WDH Vignette #1

The Pleasant Cemetery

It was a still night in Waterdeep’s City of the Dead. The picnickers and playing children from earlier in the evening had long since gone, leaving the sprawling cemetery bereft of visitors. All who remained at this late hour were those forever resting there and those who were there to make sure the resting stayed that way. 

It was Jaina’s first time visiting the City of the Dead. The massive cemetery was located on the eastern side of Waterdeep, and it looked and functioned more like a city park than a resting place for the dearly departed. The gravestones and mausoleums were surrounded by manicured lawns free of detritus, precisely trimmed shrubbery, lush trees filled with autumn-colored leaves, and many offerings of rainbow assorted flowers laid at the bases of said gravestones and mausoleums. Meandering through it all was a network of well-paved cobblestone pathways generously lit by tall oil lanterns. The City of the Dead was, in Jaina’s estimation anyway, more welcoming than some of the local taverns and certainly more welcoming than the entire Dock Ward.

Hard to imagine that during the night the dead have been rising in this place, Jaina thought, stretching her arms over her head and groaning in pleasure when a shoulder popped.

Jaina and her three companions were patrolling the southern portion of the cemetery, on the lookout for a necromancer that had been spending the past week raising the interred as undead skeletons and using them to terrify any late-night visitors. The undead had been little more than a nuisance, never leaving the cemetery or actually harming anyone. Still, though, few people enjoy having the dead just roaming about, so the City Watch had tasked a holy knight named Sir Ambrose to deal with the situation. 

The City of the Dead, however, was far too large for one person to patrol successfully. So after a week of failures, the Emerald Enclave, a local druid circle, tasked two of Jaina’s companions, My’ra and Squid, to assist the overwhelmed knight. Begrudgingly, the knight excepted their help. While Jaina and the others patrolled the south, Sir Ambrose patrolled the north. At a little after midnight, nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Jaina let out her fifth yawn of the hour. At nearly forty name-days, Jaina was getting too old to stay out at such hours doing things like patrols, stakeouts, and infiltrations. She was cold, her feet and lower back were killing her, and her mood was beginning to sour.

Well, if you didn’t want to be doing this, then you shouldn’t have lost the game back in Baldur’s Gate and allowed your benefactor to be killed by a double agent, Jaina chided herself. Pausing in a patch of darkness between the oil lanterns to stretch her back, Jaina had to concede the point that she was here due solely to her own failings as a spymaster. Because of those failings, instead of tasking an agent to do such work, Jaina was now back out doing it herself.

As she was finishing her stretch, a faint thump came from the shadowed courtyard of the mausoleum Jaina had stopped in front of. Her hand shot towards the dagger at her belt and she bent at the knees, one of which popped and echoed into the night.

Great. Even my bones are betraying me now, she thought.

Jaina waited, poised to act, but only silence greeted her. Frowning, Jaina produced a hooded brass lantern from her pack and lit the candle within. She directed the soft yellow light towards the courtyard. The shadows cast by the bars of the wrought-iron fence surrounding the courtyard made it appear as if spindly fingers were reaching out to pull unsuspecting passersby into the darkness.

With one hand holding the lantern aloft in front of her and the other still resting on the hilt of her dagger, Jaina entered the courtyard.

Stepping lightly, Jaina arced her way around the courtyard’s oblong pathway, peering into the shadows of benches, shrubs, and decorative stonework. Resting on the ground near one of the benches was a toppled wicker basket and a scattering of apples. At the far end of the pathway, she reached the steps of the mausoleum. She cast the light of the lantern into the building. A single well-cut stone sarcophagus rested inside. Its lid was still shut.

Jaina waited and listened. 

Nothing. No movement. No sounds. No undead. 

Jaina relaxed. Probably just a group of teenagers trying to brave the cemetery at night, Jaina thought, the aches of her body returning as the tension and adrenaline faded away. Oh well. It broke up the monotony of the patrol. If only for a few minutes.

From behind her, back towards the entrance of the courtyard, came faint sounds—the scraping of wood on stone, the clanking of sticks, and the tapping of pebbles. Turning, Jaina brought her lantern to bare and squinted at the shadowy forms swaying back and forth just beyond the light. Her grip on her dagger tightened. 

Emerging from the darkness, into the glow of her lantern’s light, upon shaking limbs draped in tattered clothes and rotted flesh, a cluster of humanoid skeletons shambled into the courtyard, the black pits of their eye sockets trained directly on Jaina.

“Well, that’s . . .” Jaina said, releasing her grip on the dagger, pulling a tin whistle out of a pouch, and bringing it to her lips. “Terrifying.”

As the undead slowly made their way towards her, Jaina blew into the signal whistle three times, the sharp sound punctuating the night and bringing an end to the stillness of the City of the Dead.

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