To: Captain Argus Thorgrim, Marshal of Throal
From: Arvian Carvenbone
Attached, you will find maps and diagrams detailing the leg of our journey from Bartertowm to the village Ardanyan, as well as this report outlining what we have seen, encountered, and done since our departure.
Very little remains of the Southern Road from Throal. It was extremely difficult and slow going through the overgrowth, and we only found patches of the old road, and even those have been all but destroyed, reclaimed by a forest checked only by the Horrors. Despite my own knack for wood-lore and the general hardiness of our unit, our nights were never truly restful and our days were spent achy and somewhat out of sorts.
I have marked our chosen path on Map 1. I have highlighted the segments of the map wherein we discovered remnants of the old road, as well as what I think are the optimal places for regrading or repaving. To supplement my admittedly sketchy map, I marked several trees or large rocks with the following symbol: “**” in chalk where possible, although once or twice I used a knife to carve the symbol into wood or a tree. My markings are small and hopefully unobtrusive, and I suggest that any and all units or workcrews that make use of this information be accompanied by a ranger or woodsman.
On our third day, I noticed a distinct absence of animal activity. It was clearly something unnatural, and I suspected some sort of holdover from the Horrors. Sure enough, later that same day, we were beset by a large group of bird-like creatures. The largest of them were man-sized, and they were some gruesome amalgam of several birds, down to possessing multiple sets of eyes and two clacking beaks, all of which operated independently of each other, while still managing to function as a single entity. We slew the entire group, and I was initially satisfied that these creatures were the cause of the absence of the animals. But as we investigated the bodies, I came to realize that these starving creatures were scavengers rather than hunters, and that they attacked us only out of desperation.
We tracked the monsters back to their dwelling and slew the leader of the pack, along with all of the young we found. I dislike the idea of exterminating an entire species, but these were monsters, not animals. We have dubbed the creatures Bi-Birds. We have no guarantee that there are no more of the creatures, although we seem to have eliminated their threat in the immediate area.
Investigating their lair, we soon realized that the cave in which they lived was the entrance to a lost kaer. There was an abundance of circles of warding and protection, each containing many runes and sigils. Unfortunately, each rune and sigil had been scratched out and marked over with another symbol in a different language of what Raggok’s Will and I have determined to be some sort of evil magic wielded by the more intelligent of the Horrors. These symbols effectively destroyed the protective magic’s surrounding the kaer entrance. The kaer itself was blocked by a cave-in, and as we decided how to proceed, Raggok’s Will spent more time investigating the markings, until he found himself ensorcelled by them during his watch. Fortunately, Jimmy Problems discovered him, and I was able to wake him. At my suggestion, he Raggok’s Will continued his investigation, and he was once again thrown into a trance-like state. We woke him again, and it was decided, in a rare flash of insight from Jovas the Grim, that he would do rubbings of the remaining sigils that he wished to record and research.
With some effort, I was able to get the horses up to the cave, and we used them to pull some of the boulders out of the way from the cave-in, and then Jimmy Problems was able to worm his way inside and reconnoiter the kaer. Soon enough, we were all inside and investigating. One of the first things we noticed was a savory odor of spice, although we were never able to glean the source of the scent. It was the kaer of Strathem, as were to discover from journals and books that we found there.
Strathem is a small kaer, housing fourteen families, for a total of about 70-80 souls. All are dead, and have been for years. The bodies of all within were to be found in their common cooking area, and it was clear from the conditions of the bodies that they were eating each other. Initially, we thought that they had simply run out of food, but checking their food stores, we found that there was still plenty of supplies to last them for months. Something other than hunger had driven them to cannibalism. We fear a Horrific possession, something that is at least partially borne out by the journals we found, which all seem to indicate some sort of mass transformation on a particular date. All of the hands become that of one person, and in the same eldritch language that had dispelled the wards protecting the kaer.
There was nothing to be done for this place or these bodies in the short term; a proper dispensation of the bodies and the kaer requires more time and man-power than we have at hand. I have marked Strathem on the map, and we request that you send a larger, more prepared team to follow up there. We have kept the journals to study, and it seems that we were wise to do so.
Several days later, we came to Ardanyan, still wearied and battered from our travel. Our immediate intent was to check in with the local sheriff, but we soon learned from the rumor mill that he’d been murdered just two day before. Instead, we checked in with the deputies. One in particular, Bordok “the Severed”, seemed to be trying to maintain the peace and solve the murder. Indeed, he already had a suspect in custody who had apparently confessed to the crime, one “Mother Bea”, a local witch or shamaness. Clearly steeped in evil, in the Horrors, I found her to be repugnant and unrepentant. We left her that we could investigate her belongings and to consult the mayor.
The mayor and his assistant/daughter had gone missing, and the likely culprit was “Darlin’”, Mother Bea’s enormous son. When we returned to the jail to continue our questioning of the woman, she’d seemingly frightened the other deputy into gouging out his own eyes and swallowing his tongue. The sweet scent of spice, similar to what we’d noticed in the kaer, filled the room. We were losing lawmen faster than we were apprehending suspects.
We raided her home and pried our way into her underground altar…apparently to Shantel, who we presume is a Named Horror of some kind. He’d left his touch on a number of the villagers from what we were able to glean, a touch that was visible as ritual branding. Mother Bea was covered with the brands, and the corpse of the sheriff had one over his heart. More investigation revealed that many of the town’s exceptional people had been “kissed” by Shantel, and had subsequently repaid with their lives. By all accounts, the mayor was unremarkable, but he was also the village’s foremost magician…besides the witch herself.
Attempts the track Darlin’ were unsuccessful, he is clearly no mean woodsman, and I lost his spoor in the evening while tracking him into the mountains. It proved to be no matter, we returned to Ardanyan just in time to hear him bellowing for his mother.
He had the corpses of the blacksmith and the mayor with him, and held the mayor’s daughter at knife point. We took up tactical positions against him as Bordok tried to negotiate the girl’s release. Ultimately, we threatened the like of Mother Bea, but Darlin’ would not release the girl. Raggok’s Will smote her down, Jimmy Problems tried and failed to snatch the girl to freedom, and I began firing. I’d noticed that Darlin’ had somehow begun a ritual of some kind, and we tried to be prepared for whatever magic’s he had in store for us, but how could we know he would sacrifice the girl to Shantel (presumably), and use her heart to raise the corpses at his feet as what I have come to call Fever Zombies?
Burning with a blue fire, the Fever Zombies ran swiftly into the Temple of the Passions…where we’d told the village elders to take shelter. Everything they touched burned with magical speed, and everyone they killed arose as another Fever Zombie. The others ran into the building to rescue as many as they could, while I continued to put arrows into Darlin’. Mother Bea had told us that Darlin’ had been sired by Shantel, and I believe it. I filled him with enough arrows to kill a regiment, and he only fell after he’d run nearly a half mile. Fortunately, he was a big target.
After we’d extinguished the fire and saved as many as we could, I went after Darlin’s body, but half-fiend that he was, he’d risen and fled once again. I know for certain that I’d delivered a kill shot in the end, so it is yet some foul magic, probably that of his otherworldly father, that continues to power his heart. I fear that we must hunt him down and destroy him. We killed his mother and defiled an altar to his Horrorific sire. We confiscated their Unholy book. I can only hope that he turns his ire on us and not the people of Ardanyan. If he does…Hellseeker, which I have named my bow, will be strung and ready.
As an aside, in assigning Bordok to our unit, I find that our party is largely comprised of men who have suffered at the hands of the Horrors. Indeed, Jimmy Problems has seemingly been “kissed” by multiple Greater Horrors, and both Raggok’s Will and Bordok the Severed bear the scars of battle with the Horrors. We are well-suited for this sort of work, but I fear that we will lose our objectivity. We are able to put the safety of the innocent first for now, but I don’t know how long any of us will be able to resist…Raggok’s will.
Also, it is our expectation that Geomund the Tanner will be appointed mayor before the week is out. This village has been scarred by the recent events, and he will need a larger and stronger presence from the Marshals in order to keep these people safe and thriving.
We now prepare to move on to the Coil River Bridge with their supplies. I will report again when there is news.