Huge calves the size of ham hocks propped comfortably upon a footstool as he lounged by the late evening fire; one meaty hand cuddling a slopping glass of fine port while the other picked at a silver platter overflowing with various meats and cheeses, Arken Jowensen was the picture of contentment. In his mid sixties, Arken had made an impressive fortune running several legal (and numerous not so legal) houses of gambling and entertainment. With almost half a score of establishments dotting the eastern seaboard of the Rowengard peninsula, Arken was easily one of the wealthiest men on the peninsula, and his lifestyle showed it.
Noisily smacking his lips after slurping down half the glass, Arken allowed his mind to wander back to business. Generally, Arken preferred to keep his business affairs and pleasures separate, but this little juicy venture on the horizon was so exciting, he couldn't keep his thoughts off it for long.
Construction on the Grinning Goblin, the soon-to-be crownpiece in Arken's dazzling array of upscale taverns and nightclubs, was nearing completion. Not only that, but it was both ahead of schedule and under budget; quite the rarity in this business. At this rate, the Grinning Goblin would be open for business in two weeks. A nagging little nit in the back of his mind insisted that this was too good to be true; eventually the other shoe would fall, and along with it all the usual problems and hurdles associated with an endeavor of this magnitude. This evening, however, Arken put these anxieties out of his mind and allowed himself to wallow in the anticipation of such a magnificent enterprise.
The Grinning Goblin was to be Arken's most exciting business venture yet; a huge tavern that would dwarf any of the other establishments in Bone Creek. The exterior was to be elaborately constructed to resemble a massive, leering jack-o-lantern; which at night would come alive with magical, dancing faerie fires. When viewed from a distance, the entire building would have the appearance of a jovial goblin face quivering with laughter. The interior was to boast, along with the longest bar in Bone Creek (currently, Grimwald's held the record at 35 feet), a wide variety of entertainment for prospective patrons. Gambling and games of chance on the floor level, nightly shows and entertainment on the second level, and the finest of dining and sleeping accomodations on the top floor. The basement level, however, was where the real action was to take place. Even before any masonry was laid, the "rage cage" had been one of the first things Arken had ordered. The Rage Cage was to be a huge circular iron cage; spanning 25 feet in diameter and 15 feet in height, it was to stand in the dead center of the bottom level. This was where the real moneymaker would happen; Arken planned on bringing in all sorts of wild beasts. For a nominal fee, a patron could try their luck in the rage cage against one of the beasts. If they won, the patron garnered a healthy purse. If they lost, well; then Arkin wouldn't have to worry about feeding the surviving beast. The real money would be made in spectator admissions and side bets (tipped heavily in the house's favor of course).
The heavy pounding on the door was only slightly louder than the downpour outside, but it was enough to snap Arken out of his reverie. The sound of a creaking door and hushed, hurried voices in the hall as his servant Manfred showed a visitor in made the hackles raise on the back of Arken's beefy neck. Moments later, Manfred appeared in the doorway of the study; a look of pained hesitation on his face. "Sir, one of the men from the Grinning Goblin." The aged servant gestured towards the newcomer; a squat, lantern-jawed man with a ragged tunic.
"Mr. Jowensen, sir," the man began, nervously wringing a brown felt cap in his grimy fingers, "We've run into a bit of a problem down at the Goblin." Arken scowled and tossed back the rest of the port. So much for wallowing.
A steady torrent of rain pelted the carriage as it slogged towards the shell of a building. Spying Jim Gunderford stoically smoking a pipe under the eave of an adjoining bakery, Arken called out for his coachman to halt. Flinging the mahogany door open with an angry force, Arken wedged his bulk through the narrow opening, clumsily landing in a two-inch deep puddle of icy brown water. The dull, throbbing ache that had been building in his temples suddenly intensified, exploding from him in a litany of profanities. "Gunderford!" he bellowed, waddling towards the unfinished structure that was to be the Grinning Goblin.
Immediately, the lanky foreman made the pipe disappear from sight and nimbly dodged planks and puddles to swing into step beside Arken. "Afternoon, milord." Gunderford's deep voice belied his flimsy build, "I reckon you've heard the bad news..."
"A couple workers are attacked by some vagrant, and so everyone just decides to take the afternoon off!" Arken snapped as he approached the entrance. A small cluster of dirty workers huddled under another eave; some of then shivering visibly as they eyed his approach. "This is ridiculous. Call for some city guards and get back to work!"
"That's not all of it, sir." The foreman explained as he followed Arken through the open doorway into what would soon be the entry foyer, "When we found them this morning, the workers were brutally slain; their throats ripped out in a bloody mess. The one man who survived said the thing that attacked them crawled out of the hole where they were digging."
"Bah!" Arken turned to face the foreman. "We'll get to the bottom of this right now. Is the man still here? Bring him to me now." Nodding, Gunderford ducked through the entrance, disappearing into the heavy downpour. Moments later, he returned, accompanied by three other men; the third struggling against the grips of the other two as he hysterically pleaded for them to let him go. His eyes were as round as full crowns, while his breath reeked of alcohol.
"Get a hold of yourself!" Arken snapped at the babbling man; whom the others identified as Longbrow, "What's this all about?"
After several minutes of the man's almost incoherent recount, they were finally able to piece together what happened. Last night about half a dozen men were down in the basement digging out the dirt for the stonework that was to be the flooring for the rage cage. One of them had just unearthed the top of what looked to be a mummified hand, and everyone had momentarily stopped their digging to take a gander. Suddenly the ground beneath them exploded as an incredibly emaciated humanoid climbed out of the ground. With a hiss, the thing moved with inhuman speed; ripping out the throats of three workers before anyone else in the group could react. In the panic that followed, the men ran everywhere in an attempt to escape the shambling creature. In the flurry, he somehow had managed to gain egress to the ladder. Feeling something cold grasp at his ankle, Longbrow had narrowly managed to climb up onto the floor level. Stealing a glance back, he stared into the face of something long dead, yet somehow alive. Its blackened skin was dried and cracked, and a pair of desiccated eyes gaped at him as its lipless mouth issued a rasping groan before falling back into the darkness of the basement. As Longbrow scrambled away, he could hear the screams of the other workers turning into muffled gurgles, intermingled with sickening slurping noises.
About five hours and fifty crowns later, a group of half a dozen armed guards stood around Arken in the entry foyer. With the advent of the evening, the downpour had finally tapered off into a drizzle; the sound water coursing off the roof gutters and sloshing into barrels was about all he could hear of the downpour.
"That's right, captain." Arken's head wobbled forward, his triple chin quivering. "I suspect a bit of mead has had a role in embellishing the old fellow's story, but it appears there may be some lunatic taking shelter from the rain down there, and attacking my workmen. I'd be most obliged if you and your men could get rid of him."
"Awright guv," the captain peered at Arken through his one good eye. "We'll see to it that yer gremlin don't give you inny more trouble; mebbe even give him a ride on the ol' rail fore we string 'im up. That otter make innyone think twice 'bout trespassin on Mr. Jowenen's property." A couple of the guards grinned wickedly at mention of "the rail".
"Lovely." Arken nodded again, "Listen; gentlemen. We need to keep this under wraps. Do this quickly and quietly, and I've got a purse here with enough coins to buy the lot of you more than a couple rounds." He jingled a moneybag purposefully.
Now all the men grinned. "Come on lads." The captain growled, "Les go catch a rat." With that, they headed down the corridor leading towards the basement opening.
Following at a safe distance, Arken and his foreman shuffled in sight of the basement opening. The last of the guards was descending the ladder, when suddenly his eyes flew wide open. Flailing wildly, the guard disappeared into the hole as shouting and ringing steel filled the corridor. Moments later, the ladder shook wildly before suddenly clattering down through the open hole. Arken heard the captain's muffled voice hollering an order, followed by frantic shouts of confusion, and then an ear-piercing scream that seemed to last a full minute before tapering off into a gurgling rasp. More shouts and grunts, followed by something that sounded like a plank repeatedly striking mud. Then silence.
Arken eyed his foreman; the scarecrow of a man looked as if he were getting ready to bolt. Damned if he was getting caught alone with whatever was down there. With a quickness that belied his bulk, Arken grabbed Gunderford's arm in a viselike grasp. "You stay right beside me." he hissed at the foreman, "Understand?"
Licking his lips nervously, the foreman nodded his assent, his eyes riveted to the hole at the end of the corridor. Then, a dry hissing noise issued forth from the open hole. It rose in volume briefly before tapering off, to be replaced by a series of smacking noises. Half-dragging Gunderford, Arken slunk closer towards the hole. Edging towards the edge, he was able to catch a glimpse of a twisted form lying prone in the greasy torchlight of the basement. Peering over the edge, Arkin made out the captain's face; or what was left of it. It appeared as if the man's entire jaw had been ripped from his head, taking off an entire cheek and ear with it. His eyes, transfixed in an expression of terror, stared up sightlessly.
Suddenly, something sprang out of the darkness towards the hole over which Arken peered. A hideous skeletal face; the blackened, desiccated flesh drawn tightly over the contours of the skull, hurtled upwards toward the opening. A mummified hand reached out towards them; the deteriorated fingertips grasping open and shut.
The creature had not even come close to the opening, but both men pinwheeled backwards. Arken stumbled into the foreman; sending both of them into a sprawling heap. The thing in the basement made a couple more powerful, yet futile jumps towards the hole before the smacking noises resumed. Arken rolled off Gunderford and stared down at the creature. The thing was humanoid, but was little more than a skeleton; emaciated flesh through which poked the occasional sinew or bony protrusion. Arken had heard stories of zombies; the walking dead. However, where the proverbial zombie was purported to be little more than a slow-moving pile of rotting flesh, this creature was almost as agile as it was strong. It prowled the basement floor with a predatory purpose, occasionally staring up at Arkin with a bone-chilling hiss; gnashing its teeth angrily through shriveled lips. Although clearly long-dead, the creature was surprisingly well-preserved.
Arken slunk back from the opening, and nudged Gunderford, who was curled up in a fetal position and moaning. When that got no response, he reached out and cuffed the man on the back of the head.
"Pull yourself together!" Arken snapped, "Come on." Standing up, he grabbed the foreman's arm and half-dragged him down the hall and out of the Goblin.
"Longbrow was telling the truth." Arken addressed the men who quickly gathered around him, "That thing in there tore through six city guards in a matter of seconds. We need to figure out a way to get rid of it before word gets out."
The men stood silent; watching the front entrance of what was to have been the Grinning Goblin; Bone Creek's greatest night spot. Finally, one of the men spoke up.
"Perhaps there's somethin' a holy man might do about this. I heerd that Sir Leary, the leader of the Church o' the livin' flame, he's dealt with this sort o' thing before. Me wife tol' me he once cast a spirit hauntin' the Grimwald place back to Gehena; place has been trouble-free ever since.
Arken snorted. "A plate-throwing poltergeist is a far cry from that thing in there! I doubt some holy man praying and flinging holy water all over will do much to scare off that thing."
Gunderford, who had finally retrieved at least some of his good senses, shrugged. "Nevertheless, it might be worth a try. Only other thing I can think of is to talk a couple hired swords into taking on the task."
Arken pursed his lips. Adventurers were a good possibility; easy to come by, and willing to tackle the most dangerous of jobs. The downside was that they did not come cheap; in fact, adventurers with any experience at all charged an exorbitant amount. For several moments, he turned the idea over in his head. Then, he turned to the foreman. "Tomorrow morning, see about getting that clergyman out here."
The next day was sunny and clear; aside from the full rain barrels, there was not even the slightest sign of last night's storm. Arken, Gunderford, and a dozen other men armed with swords, picks, and shovels were down in the basement of the Grinning Goblin.
"I saw it; I know I did!" Arken snapped at the others, "That, that... thing was down here last night. Gunderford saw it too."
Gunderford nodded his uneasy assent. It was clear he was not happy about being down here; every several seconds his eyes darted towards the ladder before nervously flicking about the basement. Sir Leary, a slightly built elf with a slight overbite, stepped forward. "Aside from the bodies, there doesn't appear to be any sign of this creature you describe. Is it possible that the creature escaped?"
"Its possible." Gunderford explained, "but not likely. We posted about half a dozen guards around the opening." He pointed to the hole above them. "They all said the thing was prowling around down here all night long, and then around daybreak things suddenly got real quiet."
"Hmmm..." the priest scanned the basement casually, "If I were to guess what may have happened, I'd say your excavations have disturbed the final resting place of a restless soul. The fact that it came out at night, and disappears with the dawn certainly is typical of the undead. I'd venture to say that you can probably expect the creature to rise again tonight, and every night thereafter, until someone properly lays it to rest elsewhere..."
"So", Gunderford interrupted, "you're saying if we find the body and give it a proper burial in another spot, it may stop haunting us."
"Ideally, yes." Sir Leary sniffed, visibly annoyed at being interrupted, "But it's actually a bit more complicated than that. You must make sure to transfer the entire corpse. If even a finger is left behind, the creature may rise again. More likely than not, that creature's remains are scattered throughout the earth below our feet."
"No," the foreman interjected, "the thing we saw was all one piece. I'm sure it would be a simple matter to dig..."
"What you witnessed was a manifestation of sorts." Now it was the cleric's turn to interrupt. "Whatever necrotic forces power that restless spirit also grant it a physical coherence of sorts. Even if you manage to destroy the thing, it would eventually reform to haunt again." Sir Leary stared directly at Arken. "The way to be sure to be rid of this creature once and for all is to prepare a new tomb for it in a proper burial site. Once that is done, you'll need to recover each and every last shred of whatever is left of the corpus, and give it a proper re-burial."
Gunderford let out a sigh, "Well, if that's it, I'll have the men start digging and searching right now." Gesturing, the foreman motioned for all the men to commence tearing up the packed down earthen floor.
"No." Arken held up a hand. All the men stopped; and both the foreman and cleric looked at him curiously. Slowly, a cold smile spread across Arken's face, "I've got a much better idea."
A new tavern has been recently opened; the huge oak signboard swinging above the doorway reads "Creepers - food, fun, and a mummy!". During construction, it became evident that the repose of something unholy has been disturbed; brutal nocturnal attacks on workmen reveal that some creature was prowling the lower levels. Eventually the owner pieced together what was happening; apparently the excavations for the new tavern had awakened a long-dead creature of great malevolence known as a mummy; every night it rose and haunted the basement of the tavern; seeking vengeance for these violations of its final rest.
Instead of attempting to have the creature destroyed or exorcised, the tavern owner came up with an alternate plan. During the daylight, he had his laborers work to erect a sturdy cage surrounding where it appeared the thing was originally laid to rest. Now, when the creature rises at night, it is trapped. The tavern uses this creature as one of its main draws; adventures from all over come to take a turn at fighting the mummy in the "crypt cage". These fights have gained great notoriety; people come from all over to watch and bet on the nightly fight. Even when the creature is slain, it rises up the next night; so the show goes on indefinitely with no cost incurred to the tavern.
The tavern does take some precautions to ensure the creature's containment. Through trial and error, it was discovered the creature seems to be particularly vulnerable to fire. Should things get out of hand, several attendants stand ready with heavily oiled torches lashed to the ends of pole arms. For the most part, however, the attendants do not interfere with the fights other than ensure the creature is kept away whenever the door to the cage is opened to admit a contender. As a result, many would-be contenders lost their lives to the horror in the tavern's basement. Despite that, the list of those who would have a go at the nightly purse continues to grow.
One or more of the PCs begins to receive "visits" from a spirit; perhaps they begin to have strange dreams at night, or are the recipients of sudden visions which leave them stunned for several minutes. In any case, the ghost of Rhodin Valdane, an ancient hero and defender of the Temple of Erizon, begins to haunt the PCs. Eventually the PCs learn that the crypt in which the hero was buried has been disturbed; it is now the site of a new tavern called "Creepers". Rhodin's spirit explains that it will not be able to rest peacefully until his mummified corpse is again properly laid to rest in a proper tomb. The ghost implores, demands, or begs the PCs to recover his corpse and convey it to a new final resting place. Rhodin's spirit appears as a dark-bearded dwarf with a golden tattoo, depicting a hawk bearing a large gem, on his forehead.
Either a bit of research or a visit to the new tavern will quickly reveal information that there exists a malevolent undead creature inhabiting the tavern's lower level. Every night, the thing rises from the earthen basement floor, only to be trapped in a large steel cage. There is a very long wating list of adventurers and thrill-seekers, who have come from all over to fight the creature in a deadly battle. Even when destroyed, the mummy rises again the following night. These thrilling "undeath" matches have become quite popular; almost every night the basement is packed with spectators more than willing to pay the two-crown admission fee. In addition, the tavern rakes in quite a bit from various bets; well over the value of the nightly purse which goes to anyone who defeats the mummy.
Investigations on Arken Jowensen, the tavern's owner, will reveal him to be both wealthy and influential. For the most part, Arken's wealth was accrued through illegitimate means; starting with protection and extortion scams and moving on to larger and even more lucrative rackets. Only recently has he started dabbling in more legitimate ventures such as the tavern he is building.
The mummy, although its blackened skin is extremely cracked and desiccated, is most unmistakably Rhodin's corpse; it is short, squat, and an untarnished gold tattoo of a hawk bearing a large gem is emblazoned on its forehead.
The PCs might try a number of avenues to "hijack" the corpse; each has certain hurdles that must be overcome. They might attempt to sneak or break into the tavern during the day; in which case they should find it difficult to locate all the fragments of the corpse, which are buried in the floor beneath the Crypt Cage. Failure to recover all the remains results in the mummy rising again, along with the ghost's continued haunting of the PCs.
The PCs might attempt to somehow make off with the creature while it is animated; in which case they are assured of having all parts of the corpse. The obvious downside to this is that trying to smuggle an animated mummy through a crowded town is extremely difficult; they'll probably have to fight or neutralize it somehow.
One or more of the PCs might even try their hand at battling the mummy in the Crypt Cage, in the hopes of managing to make off with the slain form.
In all cases, the tavern's owner and employees will not willingly allow their "cash corpse" to be taken. The PCs may even need to bribe, outwit, and perhaps even fight their way through employees as well as patrons in order to accomplish this quest.
The tentative grave Rhodin's ghost points out to the party is a quaint meadow in the outskirts of town; nearby grows an ancient oak tree, Several yards away is a low mound that was once the cottage in which Rhodin grew up. Several farms and homesteads dot the horizon. Overall, it's a quite peaceful place for a final resting place.
The evening after the PCs bury Rhodin's remains, there are reports of attacks on various homesteads in the area. Families are brutally slain; apparently by some ferocious creature, as the victims are found disemboweled with their throats torn out. One person who managed to escape gives an account of encountering some horridly emaciated humanoid that stank of death.
The ghost was wrong; Rhodin isn't resting so peacefully after all. After these attacks, the PCs are again visited by his ghost. Many years ago, a gang of thugs led by a very young Arken Jowensen robbed and murdered Rhodin, and hid his body in the cellar of an old, abandoned building which mysteriously burned down several days later. Inadvertently, Arken chose the same location many years later as the spot for his new tavern. During the excavations, Arken found several of Rhodin's belongings that were somehow overlooked when they originally killed him; including a gold holy symbol of the Temple of Erizon. It turns out that the Holy Symbol was the only thing that kept Rhodin's spirit dormant. With its removal, both Rhodin's spirit as well as his undead form were free to rise. Ideally, recovering and restoring the Holy Symbol should be sufficient to halt the nightly risings. Only problem is Arken recently had the thing melted down to be used as gold teeth to be fitted into his own mouth. The rest was fashioned into jewelry and dispersed as bribes for various officials to overlook the potential hazards of housing an undead creature in the middle of a bustling city.
Such an act of desecration, by the laws of the Erizon, cannot go unpunished. In order for both Rhodin's spirit and remains to peacefully rest, the tavern owner must die at Rhodin's own hands. The mummy, however, lacks the cognitive facilities to differentiate between innocents and the desecrator; it simply rises each night to rampage on, slaying all in its path. As a result, the PCs are faced with the task of figuring out how to "unite" the mummy with Arken.
Depending on how the PCs originally managed to smuggle the corpse out in the first place, the tavern owner may be on the lookout for them. From a legal perspective, he can do nothing to the PCs, since the mummy was never really his to own. However, that will not stop him from trying to exact revenge on the PCs. In any regards, Arken has both wealth and people at his disposal.
An enterprising party can probably come up with a number of solutions to this problem, such as kidnapping Arken and bringing him out to the new grave. This can be both dangerous and problematic in that Arken has a number of bodyguards, and the fact that kidnapping is punishable by death. The PCs might also try to somehow "lead" the corpse to Arken; which should be a challenge in keeping the rampaging mummy from drawing attention or attacking anyone else on the way. Another option is to sneak into Arken's domicile, planting all the remains in a place such as his bedroom. Of course, Arken's home will be well-guarded.
In any case, once the mummy has slain Arken, it will take his head and make the journey back to its new grave. It will not attack anyone on the way unless molested. Once it arrives at the grave, the mummy will burrow back in, leaving Arken's head propped atop the mound. If at least a couple witnesses see the mummy with the head, the PCs will not be indicted or implicated in the murder of Arken Jowensen. For the most part, city officials will want to sweep this whole thing under the rug as quickly as possible.
The PCs will have one final visit from Rhodin's ghost. This time he will lead them to an ancient cache of gold and items buried under the mound near his new grave, before thanking them and disappearing for good; presumably going off to his final rest for real.
The Crypt Cage, while in operation, was extremely lucrative. Either the new owner of Creepers, or some other entrepreneur, is determined to profit from that idea. The notion of watching contenders pit themselves against fierce monsters seems to have great appeal, but stocking and maintaining such exotic creatures can be quite expensive. On the other hand, a truly terrifying monster requiring virtually no upkeep and can never die would be a gold mine.
A local necromancer is hired to create such a creature. Naturally, this activity requires experimentation on people; both alive and dead. The disappearance of some vagrants hardly raises any eyebrows, but when these individuals are sighted again shambling through the streets in various states of decomposition, people become alarmed. Perhaps the PCs, with their renowned "expertise" in dealing with these matters, are commissioned to investigate.