The Heroes of Ustalav

Chapter 1

A cold north wind blew fallen leaves through the cemetery stones, and the early morning sun did little to ease the chill. The procession wound its way down the Dreamway through the fog, bearing the casket of professor Petros Lorrimor. The town council members escorted Lorrimor’s daughter, Kendra, while an odd collection of strangers bore the professor’s body and followed along in a solemn silence.

They followed the Dreamway through the headstones until it met the Eversleep Path. At the intersection, the mob waited. They were unshaven, many of them apparently drunk, and they held their clubs and pitchforks nervously. A loud voice from the back of the crowd shouted, “That’s far enough! You’ll not bury him here! Take him upriver somewhere and bury him, but not in this town!”

A young elf in traveling clothes stepped up beside Kendra and leaned in. “I take it you know these people?” he asked.

Kendra replied, “The loud one is Gibbs Hefferness. He’s accused my father of black magic and worse several times over the years. I’m sure he’s bullied these others into going along with him.”

“Right then”, the elf replied. Turning to the mob, he held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Peace, friends. My name is Cal. What seems to be the problem here?”

The man in the back, Hefferness, shouted, “The problem is we don’t want that man buried in our lands. He’ll bring a curse down upon us all. Take him away from here!”

Cal looked the crowd over and concluded Kendra was correct. Besides Hefferness, the rest of the mob looked somewhat uneasy, shifting from foot to foot or whispering amongst themselves. Even now, one of them seemed to be trying to slip away behind a nearby crypt.

A dark-skinned man wearing the symbol of Gozreh stepped forward from the procession. “I can assure you all that burying this man will not curse your lands. However, interfering with a sacred burial rite is a most sure way to anger the gods. Please, have some sympathy for the bereaved and return to your homes.”

A tall man in a hooded cloak and mask stepped out from behind the casket, brandishing a longbow. “The funeral procession will proceed! Return to your homes now. The professor will be buried here!” The mask slightly garbled the man’s speech, but the way he held his weapon needed no translation.

As the cleric tried to soothe the crowd, Cal slid up next to the man behind the crypt and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Peace friend. I mean you no harm.” With his other hand he produced two silver coins. “Tell me now; what’s really going on here?”

The man looked somewhat frightened, and stammered, “Gibbs told us all the man was a necromancer, and burying him here would curse us and ruin our crops. He got everyone all riled up. But I don’t want no trouble, and I don’t want to upset no gods.”

“Quite right”, Cal said as he handed the coins to the man. “I can assure you the professor was no necromancer. Return to your home and be at ease, my friend.”

As the man stumbled off, Cal turned back to the crowd. The cleric was still talking with Hefferness. The old farmer was shouting about Lorrimor being a necromancer, but the rest of the crowd looked uncomfortable in the face of the cleric’s arguments. Cal was about to re-enter the conversation when an arrow slammed into Hefferness’ chest! The man was knocked back against the wrought-iron fence before he slumped to the ground, blood pouring from the wound.

The rest of the mob scattered as Cal ran over and immediately applied pressure to the wound to attempt to stop the bleeding. The cleric appeared beside him and placed one hand on the wounded man’s forehead as his other hand clutched a holy symbol. As he murmured a prayer, Cal saw the wound begin to heal. He gently removed the arrow as the man’s chest closed up. After a second, Hefferness gasped and opened his eyes wide with fright.

Cal nodded at the cleric as he helped the man to his feet. Any thoughts of disrupting the funeral were gone from the man as he staggered away from the graveyard. Behind them, Cal and the cleric could hear Piper, a raven-haired woman in a crimson head scarf, yelling at the archer. Though unable to see his face, the man’s body language showed he was suitably chastised by the woman’s sharp tongue.

Unpleasantness aside, the procession continued on to the professor’s gravesite. Everyone settled as the morning fog lifted from the cemetery grass and up into the air. Father Grimburrow pulled a small book from his satchel and began to read a prayer from the ancient writings of Pharasma, Goddess of Death.

“Friends, family, others here today. We place into rest Professor Petros Lorrimor, Father to Kendra and a dear friend to us all. We ask that the Lady of Graves guide his spirit to its final resting place among her watched; may it not wander or return to places it need not be. May all respect these sacred lands and think fondly of our friend in the weeks, months and years to come.”

Grimburrow laid a small black rose on the casket and sprinkled some holy water on it. As the water hit the flower the black color began to wash from it revealing a pure white rose. “May Petros’ soul be cleansed of any taint or shadow that may be lingering. May he go pure to his eversleep; as he entered this world so shall he leave it. May you sleep soundly under her watchful eye, friend.” Father Grimburrow turned to the congregation and said “If any of you would like to say a few words on behalf of the professor, you may do so now.” He stepped aside from the foot of the grave and stood silently.

Cal stepped forward. “My name is Calaron Amakiir. I can’t claim to have known the professor well; he and I consulted on a number things over the years relevant to his studies. I found him to be very intelligent, very personable and very passionate about his work. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he inspired me to take my own studies more seriously, and to seek out answers to questions rather than waiting for them to come to me.

“The people gathered here today are a testament to the legacy he leaves behind. Though he will be missed, I urge you to celebrate his life rather than mourn his passing.” With that, the elf resumed his place beside the grave.

“How interesting, he was friends with an elf. His ears are not as pointy as I thought they would be. I wonder how they met…” Piper’s brain wandered idly as the elf spoke. She shifted a few pebbles with her feet and plucked on the strings of her lute without even really thinking about it. The tune was just loud enough to drown out the murmuring in the back of the funeral gathering. She was conscious enough to not overpower the voices of those speaking the Professor’s praises, but she had to do something with her hands!

As she strummed, she glanced around at those gathered with her, stopping at the black-masked man. She felt the heat of embarrassment rise to her cheeks, “I cannot believe I chastised him like that. Drawing weapons at a funeral…” she shook her head, “he may have well pulled a weapon on a guest in his home….if he has a home…” she stared harder at the man, and noticing him staring back, flushed furiously and looked away. “It’s a wonder he didn’t shoot me as well!” She chuckled softly to herself as she attempted to focus on the funeral speeches.

It didn’t take long for her mind to wander again. “Petros was old when I met him. He must have been really really old when he died…I wonder what killed him. AraMina looks pretty broken up over there…I wonder what she would say that Desna would say.” Piper rolled her eyes at her thoughts. “His daughter looks to be a bit older than me.” She peered over at Kendra. “I wonder who all the rest of these people are. It will be exciting to meet them…”

The tall dark skinned cleric moved to stand beside the coffin. He wore simple mail armor and a shield strapped on his back with the symbol of Gozreh on it. In his right hand he carried a large wickedly sharp looking trident, and in his left a water skin. He gazed for a moment at the coffin before speaking to those gathered round.

“I am Idris Kane, faithful servant of Gozreh, The Wind and The Waves. Before I died… before the ocean spoke to me… I was a sailor, and Professor Lorrimor was my charge… my shipmate for a brief time. I did a simple thing once, something any man on a ship would do, and… it must have meant a great deal to him for here I am, seeing him off on a voyage of a different sort.”

Idris turned back to face the coffin, unstopped the water skin, and held it up. “In my faith we believe that the ocean takes us all eventually. Petros Lorrimor, this water comes from the very oceans we sailed together so many years ago. I bring it to you now as a gift, and a reminder that even when we don’t find the ocean, the ocean finds us.” With that, he walked around the entirety of the coffin, pouring the contents on the ground.

As Idris completed his circuit around the Professor’s coffin, a red-headed gypsy woman stepped forward, a silver holy symbol of Desna shining on her chest. Standing next to the cleric of Gozrah, she took his hand and raised it up.

“Blessed is the long road, the destination, the homeward path, and all those who make the journey.” Dropping her hands, she smiled at Idris, and turned to face the coffin, “may you find safe passage home, Petros.”

The masked figure shifted uncomfortably once he noticed Piper’s disapproving gaze. He tried to sink into the surroundings and drew his cloak about himself. “How could they know how much the professor meant to me,” He thought. “The audacity to attempt to prevent them from allowing my only friend this final rite of passage. Who do they think they are? Perhaps I did go a little too far?" Not one to doubt himself the masked figure dropped into a trance-like state as he replayed and analyzed the moment over and over in his head.

In the meantime a strapping young half-elf wearing chainmail with a large Claymore and a warhammer hanging from his belt stepped forward. “I did not know the professor directly but I did have the pleasure of helping my brother, he pointed to the cloaked figure, “with many of the tasks the professor gave him. To date he is the only one who has not shunned my brother for his unfortunate attitude, countenance, or shrill voice, aside from our dear mother and me. If he had that kind of patience and wisdom then he must have been an angel among men. His family and friends have my deepest condolences.”

On hearing his brother speak of their mother the masked figure slunk off to hide behind a tree and looked on, waiting for the funeral to be over.

Once the funeral rites were completed, Cal overheard Idris question Father Grimburrow about the reliability of the gravediggers. Grimburrow looked slightly affronted as he assured the cleric that Professor Lorrimor would be properly laid to rest. Satisfied, Idris and Cal joined the rest of the funeral party as they headed back to Kendra’s house for the wake.

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