War and Subterfuge

The Children of Swampview

Who's got a kiss for the Pickety witch?

From the War-Journal of Raiden, last Warden of Sandej

So we came to the hamlet of Swampview. The first thing that struck us all on our arrival was the quiet. The townsfolk walked around as though in a daze. At first I thought it was due to the strange attire of my companions and I. My fists were still bloody from the battle, and the Wastewalker’s pet would give any of these soft inlanders pause.

We decided to stop and refresh ourselves in the village, except for the Wastewalker, who insisted on denying himself the comfort of a hot meal and a cold ale. To each their own, I suppose. Perhaps he just wished to be rid of Satchel’s incessant jabbering? That I could understand. I don’t know how I can be expected to work with these people. a crazy desert mystic, a chatty little spell slinger, and a boy barely more than a child. The paladin’s the only one I can tolerate – understands the need for discipline. At least they’ve all proven they can handle themselves in a fight.

Well, we soon learned that this sleepy little town wasn’t all it appeared. The inn-keep told us the town’s children had been disappearing, one by one – wandering off into the woods of their own accord, by his account. I was loathe to slow our journey to the Endless Desert – especially if what the Dapreevan told me is true, and some of my people have been taken captive by the Rhonians. But I could not stand by and let innocent children suffer. Nor my companions.

Halya (being the most diplomatically inclined of our ragtag band) went to inform the mayor that we would help the villagers find their children. Meanwhile, Jinan took to the air, scouring the countryside for signs of our quarry. We sent Satchel and Reed scouting the nearby swamp for signs of the Rhonians – could there be slave-traders at work?. I was just searching the town itself for a hint, when a fresh-faced young fop came bellowing out of the woods. Apparently his name was Kieran, and he’d been sent by the Dapreevans. He was meant to join our little band all along, but had shown up late to the meeting. In any event, once I explained the situation to him, he was happy to help.

I managed to determine in what direction the children had all left town. When we reconvened, we agreed there was no time for delay, and set out to find them. The woods West of Swampview were dismal and dark indeed. But thanks to the Wastewalker’s guidance, and the keen senses of his companion, we found at last, a small cottage, isolated in the woods. We approached with caution from the rear. I broke the lock on the cellar door, and inside we found a charnel-house of horrors.

Bones. Some human, some animal, all reeking of rot and decay. Within a pile of refuse, I found a serviceable crossbow. Not my ideal weapon, but without the ancestral armament of my ancient kin, I decided to make do. Being that i had the best eyes in the dark – and some hand had extinguished the lights in the upper floors – I was first up the ladder to the main floor.

There I found one large plain room, as one is wont to find in a country dwelling. The table was laid as though for an elaborate feast. Straining my senses, I heard faint whimpers coming from the cupboard under the stairs. Within, I found a cluster of ten whey-faced children, and an old woman. She claimed to have found the children wandering in the woods, and that her husband was missing. But something in her story rang false, and Hayla tried to warn us that all was not as it seemed – but at that moment, the old woman vanished.

I attempted to grab her, but without being able to see her, my accuracy was somewhat marred. She managed to burst free of the closet, but in the process, revealed her form to be that of a nightmarish hag. What’s worse, she used her foul powers to enslave the minds of the children, forcing them to defend her! A grueling battle ensued. We wanted to dispatch the old horror, but the children blocked our blows with their bodies, and we were forced to hold back so as not to kill them. I attempted to wrestle the hag to the ground, but she thwarted me, dodging and throwing off my many attempts. My companions had little more success with their blades, and we were forced to knock out the children to prevent them from defending her.

Meanwhile Jinan and his pet were engaged in battle with a mysterious being on the upper floor, who periodically tried to cloud our minds with some manner of psychic attack. I had no time for this. I was busy with the hag. Once we thought we’d heard noises outside, and feared reinforcements. Perhaps it was only the stress of battle. The being from upstairs – which came downstairs in Jinan’s shape – was finally dispatched by all of Jinan’s magic – finished by the sting of a monstrous ash worm, which the druid quickly set upon the outnumbered hag. At last, she died. And we all took a moment to congratulate ourselves, comfort the children – and liberate what goods we could from these two foul horrors.

It was decided that it would be unwise to remain in the house, and that it would be best to return the children to Swampview as soon as possible, and rendezvous with our friends. However, in our weariness on our journey home, we must have edged too close to the swamp. For, with almost no warning, an alligator the size of a merchant’s wagon burst from the water’s edge and snatched up Hayla, threatening to haul her back into the swamp.

I wasted no time. I leaped forward, and focussed my qi as Master Shansuun taught me, stunning the beast with a mighty blow of my fist. The creature was momentarily weakened, dropping the paladin and allowing us a chance to close ranks around the beast. The battle was fierce. Though Hayla managed to scale the beast’s body, it tossed her aside and threatened to devour her, seemingly ignoring Kieran’s lethal blades, and my no-less-lethal fists. Jinan, meanwhile, was safeguarding the children, all the while hoping to distract the beast with my borrowed crossbow. The thing ignored me, until it nearly snapped me in half with those teeth, and I was forced to retreat. But not for long.

I would not suffer the shame of failure in my sworn duty. Not this time. Not like this! I remember a cold fury overwhelming me as, heedless of danger, I leaped at the beast and renewed my attack. It was already planning a retreat from my companion’s worthy assault – but the killing blow was mine. I leaped astride the beast and, using the Stooping Falcon Fist technique, I caved in the damned thing’s skull. Twice in 24 hours I’ll have to wash brains from my hands.

The rest of our journey passed without incident. We returned the children to their grateful parents, and the mayor rewarded us with gold, and a feast. However, he gave us some bad news as well. Apparently, the next major city on our road north has become a battleground in the war. Midlar is a war-zone, and squarely in our path. Seems likely the corpse we found on the road to Swampview was on his way to apprise the Dapreevan commander of the situation. Jinan, not much for celebration, volunteered to warn the Dapreevans, while we await Reed and Satchel’s return from the swamp. The sooner we can set out, the better. I long to have worthy blood on my hands, the blood of those who best deserve it – the blood of those Rhonians who spill the blood of innocent men and women. There is a reckoning coming. And I, for one, am eager to see battle joined.

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