Rise of the Runelords

The Skinsaw Murders: Part 3

Walking Scarecrows

As the adventurers return home from the Sanatorium, they find Sheriff Hemlock waiting for them outside their home, with a breathless man covered in mud and sweat. The sheriff introduces him as Maester Grump, the owner of one of the local farms. He is extremely agitated, and muttering about walking scarecrows. He calms down a bit and at which point he tells a short but harrowing story, speaking of how the southern farmlands have become plagued by foul walking scarecrows that stalk the night. All the farmers knew that the problems were coming from the old Hambley place—things “just ain’t been right there for a few days now”—but when a group of locals paid the Hambley farm a visit the previous evening, they were attacked by folk that looked like corpses but fed like starving animals.

The sheriff explains that his men picked up Grump as he ran into town screaming about walking scarecrows. The sheriff asks the adventurers if they can investigate. He hopes that Grump’s story has been enhanced by the booze he can smell on the old farmer’s breath, but worries that the moonshine may actually have dulled the man’s memories of the grim fate that has been visited upon the Hambleys, and that the situation there is even worse than Grump knows.

The adventurers begin their trek to the Hambley farm. Over three dozen farmsteads dot the fields and vales southeast of Sandpoint, the farthest being some six miles from town. Farms to the east and north have heard stories of the trouble to the south, but it’s not until the adventurers move south of Ashen Rise and approach Soggy River that the rumors turn into firsthand accounts.

Footpaths, dusty tracks about 10 feet wide hemmed in by fields of corn and other crops, connect the farmsteads. Tall-stalked plants transform the paths between them into oppressive tunnels, making it dangerously easy for visitors to become lost. All five of the other farms south of the Soggy River are strangely deserted, their occupants having either fled north to seek shelter with other farmers or much worse. The Hambley farm is nestled at the western edge of the Whisperwood, a forest said to be home to capricious gnomes, pixies, and other fey, but now overshadowed by the closer menace.

The adventurers arrive at the farm just after dusk. As they search the twisting labyrinthine paths for the farmhouse, they are attacked by the undead. Ghouls, wandering the fields searching for fresh prey, shriek as they fly from the dense crops. Even more gruesome, the ghouls have been adding to their number by binding the victims they have chosen not to eat, making scarecrows of them and hanging them up to “ripen” in the fields. Bound by baling twine to their frames, they’ve been left to hang confused, blinking through sack-covered faces in the harsh sun, unsure of what has happened to them yet aware of a growing and monstrous hunger. As the adventurers draw near, they struggle hideously against their bonds in an attempt to break free, immediately attacking with a shriek when they do.

The adventurers also discover two poor souls who haven’t yet succumbed to ghoul fever also hanging from scarecrow frames. Horran and Lettie Guffmin, who were dragged off from their farm the night before and left bound, gagged, and masked as scarecrows. They feebly warn the adventurers about the ghouls that dwell in the barn before begging to be returned to their families. It is obvious that sending these two back to their families in their condition would be fatal for them and most likely others. They adventurers promise to help them find someone to heal them before they will allow them to return home.

With the help of Horran and Lettie, the adventurers finally arrive at the farmhouse just after dark. A barn and small home sit in a small clearing in the center of the fields. The ghouls themselves have made this barn their primary lair, and the place has become a macabre tangle of bones and partially eaten carcasses. Alerted to the arrival of fresh meals, the ghouls attack, accompanied by a one-eared ghast. After a lengthy battle, in which most of the party contracted Ghoul Fever (except for the Paladin and the Monk), the ghouls are vanquished.

Inside the farmhouse, the adventurers discover the decaying corpse of Crade Hambley, swarming with flies. Even in this state, the Sihedron Rune is still plainly visible upon the man’s chest, as is a single scrap of parchment pinned to his tunic. The note bears the name of Sorcerer Dave. They also discover an iron key hanging around the neck of the one-eared ghast. The key bears a heraldic symbol of a curious flower surrounded by thorns, which they recognize as the the same symbol worn by Adlern Foxglove during their boar hunt. All signs now point to Foxglove Manor as the source of the murders.

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