The Heroes of Ustalav

Chapter 5

Councilman Hearthmount entered the small library where all had gathered for the reading of the will. Some others whom the party had never met came in with him. Kendra seemed less than enthused with them being there. "Please everyone, come have a seat. I made some tea and cakes for you to enjoy while we go through this difficult reading.”

Hearthmount, being a large man, smiled. “Thank you Kendra, and again allow me to extend my sincerest condolences for the passing of your father. Please, all of you, gather around. By law I may only read this document once, then I must meet with you individually if you have further questions.” The councilman pulled a small parchment from his coat and 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 the course of 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, posthumously. 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 and spend that period of time 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 fourth day of Calistril, in the year 4711.

Kendra thanked the councilman and dismissed him, then took a deep breath and addressed the party. “It will take me a week or so to decide what I wish to do with the estate, and based on the requests of my father you will be hopefully staying as well. I offer you my house as your own; you may stay here without worry of payment.” She moved towards the door. “If you will excuse me, I will go and retrieve the chest he spoke of.”

Cal hopped up from where he was sitting. “Please Kendra; let me assist you with the trunk.” He gave a meaningful look to Idris, as if to say, “Hey, trunk full of evil books! We don’t want anything else bad happening today! Also, it’s probably pretty heavy!”

Idris looked towards Kendra. “I’ll come along as well. This is a day of grief for you and you should not have to bear such a burden.”

Alucard jumped forward with much gusto. "Please allow me to get the box! I’ve not had a proper workout yet this day!” From the back of the room they heard a raspy “Gods he’s obnoxious.”

Piper asked, “Kendra, the girl with the haunted fiddle was supposedly from Lepidstadt. The will said your father had friends there. Do you think there is any connection, and what would you have us do here in the next month?”

Kendra stopped at the doorway. “I thank you all for your kindness on helping me, but this is something I must do.” With a half-hearted smile Kendra turned to Piper. "I am truly sorry; my father’s… kept a lot of his business to himself. If he knew her, he never mentioned it. Perhaps if you found a name or something, it might help finding out if he knew her. "Kendra moved out of the room to retrieve the box.

Alucard walked back to the corner of the room where Lucian was standing. “I just wanted to help”, he said with a heavy sigh.

“Don’t worry; the day for you to be a pack mule will soon be upon us.” Lucian said with a raspy chuckle.

Cal spoke to no one in particular, “Is anyone else nervous that she insists on going off alone to get the creepy box full of evil books, or has this day just made me jumpy?”

Piper grinned at Cal, “You’re just jumpy I think. By the way, while you were over helping out, did Father Grimburrow mention that girl’s name? It seems too coincidental that she showed up with a haunted fiddle the day Petros is buried.”

“That’s what I was telling this guy!” Cal jerked a thumb at Idris. "The good father is not the most… talkative… of fellows, and to be fair, he had many wounded to attend. It may be worth a visit back there later to see what he knows.

“I would also like to question our friend the Councilman to find out what he knows of the elven girl and when she’s to be sent back to Lepidstadt. Since there are so many of us, I wonder if some of us could accompany her safely back to the asylum and see what they know, and also talk with the professor’s colleagues at the University. The rest of us could remain here with Kendra, assuming that doesn’t violate the conditions of the professor’s will.”

Piper brushed a stray hair from her eye. “He was a grumpy old cuss, wasn’t he? He wasn’t very nice to that poor girl either. How far away is Lepidstadt from here? Could we make it in a day? I don’t know, it felt like, at least from the reading of the will, that we were all required to stay here in town. I would be curious to find out more about the girl too though. I would like to accompany you to talk to the councilman. Seems much more exciting than reading a bunch of dusty old tomes.” She paused. “Are we going to read them?”

She turned to address Lucien. “You should be nicer to your brother. He was only trying to be polite.”

Cal nodded at Piper. “Yes, Lepidstadt is about 100 miles north of here, I believe. You are probably correct that we cannot leave before the month is up. Once Kendra returns, we can go see the Councilman and Father Grimburrow. And no, I’d strongly advise against reading the books. Strongly.

Idris listened intently to the conversation before speaking. "We should stay here in Ravengro, at least for the time being, and seek the truth. There is some evil at work, and we have all seen the danger it poses to the townsfolk here. It is no coincidence that these events occurred today, on the day Petros was laid to rest, and finding answers may lead to Lepidstadt but there is danger here, and now, that we need to protect the townsfolk from.

“Or at the very least, I must. I know not what seas your hearts sail nor what stars guide your souls, but I for one must stay.” And with that, Idris looked away, is if at an imaginary horizon full of adventure as a stray breeze gently blew back his hair. The smell of lavender filled the room.

“Piper, Luc didn’t mean anything by it other than typical brotherly banter.” Alucard replied.

Before Alucard could continue he was cut off. “Lucian! I told you; it’s Lucian! Don’t call me that common sounding drivel or you’ll be no better than those back home! I, um, well, yes, uh, I think I would like to accompany you when you talk to the father about the elven girl. If it’s okay with you all and Kendra, I’d like for Alucard and myself to take care of her until we can bring her back to Lepidstadt. I have friends at the University that should be able to offer her better care than the asylum. As for the books I have to agree with Cal, testing the limits of the professors artifacts is not a risk I’m willing to take again.” As he said this he subconsciously rubbed his face underneath his mask.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Still, you shouldn’t let him speak to you like that.” After Lucian’s rant over his name she stared at him, at a loss for words, then shook her head and held her tongue.

Kendra returned with a medium sized wooden crate. She placed it on the center table in front of the companions. She then pulled an Iron key from her pocket and handed it to Cal. “He left instructions for you to have this.” Kendra then stepped to the back of the room, quietly watching.

The box had two latches and was about 3ft tall by 3ft wide. There were leather straps which also secured it as well as a large pad lock in the center rung.

Cal stepped forward, somewhat nervously eyeing the chest. He released the leather straps and unhooked the two side latches. Then with a small sigh he inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The center latch popped free, and Cal opened the chest. Piper leaned forward, peering over Cal’s shoulder, breathless in anticipation.

As soon as Cal started to open the chest, Lucian ducked into a dark corner and looked as though he was bracing for impact. Alucard on the other hand was standing right next to Piper, trying to peer into the crate like a kid opening a present on Christmas morning.

Within the box were several old tomes and one relatively new one. The newest tome sat on the top and bore the phrase “Read me now!” scratched into the leather cover. Cal closed his eyes and concentrated on detecting any arcane auras coming from the books, specifically the newer one.

Mindartis, shorter than most of the others and unable to see, pushed his way in between Cal and Idris. As the lid of the chest opened, he peered under it and started to reach in. Idris, as if he could see this coming, snatched Min’s hand away from the chest before he could touch the contents, and gave him a disapproving look. “Look with your eyes not with your hands.” Mindartis frowned but took the cleric’s advice and turned his attention back to the chest.

Piper’s hand nearly collided with Min’s as she reached in to grab the book, "This one on the top says “Read me now”! We really should…" she stopped mid-sentence as Idris’s hand came down to smack Min’s. She looked up at the cleric as if she had something more to say, but the opportunity was lost as Cal completed his spell and picked up the journal. Satisfied, Piper leaned back to listen to Cal’s reading.

Detecting no magical aura on any of the tomes, Cal picked up the small, leather bound book that appeared to be a journal. After looking over the inscription on the cover, he opened it and began to read aloud.

Ten Years Ago:
The Whispering Way is more than just a cabal of necromancers. I see that now. 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 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 quite 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 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 what their predecessors have hidden below. If my luck holds I should be able to slip in and out with a few borrowed items.

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

As he finished reading the professor’s journal, Cal pondered for a moment. Then he turned to the professor’s daughter. “Kendra, what did you know of your father’s investigations into this Whispering Way? And, please forgive me, may I ask how he died?”

Chapter 4

As the companions traveled down the road towards the Chancellor’s residence, Cal turned to Idris. “I never got the chance to thank you, all of you really, for reviving me after the fight with those ghastly hands. That is not how I pictured myself dying. I am in your debt.

“Further, I think our recent battles clearly indicate that some evil is afoot in this town. Speaking for myself, I am no fighter and barely a wizard. But our battle with the skeletons and the undead horse has given us a taste of what we’re up against. I suggest in the future, assuming there are more of these fights to come, we try to act more as a team and use sound combat tactics whenever possible. That means not charging into battle alone, focusing our attacks on the closest or most dangerous foe, using ranged attacks when possible or supporting our front line fighters when it is not, using available cover, et cetera. Most of all we need to communicate and try to work as a team if we are to survive.”

Idris rubbed the hoof shaped bruise on his shoulder and nodded in agreement. “I never charge in to battle alone – The Wind and the Waves are always with me. But still, faith need not be foolish. I will try to size up my enemies before bringing the tempest to them.”

Laughing, Idris pounded Cal on the back. “You handled yourself well for someone so scrawny.”

Grinning, Piper also nodded in agreement. "Being a hero never seemed so dangerous and messy in all the stories I’ve heard.”

The strains of violin music seemed louder as they approached the councilor’s residence. The large manor house sat on a picturesque bluff overlooking the river. Mature oaks cast a dappled shade on the house and the impeccably landscaped grounds. The general charm of the scene was lessened somewhat by the screaming coming from the house.

A man burst through the front door as they arrived; they recognized him as Councilman Hearthmount from Professor Lorrimor’s funeral. The man ran over to them, shouting “I didn’t do it! He thinks I’m my father!” Before they could calm the man a shambling, almost skeletal creature covered in sickly green ichor emerged from the house. The councilman quailed and stumbled away as Idris put himself between the monster and Hearthmount.

The horror advanced, and though Idris easily dodged its attack, a nagging sensation of fear tickled at his mind. Lucien fired an arrow square into the undead creature’s chest, but the damage done by the archer seemed negligible. Piper moved to stand near Cal, asking “So we’re using fire, then?” The wizard nodded enthusiastically and they both sent bolts of fire hurling at the creature. Cal’s sailed wide but Piper’s struck the monster and seemed to damage it greatly. Emboldened, she sent another one at the creature with a merry laugh that only intensified as the creature was reduced to a smoldering husk.

Lucien and Leonan kept a watchful eye as Idris examined the remains of the creature. It appeared to be the body of an old man, long dead. Cal and Piper questioned Hearthmount about the creature, and the councilor revealed it to be his grandfather. In life, the man was known to be a vile and abusive man. Legend had it that his son, Hearthmount’s father, had killed the man and left his body buried in the woods. Hearthmount seemed to think that the creature had risen seeking revenge, and in its rage mistook him for his father.

Hearthmount looked embarrassed at the revelation of his family’s dark history, and asked the party not to reveal it to the town. Cal assured him “The sins of the past are not yours to bear. We will keep your secret.” Relieved, Hearthmount told them that Father Grimburrow was heading to the Restlands, which seemed to be the source of the violin music. After making sure the councilor’s grandfather would not rise again, the companions set off for the Restlands.

A wrought iron gate to a private section of the town cemetery stood open as they arrived, and the sound of violin music could be heard coming from within. Entering, the party was greeted by a strange sight. An elven maiden danced barefoot among the ancient tombstones. She wore a hospital shift and what looked to be the remains of a straitjacket. She held a narrow gypsy fiddle to her cheek, and laughed as she played and gracefully whirled among the stones. As she passed each of the graves, skeletal arms would burst forth from the ground, almost swaying in time with her music.

Cal shouted, “The girl appears to be in thrall, possibly from the fiddle itself. We should take care not to harm her if we can!” With that, he cast a ray of frost at the girl, doing little damage but slowing her movement and hopefully the raising of the dead. The raised skeletons rushed towards the party, and the closest two attacked Piper. Leonan shot one of them with his bow as Idris moved to aid the bard. Wounded, Piper retreated, leaving Idris to deal with the skeletons. The priest raised his trident over his head, calling on Gozreh’s protection. Two of the unholy creatures turned and ran, but the rest continued to advance.

Lucien fired two arrows from his longbow, deftly striking the fiddle as the girl played. Cal aimed a firebolt, hitting the fiddle and knocking it slightly out of tune. The girl continued to play the instrument, oblivious to all that was going on around her.

More skeletons clawed their way from the ground, then moved to attack the party. Several ganged up on Idris as the priest raised his trident in the air. He shouted a vengeful prayer to Gozreh, and slammed the weapon hard upon the ground. Lightning crackled around him as a wave of force caused the ground below to buckle and move outward in a wave, knocking the skeletons back. Lightning struck them as a thunderous boom announced the wrath of Gozreh.

Leonan struck a skeleton hard across its skull with the hilt of his rapier, then disengaged to give himself room to fight. Piper, still bleeding from the initial skeleton assault, retreated further and quaffed a healing potion. She then scaled the iron fence like a monkey and began to hurl firebolts at the skeletons.

Cal, seeing more of the skeletons rise, realized the group would quickly be overrun. Seeing an opening, he cast expeditious retreat on himself, then moved at great speed to close with the elf maiden. He attempted to tackle her and wrest the fiddle away, but when he touched the instrument a wave of pain passed through him and he was forced to fall back. The elf woman’s eyes were rolled back in her head, confirming that she was completely under the fiddle’s control.

Lucien saw Cal attack the maiden, and yelled for the party to get the fiddle while he held off the skeletons. The skeletons attacked the fighter as Idris disengaged and rushed towards the girl. Leonan killed one of the skeletons attacking Lucien, but was again forced to disengage. Lucien slashed at one of the skeletons, then adopted a defensive stance as the skeletons surrounded him.

Idris reached the elf maiden and struck the fiddle with his trident. The blow knocked the instrument further out of tune, and several of the skeletons dropped to the ground. Leonan took the opportunity to slash in and carve up two more skeletons as they attacked Lucien. The archer gained his second wind as he tried his best to shield himself from the blows of the undead.

Cal cast a magic missile spell at the fiddle from close range, blowing the instrument apart. Dark spirits flew from the wrecked fiddle as the elf maiden slumped to the ground. All the remaining skeletons also dropped where they stood. Cal attempted to wake the unconscious girl while speaking soothingly in elvish, but the she remained unresponsive. Idris scooped her up in his arms to carry her back to town.

They took her to the Temple of Pharasma, where they found Father Grimburrow tending to the wounded. They explained the events of the morning, culminating with the battle in the Restlands. The father appeared unsympathetic to the girl’s plight. “She needs to go to Lepidstadt, to the asylum.” Pointing to the straitjacket she wore, he continued, “That’s obviously where she came from.” They questioned him about Lepidstadt, but got little more than it was a larger city to the north. Grimburrow then asked Idris to stay and help with the wounded, and Cal volunteered to stay as well and put his medical knowledge to use.

The rest of the party returned to Lorrimor Manor. Kendra was relieved to see them, and told them that Councilman Hearthmount would be over soon for the reading of the will.

Cal and Idris had finished helping Father Grimburrow stabilize the victims of the undead attack, and were on their way back to Lorrimor Manor. The elf was peppering the cleric with questions about their most recent encounters.

“OK, I get that the fiddle itself possessed some dark magic, and that magic compelled the girl to play it and raise the dead. But the questions remain: how did the girl get the fiddle in the first place? Where did it come from? According to Grimburrow, the girl was in an asylum in Lepidstadt, which is a fair distance away from here. How did she get here, and why did she come? Who is she, and why was she in an asylum in the first place?”

The words continued to fly from the wizard almost faster than he could speak. “I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but they may be important if we are to get to the root of what’s happening in this village. I think we need to find someone who can give us some answers so we can puzzle out this… puzzle.” He finally paused to let the cleric speak.

Idris nodded thoughtfully then looked at Cal with a smile. “It is good that we have someone so quick-minded to ponder such questions. We should speak to Kendra about this. She knows much more about this place than we do. You are right though my friend. There is some evil at work here, and I think it is somehow linked to the professor. It is no coincidence that all of these things have happened today of all days.”

Chapter 3

The square was all but deserted as the companions left the market. Shouts and screams could be heard from the surrounding streets, and the ever-present violin strains continued to play. In the town park across from the market, two girls and a boy were trying to climb atop the bandstand that lay in the center of the green. A growling dog stood nearby, it’s hackles raised. As the party moved closer, they saw disembodied hands clawing through the tall grass towards the children. The dog snarled and leapt at one as they watched.

Spreading out to get a clear sight line, Cal fired an arrow and pinned one of the horrors to the ground. The hands seemed to sense their presence, and half of them moved to attack the party while the rest scuttled on towards the dog and children.

Idris strode purposefully across the green towards the children. As one of the hands grasped at the cleric, it was struck by a bolt of lightning and fell charred and motionless. Piper stepped up beside Cal, a crossbow held to her cheek. Cal saw what she was about to attempt and almost cried out, but feared breaking the gypsy girl’s concentration. With a quick exhalation the bolt flew true, neatly spearing a hand grasping a girl’s leg. Leonan emulated Piper’s daring by picking another hand off of the boy with his shortbow.

Cal rushed forward, not trusting his archery skill enough to risk harming the innocents. All of the children were now free of the grasping horrors and were making their way higher up the bandstand. The brave dog that defended them had one of the hands clawing at its flank. Cal tore the hand free, and it immediately grabbed him around the throat and throttled him unconscious.

The masked archer Lucien took aim at Cal. Even Piper gasped as the arrow flew, skewering the hand wrapped around the elf’s throat and tearing it away. She was simultaneously impressed with the man’s skill and appalled at his recklessness; he could have just as easily killed the fallen scholar.

Leonan snatched a hand that was trying to climb after the children. He held the writhing thing away as it attempted to claw and grab at him. Piper killed two others with magic missiles as Idris rushed to Cal’s aid and stabilized the elf. Another hand was struck down by Gozreh’s wrath as it tried to grab the cleric.

Leonan continued his struggle with the hand, only to drop it in shock as an arrow whizzed by inches from his face. His head snapped around to see Lucien pulling another arrow from his quiver, then down as the hand tried to grasp at his boot. The assassin began jumping around wildly, trying to simultaneously stomp the hand and prevent it from grabbing him. Idris strode over and calmly impaled it on his trident.

Piper checked on the children; they were uninjured but shaken. The dog too seemed to have survived with little more than a patch of fur missing from its flank. The children claimed they could find their way home, but begged the party to go find their brother Roderick. The older boy apparently made spare change posting notices near the bridge crossing the river into town. He had gone out that way earlier in the morning, and they’d not seen him since.

Idris checked on Calaron. The wizard was stable but unconscious, and the cleric had no more healing spells. The party dragged the wizard back to the market, where the shopkeeper produced two healing potions for the party. They fed one to Cal, and Idris pocketed the other. They then left for the river to see about Roderick.

When the party arrived at the river, they saw a boy sitting atop the bridge. Below him were two skeletons wearing the ragged and soaked remains of clothing and nooses around their necks. A third skeleton in tattered armor and a noose sat astride an undead horse.

Idris ran forward brandishing his trident and stabbed the horseman. Cal hit the horseman with a firebolt just before Leonan’s arrow knocked him backwards off the horse. The horse reared up and struck Idris with its hooves, knocking the cleric unconscious.

Lucien pegged one of the skeletons with an arrow as he moved over to stand near Cal. The undead creature advanced on Piper, clawing and raking at her. The bard swung her longsword and cut the skeleton down, then ran to aid Idris.

The other skeleton battled Leonan. Cal cast a firebolt at the creature, and Leonan used the distraction to disengage and run away from the undead monster. The skeleton turned its attention towards Lucien and Cal.

The undead horse reared as Piper tried to shield the fallen cleric. Even as Lucien put an arrow in its flank, it struck Piper and knocked her out. Leonan paused to shoot an arrow at the horse, but continued trying in vain to get away. The horse pursued the assassin and struck him in the head, dropping him as well.

The remaining skeleton continued to advance. Cal fired a ray of frost, hoping to slow the creature, but missed. He scrambled away from it as Lucien drew a sword and chopped off its arm. Without pausing, the skeleton stooped to retrieve its fallen limb, then began to beat Lucien about the head and shoulders with it.

Idris jolted back to consciousness. The cleric stood and shakily stumbled away from the undead beast. He gulped down the healing potion the shopkeeper had given him while assessing the battle. Lucien dropped the last skeleton with a slash from his sword, but the fighter looked the worse for wear. Cal was still standing, but looked almost as scared of Lucien as he did the horse.

The horse advanced on the remaining trio. Idris fired his crossbow, and Cal cast a firebolt at the horror. Lucian put another arrow into it from his longbow, as he moved away from the horse’s advance. Idris also retreated as he fired his crossbow again. Mercifully, the bolt struck true and the undead creature dropped.

The party quickly stabilized Piper and Leonan as the boy climbed down from the bridge. With no more healing, they were preparing to take their fallen comrades back to town when a priest of Sarenrae appeared. He healed Piper and Leonan as they told him of the battle. The boy said the creatures had come out of the water. Lucien examined the bodies and noticed the skeleton riding the horse was wearing a rusted breastplate, but no insignia could be seen.

The priest told them he was on the way to help one of the town councilors, who was trapped in his house. However, since he had expended much of his power healing the party, he suggested they go in his place while he escorted Roderick to safety. As they were in his debt, the party could not refuse. The priest passed them two healing potions, and they set off down the road toward the councilor’s residence.

Chapter 2

As the funeral party arrived at Lorrimor Manor, Piper asked Kendra about the townsfolk. Their host explained that the people were generally ignorant of the world outside the village, and not trusting of strangers. They were mostly decent folk, but superstitious. She stressed again that how they were treated would greatly influence how they treated you.

The funeral mourners settled in the drawing room of the manor while Kendra went to see about refreshments. Though they had talked a bit to one another at the professor’s funeral and the unpleasant bit before, most of them were strangers. After several minutes of awkward silence, the elf who had spoken at the gravesite stood up and cleared his throat.

“Ahem… uh, as I mentioned at the graveyard, I am Calaron. My friends call me Cal. I am a researcher by trade and a journeyman wizard. I was an associate of the professor, though as I said, I did not know him very well. Or long enough; I was greatly saddened to hear of his passing.”

Turning to his right, Cal’s gaze fell on a human with long, stringy dark hair and a face covered in many scars. “And you are…?”

A look of unease passed across the man’s stony face like a shadow. “Name’s Logen. I used to bodyguard for the professor a while back. He tried to help me with a… problem… I was having. Nice enough bloke. Surprised he remembered me enough to put me in his will though.” With that, the man fell silent and resumed his impassive look.

Cal looked around the room. “Who’s next?”

“Oh! me! me!”

A young elf in leather armor sprang forward enthusiastically. “Can I go next? My name is Mindartis but I hate that name and my friends call me Min I know you’re not really my friends yet but you can call me Min anyway the professor called me Min too and that was fine because we were great friends! I’ve never been to a funeral before have any of you been to one it’s kind of sad but I’m not going to cry because my father says death is just part of life and he knows just about everything about everything anyway do you all have furniture with the professor because that lady over there said to that other lady over there that she had a night stand with him.”

The chinking of metal and hearty laughter could be heard throughout the room as the young half-elf in the corner started laughing at Min’s comments. “A spirited one he is. Eh brother? My name is Alucard but you all can call me Al. As I said at the funeral I’ve never actually met the professor, but my brother Lucian spoke very highly of him. I would like to apologize for my brother’s actions earlier; he has not had an easy go of it since the umm… accident. All he seems to find are angry mobs these days which is why our mother asked me to help him stay out of trouble.” As he said this he looked in the direction of the bard whose eyes were throwing daggers at the brothers during the funeral.

“Mina needs to keep my secrets to herself,” thought Piper as she watched the elven young-ling point from her cousin to herself. Shooting a look at her cousin that she hoped implied future discretion, she spoke up.

“My name is Piper Bashere. I’d imagine, were Petros still with us, he would say I helped him avoid his fate once, long ago.” Her eyes grew misty, “he could tell a fabulous story.”

She gestured towards the red headed cleric of Desna sitting beside her, “my cousin, AraMina, knew him on a much more intellectual level.” She shifted the lute on her back and bit her lip. “I must apologize to all of you for my outburst earlier.” Addressing Alucard, she continued, “Your brother broke from all tradition by drawing blood at a funeral, the fates would not be pleased with such a decision. However, as the angry mob so eloquently stated, we are all Outlanders here, with our own traditions. I shall try to remember that in the future.” She smiled graciously at the masked man before taking her seat. “What about the rest of you? Surely there are some wonderful stories to be told from such an eclectic group of adventurers such as yourselves.”

Cal made a mental note to research if there were any lands where shooting someone in the chest was part of their funeral traditions. He made a second mental note never to go there.

A man stepped forward and laid his hood back onto his shoulders. With a hearty chuckle he began to speak, “My friends, or so I shall call you all, I am Leonan… Leonan Oaklord. I did not know the professor all that well, personally. We met, and talked a few times…” Turning toward Kendra, he continued, “Your father was a great man, a wise man, and the world now feels a little less whole knowing he is no longer here. Truth be told, I was hired to kill your father about a year ago. I had my mark and the deed would be done, but as I researched your father and began making arrangements to see it through, I found tales of his deeds and contribution to this world. I found myself for the first time doubting my career choice. I awoke one night and realized that I would not take this man’s life, for he had a purpose. So, I returned to the Duke who hired me and well… let’s just say he doesn’t need this ring anymore.” Leonan flashed a rather official looking royal ring and then bowed to Kendra. “I am deeply sorry for your loss, and offer you my deepest sympathies.”

Idris looked on in amusement, considering the different backgrounds of those gathered in the room. “They say the company a man keeps says much about his character.” He paused for a moment before continuing with a chuckle. “The professor was a very complex man.”

Kendra looked uncomfortable at Leonan’s revelation. “Yes… uh… well. I seem to have a bit of a problem. I’m so glad you all have made the journey to see my father laid to rest, but I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t lay in enough supplies to feed a group of this size. Would several of you mind going to the market to get these items?” She held a list in her hand. “I’m terribly sorry.”

The cleric of Gozreh, Idris, had already stood. Cal stood as well and said, “Of course; no problem at all dear Kendra. Would anyone else like to accompany us and see a bit more of the village?”

Piper joined them, as well as the masked archer Lucien and the former assassin Leonan. “An interesting group, to say the least”, Cal thought. “At least we won’t draw any attention to ourselves!”

The group made their way through the village towards the market. As predicted, they were getting strange looks from the townspeople. Not hostile, but certainly curious. A buzz of murmurs seemed to accompany them on the journey.

They arrived at the market and Idris gave Kendra’s list to the shopkeeper. “Oh, you’re Kendra’s guests! A shame about her father, poor thing. Please make yourselves at home while we get the order together.” She turned to her young daughter. “Ellie, be a dear and go down to the basement and fetch a cheese.”

The party wandered around the store as the shopkeeper began assembling items. From behind her, the daughter’s voice shouted, “Look mama, it’s Grammy!” The shopkeeper shook her head with a sad smile. “Hush child. You know Grammy’s passed on. She’ll not be playing the cellar game with you anymore.”

From the back of the shop there came a great clatter as a standing suit of armor fell to the floor. The party all turned to see what looked to be the risen corpse of an old man stumble out from behind it, while the daughter stood at an open cellar door before the corpse of an old woman. Violin music seemed to drift on the air through the store.

There was a moment of stillness as everyone took in the scene, then chaos erupted. The shopkeeper and her daughter fled screaming, and Idris yelled for them to get somewhere safe. Cal fired an arrow from his longbow that struck Grammy in the chest, followed immediately by a ray of frost from Piper that blew the corpse’s arm off and slowed its advance. Leonan took the opportunity to get behind it and ran the corpse through with his rapier, dropping it to the ground.

Idris cast a sacred flame at the other corpse as Lucien fired his bow. The male corpse lurched forward towards Idris ready to strike, but was blown apart by Cal’s magic missiles.

Leonan was examining the Grammy corpse when it suddenly lurched back to life and bit him! He scrabbled across the floor to get away from it as the sounds of screaming filled the air, coming from up the stairs where the shopkeepers had fled. Idris headed for the stairs as Lucien put another arrow into Grammy. The horror heaved itself at Cal, taking a bite of his shoulder before a firebolt from Piper ended it for good.

Cal led the way as the rest of the party followed Idris upstairs towards the screaming. They caught up with the cleric at the top of the steps, where Idris noticed the wizard bleeding profusely. A quick prayer to Gozreh healed the wound completely.

The stairs ended in a short hallway with a single door to the south. Piper was attempting to listen at the door when Idris rushed past her, throwing the door open and entering. Cal gave the gypsy woman a smile and a shrug as he followed. The rest of the party entered to find a large family room. A stove sat in the southeast corner, and a large dining table stood nearby. Besides other miscellaneous furniture and personal items, the room was empty. The only other door was also on the north wall, and Idris had already thrown it open in his haste to get to the family.

They followed the cleric into a long, narrow corridor. They passed two closed doors on the right as they made for the door hanging open at the end of the hall. The screams and shouts of the family could be heard within.

Idris charged into the room, followed by Cal and Piper. The family was huddled on the bed, pointing at a large closet. “Eyes! Red eyes!” they shouted. The violin song they heard earlier was also present in this room, but no source of the music was apparent.

Piper turned and cast a firebolt into the closet, igniting several of the garments hung within. The light from the flames seemed to flicker and twist, as if there was an unnatural darkness within that the flames could not illuminate.

The rest of the adventurers had arrived when Idris entered the closet. The shadow he saw within did not disappear, but opened a pair of red eyes and attacked! Idris clutched his holy symbol as he battled the shadow until Cal hurled a flight of magic missiles that tore the darkness apart. Idris patted out the remaining flames from Piper’s firebolt as the party questioned the family.

The family told of how the late grandparents used to play hiding games with the children. Grammy would hide behind the cellar door, and Grampa behind the old suit of armor. They had been dead for months and supposedly buried in the cemetery.

Shouts from the window mixed with the violin music. Piper looked out into the street to see people running and screaming. Cal gave a dagger to the shopkeeper’s husband and told him to stay put and protect his family. The party quickly searched the rest of the house and found it empty, then headed out to the street and the ensuing chaos…

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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