After a surprisingly restful night, we awoke to find that the old man was using some salve and other medicinal concoctions to heal our battle wounds, as well as doing his best to care for Thomas and his son. We stayed for a bit of the morning, trying our best to converse with this man, however he did not speak. He used basic gestures to communicate. After the day in the tavern talking to the local idiots, I found this non-verbal communication refreshing. Perhaps it is based on admiration for a man who has found a way to survive in the swamp as well as caring for others. Perhaps it is the curiosity about whether or not this is Father Marbad. One way or another, this man who has never spoken a word to me has somehow gained my respect. He seems to be looking out for our best interests, even waving us away from considering how to traverse the cavern to a crate on the other side. While some might believe he is hiding this crate for himself, my gut tells me that this is a good man. I’m usually much more hesitant and untrusting of others, so this feeling of respect and trust for this man is strange to me.
Based on his gestured request, we gathered our belongings and helped Thomas and his son out of the cave, and the old man led us back to town. As we turned upon exiting the cave, we found that the natural cut and surroundings of it created an illusion of a regular hillside. There was no evidence at all of where we had just been inside, but there was no magical cloaking involved in this hidden escape from the brutal swamp. It would be difficult to find our way back here, if we ever should need to return. We traveled for a good while, and then reached a point that we could see the town and continue on our own. At that point, the old man left us and turned back to the swamp. Vaelentyr called the name of Marbad, but the old man did not react as if this were his name. There was a slight hesitation, as if he had heard the name before, but not enough to make us believe that our earlier hunch was correct.
Upon returning to the tavern, Thomas’ family was overcome with emotion as they saw Thomas and his son alive, despite not being physically well. As bad as they looked, they certainly could have been much worse. Vaelentyr amusingly rolled a troll head into the middle of the floor of the tavern. He certainly does have a flair for shocking. Townspeople gathered around to hear of the valiant battle, while I was able to quietly stand aside unbothered by their tedious questions. Shortly after, we spoke with a local bog hunter to try to get more information about the old man and the general hunting process in the swamp, but fell far short of our expectations. At the college, I have become accustomed to being surrounded by people of much higher intellect, and returning to this village is a reminder that the world is generally full of simple people. Within minutes, I longed for the better level of conversation with the mute old man.
We traveled out to the docks to see if we could gather any more information about the smugglers and the underground river. Upon arriving, there was a huge spectacle as a large ship arrived with a witch hunter who seemed to take over both the investigation and the town itself. We noticed that the Baron was basically a lackey in this process, and wasn’t given the normal respect that a village Baron is usually afforded. We also have observed over the past several days that this Baron doesn’t really deserve it anyway. However, I’m not feeling too comfortable about the witch hunter sailing in and commanding us to follow his orders. Theodora, the Baron’s mother, seemed at first excited about the witch hunter’s arrival, but that soon turned into defensive and uncomfortable scrambling as we began sharing information about the investigation so far. His men began scribing the events we have detailed regarding what we know, and even sent men to arrest Salzig. This allowed me to turn the attention to her role in Salzig being appointed and Marbad being sent away. She seemed to have a strong reaction to the stories of the old man in the swamp, as if she knew who he was. Despite the evidence against it, I still feel there is some connection to Marbad. Thoedora tried to convince us that the reactions she had are based on there being a wicth loose in the swamp, but I don’t think anyone believed her story.
Eventually, the witch hunter had heard enough, and commanded the assembly of three hunting parties into the swamp. We were in one, and the Baron surprisingly ran another. We were attacked by a group of giant spiders who were much more fierce than we had imagined. Not all of the hunting parties fared as well as we did, and several men didn’t survive or refused to continue on and turned back. We continued forward and found a hut that we believe belongs to the witch we are seeking. The hut was destroyed by the members of the Baron’s party, upon his command. I was struggling with focusing on the swirling winds of chaos surrounding the area, the likes of which I have never seen before. Continuing on, we saw the witch himself in the distance. Suddenly we heard the ground itself come up behind us to form a monstrous being. While we took it down, it took its toll on me with some significant injury, and we had yet to face the witch, as he disappeared into the shadows right before our eyes! The winds of magic are swirling in chaos all around us, and I’m not sure we are ready to face what lies ahead.