Sheriff Hemlock orders the town guard to hold back the crowd.
“This is the fifth one,” he says, “People are getting scared.”
The Crusaders stand around the gruesome remains. They have seen many things in their travels, but this is something new.
“This was not done by an animal,” says Lini.
Seelah eyes the crowd, “No-one saw anything?”
Hemlock shrugs, “Some people keep to themselves, some people are nosey. Either way, no one is talking.”
Sajan is examining the corpse. Amiri crouches beside him. She lifts a flap of skin and breathes out softly.
“Bite marks,” she says, “and the smell of rot.” Sajan nods in agreement.
Hemlock asks the question, “What does that mean?”
Amiri stands and wipes her fingers on her leggings. Her face is grim.
“Undead cannibal serial killer,” she says.
Seelah takes Hemlock to one side.
“If the murderer is now undead, then they must have changed shortly before the murders started. Is there anyone who hasn’t been seen recently?” she asks.
Hemlock thinks. “It has been quiet out at the haunted hou-, er, I mean, out at Foxglove Manor,” he says. “Neither Aldern or Iesha Foxglove have been into town for a while.”
“Haunted, eh?” says Lini.
Amiri hefts her warhammer, “I am not afraid of any ghosts.”
Before investigating the Manor, the adventurers cover the other possible leads. Seelah explores the Prison, Lini the Academy, Amiri the Deeper Dungeons, and Sajan the Warrens.
Seelah finds a Goblin Pyro sneaking around trying to set fire to the straw in the cells. She sends him packing but takes a nasty burn in the process. As he runs off he manages to set one of the wooden beams alight and the ceiling collapses again. Seelah dusts off her armour and mutters, “What joker built this place?!”
Lini is perusing the spell books in the Academy library when Smilo her tiger suddenly freezes and lets out a low growl. His hair is standing on end.
“Easy, boy.” says Lini, “Let me see what is going on.”
She casts an Augury spell which reveals the cold, dread presence of a Haunt moving amongst the bookshelves.
Lini and Smilo approach it cautiously.
“Okay,” says Lini, “Do exactly as I say.”
Smilo makes a strange kind of whine.
Lini leaps forward and shouts, “Get it!”
They walk out of the Academy. A chill is pulsing up and down Lini’s spine. Something sinister and incorporeal is following her.
“I guess I got a little excited,” says Lini, shivering.
There is cold air drifting through the Deeper Dungeons. Amiri can see her breath in front of her face. She finds a Bugbear warming itself at a fire and looking nervous. “Boo!” she whispers in its ear. It yelps and runs off into the dark.
Sajan is wandering the Warrens. He meets a Merchant, but he has no money for her. She scoffs and saunters away. He continues into the maze of passages and shortly runs into the Merchant again. This time she is not so haughty. She hurries past him glancing over her shoulder. Sajan watches her go, then turns to where she came from.
He makes a step and a chill flows over his body. A Haunt has latched on to him. Its icy presence slows his movements.
There is a shuffling sound coming from ahead, and around the corner stumbles Iesha Foxglove. She is no longer the beautiful mistress of the Manor, but a Revenant, a pale undead shadow of her former self animated by anger and revenge.
“Where is he?” she snarls, “Where is he?”
Deep blue bruises line her throat. She rounds on Sajan, grabbing him and pulling his face to hers.
“Where is he?!” she shouts.
Sajan says nothing, and she throws him aside. He lies stunned by the wall as she shambles away.
In the Prison, Seelah climbs over broken masonry and finds Sheriff Hemlock performing a roll-call of the inmates. No one is missing. She continues to the lower level where she can feel the aura of the undead all around her.
A skeleton is rattling its chains in the last cell. Seelah smashes it into fragments with her warhammer. Before the dust can settle, a Haunt seeps into her frame, its numbing tendrils sending shivers along her body.
She grits her teeth and staggers back up the stairs, where she sees Iesha Foxglove searching the cells. Wrapped in torn sheets, Iesha emanates cold and death. She senses Seelah’s approach and turns to her.
“Where is he?” Iesha croaks, “He must pay!”
Seelah stands firm. “Who do you seek?” she asks, “I can help you find him.”
Iesha waves her hand dismissively and lurches out of the prison, the tattered sheets trailing behind her.
Lini is followed by her Haunt as she makes for the Manor. She presses her palm to her head and winces. Smilo shivers from head to tail.
Foxglove Manor is silhouetted as the moon rises full behind it. Bats circle the tall tower and flap among the eaves. Lini pushes open the front door and the hinges give a creak that echoes around the hallway like a scream.
The noise alerts a Bunyip which is gorging on the contents of the scullery. It charges at Lini but she sears it with her scroll of Lightning Touch and it scurries off into the manor leaving behind a fishy odour. She can hear it smashing doors somewhere in the building.
Amiri ventures deeper into the Dungeons. The air is cold and still. The mold and slime has formed into icicles which snap when she pushes past them. She stops at a crossway. Frost forms on the walls as the temperature suddenly drops. She braces herself for the unknown, turning from one dark passageway to the next.
Suddenly there is a freezing wind and a Haunt rushes into her. The cold of its embrace numbs her limbs and Amiri topples against the wall.
As before, the Haunt heralds the arrival of the undead Iesha Foxglove. She stalks up to Amiri and takes her by the throat. Iesha’s eyes are blank, but her face is contorted with anger. She begins to squeeze and Amiri gasps for air.
“He was my love,” she hisses, “He was my love, and he did this to me!”
Amiri’s frostbitten fingers fumble vainly at Iesha’s ice-hard grip. Her vision begins to fade.
“He did the same to me.” says Iesha, her voice drifting off, “He did this to me.”
Iesha’s claws loosen from Amiri’s throat. Her arms drop to her sides. She turns and shuffles off into the dark. Amiri slumps to the floor.
Seelah leaves the prison and crosses the fields to the Farmhouse. The moonlight glints off the grasses. The wind whistles through the trees. The Haunt shivers through her bones.
Sajan stands in the Manor doorway. He can hear crashing and banging from within. He turns slightly, as if to look behind him, then shudders and steps into the entrance hall.
Lini is upstairs. She opens a door into the master bedroom. There are signs of a struggle, broken vases and ornaments. A closet door has been smashed open from the inside, its lock broken. The closet smells of death. Lini backs out of the bedroom and continues her search.
Amiri joins Seelah at the farmhouse. The family is nowhere to be seen. The isolation of the farm seems to make it a prime target for evil. Seelah hears a sinister snigger from the kitchen and signals Amiri.
They burst into the kitchen and find the farmer tied up on the kitchen table. Standing over him brandishing a pair of long razors is Aldern Foxglove, or rather what used to be Aldern Foxglove.
He is now The Skinsaw Man, the ghoul cannibal who has been committing the murders.
“Ha ha ha,” he laughs as the heroes rush in, “Two more for the feast!”
He swings at them with his razors flashing. Seelah and Amiri’s movements are clumsy and slow. The Haunt chill aches in their joints.
Seelah swings her Magic Warhammer almost blindly, calling on her Holy Might. It shears through The Skinsaw Man’s blade and connects with his shoulder. He howls and spits ghoul venom, lunging at Amiri with his other razor-knife.
Amiri’s fingers are numb, slipping on the grip of her bastard sword. Her arms are heavy, she cannot get momentum in her swing.
Frustrated, she calls on her rage to give her strength. The heat of battle passion courses through her. Her entire body flexes and her sword cleaves through the Villain in one smooth stroke. He screams and collapses.
Amiri and Seelah feel the relief as the weight of the Haunts is lifted from them. They breath heavily and look at each other.
Outside, in the distance, a shrill cry of mixed sadness and triumph fades away into the night.