Rikard smokes lizard meat while Bart watches. Miss Bianca sarcastically suggests it is time to leave by boat. Casdegere finds a sudden interest in exploring a land route.
Casdegere Constantine cinches up the last hook of his chain mail and picks up his backpack.
Mistress Bianca: Mr. Bart, will you be using a staff as a weapon then?
The smell of slow-cooked meat makes your stomach rumble, even though some of you have just eaten lunch.
Bart settles down a short distance from the impromptu smoker and tends to trimming down a sapling chosen for a staff.
Mistress Bianca: I see.
Mistress Bianca: Mr. Rikard that smells good, I hope you do not eat it all yourself before we leave here.
Casdegere Constantine stares off to the south “It would of been better if no one knew we were here…the smoke and meat isn’t going to make that very easy.”
Rikard Castleberry smiles: Um, probably not all of it, but ya never know.
Mistress Bianca: Amazing.
Mistress Bianca: So Mr. Constantine, I assume you have rethought the overland route?
Bart: My best guess has that meat done by nightfall. I will gather some leaves in a bit to wrap it for travel.
Casdegere Constantine coldly says: We will not be waiting until nightfall…we move out, now if you please sir.
Bart: It takes almost a half-day for meat to smoke.
Casdegere Constantine: We have an obligation to find these men, not fill your stomach sir.
Casdegere Constantine finally turns toward Bart, a flash of anger in his face.
Bart looks to Rikard with a puzzled look on his face.
Mistress Bianca: Try using, a lead in phrase like…’I think’ or ‘It is of my opinion that’ Mister Constantine. I am afraid that if you cannot become more favorable in character that I may become as you may say ‘bitchy.’
Rikard Castleberry looks puzzled.
Casdegere Constantine settles his gaze back toward Bianca and with purpose steps up to her.
Mistress Bianca waits eagerly to hear what he has to say.
Bart slowly rises, dropping the half dressed staff to the ground.
Casdegere Constantine: Each extra day we spend out here we are all at risk. And, do not think for a moment that you are held in some special regard with Meryl. He sends people on missions that he feels…are expendable for the meager prices he is willing to pay for them. Since you did not accept his money, you’re not only expendable; you’re cheap as well.
Mistress Bianca: Ahem, get your facts straight first Mr. Constantine. I did accept his money.
Casdegere Constantine nods.
Mistress Bianca: Besides that I will attribute most of the other stuff you said to ignorance. I digress…
Bart: I will gather some leaves for storing the meat. I should not be longer than ten minutes and I will stay in earshot.
Mistress Bianca: As far as the risk goes that was true.
Bart walks out of camp deeper into the swamp.
Mistress Bianca: Thank you Mr. Bart.
Mistress Bianca: Perhaps when Meryl refers to you as the daughter he never had…then you will understand.
Casdegere Constantine: I can understand that we all are not used to one another and that we know very little of each other but we are all here, together now. I don’t care who you are or what you may or may not have done. I just want to know if my uncle is still alive.
Mistress Bianca: I am afraid Mr. Constantine that we are going to have to blunt our blades towards each other else we will have a miserable time of this excursion.
Once Bart vanishes into the brush, you no longer hear him. It is as though he vanished from the earth.
Rikard Castleberry: Hey where did Bart go?
Mistress Bianca turns away from Casdegere and looks around.
Casdegere Constantine looks around as well.
Mistress Bianca: Gathering leaves he said but he was to stay in earshot.
Casdegere Constantine wipes the sweat that has begun to drip from his forehead due to the extra covering he is now wearing.
Bart (from the brush): I am gathering the leaves. I’ll be back in less than ten minutes. Keep the meat turning.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh my gosh that bush just totally talked to me!
Mistress Bianca: Have you been drinking Rikard?
Rikard Castleberry: Not that you know of.
Bart’s skill at stealth and woodcraft is impressive.
Casdegere Constantine is waiting impatiently.
Mistress Bianca in turn rests upon a fallen log patiently.
You hear a rustle from the trees to the east, and Bart emerges with a bundle of large leaves.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh nice, leaves.
Mistress Bianca: Excellent Mister Bart, now Mr. Castleberry will stop wondering why the forest is talking to him.
Bart smiles and sets them across a low branch.
Bart: I will finish preparing the staff.
Bart sits down and concentrates on the length of wood, knife already trimming.
Working carefully, Bart finishes the staff in about a half hour.
Casdegere Constantine watches speechlessly.
Bart: You mentioned shod poles. Do you think hardening the tips in the coals would be acceptable for longer wear, Bianca?
Casdegere Constantine looks around for a puppy to kick.
Mistress Bianca: I am not familiar with woodcraft but I would guess that would help Mr. Bart
Bart nods and hardens the wood tips of the staff carefully in the fire.
Mistress Bianca waits until Bart is finished and the meat is packed.
Casdegere Constantine: I think if you hardened that spear, well you might hurt yourself with it, and that’s sad.
Casdegere Constantine grins.
Bart: We will have some daylight. Shall we practice with the staff? I am eager to learn how to use it.
Rikard Castleberry grins.
Casdegere Constantine: Do you all wish to waste away the daylight?
Casdegere Constantine looks at everyone.
Mistress Bianca: Perhaps Mister Castleberry and I can show you…later after we stop again. We wouldn’t wish to upset anyone.
Rikard Castleberry: First rule of using a staff, hit the enemy with the blunt part.
Mistress Bianca: Ha!
Bart looks at Casdegere, “The meat will be ready near sunset.”
Casdegere Constantine finally erupts, unable to take anymore he grabs as much meat as he can and chucks it into the waters of the swamp.
Rikard Castleberry: You’re kinda cranky today.
Mistress Bianca bursts out laughing.
Bart puts away his knife after wiping it clean with a cloth from his belt pouch.
Casdegere Constantine then kicks the coals, tosses the leaves and snaps Bart’s staff in half.
Casdegere Constantine realizes that perhaps he went to far, “Um…heh, sorry man.”
Mistress Bianca now that makes no sense. Weren’t you the one who bullied him into taking up a weapon. You my dear comrade are an idiot.
Bart: The land does not give what is not needed. We will regret your impatience before this journey ends.
Casdegere Constantine: I am regretting that we are not half a day south by now, due to this bloody foolishness!
Mistress Bianca stands up from her rock, walks over to the old boat, grabs a shod pole, and hands it to Bart.
Mistress Bianca: Well I guess that settles our business here.
Bart takes the pole.
Casdegere Constantine starts off south in a huff.
Rikard Castleberry: Walks over and grabs a spare shod pole from the old boat, “Just in case.”
Casdegere Constantine looks for a sign of some beaten down grass that may reveal a path of some sort.
Mistress Bianca watches Casdegere for a bit, “I am imagining this is going to be fun.”
Casdegere sees no evidence of a path.
Mistress Bianca: Mr. Bart would you please lead the way?
Casdegere Constantine stops when no path becomes apparent.
Bart walks over to their boat and drags it towards the water.
Bart gets into the boat while shoving off from the bank.
Mistress Bianca hoists up the bottom of her cloak as she steps through the sodden ground and gets into the boat.
Casdegere Constantine turns around.
Rikard Castleberry hops into the boat before it takes off.
Casdegere Constantine: What the blazes are you doing?
Mistress Bianca: The fastest way I imagine.
Bart: Poling south. You are in a hurry. This way is fastest.
Casdegere Constantine: We know they landed here. They could be anywhere.
Casdegere Constantine: We need you to track them.
Casdegere Constantine: I doubt you can do that in the boat.
Bart: I have already looked around as I picked leaves. Whatever signs of passage may have existed are gone. It is a miracle we found the boat.
Casdegere Constantine with an evil grin upon his face says, “Alright,” and steps toward the boat.
Bart: If you’d like me to look about more thoroughly I will oblige though the sun is nearly on high now.
Mistress Bianca: Need I remind you that, “Hmmm let me think on this, no I think not, we go by boat.”
Mistress Bianca: That is what you said was it not?
Casdegere Constantine: That was before I knew for sure that my uncle was actually here.
Casdegere Constantine: Besides, you all will need a little while to DRY OFF!
Casdegere Constantine tries to tug and turn the boat over.
As Casdegere moves to overturn the boat, he realizes that Bart was ready for him. Suddenly, Bart’s staff flashes out and catches him low on the legs, tumbling Casdegere into the water. This action also causes the boat to drift further from shore and out of Casdegere’s reach.
Casdegere Constantine: Grrrrr!!!
Casdegere Constantine struggles to drag himself to his feet. He turns and angrily walks onto the shore.
Bart: It is a good thing there are two boats. You’ll need the other at some point when you are done lording over the swamp.
Rikard Castleberry (sings): B A L A N C E balance.
Bart begins poling south.
Mistress Bianca: Just go.
Casdegere Constantine begins to run south along the shore.
The shoreline is damp, and Casdegere’s feet sink inches into the ground with each step. He also has to slow to dodge bushes and logs. He is losing ground to the boat.
Casdegere Constantine continues as best he can south, as fast as he can manage just keeping within earshot of the water.
Bart: He is a stubborn man. I hope he knows what he is about. Now, we have a choice to make. Do we pole it without regard to him or do we wear him down?
Sweat streams down Casdegere’s face as he huffs along the shore, thrashing like a wounded swamp dragon. Those in the boat gradually hear the sounds of pursuit fade.
Rikard Castleberry: Ah we should probably go get him, at this point he will be too tired to be all that fussy.
Mistress Bianca: He is worthless. We should wait for him right here until he gets here with a boat. Maybe pole a few more yards away from shore though.
Bart: I am going to agree with Bianca.
Bart stops the forward motion and poles out a bit further watching for signs of Casdegere.
Casdegere Constantine stops after several yards and attempts to find some semblance of a path.
In a few minutes Casdegere appears on the shore across from the boat. Leaves are caught in his hair and branches jut from his clothing.
Bart places a hand over his mouth in a thoughtful gesture, watching the shore where Casdegere stands.
Mistress Bianca drums her fingers on the boat’s gunnels.
Casdegere Constantine staggers up at the shore.
Mistress Bianca: Yes, I am afraid that is Commander Caveman.
Casdegere Constantine leans forward and attempts to catch his breath.
Rikard Castleberry: Hallo there!
Rikard Castleberry: Good day for a run was it?
Bart (whispers): would you like a salt salve for his pride too?
Actually, those in the boat are probably impressed with Casdegere’s fitness. The route he took was not easy.
Casdegere Constantine, unable to respond, dry heaves a little.
Bart: It is time.
Mistress Bianca: Yes.
Bart begins to pole towards shore. He runs the boat up to the shore and jumps out to help Casdegere get in.
Casdegere Constantine snaps from his daze shrugging Bart off of him. With added difficulty he slides into the boat.
Mistress Bianca says nothing.
Bart gets back in and starts poling towards the south a good dozen yards off shore.
Bart: We will be at the place we seek by nightfall. If it is any consolation it would have taken at least twice that long to cut a path and we’d all be winded.
Casdegere Constantine considers kicking Bart out of the boat. However, he is just too tired at the moment.
Mistress Bianca nods in acknowledgment.
Bart sees fire in Constantine’s eyes and adds while nodding, “Apology accepted.”
The sun descends towards the west as the boat steadily cuts through the water. Near nightfall, you see a large structure looming on the shore.
Rikard Castleberry: Ooooo let’s go over there.
Mistress Bianca: Shhhh.
You are still too far away to tell if it is inhabited.
Bart: I will call for you if it is clear.
Casdegere Constantine has by now collected himself and straightened out his gear.
Bart slips into the water over the side of the boat. He swims quietly towards the shore.
Casdegere Constantine looks at Rikard and then Bianca.
Mistress Bianca (whispers): I think we should try to be quiet until Mr. Bart signals us, no offense Mister Castleberry.
Rikard Castleberry: OH GOOD IDEA.
Rikard Castleberry: Er.
Rikard Castleberry (whispers): OK.
A discolored structure rises from the damp ground. Constructed of a reddish marble shot through with streaks of white, the blocks are cracked, chipped, and stained by moss and mold. The structure shows no obvious damage besides the wear of weather and age. Still, something about it seems strange. The entire building tilts slightly backward.
Bart, each footstep sinks to your ankle or calf, accompanied by the sound of displaced water as the ground compresses. The muck closes around your feet, holding them fast until you wrench them from the ground. The earth releases your foot with a pop, leaving a small hole that slowly fills with oozing mud. As you traverse the perimeter, the soil becomes progressively less waterlogged.
After about ten minutes, Bart has completed his circuit of the building and appears back near the shore.
Bart waves the boat in to shore.
The boat pushes through some short grass to bump up against the shore.
Rikard Castleberry starts poling the boat to shore.
Mistress Bianca clutches her staff firmly with both hands.
Rikard Castleberry lands the boat on shore, gets off and extends his hand to Bianca. Bart: There are many openings in this building. I heard no signs of others nearby. It appears abandoned.
Casdegere Constantine silently drops his pack, digs into it and grabs out an oily torch and some flint and steel.
Mistress Bianca releases one hand from her staff and takes Rikards for stability as she steps out of the boat.
The sun has descended below the waterline and the stars are out.
Casdegere Constantine lights a torch.
Mistress Bianca stretches out the muscle kinks after the long boat ride.
The structure, which you know the people of Kith’takharos call the Old Temple, has an open floor plan. Much is visible to you from shore, even in dim light.
Mistress Bianca steps off to the side and loosens up a bit by flourishing her staff around her self.
Casdegere Constantine places the torch in his shield hand and tightens his grip upon his spear.
You see that the building is surrounded by a short flight of steps. However, since the portion near the water has sunk somewhat, the steps near you are only a short hop to the floor level.
Mistress Bianca: Shall we go in and see? I do not see well in the dimness mind you.
Casdegere Constantine says nothing just waits.
Rikard Castleberry: Yeah, let’s go take a peek around.
Bart (whispers): I am going to make sure our boat remains ready.
Bart climbs into the boat and pushes off shore enough to make poling work more easily.
Large columns line the perimeter of this spacious area. A single doorway opens to the west.
Rikard Castleberry: I move in and check out the room before going to the door.
Casdegere Constantine holds the torch up to see.
Plant debris litters the floor, but you find nothing else.
Rikard Castleberry: Is the door open or closed?
It is an open doorway. No actual door is there.
Rikard Castleberry: I walk up to the doorway and look in.
This room contains two southern doorways that lead into the structure’s interior. Other doorways open to the shore and to rooms enclosed by columns.
Rikard Castleberry: I move up and look to the west area.
Slim marble columns frame three sides of this small room. A single doorway opens to the east.
Casdegere Constantine follows behind, slowly and carefully.
Rikard Castleberry: I take a look around the room I just entered.
Casdegere Constantine: Can you smell that?
Casdegere Constantine covers his mouth and looks toward the south.
Rikard Castleberry: Smells like swamp.
Casdegere Constantine: No…it smells like death.
Casdegere looks through the westernmost doorway on the south wall. There are two doorways along a short hallway. Mist rises from the floor before the first doorway. At least two corpses lay on the floor in front of the second.
Rikard Castleberry: I’d like to keep looking around the room I’m in.
Rikard finds nothing of interest. But Casdegere notices that the floor outside the first door gleams with a coating of ice. The ice spreads out in a rough semicircle up to five feet from the doorway.
Casdegere Constantine moves carefully south.
Casdegere Constantine: Mistress what do you make of this?
The two bodies to your south are Swamp Men.
Casdegere Constantine points into the room with the ice.
Now you all smell rotting meat.
Mistress Bianca covers her mask where her nose would be.
Ice coats the walls, floor, and ceiling, dotted with patches of snow. The room temperature must be well below freezing, despite exposure to the swamp heat through an open doorway. A man sheathed in ice sits with his back against the far wall. Although the ice distorts his features, the man’s face clearly shows surprise. He wears exploring clothes, a short sword at his waist, and green leather armor. Except for being frozen, he appears uninjured. This man fits the description of Almus Rundarig.
Mistress Bianca I would believe it is similar to how Uncle keeps his compound cool but intensified.
Casdegere Constantine: Look…could that be Almus?
Mistress Bianca: I believe it is Mr. Constantine.
Casdegere Constantine holds the torch in front of Bianca, “Can you hold this please?”
Mistress Bianca: Yes.
Casdegere Constantine hands her the torch and drops his pack.
Mistress Bianca takes the torch and holds it up and away so the room is lit as well as the hallway.
Casdegere Constantine slowly steps up to the doorway and puts an arm into the room.
The room is very cold. Once your fingers pass the threshold, the air is frigid.
Casdegere Constantine pulls his hand out and rubs his fingers.
Casdegere Constantine: It’s very cold. Ice cold.
Mistress Bianca: I wonder what Aetius would think of this room?
Rikard Castleberry joins the others in the room.
Casdegere Constantine: Well, it would be nice to take some evidence back with us.
Mistress Bianca: We are here for your uncle first. Maybe we should find him and if we have the means, come back for Almus. He isn’t going anywhere.
Rikard steps over two Swamp Men to reach the second doorway. Neither shows any injuries, though it is difficult to be sure given the advanced state of decomposition. They are twisted as if they died writhing in pain.
Casdegere Constantine removes a blanket from his backpack.
Inside the room are another half-dozen corpses. From the doorway, they look like Swamp Men.
Casdegere Constantine: True.
Rikard Castleberry pokes one of the corpses with his spear.
The tip sinks into the rotted flesh, releasing new and more pungent odors of decay.
Casdegere Constantine: I wonder why these swamp men are here?
Mistress Bianca: Not good enough to eat?
Rikard Castleberry: Yeah I’m gonna pass on turning these things into food.
Casdegere Constantine: No…something is odd about them.
Casdegere Constantine moves south.
Mistress Bianca: I hear something that sounds like insects.
Casdegere sees the a block of plain stone sits centered between two open doorways. About ten feet wide, seven feet deep, and three feet high, the block’s rough surface represents a stark contrast to the beauty of the surrounding stonework. Black splotches spread across the top and down the sides.
Casdegere Constantine examines the splotches closely.
Mistress Bianca holds the torch out to see where the noise is coming from.
Casdegere also sees a human in chain armor slumped against the block. A staff rests atop the block near his outstretched hand. Three dead Swamp Men lay before the block.
Casdegere Constantine steps over feeling a strong sense of loss and pulls back the head to see the mans face.
Mistress Bianca (raises her voice): I think something is coming.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh?
Rikard Castleberry: I didn’t see anything.
Mistress Bianca: Don’t look! Listen!
Rikard Castleberry: I didn’t hear anything either.
Oddly, the man’s body has not decayed. He has fair skin and dark hair. He also wears a necklace of bones and a cape of some reptile hide. A silver chain encircles his neck.
Mistress Bianca: Sounds like alot of insects. More than I have ever heard in the swamp!
Now, the echoes of insect buzzes fill the northern part of the structure.
Casdegere Constantine is thankful it was not his uncle. With a hard tug he rips off the man’s necklaces.
Mistress Bianca (shouts): Bart! What is that?
Casdegere Constantine hopes someone will know him by what he has taken.
Bart (from near the shore): Huh? What are you talking about?
The necklace has a pendant hanging from it that resembles an oddly flattened number ‘8’.
Bart listens very carefully.
Mistress Bianca: I am not going mad. Rikard come here.
Rikard Castleberry: Sure, whats up?
The staff atop the block gleams in the torchlight. The wood is highly polished.
Mistress Bianca: Something isn’t right.
Casdegere Constantine takes the staff and looks at it.
Mistress Bianca: Can’t anyone hear the noise of the insects?
Rikard Castleberry: You have a good point, what killed all these guys, and why isn’t it here?
Rikard Castleberry: Or is it still?
A gold ornament in the shape of a laughing jester’s head sits atop the five-foot staff. The jester’s head is coated in dried gore.
Bart (whispers from the shore): Is everything OK in there? I don’t hear anything unusual out here except the noise you are making.
Casdegere Constantine cringes and wonders what had happened here.
Casdegere Constantine continues to look around, eager to find, and yet hopping not to find his uncle.
Rikard Castleberry: So are those insects you’re hearing getting closer Bianca?
Mistress Bianca (relaxes): Never you mind then. I must be a bit edgy. Just recalling stories that were meant to frighten me as a child.
Mistress Bianca: I wonder how Casdegere is getting by without this light.
Casdegere Constantine moves back toward the others.
Casdegere Constantine: not well, what is happening here?
Mistress Bianca: Paranoia and conjecture.
Rikard Castleberry: Ewww what is that stick covered in?
Casdegere Constantine begins searching the bodies of the swamp men.
Casdegere Constantine: I don’t want to know really
Mistress Bianca thinks she is going to be sick.
The Swamp Men bore leather armor and spears with obsidian tips.
Suddenly, you hear a loud bird cry to the south.
Mistress Bianca pukes up a little in her mouth.
Rikard Castleberry: I’m not holding your hair if you are gonna heave.
Mistress Bianca: Ugh, dried meat barely tastes good the first time around.
Rikard Castleberry: You should try eel the 2nd time around, not so good either, not so good.
The bird cry sounds a second time. Then there is an answering cry.
Casdegere Constantine: Bianca, shine the torch over here.
Casdegere Constantine gestures.
Mistress Bianca composes herself immediately and does as Casdegere requests.
Casdegere Constantine stops in mid sentence.
Casdegere looks at the wall opposite the doorway. Ragged letters scrawl across a three foot wide section of wall. The room emanates a faint metallic odor. The dark brown splotches on the floor match the color of the writing.
The others sleep but do they dream
Will the dreamers ever awaken
From nightmares that never end
The rough outline of a wolf’s head follows the last word, similar to that of the ring which belonged to Casdegere’s uncle.
Casdegere Constantine forces himself to speak as he reads the words again.
Casdegere Constantine: We have to move…someone is coming
Mistress Bianca: To the boat.
Bart calls out to the group, “Those were not birds calling! Get to the boat we need distance!”
Mistress Bianca doesn’t wait.
Rikard Castleberry: I’ll cover the back, go ahead.
Casdegere Constantine stops just short of the cold room…still holding the blanket he throws it onto the floor.
Bart makes splashing noises as he shoves off into the water.
Casdegere Constantine quickly steps onto the blanket and grabs at the sword of Almus.
Casdegere grasps the sword hilt. Biting cold jars his fingers. Even as the chill seeps into his bones, he yanks at the sword and rips it from Almus’ belt.
Casdegere Constantine steps back out of the room.
Casdegere shakes off the cold and steps back into the humid swap air.
Casdegere Constantine: Run!
You sprint to the boat and jump in just as Bart pushes off shore.
Casdegere Constantine jumps in and just throws everything he’s holding.
Bart poles away from shore, a circle of light in the pitch darkness. Suddenly, a hail of spears descend on the boat.
Rikard Castleberry: Perhaps we should douse the light.
Mistress Bianca dips the torch in the water.
One spear slams into Bart’s thigh, knocking him to the bottom of the boat and shaking him up.
Casdegere Constantine moves and takes up a shod pole.
Another spear hits Bianca’s right shoulder spinning her about into a huddled mass at the bottom of the boat.
The boat slowly drifts. Another hail of spears lands around the boat.
Casdegere Constantine takes up a shod pole and poles the boat further away.
Only one strikes home but slides off Casdegere’s armor.
Bart takes cover at the close edge of the skiff.
The boats drifts some more.
Bart: What happened in there?!
Casdegere Constantine (sadly): We didn’t find him.
Another spear thunks into the wood near Bart’s head.
Bart: Shh, I think I hear them talking on the shore.
Rikard Castleberry: Starts to spin his spear in an attempt to deflect spears coming at the boat.
Bart gets up and starts poling like a mad man.
Bart quickly moves the boat away from shore. No more spears land near the boat.