The Watcher of the Mists

The Mistress of the Tower
Session 36

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707, mid-morning

The adventurers found themselves standing on a rickety wooden platform just underneath the three remaining bells of the Shadow Clock, nearly one hundred eighty feet above the floor below. A wooden ladder was bolted to the stone wall, and led up through an opening in a five-foot wide wooden platform than seemed to run around the entire wall ten feet above the platform on which they stood. They could see the crossbeams from which the bells hung, and some of the clockworks that would have driven them in the shadowy space above. Zandu looked up the ladder and announced, “I’m going up. Cover me.” Durrok loaded his crossbow.

As Zandu was halfway up the ladder, he caught a glimpse of movement, and felt a glass vial break on his head. Liquid poured out of the broken bottle which immediately burst into flame: alchemist’s fire! Simultaneously, several crossbow bolts shot out of the space above the bells, aimed at the adventurers still on the platform or stairs! The bolts all missed completely or harmlessly bounced off armor, but the party realized that they were sitting ducks!

As Zandu climbed to the higher platform, he saw that a creature was standing next to the opening: two vaguely-humanoid legs, but the flesh was reddish and rubbery. He dodged as the creature stabbed at him with a rapier! Attempting to look into the creature’s eyes, he saw a familiar lack-of-face: the creature was another faceless stalker! Jumping to the platform, Zandu attacked the creature with his kukris. Zandu noticed two more staning on the crossbeams supporting the bells, both armed with crossbows. “There’s three faceless stalkers up here! Two are on the bell supports!” shouted Zandu.

Back on the platform below, McGregor cast a spell in the space above the bells. The area filled with magical spiderwebs, trapping the two stalkers on the bells in the sticky threads. Halfred then climbed the ladder, jumped onto the platform, and threw his shoulder into the stalker standing near Zandu. The stalker staggered backward, tripped, and fell off the platform, but managed to catch the edge of the platform before falling. The two stalkers in the webs began cutting their way through the webs, as Charrone followed by Durrok climbed up the ladder as well.

Halfred stomped on the hanging stalker’s hands, and it let go, falling more than a hundred feet to the stone floor below. Durrok shot another, sending it falling, but it was caught in web before it fell. The third stalker managed to get to the platform, but was immediately attacked by Charrone, who ran it through with her enchanted sword Brightblade. Halfred then used his falchion to slice through the webs supporting the other stalker, and it also fell, joining its companion below.

A quick examination of the gears showed that most of them were rusted together, and that many gears were missing entirely. There was a five-foot wide opening in the exterior wall of the clocktower, and wooden scaffolding could be seen through it. Additionally, the ladder that led to this platform continued upward into an open trap door in the wooden ceiling. The party decided to split their resources.

Halfred, Durrok, and Declan climbed the ladder through the trap door in the ceiling, and found the main clockworks room. Again, they found that the unmoving pendulums and gears were rusty, many were missing, and aside from a small number of roosting bats, nothing of interest was in the room. There was a door on the north wall, which appeared to be stuck. Halfred attempted to force it open.

Meanwhile, Charrone, Zandu, and McGregor checked out the scaffolding. It appeared that someone had started to repair the hole in the wall at some point in the past, but then thought better of it. Looking down at the roofs of the buildings of Underbridge over 150 feet below was dizzying, especially given the slight list of the tower. Another ladder was propped on the scaffolding which stretched across the face of the clock to another scaffolding platform 20 feet up. They ascended, finding a third ladder that stretched to the tower’s roof, and another opening in the tower where the masonry facade had crumbled away. Zandu entered the shadowy chamber, finding a small room with wooden interior walls, a wooden cabinet with a mesh door, and a boarded-up wooden door on the south wall. The cabinet was another raven cage, and two ravens looked quizzically at Zandu. Fearing that the mistress of the tower would use the birds to summon aid, Zandu killed both of them. At that, Zandu heard something trying to break down the door from the inside! Drawing his kukris, he took a defensive position and readied an attack at whatever was about to burst through the boarded-up door. The door smashed open— and Halfred burst into the room! Zandu declined to attack.

The adventurers returned to the scaffolding platform and climed the final ladder, finding themselves on the roof of the tower, nearly two hundred feet above the streets of Underbridge. The underside of the Irespan was merely sixty feet above their heads. The conical roof had only a slight pitch where the party stood, in a roughly ten-foot radius from the pedestal of the statue of the angel which stood at the apex of the tower, but the pitch increased drastically from there. The pedestal was about eight feet tall, and the angel’s wingtips extended another twelve feet above. Towering like a god, her weathered features caked in the grime of hundreds of chimneys and forever sheltered from cleansing rain, the angel’s countenance appeared almost demonic. A small door was set into the pedestal wall, and, incongruously, an expensive-looking black leather divan sat on the roof next to the pedestal. It was covered with vibrantly-colored silk pillows and sheets.

A haughty woman’s voice broke the uneasy silence. “Well, well, well. I finally get to meet the Heroes of Sandpoint! Honestly, I thought you’d look a little more impressive, given the trouble you’ve caused me.” The air above the angel statue’s head shimmered, and standing there was a beautiful Varisian woman. She had long, wavy raven hair, ruby-red lips, and a very pale complexion. She wore a tight-fitting snakeskin leather jacket, a flowing green cape, black leather breeches, and thigh-high boots. She held a spear in her right hand with a wide, barbed spearhead, and reached with her left to pull a mask over her face. The mask was golden with dark lenses over the eyes, and had several snake heads that curled forward. She smiled, showing prominent razor-sharp canine teeth. “I hope you’re as delicious as you look!” At that, she threw her spear at McGregor.

The spear struck the wizard, and when it hit, magical energy crackled outward, catching all of the heroes. Everyone suddenly felt that the quest and battle was already lost, that they were fools to have taken on this extremely powerful creature in her own lair, and that she would certainly defeat them easily. Fortunately, all but Zandu and McGregor shook off those feelings almost immediately. As McGregor moved to pull the spear out from his side, the weapon disappeared, reappearing in their adversary’s hand! At that, she said, “Yes, my pets, you may feast on their blood!” and four swarms of bats descended on the party from their roosts on the underside of the Irespan.

At that, the party attacked. Durrok let quarrels fly, Declan channeled the holy power of the Dawnflower, and Halfred attempted to stab her with his ranseur, but missed. The party’s adversary casually stepped off the shoulders of the angel, and magically flew away from the clocktower, hovering about twenty-five feet from the edge of the roof. She then fixed her gaze at Charrone, and the dark lenses on her metal mask glowed green. Charrone glowed the same color, and the paladin felt her joints stiffen for a moment, but she resisted the effect. Charrone channeled the holy power of the Inheritor back at her, and she appeared damaged by it. “Ow! That hurt! You really need to learn to play nicely, and—” her taunt was cut off by the explosion of a fireball, cast by McGregor.

“So, Masked Lady,” shouted Halfred, “If you’re going to kill us, at least let us know who you are!” He tried to stab her with his ranseur, but she was just out of reach.

“I am the Mistress of the Tower, the Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms. I am Xanesha.” She smiled again, “and for you, I am death!” she cast another spell. At that Halfred suddenly felt that he was being watched. Glancing up, he saw the biggest linnorm he’d ever imagined was curled on the underside of the Irespan, glaring at him balefully with alien eyes. Before the barbarian could react, the nightmare beast struck at him like an asp, and Halfred found himself staring down the maw of an immense beast intent on swallowing him whole! But then, he realized that the creature didn’t quite seem real, and it suddenly became insubstantial and indistinct, and he realized that it was an illusion.

“Better luck next time, Ms. Wanton.” He hurled a handaxe at her, which grazed her side. Durrok shot her again with a bolt, and Declan summoned a ray of holy sunlight, which struck her, causing her skin to smoke. She hissed savagely, cast another spell, and disappeared. Declan took that opportunity to perform some healing.

Meanwhile, Zandu had opened the door in the pedestal, and found a small room. Inside was a writing desk, a closed coffin, and a wooden wardrobe closet. Not wanting to take any chances, Zandu grabbed the coffin, dragged it onto the tower roof, and pushed it over the side. He watched it fall the 200 feet to the cobblestones below, and it smashed into a hundred pieces.

At that, Xanesha reappeared, just as she completed casting a lightning bolt that caught Declan, Zandu, Charrone, and McGregor. MgGregor countered with a scorching ray of his own, Declan tagged her with a fireball, Durrok hit her with another bolt, and Charrone channeled the holy power of Iomedae again. At the latter attack, Xanesha’s form became a gaseous cloud of sickly yellow vapor, and rose upward toward the Irespan.

[To Be Continued…}

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The Shadow Clock
Session 35

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707; Underbidge, Magnimar

It was an hour past sunrise by the time the Sandpoint Heroes found themselves at the base of the Shadow Clock, in Underbridge. Sunrise was by far the least busy time of day in this poorest and most dangerous section of Magnimar, where criminal gangs held the real power. Perpetually in the shadow of the giant-sized ruined Thassilonian bridge that spanned nearly three hundred feet above the muddy alleyways, Underbridge was a section mostly ignored by the city government, including the city guard.

The Shadow Clock had been built nearly eighty years earlier as part of then-Lord-Mayor Bayle Armitage’s grandiose plans to improve the seediest side of town. Many new public works were planned, but only the Shadow Clock was completed, and even then, the city abandoned it only a few years after its completion. The clock stopped keeping time almost immediately thereafter. The tower now leans slightly, and Halfred had heard that several betting pools had been established on when the tower would finally collapse and how many people it would kill when it did.

The tower stood not far from one of the ancient immense stone support columns that held up the remaining deck of the Irespan. Standing at the base of the tower, the party beheld the listing and sagging tower, a dying structure of crumbling stone, rotting wood, and rusted metal. The tower teetered to an unlikely height of nearly 200 feet, and several tangles of wooden scaffolding could be seen near the roof, next to gaping holes in the building’s masonry. The clocks faces are frozen in time, defiantly (and falsely) proclaiming it to be quarter past three. The west-facing clock facade was missing its minute hand entirely. At the apex of the tower stood a stone statue of an angel, its outstretched wingtips ending barely fifty feet below the underbelly of the Irespan. It was hard to tell from the ground if the angel was made of black marble, or was that color due to the accumulated soot of chimney smoke trapped under the bridge deck.

The grounds around the tower were strewn with stone rubble, presumably fallen from the tower’s facade (or perhaps from the Irespan itself), and a fair amount of trash and sickly weeds completed the scene of squalor and abandonment. A barely-noticable track wound through the debris field to a set of ten-foot-tall, ironbound wooden doors. The party approached.

Zandu Agavale listened at the door, and, hearing nothing, pulled on the handle. The door swung open without too much difficulty. The air inside was dry and dusty. Mounds of plaster and collapsed masonry lay in heaps on the stone floor, and a particularly big pile was in the southeast corner. A single empty wagon sat in the middle of the floor, and the decaying wooden walls of six partially-collapsed offices line the north and east walls. A rickety wooden staircase wound upward into the cavernous space overhead. About two hundred feet up hung four immense bronze bells. All of the walls at ground level were covered in graffiti.

The party checked out the offices, finding the roofs to have collapsed. Two smelled strongly of urine, but the two offices along the northern wall each held an odd and disturbing object: on a slightly raised, leveled-out area of rubble rested two wooden coffins. Charrone, Zandu, and Declan approached them cautiously, and the paladin threw open each of the lids. All were empty. A quick search of the coffins revealed nothing of interest.

Declan remarked, “Well, we’ve encountered vampire spawn before. If a vampire is forced into gaseous form, it must re-form within its coffin inside of two hours, or else it is completely destroyed. If we destroy these coffins, I don’t think they’d be able re-form.” Halfred started chopping with his greataxe, and within about five minutes, all four coffins were reduced to splinters. Zandu commented that if their enemies hadn’t noticed them before, they have now.

Meanwhile, Durrok and McGregor checked out the large rubble pile, and found a few pieces of treasure mixed among the refuse: a gold and jade ring, several hundred coins (mostly silver), and a holy symbol of the goddess Calistra. Satisfied that they had completely searched the ground floor, they started up the stairs.

Zandu, Halfred, and Charrone had started the ascent, when without warning, what the party had thought was just a pile of old rags in the rubble next to the stairs sprang upright with an animalistic grunt, slashing at Declan with an oversized blade! Vaguely humanoid, the misshapen monster seemed to be a thing from a child’s nightmare: it stood nine feet tall, its chest as broad as a horse, and on its shoulders sat a grotesquely bloated pumpkin-shaped idiot head. Black stitching held its sallow face together, with its lips cruelly sewn shut. Its dull red eyes glowed with malevolence, as it swung its gigantic scythe into Declan, knocking him off the staircase!

Halfred jumped back down, attempting to skewer it with his ranseur. Charrone closed to melee, and when she did, it swung at her as well, slashing a painful swipe across her arm. McGregor attempted to cast a spell at it, but the spell seemed to have no effect. It did seem to feel the punch of several of Durrok’s crossbow bolts, and between those and Charrone’s sword, the creature seemed a bit off-balance. Finally, Halfred scored a lucky strike with his ranseur, impaing the creature through its chest. It finally fell, strangely bleeding no blood. McGregor examined the thing afterward and said that it appeared to be some kind of golem.

The party returned to the ascent. The stairs were in very bad shape: the sagged and creaked when stepped upon, and there was no handrail. As they ascended, they noticed that the frequency of graffiti painted on the walls decreased. In several places, a step or two was missing, and all of it was affected by dry rot. There were a few steps that gave way when stepped upon, but no one fell off the stairs. There was one large gap in the stairs, about eighty feet up: two planks had been placed across the ten-foot gap. The party was able to scramble across without difficulty.

When the party was about eighty feet off the floor, from high above, everyone heard the distinctive snap of a rope under tension being cut. A heavy “click click click” sound echoed off the stone walls, follwed by a loud “BONG!” followed immediately by the sound of cracking wood and metal scraping against stone. Glancing upward, the party was terrified to see an immense bell plummeting toward them, caroming off the wall of the tower! The bell crashed into Halfred, knocking him into the wall, but not knocking him off the stairs. The falling bell smashed a chunk out of the stairs as well, and a second, duller peal resounded when the bell crashed into the wooden cart on the ground floor, demolishing both the cart and the bell.

Using one of the planks from the earlier gap, the party continued up the stairs. When they reached the level of the lookout windows, four vampires appeared in the windows, and all sprung to attack! The vampire spawn attempted to puch the characters off the stairs, but did not succeed. The vampired proved little match to Declan’s channeled might of Sarenrae, and all became clouds of gas, wafting downward.

The party pressed on, finding that the staircase seemed to get in worse shape as the ascended. Finally, the stairs ended at a small platform just underneath the bells. A ladder rose along the wall, heading up into am open trap door on the platform above.

[To Be Continued!]

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Legacy of the Skinsaw Cult
Session 34

Oathday, 20 Lamashan 4707, late afternoon

With all of the cultists apparently down, the party proceeded to provide minimal first aid to the remaining ones, while also disarming them and tying them up. Six cultists plus Ironbriar were alive, but they all remained unconscious. Declan noticed that Ironbriar had two fresh puncture marks on his neck, and several more similar marks that were in various stages of healing. A detect magic spell revealed that all of the cultists’ masks were magical, and Charrone could tell that Ironbriar’s mask also had an evil aura. Examining the masks, McGregor could tell that all of them enhanced the wearer’s senses, at the expense of tearing at the wearer’s psyche. None of the Sandpoint Heroes dared to try on one of the masks.

Looking through the workshop, the party realized that bloodstains covered the wooden floor. It wasn’t immediately obvious due to a fresh layer of sawdust. At the workbenches were many sharp woodworking tools, but many of them were also bloodstained, and some had odd bits of gristle or bone stuck in them. Inside a closet was a small stone idol of the evil god Norgorber, and two dozen black velvet robes. All of the robes were also bloodstained. In a wooden barrel in the closet were several pieces of miscellaneous clothing, both men’s and women’s, many cut apart, and all stained with dried blood.

Zandu found another locked door in the workshop, and picked the lock. Inside was a cramped, but neatly-ordered office. It took him a moment to recognize the strange framed leather artwork that adorned the walls. When he did, he felt his skin crawl, and he couldn’t tear himself from staring at the horrific artifacts. Sixteen preserved human faces, skillfully excised from their corpses, were carefully stretched across wooden frames with black thread, and hung on the walls in neat rows.

On the desk were a folder of legal documents and a large folio. The documents turned out to be a surprisingly well-detailed dossier of the eight current and former members of the Sandpoint Heroes: Zandu, Charrone, McGregor, Declan, Durrok, Halfred, Larissa, and Ted. All of the dossiers detailed the characters exploits, typical battle tactics, and known magical abilities. Durrok’s was the least-detailed. The one on Larissa listed her current location as “unknown,” and Ted’s status was listed as “sacrificed for the Mistress.” It was clear from the dossiers that Ironbriar knew that the adventurers had already been to Foxglove’s townhouse at the meeting in his office in the Pedement Building earlier that day.

The folio contained a bunch of unrelated documents: newspaper clippings, theatre tickets, legal documents, pages torn from personal journals, and other such items. The dates of the papers seemed to go back more then a hundred years. Charrone suggested that they were momentos from people that the cult had slain over the decades. Zandu found one very interesting note folded among other mundane documents: a bearer’s letter of credit from the Bank of Abadar in Oppara, dated 4688, for the sum of one thousand gold ducats. “Hey— these don’t expire!” said Zandu.

Also in the desk were several books. Most were mundane, but three were quite interesting: an illustrated hand-written text written in Skald called Linnorms of Ulfenheim, an illustrated and gilded book of Chelaxian folk tales, an unnamed wizard’s spellbook, and a thick leather text handwritten in a conplex code comprised of Elvish, Draconic, and Infernal characters. McGregor took a look at that book, and thought that he could probably decipher if given enough time.

Meanwhile, Charrone, Halfred, and Durrok went to check out the lower level of the mill. The one door was open, and the room was deserted. The room was the waterwheel mechanical room, which held a lot of dangerous-looking, moving machinery. Halfred saw a lever labeled “Emergency Stop,” which he pulled, but the level snapped off. Durrok noticed that the mechanisms behind the lever were all rusted solid— the lever obviously hadn’t been thrown in years. “If anyone had been here, they either ran off or joined the fight,” commented Halfred.

Charrone found a couple of children playing outside. She wrote a quick letter, sealed it with her signet ring, and handed the kid a gold piece. “Hey— if you would bring this to the Temple of Iomedae, give it to one of the priests or paladins, then come back here with them, I’ll give you five more!” The kids took the money and the letter and ran off.

Searching the rest of the sawmill revealed more treasure that the party claimed. While waiting for the paladins to arrive, Ironbriar regained consciousness. “Listen— you are all in a lot of trouble. Can you imagine the amount of time I had to take to infiltrate this cult? I was just about to bring formal charges against them!” Nobody believed him. “Okay— how about this: I am a very wealthy man. If you accompany me to the Bank of Abadar, I can withdraw a lot of money for you. I would just ask that you let me go.” Nobody took him up on that offer either.

Two paladins of Iomedae, (Trenton the Strong-Armed and Lydia Theldrik) arrived about then. Charrone filled them in, and they went upstairs to where Ironbriar was being detained. Lydia cast a spell (McGregor identified it as dispel magic), and Trenton said, “He was using magic to mask his aura. He serves an evil god, who has granted him power.” At that, Ironbriar remained silent. Lydia turned to Charrone, “I assume that you called us because you don’t trust the city authorities. We all know there’s a level of corruption in the Hall of Ushers, but to have a member of the Justice Court be the leader of a Skinsaw Cult is beyond the pale. You were right to come to us. We don’t have any civil authority in this situation, but the commander of the Elite Guard is a personal friend of mine. Let me go to General Odinburge right now. He’ll know who to trust in the city government.” At that, Lydia ran off.

It was not quite an hour later when a large party of city guards arrived on horseback, bringing a prisoner transport carriage along. Two members of the Justice Court, and three members of the Council of Ushers were with them. Three more paladins of Iomedae had also arrived separately. The officials questioned members of the party separately, and appeared to be satisfied with their answers. The six cultists plus Ironbriar were loaded into the transport, and were taken away. General Odinburge said to the party, “You have done this city yet another service. I will be sure to mention your heroics to the Lord-Mayor.”

After that, the party returned to the Shield and Sheepdog for a well-deserved rest.

Fireday, 21 Lamashan 4707

McGregor spent the day in his room deciphering the coded text. He figured out the key to deciphering it, and thought that it would probably take him a few more days to fully decrypt the writing.

The rest of the party met with officials to discuss the case against Ironbriar and the cultists. They also did some shopping. Halfred asked around for a master weaponsmith who could enchant his ranseur.

Starday, 22 Lamashan 4707

McGregor continued deciphering the text, and found it to be Ironbriar’s personal journal. The earliest dates were from more than 100 years ago. The rest of the party did some more shopping and sight-seeing in town. Halfred found the craftsman he was looking for, and hired him to enchant his ancient Thassilonian weapon.

Sunday, 23 Lamashan 4711

McGregor continued to decipher the text, while the rest of the party did their own things. Most shops and offices were closed on Sundays, so several people went sight-seeing.

Moonday, 24 Lamashan 4707

McGregor completed deciphering the text. The text told the story of Ironbriar’s arrival in Magnimar 125 years ago as a young and angry Forlorn elf, and how he entered city politics and rose quickly through the ranks. It also told of his disillusionment of how the city ran, and how he joined a fraternal organization called the Brothers of Seven 100 years ago. The Brothers turned out to be a front for a cult of Norgorber that venerated his Father Skinsaw aspect: a cabal of murderers who used selected killings to craft society to their own ends. The text mentioned the necromancerVorel Foxglove was once a member of the cult, and that the Brothers helped finance his manor house.

The text mentioned scores of names of members past and present. It also detailed over 200 murders committed by the cult over the past 95 years. More recently, Ironbriar recorded his meeting with the angry priestess Nualia Tobyn nine months ago, and that the Brothers provided her some assistance with her plans to burn down Sandpoint. Most interesting was mention of the arrival six months ago of another priestess, referred to alternative as “X” and “Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms.” She taught the cult a new murder ritual— the Sihedron Ritual— that could “trap the victim’s soul for Father Skinsaw.” The text also mentioned that “X” and Ironbriar had become lovers, and that she was living at the old Shadow Clock in Underbridge.

McGregor made notes of his translation. Upon conferring with the rest of the party, he made a copy of his own translation notes, but deliberately left out the part about “X” and the Shadow Clock.

Toilday, 25 Lamashan 4707

The party went to the Arvensoar to turn over the text and McGregor’s copied translation notes to General Odinburge. “I’m not much of a linguist,” he said, “but if your notes are true, there’s enough here to send Ironbriar to the gallows. I’ll be sure this gets only to the right people.”

McGregor spent the rest of the day copying spells out of the recovered spellbook into his own.

Wealday, 26 Lamashan 4707

McGregor continued to copy spells, and the rest of the party purchased new equipment. Signs indicated that this “Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms” might be a vampire, so several pieces of equipment that are effective against vampires were high on the list.

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707

Shortly after dawn, the party suited up and marched to Underbridge to the Shadow Clock. They gazed at the decrepit, teetering 200-foot tower built directly underneath the giant-sized Irespan. The clock face proclaimed it to be (falsely) quarter past three.

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The Seven's Sawmill
Session 33

Oathday, 20 Lamashan 4707, mid-afternoon

After their strange meeting with Justice Ironbriar in his office, the Sandpoint Heroes bought lunch from a street vendor, then walked across town to Kyver’s Islet, an island at the mouth of the Yondabarki River. Connected by bridge to the neighborhood of Beacon’s Point to the east, and to Ordellia to the west, Kyver’s Islet was primarily an industrial zone, with many businesses that kicked up a lot of smoke and/or noise. There were several lumber yards and sawmills on the islet, and it wasn’t hard to find the Seven’s Sawmill.

Th mill was built into the side of a steep embankment that went down to the river’s edge. The facility was a three-story wooden building that had been constructed on several large pilings that were sunk into the river bottom. Most of the building hung over the swift-flowing water. Like all of the other mills on the riverbank, The Seven’s Sawmill harnessed the river’s power with a series of waterwheels. Unlike most of the other mills, the waterwheels of this mill were underneath the building, rather than alongside it.

They scoped out the place for an hour or so, and witnessed a single delivery cart arrive, then leave loaded with fresh-cut lumber. The sounds of the turning wheel, clanking gears, and buzzing saws added to the din of the area. Whatever else it may be, the building was most definitely a working sawmill.

McGregor used his hat of disguise again to make himself look like an older working-class man. He approached the front door and turned the knob, bur found it to be locked. He knocked. After several minutes, the door opened. A muscular young man opened the door. “Hi, there. What can I do for you?” The wizard explained that he wanted to buy a few pieces of wood to complete a small woodworking project. “Sorry— we only deal in bulk orders. Mostly, we sell either to people building a house, or to Hendrick’s Lumber Yard, on the east side of the island. I’d bet you can find what you’re looking for at Hendrick’s.” McGregor thanked the man and left to report back to the rest of the party.

After about half an hour, Zandu decided to try a different approach. He also went to the front door and knocked, but no one answered. He then picked the lock and walked in. The ground floor was a large loading area. The sound of the waterwheel, saws, and machinery were extremely loud in the room. Zandu noted that there were several trapdoors in the ceiling, and many ropes and chains hung through these openings. He presumed that these were for loading finished lumber. Nobody was in the loading area, so he walked up the stairs to the next floor.

The stairs opened into a corridor which wrapped around the central stairwell. One door appeared to open into a workroom, so Zandu opened it. Inside were several people feeding uncut logs into log splitters. Two of the workers noticed Zandu and approached. Zandu said, “Hey— where the hell were you? My boss is NOT happy that his delivery didn’t show up.” He continued to play the part of an angry customer who didn’t receive a delivery, and demanded to see the boss.

One of the workers said, “Hey, I’m just the floor manager. I don’t handle orders. Let’s go see the boss. He’s upstairs,” and led the way. Zandu followed, and another worker trailed him. As they approached the stairs, the man in front of Zandu stopped, and seemed to pull something from underneath his cloak. He bent his head, then turned around— the man was now wearing a disturbing mask— it was of stretched leather dyed in several different flesh tones. It had a single bulbous eye and a fang-bearing mouth. He shouted, “Boys, we got another one!” and attacked with a war razor. Glancing behind him Zandu saw that the man behind him was similarly equipped.

Drawing his kukris, Zandu defended himself. “What the hell?!?!” SWISH “You know…” SWOOSH “…it’s very bad business…” PARRY “…to murder…” CLANG “…your customers!” STAB

From across the street, Durrok thought he heard Zandu call out, and urged the rest of the group to charge in. They did, and the rest of the party joined the fight. There were about a dozen workers in the mill, and all of them donned similar creepy masks and fought off the adventurers. While the cultists had superior numbers and were defending their own turf, the Sandpoint Heroes proved to be superior fighters. Several cultists fell in the fight, and several several more retreated up the stairs. Pressing on, the heroes found themselves on the top floor of the mill.

Waiting in ambush, three cultists jumped Declan, who happened to be first through the door, wounding him terribly, as the rest of the party charged past. Another cultist in a somewhat different mask held back from melee. His mask was a single strip of leather sewn into a loose spiral. The mask suddenly appeared to rotate, and twof the heroes who’d seen it became magically confused. Zandu thought he saw insects crawling on his skin, and tried to cut them off with his weapon, cutting himself. McGregor simply watched the swirling pattern in a daze. As the remaining heroes cut down the lesser cultists, their leader cast another spell, blasting the heroes with evil energy. But the heroes broke through the ranks, and Halfred, Durrok, and Charrone managed to coordinate their attacks and take him down.

Charrone knelt beside the fallen cult leader and removed his mask. It was Justice Ironbriar himself!

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Justice Ironbriar
Session 32

Wealday, 19 Lamashan 4707, evening

After defeating the two faceless stalkers posing as Aldern and Iesha Foxglove, and driving off a vampire spawn, the Sandpoint Heroes examines the rest of the three-story townhouse. The entire place had been thoroughly ransacked and looted, although they did find a few valuables that the looters had missed.

The party found what they were really looking for in the third-floor office. Zandu discovered a hidden keyhole in the decorative stone mantle of the fireplace. The small key they’d found in Foxglove Manor fit the keyhole, and turning it revealed a secret hiding place in the mantle itself. Unfortunately, opening the cache also released its guardian: a snake made out of a silvery metal! It attacked the party, and when it bit Halfred, he felt himself injected with a potion of inflict moderate wounds! McGregor identified it as a magical construct, and between the collected firepower of the group, they successfully destroyed it.

Inside the cache was an unlocked wooden coffer containing a small fortune in platinum, a folio of legal documents, and also a slim leather ledger. Among the legal documents were the deeds to the townhouse and Foxglove Manor. The deed to the townhouse seemed unremarkable, but there were some interesting clauses in the deed to the manor house. The house was built in 4624, the deed indicated that Vorel Foxglove only put up about a third of the funds, borrowing the remainder from a group called the Brothers of Seven. The deed indicated that Vorel did not need to replay the loan directly. Instead, the Brothers of Seven would take possession of Foxglove Manor in the year 4724, “including all lands within one mile surrounding and beneath.”

Looking over the ledger of income and expenditures, it seems that Aldern had been paying someone called “B7” the sum of 200 ducats a week, labeled “Iesha’s Sea Voyage.” Payments started about six months ago, and only ended four weeks ago. The location of the payment was listed as “The Seven’s Sawmill.”

“Okay,” said Zandu, “Aldern himself referred to the Brothers, as did the letter from his ‘Mistress’ that we found in his underground bunker. We also know that Iesha never went on a sea voyage— that was just a cover story to explain her disappearance: Alden had murdered her. This weekly payment must be blackmail by this ‘B7’ person— or group. I’d bet it’s a reference to the Brothers of Seven that will get the house in 13 years!”

Charrone turned to Halfred and asked, “you grew up in Magnimar. Have you ever heard of this group?”

Halfred replied, “Yes, actually. The Brothers of Seven are a fraternal secret society of businessmen. They have a reputation of being a bit stodgy, but not terribly interesting or influential. I always thought they got together to complain about taxes and drink ale. As for the sawmill, I never heard of this one in particular, but there are a lot of lumber mills on the river in Ordellia and on Kiver’s Islet.”

The group decided to head back to the inn and make plans to investigate this mill the next day. The night passed uneventfully.

Oathday, 20 Lamashan 4707, morning

Over breakfast at the Shield and Sheepdog, an official-looking woman entered the dining room. Walking up to the party, she said, “Good morning. My name is Miriam Weatherwind, and I am an aide to the Magnimar Justice Council. Lady Charrone of Kintargo, I would presume?”

Charrone seemed a bit puzzled, but rose from her chair. “That would be me. To what do I owe this honor?”

Weatherwind replied, "I have been sent by Justice Ironbriar, the presiding judge of the case against the Bilger Gang. He requests a meeting with you and your band of adventurers later this morning. He would like to discuss your testimony in the preliminary hearing yesterday, and how it will relate to the trial in a few weeks. The Justice was hoping that you could meet him at half past ten this morning, at his office on the third floor of the Pedement Building."

Charrone looked at the rest of the party, most of whom shrugged, and she agreed to the meeting at that time. Weatherwind gave a curt bow and bade them good day.

“So, Charrone,” said Halfred with a grin, “remind me— when did we elect you our leader?”

“I think it’s the extra-shiny armor. It projects authority,” commented Zandu.

After breakfast, individual party members did a little shopping, then met at the Pedement Building in the Capital District. They checked their weapons with the guards at the front door, and a page showed them up to Ironbriar’s office. The office was opulent: a fine Qadiran rug covered most of the marble-tiled floor. Several beautiful paintings of forest scenes covered the walls. A leather couch and three overstuffed armchairs faced an impressive desk of polished darkwood and gleaming brass. From behind the desk rose Ironbriar himself: a black-haired Elven man with unfathomable deep violet eyes. He smiled and walked over to shake everyone’s hands.

“Good morning! Thank-you so much for coming over on such short notice. Please, have a seat.” He turned to the page, “Ronny— please bring in some refreshments for our guests.” The boy scurried out, returning in a moment with a tray of hot tea, fresh fruit, and warm pastries.

“Again, I need to thank you and praise your valor in bringing in the notorious Bilger Gang. We’re putting together the case against them, and we want to have our facts straight. Would you please relate how you encountered them and what happened again…?” For the next half-hour, the party answered these and several other questions about the case. Several of the heroes noted that the questions Ironbriar asked weren’t substantively different than the ones they had been asked earlier.

“So, to sum up,” concluded Irobriar, "you were traveling here from Sandpoint when you were waylaid by the Bilger Gang posing as Magnimar elite guardsmen collecting tolls, you refused to pay, they attacked you, and you defended yourselves." He paused, then looked at the group again, “So, what brought you all to Sandpoint to begin with? You all seem like you prefer a bit more action than Sandpoint would seem to offer.”

Halfred said that he was from here (i.e. Magnimar) originally, and had gone to Sandpoint on business back in the past month of Rova, but stuck around to help the locals with a goblin problem. The rest of the group concurred.

“I thought so!” exclaimed Ironbriar, "You’re the Sandpoint Heroes I’ve heard tale of. Good job with those goblins! And with that aasimar priestess of the Mother of Monsters. Pity you couldn’t have taken her back alive— we could have learned much about her cult." Charrone and Declan exchanged glances. Ironbriar shuffled through more of his papers. "So, how is Sheriff Hemlock these days? He’s still sheriff up there?" Halfred confirmed that fact. “Good man, that Hemlock. I met him a month or so ago. He came down to ask the Lord-Mayor for some extra troops to help quell the goblin threat. Of course, with the trouble we were having down here, the Lord-Mayor couldn’t spare more than a token force.” He paused.

“What trouble down here?” inquired Zandu.

Ironbriar sighed, and a troubled look crossed his face. Charrone thought that the look seemed a bit forced. “Surely, you’ve seen the newspapers. There has been a spate of murders in the city over the past three months. The victims have mostly been prominent people: most were wealthy, and many were connected with shady business practices. The victims were ritualistically tortured before death, and the bodies are mutilated such that a speak with dead spell won’t work. They are always marked with a demonic symbol. I’ve had our best people working on this case, but we can’t seem to get any hard evidence.”

“Well, that’s very troubling,” said Zandu, “You said they’re marked with a demonic symbol. What is it?”

“Yes, it’s an obscure symbol of a lesser demon lord.” He opened a drawer in his desk and produced a tome that appeared to be an illustrated guide to demons. McGregor noticed that it was the same text as the one they’d discovered in the ruins below The Chopper’s former cabin. Ironbriar lowered his voice, “Andirifhkhu, the Razor Princess. The symbol carved on the bodies is in the form of a regular heptagram.” He glanced at the heroes, as if to judge their reaction to this bit of information, but if he saw anything in their eyes, he didn’t let on.

Ironnbriar continued, “We think this mark is a simplified version one of the symbols associated with the Razor Princess: seven blades, their hilts crossed, blades radiating outward. We believe that a cult of demon-worshipers is committing the murders for some unspeakable reason.” He held up the book and pointed to an illustration of the symbol. The symbol the elf pointed to was similar to the Sihedron Rune, but not an exact match. No one mentioned the Sihedron Rune.

“That is extremely disturbing,” commented Charrone. “Have you any idea where this cult might be meeting?”

Ironbriar paused again, seemingly sizing up the individual members of the party. "I have a hunch, but no evidence. I think they’re hiding in plain sight amongst one of the more brazen Sczarni gangs in town: The Gallowed. I can’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that I have heard from reliable sources that the leadership of The Gallows is connected to demon worshipers."

Halfred commented, “The Gallowed? I though they were just a bunch of Sczarni criminals. You know— extortion, robbery, fraud… the usual Sczarni kind of thing.”

Ironbriar gave Halfred a silent, inscrutable look.

Durrok said, grufffly, “Well, that’s very interesting, but why are you telling us?”

“As you’ve worked with Sheriff Hemlock, I was hoping you might be willing to help me out a bit. The Gallowed knows all of my regular informants, but they don’t know you. I’d like you to make contact with the Gallowed and try to determine how deeply the demonic influence goes. Also find out what the plans are.”

The Sandpoint Heroes exchanged glances with each other. Somewhat taken aback, Charrone replied, “Well, we’re usually glad to help out local authorities if they need it, but infiltration of criminal organizations frankly isn’t our strong suit. I mean, we can try to make contact with them, but I would seriously doubt that they’d take us into their confidence.”

“Infiltration isn’t your strong suit?” asked Ironbriar, almost rhetorically, “Hmm. I’d heard otherwise. Well, in any event, if you could ask around, discreetly, and let me know what they’re up to, it would be much appreciated.” Zandu mumbled assent.

Ironbriar rose, and smiled broadly again. “Well, then, thank you for taking the time to meet me. I think we’re set for next week’s trial.” As the party gathered their things to go, Ironbriar then added, “Oh, wait, one more thing I’d meant to ask.” The party turned back. "Why were you asking at the City Archives yesterday about properties belonging to Aldern Foxglove?"

Thinking quickly, Zandu replied, “Well, that was one of the reasons we’d come to Magnimar. It came to Sheriff Hemlock’s attention recently that some unclaimed property belonging to the Foxglove family was discovered. The Foxglove manor house had been abandoned, so we came here to see if there were any heirs to that estate, so we could direct them back to Sandpoint.”

“And, did you find the house?” inquired the judge.

“We did, but no one answered the door,” replied Zandu.

Halfred added, “I peeked in the windows, and it looked like someone had completely tossed the place. I don’t think anyone was actually living there.”

Ironbriar nodded, thanked the party again, and walked them out.

Outside, Charrone said, “Okay, did anyone else get a very strange vibe from that guy?”

Durrok said, “I always get a strange vibe from Elves, but he was definitely sizing us up.”

Zandu added, “Well, he wanted us to know that he knows about us and has been watching our moves. What do you think about that Gallowed gang lead he gave us?”

Declan responded, “I think it’s a red herring. He wants us to chase our tails for a while.”

Halfred said, “Then we’re in agreement. Let’s go check out that sawmill.”

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Aldern's Townhouse
Session 31 (part 2)

Wealday, 19 Lamashan 4707, late afternoon

After finding out the address of Aldern Foxglove’s townhouse from the city records office, the Sandpoint Heroes headed off in that direction. They decided that McGregor would use his hat of disguise to make himself to appear to be Aldern Foxglove, as he had appeared in life, and to use the front door key to let himself and the rest of the party in. They figured that neighbors would be much less suspicious of them entering the house if Aldern was with them.

The house was in the “new-money” neighborhood of Naos, in Summit. The narrow street was quiet and tidy. In a small park across the street from the house’s facade, a large fountain gurgled, water spouting from the mouths of four marble wyverns. The townhouse had three floors, and none of the buildings in the area had a basement. The houses here were very close together— barely a eighteen inches separated the outer walls of adjacent properties. There seemed to be a more usable alley behind them. The house appeared not to have been taken care of recently. Ivy grew up along its red brick facade, partially obscuring the windows on the first and second floors. The doorstep was cluttered with dead leaves and scraps of blown newspapers. The brass knocker and doorknob needed to be polished. The center of the front door bore a stained glass window of a red fox.

McGregor walked up to the door, the party behind him, and tried the large brass key. The key fit perfectly, and the door unlocked. He stepped in. The floor was marble tile, but very dirty. Many bootprints covered the floor in dried mud. Several letters were also on the floor of the entryway. A stairway led up, and two doors were ajar. One door led to a closet. Several slashed coats lay in a heap on the floor. He picked up the letters and saw that they were all from the City Exchequer. Opening the most recent, he read that it was a notice that property taxes were six months past due, and failure to pay by the 31st of Kuthonia would result in forfeiture of the property. McGregor waved the rest of the party in.

The next room appeared to be a formal parlor, but the hunting trophies had been pulled from the walls, cut open, and cast aside. A curio shelf was broken and overturned, it glass shelves shattered on the tiled floor. Two leather armchairs were slashed open. It was obvious that someone had ransacked the place. Another open doorway led to a dining room. As the party began their own search, they all heard a voice call out from inside the house, “Hello! Who’s there?” The voice sounded like Aldern’s!

Thinking quickly, McGregor remembered that the letter they’d found with Aldern indicated that his “Mistress” was leaving agents at the townhouse, and that they would probably know what the Skinsaw Man looked like, so he changed his appearance to appear to be the undead Aldern. “I said, who’s there?” called out the voice again, and another female voice said, “Pardon the mess— we’re moving.”

McGregor stepped into the dining room, as a door opposite to where he stood opened. Into the room stepped a young and lively-looking couple: Aldern and Iesha Foxglove! McGregor noted that they both had rapiers at their belts. “It’s me,” croaked McGregor, attempting to imitate a ghoul’s voice, “My task is complete, and I have returned.”

“It is done? Excellent. Mistress will be pleased,” said ‘Aldern.’ The Varisian woman next to him nodded. “Who are these people?” she asked.

“They are with me. I found them useful,” improvised McGregor.

“And they live? Are they your thralls?” asked “Aldern.”

“Yes, they are mine,” replied McGregor. “Is there anyone else here?”

“Gustav is upstairs. We’ve had nothing but cats for weeks. Are these for dinner?” asked the woman.

“Um… yes…” stammered McGregor.

“Excellent!” said the woman. At that her features suddenly shifted. Her skin turned reddish-purple and rubbery, and her face lost all distinction, revealing only a disturbing pattern of ridges and whorls. A faceless stalker! She pounced on Haldred, grappling him, and extended three sharp tongues, piercing his flesh. ‘Aldern’ likewise assumed its natural form, exhaling an audible sigh in the process.

Faceless stalker

Halfred, however, fought back, and punched the creature hard with the cestus he always wore. The creature broke its grapple, and both creatures saw the rest of the party drew weapons.

“I thought they were your thralls!” shouted the one that had been Aldern, as the stalkers both drew their rapiers and fight broke out.

Zandu started to head for the front door with the intention of running around to the back door to attack the stalkers from the rear, but when he got to the door, he saw someone coming down the stairs— a very pale Varisian man with a goatee. The man smiled at Zandu, bearing long canine teeth. Zandu retreated back to parlor, and exclaimed, “Declan! I think that Gustav guy is a vampire!”

As Halfred, Charrone, and Durrok engaged the stalkers, ‘Gustav’ strolled into the room and struck Zandu with the back of his hand. It hurt far more than Zandu expected, and the half-elf felt a strange coldness at its touch, but then felt himself returning back to normal. McGregor cast scorching ray at Gustav, engulfing him in flames. Charrone broke off her attack against the stalkers, and turned her attention to the vampire. “By the light of the Inheritor, I smite thee!” she invoked, and her sword pulsed with holy energy. She swung at the vampire, and it connected. The vampire shrieked, doubled over, then dissolved into a cloud of sickly yellowish-green vapor! Declan summoned the power of the Dawnflower against it, and it seemed to sizzle in her power, but the cloud drifted toward the back door.

After two more rounds, the stalkers were dead, their green blood covering the marble floor tiles. Zandu followed the vapor cloud, and watched it billow into a 12-inch storm drain set into the back yard. The fight, for now, was over.

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Welcome to Magnimar
Session 31 (part 1)

Toilday, 18 Lamashan 4707, dusk

As the Heroes of Sandpoint approached the East Gate of the city of Magnimar, several town guards approached them, unnerved by the sight of an armed group who had five people bound, gagged, and lashed to horses. Charrone explained that the prisoners are most of the notorious Bilger Gang, and that the party wished to hand the brigands over to local authorities, and claim the bounty on them. At that, the guards escorted the party and their prisoners to the Pedement Building in the Capital District, which served as the Magnimar courthouse and gaol.

Magnimar view 2

After handing over the Bilger Gang, the party were themselves questioned about how they encountered the Bilgers and what transpired. After about an hour of questioning, the guards seemed satisfied. A clerk then drafted an official letter of credit to the party, redeemable at the Temple of Abadar Moonday through Fireday, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. The party was also asked to make a brief statement at the preliminary hearing of the Bilger Gang tomorrow morning at ten. While at the Pedement building, the party overheard guards discussing the recent spate of high-profile murders that nobody could solve. Halfred asked for more information about these murders, but was told to mind his own business.

When they were done with the paperwork, most merchants had closed, so they went looking for an inn. Finding that the inns in the Summit were both pricey and that the desk clerks seemed to look down their noses at adventurers, the party descended the Ascent, which is the only road connecting the Summit from the Shore, and discovered the very welcoming Shield and Sheepdog Inn in the Keystone neighborhood, which was very near the Temple of Iomedae. Disturbingly, talk at the Sheepdog was also of the murders. The rumor mill had a lot of different specifics on the mechanics of the murder, but there was agreement on the victim: Councilwoman Janeth Ligurant.

The food was very good and the rooms were clean and comfortable. The night passed uneventfully.

Wealday, 19 Lamashan 4707

The party awoke at dawn, had breakfast, and decided to do a little early-morning sightseeing. Charrone went to visit the nearby Temple of Iomedae, and had a brief audience with Chaplain Tira Rinnova. Several people complimented Charrone on wearing the fabled Falconheart’s Mail, and they showed her a painting of General Falconheart wearing the armor at the end of the First Mendevian Crusade. Charrone also learned that the temple paid a bounty on tainted magic items, to keep them out of the hands of evildoers. While there, Charrone asked about the murders. The paladins of Iomedae reported that, while they were sometimes asked for assistance by the city guards, their own offers of help on this case had been rebuffed. “Apparently, it’s important to either the Council of Ushers of the Lord-Mayor himself for the City Watch to crack this on on their own. I don’t know what game they’re playing, though.”

While Charrone was at the Temple of Iomedae, Zandu took the letter of credit to the Temple of Abadar in the Capital District, and collected the money: 97 nobles and 5 ducats!

After that, the party convened in the Great Courtroom of the Pedement Building. Justice Ironbriar presided over the court. Ironbriar was a stern-faced elf with long, jet black hair and unfathomable violet eyes. He took a brief statement from the party, and ruled that there was sufficient credible evidence to put the Bilgers on trial in two weeks. He set the date of the full trial for 29 Lamashan, and informed the party that he expected them to testify at the full trial.

The hearing took about two hours. Afterward, the Heroes of Sandpoint did some more sightseeing. Charrone had heard tale of the Aquaretum, and persuaded the rest of the gang to check it out with her. Located in Beacon’s Point, the Aquaretum was a large round building run by the gnome Nireed Wadincoast. Paying the 5 pence to enter, the group found a strangely fascinating collection of fishtanks displaying strange marine life, many stuffed undersea creatures on display— including a kraken, a bunyip, and a sahuagin. (At the bunyip display, Halfred exclaimed, “Hey look! It’s a sharktopus! But, it’s mislabeled…”)

Charrone and Zandu struck up a conversation with Wadincoast. The blue-haired gnome wore a strange pair of goggles (“Helps me see underwater, but I just don’t like to take ’em off!”), and was extremely chatty. He said that he’d been exploring the depths of the Gulf of Varisia for years, and that he wanted to share his findings with the world— hence this museum. He mentioned that there are numerous submerged buildings at the bottom of the gulf, and that most seemed to be Thassilonian.

After that diversion, the party did some shopping for items that are easier to find in a large city than in a small town like Sandpoint. While shopping, the decided to do a little more research on finding Aldern’s townhouse, so they decided to head over to the city archive building in the Capital District. Zandu told the clerk that he was with the Sandpoint town guard, and needed to find out information about the Foxglove family, as Sheriff Hemlock needed to contact members of that family, but didn’t know how to contact them. After a few minutes, she brought out records showing that Aldern Foxglove did own a townhouse in the Naos neighborhood, and gave Zandu the address.

The party then decided that it was time to pay Mr. Foxglove, or whoever might be staying there, a little visit.

[To be continued…]

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The Road to Magnimar
Session 30

Starday, 15 Lamashan 4707

Early the next morning, Declan, Charrone, and McGregor conferred with Brother Zantus about what should be done with the house. The conclusion was that 80 years ago, Vorel Foxglove had tried to become a lich, but failed (which always has dire consequences), and that his evil spirit must have possessed the entire house. The patch of mold in Vorel’s inner sanctum, where the heroes finally defeated Aldern, was most likely the source of the spirit. McGregor suggested that the broken seven-sided box they saw underneath the mold was most likely the remains of Vorel’s phylactery. Zantus concurred.

Declan suggested that Zantus help them exorcise Vorel’s spirit from the house, or else the house will just possess somebody else. Zantus agreed, and said that the spell dispel evil would most likely banish Vorel’s spirit back to the Great Beyond. Declan said that he was not yet attuned sufficiently with his goddess to be granted that level of divine magicks. “I’m not, either, but I do have this…” He opened up a locked golden coffer, which was filled with scroll cases. He removed one of the cases, opened it up, and looked through the scrolls inside. “Aha. Here it is.” He removed a scroll from the case and put it in another, plainer case, and then put the rest back.

The party, plus Zantus, returned to Foxglove Manor, arriving mid-morning. They went straight to the chamber below the house. Several haunts that they’d seen the previous day manifested again, but this time, they were ready, and between Declan, Zantus, and Charrone were able to channel enough positive energy at them to prevent them from doing any harm. In Vorel’s lab, the evil patch of fungus had completely grown back. Declan read the incantation from the scroll, and he could feel the positive energy from the heavens course through him and at the center of the corruption. The purplish humanoid-shaped fungus gurgled like a drowned man, and ripped itself off the wall! It took two staggering steps toward the clerics, but then collapsed into a pile of dust. The remaining mold on the wall crackled with positive energy, and also dried up.

Charrone felt for the presence of evil spirits, and for the first time in the house, did not feel any.

The seven of them then took several hours doing a careful search of the house. They found a few more valuables, which they secured, but did not find any more clues about the Brothers, Father Skinsaw, or the Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms. Satisfied that the exorcism was complete, they returned to Sandpoint.

Sunday, 16 Lamashan 4707

The next day, the party prepared to travel to Magnimar. Zandu and McGregor purchased new horses. Declan did some research in the cathedral library, and found a reference to “Father Skinsaw”— apparently, Father Skinsaw is one of the aspects of Norgorber, god of dark secrets. This aspect of Norgober seeks to change the world through the deaths of key people through the holes such deaths leave in the fabric of society.

The smith Das Korvut also approached Halfred, to inform him that the mithril he’d ordered for that suit of armor had finally arrived, and that he would start work on it tomorrow. It would probably be at least a month before it would be ready, though, as mithril is a difficult metal to work.

Zandu spoke with Sheriff Hemlock, and informed him that he intended to join the Sandpoint Heroes as a member, rather than as a liaison to the town watch, and that they all planned to leave for Magnimar in the morning. Hemlock smiled, and said, “That doesn’t surprise me. I thought you’d outgrow this town at some point. You’ve been a great watchman, and I wish you luck! You are coming back eventually, right?”

Moonday, 17 Lamashan 4707

The party set south on the Lost Coast Road shortly after sunrise. The rain finally broke, and the sun shone through broken clouds on a cool and windy day. After about an hour on the road, the macadam pavement gave way to muddy ruts, and after two hours on the road, they had passed the last of the farms and entered wild territory. Sill, the Lost Coast Road was fairly well-traveled, and they passed a few small villages. They stopped at the village of Brentwood near noon, which had a surprisingly well-appointed tavern for such a small place. “Yeah, these villages tend to pop up where travelers are likely to stop,” said Halfred. Still, they passed few other travelers on the road itself.

Two hours later, the party was following the road through a small but dense woods. Up ahead, they saw that a pike had been propped across the road, and that three horsemen and two pikemen stood behind it. As they approached, one of the horsemen and the pikemen approached. They all wore the livery of the Magnimar Elite Guard.

“Hello, travelers!” said the horseman. “I’m Lieutenant Crabtree of the Magnimar Guard. How are you today?” The pikemen, who actually held guisarmes, stood by gruffly.

Charrone replied, “We’re fine. What is going on here?”

The soldier seemed to be looking over the party carefully. “Well, you see, Magnimar has now imposed a toll on the Lost Coast Road. It’s… twenty ducats per person, and thirty per horse, so that’s…” he paused, as if to calculate, “…three hundred gold ducats for you all to pass. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Um, what?” asked Halfred. “I’ve been traveling this road for years, and I’ve never heard of a toll.”

McGregor said, “Hey, how about you just take five gold each instead.”

Ignoring McGregor, the soldier said, “Yes, well, it’s new. It doesn’t seem to be very popular, but orders are orders. I’m sure you could understand, m’Lady?” he added to Charrone, apparently recognizing her heraldry.

“Of course, if it’s a legitimate order, we’ll pay,” said Charrone. Halfred look at her like she was insane. “We’d just need to see the order letter.” Now that they were closer, Charrone noted that the heraldry of the guards wasn’t quite right. “Huh— I thought that the Magnimar Elite Guard’s second quarter blazon was scarlet, a gryphon rampant; yours appears to have a lion rampant in that quarter.” She paused. “The order letter, please?”

McGregor said, “How about ten gold each instead?” Everyone continued to ignore him.

The soldier smirked, and whistled loudly and raised his arm. Four archers made themselves apparent in trees alongside the road, each about 15 feet up. All had arrows nocked and pointed at the party.

McGregor said, “Fifteen gold?”

Halfred laughed. “You know, how bout you just call off your little bowmen right now, and we won’t kill you.”

The smirk left the soldier, and he dropped his arm. Four arrows whizzed into the party; all either missed or bounced off armor.

“Right. ATTACK!” shouted Charrone, and she charged her warhorse at the soldier, striking him with her sword. She then reared her horse, which struck him with its hoof. The footmen were ready, though, and attempted to dismount her with their polearms, but the paladin managed to stay in her saddle. Halfred was struck by an arrow from the mounted archer behind the pike, and McGregor noticed that the other mounted soldier cast some kind of defensive spell.

The fight was on! Halfred and Charrone took on the leader, while Durrok fired at one footman, and Zandu engaged the other, all while under fire from the archers in the trees. The spellcaster, who they now could see was a human woman, cast lightning bolt, striking Zandu and McGregor. However, both managed to shake off most of the effect, and McGregor countered with a fireball of his own. This dropped both of the hoses from under the sorceress and the archer. Zandu dropped one of the footmen, and after the other managed to slash Halfred, he skewered him right back. Halfred’s strike was particularly gruesome: his mithril ranseur punched right between the plates of the footman’s armor and straight through his abdomen, severing his spine. The man collapsed in a bloody heap. McGregor hit the sorceress with a scorching ray, interrupting the spell she was casting. At the same time, Charrone sliced the leader across the face, knocking him out, and Declan knocked a sniper out of a tree with a fire bolt.

With the leader down, the archer and two snipers fled into the woods, and the sorceress and the other two snipers surrendered. Upon interrogation, the party learned that this was the remains of the Bilger Gang, a notorious band of brigands that had been plaguing the Lost Coast Road for years. However, since Shaz “Redshiv” Bilger himself had gone missing (actually, Halfred still had his head in a bag), Garl Drenditt had taken over and was trying out a new plan. “Hmm,” said Halfred, “What a great plan! Next time, demand a smaller toll from heavily armed people. You might live longer. Oh, wait— you’re not going to get a next time!” The sorceress refused to identify herself, but the party heard one of the snipers refer to her as Neela.

The heroes provided first aid to those bandits that still lived, and also healed the bandits’ horses. The lashed the bandits to their own horses, and led them down the road.

At dusk, they arrived at the village of Garret’s Landing, where they checked in to the Flaming Tankard Inn. They bought the poorest provisions possible for their prisoners, and kept them under guard.

The night passed without incident.

Toilday, 18 Lamashan 4707

They set off again the next morning. As the day wore on, the land became more and more settled as they approached the city of Magnimar. They also began to pass more and more travelers on the road.

Three hours past noon, a troupe of town guards stopped the party to inquire why they had prisoners (and to make sure they weren’t slavers). When shown the fake Elite Guard uniforms, let them continue on. “At the main gate, tell the guards that you’ve captured most of the Bilger Gang, and you’ll be escorted right to the Arvensoar. You’ll need to make a statement there. You’ll probably be asked to testify at their trial.”

The party arrived at the East Gate just at sunset.

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The Curse Is Broken
Session 29 (part 2)

Fireday, 14 Lamashan 4707, evening

[Note: Please read Part 1 first.]

Complete and total darkness fell through the room. Terrifyingly, the heroes all heard The Skinsaw Man whisper, “I can smell your fear! Oh, and I can see you just fine!” Charrone felt the pain of a cold steel blade slash her side. Summoning the power of the Iomedae into Brightblade, she shouted, “By the Inheritor, I smite thee, thing of evil!” and swung her sword at the spot that Aldern had been, but her blade didn’t connect with anything at all.

“I’ll kill you, undead scum!” shouted Halfred, as he plunged his ranseur at where he remembered the ghoul to be, but the enraged Ulfen warrior only felt the blade hit the stone wall.

“I don’t have to see you!” shouted Declan, channeling the fires of Sarenrae.

Aldern hissed, “Ugh… you’ve got to do better than that, little priest. No sunlight shines here!” Charrone shouted in pain again as he slashed her a second time.

“Hey, ugly!” shouted Durrok, “Guess what? Dwarves can see in the dark too!” He fired his crossbow, and hit Aldern’s left arm. The ghoul hissed. Durrok also noticed that Aldern was now wearing the mask that had been on the arm of his leather chair. “Halfred! He’s trying to flank you on the left!”

McGregor fumbled through his pouch and found a potion of darkvision, which he quaffed, and surveyed the room. He cast a spell, and a jet of flame shot from his hand, briefly engulfing the ghoul. Aldern continued pressing his attack on Charrone, who was having a very hard time determining the ghoul’s position.

Meanwhile, Zandu was distracted. Through the darkness, he could see only one thing: the glowing humanoid outline of the fungus growing on the wall. A strange thought entered his mind: the fungal growth was drawing in all the light, and he could free the light by taking some of the fungus into himself. He approached the evil-looking patch, and reached out to pick some, but suddenly came to his senses and pulled back his hand. He no longer saw the patch as glowing, but could certainly smell it. He stepped back and threw a flask of alchemist’s fire at it.

Charrone was reeling from multiple slashes with the razor, and neither she nor Halfred was able to get a fix on Aldern’s position to strike him. However, Declan channeled more of Sarenrae’s divine energy, Durrok sot him again, and McGregor fired another scorching ray, this time hitting him square int the face. At this, Aldern screamed, as his skin burst into flame, and he collapsed to the floor. “Father… Skinsaw… curse you..,” he gasped and then stopped moving.

Durrok and McGregor sounded the all clear, and they retreated from the room, dragging Aldern’s body behind them. As they waited for the darkness to ebb, they searched Adlern’s body. Most curious was the strange leather mask he wore. McGregor cast detect magic and found that the mask, his cape, his shoes, a pair of leather armbands, and his war razor all were magical. He also had some money and a keyring on his person. The ring had two smaller rings on it: one held several keys, including one that looked exactly like the front door key to Foxglove Manor. The second smaller ring held but two keys: a small brass key with an unusually long tang, and a large iron key set with a round opal. He also had a small cameo with Charrone’s image.

After half an hour, the darkness in the room disappated, and the party examined what was left behind. Declan and Charrone healed everyone while they had waited.

First of all, the patch of fungus had mostly burned away, but Zandu noted that it seemed to be already starting to grow back. They examined the junk that was arranged in neat rows on the low table, and Charrone felt her skin crawl to learn that they were all items that she had used: a tankard and lightly soiled napkin from the Rusty Dragon; a hair comb she thought she’d mislaid; a pair of her stockings; an envelope containing a lock of hair that matched hers in color and thickness; two empty potion bottles that seemed familiar. Also on the table were a pile of papers. Most were charcoal drawings of Charrone and Aldern, many of which were erotic: some of Charrone with a living Aldern, and others of her with an undead Aldern. They also found clippings from two Korvosan newspapers from earlier in the year that mentioned Charrone’s resignation from the Hellknights. And they also found a letter written in a very neat hand:

Aldern—

You have served us extremely well. The delivery you harvested from the caverns below your manor house far exceeds what I had hoped for. You may consider your debt to the Brothers to be paid in full. Yet, I still have need of you, and when you awaken from your death, you should find your mind clear and able to understand this task more than in the state you lie in as I write this.

I trust that you shall remember the workings of the Sihedron Ritual. You seemed quite lucid at the time, but if you find after your rebirth that you have forgotten, return to your townhouse in Magnimar. My agents shall contact you there soon—no need for you to bother the Brothers any further. I will provide a list of the proper victims for the Sihedron Ritual in two days’ time. Commit that list to memory and then destroy it before you begin your work. The ones I have selected must be marked before they die, otherwise they do my Master no good and the greed in their souls will go to waste.

If others get in your way, though, you may do with them as you please. Eat them, savage them, or turn them into pawns. It matters not to me.

—Your Mistress, Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms

The painting was another of Iesha Foxglove, but this one had been painted over in blood, to make Iesha look more like Charrone. They also collected the valuable dishes and crystal (after a brief cleaning), and returned to the first floor of the manor house, and went back to the front door.

It was now dark, and still raining, but with McGregor’s dancing lights, they could see that the flocks of undead ravens were still perched on the ruins of the carriage house. They went outside, and the ravens took to the air and flew right at the adventurers! Although they had been silent, as soon as they took to the air, they all began making a horrifying noise, something between a caw and a croak.

McGregor and Declan glanced at each other, and each cast a fireball into the flocks. The resulting explosions destroyed most of the undead ravens, and drove off the rest. Zandu’s and McGregor’s horses were dead, but Durrok was able to track the other horses down and lead them back to the house. They loaded up and rode back to Sandpoint, arriving back in town about three hours before midnight.

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The Skinsaw Man
Session 29 (part 1)

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!

[Continued…]

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