The Heroes of Ustalav

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…

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