In the Palatine Eye

Strange Days in Ravengro
The story so far...

Prologue

On the 23rd day of Erastus, 4711 AR, the venerable Professor Lorrimor was found dead on the grounds of the Harrowstone prison ruins near his hometown of Ravengro.

Over the course of the next few days, his daughter, Kendra, sent out letters to each of four individuals noted in his will:

  • Allynna “Ally” Telerelhûn, a female witch demi-human of indeterminate ancestry who is accompanied at all times by an owl familiar; she was once saved from some magical calamity by the good professor.
  • Laurent D’Avignon, a male half-elf (half-Qadiran) paladin of Sarenrae who was well-traveled in the Inner Sea even before serving as a guard and trusted advisor to Lorrimor for a number of years.
  • Ros, a female halfling rogue who has spent most of her life as a thief and scoundrel but once saved the professor from an out-of-control carriage on a busy city street in Druma, thus earning his lifelong friendship.
  • Valdís, a morose female elf magus, armed to the teeth and untrusting of human authorities after spending years in the River Kingdoms, once survived an encounter with a hungry black dragon, a feat which captured the professor’s imagination for years.

Each of these acquaintances were strangers to Ustalav, having met Lorrimor during his wide travels across the Inner Sea region. Though once close with the professor, they had fallen out of touch and none knew why they had been called to Ravengro. Nevertheless, on the 7th day of Arodus, they all found themselves on a carriage rolling through the pastoral, foggy landscape of rural Ustalav.

Sunday, Arodus 7th, 4711

Trouble on the Dreamwake

In the waning afternoon light, the party emerged from the carriage and set foot for the first time in Ravengro’s town square. As they stretched their legs, a young boy, no older than thirteen years old, approached, asking if they were there for the burial of the professor. Though suspicious of the boy, the party acknowledged this was their purpose, and the boy introduced himself as Pevrin Elkarid. He quickly ushered them through town, north, toward the Restlands, where the rest of the mourners had already gathered.

At the gates of the Restlands they met the late professor’s daughter, Kendra, for the first time, and joined Jominda Fallenbridge, Zokar Elkarid and Councilmen Gharen Muricar and Vashian Hearthmount in mourning her loss. After brief introductions, Laurent and Valdís offered to help carry the professor’s casket.

On their way to the professor’s grave, the procession was interrupted, their way blocked by a group of angry townsfolk led by retired farmer and soldier Gibs Hephenus. Gibs claimed the the professor, a man his friends knew to be a stalwart defender of good, was in fact an evil necromancer and had no business being buried in the Restlands. However, Laurent managed to calm the angry townsfolk down long enough for Zokar, under the influence of a quick charm hex from Ally, to invite everyone for a free round at the Laughing Demon that night. This didn’t put Gibs at ease but with the support of his assembled mob failing he backed off.

The party continued on unmolested to Lorrimor’s grave, where they met Father Grimburrow and said a few sorrowful words before laying the professor to rest.

Lorrimor’s Will

Following the burial service, the party retired to Lorrimor Place with Kendra, its sole remaining resident, and Councilman Hearthmount, who rendered an official reading of Lorrimor’s last will and testament before those named therein:

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 first day of Calistril, in the year 4711.

Hearthmount then bid the party farewell, leaving them to retrieve Lorrimor’s chest and examine the tomes within: On Verified Madness, Serving Your Hunger, The Umbral Leaves—each bearing a note indicating that they should be delivered to Montagnie Crowl, a professor of antiquities at Lepidstadt University—and a fourth text bound in deep purple leather and bearing a brass scarab set with a single eye in its center—this tome was locked, and though no key could be found it did have a note attached saying that it should be returned in a discrete manner to Judge Embreth Daramid.

Of more immediate interest, however, was the journal found resting on top of these texts, the words “READ ME NOW” scratched into its brown leather cover. This was evidently the journal of Professor Lorrimor, and skimming through its pages revealed several entries of note, each circled in red ink:

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 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 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 the 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 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’ll be sure to be found, should the worst come to pass.

It seemed that the worst had indeed come to pass. Bound to remain in Ravengro for a full month in any event, the party resolved to investigate this new evidence that the professor’s death had not in fact been an accident. Given the circumstances, Kendra invited them all to stay in Lorrimor Place as long as they remained in Ravengro.

The Laughing Demon

Despite the troubling revelations regarding the professor’s death, the party, Kendra in tow, thought it best to join the townsfolk at the Laughing Demon to ensure everyone’s tensions had eased since the showdown in the Restlands. Though Gibs remained surly, most others were perfectly happy to let the whole thing go after Laurent bought everyone a round.

Kendra left early, exhausted and still in mourning, and Valdís ducked out not long after, though she lingered in town square to feed Old River, a local dog. It was there she overheard Pevrin flirting with a local girl, telling her about a swimming hole down the river he knew about before they both ran off together.

The Outward Inn

Councilman Muricar made an appearance at the Laughing Demon, but upon spying Ally, Laurent, and Ros, suggested they all head for the Outward Inn to have a drink. They met back up with Valdís in town square before descending into the inn’s basement rathskeller. The scene at the Outward Inn was much more subdued than that gathered at the Laughing Demon, and after meeting proprietor Sarianna Vai, they all relaxed with a drink while Gharen answered a few questions about Ravengro and made eyes at Ally (and Valdís, but mostly Ally because Valdís was tired and grumpy).

Return to the Restlands

When the party departed the Outward Inn it was already late, but their minds returned to Lorrimor’s journal and their curiosity got the better of them. They decided to venture back into the Restlands and investigate the false crypt about which Lorrimor had written.

Under cover of night, led by the Ally’s darkvision, they made their way to the noted location, discovering there a crypt surrounded by a wrought iron gate whose lock had been tampered with, evidently with acid, presumably by Lorrimor. They made sure they hadn’t been followed and then entered the crypt.

Almost immediately, it was apparent Lorrimor was right—there were no family names or insignia to be found anywhere inside the first chamber of the crypt, which would be highly unusual in a real crypt. A stone stair lead below ground to a second chamber, to which the party descended. In this second chamber the party noticed footprints in the thick layer of dust on the stone floor—more traces of Lorrimor. In a sarcophagus in the back of the second chamber, the party recovered a wealth of holy tools and weapons, which they immediately divided amongst themselves.

Ally, while the other three fiddled with some unusual items they found, wandered toward several urns sitting in a corner and was immediately set upon by two giant centipedes. The creatures slithered from a crack in the stone wall, cornering the witch before her allies could make a move. Laurent and Valdís snapped into action but were unable to subdue the monstrous arthropods before one of the latched onto Ally’s arm, injecting her with its venom. Laurent managed to clean the wound but the encounter still left the witch drained.

New weapons packed away, the party made their way back toward Lorrimor Place.

Monumental Desecration

The night was not quite over. Just as the party approached Lorrimor Place, they heard a scream from down the road, toward the river. They rushed to investigate, Ros and Valdís hiding in the foliage while Ally and Laurent rushed ahead, nearly trampling Pevrin and the girl from town square—who they later discovered to be Nadia Avanaki—as they sprinted blindly through the night. When Laurent questioned Pevrin, he pointed the party toward the Harrowstone memorial and continued running toward town.

At the site of the memorial statue, the party discovered a grisly scene: the statue of the Harrowstone guards had been splattered with blood, and more blood had been smeared on the inscription below in the shape of the letter “V”. Nearby they discovered a mutilated river rat, the apparent source of the blood, as well as some footprints, although they could not tell from where they came or to where they might lead.

It was at least two o’clock in the morning by this point and the party decided there was nothing to be done, so they headed again back to Lorrimor Place to get some well-deserved sleep.

Moonday, Arodus 8th, 4711

Research in Ravengro

While Ally stayed in bed to sleep off the effects of the centipede venom (and identify some of the magical items found in the false crypt), Kendra suggested that the rest of the party split up to conduct some research into the two topics Lorrimor seemed most keen on during his final days: Harrowstone and the Whispering Way.

Laurent and Kendra headed off to the Temple of Pharasma, and, after a brief chat with Brother Ruckheart, the acolyte charged with managing the temple stores and maintaining the archives, were allowed access their records. In the dusty, subterranean archives, studying thick volumes by candlelight, they managed to uncover a great deal of information. The Whispering Way is the philosophy of perhaps the oldest cult of necromancy still active in the Inner Sea and was the order from which Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant, rose to power. However, despite this massive role in history, little is certain about the philosophy itself, as it is only transferred via whispers, and thus never committed to ink and paper.

Trouble With Authority

Ros and Valdís ventured to town hall to research Harrowstone, but were met with far less success than their companions at the temple. They were immediately turned away by an especially abrasive scribe, so they set out to find Sheriff Caeller and persuade him to grant them entry. While asking around town regarding his whereabouts, they spoke briefly with Jominda, who mentioned she’d heard a rumor something had happened at the Harrowstone memorial, and that Caeller might be found there investigating the scene.

This turned out to be true, though this did not resolve the duo’s troubles. Upon finding Caeller, their request that he sanction their access to the town hall rapidly descended into an impromptu interrogation as Caeller’s suspicions were piqued when they mentioned they’d been on the scene late the night before. Not wanting the reveal their raid on the false crypt, they departed at their soonest convenience.

The two wandered about some more, but their misadventures had all but spent the day.

Toilday, Arodus 9th, 4711

The Day of Silenced Whispers

The following day bore much more fruit. Kendra and Laurent again descended into the mildewy temple archives, while Ally, Ros, and Valdís headed north to the Unfurling Scroll, home of the retired wizard Alendru Ghoroven, both groups intending to research Harrowstone.

Kendra and Laurent uncovered much information, but it was Ros who uncovered a crucial clue in Alendru’s personal library: at the time of the conflagration at Harrowstone, five especially infamous prisoners were housed within its walls. This clue, a handwritten report, did not go into further detail, but proved illuminating nonetheless.

While Kendra and Laurent were deep in their studies, Brother Ruckheart reminded them that it was the Day of Silenced Whispers, the annual commemoration of the day Tar-Baphon was finally defeated by the Shining Crusade almost 900 years ago. What with all the excitement of the previous few weeks, Kendra had lost track of such things, but told Laurent there would be a big celebration in town square with free food and drink.

Ally, Valdís, and Ros encountered these preparations firsthand as they returned from their research. Many people were already setting up decorations and children were running about. They overheard five young girls, dancing with merriment, sing a tune so strange and macabre they couldn’t help but investigate:

Put her body on the bed,
    take a knife and lop her head.
Watch the blood come out the pipe,
    feeds the stirge, so nice and ripe.
Drops of red so sparkly bright,
    splatters spell her name just right.
With a hammer killed his wife,
    now he wants to claim your life.
Tricksy father tells a lie,
    listen close or you will die.

The girls told Ros the song had always been sung in Ravengro, and it didn’t mean anything, but the three adventurers took it upon themselves to ask around about its strange lyrics. All they got out of the townsfolk was that it had actually only been around for a few decades, though no one was quite sure of its origin.

Around this time Kendra and Laurent met back up with the others. It was nearly time for the festivities to commence, and Zokar and Sarianna began setting out kegs and tables full of fresh breads with jars of jam and other spreads and pork turnovers and other such treats. Pevrin, who had been running around the square helping with the decorations, ran some food to the party before again helping Nadia hang streamers from the façade of the Ravengro General Store.

Father Grimburrow kicked the celebration off, giving a brief oral history of the reign of Tar-Baphon. He then handed things off to Sarianna, who sang a sorrowful ballad recounting the death of Arazni, a warrior-goddess summoned to challenge Tar-Baphon. She charged the Whispering Tyrant amidst a pitched battle but vastly underestimated the lich’s power and was quickly incapacitated. At first it was thought her ultimate fate would never be known, but after thirteen days Tar-Baphon hurled her dead body into the ranks of the Knights of Ozem.

It was during this song that two stirges emerged from a nearby copse of trees, flying over town square in movements oddly in sync with the music. This didn’t stop them from dive-bombing Laurent and Valdís, latching onto their armor and piercing them both with their filthy, spearlike probosces, drawing blood in long draughts. The townspeople scattered, and only a few brave souls remained to see the party dispatch the wayward stirges. One among them was Father Grimburrow, who noted how unusual it was for stirges to be near civilization.

Wealday, Arodus 10th, 4711

Father Charlatan

The party woke early on Wealday, more eager than ever to get to the bottom of the mystery of Ravengro. All five arrived bright and early at the Temple of Pharasma and, after Laurent assured Brother Ruckheart that Ally, Ros, and Valdís wouldn’t cause any trouble in the archives, dove into any document that might shed light on the identities of the notorious five prisoners of Harrowstone.

Before day’s end, they had uncovered an account, written by a young acolyte of the temple, naming the aliases of the five: Father Charlatan, the Lopper, the Mosswater Marauder, the Piper of Illlmarsh, and the Splatter Man. However, it only detailed the crimes of Father Charlatan: Sefick Corvin was not technically a murderer, but had blasphemed against several churches who demanded he be punished to the full extent of Ustalavic law. Although he claimed to be an ordained priest of any number of faiths, “Father Corvin” was in fact a traveling con artist who used faith as a mask and a means to bilk the faithful out of money in payment for false miracles or cures. He became known as Father Charlatan after his scheme was exposed and his Sczarni accomplices murdered a half-dozen city guards in an attempt to make good the group’s escape.

The party stopped off at the Laughing Demon before calling it a day, where they ran into Gharen and Councilwoman Shanda Faravan. After Gharen introduced the group to his colleague, they revealed that they were frustrated with Councilman Hearthmount, though didn’t go into further detail. It also came to light that Faravan had once been a royal accuser, and when questioned about the five prisonersshe mentioned having read something particularly gruesome about the criminal known as the Splatter Man, but could not recall the details of his life or crimes at the moment. Eventually Laurent got the Councilwoman on her own and she confided in him that she had left the royal courts in disgrace after once having made a claim of innocence for a man later proven to be guilty. Ally also spoke with the Councilwoman in private, but did not see fit to share the subject or content of their dialogue with the others.

At the night’s end, the party retired to Lorrimor Place.

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Storm on the Horizon

Oathday, Arodus 11th, 4711

V-E

The group woke to cloudy day. Ally, Kendra, Ros, and Valdís planned to head back to the temple archives to further research the five prisoners, while Laurent intended to check in with some of the locals. However, as they departed Lorrimor Place, they spotted one of Sheriff Caeller’s deputies running toward the Harrowstone memorial. Naturally, they followed the man.

As they approached, it appeared someone had committed another bloody desecration of the monument. The victim appeared larger than the river rat than the previous incident, and Ally and Ros ended up hanging back to calm Valdís as she was initially certain the killer had claimed the life of Old River. meanwhile, Laurent approached Sheriff Caeller while Kendra sought information from the two deputies on the scene.

The first thing they noticed upon advancing into the clearing was that the letter smeared on the memorial this time was a large “E”. The second thing that drew there attention was that it was a cat that lay slain in the mud. Kendra discovered from Deputy Riff that he and the other deputies were shaken by the bloody scenes and had been hoping the first was just a misguided prank by some local boys or a tribe of goblins moving through the area. He also confided that he wasn’t sure Caeller knew how to proceed, and still seemed convinced this was not the work of some supernatural entity but simply a common criminal.

Caeller for his part was already stretched thin and even though Laurent had built something of a rapport with him he snapped when the paladin questioned him. Caeller demanded to know why Laurent always seemed to be one of the first people on the scene of these crimes. Laurent tried to calm him, but as soon as he mentioned Harrowstone, Caeller stopped him and stated as firmly as he could that, in his mind at least, the idea that some supernatural force connected to the supposed hauntings at Harrowstone was patently ridiculous. He pointed out that there were physical tracks on the scene, and claimed that physical evidence would solve the crime, not theories about decades-old ghosts or ghouls. Caeller ended by saying that if Laurent’s research turned up anything that might provide motive for a living suspect, bring it forth, but he would hear nothing more about the supernatural.

The party lingered long enough to note footsteps leading toward town, but were unable to follow them when they passed through some thick underbrush.

The Splatter Man

Ally, Kendra, Ros, and Valdís went back to the temple archives to continue their research. Kendra, nervous about the apparently increasing supernatural activity, also ordered a couple healing potions from the temple stores.

They focused their research on the murderer they knew only by the monicker “the Splatter Man” based on Shanda Faravan’s vague recollection. They discovered a copy of a court document outlining the Splatter Man’s horrifying crimes: Professor Feramin was a celebrated scholar of anthroponomastics—the study of personal names and their origins—at the Quartrefaux Archives in Caliphas, but an encounter with a succubus twisted his study. Feramin became obsessed with the power of a name and how he could use it to terrify and control. A series of dangerous experiments ruined his reputation, and soon enough he’d lost his tenure and he’d developed an uncontrollable fixation on an imaginary link between a person’s name and what happens to that name when the person dies. Every few days, he would secretly arrange for his victim to find a letter from her name written in blood, perhaps smeared on a wall or spelled out with carefully arranged entrails. Once he had spelled his victim’s name, he would at last come for her, killing her in a gory mess using a complex trap or series of rigged events meant to look like an accident.

The parallels between this description of the long-deceased Feramin’s crimes and the incidents at the Harrowstone memorial were immediately obvious to the researchers, though they were still stumped by the presence of the footsteps at the scene. Ally noted the reports mentioned that Feramin had used his powers to control some of his victims, and asserted it may be possible for his undead spirit to control a townsperson, while the others thought it equally likely that Feramin had manifested physically and was carrying out these crimes himself. They all agreed that a piece of the puzzle was still missing.

And, even if it was Feramin, who could “V-E” be?

Gossip Girl

While the others spent the day with their noses firmly planted in books and dusty scrolls, Laurent paid a visit to Jominda’s Apothecary. He asked Jominda if she knew anything about the second incident at the memorial, and though she hadn’t, she said it didn’t surprise her Caeller was still convinced this was nothing more than a vandal, as he was originally from Lepidstadt, a city whose elite prided themselves on a rational, scientific understanding of the world—Caeller likely wouldn’t seek a supernatural source for the crimes unless presented with overwhelming evidence.

When Laurent said he was sure some greater evil was afoot, most likely an undead threat, Jominda offered him a potion of detect undead from her personal stash free of charge, thinking this might help him root out this hidden danger.

After thanking Jominda and asking her to keep her ear to the ground about the possible target of the memorial haunting, he headed to the temple, where he sat in meditation, paying respect to Pharasma and then praying for Sarenrae to burn away all obstructions that lay between him and his foes.

Restless Dead

The party regrouped in the temple late that afternoon, and began to share information but were distracted as several temple acolytes milled about the entrance to the temple and ran to fetch Father Grimburrow from his chambers. Ros and Valdís snuck to the entrance to see what the commotion was, and spied a group of seven dirty commoners headed toward the temple from the north. At first it seemed they might be another angry mob, like the one that waylaid the party in the Restlands, but Valdís spotted something horrifying: it was not flesh but mud that clung to these creature’s bones.

Father Grimburrow pushed his way past the adventurers but his acolytes hung back, clearly terrified. They had gathered several maces from the storeroom though, and gladly handed them off to the party when Laurent recalled that blunt force would be needed to destroy the undead skeletons. Seeing them so armed, Father Grimburrow beckoned them forth, saying, “Come, there is work to be done.”

The scene before the temple descended into battle, the skeletons charging forth, propelled by mindless lust for death. Valdís scorched two of the creatures with her burning hands and Laurent and Ros bashed two more. Father Grimburrow took a step back from the front line and unleashed a wave of holy energy, and all but one of the skeletons crumbled into ash.

However, Grimburrow doubled over, coughing violently. Some malady overtook him suddenly, and after the adventurers dispatched the last of the skeletons Grimburrow’s acolytes gathered him up and carried him back into the temple. He stopped to speak to the party then, saying they must continue up to the Restlands and ensure no more undead abominations emerged before his acolytes had a chance to reconsecrate the grounds.

On their way up they road, they spotted Sheriff Caeller ahead, near the north bridge. He was engaged in combat with one skeleton and a second stood over the unconscious body of Deputy Riff. Caeller dashed the first skeleton to the ground with his longsword and hurled a throwing axe at the one standing over his companion, smashing its skull to bits. Laurent rushed forward to stanch the deputy’s bleeding and the party produced a healing potion to bring him back to consciousness.

Caeller’s thanks for their aid was profuse, and he apologized sincerely to Laurent for doubting his instincts regarding the presence of supernatural evil in the town. Caeller said there were more skeletons that made it past him, toward town, which he and the deputy needed to chase down, but requested the party continue north to head off any further undead.

Squall at the Restlands

When the adventurers arrived at the south gates of the Restlands, the storm had picked up considerably, with winds so stiff Ros could barely move against them. They waited just outside the gates, waiting anxiously for the next turn of fate. They did not have to wait long.

Three corpses rose from the soft ground, these much fresher than the skeletons encountered before. Laurent identified them as zombies, and advised his allies to draw slashing weapons against them. The party advanced cautiously, taking no chances with their unholy adversaries. Laurent called down a bolt of holy fire to smite one of the mindless creatures, while Valdís ensorcelled her longsword and tossed a battleaxe to Kendra, who cast a true strike on herself.

Despite these strong magics, the zombies proved much tougher than skeletons, and withstood several strong blows. The party widdled their numbers down until only one remained, but the horrific scene got the better of Ally, whose monstrous heritage overcame her—she slashed madly at the zombie with her claws, stripping the flesh from its bones. She didn’t bring it down though, and with one blow across the head from the thing’s gamy limb she crumpled into the mud.

Enraged, Valdís finally cleaved the zombie in half, her fervor startling the others, who up to this point had been unsure whether she cared for them. The party expended another healing potion to revive the fallen witch, and moments later Sheriff Caeller arrived with two deputies and several acolytes. Surveying the scene and shouting over the storm, he thanked them again for their service to the town and ordered the acolytes to heal their remaining wounds. He told them he could take it from there, and sent them back to town.

Aftermath

The party made their way back through town, moving slowly so as to ensure no remaining undead lingered amongst the townsfolk. When they arrived in town square, they saw Pevrin posting notices to a pole. When he spotted them, he rushed forward and handed them a copy, telling them an emergency town meeting had been scheduled for that Starday, Arodus 13th, to discuss how best to combat the now apparent supernatural threat. Pevrin personally requested they make an appearance, as he seemed not to trust the local authorities to respond to these disturbing events.

When asked who sent him out to post the notice around town, Pevrin directed them to Councilman Muricar, so they decided to pay him a visit. A manservant seated them in the drawing room and the councilman joined shortly thereafter. Gharen explained that he’d been pushing Vashian on the subject of a town meeting for days but his colleague couldn’t be bothered with it until this day’s events. Speaking candidly, Gharen asked the adventurers assembled before him what they thought the best course of action would be given everything they’d seen and their considerable research. Laurent pounce on this opportunity, requesting he be given command over a contingent of warriors drawn from the local militia, his purpose being an expedition into the Harrowstone ruins. Gharen nodded gravely, saying the party had his full support.

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Smoldering Revenge

Fireday, Arodus 12th, 4711

Fever Dream

Over a breakfast of porridge, Kendra shared with Ally, Laurent, and Ros a revelation she had while writing in her journal the night before: the song they’d overheard the children singing in town square—and that she herself had sung as a child—was actually about the infamous five prisoners. They immediately determined the third couplet described the Splatter Man, and the fifth Father Charlatan, but the other three took a bit more deduction. The first couplet contains the phrase “lop her head,” which they guessed meant it belonged to the Lopper, while the second mentioned a pipe and thus must have described the crimes of the Piper of Illmarsh. This left the fourth for the Mosswater Marauder.

It was about then that they all noticed Valdís had not made an appearance, which was strange given that the restless elf was usually among the first out of bed. Ally thought perhaps she’d already set out to gather supplies for the impending expedition into Harrowstone, but noises from elsewhere within Lorrimor Place drew the party’s attention. They found Valdís drenched in sweat and dry heaving in bed, a puddle of vomit on the floor by her side. Laurent diagnosed her with a particularly dire case of filth fever, most likely contracted from their encounter with the stirges on Toilday. He cleaned her up, but, given her condition, the party decided the trip to Harrowstone would have to wait.

Once Valdís regained her composure, still groggy, she related the dream they’d woken her from: She’d found herself in a room she’d never seen before, large, with stone walls and barred windows, and a locked wooden door. Smoke seeped from under the door, filling the room, and though she tried to force the door and squeeze through the window, there was nothing she could do as air grew thin and the darkness closed in around her.

They all agreed she’d dreamed of Harrowstone, but what the significance of the dream might be none could say.

Mosswater Marauder

The party, their hopes of delving into Harrowstone put on hold, arrived at the temple that morning, hoping to confirm their information regarding the Mosswater Marauder. The doors to the temple usually remained open all day, allowing parishioners to come freely, but on this day they found them closed and barred from within. Not knowing what else to do, they knocked, and Brother Ruckheart answered, nervously ushering them into the archives, but he explained that with all the strange things going on in town, combined with Father Grimburrow’s taking ill, things around the temple were getting stricter, meaning this would be the last time he’d be able to get them into the archives until conditions improved.

The party accepted this, thanking Ruckheart for his aid thus far, and took full advantage of their last day in the temple. Ally and Laurent followed up on some avenues of research regarding the Whispering Way, while Kendra and Ros continued sifting through copies of prison records for accounts of the Marauder.

Ally and Laurent uncovered pages from the journal of one of the founding priests of the temple—likely one of those who left the secret cache of holy weapons in the Restlands—who had some notes about the Way. She’d written that followers of the Way often venture into haunted areas to perform research or capture unique creatures, though they never leave witnesses, and often take the precaution of crushing a victim’s head so not even a casting of speak with dead can reveal their actions. The others asked Kendra if she knew what in what condition her father’s body had been found but Sheriff Caeller had kept those details from her, telling her it would be best if her final memories of him not be of his present state.

Kendra and Ros also had some luck, discovering a file on the Mosswater Marauder: Only five years before his hometown of Mosswater was destined to be overrun and ruined by monsters from the nearby river, Ispin Onyxcudgel was a well-liked artisan and a doting husband. When he discovered his wife’s infidelity, he flew into a jealous rage and struck her dead with his hammer, shattering her skull and his sanity with one murderous blow. Wracked with shame and guilt, Ispin became convinced that if he could rebuild his wife’s skull she would come back to life—but unfortunately, he could not find the last blade-shaped fragment from the murder site. So instead, Ispin became the Mosswater Marauder. Over the course of several weeks, the cunning dwarf stalked and murdered nearly twenty people while searching for just the right skull fragment. He was captured just before murdering the daughter of a visiting nobleman from Varno, and was carted off to Harrowstone that same night.

Among the People

Late that afternoon, the adventurers wandered the town following up on their research and, in Laurent’s case, scanning townsfolk for signs of demonic or ghostly possession. Their first stop was to speak with Jominda, who mentioned that she’d spoken to Councilman Gharen about Harrowstone, recalling he’d considered himself an amateur historian earlier in his career in the Ravengro council, but he didn’t seem to know anything the party hadn’t already uncovered in their research. However, Jominda had taken a shot in the dark and asked him if he knew anyone whose name began with “V-E,” and though he said he didn’t she thought there was something he hadn’t told her. She also offered the pack a healing kit and have it sent over to Lorrimor Place that evening when she saw the state Valdís was in, an offer the party graciously accepted.

The party split, with Ally, Kendra, and Ros following Jominda’s tip and Laurent and Valdís heading to the town jail to ask Sheriff Caeller about the condition in which Professor Lorrimor’s body was found. Still happy to help their investigation, Caeller read the relevant notes from his personal journal, saying that they found the body on the edge of Harrowstone’s grounds, his head crushed by a large stone that had fallen from the crumbling outer wall. The only tracks on the scene appeared to be Lorrimor’s. His body was checked for any other wounds or unusual bruising but nothing was found. The stone was left at the scene, while the body was carted away as soon as an acolyte could be called from the temple to perform the proper rites. They thanked Caeller for the information and felt comfortable in their conclusion that the cult of the Whispering Way was behind the professor’s death, but were left wondering how the cultists might possibly be connected to the ongoing supernatural events.

Ally, Kendra, and Ros found Gharen in his study, poring over a desk covered in notes and various legal documents. They were prepared for some manner of deception, or at least to coax the information Jominda alluded to with a quick charm hex, but he volunteered the information almost immediately: when Jominda had asked him about the name, perhaps because she had just been asking about Harrowstone, he recalled that the wife of Warden Hawkran was named Vesorianna. He recalled that he’d first come across the name when he’d uncovered a beautiful likeness of the woman in the town hall records, and, in his words, he would “never forget a face like that.” It seemed irrelevant, given that she’d been presumed dead since the day of the Harrowstone fire, so he hadn’t bothered mentioning it to Jominda.

Starday, Arodus 13th, 4711

Catching Fire

In the morning Laurent tended to Valdís, who decided to sleep in and recover from her fever. The others got a note from Sheriff Caeller allowing them to peruse the town hall records for more information about another of the five prisoners: the Piper of Illmarsh. There seemed to be less information regarding this man than the others, but Kendra cobbled together a few scraps from various sources. Apparently, before he snatched his victims, the Piper taunted his targets with a mournful dirge on his flute. He preferred to paralyze lone victims by dosing their meals with lich dust and then allowed his pet stirges to drink the victims dry of blood. To this day, his true identity remains unknown; though he spent the majority of his murderous career in the swamp town of Illmarsh, he was not a native of that or the surrounding area.

By the time the party was wrapping up their research, a few townspeople were already mingling in town hall’s main room for the meeting that evening. Ally sent her owl to watch the Harrowstone memorial as the party found their places in the meeting room. A few familiar faces arrived shortly before sundown—Jominda, Sarianna, Zokar, as well as Caeller and his deputies, and of course the Council people—but the room was packed with dozens of others, including many farmers from the surrounding land. Even Valdís dragged herself out of bed for the meeting.

Councilwoman Mirta Straelock stepped forward at the head of the room first, quieting the crowd as the last rays of sunlight shone through the open windows of the town hall meeting room. She said she’d spent a lot of time meeting with farmers and investigating the unusual events occurring outside the town proper, and that it was time for all of them to come together as a community to face the evil looming over the town. She then called the sheriff forward to make a public report of his investigations.

Caeller first announced that his investigation of the Harrowstone memorial vandalism revealed tracks belonging to the perpetrator leading from town, meaning that he or she remained among the townsfolk. Because of this, he had decided to implement a curfew of nightfall starting the following evening.

He then announced that his investigation of the Restlands had revealed tampering with one of the crypts, specifically that the lock had been opened with the use of some sort of acid and the occupant of its sarcophagus had apparently been removed. The party immediately recognized this as the crypt Professor Lorrimor had opened and into which they themselves had delved, and though a few nervous looks passed between them it seemed like they weren’t suspects. Ally whispered to Laurent that this must be why the acolytes had decided to lock the temple down for the time being. Caeller finished by announcing that the Restlands would not be open to the public until further notice, and those who wished to visit loved ones would need to be accompanied by an acolyte.

Councilman Hearthmount then stood, saying they would leave the end of the meeting for open discourse but that everyone would need to remain calm. The worst any of them could do, he continued, would be to panic and endanger their countrymen. He also set down general rules for the people while the supernatural threat persisted, including staying out of the woods and keeping their doors and windows locked and their children inside.

He was interrupted by one of the farmers shooting up from his seat, demanding to know why everyone was acting like they didn’t know the source of the evil in town. He pointed at the adventurers and began shouting a tirade about how everything started getting worse when the outsiders started showing up. Another woman on the other side of the room also stood, shouting that her grandmother always said you could spot a witch by their different colored eyes, so Ally, whose eyes were of two different colors, must be a witch, and she must have formed a coven with Kendra and Valdís and cursed the town.

Gharen stood and tried to defend the party, calling Caeller back up to recount their good deeds during the undead attack, but the hall descended into chaos, the townsfolk all shouting amongst themselves. The cacophony was accompanied by a rise in temperature, seeming natural at first given the outburst of emotion in the packed room but rapidly becoming such that it felt like the floor beneath their feet was about to burst into flames. Just then, five lanterns illuminating the room shattered, spilling burning oil on the walls and floor below them. Two townsfolk immediately fell, bodies scorched by the fire, and nearly everyone lost themselves in abject terror.

Only the adventurers seemed prepared in the face of this new danger.

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Expedition to Harrowstone Prison

Starday, Arodus 13th, 4711

The Fires Spread

The fires raced through town hall, licking at the heavy curtains hanging over the windows that lined the walls and the thick rugs covering the floor. Strange shadows leapt across the walls, cast by the manic movements of the dozens of townsfolk clambering for the door. Two such townspeople fell to the fires, having been unfortunate enough to be standing directly under two of the lamps that had exploded. The party was caught off guard by this mass hysteria, but only for a moment.

Ros snapped into action, leaping atop a nearby windowsill and directing the crowd, calming them long enough to evacuate the building in an orderly fashion and avoiding any further civilian casualties. The party pulled the fallen townspeople from the fires, ensuring they survived their injuries before turning to fight the fires. The flame leapt at them, almost eagerly, but their efforts were enough to slowly push it back. The only townspeople who remained to aid the party were Sheriff Caeller and Councilman Muricar—who slipped into the offices in the back of town hall to gather miscellaneous documents before returning to find the others valiantly beating back the fire.

Before they’d seen the last of the fire though, two of the hall’s windows shattered as a pair of flaming skulls, undead creatures cursed with malevolent will, flew into the chamber, one darting for Laurent while the other cornered Ros in a ring of fire.

Laurent called down the holy might of Sarenrae and smote one of the skulls in a single mighty blow. The rest of the party turned to aid Ros—Kendra and Valdís unleashed a barrage of arcane energies on the skull bearing down on their diminutive ally, blowing the creature to cinders.

They quickly dispatched the last of the fires, and when they finally emerged from the scorched but still-standing structure a crowd of awed townsfolk met them with profuse thanks and adulation. Even the generally reserved Councilman Vashian Hearthmount offered some praise, though he remained somewhat withholding despite the adventurers’ heroic deeds.

Laurent remained at the scene for a brief chat with Gharen, who reentered the smoldering hall to replace the documents he’d been trying to save. He indicated that they mostly composed correspondence he’d been having with officials in Tamrivena, requesting aid be sent to Ravengro, but he did not seem hopeful about their prospects. He also said it seemed unlikely that he’d be able to follow through on his offer to grant Laurent a contingent of men from the local militia as Vashian and Councilwoman Mirta Straelock had stated privately that the militia should only be utilized to safeguard the town and surrounding farmland, and they were not willing to risk any resources on the uncertain ground of Harrowstone.

Sunday, Arodus 14th, 4711

The Prison on the Hill

The party woke early to clear, blue skies and a cool breeze. Laurent checked on Valdís and determined that she’d overcome her illness, so the party decided it was finally time to head to Harrowstone. They stopped by Jominda’s and the Temple to pick up a few last-minute supplies and then set out on foot.

They followed the uneven country road past two miles of farmland to the edge of the forest that clung to the sides of the hill atop which Harrowstone perched. The road up the hill was overgrown after decades of neglect, and even on that cloudless day the path was darkened by the tall bristlecone pine trees. Halfway up the hill they heard a howl from somewhere nearby, and Ally whispered to the others that a wolf must be stalking them and calling to the rest of its pack. Laurent said that if they could make it to the Harrowstone grounds before the pack arrived they would probably be safe, as most animals won’t enter a haunted area. They hustled up the final stretch, never setting eyes on their pursuers.

The road approached the prison from the south, its walls still intimidating though its gates hung loose on their massive hinges and one section off to their right seemed to have collapsed into a pond within the prison grounds. Laurent was the first to pass through the aging gates, and was overwhelmed for a split second with a vision of his flesh igniting in crackling flame. The hallucination left him physically unharmed but even the stalwart paladin was shaken after such a vision.

Within the walls they set eyes for the first time on the prison itself, a two-story stone structure worn with age, covered in wooden shingles that in many places had rotted through or been blown away, revealing glimpses of wooden beams beneath in equally poor condition. The front doors hung open, above which sagged a balcony. The main structure of the prison was flanked by two massive stone balconies that ran the length of the either side of the building, though it appears as if the southern balcony had partially collapsed into the same murky pond as the section of the out wall.

Directly before the prison sat a squat wooden house, which the party surmised had once been the home of Warden Lyvar Hawkran and his wife, Vesorianna. They made a quick pass through the house, but after seeing that it had been ransacked already—nothing more than a few splintered boards and an overturned wardrobe remained, and numerous plants had sprouted through the floorboards—they departed for the prison itself.

As the approached, several of the party noticed that beneath the thick sheets of ivy that covered the prison there seemed to be a number of strange markings near the structure’s foundations. Laurent also noticed that the balcony above the main entrance appeared to be unstable; though it posed no immediate threat, he recommended they not put too much weight on it should they explore the second floor.

Kendra examined the strange markings, runes of some sort, determining that they were composed almost entirely of characters from the Varisian alphabet and that they were used to perform a ritual that involved both abjuration and necromancy, and though the exact nature of the ritual eluded her, the name “Lyvar Hawkran” was repeated several times. Laurent dutifully copied the markings into his journal for later reference.

The adventurers entered the prison, advancing past a small antechamber into the prison foyer, its floor covered in a carpet of soft fungi. Here they were confronted with four doors, and their first two choices, two doors to the east opened on the same chamber, a massive room lined with benches, a small section at the southern end barred from the large seating area. Laurent suggested first that this might be a chapel, but the lack of holy symbols and the presence of a podium standing before the barred area led them to believe this may be were appeals and sentencing of the prisoners occurred.

Laurent and Valdís lead the way as they entered the auditorium, Valdís casting light on her longsword to provide illumination in the dark chamber. However, the doors behind them slammed shut as soon as those two entered the room, and the temperature immediately dipped in the auditorium, sending a chill straight to their bones.

Ally, still in the foyer with Kendra and Ros, noted that they were witnessing a haunt, a type of undead spirit too weak to manifest as a full ghost but still able to manipulate the physical realm, albeit in a very crude manner. The one before them was a slamming portal haunt, which could be destroyed by sprinkling holy water on the door it inhabited. Kendra drew a flask and followed Ally’s instructions, releasing the door from the wayward spirit.

Laurent and Valdís faced a more dire threat: Laurent caught on the the fact that they were facing a haunting as well, though in addition to the slamming portal, he knew the chill he felt in his bones indicated the presence of cold spot, which could easily sap the strength from even a hardy warrior. He stepped out of its area of influence but Valdís misjudged the haunt, shrugging off the worst of its effects but still suffering as the chill drew the strength from her bones.

The rest of the party kicked in the door and Ros lunged forward and, at Laurent’s direction, hurled a flask of alchemist’s fire at the haunt’s epicenter. The fire did much to combat the haunt but it took Kendra and finally Valdís again focusing their arcane energies on the haunt to dissipate it. Ally noted that while they’d destroyed the slamming portal haunt, they’d merely dismissed the cold spot for the time being, and Laurent noted they’d have one hour before the haunt could summon enough energy to manifest again.

They pressed on to the next chamber, through a jammed door on the eastern wall of the auditorium. This wide room was filled with old dummies and blunted, rusty weaponry, most likely a training area for the guards. This chamber was exposed to the prison grounds as the far wall had collapsed into the mud and water of the pond. A small stream from the pond snaked through the chamber, emptying into a hole that yawned into some dark dungeon below—the opening seemed to have once served as a lift between the ground level and the dungeon, given what bits of machinery remained suspended above the hole. Every surface of the training room not exposed to running water was caked with soot.

For a brief moment as they entered the room, the party believed another hallucination of the Harrowstone’s infamous fire was overcoming them, as flame seemed to rise from the depths of the dungeon, but this was no false vision: three flaming skulls rose from the darkness of the pit, crackling with fire and shooting through the air at the adventurers.

Our heroes raised their weapons, ready for a fight.

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Sifting Through the Ash

Sunday, Arodus 14th, 4711

Beheaded

The trio of flaming skulls rocketed out of the pit in the center of the ruined training room, but their numbers were immediately reduced by one when a magic missile cast by Kendra blasted the first of the creatures to bits. Laurent lunged at the creatures, swatting another from the air while the last nearly collided with his head, managing only to singe his long, flowing hair. The horrid creature, distracted by the paladin, fell to Ros’s quick blade.

The party fanned out, picking through the remnants of what training equipment remained in the large room, but nothing useful had endured both the fire and the many decades of neglect. Valdís scanned the lake through the gaping hole in the prison’s partially-collapsed eastern wing, keeping her distance while wondering aloud how humans could be so foolish as to build a prison practically on top of those murky waters. Ally crept as near as she dared to the edge of pit, reporting to the others that all she could make out at its bottom, about twenty feet below, was another pool of water.

Old Ember Maw

The adventurers headed through a door on the training room’s north wall—what part of it had not yet collapsed—to find themselves in the prison’s furnace room. Like the training room, the shallows of the lake extended well into this chamber, and only a thin sheet ivy creepers separated the room from the prison grounds. The massive furnace itself protruded about a foot into the room but appeared to extend deep into the structure of the prison. Its grate hung open, leaving its firebox yawning open like the mouth of some incomprehensible beast. Ros approached the thing, learning that the resemblance to a monstrous set of jaws had not been lost on the thing’s creators, for bolted above the firebox was a brass plaque reading “Old Ember Maw.”

Ros was about to peer into Ember Maw’s firebox when the thing lurched forward, screeching with the sound of warping iron as it contorted into the vague shape of a skull-like visage. Ethereal flames leapt from its firebox, one jet lashing out at Ros like a tongue of hellfire. She deftly sidestepped the attack, though she found the black scorch mark on the ground where she’d just been standing quite unsettling.

The party snapped into action, Kendra firing a ray of frost at the hellfire while Valdís cast disrupt undead. It wasn’t enough to dismiss the haunt though, and it took both Ally and Laurent hurling flasks of holy water into the Ember Maw’s firebox before its unholy energy subsided.

Laurent said he didn’t know how they might destroy the haunt permanently, but something that manifested so strongly would take at least a day to gather its energy again. Ros became convinced that the only way the furnace would be so haunted would be if some especially horrifying death had occurred within, so against the wishes of some among the party she clambered inside the firebox. Within, she quickly located a complete human skeleton, which she passed out to the others in pieces so Laurent might examine the remains.

Based on several telling stress fractures at the wrists and ankles, Laurent announced this must have been a prisoner, although how the man ended up in the furnace he could not say. The bones were certainly old enough to be from the time of Harrowstone’s heyday, but nothing more could be said for sure.

The adventurers weren’t sure if recovering the bones was enough to release the haunt to the afterlife, or if it required a proper burial, so they agreed to allow Ally to set the bones in the lake, where they thought the waters would soothe the angry spirit. She waded out a bit and gently placed the bones below the surface.

Wakefulness of the Weak

The party pressed onward, through a second door in the furnace room leading west. Laurent forced the door open and they entered a dimly lit chamber filled with moldy cots and lined with shelves covered in what looked to be crude surgical implements and sundry alchemical remedies.

Almost immediately, Ally and Valdís felt a strange presence in this infirmary. They barely had time to warn the others before the light dimmed even further and a form took shape on one of the cots. In the darkness, it was barely visible, but as they watched it turned its head ever so toward them, the remaining light revealing a gruesome, torn grimace before the creature again vanished.

Valdís was left to face this unknown horror alone when the others, having been stricken with a deep, overriding fear, fled the room. She spat a score of elvish curses at her so-called allies as they scrambled past one another, but stood her ground nonetheless, inured to such abandonment by her years wandering the River Kingdoms with no one to depend on but herself.

The ghostly presence moved about the chamber, using some form of telekinesis to whip a fusillade of surgical tools at the elf. A rusty scalpel nicked her on the cheek and a retractor hit her square in the chest but she shrugged off the pain, focusing on the faint gurgling noise that issued from the invisible fiend as it drifted through the air. She lunged at the source of the sound, slashing wildly at the air with her ensorcelled blade.

The others recovered their senses before long but as they returned through the furnace room, several figures rose from the depths of the lake—skeletons, covered in muck and reeds and advancing rapidly. Ros nocked and arrow and shot one of their skulls clean off, the rest of its bones slumping into the water. Laurent cheered the halfling and told the others he’d hold the remaining skeletons off while they went to the aid of Valdís.

They found the elf engaged in a brutal melee with the ghostly creature, a gale of telekinetic energy whipping through the chamber as Valdís slashed at her unseen foe, her blade erupting with a flare of arcane energy when she struck true. Ally gathered a charge of her healing hex in the palm of her hand but was unable to draw close enough to deliver it, while Kendra cast magic weapon on her crossbow and struggled to line up a shot.

Valdís, after landing a few solid blows, forced the creature toward the casters, and it was then that Kendra loosed a bolt and, with a final bone-chilling shriek, the creature seemed to be destroyed. No one moved for at least half a minute, fearing the fiend was lulling them into a false sense of security, but it became apparent that they were indeed victorious.

Laurent and Ros rejoined them as Ally discharged her healing energy on Valdís, mending several cuts and a fractured rib. Laurent immediately began rifling through the alchemical remedies lining the shelves. After checking several of their containers, he found that the seals on these items had allowed them to retain their potency. He also located three potions of cure light wounds—there had been a fourth but it was destroyed in the chaos of the fight.

Deadfall

After the paladin divvied the items up among the party, they debated delving deeper into the prison. They’d managed to remain largely unscathed by the haunts and ghosts but Kendra insisted she and Valdís needed a day in town to copy spells from each others’ spell books. Laurent was anxious to continue exploring, but sympathized with Kendra’s concerns and, after consulting a crude map he’d been keeping of the prison, indicated to the others that a second door in the infirmary on the southern wall probably opened into a hallway back to the foyer.

This prediction turned out to be correct, and though the others were rushing to the exit, hoping to escape before becoming sidelined by another ghost, Laurent couldn’t help but peek through two of the four doors that lined the corridor. Both opened into stairs—one upward to the second floor, and the other that once delved into the dungeons below, but was blocked by a mass of stone blocks. Laurent noticed some peculiar masonry in this second stair and guessed that this was the result of an intentional deadfall. Once he relayed this to the others Ally confirmed that their research had revealed that exactly such an event followed the start of the infamous prison riot—they were looking at the work of Warden Hawkran himself, who made a fateful decision to trap himself and twenty-three guards in the dungeon in order to stymie the riot.

The cause of the fire itself, and the ultimate source of the evil lurking within Harrowstone, remained opaque, and though they vowed to get to the bottom of the myriad mysteries the prison posed, none among their number could deny feeling as though a weight had been lifted from their shoulders as they emerged from the prison that afternoon.

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The Dark of the Woods

Sunday, Arodus 14th, 4711

Through the Woods

The adventurers, shaken from several brushes with the supernatural, fled Harrowstone for the day. None among their number were terribly injured, but several threats had left them feeling unprepared, especially the poltergeist haunting the infirmary. Laurent reviewed his notes, reviewing his options against incorporeal foes, while Valdís bandaged a few of her remaining cuts and bruises.

The overgrown path that snaked its way down the side of the hill atop which Harrowstone crumbled had darkened somewhat under the afternoon sun, and a stiff breeze raked at the surrounding pines. The party was still on high alert from the prison, and it had not occurred to any of them to stow their weapons. This turned out to be to their benefit, as they did not make it far before a massive stag red deer hurtled across their path, nearly trampling Laurent. The stag was followed by two gray wolves, and while the stag continued charging through the forest, the wolves were startled by the sudden appearance of the party before them and stopped in their tracks.

The wolves sized up the party long enough for Ally to issue a charm hex at the larger of the two, though her magic did not seem to be strong enough to sway the beast. The wolves charged, accompanied by a third that had been laying in wait in the underbrush. One clamped its teeth around Laurent’s forearm and tried to drag him to the ground but the paladin managed to shake himself free and retaliated with his greatsword. Ally issued a command to another, gesturing for it to flee back into the woods, and it obeyed. The last wolf fell quickly thereafter.

Laurent felt a certain kinship with one of the wolves, and after finding that, though badly injured, it was still alive, he tended to its wounds and heaved it over his shoulders. Kendra questioned him at first, but though he could not fully explain his motives, she did not go so far as to stop him from carrying the injured creature back to town and crafting a crude kennel for it out of an old woodshed behind Lorrimor Place.

Moonday, Arodus 15th, 4711

Office of the Warden

The following day the party delved once more into Harrowstone. The journey there was uneventful, though they did notice that the other wolf body was missing from the road where they’d left it—probably carried off by some other predator. Harrowstone was as they’d left it save for a small cluster of crimson and violet flowers that had bloomed amid the tangle of vines that covered the eastern half of the prison’s façade. Ally paused a moment to identify the flowers only to realize that they were in fact a carnivorous variety of flowering vine known as xtabay, known for its ability to emit its pollen as an airborne toxin capable of knocking a man unconscious. She told the others that it likely couldn’t sense them from where they were standing, but it would be ill advised to approach.

Laurent, taking a closer look at this unsettling news, noticed that some unwary traveler had made exactly this mistake: the body of a gnome was hidden under the flowers, mostly obscured by the vines wrapped tightly around its body. While clearly long deceased, he noted to the others that it could not have been as old as the Harrowstone fire.

Once inside the prison, the party took the leftmost door from the foyer, forcing it open through the thick fungal growth on the floor. There they discovered four clerks’ offices, and though Ally thought with a little work they could organize the mess of papers, folios, and ink bottles into something usable to, perhaps, identify where the five prisoners were being held at the time of the fire, the consensus was that their time would be better spend pushing forth.

At the end of this short hall they found a fifth office, peculiar in that they felt the oppressive weight of the prison’s malign aura lifted as soon as they entered, though it looked no different than the rest of the rooms they’d explored. Ros immediately went for a safe tucked in the westernmost corner of the chamber, though she had no greater luck with this lock than any other she’d faced. Laurent gently chided her and investigated a large oak desk at the other end of the room, finding blank letterhead indicating that this was once the office of Warden Hawkran.

Into the Muck

They doubled back to begin exploring the rest of the western wing of the first floor. The first door opened into a hall occupied only by dust. There was another door further ahead, where it also curved to the north, but before that lay a T-intersection with another hall and just north of this junction two more doors presented themselves. Both hung loose from their hinges, though the one to the west appeared to have more forcefully been broken in at some point. The party decided to investigate this chamber first.

What was left of the door mostly crumbled to the floor when disturbed by the adventurers, revealing a large room lined with worn wooden benches and chains nailed to the the stone walls, apparently a holding chamber for new prisoners. A few loose and extremely rusty manacles littered the floor, which was also blanketed by a thin sheet of fungi that looked very much like that in the foyer. This fungi had become almost unbelievably overgrown in the north corner of this chamber, where the party could just make out the bones of at least two humanoid skeletons beneath the muck and fetid growth.

The adventurers tensed, ready for the skeletons to leap out of their bed of fungi and attack, but had sorely miscalculated the threat at hand. Once Ally, Kendra, and Valdís had crowded through the door the mound of fungi itself quivered and slid nimbly across the dungeon floor. Kendra leapt out the of the way but Ally and Valdís were overrun, the animate muck running like a stream of rot and mucus up to their ankles and then sweeping them off their feet. Their allies looked on in horror as the two of them were sucked under the surface of the fungal ooze, knowing they likely only have a few precious seconds to overpower the creature before their friends succumbed.

Laurent and Ros slashed at the ooze from the doorway while Kendra blasted it with a burning hands and, when that seemed ineffective, began stabbing at it with her ceremonial dagger. After a few solid hits, the monster must have dimly recognized that it was being threatened, and retreated back into the holding chamber, simultaneously releasing the now-unconscious bodies of Ally and Valdís. Laurent, upon seeing the dire state his allies were left in, charged forward, finishing the ooze creature off for good, but not before it got a solid hit in against him as well.

The adventurers brought Ally back to consciousness and she in turn unleashed her healing powers, but her magic did nothing to instill confidence in either Valdís or herself, and both were left completely covered in a thin film of sticky filth.

A Tangled Web

Kendra and Laurent convinced Ally and Valdís to help investigate one more chamber before retiring for the day. The decided to take a look in the room opposite the one they’d just barely survived, whose door hung loose on its hinges. Valdís attempted to yank it open but something seemed to anchor it in place from within. One more pull and the heavy wooden door fell to the ground, revealing the heavy sheet of sticky, silken webbing that had been holding it in place.

Knowing this must be the product of one or more monstrous spiders, the party steeled themselves and hacked through the webbing and into the chamber. They found themselves standing before a old chapel, rows of warped pews and, at the other end of the chamber, an altar to Pharasma. The entire room was covered in sheets of the iridescent webbing, shimmering with dew, a shaft of light shining from a hole punched clean through the structure of the structure above and refracting through the gossamer and droplets. Kendra noted that it was quite beautiful.

Ros ducked behind one of the pews, attempting to get a better look inside the chamber and scout out any foes, but while scanning the far end of the room a spider the size of her fist dropped from above, onto her shoulder. She swatted the thing away, and Valdís crushed it under her heel, but it was clear the spiders had not abandoned their sanctuary.

The heroes again debated simply leaving the prison and getting a night’s reprieve, but it was then that Laurent noticed a small cache near the altar, and became determined to liberate its contents. Valdís enter the chapel and cleared much of the webbing with a casting of burning hands, but this seemed to stir many of the spiders into action, and a few dozen of those Ros had encountered began streaming down from above.

Laurent, having advanced halfway to the cache, noticed what he deemed to be a more pressing threat than the tiny spiders beginning to swarm around their feet: a spider the size of a dog that had tucked itself, motionless, in between two ruined rafters above. He readied for an attack, and it seemed to understand that its cover had been blow, as it leapt from its hiding spot. Laurent brought his greatsword down on the wretched creature, mortally wounding it, but it managed to sink its fangs into his leg before collapsing a mess of goo and severed legs.

The lesser spiders began swarming in earnest then, covering Laurent and Valdís in such numbers that they could scarcely breath. They slashed at the vermin with their blades but they were simply too numerous for such attacks. Valdís retreated from the room to catch her breath while the others drew on their reserves of alchemist’s fire to douse their tiny assailants in fiery death. Two more dog-spiders descended from above, and Laurent changed through the flame to hold take them on.

Soon the spiders had been dispatched, but now the entire party was covered in the gooey entrails of the spider swarm, and scorched from the alchemist’s fire besides. They emptied the cache, which included several potions and a wand of cure light wounds, then headed home.

Darkness Within

After washing up, the heroes decided to get their sleep in early so they could be up by midnight to stake out the Harrowstone Memorial in person and see if they could catch the vandal in action. Rested and ready in the dead of night, they broke curfew and snuck past the town guard, Ros and Valdís positioning themselves on tree branches above while the rest took up positions in the underbrush.

Hours past with nothing to note, lulling them nearly back to sleep. Only the bugs buzzing in their ears, seeming then to be a curse, kept them awake long enough to spy a figure lumbering through the woods. Ally, her eyes blessed with an unnatural predilection for darkness, was able to make out Gibs’s face, though it seemed drained somewhat of its usual character, and he seemed to be drunk from how he stumbled through the brush. As he neared it became clear that much of why he stumbled was the awkward load he carried on his back, though Ally could not make out its nature just yet.

The witch issued a magical missive to the rest of the party, alerting them that the figure was Gibs, and that they should be on guard as he seemed to be up to something. Gibs, unaware of his observers, made his way to the foot of the Harrowstone Memorial and there dumped his load on the moist dirt: Old River, the town dog. The faithful creature was certainly wounded, but it was impossible to tell how far gone he was.

The party immediately snapped into action, Ros and Valdís falling like dark angels from the sky to flank the man while Kendra loosed a bolt and Ally warped the planar fabric around them to summon a celestial eagle to their aid. Laurent, observing a peculiar milky quality in the man’s eyes and detecting an aura of evil where none existed previously, decided it would be best to take the alive, and struck him over the head with the flat of his blade, knocking him unconscious.

Ally quickly revived Old River while Kendra ran to fetch the Sheriff Caeller. Laurent gave him a summary of their battle, and after investigating the scene Caeller revealed that the weapon they’d found on Gibs’s person, an old war razor, was consistent with the clean cuts he’d noted on the mutilated animals from previous nights. He had one of his men manacle Gibs and take him to the town jail, then thanked the adventurers, telling them to go home and get some sleep.

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