Shadows Over Ustalav

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.

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