Chapter Four: Wake of the Watcher II

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 5th Erastus 4711

Having stuffed the baby in a box we returned to the domed room in the centre of Undiomede House. We decided to finish with the ground floor before tackling the rooms leading off the walkway above us. The first room we looked in was empty. A chandelier had crashed from the ceiling onto the table below smashing it to pieces.

On the opposite side of the room there was a door. Sigmund went to open it and realised he could hear voices on the other side. He said there were three people and none of them were evil. Even so, as he opened the door a crossbow bolt thudded into the frame beside his head. Standing in the room beyond were a tall elven woman, a spear warrior and a cleric. Even from behind the others I could see that the room was soaked in blood and gore. They had been fighting something and I got the distinct impression that they wanted to fight us.

The room the three strangers were standing in had once been a library but had suffered more decay than others areas of this house. In amongst the destruction and debris I saw five graves just as Lorinthor, Sigmund  and I had seen them in the visions from the head of Auren Vrood back in Feldgrau. A cold shiver ran across my skin and I felt sick. I had not believed in the visions; I’d just thought they were magic trickery designed to confuse and frighten us. If this has now come to pass, will we encounter everything else we were shown?

The woman, apparently the leader of this group, demanded to know who we were. Sigmund replied that we were here to purge the land of evil. She said her party were running into problems and Lorinthor asked if she meant the evil, demon-worshipping cultists. At this point she introduced herself as Silver Ravenwood, her spear warrior as Dieter Morgen, and the cleric as Razien. Silver doesn’t appear to hold clerics in high regard. Roguard established that Razien was a cleric of Pharasma and told him he’d strayed from the true path.

The slugspawn of Shub-Niggurath infected one of her party and, though they thought they’d cured him, it hatched inside him and became a hideous tentacled monster. Five of her party, including the infected man, died in the ensuing battle. Silver asked if any of us had been infected. Sigmund was compelled to tell the truth and revealed that a slugspawn had burrowed into Roguard’s leg. The elf was not prepared to take a chance that he might not become a monster and commanded Dieter to kill Roguard. The enormous spear warrior rushed at him and nearly killed him with just two blows.

I grabbed Roguard and ran for the domed room and Lorinthor cast invisibility on him. I had thought Lorinthor would be the first to throw Roguard to these wolves, quickly followed by all of the others in the group, but it seems there is some kindness in them after all. The hulk chased after us and Silver attacked Lorinthor, but the Publican pinned her to the wall with his quarterstaff and Rustin filled the room with fog. Roguard cast a spell to heal himself and Dieter heard his chanting. Razien cast a spell to counteract Rustin’s spell somewhat. Sigmund approached Dieter with his sword drawn and said “Don’t make me do this. You’re not evil. Roguard can be redeemed.” I clicked the heels of my boots of speed and took Roguard out of the domed room towards the carriage house. Realising that Dieter could move faster than Roguard, I left him and moved on another thirty feet to draw the spear warrior after me; he followed. Lorinthor disappeared.

Silver and the Publican struggled for a while until he shouted “Fool!” at her and ran to attack Dieter, who turned into a troll. Rustin stabbed Silver in the foot with his sickle. Razien cast a spell on Silver, the Publican attacked the troll and stunned him, so I took advantage of that and ran back to attack the troll myself. The Publican hit the troll again and called to Silver to stop this.

Then Roguard became visible in the room with the smashed chandelier. A huge tentacled monster burst from within his body and attacked Razien. Both Razien and Sigmund attacked the monster. I ran back into the room and saw what had happened to my friend and attacked the fiend that killed him. Lorinthor shot it with an arrow and became visible on the ceiling then Dieter finished it off. But then it exploded into twenty or so slugspawn. Dieter cut through them in such an efficient way that I was left wondering whether it had really been the tentacled monster that slew his companions.

Another of our original party is gone. In my heart I now know Daggmar will never rejoin us. My connection to Petros is fraying and I have only Sigmund left. And what am I to do about the Mayor? Should I complete the task Roguard gave me? There seems little point any more.

The creatures here are bizarre beyond anything I’ve ever seen, lacking any connection to the beasts and monsters of this world. I can hardly comprehend them and am resisting the urge to curl into a corner and gibber. Dieter, now returned to human form, is struggling as well.

By mutual, but unspoken, consent our parties continued as one and we ascended the stairs to the balcony in the domed room. There was only one room we could access. Rustin was still disguised as a cat and eavesdropped on the man muttering in the room. Returning to his Halfling form, he told us the man was clearly mad but richly accoutred.

Inside we found Father Voltairo, the leader of the Dagon cultists, furiously rifling through a pile of books. This room seems least damaged of all that we have been in and there were numerous items of value. His skin was rippling as though something crawled beneath it. We attacked quickly, fearing what might burst from him, and then a tentacled monster like that which killed Roguard exploded from his body. We killed it with relative ease; Silver and Dieter are effective fighters. Amongst the loot we found a medallion that Lorinthor thought would open the phase door in the dolmen below and a key that looks like it belongs to the sea-chest in Voltairo’s room in the temple.

The books Voltairo was looking through made reference to a series of tunnels below Undiomede House which could be accessed through the phase door. And, of course, opening the door and descending into the tunnels is exactly what we did. Stone steps took us twenty foot below the ground and into a wide cavern brightly lit with torches. It smelt of corpses and rotting matter and we could hear voices in the distance. There was a glass tube filled with water and a corpse, a large ship’s bell covered in runes. Lorinthor identified an alarm spell that had been triggered and we wondered why it was so quiet.

The corpse was that of Captain Cassius Undiomede whose image we’d seen in the town square and the temple. Lorinthor found  a shark-skin covered book which described the Captain’s first meeting with the Neighbours. They are a race called the Skum and made a pact with the Captain that in exchange for good catches and protection from the region’s predators the village would provide daughters to be fostered with the Skum. Undiomede felt he needed to make the pact to protect a greater number of people and save his own life. So hundreds of women have been sacrificed to the Skum to be used as broodmares in order to provide the men of Illmarsh with prosperity and safety. The greater good indeed.

We headed towards the voices and came into a cavern with several pools and a number of stone columns. There were seven lizard-fish creatures that must be the Skum. One was bigger than the others. They seemed disorientated and Lorinthor loosed a fireball that took out all the smaller ones. Despatching the leader was short work after that. Rustin and Lorinthor examined the creature and came to the conclusion that something was very wrong in these tunnels.

Backtracking the way we had come we took the other exit from the cavern with Undiomede’s body and came into a room of pools and terraces. It was foul; full of stinking lichen, murky water, creepers, waste and corpses. We spotted something glittering at the bottom of the pool. The Publican pulled it closer with his quarterstaff and Lorinthor detected that it was magickal. Dieter went to retrieve it and started punching himself in the face. It seems he feels the same madness I do. Lorinthor then waded into the murk to get the object. It was a magical helm that enabled the wearer to see and breathe underwater. Curled inside was a necklace with the gagged skull symbol of the Whispering Way.

I heard the sound of a woman singing a soft lullaby in the distance and we followed the tunnels in that direction. The next cavern looked like a cross between a catacomb and a dormitory. There were ledges accessed by ladders and bedrolls and dressmakers dummies, some of them child-sized. This must have been the room where the fostered girls lived. The singing came from a pit at the back of the room, suffused with a weird purple light, which was accessible by ladder. Dieter, Lorinthor, Sigmund the Publican and Silver went down to her. Cradled in her arms was the dessicated corpse of a child. Dieter started to babble incoherently. Lorinthor and Sigmund tried to talk to her and all she could say was that the colours would make it all better. Silver touched the child and the woman lashed out at her, so she knocked her out cold and brought her up the ladder into the room.

There followed a debate about what we should do. Silver wanted to bring her with us and Razien advocated a mercy killing. More distraction from what we are here to do. Eventually we moved on to the next cavern where there were lovely shimmering colours. Silver dragged the unconscious woman with her. We found many dead Skum and a pillar of shifting light. My head hurt and I wanted to sleep. Nothing seemed to affect the light. It was not magic, not physical; arrows went straight through it and spells had no effect. Rustin fell asleep. Dieter, Sigmund and I sat on the ground with exhaustion. The Publican picked up Rustin and followed Silver out of the room.

I fell into a sleep-like trance; I couldn’t move or speak but I could see all that happened. The column of light struck out at Lorinthor. Silver called out that the woman had told her the light needs the dark to live. Lorinthor threw his stones of eternal flame on the floor and went out of the room. Torches came flying in through the entrance, there was a holy glow, the light struck me and a wall of fire appeared in front of the column. More torches came through the entrance and those of us afflicted with the sleep-like trance were restored to ourselves once more.

The party took the final tunnel which was damp and went on for miles. It grew wetter and wetter until the water came up to our waists and we decided we had no choice but to turn back. We made our way through the tunnels and up to Undiomede house where we collected the baby and the starving horse and then returned to Illmarsh.

It was late into the night at this point and we were greeted by Horace Croon. Silver arranged with him that he would use his aquatic invention to help us pursue the Whispering Way through the other half of the Skum tunnels accessible through a cave in Punishment Rock. In return she gave him the woman, child and horse. I’m sure a second forced marriage is just what the woman needs. We took the opportunity to purchase potions to combat the madness that we’ve been feeling in the tunnels.

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 5th Erastus 4711

As we continued to search the ground floor of the mansion we came across another group that had fared somewhat less well than we had. Although there had been eight of them only three now survived; the rest apparently killed by one of their own number who had become a beast of some form. There was, for a time, a stand-off as the members of the other group were worried we may have been infected by the slug beasts. They asked if anyone had been attacked by slugs, we accepted that Roguard had been attacked but we were sure that he had been cured.

This didn’t seem to satisfy the survivors and they attacked us. Now I’ve had my doubts about Roguard for some time but at any rate he is still a part of our party and a member of the team. Until I’m sure that he has committed a crime I will protect him with my life if need be. I do not wish to lose another…’friend’ is not quite the word, companion on this quest. As it happened a berserker, who seemed strangely familiar, attacked Roguard, almost killing him. I decided that the only way to resolve the situation peacefully was to cast invisibility on Roguard and hope that the situation could be calmed down. Alas this was not to be, after a fight that encompassed much of the ground floor of Undiomede House, Roguard came back into the room. I asked him if he had a plan to which he replied he did, I asked what it was and he told me to trust in the all mother… As he had lived his life he died, trusting in Pharasma and trying to kill Elves. His head horrifically exploded into a mist of withering tentacles which attacked and grabbed the Elven cleric from the survivors.  At this point, with a heavy heart, I opened fire upon the beast that Roguard had become. It wasn’t long before the beast fell under a shower of steel and spell.

I’ve seen much now in the time since I began adventuring. I’m not the child I once was yet nothing could prepare me for a sight as horrific as Roguard’s head exploding into tentacles. I managed to quantify it, to justify it to myself but unfortunately some of our number lost their minds at the sight of the beast. The barbarian from the survivors just started hitting himself, as his mind was fractured by something not from this world.

Feeling the need to clear this house and get our job here done we quickly searched the house and found the leader of the cultists, though he had clearly lost his mind as well.

What are these horrific beasts? What mind crafted such abominations to nature?

We quickly dispatched the Father and with the survivors now following us as apparently members of our group, which I’m calling The Knights of Ustalav, we set off down to the basement through the stone circle’s phase door.

Apart from a quick and rather simplistic fight with some Skum, (barbecued shrimp anyone), we found a woman who was clearly one of the babies that had been sacrificed by the people of Illmarsh. We also fought a strange being made entirely of light. This was the hardest fight we’ve had in a long time only the fact of my extensive mental training to manipulate magic kept me awake while the others succumbed to falling asleep and eventually even I gave in to the beast. Eventually Silver realised that light harmed this being and we killed it, but not without a long hard fight. After this fight we were as a group in a very bad way, many of the group had gone insane.

We decided that it was best to return to town and rest a while. We took the sick horse, the baby and the lost woman to the crazy inventor Horace. They make a nice, if somewhat unusual, family. It’s good to do some real good.

Illmarsh Enquirer, 6th Erastus 4711

MAYOR GREEDLE MISSING!

Early Greedle is the latest victim of the mysterious disappearances! He was last seen two days ago cordoning off the temple and his family say he never came home. Sheriff Will Anders said, “There’s no need to panic. He’s probably just gone to Thrushmoor on urgent business.”

Greedle joins a long list of townspeople who have disappeared lately, including the little-missed interloper, Gaster Lucas. None of them have returned. No Neighbours have been seen since the disappearances started. Can the two be connected? Illmarshers, cleave to the old ways or soon our village will be destroyed!

Father Voltairo was unavailable for comment.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 6th Erastus 4711

We rested while Horace prepared his contraption and on the ride out to Punishment Rock, so arrived at the cave full of vigour and bravery, despite the cramped and stuffy conditions. There were points were the creaking and cracking of the seams between the metal plates suggested they were about to give way, but we got there in one piece. We got out of Horace’s strange boat to find that the back of the cave had a glass door at the back. Lorinthor was the first to go through and having established that he’d come to no harm, the rest of the party followed, leaving Horace to wait our return.

The cavern beyond the glass door was covered in carvings of Skum and humans. The air smelt of fish and burnt ozone. As we proceeded two orbs of light appeared and from them emerged two shambling creatures made of skinless tissue and tendons. I noticed Rustin making quick sketches of the creatures that are like nothing any of us have seen before. We made short work of them and it was a shame Rustin’s duck spell failed or it would have been quicker.

In a room off the corridor beyond we found carvings of a more erotic nature, lichen, beds and baby blankets, and seven Skum. It was a chaotic fight in a tight space as we are now a party of eight and it was only more so after Rustin turned into a rhinoceros.

We moved into the next room, following the tunnels, and found it was brightly decorated with symbols of strange, unknown gods. Lorinthor said they were gods of the dark tapestry but I don’t really know what that means, except that it is not from this world. In the middle of the room was a revoltingly ugly plant. It attempted to communicate with us, asking nonsense questions. The Publican spoke gobbledegook back to it and it seemed to like his answers. As it was not trying to kill us, I saw no point in attacking it and suggested we focus on following the tunnels to the end.

There was a room off the large decorated cavern and in it we encountered four Mi-Go. I felt that shattering feeling in my mind again but managed to contain it. Razien was not so lucky and in his madness struck Lorinthor and summoned a demon Lemure. Still, the creatures, as fearsome as they looked, were outnumbered and not hard to kill.

It felt like we were nearing our final destination and in the next room we found depictions of Shub-Niggurath, the insanity-inducing spawner of slugs. A machine that looked like a wood-chipper but that clearly used for bodies sat in one corner with a pile of bodies beside it. We recognised Mayor Early Greedle as one of them so my quandary was resolved.

The far wall was oddly smooth but appeared to be neither trapped or magickal. At the bottom we found some lumps of iron and a mace with the head of a raven. This we recognised as one of the items required by the Whispering Way so we quickly snaffled it into Lorinthor’s bag of holding. Razien told us that this was an important piece of Pharasmin history and had been used in the destruction of the Whispering Tyrant.

Then finally we found ourselves in a room with a glass-domed ceiling and the vast ocean was above us. It was a sight of great beauty and I will remember it always. At the apex was an image of a sun and its satellite, but I don’t think that it was Golarrion. The rest of the room was a sight a good deal less beautiful. It held tables and instruments reminiscent of Vrood’s terrible experiments but on a much larger scale. On one of those tables the dark rider that Vrood sent here lay squirming and restrained. Four more of the ant-like Mi-Go looked right back at us.

We charged in, all blades swinging. Rustin summoned a giant crab. We killed two of the things and suddenly the equipment around us began to grind and chunder. The writhing body of the dark rider burst open and from it erupted a Dark Young Shub-Niggurath. It squashed the remaining Mi-Go beneath its vast feet and towered menacingly above us. Some may call us brave, some like to call us heroes, but I think we are just so arrogant, aggressive and belligerent that we will not tolerate even the children of gods to stand in our way. Most people would fall on their knees in awe and fearful devotion at the sight of a divine being, but not us. No, we slaughtered it and nicked its stuff.

In the sea above us the Watcher in the Bay appeared. Its thousand thousand eyes gleamed amid tentacles and waving appendages, evoking the cracking feeling in my mind. I thought we would have to fight this too, and I lost my sanity for a moment. I was not the only one. But we had potions with us and recovered quickly. The maddening entity dwindled away to another dimension, or another world, or I know not where, but it was gone and with it the strange oppression that characterised Illmarsh. Amongst the contents of the room we found Vrood’s instructions to the dark rider and learnt the Whispering Way had stolen the sea-sage effigy in order to exchange it for the Raven’s Head, and that his companion had gone to Caliphas to deliver the other items.

Weary and mentally drained, we returned to the safety of Horace’s strange boat. We spent the evening with him and he answered many of our questions. The Neighbours Down Bay are the Skum that dwell in the depths of Avalon Bay. Illmarshers pay them tribute in exchange for bountiful harvests of fish, protection from the many predatory dangers of the Ustalavic coast, and an occasional exotic treasure of the ancient past dredged up from the depths of Lake Encarthan. The tribute consists of a tithe of the taxes and trade within the town, an occasional blood sacrifice on Punishment Rock, usually a condemned criminal, nosy stranger, or other similarly unpopular figure, and the “fostering” of some of their daughters with the Neighbors.

This is the extent of understanding of most Illmarshers, but Horace had discovered much more about the pact with the Skum, who are near-immortal devotees of the demon lord Dagon. They are unable to reproduce among their own kind and fostered the Illmarsh girls to see to their propagation needs in exchange for leaving the rest of the town’s population alone and keeping Illmarsh prosperous and secure. All of Illmarsh’s able-bodied sons belong to the town, working the fishing boats or in the other trades, and carrying on their family lines. Illmarsh families also cherish their first daughters, raising them to be beautiful and obedient housewives able to bear strong children and take care of their husbands and households in the truest small fishing town tradition. More daughters are less desirable, however. Most families prefer sons as daughters just lead to more mouths to feed and more dowries to pay. Second and third daughters are given to the Neighbours. A family with four or more daughters is considered blessed by the gods of the sea and the fourth and later daughters are allowed to remain with their natural families.

The girls are given to the Skum in secret night-time ceremonies involving only the town’s priests and the parents of the girl and it was this that we stumbled on when we encountered the Tolbeys. They are raised as members of the tribe, so although essentially a population of breeding slaves, few of these women have any real understanding of their condition. When they reach puberty they are mated and bear the next generation of Skum young. Offspring born as Skum join the tribe. Those born human meet more uncertain fates. Some stay with their mothers and are raised in the dank tunnels, caring for new-fostered infants; some are returned to Illmarsh; but many are sacrificed to Dagon in blasphemous ceremonies. The fostered human women assist in the fostering of new daughters received from Illmarsh, acting as wet nurses and surrogate mothers to the infants.

Lately, the Skum had been acting strangely and Horace wasn’t sure what had happened. He believed that some of the Skum had been conducting rituals even more foul than those associated with Dagon and that this had attracted the Mi-Go and the Watcher in the Bay. It seems that the Skum were not surviving the arrival of these new beings and this explains why they had not been seen by the Illmarshers. Who knows what will happen to Illmarsh now?

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 6th Erastus 4711

Horace had a job for us, one that nicely fit with our own objectives. He sent us down in his underwater boat, the design of which is stunning, and we set out to put an end to these strange matters and otherworldly beings in Illmarsh.

Going down into the caverns under the water we searched around, killing hordes of these otherworldly creatures. This continued until we reached our quarry, the dark rider!

Finally, we were about to kill him after months of tracking. The Publican attacked the dark rider and immediately he exploded into some horrific tentacled beast. Clearly not of this world but still hugely interesting to a scientific mind. As soon as I could I cast haste. I was ready to swear an oath and prepare to attack the beast when the barbarian turned into a troll and threw himself into the beast, the devastation was huge he swung his pole arm in a single arm and tore a hole in the beast. It was war as an art form, truly terrifying. This half-man, half-beast strangely reminds me of Daggmar the Brave, who I fear we will not see again, though I hope she’s well.

We’ve lost too many people recently. We shan’t lose more.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 7th Erastus 4711

When I returned to my room in the Bountiful Catch I found something under my pillow. Roguard had left me the fee for the job we’d agreed on before we’d left for Undiomede House two days ago. It is more than I’d expected; it would have been such a lucrative relationship.

Today we returned to the tunnels to clear out the rest of the Skum and the eldritch creatures from beyond the dark tapestry. Afterwards we saw the Sheriff about the payment the Mayor had promised us. Like the rest of the village, Will Anders seemed distracted and pre-occupied. While we were there Lorinthor and I made a note of the security arrangements around that tower shield. Tomorrow we will leave for Caliphas, following the second dark rider.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 8th Erastus 4711

In the pre-dawn half-light Lorinthor and I crept out of the Bountiful Catch and stealthily made our way to the Town Hall. The fishermen were noisily preparing their boats to go out for the day and praying to the gods for a good catch. I didn’t hear which gods. But anyway, their focus was on Avalon Bay and not the deserted town square. It was the work of minutes to sneak inside the building and pick the lock on the armoury door. With the tower shield and sea sage effigy in hand, Lorinthor teleported us, via a brief stop on the Ardeal Plains, back to the University in Lepidstadt. It was an odd sensation and it is strange to think that this journey originally took us close to three months.

At a more sociable hour in the morning we found Professor Montague Crowl drinking coffee in his office. He was delighted to see his statue, and after some discussion, delighted to pay us its full value. While Crowl raised the coin, Lorinthor and I went into town to sell the shield, then found somewhere to rest so that Lorinthor would be able to prepare the teleport spell for the journey back.

By the end of the day we’d been paid and were thoroughly rested so we teleported back to the Thrushmoor Stables to await the arrival of the rest of the party.

Illmarsh Enquirer, 9th Erastus 4711

TOWER SHIELD STOLEN!

A terrible theft was discovered yesterday! The beautifully crafted masterworks tower shield housed in the Town Hall Armoury has gone missing. Sheriff Will Anders is livid as this valuable shield was bought by him during his years in the Versex militia and formed the bulk of his children’s inheritance. He said “My grandson has a wasting disease that could be cured by doctors in Thrushmoor but we don’t have the money to pay for the treatment. I’d hoped to sell that shield to give Timmy a chance to live.”

The aging Sheriff, 57, demanded that anyone with any information relating to this theft present themselves at the Town Hall.

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