A’ari’s illuminated copper piece rolled and skipped and plunged down each wooden step, chasing shadows into the recesses of the smuggler’s quarters below. The cellar was devoid of life but resonated with a familiar dread aura. One by one they descended into the ghostly pall, a reluctant inevitability guiding them, pulling them towards that door, that boarded portal, that surreal nightmare. The Nari drew forth a hammer and with an arcing swing battered the boarded planks, a violent riposte to the mounting fear. And then it was open.
A torch was cast into the gloom beyond and revealed a crypt-like chamber with high vaulted ceilings and a human figure laying motionless at the far end, blanketed in black robes and heaped at the centre of an unholy symbol, ten feet across and radiating evil. With utmost caution they entered the room but for A’ari, I’aeia and Umbar the rancid stench of putrefied meat was too strong and drove them back, gagging for the door. Cale, sword-drawn with anticipation, moved to the body. It was a human man, emaciated and decorated with strange tattoos and piercings, with a wide-eyed and horrified countenance frozen on his face. As Cale took in his surroundings he noticed arcane symbols painted on the arched ceiling above, a handful of black candles melted into wax puddles beneath, and a stoic, still burning candle at the centre of the symbol on the cobblestones before him. The larger-than-life wizard, Aaaz, seemed shrunken in the chamber, and quietly inspected the runes to no avail. Moments passed as the others outside gathered their reeling senses and sheathed their faces in rags to filter the noxious fumes, then they rejoined Cale and Aaaz within.
The group gathered around the body and prepared to examine more closely but as soon as the corpse was even slightly disturbed it contorted and shook. Umbar, with arrow cocked and aimed at the ready, panicked and snapped the bowstring. Cale brought down his sword in a maddened swing and nearly shattered his blade upon the stones. As ill-fortune grasped the heroes the twisted man’s jaw cracked and tore and he vomited forth a bilious liquid that defied gravity and congealed upon the ceiling. A’ari clutched at his holy breastplate and for a moment dispersed the gathering ooze but it soon pulled together and took the shape of a foul, obese demon with a massive and open, razor-toothed maw.
The rotund magician Aaaz had quickly prepared a spell of leaping and in a swashbuckling display of acrobatics he bounded to meet the beast mid-air, pummeling it square in the belly with an electrically-charged uppercut. The demon lurched to the ground and responded with a sinister pole-axe, cutting down the wizard with one fell swoop. In seconds, the Satyr cleric was by his side.
With lightning speed the demon turned upon the Nari and channeled a fear so pure and white that it paralysed the bard completely. Then all went black as the hellspawn cast a magical darkness into the chamber.
I’aeia, previously wrestling with his own ineptitude and the task of destroying the candle, now found an opportunity to vent his frustrations. With an arcane word and a flicker of fingers the demon was engulfed in dancing light, breaking the darkness and offering a target for the blinded heroes.
Cale went toe-to-toe with the wretched abomination, the magical cutlass glowing in his hands but struggling to find blood. In the end it was a plain old sling bullet, cast from the hand of the revived wizard Aaaz, that struck down the vile demon. The room shook with death throes and slowly, with retreating screams of torment, returned to calm, the only sounds the gasping for breath of the exhausted adventurers.
With that the group itself dispersed. A’ari, Cale and Aaaz headed upstairs to confirm their hopes that the malicious presence in the house was truly vanquished. Umbar and I’aeia searched the unholy shrine, with the Nari finding another secret door, this one leading into the laboratory of Jorgan Reinstihl.
The afternoon crept in as the party uncovered the secrets of the mansion. Jorgan had been an ambitious alchemist whose luck took a turn for the worse and whose failed dreams drove him to despair and then madness. His creation of a Philosophers Stone was supposed to unravel the mysteries of alchemy but the marble brought nothing but misfortune and Jorgan ultimately went insane and butchered his family before killing himself. How this sad tale involved the smugglers or the demonic presence of the mansion was uncertain, but the heroes had at least accomplished their original mission, and with no small measure of accomplishment they set out to return to Pincers Cove.
As they left the mansion they happened across Magidar the merchant, who showed great pleasure at seeing the valorous adventurers. But the group was deeply suspicious of the man’s intentions; why was he here? why was he trading in exactly the same wares as the smugglers? and why did he flash with evil intent earlier that day as A’ari cast his magic across him? Either Magidar was innocent or remarkably quick-witted, for he seemed to have an answer for everything.
- * * * *
Anteaus, the vast white planet, heaved into the chill evening sky while far below, at The Inn of the Shipwrecked Dawn, the Council of Pincers Cove gathered with their hired men to hear their account of the last ten days. It was a finely woven tale of Cale’s that enraptured the Council, but the atmosphere waned as the smugglers were revealed and dissolved further when Magidar was implicated as being in liege with them. Magidar continued to plead innocence and eventually grew angry at the allegations, departing the cabin early with contempt in his bulging eyes.
The following day brought severe illness to all but Aaaz. The knight and the bard were bed-ridden but A’ari had energy enough to return to the mansion and ensure it was in fact clear of evil. He was soon joined by Curator Helmsward who sanctified the building and was taken on a tour of the estate to see the terrible story unravel again.
Satisfied with the success of the adventurers, the Council met again and distributed the reward to the heroes in a deeply awkward presentation. A’ari wanted the money to go back into the community but, unlike Cale, couldn’t bring himself to trust Helmsward to share it out amongst his flock. I’aeia greedily took his platinum pieces and ran off for his therapy session with the Asura, Jai, and Vetch and Aaaz bickered over risk and reward and deeds and entitlements until everyone backed away uncomfortably.
So the evil of the alchemist’s estate was banished but the mansion raised more questions than it would answer. The adventurers found themselves burdened with the plight of the Nari, tasked with the safe return of Sigrid Thorgerson to Renstake and with a sealed scroll to deliver to Caretaker Agven of the Holy Embrace Church. All this and most everyone was infected with Filthrot, a necrotic and potentially fatal disease administered in the stinking bilges of The Sea Ghost.