In the aftermath of our Brave Companions’ foray to the Guardtower 3 one night, followed by what was for a time a stealthier home invasion the next, Sanctuary was already becoming too hot for comfort. When honest citizens cannot walk the streets at night without being assaulted by off-duty hooligans, some distance and time is to be recommended to allow tempers to cool and faces to be forgotten. When our Bold Heroes, who have yet to decide upon a name to make collective reference easier, were faced with a selection of tasks suited to their expertise, the safety and comforting call of the Swamp of Night Secrets beckoned. A certain Lotlie would pay for information on the swamp, and it was quickly decided that this task was highly preferable to the rather public alternative of bodyguarding a certain Noble’s daughter. After all, Sanctuary must be overflowing with qualified applicants for such a position, but only our hardy company could be trusted for scouting a place like the Swamp of Night Secrets. The noble’s daughter would be safe in their absence, all agreed.
Upon consultation with the client, the elderly Gentleman expressed his dissatisfaction with the swamp, and the way in which it was disturbing his sleep. One cannot but sympathise. When residing in a place such as sanctuary, where the nightly sounds of murder, brawling and less savoury noises disturbs honest men in their beds, the last one needs are distracting lights shining through one’s window. Our Noble Party would, to their later chagrin, neglect to suggest curtains to the gentleman and claim their payment for a job well done.
Agreeing instead that the swamp needed scouting, our Merry Mummers proceeded to collect what information and equipment they considered useful for their foray to come from Fisherman’s Warf. Boots were had, as were nets, spears and various maritime objects of mysterious and dubious origin and use. Had was also the knowledge of Mad-Jack, who had much and more to say on the Swamp. Beware the Nighters, the Swamp People; they cannot be trusted. However, if you want their cooperation, bring the goods to barter with. Passage was secured to the swamp by boat, with Thaddeus leading the way, his eyes gleaming with the promise of alchemical substances viable to go ‘boom’ to be had in the swamp. Rand, having been convinced to be taken by boat once his fellows agreed to pay his passage, begrudgingly brings along his daughter, accepting that the only place more risky for Amelia than the Swamp of Night Secrets is Sanctuary. Whether Rand’s own presence was taken into that calculation is not known. Lynn, for her part, seemed content to get somewhere where shadow was more prevalent than light, and where inconvenient witnesses could, quite literally, be swallowed by the swamp. Francesca, meanwhile, ensured that she was well prepared for the muddy journey to come.
Was there something they had all forgotten? Some thing or someone they had forgotten to take into account? Nah. What were the chances, right?
Our Wild Wanderers made it across the water to the south end of the Swamp. Faced with the dark and dank ahead, it was both a relief and a worry to see particularly well-trodden paths leading inwards. Preparing for trouble in their various ways, they eventually set forth into the wilds, only to be accosted a little while later by the Nighters, the people of the swamp, led by a formidable huntress by the name of Kaena. When our Trusty Troop made their intentions known, it quickly becomes clear that there is trouble aplenty in the Swamp of Night Secrets, and the swamp people themselves are not happy. Kaena has much to tell of the problems, although more is lost in her cryptic presentation. Men have been coming and coming in the swamp; men who do not belong there. The swamp is angry, and beset by black vines that are choking the life out of it. Someone has taken the light from the swamp people.
Confused though they may be by these strange words, our Hearty Adventurers succeed in convincing Kaena to bring them to her village, offering the goods they brought with them in return for help in solving the mystery of the swamp. Taking the path of the treetops, they are led through the swamp, spying alligators and swamp crabs, snakes and swamp people as they go.
The village is but a hamlet, filled with children and the elderly. There are few adults in evidence, however. Our Adventurous Hearties are presented to the village elders, seemingly the tutors who instructed Kaena in the arts of cryptic speech. Information gleamed in exchange for the maritime paraphernalia includes the fact that there is a sickness in the swamp, that the intruders do not understand the swamp but wish to live in it, and that ‘they’ put something in ‘the tower’ and locked it up. The elders urged our Valiant Friends to find this tower, tear it down, find the cage and free what is inside. The phrase ‘there is a worm at the heart of the tower’ is also uttered.
Far from letting themselves be dissuaded by cryptic mumblings and ominous foreshadowings, our Prancing Protagonists prepared to seek out the mysterious tower. Lynn removed herself to the shadows as was her wont, seemingly to commune with them. Thaddeus explored with child-like glee the various roots of the swamp, discovering healing opiates and venomous ooze, as well as information on explosive swamp-gas that in all likelihood made his heart flutter. Rand, for his part, seemed to struggle with inner daemons, while Amelia took to the swamp-lifestyle as easily as one might expect. Once all had completed their various loin-girding, Kaena once again led the way up and through the treetops, towards the dark tower.
In what was beginning to become an iconic feat of drifting attention, none of our Jolly Jousters had remembered to spare a thought for Amelia, though she had in an equally characteristic manor taken it upon herself to ensure she was not left behind and had taken refuge in Thaddeus’ backpack. How he did not notice the added weight is not know. It is possible that the opiate roots are to blame. Francesca, who had had to let the rest go ahead without for the moment her would undoubtedly have had a selection of choice words on the matter.
As they traversed the treetops, the group, which shall henceforth by known only as such, happened upon a detour. Proving for good and all her keen instincts, Kaena dug from the swamp a mask she alleged was carried by those who come and go at the mysterious tower. It did not take the more scholarly inclined among the group to note that the shape of grooved, open palms signified adherents of Dyareela, the independent Greater Goddess of chaos, disease, madness and other domains of wholesome family fun. Deciding that caution is the better part of mindlessly storming a mysterious swamp-tower, possibly frequented by cultists, the group resolved to obtain some information before sticking their heads into Dyareela’s maw, as it were.
Following Kaena’s advice, the group determines to waylay the first and best cultist to cross their path and extract information in whichever way they can. Plans are laid, nets are built, trees are climbed and hidden in and Amelia receives a mesmerizing and teeny-tiny occult face-painting from Lynn to keep her a little more safe from harm. Once the group was hidden in the canopy, Thaddeus resolves to further this project by equipping the 7-year old with a flask of acid.
Not much time passes before the group gets their pray. A barrel of a man stumbles into their trap, quite literally, and while he puts up a good fight, the net, a hamstringing, a tackle and finally some well-aimed splotches of Amelia’s acid saps his spirits sufficiently for Rand to tie him to a convenient tree. A little bit of information is dragged from the man before he decides the give everyone the silent treatment. Discussion is had on whether or not to be sociable with the man or cut bits off him to encourage further discourse. Hilarity ensues.
If one is of the kind who find demonic possession, black, corrosive bile and unnatural contortions hilarious. There is no literate way to say it: The man Bas was possessed by the goddess Dyareela so that she might express her displeasure at the groups meddling and express her intent to return to the world and punish those who have wronged her. By which, the group assumes, she means most people.
Once the deity departs the body, Bas is quite conclusively dead. What is left of him, that is. Disturbed but not perturbed, the group pushes onwards to the tower, reaching it at last and taking up positions in the foliage for observation. It quickly becomes clear that the tower is functional, unaesthetic and professionally constructed. Standing on an island of sort surrounded by swamp, the part notices that runes carved on stones nearby suggests this is where the Swamp goddess Heqt first appeared in her amphibian glory to her worshipers. Around the tower are boats. Many boats, seemingly used to ferry people across the water. People are massing for something. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Francesca appears with a swamp guide and rejoins the party with distressing news! Peter has been taken from where the group unceremoniously dumped him to walk off his wounds. Kalda had been knocked out, and the boy taken. After a moment’s consideration, Francesca’s fellow denizens shrug it off. It is probably nothing. Poor kid, but it’s not like he is that important, right?
Attack on the tower
The time has finally arrived for our merry band to take on the tower. Why? To defend the good night’s sleep of an old man on Fisherman’s Row. Just doing our job, ‘mam. Everyone prepares in their own esoteric ways. Francesca gives praise and prayer to Theba. Thaddeus procures healing salves from the various swamp vegetation, possibly for recreational purposes, while Rand struggles with inner daemons and also proceeds to combine spells in ways they probably was never intended to be combined. Lynn, when she is not muttering at shadows, gives Amelia another round of face-paint, thinking that nothing is more important than the safety of the child. It is next suggested that when the assault on the tower commences, Amelia join the team who intend to scale to the top of the tower and infiltrate their way down form the inside. Nobody thinks to notify Sanctuary Children’s Services.
When the time comes to engage, the party splits. Lynn scales the tower with what can only be called divinely inspired nimbleness while the rest hide below. A well placed dagger disposes of one rooftop guard, while a well-placed quarrel form Francesca’s trusty companion deals with the other. Amelia and Francesca then follow after upwards, while Rand and Thaddeus take up their places by the tower front door. The rest is, as one might say, history. A detailed retelling might in fact not be necessary, as it will forever remain etched in the minds of those who were there… man.
Rand huffs and puffs the doors down, and Thaddeus promptly begins to set things on fire. Things are punched, shot and burnt, while the infiltration team tiptoes their way downwards. Children are encountered, playing and giggling ominously. Dyareelan rings and masks are clearly in evidence, and the well and falling water in the centre of each floor seem highly suspicious. Interesting loot is also encountered, both in terms of glassware, religious oddities and other tat, as well as an interesting assortment of books, scrolls, pamphlets, and a ledger conveniently detailing membership and contributions to the cult. Demonic doomsday cult or no, one has to appreciate good bookkeeping.
While a fierce battle, which will forever be remembered as the Chili con Carnage, rages in the main hall, Amelia is sent as an envoy to the children above, reporting back to Lynn and Amelia that they are students of sorts, under the tutelage of those slightly older in the cult. All the adults are, it would seem, currently occupied in a highly noteworthy ceremony. The infiltration team eventually makes it down to join their fierce companions, just in time to behold an interesting sight.
Something has happened to Rand, it is clear. Not perhaps the very image of calm and tranquillity at the best of times, he appears to have turned almost demonic. His teeth are more pointed, he sweats and pants, and sores are mysteriously appearing on his face. Conventional murderous Rand appears to have been channelled into something even more so, and had it not been for the quick thinking and quicker bola of Thaddeus, who knows what might have happened.
As it turned out, what did happen was that Feral Rand (FerRand™) had his feet decisively tangled, and went sprawling unceremoniously into the central waterfall, floating down below. Where there had previously been only chanting from the basement, a great uproar sounded in response to this event, before silence fell and chanting eventually resumed. Wasting only a little time, for the sake of decency, the remainder of the group catch their breath and follow down. Through the conventional hatch, rather than the waterway.
The basement scene is one of surprising order, considering it just had FerRand crashing uninvited into it. The central waterfall contains Peter, looking surprisingly… present. Cultists are scattered around the table, as is Rand, Kaena and an unknown woman are all tied to various tables, ugly-looking knives in the hands of their attendants. Chaos follows, leaving all cultists dead, dying or knocked thoroughly out. A table containing ritualistic tat is half knocked over and half set on fire. The strange woman is dead, Kaena is half-disembowled, but Rand is thankfully unscathed. Thanks to Thaddeus’ healing hands and opiates, however, it also appears as if Kaena might live to see the end of the ordeal. She does seem to have taken to croaking more than the average person, though…
Unfortenately, although the ritual is stopped, it was not quite in time. Peter, now undeniable carrying within him Dyareela, steps slowly out of the water. The party finds this to be a good time to make their exit, giving only slight pause at the fact that the above floor appears to have flooded. Rather than return the way they came, a convenient secret passage is discovered by the sacrificial altar, and everyone, including Kaena on a stretcher, exeunt stage right.
A tense and damp scurry follows, through the damp tunnel lit only by Lynn’s little orb of light. Ominous footsteps follow in the dark, picking up speed and confidence. Gladly, however, everyone soon emerges into a clearing in the swamp. Albeit a clearing that is oddly infinite, and filled with tadpoles. As the party makes it up and takes their places for what will undoubtable be a climactic showdown, Kaena rises from her stretcher, crawls and drags herself along the mud of the clearing a lilt way, and is then promptly swallowed up by the ground. Had it not been for the imminent arrival of the goddess of all that is unpleasant, this might have produced more of a reaction from the group.
Once Petareela™ finally appears, seemingly displeased by the water of the swamp, our group of hopefuls does their best. Knives are wielded, fists are thrown and bolts fired, but nothing seems to perturb the avatar. Nothing, that is, short of the massive Toad goddess Heqt emerging from the swamp and swallowing Peter whole, in what can only be called a disturbingly fly-like fashion, before sinking back into the mud. Only Kaena, returned form the depths, are left behind, looking decidedly better than she did when she disappeared.
Breaths are caught, stocks are taken, and without much ado, our fine friends make their way back the way they came, leaving Heqt’s clearing behind, Amelia happily clutching a divine scale the size of… well, of Amelia, in fact. Although Thaddeus is clearly itching to blow the Dark Tower up once and for all, a quick session of looting is undertaken. Our friends are nothing if not brigands, thieves and scoundrels at heart.
Something is to be had for all. Francesca finds something ornate and interesting, Rand a book which might contain, quote, “the nuclear option”. The Sanctuary scientific community is still trying to decipher what the statement means. Lynn stumbles upon an oddly specific pamphlet inviting her to church, while Thaddeus picks up a variety of items, the utility of which only he might know.
The night is concluded with spectacular fireworks, and the demolition of a tower that saw more excitement in its short lifespan than most see in a lifetime. Rest in pieces. Returning to the Swamper village with not only mission accomplished, but a chosen priestess of Heqt in tow, the party is amply rewarded, and will in all likelihood forever have friends in the swamp.
All in all, a day’s work well done, and surely nothing that will ever come back to bite the company’s shared ass. If nothing else, a sense of community does appear to have grown between the group, at least a little, and there can be no doubt at all that Amelia has a new family.
Now, returning to the city wreathed in swamp and glory, what could possibly go wrong?