Starday, Goodmonth 1, 552 CY (50 AN)
Tineld continues to lead Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, and Valna deeper into the swamp. They come to a marshy field bisected by a slow, bubbling stream. Insects buzz lazily in the early summer heat. A bridge allows passage across the shallow stream. As they cross the bridge, the insects coalesce into two humanoid swarms which Bezaldooz recognizes as the somewhat rare C.I.F.A.L. (Colonial Insect-Form Artificial Life). Flanked, the group moves into action as the writhing masses of insects launch themselves at the group with a thousand stinging bites. Bezaldooz manages to cast Sleep on one of the creatures, causing it to stumble forward before the mass of insects collapses on the ground, but Tineld dies in the initial onslaught.
With mass of insects asleep and the other being cornered, the fight seems as though it will be swift. However, about that time, a large, mutated creature that bears a resemblance to a ladybug about eight feet long and five feet high descends from the sky, all fluttering wings and gnashing mandibles. In seconds, a creature resembling a large frog — albeit one with an array of tentacles and a cluster of eyes on an eyestalk — crashes through the reeds and attacks Torinn, biting him off Happy. Torinn immediately sets to struggling with the mutated creature as it tries to eat him — it’s a fairly tense several seconds as he continues to struggle, popping in and out of the thing’s mouth as it works its jaws around the armored dragonborn. Meanwhile, the ladybug-thing shivers as it projects a field of energy around itself. Sighting the closest creature, it attacks Happy and bites the clawfoot in half. Similarly, while locked in struggle with the CIFALs, Bezaldooz levitates off the ground, but his dog is not so lucky, as Wilson is devoured by hordes of stinging insects. Although Bezaldooz manages to destroy the ladybug-thing, and the slumbering CIFAL is easily dispatched, the onslaught leaves Peren and Valna unconscious, and Torinn still struggling in the frog-thing’s jaws.
Finally, the tide turns. Armed with a healing potion, Bezaldooz floats to the ground and manages to revive Valna, next applying first aid to Peren. Around the same time, Torinn finally breaks free of the frog-thing’s jaws. After collecting himself, Peren manages to fire one of his strange weapons at the frog-thing, injuring it. The group then focuses on defeating the last of the creatures, and after much struggle with the frog-thing Torinn cleaves the its skull in two. Finally, after a bloody battle, the last of the insects is dispersed. Exhausted, everyone decides to rest.
Despite the loss of their guide, the group finds the trail fairly easily, and after some more hiking, they come to another bridge leading to an outcropping of land amidst a small lake. An old boathouse sits on the shore, and as they approach, the group thinks they catch movement on the pier.
Moving quietly, the group hears the approach of several people, and they crouch in the brush to see an approaching group. Two large, doglike creatures composed entirely of plant material — largely vines and thorns — are poised at the front, ridden by two, diminutive humanoids also composed of vegetation. Nearly a score of these humanoids trail behind the two riders, and all are armed with bows and spears. The two dog-creatures stop for a drink while the small plant-people investigate the area.
The group bursts into action, taking up positions and slinging spells into the crowd. Bosabrieln takes cover in the boathouse while Peren and Torinn move alongside the boathouse. The riders charge forward, followed by the plant-people, but the fight is brief and decisive. Each swing of a blade fells one of the creatures, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln manage to defeat several with spells and alchemical explosives.
Bosabrieln is surprised to see a tiefling huddled in the boathouse as he moves, but the strange person — clad in rags and armor, bearing a shield and spear — makes no move to attack, so Bosabrieln ignores him for the moment.
Finally, the dog-creatures are destroyed, as are the last of the plant-men. The group takes the opportunity to rest before Bosabrieln addresses the tiefling. He reveals himself to have no name — “stolen,” he says — but he does indicate he is the boatman who can take them to the Terrible Old Man’s hut. As Peren notes, the tiefling’s twitchy demeanor, crazed giggle, and bloodshot eyes betray a lurking madness, but he never shows any malice.
When everyone is prepared, they climb aboard a small rowboat, and the tiefling pilots the craft across the lake. On the other side, he docks and gestures to a crumbling old hut, which he indicates to be the Terrible Old Man’s hut. The tiefling then paddles his boat back across the lake.
The group prepares themselves and knocks on the door. The door opens and they are greeted by an ancient, hunched man, clad in rags and with a large, grey beard. The Terrible Old Man. He invites them in — bringing them into a room with a floor covered in hay, with one low table as the furnishing. Other rooms are visible from the entrance, but they stay in this room. He offers them tea, and goes to get it, serving them from cracked china. However, most of them note (for Torinn refuses tea) that it is quite sweet and exotic, and most refreshing.
As they drink, the Old Man offers to get down to cases. Bezaldooz sells his last alchemist’s essence potion for 75 gold pieces, and despite the risks (for many know the Old Man’s wares to harbor the risk of curses) they buy a few things. Bezaldooz purchases a Cape of the Mountebank, Peren purchases an Obsidian Steed and the Helm of Seven Deaths, Torinn purchases a pair of Boots of Adept Charging, and Valna purchases a Symbol of Shared Healing. As it is the group’s understanding that standard goods are not typically cursed, Bosabrieln and Peren purchase healing potions. As advertised, the Old Man charges half the typical market price of such goods, giving them immediately.
The Shields of the Sorrowfell then spend the night in a room with eight bunks. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Valna sleep fitfully, and awaken the next morning unnerved from a restless sleep.