Rise of The Runelords: Varisia's Angels

Expedition to Magnimar
Ravens, Rides & Reveals

Before departing the misgivings, my patient companions allow me to sit and sketch the stained glass windows in the observatory. I believe that the artists’ intentions was to capture the monstrosity of the Harlot Queen, but I only see the tragedy of Arazni.

We emerge into a scene of nightmares.
On every outcrop of stone and tree limb a raven is perched. No cawing, no ruffling of feathers, they sit as still and silent as death itself… These are no ordinary birds. I recognise them immediately as a Carrion Swarm… The abominations that result when ravens feed on ghouls… and there are literally thousands of them.

I don’t mind admitting that it gives me pause. We hold down behind a ruined wall, pray for protection and bolster our defenses.

Then we run.

The undead murders explode into the air and swarm around us but are Gods were watching over us today.
Beating them away with our swords and unleashing power, both the arcane and divine, we destroy them utterly.

We mount up and ride back to Sandpoint, making what’s become a ritual visit to Brother Zantuss; Athene and Mhad both are stricken with a virulent strain of Ghoul Fever, but not beyond his powers to heal. We make plans to consecrate The Misgivings and retire for the evening.

On the morn we go immediately to the Garrison and report our findings to Hemlock; Aldern’s identity as the Skinsaw Man; Vorel’s failed ascension to Lichdom and the resulting tragedy of the Misgivings; the leads in Magnimar, the cage maker, money lender, the Foxglove townhouse and the Seven Brothers; and the ultimate identify of who we believe to be behind all this- *Xaneesha*…

We mount up again and ride out to Magnimar. It’s a long days ride but a site worth the effort.

Located on the coast it must be twice the size of Vigil with a population to match. The centre piece is the ruin of a once enormous bridge that now falls away into the sea. Truly a marvel of its time (or any other) it reminds me of the Thessalonian ruins at Thistlelsop. The people are cosmopolitan, but not so exotic that Wynter doesn’t draw a few odd looks. If she grows any larger I may find such visits to urban centres… complicated.

It’s late and we pay for beds in an inn called The Centaur’s Mane. At supper, the tables around us buzz with conversation, it appears, rather disturbingly that Magnimar is experiencing its own spate of Skinsaw murders and the population is less than pleased with the lack of progress and Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras’ inability to deal with the issue, man they seem to hold in some disdain.

After a less than sound sleep we make a few inquiries and locate the likely vicinity for the Foxglove townhouse, namely The Summit. Athene send her owl to investigate while we attend city records. Speaking to one of the busy clerks it appears that the only way we can avoid a week long wait is to pay some exorbitant ‘administrative charge’. Surely this borders on corruption? I am reluctantly pulling out my coin purse when Athene drags me away.
Apparently she has a plan. Before I can stop her, she has donned the Mask of Disguise, re-entered as a Guardswoman and acquired the records we need. Once we’ve determined what’s going on here we can take the information to the proper authorities.

We head to the Foxglove townhouse. The Summit is indeed home to the upper class of Magnimar, with well kept residences and manicured gardens lining the paved roads.

The gate is open but the front door is not. We try the jade key which bears similarities to the architecture here and it unlocks. Unsurprisingly we are beginning to draw attention. We huddle around Athene as she puts on the mask and transform into Aldern. The resemblance is faultless and a little perturbing.

We walk in and a voice calls out in challenge, Aldern’s voice!
We exchange glances as Aldern and Iesha, as perfect in appearance as Athene enter the room… obviously imposters too! They make an effort to carry on the subterfuge, mock surprise and confusion in their questioning voices… That is until Athene speaks, forgetting that the mask does not disguise her voice. She immediately realises her mistake and makes a laughable attempt at a masculine tone but the game is up on both sides.

We draw steel and they… Transform!
Two amorphous, claylike humanoids stand before us with swords- Faceless Stalkers!
A short melee ensues and despite their great physical strength we overcome them.

The house is abandoned, ransacked of valuables and sheets draped over furniture, but we do find two clues in a hidden cache.

The first is a deed to Foxglove Manor showing that it’s construction was jointly financed with The 7 Brothers and that after 100 years (around 20 years from now) that ownership reverts back to them.
The second item is a ledger showing three months of trips by Iesha to deliver a payment of 200gp to the Seven’s Sawmill in Asalom to a person (or persons) known as B7 (obviously the Brothers Seven). The deliveries were made each Oathday at midnight, if we wish to meet these Brother’s that would be our best opportunity…

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The Skinsaw Man
The Skinsaw Man Cometh!

The source of this evil is close, we can feel it…

Saying a prayer, we descend into a natural cave system and the stench of an abattoir. A strange noise too, like the breathing of some great monster, triggering visions of the creatures from the stained glass windows…

We enter the most recent tunnel, a narrow passage littered with shale and bone fragments. There’s loud screech from a huge chamber beyond and two yellow eyes blink open.
A massive bat like Scaveling swoops down with a sonic scream.
Caught in a bottleneck I fight with my halberd over Athene’s shoulder, Mahd blasting over mine.
It keeps us at bay, until the final blow and we push on into its lair.
Amongst the remains both humanoid and beast we find a few treasures and the body of a one armed man, head caved in by the statue upstairs in the fireplace.

We double back to the other tunnel and emerge into a long cavern lined with more caves.
Athene sneaks in, and surprises a clutch of Ghouls!
Overconfident she is nearly overwhelmed beneath a flurry of claws and rotten teeth before we arrive to rescue her.
Their nest is a bloody, bone littered dead end so we move on to the next where Athene’s owl narrowly avoids disturbing its mould lined surfaces to retrieve a fine looking warpick.

The final portal opens into a huge cavernous space, with a natural spiral ramp leading down into a massive sinkhole. The sea surges in and out, creating that strange breathing noise throughout the caves.

But we are not alone…
Three Goblinoid Ghasts come running up towards us with raspy screams.

Caught in another chokepoint, Athene is paralysed by their fetid bite, then Mahd!
If I fall, we may very well end up in that Nest…

Dragging Athene behind me, Wynter clambers over Mahd and we hold the line against the undead. Athene regains control and we slay the last of them.

Below we can see Iesha’s spectral form beating on a single wooden door built into the rock wall. Almost sliding down into her on the mossy, wet ramp we instead decide to rappel down.
By the time we reach the bottom Iesha has broken through!

We follow her in to a living nightmare.

In a small irregular cave we are affronted by a the stench of rotting meat and mould.
This neglected laboratory is covered with neat piles of refuse and stacks of dining-ware, brimming with fleshy scraps and dried blood.
A magpie collection of trinkets on the table, including a broken version of the Necromancers Phylactery. Another painting, a bloody throne and on the wall, a skin crawling carpet of green fungus, the shadow of a man burnt into it’s centre.

I feel the silhouette beckon me forward… To taste it… NO!

Throwing off the compulsion we all turn to a face a tall, once well dressed, once human figure at the back of the room. Still in his living finery is the man we once knew as Aldern Foxglove.
Now though he is some sort of Master Ghast, ashen and sinewy, long, blood stained war razor in hand.

This is the The Skinsaw Man.

Iesha is there too and launches herself at him.

The Skinsaw Man doesn’t flinch and with the challenge ’I’ll kill you again bitch!’ destroys her with a single blow.

We Step up.

I smite him but it has no effect! He not evil! How can that be?
Is Aldern in there somewhere?
He fights on and so we return with a volley of blows.
The end is near and he drops to his knees.

Somewhere behind that gaunt, face the eyes of Aldern are looking out.
He begs for help, he pleads that he tried to stop ‘him’ but couldn’t…

I have the advantage but I will not slay another innocent…

Then the mask slips, he stands and strikes out with the razor, but whether man or monster, he is seriously injured and a final blow from Athene drops him for a final time.

A little relieved, a little bewildered we scour the laboratory.

Amongst the contents of the table we find Mahd’s personal effects and three unique keys. We also find some very confronting erotic charcoal drawings of our elf friend, though from the lustrous hair in the illustrations, obviously not recent sketches.
The painting too is of Mhadlara, though, though more a macabre (and disturbing) collage of blood and raw meat.

We are finally able to piece together events, though questions still remain.
It appears that at the height of his ascension to Lichdom, Aldern’s grandfather Vorel Foxglove was interrupted by his wife when she smashed the phylactery, perhaps out of fear, perhaps jealousy for her husbands time.
With no vessel to contain it, Vorels’ malevolent spirit was drawn into the very fabric of the house, corrupting Foxglove Manner into the Misgivings and creating that unholy silhouette of mould on the wall.

Generations of Foxgloves have suffered through this haunting.
Aldern’s parents lost to suicide.
He, perhaps compelled by the same force that drew me to that terrible stain of mould on the wall, was corrupted into the hallowed creature we saw here, The Skinsaw Man.

This place must be consecrated.

And yet I cannot help but think these are questions more than answers. Perhaps answers will be found in Magnimar?

Taking our spoils head outside to find a host of Ravens, cawing and eyeing us ominously…

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Fallen Queens
The Revenant, Ancient Evil and Immortality

Another scream, and and we charge upstairs to a locked door.

Athene works the tumblers and it opens to a gaunt, ashen face woman amidst the ruin of a parlor with matted black hair, keening and wringing bone taloned hands in front of a fallen mirror…
A Revenant! Risen from the grave to exact revenge upon her murderer…
I say ‘her’ but we all recognise the woman that was… Iesha, late wife of our wayward host.

My companions go to attack but I halt them just in time.
Such a creature is so consumed by self pity that it will remain transfixed by her reflection unless we provoke her. If we can find and slay her killer, she will disappear completely from this mortal realm. It’s a nerve wracking if fruitless search, except that when I pass close to her shivering form, a whispered name passes her lips- Aldern Foxglove, her husband and now we know for sure, murderer…

We back out, locking the door behind us and into a study opposite
We all freeze, sensing some terrible unseen presence.
I have but a moment to act and gripping the symbol of Iomadae channel her holy energy. There’s flash of pure golden light and the evil presence before us dissipates… But I forgot about Iesha…

Too close to her lair the light must have penetrated the water logged walls and Iesha howls!
Broken from her trance she charges the locked door.
We take up positions in the study and ready an ambush. How foolish I’ve been…
Then I remember the nature of this creature…
Her Wrath is not for us, but Aldern!

I call to Wynter in the hallway to leave her alone as the door comes splintering down.
Indeed she runs not to us but down the hall, no doubt towards the source of her misery.
We pursue her and Mahd (obviously with a plan) stops to grab Iesha’s portrait from the master bedroom.
We find her in the trophy lined foyer and surround her.
Mahd summons a giant weasel-like creature, but the Revenant seeing her portrait turns on Mahd, who holds it up futilely like a shield (was that part of her plan?).

Mhad goes down.

Iesha turns her attention to the shredded painting, hopefully sated.
I call to everyone to halt their attack.
Athene looks dubious but obeys, the monstrous weasel though manoeuvres to attack!

With moments to spare I drag Mhad’s lifeless body away, laying hands of healing upon her and she sits up with a deep intake of breath, just in time call her minion off.

The Revenant now mewling and clawing at the floor, ignore us again, intent to burrow her way down.

Mahd, grievously wounded and obviously disorientated wonders off without us…

Then I catch a scent, like burning hair… from the stuffed Manticore!
I step up and sever it’s still lifeless head…and it bursts into flame!
A firey barbed tail comes down at me.
Convinced it’s an illusion I hold my ground, but it IS real, smashing the floorboards beside me., singing my face…
I ready for another attack but it coalesces into a fiery version of itself and flies away…

We gather ourselves and pursue our hasty wizard friend through a series of macabre encounters; Mhad entranced into a ghostly waltz; blind mutated vermin; hauntings and apparitions. We find a silk scarf that rise s into the air and strangles Athene. She overcomes it just in time but not before having a vision that shows Aldern garotting Iesha with it.
As I pick it up, I stare down at the beautiful Iesha in front of the fire and feel only scorn. In the fireplace of the same room we find a broken statue in the fireplace, many years old and dried with black blood.

Our greatest revelations come in the once grand sitting room.
A would be stunning vista obscured by tall stained glass windows
depicts four monsters; Treant, Kraken, Sphinx and Roc, each being drawn into into an arcane, seven sided box. Seven sides like the Sihedron
Athene and Mahd ponder the images before us coming to a disturbing conclusion…

The creatures, all extremely powerful and very long lived are at the mercy of a necromantic process which drains their life force and transfers it to another…
The trophies lining the walls suddenly make sense, as does the scourge of undead in Sandpoint…

Here is a dark wizard cheating death…
But is it Aldern, or is he a victim of his Father’s dark arts? Or more likely his Grandfather’s?

And yet none of this explains the attack on the Mill, or the con-men, or the horrors in the farmlands. Perhaps the others understand this better.
I only hope by finding and purging this evil answers will follow.

We return to the Foyer where Iesha is almost through.
She blocks the last door, behind which we believe the stairs to be and so we wait her out by checking the last, unexplored room upstairs.

We find a once marvellous observatory, a giant telescope now in ruin and lined stained glass windows, the central panel smashed.
Despite the cold salty sea air blowing in I’m feeling suddenly hot…
I slow panic rises as I feel the flames licking over my body…
I have a a sudden urge to throw myself through that hole in the glass, hopefully dowsing myself in the water below…

NO! This place still toys with us…
I stand at the shattered portal, so close to death, looking down at the jagged rocks below and suddenly realise the fate of Aldern’s mother.

I look closer now at the stained glass window and stand back dumb-struck. So distracted in fact that I forget our mission and begin sketching the image in my journal…

A woman with a crown of ivory and jade.
The Harlot Queen
Once Aranzi, The Red Crusader, Demigoddess and Patron Saint of the Ozem Knights, she led the charge at Lastwall against Tar-Baphon, The Whispering Tyrant and paid the ultimate price at his cruel hands after days of torture.
Entombed in the Citadel she was later resurrected to Lichdom by Geb and installed as ruler of his Kingdom; few remembering her the way she was and perhaps that’s for the best.
It is Aranzi who’s appeared in my dreams; in my visions and brought me here… This can be no coincidence…
Nor can it be a coincidence that the image of a Lich stands before me… Is that the purpose of the Necromancer at work here?

I start when my confused companions bring me back to the present, not understanding my complacency. I rally, we gear up and return to the ground floor.

Iesha has made her way through, sliding through the bore like a snake.

The last remaining door does indeed contain a staircase down and we descend into a laboratory of some kind with dusty potions and alchemical apparatus, some labelled by their manufacturer ‘Pugs of Magnamar’ (perhaps another clue). Three large cages contain the corpses of more mutated rats and another stained glass window blocks the view outside… In one panel a man, resembling Aldern’s Grandfather, Varell drinks a green potion. In the second he has transformed into a green skinned, emaciated monster. Is this his Lich form?

A single door leads down into the kitchens. We find a few valuables; crystal, silverware and fine wines but as we leave the cellar there’s a sudden cacophony of screeching and scuttling.
We pull back into the center of the room as a plague of rats pour in and all over us desperately smashing and battering the vermin until the last few stragglers leap back into the brickwork.

There is only one door and it takes us down to some ungodly portal.
A stone floor, bricks pried away like a gaping maw reveals a broken staircase leading down. Staring into unknown depths I am overcome by a vision of Aldern, pulling up the flagstones and muttering “For you, for you” a host of Ghouls reaching up to drag us down with them.

This has been quite an experience (level 6) but I think we are ready for them!

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Misgivings
Repentence, Loss & Domains of Evil

Taking the Ghast’s head (to identify the host) a last sweep reveals these creatures’ now empty ‘nest’ in the barn, littered with gnawed bones and bloody remains, most of which are animal.

Using a crude map of the locale we hunt down the last stragglers and find another survivor, an old man thankfully in the early stages of Ghoul Fever. His only concern is for his wife, who can only be the poor soul we unintentionally killed in the fields. Not wanting to upset him (and personally, feeling terrible guilt) we take him back to Sandpoint to be cured, without comment of the misdeed.

At the Cathedral, Brother Zantus awakes to attend our victims and assure us both will recover with time. With his ministrations complete, we show him the grisly remains of the Ghast, who he immediately identifies as Rogers Crasby, retired caretaker of the Foxglove Estate (explaining the monogrammed key around his neck) and shares with us the terrible story of Foxglove Manor…

Colloquially known as The Misgivings, Foxglove Manor has stood abandoned for nearly two decades since a disaster which left the servant’s quarters burnt down, the Lady’s charred and dashed remains at the cliff bottom and Lord Foxglove dead by his own hand. Alderan and his sister were sent away to be raised by relatives in Corsova, he and his wife havie only recently returned to take up residence again.

We head to the Garrison and report again to Sheriff Hemlock. He agrees to send Trussk to lead a patrol to recover the dead and undead remains on the morrow and we proffer the savings uncovered at the farm, in the hope an heir might be found.

Returning to The Red Dragon Inn, we discover Mahd’s domicile violated again! With a number of personal effects missing we search the room and question the halfling maid, but no sign of entry nor visitor is found. Athene and I are concerned that these otherwise mundane trinkets might be used in a spell against her, but Mahd assures that nothing taken could be used as fuel for dark magics.

Giving up the hunt I return to my rooms to discover something missing of my own… Wynter!
I reach out and recall the Winter Wolf who appears with a divine flash, only to scratch and whine at the door, determined to return to wherever she came. I try consoling her but receive an unfriendly, lupine sneer.
Perplexed I open the door and she bounds away despite my calls. I scoop up my sword shouting to the others to follow and go after her..
Our chase concludes outside the Cathedral where she patiently waits. I reach down to pet her but she growls, snaps and lopes away into the temple. I find her in the chamber of Gods, coiled around the altar of Iomadae and finally realise why she brought me here. Athene and Mahd come running up behind, weapons drawn but I turn and dismiss them… They of course do not understand the gravity of the situation and quietly I am grateful.

This is my penance…

As I lay my weapon aside an alarmed Brother Zantus bursts in. I share with him the full story of our Journey South, of our terrible ride through the fields and the tragic death of the old woman. Casting no judgement, he takes my hands and and leads me in prayer.

A long night of atonement ensues.

A heavy burden lifted, I awake to the sun shining bright through the shutters and Wynter at the foot of my cot, snoring loudly. We assemble over a brief breakfast, and ride out to Foxglove Manor, all I think eager to put the night previous behind us.

An uneventful journey along the coast brings us to the ruined foundations of an outbuilding, surely the servant’s quarters, seemingly warning us to turn back. We kick through the rubble but only ashes remain and we push on.

Then we are standing before The Misgivings a dark misshapen shell of it’s former glory, perched like a gargoyle on a jagged cliff-face. One does not need any special gifts to sense the evil within and when I do reach out it’s a veritable cloud of malevolence.

Despite all appearance we knock on the door like respectful guests but no-one answers. We creep inside to find a large, dark, mildewed foyer; stairways up and down and mould flecked animal trophies mounted on the walls. At the centre stands a more impressive if confronting trophy; a giant, human faced, leonine beast with dragon wings and scorpion tail. All of us thankful that this Manticore is long dead…

Then a scream from upstairs!

As we clamber up the rotting stairs the wailing ceases and we find ourselves In a painting lined hallway.
Grim portraits of the Foxglove clan stare out from behind a curtain of cobwebs. Brushing them aside the portraits begin distorting into masks of death, each unique and equally terrible.
From the writhing skin of the Eldest Foxglove, a wave of fungus envelops the room.
I stand fast knowing Iomadae protects me but as the spores bleed back into the walls, Mahd is left standing, staring with alarm at a rash of growths on her arm.
We see nothing, but phantom or not, it is real to her.

The hallway opens into a pristine study and I proceed alone, hoping to limit our exposure to whatever is at work here.
Poking around the well appointed room I find a letter opener on a writing desk…
No… A silver dagger…
I am suddenly overcome by the guilt of having killed my father!
The old woman was a burden enough but this is too terrible to bear.
There is only one way to find repentance now
I am sorry father…

As I loose my gorget and raise the dagger to my throat, … I am stuck by a sudden force!
I strike out at a figure grappling with me…
It is Athene… Bleeding.
In my hands, a dagger, no!… A letter opener.
I did not kill my father…
My father is not dead…

I hurl the knife away and help Athene to her feet, dragging her out and laying hands of healing upon her. This place is truly cursed. We must proceed with great caution.

We proceed tentatively through the next few rooms, tendrils of evil probing us for weakness with each step, looking for opportunities to take advantage. A disused lounge, a mould lined nursery that leaves Mahd reeling and a bathchamber so dilapidated we dare not enter for fear of collapse.

Then the master bedroom…
Athene’s goes in and steps around the shattered remains of overturned furniture, torn curtains and scattered possessions.
Stopping in front of an inwardly turned portrait she begins mumbling. It’s happening again.
Eyes vacant, expression suddenly distorted with rage she charges out, sword swinging, screaming hatred for womenkind!

I stand between her and Mahd, taking a terrible blow… Athene comes to her senses and I finally realisie what’s going on here.

These are no random hauntings.
This is the lair of some great evil, and each cursed chamber stands before us like a sentinel.
in a war of attrition..
With every door a soldier placed to wear us down we will pay in blood and magic and resources until when we stand before this great evil, depleted and weak and broken.

Better to seek out this evil directly and destroy it, lest we ultimately succumb to it.

And yet my companions will not be convinced!
Perhaps this is the Misgivings at work… We have each felt the possessive force of this place, drawn each others blood, in this very room in fact and yet they’re still determined to renter.
I plead with them against this folly and block their path. Athene looks ready to fight and Mahd casts a spell at me…

But no… She uses her magical forces to flip the painting over.
If she possesses such a power why not use it earlier?
The painting depicts Aldern’s wife.
Does the state of this room bode ill for her? Was it her screams we heard?

Perhaps what has passed just now is the most insidious work of all. While whittling us down it also chips away at our collective will, turning us against one another. Creating chaos and confusion and sowing descent.

I make a decision…

I cannot sway my companions from their path, but opposing them will only play into the hands of the forces at work here. I may not be able to stop them but at least I will be here to bury them… If they don’t kill me first…

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Field of Nightmares
Haunted Farms, Living Scarecrows and Lords

Having exhausted all leads we return to the Sandpoint Garrison where Sheriff Hemlock waits with a bedraggled farmer. Maester Grump, clearly drunk (and understandably so, we soon learn) comes to us with a tale of living scarecrows running amok in his village. He and a few brave souls assembled to face them, but he was the only survivor. The watch would probably brand him a madman but we know better…

Is this related to the Skinsaw Murders, or just another manifestation of the recent unpleasantness?

Along with Captain Trussk and four guardsman (including a sturdy Shunati called Ancron) we set out on horseback to deal with the problem. Arrive as the sun sets, we stop at a few of the outlying settlements where farmers, normally wary of strangers anyway are spooked to the point of belligerence. We do however learn that one farm in particular, the Hambly homestead is thought to be the source of this menace and make our way there.

The road narrows to a winding, single-file path through the cornfields. A wall of shadows and phantom movement either side does little to belay our fears and thinking only of ambush I sitting high in the saddle, hand on my bow, and hurry our pace.

Eventually we come across our first scarecrow. A limp ragged form, crucified amidst the swaying stalks. We loose a few arrows but it’s indeed little more than rags and hay. We continue on, sniping at the shadowy figures until one proves different…

Shafts strike flesh but it’s no monster… Instead we find the body of a farmer, recently killed and suspended in place. Then another… And then, too late a pathetic cry as our third volley finds a still living victim. We have allowed our fears to get the better of us and now a woman lays dead by our hand. We proceed now with greater cation, dismounting to investigate each shadowy figure in turn…

That’s when Guardsman Toth, leading the horses disappears… We double back but search in vein. With little other choice we continue on until we arrive at an intersection with no less than four would be scarecrows… And hell descends upon us!

As we prepare to investigate, the scarecrows leap off their perches, crash through the the field and out of the shadows at us- Ghouls! We fight a desperate battle on all fronts as one by one, more of the creatures leap out and snatch our allies away! Those that remain barrel into the shadowy thickets of corn after our comrades, orientating only by the hapless cries of the victims.

I catch and dispatch my prey but too late for Ancron who’s throat is torn out in front of me. The others fare little better, killing all the Ghouls but at a terrible cost. One missing, two dead, another mortally wounded and unconscious. Only Trussk remains now his face grim as we recover the bodies, secure them to their mounts and push on to Hambly.

The farm seems abandoned and yet a lantern burns.
We approach cautiously until we can sense the taint of four evil aura’s within.
Still heavy with our losses we charge in, eager to purge this menace!
Inside, a trio of Ghouls await, at their head, a formidable undead horror; a one eared Ghast dressed in torn nobleman’s finery.
They don’t hesitate, loping forward with death rattle screams.
We form up at the mouth of the door in a tight disciplined formation and make short work of their onslaught, the last blow delivered to the Ghast by a vengeful Trussk.

Apart from the mutilated, rune-marked bodies of the Hambly’s the otherwise modest homestead turns up a cache of their life-savings. Around the neck of the Ghast a treasure of a different kind- a key emblazoned with the arms of Alderan Foxglove!

We are left to wonder, is Foxglove in danger, or is HE this Lordship we keep hearing of?

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The Skinsaw Murders
The Trail of the Dead & A Lord By Any Other Name.

A few days pass, Wynter grows at a rapid pace, supplies arrive from Magnamar and Sandpoint returns to normal… Until Sheriff Hemlock appears…

This time deputised, we’re called on to assist with the most recent ‘unpleasantness’; a series of murders.
The first, a trio of con-men on the outskirts of town. The second, more tragically, Katrine Vender (daughter of the General Store owner and a young woman we rescued on Goblin Night) and the Lumber mill foreman.

Escorted by Guardsman Trussk we head to the mill where a crowd assembles, held back by guards.
The scene is a charnel house. Perhaps no worse than we have seen, or I dare I say caused but somehow more poignant when at the expense of lives we know have touched.

Katrine appears to have bravely defended herself with an axe before meeting a grisly end in the chute of the gigantic log splitter. Her dismembered body reveals little more than her having met a thankfully quick if messy end. The axe however, caked with rotting flesh, tells us that Katrine’s killer was undoubtedly, disturbingly, undead.

Her fellow victim, Harker, the Lumbermill foreman and Katrine’s lover was not so lucky.
His flayed corpse hangs on hooks, lower jaw gnawed away and a seven pointed star, like that on Nualia’s medallion is carved into his chest. Self consciously I grip the pendant at my neck, for the first time wondering how wise it is to bear the symbol myself. I concentrate on the symbol but it is not malevolent. I extend my senses further, but whatever force was at work here, was not so potent as to leave a taint and yet, only the most potent undead creatures act with such deliberation and purpose…

We find a set of tracks leading outside, over the building, into the river, and out again on the other side where we find a small vantage point overlooking the mill. I imagine the intelligence and patience of this creature… Or perhaps it is the puppet of some Necromancer?

Having scoured the mill, we go and speak with Ibor Thorne, the mill worker who discovered the scene. Currently held in a Garrison cell he is weary and distressed, his clothes still spattered with blood. Though his story matches our observations he is surprisingly belligerent and, obviously holding something back.
Leaning on him we discover his reluctance to speak. Harker was apparently skimming profits from the owners; an unsavoury family called the Scarnettis who are rumoured to burn down the operations of competing mills.
Could they be responsible?
I think not, what we saw feels ritual rather than criminal.

In an adjoining cell, the distraught Vim Vendor, father of Katerine is sobbing, incarcerated for his own protection after a fit of grief driven rage. We enter and console him. He eventually calms enough to share but has little to add. He agrees to let us search her rooms and so, with Trussk, we escort him home where her chambers are simple, modest and unfortunately, absent of evidence.

We move on to Harker’s home with a shabby facade that belies it’s opulent interior; Trussk’s whistle of admiration saying it all. Rifling through the well appointed rooms we discover a hidden safe with two Mill ledgers, one legitimate, the other detailing Harker’s laundering with a Magnamar money lender. But nothing more of the murders…

Next we visit Broderick Quink, a scholar and friend of Mahd who we hope can identify the seven pointed star rune. He’s exactly as I’d expect an associate of Mhad’s- eccentric, intensely focused and well informed.
Dwelling overlong in our celebrity he eventually reveals that the star is a Sihedron; an ancient Thassilonian symbol representing the 7 virtues of Health, Fertility, Honest Pride, Eager Striving, Riouteous Anger and Rest. But it is also sometimes corrupted to represent the seven corresponding sins; Lust, Envy, Sloth, Wrath, Gluttony, Greed and Pride.
As the only Thassilonian historian for miles, we fear he may be a target for whoever would thwart us and warn him to be careful.

We then look into the first murders. In a deep cell below the Garrison, the bodies of the once well dressed Mortwell, Hask & Tabe lay. Mutilated like Harker, they are covered in slashing wounds we finally identify as claw marks and their jaws, again, are torn or chewed away.
Slipped into a pocket we find a note signed by Your Lordship inviting them to the barn to do business. Your Lordship being the same author of a note asking Mahd, join his ‘Pack’!

Skinsaw1note.jpg

The barn is a few miles out of town and the perfect place for clandestine meetings. Little evidence remains except for a bloody stain and a cut rope hanging from the rafters; but enough similarities to indeed link this killing to the Mill.

We ride on to a local Sanatorium where the only survivor of the barn; a bodyguard called Grast Sevilla has been locked away after what he saw. The building is a lone grim tower of stone with narrow windows that obscure the secrets within. The front door is unlocked and inside the foyer we ring a bell.
An old man in robes appears and is immediately unimpressed. Erin Hobe is skeptical of our authority and impatient to return to his study he refuses to admit us.
It takes every diplomatic art I can muster but we manage to secure a brief audience with Grast.

When Grast is dragged out we wonder if we’re not too late. Wrapped in a restraint his skin is pallid, nearly green, glazed eyes rolling back and his emaciated frame the very vision of death. Muttering that “the Skinsaw Man has too many teeth” Athene gasps, realising that he is in the last stages of Ghoul Fever! The doctor thinks us fools but his transformation into an undead horror is imminent.

Then events take an even stranger turn…
Grast fixes Mahd with a terrible stare and declares that his master, Your Lordship is waiting on Mhad to decide to join his Pack… then falls to my feet with a death rattle.
I draw Repentance but misjudge my new steel in these close quarters and snag the hilt. He leaps up with a howl, now a Ghoul, and lunges maw snapping at Mahd. Athene has no such problems and kills the hapless wretch with a single blow.

The Doctor is shaken, but hopefully wiser for his ignorance and mistrust and we leave with as many questions as answers.

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Divine Bond
The Wolf At The Door

The trial left me much to think about. I set to prayer.

And then I could feel her presence, a bright light that engulfed me, transporting me away…
I open my eyes to find myself in a room of white polished marble.
And there she is, a statuesque warrior woman, nine feet tall, resplendent in shining platemail.

Iomedae.
“My child, you have done well.”
Her voice rings out like struck bell, a force of its own which almost overpowers me.
Tell me what have you learned on the Nature of Good and Evil?

I reflect on the Nursery, the sellsword, on Nualia, on Athene and the trial…
“I have learnt that good and evil is not always black and white and that there are many tones of grey, even through the eyes of the good and the righteous. That sometimes the right decision is difficult to determine and even more difficult to act upon.”

Iomedae, her face obscured in light speaks again…
“That is the Path to Wisdom my child…”
“This nature can be changed, but you can never truly destroy anything. The poor unfortunate Aasimar. Her true nature was still within her, however it was being drowned in a sea of hatred and anger."
“Alternately you can remove something’s true nature.”

At this she holds out a small cage of golden light, inside a pure white wolf pup, snarling and biting. But it’s attacks are not wild, it systematically tests each bar of the cage in turn, looking for weaknesses and escape. It pauses for a moment staring at me with red eyes, a malevolent intelligence, seething with hatred.
It throws itself at the bars again. Iomedae draws a dagger, of a similar metal to her armour, a diamond set in its hilt.
It looks tiny in her hand and she points it at the wolf.

“With the correct knowledge, power and artefacts, you can alter anything…”

Black smoke is drawn forth from the pup, through the bars and over the blade, pulsing with the creatures heart beat. As it touches the blade it congeals bonding with the metal turning it black as night.

“Beast, demon… or God…”

As the blade soaks the soaks of the smoke, the pup quietens, looking at Iomedae with devotion.

“Hold out your hand child…”

She drags the keen edge across my palm, Divine syllables rolling from her tongue. I am overwhelmed… Dispelling the cage she drives the dagger into the pup’s chest, the blade drinking its heartsblood. There is a flash as she withdraws the dagger, the diamond hilt, now a blood red ruby. The wolf looks at me; its eyes the exact same shade of blue as my own. Iomedae hands me the pup which licks my hand in joy. She then hands me the dagger, once mundane, it’s evil now palpable.

“Keep the Soulblade safe Silva, and this Blessing (nodding at the wolf) will be your loyal companion and a force for good in the world. If the blade should be destroyed, however, her natural state will return in an instant, and she will rip out your throat.”

“It is in such a way that I believe my beloved Arazni has been taken from us.”
“Seek more on the process of becoming a Lich.”
“Find a way to save her.”

I am awash with light and heat and awake at prayer… Cradled in my hand, a snow white wolf pup, in the hand opposite, the black, ruby hilted dagger.

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Judgement Night
Tales Told, Loot Sold and Justice Ruled.

With Shadowmist and a giant’s helmet in tow, we make our way back to Sandpoint to discover a contingent of Magnamarian soldiers reinforcing the watch. We head straight for the council chambers where Sheriff Hemlock, Mayor Deveron and F*ather Zantus* are apparently making plans with Captain Argentine of the detachment now stationed here, to ride out and aid us.

Along with Shae we sit and recount the full story; the ruins below Sandpoint and the Wrathpool still there; our journey North and the assault on Thisteltop, including the origins of those ruins; the full roster of villains we encountered and the entire fateful tale of Nualia and our defeat of Malfenshnakor. The tale not surprisingly draws many questions but the thoroughness of our account and the confirmations of Shae give weight to the truth.

The assembled are impressed by our actions, so impressed in fact that when Mahd makes a rather unseemly request for further rewards, they indeed provide us with a purse of 500 gold. They are equally dismayed however by many of the revelations, particularly Father Zantus who would have found such information about Nulaia unbelievable only days earlier.

After much discussion, we agree to keep the details of our role and discoveries a secret for now, so as not to excite the public. Instead, Argentine will lead a clean up mission through the countryside dealing with any remaining greenskin raiders and hopefully explain the sudden suppression of the Goblin menace. Athene seems rather insulted that they might take credit for our work and a week ago I may have agreed. Much has changed for me now and the only praise I require is that of Iomedae.

That night we return to the Red Dragon Inn. Though I planned to take responsibility for Tsuto’s death, Shae, a friend of hers, wisely offers to break the news to Ameiko. Obviously experiencing mixed emotions, we later break the ice, dragging the shucked Hermit crab into the kitchens. She seems relieved for the distraction and mounts the claws against the wall.
Athene, still agitated, finally relaxes when a few of Sandpoint’s notable citizens, including the Fortune teller Niska, approach us and thanks us for our service. Though the general populace may be ignorant to our deeds, it appears that Sandpoint royalty knows who brought them justice.

The following day, bathed, healed and mended we take to the city to offload our spoils, order new arms and check on our mounts. With a generous loan from Mahd I order a glorious suit of enchanted platemail and a similarly magical greatsword, which I name Repentance.

That night I awake to a high, full moon and Athene knocking at my door. Her face, in which I cannot help but see a hint of the angelic now, is difficult to read. Part disconcerted, part resignation, she is undoubtedly struggling with her emotions. She asks me to attend her and saying nothing merely don armour and Eartbreaker. Collecting Mahd and Shae we marching towards the broken silhouette of the Lighthouse.

When I arrived in Sandpoint, I was told answers to my quest would be found there… Is it coincidence? Athene is strangely quiet amidst Mahd’s questions, revealing only that she will ‘be judged’.
Is this the moment when Athene will go the way of her sister?
Will we be called on to judge her?
Will I have the strength to deal with her as we did Nualia?

We stand in the ruined foundation of an enormous brick tower.
Something shifts, my blood chills, senses heighten.
We all turn to see a giant owl perched on the broken wall.
The beast speaks to us in even halting tones.
It is here to judge Athene, for the judgement she brought to Nualia.
Then we are surrounded by hooded, veiled figures…
I unhook my Earthbreaker and face them.
Athene barks at me to back down, but I don’t trust her.
The leader steps forward and asks me politely to lay my weapons low.
I reach out to the assembly and sense no evil and reluctantly I submit.

Then the trial…
Athene it appears was tasked with bringing Justice to Nualia and they question her.
It is not an inquisition; they are tempered, fair-handed if thorough.
They call on us as witnesses and I tell the truth as I saw it.

I cannot speak for Justice but we acted with honour, for the greater good and offered her a chance to repent before we slew her. My purpose was simple, to secure the safety of Sandpoint and vanquish the evil responsible, quickly and decisively.

But was that Justice?

The truth about Nualia now stands like a beacon of light in the dark. A truth that in retrospect seems so obvious. Nualia was once good, pure, innocent. Her fall I can see now was so rapid, so whole, that it was not a fall at all. She was the victim of malevolent influence, she did not become bad, she turned bad, and we did not have time to consider that subtlety. Worse, perhaps Nualia is not alone in this time of recent ‘unpleasantness’.

And so, Nulaia did not receive Justice.
Athene has failed and I fear for her now, not knowing the penalty might be.

But no punishment awaits her. Instead repentance. To right the wrongs done against Nualia, she must find the source of evil at work here in Standpoint and destroy it and she will not be alone.

As we leave, Athene is presented with a boon. A small owl. A symbol of wisdom. More wisdom I think, we all could use.

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The Demon Rises
Demons, Death, Destruction and Departures.

Journal_14_Malfeshnakor.jpg

We march through the crypt down into Malfeshnekor’s lair…

Algae covered steps drop lead into a small collapsed chamber, flooded with seawater. Murals on the the wall depict a wondrous and ancient city. Once valuable treasures now rusted and pitted lay below the wash. The only thing that remains untouched is an enormous, surely giant wrought helmet propped up on a mound of rubble. Suppressing my dislike of water I step down to see if I can dislodge it, when the great helm turns ominously to face us- and it is a giant, a giant Hermit Crab!

Fighting single file, knee deep in the lapping surf I bear the brunt of its desperate attempt to defend it’s ‘home’; gripping me in it’s crushing claws and throwing me against the wall. But the creature cannot stand forever against our determined attack.

Stairs out of the the vault double back to the crypt leaving us somewhat perplexed, so we pry the beast from its fine steel shell (Athene taking the claws for Ameiko’s pot) and drag the giant’s helmet back upstairs; that was no lair of Demons…

Perhaps we missed something? Only one location remains a mystery after our thorough sweep of this lair so I lead us back to the pillar of fools gold.
We search to the point of frustration when sharp eyed Shae discovers a pair of cunningly disguised slots either side. Dropping gold coins in, the pillar moves aside to reveal passages beyond and a palpable taint of evil… finally, we must be close.

We stand before three sets of double doors. The first we try reveals a strange sight. At the back of a long hall atop a platform, a spectral figure stands and speaks and gesticulates. Wary, but with Iomade’s protection I approach to investigate, but he is no spirit, in fact some sort of magical projection…
The man in the image is the same as he from all the statues lining the halls. Less noble here, he plays out and repeats a short speech in a strange language. With no danger present I call up my companions to see what they can make of it.

Mahd is able to piece together the message. He is indeed the leader of some long dead society and addresses his subjects about escaping their impending doom; perhaps whatever catastrophic event was able to topple the statue above.
Rather interestingly, he attempts to rally his folk into mounting an opportunistic raid as they flee on *Celwynvian*… The same, ancient elven homeland that Mahd seeks…

With little more to learn we return to the second set of doors. They seem to speak to us, whispering that what we seek is beyond, but they won’t budge. Magically barred it appears require a star shaped key. I try Nualia’s pendant but it doesn’t fit… Our only hope is the third set of doors.

We discover some sort of ritual torture room. Magically preserved tools lay on a pedestal and more of Lamasthuu’s mutated remains litter the floor. A careful search however reveals a hidden compartment with a star shaped ‘key’ that matches the impression on the doors outside.

We return to the two largest doors, dark and cold, and fit the key into the door. The hinges creak open and foul energies wash over us. The room is shallow and wide and devoid of decoration. The corners stacked with candles, the floor a shallow, burning fire-pit, lighting the room with a surprising if eerie intensity.

Athene and Mahd cast wards and boons upon us as we walk in. Athene and I circling carefully around the pit.

I begin to wonder if this is not unlike the vault, another dead-end, when he appears…

From the shadows, a massive form materialises. Arching it’s back of matted fur, it hungrily claws at the stone flaw with long talons and eyes me with lupine yet goblinoid features.
Sweeping his infernal gaze across us with hunger and malice he thanks us in cool patronising tones for succeeding where Nualia had failed and releasing him… Perhaps we should have buried the entire chamber…

He is truly a terrible, awe inspiring site that I confess, forces me to steel my will to stand and face him.
But face him we do!

I try to smite it with my Earthbreaker while Athene flanks around the firepit.
Shae fires her bow while Mahd send bolts of energy with her wand.
But the demon torments us, blinking in and out of existence.More blows and missiles pass through than not and his demonic nature shrugs off those spells which make it through…
But his attacks are unaffected…
Razor sharp claws rake my flesh.
I swing a mighty blow that would have split his hideous, snouted head asunder, but again he blinks away…
I am bleeding badly but I will not fall back.
And then he appears again, iron trap jaws clamping around my body he tears…
All is black…

I awake to the smell of flames and the familiar site of Athene tending my wounds but her concerned expression turns one of triumph when she sees I’m okay.

Though I missed the final rounds of battle, Athene had the sense to press her attack despite wanting to rush to my aid and we defeated Malfeshnekor, whose Greater Barghest form has disappeared back to whence it came.

The room contains a few treasures including a powerful ring which we gather with the other valuables in the giant’s helm and drag it upstairs.

I collect the warhorse Shadowmist who still waits where I left him and seems as eager as I to depart… But not before I gather as many flammables as I can and set fire to Thisteltop, purging the last of its evil from this domain.

On to Sandpoint…

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Hard Decisions
Goblin Babes and a Sellsword

Hard decisions.

The day after defeating Nualia we find ourselves in the foyer of a crypt. Momentarily distracted by a pillar of illusory gold we move into the mausoleum; radiating evil and home to the Shadows of the long dead Architects interned therein. Channelling the power of Iomadae we narrowly prevail, though Athene and I remain physically drained by their unearthly touch. Our suffering was not for naught however as we discover a secret passage behind one of the coffins, leading down possibly into the den of Malfeshnakor himself…

Given our sorry condition we decide to undertake light duties the next couple of days and thoroughly explore the levels above. Poking into every every room, nook, shelf and vessel we discover magical armour on the remains of Goblin ‘hero’ Tivoninki, in the lair of a tentacled horror called a Tentamort, and after much convincing, uncover Ripnugget’s treasure hoard, cunningly hidden in the appalling latrine.

Then we find the nursery…

For years, in service of state and church, important decisions were made by my superiors.
Now with no hierarchy, the burden of choice is on our shoulders.
It has been a difficult sometimes uncomfortable transition and I have been reluctant to act… Perhaps now though, it is time to step forward…

Adjoining the harem we open a door to a stinking room filled with mewling, Goblin whelps. The site is somewhat overwhelming. One does not think of Goblins as nurturers, or even sentient creatures and yet hear is a nursery.
And yet, this is no midwifery, the emaciated wretches, writhe and scream, caged in their own filth. Athene again doesn’t hesitate, stalking in sword drawn. Mahd is obviously not comfortable with the idea and pleas with Shae for support, who merely spits into the room with disgust.

I feel a tug of conscience… Goblins they may be but babes they are too… Helpless… Innocent… Innocent? Athene is looking only at me for the okay… Mahd is looking at me concerned.

I remember a young father’s half eaten face and his weeping widow and child. I remember the charred hands of men and women nailed to a pillar. I remember Ameiko’s father encased in molten glass, surrounded by the mutilated bodies of innocent, defenceless labourers.
THEY were innocent.
This nest is full of monsters. Infants, yes but monsters nonetheless.
No officer of Lastwall would give this predicament a second thought.

I draw my dagger and we go about our grisly work.

Mahd is not pleased.
I had heard the elves enmity with Goblins was legendary, but not so I suppose.
I cannot blame her and I won’t chastise her for her humanity.
But neither do I doubt it was the right decision.

Unlike the next one…

As the day draws to a close we happen across the living quarters of Nulaia and her allies; each telling a story about the persons who dwelt within… Or indeed still dwell…

The first door reveals a tall and impressive looking warrior, leaning over a hot meal and unmoved by our sudden arrival. Well equipped, obviously well paid, he claims to be Nualia’s hired bodyguard. He is a true mercenary; nonchalant at having served evil and fearless at the possibility of having to fight his way out.

But we let him go, without a fight. And that decision alone has kept me up all night…

Perhaps it was our exhaustion at the end of a grueling day. Perhaps it was Mahd calling us ‘babykillers’ at every turn. Perhaps it was a last nagging doubt from the nursery. Perhaps it was the unbecoming fear that in our condition, this confident sellword might defeat us and in doing so yet foil Sandpoint. Perhaps it was the need to show some humanity after two days…

Whatever the reason, it was wrong.
At best, he should have been bound and returned to Sandpoint for questioning. At worst, he should be treated as any minion of evil- without mercy and destroyed at whatever cost.
I will take responsibility for this and report him to the Sheriff myself.

The following day I pray with some trepidation.
A servant who fails in her holy duties will be stripped of her gifts.
But as Iomadae’s divine blessing washes over me, I know I’ve not been forsaken, and that the decisions I made have been true.

But my conscience will not be suppressed by the absolution of my faith. If I can find Orik Vancaskerkins trail I will bring him to justice.

Now down into hell itself!

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