While Ulreik Hras Halril and Nashia Arie pondered the meaning of the Mordavian Transcripts, our heroes dealt with what they’d learned during the fair. Yvain Ponty acquired his so-called “Oakstump Stout” from Bromin Firebeard‘s robbed caravan, the same caravan that saw the deaths of Tarah Arcistoth and Corik Tel’Maerlyth. Given the state of the brew Yvain was pushing, the ale must have been acquired from the wreckage of the caravan and sold very quickly. With no other leads into the attack on the caravan, the party decided to investigate.
In another twist, Morel’s transformation in the throes of the Curse of the Bog Witch has worsened. He has shrunk several more inches, more mushrooms are sprouting from his flesh, and he’s gained the ability to see in the dark. Concerned for the progression of the curse, the party resolved to find a cure or break the curse as soon as they could.
Tavion Gervis went immediately to the HONORABLE AND LOYAL ORDER OF WEAVERS AND DYEMEN, where he spoke to the snub-nosed guild representative Wimblington, asking if there’d been any acts of thievery or crime within the town. Wimblington asserted that the Guild knows all the operators in Calchester and aside from petty thievery and pick-pocketing, nothing gets done without their approval. That being said, there WAS a caravan that came through recently that acted suspiciously. They had far too many guards and were bound for Dunlan Fief in Borgondhi.
Tyrandriel consulted with Tilly Carosi, the singer and faithful of the Laughing God who’d warned them about the Borgondhi thugs working with Frederic Arcistoth. Tilly saw the same caravan and knew they were too well armed to be merchants, or even common thieves. These were people on a mission, and with ill intent for the land of Marchen.
At last, Bromin, Gaemund and the rest of the party confronted the disgraced Farmer Ponty himself. When they came to his farm in the morning, he was blackout drunk in the mud—Mrs Ponty exiled him from the house until he’d sobered up and cleaned off. Nashia was more than happy to awaken him with a toned-down application of her Shocking Grasp spell. Jolted back to consicousness and surrounded by some people he’d just as soon enver see again, Ponty was eager with the answers.
- Yvain bought all the ale from a traveling merchant lady. She was passing through town in a hurry. His wife was none too fond of how the lady dressed, talked, or looked at Yvain.
- The lady had acquired a bunch of ale on her travels. She shared with him some secrets of its brewing—secrets he later spewed when claiming to be the brewer, with a few creative touches of his own.
- She had blue eyes, black hair, and many armed guards. Her boots were not Farraud/Calchester make. She wore a red cloak, a black dress, had a wagon adorned in lanterns, and feathers at her belt. Her caravan was well guarded and seemed to be carrying whetstones, feathers, and other goods for sale in Borgondhi.
One thing was certain—whoever this woman was, she had VERY swift access to the site of the caravan attack, and she was headed to Dunlan Fief. In the absence of any better leads, the heroes chose to pursue her. They set out for the edges of Marchen, on their way to Borgondhi.
Many of the heroes had reason to fear traveling to Marchen’s neighboring kingdom. As the daughter of a disgraced princess, Aine risked discovery and harassment for her lineage. Nashia Arie knew that spies from House Bothotlo of Elam were working with agents of Borgondhi—how far did the conspiracy to kill her and claim her priceless scroll go? And worst of all, Tavion Gervis was returning to the land he grew up—Dunlan Fief, ruled by his foster father and brother—a land with a price on his head!
Disguised and concealed within Gaemund’s cart, the party made their way through the Marchen woods. Two days into their journey, ravens flocked around the path ahead, drawn to fresh meat. Morel and Gaemund crept forward, wary of signs of slaughter. Up ahead in the road was a man clad in the armor of a knight, lying beneath his butchered horse, moaning incoherently. The rest of the party approached carefully, but there were no signs of danger. Morel went to go help the man, who bellowed a warning at the sight of him—through a mouth filled with blood. His tongue had been cut out so he could not tell of the danger lurking in the woods—a Huldra ambush!
Eight warriors burst from the bushes, firing arrows into the caravan. Those within the wagon ducked for cover, but the Huldra’s leader commanded the plants and roots around them to rise up and crush the humans. With the power of druidic magic, he trapped them all within. Only Bromin, Tavion, Gaemund and Morel avoided the spell. But the counter attack was fierce—Morel leapt atop the dead horse and with lightning-fast rapier strikes struck down the leader’s wolf companion. Aine, Nashia and Ulreik chanted within their vine-wrapped prison and unleashed a barrage of magical power at the Huldra leader, cutting him down in a barrage of light. Bromin jumped to the ground and charged at the nearest warrior, and with a single mighty swing of his maul he shattered the huldra’s weapon and hurled them into the air. The raiders clearly expected merchants and travelers, not warriors and spell-slingers.
In the aftermath, a single Huldra survived. Tyrandriel tended to the broken man’s wounds while the rest interrogated the Huldra warrior. He had little to say—other warbands like his had steadily crept into human lands, deeper than ever before, to extract eternal vengeance for the slaughter of their people during the Invasion of Marchen. Morel worried for the safety of her village, Toadstool Hollow, no more than a day’s travel away. If the Huldra could reach this far from the Caonach Vale, could her home town be in danger?
With the healing presence of the Laughing God (disguised with the rites of Our Triumphant Family), Tyrandriel brought the wounded man back on his feet. The huldra had broken his arms and cut out his tongue in order to lure other humans to the site of their first strike. Handed a quill, ink and parchment, the man identified himself as Eklos, Knight of the Pendant. He’d received Vesta Piota’s message and was just now riding to Arkaley to deliver the town from the pagan magic enshrouding it. The heroes assured him that Arkaley was delivered from the terrible mists, its people safe. In his current state Eklos felt the best course of action was to return to the nearest abbey of his order. The party decided to protect him on his journey.
At last they arrived in Toadstool Hollow. All of Morel’s townsfolk share the curse of the Bog Witch with her, and as such they do not trust outsiders. The little hovels and moss-covered huts of the people have been boarded up to keep out the light. Villagers wear heavy clothes and cloaks to hide their appearance, but they cannot hide the fungus that occasionally sloughs off their skin as they transform bit by bit into mushrooms. The people were glad to see Morel and eager for any news of salvation from the curse. All she knew, she’d learned from the Archfey Nuinn—the curse can be lifted by killing the witch, convincing her to lift it, swearing fealty to a being more powerful than her, or by finding the flaw in the curse.
It was at that moment it occurred to Morel and company that they had a group of nine well-armed, magically trained adventurers.
In the depths of the Rattlebog, just hours east of Toadstool Hollow, they arrived at the foul-smelling lake known as the Dark Hollow. Sickly willows clung to the few islands of mud rising above the bubbling waters. A well maintained wooden pier wound away from a slime-covered house, the path illuminated by flickering green lanterns. Eyes glared out from the branches of the gloomy canopy, observing the interlopers. And growing from every conceivable surface were creeping fungi—toadstools on the islands, shelf fungus feasting on the trees, mold and mildew and all manner of slime.
Something about the very air disturbed the magically sensitive among them. Ulreik opened his Sight and saw magic infusing the entire lake. The Dark Hollow is a place neither entirely here nor entirely there, floating between the Mortal and Fairy kingdoms. Distrustful of the water, they approached the Witch’s hut cautiously along the pier. Morel used her new grappling hook to scale one of the willow trees. All the heroes watched the witch’s hut, looking for a point of attack.
Unfortunately for them, a point of attack found them first. Morel had just enough time to spot something in the water, and Nashia and Aine released crackling witchbolts into the murk. The electricity arced through the water, enraging the beast below, and it exploded through the walkway with a roar. Heroes flew left and right, some of them plummeting into the water, as those who held their feet reacted to the monster—a troll! It snatched at them in anger until they drove it beneath the surface with magic and weaponry.
Nashia scarcely made it to one of the mud islands, only to have the toadstools there pop and blast her with poisonous spores. Even worse—a cackling voice arced through the swamp. “CHILLLLDREEEEEN!” it called, and each of the piles of toadstools emerged from the earth—they were merely the heads of fungal creatures, infested with poisonous spores, mindlessly following their mother’s orders to kill the interlopers and feed their corpses to their young brethren!
Things went from bad to worse. The troll continued to tear apart the wooden pier, threatening the heroes again and again with the unknown horrors of the bog. Swarms of the mushroom thralls approached, and they found themselves hideously outnumbered. It was then that Morel discovered he could hear the thoughts of the other “children,” and even communicate with them. With a burst of will and cunning, she suggested that more interlopers could be found behind the house. That drew off half the Children, leaving an opening for the heroes to escape. At that precise moment the troll burst from the water, seized Morel, and dragged him into the water!
It took the combined efforts of every other hero to rescue their friend. Morel struggled as the Troll clutched his throat, trying to choke the life out of him, stabbing away at the beast with his daggers. The mages unleashed magical power into the water, accepting the risk of striking their friend. Gaemund leapt into the water, seized Morel and Bromin hauled them away. They banded together and fled the swamp, with the Witch’s cackling taunts at their heel.