The last few weeks have been quite pleasantly spent in good sport and better company. The city of Mer'kresh seems more welcoming daily, especially now that I know the majority of the adventurous inhabitants congregate upon the island of M'riss. The cypress bogs of the southern shore are cradle to all sorts of challenging and deadly creatures. Great skill is needed not only to profit but to survive those dangers.
This is not to say the city itself is without its notable inhabitants. If you take the time to visit its beautiful gardens and splendid, though incomplete, bridges, you will come across a wide variety of souls. Lady Avant, local leader of the Paladin guild is perhaps one of the most elegant such leaders I have yet to meet. There is the sad and somewhat hollow figure of the local empath, Yolesi, who heals but with little warmth. You can also find the King of the Garden...be wary of his fickle bill...and the Guardian of the Observatory...look out for his drool. So much to see, with so little time to do so.
From Mer'kresh, it is a quick galley ride across the bay to the M'riss docks. There is enough traffic from the city to the small farms that dot the shore that it warrants the cost of thirty copper lirum. The crews of both the Cercorium and the Sanegzat are well trained and speedy enough to make such a voyage only somewhat longer than the Crossings/Riverhaven trip. Take time to watch the life-filled waters you travel across, though, for I have seen some new and wondrous creature each time I have made the journey.
A testament to the nature of these lands is that both the galleys can be easily equipped for war. No doubt "liberated" from some pirate's crew, these galleys comprise the heart of the Mer'kresh fleet. Propelled by oars instead of being dependent on fickle winds, they would be deadly foes in the shallow waters of the bay. Any questioning of the sailors about this fact earned me somewhat distrustful stares; I was not yet considered more than a sightseer.
The galley deposits you upon the pier and does not wait long before disappearing back over the bay. There is a little trek through the fields where the soil seems to be fertile despite all it's bleak nature. Perhaps the volcano somehow is in effect here? Shortly past an open still where the area's famed brandy is being brewed, there is a trail that leads into the cypress bogs.
Now I have been hunting here for several weeks, with Damaria, Glimmerglass, Stormhand, Quassia, and the Black Knight. There are five distinct battle-worthy creatures in this humid forest, and I would not have you believe I faced them all in one day. These insights fall over this period, and I was aided by my friends' assistance. I will start from the easiest to the most dangerous.
Peccaries are pig-like beasts, though I think they are related more to rats than to swine. Their feet are not hoofed, for one thing, and they are incredibly fecund for another. They are so plentiful, that a hunting party of four could easily be swamped by seven or eight hungry peccaries in a matter of minutes. This is definitely not a creature to face if you are deficient in the skill of facing more than one opponent. Several times I would have to raise a banner of truce because I grew dizzy for spinning around to face four beasts at once.
Fighting the Peccaries brought back the nostalgic memories of facing boars when I had yet to earn the title of Squire. Much like so long ago, the Peccaries would challenge me to the limit of my ability, scoring many hits until they would fall or I would be forced to bow and admit defeat. One-on-one, they were no match, but those odds were rarely ever present. Like the boars so long ago faced, the principal trophy one earns from the Peccaries is their tusks. I was happy that my modest skill in skinning could produce one set of dueling tusks out of every five beasts skinned.
A little to the east and up the slope of the volcano the hunter can find the Mottled Westanuryn. I found them somewhat easier to face than the Peccaries, but I list them afterward for the poison that they carry in their stingers. These giant-sized scorpions appear to be related to Ratha's Moruryn, at least in territorial ferocity. Upon these slopes I encountered only a few of the beasts, but I heard later they are quite plentiful in the desert on the other side of the volcano.
They do share the speed of the Moruryn, for quite often I would find myself poisoned without realizing I had even been struck. The westanuryn are fortunately somewhat smaller and their poison is not as deadly as their larger cousins. I did not have chance to find out if their stingers can penetrate a priest's prayer of Protection of Evil, but my blessed axe never once flared up against them. I suspect that these westanuryn are actually the natural root stock of the more magical Moruryn. I found no treasure during the brief dance with them, and I was unable to collect a single stinger for my bundle.
Fortunately less common than either the above creatures, but not near uncommon enough, is the Caracal. My first impression upon seeing the creature was that it was a somewhat humorous relation of a bobcat. Its back legs were muscular and heavily clawed, however, and its speed rivaled anything I had seen so far. Where the bobcat used its dexterity to run away, the Caracal instead uses it to run down prey. The creature deserves quite a bit of respect for its rapid attacks.
I faced one in the company of the Black Knight and thought it fortuitous that we did not come across a pride of them. The beast advanced upon me as my companion flanked it to divide the feline's attentions. I had been told that I must strike it first in order to stand a chance, so I timed my first swing to meet its final charge. Though I stunned it with the damage I caused, the beast managed to shake it off and rake its hind legs across my midriff. It was my turn to be stunned, but I recovered before the Black Knight could drag me away.
The Caracan and I traded blows, and without armor it would be stunned easier than I did. The amount of damage it could absorb before it finally stopped twitching was incredible. I could not manage a skin from its flanks, but I counted myself lucky to carry back my own hide in one somewhat ragged piece.
The last creature of note is perhaps the most deceptive one. Yes, Good Reader, if you have been counting this makes only four foes I have listed. This is because the Trekhalos comes in two varieties distinctive only in their titles. The Lun'Shele Trekhalos is the deadliest while the Lun'Shele Hunter is seemingly a less skilled member of the same species. I have heard rumors, but not seen the creature work magic.
They are muscular beasts, midway between a halfling and an elf in height. Though they do not have bat-like fur or faces, they do have wings and large ears, which makes me wonder if they are somehow related to the S'lai. Unlike the S'lai, they are not cowards, and they can use their staff-slings with deadly accuracy. If you face one, you must be ready to survive the impact of at least two stones before you can advance close enough to strike.
The first time I tussled one, the Black Knight and I were quite lucky. I had managed to stun the creature after it had stuck two sling-bullets into my hide. There are few weapons deadlier to a stunned or prone foe than a chopping axe. Several strikes later, I had managed to dispatch the Trekhalos. I had no desire to scalp the creature, and its mud-speckled body held no coins for the effort. I must remember to ask a local Rissian about their treasures.
The second time we would run into a Trekhalos would turn out quite the opposite. The Black Knight, Quassia, Damaria, and myself had spent some time comparing notes on the trail that leads to the bog. The Trekhalos must have heard our discussions and laid a swift ambush in place. As soon as we walked into the swamp proper, four of the creatures were upon us. One stone alone is deadly, but a barrage of missiles can be down right fatal.
They managed to stun me with a stone upside the helmet, and shortly afterward the group fell apart as my companions met similar fates. We tried to regroup, but I succumbed to the bolts, as I swear all the Lun'Shele would focus upon one target at a time. Damaria fell not two seconds after I did, as she bravely returned to attempt to drag my body. Seven stones would be removed from my body when it came time to raise.
My thanks goes out to the Black Knight, Quassia, Jazzbow, and the rest who kindly brought us back to life. I must admit I was most impressed with the tactics the Lun'Shele had used, and I resolve now to develop small-squad stratagems of a similar nature. If we had had these in place, the impact would have been less.
That is a project for another day, Good Reader. No doubt, this lengthy and somewhat rambling entry has left your eyes as weary as my writing hand is now. I pray that the Thirteen treat you well, and Ileave for the moment. Soon I will have to face the Desert of Despair, and wish to be well-rested and prepared for that dangerous terrain.