monument. A new low even for a piece of scum like you.”

Gibbs ranted and raved, and protested his innocence. Keryn looked around; on the wall was mounted a sword, and the shack had the appalling disarray of a man who’s wife had probably left him many years ago- assuming he ever had one. The trappings of the place rather indicated an untidy thug, than a master necromancer however.

“Not good enough Gibbs. You’re under arrest” said the Sheriff.Using a leather thong the mans wrists were lashed tight behind him, and after sending for one of the Deputies he was escorted off to the Jail.

“Well that seems to be that.” said the Sheriff, “By the way, Councillor Hearthmount will be calling to see you at 10 am. No doubt that will be an interesting conversation.”

As the three walked back to Kendra’s House Christov shook his head.

“This Gibbs is just a thug. Whatever he did, my guess is that he was under the influence of someone else. Those skulls too- I’m not convinced they were actual undead; more like some sort of wizards construct. I think we’re dealing with a powerful mage here.”

As Christov and Trig made their way back to Kendra’s, Sif walked on to Jorfa’s smithy: she had decided to buy a longbow. As she tried various types on the small target range in the smithy yard Jorfa came over.

“I was at the town meeting last night. I saw that one of your companions was a Gnome. WOuld you mind telling me her name?”

“Er what?”asked Sif absently. “That’s Trig, Trig ..umm… Kimble, Kendal or something. Why do you ask?”

“Hmm I see”, replied Jorfa quietly. “It may be nothing, but you might ask her to drop in here to see me?” Shrugging, Sif agreed.

At 10 o’clock the doorbell rang, and Milly showed in Councilor Hearthmount, along with a very tired looking sheriff. They were shown into the drawing room and refreshments were served. For once the Councilman cut straight to the chase.

“As you saw last night, the village is in uproar. The Sheriff and his small team, assisted only by two priests from the Temple, are covering their normal duties, doubled up because of the disorder and added to by the necessity to watch the cemetary. They are working twelve hour shifts currently, and rapidly approaching exhaustion. No volunteers from the locals have come forward to assist.”

“You indicated last night you have some insight into what is happening. Tell me.”

“You said it was connected with the Professor’s death”, asked the Sheriff.

“The Professor was murdered, directly or indirectly, by a group of mages called the Whispering Way. They were attempting, and succeeded, in capturing the soul of Warden Lyran Hawkram, which was presumably tied to the old jail in some way-he was the man who essentially saved the town 50 years ago by sealing himself and his guards in with the rioting prisoners, just prior to the fire. Why they were doing this we don’t know.”

“However, we do think that the spirit of the warden was keeping a lid on the other souls which haunt the place-more specifically five dangerous psychopatic criminals who were held there at the time-The Splatter Man, The Lopper,The Piper of Ilmarsh, The Mosswater Marauder and Father Charlatan- all of these details are in the Temple Archives.”

“Probably in the Town Hall too,” chipped in Ysabot.

“With the Warden removed we think that these other souls are now escaping, and starting to affect Ravengro itself. We already think Gibbs was possessed-possibly by the Splatter Man- the spelling out of a victim’s name prior to murder was his modus operandi. There are indications of the influence of the other spirits too. It only spells Bad for Ravengro.” continued Christov. More details followed.

The Councilman seemed genuinely disturbed. “So what do we do about it?” he asked.

“I know what I need” said the Sheriff, “I need the authority to declare a curfew and martial law, plus the power to impress deputies and a cadre of runners. There are a few sturdy folk in town-Kurt the smith’s assistant for example: I need them to bolster the Guard to cover the extra duties, and the runners will mean I can have less on duty at any given time. We can issue a few ordinances regarding night barricade duties and so on too. I’ll need a budget for equipment too”

“I agree said Keryn”, it will keep them occupied."

“Alright, Done. "said the Councilman. “What I need from you” he continued, turning to Keryn, “is the additional investigation of this problem. We will remunerate you appropriately of course. You should report to the sheriff daily, and he can keep me informed.”

“About seven in the evening would be best, I’m just starting then” indicated the Sheriff.

There was some haggling over price but eventually it was agreed; the Councilman knew by the terms of the Professor’s Will that the group were tied to the town for several weeks in any case, and he was far from stupid.

“Oh. And it will help considerably if I can reap the credit from the capture of Gibbs and the ending of the vandalism. A bone to toss to the locals and other councillors. It will bolster my position, and so indirectly help yours.”

“We don’t care who takes the credit” said Trig, “So fine.” The Sheriff quietly shook his head.

After the visitors had left the group made their plans for the day. Ysabot resigned herself to revisiting the Temple archives to find out about the Mosswater Marauder-hopefully Father Grimburrow could now be won round. Meanwhile Christov, Trig, Sif and Keryn would see if they could locate the hermit Antrellus.

Before they left town the group approached Jorfa’s smithy. Trig approached the dwarf, who leaned up from the ornate hammer head she was working on. “I am Trig Kemble” she said simply.

“You have a sister called Amik. A druidess. She has an ornate Sickle.”

“That’s right, Harvester. It was given to her by the Archdruid at Drunemeton. What do you know of my sister. It is several years since I have seen her.”

“Forgive me. I know you sister slightly and I have some news. You look very like her.” said Jorfa.

“Eighteen months ago she came in here and ordered a suit of enchanted Druid Armour.” She paused here and one of her assitants wheeled out a dolly with an ornate suit of gnome-sized hide armor, traced with flowing animal patterns. “She made a part payment on this, and then some weeks later said that she had urgent business to the north, but would return in a few weeks. I was busy, and it would take me several weeks to complete the armour so I was not concerned.However, she never did return.”

“That sounds ominous” said Trig sadly, “Do you know where she went?”

“I do not” replied Jorfa, “But she was staying with the only Gnome family in the village- the Janssens. They may know a little more.”

“As to the armor-it will fit you if I’m any judge.If you can pay off the balance-only 900 gp- you can take it. I can keep it till you decide to leave town.”

“Very well, thankyou” said Trig, “I do not want to see you out of pocket and you have been very fair. I will see if I can raise the money.”

As the four left Ravengro toward the south and east, Trig lagged behind slightly and seemed deep in thought. The directions to the hermit’s hut had been somewhat vague, and the small wood they had been given as a lamdmark in fact turned out to be a choice of four or five woods, and so it took rather longer than they had anticipated to find a small trail leading off into one of them. The trail had been used recently by bare human feet.

After an hour or so the scrub opened out, and in a small clearing ahead they spied a small shack. Behind this they could see a precarious rope bridge, which seemed to lead up to a wooden platform and additional shack perched in the forks of a large dead tree.

“Perhaps he doesn’t like visitors” opined Sif, “Still he is probably quite harmless.”

The group decided that caution was probably best, and so Trig crept forward alone, skirting the side of the glade and the shack. She soon realised that the shack was perched on the edge of a small ravine, with a rocky stream gushing some thirty feet below. The rope bridge led across this to the treehouse on the far side. She quietly approached the shack from the side, and carefully moved near the front of the building.

Something snapped beneath her feet, and suddenly the ground gave way. Twisting furiously she managed to grab hold of a timber jutting from the front platform of the shack, and started to pull herself up even as she fealt something snaky brush her boot dangling below. Looking down she saw a pair of very large and nasty looking centipedes arching up towards her; she scrabbled up as fast as she could, and then winced in pain as a sharp pain pitched her forward onto the scrubby grass.

At the edge of the clearing Keryn saw a crossbow peek out, and shoot a bolt into the rear of Trig’s shoulder. She drew her bow and failed a shot.Cristov drew his hammer and charged forward, while Sif ran to the side of the building.

The shadowy figure was invisible now, and the shack shuddered as Christov smashed down on the surprisingly resilient door. Sif had a view of the rope bridge, and saw a shabby hooded figure making his way across the rope bridge to the treehouse on the far escarpment.

As Christov hammered away Keryn ran around through the bushes to the other side of the shack, and attempted to reassure the retreating figure that they only wanted to talk. Seemingly he ignored her.

The door finally crashed forward under Christov’s assault only to reveal a small room with another door on the far side. He started to hammer at this, this time joined by Trig wielding a club. This time it was too much. While the inner door frame stoof intact, the rest of the flimsy shack collapsed about them, with the roof caving in and the majority of the side wall falling outwards. Sif was injured slightly by the falling wall and started to laugh hysterically.

Quietly furious now Christov surged forward onto the rope bridge, not noticing the tripwire beneath him. From the tree to the side an axe on a long rope swung down, narrowly missing him but severing one of the rope supports on the bridge. The lower anchor also gave way, and as the bridge twisted over Christov dropped his weapons and pitched over into the chasm, managing to hold onto one of the reamining rope supports with both hands. Sif laughed even louder.

In the meanwhile the hermit had reached the treehouse, and was engaged in a duel of archery with Keryn, wounding her badly. She was forced to cast one of her spells to remain on her feet, before picking up her bow again. Through the narrow wooden openings of the treehouse the man presented a very difficult target however.

Dangling from the rope bridge Christov has pulled his kukri with one hand, and was hacking away at one of the remaining ropes, hoping that this would swing him to the near side. Trig lay down and desperately tried to grab hold of Christov, eventually managing to reach part of his cloak, which she then started to bundle towards her.

Sif again tried unsucessfully to calm the hermit down between suppressed fits of laughter, only to recieve a missed crossbow bolt for her pains. Eventually she kneeled down to assist Trig in grappling Christov, only to nudge the small Gnome completely over the edge, dangling below Christov hanging onto the end of his cloak. “Oops” she thought.

Meanwhile Christov had dropped his kukri, and was now trying to part the partially severed rope with brute force. His hands burned, His wrists ached. Trig ’s additional weight started a slide downwards. They fell.

Trig hit a dirt bank a few feet down and slid and tumbled for most of the way. Christov landed in a scrubby thorn bush with a jolt. He was badly shaken, but fortunately no bones appeared to be broken. Unfortunately he was completely unarmed, and tearing himself free started to search for his weapons.

Up above Sig decided to swing across what remained of the bridge. She was a warrior. She could do it.

“I’ve got the hang of this” she thought after the first few swings, but then disaster struck and her hand slipped on the damp rope. She pitched downward towards the stream, landing awkwardly in a shallow pool. Fortunately she did not crack her head, though she thought a rib had been bruised. Trig came over and started to strap her wounds.

Up above the prolonged archery duel finally came to a sudden close. One of Keryn’s final shafts vanished barb, feather and shaft into the hermits throat, and he pitched backwards out of sight. “I think it’s clear” called Keryn.

A sound came from the treehouse itself, as of someone frantically flailing around. Although somewhat the worse for wear, Sif climbed painfully up the escarpment to the platform of the treehouse.

Opening the door she saw saw two crossbow bolts stuck on the inner side, with two now unloaded crossbows pointed at it…the flailing figure on the floor must have set the trap off.

On the floor was the hermit Antrellus, with Keryn’s arrow sticking deep in his throat. However, as she watched his body snapped and contorted, and she with utter revulsion she saw something large and bulky apparently moving beneath the flesh of his face, as a squirming lump appeared and vanished. Her superstitious mind recoiled in horror, and as she stood frozen something started to emerge from the man’s mouth, erupting in a spray of gore from the shattered head of the slain madman. It was a thing out of nightmare, almost like a shell-less crab with too many legs with a fanged maw dripping with greenish venom. Tiny winking eyes covered its body and limbs, but most horrifying of all, within a distended, pulsating, translucent rubine sac on the creature’s back was a glistening human brain.

The thing scuttled across the floor directly towards her, and as it apprached its jaws distended and a sharp spine shot out, piecing her trousers and filling her with a sharp pain and complete nausea. It shifted its small bulk closer, its claws now ready to rend and tear.

Sif snapped out of her fugue. With the only resort left to her in her badly wounded condition she did the only thing she knew how to, and a red mist descended over her eyes as she succumbed to a berserk rage. Her hammer snapped down and smashed hard on the back of the monstrosity, flattening it down to the ground.

As she staggered backwards she saw that its legs twiched outwards and shook, and a foul green ichor spilled out onto the floor. As the creature’s venom flowed through her system she pitched forward onto the hard wooden floor.

Minutes later Christov and Trig appeared in the wooden treehouse. Within all was chaos. Trig observed the swelling on Sif’s leg and rolled her trousers up to reveal a large purple blotch. In the centre of the room was an indistinct puddle of something vile and greenish, which seemed to be rapidly evaporating away into the atmosphere.

The hermit’s hut revealed little except a strange rag doll worn on the madman’s belt, and a tattered diary running back two or three years. WIth Sif conscious again the group painfully prepared to leave.

As Trig waited outside a Raven appeared nearby. It looked at her meaningfully. This time Trig was prepared, and cast a druidic spell. “What is it you want, Raven?”

The bird croaked, eerily without its beak appearing to move, noticed Trig. She could divine two strong impulses from the creature, which seemed strangely focussed in some terrible way. These were “Cannot Rest”, and “Prison.”

“It’s clear enough to me”, said Christov. “The Raven can’t rest because of the prison, and whatever its doing to the locality. The dead are being disturbed, not rested by recent events.”

The strange creature changed its position to look in at the dead hermit. Then with a caw, it disappeared into the gathering darkness. “We’d better get home” said Christov.

Back at Kendra’s Ysabot recounted her findings on the Mosswater Maruader. " He was a dwarf called Ispin Onyxcudgel, a well-liked artisan and doting husband. When he discovered his wife’s infidelity, he flew into a rage and struck her dead with his hammer, shattering her skull and his sanity with one murderous blow. Wracked with guilt, he became convinced that if he could rebuild his wife’s skull she would come back to life—but unfortunately, he could not find the last blade-shaped fragment from the murder site. So instead, Ispin became the Mosswater Marauder. Over the course of several weeks he stalked and murdered nearly 20 women while searching for just the right skull fragment. He was captured just before murdering the daughter of a visiting nobleman from Varno, and was carted off to Harrowstone that same night.
Another maniac."

She also looked at the rag doll they had brought from the hermit’s lair. “That thing is magical”, she said, “Best let Kendra divine its purpose.”

The madman’s diary also gave some insight into his thought patterns, though the rambling and paranoid style clearly indicated that he was completely insane.

It contained persistant references to “the worms inside me”, and “they won’t get me the way they got her.” It also seemed that he was on persistent lookout for “their return”, and several weeks ago he indicated that “they” had, and had set up camp in the old Keller Farm, and were making visits to the old prison. He had also seen one of them in town and had seen him talk to a Raven, from which he had deduced that Liriela’s raven was a spy they had set to watch him. Consequently he had killed it, and stuffed it in the fountain as their divining spells would not be able to find it hidden under running water.

“That’s just not true” said Kendra. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“He was mad, and damaged” said Christov. “All his traps and so on indicated that he was clearly paranoid. I’ve no doubt the people he saw were the Whispering Way, but whether they had anything to do with his own problems is a moot point. He was so crazy that if one of them said hello to to a cheeky Raven in town he would put two and two together to make seven, and assume that one was a spy of the other, and both out to get him. He was completely insane, though not without good reason.”

“True enough” said Ysabot. “I wonder what the thing inside him was?”

“A Demon of some sort” supposed Christov. “Who knows what he’s been mixed up in in his past? It clearly sent him over the edge and into some very dark places indeed.”

View
A Night to Remember
27th October 2711: Evening

In the south east corner of the village square stood the Town Hall. Kendra explained that the people of Ravengro used this all-purpose facility for virtually everything, including council meetings, wedding receptions, and,when it rained, even the annual cook-off. Council meetings were generally scheduled on the first Oathday of the month, and often lasted well into the night.

When the group arrived it was standing room only; the two rows of benches down the centre of the building were full, and several people stood around the walls. The group were obliged to do the same.

Upon a small raised dias or stage at the front Keryn recognised Councilman Vashian Hearthmount and Councilman Gharen Muricartat, who had both been present at the funeral. Two women were also present on the stage, presumably also Council members. Councillor Hearthmount was chair of the proceedings and brought the meeting to order.

“Ladies and Gentlemen” began Councillor Hearthmount, “We have called this meeting to reassure you about the recent events in Ravengro, which we can assure you are well in hand. Sheriff Caeller and his deputies are following several leads regarding the desecration on the monument, and while the Restlands must remain closed while necessary safety works are undertaken…”

“What about my cows?” interrupted a voice from the audience, “Their milk is sour and it ain’t natural. What are you going to do about it?”

“What about my boy with his face bashed in. What are you going to do about that Von Klempp brat?”

“And the dead they was walkin’ I hear. My cousin Gunter he saw it from his window with his own eyes. We’re all going to be eaten in our beds!” A dozen voices joined in, all levelling their particular accusations at the Councilman, who desparately tried to call the meeting back to order. The sheriff leaned against a side wall staring moodily at the floor.

“This is pointless” said Ysabot, “These yokel halfwits won’t let them get a word in edgeways. They’re more likely to tear the place to pieces.” Her contempt for the locals was clearly evident.

“Shouldn’t we do something?” asked Keryn, “We do at least have some idea of what is likely to be happening here.”

“If we told this lot they would probably blame us” commented Trig. "It might be better to speak to the Council alone and in private.

“Maybe we could use the Sheriff to speak to Councillor Hearthmount. Offer our services-for a suitable reward of course” suggested Sif. Kendra moved across to the Sheriff, who had just blown a hunting horn very loudly, in an attempt to call the unruly locals to order. The councillor was desparately banging his gavel.

“Sheriff we think we may be able to help-we’ve found some things about about what’s going on: it’s related to the Professor’s murder. We’re happy to talk about them in private-but not in front of this mob.” The sheriff raised his eyebrows, and nodded curtly. He walked up to the side of the stage and held a whispered conversation with one of the female council members, who then went over to Councillor Hearthmount and spoke quietly in his ear, just as the crowd was starting to calm down again.

“Thankyou my dear. Now AS I was saying…your elected representatives have already taken steps to bring these matters under control.”

“A messenger has been despatched to Tamrivena to request assistance. In the meanwhile the sheriff and his deputies have all of the current troublemakers under lock and key, and they will be dealt with in due turn.”

“Also with the Sheriff’s help and the assistance of the Temple the situation at the Restlands is being dealt with.”

“You will understand that with only one sheriff and four deputies, our small guard is overworked at present and they are working very long hours indeed. Not one single person-not one of you- has come forward to answer the request for additional deputies which was posted yesterday around Ravengro. If nobody in this community is prepared to assist in a time of difficulty then obviously your elected representatives and the Sheriff will do what they can. But we do need additional help to cover 24 hour watches.”

“I have also personally engaged the services of several people who may be known to you”, here he pointed directly at Keryn, “And they have made significant progress in investigating these issues. I have their assurances that they can reach a satisfactory conclusion to the situation.”

“He has just passed the Buck to us magnificently” commented Ysabot, “The wily old bastard.”

“And so good people….”Hearthmount stopped in mid sentance and looked around, as he saw the looks on the faces of a number of the townsfolk. One of the wall torches behind him seemed to have flared up considerably, as did a number of others around the walls of the wooden hall, five in total. Trig stared twice at the one on the stage, and she thought she could see the outline of a sneering face shaped within the flame. The torches flared brighter, and then seemed to billow outwards, igniting wall hangings and several villagers. Panic ensued. Trig immediately turned round and pushed the doors open, while Keryn and Ysabot, started to usher people out. The sheriff grabbed a wall hanging and smothered one of the fires , while Christov attempted to do likewise. Sif managed to put out the fire on one of the burning villagers, but was too late to save two others. As she stood just outside the doorway yelling instructions, Ysabot glanced up and saw two small fiery objects making their way through the night sky from the south; these disappeared behind the side of the building.

Moments later there was a sound of breaking glass, and two ghastly objects flew down into the centre of the chaos, keening eerily . These appeared to be a pair of fiery skulls, which a number of the group rushed to intercept.

Meanwhile the remaining fires seemed to be spreading, and on her own Sif was rapidly losing control of the situation.

Keryn, Trig and Christov all swung at the skulls, but it was the contact of Christov’s hammer that shattered one into a dozen pieces. He winced as the other fiery skull burned against his upper arm, but with a second blow this too was destroyed.

The majority of the villagers had exited now, and the group focused on pulling down wall hangings and smothering the fires. Within half a minute they had it under control.

Eventually the group emerged coughing and spluttering into the cold evening air. Apart from a few gawkers most of the villagers had gone home. The sheriff started to organise the arriving deputies into organising water with which to douse the smoking timbers.

“You’d best get home” he commented, “I’ll get back to you in the morning. No doubt the councillors will want to speak with you. Thanks for your help tonight”

“What about you sheriff?” asked Trig, “Can’t your deputies handle this?”

“The Councilman wasn’t joking. I’m on till morning. Deathwatch at the cemetary with Brother Rufio. At least there’s a brazier and a tent now.”

Not envying the Sheriff’s duties, the group made their way back to Kendra’s, for what hopefully would be a good night’s rest.

View
The Ravens of Ravengro
25th October 2711

Trig opened her eyes.

“Tap. Tap. Tap.” from the window. She got out of bed, and walked over. On the branch of the tree outside sat the Raven again.It stared at her, and she opened the window. The Raven hopped to another branch, slightly lower, and looked again.

Sure that it had got Trig’s attention, it flew down to the ground and looked up. Trig took the hint. Grabbing a hooded cloak to pull around her nightdress she hurried downstairs and out the front door. She did not notice Christov, Keryn and Sif, who had been sitting late around the fire, notice her exit and quietly follow.

The bird was obviously leading her. She would approach, it would fly away several yards, and she would follow. It was just after midnight and the chill mist did not allow vision more than this distance anyway. To Trig’s relief it was heading towards the south of Ravengro, and not north towards the Restlands. When it arrived at the covered bridge and then south along the riverbank, she realised it was probably heading toward the Harrowstone monument.

And so it proved. She saw the bird perched on one of the overgrown hedges which led down from the monument, through the clearing with the old ornamental fountain, and to the rivers edge. With the wet soil squishing between her toes she peered round into the narrow avenue, and could dimly glimpse the outline of the fountain several yards ahead. She crept closer, and then crouched against the hedge.

Approaching the fountain from the direction of the monument was a pale figure all in white. It appeared to be a young woman or girl. “The Bloofer Lady?” thought Trig. Eerily illuminated by the moon shining through the mist, Trig was not sure whether this figure was supernatural or not. To her right she could see the Raven perched on another section of the hedge.

Looking closer she saw that it seemed to be holding a bunch of white flowers, which the figure then placed onto the side of the old fountain. At that moment the fountain erupted as three bird like forms seemingly shot straight up from the fountain and into the air. To Trig they looked like very large and untidy ravens, and then she realised they were about to swoop down on the girl in white, who screamed in alarm.

Rushing forward Trig tackled the girl and pushed her to the ground as the ravens attacked. Sharp beaks pecked into her back as the birds swooped down and then up again.

There were further shouts as Sif and Christov rushed into the glade, positioning themselves near the two figures sprawled on the ground. As the birds swooped down again an answering call came from the Raven Trig had followed, which launched itself at one of the overgrown birds.

Sif waited and her hammer swept one of the creatures out of the sky: the blow seemed to land solid, but the form of the bird simply dispersed into thin air. The hairs on the back of Sif’s neck prickled. Trig again was attacked as she protected the screaming girl beneath her, but this time another blow from Christov and all three of the attacking creatures appeared to vanish. The fountain glade was silent.

Trig helped the girl up. Christov estimated she was perhaps twelve years old, and she was frightened. Keryn and Trig attempted to soothe her, and asked her what she was doing there.

“My name is Lereia” said the child, “I came to put some more flowers on the fountain. This was Eronel’s favourite place.”

“Eronel?” asked Trig.

“My Raven. He’s been missing for two weeks now and I just know that he’s dead.”

“You don’t see him here?” asked Trig. The Raven was sat on the top of the fountain.

“No of course not. Only those horrible things. What were they?” replied Lereia.

“I don’t know. Some evil magic perhaps? " replied Trig.

“Murder! Murder!” cawed the Raven. Trig, Christov, Keryn and Sif could clearly hear the bird, but Lereia did not seem to respond at all. The Raven hopped toward the side of the fountain nearest the river, looked at the nearby Christov, and then seemingly dived into the water and vanished. Christov examined the fountain.

The fountain was in two parts, a lower cruciform basin with four pools surrounding a central pillar. The 4-foot high pillar supported an upper basin 8 feet across and ringed by four stone gargoyles,which sat at each of the compass points and supported the basin’s fluted lip, where water spilled between the gargoyles into the lower basins toward a central drain and thence into the nearby river. Water burbled a few feet in the air from the upper bowl, from which clean water presumably fell for drinking while the lower basins could be used for bathing or washing. The fountain was in some disrepair, with several of the gargoyles having large chips and broken stonework,though the basins were intact.More to the point the lower basins seemed to be overflowing for some reason. Rolling up his sleeve he plunged his arm into the cold water at the point where the Raven had vanished, and discovered a loose metal grille. Removing this his groping hand discerned a wet leather sack, which he pulled out and placed on the floor, before replacing the grille. The water level started to return to normal.

“Was your Raven killed by some animal perhaps?” asked Trig.

“That’s what my mum says, but I don’t believe it. It was old Antrellus, the hermit. He’s crazy, and I caught him throwing stones at Eronel shortly before he vanished. He was screaming nonsense about Eronel being sent to spy on him, and I saw him a couple of times following us around.”

“Look, we’d better get you home. This place isn’t safe, and you shouldn’t be out here in the middle of the night. You were lucky we turned up.” said Trig.

Out of sight of the girl Christov opened the sack. Inside were the rotting remains of a Raven; as he lifted its head he noticed something shiny lodged in its beak, and a golden ring of unusual design fell out. He tied the sack back up.

“Rest! Rest!” cawed the Raven, now again perched nearby. Trig looked at the strange bird and nodded, and it flew off into the mist.

Trig and Keryn escorted the girl home, promising not to tell her parents on condition that she didn’t visit the place again after dark. Before they returned to Kendra’s a sudden thought struck Christov and he walked over to the monument plaque, and read the names of the fallen. He gave rare smile, unseen by any of his companions.

In the morning the group discussed the night’s events over breakfast. It was determined that some of the group should ask around town regarding this Antrellus, and see if anyone could identify the ring.

“It would seem that the spirit of Eronil was trying to protect the girl” said Trig. “I think I will give it a proper druidic burial rite. What exactly was happening though with those other ravens I’m not quite sure.”

After breakfast Trig went out into Kendra’s garden, and noticed a small postern door into a small copse which abutted the property. Beyond it were some farm fields and a view down to the river. She thought the copse would be an ideal place, and located a small holly bush near a young oak sapling. Trig spent the morning in her preparations.

Sif and Keryn went down to the Laughing Demon, and a short conversation with Zokar revealed a little more about Antrellus. He had been a successful merchant with a beautiful wife, but she had died unexpectedly some years ago, and the man had gone to pieces. He now lived in a shack in the southern woods. He could be seen around town at times, but children were warned away from him and he seemed to have gone quite mad. The ring he identified as a mark of rank in one of the more successful County Merchant Cartels. After getting directions to the woods Zokar referred too the pair returned to the house, somewhat worse for wear and smelling of beer.

Ysabot also had emerged from the Professors library, with Kendra in tow. “I think the ritual was to perform a spell called a Soul Binding; this is a very powerful spell. Essentially what they’ve done is extracted the soul of Lyran Hawkran (a man dead for 50 years) and imprisoned it in something. Possibly a magical gem, or a specially prepared bottle. It is an extremely powerful necromantic magick. Tricky too.”

“I think I’ve worked it out.” said Christov.“The ravens, the walking dead, the trouble in town is all related.”

“Do tell” commented Keryn.

“I checked the name of the warden’s wife on the monument last night. Vesorianna; begins with a V. From what Ysabot and Kendra have discovered it seems clear that the Whispering Way wanted to extract the spirit of Warden Hawkram from the ruins; why I don’t know, but we can assume that Hawkram was a pretty determined and strong willed individual. After all he was prepared to seal himself in with the rioting criminals rather than let them escape. Possibly that makes his spirit more powerful or unique, and perhaps more useful to the Way for whatever nefarious project they are embarked on.”

“Wait a minute” asked Ysabot, " Are you implying that the nonsense happening around town is simply a by product of what the Way have been up to?"

“Precisely” said Christov.

“I don’t understand” Commented Sif.

“Look. From what the people said in the bar, and our own encounter, we know that Harrowstone is genuinely haunted, and has been for many years. But Ravengro has never had any real problems before. Given the horror and mass violent death of the prison fire you would expect the place to be haunted. But in the past that haunting has been confined to the location itself, and perhaps that is because the strong willed spirit of the warden has to some extent put a stopper on the energies which haunt the place.”

“We know that a couple of weeks ago the warden’s spirit was somehow extracted. And since then we have corpses walking, ghost ravens, and otherwise normal farmers and tradesmen starting to behave like violent criminals. I would say that that the spirit of whatever haunts Harrowstone is now seeping into Ravengro.”

“We even have someone apparently painting a warning like the Splatter Man- maybe even someone under his influence. We can’t dismiss the attempt to derail the Professor’s funeral either; normal people don’t do that sort of thing.”

“But what about the spelling of the V, or the name or whatever?” asked Sif.

“Perhaps if the name is spelt out fully something REALLY bad will happen.” commented Ysabot.

View
A Slight Disturbance
24th october 4711

Ysabot and Christov were up early the next morning, and the pair wandered up to Harrowstone through the thick morning mists. Ysabot stepped through the gates without hesitation, Christov somewhat more warily.

She examined the wall markings and stalked her way round the perimeter. As they passed below the western balcony Chrsitov looked upwards intently, but there was no sign of anything untoward.

She looked round. “Hmm”. She walked a few metres away from the main wall and then started to clear the long grass away from assorted stones and rubble with the end of her staff. After a few moments she gave an “Aha!” of triumph. Chrostov looked over her shoulder, and saw a large lump of fallen masonry; on the edge facing the main building another rune had been daubed.

“Check the rubble piles and isolated stones Christov, I’ll start drawing a map recording them.” Ysabot produced a bound notebook and started transcribing the markings. Christov uncovered several more markings on isolated stones, and after about an hour and a half Ysabot had recorded everything except the eastern frontage of the building, adjacent to the murky lake.

As she moved the ivy away from the end runes she peered to her right and exclaimed “There’s a body over there in the ivy- a skeleton.” She wandered over. At first she thought it was a child, but then noticing its clothing and rusted dagger determined that it was more likely a halfling or gnome. Ysabot retrieved an old satchel, and pulled out something that glimmered slightly in the now pale sunlight.

“Some coin, and this gem. We may as well have it. Wonder who he was?”

“An opportunist most likely. No doubt he found more than he bargained for.” said Christov darkly.

Neither of them were fortunately surprised when they heard a noise from above and glanced upwards. Sif had described her recent encounter in the Tavern with the flying insectoid beasts known as Stirges. “Like a fly as big as a Dashshound:but with a pointed beak and bat wings. It shouldn’t be able to fly-must be a magical beast.”

The creature which darted towards Christov from the direction of the roof fitted this description perfectly-except that it was the size of a wild boar. Its pointed proboscis jabbed down at Christov and pierced him on the unprotected upper arm, between bracer and shoulderguard. He cried in pain and jumped back, swinging his hammer down.

As Ysabot swung ineffectually with her staff the creature attacked again, this time fixing its beak in Christovs neck and holding onto his body with its claws. Blood dribbled out from the wound. Christov thrust deep with his shortsword and shortening the grip on the hammer, stove in the side of its head. The thing became a dead weight and collapsed, knocking Christov to the floor and spilling foul ichor and gore across his front. With her nose wrinkling in disgust Ysabot rolled the thing off with the tip of her staff.

“Stop playing about I need to make notes.” Grumbling Christov got to his feet, washing the area of his wounds with water from his canteen. Ysabot sighed and cast a healing spell as he reached for a potion. “Don’t waste that.”

Fifteen minutes later they were finished, and started to make their way back down to the village. “I’m for some breakfast then it’s off to those freezing archives again” said Ysabot.

“I’ll sell this gem at the moneylender’s as you suggested first” said Christov. As he entered the Silk Purse he could see signs offering farmer’s loans,and noticed at least two armed guards present. Behind the counter was a tall and somewhat attactive blonde middle aged woman. Her dress was extremely low cut and revealed the top of an ample and pert bosom.

“Greetings Madame. I have this gem which I would like to exchange for coin.” said Christov, trying not to look.

“Quess, please.” said the woman. Her hand lightly brushed Christovs and touched it for several seconds before she lifted it away. “Hmm, very hard, very shiny. I like them when they’re like that.” She tossed the coin in the air and smiled.

“My you’re a big broad shouldered boy aren’t you?” said Quess.“That Kendra is a lucky girl to have you staying at her house.”

“I assure you Madame, er Miss Quess, that I am a guest at Miss Kendra’s, along with several others, and that I always behave with absolute proprietry.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But I bet you’re not always such a good boy. And Kendra has led quite a sheltered life. What a boy like you needs is someone who can show you around a bit.” As Quess dropped fifty gold coins directly into his pocket her mouth was close to his ear as he stared fixedly ahead. He was unfazed by orcs, bandits and the walking dead. This was a situation beyond his experience however.

The spell was broken somewhat by the waft of a long rotten tooth, only incompletely masked by the smell of expensive perfume. Her hand was snaking its way down towards the bottom of his tunic by this point. Like a rabbit paralysed by the stare of a snake which realises its danger and flees, Christov took immediate action.

“Thank you very much Miss Quess. I have immediate business to attend to. Good day.” He stalked off.

Christov saw one of the guards wink at him and heard a soft laugh behind him. “Do come again Christov. I might call round to see if you’re free in a day or so. Till then, Farewell” He imagined, rather than saw, the kiss which was being blown. He needed to get some advice on these matters.

Trig and Keryn had set off slightly later, intending to search on the moors north of town for more ingredients for Ysabot’s potions. Cerian remained in bed, still somewhat the worse for wear.

As the pair crossed the village square they saw a boy curled up still in ball. A larger boy was kicking him repeatedly and viciously, again and again. “Hey, stop that!” Kendra tryed, and they two rushed over. The boy turned a stupid looking and surly face towards them, and then fled.

The boy on the floor was very still, and blood and broken teeth poured from his face. “If we hadn’t come he might have killed him” commented Trig. Keryn cast a healing spell, while the clatter of noise nearby at the rear of the Tavern signalled the possibility of help: Trig ran to investigate.

The Tavern owners son Pevrin was filling a bucket with water, and hearing Trig’s rushed explanation he shouted for his father. Zokar came out, and with his help the boy was carried into the Tavern.

“It’s the Voss boy”, said Zokar, “Better send for the Sheriff and Father Grimburrow.” Pevrin rushed out. The Sheriff came in after only a few minutes, and Trig quickly told him the story.

“Strange. Sounds like the Von Klemp boy-but he’s gone way to far this time.” he looked at Trig and Keryn, and rubbed his chin. “Leaving town?”

“No, only a day’s plant hunting up on the moor.” replied Keryn. He nodded his head.

“Alright I may need a statement from you later. Still at Kendra’s?” Trig nodded in the affirmative. AS they heard the priest arriving the two left.

Once again as they stode across the cold air of the moor they fealt their spirits lift as they escaped for a while from Ravengro. They were not even that disappointed when their plant hunting was singularly unsuccessful. They put this down to the weather; the mist did not seem to lift much during the day, and by mid afternoon it was starting to thicken again so they decided to call it a day. Off to the north east a wolf could be heard howling, and this was responded to by more calls from the west. Keryn looked somewhat nervous but Trig seemed unconcerned “They won’t approach us, nothing to worry about.”

This did nothing to alleviate Keryn’s concerns, especially when the howls and responding calls seemed to be drawing closer. Night had also descended, and the moor gate to the cemetary was a matter of a few hundred yards away.

“I think it’s probably best if we run now now” said Trig suddenly, and demonstrated that she was as good as her word. Keryn didn’t need to be told twice, and her longer legs soon overtook the small gnome. Ahead she could see the lamp which was hung over the inside of the moor gate, and using this as her guide sped through the mist, and lifted the latch. The howls seemed very close now, and she was relieved to see Trig pelting hell-for-leather towards her from the mist, and through the gate. She pushed it shut and as a precaution pushed the bolt through. The two backed away from the gate.

In the glitter of the lamplight they could glimpse the pinpoint pricks of wolf eyes, and hear a low snuffling and growling. But fortunately the bolted gate and tall stone wall were an insurmountable barrier. They turned and headed along the path towards one of the south- facing gates.

It suddenly occured to Trig that there seemed to be somebody still working to the cemetary. The two veered towards him, slightly off the path. “Hello there. Working late?” shouted Trig cheerliy.

“Drunk by the looks of it” thought Keryn, seeing him sway slightly through the mist. As they drew close he turned round. Then Trig realised her horrible mistake.

The man wasn’t dead drunk: he was dead. Dead some time in fact. And moving. At the corner of her vision she percieved other shapes moving through the mist. The pair jumped back and drew their weapons. Keryn panicked and started to run, but was intercepted by another looming form, his jaw hanging off and rank with the smell of grave mold and advanced putrefaction.

Keryn thrust twice with her rapier, but although she damaged the advancing horror, it slammed hard at her knocking her backwards. Trig had sliced bravely with her Druid’s sickle at one of the creatures, but had taken two heavy buffets which had knocked her senseless to the ground. All three now advanced on Keryn. She reverted to her original plan, and fled.

Expecting any moment to see more shapes looming ahead out of the mists she ran straight for the glow of the next lamp. She could imagine, rather than hear, the three corpses shambling behind her, ready to drag her too down into a yawning grave. Fortunately the gate was not bolted, and not bothering to pause and close it she yanked it open and ran straight through, past a tall house and down the road toward the Temple of Pharisma. She risked a glimpse backwards, and saw that although she had gained maybe ten yards, three dark shapes still pursued her.

The tall outline of the temple appeared ahead on the right, and she could see the stone wall around the grounds perimeter and the wishing-well gate set into it. A figure carrying a lamp was making its way toward the gate from the temple, which as she drew close she recognised.

“Ysabot! Yasbot! Undead! Behind me!” Ysabot looked somewhat bemused as she looked up and waved. Then seeing that something was wrong she opened the gate and Keryn careened through. Looking beyond her she saw her pursuers and slammed the gate shut, with the bolt. She stepped back.

“Get into the Temple. Get the priest-I’ll shut the door when I’m.” Although she spoke with clear urgency, she did not appear to be as panicked by the situation as Keryn. She stretched her hand forward and muttered a spell-then cursed as she realised she had healed Christov earlier in the day. She backed towards the building door.

She surmised that the perimeter wall was a severe obstacle to the things. She had a fair bit of time before they managed to stumble over the bolted gate.

Presently she heard Keryn’s voice pleading behind her, and a man’s voice trying to calm her down. Knowing many of the village folk she turned and recognised Brother Rufio-one of the younger priests at the temple. Together with Sister Sigrid and Father Grimburrow these three formed the clerical staff of the Temple, although there were of course a number of lay-helpers.

“Rufio-three Zombies outside the perimeter wall-trying to get in. We need to stop them.”

Looking surprised to see Ysabot, Rufio looked through the doorway, and saw that Ysabot and Keryn were indeed telling the truth. Withdrawing his holy symbol from his belt he advanced towards the gate-one of the creatures was leaning far over; eventually it would topple in, and the others would soon follow suit.

Holding the symbol aloft he advanced on the creatures, chanting a prayer to Pharisma, and holding the symbol high. Keryn observed that the bodies of the corpses started to smoke, and then flicker with flame. As Rufio persisted his voice grew stronger, and more flames appeared, until eventually the bodies caught alight. Soon they were bathed in a wreath of pale fire, and they started, one by one, to collapse. Rufio looked strained, and placed his symbol away.

Behind they could hear cursing and the cantankerous approach of Father Grimburrow.

“What is all this nonsense! Who disturbs me at this time!”

Keryn stammered out her explanation. He glowered at her, sending a piercing glance at the nearby Ysabot, who was of course currently wearing one of Keryn’s hooded cloaks to pass for Keryn in examining the archives. He seemed about to say something when he realised that there was somebody hurt in the cemetary.

“Rufio! Get your weapons and the padlocks and follow me. We need to go up there.” Unarmed save for a heavy gnarled walking stick he went out of the gate and up the road. “And send for Karl and Max-these poor souls need to be reinterred.!”

Ysabot and Keryn followed after the priest, and with some nervousness, made their way back to the Restlands. No further shapes appeared however, and Trig was sprawled out on the ground. Father Grimburrow muttered a spell, and Trig got slowly to her feet, rubbing her bruises but otherwise unharmed.

“You’ll be the Gnome that saved the Voss lad earlier today hey? Small recompense for a good deed hey?” He stood up and looked around at the three. “I was inclined to suspect you for some mischief-like the mischief you’ve pulled in allowing Ysabot here access to our archives. Well that stops now.” His brow furrowed and his jaws clamped tightly.

“However ,I’m inclined to think somewhat better of you for your help with the lad this morning. I’ll assume you had good reason to search the archives but there must be no more of it. Understand?” The three nodded.

“There are worse problems here. We will have to secure the cemetary and inform the Sheriff, until we can get to the bottom of it. For now, if you need any healing from the Church come up and we’ll see what we can do eh?” Rufio and Sister Sigridt appeared along with the two gravediggers pushing a covered handcart.

One of the Sheriff’s deputies also appeared that they hadn’t seen before-a female half-elf by the nickname of Trestleblade. The Sheriff was out and about with the other deputies-there appeared to have been quite a bit of trouble in the village today, including two separate knife fights. The bodies were reburied, and each of the Restlands four gates were bolted and secured with chains and padlocks. Trig, Keryn and Ysabot returned to Kendra’s house.

Sif was inside with her repaired armor; she had spent the day at the smithy. As Molly brought in refreshments, the group recounted their various experiences.

“I found out about the Splatter Man too”, said Ysabot. “Probably just in time too as we’re now banned from the Church archives.He was a real nutcase. His real name was Hean Feramin, a Professor at the Quartrefaux Archives in Caliphas.Feramin was a celebrated scholar of Anthroponomastics (the study of personal names and their origins): sounds like complete rubbish to me but then I’m not an acaedemic what do I know? Something or other happened to him and his study became an an obsession. Feramin became obsessed with the power of a name and how he could use it to terrify and control. Soon enough, his reputation was ruined, he’d lost his tenure, and he’d developed an uncontrollable obsession with an imaginary link between a person’s name and what happens to that name when the person dies. Every few days, he would arrange for his victim to find a letter from her name written in blood, perhaps smeared on a wall or spelled out with carefully arranged entrails. Once he had spelled his victim’s name,he would at last come for her, killing her in a gory mess using a complex trap or series of rigged events meant to look like an accident.The victims were usually women. Any of this sound familiar?”

“The bloody V. Hmm…” responded Christov.

“We don’t know anyone with a V in their name though” said Keryn. “Can you make anything of those runes?”

“Well they’re not a spell” replied Ysabot, “Or not entirely. More like a particular component of a spell. There are linking elements drawn there, probably to contiguoous rituals and use of components. Someone has used time, people, long preparation, and likely expensive components to perform a complicated spell that might otherwise be beyond their means. What I’m not sure is what the spell is. I’d need to search the Professor’s books?” She looked at Kendra.

“Very well”, said Kendra, “I will assist you tomorrow.”

After some further discussion Trig excused herself and went early to bed. As she left the others were sat deep in conversation around the fire in the darkened study.

“Those walking dead”, said Keryn shuddering, “My rapier barely seemed to hurt them.”

“No” said Christov, “Wrong choice. Against such things you need to use a slashing weapon. I see that you prefer light weapons, so a cutting knife, sabre or slashing shortsword might be best, if you can use any of those weapons. You can pour or throw holy water on them too. I know we only have one flask apiece but I’m sure we could buy more from the temple.”

View
A Harrowing Experience
23rd October 4711

Ysabot was out early the next morning to check the Temple archives. The remainder of the group, apart from Cerian who had a bit of a migraine, decided that they would check out the prison itself, and possibly look for more herbs in the vicinity.

As they tramped up the old overgrown road, it appeared that the cloud was very low, to the extent that it smothered the low hill upon which Harrowstone was located.

Keryn hesitated as she crossed the threshold of the broken main gates, but this time there was no feeling of disorientation. The group moved into the overgrown grounds, and towards the small house located between the main gate and the prison building itself.

Trig pointed up at the roof. “I wouldn’t go in there. It doesn’t look too safe.” Keryn looked in through one of the ground floor windows and saw that some of the first floor ceiling had collapsed. The overall effect was of peeling plaster, damp and rubble. Even the furniture remainders appeared to be broken into fragments.

Trig decided to hunt around the grounds while the others moved up to the ivy covered frontage of the main prison. Moving towards one of the surviving towers she was pulled up short when she briefly glimpsed a myriad of glittering eyes peering at her from the darkness. She beat a hasty retreat.

As they approached the perimeter of the central building Christov spotted something very curious. The ivy and grass had been cleared along the edge where the foundation met the ground, and along this edge a series of sinuous runes had been painted with some dark pigment etched and then smeared with blood. The runes went around the entire building’s foundation save for the northeast corner, where part of the building had flooded and the foundation had crumbled away.

Trig calculated that the cut ivy and estimated that it had been done no more than a few weeks ago. Keryn noted that the runes themselves were written in Varisian, although they seemed to spell nonsense. using one of her spells she determined that the translatable name Lyvar Hawkran was repeated many times. She could make nothing of the nonsense words and other symbols.

“We need to get Ysabot up here”, commented Christov, “This is obviously mage writing-a spell perhaps. Hawkran was the Head Warden’s name wasn’t it?” This comment initiated a series of speculations.

Deciding not to enter the main doors yet the group walked clockwise around the main building. On the western side they saw that a series of stone steps led up to a flat terrace area on the first floor, but walked around to the rear of the building where they discovered what seemed to be the remains of a large and very old cesspit: they doubled back to the staircase.

“Listen”, said Christov, “What do you hear?”. The group strained their ears in the mist. They shrugged.

“Nothing. No birds. Nothing.” Trig looked nervous.

It was decided that Sif would sneak up the steps, while the others waited below. She padded up and peeked over the low stone balustrade. The terrace area appeared unusually empty, apart from a rectangular piece of stone in the centre. Set against the side of the central portion of the building appeared to be a sturdy door. She turned round to report back to the others.

Suddenly Sif staggered forward as she fealt a searing hot pain across her back. Below Christov saw a glint of metal and cursed.

Sif turned round and what she saw raised the hairs on the nape of her neck, all of her barbarian superstitions flooding into the front of her mind. Poised to strike her was a blackened metal scythe- the weapon was suspended in mid air and held only by what appeared to be two bony arms, broken off at the elbows. The scythe arced down, slashing through mail links and the padded leather beneath, dealing Sif a deadly wound-with a look of horrified surprise on her face she started to topple down the stairs.

At that moment Keryn cast her spell, closing some of Sif’s wounds and enabling her to remain uncertainly on her feet. Christov rushed up to Sif’s side to engage the deadly scythe with his twin weapons, while below him Trig too gestured and chanted in some siblant tongue. As she finished speaking the ends of the overgrown ivy started to snake forward to grapple with the floating weapon.

Realising her predicament Sif went berserk, a red mist flooding over her eyes and her face contorted into a primitive picture of hate. Screaming strange oaths she swung her two handed hammer at the shaft of the scythe, denting it visibly.

The scythe again swung at Sif, but the encumbering ivy now seemed to hinder it considerably, and Trig gestured with her fingers, apparently snaking more and more of the plant vines around the weapon. Keryn cast another healing spell while Sif and Christov maintained their onslaught.

Finally, after tense seconds of combat, a mighty swing from Sif sundered the shaft of the scythe in two, and it clattered to the ground-both pieces now heavily encumbered by ivy creepers. There was no sign of the bony arms which had clutched it.

Panting, Sif sat down. She appeared to be visibly shaking. Christov looked onto the balcony and recognised the piece of stone as an executioners block. Additional healing was cast on the still bleeding Sif.

“We should go” said Trig. “We’ve used up most of our magicks, and Sif is still quite badly hurt. We can always come again.” Sif readily asssented to this, and in fact seemed eager to leave the cursed place. Christov could see that she was genuinely rattled by her brush with the supernatural.

Not without a few backward glances before they got to the gate, the group left and made their way down the hill. While Sif headed straight back to Ravengro a few of the others searched for Ysabot’s plants, but the pickings were very thin indeed.

It was late afternoon by the time the group returned to Kendra’s house. Sif was sat moodily in a chair, now apparently fully healed by one of Ysabot’s spells. Ysabot was stood warming her hands against the fire.

" Ah here you are. That place was freezing today. I need to wear my fingerless gloves tomorrow. Winter is definately on the way."

" Anyway, I found out a bit more about Father Charlatan. His real name was Sefick Corvin; of the five notorious prisoners, only Father Charlatan was not technically a murderer, but it seems the big churches were baying for his blood. Although he claimed to be an ordained priest of any number of faiths, Corvin was in fact a traveling con artist who used faith as a mask and a means to bilk the faithful out of money in payment for false miracles or cures. He became known as Father Charlatan after his scheme was exposed and his Sczarni accomplices murdered a half-dozen city guards in an attempt to make good the group’s escape. Quite the character."

“I also took the liberty of showing that Spirit Planchette to Alendru-the town wizard. My opinion is that it’s useless, but he has a client in Ardis who would pay good money for it. He’ll buy it off me for 2400 gp if we agree to sell. He’s still open for an hour so make your minds up.”

The remainder of the group updated her on their experiences at Harrowstone, and she raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll go up and transcribe the runes in the morning if you like-as long as someone comes with me as bodyguard. If we set off early I can be back for another day cooped up in that freezing Temple archive vault -Splatter Man next wasn’t it?”

“I think its best if the rest of us take a day off visiting the prison at least” suggested Christov, glancing sideways at Sif. “We can spend a day collecting more potion components and looking around town again.”

“Perhaps Sif ought to get that armor repaired” suggested Kendra. “Jorfa should still be open if she takes it round now, and perhaps she can do it tomorrow.”

Sif stood up. “You should get rid of the cursed witch board”, she commented, “No good can come of it.” Christov and Trig agreed.

“Right lets go to Alendru, and then on to Jorfa”, replied Ysabot.

Minutes later Sif and Ysabot stood in The Unfurling Scroll. Sif looked round curiously at the walls of books and sorcerous accoutrements- all witchcraft as far as her superstitious northern soul was concerned. She grasped her amulet tightly.

Ysabot seemed to be on familiar terms with Alendru, an elderly but sprightly man of sixty summers or so. The board was handed over and the coin duly paid. Ysabot bought a few scrolls and wizardly tools as Sif stared at a lizard in a tank. Ysabot counted out the enormous sum of 400 gp for Sif, and the two headed off for the Ravengro Forge.

The warm glow of the forge was a contrast to the chill autumn evening and gathering dark. Jorfa’s assistants were clearing up the workshop, but Jorfa was sat at a workbench peering over some complicated device. Recognising Sif she nodded.

Sif placed her mail shirt onto a nearby bench, indicating the large slash taken through the back of it. “I was hoping you could repair this.”

Jorfa looked at the damage and raised her eyebrows. “How did this happen?”. SIf looked uncomfortable.

“I’d rather not say in front of your apprentices”, she whispered in alow voice, nodding backwards with her head towards their direction. Jorfa frowned.

“Alright Manfred, Stefan. You can go early tonight I have a little business to conduct.” The two apprentices, a young mild-faced man in his late twenties, and a burly lad of eighteen or so, thanked her and left a few minutes later. Sif shifted on her stool. Behind her Ysabot lounged against the wall holding her hands out towards a brazier.

“It happened up at the old Prison.” continued Sif. Jorfa looked impassive.

“And why were you up there? It is reputed to be haunted.”responded Jorfa.

“There is something we are looking into regarding the Professor’s death. " Sif described her adventure in broad terms. Jorfa looked interested.

“And this prison. Will you be going up there again. You are not deterred?” Sif looked uncomfortable.

“We are honour bound to investigate it; the Professor’s death was not all it seems, and it would appear that there is some dark work afoot.”she replied.

“I see.” Jorfa paused for a long moment. “There is a favour I might ask.”

“Oh?” asked Sif curiously. Ysabot turned round momentarily.“We will help if we may.”

Jorfa paused, staring directly into the the fire, and speaking softly.

“I have been here since the beginning. Ravengro is 117 years old, and for 116 of those I have been a smith here, after I answered the call for craftsmen and artisans. I have built weapons for the prison guards, and many fixtures and fittings of the prison itself, and many of the metal goods used in this community.”

“But my time here is almost done done now. A master smith has only so much work in him truly worth creating, and my portion of that spark is almost spent. I have nurtured what remained for one last opportunity- and I think that you might supply me with that.”

“Some sixty years ago it came to me that I might return to my people, and to this end I forged a fine weapon- a warhammer called Thunderclap; you see I thought I might use this a gift to my clan, so that they might welcome me return.” Here she looked down.

“But my resolve wavered, and time passed. The hammer I placed on display in my window, and it was there it was noticed by my friend-the warden of the prison, Lyvar Hawkran.”

“The warden-you knew him?” asked Sif, “What sort of a man was he?”

“He was strong willed and trustworthy. Not a man who smiled much, but a man you could rely on.” Jorfa sighed, “I had much work supplying the prison, and we became friends of a sort.”

“He saw the hammer and pestered me to carry it-it was a thing of great beauty. Eventually I gave in- thinking it were best carried than left in a shop window. And so it was lost, when the prison fell.”

“In recent years I have given much thought to returning to my own folk. My time as a smith is almost done- and yet I cannot return without the hammer. If you could retrieve this for me I could leave this place, and try to claim some other life in the time that is left to me; but I need the hammer, and it galls me to think of it lost in some haunted ruin.”

“If you can find this for me I will use the last of my power to forge one last crafting of note- a weapon using my finest materials and the last of my enchantments. Would you do this task?”

Sif considered for only a few seconds-it wasn’t often that you were offered a weapon of note from a master weaponsmith. “Can you make me a maul- a two handed warhammer?”

Jorfa went over to a cabinet and pulled out a flat drawer containing several large pieces of parchment. One of these she extracted and brought over to Sif-it seemed to be a pattern for a two handed hammer, with insets and stippling, with strange dwarf imagery and runes. “I have such drawings for many weapons I have intended to make-I can make this one for you.”

Sif nodded her head vigourously. “You are a Northlander are you not. Your Oath then, that you will attempt this task to the utmost of your strength.”

“You have my oath.” responded Sif, and the two drank on it. Before she left Sif also agreed with Jorfa that she might spend the next day at the forge, helping with the repair of her mail shirt. She explained that she did have some small skill at the craft, but was badly out of practice and would like the opportunity brush up on her technique.

View
A Monumental Desecration
22nd October 4711 Morning

The next morning Trig was up very early. She unlatched the door and carefully walked outside to the large Ash tree outside her window. She cast around for tracks; a man certainly had been stood against a tree outside her window last night-but why?

As she went back in Milly came down to build up the fire. Trig motioned that it was alright and warmed her hands on the kitchen range, while Milly made her a hot drink and commenced her morning duties.

Shortly after she heard Milly talking outside, and shortly thereafter she returned into the kitchen carrying a pail of milk, and looking slightly excited and unsettled.

“What’s the matter?” asked Trig.

“The monument”, confided Milly, “Kurt the milk boy says that its been vandalised. The sheriff is out there and everything!”

“What’s going on?” asked Cerian, limping downstairs in a pair of borrowed boots. Trig filled her in.

“Let’s pop out and take a look. We can be back for breakfast before the others are up.”

The two made their way to the monument-it was only five minutes walk from Kendra’s home. They worked their way along the river side until they came to an area of unkempt ornamental hedges surrounding a fountain which seemed in some disrepair. Beyond this, through the chill autumn mist, they could see the orange glare of torches and hear a sharp voice barking commands.

Ahead they could see the dim outline of the 25-foot-tall, moss-covered statue that was the Harrowstone Monument. Stood at its base was a man wearing light studded leather armor, looking bored and leaning against his halberd. In the clearing around him a tall man wearing a brimmed hat and long coat was scouring the ground, apparently casting for tracks.

Cerian started to approach, while Trig stood near the hedge looking on. The man looked up.

“Hold it right there. I’m searching for tracks.”

Cerian played dumb. “Oh I see. Can I help?”

“No.” the man looked up. “Do I know you?”

“Oh no Sir, I’ve just arrived in Town.”

“I see. Got anywhere to stay?” asked the man.

“Oh no Sir. I’ve just arrived.”

“Well make sure you do by sundown, or don’t be here. We don’t welcome vagrants in Ravengro.”

“Very well Sir”. The man cast hawkish eyes at Cerian from beneath the wide brim of his hat. He searched around for ten minutes longer. he then turned to one of the two guards accompanying him. “Get this cleaned off before the Town wakes up properly. I’ll be in my office.” He stalked off with one of the Guards, while the man he had spoken too went down to the river to fill a nearby bucket.

Trig moved forward and searched the ground. After a few minutes she found a set of tracks leading off northwards along the river towards the western bridge. Looking at the monument-a statue of a man dressed as a prison guard- she saw that a large ‘V’ had been splattered across the base side of the podium. It appeared to be animal blood.

Meanwhile the Guard returned with a bucket in one hand and a scrubbing brush in the other.

Trying her charm again Cerian approached the man. “Can I help?” she smiled.

“Sure thing Miss” replied the Guard, handing her the scrubbing brush and bucket. “I’ll just be having a quiet smoke over there.” True to his word he sat round the far side of the monument, filling and smoking his pipe. Cursing herself for an idiot, Cerian started scrubbing away at the bloodstain, soaking her hands and forearms in the chill October morning.

Meanwhile Trig followed the track for a couple of hundred yards. It ran out some thirty yards shy of the covered bridge. Shortly thereafter they headed back.

Over breakfast Trig piped up with her strange midnight experience, as well as detailing the vandalism incident.

“It was strange. A Raven was knocking at my window and then appeared to be staring down at a strange twisted man who seemed to be hiding and watching: he was really there I checked his tracks this morning. I saw him at the churchyard at the funeral too-I thought he was a gravedigger.” Nobody else recalled the man.

Ysabot and Kendra identified some of the other items from the crypt. A bundle of 5 red fletched arrows proved to be ‘Ghost Touched’, which as Kendra explained meant that they could harm some supernatural creatures which otherwise could not be hit. A pair of jet black arrows she pronounced as being especially effective against Undead Creatures- ‘Bane Arrows’ she called them. “All we need now is a bow.” commented Ysabot.

The strange lettered board was divined by Ysabot. “Oh I know what this is now. Very popular amongst the fashionable idiots in Califas.It’s a Spirit Planchette: you can use it once a day to ask a spirit a question. Waste of time if you ask me I’d rather sell it for cash-it might fetch a couple of thousand if we’re lucky.”

Packing a days food Trig and Sif headed northwards out of town, taking a shortcut through the Restlands. Momentarily Trig stopped to adjust her pack, and Sif looked round idly at the gravestones. One of them immediately arrested her attention:

“Sif Ironarm 4642-4661ar. Come to my world, and be as I; as I am now, soon you will be; embrace your end and witness me.”

“Are you ready?” asked Trig. Sif looked again pointing at the stone, but all she could now see was a weathered tombstone with an indistinct and weathered inscription. She shivered, and then moved on. It struck her afterwards that she could barely read.

Near the west gate two gravediggers were tidying up some of the graves. One of them looked at his mate as the two went past. Sif stopped and looked at the men.

“What?”

“You going out on the moor Master?” Sif nodded curtly. The man spat.

“You take my advice and get back before dark. There’s many a poor soul who’s been lost out on the moor at night, it’s a wild place”

“If we’re late it should be alright tonight. It’s a full moon isn’t it?”

The two men looked at one another and shook their heads. Sif shrugged and moved on.

After that their day rapidly improved. The morning air was brisk, and the landscape bleak. Even so something seemed to lift their spirits as they moved away from town, and they spent much of the day searching small bog pools and wet marshy hollows for the plants they required. The two spent a pleasant lunch sitting on the slope leading down to a larger marsh bordering the lakeside, and then skirted the edge of this for a few hours. About three they started to head back, judging that they would cover the five or six miles to Ravengro just after dark.

Just before lunchtime Cerian headed into the Laughing Demon to see if she could overhear anything useful. The bar went silent as she came in, but unperturbed she ordered some Vampire Steaks from the ghoulish sounding menu, hoping and assuming that they were not, in fact, vampire steaks.

Positioning herself in an alcove with a tankard and jug she awaited her food and pricked up her ears. As expected, the main topic of converstation seemed to be the desecration of the monument, and the likely culprits.

There seemed to be three main theories. Firstly, it was the work of that Von Klempp brat, who really did deserve a damn good hiding. Secondly, it was the work of the mysterious ‘Bloofer Lady’, who had been spotted near the monument a couple of nights ago by a young courting couple, and thirdly that it was the work of one of the ghosts of Harrowstone. Cerian frowned.

The cronies of the man saying this scoffed at him but he persisted. " I know what I’m talking about, I seen it with my own eyes once. Just a lad I were, doing a stupid dare and I saw it-up on the old execution balcony- a ghostly scythe patrolling the balcony , as if carried by an invisible executioner. Let me tell you I ran, and I was afraid-and I don’t mind owning to it. No, only a fool thinks that place ain’t haunted"

The vampire steaks turned out to be quite delicious pieces of beef skewered on pieces of wood, and she finished her meal, and then left.

As Cerian left the pub she noticed five little Varisian girls dressed in shawls and dresses playing a skipping rope game at the side of the road. Each of the girls took turns jumping in the rope while singing two lines of a rather disturbing song,then skipped out of the rope to let the next girl take up the next two lines. The way in which the girls switched from skipping to passing the ends of the rope to each other to keep the whole thing going seemed strikingly well timed and well choreographed—and the verse itself was unusual, as it was in sung in Varisian:

“Put her body on the bed.
Take a knife and lop her head.
Watch the blood come out the pipe.
Feeds the stirge, so nice and ripe.
Drops of red so sparkly bright.
Splatters spell her name just right.
With a hammer killed his wife.
Now he wants to claim your life.
Tricksy father tells a lie.
Listen close or you will die.”

Cerian approached them; the girls stopped looking at here with wide eyes. The girls were polite but somewhat nervous, and Cerian caught a couple of them staring at her unusuallu long ear lobes. The production of a few coins however encourgaed them to repeat the song more slowly, so that she was able to scribble it down. They did not really know if it meant anything or not, just that it had been sung “forever”. The girls scampered off.

It was dark when Sif and Trig entered the moor gate of the Restlands, taking the short cut through the graveyard and down into the village centre. As they crossed the square the lights and sounds from the Laughing Demon seemed singularly inviting. The two looked at one another, and with a silent agreement turned off into the pub.

Carrying wargear they attracted a few stares from the small number of people in at this time, but giving their weapons to young Pevrin, Zokar-who they recognised as one of the few mourners at the funeral-nodded and welcomed them in.

Sitting down in the warm they noticed a fiddler starting to warm up, and as Sif rested her head back she caught a glimpse of movement outside one of the tavern windows. The tale of Trig’s raven immediately sprung to mind, and she mentioned this .

“Hmm”, said Trig, “let me go have a look; you wait here.”

Trig disappeared down the hallway and exited the building; Sif could feel the cold waft of night air. The fiddler started to play “Tamin’s Lament.”

Suddenly Sif heard Zokar exclaim an oath, and a serving girl screamed; the fiddler played on. Looking up sharply Sif noticed two flying bat winged forms flying in through the hallway. Stools and mugs were knocked over as customers jumped to their feet-in Sif’s case with a knife in her hand.

Sif rushed into the doorway to be confronted by the two buzzing horrors: insectoid horrors about the size of a dog, with long pointed mouthparts and strange bat-like wings. Sif cut at one and it splattered against the wall, spraying putrid gore in an arc across her front. The second however jabbed hard at Sif, piercing her shoulder just above the line of the mail shirt, and she felt a sharp pain.

The main door opened and Trig appeared, sickle in hand. The creature darted aside and Sif slashed at it, with identical results to before. The two surveyed the gory mess as Zokar bustled up.

“What were they?” asked Sif.

“They are called Stirges”, replied Trig, “Bloodsucking pests. They are magical creatures, usually found in woods. Do they often appear in town-that seems unusual?”

“No” replied Zokar, “Never”. Pevrin appeared with a spade and a couple of old sacks, and the creatures were wrapped up. The serving girl appeared with mops and buckets.

“We’ll take these out and burn them” suggested Sig. Zokar agreed, thanking them and giving the pair a couple of sealed jugs of ale to take with them.

Back at Kendra’s house, the group pooled their days experiences.

“I found out a little more about the Prisoners” reported Ysabot, " Originally, Harrowstone housed only local criminals, but as the prison’s fame spread, other counties and distant lands began paying to have more dangerous criminals housed within the prison’s walls.

“At the time of the great Harrowstone Fire, the number of particularly violent or dangerous criminals imprisoned within the dungeons below was at an all-time high. The five most notorious prisoners at the time of the great fire were known as Father Charlatan, the Lopper, the Mosswater Marauder, the Piper of Illlmarsh, and the Splatter Man.

“I had a bit of time left so I found what I could on one of them-The Lopper. Good name.His real name was Vance Saetressle. He was a multiple killer who, when he stalked prey, would hide in the most unlikely places,sometimes for days upon end with only a few supplies to keep him going while he waited for the exact right moment to strike. Once his target was alone, the Lopper would emerge to savagely behead his victim with a handaxe. Nice man.”

Christov fingered the skipping song that Cerian had noted down.

“I bet this refers to the prisoners.The first two lines refer to the Lopper, and I bet the last two to this Father Charlatan. The reference to pipes and stirges could be the Piper of Ilmarsh-maybe he used stirges? The splattered blood might refer to the Splatter Man-and a link to the blood on the monument ‘spelling out’. I bet the fifth one refers to the Mosswater Marauder, and that he used a hammer.” Pleased with himself Christov folded his arms. Trig was impressed.

“Childrens play songs often refer to gruesome events-though the singers generally have no idea of the origins of the songs” commented Keryn.

While the group discussed their plans for the morrow they could hear Ysabot clattering about the kitchen, and arguing with Molly. An hour or so later she reappeared and tossed a small sealed ceramic bottle to Keryn. “Your healing potion. Best down it in one swallow as there is no artificial flavouring.”

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The Raven
22nd October 4711 Midnight

And upon a midnight dreary, while Trig pondered weak and weary,
Over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While she nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at her windows four.
`‘Tis some visitor,’ she muttered, `tapping at my windows four -
Only this, and nothing more.’

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled her – filled her with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of her heart, she stood repeating
`‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my windows four -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my windows four; -
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently her soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said she, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my windows four,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here she opened wide the portal; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long Trig stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered words, `No More!’
This she whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `No More?’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all her soul within her burning,
Soon again she heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said she, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here she flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above her windows four door -
Perched upon a bough so ashen just outside her windows four -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling her sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ she said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s abbyssal shore!’
But the raven quoth no more.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on his perch, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered -
Till she scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `No more.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said she, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of what he spoke no more.’

But the raven still beguiling all her great soul into smiling,
Looked down to the grounds where standing, was a shape ungainly bore;
There against a tree bole leaning, in the darkness hid and creeping
Stood a stranger , once glimpsed before -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `No more.’

This she sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more she sat divining, with her head at ease reclining
When the figure hid reclining, that the bird fixed his eye o’er,
Went swift away in darkness finding, with the Raven gloating o’er,
And croaked again ‘No More’

And the raven, sudden flighting, no more sitting
From the ashen bough outside her windows four:
And his eyes had all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the moon-light o’er him streaming threw no shadow on the floor;
And her soul from seeing no shadow laying floating on the floor
Was sorely puzzled, but afraid – No More!

((with sincere apologies to Edgar Allen Poe))

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