After only a couple of minutes Darren steps back from the entrance and skulks back again. As he reaches the group he steps on a hidden twig in the grasses, which snaps loudly.
Bart: Any news?
Darren: Shhhh, everyone get down.
Darren moves into some brush to see if anything comes.
A short time passes as Darren takes cover while the rest of the party looks somewhat bewildered.
Rikard Castleberry: Um, so.
Darren: They appear to be finished. I saw no sentry.
Bart: Did you get the web?
Darren: I was thinking of giving it a try.
Mistress Bianca: Ok, go for it. What do you want us to do?
Darren looks around nervously “how about make sure someone doesn’t come out of nowhere and get me killed, for starters.”
Rikard Castleberry: Don’t you worry about that, humans that aren’t invisible won’t be attacking you.
Mistress Bianca: Agreed, what Rikard said.
Darren: Well they don’t have to, all they got to do is disturb the area and I’m finished. If you all could keep a lookout and give me an alarm if someone is coming so I can get out.
Rikard Castleberry: Sure, We will send out a bird call.
Mistress Bianca: We will do our best. So, do you have a plan?
Darren: Yes, I’ll take a pack with 3 jars and get them filled with webs. Ill sneak in, get them and sneak out.
Mistress Bianca: Ok. Rikard, Bart and I will keep watch.
Darren: Sounds good and please, don’t hang to close, they are skittish buggers.
Darren checks the pack for sound once more.
Only the sound of leather moving on leather is heard.
Darren cinches his crossbow behind him and checks his tools on his wrist for easy removal.
Darren is ready.
Darren gives Bianca a wink and moves off through the brush toward the spiders den.
Darren moves away with careful steps. After a moment you see him move but don’t hear tell tale signs of his passage.
Darren stops against a tree and readies his nerves.
Mistress Bianca watches as best she can for people coming up, also listening for noises.
Darren looks in and sees a passage leading in. About 10 feet into the corridor, dense webs extend from floor to ceiling. Anything beyond a few feet becomes indistinct. Darren crouches and then slips inside the cave, out of sight.
Darren moves as quietly up to the nearest webs.
You reach the webs without apparently alerting the surviving spiders.
Darren cuts in a circular motion, holding a small blade in one hand and lifts it back toward the jar with the other as he cuts.
Darren begins to cut and fill the first jar.
Darren cuts in a circular motion, holding a small blade in one hand and lifts the 2nd tuft of web back toward the jar with the other as he cuts.
Darren covers the first two jars and begins cutting the third.
Long seconds drag into minutes as you fill the first crock and start into the second. By the time you finish the second one you feel icy tingling sweat rolling down your neck.
Darren knows he is in a bad place but continues anyway. He focuses away from his fear and cuts the third web away. Fearing even to breathe, he covers the third jar.
You lick your lips to prevent a single salty sweat bead from hitting the filthy encrusted travertine slabs.
Darren sees a jar upon the ground and tempts fate, one final time. He slides forward so he is near it and begins cutting.
The third jar is full and as you look at one of three jars nearby, you hear skittering from deep inside the dark hidden by web and distance.
Darren decides against filling a fourth jar and moves away quickly.
Darren comes bolting out of the cave without regard for noise. He is running with three full jars a’swinging.
Rikard Castleberry preps the skiff for immediate launch.
Several flames lick out over the water as jets of flame burn out. Darren reaches the skiff as it launches. You are on the water poling away from shore with alacrity.
Bart: Did you get an idea of the lay-out? How deep does the nest go?
Rikard Castleberry: Well, that looked rather exciting.
Darren coughs as he swears his pants are smoldering. He scrounges for his water-skin and gulps down several mouthfuls.
Darren: I’m sorry…I only got three.
Bart: Well that’s three less spiders we have to worry about.
As the skiff gets out a bit the flames stop but there are several spiders in the entrance though they don’t linger in the open for long.
Darren: Not spiders, jars of web.
Darren removes one and shows Bianca and Bart.
Mistress Bianca: Excellent work Darren.
Darren: (Gasping between breaths) They will have to make due with three. It will be some time before I could possibly will myself to go back in there.
Rikard Castleberry: They will get what they get, and if they want more, we can tell them how to come here and get it themselves.
Mistress Bianca keeps an eye out to the direction of the cave to make sure Darren wasn’t followed.
Mistress Bianca: I hoped that you were followed, It would make for an easy pick.
Darren loosens the straps around his chest and fights for more air and tries to calm down.
Mistress Bianca: I have one of these buggers alive. I think I may want another.
Rikard Castleberry calmly starts rowing away from the area, whistling to himself.
Darren: Another one? You want another one…alive?
Mistress Bianca: Yes, but don’t worry it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Mistress Bianca: The important thing is that it is alive…just long enough.
Rikard Castleberry: Don’t mind her. She’s still pissy about her cloak.
Bart: We need to destroy them before they spread.
Mistress Bianca: Oh of that I entirely agree Bart.
Rikard Castleberry: How’s about we get back to town, dump our cargo, heal up, and then think about revenge after?
Darren: Amen for that.
Darren takes another drink.
Mistress Bianca: I am fine with that, unfortunately that will give the spiders over a week to well, carry out their nefarious plans.
Darren: We are not tasked by deed or contract to eradicate them.
Rikard Castleberry: I would prefer to return with say, an army to deal with those.
Bart: They are an evil blight on the swamp. They will destroy us if we do not destroy them first.
Mistress Bianca: Darren, we don’t need a contract or employer even to do what is right.
Darren: But if it needs to be done, then someone will pay to have it done.
Mistress Bianca: Relax Rikard, We are alive and wiser. We won’t be careless the next time.
Bart: I would not be surprised if the foul creatures had their collected treasure deep in their lair just waiting for someone skilled enough to take it.
Darren stops a moment.
Rikard Castleberry: Yeah, nobody keeps the good stuff on the front porch.
Darren: Treasure? You really think so Bart?
Rikard Castleberry: Other than that one dude with the skeleton feet, anyways.
Mistress Bianca drops a stare at Bart and tries hard to refrain from laughing.
Bart: They are intelligent and the spoils of their prey were not out in front. Where else would they be?
Darren smoothes out his mustache in contemplation.
Darren: Well, then perhaps this does warrant a second thought.
Mistress Bianca smiles and leans back against the skiff. Groaning as her chest tightens up on the burned flesh.
Bart: We would need a highly skilled scout to get us the lay of their lair.
Darren begins to settle now that they are away from there.
Rikard Castleberry keeps rowing them away.
Mistress Bianca (rasps): Mister Castleberry, will you please see to a smooth trip and wake me when the dock is in eyesight? I think the best way to ignore the pain is to sleep.
Darren: So Bart, where did you come to find, your swamp…friends?
Rikard Castleberry: Sure B. Rest it up.
Mistress Bianca closes her eyes and tries to force herself to sleep.
Bart: Most of the creatures in the swamp are my companions. Which ones do you mean?
Darren: Well you speak as if the swamp itself is watching us, or that it has a will of its own. I have no such enlightenment. I was just curious as to how you sense what others do not.
Rikard Castleberry: Bart’s just good like that.
Bart: The swamp has a life or spirit, a harmony that looks out for itself and talks to those willing to listen.
Rikard Castleberry: I don’t sense things either, but I take his word for it.
Darren smiles at Rikard’s remark.
Darren: How long have you been in the swamps?
Bart: I have always lived here.
Mistress Bianca shifts a little already half asleep. “I see things too; in my dreams.”
Rikard Castleberry looks slightly unsettled at Bianca’s comment, as if it struck a memory in his head, then shakes it off, and continues on.
Darren: I see you hold your head up when you look at the trees, the brush and the animals, but in town, often you refuse to look anyone in the face, your nose pointed toward the ground.
Darren: Do the people of Kith’takharos…offend you?
Bart: There is little harmony in town. The chaos is ….unsettling.
Darren: So…you grew up in the swamps? No family to speak of?
Bart: Not the kind you are speaking of, and you?
Darren: Me? Well, I certainly did not see myself spending my days here in Kith’takharos.
Rikard Castleberry: What’s wrong with it? I like it. I keep all my stuff here.
Bart: You seem at home there.
Darren: To be more correct if I may, I have made a home there. My father has a way with mixing humor and punishment together.
Rikard Castleberry: He laughed at you as he beat you?
Darren: No Mr. Castleberry…he tossed me out here on my own until he sees fit to allow me to rejoin them in Port Lissup.
Bart: Every bird must leave the nest at some time.
Darren: Well this “bird” as you put it, was quite comfortable where he was, I assure you. But, if this is my lot then ill try to make the best of it. Hopefully what we have done here today, is a start.
Bart: Then I wish you luck on your journey.
Darren: And you, Mr. Castleberry, you seem like a good sort, where is your family?
Rikard Castleberry: Oh living in some hut somewhere. Left them behind a long time ago.
Darren: Well you appear to be doing alright for yourself. Some coin and some notoriety can not hurt a man’s chances to make out on his own.
Rikard Castleberry: I do enjoy the fame that comes with always coming away alive.
Darren: I will say that I am no thrill seeker to be sure but I know what you mean. If I wanted to learn more about Hoyt or this Hoygens is it? Who would I speak to?
Mistress Bianca rolls to her side mumbling, “mmm blood.”
Rikard Castleberry: There are a few people in town to talk to about it. Most everyone has been impacted by him in one way or another.
Darren: Well I know very few save for the three of you.
Rikard Castleberry: I’ll poke around after we get back and rested for some more news about him.
Bart: If you walk around with a big enough purse then an associate of Hoyt should find you.
Darren: I have always found it important to know your enemy as much as possible.
Rikard Castleberry: He’s a rather large problem, but one not many want to deal with because of how troublesome he is.
Darren yawns wondering how far to town.
The trip to town takes all day. It is uneventful and allows each of you to reflect upon all that has gone on the last few days. You’ve already navigated past the old ruined bridge and ahead you hear the shouts and bustling noises of the docks. It appears that the sun will set in about an hour. You pole past the many jutting docks after rounding the most southern peninsula near Kith’takharos.
Rikard Castleberry: Ah, it’s good to hear sounds of people again, friendly people.
Rikard Castleberry nudges Bianca awake.
Darren: Bart, if Rikard let you off, could you take the jars to Jorian?
Mistress Bianca harrumphs.
Continuing on you pole into the main channel where you go under the ancient arched stone bridge. Many eye you as you pass through the channel. Suddenly a whistle blows from behind and the noise and shouts from the docks ceases as if magic.
Mistress Bianca: Friendly.
The working day is over for the citizens of Kith’takharos. You hear laughs and passing conversations float down to you as you exit from under the massive bridge. Ahead you see the gates of the Transit Guild’s private docks are wide open.
Rikard Castleberry: Ah excellent, we’re back.
As you pass the gates you are aided by two swarthy men who have little to say as they work.
Rikard Castleberry: Hi Hans, Franz. How’s the docks today?
Your skiff is secured and you are offered aid to step ashore.
Darren hops ashore unaided.
Mistress Bianca btakes in a deep breath and stiffens as she stands up in the boat.
Mistress Bianca: Ow. damnit.
Mistress Bianca holds out a hand to one of the men to help her out of the boat.
The larger of the two men looks at Rikard and offers an unpleasant scowl, “It’s after hours and if’n you don’t mind, you could have taken the poles out of yer ass to come in an hour earlier without complaint.”
Bart hands the web containers to Darren.
Rikard Castleberry helps Bianca out of the boat.
Darren: Gently gentlemen…gently help her.
“Beggin’ yer pardon Mistriss Bianca but you should’ve known better.” They perfunctorily finish helping all out and then turn and take their leave of you.
Darren: She is injured, perhaps save your complaints for later?
Rikard Castleberry: Hans is a cranky one, don’t mind him.
One of them turns back, “Injured? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Are you daft?” They speak low together and one runs off to the main compound.
Mistress Bianca: That is fine Darren. If he wants to complain to his employer’s niece, it is his right. I of course report everything I hear to Uncle.
Darren smiles and only nods to them.
Rikard Castleberry: Perhaps they didn’t look at any of us first, heh. You know, the burn marks, and such.
As each of you look upon each other you realize that the only recognizable person under all the filth, burns and blood is Mistress Bianca, who was addressed.
Mistress Bianca leans heavily on her staff as she walks toward the main house. She adjusts the bag over her shoulder which was rubbing painfully against a burn.
The larger man looks on as she moves but doesn’t interfere or aid.
Darren whispers to Rikard, “we need to get these jars to you know who.”
There are many men moving around the compound. More than you’ve ever seen and most wearing outlandish colored clothing.
Rikard Castleberry: We will, but they will be secure here while we clean up first. We will visit him in a bit.
Mistress Bianca: Hmph, how bizarre.
Darren whispers to Rikard, “If you know who finds out that we brought them here, he might not be too happy about it.
Bart: Especially when we only have 3 containers.
Darren: I am sure we were marked as we came in.
Mistress Bianca: Do what you like. I just want to sit down, get cleaned up, eat a hot meal, and drink cold wine and rub some lotion on what’s left of me.
Rikard Castleberry: Look at it this way Darren, if someone steals our stuff before it is delivered, it will be the fault of security here, not ours.
Mistress Bianca reaches the main building and goes inside.
As the four of you make your way across the compound you realize that there must be hundreds of new people here. One of them makes their way across towards you from the nearby fountain. He is well dressed in a dark green outfit with accents of yellow at the collar and sleeves. He looks very uncomfortable in this heat and humidity. Another man is walking with him, hand upon short sword and dressed in chain.
Mistress Bianca sighs.
Rikard Castleberry: What’s going on here?
This second man has short cropped hair and looks quite alert as he takes you all in.
Darren makes sure his crossbow is secured.
Bart winks at him.
Mistress Bianca: Well when you are finished goggling us, mind telling me what you want?
Bjorn Hightower: Welcome to the Transit Guild. I am Bjorn Hightower, Second Adminstrator and you are?
Rikard Castleberry: Er…
Rikard Castleberry: You’ll have to pardon us, we’ve been a bit busy the last couple days in the swamp.
Bjorn Hightower: Ah, pleased to meet you Bart. You speak for all of you, do you?
Mistress Bianca: I am Mistress Bianca. And you are keeping me from my bath.
Bart: I speak for all of me.
Darren steps forward and bows.
Rikard Castleberry looks at Bianca, a mix of curiosity, alarm, and vacancy of the eyes.
The man turns his hawkish shaped head to look into the eyes of the masked woman.
Darren: I am Darren Thorgaresh, we were not expecting such a production such as this, when have you arrived?
It is clear he is uncomfortable with Mistress Bianca but holds it in rather well for a first meeting with that mangled voice. After hearing all the voices, his eyes drift towards Rikard.
Bjorn Hightower: And you are?
Rikard Castleberry: I’m Rikard. There seems to be something rather strange going on here. We haven’t been gone all that long, is something the matter?
Bjorn Hightower: Are you then members of the Transit Guild?
Darren steps forward.
Darren: We are…friends of the Guild.
The man in back licks his lips as if expecting something.
Mistress Bianca: Good God I live here. Meryl is my uncle.
Darren hides back a cringe.
When the words leave Mistress Bianca’s mouth Bjorn’s eyes narrow as he turns to look directly at Mistress Bianca.
Bjorn Hightower: I have known Meryl for many years and not once has he mentioned a relative. How interesting this is. We will have to talk about it soon. For now, I must attend to other affairs. Rest assured, we will meet again.
With that he turns and walks away to a small building, the smithy you believe.
Rikard Castleberry mumbles something very unclean under his breath.
The shorter man follows at about four paces. v
Darren turns to everyone.
Rikard Castleberry: What in the seven hells is going on here?
Mistress Bianca strains to remain calm, talking with measured words.
Darren: Let’s not linger here and ask questions, lets get her inside, quickly.
Mistress Bianca: It seems that things have changed.
Darren: Well I am certain your uncle will explain it all.
Rikard Castleberry: I feel much more confused than normal.
Rikard Castleberry walks inside.
Mistress Bianca continues on slamming the foot of her staff against the ground at each pace.
The green and gold uniformed guards allow you to pass. You recognize the face of one of them.
Rikard Castleberry: Heyo there.
Mistress Bianca stares at the dwarf as she passes inside.
Kremson, Dwarf Guard: Greetings, Mistress Bianca, uh, you’ll find your rooms are still intact.
Kremson nods at Rikard.
Rikard Castleberry: Krem, what is going on here? Everything seems so….off.
Mistress Bianca doesn’t say anything.
Darren suddenly realizes what is going on.
Kremson looks over at the other guard quite openly. “T’would seem the Transit Guild’s reinforcements arrived to protect its interests against an invasion of bloody swamp men.” The other guard quickly pipes in, “Our guild, my brother, our guild.”
Kremson, Dwarf Guard: Of course, our guild, brother.
Rikard Castleberry: It might be the guild, but Bianca here has blood ties, and we staved off the invasion before, so a little heads up would be appreciated.
Bart: If the swamp men had invaded then these men would be dead.
Kremson, Dwarf Guard: Well who’s to say as to what might have happened. What I can say is that Meryl has been informed of your arrival. He’ll be expectin’ you soon.
Rikard Castleberry: Great. We’re going to go clean up now.
Darren: Gentlemen, lets get the Mistress inside, shall we?
Mistress Bianca continues on to her room without saying a word.
Bart: Are we supposed to wait while she bathes?
Darren: Well I’m not, I’m going home.
You reach your rooms without being accosted. On the way you pass over a dozen men standing on guard in full green and gold uniforms, all wearing chain shirts and short swords.
Darren waves a bye to everyone.
Rikard Castleberry grabs Darren by the arm.
Bart: Darren, Let Little Mother know I’m back will you?
Darren: Little mother?
Rikard Castleberry: Not yet, something is incredibly wrong here. Don’t leave just yet. Something is seriously wrangling with where my gut tells me some bad business is coming.
Rikard Castleberry: Bathe here, and then go home later.
Bart: The cat, I believe she was staying at your place while we were gone.
Darren: A…cat? Inside my home?
Mistress Bianca: I will just be a few minutes.
Mistress Bianca goes into her room and slams the door shut behind her.
Darren: My home was locked up tight when I left it.
Rikard Castleberry stands outside the door, weapon at his side, on high alert.
The room is untouched as far as you can tell.
Bart: Well then I’m sure she didn’t get inside.
Mistress Bianca goes to her washstand and takes off her mask and stares at herself in the mirror. Hair a mess, face smeared, clothes destroyed scar on her neck completely uncovered.
Darren: Everything is alright Rikard.
Bart knocks “Are you going to be long?”
Mistress Bianca: Takes off her rags and uses a cloth and some water to get most of the crap off before looking into her closet for some clean clothes. She finds a nice loose fitting grey robe-like gown that completely covers her skin.
Bart: Should we go to the meeting hall?
Mistress Bianca thinks about what the stranger said and screams as she grabs a table and flips it over and throws a chair at the wall.
Rikard Castleberry: I would prefer to at least clean up a tad before we go meet Meryl.
Bart: Bianca is being attacked!
A loud scream is followed by a smashing noise from inside the room. The scream is Bianca’s!
Bart Opens the door and rushes in.
Mistress Bianca stands there breathing deeply. She looks over at her friends.
Rikard Castleberry peeks around into the room.
Mistress Bianca: I’m alright.
Bart scans the room for the assailant.
Rikard Castleberry: Swell, you done in the bath?
Mistress Bianca goes to her washstand and rinses her mask off and puts it on, then picks up her staff.
As you all enter Bianca’s room, you notice two liveried guards have entered the hall and are watching.
Mistress Bianca can’t hear anything with her blood pumping through her ears, the tears in her eyes blurring her vision. Fortunately the mask hides the latter.
Bart tries not to stare.
Mistress Bianca: If you don’t mind. I will be out in a minute.
Rikard Castleberry: Alright then. If you get accosted for real, just say “bluebird.”
Rikard Castleberry stands outside.
Bart leaves also.
As you step out into the hallway you see Meryl walking briskly towards you and the door behind you Rikard.
Rikard Castleberry: Hi there Meryl. Dont mind her, she’s just had a bad couple days.
Mistress Bianca puts on her robe and laugh as a tear streams down her face.
Meryl Dunestal appears haggard as if he’s gotten even less sleep than you these past few days. He nods and says, “Let’s go inside. Shut the door, Rikard.”
Mistress Bianca goes to her door and opens it.
Meryl Dunestal: I am sorry to disturb you in your room, Bianca.
Rikard Castleberry walks in and closes the door after they all walk in.
Mistress Bianca surprised by Meryl takes a step back.
Rikard Castleberry: Meryl what is going on here? We haven’t been gone that long.
Bart picks up the overturned chair for Meryl.
Mistress Bianca goes and sits on her bed.
Meryl Dunestal holds up a hand to forestall additional comments. “First, I want one thing to be clear. Do not hand over anything to me that you may have found. Keep it on your persons. This is not the time.”
Meryl Dunestal: It seems that the request for help I sent when the Swamp Men threatened Kith’takharos has been answered. I did not expect this outcome, I assure you.
Rikard Castleberry: Wait, these are the guys from way back when?
Meryl Dunestal: Hightower does not like me. I return that sentiment. His leading troops here are a slap in the face. I have no ideas what intrigues are going on in Durnwalt, but there may have been some sort of shake-up. Those who sent me here may well be out of power. My position may be tenuous. I just don’t know.
Bart: How far is this Durnwalt?
Mistress Bianca: Oh Uncle…
Meryl Dunestal: A few hundred miles downstream. The Transit Guild headquarters are there.
There is a heavy knock at the door. Followed by the words, “Meryl Dunestal your presence is required.”
Bart: Then he would have known of the outcome of the invasion before he headed here.
Rikard Castleberry: Was there a message sent to them after it was averted?
Meryl Dunestal acquires a grim expression. He walks toward the door, speaking in a low voice, “Remember what I said! Give up nothing!” Then he opens the door and says to the guard, “I will walk on my own. No need for force.”
Meryl Dunestal walks slowly down the hall.
The door is wide open as you stand listening to those footsteps.
Mistress Bianca shouts after him, “I love you!”