Within the Devil's Cave, Ottoman Bulgaria, 1877
|A resident of the Devil's Cave?|
Two evil looking humanoids, clad in wretched, blood-stained rags, with long claws and sharp teeth, they were unkempt and obviously dead, with large wounds on their necks, probably from a blade of some description. They attacked Vambery and Forbes, raking Forbes badly before the two men turned to grapple with them.
Vambery was completely unarmed, and staggered away, grappling for the tattered Koran he had on his person. Forbes opened fired with his pistol, hitting one of the ghouls but not stopping it. As he ducked and dived, two more ghouls appeared from deeper in the caves and charged. Stoker saw them coming and drawing both his pistols, opened fire on them, but again, they seemed relatively impervious to gunfire. The bullets were punching holes in them, and they were obviously feeling the impact, but still they came on.
One of the first pair of ghouls now climbed up the wall and along the ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the slippery limestone surface, and dropped down onto Forbes. Luckily for him, while it knocked him to the ground, the ghoul hurt itself too [bad rolling by the GM] and this delayed it enough for Forbes to shoot it in the chest, point blank. The ghoul howled in pain and began trying to savage the journalist's neck, whereupon he shot it in the head and it expired on top of him. A small victory for the press in the Balkans!
The manacled Turkish prisoner, Amanoglu, found all this too much to bear [failed Stability check] and sprang into the sinkhole, disappearing from sight with a scream. Crosse got off a shot with his rifle, to little good, and then grappled with the creatures. He was quickly savaged by the thing's evil looking claws and passed out, toppling backwards into the sinkhole.
Vambery was now on his knees, brandishing the Koran in one hand and the prayer beads in the other. He pressed the beads against the undead monstrosity, but sadly to no avail. Stoker, now badly hurt and finding it difficult to stay conscious, turned and dropped into the sinkhole rather than face the horrors any longer. With this Vambery and Forbes decided to follow their companions and also jumped in as yet another ghoul loomed out of the shadows.
Hitting the water, they were quickly swept along by an underground stream. In what seemed like a matter of only minutes, during which some of our heroes panicked from claustrophobia and a sense of drowning, the stream spewed the adventurers out via a waterfall into a small mountain lake. There was no sign of Amanoglu who, weighed down with his iron manacles, must have drowned under the mountain somewhere. Crosse was in a bad way, as was Stoker. Vambery managed to bring Stoker round, and he worked on Crosse, but it was obvious that the geologist needed rest and had lost a lot of blood. Stoker himself was not much better.
Looking out, they saw they were on the side of a mountain, facing northwest towards the Danube plain. Orchards with peach trees led down to a small village dominated by a large mansion built in the Ottoman style and a cemetary. Apart from the odd goat and chicken, nothing was moving in the afternoon sunshine. In the far distance they could see the road to Tirnova.
The Village of Arbanasi
The player characters met the chief eunuch in charge of the household, who introduced himself as Hasan. He and his trio of eunuch assistants welcomed the foreigners and installed them in the first floor of the house which overlooked a central gallery. They brought them water, coffee and food and the men washed and dressed their wounds and sought to recover. The eunuchs explained that the house belonged to Ekim Dal, but that the local governor disappeared mysteriously last year during the Bulgarian rebellion. Now it is managed by his widow, who is currently resting, but is expected to join them for dinner. Having already encountered the undead once today, the adventurers immediately became suspicious. A quick check of the rooms they had access to revealed an absence of mirrors too.
Vambery and Stoker decided it was time to nose around. By this stage Crosse had passed out from his wounds. Vambery had a stroll around the village looking for horses or a cart they could use to escape Arbanasi before nightfall, as the village was more than 10 miles on foot in rugged mountain terrain from Tirnova. There was hardly a soul left in the village, most having already fled south. Vambery discovered a small mosque, little more than one room, within which he found an ancient imam, at least 90 years old. The man was kneeling on the floor muttering to himself about 'the lady'. He seemed out of sorts. Vambery also noticed that all the religious symbols had been stripped from the mosque.
Returning to the mansion, Vambery investigated the library in the house. Here he found evidence that the ruined fortress they could see across the valley had been used by a medieval Bulgarian clan called the Brotherhood of the Dragon in the 15th century. A book in Bulgarian also told of a strange 'blood curse' that emerged from the ground in the area, and mentioned the Devil's Cave as one potential location of such a hazard. Vambery also now heard the faint sound of a baby crying somewhere in the house.
Upon further investigation, the sound of the baby seemed to be coming from the seraglio within the house, which was off limits to the men. The entrance to the seraglio was locked but Forbes was able to pick the lock and gain ingress. He stole through the rooms and spotted a woman sitting by the window with an infant of about two: she was signing to it in a language that was not Bulgarian or Turkish. Forbes retreated unseen and repeated some of the words she was using to Vambery, who identified it as Romanian.
It was now approaching evening. A young serving girl was setting the table downstairs for dinner...for six people. The sun was beginning to go down behind the mountains...
Next: The Mistress of Arbanasi appears...and the dreadful conclusion of our epic tale!