Oathday, 20 Desnus 4704
Not long after breakfast, the party geared up and made the short walk to the Grove Street Mortuary. Their research indicated that this building had been constructed on the site of the former Temple of Urgathoa. It was also the most likely candidate to be the location of the elusive safe house for the Cult of the Scythe Mother.
The mortuary was surrounded by an eight-foot-high wall of red bricks. The front gates were made of wrought iron. They were closed and locked. A brass sign hung on the gates: “Grove Street Mortuary. Est. 4685. Tirus Dreen, Prop. Our Family Helping Yours”. A rope with a wooden handle hung next to the gates, obviously attached to a large brass bell. The adventurers walked the outside perimiter of the walls, and found a small back gate that led into an alley. That gate appeared to be latched, but unlocked. Using his magic boots, Turgrox leapt to the top of the walls to survey the grounds. He reported that the main house was one-story and made of brick, with a slate roof. The front gates opened into a carriage house, and there was a smaller cottage or shed near the back gate. The grounds appeared to have once been lush formal gardens, but were now overgrown and poorly maintained. After considering entering through the back gate and sneaking into the main house, they decided to ring the bell and pretend to want to arrange a funeral.
Returning to the main gates, the party rang the bell. After a too-long moment, one of the doors of the carriage house opened, and out stepped a huge, fearsome-looking man. He stood over seven feet tall, but was lean and wiry, weighing perhaps only 200 pounds. His head was small, with goatlike features. He had black, beady eyes that were too small, an upturned nose, and a too-wide mouth full of huge square teeth. He had a mane of black, stringly, hair that dropped to the middle of his back. His clothes were mangy and disheveled, with the exception of a fine gray cloak that hung at his shoulders. He had an oversized farrier’s hammer in his left hand, but his right arm appeared to be withered and covered with scabs. He grunted at the party, “Yeah? What do you want?” The creature’s reek assailed the adventurers’ senses.
Darshan immediately recognized the doorman as an an ogrekin. “One of our dear friends has passed, and we would like you to prepare his body for the funeral,” lied the druid. The ogrekin stared at eack of the adventurers for a moment, then unlocked the gates. “Up the gravel path straight ahead. Talk to Mr. Haddy.” He watched the adventurers carefully as the filed past him, up the gravel path, and to the front door of the house. Turgrox tried the door, and it opened easily. The sound of jangling bells echoed off the marble floor through the vaulted cieling the large room beyond. Idyllic murals of sea, mountains, and forest decorated tge walls. On second look, however, the party notices the cobwebs around the chandelier and walls, and that the floor was marred by a layer of grime, indicating that it had not been swept or mopped in weeks.
After a few moments, one of the doors opened, and a halfling entered the room. He wore a dark suit, a gray cravate, and a a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He appeared slightly surprised at the party’s arrival, but quickly introduced himself as Mr. Haddy, and assumed the role of a mortician, offering condolences for the loss. Don took lead, explaining that a dear friend had passed in the night, and that they wanted to hold a funeral here, with public viewing of the body. The halfling led them through one of the doors to a cramped and cluttered office. While going through the business of organizing a funeral, Darshan noted that the halfling appeared to be distracted, and was rushing through the procedings.
art by Christopher Stoll
Exchanging a glance with Zak, the barbarian asked if he could use the outhouse. The halfling shot him a quizzical glance and directed him to the side entrance. Zak feigned confusion, and Darshan said he’d help him find it, and they both left the office. Finding a set of stairs, the two descended to the basement, but they led to a locked heavy door. They went back upstairs, through the kitchen. Darshan noted that the pantry seemed to be stocked with enough food to feed a dozen men for weeks, which he thought suspicious. Another locked door led off the kitchen, but as Darshan tried it, he heard an old man’s voice from the other side say, “Yes?” Darshan asked if he would open the door, and the man replied, “Well, you know I can’t! Miss Firesta says I need to say in here for the day. I don’t have the key, anyway.”
“Miss Firesta?” asked Darshan.
“Yes! She’s such a nice girl. She takes care of everything for me these days.”
“I’m sorry,” asked Darshan, “who am I speaking with?”
“Why, I’m Tirus Dreen, the owner of this establishment. Of course, I’m semi-retired now. Miss Firesta runs things for the most part now.”
Darshan bade Dreen a good day, and went off with Zak to explore the rest of the house. This included a dusty, dis-organized coffin display room. A door from there led to an unused carpentry shop, which they didn’t enter. Another door led to a back storeroom, filled with various odds and ends, and the back door to the house. The storeroom also had a ramp that descended to the basement level. Zak noticed bloody footprints leading up from the basement, across the room, to the back door. Following the footprints outside, they led to the small outbuilding next to the property’s back gate. The outbuilding appeared to have once been a one-room cottage that had since been converted to a dog kennel, its door wide open. While the kennels held filthy straw filled with dog droppings, there were no dogs apparent. Darshan noticed a chain and lock lying on the ground next to the back gate of the property: the gate was latched but unlocked. The tracks indicated that the person who’d tracked blood through the house ran outside, released the dogs, unlocked the gate, and left without locking it behind him. Strange. The two returned to the house.
Meanwhile, Don and Turgrox continued to negotiate with Haddy over the fictitious funeral. Haddy fumbled through the scattered papers on the desk to find a ledger, which he started writing in. Looking at it upside-down, Don notived that the ledger had been meticulous until about four years ago, where the handwriting changed and the number of funerals dropped precipitously to barely one a month. When going over burial prices in the city cemetary, Turgrox noticed that the date of the price sheet was 3699— five years ago! They also both noticed that Haddy was growing increadingly distracted, and started to evade questions, asking them to come back later— after asking for a 20-ducat deposit.
Finally, Turgrox had enough. He took the coins, started to hand them to the halfling, but deliberately dropped them, “Oops! Sorry!” As Haddy bent over to pick them up, Turgrox lunged at him, getting the halfling into a half-Nelson, and putting a dagger to his throat! ‘’Look, there’s something fishy going on here, and you’re not leveling with us. Well, we’re not leveling with you, either. We’re not interested in booking a funeral. We’re looking for the Cult of the Scythe Mother. Ever heard of ‘em?’’ At that, the halfling seemed even more nervous. Turgrox told Don to tie the halfling’s hands, which he did. While Don worked the knots, Haddy regained his composure, narrowing his eyes and warning, “Gentlemen, you have made a grave error. Be careful what you seek.”
Turgrox then said, “Okay, Haddy, you’re going to give us a tour of this place.” He hauled the halfling to his feet and pushed him out of the office and back into the great hall. That’s when they met Zak and Darshan, who were both shocked to see that Don and Turgrox had held the halfling prisoner! While debating the merrits of this plan, Darshan noticed that the halfling had loosed his bonds, and had drawn a dagger! Before the druid could shout a warning, the halfling plunged his dagger into Turgrox’ back! The halfling tumbled out of the party’s way as they tried to cut him down, but it was Zak that struck him first. With a severe wound from Zak’s sword, the halfling retreated to the door and threw it open, shouting, “Chomper! We’re being attacked! In the house!” But Turgrox grabbed the halfling by the collar and punched him squarely in the back of the head, knocking him out. Darshan closed the door, but it needed a key to lock. As he fumbled through the halfling’s pockets, the door burst open, and the ogrekin from the carriage house brought his farrier’s hammer down upon Zak’s head. Another melee ensued, but after a moment, the ogrekin was lying on the foor. Darshan attended to the ogrekin’s and the halfling’s wounds, but they were both dead.
Deciding that they needed to explore the basement, they returned to the stairs that ended at the locked door. Turgrox picked the lock, and they entered an underground chamber. The north wall of this basement room had once been made of brick, but someone had broken through the wall, revealing a much older chamber beyond: A semicircular room dominated by a statue of Urgathoa! Before the statue stood a low altar made of stone, and in the center of the room was a bloodstained dining table with eight chairs.As interesting as the statue of the Pallid Princess seemed, the southern end of the room had an even more grisly display.The walls and floor of that area were covered in pooled and splattered blood. Seven corpses lay on the ground. Four appeared to be partly decayed and were hacked to pieces. Two were fresher, and wore the robes of a Scythe Mother cultist, and the last appeared to be of Varisian ancestry, and was dressed as a Sczarni street thug. After examining the scene, Darshan was pretty sure that the four decayed corpses probably had been zombies, and they killed the four humans. A corridor led off the room past the battle scene. This corridor was likewise covered with blood, and it ended in a heavy wooden door, barred from this side. Turgrox listened at it.
The distinct sound of groaning, punctuated with scratching and pounding on the door didn’t require the skills of a rogue to detect. While debating what to do, the sounds of banging grew more intense, and then the door burst open! A dozen zombies lurched toward the party!
To Be Continued… next week!