After our encounter with Celeste’s old scientist acquaintance — who is quite mad, unlike the paragon of clear-mindedness that is your humble Dwarven narrator — Millie’s affliction was remedied and we returned to our new lodgings. I went back to my investigation of the complex, looking for more hidden secrets which I remain certain are lurking within the stone.
A while later Ash and Cat returned. Ash looked like someone had pissed in his beer and Cat wore a mixture of relief and sorrow on her face. I paid them little mind, but overheard as Celeste debriefed them on where they’d been. Apparently Ash had somehow gotten involved in dispensing some justice to an accused murderer, someone called the Clicker Man. But he’d been wrongfully accused, and Cat had saved Ash from executing the poor wretch. With Millie’s help assessing the murder weapon they’d determined that someone had tried to frame the poor bugger. Good thing Cat was there! But then, things always have a way of working out for us.
Well, most of the time.
It was nearing the glooming when someone from Donny’s gambling den came around asking for me. He was offering me a job: to provide security for the evening while some rich toffs visited the den for some dice games. The pay was twenty gold, plus a meal and drinks. Well, I was getting a bit hungry so I happily agreed, and we set off at once.
At the den, I stuffed my face and quaffed a few tankards of ale while we waited. There was another guard, an Orag called Urix, and the dice-player Kelt. Kelt kept himself entertained with skilful dice tricks, expertly rolling them over his fingers. I asked for a go, and grabbed his dice — I was a natural! I could tell he was impressed.
After a couple of hours the guests arrived — Sir Eustace and his wife Lady Katarina were their names. With a bit of chit-chat they settled in and got to their game. I kept an eye on them to make sure they weren’t getting up to any funny business.
For a time, Kelt seemed to be doing very badly and I started to worry that there would be no money left for my promised payment. But then about an hour into the proceedings the tables turned, and within a few hands the visitors had lost all their prior winnings and plunged deep into the red. Kelt was putting on an air of gracious embarrassment at taking so much of their money, and was placing one of the dice from his cup when out of nowhere Katrina stood up, her chair flying out behind him.
“Cheater!” she yelled, pointing at Kelt. “Turn out your sleeves!” In one fluid motion, she pulled out some kind of contraption with a handle and a slightly elongated bulbous part on top. She turned it to Urix and pulled a lever at the handle, and something exploded out of it. In the blink of an eye, Urix’s entire head was turned to soup and his decapitated body slumped to the ground.
She began turning it back to Kelt. My instinct took over and I rushed up onto the table and kicked the weapon. It flew out of her hand, but as quickly as I’d done that, Eustace pulled out a similar device and leveled it at me. Glancing over at the dead Orog, I knew I was outmaneuvered. For a moment, nobody said anything. With a glance back at Kelt, the look in his eyes confirmed that he had in fact been cheating. Shameful behavior, but nevertheless he was my employer for the evening and my duty was to protect him.
Well, I’d like to say that I convinced these knaves to run out with their tails between their legs lest I knock their heads off their shoulders, but sadly this was a fight I couldn’t win. Sometimes, the connections and influence of the rich, plus a weapon capable of felling an Orog in one blow, can’t be matched by even a fine specimen of warriorhood such as myself. After some back and forth, and various threats from me and Eustace, the toff asserted that the only way to satisfy him without further bloodshed was for the money he had lost, and then some extra, to be repaid to him.
I turned back to Kelt. “Well laddie,” I said, “this is your negotiation now.” I stepped off the table. After some bargaining from Donny they settled on a price, Kelt paid them their gold, and the toffs and their entourage left, apparently feeling that the whole thing was a rollicking good laugh.
After my failure to subdue the visitors, I couldn’t help feeling slightly ashamed and I half expected not to be paid. But in fact Kelt and Donny were grateful for my efforts, and even paid me extra. That made me feel a little better.
The next day, Celeste had disturbing news. She had been at the shop where her parents were working when a Templar inquisitor came in and started asking questions. They’d quickly caught the scent of magic on Celeste, and she’s escaped arrest only after legal threats from her father. Unfortunately that gambit also involved revealing Celeste’s true identity. After going so far to escape those bastards, they were onto us once more. It didn’t bode well.
She also had somewhat happier news. That nutter Simon had promised to teach her some new powers in exchange for picking up some artifact from a house somewhere toward the stern of the Rock. We promptly set off, glad to be away from the Pit and whatever Templars might still be lurking there.
After hours of travel, the greenery of the Rock gave way to a more barren landscape, signalling that we were nearing our destination. The house we were headed to belonged to a fellow named Durst and was located in the town of Fulgrim. The artifact we hoped to find there, Celeste explained, was an idol with an eye on it, and supposedly had something to do with the otherworldly being which I had encountered all those years ago in the fighting pit, when we were mere urchins.
As we approached the town, some Charnel Maids came in the other direction. Their wagon was piled with half a dozen dead bodies. Ash stopped and asked them if they could tell us anything useful about the town.
“One who was inclined toward superstition,” said one of the maids, “would conclude that the town was cursed.” Without another word they continued on.
A short time later we entered the town. It all seemed positively charming to me, though my companions seemed troubled by something or other. They kept saying something about whispers. I don’t know what they were on about — I certainly couldn’t hear any more whispers than the usual amount. As we walked the streets I cheerily greeted the numerous friendly apparitions which materialised in the air around me and quickly vanished again. A lovely little town to be sure. I felt that perhaps once I was old and grey I might retire here.
I led the way to the Durst house, for it was plainly obvious which way we needed to go, and we quickly arrived at the impressive four-story manor. One of them asked me how I knew which house to go to. What a silly question! Where else would it be? My friends are a strange lot sometimes.
Standing outside were some young ghosts. They said something about a monster in the basement, which was all I needed to hear really. I charged ahead to the house’s front doors. Ash made short work of the locks, and we entered.
The Durst House
As we stepped into the house, I was struck by just how immaculately clean and well-kept it was. Not the sort of thing I’d usually notice, but after spending some time in our new headquarters and seeing the filthy state the Jagged Storm had left it in, the contrast was striking. The Durst family must have employed the best servants on the Rock.
Without delay we started going through the house, looking for the basement monster. Oh, and the idol I guess. The front room was well appointed, and most importantly had a high quality ornamental longsword over the fireplace, which I immediately purloined. I hate to see a good weapon relegated to mere decoration! In another room, Ash similarly claimed a new crossbow. I helped myself to some fine wine.
No sooner was I starting my fourth goblet of wine when Celeste suddenly jumped over me and dashed out of the room, while Cat attacked a nearby taxidermied wolf. I wondered what had gotten into them, while they babbled incoherently about the dead beast coming to life. But when I looked over to the slashed-open wolf, all I could see was a still, stuffed, dead animal. I thought Cat and Celeste must have been going quite mad.
We moved on, and explored more. We found a dumbwaiter in the kitchen, leading upwards. Soon we’d explored every room of the ground floor, and I formed a mental map of the area. Looking at this mental map as if from above, I came to a realisation: there was a small area, a square maybe five feet to a side which was unaccounted for. On one side of this space was the front room, and on the other side was the dining room. It seemed odd that there would be an empty space just walled off like that. So I did the only rational thing: I swung my warhammer through the wood paneling to find out what was in the extra space. Great banging noises reverberated through the house as my hammer connected with something solid behind.
To my disappointment, it was just a stone support pillar. I was walking away to re-join my friends when it occurred to me that wooden houses do not typically have stone support pillars. What was this trickery? I smashed the other sections of wood paneling surrounding the pillar, but all I could see was a solid wall of stone behind.
I was determined to find out what the pillar really was!
We went upstairs. In the hallway were four suits of armour. They were immaculate and inanimate, so imagine when my surprise when the suddenly became animate and attacked us! The fight was as fierce as it was short. After I knocked one down, they stopped moving and resumed being inanimate objects.
Perhaps this house was playing tricks on our minds. But I had no time to think about that. I had a pillar to inspect. As I expected, the pillar from the first floor continued up through the second story (and presumably up through all four stories). I tore out some more walls covering the pillar, but was disappointed to find more blank stone behind. My friends kept asking me why I was so fixated on the pillar. Fools, could they not see that it was the key to this whole thing?
There were a couple more rooms on this floor, including a library which predictably took Celeste’s interest. I was champing at the bit to get up to the third floor where surely this whole pillar business would be unraveled, but my companions insisted on wasting time checking the rooms on this floor.
When we finally got up to the third floor we had another fight, this time with a two-headed wolf. Well, I say fight — it was more of a slaughter. I let Ash borrow my hammer and he swung it straight into the wolf before it had a chance to move. He struck a mighty blow! I was most impressed. This must be what it’s like for my friends, who get to watch me do that sort of thing on a regular basis. Lucky buggers.
I took a jab at the wolf with my newly acquired longsword, but it had been years since I’d trained with a sword and I succeeded only in lodging the blade clumsily into the wall. Nevertheless, the beast was quickly felled. Unlike the previous encounters, this foe didn’t revert back to being taxidermied, and blood and guts spilled over the floorboards. Curious indeed.
On this floor was a set of doors leading to what appeared to be the bedroom. We could tell it was the bedroom, because we could hear two people clearly in the throes of passion within. The door was locked, so I tried kicking it open. I was successful, or so I thought when the door splintered into toothpicks, but when I looked up, somehow it was still there, untouched. I tried again, with the same result. Ash tried picking the lock, again seemingly with success, but then when he tried the handle it remained maddeningly locked. The wall beside the door was similarly impenetrable.
I was so angry I went and pissed in the bathtub. That’ll learn ‘em. At that point I heard what I was certain was a Dwarven baby crying. I followed the sound to a room containing a baby’s cot. Well, I had my wits about me as I always do, so I approached with extreme caution and with Cat to back me up. Inside the cot was a bundle of cloth which the baby must have been wrapped up in. With my hammer at the ready in case it turned out to be another piece of violent trickery, I used my dagger to carefully unravel the bundle. To my disappointment, it was empty and the crying stopped.
I heard a smash of glass from the next room, and found that Celeste and Ash were being attacked by some kind of ghostly old lady. We made short work of her, and found she’d emerged from a hole in the wall behind a now broken mirror. This hole led the way to some stairs, to the fourth floor.
Before we went up, that strange floating skull of Celeste’s hinted at us about a hidden room back on the second floor. We hurried down and quickly found our way in. There were more books here (boring), and a note which revealed some strange things about Durst and his family. Evidently they were cultists who worshiped some eldritch being — possibly the same one I had seen as a youngster — and were found unworthy by it. We also learned that Durst, that dirty old git, had cheated on his wife and produced a bastard son.
After that diversion, we turned our attention to the impenetrable bedroom, and devised a way in: Cat turned to rat form, and used the kitchen dumbwaiter to get up to the bedroom. Once there she turned to bear form, and removed a heavy beam which was barring the door from within. The rest of us were then able to enter the room.
The bed was a tangle of covers, rising and falling as its two occupants continued their horizontal waltz. I pulled off the covers, and was perhaps less surprised than I normally would be to find that there was nobody there. All I could see was fresh, thick blood covering the bed. Just another trick of this dreaded manor.
This room afforded access to another surface of the mysterious pillar. I smashed through the wall, but just as before it was only blank stone. That meant the entrance to whatever hidden passageway might be there must be on the fourth and final floor! I had never been more certain of anything.
I rushed back to the smashed mirror and up the last stairs, with my friends barely keeping up. Up there was an attic level, with several rooms leading off a central corridor. I rushed down the corridor, hurling myself and my hammer at the first wall covering the pillar. Blank stone! There was a door to my right, which I kicked open and entered, where another wall covered the adjacent side. Smash! There was more blank stone. I stood for a moment, confused. Where was the hidden door?
Hesitantly, I turned back to the corridor and opened the left door, where the last face of the pillar was. This was a storage room, dark and dusty and filled with old junk. I suddenly remembered the idol we’d come to find and thought maybe it was in here. I turned back to fetch my friends so we could search the room, vaguely making a mental note to check the last wall of the pillar, but without much hope left.
I found Celeste in the hallway clutching a small doll she’d found in one of the rooms, and Ash picking the lock to another room. When he got it open, we entered and found ourselves in what was obviously the children’s room. Two small, child sized skeletons lay on the floor. The poor kids had been locked inside, and starved to death. One of the skeletons was clutching a toy. The other simply lay with its empty hands on its waist.
We all paused for a moment, taking in the tragic scene. Then, Celeste stepped forward and placed the doll in its arms.
The tiny skeleton moved, and then spoke. “Dolls are for boys,” it said in a young girl’s voice. But the dead girl seemed to smile, and both children seemed suddenly at peace.
Celeste asked the girl if she could tell us anything about the house or her family. The skeleton simply pointed at a doll’s house that was sitting on the floor nearby. Then she stopped moving, forever.
We looked at the dollhouse. It was a perfect replica of the house we were currently standing in. Celeste stepped over to it and started inspecting it, looking for clues about the house. I suddenly remembered the pillar, and stepped over to look at the house too. The pillar was there in the dollhouse! I scanned my eyes over it, looking for irregularities. I started to get this dreadful feeling. Was I wrong? All I could see was a single, unbroken stone pillar.
Crestfallen, I slumped to the floor and gave the dollhouse a half-hearted thump on the roof with my fist. I sat on the carpet and sighed.
“Dain!” Celeste gasped. “Look!” She was pointing at something in the dollhouse. It was the attic room with all the junk. Something had opened on the pillar. A door! A door in the one surface of the pillar I hadn’t yet checked.
We hurried down the hallway to the junk room, and I quickly found a latch in the wall. The hidden door swung open, to reveal a cramped spiral staircase leading down.
Down to the basement.