Fireday, 14 Lamashan 4707, evening
The party gathered around the stone door that was incongruously set into the wall of the large natural cavern. The lights of their torches and magical illumination glimmered off of the slick rocks of the cavern. Zandu examined the door, and declared it to be both unlocked and untrapped, and stepped aside. Charrone tried the latch, and the door swung open easily. Beyond was a dark passageway that had been mined into the bedrock. Leading the way, the party followed her into the gloom.
The passageway opened up into an irregularly-shaped worked-stone chamber. The stench of death in the room was intense, but even fouler was the additional stink of wet, vegetal rot. The latter seemed to emanate from a hideous thick patch of dripping blue-black fungal growth that infected much of the eastern wall of the room. At its center was a vaguely humanoid shape of slimy reddish-purple tumorous growths. It was hard to determine whether these were rhythmically pulsating, or if it was a trick of the light.
The former stench came from the fearsome humanoid sitting on a high-backed, bloodstained leather chair. The bald figure was dressed in foppish finery, including an azure silk jacket with golden needlework, a vermilion waistcoat, a scarlet ascot, and white pantaloons. All were spattered with drops of blood. He had blackened and rotting skin, and what remained of his lips curled into a sneer that pulled away from a set of sharklike teeth. He held his chin with a hand that bore long razor-sharp talons. His right hand idly played with an oversized straightrazor— the kind often used as a weapon by the Varisians. A small table next to the chair was piled with silver platters on which was served up repulsive cuts of putrefying flesh, all crawling with maggots. A bloody fork and knife were on one of the plates. Reddish-black blood clotted in a fine crystal goblet. A low table was set before the chair. Arranged in neat rows was a collection of odds and ends: a dented tankard, a dirty cloth napkin, a broken comb, a spoon, a glove, a dead rose, several papers, and other such rubbish. A painting was propped against the table, facing the chair. Resting on the arm of the chair was a strange-looking leather mask.
As Charrone took in the horrific sights of the room, the figure on the chair rose and made a shallow bow with great flourish. “Well, my friends,” he hissed contemptuously, “we meet again! I hope you enjoyed your stay at my home.” He then locked his gaze upon Charrone with unblinking eyes that glowed red in the dark. It took her a moment to recognize him, but with a sense of dread, she realized that this undead creature had once been Aldern Foxglove! When he saw that she’d recognized him, his sneer became an evil grin. “Lady Charrone, I am especially glad that you could make it. Did you receive my letters? I knew you would come to me, that you could not resist me, so that we could be together forever! Come, my dear, let us consummate our… our… HUNGER!!!”
As he spoke that last sentence, Charrone saw a definite change in his demeanor— as if bestial urges had overpowered him. His face became feral, and he lunged at her, leaping over the table that stood between them! “KILL! EAT! FEAST!” he shouted through guttural growls. Despite the fury of his attack, he could not get past Charrone’s shield; he was also too agile for her to land a blow with Brightblade. Backing her up, Halfred attempted to pin him down with his mithril ranseur, but it was Durrok who struck the first blow, shooting the thing that had been Aldern squarely in the chest with a bolt from his heavy crossbow.
Aldern appeared shocked when struck with the bolt, and his demeanor radically changed, “Wait, stop, I don’t want to harm you! I cede!” He dropped his razor, put up his hands, and fell to his knees. The party also broke off their attacks, but kept their weapons at hand.
Aldern started to sob. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! But it’s all gone wrong! What have I become? What have I done?”
“Aldern? What happened? Please tell me what happened since that night in Sandpoint,” said Charrone softly.
The creature stopped sobbing, and the earlier sneer returned to his lips. “Aldern thought you would be his second chance. His redemption. He saw in you what he could be, but he… I… wasn’t good enough, wasn’t brave enough. You are a hero. Aldern wanted that. But he… I… can’t be saved now. Not since what he did to her.” The creature’s eyes looked briefly confused.
“Did to who?”
He sobbed again. “My poor Iesha. I’m a murderer. She wasn’t lost at sea. I killed her when I found her with another man. I killed him too. And then I didn’t know what to do! So I went to see the Brothers. The Brothers have always been friends of my family. They would know what to do.”
“The Brothers? Who are the Brothers?”
He stopped sobbing and the haughty sneer returned. “His Lordship knows the Brothers. They helped Uncle Vorel build this house. They helped Father restore it, and they helped Aldern. They told Aldern to go back and get something from the house. Something Uncle Vorel started.” He seemed to be getting excited by telling this story. “And he found it! And he brought it back to them… to her. But it also entered him, and he fell to it, and I, His Lordship arose instead.”
“Okay, Your Lordship, so what was this thing you brought back to them? And who is this ‘her’ you mentioned?” asked Declan.
At the interruption, his face briefly became bestial again, “FEED! FEAST ON YOUR FLESH!” he screeched, but just as suddenly his face softened and the sneer returned. “Patience, Hurter, patience. You will feed soon enough,” he said softly, as if to himself. He looked at Charrone again, “My Lady, forgive him, he only has but one desire. But he does have a point.” At this, his demeanor seemed to change again. His sneer disappeared, and his face took on a look of disinterested curiosity. “Who are the Brothers? They serve Father Skinsaw, and now I am his vessel too. I am the Skinsaw Man. As I carved the flesh of your departed friend Ted, so I carve new paths into the world. How has his death affected you, hmm? What did he start that now goes unfinished? What new events will be spawned by his unfulfilled promises? And how will the world change in reaction to your deaths… when I kill you all?”
At that, he grinned evilly, and from his hand, which had appeared to be empty, dropped a small glass vial. It broke open on the stone floor, and as a splash of jet black liquid escaped from the shards, all of the lights in the room went out!