Having arrived safely back in York after their hazardous journey, the companions bade farewell to Captain Patch and the remains of his crew before returning through the spring rains to the Minster. The Archbishop greeted them warmly, listening to the tale of their exploits and praising their resilience in successfully returning with the sorcerer’s ransom. He thanked them on behalf of the Church and sent them away to rest with God’s blessing.
Several weeks went by, as the friends recovered from the rigours of their continental mission. Sophia spent time in her father’s court, assisting him with his judicial duties, while Tector returned to the drill yard and honed his fighting skills. Storm spent many hours in the Cathedral library, under the watchful eye of Lector Joseph, the aged librarian who had been a constant in the dragonborn’s life for as long as he could remember.
The horn-shaped metal device they had recovered from the goblins continued to fascinate Storm, but although he could sense the enchantment upon it, he was unable to fathom its purpose. He discussed it with Lector Joseph, who was unable to help, but suggested that Storm might try speaking with a mad old seer named Aethelred, who lived outside the walls of the city and was known as someone with an affinity for magic and strange knowledge.
Having called his friends together, Storm located this sage and they paid him a visit. After some negotiation, they reached agreement with the slightly unhinged old man, and for a fee of 20 shillings, he agreed to aid them. He took the device and slipped into a trance, his eyes rolling back into his head. After a few moments, he came round, and informed them that the horn was a goblin blasting device, one which would unleash an explosive blast upon a nearby enemy if activated in the correct way. Delighted with this information, the companions returned to York.
A few days later, Storm was approached by Father Geoffrey. The priest was concerned about the welfare of the Minster carpenter, a man by the name of Bran. He had not been seen for several days, and enquiries with his wife indicated that he had not been home either, which was out of character. Bran lived south of the Ouse, and Geoffrey was concerned that there might be a link with a couple of other recent disappearances that had been reported in that area of the city. He asked that Storm and his friends make enquiries and see whether they could locate Bran.
The companions readily agreed, and started by speaking with Bran’s wife. She lived in a modest home near All Hallows’ church to the south of the bridge over the Ouse. She was clearly beside herself with worry, and confirmed Geoffrey’s view that it was most out of character for Bran to behave in this way. She was sure something must have happened to him, and begged the companions to find him. They assured her that they would do their best, and asked if she had any thoughts as to where he might be. She could only tell them that he used to have a drink in the Wheat Sheaf Inn, and had been there on the night he disappeared.
Following this lead, the friends headed over to the Inn and spoke to the innkeeper, Jon. He confirmed that Bran had indeed been in the tavern the night of his disappearance, had left after dark, and had not made it home. He mentioned other disappearances, mainly of vagrants and beggars, but more recently of respectable labourers and even craftsmen such as Bran. He recounted tales that people had seen shadowy figures lurking near All Hallows’ church after dark, and stories of the stink of death hanging over the church yard and the surrounding streets.
Thanking the innkeeper, the group left the tavern and returned to their lodgings. Later that evening they returned to the same street, intending to spend the night in vigil and see what they could find. As they patrolled, mist rose from the river, giving the darkness an eerie cast.
As the night dragged on, the friends were beginning to question the wisdom of their approach, when a fearful cry rent the darkness. Running quickly toward the noise, the group came across three figures attacking a young man. As they drew closer, they could see in the faint light that the attackers were clad in rotting rags, their skin grey and leathery, with corded muscles showing beneath.
The companions drew their weapons as their approached, a strong stench of rot and death assailing their nostrils. They attempted to approach silently, but Tector dropped his axe and it clattered on the cobbles. The attackers whirled to face the threat, revealing milky-white eyes with pinprick black pupils, hands ending in blackened, claw-like talons, and open mouths filled with oversized, sharpened canine teeth.
Tector grabbed his weapon and charged in, laying about himself with his axe and lopping the arm off one of the creatures. Storm launched a lightning orb which crackled into another, while Sophia loosed an arrow which struck a third.
As the creatures retaliated, clawing at Tector and trying to bite through his armour, the young man dodged away from them and dashed down the street. The companions fought on, taking down one of the creatures, but Tector was scratched several times by their filthy claws and bitten on the neck. He soon felt his movements slow and his limbs begin to seize up as the horrible effects of the bites began to take their toll.
Storm felled one of the creatures with his Ice Javelins, and Tector took down his opponent with a solid greataxe blow to the chest, but another clawed at him, finding a gap in his armour and sinking its teeth into his neck. The big warrior’s limbs seized up completely and he collapsed to the cobblestones. Defending their friend, Storm and Sophia combined to slay his attacker with a combination of lightning and arrows.
Suddenly, Sophia was attacked from behind, fangs sinking into her arm. She whirled to face another creature, this one faster and more wiry than the others. She drew her rapier and stabbed at it, but the creature dodged aside. With Storm hurling spells at her foe, Sophia circled, looking for an opening and then darting in with a rapier thrust. She managed to stab the creature twice before it raked her with its claws and sank its fangs into her arm. Like Tector, her limbs seized up and she collapsed to the cobbles.
Storm backed away, very much aware that he was the last man standing. The creature lunged for him, but the dragonborn blasted it with lightning before it could reach him. It stumbled, convulsing from the shock, and crashed to the floor. Looking around to check there was no immediate threat, Storm ran down the street to the Wheat Sheaf, shouting for the innkeeper, who sent a runner to the Minster while the dragonborn returned to his companions.
Within a few minutes a team of novices arrived with stretchers for Tector and Sophia. Due to the horrible nature of their wounds, they were taken directly to Clementhorpe Nunnery. Two furlongs outside the city walls, it was known as the greatest house of healing in northern England. Prioress Constance, the Mother Superior, tended to them personally.
The companions convalesced for a few days under her care, during which time they were visited by Father Geoffrey. He identified the hideous attackers as ghouls, a rather nasty form of undead with a taste for human flesh. He feared the worst for Bran, but asked that the group continue to investigate, both in the hope that Bran might still be found, but more importantly in order to find out where the ghouls were coming from and put a stop to them once and for all.