The Shadow of the Past

In which the Fist of Sehanine journeys to Dennovar to unravel the mystery of his parentage.

Your father’s name was Francis Strong. He was the head of a wealthy merchant concern in Dennovar approximately 20 or 25 years ago. Some older folk remember Francis as a headstrong and impetuous young man, with a good heart, until “the trouble with the Lannings started.”

Francis inherited the business when his mother, Alicia, passed away. His older sister Emilia had no desire to run a merchant concern. A simple, pure soul, she had shown interest in devoting herself to good works in the city. The Strong merchant business (Strong Goods and Services) was steeped in corruption. Alicia was a ruthless wheeler and dealer who didn’t hesitate to use violence to protect her turf. During her regime, the business warred frequently with other trading groups. No one ever knew Alicia’s parents, but it’s rumoured that she herself had devil blood in her.

The old Lanning manor is deserted and condemned, shrouded in gloom. No one looks your way as you open the gates and enter the grounds. No one stops you. Time has halted within the compounds of the mansion. You are surprised to find a small statue of a woman holding aloft a crescent at the entrance. Evidently, the Lannings had some reverence for Sehanine. A dusty portrait in the dining-room. Two women, arms linked, smiling. The woman on the left is young, with an open face and bright eyes. The woman on the right is beautiful, noble, proud. Each one is holding half of a puzzle ring.

Emilia met and befriended Lucy Lanning, the daughter of a prominent (and rather fanatical) cleric of Sehanine, John Lanning. Through his sister Emilia’s good works, Francis met Lucy, who fell in love with him. The two became engaged, though Francis viewed it merely as a marriage of convenience, and Lucy’s father John strongly disapproved. Letters from Francis’s friends chide him for getting involved with the Lannings, a family devoted to the eradication of corruption in Dennovar. John Lanning (“Father John”), by all accounts, was looking for an excuse to investigate Francis’s family.

Francis and Emilia wanted nothing to do with their mother’s way of life. Francis took over the family business, intending to clean up its corruption and transform it into an honourable operation.

You learn that a man named Albert de Courcelle is one of the power brokers in the merchant consortium of Dennovar. He is an older man who has operated in Dennovar since your father’s time. Moreover, Albert is known as a peculiar man with an unusual sense of humour. He might be willing to aid you, for a price.

“You are on a quest to uncover your heritage, to make of the past a transparent narrative, a smooth, unblemished mirror that will shine the truth back at you, making you free. But, a question, sir. What if the truth is something you do not wish to see? It seems to me, young man, that you have a somewhat monomaniacal focus on your past. You will find, if you live to grow older, that the past is only what we make of it in memory, distant as the Stonehome Mountains in one instant, yet evergreen and close at hand when the mood strikes us. You say you can take on what is ahead. I say that you cannot possibly know what awaits you. But I will tell you what I know.”

The Strong Family’s main rivals, Albert tells you, were the von Knapps, father and son, Helmut and Friedrich, both wickedly handsome scoundrels. At this time, it was rumoured that the son, Friedrich, seduced Francis’s sister Emilia. Albert is disdainful of their methods: “A pair of blundering fools, those two. Coarse and unsubtle. Their good looks poorly concealed the degeneracy within.” But Emilia was good-hearted but naive, willing to believe the best in those around her, and easy prey for a seasoned manipulator like Friedrich von Knapp.

Emilia was seen in a grove, spilling her own blood around a stone circle and uttering words in the Supernal tongue. She had told several friends that Friedrich had given her a ritual whereby she might purge the devil taint from her blood. Emilia’s actions were consonant with an old ritual of Pelor that does indeed purge devil blood from the performer of the ritual, rendering him or her entirely free of devil taint. However, Albert tells you that with a few simple substitutions, and a few carefully modulated phrases, the ritual becomes the Pact of Three-Headed Worship, binding one’s soul to Geryon, the Broken Beast.

No one in this district will ever forget the horror of what transpired next. Father John arrested Emilia and accused her of being a worshiper of the devil. He crucified and burned her, though no one knows what he did with her remains. Francis went mad with grief. Father John died in his own home, his throat cut and his body mutilated with knife wounds. It was never proven, but the widely held suspicion is that Francis murdered him. At the same time, Lucy was rumoured to have fled town, heavily with child. Shortly thereafter, both the von Knapps were slain in a violent attack, and Francis Strong reverted the business back to his mother’s ways. In fact, he was even worse than Alicia, an utterly depraved man who took delight in tormenting others.

Francis had a number of lesser men in his business circle, one of whom you recognize in the physical description as Marsden Kaal. For five years, Francis ruled with an iron fist, until he began to act strangely. Some said he thirsted for more power on other planes of existence; others thought he wanted to find out what had become of his lost wife and child. Whatever the case, one day he was found missing in his house. The only clue was a smeared chalk circle in the Strong library, encircling an iron crown surmounted by a fist. The scene also contained some hieroglyphics, but no one has been able to make sense of it. Using purified fire, the city burned down the Strong house and built over the land, leaving no trace of what was.

“Others besides you have taken an interest in the remains of this Emilia Strong. You may have seen a tiefling fellow during your time in the merchant district? His name is Mogot. Frequently has he come to me, asking if I know the location of her body. He seeks half of a puzzle-ring. I refused, for Mogot is not to be trusted. But you, good sir — your tale of family woe touches my heart. This is your family, your blood. You have a right to know. Perhaps we can reach an accommodation? A bargain, perhaps? A nominal sum, for such worthy adventurers as yourselves, would aid me immensely in my business. A mere bagatelle, of 500 GP, would suffice.”

You pay Albert, who reveals that Emilia’s body is hidden in a very cunningly disguised underground shrine. As you leave the house, you turn back for a brief instant. De Courcelle is standing in front of his dining-room table, watching you with a faint smile. For some reason, you feel uneasy.

The shrine is accessible through a back alley in one of the seedier districts of Dennovar. It was evidently devoted to Sehanine, but the shrine has an unclean look, as if the goodness of the goddess has been tainted by the folly and fanaticism of her worshipers. You arrive only moments before Mogot finds you. You prevail in a furious battle and recover the missing half of the puzzle ring, which, the Fist senses from his religious training, will give you some kind of divine protection when within the realm of Dis, the Second Hell.

The Shadow of the Past

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