The grate on the cave door creaked open as the party slowly entered. The hallway, hewn roughly through the cavern walls, bent slightly to the left and opened into a large, oddly shaped chamber. The smell almost overwhelmed them as they entered. There were two tables pushed against the wall, one to the west and another to the south. They were covered in rancid meat from something, as well as miscellaneous items such as beakers, moldy books and paper. There was a massive amount of purplish fungus growing on the wall to the west as well. This matched their description of Sorrow Moss.
The main feature of this chamber was the large message scrawled in blood across the northern wall. Its letters covered the wall floor to ceiling. It read:
I saw you coming before you came.
To you this message I leave.
The things to kill are the same
but not true twins.
One in the tower burning all around
The other in the dirt deep within the ground.
Destroy both halves to reclaim your lands.
Both halves gone.
If both stay your lives won’t last
to the end day.
Locke stood before the bloody message, still obviously in pain from the fight and his fall onto the rocks. “What… what does this even mean?” He turned to the rest of the group. “Did Grampa Crazybritches say anything strange to any of you during the fight? He said something to me about ‘being told to leave something for us’. This obviously. But… why?”
Kothal responded, "He said nothing to me. Except “Hhnnnhhggg” when Alimar slammed a magic missile into his throat and I splorched him in the face with an eldritch blast. I think this is hint to the location of the phylactery, and informing us that the lich cannot be unmade while the phylactery remains intact. That… or the lich has an almost twin. I’ll do some research on the book, Alimar may assist if he wishes. As for the items we have found, I would be happy to possess any of them. I am prone to alchemical research and dabbling, though I am also soft and squishy. I’ll leave it to the group to decide who gets what".
Andren pondered the words as he absent-mindedly petted his weasel. "Kothal, is it possible this passage refers to the phylactery (in the ground) AND the lich (in a tower)? A tower “burning all around” could refer to Stratholme…"
“It is quite possible Andren. A second unlikely possibility is that the lich found a way to have two separate phylacteries. While at the university I did hear a tale of a dark wizard who had managed to create 7 distinct phylacteries. He was unmade by a high school kid with glasses and a few snotty friends though. It was a silly tale. I think they even made a stage production about it starring several unknown child actors and several notable older actors.”
Phaedra chewed her lip, half listening to Kothal ramble. “Was that thing we just killed a lich? Because if it was, then it’s not dead. Don’t we have to destroy it’s phylactery to kill it?” She continues to ponder, “Mordack was a lich, I saw a vision of his phylactery underground in King Graham’s mirror. Also, I believe I remember Exarch Melius speaking of the previous heroes, you know, the ones who brought the tower down. I’m sure a lot of it was rumor and heresy, but he mentioned a lich occupying that tower as well. We should bring this news to Lord Fordring. I’m certain he could better ascertain what this all means.”
Locke nodded. “I’m for that. We should give this place the once-over good, and check our stinky pal out there as well. Also, and believe me I hate to mention it, there’s the whole second floor of this funhouse we haven’t explored. Although if you lot want to skip it, I won’t argue. The sooner we’re away from here, the better.”
“Couldn’t we just burn it to the ground?” Phaedra asked.
“I am also for that.” Locke added.
Andren looked at Kothal. “Perhaps there are chemicals here that might be mixed in to some concoction that would raze this evil place?”
Phaedra scratched her head. “Of course, there is the worry that if we burn it to the ground, there may be more difficulty finding the phylactery. I’m still a bit confused though, are we all in agreement that that thing we fought was indeed a lich?”
Kothal frowned. “I don’t believe so Phaedra. I believe he meant to become a lich, but I’m not confident he succeeded. I think his potions and concoctions stole his vitality but kept his mind (tenuously) intact. He showed no signs of being magically adept to become a lich in his own right. I think his message is in regards to Mordack. I will pour over the volume concerning the lich and attempt to come to a more firm conclusion.”
Phaedra ticked off on her fingers, “so then, if we have the book and we have the sorrow moss, is there really any need to investigate the upstairs? Andren and I can consecrate the grounds here. Depending on the results, we could burn it?”
“So far we have found little of use in the house save this laboratory, it may be worth briefly exploring the upper level”, said Kothal. “It’s possible that in defeating this madman we have exorcised the worst of the hauntings. After that, I am sure we can come up with a perfectly suitable concoction to raze this detestable place.”
Andren piped up. “The vision I had showed that he was trying to become a lich but failed for some reason. I think he was… something else.”
“If you feel it’s necessary to investigate the upstairs, I will follow. Allow Andren time to prepare the ritual and we can continue.” Phaedra looked over at Andren, concern on her face. “You do look a bit tired. I still feel some of Naaru’s power. Should I Bless the area? This was always your forte Andren, I’m not sure exactly how to proceed or if I can even be of any help…” Phaedra trailed off waiting her brother’s instruction.
Andren stopped stroking his weasel for a moment and looked at Phaedra. “A Prayer of Healing is the most powerful gift of healing I have been given by Naaru. Perhaps it would be enough to consecrate this place, and it would provide much needed healing for all of us. We should move to the first floor, and the center of the house though.”
Kothal looked around at the lab. "I would take special care to bless this underground lair, and perhaps specifically the now fetid pool. The origins of the hauntings and sheer evil seem to emanate from here.
“I’m not entirely sure there will be much to find on the upper most level here, but there is always a chance. Perhaps even a few more tomes to peruse. With what appears to be the main threat gone, I’d like to get as much from this house as possible. It took 19 years of my life from me, the least I can do is take its books and knowledge from it. Then burn it.”
Phaedra nodded in agreement with Kothal as she took her place next to Andren on the side of the pool. The cleric knelt down by the edge with the head of his mace planted on the ground in front of him, and whispered a prayer of Blessing to Naaru.
Locke observed the conversation long enough to be sure burning the house was still on the agenda, then wandered out to see if he could fish the corpse of the would-be lich out of the pool. He fashioned a slipknot from a coil of rope and weighted it with a small purse of copper coins before sliding it into the water.
Kothal joined Locke and mage handed the sword out of the water after watching Locke struggle with the corpse for a few minutes. The sword was a modified scimitar, rusty and completely worthless. As the pair tried to wrestle the corpse onto the ledge, it split in half, revealing a massive amount of writhing worms which poured out into the pool. The body pretty much disintegrated, the remnants falling into the water with a series of splashes that were echoed as Locke vomited into the pool. He spit and wiped his face as he said to no one in particular, “Yeah… definitely burning this place…”
Alimar leaned against his longbow and listened in on the conversation. “Kothal, I’d be more than happy to help you research once we get back to the keep. For now though I need to take a quick breath and steel my nerves if we are to continue to search this cursed manner.” He looked to Andren and then Locke," Let me know if I can be of any assistance". He continued to lean on his bow for support waiting to be beckoned.
“Alimar, while we are here and your interest in poisons is significant, perhaps we should take some samples of the poisoned water and some from the paralyzing biting ghouls. We have 4 flasks, say 2 and 2. I can get the poisoned water without having to touch it, so I can take care of that.”
Having blessed the area, Andren slumped against the wall, spent. His new pet weasel skittered around and on him, wanting to play. Andren gently patted the creature. “You should go now Pauly. You were so brave during our struggle with that thing. Thank you, but you should go now. It’s not safe here. Go. Be free. Go!” With that, the creature bit him and ran off to freedom. A tear rolled down Andren’s face as blood trickled from his finger. “We shall not look upon his like again.”
Phaedra rolled her eyes at her brother. “I’m sure you’ll find another pet in that bag of yours Andren. Chin up!”
As the party stood around discussing when and how to burn the haunted mansion to the ground, Phaedra pulled Locke aside. “Do you think, if there’s time, when we get back to town, you could teach me how to use one of those things?” she asked, eying his crossbow. “I spent so much time in that last battle trying to move around and get to the bad guy, it would be nice to have a weapon with some range. I’d like to buy one, but I want to know how to use it first.”
Locke eyed his customized hand crossbow. “Sure. But I’d think someone as… sturdy… as you might want something a little bigger. I can teach you to use this or a light two-handed crossbow, but if you’re able I’d suggest you try a heavy crossbow. More stopping power.” The thief grinned wickedly.
Phaedra looked confused by the evil grin, and smiled, “Thank you Locke, I’d appreciate your…” she paused searching for the right word, “…expertise in the matter.”
The party decided exploration of the remaining rooms would be beneficial. They found several rooms upstairs with similar haunts, but nothing which affected them negatively. They managed to make their way through the entire upstairs but found nothing of value or importance. The house was set ablaze, and after cathartically watching it burn they began the long journey back to Brightbanner Keep.