Friday, November 30, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House

The undead are roaming Sandpoint's countryside, threatening not just the town, but also their ability to feed themselves. If the ghouls aren't killed soon, and the ghast that created them stopped, then it could spiral out of control to threaten Magnimar, Riddleport, and the other prominent cities of Varisia. It was after slaying a pack of the creatures that our heroes found a key... a key that might unlock what's been going on out in the farmlands.

If you need to get up to speed, the previous installments include:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls

Caught up? Lovely! Because today our heroes get to the heart of the matter with...

The Horror At Foxglove Manor

Foxglove Manor, an aging mansion down a narrow and twisting walk from Sandpoint, was the ancestral home of the Foxgloves. Aldern, though, barely went there at all (or so he'd told the heroes when they rescued him), and spent most of his time in Magnimar. When they approached the house, it was easy to see why he preferred the city life.

"Haunted?" Haunted. "Weapons?" Weapons.
Foxglove Manor, a sagging edifice looming over a cliff face like it was considering jumping, reeked of the haunted, and the unnatural. The front door yielded, the lock recently oiled, but inside the smell of decay, and a kind of sweet corruption, hung in the air. Tapestries moldered on the walls, the boards threatened to give way underfoot, and it seemed like whispers shushed from every darkened room.

The house knew they were inside, and it was not pleased.

The manor seemed a thing alive, haunted by a thousand little furies. A stuffed firepelt cougar that seemed alive, but which hadn't moved at all after Mirelinda blinked at it. A portrait above the fire that seemed to wail sorrowfully, making Zhakar's cursed right hand clench. A woman's scarf that rose from a chair to try to strangle Thokk. Enemies not of flesh and blood, but of malicious spirit flooded the place as murders of crows gathered about the eaves.

As they went room to room, they began to build a picture of what had happened at Foxglove Manor. They found symbols of an esoteric order related to a strange, 7-pointed star. They also found hidden keys that led to a basement replete with arcane and alchemical workings. Someone, likely a previous generation of the Foxgloves, had tried to conquer death by mixing the draught to become a lich. They failed... but perhaps not entirely. Their soul lingered, after a fashion, in the very stones and wood of the house. Turning the crumbling manse into a kind of phylactery.

But worse things were found below.

Down In The Depths

Beneath the basement of Foxglove Manor there was a hole that led to a tidal cave. Though the cavern was filled with terrible creatures, including several more ghouls, it was what lurked at the bottom of the spiral stone walkway that was truly a horror. Aldern Foxglove, dressed in ragged finery, and whispering to himself at a fever pitch as he stared at his sallow reflection in a huge, polished war razor.

When he turned and saw Mirelinda, though, a change came over him. His eyes went black, and his tongue lolled obscenely from his expanding jaw. His teeth, cracked and filed to daggers, clacked, and he advanced, taking on the form of a full, mad ghast.

Undeath is not kind to the sanity of those afflicted.
While his obsession with Mirelinda was enough to drive his mad mind to the brink of collapse, the presence of such an anathema brought something out in Zhakar. That white light began to shine from his eyes once more, and the skin around those glowing orbs began to crack and flake away, revealing the gleam of steel beneath. He gripped his sword more tightly, and it burst into black flames. He closed with the creature, standing between the thing that Aldern had become, and Mirelinda. The ghast snarled and lashed out, but Zhakar turned aside his razors with his gauntlet, and the creature's teeth scraped against the steel beneath his skin. It raged and howled, slashing in a frenzy, but Zhakar barely seemed to notice as he stood his ground.

The creature's forward momentum halted, Thokk charged into its flank, driving his spear hard against it. The ghast seemed to dance away, the cuts barely harming its undead flesh. Zordlan hurtled a wing-backed chair trying to take the ghast in the flank. It hissed, snarling as it tried to dodge aside from yet another blade. There was only one of him, though, and every time Zhakar drove his longsword home, the cuts burned and bled with ichor. Aldern stepped away, trembling, and falling to his knees. He panted, and begged for mercy. He seemed, for just a moment, to be himself again. But then the madness that had consumed him reared up once more, and he surged to his feet with a roar of mad laughter.

Three blades that had been lowered pierced his heart, and left the ghast dead on the floor.

There was something else in that cavern, though. A strange, man-shaped patch of mold along one wall. It smelled... wrong. Worse, it reeked of disease, and wickedness. The remains of Aldern's elder, the ghost in the foundations, couldn't reach out and hurt those who had slain Aldern... but it couldn't be simply wiped away with holy water. It would need to be exorcised... something none present could do.

They found one other thing, as well. A letter from a mysterious contact in Magnimar. She spoke of pacts, of deeds, and of the seven-pointed star. They would need to venture south for aid in order to purify Foxglove Manor, but while they were there it seemed there would be other business to attend to as well. Business that simply could not wait if they were to get to the heart of who had unleased the undead plague on Sandpoint.

What lurked in the shadows of Magnimar? Tune-in for the next Table Talk installment to find out!

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