Friday, June 26, 2009

The First Step South

From Aronin's Journal

Spent the morning walking past shit farmers and corn. As I walked, the grimy hovels became more frequent, and I had the funny feeling that I was approaching some manner of shit spawning pool, a central reservoir from which the country drew its filth. And sure enough, before long I had arrived. It was a fort, with wooden spiked walls. Given the direction of the spikes, I was almost tempted to think that there was something within that was worth protecting. But then I saw the sleeping guards and realized that, no, the walls were a remnant of another time. This town was every bit as worthless as I expected. The buildings threatened to collapse of their own accord, and the only well-kept place in the town was the goddamn guard house. Which was nearly empty.

I seriously considered leaving. I really did. Even possible hanging at the hands of the guard was preferable to this. At least in the city, my surroundings wouldn't be so soul-crushingly boring. But, against my better judgment, I instead stepped into the inn, woke the bartender and demanded a room. From our conversation, I learned two things: 1) the town is every bit as boring and hopeless as it looks--the most interesting recent event was the disappearance of a local frog catcher, and 2) oddly, people ("suicides" he called them) tend to show up at the tavern in groups of 4 before going off into the woods to kill things. I was, I admit, extremely skeptical of this second fact, but within the hour, I had been joined at the bar by 3 others. A dwarf, a man, and a lunatic. The dwarf bothered me at first, but after a few hours with the other two, he was almost welcome company. The human was mercifully quiet, but whenever he spoke, I wanted to stab him until he cheered up. Or died. Either way. And then, of course, there was the massive dragonborne who believed himself to be a tree. He tried to eat absorb his gruel through his "roots" (fingers), and stymied, went on to opine about his relationship with the wilds. Barmy as a fucking loon.

Less than an hour with them and I was suddenly seized by a powerful urge to murder something. And true to the idiot bartender's words, I found myself accompanied by the rest of the bar patrons. A group of 4. I can't chaulk it up to coincidence. Hrm. More investigation required.

We decided to find the hovel of the frog catcher (see? look how bored I was. Tragic.), and set off into the swamp. Before long, we saw a large rock rising out of the marshes. At its front was a cave entrance. I snuck around the back of the rock, quickly dealt with a lizard man I found there, and then signaled the rest of the party closer. It appeared that the dead lizardman had been a lookout for some others that were entering the cave. It was then that I heard the struggle inside the cave. It sounded like an enraged giant bird attacking something. Something that could scream. I suddenly remembered something I'd heard at the edge of town--the swamp had cockatrices in it. At that moment, two enormous birds came storming out of the cave, chasing a watermelon-sized egg that rolled into the marsh. My companion hid it before we entered melee with the beasts. They were fast as hell, and with every bite from their massive beaks, I could feel my legs becoming heavier. I couldn't seem to land a blow on the things, but the dragonborne and the dwarf eventually managed to put it down. While we attempted to hit the things with weapons (good plan), the human chanted, waved around a piece of wood, and lowered the air temperature a few degrees (bad plan). Also, he summoned a great, glowing badger. The stupid rodent drunkenly stumbled around the battlefield, ignoring the enemies. What the hell is the point of summoning a creature that doesn't actually help you? Moral support?

Eventually, the cockatrices were dead. No one in the party was dead (to my dismay), and we were left to investigate the nest. It was (unsurprisingly) surrounded by stone statues of lizardmen. Which left me to wonder: what sort of ecology could the cockatrice possibly have? Did it eat rocks? Probably not, given that it has a beak rather than crushing or grinding molars. But presumably, everything it bit turned to stone. So, um, how did it eat? My lunatic dragonborne friend (who claimed to know something about nature) had no answers for me, as all his attention was centered on the eggs in the center of the room. The dwarf and I were in immediate agreement. We'd sell them as exotic curios. Some batshit mage would pay hundreds for one, and we had several. The tree, on the other hand, thought that we should give them to a good home. We reached an accord (I think) when we said we'd sell it to a good home. Then, it was down to business. I boiled up a poultice of the cockatrice feathers and unfroze a halfling statue that we found within the cave. We helped him outside, and then sent him on his way. The dwarf and I had been talking, and came to the conclusion that the cockatrice must have a specific poison sac somewhere in its body. Unlike medusas and basilisks, the cockatrice had to bite you to turn you to stone. So it was simple--all we had to do was dissect the cockatrices until we found what we were looking for.

Of course, there was no way to tell which organ was which without testing. So, first and foremost, we sent the tree off by himself to unfreeze a lizardman outside the cave. From the distant screams (which sounded suspiciously like a lizardman being sexually assaulted), I assumed that he was keeping busy. Inside the cave, the dwarf and I systematically unfroze the lizardmen with the poultice and then stabbed them with a dagger coated in the juices of a given organ. After many screams, slit throats, and trial and error, we finally found the poison pouch, and saved it for later. A few lies to the lunatic and we were on our way again.

We were accosted by some large toad-things as we progressed further into the swamp. We handily dispatched them, and despite taking an unfortunate javelin blow to my gut, the fight was pretty easy.

We finally came to a small cottage. From the candied frogs lying around, I had to assume it belonged to frog catcher we were looking for. Lying on the floor of the cottage was a woman and a child, both dead. Their throats had been slit. After some discussion, it was decided that it didn't matter what had happened. Either the frog catcher's family killed themselves to escape poverty, they were killed by wild beasts, or they were killed by the frog catcher himself. In each case, the only outcome we could imagine was that the frog catcher had run off into the swamp crazy as hell. So short of systematically sweeping the swamp, we weren't likely to find him. So, we trudged back to town. I would like to say that it looked welcoming after the swamp, but it didn't.

I'm going to have this shithole demolished someday.


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