Hikage unlocks the heavy door using the key he found hidden in Traver Foxglove’s study, and the men carefully make their way into the cavern beyond, covering their noses and mouths to guard against the stench of decay, mold, and brine. Ragnar leads the way, and Zendo brings up the rear. Inside, they discover Aldern Foxglove, transformed into a hideous ghoulish monster! His hair is largely gone, and his once-friendly smile has twisted into a predatory, almost bestial grimace. His hands, covered with gore, are tipped with blackened, filthy talons, and his formerly immaculate clothes are stained with sweat, blood, and bits of rotting flesh.
Aldern sits at a table provisioned for a ghastly repast, with rotten, maggot infested meat. A portrait, almost unrecognizable, has been defaced by blood and bits of human flesh into a gruesome cariacature of Zendo. Beyond Aldern, a massive effusion of black fungus and green mold clings to the wall of the cavern, hinting at a human shape in outline. Beneath the fungal silhouette sits the shattered remains of a puzzle box.
Despite his monstrous appearance, Aldern appears nervous, and almost childishly glad to see the heroes, and they express shock and concern upon seeing him here. His morbid good cheer swiftly dissipates as he realizes that Zendo is accompanying the others, and he erupts into a bitter rage that Zendo is among the living. As he lunges towards the heroes, Corvus releases the spell he had prepared for just such an occasion, and the violently enraged Aldern is held motionless, unable to move or attack. The men try to talk sense into their noble companion, but Aldern seems consumed by anger and violence, and speaks of little other than bitterness and hatred. His ire seems most focused on Zendo, who he regards as unworthy of the admiration and accolades earned by the “Heroes of Sandpoint”. Aldern evidently expected his messages and murders to turn the folk of the town against Zendo, and seems determined to murder Zendo for the bard’s failure to be framed. Zendo is sickened, physically by the smell of the undead beast before him, and mentally by the deterioration of Aldern Foxglove into this jealous, bitter, hate-filled ghoul.
Corvus’s spell can finally hold back the ravening ghast no longer, and Aldern leaps forward to tear the men limb from limb. However, when struck by Hikage, Aldern’s features lose their bestial rage, and he collapses to his knees, weeping and begging for mercy. He begs the heroes to help him before the “Hurter” comes again. When the heroes press Aldern as to how, and why, he could have reached this state, Aldern sobs and bemoans his wretched fate.
Aldern says that ill fortune has plagued him since his return to Foxglove Manor. The old family house was in a terrible state of repair, and despite the financial assistance of his society contacts in Magnimar, he had a great deal of difficulty finding any who were willing to help him restore his home. Between the state of the house, the persistent, aggressive rat infestations, and the tenacious mold, the tasks facing him were immense and expensive, and seemingly insurmountable.
One night, returning from a visit to Sandpoint (long before meeting the heroes), Aldern happened upon a group of Varisians, trapped in the same lashing storm that he was venturing home to escape. He invited the Varisians in his home to shelter them from the storm, and met Iesha. Aldern fell impetously and passionately in love with the beautiful Varisian woman and proposed marriage before the dawn. Overwhelmed by his looks, social standing, wealth, and generosity (Aldern claims, before bitterly laughing at his own vanity), Iesha agreed to marry him. Aldern insisted that he truly loved his beautiful wife, and did everything to keep her safe and happy here at Foxglove Manor.
Bitterly, Aldern recounts how he arrived at the manor late one night to see his wife sharing a moment of intimacy with one of the Varisian carpenters willing to work at the house. Enraged at the effrontery of his help daring to sully his wife, he bludgeoned the man with a bookend. Turning to Iesha, Aldern expected to be tearfully thanked for saving her honor. Aldern claimed that his faithless, conniving, untamable wife accused him of murdering an innocent man, and, thus insulted, he was overcome with rage and strangled his wife with her own scarf.
Aldern said that he threw the honorless carpenter down the old well, but, despite her betrayal, he was unable to dispose of Iesha so carelessly. He wrapped her body carefully and stored it in an unused room in the attic. Distraught and alone, and overwhelmed by emotion, he returned to Magnimar and met with his society brethren, who agreed to assist him with this matter, as well. The assistance of his ‘Brethren’ was putting a financial strain on Aldern, as Foxglove Manor was no longer the productive estate it had been in his father’s day, or in Vorel’s before him. However, the members of his gentlemen’s society were not unduly avaricious, and they agreed to introduce him to the society’s patron. Aldern’s debt was to be forgiven entirely, through one simple task for that patron. He had only to return to Foxglove Manor from Magnimar and fetch samples of the rats infesting the lower rooms of the manor.
Relieved to be free of the burdens of obligation, Aldern was still intimidated by the prospect of capturing diseased vermin, so he put off that unpleasant task for a few days by visiting nearby Sandpoint for the Swallowtail Festival. The men rescued him there, and Aldern was truly grateful, but the seeds of jealousy were sown there.
When Aldern returned to the manor, the rats which had been so prevalent and bothersome, had evidently retreated into the walls and floors, and Aldern found himself unable to complete this simple task. He spent days searching the manor, tormented by the sounds of rats which were forever out of reach. However, he finally heard scratching noises under the floor of the lowest room in the house, and broke through that old flooring and discovered the caverns below, where the rats scurried and swarmed over the patch of fungus behind him. Though he had to scrabble through the filth and suffer the bites of the pestilential vermin, Aldern was elated to make the discovery, as he would finally have overcome the obstacles to his own success, and he would be able to chart his own destiny. Perhaps he could even join the ‘Heroes of Sandpoint’!
On returning to Magnimar with his bequest to the society, however, Aldern became increasingly ill and feverish, and returned to his manor in a terrible state. In his declining health, though, Aldern came to see his recent history in a different light. Through good fortune, his rescuers were the “Heroes of Sandpoint”, and he was regarded as a helpless fop. Zendo, a charming, roguish, Varisian wanderer like his own Iesha, had the good fortune to be in a band of capable heroes, and had hoodwinked an entire town into embracing him as one of them, while his good looks and winning demeanor masked his greedy (drink-stealing) and lustful (seducing Shayliss) side. Zendo, like Aldern, was blessed with good looks, charm, and wit, but Zendo had become elevated to a hero without suffering, while he, Aldern, was unrewarded, despite his personal tragedy. Hadn’t his parents died tragically in his youth? Didn’t he spend years in a cold orphanage, and with a loveless extended family? Didn’t he open his home to shifty, untrustworthy Varisians like Zendo, and open his heart to a woman, Iesha, was a wandering charmer like Zendo? Aldern knew that he had to expose Zendo as the unworthy, conniving thief that he was, and bring him low as well. Then, at least if Aldern couldn’t be the beloved hero, Zendo could not either.
As Aldern poured out his wretched, but highly subjective, tale of woe, Hikage became increasingly curious about Aldern’s ‘society brothers’. When the suspicious monk asked the cringing, weeping noble about the identity of his “Brothers”, a change seemed to come over Aldern. He stopped weeping, and his spine straightened. A superior smirk appeared on his face, and he spread his arms wide:
“I wonder how your deaths will affect your brethren? WHat things might you have done that will remain unfinished? What will those broken promises spawn? How will your murders shape this world?”
Alden dons a gruesome mask of human skin and suddenly, transforms into a simulacrum of Zendo! He lunges to the attack, paralyzing Ragnar, who drops to the ground. Hikage rains down blows upon the counterfeit bard, and Gellius summons a burly rock elemental to harry the transformed ghast before wading into the fray with his own scimitar. Zendo and Corvus pelt the murderous noble with spells, but Corvus’s fire proves more useful than Zendo’s charms. At first, the men feel that they are getting the better of the serpent-fast undead; their teamwork outweighing his superhuman reflexes. However, the tables are suddenly turned as Aldern paralyzes first Hikage, then Gellius. Zendo maneuvers to protect the wizard, whose flames seem to be the best hope against the undead, from the talons of his doppleganger, but Aldern attacks him with renewed fury and soon the half-elf has joined his comrades in paralysis on the floor. With only the sturdy elemental still physically opposing him, Aldern vaults over the table in a flash and prepares to tear Corvus limb from limb. As the young wizard readies a catastrophic spell, prepared to sell his life dearly, Ragnar rises from the floor and cuts down Aldern with a mighty stroke from his sword.
The men examine the room, and Aldern’s few possessions. Despite his filthy, undead state, Alden still possesses several magical items of considerable value, as well as a disturbing set of items relating to his obsession with Zendo, including a cameo with a portrait of the bard, as well as Zendo’s own razor, taken weeks before in Sandpoint. While examining the area for magical devices, Corvus is transfixed by the vaguely man-shaped mold on the wall above the broken puzzle box. The wizard is momentarily convinced that the fungus has consumed his own shadow, but shakes off the delusion before he tries to consume the mold to regain his essence. They also discover a letter to Aldern from someone named Xanesha:
After ransacking the house of valuables, the heroes prepare to quit the ill-omened Foxglove manor, but, upon opening the doors to exit, Hikage is set upon by hundreds of rotting, undead crows, as the irritable birds flocking all around the manor swirl into an evil swarm of carrion. Ragnar rushes to his aid, as the others use spells to assist their more martially inclined companions. After scattering the rotting crows to the four winds, the heroes take their revenge on Foxglove Manor, as Corvus lobs an incendiary fireball directly into the central hall of the house, blowing off several of the doors and setting the damp, mildewing walls alight.
Bloodied, bruised, battered, and bewildered, the heroes make their return to Sandpoint in a cold rain, which, though chilling, does at least sluice the gore and grue from their clothes.