The Heroes of Ustalav

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.”


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