RE: Swamped
Oh dang. Better hold back and see what they're up to, and be ready to bolt.

Wait, is that Mantis over there?
RE: Swamped
You're a pretty capable fighter, but this isn't a situation where fighting seems like the best idea. Not until you work out what the opponent can actually do - maybe this is just some kind of elaborate bluff and they can't really move like a fenguin.

So you start by keeping your distance, and letting the opponent make the first move.

At least, that was your plan. But it seems neither of you noticed Mantis meditating in a corner of the room.

And he seems strangely upset. You don't see him upset very often. He stands up, steps right in front of the fenguinoid creature, and glares it right in the mask.

"Release that aura," he says. "This is your only warning."

The masked creature looks back at him.

"Sleep," it says, and the flames on its mask glow a bit stronger.

Mantis promptly falls to the ground. Is this why you were having trouble getting anyone's attention?

Then it turns its gaze on you. But the mask doesn't seem to be doing anything this time. Maybe it only works on humans?

Whatever's going on, you should probably make a move now.
RE: Swamped
Throw something at its eyes, whatever might be laying around a menagerie.
RE: Swamped
Your first thought is to go after the mask. You can't say for sure that breaking it would reverse the transformation, but at the least it'll cut down on whatever other problems this intruder can cause.

Besides - if nothing else, a good blow there might blind them for a while.

So you grab a nearby bucket and give it a good heave right at the mask. You don't have time to check if the bucket's for feed or for cleaning.

Whichever it is, the fenguin is unperturbed. The flames grow brighter and the bucket is consumed in a flash of green.

Now that just isn't fair. Not to mention, now you'll have to get a new bucket somehow. Not exactly easy out in the middle of the swamp.

What's odd is there's no burning smell. Guess the flames aren't real fire, which is probably just as well with all the swamp gas around.

Why didn't they burn Mantis, though? Or, for that matter, you?

You hope they don't think of that latter idea, though with the fierce gaze they've got fixated on you, they sure as heck seem to be trying to do something.

On the one hand, you probably don't want to stick around long enough for them to get it to work. On the other hand, you can't exactly let some loser march into your base, attack one of your soldiers, and ruin a perfectly good bucket. On top of whatever else they've been up to - you still don't know what the deal was with those lights with the same glow earlier, but you get the feeling it wasn't anything good.

So how in the hells do you handle this thing?
RE: Swamped
Doesn't mantis carry around some kind of fragrant mineral? Something to clear the mind? Might be worth seeing if your fenguin has the sense of smell of one.
RE: Swamped
Dodge in circles around the intruder, humming the Ballad of the Lone Survivor, while you try to think of something to do.
RE: Swamped
You do have one idea. It's a bit desperate, but when faced with a giant fenguin with a magical mask, desperation is appropriate.

Back when Ringer and Quill found the lights, they said they reacted to the piano. They even showed you.

So maybe if you get some music going...

Well. You only know one song all that well. You think Fallet would consider this a respectable use of it, though.

"Our numbers were six hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

The flames are definitely reacting. You don't know what it means, but the mask's wearer doesn't seem happy about it.

Unfortunately, they have rather large claws to be unhappy with, so you're still got some work to do. Still, you're more agile than their current bulky form. You leap back as they swipe, and start circling to the other side. They turn slowly, which gives you a little time to think.

"And though we chased them from their camp,
One of the cowards overturned a lamp.
It lit a pool of oil and burned for days and days,
And one hundred troops died to that fateful blaze."

You're right by Mantis. Maybe he has something useful on him. You don't have time to think, so you just grab for his pouch and back off.

Unfortunately, the fenguin's just a little faster than you expected. It slashes at you again, and knocks you right back into the wall.

This damned pouch better have something good in it.

"Our numbers were five hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

Let's see. A couple of prayer-books, naturally. A few wood-carvings in progress that look a little like some of the gods. And... a rock?

The fenguin's getting close, so you fling a prayer book at it and continue singing as you circle around again. Unfortunately, you're in such a rush that you drop the pouch. If there's anything else useful in there, you'll have trouble getting at it.

"But as we sailed across the river,
The rains came down and made us shiver.
The water rose, ships crashed, and soldiers drowned.
One hundred souls lost, and never found."

Hang on, this rock is a scentstone. Right, now you remember - Mantis wanted to burn incense, but it was too dangerous around the swamp gas. So he bargained for a special stone that you could apply the fragrance to. Just rub it against something hard and it releases a smell.

A real strong smell, as you recall. Stronger than the swamp gas. You once got a whiff of that stuff without your breather mask on, and it was even worse without the filter.

Well. This intruder's mask doesn't have a filter, does it?

"Our numbers were four hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

You quickly leap back as the fenguin makes another punch. All this thinking is distracting you too much. But hey, at least you've got some kind of plan now, so you shouldn't need to think too much more.

Except... well, this dang stone needs to be rubbed against something. And that takes time. So what's a good enough surface, and how are you going to distract this thing long enough to do it?
RE: Swamped
Dang this is a kick-ass update!

Release the Squib! Or another oddly named swamp creature!
RE: Swamped
"And as we neared the fortress walls
They greeted us with cannonballs.
We swerved and dodged as best we could,
But a hundred of us got struck down good."

Well, now that you think about it. You've got a whole room full of potential distractions. There's lots of animals here, and if you could turn one against this sucker, that would make things way easier for you.

Too bad you don't know much about animals, though. You've got no idea which creatures here could give that thing a good fight. Maybe the original fenguin, but Rider never worked his charms on that sucker. And it's not looking to be in great shape right now, anyways. Maybe because of whatever magic the intruder used to take its form.

Well, you're not completely clueless. You've spent time out in the swamp, after all. So you know some of the more important ones to avoid tangling with. Can't go wrong with crocs, right?

"Our numbers were three hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

Hang on a second. Is that bird singing along with you?

Oh, yeah. That's the one that was making all the racket a few days ago, wasn't it. You think it's called a longbird. You remember it put up a real fuss when you tried to feed it, but was strangely calm the next time. Probably Rider's work.

Well. With the beak on that thing, you suspect it can put up a heck of a fight. You open up its cage, quickly, just as the fenguin-man rushes at you again.

It's greeted by a very large and angry beak.

Now you just have to find a good place to rub the scentstone while those two go at it. Wood doesn't work very well for this, you're pretty sure - even sturdy wood just doesn't hold up well against stone. Neither do the metal bars on the cages, that'd more likely just damage the scenstone.

That big, thick beak might actually work, but its owner would probably object and you're not about to get on its bad side. Especially seeing how badly it's pecking the intruder. The fenguin-thing is getting some good blows in too, though, so you definitely want to try to wrap this up quick. It'd be real good if the scentstone dazed the bird too, for that matter, since you can't see how else you're getting it back in its cage.

So. What can you use?
RE: Swamped
Probably the muck rake.
RE: Swamped
(Hopefully Mantis doesn't mind getting a little muck on his scentstone.)
RE: Swamped
"At last, we made our way past the iron doors,
But they'd laid traps upon the floors.
Between pits and arrows and bursts of flame,
One hundred lives the traps would claim."

You catch sight of the cleaning tools in a nearby corner. And that's when you spot it - the muck rake.

It's not really better than anything else in reach to hit the scentstone against. But there's rocks in some of the enclosures. And the muckrake would let you get one out without having to directly contend with whatever's using it.

So you opt to go for the muckdiver pen. They may make a big fuss, but they're not really going to attack.

Of course, the rock you pull over to the edge is covered in muck. Well, hopefully Mantis can clean it off.

"Our numbers were two hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

A heavy scent starts filling the air. Thank goodness for your mask filter.

And indeed, the fenguin-thing seems to have an adverse reaction. It's coughing like crazy. The longbird seems disoriented, too.

But those aren't the only animals present, are they. Now you've got a ruckus on your hands.

First things first. You've got to deal with the intruder. That coughing probably won't stop them forever. So you get around behind them and try to pull off the mask...

...which isn't budging in the slightest. Figures. This kind of nonsense is exactly why you hate dealing with magic.

And now they're flailing behind them, no doubt trying to catch you.

Now what?
RE: Swamped
Well we have two more verses before this fight is over.

Funny how the fire around the mask doesn't feel hot. Not even when you touch it.

Maybe this magic is similar to actual ether and it's actually vaporizing off the wizard.

The Fenguin was a pretty large creature, and the mask started to burn brighter after they took that form, maybe you just have to wait it out.

Though you recall stories Silver shared about the marsh fortress. (Of course he wasn't there) Wizards hated the fortress. They would sometimes push marshguards back to the fortress, but they could never take it. Something about the purple wood...

Wood which is largely absent from this room, Rider said too much upset the animals...even so, you know better than anyone there's always more under your feet.
RE: Swamped
"And as we reached the top of the tower's stairs,
We were greeted by fifty angry glares.
Their elite soldiers gave us a fearsome fight,
And one hundred more perished on that night."

You can't help but notice, even as you're pulling, that the flames aren't giving off any heat. Curious, you actually touch one.

Not a hint of pain or heat. You feel vaguely unsettled, though, and pull your hand away nonetheless. Then you're forced to leap off as a flailing claw comes near.

"Our numbers were one hundred strong,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

Maybe the flames are some kind of ether storage? The magic's gotta come from somewhere, after all.

Now, you've never really had firsthand experience with magic before. But back when Silver was your squad leader, he liked to tell stories. Some of them were even true.

And you remember he talked about the time, something like eighty years ago, when the Bogknights had a wizard. That is, one who did real magic, not trickery like Long.

The story was, she was a terror. Commanded the waters of the swamp and turned them against the Marshguards. Everyone was eventually forced to take shelter in the fortress itself.

But... something funny happened once she stepped inside. She placed her staff on the floor, prepared to cast, then suddenly clutched her head and shrieked in pain. Her squad had to carry her back, and it was a good month before she was seen outside the Bogknight base again.

"At long last, we claimed the Iron Keep.
Exhausted, we made our plans to sleep.
But it turned out to be too soon to rest;
we would be faced with one last test."

Silver's theory was that it was the purple wood all over the place. When her staff touched the wood on the floor, something happened. You've never really understood what the deal with the purple wood is, so you suppose it seems as good a theory as any.

There isn't much in this room, though. You remember Rider putting up new walls and floors of regular wood, because too much of the purple stuff seemed to bother the animals.

But... well, under the floorboards, that's another matter.

"As the Keep began to fall apart,
Those who were left started to lose heart.
What had we been fighting for?
Was there any chance any more?"

You slip under, and find a loose patch of wood amidst all the water. It's not very important, structurally, so you grab it.

By the time you get back up, the fenguin-thing has gained the upper hand on the longbird. Neither of them seems to be doing too great against the scentstone, though.

Well. You hope this works. You fling the wood right at the mask, singing the finale.

"But Fallet refused to lose hope,
And he pulled out a length of rope.
He threw it out on the Keep's wall,
And scrambled down, only to fall.

But though it had meant Fallet's end,
Ninety-nine soldiers vowed to honor their friend.
They all rushed to the rope with a burst of speed,
But only one lived through the deed."

The wood strikes the flames and, oddly enough, burns.

"Now only one can sing the song,
They told us nothing could go wrong..."

A purple mist fills the air, and the fenguin collapses, and then slowly turns back into a human. At the same time, Mantis wakes up.

Well. Once the intruder recovers, you've got quite a few questions to ask.


You're now Yvonne, and you've arrived at your meeting place. Someone's shown up, but they've covered themselves from head to toe in the most unremarkable cloak you've ever seen.

And you've got quite a few questions to ask.
RE: Swamped
Who is responsible for the portals? ...And what is that horrible smell?
RE: Swamped
"Who's responsible for the gateways?"

The figure shrugs.

"We know little about them ourselves. Probably no more than you. They seem to be led by a powerful wizard, who speaks a language we have no knowledge of. But in addition to their magic, they also have access to machinery more advanced than anything we have seen. We are also not sure the wizard is truly their leader - he may simply be more visible than whoever is giving him orders."

"Do you know what they want?"

There's a pause.

"We believe they may be after something that is under our protection. I cannot tell you more than that."

"Not even if it's in these mountains? We know something's been going on here."

Silence. You suppose it's not worth pressing the point. But something's been bothering you since you arrived.

"And what's that smell?"

"That would be my scorching flesh. The wizard's spell left quite the mark," they say. "Thank you for the warning, by the way. It would have gone much worse if we had been unprepared."

"Um. How did that go, then?"

"One badly wounded, but alive. In part because the other two of us blocked as much of the spell as we could. Once our wizard was incapacitated, they were satisfied. Though I don't think they realized what we did yet, or we might not have gotten by so easily."

"I don't suppose you could tell us what you did, then."

They don't speak for a while. Just when you're about to give up and move to another question, though, they say something.
RE: Swamped
We sent in an operative...to follow up with one we've sent previously.
RE: Swamped
"We've been sending people after them, to check what they've done and fix it if possible. In this particular case, we were sending someone to check in on a previous investigation that we hadn't heard back from. We received an update from them just before the wizard arrived, and they confirmed that they found our missing investigator. We also had time to make arrangements to bring them back later. So whatever they found, we're going to know about it. If the wizard was trying to stop that, he failed."

"You said a lot there, but you're leaving out quite a few details," you say. "Such as where they went."

"I don't see how that matters to you."

"Well. It would be nice to know just what these scouts of yours have found out about the wizard and his allies' activities. Considering we may have run afoul of them ourselves, I'm not content to just sit back and wait for an unknown faction to stop them."

"We doubt they have any particular interest in your group."

"Then would you care to explain why they snuck into our camp, kidnapped one of our members, and wounded another if they don't have a particular interest?"


"Let's make this a bit simpler," you say, annoyed. "I can definitely tell you that these gateways seem rather closely connected to the swamp. So why don't you tell me what you've figured out about what they're doing there?"

"We believe they are after something hidden in the depths of the Marsh Fortress. We have theories as to what it is, but no way to confirm and they relate to what we believe they want here."

"So you won't be sharing those. Fine. But what have they actually been doing, aside from dropping desert creatures all over the place?"
RE: Swamped
We think they may have found a source of darkwood in the swamp, whether natural or artificially/magically synthesized from peat, swamp gas, and other elements. The darkwood seems to be critical for powering their machines.
RE: Swamped
"As far as we can tell, outside of what appear to be primarily scouting missions on both the Marshguards and Bogknights, most of their activities relate to gathering a large supply of darkwood. We're not sure if it naturally occurs in the swamp or if they've found a way to manufacture it there, but they seem to be stockpiling it."

Darkwood? Really?


"We suspect that it's to power their machines. But that's only a guess. We've got no particular insight into their plans, we only see the results of their actions."

"No particular insight, other than having an idea of what their target is."

The figure shrugs.

"It hasn't helped as much as you might think. All I can tell you is that our people are sworn to protect it. I don't even know precisely what it is, myself."

You're getting annoyed here. Maybe it's time to switch focus.

"Look. I get that you don't trust me, or your leaders don't want to deal with me, or whatever. But these people have attacked our camp, and they're clearly causing you a lot of trouble. So it makes sense to work together and further our chances."

"It makes sense to you", the figure snaps. "You're pretty clearly in over your heads. But what benefit would an alliance be to us? What do you have to offer that we cannot provide for ourselves?"
RE: Swamped
RE: Swamped
Maybe the leadership of the Marshguards
RE: Swamped
"Two things. First, our camp is full of scientific experts, who can take a closer look at that technology. Just as one example, we wouldn't have to just guess if they're using darkwood as a power source - we could work that out for sure. Second, if this group is after something in the Marsh Fortress, it seems to me it would be worth making contact with the Marshguards about them, wouldn't it? Tell them what they need to know to better fight it off themselves. If nothing else, that means there's less work for you do to over in the swamp. Or are you poking around there for other reasons?"

"Our leadership wants us to remain discreet," the figure says.

"Well. Too late for that. We've got contact with the Marshguards, thanks to some accidents with these gateways. And now we know you've been poking around in their swamp, without their permission. I'm sure they'll be very eager to hear about why you haven't informed them."

The figure sighs deeply.

"Because we have reason to believe there are spies among their number. And not merely among the lower ranks. I can believe you have nothing to do with this group, as you warned us of the wizard's arrival. But the Marshguards - we do not feel we could issue a warning without alerting our enemies. In fact, were I in your position, I would be very careful what I share with my contacts among them. For that matter, I cannot be sure that your camp has not been infiltrated; I am taking a great risk telling you even this much."

Hmm. They are telling you quite a bit, aren't they. Enough that it makes you wonder how much they agree with their leadership on the risks of looking for cooperation.

After all, if they hadn't answered a question you weren't really expecting them to answer, you wouldn't have gotten to this point. So maybe it's worth pressing your luck a bit with your questions.
RE: Swamped
What kind of magic causes these gateways to appear?
How many wizards are we talking about here?
What should we call you?

Oh...what do you know about the Maiden's Veil?
RE: Swamped
There's a point that's struck you as odd ever since you made contact.

"You seem to know something about how to make the gateways. Considering you've been using them, too."

"Not exactly," the figure says. "For the most part, we are only able to reopen gateways that have closed recently. Beyond that... our wizard has some ideas on how to change the destination of a gateway, but we've had few opportunities to test."

"Well, what do you know about them? In terms of how the magic works."

There's a pause.

"Honestly? We don't really understand it. When they're active, they produce lots of ether... but there's no noticeable buildup of ether before they activate, or after they close. Nothing else we know of works like that. We're only able to reactivate them by..."

They stop suddenly. This must be a big secret. But then, it's one you have a guess at.

"You use time magic," you say. "Move time for the gateway backwards to when it was active."

"Believe what you want."

You didn't expect it to be that easy. After all, you've been out here for years struggling to find scraps of evidence that time magic really existed. If these people have been using it, they wouldn't want to just tell you that. They've been keeping themselves hidden for a reason, after all.

So you leave that for the moment, and move on.

"There seems to be more than one wizard in their group. Any idea how many?"

"We believe we've seen six others, aside from the most powerful one. They usually don't send more than one of the weaker wizards out on a task, though. Our best guess is that they're doing a lot of magic in a lot of places at once, so they have to spread their wizards thin."

Seven wizards? In an age where wizards have all but disappeared? That's worrisome.

"Well. Thank you. I suppose that's all I have to ask for now... Do you have a name you'd like me to call you by?"

"Our leaders would probably prefer we not contact you again."

"Tough. Come back here tomorrow night, same time. Or send someone else if you can't make it yourself. We have a common enemy and if we don't at least stay in contact, we'll get in each others' way. So. Do you have a name?"

There's a pause.

"They gave me the name Ela. It means 'desert winds'. I suppose there's no harm in letting you know that. I wish you well, Director."

Unsettling that they know your title. But perhaps unsurprising, given that they've been hiding from you up to now.

"Good luck to you to, Ela. I'll see you tomorrow night."

But just as you're about to leave, you think of another question.

"Just out of curiosity. Do you have any idea what's happening with the Maiden's Veil?"

"The stars? We have noticed."

"I didn't ask if you'd noticed. I asked if you had any idea why."

Ela shrugs.

"The gods may know, but we do not," they say. "Farewell, Director."

Well. That seems to be it for that conversation.

What now?