“What’s one day in the most amazing city we have ever been to?” Elif said, grinning.
“…Fine.” I sighed and shook my head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile so widely. She then scurried off into the city.
I spent the day selling off the things we picked up in the Underdark while Elif and Gunnar went out and about to find… whatever it was Elif wanted here. I couldn’t fathom what anyone might want in this place. The whole place unsettled me, to be honest.
Following selling everything off, I headed to the docks to investigate a trip up north, though the sailors all whispered rumors of a bone ship which seemed to stymie travel plans. When I returned, I met up with the others at the tavern near the inn we were staying at. Somehow, Gunnar had sustained a rather terrible wound to his shoulder, which I healed. The locals were talking about a kill identified as the Blood Hand Killer. He tore them apart, and while the city would have liked him alive, they would take him dead also. He’d struck in the district the last night—in the alley behind the Wilted Flower. By that time, Lionel had retired, and we left him to rest while we headed to the Wilted Flower.
When we arrived, we learned the killer had struck again. A prostitute lay sprawled in the alley. Her neck had been broken, and the killer shoved something blunt into the trachea and used that to leverage their tear of her body. The neck had been broken postmortem, so the girl had been alive when the killer brutalized her. My stomach tightened a little, though I had seen so much death in my life that I retained my composure with little effort. Though the idea of someone doing this to another disturbed me just as much now as it would have when I were younger.
“He used something blunt. And she was alive,” I said. “He didn’t use a weapon—he did this with his hands. I’m not entirely sure whoever did this was human.”
“It happened in the last two hours. The blood hasn’t even coagulated yet.”
Gunnar nodded and went to knock on a few windows. When he returned, he told us people told him they heard someone running down the street and directed us in that general direction.
“The killer went west,” Asakku said, rising from where he’d been studying the handprints. He then vanished down the alleyway and returned, telling us about a place that looked like a likely hideout for someone like that. We followed him to the abandoned apartment complex and studied the building. There were multiple entrances, though the door bore a bloody handprint on the frame and on the door itself.
Gunnar shifted into a snake and entered the building to try and locate our quarry without alerting it. A second later, his head appeared out the window and pointed back inside. Well, gestured. He’s a snake.
Asakku shimmied up the outside and entered the building, entering the window near the person we sought. As soon as I thought he was ready, I lifted a booted foot and kicked down the door with a bellow, my sword out and gleaming in the late afternoon sun.
The man on the floor above me bellowed, and life around us stopped for a breath before everyone—human or animal—in our vicinity fled. I use the term “man” loosely. He was a hunched, hulking beast of a man dressed in rags.
Elif slunk past me into the gloom of the room, and I reached up to grasp the edge of the hole and yank, wrenching on the rotted wood of the hole. Flooring tumbled around me, and the man let out a surprised bellow as he landed on the floor in front of me, bleeding, and with a rather large snake wrapped around his legs. The snake hissed in an irritated fashion before slithering up the man’s body and wrapping around him to hold him still.
Asakku jumped down from above, driving an elbow into the creature’s face, knocking him to the ground and rendering him unconscious. He then rose and hurried off to fetch the city watch. While Asakku sought the watch, Elif, Gunnar, and I tied him up. Following that, Elif headed upstairs to see what might be around the area.
The watch arrived, and the man in charge saluted us. “We’ll take it from here. Where are you staying?”
“The Smiling Skull,” Elif said with a huge grin. She’d been far too excited about that place. The sign had a smiling skull over a moon, and carved into the sign were the words, “You’ll sleep here forever.”
We returned to the inn and turned in for the night. Lionel got his own room, while the rest of us shared two to a room. It was comfortable enough. Better than what we had in the underdark. Though we only needed two hours of sleep. I think we were, perhaps, not yet accustomed to not needing so much rest. Nor food. Waking up a short time later, I headed off toward the baths to enjoy a soak.
After dawn, I sought out a local cartographer (who called his business “The Corpse Rose”) to learn more about the area and where we were. When I arrived, I realized he seemed to have mostly maps of crypts around the city. He found financial success in mapping the crypts of the families in the area so that when families sent mercenaries to visit the crypts to clear out infestations, watch for squatters, and so on they sent out mercenaries with more information.
After a rather pleasant discussion with him, I headed back to the tavern to meet with the others. When the watchman arrived to pay us, he invited us to watch the Red Handed Killer’s public execution. He killed several hundred people over the last twenty years, so his capture and death had the city rather excited.
The others went to watch the execution, and I stayed at the inn. Elif and Gunnar walked into the tavern talking about the execution and wearing tunics that said, “I watched the Red Handed Killer get executed, and all I got was this lousy tunic.” I was rather unimpressed, but they seemed rather excited about it.
Asakku headed off to see the scholar about his spear and then vanished for the evening. I spent the evening at the tavern doing little enough.
Gunnar and I headed to the docks to see if there were a ship we could find berth on, though the captain of the guard intercepted us. “We need your help again… please.”
“What do you need?” Gunnar asked, raising a brow.
“The body seems to have risen again and is now terrorizing that wing of the prison… could you help us?”
We looked at each other and then nodded and returned to the inn to collect the other two. We then headed to where the Captain said he would meet us. Upon arrival, he led us back to the prison.
The prison looked to me more like a citadel than most prisons I’ve ever seen. The captain explained what he knew of the situation to us and offered five thousand gold to deal with the problem. Well… here we go, I supposed.
Deciding that the door would likely be closed after us, Gunnar turned his staff into a snake, and I put my back into opening the massive iron door a short distance to gain better understanding of the situation and see what lay beyond.
Inside cell block 385, we saw a fresh, skinned corpse with a great deal of damage. The eyes focused on us, and it gurgled in our general direction. The snake slithered in and bit at the corpse, but it smashed the thing pretty well. Asakku shot his crossbow and missed rather dramatically, opening one of the cells. Not that there was anything in it.
Elif fired at him, but missed, and Gunnar sent an acid dart in the monster’s direction. The beast crouched down and scuttled toward us, its entrails dragging across the floor, and its feet slapping the stone with wet, sloppy sounds. A horrible stench rolled over us, and Elif vomited.
The beast leaned forward on its hands and fortified itself, vomiting in a projectile line at Asakku, Gunnar, and I. Bile and horribleness covered my armor, and bone shards slammed into my armor, and cut into my skin, leaving jagged tears.
The monster vomited again, coating Asakku and Gunnar and coating the floor around the door. Raising my bow, I shot an arrow at the monster, burying the arrow into its neck. It let out a thick, wet sound of displeasure. Gunnar cast a spell, pelting him with rocks.
As we hoped, the beast began crawling under the door, and I hit the release lever, slamming the massive door down onto its back, pinning the monster between the iron door and the floor. From beneath the thin slit of the door, one of the intestines slammed out toward me, trying to find purchase on my armor and wrapping around my waist, tightening and crushing my armor into me in a painful manner.
I struggled with the slippery thing, trying to keep the damn thing away from my face. Asakku rushed forward and drove his spear into the thing twice, eliciting snarls. Gunnar followed suit, rushing forward to bury his scimitar into the creature’s back.
The creature released me, and attacked Gunnar with a snarl, raking him with its front fingers. Gunnar let out a startled gasp as the monster disemboweled him and then collapsed to the floor, the life fading from his eyes.Asakku backed away and fired the crossbow at the beast. Before I could do much of anything, vines grew over and through and around Gunnar, destroying the corpse and, with it, my hopes that we could resurrect him.
“For Gunnar!” I roared, backing off and firing my crossbow, imbuing it with my fury and prayers. The arrow slammed into the monster, destroying one of its arms. With its one remaining arm, he pulled himself free and began crawling across the floor in my direction, leaving a trail of blood and ichor behind him.
I drew my falchion and snarled, waiting for the monster to reach me. When it did, I split the beast’s body in twain, destroying it. I then approached Elif. “Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking up at me with sad eyes. “I just… I couldn’t.”
I patted her back. “It’s all right.” I looked over at Gunnar. The vines covering his body had grown wooden and thorny. Sighing, I went over to the corpse and studied it. “It’s a rawbones. Type of undead spawned from torture. Particularly dangerous and usually solitary.”
I walked over toward the vines and studied them when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man in brown sackcloth sneaking away from us. “Hey!” I called out, but he broke into a run, disappearing around the corner.
Rather than chase him, I knelt beside Gunnar’s body and administered funary rites. “This isn’t normal,” I said. Elif sighed and nodded and began trying to remove the vines. I assisted her, hoping to reclaim the body of our fallen friend.
Instead of a corpse, we discovered a dwarf wearing Gunnar’s clothing. The tension got to me, and I fell onto my ass from my knees and began laughing. What a sight that must have been—a bunch of gory folk sitting in the middle of a charnal house studded with vomit and vines, one of them laughing herself into tears.