Having rescued the alchemist Adronsius from the Red Hand, and uneased by the revelation that the Hand have made pacts with the old powers of the Rivenroar crypts, the party continued their search for more hostages from Brindol.
Lair of the Frog-Men
Exploring down a long stair, they discovered a half-ruined chamber, filled with oozing water, slime, and sprouting growths of fungus. Another of the Red Hand’s alliances – a gang of Bullywugs from the Blackfens – had been given this chamber, charmingly decorating it in their quaint slime-and-mushroom decor. They’d also been given one of the hostages to guard: Zerriska, the Witch of Brindol. Zerriska had convinced the Hand that the terrible powers she’d bargained her soul to watched over her, and any who harmed her would be cursed, so they figured the bullywugs should watch her – after all, if you curse a bullywug, who could tell? She’d been imprisoned in an old conjury circle while the Hand tried to convince her to use her magics to serve them.
The party made short work of the bullywug croakers and muckers, but their shaman was more of a challenge, using his croaked elemental spells to set off various harmful fungi growing around the room. Darrak, caught in a blast of fire and then a cloud of soporific spores, choked into unconsciousness until someone stamped on a nearby screamer mushroom that woke him up. It’s allies dead, the shaman retreated to the adjoining chamber where Zerriska was held, stepping into a smaller magic circle adjoining hers. It took the party all of half a second to guess that the circle would allow him to drain life from Zerriska to heal his wounds. A quick charging bull rush from Tam knocked him out of the circle, and things went rapidly downhill for the poor bullywug, Rock’s Oath of Enmity buying Tam the second chance he needed to land a killing blow.
Zerriska’s initial caustic mood (“Well I suppose that wasn’t entirely ruibbish”) faded when she saw her friend Darrak was there, and she let the facade of black-spirited witch drop. She’s just an old lady with no power to speak of, who’d been buying a few more hours of life with her sharp tongue. Her captors, in an attempt to convince her to use her sorceries in their cause had shown her other hostages: kartenix the guard captain, dead and wrapped in webs, and then, later, his son, Thuran, who they threatened to give to the powers of the crypt if she didn’t obey them. Zerriska had told them Thuran was her grandson, and that the same cursed blood that flowed through her veins flowed through his, and would invoke the same hideous curse if anyone spilled it. Her bluff worked – Thuran had been taken away again, but alive.
Mire, exploring the chamber, discovered two chutes leading up to a level above. Curious, he climbed up. What might be there? More hostages? Treasure? A secret chamber?
Two nervous goblins, it turned out, with crossbows and itchy trigger fingers. Hearing his armour scrape on the stone they fired down the shaft, then alerted allies in a nearby room.
Their secrecy blown, the party raced for the exit, trying to get Zerriska to safety. Too slow – as they reached the entrance chamber, soldiers of the Hand burst through a side door, hobgoblins adopting a quick defensive formation to screen the goblin crossbowmen.
The party hadn’t had a chance for a proper short rest – their encounter powers were back, but they’d only been able to spend a single healing surge a piece. They worked quickly, picking apart their foes’ formation methodically – Rock and Gryll opening gaps to allow flanking and prevent the hobgoblins locking their shields, then Darrak and Mire dropping the tougher soldiers as Tam slipped through to harrass the archers. The last archer went down to a brutal combo: Mire shield bashing it to the ground before Tam, who finished it with his patented half-orc brutality.
The Old Portal
Once Zerriska was delivered safely to Adronsius, our heroes return to the crypts, where they discover a chamber dominated by a floating, flickering image of a broken castle in a swamp.
Mire recognises it as a very bad part of the Blackfens called the Living Marsh. The fenfolk bring the worst of their criminals there to be killed, tying a noose around their neck and then throwing them into the marsh to choke to death.
Runes on the floor beneath the image invoke and bind the powers of Mual-Tar the Thunder Serpent, and Nidhog, the Gnawing Worm. Gryll deduces that the runes are creating a profound elemental imbalance contrasted by an opposing imbalance at another point in space, distorting the world between the two and creating this portal. The magics are old and wavering, but they are still strong enough to allow passage, which becomes clear when a tide of marsh rears up and oozes through, feeling its way towards the warm bodies it can sense.
Amongst the scum and fungus and rotting matter within the ooze float to corpses: withered and leathery, their neck stretched by the ancient nooses that still coil about them. And in the air above the ooze, spectral figures shimmer – the gaunt spirits of two hanged men, hungry for revenge…