Swamped Chapter 12 Page 32

You quickly fling your slicer into a nearby tree. The Fenguin charges past, knocking you to the ground as it does, and rushes towards the tree, smashing it up.

Fortunately, that provides enough time for the Marshguards to regroup. A few fling their pikes at the Fenguin before running back; the rest just grab you and your group. Everyone rushes in through the fortress, and you hear the gates slam shut behind you.

“What’s the commotion? Why aren’t you at your posts?”

Everyone, including the Marshguards, freezes up at the sound of the voice. You’ve got no idea who it is, and can barely see ahead of you with all these Marshguards crowded together, but it’s clearly someone important.

“Mantis, sir!” someone says. “We caught some Bogknights sneaking in. They provoked a creature… it looked like a Fenguin, only larger. And fiercer. It’s still out there.”

“Well, one thing at a time. Let me see the prisoners.”

You feel yourself being shuffled to the front, getting a clear view of Mantis. He seems old, perhaps even older than John Recordkeeper. And he holds his hands in front of himself as though he’s praying.

“So young,” he mutters to himself. “It is a pity that you have all been caught up in our conflict. But, I suppose it cannot be avoided. Take them to the cells. I will deal with the beast.”

“Yes, sir!”

You find yourself being dragged to the cells. You’re worried, but also a little excited; you might actually find out something about your father soon.

“Wasn’t there a sixth Bogknight?” one of the Marshguards mutters.

“We’ll let Mantis worry about that,” another snaps back. “I’m not going back out there while that beast is around.”

“I knew it was a bad idea to launch an attack,” mumbles someone else. “We’ve been seeing lots of weird creatures around lately. Things that just don’t turn up in the swamp. We’ve seen sandsnakes, for crying out loud! And now this. It’s just going to get worse.”

“Quiet, all of you,” one of them says. The voice sounds like the one that spoke to Mantis before. “There’s no need to let sensitive information slip around the prisoners. Just take them to the cells and then you can gossip all you want.”

There’s a lot of griping, then silence.

You have to admit, though, you’re rather curious about these out-of-place creatures.

Soon, you arrive in the cells. The Marshguards toss you all in a small room and one of them locks it.

“We’ll sort you into separate cells later,” he says. “There’s a lot going on right now, and we can’t really attend to you properly.”

He gives you all a glare.

“I hope, for your sakes, it doesn’t turn out that you brought that beast into the swamp. But we can address that when we question you.”

And with that, the Marshguards step away.

“Sandsnakes,” Dean mutters. “Another desert beast.”

“If you’re thinking something, Dean, share it with the rest of us,” Walter grumbles. “Won’t have much of a chance to do it quietly once they separate us.”

“Some interesting facts I’ve been mulling over since the Fenguin turned out to be larger than I thought,” Dean says. “I may have mentioned it, but the Greater Fenguin is supposed to be a desert animal. One of our captors brought up sandsnakes. And it occurs to me that while greatrats are pests everywhere, they thrive in the desert. As do tunnelers, for that matter.”

“Are there bears in the desert, too?” Mary asks. “We never did figure out what that carcass was.”

“Dunebears. I’ve heard of them, but I wouldn’t be able to recognize one myself. But yes, I think you can all see where my thoughts are taking me.”

“Desert beasts are coming to the swamp?” you ask, a little puzzled. “But I thought the desert was all the way on the east side of the continent.”

“It is. There’s a lot of ground to cover in between. Even if something were driving them out of the desert, why would they come all the way here?” Dean shakes his head. “But it’s a common thread. We’ll need to tell the base about it.”

“I’d rather not wait to warn them before we get out of here,” Jackson says. “But I doubt the Marshguards will send a message on our behalf.”

“We’d have to get someone to their roost and send a crow out,” Dean says, nodding. “Any ideas on how to pull that off?”

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Are there any bars in the cell? If so, between all of you rocking one set in a rehearsed rhythm, you could probably break enough loose to slip out. Also if they come to get you in the racket, you could at least try to fight them by pretending someone escaped (hide them in the upper corner of the room or something, all ninja-like)

I know you don’t know much about magic, but are portals a thing in your world? It seems like that might be whats happening here.

Author’s Note:

I want to talk a little about improvisation here.

When I first introduced the bear skeleton, I had no idea how it got there. I just pulled it out of thin air with zero explanation planned.

But when the suggestion about the Fenguin implied that there were multiple types, somehow that led my thought process to “different types show up in different biomes, what if one from the desert appeared instead and it was a lot more dangerous”.

And suddenly it all fit together in my head. The bear had come from the desert. I could even tie in the suddenness of the greatrat infestation, and the oddity of the burrower tunnels. Then, as an added touch I implied it was something that was more common on the Marshguard side, emphasizing the divide between the two groups.

Sometimes I introduce things in the story and I have no specific plans for what I’m doing with them. This is a pretty risky way to write, as I might end up bringing in something that seems significant and then find myself not really being able to use it, but it’s very satisfying when I manage to produce something from it.

Also, apparently it had been a while since I’d mentioned the burrowers and I didn’t remember the name I’d used. I called them “tunnelers” here and I start using that consistently from this point on. Ever since I noticed, though, I’ve realized it can just be explained as two separate names for the same species.