Broken Moon

The Broken Children of Hergstag

It was not long after the trial completed that the party decided to leave for Hergstag. Much further out than Morast or Sanctuary, it would take them between three and four hours to follow the snaking road northwest, or an equal amount of time to cut across the wilderness. So, departing at 2 o’clock, it was just nearing sundown when they came out of the woods, down a grassy hill, and upon the abandoned village.
From their original vantage, the party could see that Hergstag was composed of several farming houses and barns grouped together in loose clusters, surrounded by fields of overgrown, weed-infested corn. Hoping to search the town quickly and return home before too late, the group split into three. Parva and Sterbird would take the north, with Tataco following silently behind. Yuuko and Kendra set out through the center of the village, while Dekhaim and Banjo looped around south, skirting the base of the high hill that loomed over Hergstag. After investigating the houses and fields on their path, they would turn inwards, and all meet at the small smattering of houses that passed for the village’s town square.
It was Parva and Sterbird who made the first discovery. Not long into their rounds, they came out of the tangled, corn-choked fields and onto a road stretching from the town center eastward. There, in the center of the path, was what originally appeared to be a scarecrow covered in rags, but upon closer inspection was revealed to be the desiccated, dried corpse of a man. His leg was caught in a bear trap, securely fastened to the ground, but beyond that he had no injuries. His face, however, was contorted in an expression of grim, abject fear. Somewhat disturbed by his find, but not one to pass up an opportunity, Parva set about looting the man, finding a fine necklace, some gold, and a set of high-quality thieves’ tools which hinted at his purpose in the village.
Meanwhile, Banjo and Dekhaim had come across a small lake formed by the river that runs through Hergstag. There, under the tangled boughs of several willow trees, a ramshackle hut had been built, bordering on the water’s edge. The construction was badly burned and falling apart in places, the spent torches scattered on the ground around it hinting at the cause for its demise. Searching around the rubble and burnt grass, Dekhaim came up with nothing except a small, leatherbound volume, badly charred but still readable, packed with pages of poems. Stashing it away, he continued westward.
Yuuko and Kendra had cut through the center of town, and after working their way through the mess of cornstalks, found themselves before an old temple, the walls crumbling but the cracked symbol of Desna still visible on its walls. Before the church was a small plot given to gravestones, many of them faded and old, but six of them much more recent. Each of these graves had the same date on them, eight months ago corresponding with the time of the Beast’s alleged attacks on Hergstag, and the dirt around them had been more recently disturbed. Maarten, Gaard, Allen, Karin, Ellsa, and Rachel; the names of the six children supposedly killed by the beast and now spelled out on headstones before the church. Further investigation of the temple turned up a basin holding a small pool of still-holy water, from which Kendra filled five vials.
The sun had just set when Kendra and Yuuko left the temple, and Parva was coming up on one of the many abandoned houses which dotted the fields. It was obvious, even from a distance, that the structure had been looted. The door hung ajar, the windows gaping and empty, and only darkness was visible inside. As the doctor approached, however, he caught sight of a small, pale figure moving quickly past a window inside the house. Understandably hesitant, he stopped, urging Sterbird to scout before moving ahead.
As the red hawk took off toward the building, Parva looked warily around him, just in time to see a child-sized, ghostly figure step out of the cornstalks and pass its hand through him. Bone-frosting chill rushed through him as the doctor came eye to socket with the tiny wraith, feeling as though a portion of his very soul had been stolen away. From his hiding place among the undergrowth, Tataco leaped into action, pulling a haunt siphon from his pack and activating it. There was a rush of air as some of the spirit’s essence was sucked away, but it proceeded undaunted, advancing on Parva.
For his part, Rigeuer backed away, bringing forth a vial of holy water. His recent studies into undead had revealed more effective methods for using the substance as a weapon, and the fruit of his research came to light as Parva hurled the flask at the wraith. It shattered on impact with the ground, spraying the spirit with blessed liquid. Though it was now showing obvious signs of injury, the child continued to advance, swiping at Parva and missing him by millimeters.
Back among the cornstalks, Tataco readied one of his arrows, magically-enhanced to be particularly effective against the incorporeal, and let it fly, punching a hole in the spirit. Then, with a flourish, Parva produced a haunt siphon of his own, turning the mechanism and opening it. With a screech and an unearthly wail, the wraith was drawn into the device, which clicked shut with satisfying finality in Parva’s hand and began to glow. Smiling, the doctor added the ghost to his collection.
Back at the temple, Yuuko and Kendra had run into a ghost of their own. Similar in size and behavior to the one which had attacked Parva, Kanzaki spotted the wraith before it leaped out of the bushes to ambush them. Kendra wisely stepped behind her as the creature charged Yuuko, landing a hit, but failing to deal any damage. She then unleashed a flurry of her own from her katana, and, with Kendra casting spells to disrupt the spirit’s ethereal form, made short work of the ghost, cutting it in twain and dispersing it back into the aether.
Meanwhile, Dekhaim was approaching a house in the southwestern portion of Hergstag. Even from a distance, he could see that this building was different from the others. Its windows were securely boarded shut, the door steadfast and blocked in a similar fashion. While the other houses were abandoned and cleared out, a peek through this one’s windows revealed all of the furniture and trappings in their rightful positions. Deciding not to act on it until he informed the others, Dekhaim and Banjo began heading back east, intending to visit one other house before swinging back to the town center.
They were not spared the visit of a wraith, and it was not long before the ghostly child swept forth from the underbrush, passing its hand through Dekhaim and stealing his essence. The druid was undaunted, however, and, raising his staff high, caused an emanation of light powerful as the sun to burst forth from the tip. With a dramatic shriek, the wraith was rent asunder by the light, burned into nothingness in an instant. His staff still shining brightly in the darkness, Dekhaim continued on his way.
Parva, Sterbird, and Tataco were having a similar experience at the last house on their route. Like the others, this one was empty, any valuables or furniture looted from it long ago. Also like the others, this house sheltered a wraith, which passed silently into the surrounding foliage before attacking Parva. This time, the child’s ghostly hand truly sapped some of the doctor’s essence, and he felt himself drained and feeling oddly cold after the attack. Lacking in supplies and a way to effectively combat his incorporeal opponent, Parva floundered until, suddenly, Tataco burst forth from the cornfield, bearing a lit torch. Sensing his opportunity, Rigeuer pooled all of his intellect, proclaiming to the wraith that dawn was coming, the sunrise was upon them, and that it needed to flee with great haste. So convincing was Parva’s speech that the child shrieked and sped away, flying with unnatural speed to the ominous hill south of town.

Some short time later, the party reunited in the town square. Dekhaim and Yuuko had also encountered a subsequent wraith, but each one had fled. One, after being slashed by Yuuko’s magical katana, and the other after merely encountering Dekhaim, whose staff still glowed brightly with the power of the sun.
The group came to several deductions after sharing the information they had discovered. Firstly, that the amount of wraiths matched the number of dead children, making it likely that they were the remains of those unfortunates themselves. In addition, each member who had seen a wraith flee had all seen them fly directly toward the hill south of town. Kendra deduced that these smaller wraiths had to have been created by a greater spirit, which likely made its lair in that hill, and so the party began their trek up the slope.
At the top of the rise, a lone scarecrow stood crucified upon an effigy of rotting wood, its pumpkin head grinning leerily with a sheep’s jaw attached haphazardly to the bottom. Beneath the figure, hidden from the casual eye, was the entrance to a small cave, the opening barely five feet across. Sensing that this was the lair of their foe, the group assembled and ventured inside, Yuuko and Banjo taking the head while Dekhaim wrapped his staff in a roll of cloth to block the blinding light it still emitted.
A spacious cave opened before them inside the barrow, empty save for the skeletons of several children piled loosely in the center of the chamber. No sooner had the last member of the group entered, however, than they found their route of escape cut off. With a rushing sound and a ghostly wail, three wraith children swept into the entrance after them, followed by a maleficent figure that swarmed and bubbled with thousands of eyes shrouded in living darkness. That may have been the end for those at the back of the party, were it not for Dekhaim, who whipped the cloth off his staff. Glorious sunlight washed through the cave, casting everything in bleak contrast as the four wraiths screamed and clutched at the air with nowhere to hide. Seconds later, they were gone, wholly obliterated by the rays of the sun.
After checking the skeletons and determining them to belong to four of the six children, three boys and one girl, the party regrouped and decided to look into the strangely untouched house Dekhaim had found before returning to Lepidstadt. As before, the windows and doors were securely barred but, seeing no other means of entry, it was easy for Yuuko to pull the planks free from their foundations. Inside, everything was as Dekhaim described. Eerily well-preserved and fully stocked, as though the family who lived here fully intended to come back after everything blew over. Despite its condition, however, the party found little of note here, save that upstairs there was a small girls’ room, the window locked and secure and the bed still made. Though they felt as though they did not yet have all the clues, the hour was growing ever later, and so group began their return to the city.

The next day, fully refreshed, the party came back together and continued their investigations, this time focusing on finding any information they could from the citizens of Lepidstadt. While visiting the temple of Pharasma for healing after their recent excursion, Parva managed to charm a few priestesses into telling him that everyone from Hergstag had either died or moved out of Lepidstadt, on to other things. Everyone, save for Garrow, Starle, and Flicht, three sisters who owned a windmill on the western edge of town. Their wounds now healed, the party next made their way there.
Garrow, Starle, and Flicht were three middle-aged women who, according to their testimony, had lived in Hergstag for their entire lives. They had been present when the Beast came into town, holding Ellsa’s body and, as they claimed, laughing, and had participated when the mob subsequently drove him out of town. Garrow also affirmed that they had found the corpses of each of the children and gave them a proper burial, which Yuuko quickly picked up on as a lie.
Further questioning revealed the truth. The townspeople of Hergstag had only found two of the children, Ellsa and Karin. Ellsa had been brought back by the Beast, but Karin had died in her own home two days after he had been driven out of town. It turned out that Karin’s father had always intended to return to Hergstag, and so her house was the very same, very untouched and obviously unbroken one they had examined the day prior. So it was that when Garrow proclaimed that the Beast must have returned to kill Karin specifically, the party had their doubts.
Not wanting to deal with the biased, somewhat dim-witted sisters anymore, the group split until the trial, and Parva went to speak once again to the Beast. There, Taerien himself filled in the remaining pieces of the story. The Beast had been living in a small hut near the river, the same hut Dekhaim had found, and had befriended Ellsa, one of the children from the village. She would come by every day and read him poetry from the old book found in the wreckage. Soon, however, a “bad man” appeared and started killing the children one by one, leading them to his lair on top of the hill and draining all the life from them. Taerien had tried to fight the “bad man”, but his fists couldn’t connect with the wraith’s ghostly form, and he had no choice but to watch in horror as, one by one, the children were killed.
Ellsa had been killed by the wraith right in front of him, and the Beast, feeling a sense of responsibility, had picked up her body and returned it to the village, crying. The villagers had mistaken his crying for laughing, due to the odd configuration of his tear ducts and facial features, and had angrily chased him out of town. Even now, Taerien was very emotional about the subject.

Some time later, the third trial of the Beast was beginning. Things at first seemed stacked well against the defendant, but with the evidence they had gathered and a series of impassioned speeches from Parva, the truth was brought to light. Eventually, it became clear to everyone that the Beast was indeed responsible for none of the crimes they had attributed to him, and a strong sense of guilt washed over the courtroom.
It was with great ceremony that the Herald of the Court unlocked the Beast’s shackles, and he jubilantly made his way to the defense, pulling Parva, Yuuko, and Kendra into a big hug and calling them his “best friends in whole world”. Taerien revealed that he had been created by a man known as Count Caromarc, and invited his new friends to visit him at Schloss Caromarc in the mountains in a few days, to which everyone happily agreed. After he had left, to the cheering of the crowd, Judge Daramid came by and asked the party to meet her at her residence as soon as possible.

With Dekhaim cleverly disguised by a magic potion he obtained from a shady source, the group met with Judge Daramid. She first gave out the promised reward of 400 platinum pieces as payment, then asked the group for one last favor. One of her colleagues and a member of her organization, one Count Caromarc, had not been in contact for too long, and she was worried about his well-being. Daramid had methods of determining he was still alive, as she claimed, but he had not made his usual reports, and she was concerned that the enemies of their organization, jealous of his choice ass, had gotten him. Thus it was that the judge asked the party to investigate Schloss Caromarc as soon as they were able, to ensure Caromarc was safe and alive. She could not offer platinum this time, but would give them more information and the gratitude of her organization should they succeed. Hesitantly, the group agreed, and began preparations for their journey into the mountains.

Investigation at Sanctuary

After leaving the now empty factory, the party stopped to request healing for their injuries at a temple to Pharasma, then wasted no time in advancing to Sanctuary. The destroyed clinic was originally built on a small ismuth jutting into the river, but all that remained now was a heap of rubble and burnt wood with an ancient graveyard before it.
The graves in the graveyard provided no clues. Each headstone was old, eroded by time but still readable, the gravedirt solid and undisturbed. Not recognizing any of the names, the party moved to the rubble, searching around for anything related to the investigation. Most items in Sanctuary had been completely destroyed by the fire, but a small metal lockbox was unearthed, its lock warped and fused closed by fire. Yuuko, with her prodigious strength, was able to rip the chest open, and it took Kendra’s skill with languages to decipher the charred pages inside.
Those parts of the manifest that were readable mentioned “Vorkstag & Grine’s Chymic Works” several times. It seemed that Doctor Brada, the keeper of Sanctuary, had made bulk purchases from the alchemists, though it could not be determined what, exactly, he had purchased. This matched with blind Karl’s testimony that the late Mister Vorkstag and Mister Grine had visited the clinic on a few occasions for some sort of business.
Further investigation revealed nothing of interest in the ruins, but did turn up a small, three-foot wide hole in the ground leading to an underground room of some sort, which Tataco promptly sent his companion Sterbird to investigate. The inside was obviously originally some sort of laboratory, but had been thoroughly destroyed, equipment and furniture in shambles about the room. Also present was a grisly chandelier made of charred human heads, each one bearing some sort of deformity except for the one at the very bottom, which presumably once belonged to Doctor Brada. Skulking about the room, though they had not paid any heed to Sterbird, were four hunched, blue-skinned undead that gave off a horrifically foul stench of rot and decay.
Surfacewise, Tataco gave a report of his bird’s findings, and the group came up with a plan to lure the Ghasts out and kill them, rather than descending one by one into a melee. Firstly, the party let down a rope to the room below, allowing the creatures to climb up, then took attacking positions around the hole. Then, Dekhaim conjured a flaming sphere in the room below, rolling it around and causing a panic among the undead foes. One by one, they did climb up the rope into the sunlight above, and were cut down by a barrage of attacks from all sides. One Ghast succumbed to the ball of fire before he could climb the rope, and soon his comrades were dead as well, having fallen from the rope into a pile at the bottom of the hole. Tataco and Banjo had become sickened by the horrible stench, but otherwise the party was uninjured.
The former being accustomed to dealing with undead, and the latter already suffering from the stench and thus unlikely to be affected further, Yuuko and Tataco descended into the laboratory and set about piling the stinking bodies into a corner so the rest of the party could enter. To the north, a hitherto unnoticed chasm in the rock wall led to a tunnel, and as Yuuko worked, she heard a whispered conversation coming from the cave beyond. A group of what were presumably cultists spoke of “His” return, and lamented that they were now trapped in the cave by the Ghasts, which had not been there when they arrived.
After the rest of the party arrived and formed up, they proceeded cautiously into the cave, finding that it widened after only a few tens of feet into a large space decorated with human bones and centered around a bloody altar. A huge pentagram shone in blood on the wall beyond, and four hooded cultists turned to attack at their approach. Shockingly, the two cultists in the back twisted and transformed, their bones cracking and reshaping as they took the form of a hulking, powerful brown bear.
The transformation took time, however, and the two cultists at the front rushed the party. Parva, who again had the misfortune to be at the front of the group, took the bulk of the assault, sustaining a few injuries until he was able to back up and throw a bomb. Yuuko moved to the front, delivering a brutal wound upon one of the cultists that erupted in a spray of blood. Though obviously fatally injured, the man had a mad glint in his eye, and continued to fight even as he bled out. Tataco slung arrows at the bears as they approached, and one of them fell from a bomb from Parva. One of the still human cultists noticed Banjo as Parva stepped back and, with a surprised cry, all of the remaining attackers focused on the bear. Being a sturdy sort, Bearingston received only a few injuries before the rest of the cultists, transformed and not, were brought down and the chamber was silent once more.
An examination of the chamber found a holy symbol among the bones in the altar, bearing the image of a death’s head moth, which Yuuko identified as the symbol of Urgathoa, goddess of undeath, before crushing it. Meanwhile, Tataco erased the pentagram on the wall, using the blood to instead draw a choice ass in its place.
Realizing that this was likely a cult devoted to Taco’s mortal enemy, the fetid Notcho Chiiz, the group moved out again and began a more detailed investigation of the prior laboratory. This time, they found a miraculously unbroken glass vial with a label that marked it as bleach, and a product of Vorkstag & Grine’s Chymic Works. Regrettably, the rest of the laboratory was unsalvageable, and after taking Doctor Brada’s head for further research, the party left and returned to Lepidstadt.

Back at Lepidstadt, the group split into two teams. Yuuko, Kendra, Laci, Sterbird and Parva would search for the single Mongrelman who managed to escape from the chymic works. Meanwhile, Dekhaim, Taco and Banjo would speak again to Karl, verifying his version of events and asking him to testify in the trial the next day.
The latter went smoothly, although Karl revealed that he would already be at the trial, having been called in by the prosecution, so they could ask any questions of him then. Their jobs for the day done, but the night still young, Tataco played a merry tune on his flute as he and Dekhaim took Karl out for a good time on the town.
Meanwhile, Parva downed a mutagenic extract of his own devising, causing him to buckle over and grow the superficial features of a wolf. With his newly enhanced sense of smell, it was a simple thing for him to track the remaining Mongrelman to the docks, and they quickly found him cowering beneath a bridge.
The Mongrelman, whose name was Scratch, was initially very wary of the party, and Pawva in particular, but quickly warmed to Yuuko and answered her questions as best he was able. It was learned that Scratch was from a Mongrelman village somewhere nearby, but Vorkstag and Grine had raided it one night, killing the elder, taking his skin, and forcing all of the residents into slavery before burning all of the houses to the ground. Naturally, this shocked the party, but also explained where the “Shambling Man” skin they had found in Vorkstag’s closet had come from.
Scratch’s account of the inside of the factory was grim, with the Mongrelmen working for no pay and very little food under harsh conditions. He did, however, appear to have a surprisingly solid grip of alchemy and the recipes for the concoctions that were created at the factory. So, after a bit of convincing that his tormentors really were dead, Scratch was convinced to return to the chymic factory, having nowhere else to go in Lepidstadt.
With that done, the hour was late and the party went their separate ways. Parva, following up on a secret note passed to him by Laci, returned to the University and attempted to break into the library. A first attempt at lockpicking the front door was disastrous, and his pick lodged into the lock before snapping off, making any other attempts on that door useless. Not discouraged, Parva went around to the back and took his time picking the lock, this time managing to steal his way inside.
Deep within the empty shelves and stacked books in the library, the professor found two comfortable chairs underneath the skylight, and smelled tea in the air. It was not long before Laci appeared, bearing two cups of tea, and bid Parva have a seat. Hesitant, but intrigued, he complied. The young woman began speaking at length about how “Laci” wore gloves to combat her phobia of uncleanliness, before removing her own glove and confirming Parva’s suspicions.
The woman before him, with the bone-white skin stretched over a hand with claws as black as night, was no longer his student.
The thing which once was Laci explained how she had posed as his student in order to stay with him for a day, and to judge whether he was worthy. She had found him so, and offered him promises of power and knowledge the likes of which he had never dreamed, the only catch being that his soul, now teetering on the brink between light and darkness, would fall irrevocably to the latter, and be swallowed by the night. A painless procedure, catalyzed by a single touch. Parva, ever the scientist, examined his options and asked what would happen if he refused, to which she replied that she would, of course, kill him right then.
Their conversation was interrupted by a whistling sound somewhere above, which Parva noticed, but “Laci” paid no mind. Pretending to take a sip of his tea, he cautiously risked a peek upward just in time to see a dark figure approaching the skylight at speed.
Parva casually rolled out of the way as the glass above exploded downward, a man dropping through and standing between him and the temptress. The professor recognized him as the same man who had warned him to be cautious of any unexpected assistance much earlier in the day, with the same black mask and dark cloak. Even as Parva watched, however, the man threw the cloak back with one arm, causing it to billow outward into the shape of two bat-like wings. In a deep, commanding voice, he commanded Parva to run.
Sensing a connection, somehow, and terminally curious about this man’s relationship with him, Parva hesitated, but another booming command send him scrambling for the door. As he made it outside, he heard “Laci” calmly berate the man for interfering, promising that he would burn for his transgressions.
Confused and frightened, Parva did not feel comfortable sleeping in his own cottage, and so made his way to the manor of his colleague Wolfe Reynell. Wolfe, in a scarlet dressing gown, was surprised to see Parva, but hospitable, and so it was that the doctor fell into a fitful sleep in one of the manor’s guest rooms.

Murder at the Chymic Works

Parva left the courthouse early that morning, just before dawn. His efforts with the Beast, whom he had dubbed Taerien, had not gone unrewarded, and the creature was now capable of reading simple sentences and picture books. Fatigued from staying up all night with his new friend, Parva first downed a restorative potion to regain his strength, then set about preparing for his day.
At his cottage, he performed his normal morning ablutions, and was about to go through his books and notes once again when Parva was interrupted by a polite knocking at the door. His visitor was a student from the University, a pale, nervous young man who delivered that Parva was expected in Doctor Kruse’s study in an hour. Concerned by this sudden appointment, the doctor shooed the student away, then finished his business in the house before stepping out into Lepidstadt.
Doctor Kruse wanted to see him in an hour, but until then Parva had some free time, so he and Sterbird walked to Vorkstag & Grine’s Chymic Works to the south, intent on asking about the surgical tools which they had found in the Boneyard. After pounding on the forbidding metal gate that marked the entrance to the factory, Parva and bird were met by a small man swaddled in dirty rags, only his eye and a few patches of orange hair peeking through.
Their discussion was short, and it quickly became clear that whoever the little man was, he wanted nothing to do with Parva. Brought by his link to Sterbird, Parva was soon joined by Tataco, but as they pondered the best course of action, the doctor realized the time for his appointment with Kruse was approaching quickly, and excused himself.
Back at the University, Parva met Kruse in his office deep in the Alchemy Department building. Contrary to his expectations, the trim elf did not berate Parva for shirking his duties, but rather commended him on his investigations regarding the Beast. Further, Kruse granted one of his students, Laci Pierson, who had graduated early, to work at Parva’s assistant for the duration of the case.

Later, at the courthouse, the first day of the trial of the Beast was beginning. This day would focus on the creature’s supposed crimes in Morast, where the party had just finished investigating. After some deliberation, it was decided that Parva, Kendra, and Yuuko would act as the defense’s witnesses, and present the evidence they had uncovered. As the court came to session, Parva was surprised to see not the famed Otto, but instead his colleague Wolfe Reynell take up the place of prosecutor. Wolfe gave the doctor a thin smile, but Parva merely grimaced back at him.
One by one, Reynell called witnesses from Morast to the stand, and they all told the same tale. Each one described the Beast as an eight-foot-tall monster, muscular and stitched together from parts of other creatures. Their description perfectly matched the Beast, who was even now chained to a massive iron chair in the center of the room, and this point did not escape the jury. Lastly, the village chief Lazne took the stand, verifying what all the townsfolk prior had said.
Soon enough, it was time for the witnesses for the defense to give their case. Parva, Yuuko, and Kendra took turns giving impassioned speeches, much to the surprise of the court in general. Presenting the evidence they had found at the Boneyard, they focused on the incongruity between the Beast’s mannerisms, his intelligence and capabilities, and the items found at the old campsite there. Further, the Beast in the villagers’ stories had been bitten by a Blood Caiman, and Taerien showed no such scars or signs of injuries. Despite the jury’s predisposition toward the Beast’s guilt, a feeling shared by the Chief Justice, Ambrose Khard, the party’s cunning arguments showed some sway. Khard finally expressed some doubt as to whether the Beast was truly at fault for the kidnappings in Morast, but reminded the court that this was only one of the three crimes being considered, and the other two would be held over the next two days. With this closing remark, the Chief Justice brought the court to a close.
Meeting with Gustav afterward, the party confirmed that the next crime to be considered would be the arson of Sanctuary, as well as the murder of its head doctor. The time only being 2 in the afternoon, the group quickly headed off to perform their investigation, but first made some stops around Lepidstadt.

Firstly, the party made their way to a cottage in the eastern part of town owned by a man named Karl. Karl was the head doctor’s assistant in Sanctuary, and had been present when the events in question occurred several months ago. Gangly and with two pure white eyes, blind Karl invited the party in happily, eager to have guests after so long alone. After breaking bread and pouring wine for his guests, he gave his account of events at Parva’s urging.
Karl had been working outside the night that the arson happened. He suddenly saw Sanctuary go up in flames, as an unmistakable figure, eight feet tall and covered in stitches, shambled away from the burning building. He braved the flames to find his master, but by that time the doctor was already dead, and Karl’s eyes were permanently damaged by exposure to the flames. Further enquiries revealed that the doctor did not have many visitors, but was a regular customer of Vorkstag & Grine’s, and the two alchemists had visited the clinic more than once.
Feeling sorry for the lonely blind man, the group stayed for a time after, sharing food and drink with Karl while they spoke. Tataco was so bold as to ask the man what kind of woman he liked, to which Karl responded that he once knew a girl who was blonde, her hair in braids, and lusciously full-figured. After a few good laughs about that, the party made their goodbyes and left the cottage, heading now to Vorkstag & Grine’s Chymic Works to the south.

At the gates of Vorkstag & Grine’s, Parva hid around the corner while Yuuko, Kendra, and Laci rattled the gate to get the attention of anyone inside. Once again, they were met by the small, rag-swaddled man who immediately told them to leave. Hinting that they had known the doctor at Sanctuary and wanted to deal in the same illegal goods he had been purchasing. This seemed to grab the small man’s interest, but he confessed that the factory was having something of a crisis, and asked the party to come back later.
Not one to let something like that simply pass, Yuuko immediately offered the party’s assistance in whatever the alchemists were dealing with. By the little man’s account, now known to be Grine, there was a mysterious figure in the factory wantonly killing the workers and staff. They had not caught but glimpses of the killer, but there were already an alarming amount of corpses. After some hesitation, Grine allowed the party in, but warned them that he would be letting out the guard dog behind them, so that they would have to consult with him or his partner before leaving.
Inside the compound, the party headed north into what turned out to be a mixing room, while Grine headed into the eastern storage area to find their culprit. Huge metal vats dominated the mixing room, bubbling with odd-colored liquids and stirred by despondent creatures that looked like an amalgamation of human and animal parts. Parva identified the workers as Mongrelmen, a type of humanoid, and while one bearing a club watched them suspiciously, he made no move to intercept them as they looked about the chamber.
Finding a ladder that led to the second floor, the party decided to investigate that first, sending Tataco ahead to scout. No sooner had they reached the top of the ladder than one of the doors ahead of them burst open, a bloody, horrific figure tumbling out to land in a vat of acid below. The creature, which appeared to be a human with all of its skin removed, was identified as a Skin Stealer, a type of Fey which could wear the skins of other creatures to take on their appearance. While the corpse of the faerie creature dissolved slowly below, there was no sign of its attacker, and the group moved carefully forward.
Checking the room in which the commotion had taken place, the group found only a small bedroom stacked high with piles upon piles of books. A door to the north revealed only a small room with a cabinet in the corner. Although not at first suspicious, there was a red liquid leaking from the bottom, which Parva quickly identified as blood. Throwing open the doors of the cabinet revealed a grisly sight. Row upon row of human skins, hanging on coat hangers like so many shirts, and still dripping blood. One skin in particular looked different from the others, much larger and seemingly stitched together from the hides of man and beast. It took no great leap of logic to realize that the killer had been wearing this skin to frame the Beastr of Lepidstadt.
As the group took in this grisly sight, a voice from behind them shook them from their reverie. Grine had returned, standing at the door bearing an axe dripping with purple, viscous liquid, and he looked none too happy about their discovery. A fight quickly broke out, with Yuuko and Banjo taking the front lines against the enraged little man. Blows were exchanged, but the battle ended suddenly, as a dark figure swept from the darkness and buried a knife deep into Grine’s back.
Dr. D watched impassively through his plague doctor’s mask as his prey slumped lifelessly to the floor, then turned and greeted the party with a grandiose bow. Though he was reticent with his information, the group learned that D was here to purge Lepidstadt of Vorkstag and Grine’s corruption. Indeed, as he identified the slowly deteriorating Skin Stealer as Vorkstag, his work here was done. With another bow, he leaped backwards off the balcony and disappeared into the darkness. Their two masters dead, the mongrelmen staffing the factory began to panic, and there were the savage sounds of ripping flesh as they ran in a panic to the courtyard and the guard dog which waited there.
With their immediate threats dealt with, the party continued their exploration of the factory, intent now on making it their new base of operations. The room next to Vorkstag’s bedroom, which they had just been in, was Grine’s, and appeared to be more of an alchemy lab than a bedroom. While Parva, Tataco, and Dekhaim looked around that room, Yuuko and Kendra moved to a storeroom to the south, where they found many alchemical supplies packed away in wooden boxes.
Grine’s room had a ladder leading up to a trapdoor in the ceiling, but what caught the party’s attention over that was a small lockbox on the ground, the key to which rested in a jar of acid high on one of the shelves. Parva and Dekhaim discussed how best to remove the key, while Tataco immediately set to picking the lock. There was a click from the mechanism, but regrettably it was not the sound of it unlocking. Instead, there was a hissing sound as a fine, invisible gas filled the room. The poison trap had little effect on Parva or Dekhaim, but Tataco was left feeling as though a bit of his very personality had been eroded away by the strange gas.
Eventually, the others poured the acid out of the jar into one of the vats below, carefully using the lid to keep the key inside. Parva, who habitually wore gloves anyway, then picked the key out and used it to open the lockbox. Inside was a pile of gold and several expensive diamonds, well-worth the trouble unlocking it.
After gathering the loot, the party regrouped while Tataco scouted the trapdoor in the ceiling. He peeked through the hatch into a small room filled with all manner of foreign curiosities. Also present were two small, red homunculi with huge metal jaws, obviously guarding the tower from intruders. With preternatural quickness, Taco slipped through the hatch and sneaked directly past the two guards, his inhuman stealthiness allowing his choice ass to pass directly before the homunculi with them none the wiser. Clambering up the next ladder to a trapdoor in this room’s ceiling, Tataco’s luck ran out as he triggered a sound trap which went off with an enormous bang.
Everyone in the complex heard the noise as Taco, stunned from the thunderclap, fell to the ground in the tower, alerting the two guards in the room and one in the room above to his presence. They quickly fell upon him, biting and gnashing, the homunculus in the ceiling falling from its perch and sinking its metal teeth into his flesh while he lay on the ground, still disoriented from the blast.
Meanwhile, Yuuko and Parva climbed the ladder, but the room was cramped, and the others had difficulty making their way inside as well. Soon, however, Taco was on his feet, injured but still fighting, while Parva’s bombs and Yuuko’s katana made short work of the tiny guards. The homunculi dead, Tataco finally pushed his way to the top of the tower, only to find nothing but an empty space overlooking Lepidstadt. Far below in the courtyard he could see a bizarre dog, stitched together from parts of other canines, feasting on the corpses of a few dead mongrelmen.
Bringing this news back to the party, they decided to explore the basement, then go outside and face the guard dog to make their escape. Accessing the factory’s dungeons was simple, as they entered a small iron door placed in the wall at the bottom of the vat room. A flight of stone steps led to a pair of small rooms filled with grisly curios and jars of strange, floating specimens. Among the debris was a wand of gentle repose and a ledger, which listed the names and addresses of the buyers for all of the items in the two rooms.
After searching around, the group found a grate leading to the sewers in the eastern wall and a large iron door to the south. Deciding they had no business in the sewers, they opened the southern door and descended another flight of stairs. At the bottom, another iron door stood fast, a gaffe resting on a wall hook beside it. Hearing nothing but water beyond, Yuuko opened the door.
The room beyond was a pool filled with water in which white, bulbous corpses floated to and fro, bumping softly into each other and the walls. A few tests revealed nothing strange about the composition of the water, and the party was about to leave when one of the corpses near the door twitched.
Hesitantly, the group readied attacks while Parva took the gaffe and poked the corpse. In a flurry of splashing movement, the thing’s arms wrapped around the hooked pole, pulling it and Parva into the water while another corpse stood up. Together, they began raining blows upon the intruder while the rest of the party unleashed attacks upon them. Dekhaim cast a spell to freeze the water around them, but the zombies slipped free of it, their unnatural grace allowing them to move without hindrance. Parva, badly beaten, was helped out of the water, and Tataco shouldered his way in front of him even as Yuuko waded in and fought the creatures. It quickly became apparent that while most attacks had no effect on the zombies, Yuuko’s katana was terrifyingly effective, and once the chaos had died down, she made short work of the enemies.
Winded, beaten, and paranoid from their recent encounter, the party then came up with a plan to quickly take care of the dog in the front courtyard. The storage room full of boxes that Yuuko and Kendra had discovered before had a loading bay which overlooked the courtyard, so Parva, Dekhaim, Laci, Tataco and the rest made their way up there and readied attacks while Yuuko approached it from the front, Kendra close behind.
Sure enough, the flesh golem hound fought ferociously, and managed to bite a dangerous wound into Yuuko before finally being brought down by the barrage from above. Though they were injured, the complex was now clear, and the party rested for a short time before moving on, intent on heading toward Sanctuary to perform their investigations for the coming day’s trial.

Something Whispering This Way Comes

I don’t like this.1
Between conversing with the large creature before her and observing Dr. Rigeur’s actions, Yuuko reflected on the party’s situation.
Strange things started happening as soon as we entered this city. The very same judge named by Professor Lorrimor to receive one of his tomes requested our assistance in the trial of this “beast” whose guilt seemed all but certain. What business was that of ours? Yet the others got involved anyway…
Not their problem. That was how she saw it at first, but now she wasn’t so sure.
The judge knows more than she’ll say. What does she want? It seems the professor trusted her well enough; does that mean we can as well?
Still, Yuuko didn’t care for Judge Daramid’s secrets.
Speaking of secrets, Mr. Parva had been acting stranger since we arrived. What is he up to? Does he play some part in this?
She didn’t sense anything malicious in his behavior, but one thing was clear—the doctor was not entirely what he would have them believe. His interactions with the creature before them—by this point, it had become clear the “beast” label was far from most appropriate—indicated a truly honest curiosity.
The doctor may not prove to be a threat, but I shouldn’t leave Lady Kendra alone with him until we know for sure. The others—Mr. Dekhaim and Mr. Tataco—certainly have their own eccentricities, but don’t seem untrust—
Before Yuuko could finish the thought, Tataco’s companion, Sterbird, began to stir(ge) wildly.
Yuuko’s heart sank. Something was wrong.
Taking that as her cue, Yuuko jumped to her feet and rushed back to the party’s lodging to see what had gotten Tataco’s companion so upset. Although worried to discover what danger could have befallen Kendra and the others, Yuuko smiled slightly as she thanked Shizuru the rogue-ish ranger had proven more clever than she had initially given him credit for by leaving his raptor companion behind with her and the doctor.
Thank you, Empress, for watching over us. Still, it is yet another strange occurrence… perhaps we’d do well to keep closer together from now on. Assuming we all survive the night.

1 Translated from Tien

Fast Times in Morast Swamp

That same evening, Parva gathered his other travelling companions and explained the circumstances of the Beast’s trial. Kendra expressed great interest in the proceedings, and, since it would take some time for her affairs to be set in order by the department of economics at Lepidstadt University, asked if she could be involved in the investigation. A heartfelt invitation from Kendra ensured that the rest of the group would join as well, and, after arranging lodgings, they began preparations the next day.
The first trial would deal with the Beast’s alleged kidnapping and murder of ten swampers in the bog village of Morast some eight miles to the northeast. Before making a trek out there, however, the group decided to take care of some remaining business in Lepidstadt. First, Parva, Yuuko, and Kendra returned to Judge Daramid’s house. They questioned the aging judge on any number of subjects, but she was tight-lipped, particularly on the topics of the Whispering Way and the Order of the Palatine Eye. Yuuko attempted to sway her by presenting the wooden box bearing the symbol of the Order, but she simply laughed and told the girl that if she was a member, she would most certainly know of it. “Sek Ahmet Thul Khof” she said in response to further questioning, an Ancient Osirian phrase associated with the Order which translates to “secrets kept remain mine”.
Discouraged, and having learned more about Judge Daramid than any of the topics they came asking for, the trio left her modest house, Daramid cautioning them not to ask too loudly about the Way in parting. At this point, Parva excused himself to use the restroom, instead making his way to his colleague Wolfe Reynell’s house, and asked him many of the same questions. While waiting for his return, Kendra and Yuuko worked the markets, asking passerbies and merchants alike whether they had any knowledge of the Whispering Way. Their questioning proved fruitless, it seemed that the common folk had little to no knowledge of the esoteric cult, and Parva soon returned, out of breath and disheveled, claiming he had successfully returned from the toilet. Though she said nothing, Yuuko immediately saw through his lie.
Their preliminary investigations completed, Yuuko, Parva and Kendra gathered up the rest of their team and, together, they began the two-hour trek to Morast.
Though taxing, their journey was uneventful, and they came upon a group of run-down hovels, raised on stilts and huddling around a central hut, all connected by boardwalks. Giant red crocodile skins and canoes tethered to the wooden piers were tended by pale-skinned, hearty locals, all of whom viewed the newcomers with a mixture of distrust and anger. Although the villagers of Morast were well known for their attitude toward outsiders, the combined charisma of the party and particularly Parva soon broke through their veneer, and they opened up to him, relaying all of the details related to the investigation.
Approximately a year ago, a huge creature, described by all of the witnesses as a seven to eight foot tall muscular humanoid that appeared to be made of the stitched together parts of man and beast, made several raids upon Morast to kidnap, and presumably kill, the locals. At first, the Beast would only attack those alone on the boardwalks at night, but it soon grew more bold and invaded the swampers’ homes to claim its bounty. This went on for several nights, ten villagers being kidnapped in all, until the village chief, a man named Lazne, rounded up a group of young men to lie in wait and, with pitchforks and torches, they drove the Beast out of the town and into the swamp. From there, the creature was attacked by one of the swamp’s legendary Blood Caimans, which bit it in the shoulder and pulled him underwater near the village’s Boneyard some distance out in the swamp. Many swampers fondly recalled the string of curses and profanity the Beast shouted as he was assaulted by the ass caiman and subsequently drowned.
Naturally, the appearance of the Beast, whom they have presumed dead, in court was something of a surprise to the Morastians, but they all assured that they would be happy to testify in court against him. Wishing to investigate the scene of the Beast’s “death”, Parva then asked about the Boneyard, to which the locals responded that they would need to receive permission from Lazne, the village chief living in the central hut.
The very person was waiting for them outside his hut as the party approached, chewing on a rotten swamp weed and spitting to punctuate his sentences. Lazne was a short, wiry, grey-haired man with skin the color of swamp mud. He spoke in a long drawl and quickly asserted his distrust of outsiders and city-folk, no matter how easily they may have charmed his villagers. Lazne agreed to allow them to visit the Boneyard, as it was defiled by the Beast’s blood anyway, but required a hefty sum of 50 gold pieces before he would rent them a canoe to take into the swamp. As with the swampers before, Parva, aided by the group, quickly broke through his prejudices, and soon Lazne was laughing and joking with them. He gave them free reign to use a canoe for no cost, as the things were practically worthless anyway.
Leaving the swamp village behind, the party crowded into two canoes and made their way to the Boneyard, using a hand-drawn map given to them by Lazne as a guide. It was not long before they made shore on the island, a small protrusion from the swamp covered by trees and wooden fetishes hung everywhere and poking from the ground. A quick investigation revealed the fetishes to be grave markers and, of the 40 graves on the island, six had been dug up some time ago, their occupants removed and the mud inexpertly put back in its place.
Near the south side of the island, Yuuko, Dekhaim, and Parva made another discovery. An old campsite, estimated by Dekhaim to be last used about a year ago, stood in a ring of bushes, well-preserved due to the lack of weather in this area. Around the firesite was an array of odd items, most notably the remnants of a greenish liquid in a vial, confirmed by Parva to be an Alchemist’s extract of Darkvision.
This was proved to be an important discovery, as the Beast, as well as obviously not being an Alchemist, was a Flesh Golem, and thus already had darkvision. Further down to the shoreline was a small pier with a canoe tied to it, a wet cloth sack and a smear of blood at the bottom of the vessel. The sack was revealed to contain a full set of adventuring clothes, revealed by the underwear to have belonged to a woman, and Yuuko also discovered a skinned face hidden under one of the seats. The disturbing article was obviously removed from its victim then expertly treated and cleaned so as to last as long as possible. A long rope leading into the swamp revealed another sack when hauled up, this one filled with manacles, rope, and other tools of the kidnapper’s trade.
The final discovery was made by Dekhaim, who found under a bush a small wooden chest containing a set of masterwork silver surgeon’s tools. Valuable items themselves, the tools also had on their hafts the engraving of a small silver raven, which Parva recognized as the mark of Vorkstag and Grine’s, two prominent alchemical suppliers working out of Lepidstadt.
Their investigations complete, the party began preparations to leave when they were interrupted by a bestial screech and the beating of heavy wings. A wild Manticore was approaching the island from the air, and roared a challenge as it came upon the party. Tataco immediately shot an arrow at the beast, scoring a minor injury on its flank, before Parva noticed two important qualities of their foe. Firstly, the Manticore was female, and heavily pregnant, and secondly, it was intelligent, and capable of speaking to them in Common. The creature was already enraged, however, as the group had trespassed on its nesting grounds, and attempts to placate it from Yuuko and Dekhaim only served to make it angrier.
Swooping in, the Manticore let loose a barrage of spikes from its tail which tore through Tataco, wounding him severely. At the same time, a bomb from Parva caught it on its side, buffeting it painfully with the explosion. Deciding that they had no choice now but to fight, Banjo and Yuuko teamed up for an attack on the aerial beast. The latter hopped onto the bear’s shoulders, hanging tightly as Banjo stood to his full height, allowing Yuuko to just barely reach the Manticore in the air with her sword, and to score a devastating cut through its chest. Another bomb from Parva knocked the beast out of the air and it fell, dead, into the water at the island’s shore.
Working quickly, Yuuko and Dekhaim were able to make a surgical incision into the mother’s womb, retrieving the baby from inside and saving its life. Now with a female baby Manticore in their possession, whom they dubbed Mantidora, the group regained their canoes and, after healing Tataco’s wounds, returned to Morast.

Lazne was waiting for them upon their return, and expressed recognition of the severed face that Parva presented to him, among the other evidence. The severed features belonged to one Nan Klebem, a female poacher who used to visit Morast about once a month, but had not been seen in the village for approximately a year, around the same time as the Beast’s attacks. Although somewhat swayed by the other evidence, Lazne assured the party that he would still testify as one of the key witnesses in the trial against the beast. He knew what he had seen, and to tell anything else would go against his morals. Sensing that this was the best he would get out of the old man, Parva thanked him and bid him farewell, and the party returned to Lepidstadt, arriving in the early evening.
Yuuko, Parva, and Kendra, along with Sterbird, decided to make a visit to the Beast in prison, while Dekhaim took Mantidora for a walk and Tataco scavenged some meat to feed to their little companion. The circumstances in the prison were much the same as the last time Parva had visited, save that the hulking figure in its iron chair now had a tiny, person-sized blanket draped inadequately across its shoulders. Annoyed that the guards, probably intentionally, took his request so literally, but unwilling to make a scene, Parva entered the cell and introduced the Beast to his two other companions. Assuring him that the two were also friends, Parva spoke with the beast of many trifling matters. As before, the two got along famously, and the doctor decided to stay overnight with the creature in an attempt to teach him letters.
Kendra soon excused herself and returned to the inn with Tataco, Dekhaim, and Banjo, but Yuuko decided to stay, feeling obligated by her bodyguard duties to watch over Parva as he interacted with eight feet of solid muscle throughout the night.

Some time later, in the inn, Kendra, Dekhaim, and Tataco, sleeping outside in the tree, were awoken by a sudden noise. Creeping through the shadows, a cloaked and hooded figure accused Kendra and Yuuko of asking entirely the wrong sort of questions, then asserted his intent to silence them once and for all. Thinking quickly, Kendra used her newly-found wand of Ghost Sound to make a scream emanate from Banjo and Dekhaim’s chambers while she silently climbed out of the window in her own. So it was that the cloaked cultist and the two bloody skeletons accompanied him attacked Dekhaim and the still-sleeping Bearingston. The skeletons fell upon the druid and his companion, while the cultist suddenly found himself in a firefight with Tataco, who was taking advantage of his position in a tree outside the window to pepper the intruder with arrows. A burst of positive energy from Banjo healed Dekhaim and weakened the skeletons attacking them, but had the opposite effect of rejuvenating the Way cultist, who began slinging spells out the window, striking home on Tataco in the tree and wounding him severely. Burned badly by a sphere of fire summoned by Dekhaim, and bleeding from several arrow wounds, the cultist was finally defeated as one of Tataco’s shots took him straight through the lung, drowning him in his own blood as he collapsed to the ground.
As the fight broke out in the inn, Sterbird, alerted via her empathic link with Tataco, began flying around the room and squawking madly, which cued Yuuko to hurry back to her other companions and see what had happened. Parva remained under the watchful gaze of two guards, slowly and meticulously teaching the Beast sentences from a book.
When Yuuko arrived at the inn, the fight was long over, the bloody skeletons having collapsed to prone piles on the ground upon the death of the cultist. Upon his body they found a note giving orders to silence Yuuko and Kendra, as they had been deemed dangerous to the Whispering Way, signed in a neat hand by one Auren Vrood. Together, they cleaned up the corpse and the skeleton from the premises and cautiously returned to sleep, needing their rest for the first trial on the morrow.

To Lepidstadt

The day following, their preparations finished, the group left Ravengro behind and began their journey to Lepidstadt. Winding through a long mountain pass, then through swamplands and forest, the road to Lepidstadt would take four days and a hundred miles to traverse, the first of which passed without any incident. On the eve of the second day, they came upon a ring of gaudily-painted wagons by the side of the road, the words “The Crooked Kin – Ustalav’s Greatest Traveling Cabinet of Curiosities!” painted across the side in colorful letters.
From within the ring of wagons, the sobbing voice of a woman could be heard, and the party was understandably hesitant to approach. Tataco sent his new companion Sterbird on a scouting mission, and discovered that the crying woman was being comforted by a group of misshapen people in the center of the ring. Before they could act on this new information, one of the wagons opened and a tall man with pale skin, a jaunty top hat, red eyes, and long white hair to his waist approached them.
Introducing himself as Kaleb Hesse, the ringleader of this traveling band of performers, he described to the heroes his plight. One of the Crooked Kin’s three pinheads, never the brightest at the best of times, had wandered off into the swamp some hours ago and had not returned. The crying woman was another pinhead, her sister, and deathly worried about the missing one’s fate. Though some of them were fierce in appearance, none of the members of his traveling troupe were skilled in combat or tracking, and so he pleaded with the party to go into the swamp and find their missing member, promising a reward and the comfort of a wagon for the rest of their journey to Lepidstadt.
Yuuko readily agreed for all of them, despite some hesitation on the part of Parva, much to the scraping delight of Kaleb. He offered them a old shirt of hers to use in tracking the pinhead, and it was not long before Taco had found her tracks and followed them into the deep swamp. It was eerily quiet, and the tracks disappeared into a knee-deep bog of water when the group heard a woman’s scream from somewhere in the undergrowth ahead of them. A quick check by Sterbird revealed nothing visible from the air, and they began to move forward carefully when another scream came from the north, this one curiously inhuman. Again, from the south, and again from the west, the screams penetrated the shaking reeds with no obvious source until suddenly, with a sound like fabric being torn, a huge spider with a woman’s twisted face appeared out of thin air next to Dekhaim and snatched him up in her jaws.
She vanished again moments afterward, and Parva recognized that the creature was a Phase Spider, a semi-intelligent magical beast which spends most of its time on the Ethereal Plane bordering our own. The beast was not turning invisible, but rather plane-hopping at will. Knowing now about its poisonous bite, Parva did not hesitate in forcing a vial of antitoxin down Dekhaim’s throat. Hearing his description, Kendra cast a See Invisibility spell, which helpfully also allowed her to see into the Ethereal Plane, and was able to pinpoint the location of the monster for the rest of the group. However, as it was untouchable until returning to the material plane, the party was unable to act against it until it materialized once again, this time scooping up Parva and injecting him with virulent poison.
This time, the spider was too slow in returning to the other plane, and was severely wounded by Yuuko’s katana and a blazing arrow of divine light from Banjo’s mouth before she was able to retreat once again. Still under the direction of Kendra tracking its movements, the party readied attacks for when the creature would once again reappear, and reappear it did, biting Tataco and sending a wash of venom into his system. This time again, she was not able to get away, as weapons from every side bit into her and finally, with a bomb from Parva, her face was seared off and she dropped to the ground unmoving.
The terror was not yet over, however, as while Dekhaim had overcome the poison in his system, Parva and Tataco were still ailing. Indeed, thanks to the iron maiden’s curse which still hung over the half-elf ranger, Taco was succumbing frighteningly quickly to the venom’s constitution-sapping effects. Fighting off the effects in himself for the moment, Parva was able to force Tataco to drink his last vial of antivenom, even as Yuuko tended to him, bolstering his body’s natural immunity. Even with Dekhaim casting and recasting Lesser Restoration from his wand, bringing the ailing ranger’s constitution back up even as it fell, it seemed for a moment that he would fall victim to the poison and die there in the swamp. Barely, however, he pulled through, and by the time he had been brought back up to his usual health, Parva’s poison had also fled his system.
Still looking for the missing pinhead, the group split up and searched the swampy area around them, finding a fine wooden box with some keys, some other trinkets, a jar containing several cloves of garlic ass, and finally the prone body of the missing troupe member. Wrapping her in the shirt that Kaleb had given to them, they solemnly returned to the circle of wagons.
Ringmaster Hesse met them as they returned and accepted the news of his companion’s death with a grim, sober nod. Though her death was regrettable, he thanked the party for following through on their task, and gifted them with a fine wooden box containing a magical dagger, as well as a comfortable place in one of the wagons for the rest of the journey to Lepidstadt. Weary from their travels up to this point, the group happily accepted.

The next two days passed uneventfully, with Tataco finding a special place among the performers, playing the silver flute that he had looted from the prison. Kaleb took some time to bring the party up to speed on the current events in Lepidstadt, and why the Kin were in such a hurry to get there. The famous Beast of Lepidstadt, a monster which had plagued the surrounding countryside for centuries, had finally been caught. It was even now being held in the courthouse awaiting trial, and people from all over Ustalav were traveling to the city to see the beast in court and, ultimately, his execution. Such a festive time was fertile ground for performers such as themselves, and so they did not wish to miss out on such an opportunity.
As they reached the gates of Lepidstadt, Kaleb dropped the party off and informed them that he would be stationing the wagons outside the city walls. He left them with an open invitation to visit the Kin whenever they like, and a request for Tataco to come perform with them at some point during their stay.
After splitting off from the caravan, the group was quickly accosted by another man, this one with parted brown hair, a blazer showing the symbol of the University of Lepidstadt, and a handsome, smiling face. He greeted Parva personally as Doctor Rigeuer and passed him an envelope, a message from his colleague, before introducing himself as Wolfe Reynell, an old acquaintance of the Doctor’s. Before making his departure, he told the group that he had lodgings near the university, their location known to Parva, and to visit him if they needed anything throughout their stay.
Wasting no time as they entered the city, the party made straight for the University and dropped off the books with an aging librarian named Montagie Crowl. Mister Crowl gracefully accepted them and wrote for the group a receipt of sorts, but regretfully denied them their requests to see the Lepidstadt University Library. He related that the library was currently closed for remodeling, as that is where the Beast had been captured. It seems the Beast had somehow snuck into the building and stolen a fine statue known as the Seasage Effigy. Upon being found, he flew into a rage and destroyed much of the furniture and structure before finally being pacified and brought to the courthouse for holding.
After dropping off all of the books save for the Manual of the Esoteric Order, the group split ways, with Kendra and Yuuko staying at the university to handle the selling of the latter’s estate, while Parva, Dekhaim, Tataco and the animals went to find Judge Embreth Daramid’s house to deliver the final book and receive their reward. Judge Daramid’s home was a modest building near town square, and on the way there the small group saw a massive wicker man being constructed in the center of the city. It had a cage in the center, presumably for locking someone in to be burned to death, and huge groups of townspeople were happily going to and fro with wood, old furniture, and other kindling to place at the base. The whole town had a celebratory feeling about it much at odds with the capture and execution of a wanted criminal.
Daramid met them at the door of her home and, after looking them over, invited them inside for tea. Before cutting directly to business she asked that everyone introduce themselves, and sat quietly listening until Dekhaim spoke his name, at which point she started and dropped her tea saucer to the floor. Apparently taking offense at something Dekhaim had done, and accusing him of somehow staying young, she evicted him from the house, saying that he would have his share of the reward, but she wanted no mane with that name inside her home. Somewhat shocked and put off, Dekhaim accepted and left quietly with Banjo, returning to the University.
Apologizing for her outburst, Judge Daramid went straight to business with Parva and Tataco, accepting the damaged Manual from them and granting them a sack filled with 400 platinum pieces, 100 for each member of their group, as a reward. Before they left, and despite the now somewhat awkward air in the room, she asked them, particularly Parva, for another favor. Daramid worried that with the townspeople so zealous about his capture and execution, the Beast would not get a fair trial. The government of Lepidstadt had assigned to him the town’s worst lawyer, a bumbling man named Gustav Kaple, and was only going through the motions of a trial at all at Daramid’s insistence. She asked for Parva and his companions to serve as Barrister Kaple’s assistants, collecting evidence and helping present it to ensure that, no matter what else happens, the Beast receives a fair trial. Daramid further stressed that she did not know or much care whether the creature was innocent or guilty, but skirting of the law for personal revenge was unabidable for her. Finally, she asked Parva to leave her out of the investigation completely, for the sake of her political position, and offered to double his reward, another 400 platinum pieces. With his own interest in the Beast firmly piqued, and such a large sum of money on the table, Doctor Rigeuer quickly accepted the terms and bid Judge Daramid farewell.
Parva and Tataco then returned to Lepidstadt University to meet up with the rest of their companions, where, even now, Yuuko was having an encounter with a bustling, mustachioed man named Professor Thorpe. Thorpe claimed that someone had been through town not even a month ago looking desperately for someone who matched Yuuko’s name and description. He described the man as tall, with a bald head, Eastern features similar to hers, with tattoos down both of his arms and two swords at his waist, the same style as the one which she carried. Not having any personal interest in the matter, he soon bustled away, leaving Yuuko confused about the mysterious man who left town only two weeks ago.
Gathering up the rest of the group, Dekhaim decided to act upon the silver key which had been left to him in Lorrimor’s will. Following the numbers engraved on the key’s head, he soon found the room in a subbasement far from the activity and liveliness of the aboveground campus. The key slid soundlessly into the lock on the heavy steel door, and it swung open with an ominous creak. Dekhaim found himself standing on a raised dais with stairs leading down to a circular experimental space with a raised platform in the center. A square indentation in the center of the platform indicated that something may have fitted in the space, and discolorations on the ground around the walls spoke of heavy equipment long removed. On the opposite wall, the stone was discolored by a huge blast of black soot or ash, seemingly ingrained into the material itself. At the center of the blast, a human silhouette stood with arms outstretched, the only part of the wall not touched by the discoloration.
A quick search of the room revealed nothing else save a burnt leather journal, most of the pages ruined but with some passages still readable. Taking this evidence, the group relocked the room and went on their way, Dekhaim reading the journal voraciously.
With his business at the University done, Parva decided to go to the courthouse and meet the illustrious Barrister Kaple and, possibly, speak with the Beast. He met Kaple in the chambers which had been allotted to him in the courthouse, and the small, balding rat-faced man informed him that he had heard everything from Judge Daramid and welcomed his assistance.
Kaple went over the structure of the trial. The Beast was being charged with three major crimes. Firstly, the murder of 10 villagers in the swamp town of Morast to the northeast. Secondly, the kidnapping and subsequent murder of 8 children in Hergstag to the northwest. Finally, the arson of a mental institution known as Sanctuary, located on an island to the north, resulting in the death of the institution’s caretaker and the permanent blinding of his assistant. The trial would be held over a period of three days starting the day after tomorrow, each day focusing on one of the crimes. After evidence was presented and testimonies heard, the jury would pass a verdict and, at the end of the three days, make a final decision on the guilt or innocence of the Beast.
Parva asked to see the Beast and was led downstairs where, in a cage flanked by two Gaston-looking courthouse guards, a hulking figure sat bolted into a metal chair by no less than twelve padlocks and chains. The Beast did not react violently when Parva entered, but rather gave him a slow, sad look. They talked of many things, and the Doctor realized that the grimace that came over the monster’s face when he spoke of something traumatic was not rage, but rather the Beast trying to cry. Parva learned of a girl named Ellen who the beast was apparently friends with, though he did not dare delve too deep into that story, and also learned that the Beast had, by his own account, woken up in the library with no recollection of how he had gotten there. The ensuing rampage was merely a reaction to the guards trying to bring him down. Touched by the Beast’s sadness, and making the guards promise to treat him well, Parva returned to Kaple. The rat-faced barrister suggested that he use the next day to look for evidence supporting the beast’s innocence, preferably in Morast, as that is what the first day’s trial would focus on. Kaple further cautioned that it would be dangerous, and suggested that Parva bring along some muscle for his own safety. Meanwhile, he would continue interviewing eyewitnesses and search their testimonies for anything the prosecutors may have missed.
His head full of information and moving with purpose, Parva returned to the University.

In Memory of Deborah

The ectoplasmic beings soundly defeated, the party continued their exploration west into Harrowstone’s basement proper. Tataco, scouting ahead, reported that the room ahead was host to a large group of skeletons, 10 in total, who would surely attack upon catching sight of the adventurers. Yuuko and Banjo stepped forward to the entryway, forming a bottleneck, and braced themselves as the swarm of undead fell upon them.
With Yuuko crushing with her three-section staff, Caeller firing with his pistol, and banjo batting at the skeletons with his bear paws, their tactic served admirably, and soon all of the remaining skeletons were clustered around the mouth of the tunnel. His holy amulet flashing with divine power, Sir Bearingston let loose a burst of positive energy that seared the unlife from the remainder, causing them to clatter to the ground even as it healed the wounds of his allies.
The room they had entered was spacious, the crumbled remnants of a collapsed stairway dominating the center. Three hallways led in each direction of the compass, labeled “The Nevermore” to the south, “Hell’s Basement” to the west, and “The Oubliette” to the north. None of the choices sounding particularly appealing, Tataco once again participated in some scouting, discovering large portcullises blocking both the southern and the western hallways, each one seeming to lead into a cell block of sorts.
A small guard room in the south hallway held a chain winch presumably for operating the gate outside, but it was jammed and rusted into uselessness by the passing of years. Assuming that there would be a similar winch in the western hall, Tataco set about exploring the guard room on that side, but was accosted by a grisly sight. As he stepped into the guard room to Hell’s Basement, the rest of the party not far behind him, the half-elf was struck by a splitting headache, and saw upon the table in front of him a set of skulls, each one with a piece carefully removed. In the center of the ring of skulls was another lump of bone, as if someone had tried to build a new skull from the fragments of the others. Completing the scene was the body of a red-haired dwarf slumped in the corner, his skin emaciated and leathery and his eyes empty sockets.
No sooner had Tataco taken this all in than the skulls animated and rose off the table, cackling and spinning as they lit into flame. At the same time, a ghostly figure rose from the dwarf’s body, a large hammer gripped in its meaty hands and a madly dancing spectral skull floating in the air behind it. Though a disturbing display, neither the skulls nor the ghost proved to be any threat to the party. As each of the flaming skulls was easily dispatched, the ghost clutched his head, screaming in pain, until, with the crushing of the last foe, he finally dissolved into nothingness.
After having vanquished the Marauder, a quick search of the room revealed a secret door to the south. Tataco’s deft fingers were able to pick the lock, and the door swung open upon a stash of masterwork weapons, armor, and magical items left by the guards. Of particular note was a magical rope of climbing, which the guards would presumably use in the event of the elevator to the basement breaking.
Heartened by their discovery, the group continued westward into Hell’s Basement, in which they discovered row upon row of cell blocks, all of them empty save for a few rotting mattresses. To the south, they discovered a large torture chamber, still holding a variety of rusted instruments of terror. Stretched out upon a rack in the center was the dessicated corpse of a guard, the still-shining badge on his chest proclaiming him the warden. It would appear that the prisoners had brought him here and tortured him to death after he was trapped by the fire so many years ago. Tataco solemnly pocketed the badge and continued on.
As the half-elf moved on from the guard, a blackened iron maiden in the southern part of the room ominously creaked open, revealing Banjo impaled horrifically on row upon row of wicked metal spikes. The bear’s tiny paw reached out in supplication even as Tataco vaulted the rack and rushed to his deity’s aid. No sooner had he reached the iron maiden, however, than he was drawn in by some malign force, and the huge metal doors closed upon him. Pain shot through Taco’s body as choice places on his body were impaled by dozens of phantom spikes, drawing the very vitality from his form. When the doors opened again, the clustered party saw Tataco in a conspicuously empty iron maiden, devoid of any spikes, bloodless puncture wounds dotting his pale skin.
Despite the ranger’s ailment, the group pressed onward, finding a secret door to the east which led into an earthen tunnel and, presumably, to the Nevermore on the other side. Having a deep mistrust of tunnels, they proceeded cautiously, Yuuko bringing up the front with Tataco just behind. Their wariness was justified, as Taco identified a slick-looking boulder in the center of the tunnel as a concealed Gray Ooze, a predator which camouflaged itself as nearby scenery to wait in anticipation of prey. Knowing the ooze’s area of action, the ranger was able to guide the rest of the party in a skirting path around the edge of the tunnel that kept them safely out of range of its pseudopods.
The tunnel opened into one of the cells ringing a deep, black pool of water in the center of the Nevermore. As the party entered, a palpable sense of dread washed over them, even as the walls began seeping blood. Parva and Dekhaim were stricken by a conviction that the blood was stealing their sanity, as the letters P and D began forming among the red liquid. As they began to panic, Banjo drew forth from his bear stuff a bottle of holy water and hurled it at the letter, crushing the vial and smearing the letter. Immediately, the aura of dread lessened, and so the party repeated the process, slamming another vial into the other letter and smearing that one as well.
As the letter faded into a bloody splotch on the wall, a scream of rage echoed throughout the Nevermore and a ghostly light began building at the bottom of the pool, rushing upward and growing brighter as it came. Dekhaim had the presence of mind to call upon his allies in nature and summon a dolphin into the pool even as the water burst forth and revealed a haunting figure dressed in white robes and wielding a bloody razor.
The Splatter Man countered with his own summon, calling forth a group of abnormally large rats to harry and bite at the edges of the party. Tataco, pulling a magical undead-bane arrow from his quiver, unleashed a shot at the ghost, missing by only a few inches. His attack did not go unnoticed, however, and he was rewarded with a blast of four force missiles from the Splatter Man’s hands which battered him repeatedly. In concert with the curse put upon him by the iron maiden, the damage was enough to knock the half-elf unconscious onto the floor.
Meanwhile, Kendra had cannily noticed that the Splatter Man could not seem to determine the origin of the acid orb she had hurled at him, his eyes scanning the room and passing over her without stopping. Realizing the connection, she brought forth the ghost’s spellbook and, in a leap of deduction, ripped from it a handful of pages. The wizard screamed as a matching series of cuts and gashes networked their way across his ghostly skin, and Kendra smiled in grim gratification.
Yuuko, Dekhaim, and Parva had hatched their own plan while Banjo moved to heal the prone Tataco. First, the dolphin, which had been unable to damage the ghost’s spectral form on its own, dove deep into the pool, turning around and building speed to splash out of the water in a leap that would send it hurtling toward the Splatter Man. Yuuko, wielding the Lopper’s axe, leaped upon the dolphin’s back as it emerged, riding it upward in an arc toward the ghost hovering over the water. As the two came close to their target, Parva lobbed a bomb, which, upon striking the dolphin, exploded violently, the force sending Yuuko tearing through the Splatter Man’s form, the Lopper’s axe cutting a bloody swathe through his robes and chest. She then landed safely on the other side of the pool, even as Deborah’s limp form, so named in honor of her sacrifice, fell lifelessly into the water behind her.
Conscious again thanks to the bear’s ministrations, Tataco set about shooting at the rats which still bit ravenously at the party’s ankles. At the same time, Kendra ripped another page from the spellbook, bringing the ghost to the brink of destruction. Sensing his opportunity, Parva opened a haunt siphon. With a roaring of spectral winds, the Splatter Man twisted and squirmed in the air as he was drawn inexorably into the device. With a final click, all sound died away and the haunt siphon began to glow an eerie blue. The Splatter Man was vanquished, and Parva had caught his first ghost.
With the resident haunt defeated, the portcullis leading back into the main cell block rose soundlessly. Although battered and tired from their battles up to this point, the party only had one more ghost to bust, and so decided to wait on resting until the Lopper was defeated as well. The only hallway not yet explored was the Oubliette to the north, and it too was blocked by a portcullis, presumably controlled from the guard room to the west.
This guard room, unlike the others, was locked, and Tataco quickly found out why as something on the other side began pounding at the door when he approached. It quickly became apparent that someone, or something inside was attempting to break through the wooden portal with an axe. Taco stepped back and nocked an arrow as Yuuko and Banjo flanked the door, readying their weapons and claws respectively. Not seconds after, the door burst off its hinges violently, slamming into the wall opposite as a flaming skeleton, clutching and axe and without a head, stepped out into the hall and began swinging wildly.
Taco loosed his shot and struck home as Yuuko deftly dodged and blocked the skeleton’s clumsy attacks. Despite being unnaturally strong and fast, it appeared that the monster’s missing head did indeed make it blind, and its strikes reflected such. Near the back, Parva recognized the skeleton as one of the burning variety, and cautioned everyone to keep their distance, as such skeletons have a tendency to explode when destroyed.
Heeding the alchemist’s words, Yuuko tripped the creature, then stepped back, Banjo using the opportunity to return to the party as well. As it climbed to its feet, however, Dekhaim could not resist the opportunity, and bludgeoned it forcefully with his staff. The ensuing explosion thrust him back against the wall and burned his blue skin, but did not seriously harm the druid.
With the guard destroyed, the group was able to operate the winch in the guard room and raise the final portcullis. Moving warily, they entered the Oubliette, Yuuko at the head with the Lopper’s axe at the ready.
A wet, slapping sound greeted them as they entered, and the source was soon revealed as two bloody hands found their way to the edge of the oubliette and hoisted up a horrifyingly pale body with a broken leg, a huge smile full of sharp teeth, and a massive axe strapped across his body. The Lopper grinned at Yuuko even as she swung the axe at him. The attack went wide however and Yuuko, not used to using such a different weapon, cut herself across her own arm, causing a bleeding wound.
The Lopper danced with surprising agility around and through the paladin, ignoring her as he moved straight for the rest of the party, bringing his axe down on Dekhaim and opening a spectral wound that began to bleed profusely. The blood from both bleeding parties turned into a malign smoke as soon as it left their bodies, merging with the Lopper’s form and strengthening him even as his smile widened.
The ghost’s merriment was short-lived, however, as Yuuko called upon her divine powers to heal herself and rushed at the Lopper’s back. His own axe cleaved a wide gash in his back even as a magical arrow from Tataco’s bow tore through his chest. Dekhaim called magical fire to his hands and hurled it at the ghost, igniting him in a spectral blaze and eliciting and unexpected reaction. Upon catching fire, the Lopper immediately dropped his axe and ran the the corner, covering his head with his hands and cowering as he rocked back and forth.
Although shocked and somewhat disturbed by this performance, Yuuko hesitated only a moment before bringing the axe down in a final swing, crushing the Lopper’s skull and dissolving him into nothingness once again.
From there, the party explored the rest of the oubliette, finding many magical items and weapons worth a fortune all together at the bottom, presumably hoarded by the Lopper himself. Their next stop was upstairs, where they delivered the warden’s badge to Vesorianna, for which she thanked them profusely. The group watched as she raised the badge high in the air and it shone with a brilliant light before dropping to the ground, Vesorianna, and all of the other ghosts haunting Harrowstone, gone forever. The badge itself began to glow with an eerie blue light, and Parva was able to identify that it now possessed some peculiar magical qualities, so the party stashed it before returning to town.
After destroying the prison’s ghosts, the group of travellers, so recently distrusted by Ravengro, were hailed as heroes. The townspeople banded together to give them a sizeable reward in gold, and the sheriff and Councilman Hearthmount offered their personal thanks, promising hospitality whenever they might visit the town again.
For her part, Kendra was impressed and inspired by the heroics of the party which had come with her into Harrowstone. She decided to sell the Lorrimor estate and to travel with them to Lepidstadt, so that she might do something more with her life than stay in Ravengro and mourn her lost father. With no reason to stay in town, the group rested for a few days, then began their preparations for the four-day journey to Lepidstadt.

In the Hands of the Father

It was early in the bleak morning when the party regrouped and set off again to explore Harrowstone. Kendra and Sheriff Caeller had once again joined their expedition, as the seven adventurers made the long trek up and around the hill to the prison’s gates. Upon arrival, Dekhaim and Tataco called a halt, noticing some movement from inside the courtyard. Several figures, skeletal and drenched, were pulling themselves out of the lake that now made up Harrowstone’s eastern wing.
Without wasting any time, Taco stealthed up to the group of figures, now milling around in the bushes before the lake, and came back with a report of five skeletons and a zombie, possibly waiting for something by their odd antics. Yuuko soon devised a plan, in which Tataco and Caeller would sneak up and flank the group of enemies while she distracted them and drew the skeletons close together. Upon her signal, Taco and Caeller would shoot the zombie from opposite directions, while Parva scattered the skeletons with a well-placed bomb.
Nodding his assent, the sheriff sneaked off to the east, planting himself before a crumbled section of wall that offered a fair view of the courtyard within. His face grim, he came back to the party almost immediately with some harrowing news. The zombie apparently leading the group of undead was none other than Professor Lorrimor himself, his jaw crushed but features still recognizable in death.
Shocked and outraged that the forces creating undead would have gone so far as to use his body, Yuuko bade Kendra stay back, so that she wouldn’t see the second death of her beloved father. With Caeller back in place, Yuuko strode up into view of the skeletons and took a defensive stance. Surely enough, the five undead rushed her, leaving the zombie behind, and surrounded both Yuuko and Parva, who had somehow sidled his way up to the melee and was thus rewarded by a pair of claw strikes that dug painfully into his skin. Sighing, Yuuko crushed the skeleton nearest him with her three-section staff, while Tataco picked off his other assailant from his perch in a nearby tree overlooking the battlefield.
Meanwhile, mostly unharmed by the shots fired by Tataco and Caeller, the Professor’s zombie quickly rounded on the sheriff and rushed him, sinking his rotting teeth deep into the other’s shoulder. With a cry, Caeller tore himself from the zombie’s grasp and danced back a step, firing another shot which thudded through his opponent’s body with a wet “shlup”, doing little to slow him.
A bomb thrown by Parva blasted two of the remaining skeletons apart, and Dekhaim, with Banjo, rounded on the other one while Yuuko rushed to the sheriff’s aid, throwing her staff to the ground and unsheathing her katana in the process. Lorrimor lurched forward again as the others approached, lashing out with both his arms and catching Caeller’s shoulder, drawing him close for another bite. Struggling at first, the sheriff then fell into the zombie’s grapple, using the momentum to shove his pistol directly into the other’s ruined mouth and firing repeatedly. Bullets erupted one after another through the back of Lorrimor’s head, and the zombie was temporarily disoriented as Yuuko and Parva arrived to surround him.
Banjo, facing off with the last skeleton, opened his mouth wide toward it. Rather than a bestial roar, what poured forth from the bear’s maw was a bolt of holy fire, searing through the air to strike the skeleton and dissolve it into a pile of bones and choice ash.
Dekhaim, no longer distracted by his opponent, pulled forth his healing wand and rushed to the injured sheriff, charging across the yard and jabbing the stick forcefully into Caeller’s side, flooding him with healing energy. Parva, meanwhile, danced around the zombie with his punching dagger, puncturing Lorrimor’s putrefying flesh with little effect. He finally scored a hit, burying the dagger to the hilt in the Professor’s eye, but even this did not seem to affect the relentless undead’s advance. Yuuko, meanwhile, slashed at the zombie’s back with her katana, her broad strikes having more of an effect than any of the others’ ministrations. Eventually, under a hail of arrows from Tataco, strikes from Yuuko, and Caeller’s bullets, the Professor’s corpse finally collapsed to the ground, unmoving.
Upon hearing of her father’s second death, Kendra was shaken and grim, but bade Tataco use a vial of alchemist’s fire from her pouch to burn his remains so that this might never happen again. With the Professor’s body cremated and the skeletons in pieces, the group entered Harrowstone and continued their exploration of the second floor.

Upon reaching the attic’s landing, the party found that the wreckage from their previous battle was still in place including the corpses of six giant stirges strewn across the floor. Practicing more caution this time, the group agreed to wait at the head of the stairs while Tataco stealthily checked out the rest of the floor. The half-elf was quick to discover that the western half was comprised almost entirely of cellblocks. Further, each cell had a skeletal occupant, an undead which pounded and scratched at the door as he went by, leering at him from barred windows in the heavy iron doors.
After determining that all the skeletons on this floor were safely locked up, Taco returned to the party and bade them to come with him to examine the few other rooms on this floor. A search of the kitchen, storerooms, and empty eastern cellblock revealed nothing, but a spacious, well-furnished cell to the south held the inanimate skeleton of a priest, weights inscribed with holy symbols weighing down his brittle arms and legs. Next to the body was a small journal, which Parva picked up and was subsequently disappointed to find completely empty.
Soon after Doctor Rigeuer picked up and stashed the journal, Yuuko sensed an evil presence behind him. Indistinct, in the shape of a priest covered in holy symbols, the figure’s hand rested companionably on Parva’s shoulder. Worried, but not wanting to start a panic, Yuuko attempted several methods to drive the spirit off, up to bashing the skeleton’s head in which his own holy symbols, greatly worrying Parva in the process, before suggesting that they simply move on.
The next place of interest was a small guard room, with a heavy iron door leading to the western balcony and locked from the inside. The group moved outside, looking around and noting that the guard tower opposite the balcony appeared to be filled with movement. At the same time, Caeller, Taco, and Yuuko noticed a pair of spectral hands materialize behind the party, floating toward them bearing a wickedly sharp, heavily rusted scythe. The three moved to engage, but the ghost seemed to have only one purpose, moving through and weathering their attacks on a direct course for the unwitting Parva. With a violent slash, the scythe rose and fell, cutting a deep gash into the half-elf doctor’s arm and sending him spinning to the ground. As he hit the wood of the balcony, ghostly chains surrounded him and he fell unconscious, breathing shallowly as he struggled weakly against his bonds.

Parva awoke some time later, lying in a coffin with a kindly, round-faced priest standing over him and smiling. The priest explained that it had been 200 years since Parva’s death, and that they had only just pooled the resources necessary to resurrect him. As a foremost scientist of his time, the priest’s order was very interested in the Doctor’s opinion on all of the many scientific advancements that had been made since his death. Still smiling, the priest offered Parva a hand out of the coffin. As he took it, everything went blood-red around him, and Parva found himself staring into a leering, skull-like visage where the priest’s face had been moments before. Just as suddenly, however, everything returned to normal, and he found himself standing on a green plain with the kindly priest, idyllic hills and houses spreading in every direction to a horizon that seemed… off, somehow.

Back in reality, the party had surrounded the headsman’s scythe and, though none of their attacks had much effect, were beginning to wear it down through sheer relentless beating. Banjo called upon the power of his amulet, channeling holy energy that healed his allies and burnt the spectral hands, scouring them with holy fire. The burst of positive energy had also had an effect on the bonds gripping Parva. Dekhaim, noticing this, began to have an idea and forced his way to the Doctor’s prone figure.

The priest was explaining the wonderful advancements in medical technology and the transformations in organic forms when Parva finally found his voice and asked the other for his name. Grinning widely, the priest bade Parva simply call him “Father”, before continuing his monologue. Again, everything went bloody red as the priest’s face transformed into the disfigured skull. It felt as though something was pulling at the edges of Parva’s muddled mind, and he heard distant screams before once again everything returned to normal. The priest, looking slightly annoyed, now asked Parva to join him inside, beckoning to a huge structure bristling with scientific equipment that had surely not been there only moments before.

Dekhaim knelt by the prone figure of Doctor Rigeuer and called upon the powers of nature to envelop his hand with positive energy before touching the inscribed chains. With a flash of power and a sudden snap, the chains fell apart and Parva awoke suddenly, gasping for air. At the same time, the knot of holy symbols at Yuuko’s belt unraveled, each one slowly falling to the ground, their magical aura gone.
Meanwhile, a final blow sent the scythe spinning and finally reduced the hands holding it to an ectoplasmic vapor, the weapon clattering harmlessly to the ground. Tataco picked the scythe up and stowed it for future use, then, after Parva was brought up to speed on recent happenings, he stealthed over to the nearby tower for a better look. Upon closer inspection, the tower was filled with hordes upon hordes of rats, running around and atop each other in a blind frenzy. The party quickly agreed that they did not want to deal with that and, since Yuuko sensed no evil presence from the tower, they returned to Harrowstone to explore the final floor, the prison’s dungeons.

With the stairs down completely blocked by rubble, the only way into Harrowstone’s basement was the deep hole in the prison’s eastern wing, presumably the remains of an elevator system once used by the guards. Determining the depth to be only about 40 feet, Yuuko anchored a length of silken rope to a sturdy collection of rubble aboveground before climbing her way down into a large cavern, dominated by the pool of water below.
Hanging there as she looked about, there was a sudden splashing of footsteps behind her, as though someone running through the water very fast. When she swung about to look, nothing was there but a strange residue on the walls, like a slug’s trail but much larger. Calling to the others, she moved back and forth until she had enough momentum to swing to the edge of the water, landing safely on the rocky ground beyond it. The rest of the group was quick to follow her, each climbing down until they could throw themselves to solid ground, albeit very reluctantly in the case of Dekhaim, with Banjo clinging to his shoulders.
The cavern tapered off to the west, leading to a large, man-made stone chamber beyond. Parva busied himself examining the substance on the walls while the others split up to explore. The slime was unlike anything he had seen before, and its composition suggested it to be wholly unnatural or artificial in origin. Before he could report his findings, a grossly malformed face and melting torso slid its way out from the wall in front of him, its eyes burning with unnatural hunger.
At the same time, three other variants of the same being were pushing themselves out of the walls near Dekhaim, Kendra, and Caeller, moaning in pain and rage as they swiped at their prey, splattering them with horrifying globs of goo and liquefied flesh. Fortunately, whil terrifying in appearance, the creatures were not formidable in combat. Parva and Kendra suffered minor injuries before Yuuko and Tataco leapt into the fray, cutting with katana and scythe and quickly dispatching two of the beings.
Banjo flew into combat with another, in a flurry of bites and claws which tore it to shreds, ripping the ectoplasmic being’s head off even as he managed to lodge a paw in its gaping, toothy mouth, suffering a minor bite for his efforts.
The last creature terrorized Parva, striking him a few times while the doctor fought back with his dagger, scoring minor hits himself against his opponent. As it was weakened, and drawing back for another strike, Dekhaim imposed himself into the combat, striking punching the monster solidly across the face with a fist wreathed in flame, then watching in satisfaction as it fell to the ground, screaming and melting with a face half caved in from the impact.

Shaken, Not Stirged

Tensions were high as the group healed Parva, then continued their venture through Harrowstone. Finding themselves in the same hallway they had seen extending to the north after first entering, they proceeded to check the doors on either side. The two doors to the east led to two staircases respectively, one going up, and one leading down to an impassible pile of rubble and destroyed foundation. To the west, another door led to a long hallway and another set of doors. Forgoing these for the moment, the party decided to check the bottom right and bottom left corners of Harrowstone, to make sure that they did not miss anything important.
Following the hallway from the mouldy antechamber to the east, they found themselves in a spacious, and still well-stocked evidence room. Filled with art, weapons, and valuables, the group took their time in looting the chamber. In the process, Yuuko discovered another room concealed by a secret entrance to the east, this one containing five much more sinister items, their tags proclaiming them to be possessions of the five infamous prisoners themselves. A bloodied axe, a string of tangled religious symbols, a moldy spellbook, a silver flute, and a silver smith’s hammer were all determined to be magical and split among the party for safekeeping.
After the evidence room was exhausted, the group made their way westward, finding a long hall of offices. Though the contents of each office would have been interesting to a bank, an accountant, or even just a Harrowstone history buff, the documents listing shipping manifestos and budget projections were of no use to the party. The room at the end of the hall proved more interesting, and could be assumed to be the office of the previous Warden. A thorough search turned up nothing of note beyond a wrought iron safe mounted in the wall. After several failed attempts to open the safe, Yuuko was finally able to wrest it from its place in the wall, and it was given to Banjo for safekeeping until the party would be able to unlock it.
From the southwestern offices, the group moved back through the antechamber, to the north, and west into the last block of rooms on the first floor. The easternmost room, which they checked first, appeared to be an old chapel, the pews and alter all crumbled and covered in a thick sheet of cobwebs. Sensing a meal approaching, three enormous crab spiders crawled from their hiding spaces, and a battle erupted, with Yuuko and Banjo at the forefront.
Bearingston made a good show at the beginning of combat, rushing a spider and tearing a chunk out of it with his deadly bear jaws. The arachnid fell to the ground, and Banjo proceeded to playfully bat the corpse around with his paws. Meanwhile, Yuuko, supported by fire from Sheriff Caeller and Tataco Taco, faced off with another spider and, although it took several injuries to bring it down, it failed to damage the paladin. The final spider, thrown into a fit of blind rage, raked and spat at Banjo as he played happily with its comrade’s corpse, but the bear’s rolling and frolicking moved him out of the attack’s path time and time again. Eventually that last spider succumbed to its injuries and it too fell to the ground.
A search of the room proved fruitful as a cobweb-covered cabinet yielded a store of healing potions and scrolls. Heartened by this discovery, the party moved across the hall and examined the room in the center of the block.
As Tataco opened the door and stepped in, Parva heard a faint, ghostly crying and rustling of chains from within. He moved to warn Taco and Banjo as they looked around the room, but three sets of manacles strewn about the floor had already come to clinking, clattering life, and attempted to wrap themselves around the limbs of the interlopers. Banjo’s initial attempts to trap one of them in his bucket met with little success, and the party’s physical attacks proved useless against their iron-chained forms. After a brief struggle, Kendra was able to destroy a set of manacles with a powerful Magic Missile spell cast from The Splatterman’s ancient spellbook. Moving carefully, Dekhaim was able to coax the other two to wrap themselves around his quaterstaff, then held them there, struggling, as Yuuko beat them into submission with her katana.
A further search of the room revealed nothing, and the group moved to the southeasternmost room to continue their explorations. Here, a window looked out over Harrowstone’s grounds and the room was empty save for a coal-filled brazier and a scattering of iron brands around the ground. As Taco and Yuuko entered, the half-elf smelled the brief scent of burning flesh, and was able to push Yuuko out of the way before the brands rose into the air and, their surfaces white with heat, shot themselves at the pair. Tataco’s heroic act earned him a brand directly to the temple, where it seared a burning letter “H” into his flesh before knocking him to the ground, unconscious. As he hit the floor, there was a flash of magic, and his body vanished. Just as the party realized the enormity of what had happened, and began to panic, Taco’s body reappeared in a similar flash of magic, and Dekhaim was able to restore him to consciousness with a few applications of his curing wand.
The group then moved to examine the room directly north of the branding chamber, one of the last two left in the block, and thus the first floor. Inside was unremarkable save for a few piles of cloth and sewing machines. One such mound of linens had a skeletal hand sticking awkwardly from its folds, but before they could move to investigate, a rush of air and ghostly swirling filled the room as the group was confronted with the ghost of Vesorianna Hawkran.
Vesorianna was not hostile, and instead pleaded with the adventurers to help her seal the spirits of the five prisoners even now threatening to break free from her dampening powers and run rampant across Ravengro. She informed them that if they could destroy the forms of the five ghosts, she would be able to prevent them from rematerializing. Even better, if they were to find a symbol of her husband’s authority as warden, such as his badge, she would be able to banish them from this world forever, and finally be able to rest herself. Such an item would likely be with her husband’s corpse, somewhere in the dungeons of Harrowstone.
In response to how this series of events had come to pass, Vesorianna told of how she had seen strange men and women in black cloaks come to Harrowstone and engrave the mystic circle around the base of the prison over the course of several days. Her husband, the Warden Hawkran, had been continuing his duty of keeping the prisoners under control even after death, but when the Whispering Way stole away his soul, the ghosts of the prisoners were held back only by her own waning power. She described their leader as a thin, gray-skinned human with a bone breastplate and bearing a black staff capped with a skull gagged by a black cloth, and told of how he had killed Professor Lorrimor with foul magic, then dropped a gargoyle on him to make it appear as an accident.
The party promised to purge the prisoners’ spirits from the building, and left with Vesorianna’s blessing, moving to investigate the last room on the first floor. Inside were more and more bundles of rotting cloth, one of them rustling and moving as though a small child or animal were trapped within. Cautiously, Yuuko approached and lifted the top of the pile with her sword, only to be accosted by a flapping, raging straitjacket that leaped from the linens and wrapped itself painfully about her arm. As the girl tried to disentangle herself, the rest of the party set about giving the animated shirt a thorough beating. Though it was more tenacious than could be expected, the repeated blows eventually drove the straitjacket into submission and it dropped lifelessly to the floor, though not before tightening rigidly enough around Yuuko’s arm to deal actual physical damage.
Annoyed, and wary of any other “surprises”, the group considered leaving Harrowstone for the night to rest, but decided to check the upstairs at least before retiring. The party crowded into the staircase leading up, and listened briefly at the old oak door that capped them. A shallow, but still audible buzzing was sounding repeatedly from outside, as though from a multitude of huge insects.
Her katana at the ready, Yuuko opened the door and she and Banjo rushed forward into a spacious dining area, greeted by a swarm of five enormous stirges. A ghostly piping began the fill the air, driving the insects into a frenzy, and they rushed to attack. Banjo took the brunt of the first wave, four stirges attacking him and two latching on, painfully slurping his blood through their oversized proboscises. Yuuko was locked in combat with the last bug as the rest of the group moved to assist, Dekhaim rushing to Banjo’s side. The bear was able to disengage himself from the insects and fought back, his paws and the druid’s staff bludgeoning any stirge that came too close. All the while, the ghostly piping flitted through the air, sending chills throughout the interlopers’ spines.
Parva hurled a bomb to great effect, splattering one stirge and harming another two with the blast, but then suddenly found himself alone, the sounds of battle distant and faint. Surrounding him was a long field of pure white mist, and in the distance, a skeletal figure slowly approaching, cloak upon its shoulders and thin silver pipe brought to its mouth as it played a mournful dirge. Flitting around the ghostly apparition was a swarm of stirges, swooping angrily and hungrily from side to side in time with the music.
To the rest of the party, it seemed as though Parva had suddenly gone stiff with fright, paralyzed in the midst of the battle. With the help of the sheriff’s gun and Tataco’s arrows, Dekhaim and Banjo managed to drop another stirge before the same affliction overcame Caeller and Taco, as they too seized up and became unable to fight. Fortunately, the two were able to shake off their fear just moments later, and returned to the fight.
The alchemist was not so lucky, and spent an interminable amount of time frozen in that white, misty waste before awaking shortly before the death of the last two stirges. Thousands of tiny holes opened in Parva’s skin, blood seeping from the wounds, and he was overcome with an incredible agony as the injuries brought him to the brink of unconsciousness. Their goal now to keep the remaining insects from attacking their injured companion, Dekhaim and Yuuko fought with renewed vigor, driving the stirges back. With Banjo swatting and biting, the druid landing bludgeon after bludgeon on the bugs, and Yuuko finally scoring direct hits with her katana, the last stirges fell.
As the bugs died, so too did the ghostly piping, cut off suddenly as a great supernatural weight was lifted from the room. Collecting their injured companion, the group temporarily retreated from Harrowstone, regaining Lorrimor’s manor and a much needed rest after their ordeal.

First Venture to Harrowstone

The next morning, Parva and Yuuko rose early to find that Tataco and Dekhaim had returned in the night. Further, Taco had misunderstood the meaning of the bucket of water in his room, and had used it to finally clean the bloody words off the wall. Parva confronted the half-elf about those strange, dripping letters, but Tataco professed ignorance, and the matter was eventually dropped.
It was decided that Doctor Rigeuer would take Kendra and meet with Father Grimburrow at the Pharasmian Temple Library to do some further research, while the others would collect Sheriff Caeller and make good on his offer to help them investigate the cemetery to the north. Before the party split, they picked up the official burial records from the temple, hoping to investigate each grave related to the Harrowstone burning so many years ago.
Parva’s research was fruitful, and he discovered that the unusual tactics displayed by the skeletons in the Restlands was likely due to the influence of a much more powerful, sentient sort of undead. A ghost or vampire, or something even more sinister. From there, it was not a difficult leap to deduce that the influence must be coming from Harrowstone.
Meanwhile, Yuuko, Dekhaim, Tataco, Banjo and the Sheriff were making a disturbing discovery in the cemetery. Of the 36 graves related to the Harrowstone fire, about 20 had been unearthed recently, and their incumbents conspicuously missing. The remaining 16 graves, among them the resting places of the Warden and his wife.
Parva caught up with the group shortly after they had finished their survey, and relayed to them the information he had learned. Dekhaim, meanwhile, had caught sight of a suspicious tomb nearby, the dust around the door disturbed as though it had been opened recently. Bringing it to the others’ attention, they cautiously entered the mausoleum.
Inside, they found an empty antechamber with a set of footprints in the dust leading further into the tomb. The prints led down a flight of stairs, into a burial chamber, and stopped just short of the casket. Empty, save for a pair of urns and a large crack in the eastern wall, the chamber showed every sign of being a traditional Pharasmian burial place. Their investigation was cut short by a sudden cry when, investigating the crack in the wall, Tataco was assaulted by a huge, black centipede, which uncurled from its hiding place and bit through his armor with its sharp mandibles. It was soon joined by a companion from inside the wall but, after the initial shock, both were easily dispatched by the party.
Inside the casket, they discovered a large cache of undead-fighting supplies, likely those mentioned in Professor Lorrimor’s journal. Among the magical arrows and vials of holy water was a darkwood chest, its cover engraved with the same eye-bearing scarab that was upon the Manual of the Palatine Eye. Within, Parva discovered and identified several Haunt Siphons, devices that could be used to absorb the energy of ghosts and other spiritual beings, as well as a Spirit Planchette, for contacting those on the other side.
With their newfound armaments, Sheriff Caeller suggested that they waste no more time in beginning their investigation of Harrowstone, so that they might still conduct their explorations in the light of day. The party readily agreed, and, with Kendra in tow, they made their way to the prison.

Harrowstone sat upon a hill just south of Ravengro, and it was not long before the group stood at its rusting metal gates. Within, the main building had partially collapsed into a water-filled sinkhole to the east, and was flanked to the southwest by a small manor, likely the residence of the late warden and his wife. Naturally, the team set to explore the manor first, but a quick inspection by Tataco and Parva revealed that the structure was unstable from water and age, and would be dangerous to enter. Indeed, the Doctor was able to put his finger through one of the sagging wooden walls with little resistance and a distressing “shlup” sound.
The manor having been deemed unsafe, the group turned their attentions to Harrowstone proper. As they approached the ancient stone building, they noticed a curious circle of runes surrounding the foundation, just as those mentioned in Lorrimor’s journal. Kendra was the only member who could decipher the Varisian they were written in, and quickly deduced the meaning. The magic circle formed from the runes was part of some Necromantic ritual designed to draw out and trap the soul of Warden Hawkran, whose name was mentioned repeatedly in the incantation. Now that the ritual was finished, the circle was harmless.
With this discovery the group wasted no time in entering through the rotting front doors. Above them, a wooden balcony sagged dramatically, but held as they entered a mostly-demolished antechamber, the walls on either side destroyed by time. With Banjo, Dekhaim, and Yuuko at the head, the group made to enter the lobby beyond, but halfway through the procession, the door suddenly slammed shut and cut the foremost three off from the rest of the party.
The fungus-ridden lobby had five doors, leading in every direction, and every one was held fast by an unnatural force as the wood began to warp and bend. The sound of burning flesh filled the air as tortured faces rose from the knotted surfaces of the doors, screaming and wailing in pain. Though Yuuko and Dekhaim stood fast, Bearingston Banjo was spooked by the cacophony, and began running around the room in a panic, making frightened bear noises as he went.
A soothing word and minor spell from Dekhaim calmed Banjo, and soon the faces subsided as the doors sprang open of their own volition, reuniting the party. After relaying the disturbing event, the group decided to begin by exploring the two doors leading eastward from the lobby. It was revealed that the room directly adjacent was a kind of large amphitheater, with rows of benches and a stage locked behind a set of steel bars. As they moved through this room, Parva felt and odd chill run through him. Suddenly, a great weight seemed to settle upon his shoulders even as a malicious presence swirled about him, drawing all the warmth from his body. His hands clenched as lines of frost began to form on his neck and face then, as suddenly as it had arrived, the presence vanished. Parva was largely unharmed, but fatigued, as though his very vitality had been drained.
The next room was an ancient training facility, filled with rotting wooden dummies and targets. To the east, the room had collapsed, its walls open to the sinkhole that flanked the prison, and a steady stream of water flowed from it to a gaping hole in the center of the room. As Yuuko cautiously entered the room, a great manic chattering filled the air as three flaming skulls rose violently from the hole and began attacking her relentlessly.
As Yuuko defended herself, Banjo leaped into action, producing a bear-sized scoop from his backpack and sprinting to the waterside. With surprising dexterity, he gripped the scoop in his teeth and heaved a great splash of water into the air. The liquid flew with single, divine purpose and came down with a mighty crash onto the crown of one of the flaming skulls. Its flame was doused in a great burst of steam, and the skull fell lifeless to the ground, the jaw lolling open in a deathly grimace of surprise.
Meanwhile, Tataco managed to pick off another skull with a well-placed arrow, and Caeller attempted to follow suit. For a second time, his gun jammed, and the violent recoil sent him sprawling onto the ground. Yuuko deftly knocked the last skull out of the air with her katana, and ended the battle.
A search of the room revealed nothing, and the group began to move to the north, into another room open to the eastern prison campus. Here, a huge furnace grimaced at them from the southern wall as Yuuko and Parva entered the room. Indeed, the bars and vents themselves twisted unnaturally into a leering, skull-like visage even as a massive, twisting tongue of liquid fire lashed out from the iron mouth. The attack failed to find its mark, and Yuuko leaped into the fray, charging the furnace and coming down upon its metal skull with a powerful swipe. Though her katana dented the metal, it had no further effect, and she was forced to dodge another swipe of its serpentine tongue. Kendra moved to assist, cracking open one of the Haunt Siphons and drawing some of the furnace’s energy inside it. Though the haunt was clearly weakened after having its essence drawn, it continued its assault.
Meanwhile, the others of the group were gathering as much water as they could. Banjo went to scooping again, as Tataco filled a bucket and Dekhaim and Kendra conjured water onto the flaming visage. Soon, they had doused its flames, and the furnace returned to its normal form.
Inside, among the ashes and coal, Yuuko found a set of bones, warm to the touch. After some debate, the group doused the bones in Tataco’s bucket of water, and a pressure was lifted from the room as the spirit haunting the furnace finally made its way to the great beyond.
The next room was to the west and, judging by the cots and medical supplies, was some sort of infirmary. As soon as they had all entered, a baleful cackling sounded as a ghostly figure formed in the center of the room, syringes and scalpels flying around it in a whirlwind of deadly shrapnel.
Yuuko went on the defensive, and Caeller loosed a shot which pierced harmlessly through the spirit’s incorporeal form. A bomb from Parva proved much more effective, and the poltergeist screamed in pain as it was wreathed in alchemical flames. Furious, it thrust a full-sized cot at the Doctor, who was struck heavily and crushed against the wall. A magical arrow from Tataco finished off the spirit, and the instruments fell harmlessly to the ground as it dissolved with a final wail. The room secure, and Parva injured but functional, the group continued their exploration of Harrowstone.


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