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The Skin Tradeby Marco Dalmonte
This adventure is based on George R.R. Martin's short story The Skin Trade (see: Night Visions 5; copyright Dark Harvest Inc., 1988). The adventure is set in Darokin, in the town of Hendry. If this location is not good for a specific campaign then the town may be any one located near a river and some hills covered with light woods. The town must not be an important or rich settlement: rather it should be a low middle class settlement, probably declined in importance in the last decades. The town mostly subsists on logging and small trade, though it once also exported furs and precious metals. The Skin Trade deals with the PCs' investigation of a series of gruesome deaths. The PCs will have to discover the whole truth in a brief time (a week or less), mainly through the use of good sense and their wits rather than raw force.
The whole explanation of the events described in the adventure has purposefully been written at the end of it in order to give to the DMs too the opportunity to savour the mystery surrounding the story and to make their own guesses about what's going on (taking the players' point of view to spot possible inconsistencies).
Remember to read carefully the description of each character involved in the story (provided at the end of the adventure) before playing out the adventure: it will help you to better understand what's going on and what are the motivations of the characters to appropriately play the NPCs. This adventure has been designed for 4 to 8 characters of level 4-6 (it has already been play-tested by a group of 8 PCs of 6th level).
Setting Up the Adventure
The adventure revolves around two main characters: Wilhelm Feuerbach and Antares Thuriman. The PCs can either be friends of one or the other, but the best option is that one of the PCs play the role of Antares (with his/her background designed in order to fit this adventure), or at least be a very close friend/relative of her.
[Note that from now on it is assumed that the PCs are friends of Antares and so the adventure is centred on her. The DM could also play the adventure using Willie's point of view with some reworking, although it could spoil much of the mystery by doing so.]
The party comes to town in order to visit their long missed friend (or in case one of them is Antares, in order to visit her family) and the DM must be able to persuade them to stay there for at least a couple of days (in Mystara, the exact season or month is not important, but it must be near the half of the month, possibly on the 12th or 13th day -full moon cycle).
During the following days, the party meets some old acquaintances in town (either Antares' friends or their own), among them: Achen Thuriman (Antares' brother), Isabel Thuriman (Antares' mother), Joseph Urqvarth (old friend of the Thuriman family), Mischa (Achen's friend and guardsman) and Cassandra and Angela Aretus (daughters of a rich merchant), probably while shopping in town or at night in a good tavern. Have the PCs socialise with them and try also to have the most attractive/charismatic male PCs impress the Aretus twins, possibly starting a love story.
One morning (once the PCs have familiarised with the town, but no more than 3 days after their arrival) a man named Wilhelm (an old friend of Antares who has heard of her arrival in town but had not shown up yet) comes to Antares' house and asks her a personal favour. He's a rather small man (5'4" tall) with long brown hair worn in a ponytail, green eyes and a lean figure. He wears a long dark brown surcoat over a simple white blouse and black leather pants and boots. Apart from a couple of pouches at his belt and a small dagger, he carries nothing other. Willie seems distressed and tells her in private (he doesn't know nor trust the other members of the party) that he suspects something horrible happened to a dear friend of him, Giovanna Lizzieni, the night before. He knows Antares is "a trustworthy and resourceful person, a girl who has always helped her friends" and so he asks her to discover if the guards have found out anything about her friend. Antares can do this without problem, for her brother, Achen, is one of the towns guards, like her father was. Willie also explains her that he cannot ask the guards directly because he is "not really in touch with them" and they could blame him for whatever happened to Giovanna.
In fact, they were close friends and the night before they should have met, but Willie had other businesses to attend and so he didn't come to the meeting. When he went to her house the next morning, he found guards roaming everywhere, and he sensed there was something wrong: so, after thinking a bit, he came to Antares to seek her help. He cannot possibly reveal where he was yesterday night, so he has virtually no alibi (should he need one). Willie doesn't know (or pretends to) what happened to Giovanna, but he thinks she's dead (though he doesn't say it explicitly). He really pleas Antares for her help, reminding her of all the favours she owes him (invent something), and invites her to be discreet even with her brother or any other person she will talk with: his name must not be revealed. If Antares accepts, then it's up to her to inform the other members of the party (she should enlist their aid, of course): the adventure has just begun.
Starting The Investigation
Antares has various sources of information she can exploit (in case Antares is a PC, the DM should tell this to her):
* Achen Thuriman: she can ask her brother about Giovanna. Achen is a Sergeant, so he has some power over the guards and can obtain the information she's seeking. However, since he is not directly implied in the investigations, he should come up with a plausible reason for questioning his fellows over this matter. And he also wants to know why Antares is so interested in a person she doesn't even know. Achen will try to discover why Antares wants that information (call it professional distortion) before giving it away, and will then become himself intrigued by the case.
* Joseph Urqvart: the current Chief of the Guards was the best friend of Antares' father and will be more than happy to receive Antares' visit. He's a nice man in his forties and if Antares presses him, he will tell her that Giovanna was murdered and "mutilated". This word will arouse strange feelings in Antares (see her background), but the Chief will reassure her that there are no similarities with her father's death. However, he refuses to tell more about the murder and invites her to ignore the case, since they have already a good track to follow. He also invites her to dinner with his family to lower the possible tension created by his reticence (he really cares for Antares and her family, anyway). If Antares goes to the dinner, Chief Urqvart will spend most of the evening talking about the past times and her father, and will gently pilot the conversation away from any possible reference to the Lizzieni murder.
* Bartholomeo Diaz: Antares can remember this guy only with an Intelligence Check. This is a famous personality among the town lowlife, a renowned burglar and thief who often helped his father in the past to find dangerous criminals and to jail rival thieves. Bartholomeo visited Antares' mother a couple of times after her father's death and helped her overcome the grief for the loss of the husband (see his description). Antares never really liked this man, but she knows she can get precious information, and could come to him as a last resource. Bartholomeo listens to her questions and promises he will obtain the information regarding the murder (when it happened and how, possibly with the suspects) in a matter of hours... for an appropriate price. Bartholomeo also knows that Rutger Helander has been spotted in town only a couple of days ago, but he won't tell this to Antares unless she specifically asks it.
* Lizzieni House: Giovanna lived in a small one storey house in the low-class part of the town. Attached to her house there is another quite decrepit dwelling where an old lady live. Lizzieni House is currently closed and the guards leave it after midday, so if the party wants to enter and inspect it they can do it without problems, provided they act stealthily. Inside they will find: a dining room with an old hand loom in one corner, a small kitchen/pantry, and the sleeping room. The rooms are all poorly furnished except for the sleeping room, where there is a large carved mirror on top of a toilet table with some make-ups, and a chest full of female dresses, some of them really nice and handmade by Giovanna. The sleeping room is a total mess and there are spots of blood all around the room, in particular near the bed (clear result of a fight against her aggressor). No other evidences can be found here.
* Sorensen House: this is the house of Giovanna's old neighbour. The woman, Christa Sorensen (78 years old), was a friend of Giovanna's parents and after the accident (see Giovanna's background) she helped the girl live on as if she was her true daughter. She often tended the girl during the day and helped with her waving job. If questioned, she looks to be really prostrated by the terrible event and talks with distress of Giovanna's death (she won't refuse to talk, however, especially if the party shows to be kind and interested in finding out the culprit). She tells them that the night before she cooked Giovanna the dinner as usual and left her in the dining room, where she was still working at a dress. Giovanna seemed happier in the last two weeks, and even younger, as if something had finally given back to her the lost youth. She suspects that the girl had a lover, and she had in fact seen many times the shadow of a man entering the house during the last days, always long after dawn. She discovered the corpse the morning after, when she entered Giovanna's house after the girl hadn't replied to her calls. The door was locked as usual, but she had her own keys and when she entered the sleeping room she witnessed the horrid scene (see description of the Death scene below). Shocked, she cried out many times and ran outside, where she found a guardsman and told him of the murder. She admit she didn't hear anything the night before, but then she is quite deaf given her old age...
* Other neighbours: the other building left of Lizzieni House is a grocery store that was closed when the murder happened (its owner lives on the other side of the street). All of the people living in the nearby houses remember Giovanna as a kind unlucky person, but they didn't see nor hear anything the night of the deed. Some of them remember seeing a person visiting Giovanna after dark, if asked, but they are not sure they saw this person the night of the murder.
* Morgue/Cemetery: the town morgue is inside the cemetery and Giovanna's corpse has already been put inside a coffin. The funeral will be held the morning after (DAY 2), so if the party is really desperate (or daring enough), they can bribe the local undertaker, Jebediah Sprigg, to let them give a quick look at the corpse. Jebediah is a renowned drunkard and can be persuaded easily. Alternatively, the party could use some magic to sneak into the obituary and inspect the corpse. Whichever the case, at first sight the corpse appear completely skinned from toes to head. A more scrupulous observation (or an Int check at -3) will reveal however that there are clear marks of burnings around the wrists and ankles. However, the bed didn't show any traces of burnings. No other particular evidence here.
Death Scene Description
The party can get this information either by Christa Sorensen, Achen Thuriman or Bartholomeo Diaz. The more detailed and precious descriptions will be the last two, while the old lady could forget something (DM's role-play). The guards' report reads as follows:
"Upon entering the house, no clear sign of fight or burglary was noticed. The main door was open but the neighbour, Christa Sorensen, had previously stated that she had opened it with her own keys. The door of the sleeping room was also open (left open by C. S. after running outside) and it revealed the horrible scene inside. The whole bed was soaked with blood, with stains of blood also covering the north and west walls. A clear trail of blood also went from the toilet table near the east wall to the bed (the girl was probably sitting in front of the toilet table when her murderer stabbed her for the first time) and a crashed lantern was also found near the toilet table. A wheelchair was found wrecked near the closed window in the south wall of the room, with the ripped dress of the victim (identified by C. S.) near the crashed wheelchair, not completely covered with blood.
The mutilated corpse of the victim, Giovanna Lizzieni (25 years old), was found on the bed. It was completely skinned, with her bowels and bones exposed but still in place. To notice that she was chained to the corners of the bed (ankles and wrists) with silvered manacle of unknown manufacture. At first sight the corpse presented no signs of broken bones nor any other harm caused by lethal weapons. After searching the house, the skin was still missing, and no trace of blood was discovered outside the sleeping room.
It is believed that the murderer used some kind of small knife or blade to skin the victim so thoroughly, and then probably put the skin inside a container (waterproof sack or large box) to take it without leaving trails. It is also believed that he washed his boots with the water held in a small toilet basin before leaving the sleeping room, in order not to leave tracks. The identity of the murderer is still unknown, but there are reasons to believe the criminal knew the victim, since there are no signs of housebreaking."
DM Notes: the players should notice that there are three strange things in this scene.
First of all, since Giovanna was paralytic (she couldn't use her legs, that's why she had the wheelchair found inside the room), why has the murderer chained to the bed both her wrists AND ANKLES? He has surely noticed she couldn't walk when he entered the room (or maybe he knew it ever since, if he is a friend of her), so why the chains at the legs? Second point: how could a paralytic girl oppose his murderer so fiercely as the evidences found inside the room show (blood spilled all around the room and many signs of wrestling)?
Third and last point: why has the murderer used such a particular item to bind the girl (silver manacles) without removing them once he quit the scene? Did he do it on purpose to leave behind a clear mark for the guards to find? Does this mean the PCs have just discovered the first victim of a serial killer?
Willie Meets Armon
If the PCs decide to contact Wilhelm afterwards (this happens if Antares informs them of his existence and of their talk or if Antares herself wants to see him again), they can go to his house (Antares knows where he lived, and she's lucky since he never moved). Once they arrive they see it's a huge run-down building (see "Feuerbach House" section for a better description) near other warehouses and that there is a large black coach waiting in a nearby alley. After a couple of minutes a door opens on the alleyway where the coach is waiting and three people exit: one is Willie, while the other two are an old elegant man with a walking cane and a tall man with dirty blonde hair and a clumsy walk. The old man is talking to Willie and pointing his cane at him: he seems irritated and used at giving orders to others expecting to be obeyed, but Willie doesn't seem intentioned to satisfy him. The other man suddenly leaps towards Willie and grabs him by the collar, lifting him from the pavement with ease. Willie seems very frightened and tries to free himself but at no avail. The PCs can try to intervene or simply go on watching: in the first case, the old man orders the younger and stronger one to drop Willie when he spots the PCs and then enters the carriage followed by the other one, ordering the driver to leave. In the second case, the same scene happens just a few minutes after, even without the PCs intervention.
If the PCs approach Willie after the duo's departure and question him about them or about his real relationship with Giovanna Lizzieni, he backs away uttering something like: "Got much work to do now, we'll talk tomorrow!" and enters the house, closing and bolting the door behind him. No matter what the PCs will do, he won't open until they go away. They cannot do anything more here.
Even though theoretically the PCs couldn't enter Willie's house since he closed every possible means of entrance, the PCs are renowned for coming up with unexpected solutions and they could even manage to sneak into the building to confront Willie. If this happens, refer to Willie's behaviour in the section "Fright in the Night" below. Obviously, what he reveals at this point won't be repeated once the "Fright in the Night" events occur.
It is recommended at this point that some of the male PCs have made the acquaintance of the Aretus twins (Cassandra and Angela) and have caught their attention during previous encounters while staying in town. Tonight, the two girls officially invite the two most attractive males of the party (or those who impressed them in the precedent days, anyway) to a dinner at their own house, maybe to repay them for some courtesy or simply to know them better. Early in the evening, a coach approaches Thuriman House and the Aretus' majordomo exits, delivering a scroll with an official invitation for the two PCs to Aretus Mansion. His master, Lord Aretus, has sent him to fetch the two guests and accompany them to the mansion. Even if the party has other plans for tonight (for example sneaking inside Lizzieni House or inside the Morgue), the two PCs should realise that this is an important opportunity to make a good impression on two good-looking and wealthy girls, and should thereby excuse themselves with the other friends and go to the dinner as requested. The DM is encouraged to use the majordomo, Ariovistus, to reinforce on the PC the feeling that a refusal won't please the two girls and will surely annoy their father, who is a most influent man inside the community.
If the PCs go to the dinner, Cassandra and Angela show them great attentions, but each one in her own ways. Cassandra is more direct and sometimes even embarrassing with her advances, while Angela remains more silent, acting gently and blushing with delight almost every time one of the PCs praises her. The PCs also meet Lord Augustus Aretus, who questions them about their careers and heritage. If the PCs somehow tell him that they are renowned adventurers (which might be true or not, depending on the campaign), or better that they have noble bloodlines, he immediately sympathises with them, encouraging the two to spend more time with his daughters and trusting them as loyal "henchmen". If questioned about his job and status, Lord Aretus tells them that he is a wealthy merchant (he sells manufactured products throughout the country) and that he descends from a noble family which lost his lands due to machinations of the politicians of the country (in Darokin, this happened after the Great Merger which abolished feudal law inside the Republic).
Sometime during the dinner (at about ten in the night), visitors arrive to Aretus Mansion and are warmly received by Lord Aretus and his daughters, who also introduce the PCs to the two newcomers. One is an aged but very elegant man with a noble gait and a piercing gaze holding a black walking cane with a wolf shaped golden head. The other one is a large man of indefinable age, his visage being that of a youth on the body of an adult. The most disturbing feature of this man is the expression of his face: watery grey eyes staring at nothing with a hardened expression betray an abnormal mind. The new guests are Johann and Stephan Armon, father and son (though the resemblance is tenuous at best), the last members of the most wealthy and prominent family of the town ever since the first settlers came to the region. The twins briefly talk about the PCs' virtues and deeds (if they mentioned any) clearly trying to impress the Armons. However, only the old man seems to take their words into consideration, while Stephan is completely lost in his thoughts (even though the PCs can notice that now he's staring directly at Angela with some sort of grin on his face). Johann Armon gives a swift gaze at the PCs and sketches a compliant smile, then excuses himself and enters another room together with Augustus Aretus to discuss "pressing matters", leaving the PCs and the twins with his son. Soon an embarrassing silence envelops the room, but Cassandra breaks it by resuming the conversation with the PCs. Stephan would seem a flesh statue was it not for his eyes, which are always fixed on Angela following her wherever she moves. No matter what the PCs do or where they go, Stephan is always close to the girls staring at them in dumb silence: he doesn't speak unless addressed by the twins (and they have no intention of doing so). Some minutes after, the two old men return and Lord Aretus calls his daughters to the other corner of the room, where they have a quick private talk. Meanwhile, old Armon tries to know the PCs a bit better, with specific questions about the cause of their presence in town and about the other members of the party (if they mention them).
The PCs can (if they deliberately state it) try to look at the dialogue among the Aretus to catch a few words (maybe more with a Lip Reading proficiency check). The twins seem particularly upset, and while Cassandra vehemently protests with his father, Angela remains silent, glancing a few times at Stephan in fear. After a while the Aretus return and Lord Aretus tells Armon that he is sorry but he has to decline his kind offer (he doesn't specify what kind of offer he made and if asked later by the PCs he tells them it was a "business deal"). Armon seems displeased and sorry at the same time, while his son's eyes for the first time betray an intense hatred (Int check), though it is difficult to know who or what caused it since he's staring again at the wall now. Johann Armon then accepts the decision and bids the Aretus and the PCs farewell, exiting the house followed by his son.
If the PCs ask Lord Aretus or the twins about Armon, they only tell them that he's a very important person inside the town and they go on magnifying his virtues and intelligence without revealing anything more. If they ask the twins about Stephan, they tell them that he is completely loyal to his father and possesses the strength of a bear... but the brain of a small child. Apparently, he was born mentally weak and now lives in the shadow of his father. There is no future for the Armon family under Stephan's rule, and the old man knows it. For this reason Johann Armon has often tried to have Stephan marry one of the Aretus twins (Stephan seems to like Angela in particular), thus unifying the two houses, but the twins have always refused because Stephan scares them. If the PCs ask the twins about the "business proposal" Armon mentioned this evening, Cassandra (the one who normally speaks most) remains very vague, but in the end she says that it probably was a masked marriage proposal, without adding anything more. The topic is then considered closed.
The evening passes smoothly after this event, and it should be clear for the PCs that the girls feel now very close to the two. The two should start thinking about an official engagement with two of the most pampered heiresses of the community.
If the PCs don't go to the dinner, the Aretus family is really disappointed and cuts any further relationship with the party for this offence.
Fright in the Night
Right in the middle of the night, somebody starts battering on the door of Thuriman House. When the PCs try to find out who is the cause of this mayhem, they discover a naked and rather embarrassed Willie, who pleads them to let him in and to take refuge inside the house, also asking for some kind of vestment. At this point, the PCs will inevitably question Antares regarding Willie, and if Antares has not told them anything yet, Willie agrees to reveal that he is the one who sought Antares' help in the Lizzieni case. When the PCs tell him Giovanna's fate, he turns pale and falls silent, clearly in distress for the young girl's death. If the PCs ask him about his relationship with the dead girl, he says that he knew her and felt some sympathy towards the unlucky Giovanna, but is reluctant to explain how he met her and what his real feelings were. If hard pressed (threatening to stop the investigations or to tell the guards about his involvement is sufficient, even though in the second case he starts mistrusting the party), he tells them the whole truth (almost):
"I met her a couple of months ago. She had some problems because of a loan she had contracted in a period of extreme misfortune, and I had been sent to.. err.. well, to make sure she would pay. Hey, don't think bad now! I know this is not the best job in the world, but it's a job nonetheless. I ensure that those who make debts pay them, sooner or later. What's wrong with this, uh? Ah, forget it!
"Well, believe it or not, I'm damn good at my job: my boss has never complained about my work, but this time.. err.. this time was one of those "life stinks" cases, ya know? The girl was a kind soul whose only error in life was to have asked a loan to the wrong person when she really needed it. She was on a wheelchair, she barely earned enough to support herself with her work, often helped by her "granny", as she called her... that's her neighbour. She burst into tears when I told her why I was there and plead me to give her some more time, so she would have sold something and repaid the debts. But what could she sell, really? Don't know if ya saw her house, but I understood at first glance that there was nothing valuable in that shack... except from herself... And so I took a decision, a rather drastic one I admit: I offered her to pay her debt with my money to help her a bit. She would have repaid me when luckier times would have come, I said, and she smiled and kissed me and we agreed. I fell in love with that smile, ya know ...
"I visited her regularly during the week, always at evening both because of my working duties and because I wanted to keep my relationship secret... hey, I'm a shy guy, ya know? Anyway, we eventually became more than close friends, for she returned my love with joy and such a passion I had never experienced before. She was fond of me like nobody had ever been, and even if she knew what kind of man I was, she loved me anyway. We had great plans in mind: once spared enough money, we would have moved to the capital and sought out somebody who could cure her paralysed legs, a priest or a magician maybe, and then we would have travelled the world... But life stinks, I bet ya know it, and these proved to be easy dreams difficult to carry out. I tried to spare enough, I really tried hard, but it was never enough, especially since I owe a big part of my income to my boss.. But we never lost hope.. until yesterday morning..."
Willie has nothing more to say about his love affair with Giovanna, or better nothing more he wants the party to know.
If asked why he has come naked in the middle of the night to Antares' house (which will probably be the first thing the PCs ask), he tells the party that he has been harassed in his house. He was sleeping in his bed when he heard some noises in the hallway outside his chamber. Being a very cautious and prudent man he always locks his door from the inside, and this time it proved useful, since whoever (or whatever) was outside the room, once understood the door was locked, he tried to smash it. This gave Willie just the time to jump through the closed window and run for his life towards Antares' house. Willie never saw who was on the other side the door and frankly he doesn't regret it. If the PCs propose to return to the house to see if the intruder is still there, Willie seems really frightened, but will accept nonetheless if the whole party accompanies him and above all if the party seems powerful enough to handle an unknown menace. Whether they return to the house during the night or the day after, they won't find anyone inside. Refer to the description of "Feuerbach House" given below for more information on what the party finds inside the house.
Finally, if questioned about the identity of the people who were talking to him earlier in the morning (if the PCs went to Willie's house, see the section "Willie Meets Armon" above), he explains them that the old man is Johann Armon, the wealthiest and most prominent man of the town, and the other one is Stephan, his son. Decades ago the Feuerbachs were one of the major families of the town and shared their power with the Armons and the Aretus. Unfortunately Willie's father lost his fortune in some wrong investments and in gambling and now he, last representative of the dynasty, must earn his life working for a moneylender. Johann Armon sometimes pays him a visit, mainly to mock and tease him with strange proposals, and this was one of those times. On his part, Willie's preferred pastime is to disappoint Armon and to ridicule his dumb son at every occasion, and this too was one of those times. Willie won't tell anything more about their talk and will only reveal that Armon basically "owns" the town, so he must be dealt with carefully. He has so far avoided his wrath because Armon thinks Willie is too insignificant to be taken into consideration. As for his son, he's mentally not fit: a child's brain in a giant's body, basically, that's all he can say. The two despise each other.
Willie's house is a huge building that once served as a warehouse for heavy products (Willie's family owned it in the past). The ground floor is empty and run down, full of old cranks and webs, dusty and very gloomy. The living quarters are on the first floor, located some 15' above the ground and accessible only via a metal staircase inside the building. When the party arrives, they find out that the main double door entrance is still locked and shut (since the closing of the warehouse it has never been used anymore). The secondary entrance, a small door on the long side of the building, is also closed, just as Willie left it once he entered the house some six hours before. The door is locked from the inside (Willie didn't take the keys when he escaped) and barred with an iron bolt, so the PCs have to find another way inside. The only windows are located on the first floor, 18' high, and the one from which Willie jumped is clearly visible, broken from the inside. The PCs should use it to enter (either by Flying or by Levitating or by climbing the wall with a rope or by Teleporting inside). [NOTE: the PCs should note that Willie jumped from 18' high and didn't injured himself! Quite a feat for a seemingly weak person as Willie is..]
Inside the house, the PCs find out that the door of the sleeping room has been pulled off the hinges but not destroyed. The room shows no signs of struggle and Willie notices that nothing has been touched or removed. If they examine the door more closely they find clear marks, similar to cuts, both on the door and on the knob, probably left by a knife since the cuts are not so broad (but they're deep). Searching the other rooms (the kitchen, the near pantry, the recreation room, other two unused bedrooms and the bathroom) they find no traces of intrusion (everything is as it stood before Willie fled and the dust in some of them testifies that they haven't been used for a long while). Only if they examine closely the door of the bathroom (which is the only one open together with the bedroom one and the kitchen one), just in front of Willie's bedchamber, they notice that the knob on the inside bears the same "scars", cuts, as Willie's door does. However, inside the bathroom they find only a tub (bathtub), two buckets full of water, a stove with a few logs, a chest (with some shaving tools, oils and perfumes and washing towels) and a big mirror near it. Only the kitchen, the bedrooms and the recreative room have a window, and none of them is open (except for Willie's bedchamber that is broken). So how did the intruder get into the house and why? The PCs might become suspecting some magic is at work here, but so far they haven't clear proofs to identify it.
If questioned on who might want to harm him, Willie explains that he has many enemies, but none of them is daring or powerful enough to surprise him in his house in that way. He really seems puzzled and a bit frightened, and if it's still night-time he asks Antares to come to her house to spend the rest of the night there, where he feels safer. There are no reasons to refuse, but in case she does, then Willie tries to convince one of the PCs to remain with him. If he fails, he bids them farewell and secretly seeks another hideout for the night (but at this point he's becoming very disappointed by the group). Whatever the case, nothing more happens this night to Willie or the PCs... but somewhere else, somebody is going to have a dreadful awakening...
Bad News Runs Fast
Early in the morning the Thuriman family is awakened by somebody who repeatedly knocks at the main door. It's Mikhail, one of Achen's friends and fellow guards. He has come to warn Achen that the "skinner" (as the constables nicknamed him) hit again (Achen previously asked him to keep him informed without telling his sister Antares). Obviously the PCs will overhear their conversation, no matter what precautions the two men take (either they spy on them or Achen decides to tell them the news in case he has decided to help his sister), getting the opportunity to follow Achen to the crime scene (he dons his uniform immediately after and runs to the place together with Mikhail). To the PCs' shock, it turns out that the two are going to Aretus Mansion. Bulging inside the house will prompt the guards who stand there to halt the party and ask many questions about their presence in the house. Fortunately the PCs can overcome this obstacle in two ways: either Lord Aretus spots the two male PC friends of his daughters and calls them to assist him, sharing his grim news with them, or Achen certifies for the PCs' presence and brings them with him to the upper floor, where the victim still lies.
Eventually, the PCs discover that one of the two Aretus twins, namely Cassandra, has been skinned to death after being chained to her bed: the same modus operandi of the previous murder. Again, there are no signs of burglary in the house or in her bedroom, and in this case it seems the young Cassandra hasn't even had the chance of fighting against her aggressor, for the chamber is immaculate, apart from the blood soaked bed. Cassandra has been chained to the four corners of the bed with silver manacles which look exactly the same as those found in Lizzieni House and his murderer has skinned her slowly after cutting her tongue away. The most macabre thing is that she was probably alive and awake during the process, seeing everything that was happening to her body reflected in the great mirror positioned on top of her tester bed. The windows as well as the door were closed when her twin entered the room and found her sister's corpse the morning after, and there were no footprints on the room's carpet. Also even though her sister, Angela, slept in the room nearby, she didn't hear any kind of noise the night before. The girl is now deeply shocked and lies babbling in her bed: the house maiden is trying to make her rest and relax, but she's been unsuccessful so far. If the PCs examine the corpse more closely, they can spot (Int check at -3) that the manacles have left deep scars in the ankles and wrists as if they had literally fused the skin and tendons exposing the bones. Yet, the manacles feel cold at touch...
Lord Aretus will obviously ask the PC whom Angela seemed to sympathise with to try and becalm his daughter. If the PC is convincing and gentle enough, after a while Angela seems to relax a bit and then falls asleep holding the PC's hand in her own in a tight grip (which will obviously oblige the PC to remain next to her until she awakens again). When she awakens (1d4+1 hours later), if the PC is still by her side, she will feel a bit more relieved though still distressed for her sister's death. If the PC is able to question her about what she heard or saw the night before, she tells him that she only remembers having a horrible nightmare, where a creature made of shadow was chasing her all around a foggy place. She remembers well only two features of the monster: his eyes, which were devoid of life and glittered like two tiny silver coins, and his hands, which seemed to hold a set of deadly knives. Then she heard the voice of her sister calling her and the creature disappeared ending the nightmare, although she didn't wake up at that time.
After searching the crime scene without finding any enlightening clues, the PCs are asked to leave by Lord Aretus, with the only exception of Angela's friend. He will be able to leave the house only after she wakes up, with the promise that he will be there again before dusk.
At this point, the PCs will be almost clueless, although they might have some suspects. The murderer has obviously used magical means to enter and to escape, so they could look for a wizard who lives in town. Unfortunately, no mages dwell in town, as the guards can confirm, and none have been reported in the nearby countryside. Soon this turns out to be a dead end. Also, the PCs still lack the of the motive of the murders. The two victims have nothing in common -aside from being good looking- and don't live near to each other.
The only possible sources of information for Antares remain Chief Urqvart and probably Bartholomeo Diaz, the only two known people who have access to confidential information. If hard pressed (or good paid in Diaz' case), this time they reveal that the guards are following a precise track: Rutger Helander is back in town (and this should bring back bad memories to Antares -see her background). Somebody saw him walking near his old house only two weeks ago and reported it to the guards after the first murder. Urqvart says that he has probably been freed because he expiated for his crime in all these years and now suspects he is back in town to finish what he became so long ago: "a madman remains a madman no matter the passing years." Antares knows well Rutger's story, for it is because of him that his father died.
Shadows Of The Past
About 20 years ago (more or less -adapt it to fit to your "Antares" history, if you are using a PC from your campaign), when Antares was only a six-years-old child, young children began to disappear from the town without leaving a trace. The town guards, and Antares' father among them, investigated on the case but couldn't find any concrete evidence explaining the disappearances and the fate of the children (all around the age of 6-7 and living in the poor side of the town). This all changed when Hanna Helander disappeared, and his older brother, Rutger, was found with his face, arms and clothes dripping with blood. Rutger (who at that time was 12) told the guards that he and his sister were walking through the woods when a big animal leaped out of the scrubs and grabbed his sister, taking her away in the woods in its jaws. The boy told the guards that the animal was a big grey wolf whose eyes gleamed with a fiery light. The constable didn't believe him, however. Rutger wasn't considered "normal" by his neighbours and the people who knew him. He was a brooding boy who liked to stay and play with younger children and who had a morbid attachment to his sister. He was the son of the slaughterhouse guardian and his family was not a real model of purity (his father was a drunkard and a violent man). To many, Rutger seemed "mentally disturbed enough for and physically capable of" kidnapping six years old children for unspeakable motives, so the authorities blamed him for all the kidnappings. Rutger never admitted the guilt but he refused to talk anymore. And since he couldn't prove where he was at the time of the other children's disappearances (he had the habit of going in the woods and hide there for long periods of time), he was found guilty of the charges. However, since he was still quite young and there were no real proofs of the children's fate, the judge (a diplomat of the Regional Court) revoked the death sentence and sentenced him to twenty years of convict labours in another part of the country.
The only one who never believed that Rutger was guilty was Antares' father. And indeed, one week after Rutger Helander had been sent away another girl disappeared. The guards didn't relate the event to the previous kidnappings, mainly because in this case the girl was a teenager, but Cort Thuriman was sure the cases were connected. One night he went out to meet somebody after receiving a mysterious scroll, and the morning after his corpse was found by the guards near the slaughterhouse. Apparently he had been mauled by feral beasts, probably a pack of wild dogs (since there hadn't been wolves around the city in forty years) attracted by the smell of blood in the slaughterhouse. The guards stopped all the investigations and classified the case as incident.
Chasing The Shadows
The first thing Antares should do is to find out if Rutger is really responsible for these deaths and what are his motives, and the first place to search is Helander House, an old one storey shackle near the now closed slaughterhouse. Traces of recent visits can be found here, but they have probably been left by guards searching for Rutger as well, so they may be misleading. There is nothing of importance in this run down building. After some thinking however (Int check at -3), Antares could remember that Rutger used to spend his time in the woods nearby, and once he told her (he used to play with younger children, so Antares and his brother knew him) that he had a secret hideout, inviting her to join him there (she was just about to follow him when his brother came and dragged her away, but not before threatening to beat him had he dared speak again with Antares). He referred to it as "the place where the rock has the colour of shadow". This is the only clue left to the party, so they could start looking for such a place immediately, but it won't be easy to find it with only these indications. (Antares could unlock the mystery with an Int check at -8: if passed, she might remember that there is an old tower called Blackstone up the forested hill, near Armon Manor. If Antares doesn't solve the mystery, they have only 10% chance of discovering Blackstone for each hour they explore the hill -or at DM's call.)
If the PCs are able to find somehow Blackstone at this point of the adventure (never underestimate the resources of the PCs!), they will be able to enter the fenced perimeter without much difficulty. Blackstone Tower (a circular tower) stands inside the Armons' holdings and it's the only building of the Old House still untouched by time (the attached house is an old ruined and burnt down complex with few walls not yet crumbled). Blackstone is roughly 40' high (diameter of 25') and is made of imposing volcanic stone blocks, carefully polished and still smooth and solid even though the entire building has been left untended for many years. It is surrounded by tall trees (mostly birches and pines) but has a clear opening above itself through which the sky is perfectly visible. It seems to have no entrances and no windows at first sight.
If the PCs try to climb it to reach the top, they discover quickly that the outside walls are oily and too slippery even for a thief (all normal means of climbing are prevented), probably due to the nature of the rock or to some magical properties of the tower (which radiates magic if examined with a Detect Magic spell). If they are able to fly or levitate to the top, they discover that the roof is still intact and impenetrable (they could use a Disintegrate or a Dimension Door to enter, but it is better if the party hasn't got such spells).
At this point, the PCs have three options: either search for a hidden door that gives access to the tower; or wait here hoping to catch Rutger Helander; or head home where they'll plan what to do next.
The Secret Entrance
It takes a PC about 1 turn to look for secret passages in a 10'x10' area and he has only 1 on d6 chances of finding it. Considering that the area to reconnoitre is about 100'x70', it would take 70 turns to a single man to explore it all (about 11 hours and a half), with only 1 on d6 to find it (1-2 for elves): a great deal of luck is thus involved. Of course, if there is more than one PC searching the area, the time diminishes, but it is still very unlikely that the PCs find the secret entrance located under the ruins of the Old House (concealed under a smashed barrel there is a hatch that gives access to a tunnel which leads to the basement of Blackstone tower. Here a winding staircase leads up to the three floors of the tower). So, unless the DM WANTS the PCs to find the secret door or they have some magical means of detecting secret passageways, they won't be able to discover it and will eventually be forced to return home.
Waiting For Rutger
Rutger Helander is already inside Blackstone Tower when the PCs arrive and will exit only when the night falls. If the PCs wait long enough (about until midnight), they will be able to see Rutger exiting from the secret entrance with a strange cloak wrapped around his neck and disappear in the woods (Int check at -6 will reveals that he is naked and the "cloak" is instead a human skin! But there is something weird about it, because it seems to be shifting shape from a human skin to a furry pelt under the moonbeams...). Now the PCs can choose either to follow Rutger into the woods or to enter his hideout and discover what lies inside the tower.
If they chase him, they soon loose his tracks. If one of the PC has the Tracking skill, he can notice with a successful check that his footprints at some point are replaced by wolfish footprints. However, no matter what they do to chase him, he will always be able to elude them and possibly to attack them in wolf form if they seem vulnerable enough, using hit and run tactics to divide them and catch them off guard. If he feels he's risking his life, he disappears into the night ad later returns to the hideout.
If the PCs enter the secret passage, they have the chance to explore Blackstone freely (go to the section "Inside Blackstone" below).
Night By Aretus Mansion
If the PC who befriended Angela goes to her house before dusk, as Lord Aretus and Angela previously asked, he is invited to stay for the night by Lord Aretus on behalf of Angela's sake. The girl has repeatedly stated that she feels unprotected and that only with the PC at her side she feels safe and is able to sleep without nightmares, so his father humbly asks the PC (and his friends if they accompany him) to stay for the night. While he is there dining with the Aretus they receive the visit of Johann Armon who asks Augustus Aretus to speak with him privately; however, this time Augustus invites him to speak openly in front of both Angela and the PC(s). Armon says that he has heard of Cassandra's death and is there to convey his deepest sympathy to the whole family and also to offer his assistance and protection to them. He says that they could be safer in Armon Manor, where he has better wards and defences against any intruder. Lord Aretus is about to reply but Angela surprisingly intervenes saying that she now feels safer than ever because the PC is there to protect her. At this, Armon frowns and coldly accepts the answer, biding everyone good night (with a last stern look towards Angela and his "protector").
It should be obvious to Angela's friend that he MUST remain for the night to protect the girl, and Lord Aretus will arrange for the PC to sleep just outside Angela's room, in the hallway, in order to be ready for any possible accident. However, this night will be a calm one in Aretus Mansion.
Once found the secret entrance located in the Old House ruins, the PCs descend into a small earthen tunnel (7' high and 3' narrow) that leads to the tower basement. Here, in the middle of a circular cave made of the same volcanic stone of the tower, the PCs find a winding staircase that leads them through the four levels of the tower.
* First Level: cobwebs and dust abound everywhere inside the tower. Only ruined wooden furniture can be found in this level: a wrecked table, some chairs and some empty chests. No trace of vermin can be found (a common feature of the whole town), but in the dust on the floor there are clear footprints: somebody with a Tracking skill examining them (skill check) could be able to understand that there are two kinds of human footprints. There are some chandeliers with candles nailed to the walls and no windows. There is also a sort of bed prepared with sacks and some leaves on the floor, and next to it a few rations in a backpack. Near the rough bed there are also some poor ragged clothes (a linen blouse stained with blood, a pair of trousers and leather shoes -all belonging to Rutger). The winding staircase leads the PCs to the second level.
* Second Level: what could have been a library occupies the second floor of the tower. Many books and scrolls lie sparse on the floor, on a small table and on some shelves still attached to the wall. Many of these books appear to be badly burnt, others crumble to dust when they are touched but some are readable. Also, if the PCs look closely they can see there are old signs of burning inside the room and even the iron staircase has been damaged: it seems the fire originated in the above room (Int check). The books in this room are written in many different languages: some deal with the history of the country where the town is located, others deal with legends about shapeshifters and their powers and others talk about outer planes and conjurations of outer planar creatures in general. There is a book concealed in a secret niche in this room: only an elf could find it searching the room in the common way. The book (which dates back to AC 445) is written in old Minrothaddan and describes the exact ritual to conjure and bind a creature called "Skinner" from a remote outer plane. It takes a minimum of eight hours to read the whole book and to understand how to do it right (it can be summoned by anyone, even by non spellcasters, provided the right items are used and the appropriate words are spoken).
* Third Level: this room has suffered badly from a fire in the past and everything here has been charred or reduced to ashes. Once it was an alchemical laboratory but some 150 years ago Adrian Armon, Johann's uncle, caused a big explosion while experimenting some new potions and nearly blew up the tower (he didn't survive), which was then abandoned by the other members of the family who had already moved to the New House. There is nothing of importance here.
* Fourth Level: there are 10 mirrors standing 6' tall attached to the wall of this room. Each one is fixed inside a carved arch which is decorated with many symbols (the PCs can observe that the pattern of symbols is the same on all arches). On top of the chamber, attached to the ceiling, there is a large crystal globe that reflects all around the room the moonlight penetrating from a few holes in the roof, filling the chamber with a supernatural silver light. There are also hooks protruding from the wall above each mirror, but nothing else is present. The floor is stained with blood near two of the mirrors and a disgusting animal smell lingers in the air.
If the PCs wait for Rutger to return, they will wait in vain: Rutger won't return this night nor the following nights, and when the PCs exit and return to the town they will discover why. However, there is a chance that while they are waiting, they hear some noises coming from the ground level (a thief or somebody with Hear Noises can notice them). If they run downstairs immediately to see what's happening, they can spot an animal figure running in the dark tunnel towards the exit (if they hesitate, they won't see anyone). They can chase it, but will not be able to reach it since they are more encumbered and will eventually loose the animal in the darkest woods. At this point, they can only return home and maybe share their discoveries with Wilhelm or Achen, hoping they can shed some light on the matter.
DMs Note: the figure who runs away is Stephan Armon changed into a wolf. He knows of Rutger's hideout and uses it as well. But when he arrived after his last foray in the woods, he smelled strangers inside the tower.. many strangers. When he heard them coming down he chose to escape and hid in the woods to elude his pursuers. He will return to the tower only when he is sure they have gone away or they have split, maybe assailing them one by one (DM's call, but it should be avoided for now).