They ask me to protect them, to fight their battles and slay their enemies; they do not realize that they are one and the same…
“Each of you has been invited here because of the skills or knowledge you possess. Your names will be called and you will gather in groups. Each group will be given sealed orders…”
The desert does not care who crosses its body or drinks its life-water. Storms flay both Rhonian and Dapreevan flesh the same. One nation dies and another is born; why should I pledge the dunes to a conflict that will extinguish itself long before they turn to stone?
“You have three objectives. Some are similar to those of other groups, some are yours alone. Keep them secret, the Rhonians will notice you soon enough so don’t make it any easier for them. You have three ways to proceed – East to the river, North straight to the desert, or following a detachment of troops…”
Which way should “we” proceed? Hah! I will leave behind these water-rich lands and return to the desert. I’ve seen nothing to persuade me towards the Dapreevan cause.
A form lay still across the path, unmistakably a body. Whether or not it was alive was still uncertain as Raiden bounded forward, wary of danger ahead. He found it moments later, as four snarling, savage hounds burst from the forest on either side of the path, red eyes glowing with uncanny intelligence. One leapt upon Satchel, bearing him to the ground and coming mere inches from tearing out his throat. Another menaced Reed, who had trailed behind Raiden some distance down the path. The remaining two split off, one slamming bodily into Raiden while the other viciously tried to gain purchase on Halya’s armor.
Jinan stood in a center of calm amidst the roiling chaos. As his companions fought tooth and nail with the wargs, he waited for the opportune moment to strike. He called for Bathas to engage the warg snapping at Satchel’s throat, as he drew upon the moon’s pale light to conjure fire at his fingertips.
Bathas uttered a fearsome roar and charged the warg, moving in a blink of an eye over forty feet of ground. 400 pounds of desert fury slammed into the dread beast, bowling it over and releasing Satchel from its grip. The lizard’s jaws clamped down on the warg’s neck, nearly ending its life in a single blow. Satchel rolled aside and blasted the warg with scorching flame, ending the creature’s horrid existence and leaving only the smell of burnt flesh.
Meanwhile Halya, having come to her senses, easily deflected the second warg’s attacks and brought her sword to bear, cleaving the beast twice and leaving it a pile of gore at her feet. Raiden, still locked in bodily conflict with a third dread hound, grimaced through the pain of multiple wounds as he struck with iron fists at the warg’s soft underbelly. Reed fared better, wounding and driving off the last warg, which ultimately met its end at Halya’s shining blade. Raiden bested the final warg just as the others were running to his aid, and the party was left alone on the forest path to lick their wounds. The body of a man lay across the road where the wargs had ambushed him. He was dressed in what once were fine clothes, and he bore a signet ring with the symbol of Faerendal. The man was laid to rest and his ring pocketed by Raiden, to keep or return to its family should the party ever journey to Faerendal.
Jinan walked ahead of the group again the next day, as the party forged ahead through the dark forest into a more populated valley.
I will be glad to leave behind this green land. It makes one lazy, fat on the water and richness of the soil. Only in the harshness of the desert can one be tested and found worthy of the Earth. Hah, “fat” – an apt description of that halfling ahead. He’d best step aside…
“Well met, travelers! I am the toll collector – nay, toll-master, in charge of the fees due to yonder village. If you kind folk wish to pass you must pay the toll…”
Beads of sweat began dripping down the halfling’s face. Raiden wasn’t buying his ruse, so he stepped forward and grabbed the halfling’s shirt and drew him off the ground to meet Raiden’s eyes. That was when the ambush was sprung. Arrows whistled from the treeline and thudded next to Raiden’s head and three red-skinned hobgoblins stepped from the brush to defend their halfling leader. From behind them the party also heard a deep roar. They turned to see a lumbering ogre charging towards them, a massive tree-branch clutched in one hand.
Raiden and Jinan sprung into action. Raiden put the halfling into a headlock and demanded he call off his band. The halfling wet himself in terror and screamed for parlay, but the drow archer in the forest loosed another arrow, and the ogre continued to charge. Raiden sighed in disappointment and slammed a fist into the halfling’s jaw – unintentionally pulping the small man’s bones and punching deep into his brain.
Reed and Halya charged forward and engaged the hobgoblins on the party’s flank, the clashing of steel sounding sharply in the afternoon stillness. Satchel and Jinan turned towards the ogre, who found himself confronted with several flamboyantly-dressed halflings shimmering before him. Perhaps its sense of smell pierced the ruse, for the massive club swung down and bowled Satchel aside. Jinan planted his feet firmly in the soil and drew from the earth an artifice of stone, rock and sand. A scorpion shaped itself from the mass and scuttled towards the ogre, snapping at its heels.
The ogre paid the construct no heed and bowled it aside, reaching Jinan and once more striking with its massive club. The Wastewalker was struck viciously in the side, a rib cracking under the pressure. The ogre stood over Satchel and Jinan, preparing to strike again, when Bathas roared and bit down on the ogre’s leg and wrenched it aside, felling the creature to one knee. The blades of Halya and Reed clove as one into the ogre’s neck and it fell lifeless to the ground.
Raiden, meanwhile, dashed towards the drow archeress, stunning her with a vicious blow to the stomach and slamming her backwards into a nearby tree trunk. She slumped over in a daze, and without mercy Raiden stood over her and and delivered the coupe de grace, snapping her neck and ending the battle. After relieving the would-be bandits’ bodies of gold, the party camped further down the road, a half-day’s journey from a sleepy-looking town at the other end of the valley.
It makes sense for the entire Swampview section to get its own journal, rather than introducing it here and finishing it in the second post.