Trotter and Kurz Lum have left Castle Greatpine and have made their way to the outer ring of the city, an area known as the Sun District that is not shadowed by the boughs of the tree. Ducal script and seal in hand, they have bartered on a fair price from a local coachman, who has agreed to carry them as far as Orn, despite reservations regarding rumors of disappearances from the region.
The three travelers make their way southwest along roads paved with white stone, following the twists and turns of that Karn River. The countryside to the east is flat and arable, and farmers work its every inch. To the south, the countryside begins to roll, and they pass several watchtowers manned by ducal servants. It is a day and a half journey to Orn, the nearest outpost from the capital and a spot of common archaeological attention.
Orn is almost entirely a normal town, populated by farmers, stonecutters and men who fish the nearby river. Merchants often pass through the town on their way between Waterwall and Greatpine, lending it an air of busyness that the populace alone would not provide. Its only truly notable feature is the keep that dominates the town's eastern side. A block of perfectly smooth stone, seventy feet high and without seam nor mortar, the keep at Orn is a remnant of old Imperial holds on the isle, and is woven with powerful enchantments by the long dead Imperial Magisters. Magisters were ancient enchanters, weaving powerful spells into weapons, armor and even into the walls of palaces and keeps. The keep at Orn has never fallen to invasion, it's walls self-mending. An army could work day and night picking at its walls and find their way no deeper than when they started. Archaeologists come from the mighty Gray Hand Guild to study the walls and the library that the governor, Markot, keeps deep below the keep.
After dropping them off in the city, the coachmen looks about fearfully. "Strange goings on, friends," he says. "Mighty strange. If ya can survive, maybe I'll give you a ride away from these haunted places."
"Many thanks, friend," Kurz says. The pair have arrived near midday and the sun is high in the sky.
The coachman rides off. Trotter leans against a nearby building. "Open your eyes, Kurz," he says. "Take a look around. Midday and no people in the streets. And look up there. Gouges in the crossbeam of that house, like something climbed along the rooftops with claws all a-clicking. And in that alley, looks like dried blood."
"What are you saying?" Kurz asks.
"I know monsters well enough," Trotter says. "And this be monsters, not superstition."
"I think you are reading too much into little, meaningless things," Kurz replies. "Let us seek council with the governor."
The pair wind their way through the town. They see a few people, going about their daily business, but the town has a strange air of stillness about it. A chill runs down Trotter's spine.
"I'm quite sure there's something wrong here," he says.
Kurz glances sidelong at him. "You are being superstitious as the commonfolk, Trotter."
"We are commonfolk, Kurz," Trotter grips his bow tightly. "We have a right to be superstitious."
Kurz ignores him and the pair reach the base of the keep. There is a single visible entrance through the walls, a gate reachable by a single bridge of solid stone over a dry moat. A single guard leans upon his spear at the end of the bridge. He eyes the pair's weapons as they near and straightens.
"What business have you here?" he asks.
Kurz reaches into his pack and pulls out the ducal orders pertaining to their mission. He flashes the seal. "The duke has sent us to speak to the governor, sir. May we have entrance?"
The man squints incomprehensibly at the words, but obviously recognizes the bird imprinted on the large black seal. He swallows. "Of course. I'll lead you to the governor at once."
The adventurers are led across the bridge and into the keep. They are lead down several halls and up a flight of stairs to an upper level, where they cross a courtyard to an inner building. Here, they are led past a series of elaborate doors to the end of a hall dominated by two, massive wooden doors embossed with strange symbols. However, they do not pass through the doors, but turn right and progress up a long flight of spiral stairs to a top level. They are led down a final hall to a simple wooden door guarded on either side by men in armor matching the guide.
"Who're you?" one of the guards asks.
"Adventurers, sent by the duke to help you," Kurz answers.
"More adventurers?" says the guard. "Do you have a script?"
Kurz shows them the ducal seal. One of the guards reads the scroll quickly, then knocks on the door. There is a muffled voice from within, and the guard opens the door and leans in. After a few moments, he turns to Trotter and Kurz and hands them their script.
"Go on in."
The pair of adventurers and their guide enter. The room is austere: no rugs or tapestries as would be common amongst other governors. Shelves of books line the walls to the right and left. The opposite wall is dominated by a huge window. Between the door and the window is a simple wooden desk, extremely well-organized, with a stack of scrolls on the left and a quill and inkpot on the right. Behind the desk and next to the window is a coop of pigeons, merrily cooing in the sunlight.
Behind the desk sits the governor. He shares the Ostengard height and beard, but unlike others of his family, he is less like a tree than a bird. His face is all narrow angles, his body a crow-like cut of fabric. His head is shaved clean, but his beard falls to his waist beneath a hooked nose. His eyes are pale and precise. He is in his late forties or early fifties, but the lines in his face tell of great worries. He carefully wipes the quill he is working with upon a blotter, sets it perfectly parallel to his work and places his fingertips upon the edge of his desk. This is all done with bizarre, ritual care.
"So," he says, his voice a quiet cut of glass. "My cousin has sent more adventurers to solve our problem."
"More?" Trotter asks.
"Did he not tell you?" the Governor raises a hand slowly to his cheek and scratches. "He sent others before you."
"Where are they now?" asks Trotter.
"Dead, I suppose," the Governor's hand returns to the desk. "We cannot be sure. Not yet. But I am rude. My name is Markot Ostengard. I am Governor of Orn."
"I am Kurz Lum," Kurz replies. "And this is my companion Trotter."
"Charmed, I am sure," says Markot. "I am afraid that you have come some way for very little. Several have tried to hunt the monsters before you and have failed."
"We will not fail," Trotter says.
"All adventurer's make such promises, little one," Markot says.
"We mean it," Trotter replies.
"Perhaps," Markot turns half a smile.
"What makes you think these are monsters?" Kurz asks. "From what I have seen I claim superstition and wicked humanity over monsters."
Markot turns a cold stare on Kurz. "I have proof."
"What proof is that?" Kurz asks.
The Governor slowly stands and moves about his desk. "Several weeks ago, twelve members of the Gray Hand Archaeological Guild arrived to study in my library. Not an uncommon occurrence. However, they came across ancient Imperial writings that I did not have the skill to read. They did. There were claims of an Imperial tomb nearby, perhaps untouched since the days of the Empire. Unwilling to let the chance go to waste, they went to the tomb the next day. Only three returned."
"What happened to the others?" Kurz asks.
"The three claim that they found a tomb that was in pristine condition, untouched by dust, rust or time. They were amazed. There were six graves within, inscribed with disturbing images and held in steel cages ringed in spikes and merged with the stone beneath."
"What did the inscribing show?" Kurz raises an eyebrow.
"There are rubbings in my library, but I dare not speak of them aloud," Markot replies. "Needless to say, the archaeologists were not dissuaded. They saw their chance to study Imperial burial rites as never before. They opened a cage, moved aside the lid of a sarcophagus and..."
"And what?" Trotter asks.
"A beast came from within," Markot answers. "The three who escaped knew well enough to run."
"Well, where are they now?" Trotter responds.
"Returned to Waterwall with their findings," Markot replies.
"Then we must go to Waterwall to speak with them," Trotter replies.
"A two week journey there, another two back," Kurz replies. "And who knows how long in the city. Half the village could be killed by then."
"Then to the tomb," Trotter pulls his goatee. "Perhaps we could lure the creature."
"All that is left of those who disappear is a splash of blood, sometimes not even that," Markot says. "We do not know what the beast wants."
"Provide us with goats," Trotter squints. "Or sheep. As bait."
Markot smiles. "Clever. Very clever. The beast has been known to kill livestock. However, they will come for intelligent creatures first. We always find the corpses of the animals."
"We can test its abilities with the sheep," Trotter replies. "Perhaps get an edge on it."
"Very good," Markot suddenly whirls about to his pigeon coop. "I have a good feeling about you two. Perhaps you will finally drive this horror from Orn. Here, take this."
He turns, holding a pigeon. "Surprisingly clever animals. I breed them myself. They can remember many locations, and will fly there at command. This one knows this keep, Castle Greatpine, a few smaller holds besides. If you discover anything, you can send me a message."
"Perhaps you could provide us with a few other needed supplies?" Kurz asks. "Tents? Water? Food?"
"My quartermaster will be happy to oblige," Markot replies. "Is there any final questions? What reward have you been promised?"
Trotter looks about. "An old watchpost near here, to act as our guildhall once we have repaired it."
The smile falls from Markot's face. "Oh," he says. "Oh, my cousin has a disturbed sense of humour. You have been had, I am afraid. You see, the tomb that the beast comes from..."
"Yes?" Kurz arches an eyebrow.
"Is beneath the old watchtower..."