The Apocalypse of Yesterday
“There are monsters in the mist…”
Mistden was established in the bottom of a swampy dale who knows how long ago. Some claim that it was only after the riders arrived when miscellaneous survivors tagged together and searched for some place to hide from the now hostile world. Others claim that Mistden has always existed in one form or another, and that the apocalypse did not really change anything. The truth of the matter is likely somewhere between these two alternatives: while some recluses might indeed have always preferred a secluded marsh and thus made the dale their home even before everything collapsed, the amount of people in need of the shroud the constant mists of the dale offer increased manifold when the Horsemen were unleashed on the world.
Mistden lies away from the old trade roads, but it lies roughly around the middle parts of Skyre. However, few of the people living there identify themselves as Skyreans although many of them descend from the human majority of that kingdom. For these people, the old kingdoms might as well never have been a reality as anything but the musty tales their grandparents told their parents – or as the demented blathering of ancient elves and dwarves. Most of the settlement is only a decade or two old, partially because wood tends to decay fast because of the stale moisture which seeps in every cranny.
The village elder is Estelar Talesspur, an old Grey Elf sage, has allegedly lived in Mistden long before the apocalypse. According to Estelar, the apocalypse changed nothing of importance: civilizations arise and fall, yet the vanity of man remains. He is an exhilarating storyteller despite his relatively grim outlook on reality, and can recount tales from times most living beings may hardly imagine. Because these stories are so unbelievable to many survivors and because Estelar has spent such a long time in self-imposed exile, detractors sometimes voice their suspicion that either the tales are but figments of an old elf’s imagination.
Because there is no actual inn in Mistden, visitors must rely on the benevolence of the residents. Most immediately guide those in need of a place to rest to seek out Elanor Heathertoe, a venerable Strongheart Halfling matron and thus the second-oldest resident of Mistden. Madam Elanor always welcomes all visitors to her humble den which even houses larger folk as long as they manage to squeeze through her small doors. Many villagers also gather there to spend the evening in the company of the village’s most beloved person (whose imminent passing many fear for she is indeed ancient for a halfling). What Elanor offers to her visitors are a warm hearth which keeps the chill of the swamp at bay as well as a meat stew which she seasons with the herbs she has gathered from the swamp. As for the meat, she merely winks if the subject is brought up and reminds the curious visitor that Mistden does not have that many residents, and visitors are scarce.
Other notable personae include John Tucker, a recluse who lives away from the rest of the villagers with his daughter, Nina Tucker, the village’s smith, Luke “Scab” Hofstad, and the village’s apothecary and a priest of Armed, Gerald Isonlate. Besides them, there are maybe two dozen adult people who live in Mistden, and most are humans with families. On average, these people are not exactly welcoming of strangers although they are not outright hostile either. They would simply prefer to be left to their own routines now that their families have found some solace from the chaos which roams across the world.
The Girl Next Door
Nina Tucker has been seen running around in the swamp. Some of the villagers are worried simply because a young girl should not be allowed to endanger herself like that. However, they are too scared to go and see what is up with John Tucker because his house is further into the swamp and they fear they might be attacked. These people are well aware that Nina is 20 something years old despite seeming like a little girl but they simply shrug it off by saying that her mother might have been of any race (such as an elf) since John Tucker moved in with her only a decade ago.
If the characters go into the marsh to look for John Tucker, they might find his house if they managed to receive sufficient information about its whereabouts or if they succeed in a DC 18 Survival check. If they fail this test, they become lost in the mist (see ‘Lost in the Mist’). If the next time they go search for John Tucker’s hut is at night and they become lost again, they will instead run into Nina and her cohorts.
No light shines from the windows of John Tucker’s house, but on closer inspection, all windows are sealed with what seem to be thick, scarlet velvet curtains. If it is night, a DC 12 Listen check will reveal the angry moaning which originates from the house. It will be audible to everyone by the time the house is reached. Inside, John Tucker’s ghost is thrashing about in search of its body and treasured Orb of Awakening. When he notices the characters, he will initially lash out at them verbally: “Who? YOU! Were you the one who took my body?!” However, he will quickly regain his senses and put on his facade as an honorable and sensible man. He will explain that he died in an unfortunate accident which involved stairs (note: there are no stairs visible; a DC 22 Search check will reveal the secret door to his cellar study but he will attack anyone who reveals this secret). A successful DC 12 Knowledge (religion) check reveals that no normal ghost should be aware of its death. John Tucker’s explanation, if prodded about the matter, is that he has always had a phenomenal memory and he remembers the exact details of his death because of this.
What John Tucker wants is having his daughter returned to the house – allegedly for her own safety but mostly in order for him to punish her dearly for having animated his corpse and for having used the Orb of Awakening, as he remembers her having done in his more lucid moments. He claims that Nina has been captured by his body, which is now animated by a fell spirit of the swamp, because she believes it to be him. He knows that they must be hiding somewhere in the swamp but cannot give an exact location. If the characters bring Nina back to him, he promises to show them to his cache of self-crafted wands and scrolls. He cannot recall the specifics (a lie) but there are half a dozen or so wands and some sealed scrolls in there (true). In actuality, his cache consists of Wands of Blindness/Deafness, Dispel Magic, Shivering Touch (20 charges), Ray of Enfeeblement, Summon Undead II, and Detect Magic (one of each) as well as Scrolls of Identify (x2), Command Undead (x2), and Explosive Runes, and it is guarded by the pair of Troll Skeletons John Tucker has animated in the past.
If the characters do find Nina, she will probably be enjoying a cup of tea (really swamp water) with her dear Father and Brother. Tracking them will be possible with divination spells or cunning – tracking them is night impossible due to the mist and the swamp. Nina wishes to never return to her father’s home because his spirit still lingers there. While she does not happily reveal her undead status, she will imply that the undead monstrosity she now calls Father loves her more than her original father ever did. The zombie of John Tucker will gladly explain the situation jarringly if given a chance but at first, its groans will likely sound unintelligible.
If Nina is grabbed by force, the zombies will attack relentlessly. She is more than willing to bite any would-be capturers but if the zombies are in any real danger of being destroyed, she will surrender, demanding that they are not to be hurt any further.
If Nina is returned to John Tucker’s ghost, he will attempt to cast Command Undead on her. If he fails, he will command the characters to lock her in her room for her own safety although he really wants to imprison her. John Tucker will then make attempts to have the characters killed although he will not begin flinging spells at them on the spot. When they ask for him to show the way to his cache, he will comply but secretly summon his wolf skeletons to ambush the party when they reach the cache.
Nina knows the secret door to the cellar and the switch to open it. If John Tucker’s ghost has been dispatched of, she will gladly show the characters the way to his study as a reward. The entrance opens to a narrow staircase within one of the walls when one lifts the door to the kitchen a bit, in order to turn it the wrong way. Within the laboratory are the 3 skeletons John Tucker left to guard it as well as his scribbled notes about all his spells. Many (4/70) of the scattered notes also contain Explosive Runes, and the stairway has been rigged with an Alarm spell. Other contents include a bloody table, some bloodstains on the floor (as if someone had tripped in the stairs and hit their head badly), and the Skull of Lim-Dûl on a pedestal, under which John Tucker keeps his onyx gems in a small chest. The chest also contains 2000gp worth of magical inks and John Tucker’s diary in which he details how he was banished from a community when he cast Blindness on one of its inhabitants in a fit of rage, and how he dragged Nina with him to Mistden and how she died and rose as a Slaymate. It tells about how he has come to worship Death as a savior who will eventually avenge all the wrongs he has gone through, from the death of his wife during childbirth due to the fickle meddling of Atrope to his banishment.
Lost in the Mist
The first time the characters become lost in the swamp around Mistden, they will encounter a Bog Imp (HoH, pp. 142-143) whose Code of Law demands that it must show itself to anyone it wishes to affront and that its victims must be given a chance to answer its riddle and leave in peace. If the riddle is answered correctly, it will even answer one question truthfully. The Bog Imp will always ready an action to burrow away in case someone approaches it. It will make this very clear: if any of the characters move, it will consider them free prey. The Imp’s riddle is as follows (the answer is “mud”):
Pigs and missuses can’t resist its allure,
though it makes neither any prettier for sure.
Visitors are welcome when they entail this gift,
yet the hallway’s where they leave… such accommodated shit.
It ain’t no secret that thence you spring,
and believe it or not – in it you too will eventually sink.
(Some sooner than others.)
So you’d better guess the gist of this riddle,
or armed with hindsight, you will sleep in its middle.
If engaged, the Imp will dive to safety. However, it will continue harassing the characters and will use its ability to sink them in the swamp whenever an opportunity arises. If someone manages to resist the sinking, the Bog Imp will instead begin luring the characters deeper into the swamp and towards a pack consisting of a Shambling Mound and 3 Spark Lashers (MHB, pp. 70-71). The Spark Lashers will first load the Shambling Mound with electricity, and in general, they will prefer supporting it instead of lashing out. The Mound, on the other hand, is a ceaseless harrier despite its slowness. The remains of its last victim contain a small-sized +1 mithral shirt, a +1 Everbright Shocking Silver Dagger and a cursed Ring of Unnoticeability (people you talk to must succeed in a DC 15 Will save or will feel an irresistible urge to ignore you although they are well aware of your presence) which have resisted corrosion. The bones of their previous owner belong to a male Halfling, as a DC 20 Heal check will reveal.
Brand of War
Elanor is taking care of a maddened man whose wound is an oozing brand mark of a feral stallion. The man screams how he had been branded by Goreplate and thus he is now enlisted on the troops of War. A DC 18 Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (religion) check reveals that Goreplate is one of War’s apostles – a powerful warlord whose primary mission is to generate unrest and to forcefully recruit troops in his master’s eternal war. Better results (20+) reveal facts about Goreplate and his cohorts.
On one of his few sober moments, the man will inform the characters that his name is William Danielson and that he has family near the ruins of Brennenburg, North-West of Mistden. He came here to consult Master Talesspur about… (His throes overtake him. He wanted to consult Estelar about the legends surrounding Brennenburg because he many of his neighbors have gone missing, and one of them had mentioned how he could ‘feel a shadow over his shoulder’ just before the night she disappeared. The reason is an Epheremeral Hangman and other Dark creatures freed by the destruction of a seal on a shrine to the Dreaming Dark.) Estelar and Elanor both agree that while they can cure his infection, the only way to save this poor man from his delusions is to destroy Goreplate. It is also obvious that if the characters wish to proceed North or North-West, they will have to cross the same plains and risk encountering the monstrosity. Elanor and Estelar will warn the party that should they attempt to traverse the plains without steeds (and Mistden houses no horses), they will surely encounter Goreplate.
Some of the villagers manifest peculiar bodily mutations such as pink eyes, skin with different colored blotches, long tongues and so on. If investigated, it turns out all these effects have result as side-effects from the healing provided by Gerald Isonlate – and some of the results are more harmful than mere visual disturbances: twisted fingers, limp limbs, tumors. Most care not for their freakish appearance because other villagers do not pay attention to such trifle details and even those who suffer were healed of their maladies despite the mutations. Gerald’s explanation is that the collapse of the world brought a disturbance to Armed’s power over life, causing healing spells to twist and mutate their recipients because the force of life itself is now tainted. However, actually he is experimenting with a substance which contains Warp Touch (BoVD, pp. 30-31) in order to find a way to make people better, more resilient. Thus far, he is the only one to have received a beneficial effect (petrifying eyes) from the substance.
If the characters are to be healed by Gerald, they risk being experimented on. Gerald may be utterly insane but he remains true to his healer’s creed despite also attempting improvements as well as implementing many of his patients with a necrotic cyst. If confronted, he will attempt reasoning with the characters but once threatened to either be exposed or killed, he will unveil his eyes to utilize his petrifying gaze, promising to restore the characters once his plans have proved fruitful.
The tainted water Gerald uses for his experiments with Warp Touch is actually harvested from his personal Dreamscape, a land twisted by his insanity and speckled with the remnants of the man he once was.
A Strange Dream
After returning to Mistden, if the characters decide to sleep, they will be transported to a shared Dreamscape and given dream avatars which reflect their innermost essences. The Dreamscape itself takes on the form of a dead forest of leafless, black trees, the branches of which resemble hands, desperately reaching for an black, twisted tower of adamantine and sooty glass which reflects the characters in their physical form but always slightly off (DC 12 Wis check to realize the differences, such as one of their eyes being upside down or having pointed teeth) in the middle of the Dreamscape. The sky is but an unblinking black eye, the outline of which is barely visible as dark grey sketches, and attempting to distance oneself from the tower keeps recurring one towards it. In the woods further away from the tower, the characters may see the ghosts of vaguely familiar people but never reach them. The dreamer of this Dreamscape is nothing short of an avatar of the Dreaming Dark, the one being held captive in Brennenburg. Other inhabitants of this Dreamscape include Nina Tucker’s soul as well as 2 large Shadow Elementals and 3 medium Shadow Elementals.
At first, Nina will be singing an unknown song, which involves the phrases "Do not fear the voices. They are just the hinges of the night creaking when creatures come in and go out. My people. When you stop fearing the voices, you become one of them.” However, once she spots the party, she will welcome them as visitors to her master’s dream. She will explain that in here, everyone may be whatever they will, and how she has always been able to enter at will since she arrived in Mistden. Ever since her death, she has lived here with her master. However, her master wills to be set free. Its reason? Merely freedom itself for Nina’s master does not aspire for anything beyond its and everyone’s freedom.
If the party is willing to help Nina’s master, she will introduce them to it. The tower will withdraw under her touch, revealing a dark pond underneath. This pond reflects the eye on the sky, and its waters taste like salty tears, and honey. Once the would normally see their own reflections on its waters, they instead hear their own voices speaking to them in their minds, making them promises. Maximillian is promised that his people will cast away their brutish masks and be reborn. Retort will be promised a physical body of his own. Jalnur shall receive untold riches beyond his imagination. And Teel will find a a mentor and a rival who will instruct to the level of the ancient masters and beyond. The rest of this message will be the same for each, conveyed in a voiceless thought, a whisper which cannot be heard: you must simply undo the seal.
Nina will then explain how her master is sealed away in Brennenburg and despite having been able to breach some of the limitations between his world and the material, remains locked away and unable to control the creatures of the night his struggles have released. The seal must still be broken physically by a weapon blessed by Atrope, but Nina has no idea of what the seal looks like.
The Necromancer’s Dues
John Tucker allowed the party to live because he requires their help to retrieve an artifact which supposedly lies in the ruins of Brennenburg. Supposedly this staff was used to seal the sanctum sanctorum of an ancient god’s temple, and thus, it must contain unimaginable power. He has cursed each of the characters not to see ghosts (note: they do still see the spirits in the Dreamscape because of the special characteristics of that plane), preventing them from knowing whether or not they are being surveyed (except for Retort, of whose sentience John Tucker remains ignorant). He has also regained control of Nina with Control Undead, making her his mindless doll for the time being.
This staff is actually the sentient companion of a champion of Atrope. Having exhausted her power in order to seal an avatar of the Dreaming Dark, she arose as a twisted caricature of herself but remains subconsciously loyal to her original intention and thus protects her previous companion from all who would attempt to break the seal. Her staff, on the other hand, would want nothing but to see her laid to rest and being released by being broken… as long as the avatar he keeps sealed would also be slain.