Fireday, 1st of Rova, an hour before Sundown
Having returned from Caliphas, the group headed first to see Winter. Along the way to the New Chapel, most of the group noticed they were being stalked by a group of cultists. The cultists immediately attacked with their rapiers. During the ensuring fight, several of the cultists demonstrated an ability to channel negative energy to harm, dealing out damage to all in range. The cultists also worked to minimise the effects of Lekovi and Scorcher's spells, attempting to interrupt them several times. Regardless, the combination of Taber's hard-hitting fists, Cailyn's claws, and River's axe defeated all of the cultists, after which River finished off the few survivors.
Continuing with their original plan, the amnesiacs moved on to the New Chapel. Along the way, they noted that, unlike the last time they had been in Thrushmoor, the people were staying indoors at night, with their doors and shutters securely sealed. Nobody was on the streets now that the sun was down.
Talking to Winter confirmed that life in the town had taken a turn for the worse in the last few days. Now that it was public knowledge that the fort was empty, and that there were no magistrates or watch in town, justice and society had started to deteriorate. People were afraid, and many had approached Winter, telling her about more missing family members. She provided them with a list of at least 20 missing people.
Ready to retire for the night, Cailyn suggested they visibly stay at the fort, to help give the town a sense of normality and structure again. As the group moved through the streets, they were confronted by a very strange sight – what appeared to be the spectral form of an old woman stepped around a corner ahead of them, and approached the group, mumbling something unintelligible. As the group watched, they realised whatever this apparition was, this was no ordinary woman – she appeared to have tendrils and uncanny growths growing from her body. Lekovi recognised the intangibility as a spell effect he could not recall, rather than a natural ability. He also believed this woman to be a human, corrupted by exposure to eldritch things.
Scorcher waited to see what would happen, while Cailyn and River tried to speak to the woman. She ambled closer, and her mumbling became more audible, but not much more intelligible. She was saying something about someone always being a good boy, then approaching close to River, passed one of her tendrils through River's form. River immediately felt some of his force of personality drain away, and felt flat.
The group now sprang into action, but found that, not only was this person incorporeal, something was resisting all of the magical damage they were dealing to it, while it drained the peronsality of anyone it touched. Taber was able to move around behind the creature, and some of his electrical damage was able to affect the apparition, despite the rest of his blows not affecting her at all, and he was able to dodge her touches. Scorcher managed to land a solid hit with a magic missile, but missed with a Scorching Ray. Lekovi began firing magic missiles from a wand at the creature. River and Cailyn both could not seem to harm the creature, until Cailyn, feeling the aura of unnaturalness, realied that perhaps the abberant nature of the creature required something aligned with the forces of Law to harm it. River applied a magical oil to his battleaxe, and on his next blow, the spectral figure discorporated.
Although glad the creature was gone, the group did not feel that this was the last they had seen of the woman. In the aftermath, Taber sketched a likeness of the woman, in the hopes someone might recognise her.
The group continued to the fort, and healed their wounds as they could. They found the fort had largely been ransacked, with all of the furniture destroyed or stolen, and interior doors smashed down. The group bedded down for the night in the donjon. In an effort to make it clear the fort was occupied once more, and in hopes of sending a message of stability to the town, fires were lit on the roof.
Starday, 2nd of Rova, 2 hours before Sunrise
Taber, not requiring much sleep any more thanks to his disciplined control of hid body, stood watch for most of the night atop the roof, while his companions rested in the donjon above. Scant hours before sunrise, he heard a noise out in the darkness. Moving his Dancing Lights to illuminate the area, Taber saw a horrifying sight – what appeared to be a human female head, attached to a set of human internal organs, floating around the fortress. Upon seeing the lights, the thing spoke magical words, and disappeared. Once Taber had woken some of the others, and did his best to draw and give impressions of what he had seen, Lekovi was able to identify the creature as a penanggalen, a horrific type of vampire that spends it's days appearing to be a mortal human, but at night, it's head and entrails separate from the rest of the body. Lekovi was also able to determine from Taber's impressions that the creature had actually cast an invisibility spell, rather than use any sort of innate magic. This also triggered a memory in Lekovi about how the penanggalen inherits most of the capabilities of it's original host, and adds the supernatural abilities to them. Cailyn was also able to determine from Flack that the creature smelled strongly of vinegar.
Not seeing any further indication of the creature returning, everyone but Taber went back to sleep.
Starday, 2nd of Rova, Late Morning
The next morning, the group went to the Sleepless Building first. They found the building busy, with a large number of townsfolk waiting in and around the parlour. Some of the people sported injuries, others simply looked distraught. Either way, there was a definite air of fear and despondence about them, and others the group had seen.
After a short wait, Cessadia ushered the group into her office. Apologising profusely for making them wait, she explained that over the last few days, more and more people had begun approaching her offices for law-keeping services. She had assigned her agents to the most urgent and violent cases, but her resources were overstretched. She also mentioned she had a list of thirty people reporting missing family members – mothers, fathers, sisters, husbands, sons, daughters, wives, brothers. Comparing lists with the one provided by Winter the previous day, the group were able to cross off some duplicates, but there were still at least forty people missing, and those were only the ones reported.
The group promised to do something about the situation, with River championing the idea of going to Iris Hill and storming the place. Taber showed Cessadia his sketch of the strange apparition they had faced the night before, and she surprisingly identified her as looking like Nemira Lowls, although Cessadia also reminded the group that she had reportedly died of the same affliction that had killed Count Haserton Lowls III, the father of the current Count.
Next, the amnesiacs headed to the High Market, to purhcase some supplies. River and Cailyn went looking for more Oils of Align Weapon, and for other similar options. Lekovi, worried about Vampires, went looking for an armoured neck collar.
Taber approached townspeople around the markets, and showed them the face from his sketch of the penanggalen. He was able to find several individuals who recognised the person. They told Taber that the woman was an out-of-towner, and that they had seen her walking around the northwestern areas of town.
The amnesiacs were also approached by a number of townspeople, begging them to help find their missing family members. The group promsied to do what they could.
River finally convinced the rest of the group that the heart of the matter was at Iris Hill, and that they should storm into the place. Initially approaching the property from the rear, the group watched for a short while from the abandoned stables behind the Hill. Seeing no sign of movement, they moved down, and decided to make their way through the hedge near the gatehouse.
As Cailyn attempted to look for traps on the main gate, she heard voices talking inside the gatehouse. 'Did you hear something?' was answered in an unknown language. The observation hole in the gate slid open, and a man asked Cailyn her business here. Cailyn responded with a story of the Count being declared an enemy of the state, and that he had been executed. Cailyn was here to clean out the manor. The man snorted in contempt and told Cailyn to leave, or action would be taken, slamming the port shut.
Cailyn promptly climbed noisily up onto the gatehouse, trying to gain the attention of those inside. Scorcher, Flack and River clambered their way through the hedge, while Lekovi attempted to climb over it. Lekovi found hedge does not provide much in the way of handholds. Taber waited to see what would happen.
From her vantage point on top of the gatehouse, bow in hands, Cailyn saw several shaped topiary hedges separate themselves from the main hedge, and she identified them as Living Topiaries. As she fired a shot at them, the trio stepped into the closest hedge, and stepped out of the hedge beside the rest of the group.
As River and Scorcher began fending off these creatures, Scorcher with his claws extended, the front gates opened, and three humanoids, dressed in primitive clothing, and wielding wicked battle axes, charged out at Taber and Lekovi. Although they mostly looked human, these raging warriors had eyes that glowed the colour of wet blood, and their teeth appeared to have been filed to sharp points.
Taber flew into action, and began beating them to pulps. Behind the ragers, Lekovi spied another of the cultists, and immedatiely applied his paranoia spell to him. From that point, the frightened cultist began pumping out bursts of negative energy, heedless of those around him that had been allies.
One of the barbaric thugs concentrated on Lekovi, landing several mighty blows. The creatures were also trying to attack with their teeth, and Lekovi's foe managed to draw blood. Lekovi saw that, as the creature licked the blood from his mouth, he looked a little stronger. Taber, meanwhile, having crushed the pair facing him, rescued Lekovi from the one pressing him, with assistance from Cailyn, who had dropped off the roof.
On the other side of the hedge, River's armour was proof against any harm the Topiaries were able to hand out, and River slowly hacked one of the creatures down with his axe, despite it trying to heal itself by consuming the hedge. Unable to harm River, the other Topiaries concentrated their attacks on Scorcher and Flack. Flack was eventually badly wounded, and had to withdraw. Scorcher continued to lay around him with his claws, until Cailyn called out to try fire against the plant creatures. Scorcher's eyes cleared briefly of the red haze, and he stepped back, summoning magical fire. The fire flew forth, engulfing River and the beasts, felling one and severly injuring the other enough that River was then able to finish it off.
Not immediately pressed by other foes, the amnesiacs looted the bodies, and then dragged them into the hedge to conceal them, and spent some time in the gatehouse healing their injuries, leaving them fresh for whatever Iris Hill had to offer next.