Eager to find the bedroom, Sebastian leads the way through the only remaining exit from the sitting room. It does indeed lead to the master bedroom.
This room is full of shadows. Thorny vines, thick as thighs, hang along the walls and creep across the ceiling. None hang from the ceiling, though. It is almost as if they do this out of deference to the man, hanged by the neck, in the center of the room. He wore a black robe the day he died. A bloodstained sheet of paper has been stuck to his chest by the dagger driven through it. The man's flesh is pale, with violet veins standing out on the neck and face.
This was once a bedroom. On the bed lies the body of a woman, his chest ripped open to reveal an empty cavity where the heart once lay. She is also clad in the vestments of a priest, though clearly of a different faith than the hanged man. The woman's flesh is pallid, taut over the bones. Her eyes stare upward, her face a rictus of agony.
On the headboard of the bed are hung two holy symbols. One is the fist of Bane. The other bears the nine-tailed barbed scourge of Loviatar.
Aside from the bed, this room is occupied by a nightstand, a reading table, and two wardrobes. A suit of masterfully crafted bandedmail stands next to the windows; it is dark navy with black straps.
Before the heroes can step inside the bedroom, something bizarre happens. David and Gwendolyn suddenly jerk to a halt. They back away in halting, pained strides, and they grow faint. Their friend reach for them, but hands pass through as if they are not truly present.
And then they are gone.
At first the heroes fear that they have seen some new power of the house, but Beatrice remains more circumspect. She recalls Annoura saying that she must chase David and Gwendolyn through time while the heroes chase Curtullen Rank through space. She suspects that the battle through time is still ongoing, and the time the heroes got to spend with their friends was just a minor victory on Annoura's part as she battled to save them from the man in red robes.
While the heroes come to terms with David and Gwendolyn's disappearance, they hear a sound from the ground floor below. Anson and Kyler had climbed through the window that Sebastien broke open earlier.
The brothers have successfully escorted the escaped prisoner to the trail that Garlock had described. They returned to the cave mouth and followed the only trail before them to catch up to their companions.
The heroes get Kyler and Anson up to speed on recent events, and then they begin to reconsider their options.
During the conversation, Beatrice checks the books in the sitting room. While they are murder mysteries and romances, they are not completely divorced from the passions of priests of Loviatar and Bane.
The images and titles are garish but also ominous—as Bea flips through several, the endings do not fit the genres. Love ends in sorrow, the murderer prevails, traditional protagonists always experience horrific fates.
As the planning comes to an end, Dechan suggests that Ivy go to the opposite door on the landing--the door that the heroes' originally suspected the house was trying to lead them into opening. Anson, Kyler, and Big accompany her.
The other heroes begin an investigation of the master bedroom and the bodies of the two owners of this cursed house. They barely get to cross the threshold before they hear a muttered curse from Ivy, and then screaming starts.
The screaming is Ivy's at first. Before anyone but she could see the room beyond the door opposite the sitting room, a wraith-like creature, appearing to be little more than an incorporeal, hooded shroud, engulfs her.
Anson, Kyler, and Big all move quickly to help her, but wraith proved damnably hard to strike with mundane weapons. Ivy begins to fade into incorporeality, even as her blood splatters across the landing and wall.
Big rears up, striking again and again with his paws, until one furious blow passes through the creature and connects hard against the wall, breaking the panther's leg.
Anson begins to hurl magical missiles at the creature, and Kyler calls upon his vestiges to burst into flame and simultaneously strike with monk-like precision. Though his hands do not make contact with the creature, the flames burn it, just as the missiles leave tears in its shroud-like body.
Ivy's allies distract the creature well enough to help to tear away from its grasp. As she staggers into the room beyond, they see that she is badly injured and pale from blood loss.
Help is coming from the sitting room, but not before Big yowls in more than pain. The panther dashes away, passing the others as they come--something has happened to Alliama.
When the screaming started, Dechan was preparing to step inside the master bedroom. Alliama stood nearby, the only hero with a clear view of the dead priestess on the bed.
Alliama sees something in the woman's body. Her eyes fills with tears. She faints dead away wearing a mask of grief that gradually fades to an appearance of placid sleep.
Garlock stays at her side during the battle to come, and Big arrives moments later, favoring his broken foreleg and placing himself between Alliama and whatever threats come next.
Carrie draws out the Wardaway Wand and hurls bolts of lightning along the landing, arcing around her friends to strike the undead beast. The creature takes the brunt of two full blasts of electricity, leaving it in a momentarily helpless jig as the rest of the heroes close in.
Sebastien draws his silver longsword as he races along the landing. Anson step aside, preferring to hurl more magical missiles, and Kyler steps alongside the creature to give Sebastien the necessary space to swing the long blade.
Not long after, Beatrice arrives, wielding her own silver weapon and flanking the creature with Ivy.
Dechan arrives on the landing, as well, hurling a blast of daylight at the wraith, which leaves the entire creature faded as if caught in the light of the sun.
The heroes' combined magic and silver, along with some wrathful blows from Ivy, guided by Sebastien's prayers to Our Guardian in the Mists, prove more than the creature can withstand.
When the battle is over, Dechan prays for Ivy's healing, as well as that of others. He, Sebastien, and Garlock do their best for Big and check on Alliama's condition. They find that she is physically unhurt, but they cannot rouse her.
In the wake of the battle, the heroes attempt to regroup in the master bedroom, rather than risk encountering more of the house's guardians or defenses while they are separated. Ivy is not so keen on turning back from her present investigation, though.
The door she opened leads to a well-stocked library. This room is surprisingly void of thorny vines. The walls are crumbling plaster over wood, but the furnishings have fared better than elsewhere in the house. Two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are stacked with thick volumes, and a desk has been pushed against one wall with a few more books resting on its surface.
The walls are adorned with curious choices in art, from glazed clay tiles painted with scenes of swimming fish to a half-mask of black velvet with the lower edge trimmed with gems. A large, locked chest stands tucked into the northeast corner.
When Ivy walks into the library, Beatrice and Sebastien relent to stay with her. Ivy and Sebastien walk to the books on the desk--neither which they can read, though Ivy is sure the finer of the two has notes in Darkonese.
In the desk drawers the two find a wheel lock pistol and a plain yellow, clay bottle full what feels like watery fluid. While Sebastien slips the bottle into a pouch, Ivy proves to be her father's daughter, shutting the drawer without considering the pistol.
Beatrice begins investigating the chest.
Only a couple minutes pass before the screams begin. This time from the master bedroom.
Dechan entered the master bedroom first, moving carefully, investigating the body of the hanged man before anything else. He did not touch anything.
He saw writing on the page pinned the dead priest's chest by the dagger's blade, but the writing was not in a language he could read.
Looking about, he spots a rusted scourge lying partly under the bed. He notes that there is nothing on the surface of the nightstand.
When Kyler says that he can remove the letter without touching the body, Dechan urges him to do it.
The page begins to come loose, courtesy of Kyler's telekinetic pull, but even this subtle dweomer triggers a chain reaction within the corpse.
A horrific ripping sound comes from the body of the dead man. Dechan and Kyler see a tear appear above and below the paper stuck into his chest by the dagger’s blade. For a moment the tear continues to spread, vertically, splitting him along his ribcage, just long enough for them to see small, white forms wriggling in countless masses within.
Then the body splits open with an ugly shredding sound, and hundreds of pounds of maggots, terribly writhing, pour forth with a gassy exhalation from within the corpse.
Worse, the maggots do not simply spill onto the floor. It takes a moment to realize that the maggots have stopped their fall—some of them, at least—forming a column thrust out of the mass that reached the floor. Not a column…an arm…the maggots have spilled into a man-shaped form, millions of them…more…and that arm ends in a clenched fist!
This elicits the screams that bring the heroes out of the library to aid in the new battle.
The maggots move to engulf Kyler, but when he bursts into flame, calling upon the power of his vestiges, they turn and swarm over Dechan. Dechan is badly injured, not just by the maggots squirming over and burrowing into him, but by the heroes' attempts to save him. Garlock, in particular, cries out in horror and grief as he pulls back bloodied hands after attacking the creature all around Dechan.
Like Ivy minutes before, Dechan stumbles away from the creature's grasp. He used the Bartholomew medallion to summon a swarm of his own, this time of blue-eyed rats that consume the maggots even as the maggots consume them.
With fiery magic and monk's fists, the heroes destroy both swarms, leaving them standing in heaps of smoking, stinking muck.
Kyler gingerly retrieves the note.
Dechan uses a cantrip to cleans the soiled page, eliciting a groan from Carrie, who could have done the same but was too horrified to even consider it.
Kyler reads the note:
Ours was a forbidden love. Not by necessity but by choice.
Unsurprising, that my dear Melza Blythe should be told to abandon me for no other reason than the cruelty of her sisters superior under the Maiden of Pain. And likewise that the Dreadmasters should seek me out to admonish me for having romantic love in my life alongside my fear and adoration of Lord Bane.
Now both orders draw in on us. Neither of us will flee. We each have sacred duties to our true masters, and we will not shirk them. Loviatar and Bane have ruled our lives since each of us was a child. Melza goes to her grave knowing that her sacrifice not only cements her love for me in eternity but also guarantees pain to be spread across this northern domain. And I know that Lord Bane’s plan requires that which I have been installed to guard.
I shall guard it in death as I have in life. I ever shall be Lord Bane’s Vigilant Fist.
With these actions we do not flee our oppressors. We overcome them by embracing the true will of our gods. Those who find us shall find that we are more powerful than ever. Thorn House may be consumed by the earth, but in doing so it rises as a bastion of insurmountable might!
Vigilant Fist of Bane
Dechan does not recognize that sigil as one belonging the Church of Bane--nor of Loviatar--but he does recognize the title of Vigilant Fist as one bestowed upon particularly loyal followers. A Vigilant Fist is given a specific and significant charge; they stand aside from the normal church hierarchy. Though not the equivalent of an aerkebiskop, Tobias Thorn could have stood next to a biskop and commanded respect.
The heroes begin again to take stock of the situation around them. This place, "Thorn House," is now choked with thorny vines. It is guarded by potent creatures, and illusions work to stifle even the most basic attempts at investigation.
Bea says that their bodies are here. Thorn and Melza Blythe might be spirits now. Dechan is not sure that they are facing ghosts, though.
Kyler wonders whether the ghostly wraith from the library could have been one of them in spirit form. Dechan says that he thinks not. That creature fought more on instinct.
Sebastien tests the theory and the heroes come away fairly certain that the dark custodian was not either of the house's original owners.
Dechan turns his attention the Melza Blythe's remains on the bed. He notes that she wears a gold eyepatch over one eye. He also notes that her heart was not removed.
Rather, the wounds to her chest cavity are exit wounds, and there is no corresponding injury to her back. Dechan sees that something small cut its way out of her chest. Further, he sees that eight blade-like implements did the cutting.
The heroes return to the library. They can feel fatigue encroaching, though, and they must choose their next course of action deliberately.
Fatigue and Ivy's drive to keep moving, pushes the heroes into internal squabbling. In the end, they decide to rest--because they absolutely must--must not before they have called upon their divine healing magic and also searched the upstairs for any magical item.
Ivy makes an odd proclamation, that she is allowing them to rest, but that she will not allow them to do so again.
The heroes' check for magic confirms their suspicion that the bandedmail in the bedroom is indeed magical. Dechan senses that it has an abjuration ward, which is not unsual for magical armor.
In addition the dweomer helps Dechan and Sebastien turn up a pair of wands in the nightstand drawer. There is also a pouch of gems. While Sebastien holds onto the pouch, Dechan keeps one wand, with the word "Sheltus" etched into its surface, and Beatrice keeps the other, because she may be able to trigger it even without an obvious command word.
The heroes do not find anything else magical in the library.
The chest in the library is revealed to be trapped with a large array of darts that fire across the corner where it rests. Carrie and Bea are both stung by the darts, but Beatrice protects them both from the darts' venom by producing some alchemical ointment that flushes the wounds.
As the others settle in, Sebastien also takes the bejeweled mask from the library wall; not just for its monetary value but also because it may prove useful in dealing with Tobias Thorn and Melza Blythe in a future encounter.
The heroes also take time to read about The Stone Walks of the Iron Lord, which lay on the library desk. The book was written in Lamordian, but had notes penned in Darkonese. Not the same hand as Tobias Crown, though.
They also spend considerable time and effort reaind the sheet of paper inserted within Stone Walks.
Beatrice refreshes everyone on the Withershadow Combine, as related by Alwina on the way home from the Yolbiac Vale. They are a heretical sect of Banites who believe they are the true worshipers of Bane. They believe in domination and tyranny of all who deny Bane's rightful mastery of the Lands of Mist.
The heroes begin to piece together that this house was originally the home of Tobias Thorn, the Vigilant Fist of Bane. He was given the prominent role of "lighthouse keeper," overlooking the Darkonese end of a Stone Walk that would have connected Darkon directly to the Black Altar of Bane, and the Himmelske Naeve himself.
This loyal priest lost his way when he fell in love with Melza Blythe, a priestess of Loviatar. The two called upon powerful magic to sink their house into the earth, and in the process broke the northern end of the Stone Walk.
Recently, the Withershadow Combine found the house, and the texts. Members of the Combine called upon the Silkwood Sisters to rededicate and redirect the Stone Walk, reactivating it but aiming it now at their own lair.
The sea hag, Driftwood Ethel, served Tobias Thorn loyally, and is still bound to anyone who hurls the sigil of the Vigilant Fist of Bane into the water from the "shrine of Bane," which the heroes have not yet found.
Kyler remains awake to stand watch over the heroes. They sleep, and each of them dreams.
You dream that you are trapped aboard a strange, black slave ship that is run by tall men in loose-fitting yellow robes complete with cowls and cloths over their mouths that move strangely when they speak. The slavers are vicious and whip you as the ship sails through the night sky, slowly making its way past stars and distant galaxies over the course of what feels like an eternity.
You dream that you are in battle with an opponent whose features are obscured. Your enemy strikes at you and you dodge. He strikes again and you intuit the maneuver. Again you dodge. You dodge him until he grows frustrated and vanishes, ending the dream.
You dream that you are on the back of a violet gargoyle as it hurtles through space. Stars and moons fly by, and you sense that the intense cold will freeze you if you let go of the creature for even an instant. It flies you to a star, where you find yourself met by a matronly woman with long auburn hair, a sunburst holy symbol, and a belted kukri the size of a longsword. She speaks in a kindly fashion, telling you that Ivy must be kept safe, and also calm. You have the ability to calm her.
You dream that you are standing in the Civic District of the Enclave, staring up at the statues of The Missed. The sun shines high behind them. Then the statue of Kyler Valorn shifts and peers down at you. Its stone face shifts into an approving smile.
The heroes awake feeling as if the dreams linger on among them. While Dechan remains shaken by his dream, Anson believes he has just foreseen the maneuvers of a foe he will see before this adventure ends, Sebastien senses he has the power to calm Ivy--even if just once--and Beatrice knows that her connection to the Wanderer will allow her to teleport a short distance once before she sees the sun again.
Kyler watches over his friends while they sleep. He takes the time to look through the religious texts on the library bookshelf. He concludes that Tobias Thorn was no heretic--he would have had no business with a group like the Withershadow Combine.
Further, the notes in the books but nothing about Melza Blythe. Writing about his earthly love in a holy text would have been blasphemous in Thorn's eyes.
Kyler swaps out with Sebastien in the early morning. Sebastien is feeling fairly refreshed after his dream, though he did not recognize the woman on the star. He has no reason to consider warning Kyler that strange dreams are afoot.
Kyler's is by far the worst.
ou are ridden through the night by a black-skinned woman clad in grisly fetishes and the rags of once fine clothes. She is corpse-thin and her mouth is full of fangs. Her breath, breathed into your face all night long, smells of wholesome things left to rot in earthen cellars. Her lips are dry, festering. The long, wicked claws on her hands and feet wheedle their way beneath your flesh and then stick there, digging as she moves. She makes you say her name, “Auntie Ursula.”
Kyler awakes fatigued and bearing wounds from his experience. This dream has left marks in the waking world beyond mere exhaustion.
As the heroes rise and prepare for a fresh search of the house, Kyler finds a quiet corner and tries to sleep off what has just happened. Sleep is long in the coming, though, for he senses that, if Auntie Ursula finds him again, she will ride him once more.
Dechan, Carrie, and Anson must prepare their dweomers for the day. Kyler and Alliama are still convalescing, with Big and Garlock watching over them. That leaves Sebastien and Beatrice to perform a fresh search of the house.
They must find a shrine of Bane, they believe. But they have gone through every door, and searched every corner they have found.
In short order, they locate a secret door in the north wall of the library. The bookshelf there will slide open when a catch is released. The two note this, and the back away from it, waiting for their friends to be ready before they go any farther with it.
Next, as Anson and Carrie join them, they find a locked chest in the bedroom. This one is larger (three feet by two feet by two feet), and it weighs no less than a hundred pounds. With great care, the four heroes search for traps, remove it from under the bed, and work it open. Inside they find thousands of silver crowns, and almost a thousand gold crowns.
While the rest of the heroes finish their preparations, the search through the house continues, but they find no other secret doors or overlooked treasures at this time.
When Kyler is able to stand again, he asks his brother to accompany him to the ground floor. He asks the others for a few minutes of privacy.
Downstairs, he breaks open a side window, and then he cuts away the thorned vines hanging outside of it.
Then he climb out into the wan morning light filtering down through the crevasse overhead. He makes his pacts.
He returns, also, with a number of stones, fit for marking with the sigil of the Vigilant Fist of Bane.
The secret door swings open along the library wall, revealing a room hung with thick, thorny vines that hang like tapestries. It is hard to see wood or plaster behind them.
In the center of the room hunch a pair of gargoyles with exaggerated demonic visages and rune engravings all over their bodies. As the heroes see them, the gargoyles begin to move, and the runes covering them begin to radiate a faint violet light.
The gargoyles put up a resilient battle, though the heroes prove more than ready to battle them with magic. Some magic, though, seems to feed the creatures, making one of them larger and stronger. In the end the gargoyles are no match for the Lionblade, the Kukri of Bloodletting, and the Ent Staff, nor Anson and Dechan's magic missiles.
In the wake of the battle there are many wounds to bind. By the time the heroes are ready to consider their next move, Ivy stands at the far end of the room, pulling away a thick vine with the blade of her sword.
There is a door concealed there.
With effort, the heroes clear that door, and the work it open.
The chamber beyond the gargoyle guardians is thick with thorny vines. They hang from the ceiling, cling to the walls, and layer the floor in uneven lengths. Some are as thick as a forearm, others are as thick as a warrior’s leg. Bodies hang within the vines, wrapped in both the vines and heavy, rusted chains. They appear to have been commoners, but they have been dead a long time and are in advanced decomposition. There are at least a dozen of them, most along the north and south walls but some hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. Among the bodies are pieces of past victims, skeletal arms, dismembered legs, all speared by black thorns or dangling from manacles.
At the far end of the room is an altar of stone and steel. It has many spiky protrusions, and unholy runes have been worked into its surface. Atop it stands a foot-tall icon of a robed woman in a spiked collar, a hood drawn forward to conceal her face. The altar is littered with a number of other, dust-covered items, from a small pouch to a rolled sheet of parchment to an arrow to a severed hand to what appears to be a shriveled human heart.
The heroes take one look at this chamber and realize a number of things:
The heroes resolve to deal with the Shrine to Loviatar later, after they have at least located the Shrine to Bane. They renew their search of the house, searching the sitting room, the larder, and the living room.
Finally, Sebastien walks out of the house, climbing through the window that Kyler broke earlier. He walks to the back of the house, sinks the Lionblade into the wood, and leans around the corner, over the roaring, icy waters of the underground stream. There, he sees the missing room.
It lies on the ground floor, beneath the shrine to Loviatar. From where Sebastien hangs he can see that the northeast corner has been left open. A long iron rod, like a crane, emerges from the opening, and an iron cage hangs from it. The room beyond is filled with darkness.
Sebastien returns and explains what he has seen. At first, Dechan suggests that getting into that chamber is a simple matter of extending the Ladder Amulet from the land into the opening in the corner of the room. Sebastien balks at this, though, and there is little interest from the rest of the heroes in repeating the canyon crossing from the day before.
The heroes instead resolve to find a way into the room, even if it means using the Lionblade to hack a doorway through the living room wall.
A quick check from the back of the porch reveals that the rear addition does not stretch as far as the larder, so the secret entrance, if there is one, must lie in the living room.
There is only one likely place for the secret door: The fireplace.
What follows is an experience in exasperation and determination.
The most significant feature of the living room is concealed within the vine-choked hearth. Here is the secret door that leads to the hidden Shrine to Bane. It is beyond impossible for most individuals to locate. After Sebastien has hacked apart all of the thick-grown vines spilling from the hearth's mouth, though, he fares just a little better.
Sebastien's search at the back of the hearth reveals only stone, though, until he strikes the back with the Lionblade. That is when his ear detects two sounds. The expected sound of steel on stone. And the hint of steel on steel.
He focuses his attention, and there, in the back of the hearth, he detects the faint outline of a hidden iron door, some three-feet square.
The iron door is locked, however, and its position at the back of the hearth, with the chimney still full of seeping, severed tendrils, makes it unlikely to bash open. Beatrice is brought in. Picking the lock is a challenging feat, though, due to the shifting shadows and constantly morphing state of the lock due to the illusions permeating the place.
Bea focuses, though, and after almost thirty minutes crouched in the hearth, she hears the satisfying click of success. She retreats before the door is opened.
During this time, Kyler has taken the time to scribe the sigil of the Vigilant Fist of Bane upon the rocks he gathered while making his pacts. He creates them in a variety of media, including ink, chalk, and even etching.
The iron door swings open.
There are two entrances into this room. In the middle of the south wall, where Sebastien crouches, is a small iron door, no more than three feet tall. The northeast corner has been left open. Thick, dark vines hang like curtains on the left and right sides of the opening, but the center has been left exposed. An iron rod and chain suspend an iron cage over the roaring waters of the icy underground stream.
The chamber itself is a shrine to Bane, the Lawgiver. The northwest corner is dominated by a huge iron altar, adorned with iron accoutrements and icons of Bane. Shelves bear other items, some appearing to be tools for the worship of Bane, others perhaps trophies brought here from victims of the clergy.
A number of iron sculptures also stand about this room. Three are almost identical. They appear to be small, metallic canines. Their bodies are made of overlapping iron plates. The fourth, and larger, structure begins moving as soon as you arrive. It moves in a variety of whirs, clicks, and other mechanical sounds. As Sebastien watches, it releases a hissing sound and a cloud of steam. The air is alive with static, and he sees sparks dance around the blade of its implement.
Sebastien's reaction echoes Ivy's earlier in the day, when she opened a door on the second floor and found moving straight for her.