The Fade Giveth, The Fade Taketh: Episode 13 Secrets of the Swamp
(I don’t own most of what you’re about to read, and my players have created other parts, but if you’d like to read the saga from the party’s first adventure, click here.)
As the newly-christened T.H.E.M. returned to their trek along High Road beyond Mere of Dead Men, Kir’thiri heard the sound of battle in the distance, coming from within the murky swamp.
“Heads up,” she muttered, squinting and straining her ears toward whoever was fighting. “Sounds like trouble.”
The party began to trudge through the swamp to be of whatever aid they could. The muddy water rose with each step — soon all halflings and gnomes in attendance were chest-deep in scummy wetness — but not a mile into the Mere they saw the cause of the commotion: a lone human was fending off three ogres!
Waiting to see what Kir’thiri did, the rest of the party geared for battle. Ben tested Talon in his sword hand. His body had begun to forge itself anew through Sildar’s teachings. Vigo ensured nimble fingers for a well-placed eldritch blast, while Erky bobbed for drier ground in a thicket of reeds to prepare his trusty crossbow.
Whoever the man was, Kir’thiri could see that he was worse for the wear of battling the ogres. She made her decision.
Unsure of what was happening at first, the ogres stayed honed in on the human fighter; to their peril. Crossbow bolts, eldritch blasts, and Talon finding its mark, again and again, brought all three ogres down with little issue.
Erky trudged his way over to the stranger. He’d collapsed unconscious and was slipping away under the water, adding to the Mere of Dead Men. The gnome cleric said a word and brought the man awake.
“Thank you much for the aid,” the man explained, wiping his muddy hand through his dirty, dark red/brown beard. “My name is Temple O’dare.”
Temple told his story as the party took a small rest allowing him to heal.
“I’ve actually heard about your family,” Vigo said, interrupting Temple. “The O’dares used to be almost as famous as my — they were super famous!”
“I — yes. My ancestors were quite renowned adventurers,” Temple bowed his head, quietly eating a trail ration. “My grandfather’s grandfather had won the sword Blackrazor, and the O’dare family had been blessed ever since. That luck transitioned into business ventures, land ownership, what have you, and the adventures faded into legend.
“Maybe you’ve heard, but magical weapons have been disappearing across Faerun,” Temple continued. “And Blackrazor can be counted among them. My family’s luck soured upon its disappearance, losing us nearly everything.” Temple worried over a small tear in his cloak. “I’ve taken up adventuring to find Blackrazor and return the O’dare legacy to its glory.
“Which is how I found myself in Waterdeep when Captain Somerled was seeking able-bodied adventurers in his mission.”
“What mission is that?” Ben asked.
“It seems as though a band of mercenaries in the employ of the Cult of the Dragon had taken over Iniarv’s Tower and were attempting to set up base there,” Temple explained. “People and goods had been disappearing from Waterdeep for months, and Captain Somerled took it upon himself to find out why.
“The brigands were routed from the Tower, led by a wizard named Glasstaff, and escaped into the swamp. I was part of a party meant to run them down and bring Glasstaff to justice. You saw how that turned out.”
Every member of T.H.E.M. reacted to the name Glasstaff.
“Show us the path you followed,” Kir’thiri replied curtly. And the party broke camp.
* * * *
Into the swamp, they went, this party of five. Bugs, mud, and biting reeds bogged them down as they traveled. They were surprised by a band of Lizardfolk just as they found the area where Temple’s previous party met its demise but made short work of them.
Debating on the matter, the party decided to camp once it got too dark to see, opting to go fireless as to avoid detection as best they could.
“We could camp in the trees,” Vigo offered. Using his staff, he spider-climbed with no trouble into the branches of a suitable makeshift bed. Kir’thiri followed, carefully taking her time.
“Let me help,” Ben offered, grabbing Erky by the back of his cloak and chucking him up into the tree next to Kir’thiri.
“Well, I!” Erky began, insulted. But then he landed perfectly as though born to being tree-flung and smiled. “Heh,” he chuckled, looking down at the smiling Ben.
Ben took the first watch as he and Temple set up camp at the base of the rest of T.H.E.M.’s sleeping tree. Temple began making small repairs to his chainmail and traveling cloak. Not the first time he’d done so, Ben thought, as they talked into the night.
Vigo took the next watch. An hour into things, he heard the sound of a howling hag in the distance.
“You die,” he muttered, gathering his things and beginning to head into the swamp alone. Luckily, Ben and Kir’thiri heard him.
“What the hells are you doing?” Ben yelled between clenched teeth.
“A hag killed my brother,” Vigo explained without looking back. “Every one of those bitches dies!”
Ben grabbed Vigo and tossed him back into the camp just as Kir’thiri climbed to the ground. Erky fell, slamming into the ground as Kir’thiri found solid purchase again.
“You’ll die, idiot,” Kir’thiri, incensed, flared at Vigo as she also looked to Erky’s hurt ankle. “You can’t go after a hag by yourself in this place!”
Ben towered over Vigo as he sat on the ground until the halfling’s shoulders sagged in agreement.
The matter was settled. Nobody was going to split the party.
* * * *
“I’m sorry,” Vigo told Kir’thiri the next morning as the party walked on into Mere of Dead Men.
“Thank you,” Kir’thiri smiled back, the matter settled. “Okay, then. Where are we going?”
“We’ve already gone further than my party did,” Temple said. “Can we find the trail?”
And Kir’thiri could.
* * * *
They came upon the house in the early afternoon. It stood empty, or so it looked, though the tracks they’d been following led right up the path toward it. A gatehouse stood to the western side just outside the crawling trees that made up the forest’s edge.
Kir’thiri crept up to the edge of the gatehouse and peeked inside. The small room was completely wrecked, and sitting at a chair was the body of a man dressed as all of the Redbrands had. Only his face contorted in fear, his tongue, fat and purpled, hung from his mouth, and it looked as though something had gnawed off a large part of his right cheek below the eye.
Kir’thiri crept back to the party.
“Something horrible has happened here,” she whispered.
The party slowly made their way up to the house as Vigo, who had heard stories of nearly everywhere unusual from his dad and the other Exemplars of Solace, told the tale of Wolfhill House.
“Hezekial Wolf,” he continued, eyeing a small cemetery that was placed just in front of the large manor. “Built the house for his wife and their unborn child. The kid was born, and things were great for a bit. Then the Mere took everything over.” Vigo paused before the three headstones and took in the names. Hezekial. Rebekah. Melantha. Vigo caught up just as T.H.E.M. entered the open front door to the house.
“It’s rumored to be quite haunted,” he added.
* * * *
Wolfhill House was quiet save for the leaves and debris blowing around its water-drenched halls. The sound of water trickling was prevalent, though no evidence suggested it existed outside of the drown floorboards and rugs.
Hezekial made his presence known almost immediately, attacking Ben through a long, musty drape, nearly suffocating him.
From that point on, Ben destroyed nearly everything they came across.
“Some of these things are worth –” Vigo gave up trying to point out the value, let alone the historical significance of items in the house to the tune of Ben shattering another vase.
“This place tried to kill me,” Ben grumbled. “If I get to it first . . .” he smashed a chair giving it a distrusting scowl.
Upstairs and down, the hauntings continued. Vigo was nearly devoured by the skeleton of a sperm whale that hung suspended from the ceiling of a neglected garden (he swore that he saw some shiny treasure stuck in its tooth.) They discovered some beautiful paintings, presumably of Hezekial and Rebekah, in a pristine parlor hidden behind a trapped, locked door. Hezekial attacked again in the library, collapsing multiple wrecked bookshelves onto Vigo. They found a nursery with one lit candle inside (which Vigo promptly blew out) and a room filled solely with dolls. A trapped room contained a giant stone head that had a crystal on its forehead which emitted a light that released a displacer beast!
In another perfectly preserved room, this a study, they discovered the body of another Redbrand. His head was twisted around backward. In searching the body, a ring dropped from his hand. A simple gold band engraved with For Zeke. All my love, Bek. The unfortunate Redbrand sat at a rolltop desk. Inside, the party found correspondence from Glasstaff, intended for Black Spider!
It told of the shortcomings that Iarno had had in Phandalin (and his hatred for its citizens.) How, having failed Black Spider once, he’d make it up by spearheading things at Iniarv’s Tower (running slaves/goods/treasure through Mere of Dead Men and toward The Castle, wherever that was) for The Cult of the Dragon. The last page of the unsent correspondence told of more mistakes. First, Iarno and his crew of Redbrand remenants and hired cutthroats were routed by Captain Somerled and his army. Then they had escaped to Wolfhill House but were now being perturbed by the ghost of Hezekial even though Iarno had captured the dead man’s family of spirits to ensure Hezekial’s cooperation.
Given the dead bodies that T.H.E.M. continued to find, that plan had failed. Glasstaff and his followers had seemingly escaped back into Mere of Dead Men before the party had arrived.
A pack of gargoyles attacked soon after, nearly bringing both Ben and Temple down, if not for the magicks of Erky.
It was in a downstairs museum where Vigo discovered how to quiet Wolfhill House forever. Under the angry, watchful eyes of Hezekial, the party had found a dollhouse with the spirits of Rebekah and Melantha trapped therein. Vigo finally dropped the wedding ring into the house, causing green energy to explode throughout the house.
Everything was quiet after that.
Leaving the house with any loot that Ben didn’t destroy, T.H.E.M. began the return trip through the mere toward Iniarv’s Tower. They wanted to see Temple safely back so he could report their findings, and then they would decide on what came next: Waterdeep or vengeance on Glasstaff?