Early the next morning the group returned to Harrowstone, this time determined to explore the ruin’s interior. Standing at the gateway it looked a forsaken place, a perception enhanced by the cold drizzle and grey skies.
Cautiously Sif pushed open the main door, which with some stiffness opened inwards into a square antichamber. Streaks of mold stained the walls ,and the floor below was a thick, gray carpet of fungal growth. Sturdy wooden doors beckoned from every wall, marked by encrusted brass plaques. Wiping these clean revealed the Wardens Office lay to the west, the Stores and Chapel to the east, and the Prison to the north.
Opening the door to the Stores revealed a short passage leading to a sturdy door, which Keryn was unable to open with her lockpicks. “I expect there’s a key lying around somewhere let’s come back when we find it” suggested Christov.
The group opened the door labelled ‘Warden’ revealing another short corridor with a number of smaller rooms situated on the north side. These smelled of mildew and decay, and seemed to contain filing cabinets and a few desks. “Probably for prison business” suggested Ysabot. “I suppose there might be something of value in all these files but I don’t fancy spending the time it would take in here looking for them, and ferrying all this stuff out would be a mammoth task.”
At the end of the corridor was a larger office, and the door opened to reveal a spacious room smelling of mildew and rot. A long desk and chair sat to the south, while to the northwest a narrow alcove contained a closed safe. Thick layers of dust covered everything in sight. “I’m going to take my time on this safe” said Keryn," so make yourselves comfortable." As she worked away Trig kept watch at the door, while Ysabot stared out of the bay window at the beating rain outside and the darkening sky. “A storm on the way I think.” she commented.
Twenty minutes later there was a click from the safe, and Sif came over to look, munching on a sandwich. Inside was a cashbox containing a significant amount of coin, and a number of potions which Ysabot easily identified from the alchemical marks. “Well worth the effort” beamed Keryn.
The group headed back to the foyer and this time opened the door labelled ‘Auditorium’. As it was pushed the door to this room fell off its hinges with a crash of dust. Rows of simple wooden benches were arranged towards what appeared to be a caged pulpit area at the far end, but thick sheets of what appeared to be cobwebs draped everything within in gossamer threads.
As the group cautiously moved into the room Trig screamed as three horrific spider forms descended rapidly from above, quickly scrambling upon and biting the surprised Sif and Christov. Both experienced a burning sensation on their wounds, but fortunately this seemed to have little immediate effect. In the rapid melee which ensured the creatures proved to be no match for numbers and cold steel. The group stood panting at the still jerking forms. “Crab Spiders” muttered Ysabot, and Sif stared in fascination at the creatures, which had bodies the size of a dog’s.
Against a wall Trig discovered a cabinet, and inside there appeared to be some more healing potions and some Holy Water. There was also a slim wand. Ysabot looked at it and handled it “I’ll keep this for now- we can get Kendra to identify it back at the house. Might be useful later on.”
So far the indications of the fire had been non- existent in the rooms they had traversed, but opening the far door revealed a larger room where its effects were evident. The northeast wall of the room had partially fallen, revealing the dark, murky waters of the pond outside. Moldering training dummies and other similar equipment hinted that this room must have once been a training area for the guards. In the northeast part of the room, the floor around a dark, jagged hole was surrounded by black scorch marks, and the wooden rails had burned partially away.
As they moved nearer they recieved their first reminder that the prison was indeed haunted.With an eerie keening which set the hairs on the back of Sif’s neck on their ends, three blackened skulls rose up from the rubble, and even as they watched in surprise and horror, burst into flame. Trig hacked at one ineffectually with her sickle, and it lunged at Keryn, the flames causing her to scream in pain. Ysabot’s staff crashed down on the skull, shattering it into fragments. “Skeletal undead, blunt weapons. How many times do we have to say it?”
Christov was indeed using a blunt weapon, and after the initial surprise he and Sif quickly despatched the remaining two skulls. Peering closer at he shaft it appeared to go down maybe twenty feet. There was no stairwell, but there was evidence of a pulley and winch system.
“Some sort of elevator-maybe for lowering supplies down below” suggested Christov. “Well we have a route down below if we choose to take it.”
“Let’s check this level out first. There may be an easier route anyway” suggested Sif.
There was another door on the northern wall of the Training Room, and Sif pushed this cautiously open. She was stood at the side of what appeared to be alarge oven or furnace. There was also evidence of the fire, which had burned away the entire east wall of this room, and the fetid waters of the lake lapped at he rooms edges. The view was somewhat panoramic, if a little eerie.
Christov pushed past, and saw that the frontage of the oven was of baroque ironwork, grotesquely fashioed into form of a gargoyle – like face. He surmised that the furnace in this chamber once heated Harrowstone. A soot-caked copper plaque read “Ember Maw.” As he stared at it he was surprised to see the red glow of flame suddenly flare into life,and the face seemed to move and writhe, as though in torment.He drew his weapons, not sure what to expect.
The furnace door flew open and a gout of flame shot towards him, hitting him directly in the chest and staggering him backwards. Fortunately his breastplate seemed to absorb much of the impact,and he managed not only to stay on his feet, but also dive for cover into the alcove which led to a door in the northwestern corner of the room. Sif stepped forward but then leapt back again as flame shot out at a different angle, just missing her. Christov was trapped on the far side of the furnace.
As he drank one of his potions, Christov considered his option. He could try the door to the west and try to link up with the others that way, or he could try to rush back. Eventually he determined on the latter, and as Sif jumped forward into the line of fire and then back again, Christov rushed across to rejoin the others. As Sif had stepped out, flame had again shot out towards her, and again fortunately missed.
“What is it? What should we do about it?” asked Sif.
“Possibly a Haunt. Everything here is haunted.” suggested Christov.
“Well let’s just ignore it and go the other way” said Ysabot. “It can hardly chase us can it?”
So it was that they found themselves back at the foyer room, this time ready to open the door marked ‘Prison.’ This opened into a corridor with several doorways leading off it. Christov heard a noise behind him and quickly turned around. The other doors had all opened, and a horde of shrieking and smoke covered faces were rushing into the room and making for the front door. Around him his shocked companions were jostled and bumped by the escaping crowd. Then just as suddenly all of the doors slammed shut. With the figures gone. Ysabot opened the front door and looked outside. “Nothing.”
“Well that was a bit odd.” said Keryn.
“More haunts, I assume.” said Christov. “I saw some steps leading upward in that corridor. Let’s search upstairs.”
They emerged into a narrow north- south corridor, with what appeared to be an open area with wooden benches, some stacked in a jumble and others overturned in disarray, to the north. Weakened by fire, the entire east wall had collapsed away,creating an unintended entryway to a wooden deck beyond. The view of the lake beyond would have been beautiful if the silence were not so eerie. “A dining area?” suggested Trig.
To the south was a semi- circular caged area, with a desk and a couple of chairs inside. Access to this was gained by a metal door which was unlocked. “I guess this was a Guard Post” said Christov. Two doors led from the cage to an unsafe looking balcony over the main entrance, so the Guard would have had a means of escape if there was any trouble.
The rest of the eastern half of the floor seemed to comprise individual cells-some with the long dead occupants still inside.
“Smoke or starved to death” said Christov.
“Not a pleasant way to die.” said Ysabot sadly.
The group moved towards the westren side, and here the cell blocks seemed to be arranged in north- south corridors. On the southern wall was a larger and more comfortable looking cell however. Trig looked at Sif, and she smashed the door down with her hammer.
Although this cell was rather spacious, it contained no concessions to comfort. A skeletal body dressed in the rotting remains of a prisoner’s robe lay slumped against the eastern wall, wrapped in numerous chains on which were affixed numerous weights emblazoned with several different holy symbols. Sif went over and fingered the chains in puzzlement. “Father Charlatan I presume” said Christov drily.
“Well if he becomes undead he’s chasing us nowhere in those chains” commented Ysabot. “Wait! What’s that?” She turned her head to where the others were stood outside.
An eerie, mournful dirge floated through the air, coming from somewhere on this floor. Sounding as though it came from far way, it seemed nevertheless to be getting closer.
“Just another haunt” commented Christov. “We know the executions took place on the balcony to the west, its probably connected with that. Let’s see if we can open the door out on to it.”
The group moved westwards through the cellblock and the strange piping grew louder. “What was that noise?” asked Trig fearfully.
“Sounds like the rattle of bones” responded Ysabot, and stopped.
“Rats?” asked Trig.
“I don’t think so” said Ysabot pointing. At the edge of the range of her illumination spell a skeletal figure had staggered to its feet, its eyes glowing with green balefire. She stepped aside just in time as a skeletal arm reached through one of the cell door windows to claw at her. A dry rustling in the darkness came from all around, accompanied perhaps by the flapping of leathery wings.
“I think we may have a problem.”said Ysabot, and immediately cast a spell on herself. Sif looked across the corridor and seeing the glowing green eyes of the skeletal figure reaching through the cell window at Ysabot. Ysabot was facing towards her and Sif noticed with a shock something she had never noticed before, having not had the opportunity: Ysabot’s eyes glittered with reflected light, like those of some dark predator. For Sif’s superstitious mind these two sights were too much for her, and she quickly retreated back towards the stairwell. “Sif wait!” cried Trig, and ran after her.
Drawing his weapons Christov rushed forward to engage the figure in the corridor, only to encounter two others emerging from the cells, as two more emerged behind Ysabot and Keryn.
The battle raged, with Christov battling three of the silent forms, while Keryn and Ysabot fought two others with mace and vials of Holy Water close behind him.
For Sif however things had gone from bad to worse. Her retreat toward the stairwell had pulled her up short, with another of the skeletal horrors stalking silently towards her. Rushing up behind this there also appeared to be a group of Stirges, and the eerie piping seemed to swell louder in her head. Blinking twice the corridor ahead of her seemed to stretch outwards to an impossible length, and at the end of this she semed to spy a wraith- thin figure dressed in a tattered robe and hood. It seemed to be playing a flute in its bony hands, and around its shoulder swooped a horde of smaller shadows. She stood paralysed with fear.
Trig pulled up close to Sif and saw three stirges swoop down on her; she appeared frozen in horror. One of the creatures pecked down on Sif’s upper arm-only a seemingly minor wound but she keeled over as though poleaxed. Assaulted by two of the undead skletal figures Trig had little time to give thought to anything else for several moments, seeking to both protect herself and bat the swooping Stirges away from the prostrate Sif.
When next she had a chance to look down she saw with a shock that Sif appeared to be wrapped in chains of some dark metal, and that these seemed to be tightening and constricting the prostrate Northerner. Finally crushing one of the hovering Stirges an idea occured to Trig, and she pulled out and triggered the Haunt Siphon she was carrying on her belt. One end of the chain seemed to dissolve away, and a stream of green smoke appeared to drain away into the siphon, which then clicked shut as though full. Still dodging the raking claws of the two undead horrors, Trig noticed that the length of chain seemed to be reduced- but she had now used her only Haunt Siphon.
“Over here! A Haunt Siphon now!” screamed Trig. Keryn rushed over, even as Ysabot smashed a flask over the head of one of the Skeletal Prisoners, and had the satisfaction of watching it collapse into a pile of shattered bones as the Holy Water seemed to literally disintigrate it.
Keryn rushed over to Trig and activated her own Siphon, and this time the chains seemed to completely vanish as the noxious green smoke poured away into the Siphon. Sif looked in a very bad way. Trig and Keryn however, still had to deal with a number of foes.
Over in the west corridor Christov and Ysabot had finally disposed of their foes, and as she started to make her way over, Ysabot seemed to experience a period of dizziness and a strange amplification of the eerie piping music. Guessing immediately what had occured, and shaking her head she activated one of her Siphons, and had the satisfaction of seeing it become filled-apparently from nowhere; the piping wavered but continued however.
As he moved across Christov too experienced a period of dizziness, but he was staggered to a halt. As had Sif before him, he experienced a vision of a wraith -like piper heading towards him, as he watched fascinated but powerless to move. At that point Ysabot triggered her second Siphon however, and the figure then seemed to vanish with a soulless and hollow wailing. The Siphon clicked shut.
Christov blinked and looked down at his arms- they were wet and sticky with blood. Examining closely there seemed to be a line of peck- like wounds down both his arms- a phenomenon which also seemed to have been duplicated with Sif. “Ghostly Stirges?” he thought, as he looked round at Trig adminstering to the fallen barbarian. Around them he could here the hissing of several of the skeletons trapped inside cells, as they attempted to reach and claw mindlessly at the hated living.
“I think,” suggested Trig,“that that might have been the Piper and possibly Father Charlatan. That was a close thing!”
Ysabot and Keryn cast their healing spells on Sif, who slowly opened her eyes. Somewhat shamefacedly, she got slowly to her feet, drinking several of her potions.
“There was a man”, she said, “A priest. He told me that I was safe but was recovering from near death wounds, but that I just had to rest till you got back. It all seemed so real.”
“I guess that was Father Charlatan” said Christov,“He was trying to keep you in his power I would imagine. He was a con artist after all.”
After debating briefly what they should do they decided to have a quick scout of the ground level to see if there was an alternative route down, before calling it a day. It was clear that Sif especially had had quite enough of the gloomy and cursed halls, and the afternoon was starting to draw on.
Re-entering the corridor to the norht of the Foyer they opend a door leading to the west wing, which led to the circuit of an access corridor with several rooms off it. One of these was a small shrine to Pharisma, while in another ancient branding irons flung themselves at the already nervous Sif, and she was forced to flee the room. Other rooms had long since been smashed and looted.
At the north-western extremity of the corridor pushed open on rotten hinges to reveal tangled mounds of moth-eaten fabric sat on several wooden tables, each surrounded by workbenches. Various sewing tools including shears, needles, rolls of thread, boxes of chalk, and other objects lay scattered over the floor. More ominoisly Christov spotted the arm of what appeared to be a skeleton protrudes from a stained heap of fabric on the far side. He walked over and saw that it was the skeletal remains of a woman, clad in a faded blue dress. “Not a prisoner then” he thought, turning round to address the others.
When he did so he noticed that they were all staring at him. Then he realised that they were actually staring PAST him. Slowly he turned back round.
Standing before him, rising from the mound of moldering fabric that served as her tomb, was the wraith of what appeared to be a beautiful young woman dressed in a tattered but lovely blue dress. In fact, much about the ghost was blue,including her hair, the tears that ran from her pale blue eyes, and the clouds of smoke that drifted from her lips as she spoke.
“You are the new Guards.” Her voice seemed to come from a very long way away. “I sense you have stopped the two above, but there remain the three below. You must stop them.”
“I know who this is!” said Christov excitedly, “This is the Warden’s wife- Versorianna!”
“I am Versorianna. You must stop them. I seek to contain them but they work against me and I grow weary. You must stop them.” said the wraith. Her pattern of speech seemed somewhat single- minded.
“Wait. Wait.” said Christov, “What happened to the Warden?”
“The warden is gone. My husband was wrenched from this place by the men in dark robes, after they slew the other man.” Blue tears ran down the cheeks of the ghostly woman.
“The other man? The Professor! How?”asked Christov.
“With a thing of Mist and Sorcery. And then they smashed his head with a fallen stone. To make it look like an accident, I would suppose.”responded Versorianna.
“I see. And now the prisoners are escaping?” asked Christov.
“Yes. The Spider plots and weaves in his web below. I have tried to contain them but he does something….” she paused, “which eats at my will. I can now contain the two you have defeated, but you must defeat all of them, so that I can contain them too.” she continued.
“The Spider? The Splatter Man? asked Christov.
“Yes. That is he. The Splatter Man. You must defeat him most of all. Once you defeat them I can contain them.” she paused, “If you can find me some Focus… the Warden’s Badge would suffice, I can expunge them entirely. They must not escape.”
“What would happen if they did?” queried Trig.
“I do not know. But they would be free, and Ravengro would not be safe.” she answered.
“The letters- they might be what is weakening Versoriana” interjected Ysabot. “Perhaps once her name is spelt out-like the Splatter Man’s old victims,that is when he can break through and escape.”
“Can you help us in any way?” asked Christov.
“Sometimes I can see and hear things, but I am bound to this room”, answered the wraith. “But things there are, in the storeroom to the east, which belonged to the Five. Some power they might have against them, though their use is not without risk.”
“That must be that Strongroom” said Keryn. We need to get into it somehow.
“We must do this”, said Christov to the others. “We will do this Versorianna.” The wraith nodded, and then seemingly collapsed into the pile of rags below it.