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. A Place of Punishment
Returning to the central chamber, Buffy and Kendra continued around the room to the hallway leading to the next wing of the prison. Cleaning the soot from the brass plate, Kendra read its name. “'Reaper's Hold'. The builders believed in ill names it seems.”
“Drama queens,” Buffy replied with a snort. “I'd like to see a prison try to get away with that back home.”
“Yeah, prison is out of vogue. They call them 'Correctional Facilities.' A Correctional Facility with a wing called 'Reaper's Hold' would be pretty wacky.”
The hallway had a closed door on either side of it, and at its end was a lowered portcullis. Stopping at the doors, Buffy pushed the left one open revealing an office with a large table and two chairs, a sagging cot against one wall, and some cabinets against another. On the table were three broken human skulls, the shards having been carefully picked over and some removed and placed in a pile that was vaguely shaped like an additional skull, as though someone had tried to make a new head from the shattered pieces of the first three. Next to them was a heavy hammer, and lying on the ground behind the table was a leathery body. It was stocky and had long red hair and a beard, and a glance informed Buffy that it was of the nonhuman species called a dwarf.
Upon entering the room Buffy's slayer senses began reacting strongly, and after a moment the three shattered skulls began to clatter and rattle as they rose up and reformed in midair. Opening their fractured jaws, the three heads began to wail like banshees, creating an eerie discordant chorus that was probably the most bone chilling sound Buffy had ever heard. For a moment her life seemed to flash before her eyes, and everything felt hopeless. No matter how despairing the magic made Buffy, however, the artificial feelings imposed by the screaming was nothing compared to how she had felt after crawling from her grave, and as the Slayer, even when feeling hopeless her first instinct would always be to fight. Gripping the Lopper's no longer blood stained axe, Buffy prepared to attack.
Before she could do anything, a blue mist rose from the corpse, which swiftly formed into a translucent blue dwarf holding a hammer and crouching, with a broken skull floating beside him, it missing a single shard of bone from its side. The dwarf began to sob brokenly, its deep sounds of grief a counterpoint to the high pitched wailing of the three skulls.
Before the Mosswater Marauder could do more than manifest, Buffy leapt forward, her axe flashing through the air and passing through the dwarf's neck, to no avail. Stepping back to avoid the spirit's counterattack by a hairsbreadth, her eyes narrowed as she saw that her attack had had absolutely no effect. Glancing back at her friend, she was dismayed to see Kendra was sobbing, her eyes distant as she tried to cover her ears. “Kendra!”
Blinking, Kendra shook her head, her gaze focusing on her friend, who had to sidestep sharply to avoid a potent downward blow from their enemy. Gathering herself, Kendra ignored the wailing and began to chant quietly, preparing her own attack. Before she could finish, however, the Marauder charged through Buffy harmlessly before swinging his hammer downwards, striking the wizard's head with a dull thump. Screaming in pain, she clutched her temples and reeled backwards, a blue translucent shard of bone flying from her head before floating next to the hole in the side of the skull that floated beside the Marauder. The piece did not match the hole in the side of the skull, and a moment later it faded away.
Drawing one of her magical arrows, Buffy threw it hard, but like the Lopper's axe it passed through the figure harmlessly, imbedding to its fletching in the stone wall behind it. Before she could try anything else, she was forced to dive sideways and roll as the three wailing skulls suddenly dove for her, seeking to attack her while she was distracted dealing with their master.
Rolling to her feet smoothly, Buffy reached into her bag and pulled out the Marauder's hammer, a tool for smithing rather than combat, although it was still well balanced. Upon seeing it, the Marauder covered his face and began screaming with despair, his anguish painful to look upon. Gripping the tool tightly, Buffy swung it through a looping arc as one of the skulls dove at her again, striking it on its side and shattering it like china, the pieces pelting the far wall of the room like jagged hail. The Marauder screamed again, this time in pain, and clutched its own head as it became fainter for a moment before stabilizing.
Looking at her friend, Buffy saw that Kendra was almost completely out of it, crouched on the floor holding her head and in obviously great pain. The sound that the Marauder's hammer had made when it had struck her friend still filled her ears, and Buffy wondered if it would sound different if she used a real hammer. Buffy began to walk towards her friend, wanting to break her head open with the hammer more than anything...
After a single step she froze, shocked. Shaking her head vigorously, she could hardly believe what she had wanted to do. Looking at the cold, heavy smithing hammer she held, Buffy recalled the ghost's warning about how cursed the items would likely be. The last time she had wielded a hammer, she had beaten a god into submission with it. There was no way she would lose herself to a haunted hammer.
Buffy wasted no more time, charging the next skull and striking it upon the crown of its head, breaking it into tiny pieces that clattered to the floor to the accompaniment of pained howls from the Marauder, who responded by staggering towards her in a daze, swinging its own hammer. Ducking the clumsy attack, Buffy pulled back the hammer beside her head and let fly, throwing it through her enemy harmlessly before striking the last floating skull, breaking it as well.
The Marauder locked its teary gaze with Buffy as it screamed again, until it slowly faded away, the expression on its face becoming almost peaceful as it disappeared. Hurrying over to her friend, Buffy crouched beside Kendra and began to delicately probe her skull, checking for damage, something she had great experience with over the years from Giles' propensity for head injuries. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she rasped. “It feels as though my head split open though. For a moment, I couldn't even move it pained me so terribly.”
“Well, it doesn't seem broken. You don't even have a knot, so I'm thinkin' it wasn't really all real, you know?”
“Yes, I think you are right. But real or no, it felt as though the blow shattered my skull, which is an experience I cannot find myself recommending.”
“I'll pass on it then,” Buffy said dryly.
Kendra gathered herself for a moment before wandering over to the desk and taking a moment to look through the papers sitting out upon it. “I think that this may have once been the office of the captain of the guards. These papers discuss prisoner dispositions and the like.”
“Anything useful?” Buffy asked as she glanced at the papers.
“Hmm. Let me see...” Kendra's voice trailed off as she flipped through the various documents.
Buffy left her to it, taking another long look around the room as she did. The chamber was fairly spartan, with little of interest until her sharp eyes noticed something odd. Walking slowly back and forth, she saw an odd seam in the wall when the light caught it just right. Moving closer, she traced the seam completely, revealing it to be in the shape of a door, with a shallow depression on one side that contained a crack, which hid a lock.
Buffy pulled out her picks and began to fiddle with the lock. Unfortunately, even the advanced criminal skills that Spike had once taught her were insufficient, her pick getting caught on one of the tumblers and nearly breaking in half when she twisted it wrong. Frowning, she carefully extracted the expensive tools, knocking on the door to gage its thickness. From what she could tell it was made from nearly a foot of solid stone, with no finger holds to help force it open.
“Did you find something?” Kendra asked, making Buffy jump slightly before she could respond.
“Yeah. Secret door. You?”
“The Splatter Man was apparently being kept in an oubliette in the Nevermore wing.”
“Yes. It was used as solitary confinement for the most heinous criminals within the prison. The name was meant to imply that those who entered it would never again see the light of day.”
“Lovely. 'Course, given what we read about him, I'm guessing that he would be the worst of the worst.”
“Indeed. Now then, is that door locked in some fashion?”
“Yup. Way beyond my skill at lock pickage.”
Smiling, Kendra walked to the door, before speaking a word of magic which Buffy could not understand, nor could she retain in her memory in any form. With a muffled click the heavy stone door unlocked.
Buffy opened the door and shined her sun rod around the small alcove, revealing racks of weapons, armor, and a dusty wooden chest. Walking over to the weapon racks she was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the items, being far finer than most of what she had. “Why would a prison have such nice stuff?”
“When Harrowstone was built, it was intended to house the most dangerous prisoners from all of Ustalav,” Kendra answered. “Before its construction, every region had to house its own criminals. By taking custody of them, the town received a significant stipend, allowing the prison to have the best of everything. I'm not surprised that they had such high quality gear here; in fact, they may even have some items of magic.”
Kendra muttered an incantation and made subtle gestures with her fingers, before looking around the room carefully. Opening the chest, she dug through it, recasting her cantrip several times, examining a number of items which she placed aside in a pile. Buffy looked through the weapon racks, eventually grabbing a longsword with a silver hilt that projected a short three pronged guard, each piece artfully crafted into the head of a dog, giving it the look of a cerberus. Drawing the blade, she was impressed with the balance, eventually stuffing it into her bag of holding, before pulling out her battered but functional crossbow. Grabbing the two crossbows off of the rack, she put one in her bag and brought the other to Kendra.
“Find anything?” Buffy asked.
“Yes, several items. A few healing potions, which fortunately were well sealed and therefore did not degrade over these past fifty years, ten plain magical crossbow bolts, a wand whose purpose I have not yet divined, and this.” Kendra held up a long bundle of thin rope.
“It's rope,” Buffy said dubiously.
“Not just any rope! This is a rope of climbing.”
“Let me show you,” Kendra said, grinning. Holding one end, she spoke in a clear voice. “Up.” The rope began to climb through the air until it reached the ceiling. “Attach.” At her command it wrapped itself around a support beam, tying a knot to hold it in place. “Knot.” The rope contorted, and all along its length knots tied themselves at one foot increments.
“Alright, for rope that's pretty cool,” Buffy said, her voice impressed despite herself.
“Indeed. It also is able to support several thousand pounds without breaking, and I can free it with a few simple commands as well. Unknot. Detach. Coil.” The rope writhed and contorted, eventually returning to being a small bundle in her hand. “I just wonder why they had such a thing in the first place.”
“The warden collapsed the stairs to keep the prisoners from escaping. They probably kept it in case they had to do that.”
“Oh,” Kendra said, hanging the rope from her belt. “That does make sense. What is the crossbow for?”
“I looked at yours, and both of ours suck majorly. These are way better.”
Kendra set her crossbow on the floor, before examining her new one. Like the one Buffy took, it had sturdy metal arms, a cleverly geared reloading mechanism, and a satiny finished, although now dusty, stock engraved with a depiction of a soaring hawk. “This is nice.”
“Yup. Take the magical bolts too. I'll stick with the short bow since I have the ghost touch and undead bane arrows for it.”
Buffy took one last look around the room, admiring the armor for a minute, although nothing was even close to her size, and she had little intrest in wearing the constricting items. Any protection it would provide, in her opinion, wouldn't be worth the loss of mobility that she would suffer from wearing it, and so she had no interest in even trying it on, regardless of its quality. Gathering up the healing potions and stuffing them into her bag, she lead the way back out of the captain's office.
The door across the hall fell open with a slight touch, revealing another rotting guard room. Along one wall was a winch system. Walking over to it, the two women examined the simple mechanism. “It appears to be locked, if I am understanding this correctly,” Kendra said, pointing at a metal sliding bar on the wheel of the winch.
Buffy unlocked the device, then began to turn the handle, the rusty mechanism groaning as it slowly raised the heavy iron portcullis in the hallway outside. While obviously in poor repair, the winch stood up to the strain, until finally Buffy moved the sliding bar again, locking it in place.
Moving past the raised portcullis, they explored the largest cell block they had so far found. It was full of cramped stone cells whose iron doors hung open, revealing little besides piles of rotten straw and wooden buckets. Eventually they came to the only door that wasn't part of a cell, although it was still made of heavy iron. Turning the handle with a loud squeak, Buffy pushed the door open and led the way into the next chamber.
The room was a place of grim nightmares. Cages hung from chains along the walls, and at the center of the room was a large fire pit, long since burned out. Tables covered with medieval implements of torture were scattered about the room, along with a large wooden tank and other items that Buffy did not recognize. Near them was a wooden rack, the skeletal remains of a human body stretched upon it, surrounded by stained tools, such as knives, branding irons and pliers. Against the far wall was a large iron maiden, which was embellished with the image of a woman in terrible torment.
“Every time I think to myself: self, this is terrible; we find something so much terribler,” Buffy said, her voice flat and dead.
“This... this place was no simple town jail,” Kendra said, her voice sick. “Anyone sent to Harrowstone should have had no lingering questions as to their guilt or innocence. Any tortures inflicted here, must have been solely done for the purposes of tormenting those awaiting execution. I... I find myself appalled.”
Subdued, the two women approached the rack. “That's a guard uniform,” Buffy said as they examined the broken body.
“He died terribly,” Kendra murmured, looking somewhat green.
“Yup. Broken bones, no hands, his arms and legs are dislocated, needles jabbed everywhere...”
Kendra retched, staggering away from the table. “That's quite enough.”
“Sorry. There's something in his mouth. I think they broke his jaw with it.” Buffy carefully pried the shattered jaws open and pulled out a badge. “What's this?”
Kendra brought her rebellious stomach under control and took the disc, examining it closely. “This appears to be a badge of office. If I were to hazard a guess, I would think that this body is most likely that of the Warden.”
“So the prisoners break out, and he keeps them from escaping. So they get all angry with him.”
“Precisely. They had claimed to have been holding him hostage, but it would appear that that had been a lie, as he most likely died hours before the fire.”
“Let's not tell Visa-anna how he died. I don't want to see her get cranky.”
“Vesorianna,” Kendra corrected automatically, before her eyes suddenly widened. “Oh! Do you recall, she desired some symbol of office to gain control over this place to cleanse it of the haunting. Do you think that this will do?”
“I'd say so, yeah,” Buffy replied absently as she walked around the rack to a bloodstained wicker basket on the floor near its head. “You know, I'm thinkin' that whatever is in this box, is the kinda surprise that I really don't want to have.”
Kendra walked around beside her, looking down at the basket as well. “What do you suppose is in it?”
“I dunno. But I'm sure its wiggy.”
While Buffy contemplated the basket, Kendra wandered around the room, a disturbed curiosity drawing her from one macabre spot to another, only stopping when they heard a creaking sound. Buffy glanced up to see the iron maiden opening on its own, revealing within it the middle aged man who ran the tavern in town, Zokar Elkarid.
“Zokar!” Kendra shouted, scurrying towards his still from.
“Wait!” Buffy called. She wasn't certain what was going on, but she knew enough about the way that creepy ghosts worked to guess that it was not actually Zokar in the iron maiden, and that approaching it would not end well. Before she could say anything more, however, the basket at her feet suddenly opened, and a hand jumped out and wrapped around her throat, choking her. Glancing down, she saw a second hand scurrying out of the box like a macabre parody of spider.
Seeing the hands attacking, several things quickly passed through her head before she began to act. The first was resignation, as the last time she had been attacked by an animated hand, it had been one of the most unpleasant experiences of her life. The second, briefly, was a peculiar kind of satisfaction at finding out what had happened to the Warden's hands. However, the predominant thought that drove her to action, was that she could not let whatever was happening hurt her friend.
Buffy ran towards Kendra, grabbing the wrist of the hand strangling her as she did so, her slayer constitution allowing her to shrug off the effects of oxygen deprivation for long enough to save her friend. When Kendra reached the iron maiden, her hands passed through the image of Zokar, and before she could react the torture device began to close with tremendous force. Just before it could slam shut, however, Buffy thrust her hand out, her fingers wrapping around the door at the last moment.
Unfortunately for Buffy, while she had managed to reach the iron maiden in time to interpose her hand in the doorway, she had not been soon enough to actually stop it from closing, the heavy iron slamming into the fingers of her left hand with enough force to break even her bones. The pain was excruciating, but her scream was choked off by the hand still clutching her throat.
The door continued to try to shut, grinding on her broken bones, causing so much pain that her vision began to go black. Buffy slowly became more and more disconnected with each passing second, as she found herself contemplating whether it was actually the pain or the oxygen deprivation that was making it so difficult for her to think. Blinking against he encroaching darkness, Buffy released the hand clutching her throat and began blindly groping in front of her, before her numb fingers finally found the seam in the iron maiden.
With her vision fading and her sense of touch all but completely compromised, Buffy struggled to get a grip on the door, before finally setting herself and pulling with all of her might. Grunting out the last of her air, Buffy pulled until, with a great shriek of tearing metal, she ripped the door of the iron maiden from its hinges, sending the heavy front flying through the air until it smashed the wooden tank into splinters.
Staggering back, Buffy grabbed the hand around her throat again and pulled, forcing her broken fingers to act until she finally managed to pry it off, choking in desperately needed oxygen. Before she could take more than a single breath, however, she found herself once again being strangled as the second hand finally grabbed her, continuing where the first had left off.
Holding the first hand at bay painfully with her broken left, Buffy worked her right hand under the one gripping her throat, carefully prying it off, allowing her to suck in air once again. As her vision cleared, she was relieved to see a flash of golden-white light as Kendra used her magics to destroy the hands. It took several castings, but Buffy managed to hold the two hands at bay until they finally lay limp and dead in her grip.
“I really hate creepy mummy hands,” Buffy choked out through her bruised throat.
“Those don't seem to be particularly like the hands of a mummy,” Kendra said, pulling out medical supplies as the two sat on the ground in front of the broken iron maiden.
“There was this whole thing with this mummy hand that kept strangling me over and over again.”
“Why then did you not simply, as you put it, slay?”
“I did. Then suddenly, it was back again. Over and over. It was this whole thing with a time loop.”
“Temporal magics are extremely advanced,” Kendra said absently as she carefully examined Buffy's hand. “This is going to hurt quite a bit.”
“I know. I have broken so many bones doing this it isn't even close to funny.”
The closing lid had caught Buffy high on all four of her fingers, breaking the bone of each digit close to the hand. Kendra gently took the first finger, the slayer holding her breath as her friend then manipulated the finger, setting the bone back into place. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly.
“Don't worry, I knew it would hurt,” Buffy answered in a strained voice as Kendra began to work on her middle finger.
“Not for that, although I am sorry that this hurts. I'm sorry that you hurt your hand because you had to save me,” Kendra said, her voice thick with shame as she set the second finger.
Buffy grunted, sweating. “I already told you yesterday, stuff like that happens. Ghosts are tricky. Last time I got trapped, this time you got trapped. So no apologies, you got me missy?”
“Thank you,” she said, setting another finger. “And whether you accept it or not, I am sorry. Will you be alright to continue?”
“Yeah,” Buffy answered, gulping air as Kendra began to work on her last finger. “And I so forgive you.” Gasping again, she watched Kendra set her final finger, before carefully wrapping each digit. Pulling out healing potions from her bag, Buffy drank two, the warm magics soothing her bruised throat and broken fingers.
Leaning back, Buffy carefully flexed her hand once the magics finished their work, suppressing a wince as she did. Magical healing could work wonders, but it had its limits, and a broken bone, although healed enough to be functional, would still be somewhat painful for the rest of the day even with her slayer healing. “Thanks,” Buffy said smiling at her friend.
The two women briefly surveyed the torture chamber, before departing it, each moving quicker than normal, although neither commented on it. Returning to the central room they faced the hallway to the last wing of the prison. Wiping the brass name plate clear of soot, Kendra revealed it to be 'Nevermore'. Author's Notes
The dungeon crawl portion of the Haunting of Harrowstone nears its conclusion! Only one more prisoner to go. Kendra employed detect magic, disrupt undead and knock in this chapter. The sword and crossbows were masterwork weapons, not magical (unlike the stuff in the trunk).