Swamped Chapter 12 Page 4

“We could split up,” Tom Tenth says. “Then if some of us got caught early, we’d still have others around to draw their attention. It might even get them sending a runner to the advance forces if we say there’s more of us around.”

“No, it’s too dangerous,” Dean says, shaking his head. “If it were just the Marshguards, that might work, but the swamp’s got plenty of other threats. It’s even worse on the Marshguard side; they’re not as good at chasing beasts away as we are.”

“So, we stick together, then,” you say. “Makes sense.” Something’s bothering you, though. You take off your pack and pull out the strange device you got from Recordkeeper’s office.

“By the way, does anyone have any idea how to open this? It’s one of Flame’s donations. I, er, was curious about it.”

“Let me have a look,” Mary says, taking it from you. “It’s got one of his catches, I’ve dealt with these before… there we go.”

The two cylinders separate. You still can’t quite tell what they are; but now you can see there’s some sort of switch near each end.

“I think it might be a tool of some kind,” Mary says. “Possibly a weapon, but Flame doesn’t tend to work directly with those. Stand back while I try one of these switches.”

Everyone does and she flicks the switch. A rope flies out of the cylinder. Another flip of the switch, and it winds back in.

“I could probably make use of that,” Jackson says. “Mind if I take it?”

“I suppose,” you say with a one-armed shrug. Apparently it’s not a prosthetic after all.

“Right, we’ve taken enough time,” Dean says. “Tenth…”

“Call me Tom, dammit! I’m the only Tom here!”

“Right, sorry. Tom, you and Jackson head out in front on that shield-raft.”

“I can go with them,” Stacey says. “I’m a good swimmer.”

“All right, but warn us if you see anything hostile under there. Speaking of which, I’ll be looking for signs of dangerous creatures.”

“And I’ll keep a look out for patrols,” Walter says. “Their setup probably won’t be too different from ours, I can figure out where they’re likely to be watching.”

“That leaves Marshall and me,” Mary says. “We’ll keep an eye out at the back. If we see their troops coming back, we’ll let you know.”

She takes out a pair of long goggles and helps you put them on, then puts on her own pair.

“These should help us spot them from a ways off,” she says. “But we need to stick close to the rest of the group; don’t want to get so distracted by what’s in the distance that we lose sight of what’s right under our noses.”

“Thanks,” you say. You’re already a little disoriented.

“Best to partner up, in that case,” Walter says. You feel a large hand grasping your own. It feels good, but you can’t think too hard about that right now.

“Good idea,” Dean says. “I apologize for any discomfort, Mary. Now, let’s get going.”

You feel yourself heading out, but it’s hard to keep track of anything with your sights set so far in the distance. All you can feel is the ground beneath your boots, and Walter’s firm, comforting grip.

You’re now Mudviper.

You convinced Rider with your fake warning; or at least, you persuaded him to play along. You said the Bogknights were sneaking through the Thornbrushes – it’s a plausible path because it has few beasts, only thorny plants that a patient group can navigate through with ease.

Of course, the Marshguards aren’t that patient to begin with, and can’t afford to waste time with Bogknights having a headstart on their underdefended base. So Rider’s sent squads to every one of the Thornbrushes’ exits, as well as ordering a large search party to follow them in.

You wish you’d had time to arrange a proper cover story, but your information about the poison was enough to get Rider to believe you were in a hurry to begin with and didn’t catch the full details of their route. Hopefully the Bogknights Marshall finds will be smart enough to work out their own story; you’re taking a big risk here, and it wouldn’t do to be exposed.

But you haven’t quite done everything you hoped. Rider is still waiting here, along with five other squads. He plans to wait for the others to return from their search, then resume the assault.

That isn’t what you were hoping for. It just means you’ll have a more exhausted force, and the Bogknights will be more prepared. You want to avoid a pointless slaughter, not merely shift casualties over to your side.

There’s a slim chance the order might be rescinded based on your report, but you can’t count on that. It’s better to do what you can here to convince Rider it’s not worth pressing the assault.

But what can you say?

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No need to say anything. Rider is smart, you can already see the gears turning as he asseses the battle situation. He’s honest, but he’ll pull back if he thinks it will be a losing battle. He asks you the question before you get the chance to reply.

“How did you escape?”

He needs to know if he’ll be facing an alert base with night patrols actively hunting for hidden marshguards.

It’s the truth, even if the reason why is different.