Slippery Slopes

After Balekh hurriedly patches up Veshenga’s wounds from the spectral ghouls—and worries about what strange haunted infection the ghouls might have given her—the party rushes down the stairs into what appears to be a massive limestone cave system beneath the house. Everywhere, there is the sound of a thudding heartbeat, or perhaps just the sound of the waves smashing against the cliffs. Parts of the caves look carved, while others appear natural, but all are coated with the undead mold that has infiltrated the house above.

Veshenga quickly tracks Iesha’s footprints, and the party rushes into the next room, where ghoul guardians spring an assault and cry for aid in their unholy tongue. Veshenga pincushions the first ghoul before they swarm in, taking swipes and bites. Haggor and Taeva tumble through, smashing and stabbing at ghouls. Just as the first three are defeated, the reinforcements come howling into the room. Balekh drives two away, but is bitten by one that could not be turned, while Taeva has a frenzied battle with one that she stabbed from behind as it ran past. Eventually, a running battle finishes the last of the ghouls at the door to a huge, vaguely luminescent cavern, where the late afternoon light filters in to give an impression of a massive, slick, mold-slimed caldera into a frothing ocean pit.

Across the room is a shattered door, and Veshenga is convinced that Iesha made for it, so Haggor rushes into the cavern, balancing carefully. He is swarmed by a handful of goblin ghouls that had been waiting in hiding. One is quickly grabbed and tossed down a tier of the cavern, and it thuds, completely dead, and slides into the pool at the center of the room. The rest of the party carefully makes its way into the room, moving slowly to maintain footing, and the goblin ghouls quickly are smashed, stabbed, perforated, and knocked into the pit. Haggor finishes the last goblin off by taking a flying elbow dive down a tier, landing with full force onto the ghoul that was struggling to climb back up to the fight.

As the rest of the heroes slowly make their way around the edge of the pit, Haggor takes the short way back up to the shattered door, and hears the sound of fighting within. Dashing into a smaller room, he has only a moment to take in its sheer monstrosity: fine furniture caked in blood, remnants of gruesome meals, a man-shaped pile of oozing mold on the wall, and two Ieshas—one cowering on the floor while the other cackles and chops at her with a war razor. Quickly recognizing the posture that the revenant had made when cowering from her own reflection, Haggor makes a snap judgment and charges what he assumes is a glamered Aldern, smashing the figure in the face in mid-cackle. He connects, and feels a strange leathery mask that is neither the illusory face or what he’d expect punching a ghoul. Meanwhile, Balekh, Veshenga, and Taeva begin to scramble across the slippery terrain to try to catch up to the monk.

Inside the room, the non-Iesha turns to Haggor and rasps out in a ghoulish version of Aldern’s voice, “Oh, hey Haggor. Just give me a moment to finish her off then we can talk about this.” He then takes a couple more swipes at his murdered wife. Haggor, having none of it, switches to a wrestling hold, arms passing through the illusory image of a dead woman and feeling tattered finery and viscera underneath. He reaches up and rips at where he felt the leather before, flinging a mask of cured human skin across the room and revealing Aldern in all of his necrotic glory. Suddenly realizing his plight, as Iesha’s eyes glow in hatred and her wounds begin to close, the Skinsaw Man claws and bites to free himself. Haggor resists mightily, but cannot quite resist the venom from Aldern’s claws, feeling himself becoming paralyzed.

Aldern extricates himself just in time to receive a furious barrage of attacks from the revenant. Finding himself with no clear path from the room, he attempts to finish her off before she can finish him, getting in a few good but in no way mortal hits. Shifting a bit, he moves to put the paralyzed monk in between himself and the revenant, perhaps having the sense that she will kill anything in her way or perhaps just out of the overwhelming cowardice he exhibited as a mortal.

Just as Iesha begins to reorient—decayed, clawlike fingernails poised to rip the heavily-wounded Haggor out of her way—the rest of the party comes piling in through the door. Veshenga rushes in first. Aldern has a moment of realization. “Veshenga, my lov…” he begins, cutting to a strangled death-rattle as her arrow lodges itself deep in his throat. He falls back into the mound of mold, and Iesha, her murderer destroyed, closes her eyes and collapses into a corpse with her claws an inch from Haggor’s face.

Balekh begins healing Haggor as the paralytic venom wears off, then examines the man-shaped shadow of mold. The two conclude that this was Vorel Foxglove, now existing in some kind of partial lichdom. They find his phylactery smashed on the floor but cannot remove it, and burning the mold merely results in it quickly beginning to grow back. Balekh concludes that he’ll need to come back with more powerful consecration magic.

Veshenga investigates the room, finding a dressmaker’s dummy covered with stolen articles of her clothing, posed for a horrible painting of her that Aldern seemed to be making as much out of blood and excrement as from pigments. Claw-held charcoal drawings of her litter the impromptu studio, as if made from her bedroom window while she slept.

Meanwhile, Taeva sorts through the rest of the workspace, finding a few interesting keys and a very significant letter:

Aldern—

You have served us well. The delivery you harvested exceeds what I had hoped for. You may consider your debt to the Brothers 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 as I write this.

You shall remember the workings of the ritual, I trust. You seemed quite lucid at the time, but if you find after your rebirth that you have forgotten, return to Magnimar. My agents will find you; no need to bother the Brothers further.

I will provide the list of proper victims for the 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—remember that cutting the glyph is not strictly necessary, but if you must, try not to let them bleed to death before you finish.

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. Perhaps you should claim this “Veshenga” whom you mentioned to me previously and kept calling for in your delirium; from what I have heard of the late goings-on in Sandpoint, you would be doing me a favor by taking her and her companions out of the equation.

—Your Mistress, Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms

Now suspicious that their next stop in this plot is somewhere in Magnimar, the party finishes looting the body and the remaining rooms in the basement, then heads out. The undead crows begin to give chase, but pull back as Balekh’s turning obliterates a wide swath of the storm of ghoul birds. They retrieve their horses at the nearby farm, and spend the night in the barn. Only Taeva gets a good night’s rest as the remainder of the party work to help one another medically with their ghoul fever infections. The next day, they return to Sandpoint and continue their ministrations to conclude their vulnerability to the illness. Taeva, while the rest sleep, debriefs the sheriff and helps him come up with a plan for ensuring that no more ghouls are loose in the countryside.

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