The adventurers awoke late at the King’s Blade Hotel, and one by one staggered from their bedrooms into the common area. Brick, who had stayed in, was eager to hear about his friends’ exploits. Here’s what they told him:
Chlamydia, after many drinks, invested all of her money with a man named Giles the Gaptoothed who wished to start a business that manufactured and sold shoe lifts for dwarves living in a human-sized world.
Junior assaulted a man who had the temerity to speak ill of Vesuvius the Ashen, and as a result soon found himself being chased by an angry mob. Before they caught up with him, a warm, soothing presence took hold of him and carried him away. He didn’t have to ask to know that it was The Hearth Source, deity of the halflings. It carried him back to his hotel room, and left him with a parting vision: a community of halflings living on the swampy shores of Lake Trouble, shivering through cold, damp nights.
Alastair Finch had little to say about the night before, but did announce that he desired to make a sizable donation to the church.
After brief discussion, it was determined that their next destination would be Lake Trouble.
They used what remained of the day to take care of personal matters and preparing for their journey. They procured a cart, some mules, and TWO THOUSAND blankets. Alastair gave money to the Mother Superior and to Perrin Featherly. Chlamydia went to check on her investment, and made a disheartening discovery: Giles the Gaptoothed owned no factory. A bartender at The Lucky Toad Tavern informed her that Giles was a known con-artist who was in serious debt to a gang of bandits called the Red Gloves. The bartender promised to let Chlamydia know the next time Giles showed up.
The next morning, they took off. On their way through the Shriekwood, they came upon a pristine, manicured glade surrounded by statues of armed, armored, stern-faced elves. They noted the glade’s location on their map and gave it a wide berth as they proceeded on. On their third day, they emerged from the forest into a gray, fetid swamp that ringed an eerily still lake. They followed the lake’s shore (noticing wolf prints in the mud along the way) until they arrived at a small (both in population and scale) village built on stilts on the lake’s edge.
This was Knucklehead, a community of halflings who had been driven out of their homeland to the east by gnolls some two decades before. They cheered the arrival of fresh, dry blankets, as their own supply was mildewed and rotten. Lonus Trumble, the village’s sheriff, led them to a town hall, where they sat around a fire and listened to her describe the issue that had been plaguing the people of knucklehead as of late.
A couple of months ago, hunters and farmers vanished while working outside of village. Shortly thereafter, halflings began disappearing from their homes during the night, first in the homes closest to Knucklehead’s perimeter, but moving further and further in to its center as the weeks progressed. Already, sixty of the village’s inhabitants had vanished. There was no pattern to the disappearances: men and women, children and the elderly were all taken. Lonus formed a village militia to patrol Knucklehead’s ramps and causeways after dark, but to no avail.
Junior conferred with his companions, and convinced them that they should stay and help out.
Junior, Brick, and Alastair spent what remained of the afternoon getting to know some of the villagers. They met a fisherman who told them that The Bottoms were home to lizard-men as well as a black dragon, but he didn’t know even either one was responsible for the disappearances. Chlamydia ventured back out into the swamp with a burlap sack and a vast repertoire of animal calls and returned with a muskrat, which she took into the village temple with her for a few hours of prayer. The muskrat was not seen again.
Before dusk fell, who should come wandering out of the fog but Choice Economix directed here by the concierge at the King’s Blade Hotel. His friends caught him up on the situation.
When night finally arrived, the adventurers positioned themselves (with plenty of blankets) on top of the roof of a house and kept watch on the swamp. Hours passed, and the halflings of Knucklehead retreated to their homes, until only the night watch remained, roaming the walkways in pairs with raised torches. In the late hours, the sounds of footsteps in sucking mud called the adventurers’ attention out to the swamp, just shy of the village ramp. Chlamydia cast a magical sphere of light in the darkness. It revealed a half-dozen halflings—their faces consumed with rot, their clothing in tatters—lurching towards the town. The power of Chlamydia’s faith drove all but one of the undead creatures back into the darkness. This last one they fought on the village walkways. Junior and Choice both got soaked, but otherwise everyone was okay when they finally destroyed the thing. Junior gave the Knucklehead militia a crash-course in the undead, and then the party set off across the swamp in pursuit of the ones that had been driven off.
They tracked them to a muddy hill and killed all but one of them. They let the last one make it all the way back to its home: a cave nestled between a pile of boulders on the western shore of Lake Trouble.
The party set up camp so that Chlamydia could rest and the rest could observe the cave entrance. A few hours later, a pack of giant rats caught sight of them and mistook them for an easy meal. Now there are a dozen fewer rats in the world.