The last bolt from Locke’s crossbow rang true and we found ourselves standing on the stairs of the rickety old mansion. My connection to Naaru was so weak. I could sense her presence, but reaching for her power was like grasping through cobwebs for something that was just beyond my reach. Ande could feel it too, I could tell as the concern on his face was palatable.
Standing on the porch I called forth a blessing from Naaru to heal the wounds left by the undead birds as we waited or Locke to pick, well, the lock. I wonder if anyone else has caught that about his name.
As the door swung open, the smell of mold and decay almost knocked me over. Andren cast light on his shield and moved into the open foyer. As he moved the light around the room, our eyes were immediately drawn to it’s center. There stood a stuffed beast. It had the face of a lion, bat like wings and a wicked looking curved scorpion tail. I had never seen anything like it before. “A manticore, how curious,” Kothal piped up from behind me. How curious indeed.
“Don’t touch it Ande, we shouldn’t…”
“Don’t call me that,” he interprupted me, walked up and slapped his hand on the creature’s face as he turned to glare at me. I would have apologized, but there was no time because behind Ande the manticore started to shift and flicker and come alive! “Andren, duck!” I screamed as the ghost like manticore took a swipe at him.
The beast roared as Andren turned to face it. Behind me I heard Locke and Kothal cry out in fear as I drew my sword and moved into place beside my brother to face the monster. The light shining from his shield bounced around the room, interspersed with the light of sacred flame and the bolts of crackling energy that flew from Kothal’s fingertips. Andren and I moved together dancing and weaving. Try as I might, I couldn’t connect sword and manticore. I sent a prayer of thanks to Naaru for my friends behind me and my brother beside me.
Over the monster’s roar, I could hear Norkel chanting. The beast lunged past Ande’s shield and bit his shoulder, granting me the opening I needed. I brought my sword down through it’s wispy form and watched as its shaped flickered and then sank into the floor boards.
Smiling at Andren I turned to face the others and gasped. The faces staring back at me had changed. Kothal and Locke both looked older. The ghostly manticore had magically aged them both.
Moving past us and deeper into the mansion Norkel glanced back at Andren. “Keep you hands in your pockets Andren, so you’re not tempted to touch anything else.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at Andren’s scowl.
Taking point in the center of the room next to the now silent manticore, I watched my friends. Locke, his cloak thrown over his head moved between the shadows as he listened and checked the doors to the east and west for traps. Andren went to move further in the room, but stopped in front of a large moldy rug, his attention drawn to something on the wall.
“Now what do you suppose that is?” Andren wondered. I could hear Norkel muttering behind me about how he shouldn’t touch it as Kothal moved up and stood on the edge of the rug beside Ande. “It appears to be a monkey. A decoration of some sort maybe? I wonder, stand back everyone.” Kothal spoke an incantation and waved his hands. A spectral hand appeared and he directed it towards the tail of the monkey and pulled it. A loud screeching chatter emanated from the monkey, and then silence. We all waited for the house to collapse on us, or hordes of undead to appear, but nothing. “How curious,” shrugged Kothal, “don’t touch it Andren.”
Moving on Locke opened the door to his left. Andren moved in front and headed down the hallway. We came out into what looked like a ballroom. Windows stood across from us, facing out into the ocean and another door was to our right. The only furniture of note was a moldy old piano. Locke moved soundlessly through the shadows to get a closer look at the piano. I watched as a far away look came over his face. He bowed deeply as if to a partner, placed his hands eloquently in the air as is grasping someone’s hand and hip and started dancing a waltz.
I looked over at Kothal, “are you seeing this too?”
“Yes, yes I am,” he nodded his head slowly as he turned his attention from the waltzing half-elf to the piano in the corner. Raising his hands and summoning his power Kothal sent purple and black ropes of electricity straight at the instrument, blasting it into moldy splinters.
We all turned to look, and saw, that Locke was still dancing. Very gracefully I might add, and with a look of pure bliss on his face.
Norkel moved up and placed his hand on Locke’s shoulder trying to inspire him to shake off whatever it was that was possessing him. Pushing Norkel out of the way Andren came up behind our friend and scooped him up into a bear hug. Locke’s feet were dangling in the air as we watched a ghostly form of a woman in a ball gown appear in front of him. She shrieked, causing us all to take sonic damage, spun in a circle and then snarled at Locke as her form drifted down into the floor boards. Ande let Locke go and he sank to the floor, clearly exhausted.
Taking point, Andren moved into the next room. As soon as he opened the door, three large hairless rats jumped on his shoulders and face. Where their hair should have been were many sores and blisters. Andren turned in the door frame, hollering. Not waiting to see if he would smack himself in the face with his war hammer in an attempt to smash a rat, I reached up and grabbed the thing off his face. It squirmed in my hand as I felt blisters pop and ooze run over my fingers. I immediately dropped it on the floor between myself, Norkal, Locke and Kothal. “Kill it! Kill it quickly,” I hate rats. Backing away Locke took careful aim and shot the rat dead. We managed to dispatch the rest of them fairly quickly.
Norkel noted a scraping noise coming from inside the washroom. “It is most likely more of them,” I told him, slamming the door and propping pieces of the broken piano up against it.
Making our way back down the hall we came into another room. A fireplace, flanked by two windows stood in the far wall. There was dust everywhere. “Do we really need to investigate every room? It doesn’t look like there is any sorrow moss…” I was interrupted as Andren barreled past me to poke around in the fireplace. Locke followed close behind, skulking in the shadows. I could tell he was still recovering from the ordeal in the ball room. Rolling my eyes at my brother I stood near the doorway and waited.
“Any sorrow moss growing inside the fire place Ande?” I waited for his usual reply, but was surprised when he turned towards me with a stricken look on his face. He marched directly to Locke, scooped him up and said, “we have to go Lori, right now.” Locke struggled in Andren’s vice like grip. “What are you talking about you big blue oaf? Put me down!”
Sounding almost exactly as our mother used to, Andren scolded Locke for talking back to him, told him they had to get our of the mansion immediately and started to push past me and the rest of the group as if we weren’t even there.
At this point Locke balled up both his fists and slammed them into the side of Andren’s head. Silly half-elf didn’t realize that is the hardest part of Andren. “My name is not Lori,” shouted Locke as he pushed against Ande’s shoulders fruitlessly.
“We have to leave, Lori! You don’t understand! Your father…” Andren’s motherly voice started sounding more and more panic stricken. Kothal whipped out his cane and attempted to trip Andren with it as I pleaded vainly with him to let Locke go. Everything was happening so quickly, it was good one of us kept a clear head. Through the din I heard Norkel chanting. As he ended his spell, plants and vines started sprouting up everywhere in the room. They twisted and tangled around the entire party. Andren was stuck fast in the vines. We all watched as a ghost like figure drifted up and out of Andren, and then sunk soundlessly into the floorboards. Each of us again felt the sonic damage wash over us, and it was stronger this time.
Gently setting Locke down, Andren apologized. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “I was myself and then I wasn’t. I had to get you and myself out of the house and to safety. I had to get away from my husband,” Andren chuckled with embarrassment as he picked at the leaves crawling up his legs. “I’m sorry for that. I’m me again.”
We decided to take a short rest in the room. As Ande called down a blessing from Naaru, I watched all the dust on the floor blow back and gather in the corners, almost as if it was alive and fleeing from him. How curious….