While catching up on some reading at the Greenbriar, Selly, Fin and Murchun Squib went to the Queen’s cove to keep apprised of current events, and to learn any news as it came to town.
Around mid-morning, Selly et alios returned with some visitors: A gnome and two halflings. One of the halflings introduced herself as Sheriff Amelia Blunderpuss, and her companions were: Cora an itinerant gnome from Bluffside, and Bruno Shennigans her deputy. I greeted Amelia in the traditional halfling manner.
The Sheriff informed us of a recent attack upon several citizens of Hillsdown, and politely inquired about Cragshaper whereabouts during the time-frame in question, and asked for corroboration from Geller. During the conversation the gnome, named Cora, interjected numerous disparaging remarks attempting to impugn the character or dwarves in general and the Cragshapper’s reputation in particular.
I put away my book, and set out for Geller’s home. Lady Aerith and Brash accompanied Selly, Murchun Squib, Fin and me. Along the way I asked Amelia why she suspected dwarves of the attack. She described a group of swathed attackers, that were larger than halflings but smaller than humans, and more burly than goblins. The conclusion that dwarves were the attackers was one of exclusion: no other known group fit the physical description. Now I was curious.
After Geller certified our alibis, I volunteered to investigate on behalf of Hillsdown. I needed to gather some supplies, and excused myself. While preparing for the journey, I briefly detoured to the gaol to ask Garil Stoneshadow if he was familiar with the attackers: He was not. He was desperate to be protected in the event of another attack upon Briarton. He was convinced that the necromancer who hired him to bring Purifier to Whitescale Light Island would invade
Ustob was in the cell next to Garil and insisted that she would be liberated by the Hammers of Concord soon. I asked her what made her think that was likely, and she insisted that the Hammers never abandon one of their own, and that they had rescued her from captivity in the past. On my way to Hillsdown I informed Geller about Ustob’s assertion as well as Garil’s insistence of more incursions by the necromancer in the near future.
The ferry trip to Hillsdown went smoothly, but the journey took most of the day. Our arrival was after nightfall, as Amelia directed us to the Belinda Direfoot estate, we learned that the ranchers were camped in the road rather than enter the house due to a haunting.
While I ascertained as many details of the haunting that I could, Lady Aerith went to admire a nearby dire hare. Brash saw her destination and rushed over to join her. His sudden movements agitated the hare, but some carrots from Lady Aerth and some soothing words from Murchun Squib peacefully resolved the confrontation.
As the ranchers described the events of the haunting, and explained their trepidation upon entering the house, Cora marched up the front steps and loudly proclaimed that if the ghost didn’t stop haunting the house that she would burn it down.
I gave Selly the signal we typically reserve to corral Brash, and we converged on Cora’s location. The rest of the party noticed our approach and joined us as we proceeded to the house.
Unlike other hobbit homes, build into the sides of hills, this was a free-standing multi-story home, built to accommodate elf customers of the ranch. The entry room had a pair of light sources that were no longer functional. I took one down and to examine its aura, and discovered that its enchantment had been suppressed, but not dispelled. Its light evocation had been completely neutralized by an evocation of darkness.
We each began searching for clues, and found a murder victim in a sitting room near the entrance. The victim had obviously been stabbed repeatedly with daggers or small knives. There were also hoof-prints in the victim’s blood. They were uncloven and depicted a bipedal gait. There was a second type of print present as well. It was more mundane, but still odd. It was as if, rather than shoes with a sole, the attacks had wrapped their feet in heavy fabric.
We continued looking for clues. We arrived at the master bedroom, and upon entering our senses were assailed by a psychic onslaught detailing Belinda’s murder. We learned that numerous becloaked figures converged upon Belinda extinguishing her life in addition to all light sources in the vicinity.
Reeling from the psychic impressions, we continued our investigation in the root cellar. More hoof-prints were present, and following the trail we discovered a sinkhole in the corner of the cellar leading to a subterranean passage.
The passage was narrow, constricting us to a single-file procession. After several twists and turns, we emerged into a shallow chamber; and were immediately attacked. As our lights were extinguished, I recalled the details I had ascertained in my examination of the lights in the house. I formulated a counter to their magic and executed it; our sight returned.
Now that we could see once again, I was able to identify our assailants: Dark Creepers. I tried to recall what I had read about them. There were few details: They operate like thieves, extinguish light sources and steal small shiny items.
I initiated the overture to the Song of Heroes as my allies engaged with melee weapons. Brash let out a war cry and as he bifurcated one of the creepers with his axe, it erupted into flames. A detail that I read about, but had evaded my recall until now.
We quickly dispatched all but one of the creepers, which fled; as we pursued the creature down twists and turns in the tunnel, we entered a large rough hewn chamber. Numerous alembics, flasks and other alchemical accouterments bubbled away on worktables around the room. As we were observing these decorations, a simmering cauldron was upended in our direction and its contents oozed over to us.
I nimbly avoided the cauldron’s sludge, while continuing the Song of Heroes. Our group engaged the additional creepers in this room, and once again we easily defeated them, with the same creeper fleeing when he faced us alone.
We gave chase once again, but this time, when we arrived at the end of the tunnel, there was an enormous chamber, with multiple exits. There was no clear trail to pursue our quarry, so we gave the chamber an examination, and were able to determine that in addition to these dark creepers that have been targeting Hillsdown, that the assailants that wrapped their feet in fabric were evidently murothropes: wererats.
Rather than backtrack through the tunnels to the Direfoot manor home, we exited the chamber directly to the surface and returned overland to Hillsdown to locate Sheriff Amelia and report our findings.