As Olnor and the local militia clean up the aftermath of the escaped swamp creatures the three new recruits go out into the town to begin their job of investigating strange and dangerous occurrences.
Lea, feeling extremely uncomfortable and awkward around so many loud, well adjusted surface dwelling folk at one time rather bumbles her questions in a skulking, creepy sort of way. In other words she goes about her business as usual.
Unfortunately this method doesn’t evoke a very friendly response to her questions from the townsfolk. Though she did get a rather talkative, half blind, mostly deaf old man who seemed willing to talk with anyone that would stick around long enough to listen to give her some information.
“If it’s strange creatures and bad goings on yer interested in you could do worse than checking out the old crypt down on the calabash farm. Definitely some kind of something down in there… And treasure too! Every once in a while some damn fool gets it in his head to find the mother load. Comes out saying he grabbed a few silvers from a giant pile before some kind of beast from the dark depths chased him out.
That’s when they comes out at all…”
Kettriken happened upon a group of merchants unloading some wagons. They were complaining loudly about the crops being lighter and lighter. Asking what the problem was they told her that there is now a real danger of a major food shortage. Since the majority of Daggerdale’s farmlands were flooded the resilient folk of the dale have learned to harvest different foodstuffs from the swamps and bogs. But recently the bullywugs come in greater numbers and force the farmers and harvesters away. They don’t know much more than that since they don’t actually go out to the swamps themselves. They suggest that they talk to the farmers themselves if they would like more information.
She decides to follow up on this lead with some farmers and bog harvesters down at the dry goods shop.
“I’ll tell you, we were doing really well. Learning to live with the swamp creatures instead of killing them. Harvesting various plants and such for food and medicines. Some of the bolder harvesters even started exploring the ruins of the old towns. There’s plenty of riches to be had out there if you’re up for looking around a bit!”
“Yeah,” says another, “but then the ‘wugs came. They never attacked us farmers. They just came at our crops and equipment when we weren’t around. Destroying and defiling… They’re damned filthy things them ’wugs.”
Kettriken remembers back to her fight a while ago. When she attacked the thing that charged Svala she was almost choked by the tainted air that surrounded it.
One of the bog harvesters chimes in, “When we’re out gathering we can see ‘em skulking around out in the flooded forests. But, like he says, they don’t ever attack themselves. But they do lead other monsters to us. Poor things have spear marks in ’em. Drives em into a rage then they herd them to us. Bastards.”
The first farmer says, “There’s an old harvester that went a little mad out in the swamp. Lives in a little shack on the outside of the town wall. He says he’s been to the center of the swamp and knows what’s controlling the bullywugs. I think he’s nuts and I ain’t alone in that but you might could go talk to him. I’m sure he’ll tell you his story easy enough.”
Kettriken thanks the farmers and harvesters and wanders about for a while. Eventually she runs into Svala who fills her in on her pursuits.
She had found out that there’s an old logging claim up in the Border Forest that is being worked. The loggers go out in shifts of one month at a time then come back to town for a month off while the next shift goes out and works. Apparently the last shift was due back to town almost two weeks ago but nobody’s seen them. Most of the next shifters hang out in one of the local taverns getting surlier and drunker as the days go by.
As she’s relaying this bit of information Lea comes and joins them. The three decide to head over to this tavern to talk to the next shifters.
The loggers are all sitting around a large table nursing mugs of ale and wine. They aren’t very inclined to talk until they realize that the three women questioning them were the ones that took care of the monsters in the town square that morning.
“Well, it’s not that we’re ‘afraid’ to go up and see what’s happening… Not exactly. We just figure, you know, they’d want to deal with it themselves.”
The party asks what, exactly, is to be dealt with out there.
“Well, there’s always accidents out on the job. Every once in a while we lose someone. A deadfall, slipped axe, you know. Accidents. But the last few shifts…
We started losing guys…. They’d go out for the cuts and they just wouldn’t come back. Nobody could find them. Not a trace. There’s something out there. You can feel it all around. And it ain’t happy.”
“I’ve seen ’em when they got Bryson” one of the loggers says. “The forest. It just came alive and took him. Those eyes there….” she trails off into a whisper.
“What’s that?” another asks, blearily.
“Those eyes there. They disappeared.”
“Aaaanyway…” the first logger turns away from the woman. “We ain’t going back out there until the last shift comes back. It’s in our contract you see. We’re not afraid, we just want to stick with the contract is all. If you’re looking for more information you’d do best to talk to the boss, Josef Calabaza. He’s got an office here in town.”
After locating the logging office and getting in to see him Josef asks what the visit is all about. They fill him in with the information that the loggers gave him and ask what he can tell them about it all. They notice his brow is starting to glisten a bit though it’s rather cool in his office.
“Everything’s fine! Just a small glitch in the operation, we’ll be back on schedule in no time! Who are you people anyway?”
They tell him that they’re members of the Azurite Surveyors. He visibly deflates and looks relieved. _"Oh, thank the gods…. I thought you were family members. I should have gone to you guys in the first place but, I don’t know, I thought everything would just blow over and we could get back to logging as usual. There’s so much money tied up in this operation and men have lost their lives! _
_All I can tell you other than what my men have said is that some of them have reported that the thing that comes for them sometimes uses strange blue magics when attacking. That’s when I first thought of coming to you. It’s what you do, right? Take care of blur fire wielding plague creatures? _
Look, I can’t offer you any cash, but if you are able to tell me what is happening up there, and especially if you can get my men back alive I can hook you up with all the lumber you might need, within reason of course. Might come in handy some day. What do you say?"
They agree that this does sound like a job for the Azurite Surveyors and agree to investigate the logging operation the next day.
As they are resting in the inn that night they are brought a round of drinks. The wench points to a cloaked figure standing next to the bar. Turning around it’s revealed to be a human woman, quite strikingly attractive despite the obvious dark blue tracings of a spell scar around her left eye leading down her cheek and neck.
She raises her own mug in acknowledgment of their attention and walks over to their table after Kettriken’s rather unsubtle bellowing greeting.
“Hello. My name’s Loxar. I couldn’t help overhear your planning a trip into the Border Forest tomorrow. I happen to be traveling part way down the same path on my way to the village of New Teshmere. I was wondering if I might join you for a while as an extra sword never hurt in the wilds out here.”
They asked what it was she could offer up and she grins, tapping her mug to the three of theirs and taking a drink. “Well, as you sit and enjoy this round of drinks I’ve bought you you might think on what I just said about an extra sword helping out on the trails. You watch my back out there and I’ll help watch yours.”
Chastened, they agree this seems a pretty good arrangement and so agree to meet her on the logging road north of town in the morning.
The next day, some way down the road theY all get to chatting. It comes up that they are newly recruited into the Azurite Surveyors. Loxar’s face gets hard and she says icily, “Oh, is that so.” They ask what the problem is. She angrily replies, “You surveyors, you think you speak for all us that are scarred. Well, you don’t! There’s some of us that don’t agree at all with what the Surveyors are doing. When you step over the line we’ll be there.” The lines around her eye pulse slightly and her eye seems to flash a deep blue. They ask for more details about her anger. “Look, you guys say you’re new. So maybe you’re telling the truth and you don’t know. In that case you’re better off not knowing so I won’t tell you. If you’re not telling the truth you’re just looking to see how much I know. In which case I won’t tell you either. So, you seem nice enough. Let’s just drop it and enjoy the trip.”
As they were talking they had begun to cross a bridge over a small pond. It was the headwaters of a creek that acted as a tributary to the River Tesh. On either side of the bridge some old dilapidated buildings stood on stilts above the water. It used to be an old resort that some of the wealthier merchant families came too when the land was safer to travel. Now it was simply a hideout for bandits and highway men…. Which attacked as soon as they were in the middle of the bridge!
As arrows flew in from either side and some thugs ran up to engage Lea and Kettriken at the head of bridge, Svala and Loxar were at the rear and started to get into a position to charge the buildings.
Lea used some drow magic to pull up a cloud of absolute darkness around her, which shielded her from the sight of the crossbows in the buildings, blinded the thugs in front of her and also left Kettriken, who was standing right next to her, completely at a loss. Some of the thugs had lucky swipes as they backed away from the dark elf but ran into Kettriken’s long sword swipes. Despite the temporary setback the thugs and knife fighters at the head of the bridge went down amongst the spinning steel of Lea’s double axes and Kettriken’s sword.
One of the bandits in the buildings ran away mortally wounded from Loxar’s arrows and the other tried to charge Svala . Unfortunately for her she didn’t take into account the depth and difficulty of moving in the water before she missed her jump onto the shore. As she floundered around, seeing that her companions were dead or fled she begged for her life. They took her weapons and let her live.
Soon after another path branched off to the southwest. Loxar said, “This is where we part ways. My friends should be right down the path a ways so I’ll be fine from here. Thanks for the help on the road. Take care. Perhaps I’ll see you again.” With goodbyes said she ran down the road and was quickly lost in the shadows.
Night was approaching and the three newest members of the Azurite Surveyors set up camp in the outskirts of the Border Forest, ready to continue the adventure in the morning.
NEXT: You all meet up at a tavern… OR: “What is this asshole’s problem anyway?”