Haradrim struggled through the fetid water of the swamp, doing his best to keep his valuables well above the waterline.
“Have I mentioned just how much I hate Borovia?” he asked, as much to the world in general as the companions who made their own slow way through the murky waters. “Can’t get the drop on anyone, ‘cause they’re all dead already, all the living folk are poor as church mice, and now this filthy excuse for greenery. Do you know how long it took me to get these boots right for sneaking?”
“We are not here for petty gain, Haradrim,” intoned Uther. “We have a holy crusade that we have yet to complete.”
“Was it holy before the boy was killed?”
Uther whirled around – no mean feat when half submerged in water – and bore down angrily on the caustic rogue. “Choose your next words carefully,” he growled.
Haradrim simply rolled his eyes and kept moving. “All I’m saying, my friend, is that while you may be content to simply lurch about the contryside saving damsels, I would prefer our expedition to more profitable. What do we have to show for our efforts so far? A couple of cufflinks and a shiny cup.” He gritted his teeth and tugged at his bogged foot.
“Relax,” said Huge from ahead of them. “We’ve got a whole castle to raid yet.”
Vampensh nodded in agreement. “Yeah, think of this as laying the groundwork for our big heist.”
Before Haradrim could reply, Grul returned from scouting ahead. He trapised lightly over the uneven terrain as if the miles of mud that surrounded them were no more an impediment to movement than a cobblestone path. “Our destination lies up ahead,” he said simply.
Sure enough, they soon saw the ruined walls of some lost civilisation lying some sixty feet ahead of them, seperated by a large tract of murky water.
“See,” said Grul pointing to a large square stone column on the island across the water, “that monolith lies inside a runic circle that is almost identical to the one we found at the Vistani encampment. I cannot see any enemies nearby, though they would be likely concealed by the water and the pair of grandmother willows.”
“Enemies like those, you mean?” Malakai pointed at a series of ripples in the water where the group could just make out the pale flesh of some snake-like aquatic being. A collective shudder went through the party – the only thing worse than an enemy you knew was there but couldn’t see was one you could only partially see.
The ominous white shapes slipped almost invisibly though the water towards the still partially-submerged party. Uther drew his two-handed sword and fastened his gaze on the island opposite them.
“I’ll clear out the island. You guys deal with these foul beings. Catch up with me when you can.” With a broad smile he activated a magical ring and stepped up onto the water’s surface and beat a hasty path towards the white monolith opposite them. The rest of the party began working their way warily through the water.
Their progress became steadily slower as they heaved their way through the unexpectedly deep bog, while the white shapes circled closer and closer. One of them suddenly reared out of the water, a pale eyeless head writhing and twisting, revealing a hideous sucker-like mouth. It made a beeline through the water towards the party, who were still a good fifty feet from dry ground.
“Blood eels!” shouted Grul as four more eels revealed themselves and hissed agressively. “Get out of the water!”
Malakai reacted first, activating his own magical ring and stepping out onto the air well above the water. Vampensh followed suit, drawing a wand from his belt. He pointed it and Huge and spoke a word of power, causing the half-orc to lift out of the water. He reached out a hand and grasped Huge’s own outstretched palm, swinging up onto Huge’s back as he levitated out of the water.
From his vantage point on the island, Uther saw Haradrim and Grul still struggling in the water, attempting to hold their own against the five blood eels who, finding themselves with only two targets to chose from, surged through the water towards the rouge and the druid. Hearing a shout from above, Uther saw Huge readying a trident with a rope tied to it. The barbarian hurled the weapon at Uther, who, correctly interpreting his friend’s intention, caught it easily and planted it firmly in the soft dirt at his feet. Now anchored, Huge began hauling himself and the mage on his back towards the island. Malakai was making his own way to the island, the magic in his ring allowing his to stride quickly and easily through the air to his destinaion.
Grul knew he was in trouble. He swung his weapon in wide acrs, trying to fend off the three blood eels that harried him from the water. They splashed about in the water, hissing through their hideous mouths as they searched for an opening. Grul, too, was searching – for an exit. He cast his mind about, looking for a means of escape. In a desperate move, he summonded the forces of nature about him, transforming himself into an aquatic snake.
Unfortunately, this provided his antagonists with just the opening they needed. An eel shot forward and dug its teeth into the polymorphed druid. He druid cried out in pain as the eel’s razor teeth savaged him, tearing the flesh and digging in.
He stumbled backwards in the water, desperately trying to keep his head above the water. Through the water that foamed and frothed around him, he could just make out Haradrim to his left, also a victim of the eels. On the island, he could just make out his companions defending themselves against some hideous humanoid that had appeared from behind the runic circle. He then lost sight of them, his body sagging beneath him as the eel hungrily sucked the blood from his body.
He felt his body return to normal as he lost the strength to maintain the magic sustaining his changed form. Dazed from the terrible loss of blood, Grul cried out hoarsely before loosing his footing and collapsing into the water. As darkness overcame him, he could make out the sound of the eels savagely attacking his prone form.
Time passed. For Grul, lost in a sea of velvety nothingness, time had little meaning indeed. All he knew was the quiet throb of his heartbeat slowing in his ears, and he realised that he would soon return to nature. With mute acceptance, he waited for the end.
It did not come.
Instead, light blazed in his eyes, pain flared in his body and Grul looked up to see, to his horror, that he had been revived by the party’s smug, self-satisfied cleric. Licking his cracked lips, he attempted to speak.
“Wht h’ppnd?” He tried to look around him, but the pain that wracked his body was so intense that he thought both he and Malakai were flying.
The elf smiled down at his kinsman benevolently. “You almost died, brother. I had to come rescue you.”
There was a flash of light below them, and the wet screech of the blood eels. Grul slowly twisted his body to see that he was indeed floating with Malakai above the swamp. He caught a glimpse of Vampensh kneeling with his hand in the water, Huge and Uther taking pot-shots at the eel still latched on Grul’s bloodied leg.
Malakai frowned briefly and muttered a quick incantation, blasting the eel with magical fire. He nodded as the pale worm writhed and fell to earth, flailing in its death throes before sinking to the bottom of the swamp.
The pair returned to the rest of the party who, having defeated the hag and the remaining blood eels, were considering their next move. The Drowned Lady’s grotesque body lay at their feet, her mouth sagging open in a gross rictus of mad humour.
Vampensh nudged her bloodied body with his foot. “Well, I guess we should get burying her now, right?”
“Not yet. She may yet be able to provide answers.” Malakai steeped forward and kneeled over the hag’s head and, waving his holy symbol in an intricate arc over her head, channeled Corellon’s divine power into the Drowned Lady’s ravaged corpse. Her eyes snapped open and a shudder passed through her body. With a smile of satisfaction, the cleric addressed the corpse before him.
“Guardian of the Swamp Fane, we seek the location of the last remaining fane guardian. Where is she?”
The corpse’s lips quivered open, a trickle of blood spilling out over her jaw. “My sister resides at Lysaga Hill.”
Malakai nodded and spoke again. “We are told that the Sun Sword can be found in this swamp. Where is it?”
“It is here.”
Huge snorted. “She’s a great help, isn’t she?”
Malakai shrugged, indifferent. “The spell has it’s limitations, yes.” He turned back to the hag. “Where specifically?”
“It is here.”
Ignoring the muffled sniggering behind him, Malakai pressed on. “And the vampire Strahd von Zarovich – how do we kill him?”
“I know not.”
The magic expended, the Drowned Lady’s sighed quietly and went slack, her head losing the rigidity bestowed by the spell and lolling off to the side, exposing a deep gash in her neck.
Vampensh stood up and cracked his knuckles. “Now can we bury her?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Fifteen minutes and some rapid digging later found Uther standing knee deep in a pit next to the stone column in the middle of the runic circle, filthy and sweaty but wearing a satisfied grin nonetheless. In his hand he held a long sword that glowed with a dim blue light.
“We have it,” he murmured reverentially. “By the blessings of the Shining One, the fabled Sun Sword is now ours.” He kneeled and intoned a prayer to Pelor, the sword thrust in the dirt beside him.
Huge grasped the weapon and, pulling it free, gave it an experimental swing. The glassteel blade hissed through the air, trailing a faint blue light. “Feels good.”
Uther stood and peeled the sword from Huge’s grasp. “Of course it does. This holy weapon was forged for the express purpose of destroying the undead. And so it will again. Without it, our crusade, for all its nobility and just cause, would no doubt meet the same fate as those whom we saw in the village graveyard.”
“Do not forget, paladin, we have yet to activate the weapon,” reminded Malakai. “Until then its true power will be locked away from our grasp.”
“Hey guys, I found something else.” Huge climbed out of the hole they had dug, holding a small reliquary box in his hands. On the top were embossed a series of angelic figures, their eyes coated in a thick red substance.
“The same as we found at the Forest Fane,” observed Haradrim. “What’s inside?”
Huge opened the body and reached inside, holding up a small, yellowed object. “A tooth. I’d know know one o’ them anywhere.” He grinned and jiggled his necklace of similarly shaped yellowing objects.
Malakai took the tooth and examined it. “Another holy relic. I wonder what their purpose is?”
The rogue sniffed, dismissing his companion’s idle musing. “Who cares? Let’s just bury the wench here and get out of this gods forsaken hole.”
Working together, the party made quick work of the burial, heaving the body unceremoniously into a shallow grave in the middle of the runic circle. As before, there was an immediate hush around them and they felt the ambient hum of power in the area seep away.
Their objective acomplished, they claimed the Ioun Stone hidden at the top of the stone monolith at their prize and, as the sun sunk below the horizon, made camp for the night.