Continuing the investigation, our heroes reviewed what they knew after shadowing each of their suspects. The Paladin Ember plied a ne’er-do-well named Cliff with the juice of the vine until he revealed that a mysterious hooded figure had met him in an alley and paid him to pretend to represent the guild to Baron Goldburg. (Earlier he had visited the Baron and told him about the success of the guild’s expedition against the kobolds.)A search of the alley revealed a strange glyph against bad smells and the remains of tiny carrion-eating insects. Ember also investigated each of the nobles’ houses after this. Looking for any signs, physical or not, of divine power she found minor emanations from some, but some strong and dark feelings coming from the house of Karady.
The group also confronted Lady Dolvain on her pagan activates. She seemed surprising unconcerned about everything they asked. On several occasions she seemed to forget that they had even been talking for an extended period. Using their knowledge of the arcane, and a few directed questions, it became obvious that Lady Dolvain was being mentally dominated. Unfortunately, no one could figure out by who.
Regrouping, the Heroes discussed the events of the past few weeks; there was one question that seemed to hover. Why did Count Windhaven make a speech against them and their guild hall? He had little to no relationship with them and they had done nothing to garner any specific interest from him.
It was decided to confront Windhaven on this. A meeting was easily arranged and the group met with Windhaven a couple days later. Over the next few hours, they discussed current issues with Windhaven. By convincing him there was more benefit to the count with the group on his side, he opened up. He told a story of how a precious family heirloom was stolen from him and he was told it would be returned if he made the speech.
This heirloom was an ancient artifact from the War for the Dead. Windhaven knew little of it besides it had been his family’s duty to protect it for generations and it’s called Velocost’s Armband of Life. However, Karak recognized the name. Velocost was one of the necromancer’s from the War for the Dead. It is said that this armband can take life energy from the living and use it to power the undead. One final note, Windhaven pointed out his meeting place with the mysterious man who demanded the ransom. It too had a glyph and dead carrion bugs.
Having learned more, it was decided that they should ask some tough questions to Goldburg next. He seemed to be meeting with many of their suspects and was also spying on Windhaven it seemed. Ember, however, was tired of diplomacy. She stormed off to Goldburg’s with the rest of the party scrabbling to catch up. Some furious glares and a smashed table, courtesy of Herc, later, Goldburn opened up like a busted damn.
Goldburg admitted to spying on Windhaven, claiming that Wolsner had paid him to do it. He also confirmed meeting with Karady and importing many rare herbs, medicines and experts for him. But, he did not seem to be doing much more in terms of villainous activities.
Next it was time to talk to Karady. There a few strong suspicions in the group now, but hard evidence was needed. He seemed nervous and preoccupied, but Karak and Pip could both tell he was very healthy. So, they asked why he needed such shipments as the ones he was getting through Goldburg. Karady then revealed that his son was incurably ill. Asking to see him, Pip easily discerned from a brief examination of the lad that he himself could readily cure him with the right combination of the herbs at hand. In this way, the guild earned the gratitude and aid of the Baron Karady.
Through this act, Karady confided in them that he was broke from his efforts to ship cures to King’s Hope. For money, he had been taking icons and other objects from an agent of Wolsner. He hid them in his house as common artwork for the most part. Still needing real evidence, they convinced Karady to let them join him for his next meeting with the agent.
Checking out the meeting site ahead of time, they found another glyph, freshly prepared. Knowing Karady and the agent would arrive soon, they hid themselves throughout the alley. Soon Karady arrived with two body guards, then the agent, cloaked and wrapped in black cloth, seemed to materialize in the alley. As he approached Karady, Karak jumped him. But he slipped right out of his grasp, as if he were made only of cloth. The agent then lifted his hand to his face and pushed it into his mouth. When he pulled it out, there was a yellowed, chipped skull in his hand. As he shrugged of his cloak, he also dropped the skull to the floor.
As the group stepped out of the shadows to engage, the agent’s true form was revealed. Beneath the wrapping and cloak was only skin. And waved and undulated as it supported itself through obvious necrotic power. The skull it dropped served only as a prop to its disguise. Herc stood stunned as he described what he knew of the beast. The terror ridden stories his uncle told him as a child were becoming true in front of his disbelieving eyes.
As Herc regained his composure, the creature wrapped its flailing limbs around one of Karady’s guards. The scream was muffled and went silent as he was enveloped by the animated skin. Karady watched in stunned horror as the body of his man flopped to the ground, his skin completely removed.
Jumping into action, the group attempted to kill the creature. It proved extremely resilient to any attempt to restrain it or force its movement. Right before its second attack, the skin of the dead guard appeared. It slithered its way out of the creature and began attacking as well. It quickly snatched up the second guard as Karak was grabbed by the original. As its floppy limbs embraced Karak, he felt his strength drain from him. Karak fought off the fear as it slowly began to engulf him as well.
Both Karak and Ardjuna fought off several attacks from the creatures. As the original finally went down and howled something about his master’s army taking the city. The group quickly brought down the other too with and then dealt with the horror of what just happened to some of them.
Once they had gathered their wits, it was beyond doubt where they needed to go next. Not wanting to waste anytime, they rushed to the house of Wolsner. Breaking down the door, they proceeded to search the house. They were interrupted by the city guard briefly; however they were quickly cowed out the door again. Soon, Pip discovered a secret door to a basement in one of Wolsner’s common rooms.
A purple glow emanated from the basement. Following the light, they found Wolsner immersed in a glowing ritual circle. The purple light came from the shimmering field surrounding the space enclosed my the circle. Bellowing a warcry, Herc charged Wolsner, but as he made contact with the purple light there was a flash and then Herc crumpled to the ground unconscious. Wolsner just laughed and said, “Well, I thought it would be sooner, but you’re here at last. Too bad I’m on my way out. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back and I won’t be alone.”
He broke into laughter again as the purple light increased in intensity. When the heroes could see again, the ritual circle had gone dark and Wolsner was gone.