Chapter Thirty-One

December 20, 2011


            We enter the Mourning Marsh on foot in our pursuit of the slitherin.  Periodically, Korvinean, who is scouting ahead, will come back to the party and lead us around particularly dangerous areas or deeper puddles.  After about two and half hours, we come to a large dry land mass which rises above the surrounding marshes.  We stop and let our boots and feet dry out.  Korvinean moves out to scout some more, and returns to tell us there’s a very deep stream ahead to one side, and further uplands to the other.  He tells us there is no way to wade across the stream, and we could either go around or cut down a tree to span the gap.  We decide to fell a tree, and Finn begins chopping.
            As Finn crosses the makeshift bridge, I notice something moving in the water next to him.  Just as I am about to open my mouth and draw my crossbow, an arrow flies past my head and hits the creature.  I fire as well, and strike the alligator just as it jumps out of the water and snatches Finn.  I fire again, and Finn pops up for air.  Another gator swims up near him and tries to partake in the feast, Boian jumps into the stream to attack.  A third gator attacks me.  I slash at him and tumble away just as Boian dives under the water and Korvinean strikes the second one with two large arrows.  The one near me attacks again and bites me to try to pull me into the water, but I manage to escape his grasp.  After a few more blows, we have killed all three creatures, and Korvinean sets to skinning and butchering them for fun and profit.
            We decide to stop for the night to rest and heal, and renew our journey in the morning.  About four hours into our journey, Korvinean returns and says there are slitherin tracks ahead—lots of them.  They cross our intended path, but diverge from the way we’re going.  We decide to go on to our meeting place with Sir Fitzgerald before seeking them out.  We move on and make a low, light-blocked fire when we camp that night.  Our rest is without incident.
            The next morning, we continue on our path.  After less than an hour of travel, we run right into a small group of slitherin.  One of the group is much larger than the rest, standing nine to ten feet tall.  He is surrounded by eight other slitherin, four in robes and four nearly naked except for metal armor.  They each stand roughly seven to eight feet tall.  The group is accompanied by a giant rat that stands at least four feet at the shoulder.  Ulric runs into the middle of the group and challenges all of them, while Korvinean fires twice and kills twice.  Ulric swings and lands a solid blow on the large slitherin in the center, I fire at one in robes and take him out, and Briggette attacks the giant rat, ripping into his flesh, but not quite brining him down yet.  The large rat-man swings a scimitar at Ulric, then brings his tail around, which is tipped with a spear head.  Finn and Korvinean each take out one of the robed enemies, leaving only three alive.  I make quick work of the final robed one, while Ulric again hits the largest one, just as Finn grabs him with his gruisarme and pulls him to the ground.  Brianna hits him while he’s down, and Briggette slashes once more into the giant rat, and it goes down. 
            After the fighting is done, a large toad-man stands up out of the water and looks around.  “You kill rat man?”
            “Yes,” Ulric says.
            “You friend,” he says.  He asks if we are looking for more rat men and explains that he can show us the way to the nest which will avoid the “lizard of ever-eating.”  He begins to walk away, and we follow.  About twenty feet on, he stops, turns to us and says, “Me…” something guttural, sort of a multi-syllabic croak.  He clearly is trying to introduce himself.  Ulric gives out the names of our group, but keeps it at our first names so as not to confuse the poor creature.  He leads us on through the marsh, sticking as much as possible to dry land.  We get to a small hill, and he climbs to the top before dropping low into his froggy stance.  He motions us forward, but indicates that we should get low as well.  We follow and stop at the top of the hill.
            We lean over, and at the foot of the hill, we see that we are in the center of a large formation of hills in a horseshoe shape.  Down in the valley between the hills, there are several small buildings making up a village.  We see humans meandering about, and the toad tells us “Rat-men down there.  Use human slave.  Eat human.  Also use human hunter.”  He pauses to find the words, “Rat leader like” he points to Briggette, “not like” he points to Ulric.  “Very bad.  White fur.”
            I ask him, “does she use magic?”
            He nods, “affect what you see.”  He pulls up some grass and points at it “Don’t trust.”
            “The food?” Ulric asks.  He shakes his head.  “The green?  The plants?”
            He nods, “Some eat your blood.  They use them.”  We agree to be mindful of the foliage, and he says he must part ways so as not to endanger his own people.  He leaves with the parting words “trust not” and indicates his eyes.
            We pause for lunch while Korvinean scouts the area.  He finds at least ten humans working down there.  There is a bell at the entrance of the village.  Korvinean and I sneak into the camp, and just as I am about to stop the clacker, Korvinean trips over nothing, knocks me down, and my sword cuts the bell down, sending it crashing to the ground.
            Korvinean and I both immediately turn and fire at the two rat men who come toward us.  Both of them drop.
            Briggette summons Chancellor, and she and Ulric ride around one of sides of the village while the rest of our assembled footmen charge straight into the center of town.  I hide in the nearby crops behind a cabbage head.  Just a few feet down, I see a giant eyeball looking thing that appears to be growing with the crops.  It turns to look at me, and I fire, hitting it squarely in its eye.
            As Briggette and Ulric round the last hill into the area, they see skeletal claws dig their way out of the ground near the crops.  She overruns them, and I notice that Korvinean is surrounded by emerging skeletons also.  I rip a piece of cloth from my shirt and wrap my hands, pull out my shortsword, and hold it by the blade, making my pommel a blunt force to use against the skeletons.
            Ulric hops off of Chancellor’s back as they approach, taking out one of them, and Briggette tramples another.  I hit the one closest to me while Korvinean begins to beat one with his mace.  Briggette turns Chancellor and swings her cudgel, destroying another, and Ulric obliterates yet another.  Briggette overruns the one I am fighting, but I miss when I swing at him again.  Ulric takes the opportunity to end its unlife, and I go back over to the field to chop down the eye-plant.  As I start to swing, it pops out of the ground and has a fleshy, bloody tail that looks like an eye stalk.  I chop it in two.
            A huge rat—as large as Chancellor—comes riding out with a large rat man on his back.  The rat issues a challenge to the area in general, and Ulric answers by pointing his sword in a “bring it” gesture.  The rat charges, and the slitherin drops his lance a bit too far, jamming it into the ground.  The lance shatters, and a piece imbeds itself into the rat man’s arm.  The rat still tries to bite Ulric, but he manages to evade the beast.  Briggette moves in to block the creature as it turns to take another swipe at Ulric.  Chancellor smashes into its head, and the rat man leaps off, using the momentum of the charging rat, and attempts to tackle Briggette and pull her to the ground.  I swing at his leg, and slice an artery, but he doesn’t go down until Ulric hits him once again.
            Briggette wheels around and rides toward the group of skeletons, pulls out her holy symbol and yells, “Begone foul undead!”  All five of the skeletons she’s facing turn to dust and crumble to the ground.
            We hear screaming coming from a nearby building, and begin to head that way.  As we approach, we see four giant rats being led away by a human with rope, and five others approaching us on an intercepting trajectory.  Korvinean and I both shoot, and Ulric charges one of them.  Another one jumps up, full 25 feet in the air and lands on top of me, knocking me to the ground.  Two of them rush Korvinean and attack.  I manage to wiggle out from under the rat and get in another good jab which drops him.  I begin attacking the other, and Ulric comes up behind it and chops its head off.
            Briggette has continued on toward the screaming, and finds a woman who has been eviscerated; her blood and guts are splattered all over the inside of the building.  Seeing that there’s not much she can do, Briggette turns back out to fight and is immediately confronted by one of the rats.  She and Chancellor both attack and tear into it, and though it looks like it’s on its last legs, it does not fall.  After another round of blows, however, it goes down, and Briggette dismounts to check on the girl.  Alas, she is too late, and she is dead; however, there are four other women and two men huddled in a corner.

One of the women yells, “Run and wake the witches!” and one of the men bursts at full speed from the group.  Briggette punches him as he passes her, and she hears his jaw snap as he falls down unconscious.  She lays on hands just enough to heal the jaw and bring him back to consciousness, “Stay down!  And get back over there!”  He scampers back to his group, and she draws out Helga.  “What is wrong with you people?  You want to be here?”  She stares incredulously at them as no one answers, and one of the women starts crying incessantly.  “Where are you from?” Briggette asks them, and all of the women begin to wail.

“They will kill all of their children,” one of the men tells her.  “They are underground in the nest.”  Briggette asks him where the enemy is located, and he hesitates before telling her that the witches are holding the children.  She asks where to find them, and the man replies, “You don’t know who you’re fighting, do you?”

“I don’t care who I’m fighting, I know that they’re not good—or else they wouldn’t be holding the children.”  He replies that all of the rat men—at least two dozen of them—are witches.  He does not fight because he considers it certain suicide for a losing cause.  She asks him to help.

“I will not fight you or try to stop you, but I will not help you.”

Meanwhile, outside with the rest of us, Ulric yells to the village, “Is there no one else?  I am Ulric von Zurwald!  Show yourself and fight!”  He stands in wait for an enemy, but none appear, so he makes his way to the room where Briggette is talking with the captives. 

“Look, I understand that you’re not going to fight because you’re a big giant coward, but if you could just give me some basic information to help me save your children—the children you hold ‘so dear’—I would…”

Ulric interrupts her, “You know what, they won’t fight for their own children, fuck these people!  Let’s go!” and stalks out of the room.

I walk up and sap the idiot, and we leave.  I disable the doors so they can’t leave to warn their captors that we are coming. 

As we plan what we’re going to do, Brianna, Finn and Boian come in from the other side of the village.  They look as though they’ve seen better days and have withstood a difficult battle.  Briggette heals several of us up a bit, and we discuss our plan.

Tired of the talk, Ulric kicks down the door to the bunk house which supposedly houses several of the male rat men.  “I am Ulric von Zurwald!  Surrender or perish!”  Three of the ten rat men sleeping in the room wake up, but the others remain snoozing.  Ulric immediately eviscerates one of them, and the other two point at him and cast; magic missiles fly forth and strike Ulric.

I tumble in behind Ulric and scream, “Die, you fucker!” as I attack the closest one sleeping, yet somehow, I miss him and only strike his nest.  He wakes up, and I swing again, instantly killing him.

Briggette moves into the room and attacks one of the ones who is awake, but he survives the blow.

Boian moves in and stabs one of them straight through the head.

The remaining rat men wake up and begin casting magic missiles at the first non rat men they see.  Briggette, Ulric and Boian are all struck, but none of them appear to be seriously injured.

One of the rat men charges Ulric and attempts to hit him with claws and teeth, but misses on each count.  Briggette drops another, and Brianna and Finn set in on yet another.  I move in to stab the one Ulric has been working on, and he drops.  Another charges in to touch him with some other magic, but he ends it before it has the chance, and charges across the room to gut another.  Brigette deftly removes the head of the last one, and we find a hatch which we assume leads to the underground nest.

I check it and don’t find any traps, but it does appear to be locked.  However, I don’t see a keyhole.  I try to deactivate the lock, and though it takes a minute, I eventually get it open.  Ulric pulls the hatch open and a flame bursts out onto him.  He is singed, but not severely damaged; the magic holding the lock must have obscured the trap. 

Once we make our way down the ladder, we find a series of dirt hallways about three feet wide and six feet tall.  We will only be able to walk single file, so we line up with Ulric in front, Briggette next, and me behind her.  I am followed by Boian, then Brianna, Korvinean and Finn.

As we begin to head out, I notice that Boian’s tattoo is glowing.  I remember that the last time this happened, we had faced enemies who were not what they appeared to be, and since we were warned not to trust our eyes, I try to refocus to make sure that what I see is truly what I see.  After concentrating, I find that my surroundings are the same.

The hallways here are winding and irregular, not following any sort of logical pattern or direction.  We come to a large open room with upholstered furniture and a well-built fireplace.  There are also some low wicker chairs, abstract tapestries and woven mats with images of snakes.  There are four rat men in the room eating something, and they pause and look up as we enter.

Ulric immediately charges in and guts one of them, and the other three raise their hands and cast at him.  Magic missiles fly forward and strike him.  Briggette runs in and attacks another, slicing open his chest and killing him instantly.  I run into the room, hop up onto the table, slide through some of the food there, but manage to stop myself and attack the one that Ulric is attacking, and I slice him open.  Boian attempts the same thing, but doesn’t recover quite as well, and his swing misses the final rat man.  Ulric steps up to him and slashes him open, ending our quick combat with style.

As we continue down the hallway, a skeleton pops out of the wall directly in front of us.  Ulric smashes it with his shield, and it disintegrates.  Upon closer inspection, it appears that it wasn’t actually an animated skeleton, but instead is a skeleton on a strange sort of hanging conveyance that makes it swing its arm (with the sword) once it reaches the end.  We remark on the oddity, but continue on our way, at each opportunity taking the right hand turn.

We come to another room, and as we approach, we hear a commotion.  I am able to make out the sounds of an intimate encounter.  Ulric enters the room and sees another fireplace, as well as some chairs and bookshelves, along with some sleeping mats with pillows and blankets.  On one of the palettes, there is a beautiful woman in the throes of passion with a man.  I disbelieve and see that she is, in fact, a white-furred rat woman.  In Cuthbertine, I inform the others, “This is an illusion.  That woman is a white-furred rat woman.”

Ulric begins to step into the room, and she looks up and screams, “SISTER!”

I step in and fire, and Ulric charges her.  He slashes her right between the breasts, and she drops.  Briggette steps over to the man she was with and punches him in order to subdue him—we don’t know yet whether he is an enemy.

Eight humans appear from behind some tapestries and bumrush Ulric and Briggette.  Ulric attacks each with the flat of Law’s Claw as they reach him, but intentionally hits lightly so as to knock them out, but not kill them.

Suddenly, I am pulled backward off my feet and up toward the ceiling, but I don’t see anything on me.  I feel its substance, however, and struggle to escape its grasp.  Boian stabs at the air and apparently hits, as I am dropped.  I manage to tumble into the fall and avoid injuries. 

Brianna attacks in a flurry of strong blows and knocks two of them out cold.  Another human is killed instantly from the ferocity of her strikes.  The man on the palette gets up and tries to run out of the room, but Ulric punches him and renders him unconscious.  Finn steps up to the final man and knocks him out. 
I fire at the ceiling after seeing the blood on Boian’s blade.  I don’t hit anything, but as I get up, I find that Boian’s eyes are glowing a bright green, the same as his tattoo.

Ulric steps up to him, “You and I are going to have to have a talk later.  Can you pierce illusion?”

“I can see all of those who serve the serpent mother.”

“The slitherin?” Ulric asks.

“All of those who serve Mormo,” he replies.

We move on down the next hallway to the right.