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. Growing Dread
Buffy smiled up at the stars as she walked, reveling in the familiarity of strolling though a cemetery under the cover of darkness. Between the strange vision of her tombstone the day before, and the bloody writing on the monument that morning, not even counting her slayer dream, Buffy had decided that it was time to check out the potential stash of ghost busting equipment the church had apparently been keeping in a false crypt in the graveyard.
When she had first arrived in Golarion the stars in the sky had been strange and unfamiliar. Having never left California, the experience of having different stars over her head was an uncomfortable one, and Golarion's sky was far different from just another point on earth. After months of hunting under the cover of darkness in her new world, however, Buffy had become quite accustomed to it. She had even made up a few constellations, from a shaky handful she called the Key, to the wavy line she had dubbed Mr. Pointy, the heavens of the new world were no longer so strange to her.
Buffy had asked Kendra about the layout of the Restlands the day before after her friend had finished at her father's tomb, and she had discovered that the trail Petros was buried near was the Eversleep, and the Black Path was the next path along the trail. Petros' journal had indicated that the the false crypt was supposed to be at the intersection of those two paths, which made it quite easy for her to find.
She was close to the graves which she had seen the strange vision at the day before when once again a chill ran up her spine and her skin prickled. Following her spidey-sense, Buffy walked off the trail and into the rows of graves, stopping in front of an old, weathered tombstone. While the sensations she felt was subtly different from that which would have called her to a tomb in Sunnydale, it was similar enough to cause her to wait at the old grave for whatever was to come.
She didn't have to wait long as the ground before her suddenly began to bulge until, with a burst of dirt, a skeletal hand thrust out of the earth, groping around for a moment, before being joined by its fellow. With a great heave, a skeleton forced its way out of the grave and into the world of the living.
Buffy had not been idle, her years of experience in Sunnydale leading her to pull a stake from her pocket the second she noticed a figure trying to escape its own grave. The undead monster in front of her was very much not a vampire, however, being nothing more than a skeleton with browned bones and the tattered remnants of its funeral shroud caked with dirt. Buffy wasted no time and simply flipped the stake around in her grip, before stepping forward and swinging the piece of wood through a wide, looping arc that knocked the skull from the monster with a sharp crack of breaking bone. It stood still for a moment, before she followed up her initial attack with a single downward blow that shattered its sternum, sending it to the ground in a pile of broken bones.
Buffy looked around the graveyard once more, but everything was still again. “Well,” she muttered under her breath, “I guess that does mean something's up.”
Buffy continued on more cautiously than she had been, but before long she reached her destination without any further complications. The crypt that she had been seeking turned out to be a freestanding granite mausoleum near the intersection of the two paths with a pair of gargoyle statues on its roof. Its door was made also made of stone, with a rusty iron lock holding it shut.
Buffy had learned some basic lock picking from Giles to help her in her duties, and Spike had taught her many more tricks one day when she had needed a distraction after being torn from her rest before she had started sleeping with him. Pulling out her tools, she examined the lock carefully only to put them away with a smirk when she realized the truth. While the lock seemed intact from a distance, it was in fact broken. Carefully opening it she saw that it had been subtly disabled with a few well placed drops of acid, most likely by Petros when he had raided the tomb before her.
Inside the mausoleum were many niches intended for placing the bones of the deceased, but all were empty save a thick layer of dust and cobwebs. Buffy looked at the floor, and quickly noticed the dust had been disturbed fairly recently in a single trail leading deeper into the tomb. Following the trail, Buffy glided down a set of stone steps into an underground crypt which was just as empty as the one above. Pausing until her vision finished adjusting to the near darkness, Buffy carefully followed the trail to a single stone sarcophagus standing by itself at the back of the room.
Buffy widely placed her hands on the lid to maximize her control, and with little effort slid the heavy top to the side to reveal the cache of suplies Petros had written about. Several piles of arrows, some with gleaming silver heads, others of fine make which caused her fingers to tingle slightly when she picked them up sat alongside several tiny bottles, some gold tipped iron rods and a stack of scrolls. Beside all of those was a thin case of dark colored wood with an image of a beetle with a single eye on its back engraved on the lid.
Opening the case, Buffy found that it contained a wooden board with a triangular brass instrument sitting on it, and a set of small glass vials capped with iron on each end. Pulling out one of the vials she immediately saw that contained a small vortex of swirling white vapor, twisting about as though it were a tiny tornado trapped within the green glass. The iron end caps were decorated with intricate runes and small depictions of skulls, and one end had a protrusion that appeared to be able to be rotated, although Buffy declined to do so until she had a chance to find out more about the objects. Looking at the other items, she carefully pulled them from the case and held the board up to the dim moonlight still drifting down through the open doors above. It was covered in the alphabet and several words and numbers, and it took Buffy a minute to realize that she was looking at a ouija board.
Carefully packing up everything, Buffy placed it all in her bag of holding before resealing the sarcophagus. Walking without a sound she exited the tomb and closed its door behind her, setting the lock back into place to give it the appearance of being undisturbed.
Buffy moved carefully as she glided through the night, keeping her senses open for both dangers, having encountered such less than an hour previously, as well as townsfolk that could observe her. While Buffy could probably talk her way out of trouble if she were caught out so late, it could still lead to nasty rumors. The last thing she needed was the superstitious locals believing she was a necromancer or grave robber.
She had reached the dirt road into town and was nearing the cobblestoned main street when she felt the hairs as the back of her neck stand up once again as the feeling of something walking over her grave hit her. Looking around carefully, she soon noticed a disturbance in the dust of the road. Slowly along the ground dust was dislocating as though something were moving down the road, but other than the faint tingle to her slayer senses she could see or feel nothing in the area.
Buffy crouched down next to the marks in the dust and spent several minutes examining them. Despite what certain mouthy winterwolves thought, Buffy knew that she had come a long way with her skills as a tracker since her arrival in Golarion. While a true expert would have figured it out sooner, it did not take overly long for Buffy to deduce that the parallel ruts in the dust were the sort caused by wagon wheels, and the other marks were horse tracks. Following the trail to where it was being generated, she watched the disturbances as they were being made, and finally determined that the trail was seemingly being caused by an ephemeral horse drawn cart slowly heading into town. Following the trail, she was disappointed when it ended at the cobblestones, the sensations her spidey-sense were sending her quickly fading as well.
* * *
The next day Buffy dove into the books once more, this time trying to figure out what she had found in the fake crypt. The scrolls were meaningless to her, and while she didn't know exactly what kind of magic they had, she knew in general what the enchanted arrows were. Examining the potions, she was able to quickly figure out that they were healing and restoration potions along with several vials of holy water, and so she added them to her pack for later use. That left only the gold tipped rods, and the strange vials in the case along with the ouija board, which she set aside as she began going though Petros' collection of books for any information on the items.
“Where did you manage to locate a spirit planchette?” Kendra asked curiously as she entered the room, looking at the ouija board.
“Huh? A spirit blanket?”
“A spirit planchette. You can use them to communicate with some haunting entities.”
“Oh. We call it a ouija board.”
“Where did you acquire it?”
“I thought we were going to wait until we saw if we would need it.”
“We definitely need it. I was attacked by a skeleton. It just climbed out of its grave last night. Definitely a sign that something is going on.”
“But if you were attacked last night, wouldn't that mean that you had already gone to the graveyard?”
“Well, yeah,” Buffy said, grinning sheepishly. Kendra looked distinctly unimpressed. Finally Buffy sighed, leaning back, her face serious. “I had a slayer dream.”
“A slayer dream? What is that?”
“It's something a slayer gets. They're messages from the PTBs, and they are all with the cryptic. But they tell us stuff we need to know, though usually it's totally worthless until the last second.”
“Do you mean a prophetic dream? What did it say?”
“Like I said, it was big on the cryptic. I'm not sure what it meant, but I do know one thing; I only get slayer dreams when something big is going down.”
Kendra studied Buffy for a minute before nodding seriously. “All right. What do we do?”
Buffy blinked. “I thought I'd have to say more to convince you.”
Kendra shook her head. “I'm a diviner. While I do not get visions of the future, I do know about such things, as the study of divination is my primary mystical interest. I know that visions are usually extremely vague, but if this one has spurred you to action I can only trust your judgement.”
“Okay. Do you know what these are?” Buffy asked, showing her the vials.
Kendra studied it for a moment, before muttering something quietly while making subtle motions with her fingers. “I do not know. They seem to have a faint aura of necromancy, but I'm not sure of their purpose. Did you find anything else?”
“Yeah. Some magic arrows, some silver arrows, a few scrolls, some holy water, and these rod thingees.”
“Those are sun rods. If you strike them they glow brightly for hours. As for the rest, let me examine the arrows for a moment.” She repeated her actions of a moment before, then studied them closely.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm analyzing the magics that created the items to see if I can determine their purpose. It would seem you have ten normal enchanted arrows, five arrows specially designed to harm incorporeal entities, and two intended to slay the undead. They could be very useful if we are to combat ghosts.”
“What about the scrolls?”
Looking through them took Kendra some time, but eventually she seemed satisfied. “They could be useful as well. They contain spells designed for aiding in combating the undead.”
“Well, all I see is some funny squiggly things on paper, so how about you keep those?”
“What should we do now?”
“Now? I want to find out what these vials are. After that I think we need to hit the Temple of Fantasia and see if we can find out who died in the prison fire.”
“Pharasma. And yes, that does sound like a good plan.”
In the end it took most of the day, but Buffy finally found what she was looking for in Petros' bedroom. He had apparently researched the vials himself shortly before his death and had simply never put the books with the answers in them away, making the vials impossible to identify if she hadn't lucked upon them. The vials were haunt siphons, which could drain away the spiritual energies of haunts, weakening them. They were only useable once, but all she would have to do was rotate the end to activate them, draining the haunt. Buffy only had four of them, however, so she decided that she would need to be judicious in their usage.
The next day Buffy managed to drag Kendra away from the house to help her go through the records of the final group of prisoners. The Temple of Pharasma turned out to be an impressive structure, large and solidly built, with the entire eastern facade being an enormous stained glass window. Looking at it as they approached, Buffy was impressed with the level of detail that obviously went into the hand wrought art, although she did not recognize the scene it displayed. She was, however, able to guess that the stern woman judging a richly dressed man at the center of the piece was probably Pharasma, goddess of death.
Inside the building the scent of incense hung heavy in the air, and all was still as no services were being held that day. Buffy followed Kendra past rows of pews to a side hallway where they were met by Father Grimburrow, who had led the service at Petros' funeral. “Hello, child. How are you this day?”
“Hello, Father Grimburrow,” Kendra said politely, a small smile on her face. “I am well.”
“That is good. How may I be of service to you this day?”
“We were hoping to look at your records.”
“Oh? Whatever for?”
“There's something going on,” Buffy interjected. “It looks like ghosts. We're hoping to find some stuff out about who could be causing the troubles.”
Father Grimburrow eyed her for a moment, forcing Buffy to repress the urge to fidget. “Our Lady of Graves is an enemy to all undead abominations. If your research can help lay such to rest, then go with Pharasma's blessing.”
Kendra nodded her head reverently. “Thank you, Father.”
The records room was a small, dusty side chamber packed with heavy books written with cramped semiliterate hands over the more than a century that had passed since Ravengro's founding. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun,” Buffy said sarcastically.
The records for the townsfolk that had died were easy to find. They had already seen the names before, as they were the twenty-five people recorded on the Harrowstone Memorial. Twenty-three were regular guards, and while Kendra noted them for later reference, nothing stood out as particularly interesting about them. The Warden was named Lyvar Hawkran, and according to the records when the prisoners rioted he triggered a deadfall to ensure that they could not escape, even though doing so trapped him and most of his men in with the prisoners.
Other than the Warden, there was only one interesting name from the list of well known victims. The Warden's wife, Vesorianna Hawkran, should not have been in the prison, yet somehow she had died during the fire. Nothing that they could find in the records indicated why she had perished that day.
The entire prisoner population of Harrowstone had died as well, but the records of most of them contained little of interest to anyone. They were all tried and convicted of various crimes, and were either serving sentences in the prison or were awaiting execution. Eventually, however, Kendra discovered the first name to catch their interest. “Buffy, listen to this one. Vance Saetressle, called The Lopper. He liked to stalk his victims for days, usually hiding in unexpected places, like a closet or hayloft, until his target was alone. Then he beheaded them with his handaxe.”
“Gruesome. Also: freaksome.”
“Indeed. He apparently was scheduled to be executed, but instead died in the fire.”
“That's definitely our first candidate for an angry ghost. And I've got a second. Ispin Onyxcudgle. The Mosswater Marauder. He found his wife cheating on him, so he killed her with a hammer.”
“That doesn't sound that unusual.”
“Yeah, well, he then had the bright idea that he could bring her back to life if he put her skull back together.”
“Alright. That is perhaps a trifle odder than most.”
“He couldn't find the last piece though, so went looking for a replacement.”
“Oh, my. I can already see that not leading to anything positive.”
“He killed like, twenty people before they caught him. So yeah, lets put him in the maybe pile.”
They worked for a while longer in silence, although something about the stories that they had found kept bothering Buffy. Before she could figure out what was off, however, Kendra found another name. “This one is certainly destined for the, well, 'maybe pile'. The Piper of Illmarsh. They never found out his real name. He liked to torment his victims by playing mournful music on his flute. Then he would paralyze them by putting lich dust in their food and letting his pet stirges drain them dry.”
“That is wiggy. Can you imagine that? Being paralyzed, unable to do anything, while you're slowly eaten?”
“Honestly, I'd rather not,” Kendra answered with a shudder.
“Wait a sec,” Buffy said sitting up suddenly. “I thought something about those two sounded familiar. My slayer dream had this nursery rhyme thingee in it that these creepy little girls were singing. I wrote it down... let me see...” Buffy spent a minute digging through her bag of holding until she found her journal. When she had had her slayer dream she had recorded it in full after returning from her trip with Kendra to the cemetery, and she had fortunately been able to copy the rhyme accurately.
“Here we go. 'Put her body on the bed. Take a knife and lop her head.'”
“Well, I'm not sure about the bed part or the knife, but the Lopper did take heads.”
“'Watch the blood come out the pipe. Feeds the stirge, so nice and ripe.'”
“That one is much closer than the Lopper at least.”
“'Drops of red so sparkly bright. Splatters spell her name just right.'”
“Spelling names in blood? I haven't seen anything like that on the prisoner list yet, but someone seems to be spelling something in blood on the monument every few days. Perhaps it's a name?”
“'With a hammer killed his wife. Now he wants to claim your life.'”
“That one is simple, of course, and would seem to support your choice of the Mosswater Marauder.”
“'Tricksy father tells a lie. Listen close or you will die.'”
“Oh!” Kendra said, diving into her pile of records. “I know that one. Father Charlatan. His real name was Sefick Corvin. He travelled around with a group of Sczarni...”
“Sczarni. They're a kind of Varisian criminal. Anyway, he pretended to be a priest of various religions in order to sell fake services and cures and such. When he was exposed his accomplices killed a group of city guards while seeking to escape, and he was sent to Harrowstone. I had overlooked it since he hadn't killed anyone directly, but...”
“Yeah, he goes on the list. If we're right we need one more, since it looks like my rhyme had five people in it.” Several minutes later Buffy looked up. “Found that last one. And he was one sick puppy.”
Kendra set her own book down and gave Buffy her full attention. “Who was he?”
“Hean Feramin. He was a scholar until he got all obsess-o about names and death, and he decided to do something about it. He would send someone a message with their name in blood, and then he would kill them in some really complicated way. Usually messy too. It's why he got the name The Splatter Man.”
“Well, we have seen evidence of him at least. And if your rhyme is correct, then we have figured out which prisoners are likely to be a problem, even from beyond the grave.”
“Five problems. Why did I think guarding the Hellmouth was annoying again? I mean, at least I could go Bronzing afterwards...”
Buffy smiled at her friend as they put away books, explaining to her the rituals her friends had come up with to unwind after doing her duty. While she missed them terribly, she no longer felt so pained remembering the good times that they had had together, and so she happily relayed stories of her comrades as they walked back towards Kendra's home. However, she was soon surprised when she heard music ahead. Frowning as they entered the town square she asked, “What's the what?”
“The 'what' is music of course. There is not much to do in a small farming community like this one, so many of the townsfolk like to dance and make music when they can. It may not be 'Bronzing' but Ravengro has its own entertainments.”
The town square was indeed full of townsfolk, with a dozen musicians of varying levels of skill enthusiastically playing instruments or singing from the wooden gazebo at the center of the cobblestoned area. All around the square more than two score people laughed, danced and otherwise made merry with their fellows.
Buffy grinned and grabbed Kendra's arm. “Come on! Lets dance.” The style wasn't the sort that she normally liked, but the last time she had danced had been tainted by the fact that it was being done at the behest of an enthralling vampire, and nothing was going to prevent her from enjoying herself now.
“Um, really, that is not necessary,” Kendra began, trying to pull away from Buffy, who simply ignored her distress. “Really, I'm not overly fond of dancing, I...”
“Look, it doesn't matter if you're any good or not. Look at these people! They're all enjoying themselves, not worrying about looking stupid. Live a little, Kendra. It'll do you a world of good!”
Kendra remained reluctant, but after a few minutes of being swept along by her energetic friend she found herself relaxing and starting to enjoy herself. The dances were basic country affairs, but even more than that the townsfolk were simply interested in having fun rather than following strict forms, so no one commented about the awkwardness of her own movements. She had just begun to really enjoy herself when the screaming started.
Two creatures were flying above the square, their wings beating in sync with the music, their bodies weaving and diving with its rhythms. They were the size of fully grown tomcats, with four black batlike wings each flapping to hold their rusty red bodies aloft. Along their backs were short curly black hairs, and from their heads pale pink proboscises were extended. “What are they?” Buffy asked as she began to push through the crowd.
“Those are stirges,” Kendra replied as she followed her friend. “They usually dwell in the wilderness. They drink blood from large creatures, such as deer, cattle, or well, people. But they never go after large groups, much less enter a town like this!”
“They seem to disagree. Also, giant mosquito bats? Eww.”
Suddenly one of the stirges dove downward, its four wickedly barbed limbs grasping onto a stout farmer before digging its proboscis into his back, sucking blood. The crowd began to panic and flee, the music stopping as instruments were discarded in the terrified rush. For just a moment the still aloft stirge paused in it flight path, until suddenly it moved in a more natural fashion, diving down for its own victim.
Buffy stopped being polite the moment she saw one of the townsfolk being attacked and began simply shoving people aside so that she had the freedom to move. Speeding up she pulled a stake from her sleeve and threw it hard at the airborne stirge, the sharpened wood striking it dead center in its stomach, pinning it like a butterfly in an insect collection. Still flapping its four wings erratically the dying creature hit the ground twitching.
When Buffy finally reached the now weakly struggling victim, she wasted no more time and simply grasped the stirge's proboscis with one hand and its abdomen with the other. She was surprised to discover that it felt almost leathery under her hands despite its somewhat insectile appearance. Putting one foot against the farmer's back Buffy pulled hard, until with a great heave of her superhuman strength she tore the creature from its meal, leaving four barbed legs behind in the man's body as he screamed. Shifting her grip so that both hands held the struggling creature by its long snout she swung the stirge hard onto the cobblestones, bursting it like an overripe tomato, sending its insides and recent red meal splattering across the ground.
Turning around she saw Kendra already applying first aid to the victim, her face white but hands steady. Pulling suplies from her bag of holding Buffy joined her friend, applying bandages to the smaller wounds while Kendra worked on the larger.
“Did you notice the way they moved,” Buffy asked while she worked.
“I was too shocked that they were here to notice much else,” Kendra replied honestly.
“They were following the music better than most of the dancers were.”
“Music and stirges? Like the Piper...”
“Yeah. Lets put him in the 'definitely pile.'”
* * *
Buffy was more prepared for the early morning wake up when it came the next day, having already experienced it twice before. She didn't even whine to herself too much as she got dressed and grabbed some portable breakfast to eat as she followed Kendra down the dirt road. The sky looked as though it would rain soon, but even so they weren't the only people interested in checking out the memorial.
Everything was the same as it had been on the two previous occasions. Blood spattered the statue and the ground around it, and letters were written in blood across the names engraved at the monument's base. This time there were three letters, 'VES'.
“Given the various oddities that have been occurring of late, I somehow doubt that this replication of the Splatter Man's method is a coincidence,” Kendra said quietly so as to avoid the crowd's notice.
“There are only two things that I don't believe in: coincidences and leprechauns,” Buffy replied in just as low of a tone, before pausing with a disturbed look on her face. “There are no leprechauns in this world, right? Because it is way too early in the morning for there to be.”
“I've never heard of such a creature, although we are most certainly getting away from any salient point. Am I the only one to find it odd that the letters are forming a most unusual name, but one that, in point of fact, is right before us?”
“You're doing that thing again where you make the kind of sense that doesn't.”
“'V'-'E'-'S'. Look, on the monument. The warden's wife.”
“Vesorianna. No, I doubt that's a coincidence at all.”
“But why would the ghost of the Splatter Man be writing the name of a dead woman?”
“I dunno. But I do know one thing.”
“What is that?”
“We need to catch who or whatever is doing this,” Buffy said, gesturing at the monument.
“A stakeout.” Author's Notes
They may be odd and very specific in purpose, but Buffy definitely has picked up some new magical thingamajigs. Things continue apace for her investigation of the events of Haunting of Harrowstone, and obviously I continue to use that as a reference, including once again using the rope skipping rhyme from that book.
For those who have a copy of that adventure, she avoided the monsters in the tomb because she was too quiet for the to notice without a light.