Words are funny things. They have a way of coming back to haunt you. But there is a sequence to all things. No need to rush a bad ending.
Returning to Loudwater, Ferthen and I waited for the others to return. Zark was laying low, so we couldn’t deal with the issue directly. Fine. The longer I have to wait for justice, the more prejudice I am able to muster up for the delivery. And after the way he tried to turn Ferthen and I over to the bandits, let’s just say he has a lot of justice coming.
When Alon, Bodin and Verilesh came back they had no good news to report. The merchant hadn’t been what he appeared to be. Another skin job, working a mad plan to corrupt the wise with dark knowledge and an Illithid larvae shooter to the brain. In desperation, he popped a powerful artifact to send his trackers into a maze, losing them a weeks time or so. By the time they checked back into this reality, the cart had been burned, the body decomposing and a faint slug trail led down to the river. That’s one worm we’ll have to put back on the hook later.
Back together again, we decided to follow up on the lead we had in the swamp. The Corrupt Messenger was trying to gather up a load of hostages to sell to something in the swamp. Maybe not the strongest lead, but we had a pretty good set of directions to follow. Not knowing what to expect is pretty common in our line of work, so we decided to use our favorite strategy—go to where the bad things are and kill them.
Arriving at the rendez-vous point, we found an encampment of lizard folk. And with our usual stealthy approach, they found us, too. While Fighting across the river, Alon, Bodin and Verilesh rushed the bridge while Ferthen and I provided fire suppression. Despite the advantageous position held by the Lizard Folk, we prevailed.
A precursory search revealed a rough map and indications that the Lizard Folk were just acting as middle-men. So, using the rough map, we made our way deeper into the swamp, seeking the source of evil. Despite the rigors of travel in the swamp, we managed to make good time in heading to the destination, stopping only to deal with a clever ambush set by a pod of Giant Toads.
Finally making our way out of the weeping waste, we found the ground at our destination had been corrupted. A strange green resin (a sign of the presence of Kaorte) had killed the plants in the area and no insects were to be found in the area. A single cave entrance in the monolith before us, suggested a simple course of action. Which was a good thing, since our normally tepid group intelligence had been cooled by our long trip through the swamp.
Ferthen and I moved stealthily around to the cave entrance while the others stood back. Or at least, that was as close to a plan as we had. As Ferthen and I drew near, a familiar presence emerged from the green resin near the cave entrance. It was xxx. The last time I’d seen him, he’d invested heavily in agrarian real estate. On the streets of Luskan, he was as close as I had to a friend. In fact, when we teamed up to do jobs, I rarely cheated him out of his share.
Only he’d grown older and greener than I remembered him. Always a fan of talking with pretty words, he called out to my comrades asking where I was. Then he called down the ambush we were expecting. Several elven warriors stepped out of hiding, their green sheens giving away the taint that controlled them. A large Drake bore down upon my comrades. The fight was joined. And had left xxx for dead back in Luskan. And he was here, now, calling for me to join him.
The battle progressed in earnest, my companions hard pressed and held down by the ambushers. And I had to choose between an old promise and a sacred vow. Xxx was still in there. He had xxx’s memories. He remembered me. But it wasn’t just him. Like the skin job Sage in Zelbross, he was just a meatsuit for some foul creature from beyond. Affection vs duty? Tough choice. But giving up my mind to be consumed by Amber monstrosities from the far realms vs a chance to set free an old friend? Easy choice.
So I joined the battle. Between the sarcasm and talk of betrayal, there was a strange pleading around the edges of his eyes. You couldn’t see it if you looked right at him, but I couldn’t look right at him anyway. Xxx. This was nobodies fault. OK, this was half my fault. Maybe all my fault.
But in the end, I said goodbye to him properly, cleaving his head from his shoulders. And as my blade came around for the final stroke, his eyes, cleared for a moment and I saw a moment of gratitude. Yeah, might as well drive a stake through what remains of my heart. But it was finished. And my prophecy had come true. I had to cut the far realms infested head off of my best friend. Hey, it’s a living.
Now it was a simple matter of breaking in to the cave and destroying whatever was at the heart of this. Something I’d enjoy killing. But I just couldn’t get my heart into it. I stood back with Ferthen providing fire support while the others dealt up close and personal with the teleporting, minion spawning Amber freak in the center of the room. And trudging back through the swamp to Loudwater.