Rise of The Runelords: Varisia's Angels

The Turtle and the Mayors
Rewards, Revelations and Relocations

At the foot of the tower a growing crowd awaits; shock and fascination marking their faces.

A squad of guardsman pushes through the throng and approaches us warily. Our honest if careful explanation leaves them perplexed and I suspect that without the presence of the crumpled Lamia, they would no doubt march us straight to the dungeons. But there IS a bloody, gigantic snake demon and they treat our tale with credibility, deciding to escort us to a higher authority.

Arriving at an impressive garrison we meet the equally impressive Lord Justice Bale. He sits us down and patiently listens to our story of deputisation in Sandpoint; the investigation of the Skinsaw Murders that brought us here; our unmasking of Ironbriar and the battle with Xanesha. We also present what evidence we’ve been able to procure; the documents from the mill, the indecipherable cleric’s journal and the note to Xanesha from one of her co-conspirators mentioning a couple of nearby locations and more immediately, singling out Magnimar’s Mayor as a target for sacrifice!

It’s not surprising that Bale waits for the translation of the Journal before passing his final judgement on us… and not only does he believe us but he shares what he can piece together from what he aleady knows.

He and Ironbriar are (or were) two of Magnimar’s thirteen, highest officials; Ironbriar having served ‘loyally’ and capably for over two hundred years.
The diary recounts a long history of Ironbriar’s transgressions, his establishment and leadership of the coven in Magnimar as well as his allegiance and desire it appears, for Xanesha… An unholy alliance if ever there was.
Most importantly, it confirms our story and suspicions.
The note too mentions two locations as cult targets that Bale is able to shed some light on, Turtleback Ferry and Fort Rannik one built to support the other, reports from there seem to support such claims.

Bale escorts us immediately to the the Lord Mayor Grobaras who receives us surprisingly warmly and who lavishes us with coin, obviously pleased that we have thwarted the conspiracy. While Bale’s men reconcile our notes we are further honoured with rooms and run of the city while we recuperate and resupply.

The Lord Justice asks as to remain for a few days while they crosscheck our intelligence with theirs and offer us rooms to recuperate. We spend the next few days bashing the dents out, resting and resupplying. Our purses have become surprisingly fat as a result of the last week and we make good use of the many mercantile marvels here in Magnimar.

A day or two later and as we’ve come to expect, Bale approaches us with a mission. The reports out of Turtleback and it’s accompanying Fort apparently have some credence. It appears that Magnimr has received an official request for assistance, claiming that the Fort’s guardians, The Order of Black Arrow have apparently disappeared, leaving a town on the border of Giant country and Corsovan interests vulnerable to attack.

We of course agree and taking papers of authentication and head out that day, a week of riding ahead of us. Our path takes us through Sandpoint where we stay the night and report in to Sheriff Hemlock. All is quiet it seems and we speak to Brother Zantuss about the consecration of Fox Glove Manor. Overnight in the Red Dragon Inn we are greeted by Shae!
We discuss recent events with her and she offers her expertise to guide us north.

The week long ride is uneventful, skirting the mountains through the gnome populated woods. Disappointingly we see none; I was curious what such a community might look like?

Turtle ferry is a small fishing village on the river’s edge, the wooden shacks are sturdy if rustic and boats dock the shore line. The villagers seem curious at these heavily armed visitors but friendly enough. Making our way to the home of Mayor and Arastal priest Maryland Shreed, Athene spots something odd, a Sahedron tattoo on one of the locals and sends her owl to follow while we continue on.

The mayor seems relieved to see us and shares everything he knows of the situation, which unfortunately is little more than we already know; except that the rangers from the garrison share good relations with the town, and include convict conscription. The town suffered badly from giant and ogre raids butthe presence of the rangers had essentially put a stop to it.

Though the raids haven’t resumed, there’s been no sign of patrols for weeks. The town formed a scouting party but they too have not returned from the Fort. Others too have gone missing form the surrounds, none of this boding well for fort Rannik.

I show him my Sahedron medallion, hoping he might know something of the tattoo but he does not. Shae is anxious to move on but this line of inquiry must be followed…

We find Thera perched on a modest fisherman’s shack and knock on the door. A young, weather worn man answers, and after a few pleasantries we ask him if HE recognises the medallion… he does not…

Despite describing the tattoo he adamantly denies it and that’s when I lose my temper. If he’s not a servant of evil, he’s a liar and I aim to find out why. Grabbing him by the arm I drag him into the street and across muddy laneways back to Shreed.

A growing crowd trails us, more amused than mob. Perhaps humilation will loosen his tongue?

Back in the temple, come council chamber, Shreed unsurprisingly is a little confused to see us back so soon. We tell him the whole story this time of the Sihedron, about its corruption and the fact that this man bears such a symbol and denies it!

He continues to deny the accusation, even when we reveal the symbol on his flesh but Shreed’s persistent, patient manner drags the truth from him and we learn evermore about the situation at hand.

This fisherman was apparently a frequent visitor of a local pleasure barge called Paradise. His tattoo was a kind membership to that den of vice and his reluctance to share that information with us at his home, was for fear of alerting his wife to his vices.

The Barge itself is a tale in itself, having quietly sunk a few weeks ago with all hands lost, which included a dozen locals, which must have been a great loss for such a small community.
It’s owner, a mysterious and infamous woman called Lurecia has not been seen since (assumed drowned) and the investigating official from nearby town Isurian declared it an accident…
Most locals however believe it was a local lake monster called the Black Magga!

This fisherman could not recall anything untoward occurring aboard the barge, nor any costumes or symbols of the Skinsaw Cult. But the appearance of this rune and a score dead cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps this warrants further investigation? Perhaps this Lurecia is a member of the Skinsaw Cult… Twenty men drowned would surely suffice a worthy sacrifice?

Regardless, Shreed and we believe the Fisherman’s story and let him go, leaving us only to mount up and ride out for Fort Rannik and hopefully answers.

A short ride into the forest and a shrill cry draws Athene and my wolf Wynter to investigate. Barks, screams and howls have us dismounting and running into the treeline. We arrive to find a trapped* firepelt cougar* and Athene and Wynter fending of a pack of hounds. As we join the fray (at a much improved pace thanks to my new magical boots) I wonder at the Cougar.
There’s something about it, something knowing… A Rangers companion perhaps?

There’s no time to ponder further as a hulking malformed brute comes crashing into view- Ogrekin! Warding us away from his ‘Kitty’ prey with witless threats and a massive finger like hook, the monster clearly doesn’t see us as a threat. His attitude changes after we make short work we make of his pack, and he flees into the forest leaving a sack behind.

A sack made from the cloak of Black Arrows

After him!

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Queen of Snakes
Raven Guides, Stitched Flesh and Serpentine Villains

The cultists dead we begin scouring the Sawmill for clues, which they appear to be maintaining as a legitimate business.

In the study I gather the grisly remains decorating the wall for proper internment.
We also find a collection of maps, charts and religious pamphlets belonging to the elf who we identify as Justice Ironbriar. A man of some importance apparently, and an indication of how high this conspiracy might go. We were wise to keep our business confidential. We also find his journal is written in some sort of multi-lingual code, but Mahd seems confident that with time she could crack the cypher.

The only other discovery is in the basement. We find possessions belonging to the victims and the curious evidence of some massive, crude creature sleeping in one of the hay stores…

We stay overnight in the mill, rising early the next day to release and hopefully follow the ravens back to their master, maybe even Xanesha. As one of the black birds tales flight, Athene orders her owl to follow. but there’s no need. From the Rookery window we clearly track its flight, East across the city and into a tower beneath the ruins of the great bridge.

We collect our possessions and make our way there…

In a rundown neighborhood stands a square tower, hundreds of feet tall, topped with a winged statue overlooking us like a a bird of prey. Inside, the ground level is mostly rubble with a spiral staircase trailing upwards.
I reach out with my divine senses and find a strong source of evil at the back of the room- possibly the whatever was bedding at the Mill. Using the Hat of Disguise Athene takes Ironbriar’s form hoping to outwit the creature and we call it out.

But it won’t be fooled.
A hulking brute, stitched together with humanoid body parts comes lumbering out with an ungodly bellow.
We rush in…
The creature wades about with a vicious looking scythe and nearly fells Athene, but we throw everything we have at the monster and the golem is no more.

We push on up the rickety stairs…
Sixty feet up.
A creaking noise from above.

Nearly too late we look up to see one the tower’s enormous brass bells falling towards us.
There’s nowhere to hide.
I press hard against the brick wall and pray.
The tumbling behemoth smashes through the walkway.
Wynter and I somehow avoid the carnage but Athene goes down in a cloud of debris and a deafening chime.
Mahd stands untouched but on the other side of a gaping chasm.

Down below, amazingly, Athene drags her self out of the rubble alive and makes her way back up.
Mahd leaps blindly across and thankfully makes it…
A shaken Athene throws a rope across, jumps… and misses!
We take the strain and we haul her up, owl flapping about her head in agitation.

Warily watching the remaining bells above we continue on another hundred feet to the first floor proper where three more Facless Stalkers wait, swords drawn, guarding another flight of stairs.
We meet each other in a short but exchange that ends quickly in our favour.
Only one floor remains and we fortify ourselves with magic and prayer.

We ascend into a huge, book lined sitting room, lavishly decorated with rugs and cushions. I cast my senses about but feel nothing.
Then we hear her voice.
A hissing seductive tone that attempts to draw us into a parlay.

Invisible again…
I immediately start slashing about the room and turn to see not one, but four terrible creatures! Each a woman’s armoured torso atop the coiling tail of an enormous snake. Wielding long, darkwood spears and serpentine masks the four Lamias are truly a horror to behold!

They drive their spears through me in perfect unison. The blow leaves me reeling but reveals the spell for what it is.
Not four, but one creature mirrored before me- but how to find the right one!?

I turn to smite her but she strikes again, nearly impaling me.
There is a magical wave of despair that reverberates through the spear and throughout the room.
We shrug off the effects but I’m nearly dead and retreat feeling deathly ill.
Just in time, my comrades form a tight circle around the monster with two of Mhad’s summoned creatures, including a Rhinoceros!

I heal myself, moments from death as the others whittle away at Xanesha’s magical doppelgangers…

Then it’s just her…

She deals terrible blows around her, while we struggle to mark her scaly hide.
Drowsy words of magic and Mhad’s Rhino goes down with a floor shaking crash..
Athene’s owl flies to the beast, as I rally and rejoin the fray…
The owl swoops the slumbering beast with a screech and it wakes with a below!

Behind the slits in the snakelike mask I see fear in Xanesha’s eyes for the first time…

Then we strike true with a succession of blows!

Xanesha shrieks and slithers with ungodly speed over the wall, through an opening in the roof and down the side.

We cannot loose her now!

Mhad sprints downstairs while Athene runs out onto the balcony. I run to the edge.

She’s there… Gripping to the curved stone wall like a lizard, snaking from outcrop to alcove.

I draw my bow.
Athene scerams a holy tirade and her scales explode with divine flame.

Then the sorceress vanishes.

I’m cursing now…
But no… I concentrate.

Falling rubble, a slipping brick…

Concentrate.

The first arrow goes wide…
A hazy blur where Athene’s fire still burns her invisible skin…
I knock second arrow…

And release.

A wet snapping noise as the shaft disappears and reappears, embedded in her chest. Body limp, long tail still reaching lazily out for the wall, she topples down, a silent scream on her face.

And lands in a bloody, coiled heap…

Mahd bursts out below ready to cast a spell but stops with a start before the dead serpentine form before her.
Athene smiles as her owl lands on a nearby ledge.
Wynter pads up and pushes close, trying to see over the edge.

Xanesha is dead. It is over…

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Run Of The Mill
Leads, Lumber and a Cult of Lies

Two leads… The cage maker and the Sawmill.

With Pugs Contraptions nearby in the Summit we head there first. The store is a place of mechanical marvels and its Gnome proprietor is both amiable and talkative. I make sure to lavish his wares (including an impressive clock) with deserving praise before questioning him. He’s refreshingly forthcoming and remembers Aldern, showing us other examples of the bird cages he bought.
It is clear that Pug is not involved so we move on.

We question guards and merchants about the Seven’s Sawmill but to no avail. We sit near a fountain and give it some thought. Given that timber is generally transported via waterways, we determine that the mill, if it is here, will no doubt be at the river mouth.

We walk south through the docklands and across a bridge onto an islet where river meets the sea and find what we’re looking for, The Seven’s Sawmill. Standing innocuous amongst the other industry here, we approach and walk in through the main door.

Inside it appears to be a exactly what it claims, a working sawmill with raw lumber and the deafening noise of machinery. Athene dons the Hat of Disguise taking Iesha’s form and we head upstairs.
The next level is all doors, behind which the distinct aura of evil beings can be felt. We make the bold decision to ignore them and head straight upstairs where the master no doubt waits…
After two flights of stairs and more evil auras we arrive in a large open workshop. Two carpenters down tools and approach us, not exactly hostile but keen to have us leave.
‘Lady Iesha’ is a stubborn woman though and one of the labourers fetches his ’supervisor’…

A dark eyed elf in heavy robes and chainmail wanders out. Obviously no ‘foreman’ he looks us over a with disdainful glare

“Iesha Foxglove? Strange that you should be here when you’ve been dead three months!”

We draw our weapons.
He whistles and the two workmen step up, pull on stitch-faced masks and attack!

I order Wynter to to hold the stairwell.
The elf channels dark energy and we reel in soul blackening pain… He’s Cleric and a powerful one.
Athene and I fight the Skinsaw Cultists who wield war razors and their own unholy powers.
Mahd summons a wolverine which drives the elf back as my opponent goes down and I charge him.
Mahd casts a spell down the stairwell where Wynter is fighting off a host of cultists.
Another wave of dark energy from the Elf and I smite him with the power of Iomadae!

He flees backs into a small study and scrambles up a ladder.
I pause for the briefest of moments, seeing the the skinned faces that decorate the walls.
I pursue him with a renewed vigor but he’s too quick and slams a trapdoor shut.
I smash the trapdoor and I pop up into a _rookery_… Two strangely silent ravens my only company. Is he gone or invisible?
I begin stabbing and slashing at the empty room as Athene climbs up behind me.

The elf priest panics and pushes between us, his indeed invisible form hitting the floor below with a crash.
We leap down too and after his only escape route, the stairs…

Pushing past Mhad he attacks Wynter who yelps in pain.
I can feel her lifeblood ebbing… But his actions break the charm and he reappears.
I step up with Athene and the three of us rain a fury of blows upon him.
He pleads with his minions for help…
They push hard but Wynter holds the line… Though for how long?
One of the cultists curses me and I stand frozen, blocking the stairway.
But it doesn’t matter… Wynter drags the Elf to the ground with a savage bits as Athene finds gap and drives down with a blow the final blow.

But his servants though are not done yet…
They come on, Wynter retreats and I rally as Athene and I fight our way down ahead of a column of Mahd’s summoned monsters.

The stairs are choked with bodies and slick with blood by the time we’re done but eventually we prevail.

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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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