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Turn 53

An excerpt from the journals of Sir Gareth Arr, paladin of Pikahl, knight and head of King Arion's personal guard:
Misfortune again; the gods do not make this trial of ours easy.
The temple we came upon deep in the swamp proved to be carved with all manner of snake-like symbols, from a god of whom I have no knowledge. After skillfully bridging the great trench encircling the temple, we decided to stay the night and rest, after having searched the building. Disaster struck that night. Some manner of slimy creature emerged from cracks within the stone floor and simply... absorbed companions and gear alike. I remained behind and attempted to save as many of my party as possible, but the losses were grave. Only Cole, Wulfgar, Barbaxle, Cao, Malissin, and I survived. We spent the remainder of the night outside.
The next day, we travelled to the lizardman village, where we discovered the idol, obviously in a place of religious respect, atop their totem-like altar. It struck me oddly that "theives" so at home in the swamp would leave very obvious tracks and openly display an item they would have to know would bring down the human forces upon them... unless they did not do it. While the group observed the village, my prayer for guidance was granted with an azure beam leading us deep with the swamp, away from the villagers. After travel that seemed inhumanly fast (I suspect godly assistance again), we arrived at a semi-flooded clearing, at the far end of which hulked a monstrous, flame-gouting hydra. Cole cast a spell to hide Barbaxle and myself; the two of us swam underwater up to the hydra while the archers used flaming arrows to distract and weaken the aberration. The strategy at close was for me to lop off necks, moving inwards, while Barbaxle seared the stumps. All was working fine until Cole remembered a magical item he possessed, a magical stick of some sort, and used it to bid the creature away. Unfortunately, the mage neglected to consider the fact that Barbaxle and I were virtually beneath its feet...during its abrupt departure, it became a situation in truth for me as the massive thing crushed me into the murk, twisting armour and nearly killing me, but for Pikahl's aid. Not willing to leave the creature free to roam the swamps, we tracked it down to its lair and eventually slew the monster.
A number of treasures and coin were discovered and divided, though much remains still... a definite quest for training a future group of knights. The extreme heat and moisture will also teach them the importance of knowing salves and healing herbs, not to mention building up their endurance for the battlefield. For my choice, I retrieved a beautiful cherrywood bow, quite similar to father's. Considering his reputation as an archer, I believed it to be a fair, if sentimental, choice. Ah.. but I digress, for we found another surprise within the hydra's lair, an elven male by name of Jahl. Claiming to be a warrior, he explained that he had been captured by strange shape-changing creatures and left as a treat for the hydra, apparently a common situation. This would explain the absence of bodies from these shape-changers' actions. As we know it, they appear to be able to shapechange into human, lizardfolk, and a strange man-tiger form. I have heard rumour of such creatures, Rashaka, or Rakasha, or something similar. Again were we visited by godly vision, praised by the gods, healed, and given simple silver rings of obviously magical creation. A path was shown to us, heading back in the direction we had just travelled, and we were told to follow it.
Along our trek back, we heard noise within the foliage, and upon investigating, discovered a party of four from King Arion, checking on our status: Gaerik, Alista, Sammual, and Erin, a fellow paladin of Pikahl. Shortly thereafter, we encountered the glowing lights they had been following. Two glowing orbs of energy, apparently sentient. Despite our peaceful greetings, they attacked, injuring several of our party before we destroyed one of them. The second immediately cried for mercy and offered us information on the shapeshifters for its life, to which we agreed. When I attempted to heal a mortally-wounded Wulfgar, the shock of the misfire (or was it the creature in spite?) knocked me off my feet and back several more. We left the remaining creature alone.
The endpoint of the godpath proved to be the lizardfolk village again, so a number of the group volunteered to proceed in with me while the rest remained as reinforcements should trouble occur. After speaking with many of the very peaceful and polite lizardfolk - using Malissin as translator - we were directed by the chief to speak with the shaman of the group, which we did, noticing a very familiar ring upon his finger. Although the shaman did not believe our story, he was willing to meet us half-way. He offered us a chance to prove our story, by bringing in one of these Shifters. To that end, he explained a powerful, reliable, and safe scrying magic he could cast... for a price. Barbaxle sacrificed a ring found at the hydra's cave, and I my new bow, still unfired - what irony. The result: "Beware the monster in form of friend; north of the temple [various directions leading back to the one in which we had slept], look for the sign of the wolf." I convinced the chief of the village to send 5 observers/warriors; the additional strength did not hurt, and it would serve the truth much if the lizardkin had members of their own confirming our story.
Many hours of travelling later, we arrived at the given location. Surprisingly, Jason (our companion killed in the first town we encountered) and a lizardman stepped out into a clearing before us. We heard a female voice cry out, then realized that the two before us were casting; Barbaxle and myself found ourselves magically held - side note: the Rakasha seem to be able to cast normally, despite the wildness of most magic. One of the two creatures mascarading as friends was killed, reverting to the man-tiger form I suspect is their natural one, but the other turned invisible and fled. A third one was captured in the next clearing. There we discovered Arilyn, a young female elven warrioress, the next victim to be of the catvillains' hunger. We invited her to join our group, as we had Jahl.
Our company decided, I am again proud to say, to track down the fled shifter and slay it lest it harm others. During our search, we encountered a trio of lizardmen from a lost tribe faction. The old village leader apparently disappeared into the swamp some time ago with a number of followers on premise of going to pray to their god... but never returned. The lizardfolk within our group spoke with them and found that the last Rakasha had been seen to the north; we followed directions to the site, but the lost ones chose not to remain with us.
The Rakasha cave proved relatively easy to find with the lizardkin aid. In the process of entering, we braved magical darkness, webs, and even a freezingly powerful ice blast. Nevertheless, we pierced the inner sanctum and slew the runaway. More coin was found (another quest?), though the lizardfolk declined any of it when we mentioned its location to them.
Our return to the village was successful and the observers' comments supported our captive's confession. He claimed that he was one of four banished to the swamp from their homeland. They had been planning a forced return, but required that the humans and lizardfolk were both exterminated. What better way than to steal from one, blaim the other, and watch the two communities destroy each other. The statuette of Krahs proved to be the perfect subject. Distracting everyone with his speech, the creature drew a secreted dagger and slew himself. Our party debated seeking the fourth Rakasha, but another vision from Pikahl struck me: if the idol was not returned soon, the humans would march into the swamp and annihilate the lizardfolk. We received the statuette, were assured that the lizardfolk would defeat the final man-cat, and were guided back out of the swamp to Port Capri. The king's second party was dispatched back to Dragonmeyr with a copy of my journal and Cole's map to report on our travels and check on the other groups. We bid them good speed and safe travels.
Faith has enabled out success, but with cost as in most things. The gods' attention is back on the world, and such is good for all mankind.

May Pikahl watch over all and shelter all. Long life, my King.

Sir Gareth Arr, servant of Pikahl

Turn 59