予言 (Yogen; Foreboding)
After returning the girl to Cotton , we established a meeting time on the morrow, and bid him farewell. Some of my companions departed to seek the comfort of the “higher-class” establishment up the Hill, though I elected to stay at the Duck. Those who can put on airs while residing in this fetid pile of rubbish are obviously either mad or delusional, and more than a little deceptive; I prefer the honesty of a den of scoundrels.
Once the more distinguished part of our group departed, I set to drinking and gambling alongside Wulfgar and Caleb. Two flagons of Dragonsbreath deep, I decided to make a bet on an odd form of touken that pitted a yamainu against eight kyodai nezumi. The odds were stacked 3 to 1 against the yamainu, but he looked like he had a good fighting spirit, and the payoff if I won would be well worth the gamble, so I put 10 steel on the beast. After a long fight going back and forth between them, the battle came down to stand-off against the wolf, torn and bleeding in many places, and a similarly battle-worn rat, but the wolf finally prevailed. I retired to my room with my winnings.
In the night, I experienced Osoroshii akumu. In the dream all was grey, and there were people everywhere ambling through a thick fog. As they walked, an unintelligible voice spoke loudly, as if issuing commands to the mindless throng, though none seemed to particularly care or notice. I also had a sense that there was a great presence lurking somewhere within the fog (Or was it in the sky above me? Or the ground below?); a shape with many eyes and an open maw, the dimensions of which were so large that my mind could not comprehend them.
My dream-self turned toward the source of the garbled voice, and began to push its way through the crowd. The warbling nonsense words became louder and louder, until I could hear nothing else. The crowd turned and faced against me, stupefied faces hanging slack-jawed and wide-eyed, staring past me as they pressed in on my position.
The press of bodies began to envelop me, squeezing my chest so that I could not breathe. Their skin began to boil, as if thousands of tiny insects crawled beneath; then it ruptured in a spray of blood and pus. As everything grew dark, the last thing that I saw was millions of tiny eyes protruding like boils from their flesh. Many were moving slowly around, as if analyzing their surroundings; the majority were staring straight at me.
I woke, and resolved never to drink Dragonsbreath again. Heading downstairs, I sought out the barkeep, who spoke of troubling dreams that he had the night before. I took a breakfast of cooked roots and bread, but declined the offer of onions. Strong smells can prove deadly when your trade relies on remaining unnoticed. The innkeeper told me of his own akumu, which was disturbingly similar to my own, while I sipped a lukewarm glass of brown ale. Presently, the remainder of my companions arrived to make our appointed meeting with Boris Cotton.
合従連衡 (Gasshorengo; Alliance)
When Cotton arrived, he divulged the information that he knew about the structure of the Bowmen, and where certain of the captains’ loyalties are likely to lie. I pressed him about the nature of Vladimir Kroenen. Should we ally with him against the more unsavory forces within the Bowmen, Cotton insists that the Vilholman is a man of honor, and would keep to any agreement that we made. However, such an agreement certainly would not be made unless we are able to dramatically alter the power structure within the Bowen.
Cotton spoke of the primary leaders within the Bowmen who are loyal to Kroenen: Meiko Sama, Company Commander of the Falcon company; Marcus Crowley; Torkal Todd, also of Falcon company; and Talon Garvey, who belongs to Panther company. Further, there appear to be those within the higher ranks in the power structure who share mixed loyalties between the three primary leaders (Al’Bashir, Khan, andKroenen). He also told us that Aldric Hansen is the most likely of Khan’s men to have been given control of the platoons we defeated at Lochaid. He is serving under Meiko Sama, and will likely be headed North to regroup. I asked him how far their destination was from the Boil, and he said it was over a thousand leagues. I bemoaned that we could not travel that distance in a day, and Sorscha mumbled something about “fire mares,” which I did not understand.
During our conversation with Cotton, I broached the subject of him acting as an emissary to Kroenen’s supporters, should we reach the point where we have the footing to make a deal with the Vilholman. He grew incredibly uneasy at the mention of seeking out the Bowmen, due to the price on his head. I offered that we could disguise him and try to get him close to Kroenen so that they might speak in private. It was then that Cotton told me that the elite Dervish guards that we had seen around Kroenen belong to Al’Bashir; they are there to ensure that Kroenen is acting in accordance with Omar’s goals for the organization. In lieu of getting the man himself to aid in any possible talks with Kroenen’s loyalists, I asked Boris if he had any more of Vladimir’s personal symbols (like the one on his sword-belt). He said he did, but was hesitant to hand it over to me. I swore to use the symbol only to attempt to peaceably enter into agreements with Kroenen’s loyalists. He seemed satisfied, and handed me a cloak clasp bearing the stylized arrowhead of Kroenen.
My plan for the Bowmen is simple. If we can eliminate as many of Khan’s zealots as possible, we may be able to talk to those who are completely allied with Kroenen, and get them to start persuading those of mixed loyalty to the Vilholman into coming fully to his support. Though I have a bad history with “Black-eyed Sam,” I feel that she is the one who would be most likely to support such a campaign. Due to his actions against the people who he once called friends, his alliance with one so foul as Khan, and the fact that we may be able to catch him with less than a his full forces, I believe Aldric Hansen should be the first for us to eliminate.
We thanked Boris, and he made his exit. Conversation turned to a discussion of the Ironclad, and their plight within the Sink. Sir Seifer and Exilar exchanged some words, debating the merit of aiding the Ironclad at this moment. The paladin pointed out that we don’t know the intent of the Ironclad, and seemed to think it risky for us to try to form an alliance with them. The knight spoke to the character of those of the Ironclad he has met, and argued that whether or not they became allies, they were in need of assistance. The discussion ended with Exilar and Xar’eth departing for Temple Rise, and the rest of us heading back down into the Flith to locate Pete.
目覚める悪夢(Mezameru Akumu; Waking Nightmares)
The bog was dismal. Gnats and mosquitoes swarmed us such that we were constantly employed slapping and swiping at our bodies. This hindered my hearing, and heightened my unease at the sounds I heard coming out of the swamp around us. Sir Seifer slayed a stirge, and broke off its proboscis to wield like a short rapier. The bugs stopped bothering him, and the rest of us quickly followed suit. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, we reached what Pete deemed to be “dry land”, though we still had to wade through a fair bit of muck to get there. When the sun had descended to the point where it became difficult to see, we stopped for the night. Pete dug a hole in the ground for a bed, while the rest of us took turns keeping watch. Rest was fitful at best for those of us who could sleep, due to the persistent noises coming from the swamp. Splashes of water, cracking of tree branches, and vague shapes moving in the darkness haunted our waking and our dreaming, and we started out the next morning feeling fatigued.
As we drew near to the castle, we heard the sounds of battle coming from within the ruined courtyard. I scouted ahead of the party to watch for any signs of danger. Creeping up hill and around a corner, I narrowly missed a pit full of quicksand. I removed a spent torch from my pack and placed it face up in the pit in an attempt to warn my comrades of the danger, and continued on. Silently, I crept up to the wall of the courtyard and saw a mass of troglodytes assaulting some unknown party (presumably the Ironclad) that was hiding inside the castle entrance.
There was a large chieftain in the middle of the group, along with a trog bearing a staff; off to either side stood several more groups that were three-strong or more. They were throwing spears and exchanging bowfire with the unknown group inside the ruin. I stayed hidden behind the wall, drew my longbow, fired on one group of trogs attacking the ruin, and went invisible as they turned and charged toward my position. At that same moment, Sir Seifer rounded the corner and came to the courtyard entrance, screaming a challenge to the trogs in the ruin.
The battlefield erupted into a chaotic jumble of action. The trogs who were charging me stayed on their initial path, but were now headed for Seifer. As they approached, the swamp beside the knight began to roil, and a fountain of dark water erupted into the sky as a troll emerged and took a swing at him. Sir Seifer answered back with the blade he calls “Black Ice”, and its companion on his other hip, slashing a frozen cross-cut of deep gashes on the horrid thing’s chest. The troll let out an enraged bellow as the wound on its chest began to close. I strode back into some nearby cover and shot two arrows at it. The first hit home in his shoulder, with a loud CRACK-WHOOOM as sonic energy blew the wound apart, leaving the arm hanging by a flap of skin and muscle; the second took the thing just under the collarbone, and it dropped to the ground, dead. I went invisible, for fear that the sound of my bow had drawn attention to my position.
The next moment, my akumu came to life. A portal deep shadow erupted on the field of battle, beside the staff-bearing trog, who seemed to be in the throes of an incantation.
From the shadow grew a mass of tentacles, each ten feet long, with suction cups covered in barbed spikes. Inside the mass of shadow on the ground were many eyes, looking up and around the battlefield. Two tentacles shot out, and seized body of the trog shaman, barbed hooks piercing into his lizard-flesh. Then they wrenched downward, and the trog’s flesh was torn from its body like a banana peel. I looked into the sky and witnessed Nathaniel, who had apparently cast the spell, looking panicked, muttering something unintelligible and frantically waving his hands. The shadow-portal began to flicker and close, but as it snapped to several of the tentacles were severed, and remained writhing on the battlefield, wrapping around other hapless trogs, tearing their flesh with their barbs.
Over the course of the next thirty seconds or so, Seifer managed to slay the chieftain in single combat, and I and the rest of the group aided in bringing down any of the remaining trogs on the field. As I looked around to see if any more enemies remained, I spotted Sorscha moving toward the troll intently. At that moment, one of the severed tentacles (which apparently had fallen into the swamp) emerged from the water, and writhed down the dead troll’s throat, seeming to expand as it did, erupting out of the troll’s flesh in tendrils that wiggled around like a million tiny worms. The body was drawn into the swamp and disappeared.
Not wanting to wait around in the open for that abomination to emerge, we headed into the ruins to speak with the Ironclad. After some conversation, we found that the artifact they were searching for resided underwater in the ruins. One of their companions had ventured down to find it, only to emerge from the chamber as a mindless undead. I found the poor soul, and dispatched him swiftly. Feeling the burden of my fatigue, I moved back into the ruin and sat down on a stone column which had fallen onto the floor some time ago. My vision went dark, and I drifted into an uneasy sleep, filled with dreams of writhing tentacles and rending flesh, and a great shadow-beast which stalked us through the swamp.