Original post: http://www.fasagames.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=197
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Minuial and Shale spun away from the banquet table, looking for the source of the scream. On the far wall, they spied the source: a man alone at a table, an up-ended chair thrown to the side. His face was a mask of horror as he pressed himself flat against the wall, nails dug into the wood. He stared into the crowd with a breathless scream pouring from his mouth.
The two adventures hustled through the mass of villagers in the direction of the man's gaze. With a bit of pushing, they came to a small void in the crowd where the crumpled form of a woman lay. Her head was thrown back from her shoulders, her neck a ragged mess of torn flesh and muscle, and a pool of glistening blood slowly spreading out and away. An uneven smear disrupted the otherwise smooth finish of the liquid. The smear seemed to originate from the neck, proceed through the pool, and led off into the crowd.
A heavy thud sounded somewhere further ahead in the direction of the smear. Again, the two shouldered their way through the Humans, this time only briefly, until they came across Eristed. He stood in an awkward fighters pose, swordsmanship never his forte, with his stone short sword suspended before him. A creamy grey ichor coated the edge of his blade.
"What manner of beast IS this?!" he mumbled as his companions came upon him.
A grotesque grub-like creature the size of a house cat lay motionless under Eristed's blade, it's body neatly bisected near one of its segments. The same thick ichor on the short sword slowly drained from the cut and mingled with the smear of Namegiver blood beneath.
It was only then, with the excitement subsiding and the scream dying away, that a disquieting realization came to the adventures: all around them, the villagers continued to dance and laugh. Indeed, even when the three were pressing their way through the Humans, it had been through dancing partners, not shocked onlookers. The music had never stopped. Even now, the couples spun arm in arm, unbothered in the slightest at their dead companion underfoot.
Eristed grabbed at the nearest Human and caught him by the shoulders.
"Have you no SHAME, man?! A woman lies dead, and yet you DANCE?!"
The villager seemed unphased by Eristed's words or tone. The joyous smile stayed upon his face, the twinkle of merriment in his eyes undiminished. He laughed as if having just a heard a joke and shrugged off Eristed's hands without hostility. His hand reached into the crowd behind him with a keen eye's glance and returned with a frothing tankard of ale. The villager offered the drink to Eristed with good nature. "Celebrate, my friend, the Free Days are upon us!" And with that, his arm hooked around a nearby woman's waist, and he disappeared into the crowd with his new dancing partner. Eristed stood slack jawed, the tankard loosely held and his eyes staring vacantly at the place where the man had disappeared into the crowd.
Shale's hand came down upon Eristed's shoulder with a reassuring weight. "Let us talk with the man." He hooked his head in the direction of the traveler who had first alerted them.
The three made their way off of the floor and found the man collapsed to his knees beside the table. His face was buried into his hands, his shoulders shaking violently and unevenly as he a sobbed. He looked up at the three as they approach but seemed to barely register their existence.
"Calm down, friend," Eristed said softly as they approach. Shale reached out and easily righted the toppled chair. His large hands eased the man back into the seat with no resistance offered.
"My wife ..." the man whispered between sobs. The three looked back to the floor, glimpses of the fallen woman appearing briefly beyond the prancing figures.
"What's going on here." As ever, Minuial's question burst forth without preamble, more a statement in tone than a request for information. Eristed smiled soothingly to the man and eased into a chair beside him. "Do you know what is happening here," he asked softly.
"I ... I don't know. I'd only just returned from a trip in to town to find ... this. No one seemed to truly acknowledge my presence, not even my wife, and no matter my efforts, I could not get her to stop and sit with me, to explain why all our friends were so overcome. Now ... now she's dead ..." His words trailed off as another wracking sob overtook him.
Eristed hefted off his backpack and began rummaging through its contents. "Does it seem everyone is here? Is there no one else who might have an answer?" The man took a few more moments to quiet himself before replying.
"As best as I can tell, all the village is here. There are not so many of us that one could go missing and be overlooked."
"Anyone else, then? Perhaps a nearby village?"
"There ... there is an Adept, not far from here. A Beastmaster. He trades with us sometimes for his needs but prefers the solitude of his tree-top home and his beasts."
Eristed nodded in understanding as his hands finally closed around his quarry. He pulled from the backpack a massive tome which he set upon the table in front of him. The cover had an odd greasy sheen to it as if the leather came from some unnatural creature that still somehow exuded oils from the dead flesh. Odd knots, scars, and ridges marred the hide, giving the book a most unwelcoming appearance. The lower corner of the book had long ago burned away, the leather singed and warped, the pages within blackened and fallen away unevenly where the fire had touched it.
Eristed flipped through the pages. Glimpses of vicious creatures and scrawling text flashed by as the pages turned. Illustrations of monstrosities that had no right to exist on this realm seemed to cover the tome, sometimes seemingly sketched over the words or perhaps the words over them. The words themselves were undoubtedly in Throalic, but they all appeared uneven, odds points at random letters, text sometimes written at off angles or in swirls somehow written from the outside of the page in and yet ending neatly at the center.
"Here." The pages stopped turning as Eristed's finger fell upon one of the eerie pages. A picture of a creature not unlike the grub-thing was scrawled atop the page. Below the drawing, short sentences and paragraphs littered the page without order, some entries written overlapping others. "The thing is most definitely a Horror construct. No doubt these villagers are under some form of possession or compulsion by the Horror that crafted them."
The sound of violent retching mingled with the music and laughter. Eristed shot to his feet, and the three forced their way through the dancers towards the source. They came upon a man, collapsed to hands and knees, head thrashing and back arching as he attempted to empty the contents of his stomach. A great mass began to swell within his throat, his thrashing more and more urgent. The skin began to split under the stress of the mass, blood welling up along the cuts. Finally, the man's eyes rolled up to show only whites and the skin of his neck ruptured like an over-ripe fruit. Another of the grub-like constructs spilled out, wriggling in the viscous blood accompanying its birth. All around, the dancing continued unabated.
Shale struggled to free the war hammer from his back as the construct righted itself and began squirming away. The dancers seemed to crowd around the adventures, oblivious to the macabre events. Not one of the three could draw their weapons as the construct disappeared between the legs of the villagers.
Precious moments passed before the troupe could shove away the Humans enough to ready for battle. By then, the construct seemed to have disappeared. Minuial pointed wordlessly, she the first to rediscover the trail of blood meandering away. The creature seemed to have made good it's escape in the commotion - the door to the hall stood slightly ajar with the crimson smear passing over the threshold.
The three dashed out once more into the falling night and raging storm. Yards away, the construct was heading away into the forest. In the mere minutes that had passed, the thing had more than doubled in size, it's fleshy legs beginning to harden with the barest beginning of jagged claws appearing. A font of ichor sprayed up and out as Shale's war hammer fell upon it, easily killing the grub. A sucking sound drifted from the corpse as Shale drew back the head of his weapon.
Eristed spoke the words on all of their minds. "It seems we have little time before all the village is lost."
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