The Skinsaw Murders, Part 9

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Gnomes and Tigers and Beers

It takes a few days for the party to settle into Magnimar. Dissatisfied with the availability and cost of inn lodgings in the town, Taeva and Veshenga rent a small apartment for the winter. It is normally used for traveling merchants that can’t afford a year-round house in the city. Balekh and Shayliss find a similar apartment, paying a premium for a loft in one of the taller buildings near the wizard’s school. Haggor simply takes a room at the hippodrome, paying for his room and board by cooking for the entertainers.

After a week of settling in and beginning training, Balekh has finished his crafting and acquired a scroll of Dispel Evil. The party takes a day to head back to Foxglove Manor, threading their way through the mostly harmless haunts, and returning to the basement. There, Balekh unleashes the scroll and destroys the vestiges of the lich haunting the house. The entire structure shudders, but does not collapse at the loss of its evil heart. As they leave, there are no further haunts, and much of the overwhelming mold and grime seems to have simply faded away, leaving a house unoccupied for months but not in the extreme state of disrepair the spectral haunts had indicated. Balekh begins trying to burn it to the ground anyway, but Haggor stops him and reminds him that there are two Foxglove daughters still potentially alive who should inherit the house. They agree to try to track them down rather than destroying the house.

The second week in Magnimar finds Taeva being used as a counter-thief by the Princess of Sails. As she keeps an eye out for shoplifters, cutpurses, and muggers, she can’t help but feel a vague sense of foreboding from somewhere in Underbridge. This sense persists throughout her stay in the city, strong during the day and weaker at night. She eventually makes a trip into the slums to try to narrow down the source, but finds nothing more than an area ripe with criminals and con men. Her easy way with climbing and casing various locations results in having to fend off invitations to join cat burgling rings.

After two weeks in the city, Balekh is approached by the Stone of Seers’ headmaster. The old man seems very taken with Shayliss—somewhat offensively so—but his interest has led him to conclude that she is drawing her power from an infernal pact of some kind, as Balekh had already suspected. He gives the aspiring theurge a rundown of the history of such bargains in Cheliax, explaining that even contracts that are concluded with no souls being claimed still leave a taint on the bloodline. A young Chelish woman tapping mystic power through sorcery rather than wizardry could easily find such power answered and fed by the nascent infernal bonds. He strongly cautions Balekh to make sure the young woman isn’t overwhelmed by such energies.

Meanwhile, Haggor has been trying to make friends with the hippodrome’s gladiatorial tiger, but having little luck. A nightly discussion amongst the group reminds Balekh that he has a spare potion of Speak with Animals taken from the goblin druid, and he hands it over to the monk. The next day, Haggor downs the potion and has a conversation with the tiger, who opines that he wants to get out and hunt. Somehow, Haggor smuggles him out of the arena and convinces him not to go after any of the humans in town. The city guard is taken aback by a half-orc with a tiger, but Haggor convinces them that he’s on his way out of the city to take some exercise. They shakily escort him to the north gate, and, after a few more moments of conversation, point out that the tiger has bolted for the woods. Haggor rushes off after him, and finds that the tiger has apparently gone stir-crazy, killing a couple of deer in the woods just for the thrill of the hunt. As the light fades, he finally spots the great cat hiding behind a tree, and grapples the beast into submission. The guards are equally distraught to see the half-orc return with a moping tiger slung over his shoulder, and escort him back to the arena. Haggor puts the cat back in his cage, annoyed at his betrayal. Later in the week, Haggor meets with the master of games, Jorston Droaeb, and the old dwarf queries him on his fighting style. Axetongue can’t put his finger on it, but something about Haggor’s style seems familiar, but he can’t seem to recall it being used by his typical fighters.

After nearly a month in town, the party has consistently begun to hear rumors about murders in the city that the police can no longer keep quiet. The guards are trying to play them off as robberies, but the growing consensus is that several rich people have been murdered; as a killer that only kills the rich is not much of a threat to the common populace, speculation abounds. However, to the heroes of Sandpoint, this sounds like yet another uprising of the murders they just put a stop to in their own town.

The first stop is a local guardsman, who cannot comment on open investigations, but who takes them to his superior. The sergeant they speak to is a gruff-spoken man that clearly has little use for adventurers and vigilantes. They at least convince him to talk to Hemlock about whether the case seems similar. Sensing that there’s little more progress they can make on this front until the Sheriff vouches for them, they decides to take up some other outstanding investigations: Veshenga and Haggor will try to track down Foxglove’s residence in town to look for further clues, while Balekh and Taeva will look into the strange feeling she’s been having about Underbridge.

Veshenga and Haggor’s first stop is the local tax office, hoping that there will be property records for Aldern Foxglove. Conveniently, there is one right down the street from the local guard post, and they begin asking the clerk about tracking down an address. The clerk asks them for their names and addresses, intimating that he cannot help them locate other taxpayers until they are taxpaying citizens themselves. Even Haggor’s attempt to bribe the man is merely accepted as pre-payment for his tax debt. Baffled, the two put on their best bluffing faces and put down the names and addresses of Balekh and Taeva. Unfortunately, even after this little bit of tax fraud, the only information the clerk can provide them is that Foxglove is a city taxpayer. He suggests that they check out he main tax office for more information.

Meanwhile, Balekh and Taeva have wandered into Underbridge. Balekh detects magic as he walks, and Taeva does everything in her power to prevent him from being mugged and pickpocketed as he wanders aimlessly. Unfortunately, the area is too big for his sixty-foot radius to make much of an impact, and his spell quickly wears out after confirming little more than the magical potency of the bridge itself. He changes tactics and begins to detect evil. Though many of the people have a faint aura of evil, the first stronger aura he picks up on turns out to be a small imp, being used as little more than an organ grinder’s monkey for a tall and imposing man. This sorcerer, calling himself Faizul, claims great power and mystery… but quickly turns out to be little more than an underfed street performer down on his luck. They take him for a meal, and find out that there are possibly a wide variety of cults and secrets in the area, but learn nothing of any real use.

Veshenga and Haggor have, by now, made it to the city’s main tax office. Behind the desk is a very elderly dwarf woman. She says that the name Foxglove sounds very familiar, but it is not one she has heard in some time. She takes down their names and what they’re looking for, and asks them to come back the next day after she’s had time to look through the records.

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Blacklight

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Staring into the Darkness

Hell is underground. In the depths of the mines, in the heart of caves, in the far reaches of ancient cities, it waits. It claws into the darkness of the underworld, flowing through it like sludge through the seas, looking for a way out to the sky. Things move in the hell-tainted darkness, formed from nightmare and black light. They dig towards the surface, lay traps, and always seek to claw their way into our world. Sometimes, they find it, breaking open a dungeon maw, their corruption spreading across the night to terrorize nearby innocents until driven back inside by the dawn.

These assaults inevitably inspire heroes to rise up, put down the incursion, and seek to seal the newly opened dungeon. Sometimes, it is enough to collapse the entrance and hope it will be years, again, before something else digs free. Others establish a vigil of light at its gate, burning great fires so the blacklight cannot slip free and form horrors anywhere in the night, and fighting back the creatures that brave the light. But some, the truly brave or the truly mad, descend into the dungeons, carrying what light they can and seeking to destroy the heart of the incursion, making the warrens safe for an age. These adventurers find more than just danger, however.

Every dungeon has a story, some event that allowed evil to crawl free. Some were the lairs of criminals. Others were dead-ends where innocents fled and died. Many were once great cities, before the last great civilization was struck down by its own greed. A few have gathered new stories of the adventurers that died within. In almost all cases, the artifacts of the dungeon’s story remain, foul creatures forming around them like cysts, living out shadow versions of the tale. If the guardians can be dispatched or bypassed, the artifacts make great prizes, wealth beyond the rewards of honest labor, treasures rarely seen in the modern age. Many that delve into the darkness on a simple mission of hope soon develop another agenda for braving the shadows.

These adventurers find not just gold and magic, but knowledge. Something about fighting these creatures teaches skills long lost to the world. The few great sages claim that the last era of heroes led directly to the fall of civilization and the rise of the blacklight, and the darkness remembers its forebears. Whatever the reason, those that delve into dungeons emerge with prowess and potency far beyond the common warriors and adepts who make up the armies of men. They are paladins and rangers, sorcerers and bards, and many other titles known only in songs. Quickly, their horror-won proficiency makes them without peer amongst normal men. They are sought not just to protect against new dungeon breakthroughs, but to bend the course of wars.

Skilled in might and magic, rich from ancient treasures, and possessed of skills unknown to this age of the world, adventuring seems a noble and worthwhile effort. But there is a secret known only to the few that have delved into dungeons and traded the stories of their journeys. The blacklight creatures are formless nightmares as they lurk unmolested in their tombs. It is perception that catalyzes them into being, and they take their forms and powers from the darkest reaches of the minds that perceive them. Great men have so much more to dread, and adventurers quickly progress from simple things like goblins to much greater horrors than the common mind can conceive. At every turn, these heroes marvel that most of what they face seems just within the limits of their skills, not realizing that what they face lies just within the limits of their imaginations. The blacklight grows stronger with strong minds to pattern it. Breakthroughs near a town with experienced adventurers can be truly terrible to the population, and true horrors lurk in tombs that great heroes failed to destroy. In time, many adventurers come to wonder whether they are truly helping the world, or merely feeding some dark, hellish agenda that seeks to remake the powers of the last age… and once again pull civilization to the brink.

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