Book One: Ordered by Gods
CHAPTER FOUR:

Blood in the Marsh
Cuthberta Mentefreeday, Mentesularday, Claireselunday & Clairedakarday

Thalazzar's Grumblings

Thalazzar spat some vile, dark curses in his native draconic as he plodded through the marsh, leading the heavily overburdened and increasingly stubborn Pelu. Nimbus' limp, drooling, rag-covered body was flung haphazardly over the beast as they trudged west along the river. More than once had the wizard contemplated the consequences of the beggar "accidentally" slipping off his irritated mount and disappearing unconscious into the marsh about them.

He swatted at an insect as they continued along. Arek and Tiberio just ahead, and the gnome just behind as her little legs attempted to keep pace. Their collective mood was as dark as the growing shadows of evening about them Pelu's hoof caught a root, drawing forth a stubborn grunt and a brief pull at the rope. Why, thought Thalazzar, would devils so easily heed his call and yet this cursed animal resisted him so. Perhaps the ass could be enchanted but then that magic would be spent should they encounter lizardfolk more aggressive than the lastů.or worse.

They had traveled all this way in the marsh to finally find these pillars only to be turned back by a luckless encounter with a bunch of wild, tribal lizard creatures. At least the mercenary Inigo had fought well, reckoned the wizard, hostile intentions or not. Frankie had exclaimed that the mercenary had caught and almost slain two of them before Domaldi could catch up in all his armour! Thalazzar was not sure what would happen to either him or Domaldi. Half of the companions had not even seen the lizards, Thalazzar among them, and understood only partly why their party had been split in half. It had been decided though, that Inigo's fate was his own but that Domaldi, as one who had shared the Dream of Horrors, was just as important as Tallim, the Red Rider, or the rest of his companions. If he did not return to where the Saltwater Barrows met the river by evening tomorrow, Thalazzar had suggested that the companions venture back into lizard lands in an attempt to rescue him. Domaldi would certainly have done the same for them he rationed.

The wizard stepped in a muddy hole, soaking his leg so high that mud oozed in over the top of his boot. He so preferred the comfortable slippers that matched his robe, but they were even less appropriate for bogging about then his fine boots. Another draconic curse, a wipe of mud, and he and Pelu trudged onwards.

Thalazzar and Arek struck up a conversation as they marched. Thalazzar had been quite impressed by the dwarf's display of holy power the evening prior in the Barrows. Moradin himself had little appeal to the conjuror, but such overt divine presence was a new experience for him. Thalazzar's prayers had always been uttered with a sense of fear that his god could well decide to eat him, but such was the way of things with the Khi'Ganad. Plus, it was the only god that Thalazzar had ever known and despite his wicked ways, he was convinced that his divine patron had gotten him out of a few spots. Arek was in a contemplative mood, having found these steel stone pillars so similar to the ones of the old legends. The rest of the evening's march involved some history on the wars of the dwarves and legends of old.

And so they sat. The companions had little other to do than sit and wait once they had made camp. While they were nervous of encountering more restless Barrow dwellers or vengeful ogres, they still had sufficient strength to repel most attackers. Thalazzar spent a grew deal of time pondering whether he could risk smoking some of his remaining Bluerush Root or whether he should try again to decipher the enchanted Yithic scrolls. He had been more scarred by that incident that by any of the enemy they had faced in the last few days! Well, that wasn't exactly true, as a certain goblin in Riot's Gate owed him for a still tender crossbow wound.

Tyconderoga was also growing irritating the more irritated she got. What Thalazzar loved about conjurations was that his beasts went away when he no longer required them. Why he was the one burdened by bird, ass and gnome was beyond him. The bird's nervous clutching at his shoulder risked damaging his new magic cloak - interestingly not plundered but brought forth from the Barrows by a skeletal gift bearer. If only more such arcane trinkets would arrive as gifts!

Thalazzar glared at the owl, perched across their campsite on a lazy tree dangling into the river. The bird was glaring back seemingly demanding that the whole group of them abandon Domaldi, march off into zealot-driven danger, and rescue her master liked a spoiled only child. Thalazzar did not understand how the average wizard could stand some pesky animal familiar clutching at him all day. He vowed that if he ever called a familiar, it would be something capable of taking care of itself when it had too!

The group passed the evening and the next day with little incident, gnawing at dried fish trail rations acquired in Goesse, swatting at insects and attempting to find dry sticks in the swamp to keep their fire going. Tiberio was always good for a rousing tune that drowned out the rambling gnome, but even a bard's fingers grow tired. Nimbus flitted in and out of conscious much as he always did. The gnome was all up about some sort of wooden perimeter defences and spent most of the day babbling and nailing damp twigs to what passed for the forest surrounding them.

As evening drew about them on the second day the party began to discuss how they would find and rescue Domaldi when both the knight and mercenary strolled into camp none the worse for the wear. The verdict: back the way they had come at dawn to the pillars and adventure beyond. As he rolled out his bedroll, Thalazzar picked a bit of dried fish out of his fine black beard and muttered in draconic;

"At least the knight will take his ass backů."

Next!
An account by Domaldi

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