Bastion looked out from the shady canopy of a huge willow. Across his vision he saw a verdant plain gently nestled before the foothills of the towering Blackcap mountains. The sight did not please him. Despite spending years secluded in a place not totally unlike this one, he still was learning how to properly orient himself in new natural surroundings.
“We went too far. We’re going to have to turn around.”, the Warforged sighed as he rose and turned towards the rest of the group.
Cordus rolled his eyes, huffed and turned back towards where they had just been. The Croaking Swamp greeted him. Located in the southern portion of the Obsidian Valley, the swamp had been there as long as the villagers of Bromide had settled there. A good days hike away from the village, it was seldom visited and no one lived near it. Its name may have been an indication for the villagers said that at night you couldn’t go near the place without hearing the continual calls of all manners of frogs. They sludged back into the cool humidity of the boggy environment.
This was their first real assignment and Walhand hadn’t been that specific.
“Villagers around here talk about some ruins located in a swamp to the southeast. You could probably see it on your way here. It’s not that big so I don’t suspect it would take you that long to spend a day out there looking for anything interesting. Take along some camping gear just in case, but be sure and return by tomorrow. Word from HQ is we’ve got another assignment coming down the pipe that’ll be more important that this one.”
So here they were…knee deep in cold, slimy muck trying to find signs of something…anything that would indicate life or former life beyond the gnats and whatever occassionally brushed up against their legs in the water.
A couple hours later they came across an old wooden pathway snaking above the mudline. It clearly hadn’t been used in awhile, but the wood was stout and it was as good a sign as anything. Bastion recommended they follow it and so they did. The path went along for some time and seemed to track deeper into the flooded forest. Eventually large mosspads began to emerge from the muck. Springy and light to the touch, the pads were still able to maintain the weight of everyone…including Cordus. The path crossed these and made its way over the pads. Eventually the wooden path ended, but a clearly recognizable path among the moss pads emerged leading the party deeper into the swamp.
The appearance of small stone huts was the first sign of any sort of civilization the party had yet seen. Emerging into a small clearing and clearly abandonded buildlings, Dane asked a question that was on everyone’s minds, “Why are we here again?”.
The few huts they could peer in revealed dwellings that hadn’t seen habitation in many years with vegetation that had almost completely covered most of them. In the center of the huts was a muddy village circle with a large, clearly foreign, stone planted in the ground. Upon the stone was a mural.
On its far left appeared a group of 3 humans in green robes bowing down in worship to a large pine tree that appeared to have a long right branch pointing to the right. The next pane depicts these same 3 humans in a walking motion with 4 large triangles behind them. The tops of the triangles are black. The next pane shows these same humans lifting a large angular shape onto another with another human nearby kneeling on the ground with arms extended down to ground. A small plant comes out of the ground where his hand touches it. The humans are surrounded by other stone shapes that resemble the buildings surrounding you. The next pane showed one human laying on the ground, another human in a running motion and 4 smaller humanoids holding some sorts of weapons with angular eyes and large mouths in chase behind them. Behind the smaller humanoids one of the stone slabs has red markings appearing above it. The story ended with a final pane showing a human facing out with what appeared to be a sickle lodged in his chest for red smears emerged from it. About him rose six tall stone pillars and finally, the most disconcerting sign: snaky lines sketched out from the human indicated something was happening.
Erdas stared at the portrait, trying to gain an understanding of what the images meant when he heard something behind him. It was almost a shambling noise and it appeared to be coming from behind one of the houses. Looking up, he barely caught a glimpse of some medium sized shape moving between the houses.
Suddenly a creature appeared in the doorway of one of the nearby ruined houses. A large mobile plant with numerous snaking vines emerging from its center faced the party. It had no eyes and no other recognizable sensory organs, but it knew exactly where they were. A large maw that resembled a huge flytrap raised out from the central structure upon which the creature moved…a Bloodthorn Vine.
Dane wasted no time. In a rush he was on the creature, but his fist went wide as he slipped in the mud. Adjusting rapidly to a more defensible posture, the monk was also quick to notice a new visitor. The only real way to describe it would be to say a walking mushroom and it wouldn’t be far from the truth. Ambling towards them was what could only be described as a science experiment gone teribbly wrong…an enormous humanoid shaped fungus with a tall looming head appeared between the houses.
Bastion moved quickly to close the gap between the houses and engage the fungus. He’d heard of these things before…Myconids…but he knew next to nothing about them aside from a brief description that seemed to indicate this one was a Rotpriest…fairly easy to tell since it carried a staff covered in blue glowing spores.
The sound of 2 more Bloodthorn Vines indicated even more visitors. One of them lashed at Bastion with one of its vines and wrapped around his legs, cutting the Warforged with numerous jagged spikes along the vine. In short order Dane too was trapped by another Vine. Bastion shrugged off the pain and concentrated on the Rotpriest. Bringing his weapon down with the weight of the Earth, the Warden slammed into the Myconid’s shoulder. The hit barely made the fungus budge.
With an eyeless stare and a noiseless shriek the Myconid raised his blue staff and with a series of loud poofs a large blue tinged cloud of material swept into the air about the Myconid completely enveloping Erdan, Dane and Bastion. The Warforged staggered as his lungs filled up with the spores and his vision blurred somewhat as his body adversely reacted to the decomposing spray. Blood began to pour from old wounds that had healed years ago.
Noticing his comrade’s pain, Erdan stepped up and lashed out at the Rotpriest. His anger at his friend’s suffering poured into Bastion and gave him the motivation to see through the pain for a little longer.
Meanwhile, both Dane and Cordus were dealing with their own problems. Each had engaged a single Bloodthorn Vine and each was having a terrible time with it. Snaking vines had entangled both multiple times though each was able to tear the vines off each time. Despite this, the vines still did their damage and both were bleeding profusely from many jagged wounds.
Mal continued to fire off volley after volley into the group, but the Rotpriest’s Decomposing Spray’s effect upon Bastion caused the Dark Elf to kick into high gear. Drawing her bow to its upmost limit, the Ranger let forth a volley of arrows into the Myconid and Bloodthorn that could have split a tree. The arrows slammed into the Bloodthorn, killing it outright, and lodged firmly in the Myconid’s shoulder who staggered back in pain at the shock. A green bluish liquid began to pour forth from the wound.
The Ardent Erdan followed quickly behind with an enormous strike with his flail that sent the Myconid’s head flying from his shoulders. Just like that the tides turned and in short order the remaining Bloodthorns lay dead upon the ground.
The group rested after the tough encounter and then searched about the buildings. Within they found a smattering of old tarnished gold, a couple useful healing potions, and one item that particularly stood out. A circular piece of wood that appeared to have once been a necklace though the leather cord has long since disintegrated. On it was an intricate carving of a towering oak.
Behind the stone slab was a small trail leading further into the forest and along it the group followed. The light that penetrated the canopy grew less and less as the party continued down the trail and the very weight of the place seemed to grow heavier with each passing step. Cordus looked over his shoulder a few times and though it seemed like he was being watched, he perceived nothing amid the large willows and the muck.
Continuing on, the path became less and less frequent and finally terminated at a vast pond at the center of which stood a massive mosspad encircled by green foliage which stood in front of six tall stone pillars that rose behind them.
Mal froze. “You hear that?”
The sound became more audible as everyone stopped. It was a scuffling sound coupled with a few odd croaks here and there, but there was also a distinct sound of snapping and cracking…almost as if something were being eaten.
They looked at each other and remembered back to the mural they had seen just a short time ago…