Fenyrn Genshal, the mystic barbarian the party had hired as a guide, pointed to Liam Scosbargh’s map. “The way I see it, you have two options. The long way, or the short way.” He explained that the short way would keep to the trail but almost certainly land them in the company of marauders with a reputation for getting what they wanted… whatever that meant. Vera asked around and got a different answer for every person she talked to. The long way, it seemed, involved a trek through the fetid bogs of the Great Salt Marsh, but safety from the marauders.
Fenyrn had his preference. He didn’t like people at their best, much less an unscrupulous bunch like Marsh thugs. Clearly out of their element either way, the group agreed to take the long way around, much to the barbarian’s pleasure. Fenyrn gave them a small window of time to gather what they needed, insisting that the sooner they left the better.
The cryptic scrawlings on the map confused the bunch. “Rat Meat”, whatever that meant, was written around the location of the marauders. Felix thought it wise to find himself a couple rats corpses to bring along on the journey. He gathered some salt for the inevitable slug, and donned his most convincing marsh thug disguise. Vera suited up in something less suited to a courtesan, and more so of an adventurer. Guy, stoic and consistent as ever, ventured on with chain armor covering his vitals.
As the group headed purposefully down the Street of the Gods toward the Great Marsh Gate they notice a crowd gathering around an alley near the east end of the street. Shouts and cries of horror emanated from the ever-growing crowd, and a feeling of dread fell over each of the trio.
The group hurried over and shoved through the crowd, now five people deep. As they broke through the mass of hysteria, their eyes were met with a gruesome display. Slumped over in a sitting position against a wall a couple feet away was the figure of a slight young women. She sat motionless, staring blankly at the ground with charred craters for eyes. Vera turned away in shock as she realized the poor women in front of her was Leela Utore, the young woman she had hoped to protect, and bring under her wing. Hatred began welling up inside of her as she tried to piece together who would be at the receiving end of her fury when she returned from the Marsh.
Meanwhile, instincts kicked in with Guy, who immediately took on the role of the still absent City Guard. He inspected the body of the mutilated courtesan. Clearly deceased. The wounds where her eyes had once been were expertly cauterized, in a manner that no man or object could have possibly accomplished without magic. Perfect right down to the almond shape that mirrored the hawk-like eyes the woman used to have.
Guy searched Leela’s body for anything of interest. Nothing, save for a pouch with a few gold rilks. While the Bear riffled through the dead whore’s body Felix inspected the alley. He headed down the dark side street toward the Noble District and dug through the piles of junk. Everything seemed I order, in that there was none. Lankhmar alleyways were known for their dinginess after all. What they weren’t known for, however, were pieces of ornate gold thread. And that’s what Felix found dangling from a pile of trash. It certainly seemed out of place.
Back down on the other end of the alley some tense words were exchanged between Guy, Vera, and the townsfolk. Things were getting heated, and Guy was clearly upset at the apparent lack of action from the Guard who were just then arriving. A pelt trader by the name of Cruzen was shooting hateful glances at Vera, while Guy was having words with the drunken Guardsman Philip Jowarski.
Eventually the crowd started to disperse, and Guy felt somewhat confident that Leela’s body would be taken care of. There were questions to be answered, but not until the trio returned from the Marsh. They recomposed themselves, made their way through the gate, and began their journey into the harsh Salt Marsh.
With Fenyrn leading the way, they trudged ankle deep through the thick, salt rich muck. About an hour into the trek they came upon giant rock spires jutting from the marsh floor in almost every direction. From each peak dropped a viscous green slime, forming pools and streams of murky swamp water. Fenyrn explained that the crags were formed by a sorcerer who had been corrupted by black magic. Nagagie, as he was called, was bent on power, and forming the land was the highest form of power in his mind.
The barbarian knelt down and started picking some mushrooms as he continued his story. Felix cautioned forward to keep watch. From his right, in a thicket of bog trees he heard the distinct sound of a predator stalking its prey. As he turned to warn his companions, a jet black, lean, sleek feline figure leapt from the trees, massive claws outstretched, destined for his flesh. They tussled a bit, and Felix eventually landed face down in the muck as he attempted to handle the large cat like he did the rats. Fenyrn gathered some mud and mushrooms, muttered some indistinguishable words, and dropped a mixture of components tot he ground. Sharp spikes formed from the ground and shot toward the cat and shattered into dust as they hit the muscular body.
As the marsh leopard went in for the kill, Felix flailing to unblind himself, Vera came up from behind, and with an expert swing of her staff she snapped the predator’s neck. Another cat leapt from the tree line directly at Fenyrn. As the dagger sharp claws dug into barbarian’s flesh a flash of metal and wood pierced through the leopard’s neck. Guy lowered his bow and gave a quick nod to Fenyrn.
The marsh fell silent, save for the dripping of arcane goo, and bubbling of swamp gasses. Fenyrn expertly skinned the leopards, stripped the bones of meat, and pocketed a handful of teeth. This was not his first rodeo, it seemed. The group composed themselves and pushed on. They prepared to climb over the Nagagien Spires by readying some rope and finding the easiest route over. Fenyrn and Felix went ahead into a pool of slimy water to find somewhere to tie off to. The barbarian took cautious steps, but still managed to find a patch of quicksand. Felix reacted with cat-like reflexes and surprising strength, pulling him free in an instant.
From the other side of the spires Felix noticed an onerous buzzing sound headed their way. A massive cloud of undulating blackness crept over the crags, headed directly for Felix and Fenyrn. Vera saw the apparent swarm and made tracks to the nearest body of water. After all, submerging in water was a sure fire way to avoid a killer swarm of whatever was approaching.
The cloud descended on Felix and Fenyrn. Visibility waned to less than a foot, but what they could see was something more terrifying than any bug either had ever seen. Scarabs, only not, black as night. They entered their vision they lost all form, becoming mirrors of the amorphous black cloud they comprised. From every conceivable angle, little pinches, bites, and pricks covered the two men. Fenyrn had already began covering himself him bog mud, again chanting words not known to Felix.
Meanwhile, Vera had problems of her own. In the relative safety of the water, she was surprised by the unpleasant feeling of razor sharp teeth hunting for flesh on her leg. From the shore, Guy jumped into the water, sword pointed right at Vera’s leg under the water. He plunged into the murk and felt the tip of his sword dig deeply into flesh. Pulling the sword up and out of the water, Guy shook off what appeared to be a cat size leech, still squirming in its last moments of life.
The bog swarm had split off as Felix separated from Fenyrn. The bites were clearly getting to Felix, who at this point had fashioned a zip line to head back toward Vera and Guy. The sorcerer was fairing better, now covered in a mud armor, and pieces of earth were encasing each individual insect-like part of the now dwindling swarm. Guy was stabbing furiously into the water as more giant leeches accosted him and Vera.
Eventually all pests were eradicated, and the whole party was wet, stinky, and exhausted. The great Nagagien Spires stood before them, ready to be scaled. Felix and Guy climbed up quite adeptly, while Fenyrn and Vera struggle up the edifice. When all were safely on top, they looked out across a vast, fetid marsh. Their journey had only just begun, and the thought that they weren’t even halfway through sent a sickness into their guts.
To be continued….