Several weeks after coming ashore in Drear Willow, a sleepy sea-side town in the Amarian province known as the Breach, Demitri, a young sailor, made his way inland looking for work. His contacts eventually led him to the Black Bramble Inn, a well known way-station on the outskirts of the town of New Landis. There, he was invited to share a table with two locals, Orlief, a tanner, and Korglander, a Matth’ari blacksmith’s apprentice. The group was also approached by Malichi Dawntrough, the back-slapping jovial owner of The Smelting Pot and Tiberius Constantine, a tall stranger who had been seen in town over the past several weeks.
The jovial mood in the inn quickly changed, however, when locals Lantos Penwohrst and “Old” Belinda Aurscar burst into the taproom in quick succession with similar tales: their young daughters had mysteriously vanished from their beds without any sign of struggle or forced entry. The only clues: a small amount of hay found near their beds, and small burlap coin pouches found under their pillows – each with a single silver drake inside. Orlief, Korglander and their new companion Demitri rushed to Orlief’s house where they discovered that Orlief’s eleven year old daughter, Sarah Mournhammer, had also gone missing under circumstances identical to the other disappearances.
The group rushed outside to find the town congregating around the local guard barrack where Captain Nidal Jackos was preparing search parties, but not before Old Belinda told those around her that the straw and coins were from the children’s fairy tale of the “Gimmie Man”, a living scarecrow that stole into the rooms of greedy children to carry them away on his hay wagon in burlap sacks. It was said that the Gimmie Man compensated the parent of the taken child with a single silver coin.
At this point, Tiberius reappeared and suggested that the group speak to Burgomaster Irvin Brimworth about starting an investigation of the crime scenes. Joined by Tiberius, the group went to the Burgomaster’s manor, where they found the man finishing a conversation with local socialite Beni Velstoy, who curtly excused herself. The group also discovered that a young man named Donham Jergo had also rushed to meet the Burgomaster with a similar request following the disappearance of his little sister Jenna Jergo. With the Burgomaster’s blessing, and with the assistance of Donham Jergo, the group proceeded to investigate the homes of the girls and to interview their parents. The investigation yielded several bits of rumor, including the following:
1. Sarah, Jenna and the Penwohrst and Aurscar girls were friends.
2. The girls spent a lot of time playing in the yards around the Temple of Lannados.
3. Several locals had spotted Protector Jame Branclor scowling at the girls from the doorstep of the temple.
4. Many children in the Lower Burgh had been saying that one of their friends is a fugitive from the law.
5. Milly Peterson’s cat died a week ago under strange circumstances. She hard children giggling in the alley behind her house when she found the dead cat strung up in a tree, but couldn’t make out any faces.
6. Lorna Evansigh believes there is a Coven in New Landis.
7. Torna Malbush says Protector Branclor has been asking strange questions about one of the neighborhood girls.
Eventually, the investigation led the group to the Temple of Lannados in the middle of the night. Although Protector Branclor was missing, they located his journal, which ranted about his suspicions that several of the young girls in the town had formed their own coven and were practicing blood magic and about his desire to put a stop to it. The journal stated “I have devised a means that should properly discourage any other children from following the example of these naughty girls” The journal also noted that “…the old Langlin farmstead should suffice.”
Following the journal’s clues to the nearby Langlin farmstead at dawn, the exhausted group came upon a large red barn near the farmhouse at dawn. As they approached, the barn doors burst open to reveal a living scarecrow barreling towards them in a hay-wagon, laughing maniacally. Realizing that something was amiss, Tiberius shouted out for the others not to attack as they dodged the careening wagon, right before it crashed in a heap. As Tiberius, Donham Jargo and Dimitri moved to inspect the crashed wagon, Orlief and Korglander entered the barn and nearly wretched as they discovered what appeared to be the charred bodies of the eight missing girls hanging from meat hooks in the center of the barn. In the instant that they realized the masses of meat were only animals carefully dressed up to look like the missing girls, they were attacked by two men in the hay loft of the barn, one of whom wielded magical flames. While the barn burned down around them, Orlief and Korglander managed to subdue and drag the mysterious assailants outside.
While the combat took place in the barn, Tiberius discovered that the scarecrow was actually Protector Branclor, who had been severely beaten, dressed as a scarecrow and strapped to the wagon. Though badly injured, he explained to Tiberius and Donham that the coven he had been investigating in New Landis was real, and that they must have framed him for the abduction of the girls. Branclor told Tiberius where he had stashed his real journal, which contained his investigation notes and urged him to get back to New Landis to recover the journal as quickly as possible. Taking one of the horses tied to the wagon, Tiberius put the injured Branclor in front of him and took off down the road towards New Landis to retrieve the journal, leaving Donham Jargo and Dimitri near the wagon. At this point, a third hooded figure appeared from the far side of the farmhouse and galloped past the wrecked wagon, pursuing Tiberius down the road. Tiberius attempted to outrun his pursuer, only to have the wind knocked out of him as a crossbow bolt slammed into his back, sending the world spinning and the ground up to meet him…