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. Professional Monster Slaying
Buffy stalked through the thick forest, her every sense on high alert. Silently crouching, she examined the ground, carefully looking at the subtle impressions left on the thick loam. In Sunnydale Buffy had never been much of a tracker, but she knew how to pay close attention to her surroundings, and her slayer instincts, throwbacks from an older age, helped her pick up the skill quickly when she had the need for it. As quiet as a ghost Buffy stood and glided forward, her eyes darting about, following the nearly invisible trail while keeping her senses open for danger. Not that her spidey-sense helped as much as she would have hoped, as her current prey barely registered with it unless she was very close.
It had been three months since she had broken the vampire's thrall, and she had been terribly hurt by the experience. Fortunately for Buffy, Petros was a wealthy man with many connections; while in the long run that would aid him in fulfilling his promise to help her get home, in the short term his gratitude expressed itself in his tracking down and paying a priest to heal her many wounds. While slayer healing would have dealt with her injuries in time, she had become slightly feverish from them, her body reacting poorly to more than half of its surface area being burned. The dozen holes punch into her by magic hadn't helped matters either.
Magical healing had been a welcome relief, as a soothing warmth had flowed through her, her many burns tingling as holy magic coursed through her being. Buffy had been frozen in shock at that moment, the feel of the healing magics reminding her painfully of the heaven she had lost, but when they had ended she had looked down at herself and couldn't help but grin. Even with slayer healing she would have gained several large, ugly scars from the third degree burns, but now her skin was pink and new, without any marring from her recent injuries.
Dealing with the victims of the vampires' thrall had had its own complications. Since Annika lived, she would be able to claim them again even without visiting them in person, calling them as Dracula had called her to see him. In the end, it had taken the commitment of the church of Pharasma, the goddess of death (who hated the undead), as well as the resources of Sincomakti College (easily provided after offering to show Dr. Meirtmane the vampire's lair) to provide protection for them.
Buffy had stayed in town for nearly a week after that, helping Petros research as well as keeping an eye out for more vampires or other threats. Her search for Annika had turned up nothing of use, simply evidence that Petros had been correct in his assumption, with the disappearance of a carriage, a coffin, and two handsome drivers all before sunrise painting an obvious picture of what had happened. Finally, just when Buffy was becoming restless, Petros had found a lead.
The lead had sent Buffy and Petros riding north to Carrion Hill in search of a really old and musty book called the Pnakotic Manuscripts which were rumored to be there. It had taken her several days to track down, and she had had to kill a pack of ghouls and a variety of other strange monsters she hadn't recognized in order to secure it, but in the end she had succeeded. Petros had been excited to see it, the book being incredibly rare and thought lost, and she had been equally happy when he had informed her that it was full of rituals related to portals and other forms of dimensional travel. Her excitement had waned when he told her it would take months to translate sufficiently for him to send her home.
After securing the book, Petros had headed back to his hometown of Ravengro with the promise of contacting her when he had succeeded, and Buffy had decided to see more of the world she now hoped to leave behind soon. It had not taken long for Buffy to find the aspect of Golarion that she would miss the most when she returned home. In Golarion, monster slaying was a respectable, and well paying, job.
Buffy wasn't a greedy person, but after a year of working at the Double Meat Palace, being payed to do what she would do anyway, kill monsters, was a revelation. While she would never demand payment (and indeed, she had slain a number of monsters without recompense), if there was one being offered, she jumped at the opportunity. It had not taken long for her to build up a substantial nest egg, much of which went to the purchase of a bag of holding. While expensive, the sack could hold many times its volume without ever growing heavier or even appearing full. No longer constrained by what Mr. Gordo could carry, Buffy had gone on a shopping spree. Her new wardrobe rivaled her old in terms of volume, with tough travel leathers sitting beside tailored dresses in a variety of styles, and her shoe collection, all handmade, was equally vast. In addition, Buffy had bought an assortment of weapons in every make imaginable, her love of shiny, pointy weapons perhaps even exceeding her love of footwear.
Another reason that Buffy had come to accept being payed for her work was the peculiar Ustalav reaction to heroes. Monsters were everywhere in Ustalav, and most communities simply came to accept the presence of evil as long as it didn't bother them overmuch. Sure, they might lose some livestock, and people disappeared every now and then, but as long as they didn't make trouble, they could lead normal lives. Every town had tales of local heroes who decided to fix things, and simply made the situation worse, awakening the evil and causing terrible devastation before the monsters returned to their normal small scale depredations. Because of that danger, the people of Ustalav feared heroes as much as they did monsters. Someone being payed to perform a service, even if it was the same service that they were worried about heroes doing for free, was another matter entirely. A professional monster hunter was a trustworthy and respectable individual, and it was a role Buffy thrived in.
Her time monster hunting had had positive effects on herself as well. She had met a number of friendly people, but she had never stayed in one place long enough to become close to anyone, which meant Buffy had had more time to herself than she had ever had before. Initially she had thrown herself into her slaying to avoid dealing, but no matter what she did she couldn't run away from herself, and long days on the road with no one but Mr. Gordo to talk to had forced her to do something she had never really had an opportunity to do before. She had finally mourned.
Buffy had been too young to really understand her cousin Celia's death, and she had been too busy facing Angelus to take the time to face the loss of Jenny Calendar. When she had sent Angel to hell, she had been so guilty and so overwhelmed she had only really begun to cope when he had unexpectedly returned to her life. The death of her mother had been during the prelude to an apocalypse, and between that and caring for Dawn she had had to put everything aside and simply keep fighting. Now, with the recent grief of the loss of Tara and Dawn and no one to be strong for, no sacred duty to perform, and no task that required her attention, Buffy truly mourned for the first time in her life. It was painful. It was scary. It was hard. But in the end, while she was still sad, facing all that she had lost, not just to death, but the loss of heaven, the loss of her freedom when she was called as a slayer, the loss of her home and friends when she was sent to her new dimension, had brought her a sense of peace and closure like she had never known. Buffy took a long look at her behavior for the last year, and finally realized that she wasn't okay. But, facing it, she decided someday she would be. She had promised Dawn to live, and that meant more than just surviving.
Buffy crouched once more to look at the ground, frowning slightly. The track in front of her was heavier than it should have been, so she leaned down to examine it closer, her brow wrinkled in confusion. Leaning back on her heals, Buffy bit her lip in thought. Her gut told her that something was wrong with the print, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what. Slowly standing she looked around, her eyes widening as something else she had missed suddenly struck home. It was quiet.
Buffy had never been fond of the wilderness, but the last three months had taught her that a silent forest was a frightened forest, which usually meant people or monsters. Since she was hunting monsters, she had a pretty good idea what had made the birds and other animals fall silent. Slowly she raised her crossbow, closing her eyes in order to focus on her spidey-sense. Holding her breath, she finally felt it, and without hesitation she spun and fired.
Her bolt struck true, imbedding in the thick white coat of her target. Winterwolves were a species of magical wolves the size of bears with white pelts and a freezing breath. Even more dangerous than their physical power, however, was their human intelligence and evil natures that allowed them to attack even large human villages in search of prey, as had been the case with this wolf. Over the last month it had killed a dozen people from the small town of Rivennei, and Buffy had been hired to kill it. One of the first victims had been the wife of the village cobbler, and he had offered his grandmothers boots to whoever killed the creature. Normally the idea of a grandmother's shoes would be off putting, but Buffy had seen them, and they were beautiful. Magical as well, but she would have done the job ten times over just for their appearance, even though she had been forced to spend the last four days tracking the creature through the dense forest of the Shudderwood.
The winterwolf snarled at her. “You are all that village could hire to stop me?”
Oh right, giant talking
wolves, Buffy thought as she dropped her crossbow and pulled a spear out of her bag of holding, the eight foot weapon looking ridiculous as she pulled it out of the small bag. Flicking the end cap off to expose the steel point, Buffy smirked as she set herself. “I'm more than enough to punish one bad puppy.”
The wolf growled before taking a deep breath, its muzzle raised in the air as its chest expanded, frost matting the fur around its maw. Buffy didn't hesitate, throwing the spear with all her might before running sideways to take cover behind a tree. The wolf yowled as the spear sunk deep into its chest, but it didn't hesitate, lowering its head to breath out a blast of cold at the slayer. Buffy had been a fan of Power Girl when she was little, but she had always thought that her cold breath was silly, however now she found it far less so as she shivered behind her tree, the wood cracking and groaning as it threatened to collapse under the strain of the sudden supercooling.
Drawing a large two headed great axe from her bag Buffy charged forward, swinging the heavy weapon in a wide arc. The winterwolf was gravely wounded from her spear, but even so it managed to dodge backwards, Buffy's weapon opening a deep cut on its snout rather than splitting its head as she had intended. Buffy circled to her left, the injured wolf following the movement as it wheezed, red blood staining its front as more life fluid bubbled at the corner of its mouth. “You are strong, girl. But your woodcraft is terrible.”
“Everyone's a critic,” Buffy said.
“It was shear luck that you didn't walk another ten feet before reaching my ambush point. You followed where I had doubled back on my trail without concern for ten yards. Was ten more feet too much to ask?”
Buffy frowned. “Why make me go so far? Wouldn't it have made more sense to jump me right...”
Buffy didn't get a chance to finish as a heavy body suddenly landed on her, sharp claws raking her back and leaving deep cuts. Rolling over, Buffy tore her injuries even deeper by forcing herself off of the claws in order to defend herself, barely getting her arm up in time to stick her magical bracer in the second winterwolf's mouth as it went for her throat, the six inch fangs unable to damage the enchanted leather.
“You also didn't notice there were two of us bad puppies.” The first winterwolf growled mockingly as it slowly moved toward Buffy, its reddened teeth bared.
Buffy grunted, ignoring her pain as she dropped her axe to wrap her free arm around the winterwolf's thick neck. Pushing up with her bitten arm and pulling down with her free, she forced its head back painfully. Panicking it tried to release its grip as it reared back, legs scrambling for purchase as it sought to withdraw from its shockingly powerful opponent. Taking advantage of the change in position Buffy wrapped her legs around its torso and with a full bodied twist she snapped its head sideways, breaking the winterwolf's neck with a crack like a tree falling. Kicking the monster off of her Buffy rolled to her feet panting, one hand pulling a dagger as she rose.
“I may not be nature girl,” Buffy panted, “but compared to that pack of hellhounds at the prom, this is nothing.”
The living winterwolf raised is head, taking in another deep breath of air, the hole in its chest making a bubbling sound as it did so. Buffy didn't hesitate and ran forward, stabbing it under the chin with her dagger as she did. Winterwolves had thick pelts that dulled most attacks, but Buffy had killed far worse with cheaper weapons, and the well crafted steel sank deep into the monster's throat, soaking her hands in cold red blood. With one last gurgle the monster collapsed, dead.
Buffy sat back, gasping for breath, before taking stock of herself. Her back was badly mauled, and her front had a number of deep scratches as well. Grumbling, Buffy dug in her bag, pulling out a small vial of thick red fluid. When she had first seen them for sale, Buffy had scarcely been able to believe her eyes, but when she realized that the healing potions some alchemists sold were exactly as advertised she had made a habit to stock up on them whenever she could. They were expensive, but without her friends to help her when she got injured, she needed the edge.
Buffy gulped down the thick potion, her face grimacing at the taste, a disgusting mix of used gym socks soaked in amaretto liqueur and rancid horseradish. Despite the flavor, she couldn't argue with the results as the deepest scratches slowly stopped bleeding, the tingling warmth of the potion chasing away the worst of the pain. It didn't take her long after that to fish out her first aid kit and bandage up her remaining wounds. It wasn't perfect, but slayer healing would make short work of the rest.
Having done the slaying, Buffy was now faced with the part of her new career that she really disliked. In order to collect a bounty, she generally needed proof of her kills, and in this case that meant lugging back the heads of two bear sized wolves for over a day through the forest. Well, Buffy thought philosophically, at least she didn't have to walk through a sewer.
Despite the heavy and somewhat smelly weight of the winterwolf heads, Buffy was in a good mood as she closed in on Rivennei, the prospect of a hot bath, a warm meal, a soft bed, and most of all some cute boots perking her up. Not even writing her failures tracking in her journal, which she had started so that she could show Giles how different Golarion was, could get her down that night. She realized she had overestimated the survivability of her good mood, however, as an ephemeral black crow suddenly flew out of the air toward her. Buffy dropped the heads and dove to the side, rolling for cover, but the phantom bird simply changed course and passed through two trees to catch her, hovering in midair before her despite her best efforts to avoid it. Buffy tensed as its mouth opened.
“Buffy Summers,” the scratchy voice of an old man said. “This message is to inform you of the death of Professor Petros Lorrimor, whose will requested your presence in Ravengro.” The crow then closed its beak and cocked its head as it stared at her as though listening.
Buffy rocked back on her heels. She hadn't known Petros for long, but they had been through a traumatic vampire related event together, which was her main way of bonding with others. Blinking back tears, Buffy steeled herself. She didn't know for sure he was dead. It could just be a trap, maybe something Annika or some other enemy she had made in the past months sent to lure her out to be attacked. Buffy swallowed hard. Regardless of the truth, she was going to Ravengro.
The bird stared at her as she contemplated this, and she finally looked at it with exasperation. “I got the message. Go away.” The ephemeral bird nodded once and flew into the air, passing through intervening trees as it took off south at great speed.
Buffy doubled her pace to reach town quickly, and although the shoes proved as cute on her as she had hoped, the magic in them ensuring they resized to exactly fit her, Buffy's heart was no longer in it. When finely tailored, magical elven boots (made of the finest most supple golden hued leather with beautiful green stitchery) couldn't cheer her up Buffy knew she was upset.
Despite her rush, it took Buffy the better part of two weeks to reach Ravengro. She finally arrived shortly before noon, tired, saddle sore, weary and dust caked from the road. Ravengro was a tiny town of around three hundred people, with the walls of its buildings and the cobblestones of its streets all of the same dull gray stone, which contrasted so strongly with the brightly colored leaves of early autumn that it gave the entire place a washed out feeling. With the sky a gray and cloudy overcast, Buffy was reminded of some of the charcoal pictures that used to hang in her mother's gallery.
Even though it was midday the streets had few people people in them, the locals looking as dour as she had come to expect from the people of Ustalav, most of them doing their best to pretend that she didn't even exist. Looking around, she frowned slightly. The town had an unpleasant feel to it, the air bearing a taint that reminded her uncomfortably of being near the Hellmouth. Buffy didn't know what it was, but she was sure that something was wrong with Ravengro.
After a few minutes ride Buffy pulled Mr. Gordo to a stop in the town square, a circular grassy area surrounded by sturdy if dull stone buildings with a wooden gazebo in the middle, well weathered but also obviously well cared for. Buffy bit her lip, slowly looking around, unsure of where to start, only to be answered a minute later when her stomach growled to inform her of her first order of business. Looking down one of the three roads leading from the town square, Buffy could see what appeared to be a tavern at the end of it. Riding up, Buffy raised an eyebrow at its sign, which consisted of a red imp with horns and a spaded tail holding its plump belly and laughing hysterically.
Inside, Buffy found the building to be clean and well lit, with well kept wooden tables facing a large stone hearth, and a long wooden bar opposite the door. Several locals sat about the tables or at the bar eating rich smelling food and downing tankards of local ale, until everyone stopped and stared as she entered. After a moment the proprietor, a plump, round faced man with a large nose and a bushy brown mustache gave her a broad grin and hailed her with a deep cheerful voice. “Well met, Miss! Well met, and welcome to the Laughing Demon. What can I do you for?”
Buffy smiled back somewhat stiffly and made her way to the bar, hopping up onto an empty three legged stool. “I could use some food. What'cha got?”
“Well now, our lunch special is vampire steaks, although I've still got some wolfballs from breakfast, if that's to be more to your liking.”
Buffy's eyes bugged out. “What?!?”
The man burst out laughing. “Aye, aye. Nothing to get upset for. I just always thought that the best way to handle life was to face it laughin'. Don't worry your pretty little head none, just some fun names for our good fare. Anyhow, the taste's the thing, what hey?”
“Right,” Buffy answered dubiously. “I guess I'll try the vampire steaks then. Just as long as they don't burn up in the sun.” Buffy pouted. “I'm way to hungry for my meal to go up in smoke.”
With a laugh the man walked into the back room, and Buffy took the time to look around. Most of the locals were keeping a close eye on her, although they swiftly looked away when she noticed them. The room was decorated with a variety of tacky representations of famous monsters, all set up for comic effect, from a plush werewolf to a painting of a troop of tapdancing skeletons.
Buffy's nose twitched and she struggled not to visibly salivate as her food came out. Vampire steaks turned out to be a beef shish-kabob with thick, usable stakes pierced through the cuts of meat. The food was nothing fancy, but it was better fare that she had eaten in most of the village inns and taverns she had spent time in over the last several months. “This is good.”
“Thank'ya kindly, miss. The name's Zokar. Zokar Elkarid, and this here be my tavern.”
“I'm Buffy Summers.”
“Well met, Miss Summers. Please, call me Zokar.”
“Only if you call me Buffy.”
“Of course, I'd be honored. So then, if you don't mind my pryin', what's brought you to our fair town this day?”
Buffy smiled sadly, her heart falling as she remembered why she was here. “I got a message saying that I needed to come for a funeral.”
“Petros Lorrimor's funeral?”
Buffy nodded, biting her lip. The hope that it was all a misunderstanding had been a long shot, but it hurt to have his passing confirmed.
“Bad business that. Petros was a good man, and we're all the poorer to 'ave lost 'im. And poor Kendra, losin' her father like that, and with no livin' mother as well.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“Aye,” Zokar said, picking up a rag and wiping half heartedly at his bar. “Petros was pokin' round about Harrowstone, and summat fell on his head. Had to check his pockets to identify him. Still, leastwise it was quick.”
“Aye. Ravengro was built to service the ol' prison, 'til it burned down about fifty year ago. Now Harrowstone is nothin' but a burned out ruin south of town a bit.”
“Why would he go there?”
Zokar leaned forward conspiratorially. “Well now, the funeral was held up to wait for you to come, so I'd think you'd know him well enough to know what kind'a man ol' Petros was. Always curious, pokin' his nose in places. Dangerous business, but he was a good man all the same.”
Buffy frowned. “So its an old prison. Why would he look around there?”
“Well, as long as I've been alive, folk have had strange notions about that place. They say it's mighty haunted, and those that poke their nose in there find out what its like to lose that nose right quick!”
“Haunted,” Buffy said scrunching her nose up. “I hate ghosts.”
“Aye. Anyone with a lick of the sense the gods gave them knows not to mess with such things and to mind their own business. Still, Petros was a good friend, and he will be sore missed and no mistake.”
“Do you know when the funeral will be?”
“We were only waitin' for the last person to send word, and that would be yourself, as all of the other out of towners who were asked for sent word they couldn't come. Now that you're here and at such a good hour, we should be able to get this done before dark sets in. No sense in keepin' Kendra from her grievin' any longer than can be. In fact...” Zokar trailed off before walking to door to the back and calling out loudly, “Pevrin!”
After a minute a boy a little younger than Dawn had been appeared in the doorway. “Yeah, pa?”
“Go send word to the temple, m'boy. Let 'em know that the last guest has come.” As he ran off Zokar turned back to Buffy. “If you'd like you can make use of my bath to get cleaned of all the dust you've picked up along the long road.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, smiling genuinely. She followed Zokar up the stairs to a small room with a large wooden tub, and the two quickly brought buckets of hot water up from the kitchen. After making sure that the door was locked, Buffy quickly stripped and scrubbed herself clean. Drying off with a towel from her bag, Buffy then pulled out her black dress. She had had it made almost two months before when she had decided to hold a private funeral for Dawn and Tara. The dress was black, with long sleeves and a flowing skirt that reached to the ground. After carefully fixing her hair with the help of her small hand held mirror Buffy tucked all of her other possessions away into her bag of holding.
Taking a deep breath, Buffy steeled herself before heading down the stairs. Zokar sat on a stool wearing a nice black suit drinking from a tankard, while his young son stood beside him pulling uncomfortably at his collar. Zokar gave her a sad smile when he saw her. “Ready, Buffy?”
Buffy paused for a moment before nodding. “I'm ready.”Author's Notes
Buffy has received two more magic items, specifically a bag of holding (always necessary) and boots of elvenkind. They aren't the most impressive magic item, but come on... pretty magic shoes and Buffy? Thats like peanut butter and jelly.
I made up the town of Rivennei and placed it along the northern Shudderwood. I wanted to have an encounter similar to the winterwolf The Devil in Gray mentioned in Rule of Fear, but that one was at a major town that was a bit more southerly than I wanted her to be when she got the message, so I made a new town up and gave it a similar enemy. After all, if one winterwolf is in that province, why not three? And since the map only shows important places, I'm sure that there are tons of small towns that aren't depicted.
This also marks the end of the first part of this story. This was the lead up to Buffy beginning the first part of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path, the Haunting of Harrowstone (hence the name of the story). I'm not planning on writing the other parts of this adventure path, so I am changing some things to make it more self contained. The Pnakotic Manuscripts are a Lovecraft invention, although they appeared in the Pathfinder Module Carrion Hill which I alluded to during this chapter.