In which the heroes experience all that the trail has to offer
Responding to a friend’s plea for help, the crew is sent into the wilds of wonderful West Virginia in search of a couple of missing hikers. What they find, naturally, is a far more serious situation wrapped up in an ancient curse. The hikers discovered an eerie fog cloud settled over part of the forest. Upon investigating they are attacked by a group of locals from a nearby farming village.
The PCs discover that anyone who enters the fog is captured and ceremonially killed in order to free them from a demonic curse. One of the hikers has already fallen prey to this curse and the other is next on the list. The heroes have no choice but to face off against the centuries-old demon and save the day. They succeed and return home with the surviving hiker and a couple of trophies for Marco’s collection.
Two weeks have passed since the vampires attacked the mansion and life is regaining a form of normalcy for the heroes. The Blood Stone has given Braun control over the vampiric urges caused by the Black Court curse, for now at least, but he requires daily use of the stone’s power. Claire hopes to find a way to synthesize the stone’s blood into a serum that will give him some degree of freedom from the stone itself. It seems that Braun has traded a curse for a crutch.
A call to action comes in the form of a plea for help. Julia Hefern is one of the nurses that Claire works with at the free clinic. She knows that Claire is a bit of an adventurer and problem-solver, so Julia turns to her for help. Her 20-year old son, Barry, and his friend Alex, have disappeared in the West Virginia mountains. The two were finishing up a 3-week hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Barry called her regularly, every other day at least, but she hasn’t heard from them in over a week. He last called from a tiny town in West Virginia, and knows his intended itenerary.
Wasting no time, Claire, Marco, Jack, and Fuller the satyr, pack their camping gear and head to the mountains. They begin their trip at the small town where Barry last checked in. Asking the locals reveals that this portion of the Appalachian Trail is quite rugged and harsh, in fact, hikers have disappeared in this area before. This confirms Claire’s Internet research which indicated that hikers have disappeared in the nearby mountains for decades. They find the trail head and hit the AT, searching for the missing hikers.
Using one of Barry’s personal possessions, ironically his old compass, Jack casts a locater spell to successfully lead them through the mountains. At a point where the trail follows a ridge, Barry’s path leads down into a valley, deviating from the AT. The group heads down into the valley. Day’s end finds them in a hilltop clearing, perfect for use as a campsite. Midway through the night they are faced with two hungry mountain lions. Marco feeds the group’s provisions to the lions, who then wander off before dawn.
The next morning, they see a smoke cloud hanging over the woods in the distance, and the location spell points directly to it. The cloud is dark, thick, and decidedly ominous in the way it just sits over the forest.
Their hike brings them to an isolated mountain village. As they approach, among the glimpses of daily life they see people filing out of the town’s small church shaking hands with the minister as they exit. The minister is dressed in a spooky black robe and hat. Upon entering the village proper, the PCs are approached by a group of men, several of whom had been working on a nearby truck. The villagers, farmers from the look of them, are politely standoffish and report that they haven’t seen the missing hikers. When asked about the strange cloud, the lead farmer, Ben Lewis, sternly tells them to stay away from it. Then, in a very non-subtle way, he points them to the road that will eventually take them back to the town where they left their vehicle. The PCs start down the road, but quickly veer off into the woods in the direction indicated by the locator compass, which happens to be in the direction of the mysterious fog cloud.
Before reaching the cloud, the ensorcelled compass leads them toward the remnants of a campsite. Gear is strewn about and they’re able to identify some of it as belonging to Barry. The compass pings them to indicate that they have reached their destination just as a wild-eyed Barry Hefern springs from his hiding place in the brush and attacks them with a club. They are able to subdue him easily and Claire calms him down by explaining that they are here to find him and Alex and take them home.
At the mention of Alex’s name, Barry becomes somber and explains what happened. They passed through the village a couple of weeks ago, then made their way to the fog. Its allure was too much to pass up for two adventurous spirits like them. When they approached the fog, Barry became afraid, but Alex went into it. He was gone for over an hour before he stepped out again, and everything seemed fine. They returned to their campsite, and later that evening were attacked by men from the village. They abducted Alex, but Barry managed to get away.
He trailed them back to the village and they took Alex into the church. Before he could see what happened, Barry had to flee as two farmers discovered him peering through the window. He’s been evading capture this whole time, yet not willing to leave without Alex. The group listens to Barry’s story and deduce that they were after Alex because he entered the fog. They decide that their next step is to investigate the fog cloud and then rescue Alex, if he’s still alive.
As they approach the fog, they can feel the evil emanating from within it. The cloud itself has a definite barrier; it sits unmoving in the forest. Birds clearly avoid it and it seems as though the wind itself refuses to blow through it. The PCs can almost hear a voice at the edge of their awareness beckoning them to come into the fog. Luckily, they are all able to resist the lure, and as a group, walk away.
As they’re wandering through the woods, trying to decide what to do next, they come upon a little girl from the village. Her name is Emily and she tentatively says that she knows where the missing hiker is, and will take them to him if they promise not to tell.
Emily leads them to a small shed built into the hillside. Inside the shed is an assortment of old shovels, picks, and other farming tools, but also a tunnel leading deeper into the hillside. Emily points out oil lanterns that hang at the ready, and once they’ve lit the way, leads the group down the tunnel. The tunnel leads to a cavern filled with oblong boxes–handmade coffins. There are more than two dozen boxes haphazardly stacked two- or three-high scattered in the room. The creepy little girl stands aside and says, “Your friend is in there.”
The PCs bravely do what’s necessary and begin opening the boxes. The contents of each look the same: A corpse with its entire face covered by a leather mask. The masks are all identical. They seem to be handmade of worked leather, roughly sculpted to the form and shape of a human face. And they seem to be attached or adhered to the heads, despite only covering the front of the head. They quickly find Alex’s body in one of the newer coffins. Claire deduces that he’s been dead for about two weeks, most likely killed the night the villagers captured him.
Further examination shows that most of the bodies have other injuries, suggesting that they were tortured or severely beaten prior to being killed. The cause of death is determined only after Marco finally rips the mask free of one of the older corpses. The inside surface of the mask holds two six inch metal spikes, positioned over the eyes and pointing outward. The masks were hammered onto the victims’ heads, killing them as the spikes drive through the eye sockets and into the brain.
Claire turns to ask Emily why all of these people have been tortured and killed, only to find that the girl is gone. And as they run back up the tunnel, they hear the door to the shed being barred from outside. They’re trapped.
Marco tries to shoulder the door, to no avail. Through the cracks they can see that it’s blocked by a thick plank. Further, they can hear the screams of the girl and the shouts of villagers in the distance. Jack decides the time for discretion is over, and pulls out his blasting rod. The door shatters as a jet of flame reduces it to smoldering splinters. As they flee, Marco tucks the murderous mask into his belt.
There are only two paths to follow. One direction leads to the village, and they can already hear the approach of hunters and farmers coming. The other leads back into the woods toward the fog. The PCs decide to set a trap so they can take out their pursuers. But when the locals arrive moments later, one of the heroes decides to talk instead of blast.
The PCs face off with the dozen villagers, all armed with guns and axes. Their leader, the minister they saw earlier, introduces himself as Carter Henries and tells them of a great evil that his village guards against. He asks if any of them went into the fog. While he’s talking, Claire uses her fey power to read his aura, which suggests that he is an honorable man. While the PCs respond to his questions, Carter Henries looks from one person to the next, staring them in the eye, except for Marco and Jack, who both avoid lingering eye contact. He calls out both men for being sorcerers but says he sees them as good men. But when he gets to Barry, Henries scowls and turns to his lead followers, farmer Ben and his buddy, and tells them to seize Barry.
Henries quickly turns back to the PCs and says that Barry has been corrupted by the fog. Apparently he lied and really did go into it. He must be taken to the church for purification. Deciding that they need to learn more before they fight, the PCs decide to accept the minister’s judgment and allow him to take Barry.
Reassembling at the church, the farmers lead the way to the church basement where the strap Barry down to a cross-shaped table. From a cabinet in the corner, one of the farmers takes a large wooden sledgehammer and a fresh leather mask. Before things can proceed, the PCs intervene and demand more details.
Henries, while donning his vestments, explains. The fog contains an ancient evil beacon that has been here since before white men invaded the mountains. It lures innocent people to it, and infects them with its evil, a portion of its demonic essence. Then the victim is released to carry the evil out into the world. Come nightfall, the victim is possessed by the demon and transformed into a monster that feeds upon the souls of other innocents. This village was settled 140 years ago, and upon discovering this evil, their forefathers dedicated themselves to protecting the world from it. Henries has the power to detect the demon’s presence in those afflicted. The only way to rid the victim of the demon’s influence is to ritually kill them and cast prayers over the body, which can never be interred within hallowed ground.
After a little discourse, Henries reveals that the only other way to save the victim would be to destroy the demon once and for all, but that’s impossible. So off our heroes go, headed into the fog with just over an hour until sundown. They take with them one of the sanctified leather masks and a 25-feet length of steel chain.
Entering the fog makes all of the characters scared. They quickly become separated by the dense tendrils of flowing, almost-living smoke. They all are drawn to the center of the cloud where they find themselves standing around a grotesque and malevolent statue. The statue stands upon a carved pedestal and is a man-shaped demon holding in a wickedly shaped sword in one hand, while the other is outstretched and holds a stone replica of a human heart.
As they stand, staring, the statue seems to pulse and the heart turns from stone to flesh, begins to beat, and drips blood.
Marco and Jack quickly concoct a plan, but before they’re able to act, they are themselves attacked by the dead forest around them. Vines shoot out, wrapping around the heroes’ limbs and try to drag them off, away from the demon. Inside their heads, they can hear the demon laughing and jeering at them.
Marco uses an iron chain as the focus to create a magic circle around the statue, which reduces its ability to attack their minds. As the battle rages, the demon begins transmuting to flesh and bone. Finally escaping the bonds of the vines and branches, the group moves in for their final assault. After wounding it, Claire and Marco grab the creature’s arms, setting it up for Jack to deliver the death blow. He slams the leather mask onto its face then drives it home with a spinning back kick that drives the spikes deep into the demon’s head.
The demon collapses to the ground and sizzles away into nothingness. The pedestal upon which is stood is sundered into pieces with a thunderous crack. And almost immediately, the fog over the land begins to lift.
They retrieve Barry from the village, after he is pronounced clean by Carter Henries, and make the trek back to their truck, and eventually back home. Besides rescuing the hiker, Marco adds a couple of trophies to his collection: the demon’s sword and the old leather mask he removed from one of the corpses.
GM Note: we all had a great time with this scenario, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t…ahem…give the devil his due. This story came whole cloth from the movie The Shrine. I think my group would say that I adapted it well. Our story certainly took a different path than how the movie played out.