In which the adventurers seek shelter from the storm at the Hooded Lantern Inn, but find there might be more danger within than without.
The night before May 29th, 2512 (July 14th, 2019)
A dark and stormy night…
As the four were riding back through the forest – Bernadette still tied up – it was getting dark, the rain was getting worse and a storm was breaking. Strange noises were coming from the deep woods, getting unpleasantly close to the road.
Suddenly, lightning illuminated the sky and between the trees the Hooded Lantern inn could be glimpsed in the distance. Cheered by this welcome sight, they continued on, painfully slowly – by this time the road was reduced to mud and a couple of the horses had already gone lame.
The Hooded Lantern Inn
Finally arriving, the main gate turned out to be locked and barred. After examining the ferry house at the stream crossing the road just beyond the inn – it was empty, but there were signs of struggle and blood trails on the floor – they found a path leading up to a smaller “back door”. This one was unlocked.
Things weren’t looking much more hospitable in the yard. The main building was closed and the windows shuttered, but lights could be glimpsed from within. The thunder and heavy rain showed no sign of abating. The adventurers, by now soaking wet, decided to get their tired horses into the stables before seeking shelter themselves.
Coming closer, they heard loud neighings and kickings from within the stable; apparently the present occupants were upset, to say the least. In fact, when opening the doors they barely escaped being run down by a half-dozen panicked horses bolting out into the yard where they, for lack of anywhere to go, continued milling about in circles.
The thing in the stable
The stable interior appeared empty and darkened, but eventually they found a dead stablehand on the hayloft. He appeared to have been killed by a sword or knife cut to the head, and something had begun chewing on his arm. No traces of the killer, though… until one of those still on the bottom floor sensed something moving in the dark under the ceiling. Aenlinn walked across the loft with her lantern, to the other side of the obscuring beam, and lit up.
Clinging to the ceiling was a man with four growths from his body, like spider or insect legs with suckers on the ends. When he realised he was discovered he leapt onto Aenlinn, baring his mandible-like fangs.
Despite a few mishaps during the ensuing fight – the lantern was broken, and Käte accidentally grazed Aenlinn when somewhat recklessly firing her blunderbuss into the melee – they managed to kill him without serious injuries to themselves.
They decided to untie Bernadette and give her a weapon back so she could defend herself – with the left hand, but still – if something else should happen. Aenlinn sharply warned her off trying to escape before moving on to the main building and knocking on the door.
In the bar room
Sounds of talking and merriment were coming from inside, but as soon as they knocked it got quiet. After a minute or so a huge, fat man, about 7 feet tall and almost as broad – the innkeeper, apparently – opened up and let them in.
The only people in the bar room was Otto the innkeeper, who despite being the size of a building seemed nervous and rattled; Fagor, a bug-eyed – possibly inbred – servant busy mopping the floors; and the elegant and jovial roadwarden Hans Jinkerst.
The other guests had already gone to bed, the adventurers were told, and they weren’t expecting any more visitors at this hour. Hans explained that the ferry had been attacked by bandits earlier in the day. He asked some questions to make sure the newcomers weren’t in league with the bandits, but seemed satisfied by their answers and didn’t press the point further.
When the newcomers told them about the dead stablehand and the spider-mutant in the stable, Otto was visibly shocked and looked even more worried. Hans, on the contrary, seemed more jaded. If they had killed the thing, he said, it could wait until morning – and hopefully the end of this awful weather – to look further into it.
The rooms were occupied since a coach party were staying, but there was some room in the dormitory. Otto went into the kitchen to heat up some vegetable soup for the latecomers.
Don’t eat that!
Just as they were about to attack the soup, however, Käte noticed a faint but distinct aroma: Kurts (a herb-based sleeping drug). She managed to quietly stop the others from eating any more – Nelli and Bernadette had had time to wolf down a spoonful each, but there was no immediate effect – and they managed to discreetly empty their bowls into the slop bucket when no one was watching.
After the “meal” Otto showed them to the dormitory on the upper floor – it was untidy and dirty, but at least empty – and left them there. There was an audible click as he locked the door.
This was only getting fishier and fishier, and the prisoners held a quick council. By all appearances the inkeeper was in league with the bandits, but was Hans also complicit? They decided to eat from their rations and rest for a while, while Käte and Aenlinn took turns standing guard, and see what happened. The exhausted Nelli fell asleep almost right away.
About half an hour later, they seemed to hear a strange noise coming somewhere from below. Chanting voices? They couldn’t make out any words, or even what language they were speaking.
And now, someone was walking down the corridor. The footsteps stopped outside the door. Silence.
Bernadette started snoring, pretending to be asleep. After what felt like a minor eternity, the listener at the door left again.
Staying here was starting to feel like a bad idea. After waiting a while and making sure no one was coming – all was quiet, except the faint chanting – they woke up Nelli, Käte picked the lock and they crept out.
This time around they noticed there had been a carpet in the corridor, but it was gone now. The guest rooms were all unoccupied, but one of them showed signs of fighting and several of the beds were bloodstained.
The bar room was empty now, but the trapdoor to the cellar was opened and the chanting seemed to come from down there. Now they could also hear one voice calling and several others responding. The chanting was in no language they recognized.
It was also distant enough that it had to come from an inner room or something, so they advanced into the cellar. Someone had moved a loose stone slab in the floor, revealing another trapdoor with stairs going down to another (secret) cellar level. That’s where the noise was coming from.
After some quick deliberation, Käte was sent down to scout. She entered at one end of a vaguely eight-shaped room. Near the stairs some dead bodies were lying in a pile; further away a group of people she could only see in silhouett, the lights being beyond them, were chanting. One of them had to be Otto, judging by his size; beyond them, she caught a glimpse of some kind of statue. Next to the chanters, some apparently tied up people were sitting or lying. These were moving weakly, apparently alive.
One of the chanters seemed to have heard something, and walked towards the stairs to look. Käte quickly tried to hide in the dark, but freaked out at the sight of the man. He appeared to have no skin at all – just bones, muscles, sinews and blood. Käte fled upstairs, shouting a warning to the others.
Nelli fled upstairs to the inn at the sight of the flayed man (best that way, in Aenlinn’s opinion – that would be the least dangerous place now). The others managed to compose themselves and join forces to cut down both the flayed man and Fagor, who was coming up behind him. No more people came after these, and the chanting went on (though by fewer voices). After some hesitation, they decided they had to go down there again – there seemed to be victims alive still.
By this time, only Otto and Hans were left apart from the bound prisoners. Just as they were coming down, Hans cut a prisoner’s throat, splashing the statue with their blood, and began reading some sort of spell. This one was in the Classical tongue.
Otto moved to block their way armed with a long club, but while Bernadette charged him with her rapier in her left hand, the others got past and rushed at Hans. Now they could see the room better; in the inner half-chamber there was a low stone plinth was strange symbols carved and painted on it, and a bizarre, vaguely bird-like statue made of greenish stone standing on it.
Before they could reach him, Hans finished his incantation. The statue began cracking open, and something even more bizarre started taking form: a shapeless, undulating, ever-shifting meat-coloured lump with shifting screaming or laughing faces taking form and then dissolving all over it, forming and unforming equally unstable tentacles and clawed arms.
Hans tried to command the horror to attack the intruders, but apparently he had either been mistaken about what his spell actually did or working from an incomplete version. The thing ignored his commands completely, picked him up in a just-formed claw and flung him headlong across the room before shambling on towards Aenlinn and Käte. Both cousins were terrified, but their fighting instincts won out and they charged the horror.
Fortunately their steel seemed to have at least a little effect on the thing, but it was a tough fight. It could form long claws and fight them both at the same time, and some of the tentacles seemed to regrow as they were severed.
They had some unexpected help from Bernadette, who had by this time finished off Otto and nicked a pistol from Hans. She still had the sense not to join the melee, but she did shoot a hole through the monster. (Unclear how much of an impression that actually made, but the cousins noted and appreciated the gesture.)
After narrowly escaping being crushed against the wall by the horror, Aenlinn decided desperate measures were called for. For the first time since childhood, she let loose her secret power as much as she could. Her sword flared up with a bright turquoise flame, suddenly lighting the dark chamber.
The empowered sword was indeed much more effective now, and eventually they managed to destroy the horror. As it “died”, it quickly melted into slimy strands seeping away through cracks in the ground.
Hans had managed to escape and was gone, but among the bound and seemingly lifeless prisoners they found some still alive, including the real innkeeper. Apparently Hans had arrived alone early in the evening and managed to drug the supper and put everyone to sleep, before letting his companions in.
No one on the staff had had any idea there was a secret room under the cellar. The plinth and some of the carved sign looked like they could be decades or even centuries old, but there were also some newer signs painted on, including one often-recurring symbol they had also seen the cultists wearing in the cellar: a triangle with pointy corners within a circle, all encircling an eye.
With mutual efforts they got the quick and the dead out of the cellar, found Nelli, who’d hid in the kitchen, and organized a night meal for everyone.
Aenlinn decided to let Bernadette go this time, rather than handing her over to the Syndicate in Nuln, since she’d actually helped them. They agreed that she had got away and this whole incident never happened.
“But if you breathe a word to anyone about what you saw me do in the cellar,” Aenlinn added, “I will track you down and kill you. And you know I’m a better hunter than you.”
“Sounds fair,” Bernadette grinned, then feigned a worried look. “Hang on… this is not the moment where we hug and make friends, is it?”
“Oh good. Agreed, then.”
Tuesday, May 29th
In the morning – by then it had finally stopped raining – four real Roadwardens finally appeared. Of course they’d never heard of Hans, but they noted the ropes letting you winch the ferry across the streams were cut. Initially suspicious, the Roadwardens were quickly convinced of the adventurers’ account by the support of the surviving staff and the mutant corpses. Bernadette rode west once more while Aenlinn, Käte and Nelli continued towards the Strutting Cock and then to Nuln.
Thursday, May 31st – Friday, June 8th
Back home and away
The return trip went without incident. Helene had died during their days away, and Aenlinn stayed for the funeral. By this time, she’d had a letter from Marike about the company heading to Grissenwald, if she was able to meet them there. As soon as the funeral was over, on June 8th, she took her leave of her family once more and rode north to Grissenwald.
For what happened next, see Season 2, Episode 6: The Battle of Schwarzspitze