Oneday, Solclaim 12th, 1223 M.E.
Our story begins on the morning before Valpurgis Eve, with our protagonists going about their day-to-day lives in the peculiar fashions in which PCs tend to spend their time. Alexi was making room in the root cellar of the Inn for more barrels of ale. Rasen was being instructed in the ways of the Bard by his mentor – Ardrich. Vinnie was out on the plains hunting game – with some minor amount of success. Espin was beginning her shift at the tavern and attempting to rouse her drunken father and send him home for the evening. And, finally, Theren was going about his morning chores on the Ranch – after an eventful few days.
Alexi, already on edge with the approach of the dreaded Tithing, was startled when he discovered a smallish hole in the wall near the ground while down in the root cellar. Not having seen this particular aperture before, Alexi attempted to get a peek inside but to no avail. Finally, curiosity getting the better of the young man, he stuck his hand down in the hole and felt around – only to be set upon by some mysterious force and yanked in all the way to his shoulder! Bringing to bear his considerable strength, the youth managed to pull himself free of whatever it was that sought to rip his arm out of the socket – extracting a bag of marbles from the hole in doing so. Very startled by this turn of eerie events, Alexi placed a large crate in front of the hole and returned to the common room of the Inn – scratching his head in a perplexed manner.
Rasen had been roused earlier in the day by his mentor – Ardrich Helios – only to be instructed (after some warm-up exercises) that, today, his athleticism and acrobatics would be tested. He was told by Ardrich to climb the exterior of the Baurheim Inn – without the aid of tools of any sort – and retrieve a flag which the old bard had placed upon the roof’s pinnacle. The young man, daunted by this seemingly insane task, began to grumble about “insanity” and such as he attempted to scale the side of the Inn. Somehow managing to make it up to the second floor – Rasen crawled in through a window and then used the stairs inside the Inn to make it up to the attic and out a window and on to the roof. Thinking that Ardrich had not seen him, he went about retrieving the flag and climbing out another window and back down to the ground in an unobtrusive fashion. Rasen presented the flag to his mentor with a flourish – only to have the Bard cuff him one for cheating on the test. Rasen tried to talk his way out of trouble – but the wily, old Bard wasn’t having any of it and told him that, until he passed the test without cheating, he refused to teach him anything else. Ardrich limped off and Rasen set about thinking up a way to climb the Inn without falling on his arse. Eventually deciding to give up for the time being, Rasen left to go meet Theren out on the Fel ranch…
Vinnie had been laying in the sun observing a small group of quail for several minutes, waiting for the birds to move within range of the net he had set up to capture the birds with. The young man’s patience was running thin when something spooked the quails and spoiled his trap – a huge shadow gliding across the ground from overhead! Looking up, Vinnie was momentarily blinded by the sun as he made out the silhouette of a HUGE predatory bird on the wing. The bird, a hawk of some sort, seemed to swoop in to inspect the scene – causing Vinnie to duck out of the way and head for better cover. Not trusting such a large animal, and feeling irritated by this creature interrupting his hunt – Vinnie moved off to set up another trap elsewhere. After another hour or so, Vinnie began to make the trek back to town – this time with a dozen quail in tow! He couldn’t help but feel as though he were being watched, though, as he made his way home…
Espin spent the morning taking care of a few things around town and then made her way toward the Baurheim Inn. The Tithe Collector would be coming tomorrow and she would need to be there to help keep the peace during the tension that would no doubt be about the place soon. She also needed to retrieve her father and get him home – he had left the house early this morning and was probably passed out at the bottom of a whiskey bottle already. At the Inn, Espin found that her father was, indeed, already passed out at a table. She also saw a pale-faced Alexi coming up from the cellar. Curious, she asked him what the matter was. He seemed to dissemble somewhat but, finally, told Espin what he had witnessed below. Wanting to see what the boy was talking about, Espin accompanied him back down below (as PCs are wont to do) – but nothing about the hole seemed untoward to her. Alexi did find the strange, mangled remains of a rag doll in the hole this time, though. Not wishing to upset whatever was in the hole (which he had already taken to calling “the Devil’s Toychest”) he returned the doll to its place and put the crate back in place – brushing off the whole incident. Once back up in the commons, Espin asked Alexi to go bring her father home for her while she got to work. Even as Alexi departed to go return her father to the Thatcher house, Vinnie walked into the Inn…
Theren, while waiting on his brother to return from town with lumber to rebuild the outhouse with (which he had destroyed in an explosion two days earlier), set about milking the family cow. Upon completing this task, he brought the milk in to his mother – only to find that somehow the milk had spoiled in the time it came out of the cow’s udder and the time that he had brought it inside. Confused about this, Theren went and dumped the spoiled milk outside – only to be hailed by his friend Rasen. Rasen was bored so, naturally, he had come to see his good friend Theren for some entertainment. The two retired to Theren’s “workshop” – the unused second barn – where Rasen proceeded to grab up a few different flasks of unknown liquids and combine them at random – an assuredly bad idea. One small explosion later and the two boys were picking glass shrapnel out of their bodies and wincing. Theren was relatively unharmed but Rasen required the attentions of Theren’s mother – the town’s healer. Knowing, at this point, it was better not to ask, Theren’s mother attended to the boys’ wounds and went about her business with a comment to the effect of, “Be more careful.”
As evening began to encroach upon the town of Southvane, tensions began to rise as preparations began to be made for the dreaded even to take place on the morrow. Alexi returned to the Inn to find Vinnie there – wishing to sell the Inn some of the gamebirds he had acquired in the hunt earlier that day. Alexi, not being the keeper of the Inn’s funds, went and asked Ashley about it but the older Baurheim was unwilling to give his long-time nemesis a good deal on the birds. Vinnie shrugged, not having expected much, and resolved to sell the birds to the local butcher. In the meantime, Vinnie was intrigued by Alexi’s latest concoction – his so-called Fire Apple Ale – and, unable to resist a new alcoholic beverage, tested the ale for Alexi. It received his stamp of approval and he drank a few more flagons of ale.
In the meantime, Rasen came stumbling and wincing his way into the Inn and sat down for a brew – having just gotten back into town from the Fel Ranch. He sat and ordered a drink, something a bit light, and – in the interim – was accosted by Vinnie. Vinnie loved to tease and mock – in this case choosing to mock Rasen’s choice of drink. A “woman’s” drink, Vinnie said. While Vinnie and Rasen went back and forth, insulting each other and generally having a good time, Alexi’s father Garrett came stumbling in – drunk. It was unusual for Garret to be drunk but, each year at about this time, he’d go on a drinking spree. This time was worse than usual.
Alexi’s mother, Mariam, herded Garrett upstairs and, as per his request, locked him in the attic. He had resolved to stay there until the Tithing was completed on the morrow. This elicited no commentary from Espin nor Vinnie – both knew what this was all about. Rasen, not particularly caring, also said nothing about it. The Tithing of Adrianne Baurheim still weighed heavily on the entire family and fear that the youngest Baurheim – Abigail Baurheim – would be tithed this time was very real amongst the Baurheim family. Garrett Baurheim had resolved to ride the entire event out in the attic – ignorant of events until it was too late for him to intercede. Somewhat irresponsible for a father figure, but it’s the only way he knew to cope with the fear.
The evening passed on into night and our protagonists began to make final preparations for the day to come. Espin decided to stay in one of the rooms at the Inn – as she often did. Alexi read Abby a story and then put her to bed – perhaps the last time he would see his little sister. Theren passed out over his journal. Vinnie fell into a fitful sleep back at his parents’ house – his dreams full of strange shapes and bestial noises. And Rasen curled up in bed next to his younger brother (Arik) – the two having shared a bed for time out of mind.
Not everyone was to have a pleasant night time experience on this fateful evening, however. Alexi had considerable difficulty calming his mind and drifting off to slumber and, even as he began to fade out, he heard something strange. The sound of several small, round objects clinking together and then the resounding sound of the same objects rolling down the stairs of the Inn. Alexi sat bolt upright in his bed and went to investigate – finding nothing, quite naturally. Upon returning to his room and laying his head down on his pillow he left a lump beneath his pillow and heard the clinking of many round objects. Sitting up, the youth was almost afraid to move his pillow aside – only to find the same bag of marbles he had acquired earlier sitting there. Something caught the young man’s eye and, looking up suddenly, he espied a small rag doll sitting on the chair next to the window of his room. It was “Missy” – Abigail’s doll which had belonged to Adrianne before her tithing. Alexi, thoroughly creeped out at this point, returned the doll to Abigail’s room – the young girl was fast asleep.
In the meantime, Espin got up to get herself something to drink in the Inn’s kitchen. When she walked into the kitchen she espied a young man whom she at first took to be Ashley, standing there with a bottle of milk in his hands. She asked him to hand her the milk so that she could partake and, when he turned to face her, she realized that he was not, in fact, Ashley Baurheim at all – but a strange, handsome pale young man with black hair and gray eyes. She screamed, and dropped the bottle of milk and ran to get Alexi up. Having only just gotten back to his room, Alexi wasn’t asleep and quickly trailed Espin back down the stairs to the kitchen – wherein it was found that the young man was nowhere to be found…..but that the spilled milk and the apples on the table were both spoiled and rancid.
The two began a stealthy search of the Inn, being careful not to awaken anyone. Alexi eventually knocked on Ashley’s door – not believing Espin when she said that the man she had seen was not the eldest Baurheim child – only to be told to “go to sleep, you idiot.” Espin, unsatisfied with their failed search of the Inn, browbeat Alexi into standing guard outside her room all night while she slept. Alexi, being something of an idiot when it comes to women, did so.
Vinnie also had an unpleasant night-time experience. He awakened to strange noises coming from outside and, upon investigating, discovered strange markings in the dirt near the window of his room and a coup full of dead quails. Feeling unusually tense, the hunter resolved to spend the rest of the night on guard….feeling insecure in his own home.
The night passed….and Valpurgis Eve approached….