Two Kinds of Hauntings: FMF One-Shot Recap

The characters involved in this one-shot were as follows:

Stanton “Slim Jim” Cree, Mighty ogrun soldier/bounty hunter
Brunhilde Miller, Mighty ogrun man-at-arms/pirate
John Doe, Intellectual (and claiming to be amnesiac) Iosan duelist/investigator

Now to the adventure:

At the small town of Wildhollow located in the forests north of Bainsmarket in northern Cygnar, the three adventurers were reading through the job offers and news posted in the town square, noticing the large number of “wanted” posters put up on the wall, when someone having a coughing fit behind them caught their attention. The stricken elderly man who had drawn the group’s attention introduced himself as Roderick Blackmoor, trader by profession and suffering the consequences of too many nights spent on the road. He was also very much aware of the recent increase in particularly brutal bandit activity in the area, which was attributed to a gang called the Deerhills Eight, and eagerly accepted the offer of the two large ogruns and their Iosan companion to guard his convoy on the way to Corvis.

After giving the adventurers an advance on their pay, the group went for some shopping, with the Iosan buying a particularly shrill whistle (which would become unexpectedly important very soon) and one of the ogruns buying a new shield before settling in for the night.

The next day the group left Wildhollow early, with Roderick eager to reach the town of Cormack before nightfall so he would be able to spend a night indoors for once. The journey was initially uneventful, with the dense forests slowly giving way to open land, meadows and, up ahead, the tilled fields near Cormack, when John spotted a rider coming their way from Cormack. Strangely, however, the man turned his horse off the road as soon as he spotted the convoy, and disappeared into the forest. Soon thereafter, the group met another group of riders in uniform in obvious pursuit of the first man. The soldiers’ captain, a man swaying perilously on his horse and speaking through gritted teeth, told the traders that some of the Deerhills Eight had been apprehended earlier, but that the members of the gang still at large had staged a breakout, blowing up part of the jail and setting Cormack on fire while their boss, Merrick Casgill, made his escape.
Alarmed by the captain struggling to stay mounted, John then insisted on examining his injuries, and quickly realised the captain would not survive if he did not abandon the pursuit then and there. John offered to take up the pursuit in the soldiers’ stead while they went back to Cormack with the convoy and their captain on one of the carts, to which the officer reluctantly agreed.

Making good use of Slim Jim’s tracking skills in the Iosan’s sharp senses, the group went after Casgill, noting how riding roughshod into the forest had obviously injured his horse. Soon thereafter, they spotted the beast standing riderless in the middle of the forest, and then a shot rang out, as Casgill, who had taken up a position in cover nearby, fired at his pursuers. He clearly hadn’t reckoned with the ensuing charge of two ogruns, however, and while John kept firing at Casgill to make him keep his head down, Slim Jim closed the distance and smashed the bandit leader to the ground, unconscious.

The adventurers then took the reins of Casgill’s horse and retraced their steps back to the road, and then followed it the rest of the way to Cormack. The town was still in disarray when they cleared the forest, with dense smoke rising over the burning buildings. Handing the unconscious bandit off to the soldiers, the group then quickly began aiding the rescue efforts, with Slim Jim and Brunhilde hauling buckets of water from the well and tossing them onto the flames, while John helped the Morrowan friar Easton Calloway in tending the wounded (and also noting that the seven armoured bodies of the rest of the Deerhills Eight had been laid to the side, clearly past any help available on Caen).

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Eventually the people of Cormack began to settle down somewhat, with the fires extinguished and the wounded being taken into the local inn so they could be out of the smoke and take a little pick-me-up in the form of some hearty stew and ale. The adventurers followed the townspeople inside, and received many slaps on the back and heartfelt thanks for their assistance.

Eventually, the somewhat grim mood of the townspeople changed, and they began filing out of the inn again and onto the town square, where a stern-looking woman in judge’s robes was waiting next to the mayor and the heavy steamjack that had been helping the firefighting efforts earlier. Judge Crowe, as was the title and name of the lady, was clearly aggravated by Casgill’s attempt to escape justice and the additional grief he had brought to the people, and began to read out a long list of his crimes, which involved multiple raids on farms and trading convoys, as well as the killing of livestock and murder of farmhands, as well as the recent death and destruction brought to Cormack. For his crimes, Judge Crowe sentenced Casgill to death by jacking, and under the grim eyes of the people of Cormack the bandit leader was brought forth and chained to the limbs of the steamjack. Casgill just had time enough to spit and curse at the townspeople before the 'jack’s handler, town smith Larkholm, ordered the machine to start walking, and Casgill’s curses were transformed into screams and groans as the powerful, tireless movements of the 'jack’s limbs began to dislocate his arms and legs, and its firebox’s heat began to blister his skin. After some initial jeers, the townspeople watched Casgill’s execution in silence until the rather green-faced smith finally ordered the 'jack to stop, and the soldiers unchained the mangled body from the machine to take it out of the town for burial.

Rather than provide any true satisfaction, the brutal execution had left the townspeople in a sombre mood, and soon everybody had left the town square to return home or to go to the inn for another ale, though one that was drunk in subdued silence. Soon thereafter, the adventurers too settled in for the night… though they would not get much in the way of rest.

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At some point that night, John Doe started awake as though by the echo of a nightmare of the last day’s execution of Merrick Casgill, or so he initially thought, believing to have heard the hiss of steam-driven pneumatics and the stomp of heavy metal feet. He quickly realised it had not been a nightmare, as he could distinctly hear the sound of a marching steamjack filter in through from the darkness behind the adventurers’ room’s closed shutters.

Looking outside, however, an icy terror gripped the Iosan, as instead of a steamjack he saw a balefire-lit apparition of such a machine slowly emerge onto the town square from one of the streets, translucent ghostly chains dragging from its limbs. He quickly woke up Brunhilde and Slim Jim, and while Brunhilde struggled into her armour as fast as she could, Slim Jim instead picked up his maul and followed the Iosan downstairs, where they saw the spectral steamjack had already reached the mayor’s house. The chains on its arms now whipped through the air, passing through the walls of the house as though searching for something, and after a few moments they had found it - the shutters on one of the windows exploded in a rain of splinters as the chains emerged holding the nightgowned figure of Judge Crowe. Quickly, John and Slim Jim ran forward, and John fired off a round from his pistol, only to see it pass through the apparition and smack into the plastered wall behind it. Then the chains wrapped themselves tightly around Crowe, tying her to the spectre in the same way Casgill had been tied to the steamjack earlier that day, and suddenly the adventurers realised they could no longer see the broken window through the ghostly shape - in tying the judge to itself, the spectre had surrendered its incorporeal nature.

Happy to exploit this opening, Slim Jim charged the 'jack, and even though Judge Crowe cried out as the 'jack’s limbs began to flail about, the ogrun’s strike was true, and the poorly armoured labourjack yielded under his maul. Then the 'jack struck the equally unarmoured ogrun, however, sending him flying with the breath knocked out of him, but before the ghostly machine could follow up on its attack, Brunhilde arrived to strike it with her cutlass, and in the blink of an eye the machine disappeared, allowing Crowe to slump to the ground.

Quickly, John began to examine the judge and his fellow adventurer, and found that, thankfully, none of them was in dire straits, though the spectral steamjack’s punch had wounded Slim Jim worse than the ghost’s jacking had the judge.

Clutching a menofix medallion to her chest, the terrified judge asked the adventurers what had happened, but it was all that they could say that the executed bandit leader’s vengeful ghost seemed to have come for the judge. Crowe immediately implored the adventurers to aid the town - and her personally - against this ghost, arguing that they had already defeated it once (unfortunately, Friar Calloway was not a full priest, and did not have any of the powers the Gifted could bring to a fight against ghosts). Reluctantly, the adventurers accepted, though there were few avenues for them to explore.

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Beginning with Merrick Casgill himself, the adventurers went to Friar Calloway and asked him to lead them to the bandit leader’s grave, which they proceeded to dig up. In accordance with general practices, the body had been interred intact (or as intact as had been possible, under the circumstances), but there was nothing about it that suggested Casgill’s ghost had returned to exact revenge. However, Calloway did reveal that Casgill had had a ternion amulet on him, which the friar had confiscated - though that, too, was not unusual for an outlaw, and there was no evidence Casgill had been a devout Thamarite. Still, the adventurers insisted on Calloway returning the amulet to Casgill’s body before filling the grave in again.

Next, the adventurers went to look at the steamjack that had been used to perform the execution. They found the 'jack standing slumped in the town smithy, its firebox still slightly warm to the touch. A strong smell of cheap soap hung about the 'jack, and John realised it must have been thoroughly cleaned after the execution. The adventurers then knocked on the door to the smith’s lodgings, which was opened by his wife. She claimed to have noticed nothing untoward that night, however, and excused her husband, who had been drinking heavily that evening and wasn’t currently in any shape to answer questions.

Disappointed, the adventurers bade the smith’s wife good night. Brunhilde and Slim Jim decided to patrol the town square for the rest of the night then, while John had the idea to examine the steamjack for any unusual markings, half expecting to find a hidden Thamarite ternion somewhere on the mechanism. However, while the Iosan was still examining the 'jack’s many crevices in the light of his lantern, the machine suddenly erupted in balefire, and the chain-wrapped ghost once again stepped out of its silent form and began its march to the town square. Terrified, the Iosan fumbled for the whistle he had only bought the day before in Wildhollow and gave a sharp blast to alert his companions - only for the ghost to suddenly wink out as if it had never existed at all.

Slim Jim and Brunhilde came running and found the Iosan standing before the smithy, staring at the whistle in puzzlement while people began looking out their windows nearby, roused by the noise. Gazing at the townspeople, the Iosan began to wonder why the smith and his wife were not also looking out to see what the ruckus had been, and decided to knock on the door again. As before, the smith’s wife opened the door - she and her husband had heard the whistle, too, and been woken up by it. Then John asked the woman if her husband had been having nightmares, and the way she suddenly froze told the Iosan he was on to something.

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Reluctantly, the smith’s wife allowed the adventurers inside, and confirmed that her husband had indeed been suffering nightmares. She also pleaded with the adventurers to leave them alone in a way that further roused their suspicions, and they insisted on talking to the man himself. Sighing, the woman relented, and went to fetch her husband from their bedchamber.

Smith Larkholm arrived still smelling of strong drink and swaying on his feet, but when Slim Jim demanded to know if he had been having nightmares, the ogrun soldier’s ears immediately perked up when he heard the man mumble “Haven’t had no nightmares, sir” in a manner that reminded him of his own experiences in the military - clearly, Larkholm too had been a soldier once.

However, interrogating the smith was less than an easy matter, as he simply stared off into space and did not really respond to questions. Only when the ogrun barked at him in a parade ground snap did Larkholm momentarily come to his senses, mumbling “Couldn’t do it, sir, can’t do it, sir,” before falling silent again. But at this point the adventurers also saw some strange, half-formed lights flare and sputter around the man’s hands before they winked out again, the clear evidence of some kind of magic.

With the smith’s mind seemingly far away and in a dark place, the group decided to send him and his wife back to their bed and watch their house for the rest of the night, and fetch Friar Calloway the next day. Thankfully, the ghost did not return again in the few hours of darkness that remained, and when the adventurers had told Calloway about what they had found out the next morning, he accompanied them to the smithy, bringing some medicine with him that he hoped would steady the smith’s nerves.

Sitting down with Larkholm and his wife again, the adventurers then learned that he indeed had the Gift; more than that, he had the rare warcasting talent. However, while enrolled in the Cygnaran army’s warcaster training program, Larkholm’s warjack had at one point torn a man apart in battle while Larkholm was watching through the construct’s eyes, and the experience had been traumatising for the young and inexperienced warcaster - so much so that he had been unable to command a 'jack to attack another man afterwards, and had washed out of warcaster training, his Gift now nearly completely blockaded by his trauma. Running away from what he had seen, Larkholm had eventually settled in Cormack and taken over the town smithy. Lacking the training to be a 'jack handler, however, he had been forced to fall back on parts of his warcaster training and forge a connection with the town’s labourjack, commanding it like a warcaster rather than by his half-mumbled words. All had been well for many years… until Judge Crowe had ordered him to use the 'jack he was bonded to to jack Merrick Casgill, and then all the trauma and memories had come back.

After hearing the smith’s confession, John, Brunhilde and Slim Jim put two and two together: The connection between even the dormant 'jack’s mechanikal brain and Larkholm’s nightmares must have been the factor that galvanised Casgill’s ghost into action, as evidenced by the fact that John’s inadvertently waking up Larkholm with his whistle the night before had immediately dispelled the ghost. The group hoped that if Larkholm now severed his connection with the 'jack - which also meant he’d have to put in the work to learn how to properly command the machine with words - the hauntings would at the very least cease long enough that a priest could be sent from Corvis to perform a proper exorcism.

This was the adventurer’s plan, and this was what they did before saying their good-byes to Judge Crowe, Alex Larkholm, Friar Calloway, and the rest of Cormack, and resuming their journey to Corvis with Roderick Blackmoor’s convoy. John and Slim Jim were confident in the logic of their advice, but they were still gratified when, weeks later, they learned that Merrick Casgill’s ghost had indeed not returned after Larkholm had disconnected himself from his steamjack, and that the smith’s old labourjack had also received a visit and proper cleansing by a priest in the meantime.

The end. I hope you enjoyed it.

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