Nightfall in Brelindia

22 - The King of Torches
The Knight and King of Wheels open the way to the forsworn soul of the Chamber.

The following morning Calkin and Renneth arrive with news. The various guards of the Chamber have been dried out, and they have described their trainer — a large man with a prosthetic boatman’s gaff for a left hand. Armed with that knowledge, Abbron returns to the surface. It doesn’t take long for him to suss out that this refers to a man named Carrach in Kilnbank who owns his own lumber business. He returns below and delivers the information to Honora and Baden. Bralta returns a couple of hours later. She explains she’s learned that Chandrevan frequents most of the taverns in Bastion Ward, particularly the Sovereign Remedy, but that he has occasional private meetings in the Counselor (and with no women in attendance).

The four choose Carrach as their next target. They catch him that evening as he and a pair of his thugs are walking through the storage yards from his business to the Fishing Cat tavern, and invite him to surrender quietly. He doesn’t, but his resistance avails him little.

Carrach doesn’t withstand interrogation long. He seems very afraid of Chandrevan, but also aware that he doesn’t have much of a future if he doesn’t talk. He reveals that the Herald of Wheels is a man named Geldrich, and his King is Cyr Talath of Bastion Ward. Talath has been acting peculiar of late as well; he participated little in the last revel, and has been oddly withdrawn. The group sends Carrach and his two men to the Valysans as well.

They decide to move quickly on Cyr Talath. If he shows signs of a possible troubled conscience, he may be turned. They visit his home that evening. Talath receives them with poise and gravity, and Honora begins by presenting the roll of arms and explaining the entire story. When they get to the Chamber of Embers, she and Baden explain they know he’s the King of Wheels, and that they have to end the Chamber. Cyr Talath gradually bends under their arguments, and after a brief interruption from his wife (whom he orders out of the room), he explains further.

Chandrevan is apparently an “advocate,” pacted with the devil Castarasax and able to broker pacts for other members of the Chamber. He mentions the other Kings by name — “Abberlay signed for knowledge, Magnarich for contentment” — and explains he made a pact for solace. Chandrevan has gained power, and has burned a man down to the bones before. If the group thinks they can kill Chandrevan, he’ll have his guards keep away long enough for them to get the job done. Honora agrees, and tells Talath to go to the Valysans, where later they can discuss redemption.

They let themselves into Chandrevan’s house with a key provided by Cyr Talath. The four move quickly into a salon where four large paintings of the Queens hang on one wall. There a servant girl questions them in a frightened voice. When they move to bypass her, she flees upstairs and shouts out a word — and the Queens step out of their frames. Their flesh runs like paint, configuring into strange new patterns — a webbed and taloned hand like a courtesan’s fan here, satyrish legs there, snakes uncoiling from one woman’s abdomen — and they move to drive out the intruders. A hurricane tears through the salon at Abbron’s command, and though their devilish gifts are strong, the Queens can only wound the heroes before they fall, the paint running from their bodies to reveal the corpses of aged women. Baden has time to notice that the torn canvas in the paintings conceals mirrors before Chandrevan himself appears at the top of the stairs.

Chandrevan offers to negotiate, explaining that he’s a merchant and broker who could arrange similar things for the heroes. When Abbron notes that Chandrevan’s a murderer, he points out the bodies of the Queens, stressing that they were women, not devils. The libertine argues passionately for his cause, but the four are resolute against him. Abbron hurls lightning at Chandrevan, but the King of Torches vanishes in a puff of flame. From elsewhere upstairs he speaks a single word — Zegriirgez. The mirrors in the room flare, and reality refracts.

The group finds themselves in a large room with several mirrors set up, somewhere under the Broken City by the look of the stonework. Chandrevan and two servants, a man and a woman, step from the mirrors. The servants melt away into devilish forms, and the battle with the King of Torches begins in earnest.

The incubus is first to strike, melting into an aetheric form and possessing Honora. The succubus attempts to enslave Abbron as well, but is less successful. Chandrevan moves from mirror to mirror during the fight, speaking words of flame that sear the heroes and invoking searing brands that compel obedience. The small wounds he takes heal quickly, testament to his alleged immortality. Bralta nearly falls before Honora throws off the incubus’ influence and restores her with the power of her Valysan blessings.

The four go after their enemies with careful precision. The succubus is first to collapse, carved by sacred axe blades and hurled by gale winds into a column, broken apart. The incubus perishes soon after, much of his pseudoflesh seared away by lightning before Baden finishes him. Then the hunt for Chandrevan begins. Though the libertine is able to injure Baden and compel Abbron, the wounds he suffers from Honora’s blessed axe don’t seem to heal as quickly. Then his ability to stay one step ahead by stepping through mirrors takes a serious hit when Honora smashes the first one. Bralta destroys another mirror to cut off his escape route, and then Chandrevan is pinned in a corner. It’s there that he dies, his hand over the handprint on his chest, as Baden strikes a killing blow with the sacred Amaelite axe. “Too soon,” gasps the King of Torches, his broken body still impossibly moving — and then his eyes implode in puffs of flame, and he is gone.

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21 - Ambushes In the Dark
The group slays a Knight, frees a questor and learns more about potential ties.

The four settle in to wait. Baden sets up a station in an exterior passage, rigging a small line to alert the others. The rest take up places about the lounge section.

The first activity comes the next morning, when Calkin and Renneth lead a small group of Valysans into the Chamber to take charge of the prisoners. The guards are slowly slipping out of their drugged hazes and passing through withdrawal; they can move, but are still far from wholly lucid. The Valysans help clear an exit from the nearby corridors up into the Broken City, and take two trips to convey the Chamber’s guards to the tower.

Another night passes, and a day after that. Bralta takes to wandering the back halls and singing. Abbron risks a short trip above to see if rumors have spread about any mass disappearances; none have.

That evening, Baden hears a small group approaching down the tunnel: six humanoids, cloaked and hooded, carrying a human-sized bundle. They move down the corridor Baden has staked out, and he races ahead to warn the others. As Honora, Abbron and Bralta move to intercept the intruders, they hear an agitated voice calling out in Goblinspeak; the guards’ absence has been discovered. The small gang of kidnappers are mostly powerful goblins, farther from mortality than their lesser kin. Their leader, an autumn elf that strikes from hiding, does not survive his clash with Baden. Only the apothecary, a twisted goblin that poisons one of his own fellows in an effort to escape, is taken alive. In the elf’s boot they find another card, the Knight of Pennants.

The four awaken the abductors’ drugged captive, a Kaelite questor by the name of Aedrin. He shares that he has been investigating disappearances in the city himself, most recently the vanishing and return of one Durvin. He was abducted from his room at the Spider’s Web, a Wolfwall establishment. He finds it likely that the elf crossed his path at some point.

Interrogating the goblin prisoner gains little valuable information: most notably that the autumn elf’s name was Shathrevil, that he calls the goblins from their “worm holes,” and that they have no expectations of meeting others here. The goblin offers other secrets for its freedom — alchemical wonders, the secret to brewing love potions from beetle hearts, an unguent that, when smeared on a horse’s hooves, will allow it to run over a swamp without sinking. The last, the goblin claims, does not require too many babies to fashion.

“How many babies does that require?” Abbron asks as the interrogation nears its end.

“Only two per horse!” the creature replies hopefully, just before the lightning bolt ends its life.

The next morning Abbron goes above again. He learns that Shathrevil was a resident of Kingsfall, but spent less time with his people and more time wandering the city. Other people suspect him of being a smuggler, and he seems to have some connection with Falwyn, the taverner of the Counselor in Bastion Ward. His wanderings took him to the north shore, to Scholars’ Court and to Greatbridge as well as Bastion Ward. Unfortunately, several of the people Abbron speaks to (particularly at the Counselor) are reticent to share more, and it’s evening before he returns to the Chamber’s base.

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20 - Raiding the Chamber
The four strike at the Chamber of Embers while the royalty's away.

In order to make sure the prisoners make it safely through the under-tunnels, Honora requests assistance from her fellow Valysans. Two, Calkin and Renneth, agree to come along and stand watch in the tunnels until the prisoners are freed, then take the prisoners to safety.

They retrace their steps from the exit Bralta found in Greatbridge to the tunnel under the river. From there they are able to follow Beragain’s directions until they find the subtle stone door in the wall. Honora forces it open, and they step into a well-appointed foyer hidden below the Broken City. Two masked guards attempt to repel them, but stand little chance and are overpowered.

The Chamber opens up into a larger lounge-like area, with a depressed central floor heaped with carpets and various divans and cushions for those on the rim to watch whatever performance takes place. Three pairs of statues mark the exits: a pair of dreaming sleepers, a pair of dancers carrying torches, and a pair enjoying food and drink. Tapestries depicting roses and flame hang on the walls, and conceal guard-post alcoves — and the guards within are more dangerous than the last.

The Chamber’s defenders pour into the room. They’re a varied group; some rabble, yes, but the masked halberdiers have partaken of combat drugs, and seem oblivious to fear or pain. From the archway marked by dreaming statues comes a particularly hulking brute, odd vapors trailing out from under his full-face helm, and a pair of entranced thurifuges whose censers give off soporific fumes. The lotus clouds make a dangerous obstacle, slowing the heroes while doing little to their already intoxicated enemies. Blood stains the carpet before the last of the Chamber’s guards are subdued.

The dreaming passage leads to a drug den and attached apothecary; the eater and drinker mark a feast hall with sixteen chairs about its table, marked with card-heraldry, and the attached kitchen and larder. The torch-bearing dancers flank a passage to a larger, uncarpeted room decorated with paintings of unclear figures dancing among the flames, some sort of altar (concealing trappings of an unidentified form of infernalism) and a large mirror.

Another passage from the ritual room leads to a series of cells and another guard post. The guards are easily dealt with, but only one prisoner is to be found: a young man, muscled like a worker but not yet bent and weathered, and drugged into incoherence. He bears a henna mark on one arm, a tasseled squiggle that seems very like the lion-tailed snake from the roll of arms. The group turns him over to the Valysans’ care, and then determines to occupy the Chamber until such time as more assistance can arrive to take away the various guards.

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19 - The Trail of Embers
The four chase revelations about the increasingly sinister secrets of the Chamber of Embers.

Bralta listens to the stories Abbron and the others tell of their encounters with the roll of arms. She has no real information to share regarding the various threats, but agrees that it’s good work to see them ended.

The next day, they begin to investigate. Abbron uses a cover story of asking after a girl he once knew — a girl he knows to be dead — under pretext that she’s run away to Kingsfall and may be in trouble. He learns much of the prostitution culture of Kingsfall, and makes an acquaintance of a bard named Cirion who boasts of expanding the repertoires of the finest courtesans in art, poetry and music. Abbron also hears the term “Chamber of Embers” for the first time. Honora spends time moving from temple to shrine, focusing on the priesthoods of the Higher Nine. They have little new information to share, though at the Chapel of the Beast she learns that the Alvorite Criveth has gone missing on an investigation (potentially involving werewolves). Baden decides to pursue a botanical course, and discovers that the likely source for orange roses is Erleth’s Eternal Morning, though Erleth seems to be a fairly innocent sort. He purchases a “sun bouquet” as an offering to Amaelin.

They compare notes that evening. None of them seem to be quite up to the task of shadowing Erleth’s Eternal Morning for the next several days, so Abbron picks an old contact — Edran, a sneak bold enough to pilfer north of the river from time to time — and commissions him to watch the place instead. Bralta relates the story of Wolfwall and the revolt of Countess Acraine Silverjaw, and the thought of werewolves still lingering in the city galvanizes the group’s intent.

The following day, the group sets out on the trail of Criveth. They do better than the Alvorites had before them, discovering she stayed for a night at the Fishing Cat in Kilnbank but vanished from her room during the night. The proprietor wants to know as little as possible. Abbron’s investigation turns up an interesting vial in the roof’s gutter, crusted with some sort of drug. After an abortive conversation with one apothecary who seems to mistake the storm-caller for a hated acquaintance, the next alchemist Abbron talks to is more helpful. The compound is unfamiliar to him, but alchemists in the city commission custom vials from local glassblowers for the purpose of self-promotion. This vial is from the stock of Beragain, an apothecary who services the folk of Bastion Ward. They go to pay him a visit.

Beragain has all the mannerisms of a man who is hiding something. He claims to know nothing about the drug (though he admits the vial is one of his), but the more serious the group acts around him, the more nervous the apothecary gets. When he moves into the back room to “examine” the vial further, Baden slips after him to apply more pressure, and the other three send Beragain’s apprentice off to a tavern to collect refreshments while they pilfer the shop’s ledger. The ledger has many names, but a number of abbreviated initials with subscripts and numbers. Many of the soporifics purchased are given the initials “M.C. (subscript 9)”.

In the rear of the building, Beragain becomes increasingly nervous as Baden continues with implied pressure. Finally he snaps after an inquiry about wolfsbane and drops a pair of flasks that erupt into a narcotic cloud. Abbron hears the disturbance, and reaches the back in time to see Baden lapsing into unconsciousness and Beragain attempting to climb down a drain to the sewer. Abbron knocks the alchemist cold by taking on his lightning-form; Beragain falls below. They find a small area in the sewer beneath where a pair of alchemical smokeless torches flank a wall covered with odd diagrams, over a table with several clearly illicit compounds and a small book with a playing card for a bookmark. The book is an encrypted journal of some sort; the playing card, the Knight of Grails.

After distracting the apprentice while Baden keeps an eye on Beragain, the four reconvene in the sewers. Beragain, realizing the severity of his situation agrees to talk only if he can be held somewhere safe. The group disguise themselves and their prisoner, and take Beragain to a cell under the Valysan North Tower.

Beragain gradually reveals a great deal of knowledge about the Chamber of Embers, although he does not know as much: he’s only a Knight, and doesn’t know the identity of the masked Kings and Queens, save for the King of Torches: Chandrevan Fairbrow, a local libertine. He shares his incomplete knowledge of the revels and their location — a complex on the north shore, reached by a tunnel under the river. The next revel is scheduled for three days after the ball in the Viscountess’ honor, but the four Kings plan to meet before the party. With the desire to rescue prisoners first and foremost, the group decides to strike out for the Chamber’s complex immediately.

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18 - A Taste of the Old City
Abbron's reunion with an old friend propels him and his companions into the curse of Kingsfall.

The next day is spent moving the captured beastmen back to Briar Bridge, as well as pocketing some of the profits of the hags’ belongings; Abbron finds a peculiar, half-living mandrake root that seems to be usable as a sentinel. After much work, Diedra is able to restore the catamount beastman to his original form of Baron Jyrall. The Baron is weak and exhausted, but will recover. Diedra commits to remaining at Briar Bridge until all the hags’ victims are restored. The other three wish her well, tell her to lie low and not attract attention, and proceed the following morning on their way to Kingsfall.

They reach the city a day and a half later, when the sky is overcast and enough lights are visible to prove the difference between the small living city on the south bank and the larger ruin to the north. Bellmoy drops the three off in Greatbridge and says his farewells. Honora decides on the Horn and Hoof in Cavalry Rows as her inn of choice, and goes to set up there; Abbron and Baden begin gathering information. They rustle up a few choice tidbits:

- The Count has not been either notably scandalous or notably virtuous of late, as far as the average citizen knows.
- His daughter Valory’s birthday is next week, and an event is likely.
- Valory is not betrothed, and the Count seems to be in no rush to have her married.
- Orange roses aren’t easily found.
- A dwarf has been asking after a missing university expedition into Tor Caeldaran. Abbron recognizes her by description, and hastens to the Guardsman’s Ghost.

The dwarf is indeed Abbron’s old friend Bralta Valewalker, a runecantor of the Hawkwatch clan. Baden recognizes the clan name, and turns out to have fought alongside Bralta’s second cousin Thallek. Bralta explains that some of her associates from the university went in for a day run to bring more books out of the Royal Library, but didn’t return before dark, and naturally she fears the worst. The two offer to assist her, and explain they have yet another companion. They go to the Hoof and Horn to collect Honora, and the four then make for the north.

Across the bridge, they stop at the Valysan watchtower-shrine. The templar in charge there, Sister Thereda, states that they haven’t seen the missing scholars or their escort. The group then moves deeper into the ruins, carefully avoiding watchtowers that may still have spectral guards and tracking Bralta’s friends. Baden finds them in an abandoned house, and a few words of persuasion get them moving.

With so many in tow, the group can’t move as discreetly — and they’re noticed. Honora and Baden quickly move to block the road, and Abbron and Bralta follow suit as the scholars and men-at-arms continue fleeing. The spectral dead of Tor Caeldaran soon close in: a near-dozen faded apparitions, led by the wailing ghost of a maiden and a spectral knight close beside her. Nearby a pile of rubble rises up on two imitations of legs, held together by a cluster of weaker spirits.

The banshee is the first to fall, cut down by Baden’s axe, but the elf is soon badly pressed by the spectral knight. Honora finds herself pinned by the animated ruin, though she’s able to give as good as she gets. Abbron devotes his attention first to the many lesser apparitions. Bralta fights alongside Abbron with a hammer at first, but soon shows some of her true power, restoring health and vigor to Baden by invoking runes of mending and blood fervor. The group fights their way free of the ghostly pursuers, then resumes their run for the bridge. They soon see that the Valysans are guarding the scholars’ retreat across the river; the templars encourage the four to follow for their own safety. Once the group is safe in Kingsfall once more, it takes little encouragement from Bralta to go find drinks, and plenty of them, for some much-needed soothing of nerves.

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17 - Beast, Bird and Fish
The fate of the vanished becomes clear, as does the response.

They begin the search at the Mourdon farmstead, where the eldest son Alvath had gone missing and Baron Jyrall set off after him. Despite the passage of time, they find signs of where the Baron’s group left the trail and began to cut cross-country. As they go, they discover odd tracks preserved in out-of-the-way places: a cloven hoofprint left by a biped, a webbed footprint in the same form. None of the group have ever found tracks quite like these before.

The trail leads to a gully that shows signs of a skirmish; Honora notices a pair of deadfalls rigged there as well. When Baden notices a strange swine-human hybrid concealed in the underbrush, he fails to conceal that he’s spotted it. And then the ambush is on them: a wide variety of strange beastmen, from the hulking boar-man to things that are like hares and rats and even fish. An unsettling feeling falls over the heroes, and Honora calls out to strike to subdue. The ambush is ferocious, but undisciplined. Once all the beastmen are unconscious, the group confirms their worries: their enemies were wearing the sort of padding guardsmen might wear under mail, or ill-fitting and badly abused peasant clothing. It seems likely that they’ve found some of the missing people. They tie up the unconscious beastmen, using the rope taken from the deadfall — rope woven from hair that spurs a thought in Baden’s mind. Hags.

They track the beastmen to a small side road, built during the elven days of Telenvar, leading from the large old road up to a watchtower. Once the watchtower’s in view, it’s clear that it’s occupied: many cages sit around its base or dangle from beams outside. Baden moves ahead to investigate as the others continue their approach. He’s able to make out that one of the cages is still occupied, but something detects him from inside — a large panther-man with a fine-looking longsword emerges, sniffing the air. Baden freezes as more and more beastmen emerge from the surrounding area, on alert. Honora takes that opportunity to charge.

Again, they fight to subdue, but nearly pay a steep price. Many of the beastmen aren’t strong enough to stand before them, but a few are — the catamount is an agile warrior, an ursine beastman slips into the back ranks, another boar-man bears down heavily on Honora while a bull-man pursues Baden. These beastmen become particularly dangerous as pain moves them into frenzy. But the four are clearly not meant to fall here. Once they’ve defeated their foes, they free the two surviving human captives: Narsha and Ivoly, two women in Jyrall’s service. The beastmen go into the cages for the time being. Baden asks the women where the hag is, and the response is that they take men away to the nearby bald every few nights and bring beastmen back. The women, they eat. A look within the tower confirms it: there are nests for three hags. A full coven. They send Narsha and Ivoly back on Honora’s horse to bring word to Andramere; Honora, having fought a hag before, is adamant that the undernourished women would be pulled limb from limb if they were to come along.

The four go to the bald even as the sun is setting. The hill is marked by standing stones, apparently from a time before even the dwarves lived in these lands. The hags have set up their cauldron in the center, and have a prisoner. They’re a peculiar trio: one has shaggy fur along her arms and wears animal skins; a second wears a feathered cloak, has a particularly beaklike nose and avian talons for hands; the third is bloated and apparently gilled, with patches of silver scales. The hags croak out a query, but none of the heroes are in any mood to parley.

The battle starts out well for the hunters. The beast-hag has initial success in possessing Baden with a wildcat’s mind (which leads to him attacking Abbron) and knocks Honora over with an quick pounce. But Baden recovers swiftly, then moves around the cauldron and begins to press the fish-hag. She converts a portion of the ground to mud and pronounces a curse of drowning on the Amaelite, to little enough avail — she’s quickly cut down. The avian hag manages to conjure a flock of half-solid spirit ravens to bedevil Honora and Diedra before Abbron blasts her off a dolmen with a lightning strike. And Honora nearly hews the beast-hag in half with a single strike; only her supernatural vitality keeps the monstrous crone alive. The two bloodied hags rally fiercely in response, and even the cauldron itself comes to their aid, searing Baden with acidic bile again and again. Both Honora and Baden nearly fall before Diedra reinforces them with the power of Chaneth, and Abbron strikes down the beast-hag with a thunderbolt.

The last hag takes bird form and flees. Abbron lends the power of the wind to Baden, and the Amaelite takes wing at incredible speed. Two strokes of the axe later, and he descends safely to earth near the place where her corpse lands.

They return to the tower, to discover that the hags’ death has not broken the beastmen’s transformation. Diedra offers that she may be able to do something, given time, and she wants to: but it would mean she’d have to remain here rather than accompanying Honora, Abbron and Baden to Kingsfall.

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16 - The Disappearance of Baron Jydall
Count Caelish offers his hospitality, and news of a concerning mystery.

After letting Caelonna know of the events at the abbey, the four decide to go to Mistwatch to make an appointment with Count Caelish’s herald. They take a lift from Northfalls up to the castle between the waterfalls. The evening mist is thick around the castle, and as they approach the main gate, Baden hears a woman’s voice on the walls softly say “Four, armed and armored” — in the elven tongue of Iletra. The Count’s watch-captain Helmittiri is elven as well, a hard-looking winter elf with a distinctive facial scar. Baden tells her “As you can see, four, armed and armored” in Iletra; she acknowledges him, but remains cool of demeanor. When the group asks to meet with the Count’s herald, the watch-captain tells them they can wait to see if she will meet them today, or she’ll send word to their lodgings. Baden elects to wait and enjoy the scenery; the others head back into the city.

In a little under half an hour, Watch-Captain Helmittiri lets Baden know that Count Caelish would like to meet with the four of them before noon tomorrow. Baden thanks her and moves quickly to catch the others. He finds Abbron in the Rollicking Rover tavern, then sprints to catch Honora and Diedra before they reach the Pious Man. The news delivered, he returns to join Abbron in carousing. Amid the drinks they uncover a few hints that Count Maglican of Kingsfall has apparently been dabbling in mildly scandalous behavior of late, though the people they talk to don’t know much by way of details.

The next morning, the four convene at the Pious Man for breakfast. Abbron orders all of the eggs and bacon. All of it. The daunted kitchen staff rallies, and presents a platter covered with a mountain of scrambled eggs covered with an armored sheet of bacon; Baden stands up and leaves, shaken, at the sight. The storm-caller’s ambition is greater than his stomach capacity, though, and he is only able to finish a third before he peels off the remaining bacon to save for later and leaves the leftover eggs to whatever fate they may find.

The audience with Count Caelish takes place at the feast table — not quite surprising given the count’s girth, though Honora notes that he seems to be watching them more intently than he lets on as he encourages them to eat heartily and talk about their travels. The travelers are forthright about their adventures since Scath Hollow, and Caelish is open in turn as Baden asks him about some of the trophies displayed on the walls.

The count’s herald Ilseris, a stern-seeming summer elf woman, joins the meal toward its end. She and Caelish review the roll of arms, confirming some of what the group already knows, but adding a few more possibilities:

- Caelish knows of Cyr Bastaan’s wound, but hasn’t seen him since; Bastaan hasn’t traveled to Kingsfall for any of the meets since his wound a year and three-quarters ago.

- Ilseris theorizes that the lion-tailed serpent may be the sign of a lamia.

- The silence-rune mask and scroll perhaps refer to an elf stricken with disfigurement or undeath. Baden considers the possibility of it being one of his lich-prey, though it seems unlikely that one of those would accept a subservient role unless it was gathering its power and biding its time.

- Caelish notes that Count Maglican has frequented courtesans for some time after his wife’s death, and that he might know more of the rose and flame.

- The dagger and claws may be the mark of an assassin operating in the south.

- Hardrave the Headsman is known to Caelish, who’s one of several counts who have posted a reward for the arrest or death of the rogue bounty hunter.

Finally, Caelish asks the group if they’re willing to lend more assistance. He says that he’s received word that his friend Baron Jyrall of Briar Bridge has gone missing recently, and Jyrall’s sister Andramere is holding things together in his stead. The group agrees to investigate en route to Kingsfall. Caelish arranges for a boat to set out tomorrow morning.

The group takes it fairly easy that night, though Baden and Abbron find a trader who reports losing a caravan guard — “lured away,” he theorizes. Baden also leaves a note for Beldarai, who has been absent from the White Rune for two days, and news in his drop-box asking his fellow hunters to share whatever they might know regarding the “Silent Mask” heraldry.

The next day, the four meet their boatman, a slightly froggish-looking man named Bellmoy, and his two sons. Bellmoy proves to be a slightly paranoid and risk-averse fellow, who tells them rumors of everything from kelpies and witch-lights to perytons and living sandbars. Despite his paranoia Bellmoy is a capable boatman, and gets the group to Tyg’s Landing safely.

The second day of river travel is less safe. As the sun is going down and the boat is nearing Westbar, odd bellows ring out that Baden and Abbron recognize as owlbear hunting calls. A lone fisherman is stranded on a rock in the water, with two of the beasts approaching him. Though Bellmoy would clearly prefer to avoid the event entirely, Baden gives orders he can’t refuse to draw closer. Honora quickly sheds her armor, expecting to have to swim for it. Baden fires several arrows into one of the owlbears, which it shrugs away as though they were bee stings.

Abbron conjures up the power of the tempest, sending the boatmen into panicked prayers to Qullon, and leaps to the rock. One of the owlbears lunges at him, and the winds are only barely able to keep him safe. Honora takes a running leap from the boat’s edge, and clears a remarkable amount of water before she’s on the rock, swinging at the owlbear. She buys Abbron enough time to sweep up the luckless fisherman and return to the barge with another updraft, but pays for it: without her plate armor, the beast is able to catch her with both claws and savage her with its beak. As the boat drifts past, Diedra calls on the power of Chaneth to seal the nearly mortal wound to some degree, and one of Bellmoy’s sons throws out the rope. Honora pulls free of the owlbear’s grip with a surge of strength, catches onto the rope, and is pulled downriver and away from the owlbears as the boat continues on. Once she’s pulled from the river, Diedra is able to knit the injury together more thoroughly, though it leaves a nasty bruise.

The group enjoys the hospitality of a grateful Westbar that night, and reaches Briar Bridge the following midday. They eat a meal and visit Lady Andramere shortly thereafter. She tells them that many people have gone missing at roughly three-day intervals for almost a month: some caravan guards, mostly farmers, all strong and healthy. Baron Jyrall took twelve men and women with him to go hunting for the culprits 10 days ago, and all vanished. The group decides to go to the farm where the Baron picked up his scent, and try to follow him — although it’s been ten days, it seems likely that his group was large enough to leave sufficient signs of passage.

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15 - The Whisperer In the Stones
The abbey's madness and corruption has a voice.

Baden searches Felderose’s room for potential clues, finding only a ledger of the abbey’s daily activities, while the others go fetch Brother Eddistan. The monk is naturally quite alarmed to be taken again to see the abbot trussed on his bed, but listens to the explanation. He agrees to do his best to calm the worries of his brothers and sisters when the abbot doesn’t appear for morning prayers. That seen to, the group takes a much-needed rest in the abbot’s room. It isn’t as soothing as one could hope for, however. Everyone dreams of stones opening up and swallowing them, of the living abbey grinding them between rocky teeth.

The monks and nuns avoid them as they proceed to the catacombs later the next day. Baden discovers a hidden switch in a niche, and it opens the pathway to wherever Felderose had vanished to some nights. The stairway leads to an ancient room that has seen recent use as a workshop. Two work-benches have signs of recent use; one has clay models of gargoyles, another a book open to a page in a ritual used to give stone life. A half-sculpted gargoyle stands amid piles of discarded rubble, and one of the support pillars has been carved partly into a statue of a masked angel with serpents at its waist. And a full-length mirror stands near a column with the word “ZEGRI” chiseled up to one corner.

As they investigate, a voice emerges from the walls. “Do you seek wisdom?” is its first question. Baden answers that they seek wisdom and truth, but the response is not reassuring. Abbron and Honora join in the discussion, and gradually the malevolent nature of the speaker is revealed. Baden first guesses that it serves the Gryphon, but it laughs at the conjecture as that of a mortal. When it invokes the name of the Remaker, Honora realizes the truth: this is a messenger of Rakthur.

The four resist its blandishments, and it shifts to hostility. The workbench holding the ritual book comes to life and wounds Diedra. The broken rubble leavings of the stonecarving assembles itself into a monstrous form. And the half-finished angel statue breaks away some of its stone. Underneath is a form of alabaster, but with raw black corruption in its seams. As the stones assail the four, the thing gives its name at last: Balkaroth. Even the dead of the catacombs seem to be under its sway, as the withered corpses of dead monks come shambling down the stairs to embrace Abbron.

More and more of Balkaroth is revealed as axe and lightning continue to hew away the rock surrounding it. But even as its corruption grows in strength, its vulnerability is enhanced. Finally Honora cleaves away much of its mask with a furious strike, Abbron sends lightning searing across its back, and Baden drives the blazing axe of the sun into its face. The messenger boils away, regrettably leaving little evidence behind. For good measure, the four break the mirror before returning upstairs.

From there, it’s a matter of attempting to reach Abbot Felderose and helping both him and the abbey get back into healing. The abbot seems to be largely freed of the influence, and near suicidal about his realizations. He unfortunately seems to remember nothing of what his other persona did. The four stay an extra day just to keep an eye on things. Then they have some monks convey them back to Graybanks (with a little of the abbey brandy safely in Abbron’s possession).

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14 - Blackened Faith
Bloodthirsty horrors are found in the library, and the Abbot Felderose shows a different face.

The cry came from the library and scriptorium. When the four arrive, they see a monk writhing on the floor in pain by a guttering candlelight, winged forms crouching about him. Honora and Baden have enough light to discern that the devilish-looking attackers are gargoyles. Baden calls on Lammageas to blaze with light, and the group rushes to assist the fallen monk. The gargoyles are as vicious and bloodthirsty as any of their ilk, and are cagey fighters. One tears chunks of stone from the wall and hurls them from on high. Another seizes Honora and actually manages to lift the heavily armored half-orc nearly to the ceiling, dropping her to the stone below. But they are apparently too used to scholarly, unarmored, pacifistic prey. All four are smashed to rubble.

The wounded monk (healed by Honora) is Brother Eddistan, who admits he shouldn’t have been out after curfew. He explains that one of those who went missing was the librarian Brother Harsifel. Harsifel had argued several times with Abbot Felderose, and when Harsifel went missing, Felderose preached that perhaps the librarian was the one who had brought the troubles upon him with his research. Eddistan isn’t sure, and was hoping to find some of Harsifel’s research.

Honora and Baden quickly discover that Harsifel hid a journal under one of the tables. In the journal, he mentions several arguments with the abbot, particularly over Felderose’s habit of going into the catacombs to hold vigil. Peculiarly, he mentions following Felderose in one evening, only to discover the abbot could not be found. The last entry mentions his desire to confront Felderose on the matter. The adventurers quickly decide that there must be some secret area in the catacombs, and resolve to find it. Eddistan tells them that the entry is from the main chapel, and they see him safely back to his cell.

When they enter the main chapel, they find Felderose praying before the altar. The abbot confronts them, and undergoes several odd shifts during the confrontation — first fearful and panicked that they’re wandering about, then spiteful and malevolent, then fearful again. Honora and Baden chastise him for calling on dark powers, to which he responds with odd allusions to whispers from the stones, the power of earth versus the power of sky, and other such curiosities. Finally the heated argument reaches a peak, and Felderose calls out “St. Alberad, defend me!” The doors behind the group crash open, and the statue of St. Alberad the Laborer strides into the chapel.

Baden and Diedra attempt to corner the animated statue, and quickly find it’s even more dangerous than it looks. Honora moves to subdue the abbot, with some backup from Abbron, yet Felderose possesses power even beyond the ability to call on his stone guardian. His shifts in personality come more rapidly, and new abilities with them. When spiteful and cruel, he delves into minds; when fearful, he repels attackers with choking dark energy. The group is caught between the abbot’s dark aura and the unrelenting blows of the stone saint. Baden and Abbron are injured, and take refuge in the rafters temporarily before returning to the fight. Honora is nearly overwhelmed by the pulses of curst darkness. Diedra narrowly avoids being broken under the statue’s foot. And the golem catches Abbron at one point, requiring Diedra to use the last of her power to resuscitate him.

Finally they are able to subdue Felderose, though every strike at his willpower releases a burst of injuring madness. The stone guardian fights on without its master, and comes incredibly close to smashing one of the heroes apart, but the four of them are able to break it apart. They bind the abbot’s hands and blindfold him, and carry him to his room, then seek some respite to bind their many wounds.

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13 - Downriver to Fivesaints
The secret of Corbran Goss' success is revealed, and four pilgrims visit Fivesaints Abbey.

The next day, the four answer an invitation from Captain Braddeth for drinks and dinner at the Drowned Miser in Downriver. She congratulates them on their success in settling the clan business. She offers assistance with what she can, though mentions it’d likely get back to Count Caelish. They explain their need to visit Fivesaints Abbey, and inquire more about Corbran Goss. Braddeth explains that Goss is now her number one priority. He’s potentially responsible for the splintering of a rival dredge-gang and the disappearance of its leader. She’s not sure why he seems to have prospered more since the deaths of his three brothers, but it’s clear he has. She also mentions that sometimes a crow’s wing is hung on a post outside his boathouse, and although she’d assumed it was a sign of working with the Black Owls, that clan never held territory near Felsen’s Quay. The group offers to deal with Goss and perhaps learn more of his misdeeds. For her part, Captain Braddeth says she wouldn’t ask for that help, but she is going off-duty and a few hours and certainly couldn’t be held responsible for anything that might happen.

That evening, the four directly approach Felsen’s Quay, claiming to be “tax collectors.” The dredge-gang escorts them into the boathouse, where a quick conversation with Corbran Goss reveals that he’s confident in his strength, and that he isn’t likely to betray the man he’s shipped captives for — a fellow with a large axe of his own. Violence breaks out shortly thereafter, with Abbron bringing a lethal storm into the boathouse and Honora collapsing a scaffold two crossbow-armed thugs were standing on. Before he enters battle (with an ugly broadsword and gaff combination), Goss swears that the intruders will regret their decision — and calls on his brothers. The three missing Goss brothers, resurrected as drowned ghouls, crawl from the water and leap on the intruders. They almost are able to make the difference — but Honora drives them away with a searing burst of divine fervor, and by the time they’re able to return, Abbron has laid Corbran Goss dead on the quay. His brothers are hewn and blasted apart afterwards, and only one dredge-gang member manages to swim to freedom. The group claims a coffer of gold for their reward, and lets the Downriver guards take care of the rest.

The next morning, they approach Cader Hooks about transport to the Abbey. The pious boatman gladly agrees to take the pilgrims there. They set out that morning, and arrive shortly after the midday meal. The island is very quiet, and only one brother off with the goats can be seen. As they enter the abbey courtyard, they note five statues of the abbey’s patron saints, oddly decorated. Shavraun the Champion wears “boar tusks,” Athelier the Healer a snakeskin belt, Malech the Envoy a blindfold and red-and-black bindings, Alberad the Laborer broken chains, and Gwyllera the Huntress a wolfskin pelt and fang necklace. The symbolism seems clear to the visitors.

Abbot Felderose approaches them from the worship hall. He is clearly nervous, but permits them to stay for a few days. When pressed, he speaks quietly about some dark times that have fallen, but refuses to say more. The four then drift apart for a time. Abbron asks to see the brandy distillery, and attempts to befriend the taciturn Brother Fael as he does so. Diedra goes out to work in the somewhat neglected garden. Baden drifts about, noticing a niche that contains a small, recently carved statue of an angel in very pale stone. Honora speaks candidly with the Abbot, but cannot get him to agree to accept her help: he seems terrified that her assistance will draw down greater wrath of the gods.

Over dinner, they note that only 13 brothers and sisters apart from Felderose are present. Five of these stay close to the abbot, very defensive; Brother Fael is among them. Honora recognizes Sister Meriven from Caelonna’s description, noting her as someone that may be of use. Baden engages a monk with ink-stained fingers in conversation, one Brother Eddistan. Eddistan converses more openly than most, though even he doesn’t seem to know much about the “white angel” set up. He says it seems to be a figure of light in darkness, and admits that they have need of such a thing.

As the sun sets, dinner wraps up quickly. The brothers and sisters move quickly to their cells, taking the pilgrims along. Each of the four is locked into a cell of their own (for safety’s sake). However, the unspoken agreement to violate curfew takes precedence after midnight. Baden slips through his door with the aid of his blessed raiment, then quietly opens Abbron’s cell door. The two move to the women’s cells and collect an armored Honora and Diedra. As they discuss potential avenues to proceed, a shriek rings out on the wind…

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