From the Journal of Zivilyn, Windling Magician: Scout's Honour
On the return trip from an expedition to investigate some ruins that I thought might hold useful information to protect against the scourge (which was not the information that I had hoped for, although it was not entirely unprofitable either), I was surprised to encounter Azurea, LaShana, and Moe, who were returning from their own expeditions around Death's Sea (or perhaps Travar, I got a little distracted and they didn't seem terribly forthcoming at first, and later I think we all had other things on our mind). Norg was also surprisingly on the ship, apparently he has taken to encouraging airship captains to pressure Throal to issuing letters of marque against known threats. It would certainly help when we're ready to attack the flying fortress if we can bring a small fleet of airships as support.
Of course, go figure, with a collection of heroes, someone found a job for us. Someone had hired the Hamsa Vimana to pick up a pair of Scouts who were mapping the Mist Swamp. Unfortunately, they were late for their rendezvous, and Captain Supriya asked the five of us to investigate since we were there already (personally, I cannot help wondering if this was as coincidental as it seemed, now that I look back on it).
Now, the Mist Swamp is certainly a unique environment in all of Barsaive. It is also a very oppressive environment. The air feels so thick that it's like someone is tightening a belt around your lungs. The heat and humidity mean that lying on the round feels like you've just run a mile (on Windling legs), and slogging through a swamp certainly doesn't help. Clothing quickly starts to feel restrictive and scratchy from all the sweat, which does absolutely nothing to cool you off, and the air is swarming with pestering insects. And it is positively miserable for Windling wings. And if there is a dangerous creature in Barsaive, it probably lives there. In short, I do not recommend going there if you can avoid it. It was full of life (my Lifesight was nearly overwhelmed on occasion) and there were no signs of corruption, but still, I think only a creature that has adapted to live there could be happy.
Thankfully, between my protective magics and Moe's Flying Carpets, the experience was made... well, bearable would be too generous. It was made less miserable. We made our landing in the clearing the missing Scouts were supposed to meet at, and saw signs of a fight; some Namegivers (which we believed were the scouts), and some large beasts of indeterminate nature. I had brought Howler along, as I frequently do, and he was a great aid during this adventure; he did a splendid job of tracking the Scouts (who I should mention were Named Bhumani and Arak, a Troll and an Ork, respectively). Unfortunately, through the pervasive steam clouds we did not notice that were walking right into the midst of an area infested by leeches.
No, not the little kind. They were not merely big either. They were the kind that are the size of a building, and we're not talking a one-room shanty here or a Windling house, we're talking about a family dwelling with a few bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, and a dining area. At first there was only one that was awoken when we stepped on it unawares, but a couple more were alerted by its death throes. They were slimy, with mouths made of the stuff of nightmares, and I wish to speak no more of them. Even Howler was not excited at the prospect of eating them, although he enjoyed chewing on the bones of their previous victims while we took some time to recover. I collected a few bones for use with my Beastform spell as well. The less I speak of the experience of digging through their stomach, the better though.
After a brief rest, we continued tracking the Scouts, who presumably had the good sense to not step on the giant leeches. Almost as we were preparing to bunk down for the night (which was not any less oppressive than the day, but was much darker), we noted that the tracks we were following were briefly joined by those of another Namegiver (who appeared to be following rather than walking alongside them) and then left. Strange to think that other Namegivers would be there also. In the morning, we picked up the trail again and could tell that we were gaining, but when we found the site where the Scouts had camped we found signs of another battle, this time against a group of Namegivers. Evidently, the person following them had not been friendly, and had taken them captive.
Well, we didn't slog through the swamp to turn back. Howler continued to track them expertly (I think it helps a great deal that I can now talk to him and help him stay focused) and it seemed we were gaining on them when we came across a pair of what we understood to be petrified Namegivers (an Ork and a Dwarf, I believe) that were beyond our ability to help. We would later find that these were slaves of the group we were chasing, and that they had been petrified by some odd snake woman. I have never heard of anything of its like, but it seems that it is possible to recover from it if you are not fully petrified.
Shortly after, Azurea indicated that the group we were following had sent someone back to get a good look at us, and challenged them to show themselves as we prepared for battle; I invited the spirits to bless our little War Party, and readied my Wood Skin, and we went back to tracking our prey. We talked for a while, and the short version: they considered themselves to be Theran, they intended to "interrogate" the Scouts for 3 days (they were willing to negotiate down to 2, but they also planned to leave us behind for those two days, which sounded beyond fishy), and after it became clear that we could not reach an agreement they decided to fight it out. It went rather poorly for them; they were a skilled scouting party (a Warrior, an Elementalist, 2 Scouts I think, a Master of the Hunt, and an Archer), but we had the time to prepare and we had used it. They knew we had a Magician, which they believed to be an illusionist. Little did they know that we had access to every variety of Magician short of Dragon magic. Their attacks struggled to land, their spells fizzled, and our attacks struck true. Azurea, LaShana, and Norg cut them down with devastating blows, Moe mocked them until they could barely even think, and my protective magics and healing kept us in the fight to the end.
We probably should have tried harder to capture them for information, but they had slaves with them and I think our fighters were seeing red. In the end, we only captured their Master of the Hunt (Nassara), the rest had broken or severed spines. Her twilight panther escaped as well, but obviously we were never going to get much information from a panther. I did manage to collect some bits of fur that got caught in a bush, so I'll definitely be learning about that form later.
Still, we got some useful information. We don't know where their kaer was, but they were a group known as the Veil, Theran loyalists who were exploring the province to prepare it for the return of the Therans Empire to reclaim what they believe is their land. I can't say that I'm looking forward to that; ultimately, from everything I can tell the Therans basically "conquered" the province by threatening to let everyone die to the Scourge if they didn't pay exorbitant fees for the knowledge they would need to survive, and then enslaving many thousands of free folk to line their own pockets. I suppose their inevitable return is just yet another problem that has to wait.
In any event, if we were manipulated into being in the right place at the right time for the purpose of gaining information, I suspect next time different people may be chosen. This group was not inclined to show a great deal of mercy to slaveholders.