Broken Moon

Petros Lorrimor's Last Will and Testament

“I, Petros Lorrimor, being of sound mind, do hereby commit to this parchment my last will and testament. Let it be known that, with the exception of the specific details below, I leave my home and personal belongings entire to my daughter Kendra. Use them orsell them as you see fit, my child.
“Yet beyond the bequeathing of my personal effects, this document must serve other needs. I have arranged for the reading of this document to be delayed until all principals can be in attendance, for I have more than mere inheritance to apportion. I have three final favors to ask.
“To my old friends Parva and Dekhaim, I hate to impose upon you, but there are few others who are capable of appreciating the true significance of what it is I have to ask. As you surely know, I have devoted many of my studies to all manner of evil, that I might know the enemy and inform those better positioned to stand against it. For knowledge of one’s enemy is the surest path to victory over its plans.
“And so, over the course of my lifetime, I have seen fit to acquire a significant collection of valuable but dangerous tomes, any one of which in the wrong circumstances could have led to an awkward legal situation. While the majority of these tomes remain safe under lock and key at the Lepidstadt University, I fear that a few I have borrowed remain in a trunk in my Ravengro home. While invaluable for my work in life, in death, I would prefer not to burden my daughter with the darker side of my profession, or worse still, the danger of possessing these tomes herself. As such, I am entrusting my chest of tomes to you, posthumously. I ask that you please deliver the collection to my colleagues at the University of Lepidstadt, who will put them to good use for the betterment of the cause.
“In addition, I hereby bequeath to my old friend and peer Dekhaim Balust the key to our old laboratory in the University of Lepidstadt. I know that I cannot make reparations for what I have done to you, and you will not be warmly welcomed back at the University, but perhaps, now that I am gone, you may begin to set right what we wrought so many years ago.
“Before you leave for Lepidstadt however,, there is the matter of one last favor—please delay your journey one month and spend that period of time here in Ravengro to ensure that my daughter is safe and sound. She has no one to count on now that I am gone, and if you would aid her in setting things in order for whatever she desires over the course of this month, you would have my eternal gratitude. I do not expect any physical harm to come to her or yourselves, but to ensure your safety against any beings of darkness who might yet hold a grudge against me and mine, I have also requested the presence of two warriors I met throughout my travels abroad. They have special skills that may be of use to you, should the situation arise.
“From my savings, I have also willed to each of you, colleagues and bodyguards alike, a sum of one hundred platinum coins. For safekeeping, I have left these funds with Embreth Daramid, one of my most trusted friends in Lepidstadt—she has been instructed to issue this payment upon the safe delivery of the borrowed tomes no sooner than one month after the date of the reading of this will.
“I, Petros Lorrimor, hereby sign this will in Ravengro on this first day of Calistril.”

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Arrival in Ravengro

The late Professor Petros Lorrimor’s funeral was held on the 30th of Calistria. Being a man of few friends, only the professor’s own daughter and a group of the town’s most prominent citizenry were in attendance for his burial in the Restlands. The ceremony’s beginning, however, heralded the arrival of a quartet of strangers from outside of Ravengro. Three men of various countenances and one girl of far Eastern descent, they were supposedly all called to the town to hear the reading of the late Lorrimor’s will.
It was the three men who accepted the honor of carrying the Professor’s coffin to its final resting place. All of them tall and fit, the coffin’s weight was borne evenly by them and a single villager, a motley group of two half-elves and an odd man with blue skin.
No sooner had they begun their trek across the Restlands, however, than a grizzled old veteran stepped out to bar their way, flanked by many of the town’s hotheaded and traditional youths. Gibs Hephenus, as he was quickly identified by Kendra, exchanged some harsh words with the mob, revealing that they deemed Professor Lorrimor a practitioner of dark Necromancy, and would not have him buried alongside their ancestors.
Irate, the villagers approached with clubs and pitchforks at the ready, but with a few soothing words from Kendra and Yuuko, the Eastern girl called by Lorrimor’s will, the fight left them and the crowd quickly dispersed, leaving a deflated Gibs to face the wrath of Father Grimburrow, who had arrived during the confusion.
Though old, Grimburrow was possessed of a spry strength and a powerful presence, and sent Gibs running back to town with a few well-placed strikes from his walking stick. After apologizing to the group, he led them to the burial site, and they reverentially lowered the Professor’s coffin into its plot. After saying a short sermon to Pharasma, Grimburrow finally realized that something was amiss with the group of travelers. Indeed, the tall blue man, Dekhaim Balust, dressed in odd furs and feathers, was attended by a bear. A small bear, perhaps, but still an odd sight in Ravengro, and wearing a backpack no less.
After being assured by Parva Rigueur, a half-elf from the city of Lepidstadt, that the bear was a holy animal and merely here to bless the ceremony, Grimburrow was placated, and finished his sermon. He then invited the assembled group to say a few words about the deceased Professor, but the only one to step forward was again Kanzaki Yuuko, who spoke a short piece entrusting Lorrimor’s soul to Shizuru, the Empress of Heaven.
The ceremony finished, the remaining villagers dispersed back to their daily duties, save for Councilman Vashian Hearthmount, who approached the group of four travelers and one bear. It was arranged that they would all meet at the Lorrimor residence that night where Vashian, the closest thing to a legal official in the small town, would give an official reading of Professor Lorrimor’s will.
Indeed, after they were led back to Kendra’s inherited manor on the hill south of town, it was not long before the Councilman arrived, bearing a thin scroll case containing the Professor’s will. The majority of the will was directed toward the Professor’s old friends, Parva Rigueur, and one Dekhaim Balust, who was mentioned repeatedly as Lorrimor’s old partner in science, though he had no memory of such a relationship. In addition to leaving them a group of books to be delivered to his colleagues in Lepidstadt, the will also bade them stay and watch over Kendra for the span of a month, for which purpose he had also called Yuuko and Tataco, bodyguards of some particular skill.
The reading done, Councilman Hearthmount excused himself, leaving quickly into the dark and rain, while Kendra gave the group lodgings and bade them stay for a short time, at least, while she decided whether or not to sell the old estate. Being somewhat overwhelmed by the day’s events, she soon retired to bed, the others not long behind her.

It was that night, in Tataco Taco’s room, that a dark force began to make itself known. As he was preparing for bed, the half-elf noticed that the window, closed against the rain merely moments before, was now wide open and filled with bars, trapping him inside. Indeed, the door to the room had been replaced with a heavy steel portal, his bed a mass of vermin-infested straw, and a pot of moldy gruel lying haphazardly upon the floor. Before he could react, a massive pounding echoed through the room, a force hammering upon the walls from all sides, particularly from beneath the floor, from whence Tataco could hear screams and the lick of flames upon the wood.
Bewildered, he turned to see, upon the wall above his bed, streaks of blood spelling out a word, slowly, letter by letter.
T-A-T-A-C-O-T-A-C-O
He awoke with a start, drenched with sweat in his normal bed, the room returned to how it had been before. However, glaring at him from the wall, his name remained scrawled in blood.

The next day, Yuuko fixed breakfast while the others arose and performed their morning ablutions. Before Tataco could mention the strange occurrence from last night, however, a pounding at the door summoned Parva, who found Benjan Caeller, the town sheriff, standing at the doorstep, surrounded by a ring of worried villagers.
Apologizing for interrupting their meal, the sheriff asked them to come to the town square as soon as they were finished, to answer some questions about a strange event the previous night.
His moment gone, Tataco said nothing more as they finished their meal and, together with Kendra, began the hour-long trek down the hill to Ravengro proper. Along the way, the group encountered a group of ragtag Varisian girls, playing hop rope to the time of a rather disturbing and gruesome rhyme. Yuuko was, with some coaxing, able to approach the children and ask them where they had learned the words, but they assured her that it was something that “all children know”, before scampering off back to the town.

Upon reaching the town square, the reason for the townsfolk’s concern was immediately evident. The Harrowstone Memorial, a tall pillar in the center of town bearing the names of those who died in the infamous Harrowstone Fire many centuries ago, had been defaced, a huge letter “V” scrawled upon it in what appeared to be blood. After some talking, the group was able to convince Sheriff Caeller that they had nothing to do with the vandalism and, somewhat disappointed, the crowd of villagers returned to their daily tasks.
Further examination of the monument revealed that the V was written directly above the name “Hawkran” and, using his skills as an alchemist, Parva was able to determine that it was written in some sort of animal blood, likely that of a chicken. Though baffled by the events, Kendra proved herself a valuable font of information, postulating that the rhyme the children were singing before was a reference to five particularly evil prisoners who were incarcerated at Harrowstone the night of the fire. One of these five, known only as The Splatterman, believed that writing his victim’s name out in blood would give him power over them, and that killing a person just as their name was finished was an act of distinct beauty. Once again, Tataco remained fastidiously quiet on the subject.
By searching the ground around the monument, Yuuko and Dekhaim were able to find tracks leading directly up to the scrawled letter, then back toward the river and the farmland to the South. Acting upon the knowledge that the blood was that of a chicken, Parva, Tataco and Kendra decided to question the nearby butcher, while Yuuko and Dekhaim, with the help of his erstwhile companion Sir Bearington, followed the tracks to their origin.
Ravengro’s butcher, a beefy man named Hoffman, was less than eager to help the outsiders, and only with some coaxing from Kendra did he reveal that he had not sold any chickens that day or the day prior. However, he did reveal that he received his chickens from a farm just south of Kendra’s residence, the same direction that the others had left following the tracks.

Thus is was that both parties converged on a small shack on the edge of a farm bordering the river, the tracks leading directly up to its door. The inhabitant was revealed to be none other than Gibs Hephenus, the rough veteran soldier who had attempted to bar their entry into the Restlands just a day hence. Gibs was flush with alcohol and angry at the intrusion, and only with some very careful diplomacy was the group able to convince him to let them search the premises.
Before long, Bearington dug up a razor and a waterskin full of what Parva confirmed as chicken blood buried behind the log pile behind the house. Though Gibs admitted to the razor being his, he claimed no knowledge of how it had gotten there, and to never having seen the waterskin in his life.
Though his drunken hangover was cured by one of Doctor Rigueur’s alchemical concoctions, Gibs was no more willing to admit to the vandalism, nor would he follow the group to the square to speak with the sheriff. Eventually, they were forced to fetch Caeller themselves, while Tataco and Bearington stood guard over Hephenus’ shack. There, on that fateful hill under the midday sun, Tataco finally divulged the secret of the blood in his room to a backpack-wearing bear.
Fortunately, Benjan Caeller was all too willing to arrest Gibs, reasoning that, guilty or not of the vandalism, he would cause trouble on his own before long if allowed to run loose. When Hephenus refused to go with even the town sheriff, Caeller caught him with an expert punch to the temple that sent him crumpling to the ground unconscious. Together, the group dragged Gibs away and finally locked him in the small Ravengro jail.

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The Shadow over Ravengro

With Gibs behind bars and the immediate threat contained, the group pondered their next move. Without many leads to work on, Parva produced the thick purple volume that Lorrimor had left in their care, its cover embossed with a golden eye, a scarab, and a strange triangular lock. Their attempts to open it having failed, the adventurers called upon the town smith, a middle-aged Dwarf woman named Jorfa.
The strange mechanism was beyond her skills as a locksmith, but Jorfa assured them that she could force the book open if they so desired, although the book may be damaged in the process. His curiosity overcoming his doubts, Parva warily agreed. With a deft smash from her smith’s hammer, Jorfa smashed the lock on the cover of the book and it sprang open. The Dwarf did not accept payment for the service, pleased enough to see new faces around Ravengro.
Its lock shattered, the book would no longer close. Furthermore, it appeared to be written in some strange coded version of Varisian. Kendra claimed to be able to crack the code, but it would take her several hours. With the book and the group’s blessing, she returned to the Lorrimor Estate to begin translation.
As the day drew to an end, the group retired to a nearby pub known as The Laughing Demon. Run by a fat, smiling man named Zokar Elkarid, the bar prided itself on its sense of morbid humor, serving such specials as “Corpse Chowder” or “Ghost Ale”. After chatting amicably with Zokar, the adventurers ordered a bowl of corpse chowder each, and relaxed while a small band struck up a folk ensemble in the corner.
It quickly became apparent that something was not right with the music as the piper began to dance and spin wildly, his hands gripped tightly upon his flute and his eyes reflecting abject terror. Before the group could react, a duo of huge blood-sucking insects swept down from the rafters and attacked frantically, their wings beating in time to the fevered piping. Zokar, returning from the kitchen with arms full of chowder bowls, was knocked on his side, the bowls shattering and white broth splattering around him. Parva was the first struck afterwards, as a stirge barreled into him and latched on with its sharp legs, driving its thin proboscis deep into his skin and sucking his blood.
giantstirge.png
Panicked by the giant bug’s attack, Parva attempted to pry it off with his dagger but, as its huge chitinous body swung wildly, only succeeded in stabbing himself in the shoulder. Tataco quickly unstrung his bow, firing at the stirge on Parva and succeeding in punching a painful hole through one its wings. Yuuko followed up on the attack, her katana drawing a curved line through the air as its point passed mere inches from Parva’s face before cleaving the stirge in half, the two pieces falling twitching to the ground.
Dekhaim, keeping his wits, noticed the strange and terrified antics of the piper on stage, and charged with his staff, aiming to knock the man out, but swung wide, the momentum carrying him past the piper and into the wall, where the knob of his weapon punched a hole in the wooden wall and lodged there, immobile. Parva, though still shocked and bleeding from his wounds, seized the opportunity and drove the hilt of his dagger heavily into the piper’s crotch. With a small gasp and a whimper, the man crumpled and hit the floor unconscious.
The other stirge, which had failed to find purchase on any of its targets, was left confused and bewildered as the music vanished. It attempted to escape through one of the pub windows, but an arrow from Taco and quick slash from Yuuko’s katana turned it into a grisly blood splatter across the wall opposite.
Zokar was grateful to the travellers, despite the damage to his bar, and presented them with a free helping of corpse chowder each, along with a mug of his signature ghost ale. As the barkeep worked on putting together the second meal, Yuuko helped Dekhaim pull his staff from the wall, and the group attended to the collapsed piper, who was only now regaining consciousness.
Though they questioned him mercilessly, the man was bewildered, still in shock and claimed not to have had control over himself. According to him, a ghostly tune had echoed to him from across the river and, before he knew it, he was spinning and kicking, mirroring the music on his own pipe without any control over his body. Though dissatisfied with the answer, the group of adventurers was mollified and, after eating their chowder, took the piper into custody and made to deliver him to Sheriff Caeller’s jail for the night.
As they approached the low and forbidding Ravengro jail, a screeching sound like tortured metal met their ears, followed by a resounding crash. The group hurried inside to find Caeller standing facing the cell containing Gibs Hephenus, his hand on his sword. Gibs stood tall and stiff in the center of his cell, the heavy metal cot usually affixed to the wall instead bent at an unnatural angle and shoved violently through the bars of the cell.
As everyone entered, Gibs turned to face them, his face filled with rage and his eyes a stark white with no pupil.
“You shall not prevent our escape! The woman will die again!” he shouted in a deep, booming voice before collapsing to the ground.
Parva and the others rushed forward, but were halted by Caeller, who pointed to Gibs’ prone body on the floor of his cell. The man was crumpled in an odd position, but his chest rose and fell regularly and, as they stood there, let out a brief but audible snore.
Shaken, Caeller agreed to take the piper in and bid the travellers be careful. The recent events had been more violent and frightening than anything he had encountered during his time as Ravengro sheriff, and he worried for the future of the town and all its residents. Bidding the sheriff and flautist farewell, the group returned to the Lorrimor Place and retired for the night. Tataco, not willing to sleep again in his room with the bloody letters scrawled upon the wall, instead opted to rest outside, snuggling up next to Bearington as the cold night overtook them.

The next day, Tataco was woken by Sheriff Caeller pounding on the door of the estate. Rounding the corner, he saw that the man’s face was stark white and his hands shaking. Something had happened in town square again, much more brutal than the last time, and the sheriff wanted the group to accompany him down to see it for themselves.
After everyone was roused, Parva finding a translated copy of the book on his doorstep, they set off, leaving Kendra to rest after spending the night awake breaking the code. As they approached the town square, they came upon a grisly spectacle.
Groups of Ravengro citizenry stood apart and around the front of the butcher’s store where, strung up like a hock of meat on a large metal hook, Hoffman’s body swung silently from side to side. His skin was deathly white, and his stomach cut open with surgical precision, revealing a gaping maw with all of the organs removed.
Caeller was quick to fill them in, explaining that he had found the butcher like this today while making his morning rounds, and below him had found a small note emblazoned with a stylized letter “D”. The note, though sinister, meant nothing to him, and he allowed the group to read it as he made to disperse the onlookers and removed Hoffman’s body from its perch.
After going through the paper’s grisly contents, the travellers met once again with Sheriff Caeller who, frightened for the safety of his town, appointed them all deputy sheriffs for the time being, and asked them to help investigate as he attempted to calm the townsfolk down. Bearing their newfound positions, the group’s first action was to question the butcher’s widow. Though recalcitrant, she eventually let on that her son had gone to another town to inform relatives of Hoffman’s death, and hinted that their marriage had not, perhaps, been a happy one. She had heard nothing the night of the occurrence, and had slept soundly until the morning, when Caeller had woken her up after finding her husband’s corpse. When asked whether she had heard him get out of bed in the night, she revealed that she and Hoffman had slept in separate beds in different rooms.
Meanwhile, with the help of Sir Bearington Banjo’s nose, Dekhaim and Tataco found a trail leading from the body to an old house behind the nearby apothecary. A look in the windows revealed the lower level to be unused, with white sheets over the furniture and dust undisturbed upon the floor. As they pounded upon the door to the second floor, accessed via a flight of stairs in the rear of the house, they were accosted by Jominda, the owner of the apothecary. Jominda, though annoyed at having trespassers upon her property, told them that she lived on the second floor, and the first floor was where her parents had lived until their deaths several years ago.
After some pressing, and a bit of intimidation, the apothecary further revealed that she would receive occasional visits from a man who called himself Dr. D, the same as the name signed at the end of the murderer’s note. He would pay exorbitant prices for some of her less-legal stock, mostly poisons of various potency, but she had never seen his face. While in her shop, Dr. D was always covered by a cloak and a long plague doctor’s mask beneath a wide hat, none of his skin or features exposed.
This lead exhausted, Parva decided to read the translation Kendra had provided, but was disappointed to learn that there was very little sinister about the purple book. Known as the Manual of the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye, the tome detailed magical rituals and theories, but read more like a textbook than a piece of cult literature. Deciding to do some more research, Parva left the others at the apothecary and set off across the square to the town hall and the library within.
As he approached the building, the sound of coughing and retching led him to an alley nearby, where he discovered a man in a cloak and hood leaning upon the wall for support. Parva moved to aid him, but the stench of rotting flesh keyed him off just in time, as the man looked violently up to him, revealing a face with half the skin flayed off and rotted in other places.
The zombie gave a shriek and moved to attack him, but Doctor Rigueur was faster, sprinting back across the square and calling for his comrades. Yuuko, Dekhaim, and Tataco moved quickly to assist him, running toward the zombie even as Parva ran away. A well-aimed arrow from Taco planted itself deep in the creature’s skull, blasting through its eye, and caused the zombie to stagger before renewing its pursuit.
Emboldened by the monster’s injury, Parva stopped momentarily and retrieved a bomb from his belt, activating it and hurling it across the square. Though it was a long distance, especially for a thrown weapon, and difficult to aim, the bomb sailed through the air on a perfect trajectory and, like the wrath of science itself, struck the zombie full in the chest before exploding, blasting the creature into nothing more than bloody gibbets that rained down across the square.

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Smoldering Revenge

The explosion in town square and subsequent rain of zombie parts spooked Dekhaim’s companion Sir Bearington, sending him sprinting into the nearby woods, the gangly, blue-skinned Druid hot on his tail. The noise also drew a crowd from the surrounding buildings, including Sheriff Caeller. Finding nothing but a strewn pile of body parts, he was quick to ask the party exactly what had happened. As a follower of Pharasma, Caeller had certainly heard tell of the undead before, and had indeed feared that this would happen.
In their capacity as deputy sheriffs, he bid the group go north, to the Restlands, and search about for disturbed graves or other signs of undead activity. Yuuko, Parva, and Tataco were quick to comply, leaving the cleaning of the square to the Sheriff and townsfolk.
The Restlands was empty when they arrived. It was only slightly past noon, and the townsfolk were all attending to their various businesses, and so no-one had come to the expansive cemetery to pay their respects. Through unspoken agreement, the three adventurers split up and began to look around for anything unusual among the gravestones.
It was Parva that made the first discovery. An ancient gravestone, the dirt around it undisturbed, bore upon it a chilling inscription.

Parva Rigeuer
“Come to my world, and be as I; as I am now, soon you will be; embrace your end and witness me.”
“Died 4661 AR.”

Understandably shocked at finding his own name engraved on a tombstone, Parva set about running some tests to search for tampering or other tomfoolery, but his results only confirmed that the surrounding area had not been touched for decades. When he turned back to the stone, the inscription was gone, reduced to a mess of scratches and lines worn down by the passage of time.
Meanwhile, Yuuko made her own discovery. A plot of ground before another tombstone, bearing the same date of 4661 AR, was in ruins. The ground buckled and cracked, looking as though something from underground had forced its way to the surface. Indeed, a quick survey of the surrounding area found skeletal footprints leading straight toward town. As the creature they fought before had been a zombie, with flesh still attached, this realization was chilling.
No sooner had they come to this conclusion than the ground before several other gravestones bulged violently, releasing a squad of four animated skeletons, which moved as a group to attack them.
Tataco and Yuuko put Parva between them, an arrow from the hunter’s bow reducing a skeleton’s skull to dust even as Yuuko crushed one coming at Parva with her three-section staff. The remaining two skeletons took the Paladin by surprise by acting in tandem, one slipping behind her and harrying her from both sides. As their claws raked across her, dropping her into unconsciousness, she noted that such behavior was far too intelligent for the supposedly mindless undead.
With Yuuko down, Tataco and Parva stood back to back, the former firing arrows from his bow but to little effect on the skeletons’ loose frames. Parva deftly activated one of his bombs and threw it over one of the skeletons, careful to angle the blast so as not to hit Yuuko’s prone form. Though it was not a direct hit, the ensuing explosion was enough to shatter the skeleton, sending its bones spinning outward to lie scattered across the ground.
Sensing the opportunity, Tataco quickly drew three arrows from his quiver, firing them all simultaneously and planting one each in the skeleton’s eye sockets and nasal cavity. The force of the impact sent its skull barreling away and, with a final screech, its body collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Though worried by what had just occurred, Tataco and Parva wasted no time in hauling Yuuko back to town and the temple of Pharasma. There, for a paltry sum, the acolytes cast healing spells on her until she was awake and in full health once again. While Parva paid the spellcasters from his personal funds, Father Grimburrow approached and delivered them important news. The town council of Ravengro had met in the town hall, deciding that they could no longer overlook the strange events that had befallen their town, and had requested the presence of the travelers as soon as they were able.
On their return, the three met up with Sheriff Caeller, who grimaced at their reports of undead activity in the Restlands, before following them into the town hall.
It seemed the majority of the village was in attendance, including Kendra sitting in one of the back rows, as Chairman Vashian Hearthmount spoke from a lectern at the head of the hall. He addressed the party as they arrived, stating that as friends and colleagues of Professor Lorrimor, whom the town still blamed for this recent string of events, it was their responsibility to investigate Harrowstone and put a stop to whatever dark forces were exerting their influences upon the village. Though harsh, his anger soon broke, and he belatedly admitted that the travellers may indeed be their only hope for Ravengro’s safety.
Hearthmount’s speech was interrupted by a sudden scream, as a string of bloody letters formed on the wall behind him, spelling out the mantra:

“The woman will die again!”

At the same time, the hall’s windows burst inward in an explosion of glass as four flying skulls wreathed in flame entered. The skulls chattered madly, gleefully flitting to and fro and setting the ancient wooden building aflame. Quickly, the Ravengro villagers were on their feet, screaming and pushing toward the exit doors, which Sheriff Caeller wasted no time in throwing open.
Attempts by Caeller and Yuuko to direct the crowd more efficiently to the exit were lost in the confusion, and Parva’s loud proclamation that they would end up just like those trapped in the Harrowstone fire only added to the chaos and panic. Tataco, wasting no time, shot one of the skulls out of the air with an arrow, reducing it to a pile of ash before readying another shot.
Kendra was also at the forefront, casting water spells to douse the flames and mitigate their spread, but several villagers were put in danger as the skulls flew forward and knocked them unconscious, leaving them to burn in the encroaching flames.
Using her prodigious strength, Yuuko grabbed two of the unconscious villages and made her way to one of the broken windows, with Kendra magically extinguishing the fire before her. Her advance was blocked just before the window by a wall of flame and a chattering skull which had flown forward to halt her rescue. Just then, an arrow from Tataco’s bow plucked the skull out of the air, shattering it, as Parva coolly stepped into the flames between Yuuko and the window. The fire licked and burned at the doctor’s clothes and bare skin, but he paid it no mind, showing not even the slightest pain as he helped Yuuko lever the two unconscious villagers outside and to safety.
Meanwhile, the two remaining skulls had knocked several other villagers unconscious and the fire was quickly spreading out of control. Yuuko managed to get Chairman Hearthmount to stop screaming long enough to order him to pick up a body and make for the exit, but just as he was about to comply, a flying skull cracked him across the head and he joined the bodies on the floor.
Sheriff Caeller stepped forward, pulling a battered pistol from his belt and leveling it at one of the skulls, but the shot went wild, nearly hitting the prone form of Hearthmount and jamming the barrel. Tataco, dancing back from the flames, put an arrow through one of the remaining skulls, before stringing another and aiming for the last one. Meanwhile, Parva and Caeller grabbed the bodies of two villagers, as Yuuko hefted the last one and the corpulent body of Hearthmount himself, Kendra’s continued water spells keeping her safe from the flames. As Taco finished off the last skull, the group ran outside with their charges, and had barely made it out the door before the building collapsed behind them into a flaming ruin.
Father Grimburrow was waiting for them as they escaped. His acolytes had already begun treating the more grievously wounded villagers, and carrying the others back to the temple for further treatment. The Father’s expression was as bleak as his namesake, but he informed the party that there had been no permanent injuries or deaths, and thanked them for their heroic response.
Grimburrow echoed the council’s thoughts on Harrowstone, promising the adventurers a sum of 500 gold each if they would investigate the prison and put a stop to the hauntings plaguing the town. With a glance at the darkening evening sky, he cautioned them not to go at night, but to get some rest and begin their explorations in the morning.
Though rattled by recent events, Parva led the others on a mission to the Pharasmian Temple Library, determined to learn about as much of the history of Harrowstone as possible before the next day.
There, aided by Father Grimburrow and his aides, the three pored over book after book, discovering much about the history of the prison. They learned of the five most deadly prisoners kept there, and shuddered at tales of The Lopper, The Piper of Illmarsh, The Mosswater Marauder, Father Charlatan, and the infamous Splatter Man. Parva also had the foresight to research the Whispering Way, and learned something of their secretive society. Before they left, the three pursued one last topic, and were surprised to learn that the library did indeed contain information on the mysterious Dr. D. It was revealed that a serial killer by the same name was responsible for a series of politically-minded murders across Ustalav almost 200 years ago, and was never caught.
By the end of their research, the night was fully upon them, and they returned to the Lorrimor Place to get rest for their venture on the morrow. Kendra was exhausted from the day’s events and went straight to bed, even as Tataco sneaked out of the manor and into the forest, intent on finding the missing member of their troupe.
Though also tired, Yuuko and Parva were kept awake by the metallic smell of blood which seemed to pervade the second floor of the manor. Yuuko was unable to pinpoint the source of the smell, but Doctor Rigeuer, with his keen senses, quickly found the source to be Tataco’s room. They threw open the door and were greeted by the sight of Tataco Taco’s name, spelled on the wall in drying blood.
Neither of the two knew why such a thing would be in their comrade’s bedroom, and an argument on how to deal with it quickly ensued. Yuuko wanted to clean the blood up, as its very presence in the house offended her, but Parva was adamant that they keep the evidence intact. A compromise was eventually reached in which Yuuko would leave a scrubbing brush and bucket of water in the room, and would clean the mess up after showing it to Kendra in the morning. Throughout all of this, the resident of the room himself was conspicuously empty.
That having been settled, Parva and Yuuko went to sleep in their own rooms, but were awoken after only a few hours by a crash and scream from Kendra’s room. They bolted into the hallway to find Kendra’s door wide open, and the prone body of Gibs Hephenus lying on her floor in a pool of his own blood. Kendra was backed into a corner, staring fearfully at them. As Yuuko went to comfort her, Kendra pointed and they both realized that she was staring not at them, but at something behind them.
The two turned and were met with a tall figure standing in the shadows of the hallway. Shrouded in a dark cloak, he wore a long plague doctor’s mask with smoked goggles beneath a wide, floppy black hat. The man bowed grandiosely and retrieved a note from the breast pocket of his well-tailored suit, which he dropped to the ground before darting out of the room, graceful as a shadow.
Parva retrieved the envelope, which was emblazoned with an elaborate letter “D”, and the realization struck both of them that the murderous Dr. D had just saved Kendra’s life.

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The Master of the Forest: A Sidestory

Dekhaim stopped and bent over, gasping to catch his breath. It had been many hours since he had followed Sir Banjo Bearington the Third into the forest, and soon afterwards that the wolves had started chasing them. He could see them even now, pacing hungrily behind a thin cover of undergrowth, their red eyes almost glowing in the fading light.
These were no ordinary wolves, Dekhaim could tell. His knowledge of the natural world was mostly unmatched, and no normal wolf would have the stamina or speed to keep up with the pace he and Bearington had set for so long. The rancid stench of rotting flesh that permeated the air further reinforced his concerns. By his leg, Banjo looked up at him beatifically, showing not the slightest sign of exertion. If a bear could smile reassuringly, he would be.
A crash in the nearby trees reminded Dekhaim of his predicament, and he tensed to run again, but noticed suddenly that the wolves had vanished. The forest was eerily silent, save for the padding of huge footsteps approaching slowly. A monstrous bulk blotted out the moon and stars as something enormous pushed its way through the trees and into the clearing. The stench of rotting flesh assaulted Dekhaim’s senses once again, a hundred times more potent than before, as he began to make out the features of the creature before him.
The largest bear he had even seen, larger than a house and just as wide, pawed the ground aggressively. Its red eyes gleamed maliciously from a face that was half rotted away, the skin peeling off in places to reveal the bear’s skull and row upon row of wickedly sharp teeth. Necrotic muscles bunched powerfully beneath its mangy hide as the bear paced slowly forward, its eyes narrowing as it took Dekhaim and his companion in.
“This forest is my territory, whelp,” the bear said in a deep, gravelly voice like a tombstone dragged across metal.
Dekhaim took an involuntary step backward before realizing that the comment was not directed at him. Rather, the monstrous bear was speaking to Bearington Banjo, who even now was rolling happily in the dirt next to him, seemingly oblivious of his assailant.
Obviously annoyed by the other bear’s carefree response, the monster’s eyes flicked back to Dekhaim. “Your blue-skinned friend here will make a fitting sacrifice. Is he blueberry-flavored?” the thing said with a rasping chuckle.
With that, it stepped forward, raising a massive arm as long as Dekhaim was tall and prepared to bring it down with bone-shattering force. Paralyzed by the other’s presence, the Druid could do nothing but watch as certain death prepared to crush him from this world.
It was then that Bearington, still happily rolling in the dirt, tumbled in front of Dekhaim and something round dropped out of his backpack with a clink. A small bronze medallion, bearing the symbol of a blazing sun, now lay on the ground between them and the monster, and banjo batted it around a few times playfully.
The enormous bear froze, then backed away a single step.
“What is this? The mark of the Holy One?! It cannot be!”
The medallion began to glow with an unearthly light as Banjo nuzzled it happily, its brilliance growing to envelop the whole clearing with a brightness as clear as daylight. With a terrible roar, the undead bear shied away from the light, and Dekhaim could see a new emotion reflected in its red eyes. The monster was afraid.
“You haven’t seen the last of me, Holy One!” the bear growled, even as it backed away several paces, “Soon, all of Ustalav shall know and fear the name of Notcho Chiiz!”
With that, the bear turned and fled into the dark forest, crushing trees under its massive paws like mere blades of grass.
Stunned by the events that had just taken place, Dekhaim sat down heavily and looked at Bearington. The smaller bear was sitting on his haunches, his head cocked inquisitively to one side as he smiled his bear smile at the Druid. There was no sign of the medallion.
Suddenly, with a crash of breaking branches, Tataco Taco burst into the clearing, his bow strung and fitted with an arrow. His keen eyes narrowed, taking in the forest around them, but it was clear that his prey was already gone. With a sigh, the half-elf extended a hand to Dekhaim and helped him up and, together with Banjo, the three returned to town.

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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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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.

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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.

View
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.

View
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.

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