I don't own anything. Buffy and Pathfinder are not owned by me. Nor are the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. They are owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. Flashpoint
Buffy had 'discovered' two more constellations for herself as she spent endless watches of the night guarding the monument. The new additions to her own personal astronomy were Mr. Gordo the First, a round blob of stars named for her stuffed animal, and Mr. Gordo the Second, a rectangle of stars with four projections below it, named for her horse. Over the previous three nights she had spent a great many hours staring at the stars.
Buffy had wrestled with the question of whether to deal with whatever was defacing the Harrowstone Memorial first or to simply go to the prison itself, but in the end she had decided to stop the vandal. She wasn't sure how, but she suspected it was important, and she wasn't terribly eager to visit a haunted prison full of the sadistic ghosts of serial murderers. Her past experiences with ghosts included far too many possessions of herself, and this time there was no Xander around to get the funny syphilis. One thing being on Golarion had driven home to her was the value of having good intelligence about her enemies, something that she had already known but had never really appreciated when Giles could simply fill her in on anything. It had also taught her the value of caution, as she had no backup if rushing in caused things to go sideways. Since she didn't know what was going on with the monument, she decided that dealing with it instead of charging ahead was the smarter play, and so she maintained her vigil rather than giving into her growing sense of impatience.
Kendra kept up her work on sending Buffy home during the day, but at night she insisted on helping, and the fact that whatever was happening was probably responsible for her father's death kept Buffy from providing much objection. In the end, Buffy had secured a promise of following her orders, and accepted the help instead of fighting a losing battle. Her long ago attempts to exclude Xander, however much it might have been intended for his own good, had shown her how useless fighting Kendra would be.
Her friend's help usually didn't extend more than a couple of hours, however, although she refused to leave. That night, as it was around midnight, Kendra had already passed out under a tree, a line of drool trickling from her mouth as she quietly snored. Buffy shook her head as she looked back up at the celestial firmament. Kendra was a good friend, and she was already proving stubborn enough to be a Scooby.
Just as she was beginning to lightly doze herself she was pulled awake by a faint tickle from her spidey-sense. Her time away from the overwhelming aura of the Hellmouth had helped to refine the ability, and she focused on it as she kept her ears open for whatever was coming. She didn't have to wait long as she heard heavy footsteps slowly make their way along the riverbank towards the monument. Slowly standing, Buffy concentrated on her bracers, pulling shadows around herself to provide cover as she waited.
The man approaching was familiar to Buffy. He was an older man with thick muttonchops, dressed in a long white nightgown and sleeping cap stained with blood and carrying a waterskin and a large razor blade. She didn't know his name, but she recognized him as the man who had led the rabble that had tried to disrupt Petros' funeral until she had hit him in the head with a rock. As he approached she could feel the faint tingle that indicated that he had something supernatural about him, however, and when he was close enough she could see that his eyes were rolled back in his head, leaving only the whites visible.
Buffy waited silently as the man approached the memorial, dipping his hand in the waterskin and pulling it out soaked in blood. While he was engrossed in his task, she stood and stalked around behind him, walking closer until she could see what he was writing. She knew it was dangerous to let him do whatever he intended, but at the same time adding an additional letter would all but assure her that he was writing Vesorianna's name. It didn't take him long to complete his task, drawing the fourth letter rendering his activities that night as 'VESO', confirming what Kendra had first suspected. As he began to splash the rest of his blood around Buffy finally called attention to herself. “Why do I never just meet punk kids doing graffiti?”
The man spun around, snarling, before roaring in an unnaturally deep and powerful voice. “You shall not prevent our escape! The woman will die again!” Without pause he charged forward, swinging his razor at Buffy viciously.
The shout woke Kendra up, and as she scrambled to get to her feet to get a better idea of what was happening she took her eyes off of the battle for a brief moment. It was all the time Buffy needed, as she simply sidestepped the man and threw a precise hook to his jaw with carefully moderated force that knocked him to the ground, unconscious. When Kendra returned her attention to the battlefield she was shocked to see that the confrontation was already finished.
“It's over?” Kendra asked as she jogged to Buffy's side.
“Yup,” Buffy answered, looking down at the man. “He was possessed, but still just an old man.”
“That's Gibs Hephenus! You are saying that he was possessed?”
“Hmm. Perhaps Father Grimburrow could free him from his possession, or keep him from being taken again.”
Buffy nodded and bent down, picking up the heavy man as though he weighed no more than a house cat, and the two headed quickly to the temple. Despite being so late at night it had acolytes on duty waiting for any problems, and soon Father Grimburrow had been summoned.
“What is the problem so late, children?” he asked as he eyed the two women and their cargo.
“Father,” Kendra began. “We caught Gibs defacing the monument.”
“He was the one writing bloody letters upon it?”
“Do you know why?”
“He was possessed,” Buffy interjected.
Father Grimburrow looked at her appraisingly. “You are certain?”
“Oh yeah. White eyes, weird deep voice, sense of creepy evil. Totally possessed.”
“Then we shall keep him here, although we will need to summon Sheriff Caeller.”
Sheriff Caeller was a middle aged man with dark hair, a prominent nose and severe features. He was dressed in a heavy leather greatcoat and had a wide brimmed leather hat covering his unruly hair. “What's the situation here, then?” he asked when he arrived, his keen eyes sizing up the proceedings.
Kendra filled him in on what had happened, and after he had heard everything he looked at Buffy appraisingly. “You took him down yourself?”
Buffy set her chin defiantly. “Yes.”
“What do you do then? I know you were here for the professor's funeral, but I don't know anythin' else about you.”
“I'm a professional monster hunter,” Buffy answered simply, her eyes hard as her gaze bored into his. Eventually he nodded.
“A professional, you say? Good. I've been getting a great many unpleasant reports of late. We may have use for your services before this is all done.” With those final words the sheriff tipped his hat to the women and left the temple. Several acolytes picked up the still unconscious Gibs and took him to a secure room while Kendra said her goodbyes to Father Grimburrow.
After staying up most of the night dealing with Gibs, and all of the previous nights sleeping poorly lying in wait for him, both Buffy and Kendra slept in late the next day. Rested but lazy, they decided to go out for lunch instead of cooking it (or more accurately, Buffy struggle to help while Kendra cooked it).
The Laughing Demon was much the same as it had been the last time Buffy had visited it, although this time a group of workers sat at a table together loudly playing a card game. While Buffy was unfamiliar with the game, she did recognize the cards as a Harrow deck, a large and elaborately painted set that resembled a Tarot deck more than anything she was used to playing with. When Zokar glanced up from his place at the bar he greeted them cheerfully. “Kendra, Buffy! You're being the talk of the town this day.”
“What do you mean, Zokar? What are people saying about us?” Kendra asked, her brow wrinkled with concern.
“Nothin' too bad, I asure ya. No, what they have been goin' on about is the way that you caught Ol' Gibs this morn. Between what e'er he was up to, an' all the other bad business that has been goin' on hereabouts, folk are gettin' mighty scared. They're plannin' on holdin' a town meetin' this eve to discuss matters. You two should attend.”
“Yes,” Kendra said after glancing at Buffy. “Perhaps that would be for the best. We are hoping to do something about these incidents ourselves, and if the town is worried we should reassure them before anything untoward happens.”
“Aye, that does me good to hear, and no mistake. Now then, ladies, what can I do you for? We've got a fresh batch of corpse chowder a simmerin' away over the fire, as well as some nice fresh ghoul cakes, if you'd like?”
Buffy shrugged. “Sounds awful. I'll take both.”
Corpse chowder was a thick red stew with chunks of meat floating in it. To her surprise it was a spicy, piquant dish, and she ended up ordering seconds. Ghoul cakes were small dense pastries that were grayish purple in color with round purple berries cooked into them, giving it a sweet, tart kick that she enjoyed.
“Do you really think we can stop whatever is going on?” Kendra asked quietly while Buffy enjoyed her cakes.
“Of course. You're new to the whole world savage business, so just trust me on this. Things might seem bad, but this? This is nothing. My friend's and I stopped like, tons of apocalypses... apocalypsi... whatever. We stopped way worse things than this so many times. Sure, I'm not looking forward to fighting ghosts, but I've done it before.”
“But you had your friends with you then. All you have now is me.”
Buffy smiled reassuringly at her. “I know. But you're my friend now, and you know magic and stuff. When my other friends started out they were just kids. They hadn't ever fought evil before, and had no idea what it costs. But you saw your dad doing it, and you know magic. Trust me, you'll be a big help.”
“Thank you,” she said, eating again, looking more relaxed.
“What are you going to do when this is over?”
“I'm not certain. I am torn somewhat between staying here for the rest of my life and selling the house and seeing the world. I lived in Lepidstadt for most of my early years, but I've been here in Ravengro ever since. I want to go out and do something with my life, not just spend it with the company of books.”
“You want my philosophy? Life is short. You want to see the world? See the world. When this prison stuff is all wrapped up, bow and all? I'll show you the ropes.”
“Thank you. And I won't fail you, either. I will help with this spectral menace, and I will finish finding you a method of returning you to your home.”
After that the two lapsed into a companionable silence for a time until something about the atmosphere of the room changed, making Buffy sit up and take notice. The faintest tingling began at the base of her spine, and she knew that something was wrong. Supernatural forces once more gathered in her presence to cause troubles for the people of Ravengro.
Buffy jumped slightly and looked across the room when a voice shouted in victory. One of the card players laid a winning hand on the table, the others groaning good naturally as he crowed his triumph. Before he could collect his winnings, however, the cards exploded into flames, so bright Buffy found herself blinded. All around the room she could hear the sounds of panicking townsfolk staggering to their feet and the scent of smoke filled the air.
As Buffy blinked rapidly trying to restore her vision she froze as a new sound assaulted her sharp hearing. From below her feet she could faintly here voices screaming in torment as though the basement of the tavern was filled with men being burned alive. When her vision finally cleared, the screams faded away as well. Looking at the card players, she saw them all standing around, panicked, but the table was no longer on fire.
Buffy and Kendra approached the players as the townsfolk began to calm down. Looking at the table Buffy saw that the top card was a face card marked as 'The Uprising'. Painted on it was a mob of angry peasants marching through a field of flames. Nothing was burnt or singed in anyway, but the scent of smoke hung heavy in the air around the table. Looking at Kendra Buffy smiled brightly. “So, what time is this town meeting?”
* * *
The meeting was that evening after sunset, so that the farmers could finish their work and attend if they desired. Buffy spent the afternoon practicing her martial arts, both unarmed and with all of the weapons that she had acquired during her stay in preparation for their trip to Harrowstone, which was now set for the next morning. They had also stopped by a store in town to pick up a short bow, since the arrows she had retrieved from the cache in the crypt wouldn't work with Buffy's preferred crossbow. The weapon was easy to use, and with her slayer abilities the fact that she had never fired a bow before didn't stop her from quickly mastering the basics of the weapon, striking bullseye after bullseye into an improvised target. She would need that skill, since the magic arrows were only usable once before they lost their enchantment, which meant that she would need to use them sparingly and not miss.
Eventually the time for the meeting came, so Buffy and Kendra headed out to the town hall. They walked quietly, until Buffy paused as she felt something off. Looking around she saw a man slumped in an alley. Kendra followed her gaze and asked, “What's the matter with him? Is he intoxicated?” Observing him for a moment she began to walk towards him.
“Wait!” Buffy shouted, pushing past her friend as the man on the ground surged to his feet, revealing his true state. While prone he had appeared to simply be semiconscious, but standing it was obvious that he was in fact deceased. His throat had been torn out, and he was somewhat rotten, the stench washing over them as the zombie moved.
“Ugh,” Kendra choked, staggering backwards and covering her nose and mouth as she turned green. Buffy simply reached into her bag and pulled out a throwing axe, removing its safety cover before throwing it at the shambling figure. Her aim was true, the hafted weapon sinking deeply into the head with terrific force, splattering rotting brains and black blood along the walls of the nearby buildings and sending the undead creature to the ground.
Buffy casually strolled over to it and placed her foot on its chest, grabbing the axe and pulling it out with a sickening tearing sound. Shaking her weapon clean she calmly walked back over to Kendra as she pulled out a handkerchief to clean the blade. “Zombie,” Buffy said, shrugging at the blank look she received as she nonchalantly continued on towards the meeting. Kendra hesitated for a moment before hurrying to catch up.
The town hall was a large stone structure which consisted of a single meeting room and a few associated offices and record chambers. The meeting room was lit by a selection of oil lamps and had benches for seating facing a raised stage area. The walls were covered with simple but well maintained tapestries showing pastoral scenes, religious imagery, and the history of Ravengro. The room was packed with more than sixty citizens sitting in the rows, with all four members of the town council and the sheriff sitting on the stage.
As Buffy and Kendra claimed seats they took a moment to get a feel for the room. The atmosphere was far from encouraging. Most of the townsfolk were obviously scared, and many seemed to be on the verge of panic, with the conversations spreading rumors and gossip that seemed to increase everyone's worry.
“Order, order!” Councilman Muricar, an older man who had attended Petros' funeral, called out to the crowd until finally they quieted. “We have called this meeting because of extraordinary events that have been troubling our community of late. We will begin with a report from Sheriff Caeller. Sheriff?”
“Ladies and gentleman,” the sheriff began in a strong voice. “On the last eve the man responsible for defacing the Harrowstone Monument was apprehended by Kendra Lorrimor and her guest, Buffy Summers.” The hall buzzed with the news for a few moments before he continued speaking. “Father Grimburrrow has confirmed that he was possessed while committing his crimes, but he feels he should be able to keep him protected at the temple.”
“The situation is improving,” Councilman Hearthmount told the room. “With one source of danger dealt with, the situation will soon be resolved completely. There is no need for concern...”
He was cut off by a man from the crowd. “No need for concern? My son's dog came back from the dead and tried to get into our house and kill us two nights past!”
“I went to my neighbor's when the time for the meeting came 'round, but they were missing,” a woman shouted.
“My neighbors were missing as well, food on the table untouched! Somethin' took 'em!” a man said, his voice panicked.
“As I said,” the elderly council member called in a louder voice. “The matter has not been fully resolved, but we have made a firm start. If you have any concerns, feel free to voice them.”
One after another various members of the crowd stood and told stories about various issues, mostly strange hallucinations, particularly of fire or blood, although several people said that zombies or skeletons had come to their homes in the night, or were seen wandering the streets. As tale after tale was related, the townsfolk became more and more panicked, until the atmosphere was a powder keg ready to explode.
Buffy stiffened slightly as she felt a cold power seep into the room. It had the same flavor as she had felt during all of the recent incidences, but was far greater in scope. The power was thick and malevolent, pouring over the building and influencing the crowd, making them even more nervous. Before she could say anything to calm them down or point out the danger, the power struck.
Five of the oil lamps scattered around the chamber suddenly flared up for a moment before exploding, burning oil spraying in every direction. The crowd screamed and began to panic as fire spread outward, the wooden building swiftly catching alight under the intense heat of the flaming oil. Near Buffy a man shrieked as his clothing caught on fire, staggering about as the blaze spread.
Buffy wasted no time and simply ripped a tapestry off of the wall, wrapping it around the burning man as she dragged him away from the spreading fire, extinguishing him but leaving him unconscious from the pain of his many burns. Looking at the crowd she saw that they were panicked, pushing against each other and unable to make a clean escape because of it. Placing her fingers in her mouth, Buffy whistled piercingly.
“Everyone, stop panicking!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. “You can all get out if you stop pushing each other! Form a line and move! You, take this guy, he's unconscious. Move!”
The panicked crowd was grateful for direction, swiftly obeying Buffy's orders and evacuating more smoothly. Looking around she saw one of the council members, the sheriff, and Kendra were all helping burned people out of the building. The fire was spreading rapidly and was nearly completely out of control, but the people were now making their escape and would be able to make it to safety.
Before Buffy could join the line of evacuees, the south facing window exploded inward, allowing two human skulls wreathed in fire to fly into the room in a shower of broken glass. Silent save for the crackle of flame and the rattle of teeth the two dove toward the crowd, provoking new screams.
The slayer had not been idle, however, and had already pulled a small but heavy flanged mace from her bag of holding. Moving in front of the crowd she gripped the mace like a baseball bat and swung at the closer skull as it approached. With a great crack the skull shattered into shards of broken bone, the pieces flying across the room and embedding in the walls and floor. The other skull followed swiftly after the first, diving at Buffy in the expectation that her powerful strike had moved her out of position. She did not survive so many fights by foolishly overcommitting, however, and so she easily reversed her swing into a powerful backhand that broke the remaining skull, destroying it as thoroughly as she had the first.
The threat slain, Buffy grabbed a man who had collapsed from the heat and smoke, lifting him over her shoulder like a sack of flour and followed the crowd out of the building, coughing all the while. Placing her burden on the ground once she had made it to safety, Buffy did a quick headcount and was relieved that everyone had made it out. Catching her breath on the clean, cool night air, she walked slowly over to where Kendra stood with Councilman Hearthmount.
“This trouble is beyond anything we are prepared for,” the council member said in a voice made hoarse by smoke as he examined the soot covered slayer. “Can you stop whatever is causing this madness?”
“Yes,” Buffy answered simply, meeting his eyes with a steely gaze.
He studied her for a long moment, before finally nodding. “Then do so. I will hire you to stop this evil. If you put an end to the threat, I will pay you five hundred gold. Is that acceptable?”
Buffy nodded. She would happily do it without being payed, but she knew the Ustalavic mindset about heroes, and so she was happy to put his mind at ease by simply being a professional doing a job. The fact that being payed to slay kept her in new clothing, shiny weapons, and from having to get a day job were beside the point entirely. “Don't worry. I've faced far worse. I will save this town.”
A number of people were within earshot when she made this announcement, and a spontaneous cheer erupted, which spread as the crowd passed the word that she had been hired to solve the problem. She hung around for over an hour after that, helping to reassure the townsfolk and to provide care for the wounded, before finally everyone returned to their homes.
* * *
Buffy was exhausted when she reached her bedchamber that night, and she was prepared to just lay down and fall asleep until late morning. She closed the door to her room and had begun to prepare for sleep when she glanced out the window and froze in shock. In place of the shutters she had expected see were wrought iron bars. Looking around the room Buffy saw that her bed had been replaced with a moldy pile of straw sitting on on hard stone where once there was a thick rug. The only other thing in the room was a heavily reinforced iron door that made up the only exit through the now rough stone walls.
Buffy walked over to the window and looked out. Instead of the road she had been expecting she saw that her window now looked out onto a misty hill, with a small beacon of lights in the distance that was the right size to be Ravengro.
Moving to the door, Buffy tried to open it but found that it was locked. Stepping back she kicked it hard, but it barely rattled. Frowning in confusion she kicked again, this time holding nothing back, but it didn't even budge. “Kendra!” she shouted, pounding on the door. Placing her ear against it she listened carefully but could hear nothing. “Kendra!”
Buffy turned and headed to the window, barely noticing that it had taken fewer steps than it should have. Gripping the bars she pulled with all of her supernatural might. The iron should have easily deformed under the pressures she exerted, but instead nothing happened. Turning to look around the room she gasped as she saw that the chamber, which had once been spacious, was now tiny. She took the small number of steps required and began banging on the door again. Normally she was calm and collected during danger, but as the walls seemed to press closer and closer her breathing began to accelerate. “Kendra! Kendra!! Help! Help!!!”
Buffy looked around wildly as the walls pressed tighter and tighter around her, confining her in a tiny space. Like a coffin. Like her
coffin. She couldn't breath. If there was room, she could breath. Why couldn't she breath!
Her panicking eyes rolled about, looking for some exit, until she saw it. On the wall letters of blood slowly formed, dripping downward as they spelled out a name. Her name. Buffy Summers.
With a gasp Buffy sat up in bed, her panicked breathing slowing as she realized she wasn't in a tiny, coffin-like cell. She was in her room at the Lorrimor household, and she was lying on a soft feather mattress. Just as she calmed down she looked up and saw it.
Written on the wall, even though she was wide awake, were bloody letters spelling her name. Author's Notes
This is continuing the Haunting of Harrowstone. The line of dialog shouted by the possessed Gib's is straight from the book. For those of you interested in such things, he should actually have taken some effort to knock out (he has several warrior levels and a good bit of HP), but honestly, he's an old man armed with a razor fighting a highly experienced slayer. I ended that fight quickly because it felt better in the scene, but if you are the type who insists on game mechanics, assume she feinted (allowing a sneak attack) and scored a critical hit. That would be enough to easily get a KO.
I played up the Vision of Imprisonment scene a bit. It was supposed to be terrifying, and Buffy doesn't scare easily, but after her experience in the coffin I've always thought she should be at least a little claustrophobic, so I played up that angle.