Cast of the Cursed:
- Terka the Profiteer - Not very intelligent. Friendly and trusting. (Dangerous traits in the darkness.)
- Anya the Profiteer - Has had it up to HERE with everything. Presumably longtime traveling companion of Terka. Perhaps from the same Thieves' Guild?
- Abdullah Khalid the Barbarian - "Dwarf" from a far-off land. Easygoing (for a barbarian). Favors the straightforward approach. Has a brother with the same name (and perhaps the same personality).
- Alexandria the Profiteer - Fast-talking con artist. Bold, but not afraid to run when the odds are bad. Impulsive.
A little over three hours before dawn, a prominent citizen of the town visits the party with an offer. He would ensure their release and overturn their execution sentence, and pay each of them one thousand silver coins, if they would but perform a simple favor on the town's behalf. That is, if they would only ascend the mountain pass to the northeast before the first major winter storm renders it impassable for the next one to three months, and then - if they could be so kind - explore the ancient structure at the end of the pass, noting any surviving artifacts in working order before finally occupying and safeguarding the edifice until the weather clears and his compatriots are able to arrive.
The hooded man withdraws a map from his voluminous sleeve and tries to hand it to Terka through the prison bars. She stares at him blankly until he awkwardly offers the pages to Anya instead. She takes them and gives them a once-over; the first page shows the basement of a structure labeled the "Lakeview Hotel" on one side, and the ground floor on the reverse side. The second page likewise shows the two upper floors of this "Hotel." Figuring the job is preferable to execution by whatever strange method this cult-enthralled town considers appropriate, the prisoners accept.
Abdullah additionally demands a brown cloak of his own, but the mysterious authority figure responds that only those who have taken the First Oath of Tsathothogoth may wear such finery. He offers Abdullah a chance to repeat this sacred oath, as all of the townspeople have presumably done, but Abdullah declines. Anya requests animals to ride, so that they may make haste in their mission. The hooded man gives them each a mule. She then asks about food, but the strange man simply says that the hotel should be well-stocked with provisions for them. Anya is skeptical about this, but does not press the matter far. Finally, she demands part of the reward money up front. The hooded man tells her that he is already granting her an up-front payment in the form of her life, but the prisoners sit stubbornly in their cell until he acquiesces with an exasperated sigh. He hands them each one hundred silver coins, and they are on their way. If only we had able-bodied trespassers more often, he thought, I could have smiled and left them to their appropriate fate.
The group is released from their cell and escorted to their new mounts at the town gates. The items they were carrying when they entered the town are returned to them. Terka is immediately smitten with the beautiful white fur of her adorable new mule. As the party rides away, they see large orb-shaped silhouettes approaching the town from the southern horizon, floating through the air like quick-moving storm clouds. They do not wait for the spheres to drift close enough for them to observe the details in the dim moonlight. They make for the pass.
After three hours of travel, the sun rises. As people who live in these perpetually dark times are wont to do, Anya and Abdullah suffer a minor bout of Night Madness with the coming of the brief daylight. Their minds dull and their bodies tense, and they become slightly more prone to recklessness. Terka smiles at her mule's sunlit fur and remains oblivious to the growing edge of mania on her companions' faces.
Thus, it comes as no surprise when Abdullah and Anya decide to pick a fight with the creatures they soon encounter. In the middle of the road, a pack of wolves with the heads of crows, half a dozen strong, tear at a human corpse. The party could have perhaps circumvented the monsters via a forested hollow to their left, and simply rejoined the main path later. But why abandon the road to these foul scavengers?
Abdullah aims his bow and releases an arrow that sinks into the flesh of a feasting wolf-thing. Anya draws her gun and opens fire. Terka does nothing, as she cannot throw a knife far enough to strike one of the monsters a hundred feet away.
In the following moments, Abdullah and Anya fire more projectiles at the now-rapidly-approaching wolf-things, wounding one or two but failing to deliver a fatal shot. The beasts savage the calves of Anya, injuring her badly, and tear at Terka's legs as well, to lesser effect. Nearly dead, Anya spurs her mule to flee, and Terka follows. Abdullah draws his scimitar with a hearty war-cry and hacks at a bloodied wolf-thing, to little avail.
Riding into the forested hollow along the path, Terka and Anya flee toward their objective as best they can. Up on the path behind them, they hear Abdullah screaming ferociously, accompanied by the mule's terrified braying. The barbarian's scream is cut short, replaced by a gurgling sound and a thud, then the unmistakable tearing of flesh.
Unbeknownst to the others, a passing demon bears away Abdullah's soul, presumably to some unknown Tartarus.
Anya and Terka flee at full speed through the trees. This proves to be a mistake, as both of their mules step heedlessly into a deep rut. Their ankles break at the same time. Both riders are flung from their crippled mounts. As they quickly gather their supplies, they hear the crow-wolves abruptly stop feasting on man and beast and start crashing through the foliage toward the pained and panicked cries of the injured but still-living animals.
Terka prepares to put the animals out of their misery, but Anya protests they they don't have time, they have to move now. Bleeding from their legs, profusely in Anya's case, the pair leaves the mules to their fate. Despite their agonizing injuries, they move quickly enough, powered by adrenaline and fear. Soon the sun sets again, and the sounds of death fade behind them in the darkness.
When their pace drops from a run to a walk, Terka checks that her belongings are secure. She realizes that she had a gun this whole time. She had simply forgotten about it.
The women travel for an amazing six hours after the battle. Anya finally collapses in exhaustion and pain, unable to take another step. They have not rejoined the road yet. Terka peers at her surroundings in the darkness. There is a small clearing that could accommodate a tent.
On a nearby hill, there is also a cabin, its new coat of white paint gleaming in the moonlight.
Anya tells Terka not to even think about that cabin. A structure in perfect repair, appearing in the wilderness right when they most need shelter? The most beautiful cabin they'd ever seen? Unguarded? Too good to be true.
Terka pitches the tent and begins collecting branches for a fire.
Meanwhile, Abdullah Khalid, brother of the late Abdullah Khalid, walks through the forest. He comes across Terka piling branches outside her tent. He asks Terka if she's seen his brother. In the tent, Anya nearly jumps out of her skin. Terka informs him of his brother's passing and offers him a seat at the fire. Once she gets it going, that is.
Alexandria, another profiteer who also happens to be wandering at this high elevation, secretly listens from the bushes. Deciding that she probably will not be attacked on sight, she walks up to the group and introduces herself. Even though she has never seen it before in her life, she confidently informs the trio that she owns the cabin on the hill, and invites them to spend the night inside.
Anya wants no part of this at first, but Terka and the new Abdullah instantly perk up at the suggestion of relative warmth and safety. Anya is in agony, and so weak she can barely move under her own power, so against her better judgement she lets the others talk her into it. Terka and Abdullah carry her up to the cabin once the tent has been broken down and stowed.
Alexandria leads the way. She checks the door. Unlocked. They enter.
They find a living room with a large, fluffy couch and a fireplace. Off to the right is a kitchen and a hallway, the latter of which has four closed doors. Anya is placed on the couch, which she finds incredibly comfortable. Abdullah begins to start a fire. Alexandria, figuring she had better take a look around and familiarize herself with the place before anyone can catch on to her ruse, strides down the hall and opens the first door. She finds a bathroom, featuring a strangely-designed basin, a tub of similar design, and a chair filled with water, all made of marble. She realizes that these are ancient artifacts, seemingly in good condition. From the couch, Anya asks Alexandria if she has any bandages for her wounds. Alexandria quickly searches the bathroom and finds a box with a red cross marked on it. Inside are bandages and strange ointments and unguents. She brings Anya the box with a smile.
One of her guests asks Alexandria if she has any food. "Of course," comes the reply.
The kitchen is equipped with more of the strange devices of the ancients. One is clearly a type of stove, but Alexandria cannot figure out how to light it. Another is a basin with a pipe hanging over it, like the one in the bathroom. Yet another is a rectangular metal cupboard of sorts, divided into two chambers. The first is empty, save for cool air. The second contains six flat red boxes labelled "Pizza." Inside are some kind of frozen pies.
Alexandria searches the kitchen cabinets: plates, cups, silverware, mousetraps, mothballs, matches, a transparent container of little wooden sticks...aha! Pots and pans. She crumbles up all of the pies into a huge pot. Abdullah now has a fire going, so she hands it over. He starts cooking the "stew." Anya binds her wounds in the meantime. She considers using one of the strange ointments, but decides against it. Terka watches all of this contentedly, and with no shortage of awe.
Alexandria goes back to the hallway. Opening the second door reveals a bedroom decorated with hunting trophies. Behind the third door is a bedroom with a floral theme. Alexandria checks the last room and finds yet another bedroom, with an abstract and colorful pattern on the carpet.
On the bed in this last room is a body, covered with a sheet. A corpse, presumably. Or perhaps someone lying very still. Covered head to toe.
Alexandria wants to make sure the body is dead. This is her house now. She draws her knife, walks over to the bed, and stabs the body through the sheet. Right in the chest.
First, a slowly spreading stain of blood across the linen.
Then, a high-pressure jet of blood, blasting the ceiling. The others hear a noise like a rushing river. One of them asks if everything is okay. Alexandria shouts some excuse that pacifies them for the moment.
Then, gallons upon gallons of blood. It pools on the ceiling, as if gravity has suddenly decided to reverse where the subject of gore is concerned.
Then the discharge ceases. The figure under the sheet sits up. Alexandria stabs it again. An arm snakes out from under the sheet. It is pink, bright pink, and swollen, and fleshy, and entirely too long to have fit under the covers. It claws at Alexandria with ragged yellow nails, drawing blood. She swings her knife at the arm, to little effect.
The arm reaches out again and firmly grasps Alexandria's forehead. Suddenly, Alexandria finds herself sitting down. There is something over her head. A sheet. Her left arm is the only thing poking out from under it. Through the linen she sees her own body standing there, with a deranged look on a face that should be hers. Panicked, Alexandria swings her new, demonic appendage at her old body, flinging her doppelganger across the room, but it is back up on its feet in an instant. A familiar hand grabs the pink, swollen wrist on the end of her long, fleshy arm. A familiar knife saws into her alien wrist with wild abandon.
Terka, having finally decided to investigate the noises from the bedroom, slinks over and takes a peek. She sees what she believes to be Alexandria holding a bloody knife in one hand and an inhumanly long limb in the other. Blood floats on the ceiling. "Alexandria" lowers her mouth to the wound in the monstrous arm and begins to suck.
Terka walks back to the living room. She tells the others that Alexandria is busy.
Alexandria finally manages to yank her arm away. An idea bubbles up through the horror flooding her mind. She pulls her other arm out from under the sheet. Grabs her old body. Pulls it in close. Puts her swollen palm on her rightful forehead.
Alexandria is instantly back in her proper body. Enfolded by the horror under the sheet. Said sheet finally slips off of the creature's head. Its entire face is nothing but one huge, wet, human mouth.
Alexandria stabs at the monstrosity again and barely manages to wriggle free. The figure leaps from the bed, barely missing her, and with a moist POP its gaping maw latches onto the wall like a leech. Alexandria manages to avoid tripping over her feet long enough to flee the room.
In the hall, she looks back into the bedroom. Empty. No blood on the ceiling. No demon. The bed covers are not even ruffled. She looks down at herself. Her injuries are quite real. She staggers back to the living room. Anya demands to know what all that commotion was about.
"There was a fucking demon in the bedroom!"
"There's a demon in your fucking bedroom?"
"It's not my fucking bedroom! This isn't my house!"
For reasons which may forever remain a mystery, they all still agree to sleep in the cabin. To be fair, at least half of the group is too exhausted to do much more travelling without rest. More mysteriously, no one truly turns against Alexandria after her deception is revealed. Perhaps everyone is too tired to raise their weapons, either, although Anya has no problem raising her voice. Soon, they curl up in the living room to sleep.
Abdullah takes first watch. He checks on the "stew." It has yet to really warm up, so after eating a little bit he decides to let it simmer until morning. He then decides that having someone stay up on watch while everyone else is asleep is an overrated tactic - after all, everyone else looks so comfortable now - and purposefully allows himself to nod off.
All four of the cabin's guests experience the same dream, although they do not realize it until they talk it over upon waking. The dreamer lies in a field of tall grass, looking straight up into the daytime sky. The grass is growing so quickly that the dreamer can hear its growth. Suddenly, a giant eyeball appears, hovering directly above the dreamer's face, only a few feet away. Under the careful scrutiny of the orb hanging in the air, the dreamer is wrapped in the rising grass. Swallowed by it.
The travelers awaken on the cold ground. It is daylight again, although the sun is going down. The cabin is gone. They are on the same hill, but the hill is no longer in the same place. They rise to discover the Lakeview Hotel looming over them. They decide to look on the bright side: their mysterious teleportation (if that's what it was) saved them about twelve more hours of walking, and they feel surprisingly well rested.
It begins to snow.
The four travelers are facing the back doors of the hotel, so that's where they enter. Darkness. Silence. The travelers realize right away, from examining both the exterior and interior, that the place certainly does not look ancient. There isn't even any dust. Anya consults the map, which is labelled "For Guests," and thus does not detail the employee-only areas of the ancient hotel. They are near a room labelled "Restaurant 'Lake Shore'" (although the hotel does not appear to be by any lake), so they head there in hopes of finding food.
The restaurant is empty and spotless. A little bell sits on the counter. Alexandria rings it. Instantly, a huge feast appears, spread across several tables. There is everything from turkey to potatoes, bread to cranberry sauce. Abdullah and Anya are skeptical as to the safety of eating food that appears out of thin air, so they watch as Terka and Alexandria dig in. The food is delicious and filling. There is plenty left over. They leave it on the tables for now.
They wander into the kitchen, which is full of complicated ancient devices similar to those in the cabin's kitchen, but more numerous. Next is the dish room, with a sink full of fancy dishes soaking in filthy black water, and the employee cafeteria, in which the tables bear old, rotten food, and plenty of dust to make up for the lack of it elsewhere in the building so far.
They start exploring the hallways of the employee-only area of the ground floor, noting doors and briefly peeking into some rooms. It is pitch black in the interior, windowless spaces of the building, so they light torches and a lantern.
The first door they open reveals a stairwell going down. Next is the laundry room. Then they find the manager's suite, an apartment large enough for a small family. Next are the women's and men's locker rooms. They do not enter any of these rooms. Then they locate the security office. This they investigate in detail.
The corpse of a security guard sits in a chair. It appears to have been chewed all over, then left in the office for a few weeks. Among the papers on the guard's desk they find a map of the hotel labelled "For Employees" which bares a layout of the rooms missing on the map they received in town. They also find a set of keys and a complicated-looking ancient device which they nevertheless quickly identify as some kind of gun. Another treasure is soon discovered in the form of ancient devices known as "walkie-talkies." They fiddle with these magical items for a moment and to their delight quickly grasp their purpose as invaluable communication devices. They each take one. Likewise, they find light-generating cylinders known as "flashlights," which immediately replace their torches and lantern as their light sources of choice.
Finally, they find a note sternly warning that the hotel's boiler must be reset at noon once every twenty-four hours in order to avert some unspecified catastrophe. Anya and Alexandria consult the new map and find that there is a "boiler room" in the basement. At this point, Alexandria breaks off from the group to explore on her own.
Terka, Anya, and Abdullah make their way to the main lobby. A music box, easily two or three feet to a side, sits expectantly on a pedestal in the center of the common area, between the main entrance and the grand staircase. They leave it alone and go to the gift shop. It is mostly filled with strange, seemingly purposeless artifacts - perhaps decorative? A back room sports a safe, which the profiteers easily break into. They find ten thousand silver coins inside.
They return to the main employee hallway. Anya peeks behind three more doors. Door number one hides a pantry full of dry and canned foodstuffs. It bears the packaging of the ancients, but it seems brand new.
Door number two opens on a room-sized freezer. Thirteen naked people stand inside, their backs to the door. They slowly begin to turn toward Anya. She slams the door shut. It locks from the outside, but she does not want to take any chances. Terka and Abdullah spend the next half-hour helping her construct a barricade from materials in the other rooms, so that the freezer cannot be opened. They hear banging from inside the freezer for the first few minutes of work, but it soon ceases.
Anya opens door number three. It is a room-sized refrigerator. This ancient marvel is amazingly still in working order. The food inside appears fresh, like in the pantry.
In the meantime, Alexandra has taken a different path. Her first stop is the manager's office. She finds little of interest at first, just old files and unfamiliar office supplies, but she notices some loose floorboards behind the desk. She pries them up to find a hole dug in the ground. A corpse in fancy black clothing reposes within, hands crossed over his chest. His fingers bear obvious cyanosis, and the face is frostbitten - Alexandria gets the impression he may have died from hypothermia. She tells Anya about the body via radio and replaces the floorboards.
She finds the staircase they passed earlier and descends to the basement. The first room she finds is another storage room. This one has miscellaneous supplies as well as more nonperishable food. Alexandria notes that the pantry can be locked from the outside.
The next room she comes across is the boiler room she saw on the map earlier. Inside is a large cylindrical machine and a thick manual labelled "Boiler Maintenance." The cover has two more notes stuck to it: the first reiterates the importance of resetting the boiler at noon every day, and the second explains that the step-by-step procedure for doing so can be found on pages fifty-six and fifty-seven of the manual. Alexandria takes a few minutes to read these pages and performs the steps outlined therein. The boiler shudders to life and begins to heat up.
Alexandia then peers into the pump room. The machinery is jammed with a black, gooey web reminiscent of the black water in the dish room upstairs. The web has a glistening black face, which begins to slowly stretch across the room toward her. She closes the door.
The last room she explores is the electrical room. Among the weird old machines is a large lever that is too tempting for Alexandria not to flip. Throughout the hotel, the electric lights turn on, to everyone's amazement. Using their radios, Alexandria and Anya discuss the miraculous lighting and the barricade on the freezer door. Alexandria takes another quick peek into the pump room. The face in the web turns to her and once again begins straining toward her, the mucous-like web stretching like taffy. Alexandria shuts the door once more and tells Anya about the pump room situation, too.
This is where we must leave our cast of misfits for now. Fear not, for their story is not quite over. Join me again soon in The Hateful Place, won't you?
If I forgot any major details or got anything wrong about what happened, I apologize. I will ask my players to let me know if they notice any mistakes. We plan to play again late tomorrow night.
The Hateful Place was written by Dave Mitchell, author of Sirenswail. All three volumes of The Hateful Place can be bought from Lulu.com.
The name and layout of the Lakeview Hotel are borrowed from Silent Hill 2. This adventure was also heavily inspired by The Shining (both the novel and the film), John Dies at the End (again, both book and movie), "1408" (you know the drill), the video games Bloodborne and Manhunter: New York, the work of William Hope Hodgson (especially his Carnacki series), the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and the work of M. R. James. I have admittedly barely read the work of M. R. James, but it has recently fascinated me thanks to A Podcast to the Curious, so I should probably get on that soon.
Part 2 is HERE.