Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 7: Murders at The Mill

After the battle at Thistletop, and the breaking of the goblin alliance, Sandpoint seemed safe. Thokk was growing restless, having been in one place for so long. The same could be said of Mirelinda, who was used to the regular ebb and flow of the seasonal trading roads. Though the town's gratitude was generous, Zhakar couldn't help but feel a growing tension between his shoulders. Nothing ever went well for long.

And, unfortunately, he was right.

To keep up on the ongoing campaign, check out the previous installments:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain

All caught up? Lovely!

Murder At The Mill

And a bloody murder, at that.
Sandpoint's peace was shattered when, just as it seemed the threat had passed, a grisly murder was discovered at the mill. A green-faced deputy came to the Rusty Dragon, asking Zhakar to see if he could help. Mirelinda was off, and Zordlan nowhere to be found. When the deputy revealed the reason for his visit, Zhakar belted on his sword, and found Thokk. The two of them approached the mill, steeling themselves for what lay beyond.

What they found was brutality. A young woman had been not just murdered, but rent to shredded meat. A man, suspected to be a lover she'd come there with, was practically in pieces. Blood and viscera were spread around the scene with frenetic abandon, and a symbol had been left on the wall, as well as in the flesh of the murdered girl; a seven-pointed star they'd seen in the depths of Thistletop.

"There is not enough of them," Thokk said after a long moment. He pointed at the viscera, and at the patterns of the wounds. "This was not steel. Animals kill like this. Animals also eat like this."

"Beasts do not delight in slaying so," Zhakar said, frowning. His pupils dilated, and he sniffed the air. "But whatever did this was no man."

Thokk nodded, but he was only half listening. He followed the spatters of blood, the claw marks, and the small traces of what had been left by... whatever had killed them. The trail led through the river doors, and onto the dock. The creature that had slain the lovers, whatever it had been, looked to have come from, and returned to, the water. And after finding a boat to cross them, the hunters found plenty of strange tracks. Tracks that looked like they'd been left by a man... if he had talons that could rend flesh, and stank of unholy corruption.

"What is it?" Thokk asked his friend.

Zhakar's mouth tightened, and something cold bloomed behind his eyes. "An eater of the dead."

A Plague On The Road

While tensions were running high, and blame was being thrown, the truth of what occurred at the mill would be even worse. As Thokk and Zhakar gathered the others, another deputy came with ill tidings of his own. Travelers had been attacked on the road, and viciously slain. There had been a survivor, and though he was wounded, he'd been transported to a nearby asylum. According to the word the deputy had heard, he was worsening with every passing hour.

Then we had best ride quickly!
Once the others had been rounded up, they mounted and rode to the asylum. On the way Thokk and Zhakar brought them up to speed on what had happened, what they had seen, and what they suspected. If there was a ghoul loose in the countryside, then it could do untold damage if they didn't find it quickly. The day was just beginning to sour as they pulled rein, and approached the front entrance. A writ from the sheriff was enough to gain them entry, but the head of the asylum was emphatic that they were not to disturb his patient. The man had been placed under a huge amount of stress, and he was already having a difficult time hanging onto himself as it was.

When the orderlies showed the man in, he looked a sight. Tightly wrapped in a restraint jacket, his skin was graying, and his eyes sunken. He seemed to have trouble telling where he was, or even who he was. He seemed more confused than scared, and answered the questions he was asked with little fuss. As the questions got closer to the attack, though, he began acting strange. He stared at Mirelinda, scenting her. Then he began to speak about how the Master had chosen her. How she was to be his... and that he would bring her to him!

Monsters and Slaves

The man tore apart his restraining jacket, baring fingers that had grown long, sharp claws. His tongue swelled and blackened, hanging from his jaws and running with black ichor. The orderlies screamed, running for the door as the creature lunged for Mirelinda. Thokk leaped onto the table, keeping it back with the point of his spear. Zordlan, startled into action, attempted to flank the snarling ghoul. It slashed at him, vicious claws ranking against the steel of his rapier as they fought.

Zhakar just looked at the thing, and the warmth bled out of his face. In its place was that cold, hard creature that had seen the destruction of the mill. He drew his blade, and stepped forward. He rammed his short sword into the thing's ribs, and said in a soft, implacable voice, "No." The ghoul rounded on him, dragging its claws across Zhakar's armor. Zordlan stepped forward, driving his weapon into its back. Mirelinda, whispering incantations of power, lashed it with acid that ate away the shredded remnants of its coat. Bloody eyes stared round, and teeth sought flesh. All they found was more steel.

The ghoul stumbled away, falling to its knees. It raised its head, and in its eyes was the barest flicker of the man it had been. It puts its arms down, and whispered it was sorry. Zhakar stepped forward, put his hand on the man's head, and drove his sword in behind the man's collarbone. He watched as he died, and made sure he would not rise again.

The doctor was goggle-eyed at what had happened, and once Zhakar wiped the blood from his blade, he told the white-coated physician that he was taking the body. He had died a man, and deserved to be buried as a man. The doctor had some small objection, but Thokk put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. It was enough to still the protest.

He deserved better.
Zhakar took the man's body, and found a warm place on a hillside that faced the rising sun. He dug silently, tossing dirt with the quiet efficiency of a soldier in a trench. When it was deep enough, he lowered the body, and folded the arms across the chest. He tried to speak, to say something meaningful, but words failed him. Instead he took the tiny silver longsword he'd worn round his neck since he was a boy, and hung it round the dead man's throat.

"Take it," Zhakar said, patting the corpse's chest. "You need it more than I do."

He stood, and shoveled the grave full. He placed rocks atop it, then returned to his horse. Once he was in the saddle again, he eyed his companions.

"Ghouls don't make slaves. Ghasts do. If there is one of those things here, then this will get worse before it gets better." Zhakar clenched his teeth, and drew a hard breath. "I don't want to dig another grave if I don't have to."

That's all for this installment of Table Talk! To get more on this campaign, be sure to check in next time. Also, if you have your own gaming story you want to tell, feel free to reach out!

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