Eva and her companions continues our search for the missing merchant Gilbert Steinwald in our Zweihänder campaign.
It was somewhat overcast and humid when we left Hofoyavik that morning, discussing whether we wanted to go direct to Braumen, where Gilbert had last been seen, or to stop off at the village of Vaskollen, which by all accounts was a haven of thieves and smugglers but also where he may have sheltered during the storm.
About half an hour after leaving the town, we noticed Calthar apparently talking to a raven. She’d been scouting ahead along the forest road, but had stopped to try and feed this raven with dried rations. It was behaving oddly – cawing at her, then hopping back to a branch and looking at us, as if expecting something from us.
Calthar decided to follow it, and we followed her. The raven continued to caw at us, flapping back further into the forest and away from the road. After a while it grew quiet, but seemed to continue to want us to follow it. It was then that we heard some raised voices ahead – what sounded like a male voice, raised in a threatening manner, but we couldn’t make out the words.
Moving carefully through the trees, we saw that there was a clearing ahead, with a cottage and a group of people. There was an old woman standing by the door of the cottage, and four others around her – three men and a woman, all armed and looking like they meant trouble.
One of the men was shouting at the old woman, demanding to know where “it” was, or they would kill her and take everything. She responded that she didn’t know of any treasure.
We managed to sneak up to the edge of the clearing, and whilst Calthar moved around to the side, Djarin stepped out and demanded to know what was going on. There followed a brief argument, and the nearest man went for this sword and started to step towards Djarin – who shot him dead with his arbalest, and so started a fight.
I stood at the rear, shouting encouragement to my companions and threats to the enemy, who seemed to take my words to heart and one turned and fled, though Calthar was able to chase him down and kill him. By the end, they were all dead.
Player’s Note: Eva used her Leadership skill to perform Inspiring Words, which gave benefits to my companions, and then her Intimidation skill (which she was not so good at, but succeeded) to do a Litany of Hatred, which gave penalties to our enemies.
Whilst Calthar started to bury the bodies, myself and Djarin went into the cottage with the old woman whilst she made us tea. She didn’t know who her attackers were, but thought they were probably from Hofoyavik, and had her the rumours of treasure buried around these parts. She wouldn’t say much more on the subject, but seemed to know an awful lot about us. She knew of Gilbert, but didn’t think we would find him alive. She also warned us about the village of Vaskollen.
After Calthar came in after burying the first body, she offered us the tea, which was surprisingly good. She also asked whether any of us could play chess, and indicated a very nice looking chess board we hadn’t spotted before. The white pieces seemed to be of ivory, very white and smooth, and the black were of some very dark wood. In the end, I volunteered, though I only barely knew the rules.
Whilst we played, she chatted to us, and paused at one point to fetch a small smooth stone, which had a rune I did not recognise carved upon it. She offered it to me, and said that if we were ever in need of light, to strike it with a weapon (and to close our eyes).
She continued to talk and ask questions whilst we played the game, asking who the Queen was, and more importantly, who the players were. She seemed happy with what we’d been doing, and as I listened to her words I started to feel strangely light headed, and the last thing I remember is seeing the old woman watching us as we fell asleep – her figure becoming more androgynous, and wrapped in a burial cowl.
We all woke on the road where we had first met the raven, with a hazy memory of what had happened. The stone was in my hand, and Calthar realised that she still had the items she had taken from the bodies. I also remembered what had happened long ago – when we had gone into the clearing in that other forest, where the ring of stones was. I had forgotten everything that had happened there, but now it was as clear as day.
Thinking about it, I wonder whether she was an aspect of the Custodian, the Lord of Death and Dreams.
We spent the night in a small village, in return for telling tales about our adventures. We all had strange dreams, of being hungry on the streets of some city. I remember it to be Sielzen, but the others had other memories. We had friends to keep us alive there, but one by one they vanished until only we were left, and then we were gone as well. A strange dream.
The day was spent heading along the main road, which was of significantly better quality compared to most of those we’d had to use around here, and reminded me of the roads of Sanhasia.
As we crossed over the river, we decided to head for Vaskollen despite the warnings we’d had about it. It was the most likely place to look for Gilbert, so we’d probably have to come back this way anyway if we headed directly to Brauman.
Following the path along the western bank of the river, we found the village without too much effort. When we arrived though, it was silent and deserted. There was a jetty on the river bank, and a large inn the doors to which stood open. In front of the inn was a wagon, partly unloaded, with the symbol of a pair of dolphins upon it. This would seem to be where Gilbert Steinwald had come.
But there was no sign of anyone, just the stench of death. We moved carefully into the village and up to the wagon, where it looked like people had searched it looking to plunder it. Inside the inn, the chairs and tables had been pushed to the sides of the main hall, and seated in the middle of the room was a single man tied to a chair.
His clothes had been torn partly off, and he had the appearance of having been tortured, or at least tormented, for was cover with cuts, and still had several darts stuck into him. He was quite dead, though there was a lack of blood on the floor beneath the chair, as if he had been brought here after being killed, or even had been drained of blood. Now, his corpse was several days old and ready to fall apart.
There were tankards on the tables and along the bar, as if people had suddenly left this place in a hurry.
The main stench came not from him, but from the other side of the village. Making our way over there, we found a large pit into which were thrown forty or fifty bodies. The stench was almost unbearable, but we did notice that most of them seemed to be children, with only maybe a dozen adult corpses. All of them looked pale, and had been cut as if they had been drained of blood before being killed.
Heading back to the inn, a closer look around located a fine wooden box, about a foot long, of high quality carving and with the inscription of a tiger’s head on the top. This is probably the ‘tiger’ we were told to look out for.
What has happened to Gilbert, who we assume is the body on the chain, and indeed to the entire village we do not yet know.