This is stage two of our journey. From Zath Shore to Bogcotton farms – home of Daire Bogcotton, younger brother to Ibar (Littlethorn) Bogcotton.
Zath Shore is a muddy patch of land rising out of the swamps and resting where those murky swamp waters drain into the endless depths of Lake Zath. We arrived late on the first Charday of Enkilot. In the night sky, Belsameth's moon formed a perfect half-circle and rose high overhead, while the nameless orb was only slightly more full and lay like a hateful reddish eye low on the eastern horizon.
We entered the first inn we found, and possibly the only one in such a small town. The Cattail, as it is called, boasted a larger crowd than I expected and while most of us sat for a drink and some warm food, Ezeek and Percival made their rounds speaking to some of the halflings who were busily dicing their wages away. It was Percival who returned to the table with the information we needed and with directions to Bogcotton farms secured we bedded down for the night and woke for an early start on Belsaday.
It was a miserable morning. A downpour soaked the swampy land around us turning swampy mud into soggy and sludgy swampy mud. We made our way east along the south road; it felt foolish going deeper into these unfriendly and smelly swamps, but this group is as driven and focused as any soldiers I have ever come across. It is odd to be observing and traveling among Vigilants of Vesh; long have I heard tales of their chicanery, their sabotaging ways and their foppish demeanors, but I saw before me a group of well-trained soldiers who were, though a bit disorganized, focused on their mission's success beyond everything else.
We reached Flatbottom ferries after about three hours of travel; the rain was finally letting up just as we approached the old wooden jetty that was thrusting out into the waters of Crawbug Creek. Ezeek took to speaking with Julewyn Fairmeadow, the aged halfling woman who seemed to own, or at least operate the ferry barges docked here. According to Julewyn, there were no other adventures who had come to visit the Battle-mage save for some heavily cloaked and hooded skinny man who seemed to give the ferry lads the willies.
We paid for our passage across the creek (and our return trip) then loaded our mounts and ourselves onto the barges. They were strong, sturdy halfling youths who poled and rowed us slowly across those waters – I was happy for the barges as the water was dark, muddy and completely something I had no yearning to wade or swim through. The journey across was just over a mile by my estimation, but the trip took us the better part of two hours. Finally across, we made our way down the single raised road that cut east into the Swamps of Zath.
Only about four miles further led us to Bogcotton farms, a sprawling bit of murky bog-land surrounding a stately manor house that was built against a stone tower that looked as though it had stood in these swamps for centuries. We saw the halflings, both young and old, (members of the Bogcotton family) working the land and we were met by three of the Crucible Guard soldiers shortly after we crossed the bridge onto Bogcotton land.
Ezeek assured the guards that we made the journey to speak with Lord Ganthes – adventurers who were coming in response to an advertised need of adventurers. We were led to the farmhouse and were soon led in, passing by an ancient and angry old halfling woman who sat on the porch. She cursed the Crucible guards and further cursed Lord Ganthes, referring to him as General Kres – which showed that her mind was dwelling some twenty years in the past.
We met with Ganthes and he sized us up. Asked some questions about our exploits and accomplishments and seemed to come to the conclusion that we were the right group to hire – claiming that he had turned away two other groups already. He offered us to bed down at the Bogcotton's storage house and we accepted – he also suggested we speak with some of the Bogcottons to try to get a better fix on the location of this Dead-Bog where the wooden trunk he was after is thought to be held.
Our best information came from the Bogcotton's cook – a simple, swamp-dwelling halfling in his middle years, Garcine Dusuau. Master Dusuau certainly knew his swamp lore and seemed well versed on local superstitions as well. He also seemed to have a powerful love for the taste of crawdads – those hideous looking swamp vermin that lurk in the shallows of these bogs.
Master Dusuau, eventually grew to trust Ezeek and spoke more freely of his hatred for Lord Ganthes, specifically, for the man's treatment of the Bogcottons. Arresting "Lady Eluned" seemed to have been the last straw for the seething cook and, together with Byelo Bogcotton (the addle-minded old woman on the front porch), he had concocted a plan to poison the battle-mage with a potent brew of water hemlock he had extracted from the roots of that deadly swamp plant.
For a while, it seemed as if the group was giving Master Dusuau the go-ahead on this plan. Initially, we would attack at dawn after the Calastians had breakfasted on their poisoned morning meal, but gradually that plan changed, particularly after we spoke with Byelo's husband and Ibar's brother, Daire Bogcotton, patriarch of the family and the true lord of Bogcotton farms.
Daire was plain and simple farm folk, he wanted no trouble and he certainly wanted no killing. He simply wanted to work his land and have some land to pass on to his children when his life was over – these simple dreams seemed unlikely to occur with the Calastian Battle-mage laying claim to the land and calling the family slaves. Daire was dead set against killing those Calastians and I assumed it was futile to try changing his mind; but Ezeek, with the calm patience of an inquisitor of Madriel, eventually led Daire to our way of thinking and the aged halfling grudgingly agreed to accept our plan of killing at dawn.
I am not sure why, but we scrapped that idea and decided we would lay waste to the battle-mage and his men, but we would do so after we had procured this sphere the vigilants want so badly. We slept through the night in the Bogcotton's storage house. It smelled of dried peat logs and old hay, and probably smelled like bogcotton, though I have never sniffed the stuff before and none of the bulbous buds had bloomed yet for me to sniff.
When we awoke there was a large blue heron or crane stalking the hard-packed earth just outside the storehouse. In its bill was a rolled up sheet of parchment. Sola approached the heron and it instantly placed this parchment into her hands, gave a great squak then flew off into the marsh. The letter seems to have been from this Chery man I have heard spoken of, it said the following:
“I’ve got it! The plan is simplicity itself! We can rescue those enslaved without killing a soul and get you closer to Shelzar in the proccess!
I am in Zath Shore now, when you have concluded your business in the swamps, find me at the Bogger’s Bayou. I have received the help I need from the Goodman and now I am gathering the help we will need to execute my plan!”
I assume "the Goodman" to be Goodman Haylord, the kindly priest of Hwyrdd who saw to our getting a scroll to heal Ezeek's eye. I am not sure what to make of this letter or this cherry man, I will follow the course set by Ezeek and the other Vigilants until we are safely out of the Heteronomy.
Master Dusuau provided us his flat boat and a small row boat to make our way into the swamps. Percival was invited to take breakfast with Lord Ganthes, who seems to see Percival as being closer to his equal than the rest of us. I know nothing of Percival's history, but I now suspect that he is nobly born. After breakfast we made for the boats and ventured into the swamps, and it was awful.
Hours into rowing down that muddy, winding river, we were beset by two massive, boar-sized mosquitos coated with spindly barbs and a hellishly long stinger. Even worse, after they rose up out of the high reeds, one of them mesmerized Orwena with some high-pitched drone, making her fall lifeless to the bottom of the rowboat she shared with Sola and the wolf. We archers let fly; me and this squad's archer captain, Micah Angelo, both found our marks with arrows that imbedded into the massive insects, but did little to slow them down. Sola's arrow skipped harmlessly off of their insectile hides, Ezeek and Percival explained that only magical weapons could strike these creatures true.
These wiley, wicked creatures only seemed to want blood and with Orwena lying helpless, they made her their focus. At first I thought Ezeek was mad for abandoning the boat and wading through that vile water to engage one of the creatures, but one by one, the other vigilants followed suit, first Micah circling around to get a clean shot at one of the Blightspawns (as Ezeek called them). He waded through the water unslowed by muck or liquid, moving as freely as if he were on dry land. Sola and Percival soon followed into the cold, murky waters, wading after the spawn who had its stinger buried in Orwena and was beginning to fly away with her.
Just when it seemed the spawn would not be reached before it drained every drop of our halfling's blood, Micah hit it with a winning shot and it dropped dead into the bristly reeds where it had landed to sup upon Orwena's lifeblood. When we arrived at her body I was certain she was dead. She was clammy and pale – as pale as a newly blossomed bud of bog cotton. I was certain we had lost her, but the healing powers of Micah and his goddess Tanil brought her life. I saw color rush into her cheeks and shortly thereafter, her eyes opened and she rose from that murky bedding of reeds. I could not believe my own eyes.
Though we had survived without casualties, the blightspawn had wreaked some damage upon our group. Orwena was still weak and light-headed from her loss of blood, something that Micah said might require a few days for her to fully recover from. Just as frightening was Ezeek's foggy-minded reaction to the Blightspawn's poison. It seemed that their poison attacks the mind, and the normally sharp and insightful inquisitor was making very little sense and was lost in a haze.
We had to make a long-term camp sight and see to these wounds. Sola pounded my iron spike of safe passage into the earth of an elevated patch of ground and we hunkered down for several nights. Micah and Sola woke us that first night and the group dispatched a sickening mound of pulsing, acidic ooze that was slowly creeping its way out of the swamp and into our camp. Thankfully he spotted it before it reached any of our sleeping comrades.
For two more nights we rested on that swamp, battling nothing save clouds of mosquitos and the dreadful noises of bog frogs, insects and whatever other frightening creatures lurk in these dark waters. After that needed respite, we were back in our boats and after two days of trouble-free rowing, Percival spotted the clump of dead trees that Master Dusuau had indicated as the first landmark to reach the dead bog. We pulled our boats out of the muddy river and secured them to these dead trees. It seems that the rest of our journy will need to be made on foot.
~ Chuchuk, Commander of Fort Vinous Archer Brigade, Leader of the Vineroost Rebellion.