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.
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.”