Oathday, 13 Desnus 4704, early afternoon
In the strange cellar filled with now-defeated undead monstrosities, Turgrox listened at the door to the east. Hearing no signs of cultists, he tried the door, bur found that it was locked. Using the exceptionally fine set of lockpicks he’d liberated from the wererat earler, he finessed the door open a crack and peered inside.
The room beyond was unlit: a workroom of some sort with a workbench of alchemy tools and two stone tables in the center. He thought he saw a body lying on each table. A stone stairway ascended to a landing and seemed to continue up behind a stone wall. He pulled the plague mask over his face and pushed the soor open wide. As he entered, the half-orc thought he spied movement on the landing. Pushing open the door, he motioned for the others to follow. Darshan’s lantern filled the room with lamplight.
Turgrox and Zak approached the landing, calling out, “Who’s there?” A female voice cried, “Oh no! More of them!” A young woman of Garundi ancestry stepped out from behind the wall, brandishing a broken table leg as a weapon. “Please, don’t hurt me!” she pleaded. Turgrox pulled off his mask, and said, “Hey, it’s OK. We’re not cultists. Who are you and why are you here?” The woman, still threatening with her table leg, said that she had been abducted by “a madman— who wore one of those masks!” and had been locked in this cellar for days.
Darshan and Don pelted her with questions, and her answers were a bit evasive. She said that she had been an apothecary and had been abducted while walking home from her shop. But she demured when asked where her shop was, and the date of her abduction. Don said, “We’ve been tracking death cultists who have killed a lot of people, and we found you in their hideout. I’m sure you be able to beat the charges.” “Charges?” “Yes,” Darshan continued, “for collaborating with criminals. These people are trying to spread a plage that will turn people into zombies.”
“A zombie uprising?” Her face turned into an evil grin. “Good!” At that her appearance shifted: Instead of a young Garundi woman in street clothes wielding a broken table leg, she suddenly became an animated skeleton in a black robe embroirdered with skulls. Her table leg became an iron-and-brass rod tipped with a brass skull. A floating, disembodied skeletal hand hovered near her shoulder. She cast a spell, and the floating hand suddenly crackled with electricity. She pointed at Turgrox, and the hand flew toward him, discharging the energy. Turgrox felt like he’d been struck by lightning and stumbled back. “Arise my children!” she shouted, and the two corpses on the tables shuddered to unlife, swinging themselves off ther tables. One of the zombies stood dangerously close to Don, and the other near Darshan.
art by Jacob Blackmon
Don pulled out his wand of magic missile and fired at the undead spellcaster. Zak charged her, slicing her with his greatsword. Darshan attacked the zombie near him with his magical sickle, cutting a decent-sized chunk out of it. Turgrox, shaking off the shock, ran up the stairs and rushed her, but she dodged the half-orc’s attempt at a body slam. Stepping back, she cast a spell at Turgrox, and a black ray of evil energy shot over his shoulder, missing hom. Both of the zombies tried to bite their targets, but only Don was bitten. “Watch out!” shouted Darshan, “Zombies don’t normally bite people!”
Darshan slashed at the zombie again, and it fell. Don cast a spell, and his hand glowed with blue necromantic energy. He approached the skeletal spellcaster and attempted to touch her, but she evaded. The undead wizard stepped out of the way of Zak’s blade and cast a spell. Turgrox and Zak both were filled with fear, and fled the room! Darshan then produced one of his wands, and used it to shoot a chunk of ice at the spellcaster. This managed to be her undoing, and she collapsed to the floor in a pile of bones. Zak and Turgrox ceased running and turned their attention to the remaining zombie, dispatching it. They all thanked their gods when the zombie didn’t explode!
With the hostiles all taken out, the party examined the room. The shelf contained alchemical equipment, equivalent to a traveling alchemy lab. The shelves above held various chemical reagents, along with two books: a spellbook, and a strange text called Serving Your Hunger. Also iTurgrox found four worn leather backpacks under one of the tables. All were water-soaked, and full of low-quality, mundane equipment. One of the backpacks contained a waterproof leather map case. Inside were two documents. One was a map of Old Korvosa. Five buildings were marked on the map with a red “X,” with one of those circled. Examining the map, Darshan determined that the circled location showed the Stirge and Hammer Inn. The others locations corresponded to Jeggare’s Jug, Exemplary Execrables, the Travelling Man, and the Sticky Mermaid— the other businesses targeted by attacks by the Cult of the Scythe Mother! The second document was a letter, and it was even more chilling. It read:
The time of our vengeance upon this city is at hand. Your cell’s target is an inn called the Stirge and Hammer. Bless all therein with the Reaping Sickness, so that the Scythe Mother can claim their bodies and souls. Return to the safe house afterward for the next phase of our plan. The city’s dead shall rise up and turn Korvosa into the Necropolis of the Pallid Princess.
— The Abbess of the Scythe
Turgrox ascended the stairs, and found himself at a landing behind a locked door. Faint sunlight seemed to come through the crack between the door and the floor. The lock proved no match for the half-orc and his lockpicks, and he cracked open the door and peered inside. The room beyond appeared to have once been a dining room. A warped table surrounded by wooden chairs dominated the room. The dusty remains of a brass chandelier lay smashed in the center of the table, covered with cobwebs. Much of the plaster cieling has long since collapsed, revealing blackened and scorched cieling timbers from a long-ago fire. Feeble sunlight streamed in from two south-facing windows that had been haphazardely boarded up. The floor was covered with a thick layer of dust, but Turgrox saw that several sets of footprints led from a door to the west to the doorway he stood in. He signaled the rest of the party, and they all filed in. Another door led north.
A moment after all four were in the room, the light appeared to dim. The scorched cieling suddenly glowed red, as if again on fire, and everyone smelled the stench of burnt flesh. Six ghostly child-sized hands descended from the cieling, each apparently engulfed in orange flames! One hand flew toward each member of the party at an unearthly speed; the other two flew toward the western door and passed through it! Zak, Darshan, and Turgrox managed to dodge the ghostly hands, but one passed through Don’s chest! He felt searing pain— as if a burning hand pressed against his flesh like a branding iron! At that, the room returned to normal. “I think this place is haunted!” noted Darshan.
Turgrox listened at the western door, and hearing nothing, opened it. Zak stepped through the doorway and beheld the building’s foyer. It smelled damp and musty, with long lines of yellow-brown mold streaking the walls. Three more boarded-up windows let in dim light from outside. On one wall, barely visible through a layer of mold and grime, was a faded mural. It depicted about two dozen smiling children standing around a smiling, heavy-set man with a full white beard. Faded gold letters above the mural spelled the words “Ambrik House Orphanage.” Zak also noted the same set of footprints led from the entryway, across the floor, and through door in which he stood. He noted that no footprints led back out.
He signaled the rest of the party to enter. As they searched the room, Zak thought he heard something— a child sobbing, then pleading, “No, please, not again! No…!” followed by a bloodcurdling scream! Shaken, he frantically looked around for the source of the screaming! Turgrox looked at him quizzically, and asked, “What? Do you hear something?” Apparently, none of the rest heard the screams. Darshan said, “Ambrik House? I’ve heard of it! It was an orphanage— the only one in Old Korvosa. There was a fire there about 25 years ago— all of the children and the headmaster died before the fire could be extinguished. The locals consider the place cursed and completely avoid it… It’s just about the only building in Bridgefront that’s stood vacant for more than a year!” They found nothing else of interest in the room, returned to the dining room, and took the other door.
They found themselves in the remains of a kitchen. A collapsed wooden table stood in the middle of the room. Cabinets lined the walls, but several had collapsed. A large fireplace and oven dominated the northern wall, but much of it had deteriorated. A single set of footprints int he dusty floor ran from a door leading outside to a staircase leading up. The footprints seemed small— like those of a halfling, or a child. While searching the room, the party heard a boy’s voice from outside: “Hey, Mister, can you help us?” Three boys, all aged about 10 years, stood on the half-collapsed veranda of the building. They said that they had dared their friend Nathan to climb up to the attic and shine a lantern out the window. But Nathan has been gone for more than two hours, and he isn’t answering when they call for him. The boys pleased with Zak to find Nathan and bring him back out. Having a soft spot for kids, both Zak and Turgrox agreed. They ascended the stairs.
The stairs led to a second-floor hallway. The walls, cieling, and floor were all heavily damaged by both fire and water— the latter likely due to rain and snow. Turgrox noticed that the child-sized footprints led down the hallway and followed. Unfortunately, the floorboards of that section of the hallway had been heavily damaged by fire and wet rot, that Turgrox broke through the floor and fell to the kitchen below! At the sound of the commotion, a ghostly figure floated through the wall! It appeared to be the silhouette of a man engulfed by flames! It reached out a ghostly hand which passed into Darshan’s chest. The Vudrani druid felt a strange combination of cold as his life-force drained into the ghost, and extreme heat as his clothes burst into flame! Darshan stepped back and tried to douse the flames. “Ack! Some kind of wraith!” Zak swung his greatsword at the apparition, but its blade appeared to pass through the ghostly creature without effect. Don cast a spell, and his hand glowed with an erie blue light. He touched the creature, and the energy discharged. The creature screeched and then fled back through a wall. Turgrox re-joined the party, and the group went into a room from which the wraith had emerged.
A thick drape of dust- and ash-covered cobwebs concealed most of the open doorway leading into a fire-ravaged room. Beyond the webs loomed a dark room littered with small charred items. Poking through the rubble revealed a scorched porcelain doll’s head, some charred building blocks, and an assortment of half-melted tin knights, but nothing of any value. Zak said, “This is really sad— this must have been the play room.”
The party headed back into the hallway, carefully stepping around the hole where Turgrox had fallen through the floor. At the end of the hallway, another stariway headed up, and a doorway opened up to a dark room. As the party debated which way to go, two more spectral forms floated through the walls and attacked! One was the same wraith that Don had scared away, but the other was different: it took the form of a heavy-set man with a full beard and burning red eyes. It also seemed to be engulfed in ghostly flames.
art by Christopher Stoll
It reached toward Zak, passing its hand into the barbarian’s chest. Zak felt the chill of death, but at the same time intense heat— and then his clothes burst into flame! Darshan shouted, “Only magic will affect these things! Zak— use your oil of magic weapon!” Patting out the flames with one hand, he poured the oil on his greatsword. Don pulled out his wand of magic missile, firing two bolts of magical energy at it. Darshan retrieved his wand of smowball strike, and fired a magical snowball at it too. The snowball sputtered as it vaporoized, and the bearded wraith shrieked in anger. Turgrox raised his blades and attacked the other wraith, and was pleasantly surprised that both his magic weapons seemed to affect the spirit. It attempted to rach into Turgrox, but the half-orc evaded.
With a now-enchanted blade, Zak swung at the bearded wraith, striking true. It hissed in anger. Don and Darshan used their wands again, and the creature hissed in anger, but it did touch Don. The half-elf felt the cold touch of the grave plus white-hot flames.. The wraith also seemed to lose more substantiality. Turgrox attacked the other wraith, and managed to connect with his magiclal shortsword. He also successfully avoided being touched by it. Zak hit the thing again with his sword, and the undead shade shrieked its last, disappearing as its unearthly wail echoed from beyond. With the destruction of the bearded wraith, the party felt the building shudder slightly and heard the distant laughter of children. Darshan and Don fired their wands at the remaining wraith, and it also flicked out of existence. Darshan suggested that, perhaps, the ghosts of the lost children may be freed now.
After healing themselves, the party explored the dark room. The charred remains of a four-poster bed dominated this burnt-out room. As soon as he saw the bed, Turgrox saw it instantly change before his eyes, becoming a clean and restful-looking canopied bed. The half-orc became overcome with an urge to take a nap on the bed. Before his friends could stop him, he lay down on the charred and dusty bedframe and closed his eyes. Turgrox immeditately had an extremely vivid dream: He himself was Marden Ambrik, headmaster of the orphanage. As Ambrik, Turgrox saw fragmented yet vivid images of himself doing brutal, horrific, and unspeakable things with the children of the orphanage. Those visions vanished, and then he saw himself, as Ambrik, falling asleep in this very bed smoking a pipe, which fell from his hand can caught the bed on fire. He saw the fire engulf the room and the entire third floor of the orphanage. He woke up with a start. And then the remains of the bed actually burst into flame! The half-orc jumped out the bed, somewhat singed, and the party beat the flames until they were out.
Disturbed greatly by the visions, Turgrox forced himself to perform a throrough search of the room to get his mind back in the game. The party discovered a fire-damaged wooden coffer under the bed. Inside was an alabaster statuette of two succubi entwined in an erotic embrace. Turgrox also found a secret door in the wall leading to a small, windowless chamber. Inside the tiny room was a small wooden desk and chair, and a ratty straw mattress. From two hooks in the wall hung two sets of masterwork manacles. On the mattress lay a dessicated child-sized skeleton, still chained to one set of manacles. The skeleton showed no evidence that it had been wearing anything. Hung over the mattress was a brass symbol. Darshan identified it as that of Belial, Father of Whores, Archdevil of Betrayal and Lust. At that, Zak took down the symbol and destroyed it beneath his boot. On the desk was a book bound in black leather, and a set of iron keys. The keys fit the manacles. The book was a journal written in Infernal, penned by Ambrik. The journal contained 66 poems and dozens of prayers dedicated to Belial. Under the desk was a small chest containing coins, two potions, a magic scroll, and a strange blue-and-red sphere that seemed to hover an inch above the ground. The party collected these treasures and headed upstairs to the attic.
The attic level was almost completely destroyed by fire: Bare, charred wall studs and roof struts still stood, but most of the interior walls had completely decayed. A huge hole in the roof let in sunlight, although the shadows seemed deeper in contrast. Darshan saw a the body of a child curled up in the far corner. Zak reached the child first, and fely for a pulse— the child was thankfully still alive, and seemed to be asleep, but the former barber couldn’t rouse the child. At that, an errie voice whispered out, “Want to play?” A figure resembling a fire-blackened, emaciated child stepped out of the shadows. It wore a cloak of dusty cobwebs. Most disturbingly, where the child’s head should have been, floated about a half-dozen rat skulls! “Let’s play!” it whispered, and suddenly everyone heard eerie unintelligible whispering, sobbing, and snippets of children’s nursery rhymes. The thing lunged toward Zak, and bit him! Zak gasped in terror as he felt the air leave his lungs! Don identified the creature as an attic whisperer— an undead spirit that haunted children. He cast a spell and touched it with necromantic energy. The whisperer then fled across the attic and cowered. The rest of the party surrounded it and smashed it to pieces: Its body was made up of bits an pieces of broken furniture, bones, dust, and discarded children’s toys.
Turgrox made a quick sweep of the room, and found two human skeletons, both still dressed in gear appropriate to burgars. The age of the the skeletons and gear indicated that they had been there for two or three years. The party quickly looted the burglars’ equipment.
Zak picked up the unconscious child, and the party returned to the orphanage kitchen. The other children still gathered there were both glad to see their friend Nathan, but horrified that he wouldn’t wake up. Don said that Nathan had been attacked by a spirit, but that the boy should wake up in a few hours and be fine. The party let the children lead them to Nathan’s family’s flat in the Shingles above Bridgefront, and explained who they were and where they found him. The frightened parents thanked the party, and the four returned to the Stirge and Hammer.
Back at the inn, the party expressed frustration that they had run out of clues. They decided to turn in for the night, and head out the next morning to do some more research on what they’d already learned.
[To Be Continued… Next Week!]