I’m keeping the Halloween spirit going all this week, today with some short fiction! Remember the board game A Touch of Evil, and the excellent expansion, Something Wicked? Well, this was a session report I wrote up following a game with Inspector Cooke vs the Bog-Fiend a while ago, and thought it’d be an idea to share it with you guys this week. So sit back, and enjoy!
Something was wrong in Shadowbrook. Anybody who spent any amount of time in the town couldn’t shy away from that fact. However, nobody could say precisely what it was. I suppose that’s why they called me to the town. As a police inspector, I pride myself on my intelligence and my cunning – if anyone could get to the bottom of what was happening in Shadowbrook, I like to think it would be me…
It was raining when I arrived. The town, nestled in the dip of a shallow valley, had a slight haze surrounding it. My arrival caused no little surprise among the locals, but when they realised who I was and where I came from, I like to think I detected a slightly more positive shift in their attitude. I made at once to the manor house of Lord Hanbrook, with whom I had had some past dealings, and was apprised of the situation fairly quickly by a meeting of the town elders.
For weeks now, the countryside around Shadowbrook had been sinking. I admit, I was at first slightly nonplussed by this fact. However, where once was firm ground, good roads, and arable pasture, there was now fetid swamp. Hanbrook called me in when a local lad named Jack had disappeared, only to turn up one Sunday morning dead, having drowned in one of these newly-appeared swamps.
The locals were understandably afeared. Hanbrook appeared more concerned that he was losing the use of his land for rents, but the locals had different ideas. Age-old legends about bog-fiends began to surface, the stuff told to youngsters to make them more obedient, though this time repeated as fact. Well, I was unperturbed, and set off in my investigation.
I was staying at Hanbrooks manor, where one night I discovered a secret passage that led, it seemed, into the bowels of the earth. I followed the tunnel for what seemed like an age, and was utterly baffled – yes, I! – when I emerged at the monastery I had passed by on my way in to the town. The monastery, it turned out, was well-equipped with all manner of tomes and scriptures on the locality, and my perusal of the library there turned out to be quite fruitful.
I determined to return overland to Shadowbrook to converse more thoroughly with the locals, but a chance encounter at a wayside inn that evening turned me from this course. I was given a battered old book by a hooded stranger, who insisted I take it “for when the time comes”, before he left. That night, I studied the ancient text – which called itself the Book of Death – and determined to return to the monastery the following morning, having developed a strange inkling that there was more going on there than I had first thought.
The following morning dawned bright and crisp, and I walked up to the gate expecting to be met by one of the friars, yet no sooner had I arrived at the outer walls than the bells began to toll ominously. The monks began to scurry off in different directions, like ants under attack, and I had a prickly feeling as if something were not right here. Turning my gaze about the place, I kept being drawn to the mist-shrouded island across the lake – Echo Lake, I believe the locals call it. However, when I turned back to the monastery, I found myself set upon my hooded, masked individuals!
Two of these men – for men I assumed them to be – came at me with knives, while the others seemed to be whispering in some unknown language. My time in Shadowbrook had been strange up to that point, but now it had turned absolutely deadly! I searched my person for anything to use as a weapon, and fortunately came upon a crossbow I had purchased some time ago. I managed to loose a bolt at the nearest of the fiends, and – just like that! – the other devils vanished.
Squaring my shoulders, I marched up to the great West Door of the monastery and, seeing it open, slipped inside. Something at the back of my mind was telling me that the monastery lay near the heart of my investigation, and I determined to root out the cause of it. While wandering the echoing cloisters, however, I found myself attacked once more, this time by a short, stocky figure in a cowl. I had at first thought it one of the monks, but when that cowl fell back, I was shown the error of my judgement. The face that stared back at me was a cruel one, pallid and evil, with incised markings on the forehead and cheeks in the shape of a “x”. Luckily, my crossbow made short work of him, and with one bolt in the stomach, he fled back into the dusty catacombs from whence he came.
It was following this attack, however, that I felt the compelling need to return to Shadowbrook. Not a moment did I waste as I once again took to the road. As I drew nearer to the town, it seemed that my adversary had not been lax in his work. Vast swathes of the countryside had begun to simply sink; there was no other way to describe it. That haze of rain once more engulfed the town, but it was in no way enough to have brought about this much widespread flooding. However, my greatest shock was reserved for when I reached the crossroads just outside of the town.
Standing on that slightly raised bluff overlooking the town, it was as if Shadowbrook had been flooded. The town square was completely submerged, but not with rain water, or from the nearby river having burst its banks. This was a murky, green-tinged swamp, wreathed with clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Not one townsperson was to be found, and I rather felt then that I had failed to save them all. However, as I stood gazing down on the land, a lone rider emerged through the mist – Lord Hanbrook himself.
The townspeople had fled when the swamp water began to rise out of the ground in the night, and were now temporarily housed on his estate. He bade me come with him to the crumbling ruin of a pre-war keep, where, he believed, the foul demon had made his lair. As we approached, it became increasingly obvious that something had happened close-by, for there was barely any solid ground to stand on. When we came upon the keep, however, the sight before us was one of foul horror.
A hunched figure, with a vague look of a man about him, sat in the dark recesses of the crumbling keep, gibbering to himself in a tongue not unlike the creatures that had attacked me in the monastery. It was completely naked, its skin a mottled blue-green, scaly in parts and weeping a slick, greasy ooze. When we drew nearer, its head came up quickly, revealing a scaled face with bony protrusions extending from either side, almost like a crown. It spat something evil-sounding, hissing and cursing in that unknowable tongue.
Hanbrook wasted no time in attacking the monster, and after my momentary horror, I too joined in the fray. The foul creature appeared to turn away our blows without so much as a gasp of pain, and it looked like we would not prevail. However, Hanbrook managed to subdue the beast long enough for me to get a shot with my crossbow right in the demon’s face, which elicited a disgusting wail. To my utter shock, the fiend’s final act on this earth was to rake its ghastly claws across the throat of Lord Hanbrook, causing my friend’s life to bleed out as did the foul beast’s own.
Whatever spell the bog fiend had placed upon the town of Shadowbrook was evidently broken with its passing. I returned to the town, with Hanbrook’s body carried by his faithful mount, to discover the swamp had disappeared, and the townsfolk returning to their homes and their lives. I charged Hanbrook’s corpse to the care of the doctor, and without a second look, left the town of Shadowbrook behind, hopefully forever…