Tuesday, November 20, 2012

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.7: Swamp Thing

     Once I'd realized how dangerous the marsh really was, I told Kelnin to stay behind. Last thing I need is to have someone in my company get hurt. And I didn't need to be worrying over someone's safety when I needed to focus. The marsh was dank, wet, and smelly. Just what I was looking forward to...not. It was also hard to see due to a mist that was rising up off the fetid, spongy ground. Sighing in irritation, I tried getting my bearings.
      As I walked further into the mist, I noticed large shadowed shapes rising out of the darkness and it took me a few minutes to realize that I was staring at dozens of crude, primitive dwellings. Finally my interest became peaked. I've always love studying different cultures and here was a new opportunity to study a rather unusual one. I know next to nothing about boglings, true. I've never really had an interest in the little, mouse-headed creatures. They seemed simplistic creatures that didn't warrant any attention. Now I realized that maybe I'd been a bit hasty in turning down a class on bogling culture in college.

     With my hands hovering near my daggers, ready to draw them at the first sign of danger, I cautiously approached one of the dwellings. It was a simple, wooden hut with a small set of crooked stairs leading up to a domed building hardly large enough for myself to fit in. Of course, maybe it was quite the roomy home for a bogling, I've not a clue. As I was leaving the hut, I noticed something blue lying in the mud along the stairs. After a quick look around to be sure there wasn't anything threatening nearby, I stooped to inspect the object. It turned out to be a small, blue, leather-bound journal.

     After wiping the mud and slime off the journal I was able to read some of the words. In big, gold lettering across the front were the words "Professor Nora Glen's Research Journal." Flipping through a few pages, I read the last entry, which seemed to be filled with lamentations about a loss of research equipment that had been stolen by the boglings. I tapped my hand with the journal thoughtfully. Well I guess while I'm here, I could hunt down some of her lost research implements if I could find any. I wouldn't go out of my way to look for them, per se, but if I stumbled across something that looked like it was Nora's research, I suppose I could return it to her.
      I wandered around the marsh, quickly realizing that it was quite cool here in relation to the sun-drenched trees of the rest of the forest and I shivered, rubbing my arms. When I'd chosen my clothing, I'd gone for light, flexible and protective. I wanted leather that wouldn't impede my ability to fight and use my agility to my best advantage. Perhaps I'd have to purchase something warmer when next I visited Argent Glade.

     Lost in my musings, it took me a few minutes to realize that I'd about left the crude little dwellings behind. About to turn around, as I'd yet to come across anything related to a Spirit Guide or to Tavril, I stopped and squinted my eyes. Up ahead, there appeared to be another dwelling. This one was different from the others, however. It was larger, more detailed, and appeared to be elven-made, surprisingly. Quirking an eyebrow curiously, I walked up to the hut. Only one way to find out.
      Inside, I noticed that this house was furnished sparsely with man-made items. This must be where the professor stayed while she studied and experimented with the boglings. A book-lined shelf stood against one wall. Sensing that the house was silent and empty, I ventured further in. In the back, an open balcony of sorts overlooked the far end of the marsh, where the spongy ground gave way completely to a lagoon. In the center of the balcony stood a brazier, complete with coals and a lighting implement. And what do you know, it was still lit... movement stiffened my muscles. Out of the shadows of the house came a monstrous looking bogling. He was larger and heftier than the others and had a fanatical, manic gleam to his eyes. His skin was mottled and disgusting. I found myself reflexively curling my lip in horror, feeling my heart beat faster. This creature was hideous! An obvious aberration.

     "How good to join us." The creature's voice was guttural and throaty. "First, we will be civilized and have rotting fish and tea. Than I do you the honor of wearing your skull as a crown!" I stepped back as he shouted the last, feeling repulsed. Despite his near perfect speech, I could tell this abomination was not in any way able to be reasoned with. He'd apparently been driven mad by the experiments Nora had been conducting. I made a mental note to have a word with her about that.

    I was brought back to the present by the sudden, jerky attack that Maffle made. I easily spun away from his grasping fingers and lashed out with my daggers, scoring a successful hit along the mottled flesh of his arm. The bogling gave a crazed roar and rushed at me again. Thankfully, the longer I'd been actively practicing my Ascended powers and gifts, the more natural they became to me. My enhanced speed, agility and stamina were quite a boon now as I continuously dodged the giant bogling's attacks. Compared to some of the things I'd faced since my Ascension, this bogling was easy prey. Although I did feel a pang of pity when I finally got a finishing move in, slicing across the fleshy underside of Maffle's throat. The creature didn't ask for this fate. His madness was an uncontrollable result of Nora's meddling.

     After I'd killed Maffle, I stood for a few moments while my heart rate returned to normal. The thrill of battle finally faded and I wondered when I'd changed so much that I actually relished the idea of a good fight. The other souls inside me were definitely changing me, tempering me. Whether that was good or bad remained to be seen.

     I wiped my daggers clean of bogling blood on Maffle's raggedy tunic, than glanced around again appraisingly. I was surprised to see that there was in fact a small table tucked away in the corner, complete with a broken teapot in the center. I smiled ironically, baring teeth. Behind the table, in a pile, were a bunch of odds and ends that looked like the missing research implements that Nora talked about in her journal. Pleased to have that finished as well, I swept them up into my pack and left the elegant little dwelling behind. It seemed to have gotten darker outside, if that was possible, and I glanced upward uneasily. I'd rather not be here after dark if I can help it. Quickly I strode off toward the edge of the marsh, where it met the forest, looking for any sign of Scotty.

     I knew he had to be out here collecting whatever it was that Fiona had him fetch. Seriously, that boy needed some sense knocked into him. He was too trusting. I heard his muttering and came around one particularly large tree to see him bent over, collecting something from the earth.

     "Scotty? When will you learn that Fiona wants nothing but ill for you?" I asked with exasperation. Scotty yelped and jumped up, startled by my apparent sudden appearance.

     "Don't do that!" He replied, looking wide-eyed. I grinned and shrugged. "Sorry, habit. Come on, I'll watch your back while you grab Fiona's stuff." Scotty looked grateful and nodded, setting off away from the tree.
     True to my word, I watched the shadows warily while Scotty bumbled around the outskirts of the marsh. I steered him away from the dangerous areas where I could see bogling eyes gleaming and mostly kept him from getting killed. Fool kid.

     "Ahhh, vespids! Get 'em off! Raeslyn!" As he reached for one more item, a couple of angry vespid drones suddenly swooped down on Scotty. Acting quickly, I threw a small dagger at one to gain its attention and sent a fiery spike at the other. Both vespids left off tormenting Scotty and descended upon me, wings humming. The simple, maddened creatures tried to sting and bite where they could but thankfully my armor protected my vulnerable spots and my bare arms were moving too fast for them to target. Daggers whirling, I sliced through the wings of the vespids, making them easy prey for the mercy stroke. After I'd gutted the large insects, I turned and rolled my eyes at Scotty.

     "Can we go now?"

     Scotty nodded cheerfully and inspected the items he'd gathered thus far. "Yep, I'm all done! Thanks for all the help Raeslyn! That was just too much for me to handle alone! Glad you were there pal!" I snorted, but watched fondly as he scampered off in the direction of the Marsh House, where I'd set Kelnin to watch for his cousin.

     Ticking each task off in my head, I realized that I'd yet to see a sign of the Spirit Guide that Thomas had said was being held captive by the boglings. Feeling a new sense of urgency rise in me, I glanced around rather uselessly. Where would the boglings take a live sacrifice? I've no idea! If I'd studied anything of bogling culture, perhaps I'd know. Choosing a direction, I set off, glancing around constantly for any sign of the Spirit Guide. As I ventured yet further into the marsh, I couldn't help but be interested by all the crude little dwellings I passed. I added boglings to my ever-growing list of things to learn about when I had the time. I love research and knowledge and I couldn't wait to investigate a new subject.

     Aha! I was relieved when the telltale glow of holy light shone ahead of me to the right. Veering in that direction, I came to the edge of the marsh. Ahead, on a small island, I could just make out the outline of a small, delicate looking deer tethered to a stone altar. I eyed the water in front of me distastefully. There better not be any critters in here that want to eat me. I'm so not in the mood, I thought sourly as I waded in. Grimacing from the cold embrace of the water, I quickly made my way across the remaining distance to the small, loamy island. The ground squelched and bobbed as I stepped on the island and I had the uneasy feeling that it was just floating on the lagoon like pond scum. Not a pleasant thought.

     Presently, those thoughts were forgotten. The poor Spirit Guide-as indeed it was one, I could tell immediately-was tied securely to a large stone altar in the center of the island. Brown splashes dotted the top of the altar and I knew with certainty that sacrifices had been conducted here before. The small, beautiful fawn turned as if sensing my presence and gazed straight into my soul with her liquid brown eyes. I gasped as I felt her aura, a mix of holy and wild magics. Beautiful. Such a creature should never be subjected to this kind of torture.

     I was wondering why there weren't any guards when a large, robed bogling suddenly attacked me from behind. I quickly whirled, putting my back to the fawn. A bogling High Priestess stared me down with malicious, blood-crazed eyes. Ugh, fanatics. The bogling waved an overlong staff at me  threateningly, spouting gibberish. I wondered if she...he? was angry that I'd interrupted a sacred ceremony of theirs. Too bad. Putting myself between the fawn and the bogling zealot, I engaged the creature. This one wasn't as intelligent as Maffle, but it wasn't as mad either. There was an animal cunning in its eyes as it evaded my attacks. We danced around each other for several minutes. Every so often, the bogling would chant something and throw magical projectiles at me, but my Ascended status helped me shrug off what would otherwise be dangerous magics indeed. Before my Ascension, I'd never be able to withstand any kind of magical attacks. Now I felt confident that I could have a chance to face off with casters. Quite a new feat for me.

     Finally, the bogling had either exhausted its inner supply of magical reserve or had grown frustrated with my evasions, for it suddenly sprang at me, staff leading. A bogling with a staff was child's play to me at this point. My skill in combat had grown exponentially and I knew that the High Priestess wasn't a threat. Still, I was wary and whirled to the side as the bogling charged, wanting to avoid being hit by the staff. Advanced healing or not, it still hurt. I sliced open the bogling's arm from wrist to elbow as I danced aside, than quickly drew my foot forward, spinning, daggers leading. I could feel my weapons sink into unprotected flesh and yanked viciously. The bogling gurgled and slid to the ground in a boneless heap. I kept my stance for several more seconds, before righting myself and returning to proper balance.

     I nodded in satisfaction, cleaning and sheathing my daggers. I felt no remorse. The bogling would have ended the life of a Spirit Guide if I hadn't killed it. Speaking of the Spirit Guide, I turned back and studied the bindings intently. The tether seemed to glow with a violet, fell light that raised the hackles on my neck. A magical binding. Great. Magic wasn't something I was good at. I was a rogue after all, not a bloody mage. Still, I bent down and studied the tether thoughtfully. Being this close to the magical binding caused little sparks to arc off it and zap along my skin. The magic obviously reacted to any attempt at freeing the fawn. Clever. Very clever. I stood and moved around the fawn, who flicked her tail, watching me intently. I could feel her eyes boring into me, the weight of all the wisdom of the ages behind the innocent, animal expression. It was rather disconcerting.

    Thankfully, I did end up figuring out the catch to the binding. The magical tether had a knot by the altar that, when unraveled, dissipated the angry, hurtful magic as well. As soon as the binding fell away, the fawn shook herself from nose tip to tail tip, than pawed the ground. She turned and gazed at me silently and I received the impression of her pleasure and approval. Also, she looked strangely expectant.

     "What?" The words were drawn from me almost without my being aware I'd said them, and I blinked at the sound of my own voice in the stillness of the marsh. Than the fawn seemed to come to a decision, dashing off into the water surrounding the island. I watched her, than shrugged. Glancing around, I realized that the altar, the sacrificial and religious items, and the adornments of the bogling were all things I recognized and I felt my blood freeze. These were artifacts of Greenscale! By the gods, how did items relating to that monstrous dragon get here of all places? Were the boglings in league with Greenscale as well? I snorted. It seemed unlikely, given their lack of intelligence and organization. But I had heard that the monstrous dragon god from the Plane of Life was a vicious believer in survival of the fittest. Perhaps these boglings thought they were pretty tough? Or perhaps someone is leading them on...but to what end, I wonder?

     I sighed, blowing strands of hair out of my eyes. It seemed the further I became involved in this, the more questions I came up with. No matter how hard I worked to eradicate the threat to my beloved Silverwood, there was always something else to worry about. Grabbing up a nicely balanced dagger from the sacrificial implements, I headed back to shore. Hey, no point in letting a good weapon go to waste, right? My master had taught me to seize any opportunity I saw, because you never know what would benefit you. And I could always do with more daggers. I sensed amusement from one of the souls inside of me; received the impression of a bow and quiver of arrows, and snorted. No matter how much pressure I received from my alter egos, I refused to give up my fighting style. I liked my daggers. I was comfortable with them and I was good at that style of fighting.

     By the time I sighted the Marsh House again, it was nearly pitch black out. I was hoping Nora wouldn't mind my staying with her since I didn't relish the idea of being out in the forest after dark. Not with all the sinister creatures at work out there, actively trying to kill the Ascended and destroy everything good about the forest!

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