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…