“Do you think you can get your fingers up in there?”
“This is not an appropriate time to ask that.” — Carenza Vega & Ettorio Iluni
From the outside, Blackharvest Chapel shows no great alteration from its original Chanethi origins; only dead ivy, rust and mold. The inside is another matter entirely. The entrance hall, supported by columns worked to resemble fruit trees, is in disrepair. A cornucopia stand is choked with garbage, and a fountain reduced to a slow trickle of rusty water. The western wall is adorned with a scene depicting a dying sunset. The group can see through a large archway to the sacred tree beyond, but guardians step out to block their progress — a pair of desiccated corpses with armor and weapons caked with rust, and behind them a pair of frantic plague-acolytes and a small band of the pestilential faithful. The living zealots use weapons with poison and infectious vapors, and the rust wights have a form of contagious corrosion. Already battered and fatigued from their struggles against the worms and the tree-guardian, the four have a difficult time overcoming the Blackharvest defenders, though overcome them they do.
The main worship hall is dominated by the sacred tree, now clearly blighted and bearing black fruit. The altar is adorned with bone plague-pit markers, the holy emblems of Phouth. And above the altar a large mural depicts the King of Worms in the form of a bent, scabrous old man looming triumphantly over a weakened horned goddess. A hole in the floor hints at a cavern below for the root structure; the smell of rot rises through the opening.
Opilio and Vesper begin to explore ways to minimize the corrupting influence. Though they don’t possess the ability to reconsecrate the chapel, they do begin clearing the cornucopia stand, fountain and altar. Ettorio picks fruitlessly through a vestry and then returns to assist. Partway through the process a small group of more Phouthite lay-brothers assaults the four, but the blades quickly dispatch them while Ettorio and Vesper continue their work. They use one of Quercinnarra’s gifts and even some of Opilio’s blood to draw more of a connection to the natural world, and Carenza washes the altar with water from the fountain, carried in an old ritual ewer she found in a storeroom. Vesper speaks a word of unmaking, and the paint of the blasphemous mural fades and peels in seconds. Though the chapel is still a long way from wholesome again, the group’s cleansing efforts seem to have made a difference. A sweet-smelling wind blows through the chapel, invigorating the four.
In the rectory Ettorio makes a few interesting discoveries, most notably a large coffer like a mercenary company’s pay chest (sealed with some sort of waxen, sinister glyph) and a book that appears to be a coded manifest of transactions. Ettorio attempts to break the cipher, but can’t do so with a simple glance, though he does discern the name “Biliostrix.” The group theorizes these must be records of people who came to purchase plagues and curses from the chapel. The head priest’s quarters show signs of occupation: an empty weapon rack, a half-eaten meal. Discovering stairs to the root vaults below, the four descend.
The lower vault shows as much corruption as anything else. The roots of the tree extend through the chamber, and corpses lie heaped around the room. Carenza offers a rare prayer to Goreador as she sees the stolen bodies of several Scarhawks. The vault has its guardians as well, though. Biliostrix himself, scythe in hand, condemns the intruders from among the roots. Another rust wight moves to protect its master, and perhaps worst of all are the pair of robed walking corpses whose dead flesh teems with fat worms.
The chosen of the Rotting God attempt to block the group at the stairs and cut them down. Opilio is first to break free, the wild change coming over him as he smashes one worm-corpse aside and makes for Biliostrix. The plague-priest retreats, conjuring up a cloud of biting flies that clusters around the other three. And to add to the grotesquerie, several corpses from among the heap slowly rise and make their way to aid in the vault’s defense. Carenza finds herself defending against, and then dispatching the animated remains of former companions — though she ultimately deems the masses of worms far more horrible.
Neither side, of course, cares anything for asking or giving quarter. Biliostrix is first to fall, the remains of his withered life-force faltering and being consumed by the hungry verdant aura of Opilio. The rust wight and worm-corpses nearly tear down Opilio, Ettorio and Carenza in turn (Vesper carefully avoiding their reach), but the invigoration gained from the restorative wind makes the last scrap of difference. Finally the last of the undead is returned to the grave, and the group moves to fresher air to rest.