[Carrion Crown] The Piper of Illsmarsh

 Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverCarrion Crown continued this week with Annie (Grift), the Dan (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) gathered with Hunter as GM. The Dan confirmed this would be his penultimate session before moving away, so there was a sense of urgency that we conclude The Haunting of Harrowstone chapter of the campaign in the remaining. Frankly, it’s going to be tough.

As Sir Horace Gunderson inventories the supplies scattered around the infirmary, a dark phantasm rises up from the floor behind him. Its spectral guise chills Solis, Horace and Darius to the bone, sending them fleeing out into the corridor, as fast as their legs can carry them. The eidolon Gea, concerned about losing her connection with Solis, follows the elf. Callimachi invokes Iomedae’s blessing as this happens, catching some of the fear-stricken adventurers before they pass out of range.

The poltergeist raises up a hail of surgical tools and other sharp implements, creating a whirlwind of potential lacerations, one of which rockets at Grift. The oracle lashes back by channeling positive healing energy at the entity.

Meanwhile, Gea wrestles[1] with Solis, trying to keep him from fleeing the prison completely, a task at which Gunderson is succeeding admirably. Darius recovers himself enough to re-enter the fray. His first ghost touch bolt winds up flung back at the archivist, lodging in his chest. Callimachi follows Darius’ example and begins the laborious task of loading his jurist crossbow with an enchanted bolt.

“What does singed ectoplasm smell like?”
— Grift

Seemingly displeased by its victims fighting back, the poltergeist flings a vial from the swirling storm of objects. It crashes into Darius’ face, blinding him with smelling salts. Grift drenches the poltergeist in holy water, finally putting it to rest. All the levitated objects crash to the floor, scattering glass shards everywhere.

In the aftermath, Gea identifies previously unknown substances in surviving vials as soothsyrup, antiplaque and bloodblock. Alexandros conjures up water to wash the worst of the smelling salts from Carfax St. James’ eyes.[1]

” . . . large enough for a child to climb inside.”
Or the Lopper.”
— Darius sees the Lopper everywhere

Once everyone has caught their breath, maybe refreshed themselves a bit with healing magic, the final room of the ground floor awaits inspection: the furnace. As he examines everything in the room with his monocle, Darius Carfax St. James notices first a burning smell, then a low, disquieting rumbling laugh. The furnace turns red hot, giving off waves of heat. A red tendril rears up in the heart of the furnace, preparing to strike as Darius prepares his haunt siphon. It hardly manages to lash out at all before crumbling to cold, gray ash. Once the haunt subsides, Grift pokes around in the furnace to find a human leg bone, still warm, half-buried in the ash.

With only one unused haunt siphon remaining among the adventurers, they proceed up the second floor, reckoning that the two ghosts Vessoriana claimed were upstairs were better than the three in the subterranean level. The second floor proves to be mostly open, with a block of cells to the west and mess hall to the east. A stray bump of a table disturbs a swarm of stirges,[3] which boils up into the air.

Solis, Grift and Callimachi are all immediately set upon by the gargantuan mosquito-like things. One lodges its proboscis in Callimachi’s shoulder, drinking deeply.[4] Grift dispatches one with ease, Gunderson dislodges the second from Callimachi — eviscerating the stirge in the process — and Darius puts a bolt through the third cleanly and fatally.

The first point of order in checking out the cells is Darius examines the privy. That sorted, the group moves along the cell block. Ahead, they spot a skeletal arm reaching out from a cell. Close inspection reveals every cell hosts a skeleton, presumably all the victims of smoke inhalation during the great fire fifty years ago. As Horace stomps on the bones, Solis’ ears prick up at reedy piping in the distance. Down the hallway comes a full-figure floating apparition, bearing a cage of spectral stirges.

Forewarned, Solis manages to lob a vial of holy water at what must be the piper of Illsmarsh before its discordant music seizes control of his muscles. Skeletons in every cell rise up as everyone else prepares for battle.[5] Grift recognizes this encounter is also a haunt, having noticed the holy water sizzling as it flew through the air before it ever touched the piper. Callimachi activates his haunt siphon, which has seemingly minimal effect on the piper or its ghostly stirges.

To counter the piper’s paralyzing charm on Solis, Darius declaims a great speech of independence and defiance.[6] While it frees Solis, the speech’s efficacy dwindles to the point of ineffectiveness when Darius tries to free himself from the piper’s thrall immediately following. The piper’s grip on the archivist tightens. He weeps blood as his companions struggle to do something to vanquish the piper. Finally, Horace manages to make his vial of holy water connect with the spectre, vanquishing it, hopefully forever.

Their resources depleted and their magic-workers running low, it seems wisest for the cadre to return to Ravengro for rest and resupply. They emerge from the tottering ruins of Harrowstone to find gray clouds still drizzling rain. Having spent most of the day in the prison, it seems more like weeks since they set out from the village that morning.

On the way back to the Lorrimor manor, they pick up the tome of interest from the Unfurled Scroll. It was once the property of Lepidstadt University, going by the large “LU” inscribed on its endpaper. They also consult with Father Grimbarrow, who grudgingly[7] provides them with a new stock of holy water, recharges their haunt siphons with positive energy and even rustles up some potions of cure moderate wounds.

Looking back, it’s surprising how much has been accomplished in so little time. It’s been mere days since five travelers converged on Ravengro for the funeral of a friend and found themselves embroiled in fifty year old mysteries and the machinations of a necromantic cult.[8]

[1] Proving once again that the human mind is incapable of storing knowledge of grappling rules. It’s like processing non-Euclidean geometry.

[2] Which led to a side discussion about whether shocking grasp could make do as impromptu defibrillation. Verdict: probably not.

[3] Three. Thank Iomedae.

[4] Doing CON damage again. It seems to be Alexandros’ lot in life.

[5] By Annie’s count, we got to six 23 results at this point in the evening.

[6] “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down . . . ”

[7] Because he never does anything ungrudgingly.

[8] As in: we leveled. Boo-yeah! The group had been fading as the clock crept towards 10:00pm, but the prospect of shiny new abilities and spells gave everyone enough gas to start flipping through books and picking their new toys.

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