Chapter Four: Wake of the Watcher I

Thrushmoor Times, 1st Erastus 4711

STABLEMASTER MURDERED, FOUR ORPHANS LEFT BEHIND

Yesterday, Boris Gerrigh, Thrushmoor’s Stablemaster, was discovered dead at the Stables. The town guards believe it to be murder as the body was brutally hacked and slashed by what appeared to be claws and Gerrigh’s head had been removed.

The 36 year old pillar of the community leaves behind four children under eight. Sadly, Elena Gerrigh, his wife, died in childbirth two years ago. Unless taken in by some kind relative, of which Gerrigh is known to have none, the children will no doubt become part of this town’s gang problem. Gerrigh’s murderer has ruined five innocent lives and deprived Thrushmoor of an honest, hardworking man.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 2nd Erastus 4711

We arrived in Thrushmoor today, still following the black riders Vrood dispatched from Feldgrau. We are now me, Roguard, Sigmund, Lorinthor, Rustin and the Publican. Rustin and the Publican joined us on the road from the Shudderwood: Rustin is a halfling Druid and the Publican is a monk. Daggmar wanted to stay in the Shudderwood longer, dealing with her lycanthropy issue, and maybe  she will join us soon.

Thrushmoor is the county seat of Versex; a trading town with a suspicious edge. As we rode through the town gates armed men stared down at us from the battlements. No one challenged us and we found someone to tell us that two black riders had come through town on their way to Illmarsh. They also told us that the people of Illmarsh are stinky and weird. The riders swapped horses at the stables: one went to Illmarsh and no-one knows where the other went. We learned Illmarsh is run by a mayor and that beyond it is nothing more than water, except for the ‘neighbours down bay’ that only the Illmarshers know about.

We went straight to the stables. Inside we found an old man trying to fit a new wheel to on old cart. Lorinthor asked him about the black riders and he told us that they had taken fresh horses. He asked for help with the wheel. Sigmund and the Publican agreed and as soon as they’d laid down their weapons, he attacked with two ghouls. The Publican responded with holy fists and Sigmund channelled positive energy. We killed the old man and Roguard commanded the ghouls to destroy each other. Who needs weapons?

There was a ledger with a page torn from the back. It told us that the black riders took two branded piebald horses. Illmarsh is two days from here.

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 2nd Erastus 4711

After a brief stop in a town we decided to head off to the stable-master to see if he knew where we might find our foul quarry. It turned out that the Whispering Way’s tentacles reach further than we thought. I know not if the stable-master had always been part of that damned cult or if they had replaced him with an assassin but whatever the truth he attacked us with his ghouls.

We made quick work of him and his stooges. Our new companion, The Publican, showed himself to be especially deadly with just his bare hands. I do hope to never get in a brawl in his bar. Having thinned the ranks of the death-worshippers, a new hobby of mine, we set out to find the dark rider. The ledger showed that he had set off with a fresh horse recently towards Illmarsh. By all accounts, a squalid backwater town.

We set off as quickly as possible; we had a two day ride ahead of us. If we can catch this dog we can get some answers and possibly even stop whatever dire plan the Way are pursuing. To be sure though, if we catch him, the dark rider shall taste our vengeance.

Thrushmoor Times, 3rd Erastus 4711

VACANCIES

Illmarsh Enquirer, 3rd Erastus 4711

MURDERER APPREHENDED, CHAINED TO PUNISHMENT ROCK

Illmarsh can rest easy now that the murderer, Cartus Scrint, has been re-apprehended by the brave Sheriff, Will Anders, and his men. In order that he doesn’t escape to terrorise our troubled town again he will be executed in accordance with the old ways.

The widow and young sons of his victim, Jan Veltergrod, pray daily at the Temple that the Gods will take him soon. Jan, an honest, hardworking, young fisherman will be sorely missed by all in the village.

Under Father Voltairo’s watchful eye, the depraved killer was shackled to Punishment Rock so that the Gods of the Deep can take him at their leisure. We pray that the devotion of Illmarsh will be acceptable to the Gods and they will look favourably upon us once more.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 4th Erastus 4711

It was grey down where the Destach River empties in to Avalon Bay and the sea was stormy. Off the shore we could make out some rocky islands and a boat, the Isingblass, that looked like it would be wrecked. Lorinthor flew out and Rustin turned into a seagull. The Publican swam out to join them and eventually they brought the ship to shore unwrecked. The Captain introduced himself as Horace Croon. He was a twitchy little man who claimed to be testing a new technology, a sort of boat that goes beneath the waves. He said we were only a couple of hours behind a black rider on a piebald horse and was less than complimentary about Illmarsh.

Illmarsh is a small fishing village and it smells like it. I guess I got used to the smell after a while but at first it was enough to put me off fish for a good long while. It was evening when we arrived and the fishing boats were returning. The nets seemed rather empty. The villagers didn’t really want to talk to us but Sigmund managed to coax out of them that the catches had been bad for a couple of weeks.

Some of the party noticed that a man was manacled to a rock offshore. He was alive but would drown eventually. Lorinthor and Rustin were keen to go out to him. We noticed a snake-like creature in the water near the wharf. Roguard discovered the man chained to the rock was a murderer and this was Illmarsh’s form of execution. We had a wander around the village to get our bearings and to see if there was somewhere we could lodge for the night.

The first place we tried was the Wall-Eyed Kraken. The gin-soddled landlady tried to charge us fifty gold pieces apiece for rooms. Sigmund bought the patrons some vastly overpriced watery grog and we learnt that the fishing has been poor for a couple of weeks but that the Vicar of the Recondite Order of the Indomitable Sea assures them that if they cleave to the old ways all will be fine. No strangers have been seen in town since Lucas, an entrepreneur trying to set up a import/export business. The Illmarshers seemed skeptical and I can’t say I blame them. They said that the Watcher in the Bay had been seen near the town and the Neighbours haven’t been around lately. These things are regarded as bad omens.

We left, thinking that we could get the Mayor to put us up, and were accosted by a tall, thin man who introduced himself as Will Anders, the Sheriff of Illmarsh. He asked why we were in Illmarsh and then escorted us to the Town Hall. The building holds the Sheriff’s office, the Mayor’s office, the jail and the armoury. Lorinthor noticed a lovely tower shield that must be worth a ton of gold. He wanted to swipe it immediately, but I’ve learnt a little patience lately. We’ll come back for it.

The Mayor, Early Greedle, has the look of Illmarsh; tall and thin to the point of scrawnyness. His clothes were formal, if a bit shabby. Illmarsh seems like it has seen better times. He tells us that the villagers are worried about the lack of fish but the Vicar of Gozreh exhorts them to keep the old ways and all will be well. He’s never been to see the Neighbours Down Bay, but they’ve always been friendly to Illmarsh. Lorinthor asked about the man chained to the rock and was told he was a murderer who had escaped from jail once already. The Mayor confirmed what we’d heard about the riders and Lucas.

At that point the Sheriff slipped out of the office and the Mayor’s demeanour changed. Something weird is going on in this town and it’s centred on the Temple of Gozreh. There have been disappearances and he asked us to help. We made it clear that we’re professionals and therefore our services are chargeable. He offered us a paltry sum and Lorinthor and I negotiated it up to a more reasonable amount, with expenses. The Sheriff came to escort us out and suggested we stay at the Bountiful Catch.

This inn was much more salubrious than the Wall-Eyed Kraken. There were three rooms to be had at three gold pieces each. Three other rooms were occupied by a couple of farmers and Lucas. Lorinthor and Rustin quickly agreed to share; they’ve bonded due to their magickal skills. Sigmund and the Publican took a room and I shared with Roguard. We nipped upstairs to make ourselves familiar with our lodgings and I took the opportunity to check out Lucas’ room.

It clearly had not been used for a few days and there were a suspicious lack of materials that one would expect a merchant to have. There was nothing to be found here. Lorinthor and Rustin were very keen to speak to the murderer on the rock so we all went down to the wharf again. We noticed the same dark shape in the water. Rustin turned into a direbat and straightaway a seasnake rose from the water. But then we realised it was a tentacle and that there were eight of them. Rustin summoned some sharks and we dealt with the threat. By the time we were done the murderer had vanished from the rocks.

So, we decided to finish off our evening with a visit to the temple of Gozreh. It’s the only church in Illmarsh and we’d noticed that there was no graveyard. The temple itself was an archaic style that I wouldn’t have associated with the nature Goddess. At the open gate a statue of Gozreh faced towards Avalon Bay. The entrance had leaded stained glass windows, an arch, two doors and eleven pairs of shoes. Even at this late hour there were worshippers inside.

We chose the door to the left to start with which meant that we had to pass the arch. Four cowled men surrounded another statue of Gozreh. Roguard loosed a fireball into the room, saying he’d seen a secret altar to Dagon. Lorinthor followed it up with one of his own and the cultists were toast. Well, barbeque.

I noticed a secret door with an alarm spell trap which Lorinthor was able to dispel. The door folded back to reveal carvings of twisted sea creatures, a semi-circular pool, and a bloodstained altar over which an icon of an octopus eye hung. Roguard said it was the symbol of Dagon. There were doors leading to the left and right and a strong smell of fish in the air. Literally, as it turned out, as a Scion of the Sea materialised in the room. Lorinthor summoned a Hound Archon, we piled on and the Publican’s ferocious fists finished it off.

The door to the left led into a room with a pool, a bench and seven headless bodies. They were withered and shrunken. Sigmund told us the heads had exploded rather than been severed. From the lack of blood it was clear that they had not been killed here. They looked like townsfolk and one matched the description we’d been given of Lucas. That body had a ceramic egg on it, just like the one we’d found on the agent of the Whispering Way in Thrushmoor. There was also a note scrawled on what looked like the missing page of the ledger saying that a rider was on the way with the seasage effigy.

Next we crossed back to take the righthand door from the room with the altar to Dagon. That room contained two villagers, Mr and Mrs Tolbey. They were frightened and told us they were waiting for Father Voltiaro. They had made an offering of their three month old daughter to the Neighbours Down Bay and believed she would grow up with them, honoured and with a better life than they could give her. The Father had taken the baby to Undiomede House and the Neighbours would reward Illmarsh with prosperity and safety.

I found a secret door and we entered the next room, leaving Roguard to offer the comfort of Pharasma to the Tolbeys. In this room there were beds, desks, a chest, a table and a bookshelf. And also two vicars of the Order who immediately attacked us. Rustin turned one into a duck, a most distracting tactic, we killed them both and nicked their stuff. The room led through to a small chapel (the room that would be accessed through the right hand door from the entrance) with a mosaic of a fishy monster in the floor. More evidence, if we needed it, that Gozreh has not been worshipped in this temple for a long time.

We walked through the entrance and finally opened the door we’d meant to go through first. A ship’s bell, from the Conqueror, hung over a green stone altar and the floor mosaic was of a Captain Cassius Undiomede. A door led into the final room of the temple and appeared to be the quarters of someone of high status, presumably Father Voltiaro. There was a large desk, an opulent bed and a seachest. We had the uncomfortable feeling of being watched but couldn’t place it, so we went to retrieve Roguard and the Tolbeys. We found Roguard alone. Lorinthor and the Publican were suspicious of what had happened to the young couple.

As we were leaving four slugs blocked our way. One burrowed into Roguard’s leg. We killed the other three and then turned to help Roguard. Lorinthor and the Publican tried to stab the creature and both missed, just hitting the cleric, although neither seemed remorseful about that. Luckily, we destroyed it before it reached his brain. There were nine bodies in the pile now. It is clear that Roguard killed the Tolbeys and some of the party are not comfortable with that. For me, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing my job, I don’t care.

The Mayor met us when we returned to the Bountiful Catch. He said he knew what had happened in the temple and he’d try to keep it quiet for a couple of days. He wants us to kill Father Voltairo. I’m glad that we negotiated the price up.

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 4th Erastus 4711

On the way to Illmarsh we came across a ship in trouble out to sea. This seemed like a good chance to be something of a hero, something that’s been lacking of late. I used my new fly spell to get out to the boat and help the strange gentleman guide his boat safely aground, though not without the help of our two new companions, one of whom who can change his form.

Upon reaching Illmarsh we found a town as disgusting as we had been led to believe. The locals seem to be having trouble with very poor catches. Having received a reception from the locals that was worse than the smell, we followed up on some local rumours and eventually caught the attention of the sheriff. A man more keen to meet the business end of an arrow would be a rare occurrence. I must say on my travels since leaving my forested paradise the majority of those I’ve met have been somewhere between antagonistic and downright rude. But I digress. The gruff sheriff ‘invited’ us to meet the mayor who eventually hired us to find out what was going on at the local temple.

Though we were hired to investigate the temple the plan seemed to change somewhere between opening the door and seeing the first human beings. Instead we followed the ‘barbecue the cultists’ plan. To be honest they were worshipping an evil demon so I was all in favour of the new plan, a plan that I must say was working well until we met two villagers. The poor people had been deceived into parting with their daughter, they were distraught at this but believed they were sending their child to live with another tribe. They had been told she would eventually be married and taken care of well. Lastly they were told this would bring blessings to their village. As far as we could tell this is an age old tradition in Illmarsh. Though we can see the horrid nature of this, I think these people by way of a mixture of naivety and tradition believe they are helping their children and the town. Clearly though something nefarious lurks beneath this. Sigmund assured us the couple were not evil.

So we left the couple with Roguard who wanted to help them grieve though their loss, at this point I wonder who was more naive us or them… Roguard claims they were later killed by slug beasts, yet the facts don’t seem to add up. The Publican certainly didn’t seem convinced. He said that the villagers were killed by the larvae of these demons, yet when we saw those beasts at work they were burrowing though Roguard’s body towards his head. It’s worth mentioning that the other seven dead bodies had had their heads explode, presumably from these beasts burrowing to their heads. Yet the two villagers’ heads were still intact. It’s also not in Roguard’s favour that he has a known leaning toward killing those who believe in Gods other than his… If it comes to light that Roguard did in fact kill this innocent couple then surely he has fallen to such depths that it becomes hard to see how we can remain friends. For if this was murder it was a deed most foul. This surely requires more investigation, perhaps Sigmund knows a spell to compel truth?

I can’t help but feel we may have let that couple die, no matter who killed them we should have taken the time to see them to safety… How heroic are we? I’ve always believed in being free spirited in forging one’s own path, yet I wanted to make the world a better place. I wonder if that is at odds with what some of my companions want. This whole endeavour has taught me much of the world and the people that inhabit it. I see no wrong in taking a wage for good work nor in liberating certain items for the greater good. But it must serve a purpose. If we fail to protect an innocent couple who have at least two children what purpose do we serve? Worse still we may be harbouring a murderer.

Having cleared the temple we returned to the inn to rest the night and to prepare to attack the manor house where we believe the dark rider and the cult leader are hiding.

Illmarsh Enquirer, 5th Erastus 4711

NO NEIGHBOUR SIGHTING FOR TWO WEEKS

Illmarsh still suffers from the silence of the Neighbours. Our catches remain half what they should be and the Watcher comes close into shore. Dire consequences are expected if the Gods of the Deep are not appeased.

Father Voltairo has exhorted all Illmarshers to cleave to the old ways, to honour the Gods and our traditions, and all will be well. The Tolbeys have answered this call and given over their second daughter, born only three months ago, to the loving care of the Neighbours Down Bay. If all Illmarshers follow their devout example perhaps we will be saved.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 5th Erastus 4711

In the morning, when we were rested and prepared, following a surprisingly tasty breakfast of pickled herring, we went to Undiomede House. It was a large building two miles north of Illmarsh with a vast dome in the centre. It had been abandoned for seventy years yet was still in reasonable condition. As well as the dome, it had two wings and a small family cemetary. Rustin noticed tracks on the overgrown path, including a horse, some humans and a marsh giant. All went into the house; none came out.

The horse tracks went to the carriage house and as we approached we noticed movement in the pond to the side of the building. We found a branded piebald horse in the carriage house. It was starving and dehydrated. Caring for it would take three days of work and we decided to focus on the mission. We gave it some water and food, even knowing it would not make any difference.

In the next room we found signs of a struggle and the crate which the seasage effigy would have been transported in. It was discarded amongst other empty crates and sacks along with a note to ask Lucas about the Raven’s Head. Moving through the house we found an empty bedroom and a toilet. Then we found ourselves in the dome. It had been built around a much older henge of stone dolmens. It was very dark so Lorinthor took out a rock of eternal flame.

The dolmens were carved with symbols that Roguard recognised as belonging to Shub-Niggurath, a god from beyond the stars. In the centre was a sacrificial slab of stone with a hidden compartment in which we found a seedpod. The magic-users detected a phase door in one of the dolmens. I was not keen to pass through that. Then the marsh giant appeared demanding to know who we were and why we were there. I waved the symbols of Dagon that we’d collected at the temple at her and claimed we were members of the cult. It was a feeble effort though and her response was to attack us. Rustin’s animal of choice in this fight was a leopard and it was tough but we killed the giant.

Following a corridor around to the next room we heard sounds like an infant crying and being shushed. We opened the door to see a vicar with a three month old baby in his arms and a cultist turning to attack us. We dealt with the cultist first and then I attacked the vicar, forcing him to drop the baby. Roguard caught its fall enough so it didn’t get hurt. The vicar hit us all with an icestorm and then Rustin did the same. I don’t think he realised we would get hurt too, but we killed the vicar without taking further wounds.

There was some debate about what we should do with the child. Lorinthor and Rustin wanted to return to Illmarsh and reincarnate its parents. Who would probably just re-sacrifice it to their fishy gods. Not everyone supported this idea and I felt that looking after the baby would distract us from our mission. Sigmund reminded me that I’d defended the Beast because I believed in his innocence and wondered why I was prepared to leave a baby to die. I guess I’m more focussed and less impulsive now. And maybe I don’t believe in innocence anymore, if I ever did. In the end, we made the seasage effigy crate into a makeshift crib and left it while we moved on to the rest of the house.

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 5th Erastus 4711

As we rode out to the old house we found the horse of our first quarry, The Whispering Way. I was shocked that so many of our number were keen to let the beast die rather than leave it some food and water. Keen maybe harsh, indifferent is perhaps more accurate, though indeed still worrying. Perhaps a group takes the qualities of certain members?

Having examined a few rooms we managed to kill a Marsh Giant and have rescued the poor, now orphaned, baby of the couple from the temple. We have an obligation, I feel, to ensure that this baby and it’s poor sibling or siblings are taken care of well. It is my feeling we should raise up their parents to reunite the family. If not I will take the children as my charges and return them to my village where they will be raised kindly with all they could need. I will of course return to continue in search of the Whispering Way, but these children must be taken care of.

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