I, Errarth, head off to Wanda’s Shop of Wonder to see if I can get a scroll of Speak with Animals, so I can instruct Alice in not eating the local’s sheep. Miss Wanda Blue turns out to be an elderly human female with blue hair and a squint; I have a nice chat with her. Interestingly she knew my name and seems to have good insights into whom I am. Lucky for me she did have one Scroll of Speak with Animals at 90 gold, a little high but as it was her last I bought it without haggling. While I was there James arrived and wanted to buy some healing potions, but Wanda only had 3 Basic healing potions in stock and no Water Breathing potions at all. James also strikes up a conversation in which Wanda say’s the Mayor is supposed to some great wizard I don’t believe it. However she cannot tell us why, it’s just her gut instinct she says.
Gnoman heads to the training grounds by the manor and takes out his longbow at the butts and starts shooting. Sir Allister is not amused and leads his men in mocking Gnoman who just carries on his shooting practice, he is doing this to increase his strength and fulfil his ambition to be a longbow archer. Thorn having gone to the temple in the market area spends his time praying for worshipers and collecting stories from them. One seaman says to his idea that there are walking octopi ‘HA’ ‘They do not come on land they are big but are at sea, where did you get such a daft idea from? Walking Octopi now that’s funny.’
Arnost heads to the River Finery to see his friend Urg the owner. Arnsot has learnt much about Urg over the months he has been here over a mug or three. He is a male half-orc, 40ish a fine goods merchant and owner of Riverside Finery sellers of fine clothes. Urg has worked hard to overcome his rough, hardscrabble upbringing. His mother and father were both nomadic barbarians belonging to the Tribe of the War Claw. Urg left home once he gained adulthood at 14 and apprenticed with a variety of merchants to learn the trade. After arriving in Longreed two decades ago, after the swamp hags had been dealt with, he met Carn who owned the Riverside Finery. Eventually they wed, and when she died after a short illness, Urg became the sole proprietor. Unlike a lot of half orcs Urg has no interest in violence or the military life, he is a member of the militia of course but nothing more. He does have a lot to share about the area though. He knows that the swamp is a dangerous place with 100’ alligators which can eat a black bear whole, not somewhere he would go thank you. About the strange deaths he finds them inconvenient as he has lost some good customers before they paid for ordered goods, they are not natural by all accounts. The mayor is a good person and loved by all for dealing with the trolls. Arnost likes coming here to see all the pretty buttons Urg has.
Early evening we all get dressed up, as best we can. James casts Perfume on Arnost and himself when we gather. This was not a good idea as Arnost does not like arcane magic around him at all. This time Arnost managed to keep his cool and his gave James a severe look and a cuff around the head. ‘You really need to get used to this’ says James to another ugly look.
When we arrive at Mayor Godwin’s house, we are greeted at the door by Claude Hopper, the mayor’s butler, a dwavern male around 300 who seems to be blind in his right eye. He shows us to the small but nicely appointed dining room. Oil paintings of previous mayors line the walls male and female, mostly human, but with a few dwarves and half-elves sprinkled about. There’s a table set for the meal, with one additional seat at the head of the table presumably for the mayor. The mayor, however, doesn’t appear during dinner and when ask where she is Hopper says she is busy and will come as soon as she can. All four courses beet soup, pickle salad, mushroom souffle, and wine-poached pears for dessert are served by three servants Grace, Hope, and Charity Blurm. Three homely sisters in their 30’s who seem to be triplets. I am wary and cast a prayer over each course and drink as they come, Purify Food & Drink, which gets raised eyebrows from Hopper and the girls. Arnst and Guido both ask about the meat course and get silence. When the dessert plates are cleared and Claude pours after dinner drinks, a distant bell chimes, and the servants immediately depart. Thorn takes that time to cast Detect Magic but only are own items show up as magic along with the drink in front of me. That is because of my spell I hope.
After they’ve gone, a wooden panel slides aside, revealing a small, hidden door. Out steps a woman in a beautiful brocade robe, this is open to reveal well-polished leather armour. This must be Mayor Godwin.
However, James already knows this woman not as Mayor Esmerelda Godwin, but as a crass, bloodthirsty adventurer named Marta Glump. The last time James saw her was about four years ago, when she sailed off to work as a guard for a wealthy client and he headed to Greymoor city. Marta carries her own plate of food, sits down at the table after greeting everyone warmly, and starts bringing the us up to speed as she eats.
“So, James de Gil-sthind the last I saw you, I was heading out to serve Lord Alwin from Thale. He was one of them paranoids—you know, always thinking that somebody was out to get him? He got it in his head that he was being hunted by vampires, and that’s when he hired me. I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard, but… well, as it turns out, there were a few vampires. So, long story short, Lord Alwin got bit, and we had to kill him. After that, Lady Alwin wasn’t so happy with me, and I can’t say as I blame her. She was the highest ranking priestess in town, so she had to drive the stake into her husband’s heart, the poor thing. She wanted me executed for negligence, but luckily, I bribed a footman, got out of the castle, and ran until I got here. Obviously, I couldn’t tell anyone who I was, seeing as how Alwin was known far and wide and news about his death was all the talk at the time.
So, I put on airs and said I was a great wizard, I knew how you acted, James, so copied that, called myself Esmerelda Godwin. Unfortunately, they wanted me to prove myself by killing a couple of trolls that were bothering the townsfolk; the Sheriff was away at that time. So, there I was at the edge of town in the middle the night during a raging thunderstorm, with these two mean, ugly trolls barrelling toward me. I couldn’t even move, I was scared outta my pants! Praying like mad to as many gods I could remember. Then, all of a sudden, there was a huge flash of light and the loudest clap of thunder you ever heard, and when I could see again, there were the trolls: burnt to a crisp, not twenty feet from where I stood. Everybody loved me after that. When Mayor Durnish kicked the bucket last year, the town’s guilds chose me to take his place. And now, here I am, living the dream!”
Afterward, Marta and the party swap stories. She wants to know everything that James and the group have been up to and how pleased she is that they have already helped the locals. When there’s a lull in the conversation, Marta explains that the group is welcome to stay in Longreed for as long as they like. However, she has a problem that she’d like their help in resolving. As it turns out, Marta’s wife has gone missing:
“I know I never seemed like the marrying type, but then I met someone a traveling scholar who was passing through town on her way to…well, I forget where she was heading. Blonde and buxom pretty as an apple in summer, she was. Her name was Thalia. I fell for her like a dead hill giant off a cliff. We got hitched a few months back, and everything’s been pretty good since then or well, it had been. Over the winter, we received reports that some folks in town had succumbed to some sort of swamp fever about ten in all. I checked their bodies myself, and if it were fever, it weren’t no fever I ever seen. With all the blood they vomited up and the black welts on their bodies, I think they was poisoned.
Then, four weeks ago, things got really bad: I woke to the sound of Thalia screaming. I ran down the hall to her bedchamber I know, its weird sleeping apart like that, but Thalia’s old-fashioned that way and she was gone. Vanished. Window open, curtains blowing in the breeze, no signs of struggle or anything. The town guards have searched for her high and low, but nothing’s turned up. I’ve promised the townsfolk that I’m working up a big ol’ complicated spell to find Thalia and protect Longreed from plague, but I can’t keep up that lie much longer. I ain’t got no one to talk to about this because everyone thinks I’m some great wizard. You’ve got to help me out of this. Find Thalia, figure out what kind of disease has been killing people, and I’ll give you anything I can.”
Marta explains that in Thalia’s part of the world, many couples maintain separate beds. It’s an old custom, stemming from the days when food was scarce, and the population had to be kept low to prevent starvation. It doesn’t make much sense in Marta and Thalia’s case, but then, traditions aren’t known for being sensible.
Thorn asks about the dead and for their names and addresses, the mayor answers, ‘their addresses are the graveyard and I am sure we can get you their names’. This brings a light laugh from all but Thorn. James says anything for an old companion and so agrees that we will help her, the mayor says let me show you her bedroom. Like all the rooms in the mayor’s house, this one is decorated simply. The wooden ceiling, walls, and floors are unadorned, except for a large burgundy rug covering much of the floor. Matching heavy burgundy curtains flutter in the open window across from the door. A large bed is positioned beside the window, with a small table next to it. A wardrobe stands on left wall, and a vanity table and mirror sit to the right. You see a small tray of cosmetics atop the vanity table, and a small bookshelf attached to the wall nearby. Thalia’s bedroom contains little more than clothing and other common accoutrements.
We look at the books on the bookshelf first it contains 12 tomes on healing and herbalism. All are common and fairly basic, the kind of thing that magic-users have seen many, many times over. However, in one of the books ‘Tara’s Tome of Rustic Remedies’ there are two cards which what look like recipes glued inside the back cover. The language is not one any of us know so Gnoman casts Read Languages on them and reads them out to us. First he tells us that they are written in Abyssal he then reads out the list and instructions. One we think is for some sort of healing potion the other we have no real idea about what it is, but I think it might be some sort of poison. Thorn looked through the wardrobe and found clothes but he thinks there is a false bottom as well. Gnoman agrees and opens it. Inside we find a bolt of silky green fabric and an empty vial. Upon close inspection we see that the fabric has gotten wet and the colour has run in some places. Also, there are small bits of algae and twigs stuck to it. Arnost says these bits come from the swamp nearby. The clear glass vial seems to have a drop of liquid left in it.
Thorn also looks at the bedside table where there is another book a popular novel called The Clan of the Owlbear by Octavian Thrumsinger other than some bent pages there is no idea where Thalia has got to in reading it, Thorn flips through it but finds nothing hidden there. The vanity table holds some knickknacks and a light blue glass bottle of what we assume is perfume. Thorn casts detect magic on the area and the cloth and perfume bottle both resister as some sort of Charm magic.
While we are doing this I ask the mayor about the last mayor and the hags and she tells me this story, some of which I already knew. Over the last 100 years, Longreed had grown and early on, parents in Longreed frightened their children with stories of evil marsh-witches, but everyone assumed those were just fairy tales meant to keep young ones on the straight and narrow. As the children grew into adults, and as disappearances and other strange events continued to plague the region beyond the river, the stories became something more. Calls for action grew louder. Twenty years ago, the town council finally decided to act. On a fine fall morning, Mayor Durnish himself and a dozen hired adventurers strode out of the gates, hoisting their shiny swords to the cheering crowds and promising to make the countryside safe.
For three days, they searched the marsh, finding little more than fox paths through the underbrush, but on the fourth day, they discovered the ‘Cave’. Quietly inching past mounds of skeletons the
unfortunate victims of the hags’ labours Durnish and his team made their way into the lair, which glittered with the Hags ill-gotten gewgaws. There, the party surprised the hags as they feasted on the remains of a poor spice merchant who’d made the mistake of traveling the river alone. In the blink of a basilisk’s eye, one of the mercenaries fired three bolts from her repeating crossbow, leaving one hag dead on the ground. A second hag, vanquished several of Durnish’s do-gooders
with her sharp claws and fearsome death glare, but she soon fell, too. In the end, only Durnish and Aunt Lobelia were left alive, she told him her name as she taunted him. Both were battered and bruised, but Lobelia wasn’t as helpless as she let on. When the mayor stumbled toward her to deal a death blow, Lobelia unleashed a powerful spell. A short time later, Durnish awoke to a grim sight: Aunt Lobelia was gone, as were the bodies of his 12 companions and the two dead hags. All he could see were 14 severed heads, which had been arranged in a circle around him. Their eyes were
sewn open, as though they watched him while he slept. Durnish himself had been stripped naked
and was badly scarred. Far worse, he was paralyzed with dread of the magic Lobelia may have wrought.
Hours passed. Eventually cold, hunger, and thirst compelled Durnish to stand. He walked to the edge of the circle, uncertain what fate might befall him when he stepped beyond the gruesome border. He kicked a hags head with his foot and watched it roll to the side, knocking another head to the ground as it did. Durnish held his breath, waiting for the worst. When he could stand it no longer, he took another deep breath and held it again. Minutes slowly ticked by.
As Durnish stepped safely beyond the circle’s edge, he exhaled with relief, but something in the back of his mind made him worry that he’d gotten off too easily. The mayor found his gear along with that of his companions lying in the far recesses of the cave. Other than that, the lair had been entirely emptied out: none of the chests or vials or skeletons that he’d seen before the battle remained. Still wary, Durnish put on his armour and did the only thing he could do: he lifted the head of one hag in his left hand, took another in his right, and walked back to Longreed. The townsfolk hailed him as a hero. Attacks in the marshes immediately abated. They didn’t stop entirely, they could have been due to other causes, but they became infrequent enough that the townspeople slept soundly again.
I then ask how he died; Two decades after Durnish awoke in the cave a traveling soothsayer appeared in Longreed, promising to predict the future for a few copper coins. The mayor’s wife, Nedra, was among the many men and women who visited the mystic, happily handing over her money in exchange for a small cup of tea. Like the others, she drank it in one gulp, it was considered bad luck to linger over it, and the fortune teller read the leaves. Nedra glowed with joy
as the old woman promised her happiness to the end of her days. Within the day, she laid cold and dead and the soothsayer and her stack of clattering teacups had disappeared. The following spring a year before your brave selves arrived he died from a broken heart having never recovered from his loss. It was not long after that I came along and dealt with the Trolls.
Many thoughts run around our minds but we cannot share them with Marta with us, from are the hags back? To is this a plot by Thale to get at Marta to is Marta a vampire and that is why she travels in a covered coach? Is Thalia the poisoner or something else? So many thoughts which we will share later.