Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Villanoska Mystery: The Road to Villanoska

Hurstcote is as vile a den of corruption as you might dare imagine. Within an opium den in a particularly loathsome street three "heroes" gather to meet their prospective employer: Isoline, a dark-eyed gypsy left upon the doorstep of a cathedral; Marius, a thin, nervous man from an ancient house who dabbles in the criminal underworld; Galen, a gnarled little brute with a taste for whiskey and a thorough knowledge of the darkened woods.

Their employer, Madame Urania, is a hulking woman who speaks plainly. She has had a distressing letter from her sister in a village to the north. According to her sister, the citizens of Villanoska have been turning up dead with alarming frequency, and the death do not seem to stem from natural causes. Each victim was found bloated and water-logged, as if they had been drowned at sea--a strange thing for a land-locked village. Though little love is lost between Urania and her sister, Urania feels a duty to send some willing bodies to Villanoska to fetch her sister before she becomes the next victim to whatever is plaguing the village. 

As the heroes set out the next morning they are relieved to let the stink of Chancel recede behind them. But all is not well in the dark lanes that lead north from the city. Sharp-eyed Marius realizes that the trio are being shadowed by creatures who stay just out of sight within the trees. Surreptitiously, they ready their weapons for the inevitable ambush. 

The ambush comes in the form of a number of shambling figures breaking forth from the treeline, surging forward on legs seemingly set at the wrong angle, waving butcher knives and rough-hewn clubs. Galen lets his blunderbuss sing its scattershot song, Marius slips his rapier between ribs with insouciant aplomb, and Isoline calls down the burning wrath of the saints. The group take a few minor wounds, but soon the landscape is littered with the misshapen corpses of their attackers. As this is no safe ground to regroup upon, they opt not to rest here and instead press on to                                                          Villanoska.

Ah, Villanoska at last! A sleepy, ramshackle village protected by a poorly-mended wooden stockade. Urania's sister, Cybaline, is located. She's reluctant to leave the town; when pressed for what little information she has she remarks that if the characters can discover the source of the murders in the village they will receive a substantial reward. 

Others are questioned--and it is determined that the only known source of water in the village is the common well at the center of the what passes for the town square. The well is nondescript from the outside, and shows no signs of obvious malevolence. 

Unconvinced that all is as innocuous as it seems, Galen is lowered down into the well by his rope-laden compatriots. Deep within the well he notes that there are holy runes dedicating it to Saint Arethia--except that these runes have been crudely defaced. Whatever sanctity once guarded this important source of water has been utterly effaced.

The trio retreat to the way-inn to ponder what this might mean, replenish themselves with food and rest, and to wait for the morning sun to rise before taking action.