As the party moved to enter the moathouse ruins, they were confronted by a squad of wraith-like soldiers climbing from the bog surrounding the structure.
These undead troops moaned battle cries of "Save the Lady" and "Protect the Child", along with "For the Duke".
The cleric and other party members moved quickly to dispatch the bog wraiths with spell and blade…and that was when the Giant Frogs bounded from the swamp and attacked!
Surrounded, the party fought furiously for their lives as several of them were captured by sticky tongues and swallowed whole!
Luck was with them that day, for soon all were safe (but gooey) and the frogs dead or drive away. The corpse of some sort of armored humanoid was found half eaten in the swamp. The armor bore the symbol of the Ashen Covenant!
Without a rest, the companions move into the main courtyard of the moathouse. Here they found a huge timber set into the ground with an iron loop atop it.
Due to her merchant upbringing, Trin recognized this as an anchor pole for an airship!
Just then, a ghostly white girl of 7 years old or so drifted by in the gloom the entry to a great hall…
Before the party could react, small winged faeries of all the hues of the rainbow began drifting out of the hall entryway. At first there was a few dozen, laughing and giggling, playfully tugging at their hair and weapons and boot laces.
Then the numbers began to grow exponentially, as soon hundreds of the tiny fey creatures swarmed about the courtyard.
The little ghost girl reappeared at the gloomy entryway and screamed at them to "GET OUT OF MY DADDY'S HOUSE!!!"
The little faeries reflected her anger by baring their sharp little teeth and prepared to tear the intruders to bits!
Realizing the faeries were an illusory construct…a physical manifestation of the child-spirits anger and fear…Azilis the bard began singing a song of calming, using reassuring words to soothe the frightened apparition.
Kordun the Dwarven Fighter reinforced this attempt to calm the ghost by pulling out the puppets he had acquired in Gloomwrought (See Chapter 10 : Puppets). The rest of the party grabbed puppets and began an impromptu show depicting the dangers of rogue-eating frogs and gloomy swamps!
DM NOTE: This was going to be a simple skill challenge, but when the singing and the puppets and the great roleplaying ensued, I just winged it with bonuses to rolls and some hand waving of the written DC's. The players were creative and it was a very fun moment in the game as dice bags and snack sacks became the actual puppets…
Soon, the little ghost girl, Edwina by name, had calmed and the carnivorous faerie swarm had dissipated.
The child spirit told a tale of scary men and swords and torches in the night. Soon after the scary night, her daddy, the Duke, and her mommy left to visit the Queen, but she couldn't go until she found her new shiny charm bracelet. Her daddy's friend, Dorbledum the Wizard had given it to her at her recent 7th birthday party.
She said it was somewhere in the "room she could not go". The party investigated this chamber, Edwina's playroom, and discovered a secret door.
Inside the small secret room, they learned the true story of Edwina's tragedy. The skeleton of Edwina and her mother lay together in death, while her fathers bones were still held upright from falling on his own sword.
The Duke had killed his wife and child to spare them the horrors of the invading force that had sent them into hiding. He had then fallen on his own blade to join them on their journey to be judged by the Raven Queen.
The platinum charm bracelet still gleamed on the child's skeletal wrist. Taking the bracelet back to Edwina broke the compulsion the girl had to remain in this decaying place. Laughing, she faded away to join her parents in the great beyond while the bones in the room crumbled to dust…
There was a brief but mad scramble for the charm bracelet as it clinked to the stone floor…Naturally, the quick little halfling soon sported a nifty new piece of magical jewelry.
A brief search of the upper level of the moathouse turned up some minor but interesting things. A rotting tapestry showed that the lands surrounding the moathouse a millennia ago were green and fertile fields and meadows, not the current vast swamp.
A room with a crumbled outer wall had flooded with the bog beyond. It appeared to have been the lair of some sort of reptile, but was now abandoned. The room showed signs of a recent struggle of some sort…
Trin took a moment to climb to the collapsed upper story and take a look out over the swamp. She wasn't sure, but a speck in the far distance looked like an airship moving their way…
The companions moved down to the underground level of the old moathouse. At the bottom of the stairs, they found an empty torture chamber.
The instruments of suffering and pain looked like a recent addition to this place, and the devices had definitely been used!
Moving further into the room, they suddenly found themselves sealed in by a portcullis dropping and on the receiving end of an ambush!
Doors at the end of the room where opened and a creature of nightmare forced out! A 10 foot tall cross between a man and a crocodile roared in pain and confusion before charging the party!
Now they knew what came from the reptillian lair up above…Not that it really mattered at the moment!
Smeg the warlord recognized the creature as possibly a Khumat. Before the rise of Arkhosia and Bael Turath, legend held that great race of crocodile men ruled an advanced and benevolent empire that stretched across the entire continent.
This massive monster may be a regressed descendant of those once-noble reptile kings…
Regretfully, the heroes were forced to slay this obviously-tortured and dumb brute.
They realized the creature was only meant to wear them down before the real ambush, as the doors about them slammed open and Bugbears poured into the room, followed by their Ogre commander!
Steel clashed, magics boomed,arrows flew, and backs were stabbed as the smell of burning Dragonborn filled the air! (Smeg was pushed onto a burning brazier and had difficulty putting himself out.)
One of the bugbears opened the holding cells and zombies poured out. Two of the bugbears themselves were promptly attacked and torn apart by the hungry dead.
As Kordun faced the ogre, he was suddenly sneak attacked by a female bugbear who attempted to strangle him from behind!
(Azilis's later comment of "You got choked by a girl, dwarf" did nothing to soothe Korduns ruffled pride…)
Soon the ambusher's lay dying in their own blood and the party moved on. In the ogres bedroom, they discovered yet another set of steps leading down while Trin found and attempted to open a locked coffer…the results were not satisfactory to the halfling rogue!
As they prepared to rest in the ogre's chambers, they suddenly heard a scream from below…and it sounded like their simple-minded tiefling friend, Random!
He was alive! They had thought him done for when he didn't make it to the meeting at the puppet show…
With no thought for their own welfare, the party prepared to charged down the stairs and rescue their new little friend…
To Be Continued…