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Smitty picks up the dropped pistol. He turns to the prisoner and asks him, "Where are the others? How many?"
The shaken bandit says, "There are two, up robbing the other passengers." Then he adds, "You said you would let me go..."
Reflex: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (15) + 5 = 20
The hag simply laughs at your attacks as she continues to claw at Caladrel
1d20 + 8 ⇒ (19) + 8 = 27
Wow, this is pretty brutal. You guys should probably figure out what you are going to do about her.
At Leandro's question, the witch-doctor says, "De spirits speak as dey will. Nothing so specific."
Now that the sun has set, darkness has settled over the swamp like a stifling blanket. You pick your way carefully in the direction of the sound of the revelry. As you near, you can see through the trees the faint glow of the bonfire. The drumming is ecstatic and the yells of the folk are wild and savage.
The bonfire reaches up some ten feet, and smaller fires surround it. A collection of natives beat hand drums while others dance wildly around the bonfire. Around the smaller fires, some leap over the flames, oblivious to the searing heat. In all, the natives seem to have worked themselves into a frenzy, and scarcely notice your arrival.
Save: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (10) + 5 = 15
AoO: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (10) + 8 = 18
Jerry trips the hag as she slices at his flesh with her foul claws. She falls to the floor ungracefully as the flaming sphere sears her flesh. She reacts in anger to Jerry's question. "You will be mine!" She shrieks. "You will serve me or die. You will not undo what I have created here."
She stands up and claws at Jerry again.
1d20 + 8 ⇒ (11) + 8 = 19
Jerry Make an AoO as she stands up. Roll 2 fort saves.
Chickenbone regards Res closely at his question. "It's not easy ta say. It's the spirits. The spirits tell me you got da evil with you. But you also got da good. Beware da evil." He grows quiet and pensive. Then he smiles at Andrzej's question. "They dancin' away the spirits. Ye can go see it if ye want."
The glaive makes a vicious wound in the bandit's flank. She gasps as she begins to bleed heavily.
Smitty takes aim with Bessie at the wounded bandit. "Yer messin' with the wrong dwarf!"
1d20 + 9 ⇒ (12) + 9 = 21
The bullet strikes her in the throat. She sputters and collapses to the ground. The other bandit drops his pistol on the floor and spreads his hands wide, his eyes constantly returning to Sylvia's blade.
We didn't roll initiative, but I will treat the situation as if the bandits were delaying, since Trina has declared a full round of attacks.
The red-haired woman is fast on her feet, and avoids the sweep of Trina's glaive. Outraged, she raises her weapon and fires.
Touch attack: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (19) + 3 = 22
The bullet pierces Trina's shoulder and bloodies her traveling clothes. The woman drops her pistol and draws a short sword, crouching and ready to meet Trina's attack.
The other bandit does not move, his eyes fixed upon Sylvia's blade.
Sylvia (can continue with readied action or do something else)
Feel free, either of you, to take Smitty's turn for him.
Reflex save: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (16) + 5 = 21
Jerry manages to get a grip on the hag and tries to admonish her for her poor manners. Elise shrieks and thrashes in response. As if to reinforce Jerry's point, Caladrel manages to smack her with a staff.
The hag struggles to free herself from Jerry's grasp.
1d20 + 10 ⇒ (11) + 10 = 21
She possesses what seems to be supernatural strength, and forces Jerry's arms apart.
"Good, good," the old man says, ladling out some of his concoction in small vessels. "My grandmother's turtle stew. It fortify you for the long journey." He gives a large, toothless smile.
To Tybalt, he says, "Maybe the ravens do that where you come from. I could see a raven takin' to that role nicely. But here, nothin' good come from the places where dwell the dead."
"Night-time is no time to be out in the swamps. You be safe here, and the raven can show you da way in the mornin'."
Outside, the festivities of the swamp folk is growing to a fever pitch. The insistent drumming is punctuated by cries and ululations, and even from this distance you can see the glow of what must be a giant bonfire.
Bumping. Are you taking any action regarding the sounds you heard, or just carrying on with letting them go?
Reflex save: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (19) + 5 = 24
The hag screeches and draws back away from the ball of fire. She bounds to the side and then lunges at the elf, swinging with both gnarled, clawed hands.
1d20 + 8 ⇒ (18) + 8 = 26
The old man gives you an enigmatic smile. "The folk is good at stayin' unseen if they don' want to be."
To Andrzej, he says, "I can show you da way. A guide, like the one brought you here - he can take you to the necropolis, but he won' go inside that place. It's a place of evil, and da ravens, dey don' go to the realms of the dead."
He stirs the strange concoction again and peers closely at it. "You wan' some o' this? It give you strength for da journey."
You hear a raised voice from the next car forward. The voice is indistinct, but it may remind you that there were 4 bandits.
"Mule?" the woman asks with a look of utter confusion. "We didn't come here to rustle livestock."
The western door is to the outside. A doorway to the next room is in the southeastern corner. Gregory is standing there, but does not seem to move to attack or defend himself in any way.
Elise Initiative: 1d20 + 1 ⇒ (20) + 1 = 21
The hag shrieks with insane fury.
"Aye," the old witchdoctor says slowly. "Our purposes is de same, in a way. It's true, they's always darkness in the swamp, but there was a balance, and the folk survived. Now, they's somethin' new."
He rises shakily to his feet, and approaches the smoldering hearth. He carefully stirs something simmering in a small kettle.
"You lookin' for Monerre," he says, without looking up. "He's a bad man, his mind twist like the mangrove branches. But he always keep to himself - bothers himself with the dead, not with the living." He turns to look at you once again, his old eyes suddenly weary and tired. "Even darker creatures come to see him, though. Unliving, they was. Ever since, something feedin' on the swamp folk. 'N they's scared."
He adds in a low voice, "Whatever come to the swamp to see that necromancer - it don' have no taste for the dead. Now it want the living."
The female bandit looks uncertainly at you.
Smitty will go along with the group. Also, please make Perception checks.
"Meddlesome elf!" Elise screeches. "You should have finished your tea like a proper guest." Before your eyes, a horrific transformation comes over her. She appears to age several decades within seconds. Her nails extend into fierce, curved claws. Her flowing tresses become straggly and grey. Her firm skin sags and turns a sickly shade of green. "You will never leave this place."
This would be a good time to roll initiative.
Overland group Knowledge (Nature or Arcana) DC 16:
This creature is a hag, although not a particularly powerful specimen. They have the power to change shape at will.
Andrzej finds the walls of the shack to be covered in grimy, greasy soot.
"I guided ye here because ye were lost," Chickenbone says simply. "Outsiders don' last long in de swamp without de guide."
To Res he says, "You here de folk out dere. They's tryin' ta ward off de evil wit their rituals. Dat s%*$ don' work - leastwise not against what they facin'. Somethin's stalkin' the swamps at night. Somethin' dark. And they's scared."
Refresher: recall that you saw the corpse of a native, drained by a vampire and discarded in the mud.
Leandro sees nothing of interest outside, although the distant drumming grows in intensity.
The old man smiles openly, a few straggly teeth all that remains in his mouth. "Only since ye entered the swamps. My eyes don' see beyond the edges."
"You mus' be Res. They call me Chickenbone. I don' remember now when tha' started..."
"You bring de evil wit' ye," here he is speaking to all of you, not just the cleric. "But evil already be here. An' sometime it take evil to fight da evil."
The red-haired woman hesitates, weighing her options. Suddenly, she points her weapon at the hostage. "I am warning you now, I am a hell of a shot," she exclaims. "We get out of here safely - no constables - or this sorry bastard gets a bullet in his head."
The dog makes a motion that is clearly his attempt to shake his head in the negative. The eyes then focus over Caladrel's shoulder, in the direction of Elise. The dog is trying to warn you about her.
"Alright, that's enough," Elise says. "Time for you to go outside." She moves to the dog and tries to grab him, but he nips at her hand. Enraged, she kicks the dog solidly in the ribs.
Gregory continues to stand, a passive, glazed expression on his face.
The man with the gun pales when he sees Trina's display and lowers his weapon. He is visibly trembling. The woman at the far end of the car grits her teeth. "What are you doing?" she asks him.
"I didn't sign up for nothing with soul-eating demons," he responds plaintively. "Please don't hurt me," he says to Trina in a panic.
The dog seems to understand everyone's speech, and was most definitely trying to get your attention. It seems to have been subdued by Elise's warning.
Elise answers Jerry without much enthusiasm. "Fall bridge is less than two miles down he lane. A small village full of small-minded people." She seems somewhat dejected and has lost some of her intensity. But then she adds with a smile, "But at least we have each other, don't we?" Gregory does not reply.
The rickety bridge sags and creaks beneath your feet as you cross to the strange shack. Feathers and bones decorate the poles supporting the bridge and the eaves of the building. Another of the strange shrunken heads hangs above the door.
As you near, the smell of incense and herbs hangs heavily in the humid air. In contrast to the sounds of revelry from deeper in the swamp, the shack is eerily quiet.
The front door, warped and faded by the humidity of the lagoon, hangs ajar from its hinges. Inside, an impossibly old man sits upon a stool by the fire. He wears garments of loosely draped fabric, and he is decorated with strange markings and piercings of wood and iron. A necklace of small bones hangs from his neck, ending in a cluster of worn feathers.
"You are here," he croaks with a crooked smile, his voice raspy and heavily accented.
It is a surprise round. You do not have time to double move.
Smitty follows, and stands slightly behind you, his ornate firearm leveled at the nearest bandit.
The brute that was threatening the railroad agent is clearly caught off guard by your entrance, while the red-headed woman looks more annoyed than anything else. She grits her teeth in exasperation. "Idiots!" she says to you. "You shouldn't meddle. Go back to where you came from, and nobody will get hurt."
The brute looks at you uncertainly, but keeps his pistol aimed roughly in the direction of the cowering agent.
If you want to keep talking, you may do so. If you want to fight, or push your way any further into the car, you will have to roll initiative.
Elise looks frustrated about something, but seems to force herself to smile politely.
Gregory returns, his arms laden with firewood and his entire form drenched with rainwater. He seems to pay it no heed, and places the sodden wood by the hearth. He does not acknowledge either of you, but continues to stare at his "sister" with unblinking affection.
Beneath the table, the dog has begun tugging insistently at the leg of Caladrel's trousers. When Elise notices it, she yells sternly at the beast, "Bad dogs get leashed outside in the rain!"
She recovers herself and says sweetly, "My apologies. We are trying to train him better."
The sound of the drumming grows louder as you get nearer. You begin to hear distant voices mingling with the off-kilter, insistent rhythms of the mysterious natives.
The raven leads onward, but you find that the bird is not leading you directly to the source of the sound. Instead, you find yourselves led to the edge of a wide pond, surrounded by the drooping boughs of trees and thick tangles of mangrove.
In the center of the pond, a ramshackle structure has been built upon stilts, reachable by a single footbridge fashioned from bound reeds and supported by poles driven into the silt below the water. In the dimness of the twilight, you can make out strange fetishes hanging from the eaves of the shack, constructed of moss, feathers, and tiny animal bones. Some appear to be rough effigies of humanoid form, while others simply look like they were thrown together of found scraps. The flicker of a small flame can be seen through a tiny window, while a thin tendril of smoke arises from a crooked chimney. While the sounds of the primordial music play on behind you, the shack before you is quiet.
The raven alights upon the bridge, halfway to the shack, and looks back at you expectantly.
You are entering from the East. The crates are stacked along the walls on either side; the center is relatively clear. The railroad worker is marked H.
You feel somewhat lightheaded, but do not notice any other effect. However, you are fairly certain that you were subject to some manner of enchantment. You cannot help but contemplate the unique tea you have been served.
Outside, the thunderstorm rages about the small cottage.
Knowledge (Local) DC 16:
Ravens in the lands of Ravenloft are sometimes considered a good omen. It is known that they will not consort with the powers of evil.
As you follow, the raven continues ahead of you, covering some distance and then waiting for you to approach before it moves off again. As the afternoon wears on, you begin to hear the sounds of drumming in the distance. The wild syncopated rhythms tap into a primordial energy that is not like anything you are used to. The music is rather remote right now, but it is roughly in the direction you are headed.
Smitty stands behind you somewhat as you quietly open the door to the car. You take advantage of the commotion in the car ahead of you, which masks your sound. Inside, you see three figures. A man in the uniform of the railroad cowers beside a safe, staring down the barrel of a pistol wielded by a bandit. The bandit continues yelling his threats, and you can tell it is the same voice that you heard through the door.
A second bandit - a red-haired woman brandishing another revolver, stands watching the scene from further down the car. She fidgets impatiently.
"Open it, or I'll put a bullet in your skull and then find somebody else who will!" The loud-mouth bandit declares.
Elise sets out the scones and sips her tea, looking at the two of you expectantly.
Let's see if Caladrel comes by to make his own save.
The native does not move as you progress in the direction he indicates. He merely follows you with his eyes, his hollow stare regarding you carefully as you move away from him.
With a squawk, a large raven alights on the path ahead of you. Its black feathers bear a healthy sheen while Its glassy eyes project a canny intelligence. The bird hops about in front of you, then takes flight, proceeding some 20 feet ahead before it alights on a fallen log and looks back, to see if you are following.
Full of unfounded confidence, Tybalt leads the way westward, in the general direction Leclerc had been taking you. Progress is perilous; while Leclerc had a knack for finding trails of relatively dry ground, you find many places where you have no choice but to trudge through the mud. Often what looks like dry ground gives way beneath your feet into a slurry of sodden grass, rotten reeds, and murky water. At one point, you reach what looks like a dead end - a dark pool surrounding you on three sides - but backtracking you are able to find a way around it.
The day draws on and you see no signs of your destination. You continue to spot the occasional item indicating that the native savages have been here, but nought else breaks the monotony of the oppressive air and drooping vegetation.
By the afternoon, you are weary and not too certain you are going the right way. As you take in your surroundings, you spot another of the natives. An emaciated man wearing a loincloth regards you with the same vacant gaze as the girl you saw the previous day. The stringy hair hanging down his back resembles the gray moss drooping from the tree branches all around you. He says nothing, but extends his arm, pointing a gnarled finger to the south.
You hear a man's raised voice in the next car. He is yelling at someone to open a safe, and seems anxious about the time it is taking. He threatens to put a bullet in the person's skull.
I am going to move this along just a tad. I didn't have a post from Jerry, but I am surmising that his good manners will win out when it comes to table etiquette.
Jerry, too, finds the tea remarkably flavorful, once it has been fixed to his liking.
Roll Will saves, please.
You open the door to the rear car and see stacked crates all around. Little has been disturbed however, and you do not see the bandits inside. A clear path runs the length of the car toward the one ahead of it.
Train group Perception DC 14:
You hear raised voices from the car ahead of this one.
"I do," Elise says, "I have my own herb garden. Plus some tea leaves from the Far East, of course. I think a good tea is one of life's simple pleasures." She produces a honey pot for Jerry. "Please, tell me what you think." She tends to her crumpets, which are puffing up as they cook in the skillet.
Caladrel finds it quite good.
Leclerc does not stir with so much as a breath. The slug moves slowly across the wet grass, and Tybalt has no difficulty trapping it.
Leclerc is dead. The slug is a parasite which must have been consuming his brain. That damage would require powerful magic to restore, not to mention the obvious need to restore his life.
Looking back, you can recall the foulness of the water. Back when Leclerc was caught trying to rob Leandro, he ran and fell into the water when he was struck by the magic missile. That was around the time he began displaying signs of insanity.
Knowledge (Nature) DC 13:
This slug is some type of parasite. If it was attached to his brain, it could have been the cause of his insanity.
Knowledge (Nature) DC 18:
Read the DC 13 spoiler, plus...
This is a brainslug. It is a parasite native to swamplands. They burrow into a victim's eye or ear and consume the brain-matter. Outside of a host, the slug is helpless. It could be destroyed with salt or just by squishing it.
"Don't talk to me like that, burning man. You have the power of the sun, but They will watch you, too." Leclerc begins scratching compulsively at his left ear. This seems unsatisfactory to him, and he scratches harder and more frantically. His fingernails draw blood, but his wild eyes seem oblivious to pain.
He drops to the ground and screams, "They are trying to get out!" He spasms for just a moment before he goes still, his body at rest in the vile mud.
The swamp seems strangely still without his neurotic presence to animate it.
Perception DC 14:
A slug like vermin, some 3 inches in length, is tunneling out of his ear.
That's what I'd like to know. The rearmost car stands before you.
Gregory leads Jerry to the stable where Luce can remain, sheltered from the storm. The rain is beginning to fall heavily and the peals of thunder are quite close as you hurry back to the cottage.
The common room is cozy. A crackling fire upon the hearth spreads warmth throughout the little room. A wooden table with four chairs occupies the center of the room, where Elise invites you to sit. When Gregory walks in, his eyes seem more intent upon Elise than upon the guests. He crosses toward her, and Elise requests, "Gregory, can you fetch some more firewood? I hate for the fire to run low while the storm rages." He stops and turns to fetch the wood from outside.
A scrappy dog displays a keen interest in the visitors, sniffing you both and jumping up in excitement. Elise chastises the dog and orders him to lie down, which he does obediently.
A kettle begins to spout its steam beside the hearth, and Elise prepares her teapot with a blend taken from a canister upon a high shelf. She adds the hot water and the scent of lavender begins to fill the room. "Do either of you care for sugar or lemon?" she asks politely.
She has also prepared a dough, and is shaping it into neat circles upon a sheet. You believe there will be warm crumpets in short order.
You settle down for the night in the clearing. Leclerc continues eying you all with suspicion, and sits upon a soft tuft of grass, rocking himself and muttering a constant stream of nonsense under his breath.
You take your turns on watch as the night progresses, the air still and oppressive. Leclerc sleeps fitfully, his limbs spasming and his lips chewing some dreamt conversation. He stirs at first light, and awakens those not on the final watch with an exclamation of, "The swamp-alligators will not steal my divine power! I will smite them in my terrible wrath!!"
Elise is clearly startled despite your best efforts to the contrary. After a brief gasp, she says, "My! You are full of surprises aren't you?! Best we keep this to ourselves; I hate to imagine my reputation in the village if it got out that I rode home on an elf."
A man of some 30 years comes around from rear of the cottage. He regards Elise fondly. "You are back!"
Elise addresses him curtly, "Gregory, can you assist this gentleman with his lioness. She should shelter in the stable."
"Of course." He looks with some suspicion at the newcomers and then looks back at Elise. He says nothing else, but motions for Jerry to follow him to the stable.
"The sap keeps us safe?" Leclerc says to Tybalt with genuine interest. "Sap. Sap keeps us safe."
He leads you on through the swamp, muttering to himself intermittently. The progress is tense, as you look out for more of the natives. You see no others, however, and the afternoon draws into evening. You come to a clearing that is dry and sheltered by the nearby trees.
"I like to camp here," Leclerc says hoarsely. "The trees protect you. It's the sap. The sap." He begins picking at the bark from a nearby tree.
The passengers in the car you were riding in seem unconcerned. They chatter idly while the train waits.
You gather your belongings and make a quick exit once again, hurrying along the length of the train to the rear. A windowless door stands shut on the rearmost car, through which you saw the bandits enter a few moments ago.
"Of course!" Elise says. "I am glad to hear you say that. We have a dear dog that distrusts other animals. I am afraid the merest sight of another animal makes him want to fight. We can shelter these wonderful cats in the stable. It will be good to keep the peace - especially during a storm when he will no doubt be excitable."
She leads you down the narrow lane off the main road. The path winds through the trees. Coming around a bend, you see a quaint wooden cottage tucked in a quiet grove. A thin trail of smoke rises from a chimney. Another building, which must be the stable, lies behind.
Elise dismounts from Caladrel and hurries to the door. "Gregory, we have guests!" she calls out. Then to Jerry, she explains, "Gregory is my brother. We look out for one another."
You have two choices (maybe more - feel free to be creative): Are you going to head back, car-to-car, on the train? Or are you headed back on the ground to follow them where they boarded?
Elise rocks unsteadily at first, struggling to keep her balance on Caladrel's back, but she quickly rights herself. After some initial difficulty, she begins to enjoy the ride, and wears a big smile. "This is amazing!" she says happily.
You make your way along the road as the stormclouds gather overhead. Flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder are getting very close. It is not long before the first drops of rain fall upon you. The howling wind scatters clusters of leaves across the dirt road. After you have gone on for a mile or so, she points to a lane headed into wooded area. "The cottage is just here. Please, let's take shelter."
Andrzej, you know what a vampire is. Dr. Savarre brought you all up to speed on them a while back. Link. Hard to believe that was a year and half ago!
Also, to Res and anyone else thinking that way, you were told that you were seeking Monerre, a necromancer, who has no connection to the Crimson Court that you are aware of. Of course, the reason you are here is that you believe Monerre possesses Harrag's Skull, which the vampires want to get their hands on. While the presence of a vampire in the swamp may be a coincidence, it could also be a sign that some agent of the Crimson Court has passed this way.
Res does not find anything of interest on the corpse.
Tybalt calls out into the wilderness, and receives only eerie silence in reply.
"I don't like this place. The trees - they bleed." Leclerc looks around in dismay. "This way, devils." He begins to lead you onward.
You are a perceptive bunch.
As you watch the workers clearing the debris, a movement draws your attention in the other direction - to the rear of the train. You count four figures hurriedly clambering up to the rear-most car. Their faces are obscured by kerchiefs drawn up, leaving only their eyes exposed. You have never seen a train-robber, but you have likely heard of them and this is about how you would picture one.
What's more, turning back to the tree, you can now plainly see indications that the bough was cut with tools.
Who, me? I don't know what you're talking about. Her mother had a cat, that's all.
"Very gracious of you!" she smiles as she carefully gets astride the cat. In her awkward position, a tear in her bodice reveals an arresting view of what is concealed beneath. She straightens herself up and is ready to proceed. "Just up the road," she says cheerily, pointing ahead.
Leclerc spurns Res's helping hand and tries to get to his feet. "It's because of him; he got in my path to trip me up. STOP LOOKING AT ME!" He yells. It takes you a moment to see what he is yelling at. Half-submerged in the muck is the sodden corpse of a man, with the coloring of the swamp natives. His clouded eyes are open, as is his gaping mouth.
Heal DC 12 or Perception DC 17:
The corpse is recently dead, and has the tallow look of one who has been exsanguinated. Two small marks on his neck appear to be the only wounds.
"Might as well," Smitty interjects. He has been quiet on this ride - so quiet you could almost forget he was with you. "As long as this iron carriage doesn't leave us here. The rain's still comin' down steady."
Since the staff seems otherwise occupied, no one is there to try to stop you. The other passengers regard you as if you are all quite strange. Without a platform, the lowest step at the doorway is still a good 2 feet off the ground, but you have no trouble.
The rain is steady, but no longer a raging storm. The track condition is as you were told: several people are busy clearing debris from the track and securing a large bough to a rope so that they can haul it aside. A stricken tree stands beside the track, looking oddly asymmetrical with such a large branch shorn from its trunk.
Perception checks, please.
The young woman regards you with some curiosity. "Your cheetah seems remarkably intelligent, milord. Does he understand speech? Remarkable animal, that."
"I would be most grateful for the assistance," she goes on. "It seems a great deal to ask. If the weather is turning foul when we reach the cottage, I insist that you shelter yourself inside. I remember when I was a girl, my mother had a pussy that hated to get wet. I would hate to see the temper of these great beasts. And no doubt some tea and crumpets would do you well before you continue on your journey."
She is light enough that the cheetah form could support her, I would think.
Tybalt's owl is able to follow the girl, and nothing unnatural seems to happen; she just keeps running.
"I don't know who They are yet," Leclerc says to Res, "but I'll find out. They've been after me for too long." He grimaces for a moment, then calls out, "Maybe the girl knows! We should run after her!"
He takes off in her direction, but trips and falls some 20 feet off.
Perception checks, please.
Res sees no signs of an ambush.
The girl continues to stare blankly. Her face is slack, but her eyes - one brown, one blazing golden - stare with an otherworldly intensity.
Leclerc sneers. "Devil child!" he blurts out. "Go back to hell and tell Them I'll be waiting for Them!" A strand of spittle wags from his coarse, trembling chin.
The girl stands still a moment more, and then takes off at a sprint, headed away from you.
Another railroad agent hurries in from the front of the car - a young man with pock-marked skin. He speaks in a loud voice to everyone assembled. "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. It seems the storm has brought down a bough on the tracks ahead of us. We are moving it out of the way as quickly as possible. Please stay here, and we will be on our way shortly."
He begins to move back, toward the next car.
The young woman looks wary of the great cats, but is put at ease by Jerry's good manners. "Surely they won't," she chuckles with good humor. "I am Elise. Really you needn't bother yourself." She gives Jerry a coy grin and sweeps a stray lock of hair away from her eyes.
A peal of thunder lumbers across the countryside and she looks alarmed. "Although - that is a cause for concern," she says, her eyes regarding warily the gathering stormclouds. "I should be making my way home. Perhaps a carriage will pass by, and I may be able to get there sooner."
Through the windows of the train car, you see the countryside passing by at a steady pace. The train makes its way through pastures and fields, past woodlands and church yards. It is like a moving picture; a series of images presented in succession of the rustic countryside.
This is quickly marred by the onset of the storm. The sky grows grey and a driving rain begins to pelt the car. The workers and passengers begin closing the windows to keep out the driving rain. Rumbles of thunder compete with the chugging of the engine as distant bolts of lightning pierce the sky. The train slows somewhat as the weather worsens.
As the worst of the storm passes, it leaves in its wake a steady rain, somber and monotonous.
You feel a sudden lurch and hear a screech of metal upon metal as the brakes are applied suddenly. A nearby passenger who had been out of his seat has to grab onto a table to avoid falling to the floor. The train comes to a complete stop, but you see no station or platform. The ticket agent hurries by with a look of purpose - he glances at his pocketwatch in consternation as he passes.
The young woman is alarmed by the great cats, but somewhat assured by Jerry's words. "Milord, I don't know if you can," she says. "The heel of this shoe has come off." She points to the shoe she had cast at the ground. "I was meaning to have it mended, and now it's gone and fallen off and here I am a mile at least from our cottage. You needn't worry yourself." This last statement is belied by her gait as she walks back toward the road, hobbling on one thickly-heeled shoe and one stockinged foot.
The rainclouds continue to gather in the west, as a distant rumble of thunder rolls across the countryside.
"Lead on, yes, lead on," Leclerc mutters to himself. Under his breath he adds, "The entertainer - he understands me. Maybe they are after him, too..."
He leads on, grumbling and muttering as he goes. The progress is slow, as the swamp is growing increasingly treacherous. Finding solid ground on which to walk is more and more difficult, but Leclerc continues, finding the most stable path, such as it is. The travel is seemingly endless, and the scenery changes little. You are sure it is well past midday when Leclerc stops suddenly.
Ahead of you, at a distance of less than 100 feet, stands a little girl. Her black hair lies in stringy tangles about her shoulders and her dress resembles an old rag. Her fingernails are dark and grimy, and her bare feet soak in the muddy earth. She regards you with a blank, vacant expression and says nothing.
Andrzej observes that the knife blade is made of salvaged material, and is beginning to rust, having lain here for a year or more. The arrow is made of simple materials, and appears to be a hunting arrow, not a military arrow.
Leclerc looks at Leandro and Res with narrowed eyes. "The enemy works through the eyes of many agents. It could be any of you. The savages are in league with the authorities and with you mercenaries. They make sure someone is watching me wherever I go. Even when I am alone, they scry. I feel their eyes on me."
The uniformed railroad agent looks puzzled by Sylvia's question. "Motivator? You mean the engine? It's up in front, and passengers ain't allowed." He narrows his eyes. "You lot have your tickets?"
The car you are in contains seats alternating with small tables, so that four can sit at one of the tables, two across from one another. Some 13 or 14 people occupy the car, but it could easily hold 3 dozen. As you converse with the ticket agent, a young woman has entered the other end of the car selling a variety of cookies from a satchel hanging from her shoulder.
With a lurch, the train begins moving. The steady *chug chug* of the locomotive starts slowly but becomes increasingly rapid as the train picks up speed.
Passing out of Markshire, the road narrows as it passes the cemetery and church-yard. Stone walls hem in the lane on either side as it winds its way into the countryside.
You continue for about an hour. The distant clouds are growing closer and promise to bring some severe weather. As the lane winds through a lightly wooded area, you round a bend and see a young woman standing at the side of the road upon one foot, as she fiddles with the shoe of the other, frustration plain on her face. The hem of her dress is soiled and her hair has come undone. Still, as you draw closer, it is apparent that she is quite beautiful, despite her disheveled state. She throws the shoe to the ground with an exasperated sigh.