Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar

The undead plague appears to have been contained, for the time being, but Foxglove Manor is a problem beyond the powers of Sandpoint's heroes to cleanse on their own. They decided to venture south to Magnimar to enlist the help of a priest, but also to investigate the strange letters found in the den of the creature that had once been Aldern Foxglove. Something is brewing in Magnimar... but what?

- 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
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House

All caught up? Good... now, on with the story...

Corruption in Magnimar

The big city... where the horizon is wide, and the CRs are high.
After a brief stop to let Sheriff Hemlock know what's happening, and to make sure Chikara knows the danger hasn't passed yet, they mounted up for the brief ride south to Magnimar. The city of statues, Magnimar was a place of wealth, sophistication, and history. A place where no one, not Zhakar with his twisted iron gauntlet, Thok with his heavy shoulders and strange accent, Zordlan with his inhuman features, or Mirelinda and her belts of jingling coins drew so much as a second glance from most people.

Which was for the best. Hunters don't want to draw the attention of their prey.

The first order of business was to seek aid from the Church of Desna. Zordlan sought out the church, explaining the esoteric nature of what lurked in the basement of Foxglove Manor. He told them how it had been beaten, but that it would regain its power if it was not exorcised. While he talked with the holy men, Zhakar and Thokk reconnoitered the town house where Aldern had been living for the past several years. If there was going to be a clue about what bizarre scheme the young nobleman had been involved in, that was where they would find it.

Stalkers and Skinsaws

I figured he'd have been able to afford better than this.
Once everyone had come together again, they agreed that the smart thing to do was to breech the estate, and find out what there was to be found out. So, while taking care not to look either too suspicious or too heavily armed, they ducked behind the hedges, and slipped Aldern's key in the lock. As the door creaked open, though, they smelled something. Beneath the dust and disuse there was a sickly odor... something corrupt. Something wrong.

The door had barely closed at their backs when they saw a figure through a doorway. It looked like Aldern, but off somehow; as if his face were covered in mud, or heavy makeup. They had barely taken a step toward the figure, when another leaped from the shadows of a nearby room. It was like a twin to the first figure, but as they looked at him his face ran in rivulets, his features twisting and weeping away as the face sloughed off. Beneath was only a blank canvas of whorls and callouses, breath hissing through the slits that may have been nostrils as it brought steel to bear.

With the second figure rushing into the fray, there was no time to let surprise dictate the battle. Thok had left his spear behind in the close confines of the city, and he drew the hand-and-a-half sword he'd slung from his back, tossing the scabbard away as he traded blows with the melting horror that had rushed him from the shadows. Zhakar batted away the blade from the second creature, the spikes of his gauntlet shrieking as he reached for his short blade. Zordlan danced around the strewn furniture, seeking advantage while staying out of the thing's grasp.

The Faceless Stalkers were more than disturbing foes... if they laid their touch upon you, they could drain away your very life essence!

Her dark complexion going pale, Mirelinda stepped back from the fray, snatching the thin, bone wand from up her sleeve. A flick of her wrist sent jets of fire bursting along the hard knobs of the creatures' flesh, drawing thin whines of pain from their mouthless heads. Steel clashed, and black ichor flowed down Zordlan's blade as it slammed through one of the Stalkers from behind. Before it could turn to take vengeance, Zhakar smashed his fist into the side of its head, his gauntlet crushing the skull into pulp and fragments. Nearby, Bostwick attempted to distract the final foe, flanking it to buy Thok the opening he needed. Thok raised his sword over his head, gritting his teeth as the creature slammed a blow into his chest. He snarled, bringing the blade down and hacking deep into its body. Black ichor spurted, and it fell to the floor, twitching before it died.

Panting and bloodied, the companions paused to listen. No more enemies materialized from the darkness. Communicating in silence, Zhakar and Thok formed a hunter's pair, each covering the other. Bostwick snuck ahead, his small size and light frame making him all but unnoticeable. Zordlan brought up the rear, his rapier idly shifting like a restless serpent as he guarded Mirelinda's back.

They found no more foes, but they did find more papers. Letters written to Aldern, and sealed with a bizarre symbol. Also mentions of what sounded like a cult... and most importantly, a location of where one could go to find more members. People who had dedicated themselves to the deranged worship of Father Skinsaw, and who sought to set a light not just to Sandpoint, but the very foundations of Magnimar as well!

The True Face of The Blades

The clues found in the townhouse pointed to a sawmill on the docks. One that was easy to find, and which was also running with a full crew to judge from the sound. The front door, such as it was, had been locked. There was a lower door, though, and one out of sight to viewers on the street. It was locked, but hammering on it did bring someone.

I am just getting the strangest sense of deja vu here.
The man at the door seemed like a typical, workaday laborer. Shouting over the grinding wheels inside, he demanded to know the business of the motley group of strangers. While Zhakar tried to convince him they were there on behalf of Foxglove, the man simply wasn't buying it. That was when something crawled up Zhakar's spine; a sense of a familiar evil he had encountered before. In that moment, he could practically smell the darkness this man had dipped his soul in; a darkness more than mere, human wickedness.

Zhakar lashed out, driving a blow into the man's mid-section. For a moment he wasn't sure that his senses had led him correctly, but when the man raised his head, a madness gleamed in his gaze; the glazed, feral expression that proved his workman's manner had simply been another mask. He drew a pair of wicked war razors, and with a bloody smile leaped to attack.

The door was a bottleneck, but several more hammer blows drove the man to his knees, and the door was breached. Other workmen had taken notice of the scuffle, despite the noise, and they had taken a moment to don crazed hoods with a single, bulging, red eye. Symbols of Father Skinsaw, jagged and taut, they showed their true, murderous faces of his devotees.

Bostwick dashed over the narrow walkways with no difficulty, his fists smashing bone and bruising muscle as he slipped past the slashing razors. Zordlan contained the walkway, ensuring that the masked men couldn't mount an offense that would overwhelm his companions. Thok drew his bow, ignoring the roaring fury of the gears and sending shafts into any who wore one of the wicked hoods. Several fell into the grinding gears below, gone without so much as a chance to scream.

All The Way To The Top

The workers at the lowest level were far from the only ones in the mill, and all of them wore the same, deranged masks as their fellow cult members. All of them were scythed down, going to see what reward their Skinsaw Man gave to those who had done the dying rather than the killing.

But it wasn't until they reached the final level that they found something truly disturbing. A small room covered in bizarre prayers written in blood, all of them glorifying a bloody-mouthed god of murder. At first the room seemed empty, as well... but just as Thok turned to say there was no one there, something struck him, and sent him sprawling.

Who the hell? Piss off, ghost!
Standing in the room, the curtain of invisibility torn away, was a tall, powerfully-built man. With a gleaming buckler in one hand, and a blade in the other, there is something disturbing in his smile. A glimmering of someone whose madness was no less pronounced than his followers', but simply better hidden.

It couldn't hide from Zhakar, though. Seeing his friend bleeding and wounded, the head of this cult standing over him, a change flickered across his face. Something seemed to fill him, and he rushed forward. There were no battle cries, no threats... just the eerie silence of judgment, and the pounding of his boots.

Zhakar attacked like a man indifferent to his own wounds, as long as he slew his foe. His blade driving like a nail, his arm like a hammer, he plunged in past the man's defenses again and again. The figure's blood ran red, and though the man landed a blow or two of his own, Most of the gouges simply scraped away Zhakar's skin to reveal that smooth coating of steel just beneath. Thok drew himself to his feet, his sword joining his friend's as they backed the man further against the wall, denying him a chance to escape, or a chance to reach their other companions. For a moment it seemed like the cult's leader might try to flee, but then he gasped, and his eyes went dark. Zhakar held him for a moment, then dropped his body to the ground. His black hand was slick with blood, his sword wet from where it had pierced the man's heart.

Zordlan sheathed his rapier, and began a quick inventory of the room as the others regrouped. Zhakar leaned against the wall like a man trying to find his equilibrium after a storm-tossed time at sea, the rents in his skin slowly closing over. Thok clapped him on the shoulder, speaking softly in Hallit before cutting a piece of the dead man's tunic to wipe away the blood dripping from his friend's weapon.

That was when they heard a curse from Zordlan.

The dead man on the floor may have attacked them first. He may have been a madman, and a head of a cult dedicated to murder and torture. He may even have had a hand in the crimes of Aldern Foxglove, according to some of the notes in the bloodstained journal he kept. But he was also a judge, and one of great repute within the city.

Could things get worse for our heroes? Find out on the next Table Talk installment where they face the fallout, and uncover even deeper plots among the spires and shadows of Magnimar!

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