I am Th^ Fr! (“born of the dark mud”) and the Verr Swamp is my heart and my home. The softbodies call me Thukfrÿch. I abide this; their mouths are all open meat and lack the necessities of speech.
Nowhere is the beauty of Vivlorean’s cycle of death and rebirth more pronounced than the swamplands. I grew up there - learning to move silently through the reeds, the shallow waters and the sweeping willows. Unobtrusively I would watch the cycle of life take place around me, as the snakes eat the frogs eat the fireflies. The plants and insects flourish in the rich mud to which we all return eventually. As the Chosen of Vivlorean know, Life feeds on life; this is necessary.
I am devout in my worship of Vivlorean, and once considered becoming a Warpreist as my eggmatron was. The Gravestalkers in particular called to me, as they fight against the anathema to the Great Cycle which are undead. I lacked the bulk, though. My talents instead were more subtle; to stand unseen in the shadows, move silently through the bog, slip into a den of Tentamort unseen and ensure their spawn do not overrun what the ecosystem can support. (Another time perhaps I will tell you of the time I arrived to find the nest already hatched, and the hand-sized tentacled blue creatures pouring forth from every orifice of the rhinoceros corpse in which they had been laid…)
At one time I would not have considered leaving the swamp. It was the death of my clutchmate Fah^ ^ew (“intolerant of prevarication”) which would put me on my dangerous path. Fah! !ew’s exoskeleton was empty when I found it. The flesh within was only a sulphurous powder and the carapace discolored with dull grey streaks across the upper back. An empty flask lay mostly obscured beneath the body. This was not a natural death to be embraced. Something contrary to the ecosystem of the swamp had left Fah! !ew partially submerged in shallow water under the cyprus trees outside our enclave.
I searched patiently in ever-widening circles around my fallen friend until I picked his trail. He had come generally from the direction of Lake Verr and the city of Verr at its shore - but I lost them before long. Unwilling to let the death go unavenged or wait for the Council to investigate, I packed the necessities and prepared for a long hunt.
Weeks passed without any more signs of similar markings on other animals, or the sulphurous powder, or the flask, and I was growing doubtful of achieving satisfaction. Whether by Vivlorean’s divine guidance or blind luck I was witness to something while camped in the tree branches along the river that gave me a clue to follow. A pair of softbodies wearing cloaks to hide their features dumped a barrel of viscous umber sludge into the river below me, unaware of my presence. Moments later a powerful growl came from downstream. A coyote drinking from the river shook itself and dashed vigorously into the woods after a deer. Odd that one coyote would try to take down a deer - but my interest was on these softbodies and what they were defiling the river with.
Lacking any other leads, I set silently after the two who dumped the barrel and tracked them all the way back to Verr, and into the city itself. They entered a covered wagon parked behind the Cavern Blossom tavern. It was marked with a nameplate: “Bendlefrump Golton - Alchemist”. The wagon was small, and there was no way I could enter unseen, so I entered the tavern to see what information I could gather there.
With a nod to the fleshy human behind the bar I requested shroomben - a delightful fermented mushroom brew, and sat down to survey the patrons. Sometimes the softbodies are difficult to tell apart, with their lumpiness seemingly randomly distributed. There were 4 here, plus the human behind the bar with the smooth face and high voice. The leatherskins are easier for me, and one patron clearly was an Ixen. It seemed out of place here - as if cities did not agree with it. I sipped the shroomben and pondered my next step. Some who are skilled in stealth and silence are also glib of tongue and charming. This was not my forte. I am capable of pleasantries with other Korthjach, but other creatures are inscrutably foreign - seeming actually to fear death! As if anyone can escape it. What point fearing the inevitable?
Perhaps the direct route would be best. I concentrated - pushing my mandibles into the awkward motions needed to simulate softbody common. “I seek liquid thiah.” I don’t have lips. You try “f” and “p” with no lips. It’s hard. Also “b” and “m”. I avoid the common tongue, but I can generally make myself understood. “Is there an alchetist anyone knows heah?”
The oddly-rearrangeable face of the bartender moved up the hair-worm over its left eye. “Funny you should ask. Mr. Golton arrived earlier this afternoon, and he’s an alchemist. He has since retired to bed, but perhaps you can do business with him in the morning.” I clacked my mandibles in affirmation, and purchased a room - with no intentions of having a discussion with one Bendlefrum Golten in the morning.
Instead I waited until the last of the patrons had left or retired to their rooms, noting where each went, and through process of elimination determining where the alchemist’s room was. I carefully picked his lock and silently entered the room. Reverberating snores and the scent of alcohol rose from the bed, where a curiously short and hairy softbody lay with a trail of liquid slowly descending from the squishy mouthparts. A quick search turned up a few coins and some paperwork. The alchemist kept both a journal and a ledger, which I took back to my room for perusal.
The story I pieced together was an odd one. It had a flair for experimentation, this alchemist, and would acquire and test materials from all sorts of questionable sources. Golton would also purchase the work of others and attempt to reverse-engineer them to copy for its own profit. A transaction in the ledger indicated a recent purchase made in Felek for just that purpose. The ledger also noted that samples of the recently acquired ingredient (listed only as “liquid vigor” have gone missing. The assistants all claimed innocence, however.
The journal took a dark turn in Stachotar. The entry didn’t go into complete detail, but it was clear an experiment had gone badly - possibly ending in death. It read “I gave Dioreen the sample, and it invigorated her as expected. Her companionship that evening was as energetic as it had ever been. My shock the next morning, though, was immeasurable. Truly this concoction was more dangerous than I had ever been led to believe. An advantage of my trade is traveling with large crates and barrels… hopefully Dioreen won’t be missed until I am well clear of the city.”
After a few more entries, it was clear that Bendlefrump had decided he had to get rid of the liquid vigor - it was simply too dangerous to work with. Apparently it was this very event I had spotted from my perch.
Quite concerned about what a barrel of this stuff loose in the river and flowing downstream to the swamp might do, I continued reading through the night to see what more I could learn - but there was nothing indicating what the stuff might be, or how it would interact with the ecosystem. My only clue was that it had been acquired in Felek.
In the morning I settled my tab and had an unpleasant meal of cooked bacon and quail eggs. Outside of the swamp few people understand how to age raw meat in the sun to achieve the optimal soft consistency and ripe flavor. Their obsession with fire is puzzling. I set off back to the river where the dumping occurred to see what else I might learn.
Not far from shore (and in the direction the coyote had run after the deer) I found the dessicated corpse of a coyote with markings similar to those I had seen on Fah! !ew’s back. The organs seemed to have deteriorated into the same sulphurous powder I found with Fah^ ^ew’s carapace, as well. Further search of the river turned up no additional clues - but I was convinced that these incidents were related.
Feeling somewhat hopeful for the first time in weeks that perhaps I would be able to bring justice for Fah^ ^ew, I set off for Felek.