[3 Neth 4707 continued]
Having emerged as the victors in the battle at Habe’s Sanatorium, the visitors from Sandpoint quickly take action to secure the scene. Bey stabilizes Caizarlu, and Ome uses manacles to bind the unconscious necromancer’s hands. Ome and Artemis do a quick search of the rooms adjacent to the workroom but find little of interest: the orderlies’ bedrooms, a storage room, a worker’s entrance, and staircases going up and down. While they’re searching, Bey chastises Arnald for his seeming inability to follow direction during battle: “It is as though your ears are stopped with wax!” she tells him.
After Habe’s decapitated body and Caizarlu’s bound form are searched, turning up several potions, wands, and key rings, the intruders decide to look for the object of their visit, Grayst Sevilla, on the upper floors. The second floor contains five cells, two of them occupied by elderly patients—one quite senile, the other blind. The group pauses at the stairs to the third floor, apprehensive about what they’ll find and unsure in what order they should proceed. Eventually, with Arnald in front, they climb up.
Arnald peers through the small barred window in the iron-banded door of the first cell, and is startled to see a hunched creature that looks like a furry human with a rat-like face and a long, naked tail: a wererat! The occupant slyly promises to lead Arnald to great treasure if the mercenary lets him out, but Arnald refuses. The middle cell of the room is empty, so the investigators decide it would be the perfect place to detain Caizarlu. The third and last cell can be seen to hold a strait-jacketed figure with pale, greenish skin, wild hair, and milky white eyes. From the window, Bey can tell the man is sick and quite close to death, but she’s not sure if he’s Grayst Sevilla or not.
The group decide to search the rest of the building before returning to deal with the patient. A look through a nearby examination room shows two operating tables covered in blood and other bodily matter, while a nearby cabinet is full of surgical tools. It’s clear that whatever treatment was provided in this sanatorium involved surgical operations. A search of the cellar proves even more interesting. Three corpses, preserved with the magic of gentle repose, are laying on tables on what Bey is sure is a necromancer’s laboratory. She determines that all three died from failed surgical procedures, and the connection between Caizarlu and Dr. Habe becomes clear. Artemis discovers a wand of gentle repose hidden in a table leg, while Ome examines a map of the Sandpoint Hinterlands on the wall and sees it’s labelled as “Ghoul Activity” with multiple sites circled near the Foxglove River and the southern farms. “But where is the source?” is another inscription. Bey concludes that Caizarlu, although interested in ghouls, could not have been the party responsible for creating them. A search of the old necromancer’s room turns up a thick tome; Bey cautiously determines from a distance that it is magical, and concludes it is a magical book, the prolonged study of which could increase an individual’s mental aptitudes!
|Grayst Sevilla, lone survivor of a ghoul attack.|
Returning to the third floor, the group decide the strait-jacketed prisoner in the third cell must be Grayst Sevilla. Careful plans are made on the best way to get close enough to him for Bey to safely use the remove disease scrolls the group wisely obtained before coming. After unlocking the iron-banded door, Bey cautiously pokes Sevilla with the blunt end of her bardiche, but the man, although conscious, is completely unresponsive. Arnald carefully steps into the room and restrains him. Sevilla doesn’t struggle at all until Bey enters the room and stands next to him. His eyes bulge when he notices her for the first time, and he begins speaking, more and more frantically: “He said. He said you would visit me. His Lordship. The one that unmade me said so. He has a place for you. A precious place. I’m so jealous. He has a message for you. He made me remember it. I hope I haven’t forgotten. The master wouldn’t approve if I forgot. Let me see. . . let . . . me . . . see . . . He said that if you came to his Misgivings, that if you joined his Pack, he would end his harvest in your honour!” Sevilla then starts shaking violently, froths at the mouth, and bursts the seams of his strait-jacket! However, Arnald somehow manages to hold on despite the man’s insanity-fuelled strength, giving Bey enough time to read her scroll. She succeeds in casting the spell, but it has no effect! She tries again with the second scroll, but, again, failure! Deciding that there’s no other option given the risk of Sevilla spreading ghoul-fever, Artemis and Ome kill the man with arrows fired from point-blank range.
Their grim task accomplished, Ome asks Bey about this “Lordship” that keeps trying to send her messages. Artemis says he sounds like a psychotic lover, but Bey replies she has no idea who it could be. Conversation turns to what to do about what the group has identified as a wererat in the first cell. Bey suggests killing it to prevent its curse of lycanthropy from spreading, but Artemis says the fellow could have been an innocent, and his behaviour indicates he may have been institutionalized for years. They decide to let the creature live, for now. After Artemis makes sure the remaining inmates have enough food for the next couple of days, the group leave the sanatorium, taking the still-unconscious Caizarlu with them.
|Farmer Maester Grump warns of terrifying events.|
The first couple of miles of journey towards Sandpoint is uneventful. As the group reach the bridge over Cougar Creek, they see a patrol of five members of the Sandpoint Town Watch. Artemis explains what happened at Habe’s Sanatorium and that they have a prisoner. Suddenly, the galloping of hooves can be heard coming towards the two groups from out of the brush to the southeast. A horse, running full tilt and lathered with near-exhaustion, is carrying a rider and is about to collide with those on the bridge! Arnald moves quickly to intervene, literally charging the horse and slamming into it to halt its momentum! The impressive display of strength is followed by the horse’s rider awkwardly dismounting. The man, dressed in overalls and a straw hat, is clearly a farmer, and he’s also clearly quite drunk. One of the watchmen identifies him as Maester Grump. Grump tells a rambling, confusing story about walking scarecrows at the Hambley place, and concludes with a sob: “they even ate the dogs!” After learning from one of the watchmen that the Hambley farm is on the northwestern edge of Whisperwood and connecting the location to those circled on Caizarlu’s map, the adventurers realize that the “walking scarecrows” may in fact be ghouls!
Everyone hurries on to Sandpoint. The adventurers head straight for the garrison and quickly report to Sheriff Hemlock what happened at the sanatorium, concluding that someone will need to be sent to look after the remaining patients. Sheriff Hemlock promises to see to it. When he hears the report of problems at the southern farms, he details four of his men, led by Jodar Provolost, to travel with the adventurers and also says they can make use of the Watch’s horses for greater speed. Sister Arva is fetched from the cathedral for some emergency healing, and then the adventurers and their Watch escorts set off again with little delay.
The eight warriors make good speed south on the Lost Coast Road, but as they get further south they can see several local farmers hurrying north. Rumours are flying about walking scarecrows coming out at night to feed, glimpses in the dark of . . . things, and neighbours visiting nearby farms and finding them completely deserted! Bey ensures that none of the refugees are injured or suffering from ghoul fever, and lets them go on their way. She vocalizes what many in the group suspect: this could be a trap set by “His Lordship”! Passing by Ashen Rise and Brinestump Marsh, the travellers continue south until they cross over Soggy River and find themselves in the heart of the southern farms nestled between the river to their north and Whisperwood to their south. Jodar leads the group on some dusty farm trails through shoulder-high cornfields and other crops until they reach the outer edges of Hambley Farm.
There are several branching trails leading to different parts of the farm, and Jodar’s not exactly sure which to take. Ome puts her tracking skills to good use by deducing that the most heavily travelled paths probably lead to the farmhouse. Heading in that direction, a scarecrow can be seen bound to a wooden post. Ome uses her divinely-granted ability to detect evil, and Bey casts a spell to determine if the thing is alive, dead, or undead! Fortunately, it’s just an ordinary scarecrow stuffed with straw. Just a few minutes later, however, the adventurers turn a bend and see another “scarecrow” moving and trying to pull itself free of its post! Together, Bey and Ome discern that the creature is both undead and evil. Before it can free itself, Ome and Artemis destroy it with arrows. The decision is made to dismount, since the horses are not trained for combat.
Several more minutes’ travel brings the adventurers and town guards to a farmhouse and a barn. Ome is able to sense the presence of six evil creatures within the barn, and one within the farmhouse. Everyone starts talking about what their plan should be, but they make no effort to be quiet and the creatures inside the barn decide to investigate. The barn’s sliding door opens to reveal several walking human corpses with pallid flesh and long, sharp teeth and claws: ghouls! Arnald happens to be near the doorway, and reacts quickly, destroying two of the foul creatures with his greataxe. But after a mere scratch from one of the ghouls, his muscles tense up and stop moving—he’s paralyzed! Bey comes to his aide and drags him a few feet closer to safety, while two members of the Watch rush to take his place. Artemis opens fire from the concealment of a nearly field, while Ome shouts for two guards to come with her so she can clear the farmhouse.
The two guards fighting the ghouls in the doorway to the barn inflict some minor wounds, but they’re no match for the creatures’ uncanny speed with claws and bites. One of the watchmen is paralyzed and then gets his throat ripped out, while the other succumbs to his wounds and collapses, only to be fed upon! Fortunately, Arnald regains control of his body and rushes back into the fray to cleave two more of the ghouls in twain, his efforts bolstered by Bey’s defensive magic and Artemis’ steady volley of arrows. Meanwhile, in the farmhouse, Ome sees the place has been reduced to a shattered wreck of blood and violence. On the kitchen table is the splayed body of a farmer, swarming with flies, with the Sihedron star carved into his chest and a scrap of parchment pinned to his tunic. Ome heads for the area of the house she detected evil in from the outside, and opens a door to the master bedroom. A nauseating stench roils over her as she sees a one-eyed corpse on the bed, wearing a large iron key on a cord around its neck. Ome calls out to the two guards with her that there’s nothing here and they can rejoin the others. But she’s spoken too soon: the eyes of the corpse open, its mouth widens into a malevolent grin, and it sits up in the bed and swivels its face towards her! “His Lordship promised someone would come for me to feast on!” the undead abomination says.
The ghast, a creature akin to but more powerful than an ordinary ghoul, attacks before Ome can escape. Her quick reflexes save her life, however, as the ghast’s claws and bites fail to land. The tengu responds in kind, dropping her bow to bite and claw at the ghast! But her attacks are charged with divine energy baneful to undead, and in moments the creature is destroyed. Outside, another expertly fired arrow from Artemis destroys the last ghoul in the barn.
The adventurers have destroyed several undead at Hambley Farm, but two members of the Town Watch are dead. Could there be more ghouls lurking in the fields or winding dirt tracks of the farm, waiting to spread their contagious evil? And what message has “His Lordship” left this time?
Director's Commentary (July 17, 2017)
You've got to feel bad for poor Grayst, being put down like a rabid dog. But Bey tried twice with the scrolls and couldn't get the caster level check high enough.
It was very smart to add the detail to Caizarlu's map, "Where is the source?", lest the PCs (quite understandably) assume that the necromancer was responsible for the ghoul outbreak.
It was clever of the PCs to use tracking to find the direct way to the farmhouse when they reached the Hambley holding. Unfortunately for me, the direct way by-passed some really interesting encounters that could have caught unwary PCs.
I liked the little bit of the ghouls in the barn overhearing the PCs talking about what to do and deciding to attack first. Players sometimes forget that monsters have ears too!
Ome going into the farmhouse all by herself could have gone very, very badly, so it was quite a victory that she destroyed the ghast in single combat.
By this point, there's been a lot of little clues pointing to "The Misgivings" as the source of the ghoul outbreaks, but my players hadn't really connected the dots yet.