It was the mostly the humor of it.
The spell worked wonders; allowing such a weight of that massive and obscene helmet to trot down the trail as though it had grown legs of its own. As the great old helmet trotted into Sandpoint, through the streets, and up to Old Light, Theo laughed to himself with the humor of it all. This would undoubtedly be the most useless prize for clearing Thistletop. Still, he felt happy to laugh. After bequeathing the massive helmet to Brodert Quink, he enjoyed a respite with his remaining friends. He found most of his time spent distracting himself with hard rewarded labors, acting with the Sandpoint Theater under the tutelage of Cyrdak, and avoiding his grief and guilt for Andri’s death. Theo dreamt of a worthwhile distraction. He wished for something to prevent his thoughts from grieving for Andri. He still held tightly a hope that he could restore Andri some day. Truly, for the short time it seemed as though the goblin attacks had waned, the sinister plots of Nualia had been successfully thwarted, and even the power play by the Scarnettis seemed a distant concern.
That morning, as the group sat around their favorite table to have one of Bethna’s many great breakfasts, Sheriff Hemlock alerted the group to a concern regarding a pair of horrible murders in the mill. Horrible indeed. The murders brought forth a new occurrence of the sihedron rune that had been so prominent in Thistletop, and the temple under the glassworks. Troubling still, was how it manifested: this time carved into a miller’s chest. Apparently the only motive had been the man’s greed; known for cooking the books at the mill for his personal gain. Perhaps the Scarnettis aren’t so innocent in their campaign for dominance over Sandpoint.
Meanwhile, distractions were granted, though perhaps not exactly as Theo had wanted. Calistria was a fickle mistress as such, though Theo couldn’t complain. On the lighter side, a scholarly whelp – Adam – made his appearance one morning seeking wondrous items for which he might gain in trade. Theo was amused, but held disinterest as the lad over spoke and carried on far too long for Theo’s liking. Indeed, his snarkier thoughts wandered to shutting him up with a good sausage down his throat, or just putting the brat in a sleeper hold. To Theo’s surprise, Adam seemed to catch on to the torn thoughts. By the end of the night, Theo truly didn’t know if Adam had any interest, if Theo himself had any interest, of if the pair simply wanted to express just how annoying the other truly was.
Troubling further was the report of a second murder site. In actuality, this had occurred prior to the lumber mill, but the mill’s horror was first examined. With the party fully deputized, the crew sought out the abandoned barn in the woods outside the mill. More dead. More stench of unhandled death. More sihedron runes carved into chests. Three chests, all thieves; known swindlers. The only true connection being their greed and their death.
The murders felt reminiscent of Chopper, though only in frequency and suddenness of outbreak. No, this was not some ghost of Chopper come to seek revenge on the greedy. These murders were specific, and the group – Selith – was meant to be drawn into them. Such a disturbing note to read; a lordship beckoning the lad like some bitch in heat. How mad must one be? What lords has he inspired in his travels to draw such attention of serial killers?
Theo felt it would be easiest to determine where intentions lied if he left the posturing aside for a bit and let Adam see some honest barbarian intelligence from him. While the group traveled on horses to the asylum for yet another lead, Theo took the time to explain – through many interruptions and wild assumptions he had to correct – much of what he had learned about Sandpoint and the various intertwined relationships over the past six months in a matter of six hours. Upon immediately hearing, “You’ve been investigating this for six whole months?!” Theo realized just how poorly Adam could listen without assuming and growled at the lad. Thrice Theo would repeat that he lived in Sandpoint far longer than the events since the Swallowtail on the 1st of Rova, but he eventually gave up expecting Adam would listen to anything Theo had to say.
Rumors had turned into anecdotes. Ghouls had been appearing frequently from the southern farmlands and a sighting had occurred as north as inside Sandpoint itself. Troubled by these events, the party plus Adam ventured south to investigate. Ghouls indeed had made their impact on the farmlands. Where once cheerful farmers greeted travelers passing through were absent from their abandoned homesteads and chilling sights. Harvest should be soon, and yet none of these farms showed signs of activity.
The party stopped to investigate one farmhouse, finding it abandoned and a bit bloody from a scuffle. With some time to kill that morning, and with concern growing that this ghoul issue could be far worse than presumed, the group continued south to the Hambley farm. There a troubling sight was discovered: Ghouls inside scarecrows. With a plan to push forward to the house and stop the ghouls at any cost, the group set out to march on the farm. Adam, surprised by a ghoul attacking the back of the party, set ablaze the massive cornfield in reaction. Theo knew there would be consequences for that, but ignored it for the moment.
During the march on the Hambley farm, two scarecrows were discovered to not be ghouls or straw, but instead still alive humans afflicted with ghoul fever. Once again, the Ant Haul spell boosted Theo’s status as party pack mule, this time carrying both Gruffmins with ease as they escaped the spreading fire. At the house, the Gruffmins were secured inside safely while the group chose to clear out the ghouls in the farm.
As expected, the best laid plans went to shit. As Alistair moved to wade through a mob at one entrance, others attempted to sneak out the back. Adam, being quick on his toes to react brazenly, felt it his responsibility to stop them before Theo could intervene. Theo let a quick smile escape as he watched Adam become paralyzed from the bites. In a mighty swing, he bisected the threatening ghoul and spared Adam more pain in his helpless state. Selith provided much needed assistance to Alistair, as even the celestial-touched pretty-boy fell victim to the paralytic affects of the ghouls. Gale saw an opportunity, and further cleared the remaining ghouls from around Adam, trusting and understanding Theo could endure the one blast that went awry as Theo attempted to shield Adam from it. Still, Theo reassured all was well with a thumbs-up to remind her to not fret.
As the few final ghouls fell, the fire began to lick the edges of the cornfield and impose a smoky heat of urgency. Inside the farmhouse, Hambley’s body was found, with once again a sihedron carved into his chest and a creepy love letter to Selith. No longer were these notes even remotely amusing; not even remotely appropriate. Yet, in their words, a betrayal of identity was posed: could this whole morbid show be one of affection from his old sugar daddy from mere weeks ago? Theo shuddered at the troubling thought.
The fire was now roaring closer and closer. With time running out, two disabled farmers and a heavy chest of silver to remove, Theo made the call to make his run for it. In a matter of minutes, his enlarged size, full sprint bounded through the fire and smoke. The Gruffmins barely held on, and ultimately the rest of the party found their own paths to freedom to rejoin and recover. Spent, troubled, and quite possibly afflicted, everyone agreed it was time to head back to Sandpoint for medical attention.
Once again, an abysmal stop at the asylum yielded nothing but a sham doctor and more messages for Selith. Theo was certain these messages were coming from Foxglove, and decided he was going to seek out and confront the creep in the morning. The rest of the group was in agreement.
Back in Sandpoint, Theo was disappointed to hear that Father Zantus was incapable of curing the two afflicted farmers, and was outright worried to hear confirmation that Selith, Alistair and Adam had all contracted Ghoul fever during their march upon the farm. Desperate for answers, Theo spoke to Madam Mvashti. After scolding Theo for contributing to the fire, agreed to help the two farmers in exchange for a formal apology from the group to the forest fey for causing the mess. Theo agreed readily, and organized the group to spend the afternoon finding trinkets and other items the fey may appreciate in offering. He knew at least if he failed as an adventurer he could work as a waiter.
Theo was quite worried the next morning. The approach to the forest was quiet enough, though the whole countryside felt tarnished with death from the ghoul presence. More troubling was the approach to Foxglove manor, which appeared to take on a darker tone of death as they arrived. The house felt metastasized and evil. Alistair felt an overwhelming presence of undeath, and the red-eyed crow lingering outside left Theo ill at ease. Certainly, Foxglove manor must represent Aldern Foxglove the man: sinister and evil in secret. He must pay for his actions against Sandpoint.