Shadows Over Ustalav

Ill-Met in Ravengro.
20th October 4711

Harrowstone

Ysabot sat alone in the corner of The Outward Inn, a plate of food in front of her, and a bowl of hot spiced wine. Sure at last that in her alcove she would not attract too much attention, she started to eat.

Even though technically a native of Ustalav, Ysabot was something of an outsider, and was well aware that the locals regarded her as such. The general surliness of the local inhabitants was well known, and something of a byword among travellers. Her friendship with the Professor had gained her a degree of acceptance in this small community, but she was well aware of the boundaries and she and her half brother both maintained permanent rooms at the Inn, keeping apart from much of the everyday community.

She mused over the events of the last four weeks: the Professor’s death had been something of a shock. At the time Agrimar and herself had been away on an errand to the south, and by the time she had returned he had been dead for over a week.

And tomorrow was the funeral. She had known Professor Lorrimer since she was a teenager, and had travelled extensively with him. Both she and Agrimar owed him a great deal. Kendra had told her that she had been specifically mentioned in the Professors Will, and that he had left instructions to send out letters to a number of former associates who he knew were in Ustalav- the funeral was being put on hold for several weeks to allow time for them to arrive and attend. One or two of them she had observed before when accompanying the Professor, but she did not know any of them well.

Well the Funeral was imminent now, and if anyone was going to arrive, time was running short. Ysabot sighed. She hated the chill Autumn weather; with the daylight vanishing early and the cold lake mist filling the streets, there was absolutely no incentive to venture far from the blazing fire she sat next too- except when she had business that would draw too many stares of course. A few more cups of wine-and one of the Bards had started playing; a Ustlavian Epic Dirge about a farmers son overcoming death defying odds-well at least she hadn’t heard this one before. It would pass the time for tonight, and tomorrow there was the funeral and the reading of the Will.

The door opened, and two figures wandered in wearing weather stained travelling clothes. One of them seemed vaguely familiar. Beneath their cloaks she caught the glint of armor. Ysabot watched curiously as they made their way over to the Keeper, and her ears caught the name ‘Lorrimer’. The two seemed to be recieving directions, and then they were handed room keys and nodded.

“Hmm…” thought Ysabot, “It seems like they have started to arrive.”

Ysabot pushed her bowl back contentedly and started dealing out her Harrow Deck. With half an eye on the strangers in the corner she dealt out the pasteboard cards, when the door opened letting in a fraction of the chill evening mists, and a person of very peculiar visage indeed-and to Ysabot somewhat familiar.

Just over three feet tall, with wild angular features and even wilder hair, the Gnome would have looked out of place in any social gathering. The segmented and embossed hide armor, decorated carefully with tooled animal motifs, the travelling gear and the oddball accoutrements, carefully augmented with small animal skulls, entwined briars and acorns screamed ‘Wilderness!’to the several pairs of eyes now fixed on her.

Somewhat self consciously (Ysabot thought) the Gnome looked round the Company, lingered briefly on herself with a hint of recognition, and then stalked purposefully up to the Hostess of the Establishment, Sarianna Vai. Ysabot remembered where she had seen her-six years ago she had accompanied the Professor to look at some ancient standing stones in the forests in the south of Ardis. While they had been camped there they encounted a group of Druids, and the Gnome (‘Tig was it? Trig?’) had been one of them. So this was another of the invitees.

Ysabot saw Trig stand on her toes and pass some coins to Sarianna, and the Diminutive Druidess looked round directly at her, and walked towards her table. Ysabot gestured towards an empty seat.

“We’ve met before I think " said Trig, in her chirpy but resonant voice. “I am Trig-you are EEZ-uh-BOE yes? You knew the Lorrimor?”

“Ysabot, yes. Thats right. We met in the Kerstaw Forests some years ago. I take it you’re here for Professor Lorrimor’s funeral. Sit down, sit down.”

Trig’s food arrived and she set to it with relish. Ysabot watched with concealed amusement, and took another sip of her wine. She noticed some of the other strangers peering at the Gnome with some curiosity, and gestured them over. “You too are here for the funeral yes?”

Three others sat down, introducing themselves as Christov-a tall weatherbeaten man with a heavy Ustalav accent rivalling Ysabot’s.

“Hmm” thought Ysabot, “That looks like an Inquisitors coat he’s wearing.”

The others were Sif,a powerful looking young woman from the Northlands, and Keryn- a Varisian wanderer. All produced identical letters signed from Kendra Lorrimor-the Professor’s daughter, and signed over two weeks previously.

“What’s this all about?” asked Sif. “How did the Professor die in the first place? And when?”

“Hmm it’s, let me see, seventeen days ago now” replied Ysabot. “I was out of Town at the time, on business to the South. He’d been dead a week by the time I got back.”

SEVENTEEN DAYS?!” exclaimed Trig, and they haven’t buried him yet??!"

“Yes well apparently the Prof’s instructions were very specific, and involved sending those letters out. Kendra sent out maybe a dozen all told-you’re the only ones to respond in time. As to the time-well The Priests can Do their Thing with the body so it doesn’t become a problem”

“But his Death” persisted Christov, “What were the circumstances?”

“Crushed to death apparently. His body was found up outside the old Harrowstone Prison. Head smashed in by some falling masonry. Some kids were doing a Dare to go through the gates and spotted the body, and they ran back to tell the Sheriff. A party of men was sent up and they recovered the body. The Prof often went off collecting herbs and such for a few days so it was lucky he was discovered so quickly really.”

“Why would these children be doing a Dare?” asked Sif.

“Harrowstone is an old abandoned Prison outside of Town to the South”, explained Christov,“The local children no doubt think it’s haunted or some such.”

“That’s right” agreed Ysabot," The Prison was abandoned back in 4661- 50 years ago. Amazing the Town survived really, as Ravengro was only founded in 4594 to service the Prison. There’s a memorial to the south of Town."

“You know a lot of things about History” says Trig wide -eyed, “You must be very clever. Do you live here?”

“Well off and on”, replied Ysabot, " My half brother Agrimar and me both maintain a locked chest here at the Outward Inn with our stuff in. When either of us return Sarianna allows us to reoccupy our previous rooms, assuming they’re vacant and we take up occupancy again. The arrangement suits her and us. We both tend to travel about a bit."

“As to the town it’s probably the nearest thing I have to a home yes, though I doubt the locals would be pleased to hear me say it. They tolerate me as a sort of associate of the Professor, but that’s about it. And I’ve had a good go at the Prof’s library in the past so I know a little about the place”

As she spoke Ysabot absent mindedly dealt her Harrow Cards, and one by one started to turn them over, the central card last. As she did so, a gout of flame flared up from the table to a height of nearly two feet, sending the party leaping backwards and knocking over stools and tankards. The two travelling bards in the corner, who had been playing their harp and mandolin in concert stopped suddenly. All eyes were on Ysabot. As suddenly as they had appeared, the flames vanished. Table and cards were unharmed. Sarianna stormed over.

“Ysabot, what the Hell do you think you’re doing!” accused Sarianna. She appeared really angry.“I have enough complaints about you as it is.”

“I didn’t do anything! I don’t know what’s caused it” protested Ysabot, a picture of shocked innocence. Seemingly this didn’t help.

Christov scrutinised the woman carefully. There was definately something very odd about her-almost suspicious. However, as far as he could tell she seemed genuinely surprised-she was telling the truth.

Keryn tried to calm the situation down. “Look no harm is done. I’m sure it was nothing to do with Ysabot. Sometimes those cards have been soaked in Crows Treegum to preserve them. It’s quite warm in here and its possible that with the dryness and the candle on the table the card simply caught fire-like dry tinder.” She sounded utterly convincing and Trig nodded solemnly in agreement.

Semi pacified, Sarianna moved away.“Just put those damn cards away, this isn’t a Fortune Tellers Booth and I don’t want you frightening my customers.” Here she glanced sideways at Trig who had been running round screaming “My hair’s on fire! My hair’s on fire!”. It wasn’t.

“Of course Sarianna Dear” replied Ysabot, pulling a face when Sarianna’s back was turned. The group set the stools aright and ordered fresh drinks. They scrutinised the cards. The card which had apparently been the centre of the incident was The Uprising-depicting a mob of angry peasants with burning torches. “It symbolises chaos and negative change or upheaval” explained Ysabot.

“These cards, they are like Runes?”asked Sif.

“A bit yes.” replied Ysabot, “Like Runes they can have individual meanings, but these can be interpreted in different ways depending on how they are influenced by the surrounding cards. These effects can be complimentary or antagonistic.” Sif listened, feigning comprehension but secretly baffled.

“But this has never happened before?” queried Christov.

“No. Never. It isn’t even a spell, as such.”

“Hmm. I see”. Christov made a mental note. The inn settled down again.

“Before it gets too late perhaps we ought to pay our respects to the Professor’s daughter” suggested Keryn.

“She’ll be pleased to see you” said Ysabot, “So far it has looked like no-one has responded to her letters-except me of course.” Ysabot gave the others directions to a house in the northern part of town, and pulling their cloaks about them the four strangers stepped out into the chill evening mist.

Across the square the lights of the Tavern could be vaguely seen, and all around them lights in houses could be glimsped through the murk. After several false turns and starts, after ten minutes they found themselves outside a reasonably sized stone residence. Mounted on one of the stone gate pillars, each surmounted by an unpleasant looking gargoyle, was mounted a small brass plaque “Residence of Professor Petros Lorrimor, University of Lepidsadt.” The black painted metal gates creaked slightly as they were opened, and lights were on inside the house.

The door was opened by a young woman in a black and white servants uniform. She appraised her unusual collection of visitors." Er, yes?"

“We are here in response to the Professor’s letters, and to offer our condolences” explained Keryn, holding out her copy of the letter.

“Oh Good Heavens!. Please come in. I’ll go fetch the mistress.” The visitors were usered into a well appointed hallway; Trig goggled at the (to her) enormous stairway working up to the first floor of the house.

Moments later the maid re-appeared, with an attractive and well dressed young woman in a dark red dress. “Thank-you Milly, if you could provide some refreshments for our visitors. I am Kendra Lorrimor.” She shook hands with each of the visitors as they introduced themesleves, before elading them through to an adjacent sitting room. Milly re-appeared with a silver trolley and started to pour tea. Trig eyed a large seed cake expectantly.

From her formal attire and puffy eyes-she had been crying- Kristov guessed that Kendra was still very much in mourning. She did at least however, seem genuinely pleased to see them. It became apparent that the vistors were the only ones, apart from Ysabot, to come and pay their respects to her father, and with the funeral scheduled for tomorrow she had feared that the occasion would have had to proceed without any of her fathers friends present. She could add little to Ysabot’s account however, and all that she could say was that she hoped the reading of the Will would explain her father’s motives more clearly-including to herself.

The funeral was scheduled for 1.00 pm the following day, and the mourners should meet at the south gate to the Restlands, just north of the town. She also asked their help as casket bearers-there would be a short procession through to the final site, to which the group readily agreed. It was arranged that they would turn up at Kendra’s house at 12 noon, to recieve the Pall Robes they would need to wear, and then meet at the cemetary gates. After wishing a good evening, the group left the House and returned to the inn, where Trig ate a Second Tea before turning in for an early night.

View
A Busy Morning
21st October 4711 A.M.

With many of the group having traveled the previous day, the majority had a long lie in. The clean rooms and white cotton sheets of the Outward Inn seemed like a great luxury, as had the opportunity for a bath been the previous evening.

Trig was down earliest, and waved over at Isabot who was working her way into a fairly large breakfast. Unusually for her, she ignored the smells of cooking food and marched out of the Inn: she was on a mission.

She had sadly reviewed her wardrobe earlier that morning. Her travel stained indeterminate brown clothing and tooled badgerhide armor, all liberally festooned with acorns, brambles, animal segments and the teeth of wolves, although symbolic of her Trade and extremely practical, simply did not cut it in the world of human formal occasions. She needed new clothes.

After 5 minutes she located the Ravengro General Store. Just inside the doorway an impressive set of human Plate Armor stood guard, and inside was a large collection of everything from frying pans to footwear. A female human eyed her curiously.

“Yes, err Miss. Can I assist you?”

Trig stood on one leg nervously, as the lumbering human towered over her. “Um yes. I , er..am going to a funeral later on today and as you can see”, she gestured sadly towards her dead animal festooned outfit, “I have absolutely nothing to wear. Can you help me?”

The woman eyed Trig. Trig waited expectantly.

“You need a little help is that it?” Trig nodded vigourously. The woman banged the bell and a human girl came out-taller than Trig. The woman said something to her, slapped her on the head and propelled her towards Trig.

“I’m Julia. I’ll help you find some stuff. Here we go….”

The girl took Trig into a side room, and set about opening boxes. After some experimentation she found a pair of formal boots, a hooded black cloak, a long skirt and some undercoats, and a blouse. Trig assumed these were designed for a young human, but they seemed to fit well enough. “How much?” she asked, looking curiously at herself in the mirror.

“That’s 12 gold pices, though you do look very smart Miss.” said Julia dutifully. Trig sighed and counted out the cash.

As she went back into the main shop with her packages the woman called over to her. “This funeral, it wouldn’t be Professor Lorrimor’s would it?”

“Yes it is.” responded Trig.

“I thought so. I wouldn’t go spreading that fact around town if I were you. That man was not well liked.” The woman harrumped.

Trig bit her tongue. “Thank you very much” she said, and left with her purchases.

Sif meanwhile had finished her breakfast, and was having a wander around the town. She was aware that she was attracting many stares, but after glaring at the first few she got bored with this game and simply ignored them.

The sound of hammering drew her to a shop with an anvil sign outside, labelled “The Ravengro Forge”. Unusually she noted that the owners mark bore a Master Smith Mark next to her name- Jorfa. Following the sound of the hammer she went through to a covered area outside where a female dwarf was hammering out what looked like farming implements. The dwarf stopped, and took a drink of water from a barrel.

“I have weapons for sale Warrior, in the side room through there”. She brought out a couple of swords from a nearby rack. “I can sell them like this sword here, or for 300 gp more like this second sword”. Sif saw that the second sword bore a masterwork mark. “If you have the time or money, I can make you pretty much anything.”

Keryn had decided to take a look at the site of the Professors death before the funeral. Setting off at around 9.30 am, she managed the few miles south of town in good time, climbing the shallow hill upon which rested Harrowstone Jail.

As she climbed the shallow hill up to the Prison she noted that the once well constructed stone road had long since fallen into disrepair, unlike the other routes near Ravengro. Cobbles were missing, and in some places the surrounding heathland had grown over almost to the centre of the trail.

Finally she confronted a sagging wood and metal gate set between the pair of stone guard towers which once barred entrance into Harrowstone. However, the gates now hung negligently open,creaking softly in what wind touched the ruined bars.Looking along the side of the ruin she saw that it was largely enclosed by a 20 foot high stone wall, though appparently some sections on the western side had collapsed, and a large pool had encroached across the boundary of the perimeter.

As Keryn entered she fealt a sudden rush of claustrophobia and the split-second sensation that her skin was on fire. This sensation immediately dispersed, and she stood shaking her head and blinking.

Stepping under the arch she could see that two guard towers were still intact along the wall perimeter, their wooden roofs collapsed and their crumbling walls thick with ivy, extending a further ten feet above the twenty foot- high wall.

Situated in the grounds between the gate and the main prison building sat a small brick manor house overgrown with thick sheets of gray-green ivy. The roof sagged ominously, and the front door hung askew.

Beyond this loomed under the leaden sky a large two-story stone building. Ivy and moss clung tenaciously to the walls, while above many of the wooden shingles of the roof were missing , exposing the wooden rafters of the upper structure to the elements.This must be the main prison.

Here and there, leering stone gargoyles perched on the eaves, once functioning as drainspouts and decorations but now seeming almost to serve a more ominous role of sentinels. Many of these stone decorations had crumbled away and lay in ruined piles on the soggy ground below: the ground where Professor Lorrimor met his fate. Windows in the building’s facade were narrow and blocked by grills of rusty iron bars. Stone columns supported a slumping wooden balcony over the building’s wooden front doors, both of which hung askew and revealed dark glimpses of chambers within, looking for all the world like a gaping mouth surrounding rotting teeth. Keryn shivered in the cold wind.

“I’d best be getting back. I’ve run out of time” thought Keryn, and briskly made her way back to the town, arriving only ten minutes before mid-day. Hastily changing, her companions hustled her along to Kendra’s house.

Milly was there to greet them, Kendra already having left to deal with the arrangements.Black hooded robes were handed out to Sif, Christov, Ysabot and Keryn, and directions were quickly given out of town to the Restlands.

View
A Sad Business.
21st October 4711 P.M.

Outside the South Gate to the Restlands,the group met with Kendra and a handful of other mourners. A flatbed cart was parked nearby, and the Professor’s casket was loaded onto the back.

Kendra indicated that Father Grimburrow and a pair of gravediggers were already waiting at the site of the professor’s burial— as part of local tradition, they did not accompany the pallbearers from the gate to the grave.

A few others were present: old friends of Lorrimar who had come to pay their respects. These few others comprised the corpulent Councilman Vashian Hearthmount, Councilman Gharen Muricar-an elderly dandy who eyed Keryn, Sif and Ysabot appreciatively, tavernkeeper Zokar Elkarid and his son Pevrin, and Jominda Fallenbridge, the town apothecary and one of the professor’s best friends.

Kendra explained that she would set the pace, and that as the deceased’s closest living relative, had the job of leading the somber procession along the Dreamwake—a gravel pathway that wound through the cemetery. The pallbearers lifted the casket from the cart, and positioned themselves in the procession.

Slowly the cortege made its way along the gravel path, near the crest of the hill rounding a corner onto a path called the Eversleep.The procession ground to a halt.

Ahead the route was blocked by a group of a surly looking locals. The tallest of these toughs was an elderly but wiry looking man, who stepped forward and confronted Kendra.

“That’s far enough. We been talking, and we don’t want Lorrimor buried in the Restlands. You can take him upriver and bury him there if you want, but he ain’t goin’ in the ground here!”

Kendra was swift to respond, her sadness swiftly transforming into anger. “What are you talking about?” she cried out. “I arranged it with Father Grimburrow. He’s waiting for us! The grave’s already been…”

“You don’t get it, woman. We won’t have a necromancer buried in the same place as our kin. I suggest you move out while you still can. Folks are pretty upset about this right now.”

“Necromancy!? Are you really that ignorant?”exclaimed Kendra.

Trig appeared from the rear of the cortege “Please this is a funeral. Please show the proper respect.”

“This witch has brought her Imp along! Get the casket lads!” As Kendra stood speechless half a dozen of the ruffians sped forward, with the ringleader and the remainder egging them on.

Fortunately the four pallbearers had lowered the casket to the ground, and the first of these ran into a right cross from Sif, felling him on his backside instantly. Another doubled over as he ran past a tree, with Trig hiding behind it and punching him in the groin, with a fist somehow now transformed to be as hard as Ironwood.

Keryn stood off to the side and in a well modulated voice, with hidden gestures with her hand in the sleeve of her robe, instructed the townsmen to go home. The subtle hypnotic spell seemed to take effect, as three or four of the ruffians stopped and started to walk off.

Ysabot was confronted by a fisherman, an inept swing of his billy club missing her entirely. “Stand still Witch!” he screamed. He screamed harder when seemingly attacking like a maniac, Ysabot raked at him with her hands, and he staggered back with long nail marks and blood streaming down his face.

Sif headbutted another and the ruffians had had enough. The ringleader had already disappeared.

Through the mists ahead of them an elderly cleric appeared, accompanied by the two gravediggers. “What on Earth is going on here! What is this desecration!” Kendra had her hands over her mouth and appeared to be crying.

Keryn attempted to make the best of it. “These thugs tried to stop the burial. They attacked and we had to crack a few heads.”

“That’s right sir”, Zokar the Tavern Owner piped up from the rear, "It was that troublemaker Gibbs Hephenus and his cronies. "

The priest harrumphed. “Well, let’s get on with it.” The pallbearers picked the casket up again, and the procession proceeded to the burial site. Trig noticed Ysabot kick one of the prone thugs in the head when the priests back was turned.

As the casket was lowered slowly into the ground Father Grimburrow concluded the service. He looked at Kendra “Before we conclude, would you like to say a few words young Miss?”

Choking back her tears Kendra nodded her head to refuse. Keryn stepped forward and cleared her throat.

“We’ve heard some harsh words from ignorant people today-people who know absolutely nothing about the professor or what he did. I do know something about him, and his background as a respected scholar at the University of Lepidstadt.

“But I want to say a few words about how I came to know him. I met him about two years ago, when I was travelling with a merchant caravan in Varisia. The professor was waiting at a small village we had stopped at, where he had organised the villagers who were being attacked by a group of Orc Raiders. They were without hope and he gave them hope. It wasn’t his business-he was only travelling through with a couple of his bodyguards. But when we arrived the problem was almost dealt with. We helped with the wounded, and then the professor travelled on with us for several months, returning towards Ustalav.

“I came to know him better, and even shared a small adventure with him myself. I know he was a good man, a man who helped people and a good friend. That’s all I have to say.”

There was a short silence, and Ysabot noticed Kendra cast a grateful glance towards Keryn. Father Grimburrow nodded, and the casket was lowered carefully into the ground.

One by one the mourners came up to Kendra and gave their formal commiserations. After Councilman Hearthmount had turned away Kendra turned toward the group.

“If you come back to my home now. The Councillor has some short business to attend to but he should be with us in an hour or so for the formal reading of the Will.”

An hour and a half later the group sat in Kendra’s sitting room, and Councillor Vashian Hearthmount arrived. Keryn noticed him cast a raised eyebrow at Ysabot, and something in his demeanour clearly signaled to her that perhaps he didn’t completely approve of strangers being involved in local matters. If this was correct however, he kept these views strictly to himself and produced a scroll case. The seal on it was unbroken, and when be broke the wax a small key clattered to the table. The councilman slowly began to read:

“I, Petros Lorrimor, being of sound mind, do hereby commit to this parchment my last will and testament. Let it be known that, with the exception of the specific details below, I leave my home and personal belongings entire to my daughter Kendra. Use them or sell them as you see fit, my child.

“Yet beyond the bequeathing of my personal effects, this document must serve other needs. I have arranged for the reading of this document to be delayed until all principals can be in attendance, for I have more than mere inheritance to apportion. I have two final favors to ask.

“To my old friends, I hate to impose upon you all, but there are few others who are capable of appreciating the true significance of what it is I have to ask. As some of you know, I have devoted many of my studies to all manner of evil, that I might know the enemy and inform those better positioned to stand against it. For knowledge of one’s enemy is the surest path to victory over its plans.

“And so, over my lifetime, I have seen fit to acquire a significant collection of valuable but dangerous tomes, any one of which in the wrong circumstances could have led to an awkward legal situation. While the majority of these tomes remain safe under lock and key at the Lepidstadt University, I fear that a few I have borrowed remain in a trunk in my Ravengro home. While invaluable for my work in life, in death, I would prefer not to burden my daughter with the darker side of my profession, or worse still, the danger of possessing these tomes herself. As such, I am entrusting my chest of tomes to you. I ask that you please deliver the collection to my colleagues at the University of Lepidstadt, who will put them to good use for the betterment of the cause.

“Yet before you leave for Lepidstadt, there is the matter of another favor—please delay your journey one month here in Ravengro to ensure that my daughter is safe and sound. She has no one to count on now that I am gone, and if you would aid her in setting things in order for whatever she desires over the course of this month, you would have my eternal gratitude. From my savings, I have also willed to each of you a sum of one hundred platinum coins. For safekeeping, I have left these funds with Embreth Daramid, one of my most trusted friends in Lepidstadt—she has been instructed to issue this payment upon the safe delivery of the borrowed tomes no sooner than one month after the date of the reading of this will.

“I, Petros Lorrimor, hereby sign this will in Ravengro on this first day of etc. etc."

The councilman nodded at Kendra, and then left. Kendra cleared her throat.

“Thank you all for coming. I will need at least a few weeks to decide if I want to sell the house or remain here in Ravengro. In the meantime, you are all welcome to stay here in the guestrooms. That includes you Ysabot. I know we don’t always get on but I am aware that my father trusted you, and that you are part of all this. Please be welcome. Please do not any of you feel that you will be inconveniencing me- to be frank I would welcome the company.”

Kendra then went out into another room briefly, and brought in a small chest which she sat on the table. Picking up the key, she handed it to Christov. He immediately put it in his pocket. Everyone waited expectantly for several minutes.

The door opened and Milly came into the room. “Excuse me madame, another guest has arrived.
She’s sorry she missed the funeral but she has travelled a long way I think.” A tallish young woman dressed in brown leather armor stepped in, her hood down to display long red hair. There was something of the Elf about her features.

“Ah I’m sorry I missed the funeral. My name is Cerian-I got you letter in Ardis about a week ago, and came as fast as I could. There were a few delays….” she shrugged apolegetically.

“That’s quite all right Miss Cerian”, responded Kendra, “With the distances involved you were lucky to get here at all. At least my letter reached you.” Cerian was brought in and sat near the fire, while Kendra outlined the provisions of her father’s will. Christov took in the wanderer’s appearance and equipment.

Trig piped up expectantly “Well come on Christov-open the box!” Muttering to himself Christov produced the key, and turned it in the lock. The lid pushed back and immediately revealed a large format journal, in a waterproof stained leather cover. It was bound around with a strip of leather and into this was inserted a piece of vellum with the words “Read me now!” written in a hand which Christov recognised as the Professor’s.

Beneath this was a purple leather bound tome-obviously much older. The cover featured a brass scarab with a single ruby eye set into its centre: the book itself was untitled. Attached to it was a note indicating that it must be delivered discreetly to Embreth Daramid, a judge at the Lepidstadt Courthouse- her address was given for this purpose.The book’s covers were rimmed in polished steel and clasped with a small but intricate lock, the keyhole of which appeared to be for a key with a strange,triangular shaft. The key was nowhere to be found however.

The remaining three tomes also appeared old and extemely valuable. These were tied together with a loop of leather, with another note inserted instructing that that they should be delivered to one Montagnie Crowl, a professor of antiquities at Lepidstadt University. The books were titled ‘On Verified Madness’, ‘Serving Your Hunger’ and ‘The Umbral Leaves.’

Cerian picked up the Journal-a much newer book compared to the four ancient tomes, and flicking through it saw that it was simply a good quality but fairly ordinary travelling journal, going back some twenty years or so, and filled with the Professor’s handwriting. The first thing that struck her was that a number of these had been ringed in red ink- including the final couple of entries-17 days ago. She went back to the earliest entries and started to read.

“Ten Years Ago: The Whispering Way is more than a cabal of necromancers.I see that. Undeath is their fountain of youth. Uncovering their motivation does not place me at ease as I thought it might. Their desire to be eternal simply makes them more dangerous.”

“Two Months Ago: It is as I had feared. The Way is interested in something here in Ravengro. But what could it be?”

“One Month Ago: Whatever the Way seeks, I am now convinced their goal is connected to Harrowstone. In retrospect, I suppose it all makes sense—the stories they tell about the ruins in town are certainly chilling enough. It may be time to investigate the ruins, but with everyone in town already being so worked up about them, I’d rather not let the others know about my curiosity—there’s plenty of folks hereabouts who already think I’m a demonologist or a witch or something. Ignorant fools.”

“Twenty Days Ago: It is confirmed. The Way seems interested in something—no, strike that—someone who was held in Harrowstone. But who, specifically, is the Way after? I need a list of everyone who died the night of the fire. Everyone. The Temple of Pharasma must have such a list.”

“Eighteen Days Ago: I see now just how ill prepared I was when I last set out for Harrowstone. I am lucky to have returned at all. The ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts (for I did not find it prudent to investigate further) prevented me from transcribing the strange symbols I found etched along the foundation—hopefully on my next visit I will be more prepared. Thankfully, the necessary tools to defend against spirits are already here in Ravengro. I know that the church of Pharasma used to store them in a false crypt in the Restlands at the intersection between Eversleep and the Black Path. I am not certain if the current clergy even know of what their predecessors have hidden down below. If my luck holds, I should be able to slip in and out with a few borrowed items.”

“Seventeen Days Ago: Tomorrow I return to the prison. It is imperative the Way does not finish. My caution has already cost too much time. I am not sure what will happen if I am too late, but if my theory is right, the town could be at risk. I don’t have time to update my will, so I’ll leave this in the chest where it’ll be sure to be found, should the worst come to pass.”

The group sat back and mulled over the diary entries.

“I’m a little confused over this fire he mentioned”, said Sif, “Was this recent?”

“No. He’s referring to the fire at Harrowstone Prison-that took place fifty years ago” replied Ysabot. “Like I said Ravengro was developed to service the Prison, when it was set up to process and execute dangerous prisoners from around the Principality, some 117 years ago. The Town is really a holdover from the Prison.” She frowns “There’s more too as I recall about that fire. I need to get my facts straight though. I’ll look through some books in the Prof’s library if I may, and let you know later on. It’s been a couple of years since I read up on this stuff.” Kendra nodded her assent to Ysabot’s suggestion.

The group seemed to agree that the Professor at least seemed to think that the Prison was haunted, though there was some doubt as to whether he had met his end via spirits or some more direct means.

“We should check this false crypt” suggested Trig, “There might be more stuff we might need if the Professor’s suspicions were genuine.” It was agreed that Sif, Christov and Cerian would check out the crypt-Ysabot gave them directions from the journal description. Meanwhile Ysabot decided she would stay and check out the Professors Library in connection with Harrowstone, while Trig decided that she might check out ‘Feeding Your Hunger’, thinking that it might hold some good recipes. Keryn decided on an early night-she had developed a slight fever and since her return from Harrowstone had been developing a splitting headache.

View
Night Moves
21st October 4711 Evening

Licking her lips Trig settled in with the large tome in a large armchair by the fire in the study. Around her she could hear Ysabot pottering about and removing volumes from shelves, and then sitting down at the Professor’s desk. She started to read…

Meanwhile Christov, Sif and Cerian circled northwards out of the town, moving away from the main streets so as to not attract attention. With the lake mist shielding their progress, and using the lights of the dwellings as a guide, it was not too difficult to hit the low hill north of town which hosted the Restlands.

The gate they found was not one they had entered before. It was only latched and they entered without a problem, lighting their lantern and moving uphill till they hit the path they recognised as the Dreamlands, which they had traversed earlier. Following this round they passed the Professors grave on their left, and then soon after the junction where Ysabot had judged the false crypt to be located.

Checking a stone mausoleum which seemed a likely candidate, Christov shook the metal gate and the lock fell off. Picking it up it appeeared to have been burned away, and then secured back in place strung with some pieces of wire. “I guess this is it”, he said.

A flight of steps led down into a large crypt lined with empty niches—no dead seemed to be interred here. A set of human tracks led down across the dust to the far side of the crypt, which lay beyong a pair of ornamental metal gates, flanked by a pair of gargoyles.

Nervously Cerian opend the gates, and the group descended down a further set of steps to a crypt containing two stone sarcophagi. One of these appeared to have been tampered with. The lid was counterweighted and swung open easily. Inside were a number of items including several sets of arrows, holy water, potions, some scrolls and a well crafted thin wooden box containing a strange wood and brass board marked with numbers and letters, and a pointer. There were also ten indentations of which four were filled with small glass jars with baroque metal caps at either end: these appeared to be filled with an eerie white vapour. Christov shrugged, “Let’s get these back-Ysabot and Kendra might be able to work out what these are.” The second sarcophagus was completely empty.

Cerian crept back to the upper crypt with Sif close behind; she immediately sensed, with her keen half elven vison that somethhing was wrong- low and indistinct shapes were flowing across the darkened floor towards her. She yelled and cut downwards with her curved elven blade-she felt it cut through something before it moved upwards onto her leg.

Seeing Cerians movement Sif ran to her side and swept downwards with her heavy maul- unfortunately missing the shadowy shap entirely and decending with an audible crack on Cerians foot. She screamed in agony and grabbed hold of the adjacent metalwork to remain upright.

Meanwhile another two of the creatures sarted to crawl up Sif’s legs, and she experinced a series of sharp pains in her legs as they bit into her.Ignoring the pain she smashed the one on Cerian, who returned the favour by skewering another. Dropping her weapons she grabbed the remaining squirming, narrow body in one hand and squeezed and twisted. There was a putrid explosion of foul smelling gore, and then the attack was over as quickly as it had begun.

Christov came running up and held the lantern down to their attackers: three huge centipede- like creatures, each perhaps four feet long and several inches in diameter. “Let’s get out of here before more arrive. Can you walk?” he asked Cerian.

Slowly and painfully they made their way out into the silent graveyard, and through the clinging mists back to Kendra’s house, Cerian being supported either side by Sif and Christov.

Back at the house Trig had abandoned her book. She didn’t understand much of it and so had skimmed ahead to a section which appeared to give advice on having sex with corpses, at which point she had decided that this book wasn’t for her. She consoled herself by sneaking into the pantry.

When she emerged upstairs Cerian had been placed on a settee, and she was summoned over. Sucking her teeth she determined that her boot would need to be cut off, and sent for some bowls and hot water. Milly bustled off.

Half an hour later Cerians foot had been strapped, and healing spells cast. She would mend, though currently still had a bit of a limp. Sif owed her a new pair of boots.

The haul from the crypt had been produced, and Kendra and Ysabot were examining them. Kendra exited the room and then returned with four vapour filled jars identical to those they had found. “These were found on my father’s body, and returned by the Sheriff. They are Haunt Siphons- if you twist the top near a Haunt or Undead it negates the negative energy inside them-essentially damaging or killing them.” She also examined a sheaf of arrows declaring that they were enchanted. “Ysabot and I can check more of these things tomorrow – we will need to prepare the correct spells.”

“These potions are for Healing and Restoration” said Ysabot, reading the Alchemist’s Marks on the bottle. She paused.

“Hmm. It’s usually at this point when I’m with a group that I suggest a mutually benefical financial and practical arrangement.” she paused, and pursed her lips.

“Really?” enquired Christov, “And what might this be?”

“Healing potion. Very useful for adventurers-very expensive at 50 gp-assuming the Church or Apothecary has any to sell you.”

“So? It can’t be helped” replied Christov.

“Well it can. I can make these for you for a mere 10 gp fee for several hours of my valuable time. You would need to procure the ingredients of course-either by paying 25 gp to the Apothecary or by collecting them yourself-if you know where to look.”

“Hmm that is interesting. And what are these ingredients?” asked Christov.

“Marshwort, Lady’s Necklace, Starmoss and spiders webs. In the spring you can use frogspawn instead of spiders webs-goes down better.”

“I know all those plants” exclaimed Trig excitedly, “I could go looking for them!”

“I could help you also” said Christov, “Best not to wander out alone.”

“Fair enough-the best place round here is the moor between the Restlands and the lake- it stretches for several miles northward and dozens of miles to the west. As you go towards the lake it contains a lot of small pools and marshy scrub; you can find everything there.”

The group moved into the library and settled themselves around the fire. Milly brought in refreshments and Sif’s fouled garments were forcibly removed for cleaning. When all were settled Ysabot continued.

“I refreshed my memory a bit about the old prison. Like I said the fire was 50 years ago in 4661. It killed all of the prisoners and most of the guards, and destroyed a large portion of the prison’s underground eastern wing, but left most of the stone structure above relatively intact. The prison’s warden perished in the fire, along with his wife, although no one knows why she was in the prison when the fire occurred.”

“There’s a statue commemorating the warden and the guards who lost their lives on the riverbank just outside of town to the south, if you didn’t know.”

“Anyway,it transpires that the fire that caused the tragedy was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. Five particularly notorious criminals had recently arrived at the prison, and a riot had commenced in the lower level. While the commonly held belief is that the tragic fire began accidentally after the riot began, in fact the prisoners had already seized control of the dungeon and had been in command of the lower level for several hours before the fire. Warden Hawkran triggered a deadfall to seal the rioting prisoners in the lower level, but in so doing trapped himself and nearly two dozen guards. The prisoners were in the process of escaping via the supply lift when the panicked guards at the surface accidentally started the fire in a desperate attempt to end the riot,which seemingly killed everyone in the lower levels, and the smoke also killed the prisoners in the upper cells. Only the guards at the surface level escaped.”

“Quite a tale” commented Christov. “I wonder how accurate it is?” Ysabot shrugged.

“It was fifty years ago. There might still be some survivors of that time. Some of the nonhumans live for a very long time, for instance.”

“That’s right”, chimed in Sif. “I met the smith-Jorfa: she is a dwarf. I wanted to talk to her again anyway.”

“Well it seems like we have quite a bit to do” said Trig. “Perhaps we should also just nose around town as well. The Professor seems to imply that some people have been behaving oddly around town anyway. Also he seemed to think the names of people who died in the fire were important.”

“Those records should be in the Town Hall or the Church” said Ysabot. “I’m happy to search through them but I’m not the most popular person with either Father Grimburrow or Councilman Hearthmount.”

“Perhaps I could have word with them” suggested Keryn, “I’m pretty good at talking people round. Then I could let you in and you could do the actual searching.”

And so it was agreed; the next day Keryn and Ysabot would approach Father Grimburrow, while Christov and Trig would search for plants. Cerian and Sif would nose around town and see what they could find.

View
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))

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.”

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 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
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.

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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.

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