A Time to Mourn
After establishing that Morr was Hektor’s god of choice, the party set out across the Field of Verena toward the Garden of Morr. Garden, Temple, Cemetery…all the terms are interchangeable when it comes to the god of death. The rain had picked back up, after the previous day’s temporary lull. Lightning struck the far side of town, near the Lord Dorian Inn.
It didn’t take long for Zarkon and Hektor to realize the party was being followed. Hektor casually mentioned it to Caius, and asked him to take care of it. Caius confronted a man poorly hiding in some corn stalks.
The man was dressed in stinking rags, his hair matted with dirt. His eyes bulged, and his mouth flapped like a dying fish (I can’t help but think of an Adam Sandler character). Waltrout (“pleased to meet you”) wanted to see his old friend, Brother Grabbe, at the Garden, but he’s been too afraid to go check on him…because the dead are rising, you know. He believes the party will keep him safe, as they have recently shown themselves as heroes.
The heroes ask Waltrout to lead the way to the Garden.
The cemetery is surrounded by a wall of dark grey granite, fifteen feet high and topped with black iron spikes. They arrived at the north wall, which looked to be approximately 500 feet long, with no visible gateway. Waltrout tells them the gate is on the other side, to the south. He isn’t sure if they walk to head down the east wall, on the side of the river, or down the west wall, on the side of the corn fields. Nobody cares either way, so Waltrout led them along the west wall.
The party noticed a lightning rod set in the west wall, catching the occasional lightning strike from the storm, and directing it into the ground.
On the south wall, with the river not too far away, stands a solitary black gate, covered by a slate roof. Beyond the gate is the entrance to a dark tunnel, flanked by two life-sized skeletal statues wielding scythes. Under the slate roof there is a slab of stone, where a coffin might rest before being brought into the temple. A raven sat on the roof, its caws mocking the party.
The heroes again asked Waltrout to lead the way. Waltrout wanted someone to go with him in the dark. Nobody exactly volunteered, but Hektor was willing to play a scouting role. The two stepped into pitch dark.
Hektor’s night vision didn’t work in the tunnel. He turned to look back outside, but he couldn’t see anything there either. He stepped back out of the tunnel. Waltrout was a step ahead of him, leaving the darkness. The raggedy man was pale with fright.
The darkness was obviously unnatural, but Hektor didn’t think it out of place for the entry into a temple of Morr. He invited everyone into the tunnel with them.
Several steps into the dark tunnel, Hektor and Kraft heard someone rush back toward the gate entry. When they exited the unnatural darkness into natural darkness, those with night vision could see that Waltrout wasn’t with them anymore. “He noped out of there.”
Kraft lit her lantern, and everyone could see a low doorway yawning wide open into more darkness. The doorway was flanked by a black pillar on the right and a white pillar on the left. Hektor told everyone they represented the dual nature of Morr. A brief philosophical/theological discussion ensued.
Beyond the door, they found themselves in an underground temple. The tunnel had apparently sloped downward. The temple had a checkerboard floor stretching 50 feet to an altar decorated with stone skulls. The temple was cold and dark, outside of Kraft’s lantern light. Unlit torches were set in sconces along the wall. Caius grabbed a torch for backup light and lit the other torches in the room.
A low bier stood in front of the altar; another spot sized for resting a coffin. Beside the bier was a font perched on a short stone column carved with scenes of death. Behind the altar was a large, black metal door, decorated with winged death’s heads. Six heavy black drapes hung at intervals along the east and west walls. After reminding themselves (not for the last time) why they were here, the door seemed the obvious destination.
The black door was locked. Hektor was preparing his lockpicks when Zarkon stepped forward and cast a spell to open the lock. The door swung open noiselessly. They saw a long flight of stone steps leading up. There was daylight at the top of the stairs, at least as much daylight as there is during a rainstorm.
Surrounded by its high walls, the Garden of Morr consisted of haphazard rows of modest gravestones, almost overgrown with bushes of black roses. The petals of the roses had begun to wither, which made Hektor uncomfortable. A few granite monuments – small statues or tombs – were scattered around the gravestones.
Scanning around the Garden, there were few places of note. One was the mausoleum on the other side of the yard. It was a squat, stone building with a sloping slate roof and a magnificent oak door. Stone gargoyles mouthed silent screams from the eaves. Adjoining the building was a small wooden shack.
Second, in the center of the Garden, behind a hedge of black rose bushes, was a low tomb of grey stone, carved with aspects of Morr and a dragon crest.
Lastly, a familiar bundle of rags was crouched against the east wall, as if trying to watch everywhere at once while not being seen. Kraft headed over to the wall to figure out what Waltrout was doing there.
Caius went part of the way with her, stopping to look at the tomb in the center of the garden. The tomb was surmounted with a small pedestal with a recessed niche, clearly intended to hold something. The front of the tomb had been split asunder, with shards of stone scattered through the rain-sodden grass. Peering into the tomb, Caius saw nothing but darkness. The bones of the interred were missing. He looked to tracks in the area and saw a strange groove in the soft earth, already full of mud and rainwater, leading toward the mausoleum. Something heavy was dragged that way.
Kraft asked Waltrout how he had got into the Garden. He pointed to a hole under the east wall. It was muddy and half full of water, as was Waltrout. He was happy again to see his friends. He pointed to the mausoleum. “Brother Grabbe’s house! Brother Grabbe’s house!” A hand suddenly shot up from one of the graves nearby. Then another, and another. The dead burst from the earth in a wave of rotting flesh. A shambling horde of decaying men and women, old and young, dragged themselves from their graves, groaning in hunger. Waltrout screeched in utter terror. Nobody wasted any time heading straight to the mausoleum.
The mausoleum door was not locked, and the party managed to get inside before any undead could block their way. Waltrout slammed the heavy oak door shut, gibbering in terror. Everyone could hear scratching at the outside of the door.
Inside, every conceivable space was decorated with human bones. The center of the room was dominated by a pyramid of skulls, eight feet tall, almost reaching the high ceiling beams. In each corner stood elegant candelabra, crafted from hundreds of small bones, creating a beautiful spiral pattern.
An ornate bone chandelier hung from the ceiling. A pattern fashioned from arm and leg bones circled the ceiling, punctuated with grinning skulls. On the south wall was the coat of arms of the Emperor, composed entirely from bones. These grim decorations could be considered both awe-inspiring and unsettling.
To the right of the skull pyramid, stone stairs circled down into darkness. Kraft headed toward the stairs with her lantern. From above, she could hear clattering before a full articulated skeleton dropped from the ceiling between here and the stairway. Waltrout let out another scream, ran, and slid below the skeleton into the stairs. A second skeleton emerged from the wall to the right of the stair. While everyone was looking at the skeleton between them and the stairs, three more came out the walls behind them.
The first skeleton to die was crushed by Caius’ flail. This cleared a path on the right for Nim, who had been lightly wounded, to get to the stairs. There he pulled out his bow to cover everyone’s escape to the stairwell. The other skeletons were more difficult to dispatch, and the intent wasn’t to lay every one to rest before heading down the stairs, but in the end every skeleton had to be stopped before the path was finally clear. Nim was able to patch his wound, as well as Kraft’s wound…though they would later find out that Kraft’s wound was infected.
Zarkon had been the first to the bottom of the stairs. He entered a crypt with a low ceiling and walls constructed of large granite blocks. Around the walls, lit oil-lamps were set into small recesses. On the right-hand side of the chamber was a large elm table, on which was open a large leather-bound book, displaying its beautifully illuminated pages. Also on the table was a complete human skull – delicately carved with spiral patterns etched in lapus lazuli – a loaf of black bread, a plate of green cheese, and a silver fork. Four black curtains hung on the walls, two on the left-hand wall, one on the south wall next to the stairwell, and one on the right-hand wall before the table. Two doors stood ajar, set into the north wall.
Waltrout was cowering under the table. When he saw Zarkon, he scrambled to his feet. He nervously brandished a sharp silver knife. Beads of sweat trailed down his face.
As others followed Zarkon down the stairs, he went back up to cast a spell to reinforce the door. Zombies had battered down the door to the Thunderwater Tavern, but it would take them quite a while to batter down this magically reinforced door.
Zarkon requested that no one touch the illuminated book. He gave it a once-over while the others reminded themselves why they were in this situation in the first place. Find the priest, Brother Grabbe. What would happen if they just left and never came back? Well, there was a horde of zombies outside a reinforced door, for one thing.
Zarkon’s examination showed a wonderfully illuminated prayer book, with a devotion on the open page. He also looked at the skull, without touching it. What he couldn’t help from touching, however, was one of the open doors at the end of the room, for there was a light purple glow shining from the crack. As others were discussing alternate options and Nim was finishing his bandaging, Zarkon peeked into the room.
Inside, Zarkon saw a highly polished, ebony coffin mounted on a low stone plinth. In the black box, lined with red velvet, was an old man, recumbent, pale as death, with his eyes closed. The old man had long white hair spilling over his plain black robes of Morr. His skin stretched taught over his noble skull. Zarkon couldn’t tell if the man was alive or dead. For a second, he feared his was looking at a vampire. Then he saw the person standing behind the body.
Behind the body was a woman’s standing corpse, dressed in a ragged, dirty, purple gown. Her cheeks were sunken, and her eye sockets were empty. Her pale skin was rotten and writing with maggots. Her long black hair hung lankly over her shoulders. Her mouth seemed to leer in a lop-sided grin where her lips had been eaten away. A silver pendant hung around her withered neck, set with a large, black gem. Her hands were set to either side of the priest’s head, and it was here the purple light glowed.
“Don’t look so shocked, you pathetic simpleton. Yes, I am wearing the festering corpse of a feeble and weak-willed woman, but that is only temporary, I assure you. One of your bodies will serve my purposes well, I am sure.” The woman fingered the silver pendant around her neck and croaked a harsh, wet laugh.
“I am Lazarus Mourn, and I will never die. Would that I could say the same of you…” With that, the woman made a dismissive gesture with a rotting hand, and an immense, armored skeleton stepped into the doorway. The white marble stone slab it wore as a shield seemed to flicker with an eerie light.
Nobody moved. Nobody wanted to fight the six-foot-tall, fully armored skeleton in the doorway. It wore the same full plate, dragon motif armor as the statue to Lothar Mauer in the town square. It also carried the same large sword. Caius moved up defensively beside Zarkon, as the wizard backed out of the doorway. Nim grabbed his bow again. Kraft hefted her axe.
Nobody moved. The skeleton stepped out of the doorway, leaving no room for anyone to get behind it as long as it stood skill. Most of the party froze with Fear.
Waltrout suddenly shouted out, “Master! Master! I’m here master! I have brought you my skin…”
Waltrout tore open his tattered rags to reveal a scrawny chest scarred with tiny words. The whole of his chest and his back were inscribed in this way. Waltrout then began drooling and bubbling nonsense, heading back under the table. Some of the party were able to break free of the fear.
A powerful mental force sucked at Caius’ vitality. The ex-Pit Fighter was able to deny the force using all of his will. The skeleton step up to swing.
Undead Lothar’s first hits took quite a bit out of Caius. Caius returned hits, but didn’t seem to damage the skeleton much. A direct hit from Zarkon’s crossbow had similar results. Zarkon busied himself with studying Waltrout’s skin instead. As more of the party broke free of the Fear, Caius came up with a different plan.
Caius disarmed Lothar’s skeleton with a skilled maneuver. The sword went flying over Caius’ left shoulder to land directly at Nim’s feet.
Nim was next to feel the powerful mental force sucking at his vitality, but he too denied it using his will. Instead, he picked up the dropped sword and handed it toward Caius, hilt first. Caius grabbed the sword and attacked with renewed vigor.
Zarkon was able to decipher a spell carved into Waltrout’s skin that would raise an army of undead under the command of a powerful necromancer. Zarkon also knew that he was not skilled enough to cast such a spell, or command such an army if he tried at this point.
Hektor joined Caius’ melee fight against Lothar’s skeleton. Also of interest to Hektor was the entry to the second room, if the skeleton could be moved out of the way.
Kraft remained frozen in fear.
Zarkon, looking for something to use, checked behind the curtain to the right of the table. He found a tall skeleton armed with a scythe and decided Fleeing was the better part of valor.
Nim had dropped his bow to pick up the sword. He now loosed his spear and began to maneuver himself on the skeleton’s flank. If the skeleton moved just right in it’s attacks, he might be able to slip behind it into the room of the necromancer.
Caius slammed the mighty sword extremely hard into the skeletal Lothar, but the undead creature fought on.
Two more blasts of magical energy came out of the room, and were both unable to get through the targets’ willpower.
As fate would have it, Lothar’s skeleton thrust a mighty punch at Caius, which Caius was able to dodge. The skeleton’s momentum left it punching the floor instead of Caius. As it was knelt down, Nim had the chance he was looking for to slip into the necromancer’s room.
Nim could only take a step and thrust, but that was all he needed. His blow was mighty, piercing through Mourn-in-Madriga’s head and pinning her to the wall. Lothar’s skeleton immediately fell into dust. The corpse of Madriga spoke up in a soft voice. “Where’s Phillip? What happened to me? Am I dead?”
A dark cloudy shape was sucked out of the corpse and into the gem around Madriga’s neck. Her putrescent lips moved one final time, and out came the harsh voice first heard when Zarkon initially peered into the room.
“You shall never kill ME!” Despite the declaration, all was quiet. Kraft was freed from the fear that had gripped her through the entire fight. Hektor was able to move into the dark office. Zarkon was able to return to find Waltrout pulling himself from under the table. He gave the wizard a clap on the shoulder and then a simpleton’s kiss on the cheek.
“My friends! I’m free!” He then wandered into the office with Hektor. Nim pulled his spear free of the wall…and the corpse’s head.