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The Horror on Rooster Hill

The Horror on Rooster Hill Garson grimaced as his shoulder was acting up again. The creeping cold of late autumn so far up north the Sword Coast didn't help. Neither did the many hours spent in the saddle tracking his prey. “I'm getting too old for this manure”, the grizzled old bounty hunter muttered to himself. He decided to continue on for another hour before making camp. He longed for the warmth of a campfire and the relative comfort of his sleeping bag, but his target had a big head start and Garson planed on shortening the distance between them as much as he possibly could push himself to. It had been 5 days since he had left Luskan in pursuit of the man he was hunting. Toben the Unlucky seemed to be heading straight north. Maybe he was trying to lose the bounty hunter somewhere in this sparsely settled wilderness. Or maybe he was just an idiot who didn't know what he was doing. Probably the latter, Garson thought. He just hoped Toben wasn't getting himself killed and dragged off by an Orc tribe or any number of other dangers stalking the countryside. While riding on and looking out for any tracks leading him to his prey, Garson thought about how he ended up here in this gods-forsaken stretch of land. It all began about a month ago in Waterdeep. Toben the Unlucky was just some poor sap, a low ranking member of the thieves guild with a nasty gambling habit and the worst luck imaginable. Rumor had it, he stole from a priest of Tymora as a young man and was cursed with bad luck ever since. No amount of donations to her temple seemed to remedy the situation and it looked like the Lady Who Smiles just hated the poor bastard. Toben got into all sorts of trouble because his ever increasing debts and finally someone threatened to end his miserable life if he wouldn't pay up. So Toben decided to do one big job to pay off what he owed. He managed to rope in Hathgar, a halforc who was even dumber than him and together they tried to break into the mansion of a wealthy merchant. As was to be expected, things went bad. The young wife of the merchant was in the house and alarmed by the sound of a knocked over vase confronted the two wannabe thieves. Toben panicked and stabbed her. Then suddenly the house guards came rushing in, surrounding the two. Somehow Toben managed to escape, but his accomplice Hathgar was captured. After some torture assisted interrogation the halforc confessed to his crimes and gave up Toben's name. During Hathgar's public execution, the grieving merchant proclaimed to pay an insanely huge amount of gold to anyone who would bring Toben the Unlucky to him, preferably alive, though his severed head would do as well. That's were Garson came in. It took some legwork within Waterdeeps underworld and the shaking up of some shady characters, but finally Garson found out that Toben manged to hire on as a sailor on a small merchant vessel bound for Luskan. Garson followed the unlucky thief to the City of Sails. A few bribes here and a few thinly veiled threats there finally lead him to some run down house in the worst part of town, the supposed hideout of his target. It turned out someone must had tipped Toben off, because he awaited the old bounty hunter with a crossbow at the ready. Luckily for Garson, Toben true to form missed his opportunity and the bolt aimed at his heart only pierced his right shoulder. Still, Toben managed to escape again and Garson had to visit a small temple of Ilmater for healing since he was unwilling to pursue the fugitive with his sword arm reduced to uselessness. After being healed Garson got himself a horse and continued the hunt. Every sorry excuse for a village he passed had someone confirming that a man matching Toben's description had come through about a day earlier. Garson was closing in on his prey, he could feel it. The gold was almost his and his well deserved retirement seemed finally near. Over the next hill he could make out the smoke of a few chimneys. Another little hamlet. Maybe Garson could even find a bed for the night there. A comforting thought as he saw the light of the day already fading. As he reached the crest of the hill, Garson observed the tiny village beneath. No more than a dozen houses made out of stone. Something which almost looked like a small tavern in the center right across from a small shrine to Chauntea. A small stream snaked through the village, powering a watermill which looked considerable newer and in better shape than the other structures. Farmland to the north, already harvested. A small field of headstones encircled by a low crumbling wall to the west. To the east more wooded hills. A larger one further back east seemed to have some sort of burned down structure on it's top. There were a few people moving about the hamlet, but as soon as some of them noticed Garson on the southern hill, woman and children headed for their houses while the men gathered in a small group of about fifteen. Garson sighed, but considering the inhabitants of this remote backwater probably had to deal with their fair share of bandits and marauders and also considering his appearance – clad in dark leather armor, a crossbow on his back and a sword on his side – he couldn't hold any distrust towards a stranger against them. He rode slowly towards the group of men, raising his right hand in greeting. One of the men, the oldest of the group judging by his gray beard, took a few steps forward. “Hello there, Stranger. What brings you to Fulton's Rest?” Garson brought his horse to a halt. “I'm looking for a man. Shorter than me, about 15 summers younger. Ugly, thin, brown hair.” The bounty hunter noticed recognition in the eyes of the village folk upon hearing his description of Toben. One among the group wanted to speak up, but a look back from their elderly leader was enough to silence him. “Why are you looking for him?” the old man asked the bounty hunter. Garson spat out a nasty bit of phlegm before replying, “He murdered a young woman while robbing her house. Later the bastard also tried to kill me.” The old man seemed to consider Garson's reply. “You're a bounty hunter then?” Not waiting for an answer he continued. “Yes, that man came to our village yesterday. But he is probably dead by now.” “Or worse” one of the other men added. “The vampires probably made him one of them” a second man said. “No, I told you, they are revenants! Driven mad by their jealousy and hate for the living!” yet a third one argued, his eyes wide in fear. “This is all the doing of that old hag I saw sneaking through the woods, I tell you!” a fourth man exclaimed. A discussion began among the group. “Be quiet, you fools!” the old man shouted and brought them all to a stop. He sighed, rubbed his chin thoughtfully and finally addressed Garson who observed all this in silence. “Well, Stranger, how about joining us for a drink in the tavern while I explain to you what happened? Chauntea knows, I could use one to get this damned cold out of my old bones.” “Sounds good” Garson agreed and dismounted. The strange discussion had made him worry about his bounty, but the thought of a stiff drink next to a warm fireplace was more than welcome. The men ushered Garson into the small drinking hall while one of them took care of his horse. They pulled up a few chairs next to the already lit fireplace and bade him to sit next to their elderly leader. Both Garson and the old man were served a big mug of surprisingly strong ale. Garson took a long sip and let the alcohol warm him from inside. “So what is this all about? Where is that murdering bastard?” he finally asked, after enough warmth had returned to his aching body. The old man stared into the fire. “It all began a few weeks ago. Hugo there”, he pointed at a large man, “takes care of our graveyard. One morning he found the graves of the Wilner family disturbed. Their bodies dug up and gone.” He turned his head towards Garson, an expression of fear clearly on his face. “The Wilners?” Garson asked, already growing impatient. “Yes, yes, the Wilners. Hadrid, his wife Taira, and their two children. They owned the mill up on Rooster Hill... until it burned down and they all died in the fire, that is. Maybe you saw the ruins on your way here?” “Yes, I did” the bounty hunter replied. “But what has all that to do with Toben?” “Toben? That was his name? We never even asked him...” the old man said, seemingly on his way to sinking back into deep thought. “Where is he?” Garson pushed again. “A week after the Wilner's bodies were... gone,” the old man continued, ignoring Garson's question, “folk around here began hearing strange noises coming from the burned down mill late at night. But nobody was brave enough to look what was going on there. We are all still haunted by the image of the four burned bodies we had to drag out of there after the fire happened. Nobody goes to that cursed place anymore.” A look of deep sadness washed over the old man. Garson grimaced, but gave up on asking any more questions and decided to let the old man finish his tale. “Then the first person went missing. Mirka, the oldest of Bareth's daughters.” One of the men began sobbing silently and the big one – Hugo – put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “She went in the woods to collect herbs and wildflowers, but never came back. We organized a search party. Alas we didn't find any trace of her.” “She wasn't the first to disappear, though” one of the men further in the back interjected. “What about Sera? She went missing the same day the mill burned down.” “I told you before” the old man said with furrowed brows “Sera was a pretty young girl with too big ambitions for our small village. She probably heard too many a tale from peddling merchants about the big cities down south and decided to leave for something better. Maybe she was the smartest of us after all.” This was enough to silence the man in the back. After a brief moments pause, the old man continued with his tale.” A week after Mirka, young Tomas disappeared as well. A few days after that Nissa, Bertam's wife.” Another one of the men started to groan in despair. “People grew ever more fearful and didn't allow their children to play outside anymore. And everyone could hear the noises coming from the mill at night now. Some kind of horrible, demonic chanting.” Upon that, one of the men began saying a quiet prayer to Chauntea, pleading for her protection. “It's the Wilners. They returned from the grave to kill us so we all will burn in the nine hells with them!” another one exclaimed, visibly shaken by the thought. “Calm yourself!” the old man said loudly, his voice full of authority . Then, much quieter and directed towards Garson again: “Three days ago, Durnim, a ranger who patrols these lands looking out for orc and goblin raiders, came to our village. After hearing what happened, he went directly up Rooster Hill to the old mill.” The old man stared intently into Garson's eyes. “He never came back.” Garson leaned back on his chair taking another long sip from his ale. He studied the faces of all the men in the room and saw only fear and desperation. “I'm sorry for what has been happening to your village, I really am”, he finally said, trying to sound as empathetic as possible “But once again, what has the man I'm looking for to do with any of this?” “As I told you earlier, he came to Fulton's Rest yesterday, in the late afternoon. He took a drink here and asked about the burned down mill. People tried to warn him about the place, but he just seemed satisfied to hear it was abandoned and that no one was willing to go there. I now understand why. The last time we saw him, he was walking up that dreaded hill.” “I see” Garson said and emptied his mug. He tried to soak up as much warmth from the fire as possible and then stood up. “Where are you going?” “Catching me a fat purse.” He headed for the door. “Wait!” the old man yelled after him. “Didn't you hear what I told you, you fool? The mill is cursed and something evil is happening there! We sent someone to Lord Fulton to ask for help. We hope he'll send some of his soldiers to clear out the mill of whatever is haunting it. Going up there alone is suicide!” His hand already on the door handle, Garson turned towards the old man. “I can't afford to wait for your lord. He probably doesn't give a damn about you anyway.” He opened the door. “I'm going to get that bastard and maybe I'll rid your sorry village of it's problems in the process. Just make sure a warm meal and more ale wait for me when I return” With that, he was out of the door, leaving the hamlet's astonished men behind him. It was already dark when Garson made his way through the woods towards Rooster Hill. He decided to go for a silent approach and therefor left his mount behind in Fulton's Rest. Now, alone in the woods and heading towards the supposed cursed lair of some undead nightmare, Garson began to doubt his own bravado from before. Considering what the villagers had told him, he was expecting some unnatural horror waiting for him in those ruins up ahead. Sure, he had to fight walking corpses and other undead before way back when he was a young man. While hunting down the members of a demon-worshiping cult in Baldur's Gate he even came face to face with a nightmare from the deepest pits of the Abyss and emerged victorious. But he was older now. Much older. His reflexes began to lessen, as did his strength and stamina. He wasn't in shape anymore for nighttime cloak and dagger activities in some backwater far off from anything being worth called civilization. And his shoulder still hadn't recovered fully, despite the healing by the priest of Ilmater back in Luskan. He had to see it through though, get Toben dead or alive and collect the bounty. Then he could buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood in a nice city – maybe Neverwinter, maybe Waterdeep – and finally settle down and retire. By Sune, maybe he would even marry. A crooked smile crossed his face at the thought. Then he suddenly heard it. As the woods around him started to grew strangely quite, even for that hour of the night, he heard it. The chanting. It was in no language he ever heard before. And it didn't sound like it came from a human or any other natural creature he ever encountered. Garson unstrapped his crossbow and readied it. He braced himself and moved forward, hoping Toben was still alive or at least enough of his body still intact to collect the bounty. When he finally reached the foot of Rooster Hill, the chanting had grown much louder, definitely emitting from somewhere within the burned down mill up the hill. He took cover behind an old oak tree and observed the ruin. Not much was left of the mill, only crumbling remains of it's first floor still standing. But enough of the wall remained to block his sight from what was happening within. He could clearly make out that there were torches or some other source of light inside. And then he noticed a strange odor crawling up his nostrils. It smelt faintly like burned meat and there was also a hint of the sickeningly sweet scent of decay in the air. His stomach began to turn, but he managed to calm himself down. After not seeing anything moving for a while the bounty hunter started to make his way up the hill trying to stay in the shadows and being as quite as possible. He moved from tree to tree, waiting for a brief moment behind each before continuing on to watch out for any enemy movement. But his ascend remained unopposed and he finally reached the west-facing wall. The odor turned to an almost unbearable stench during his way up. He was also sure now that the chanting came from someone – or something – on the other side of the wall. Beneath the chanting, he could make out another sound. The voice of a man, whimpering, pleading for his life. Crossbow at the ready, Garson moved crouching along the wall to a spot where the wall was low enough for him to observe what was going on inside. What he saw was a scene out of a nightmare. Five figures were standing in the center of the ruined mill's foundation, the whole scene barely illuminated by a dozen lit candles. The first Garson noticed was an old white haired woman clothed in half rotten robes covered in ashes. Her face was smeared in ashes as well and her eyes were wide and filled with unholy insanity. She wielded an obsidian dagger in her right hand and an opened book in her left. She was the one doing the chanting, even though her fragile appearance didn't match the inhuman voice – or were it voices? - coming out of her. She was moving around within the boundaries of a strange, complicated arcane sigil drawn in chalk upon the blackened floor, a five pointed star it's centerpiece. In the middle of the five pointed star stood two small shapes. It took a moment for Garson to comprehend what he saw, but then he realized the shapes were the horrible burned corpses of two children. Just standing there, motionless and rotting. Off to one side stood two more burned corpses, both much larger than the ones in the center. Maybe a man and a woman, going by the difference in size and mass between them, but it was impossible to tell due to the state their bodies were in. They too just stood there motionless and silently witnessing the sacrilegious ritual performed by the mad crone. Then Garson noticed the five bodies lying on the ground, each at one of the points of the star with their arms and legs spread out to the side to mimic the shape of the symbol drawn on the floor. Four of the bodies were burned as well, their bellies slit upon and with what looked like their organs placed around them in a half-circle. The fifth body was still alive, his arms and legs bound with rope tied to wooden stakes rammed into the ground. He was crying and pleading to be spared, invoking the name of Tymora. Toben. Garson cursed silently. The crone now seemed to reach the conclusion of her ritual and moved in on the helpless Toben. She knelt above him, her dagger pointed towards his stomach. Still chanting, she raised the dagger. Garson fired his crossbow. He had no time to aim so he prayed for his bolt to hit true. The gods didn't listen. The bolt only grazed her robes. It was enough to stop her chanting though and her attention was immediately drawn towards the bounty hunter. Rage distorted her face and her horrible mad eyes gleamed with hate. “You won't stop me!” she screamed hysterically. She turned towards the two burned corpses standing at the side and motioned towards Garson. “Kill him!” The two immediately began moving, faster than the walking corpses Garson had faced before so long ago. “Oh gods, you have to help me!” Toben yelled, desperately struggling to free himself from his bindings. There was no time to ready another bolt, so Garson dropped the crossbow and drew his sword. He went into a defensive fencing stance and prepared himself to meet the first corpse climbing over the partially crumbled wall. The bigger one was first, his arms reaching towards Garson's throat trying to strangle him. The bounty hunter moved backwards and let a series of sword blows rain down on his undead opponent. All to no great effect. While hacking away bits and pieces from the corpse, it seemed not to be slowed down in the slightest by Garson's attacks and forced him to move further and further backwards. Then the second corpse was on him as well, trying to grab his arm. Garson managed to dodge to the side and tried to sever the bigger corpses head with one forceful blow. The blade connected with it's neck but only cut through half of it before getting stuck. Yellow stinking puss emitted from the corpse's wound, intensifying the horrible stench already assaulting Garson's senses. The crone watched the fight from behind the crumbled wall and cackled insanely as she saw Garson struggle to dislodge his sword from the corpses neck. “My husband is much more useful in death than he ever was in life, it seems!” It was no use, Garson had to let go of the sword to dodge another attack coming from the smaller corpse. He still had a dagger on him as well as the two throwing knives in his boots. But none of those would be of much use to him against the two undead creatures. He moved further back once more and unwittingly hit a tree behind him. The smaller corpse used his confusion upon the surprise impact and moved in, her hands closing around his throat in a ironclad death-grip. Garson struggled to come free but to no avail. The burned horror strangling him was too strong and he already could feel the darkness closing in on him. He could hear the mad cackling of the crone in the distance slowly fading out of his consciousness. “Yes, Sera, kill him! He wants to stop me from bringing back my children ro life. I won't let him. I won't!” There was only one last gambit for Garson. “The angel! He said they will try to stop me. But he gave me the book. I only had to follow it by the letter and my sins would be forgiven, my guilt washed away!” He tried to make himself as heavy as possible, forcing the corpse to let him slide down towards the ground. “It's your fault, Sera. You know that! You dirty harlot destroyed my family! I had to burn it all down to make everything clean again. I had to!” He was almost there, could almost reach the hilt of the throwing knife inside his right boot. “I didn't mean for my children to die... It was your fault!” Then finally he had it. His vision already blurred, only hanging on to consciousness by a bare thread, his shoulder hurting like hell, he took aim as best as he could and invoked the name of Tymora before letting the throwing knife fly. “But we will be together again soo...” The knife hit the crone directly in the windpipe, the madness in her eyes giving way first to surprise, then nothingness. Before her dead body could hit the ground, both of walking corpses crumbled into a pile of dust and ashes, quickly dispersed by the wind. Garson took one deep breath, exhaled and then faded into unconsciousness. When he came back, dawn was already on the horizon. He still lay on the forest floor, his back against the tree he almost died under. His face and armor were covered in ash and dust. He tried to get up, put the effort was just too much so he decided to remain sitting there for just a little longer, trying to make sense of what happened here last night. But in the end he didn't care. The only thing that mattered to him was getting Toben and collecting the bounty. Toben! Once again Garson struggled to rise, succeeding this time. He groaned, his shoulder still hurting under the strain of moving his right arm. He picked up his sword from the ground and tried to clean himself off the dust and ash while making his way up towards the ruins. A look inside confirmed his worst suspicion. Toben the Unlucky was gone, the robes tying him to the ground cut. The crone was still lying dead on the ground, next to two tiny piles of dust. But her dagger as well as the book she was holding during the ritual were gone. She fell close enough to the thief for him to reach the dagger. It looked like Tymora might have finally forgiven him. Garson cursed, realizing that his crossbow was missing as well. He started to look for any tracks his prey might have left behind. After a while he was pretty sure that Toben was heading back to Fulton's Rest. “Bastard is probably stealing my horse too” he muttered to himself while dragging his old aching body down Rooster Hill and towards the hamlet. “By the gods, I'm really far too old for this manure.”
Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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