Swamped Chapter 21 Page 4

Could you be wrong?

Well, Mudviper was talking just fine last you saw her. But she also didn’t show any symptoms until earlier today. It might be she got the fever, but no one else did.

On the other hand, it might be that only Requiem got poisoned. After all, their illness did come at a very convenient time for the more aggressive Council members.

You know Bigfoot would never resort to something dirty like that. You’ve worked with her before. But what about Razor?

…No. You don’t see it in him. Yeah, he fights dirty, and he’s all too happy to poke his nose in everyone’s business, but he wouldn’t do something like that to another Marshguard. Not even one he disliked.

Bad as Razor may be, he’s no Ash.

Maybe Mantis isn’t so sure, though. Maybe he’s trying to read Razor’s reactions.

Such as by seeing if he looks at all relieved when Mantis turns the focus to you.

Well, this test doesn’t require Requiem to actually be poisoned, does it. Maybe you can give that a quick check.

“Well, I’ve given it some thought,” you finally say, pacing around. “And what I think is…”

You suddenly, ‘carelessly’, step on Requiem’s foot. And hear a piercing scream.

“…that somebody here owes us an explanation for the miraculous recovery of Requiem’s vocal chords.”

“Dammit, Mantis,” Razor growls. “Was this really the time for one of your blasted tests?”

“I must admit, I did not expect such a direct approach to resolving my little deception. I believe I learned some very interesting things. Wouldn’t you agree, Requiem?”

“Yes, sir. Though I would have preferred to learn them in a less painful manner,” Requiem groans.

“Fair enough. You are still in need of rest; let us partake of our evening meal, and then return you to quarters.”

The group walks off to another table. Razor turns to you and laughs.

“Well. That settles it. Nobody could have fed you that answer. Not unless you’re hearing the words of the gods themselves.” He chuckles for a bit more before finally calming down. “So, where were we… ah, that’s right. I wanted you to tell me about Ash.”

That’s a big subject. Where do you even begin?

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Author’s Note:

Very long batch of suggestions coming up here. I did draw inspiration from a lot of it, but if that doesn’t particularly interest you, I think you’ll be able to follow the next update without reading through all this.

Also content warning: Some portions of the suggestions to follow describe physical abuse. Other portions describe self-inflicted physical harm. Neither goes into great detail, but you know your own tolerance for this sort of thing better than I do.

Suggestions:

i knew him a long time ago. dude’s a fucking psycho, like, murdering-squirrels psycho

 

Yikes Fogel, I didn’t…uhh… gonna tuck this one into a spoiler…

Marshguards aren’t keen on sharing their back story, but in this case…

(Author’s note: The following content was originally in a spoiler tag, but I can’t easily replicate that here. Content warning applies here.)

Foster care isn’t that great most places, you suppose you’re lucky to have had it at all – although having an abusive good for nothing drunk of a caretaker didn’t do you much good. It still sickens you to think how much of him rubbed off on you.

Ash was one of the boys the old man brought in. He was younger than you, but not by much. He didn’t take the hits like you did – he’d find a way out, blame someone else, divert the old man’s anger to another, sometimes you.

Ash always had ambition. He worked to understand the flow of power in the community. He needed to know who was in control and why. He was a quick study. You think it was him who planted the idea of “renting” the boys out for couriers in the old-man’s head.

At the time, you admit, you kind of liked the kid. You forgave him the occasional whipping you got – you figured you were just covering for him. Hell you even practiced reading together. And the courier job was better than some of the other things he could have rented you out to do.

Ash was rising in the ranks fast. Merchants had a lot of money and…well that was the nice thing about meritocracy, even a foster kid like Ash could get some property and power if he showed the aptitude for it.

Funny how the old man finally bit it. Drunk in the street right as a loose caravan ran him over. You don’t think it was coinicdence that, just a week before, Ash discovered the old-man had found his stash of savings, and promptly drank it all away.

You recall Ash wasn’t even mad. There was a flash of anger for a moment…but it subsided. At the time, you had thought he let it bounce right off of him, but now you think he stored it away someplace deeper.

That was the turning point in your relationship. Ash was free to climb the ranks and it became clear that you were not his friend or his family. You were, at best, a pawn to him.

Around that time, Ash began to have trouble sleeping. It started as a restlessness, twisting and turning in bed. As it went on though, he began to wake up suddenly at night. One night, you woke up to the sound of screaming in the portico of the merchant’s manor. Ash was outside, half dressed with a horse’s bridle in his hand. He was crying out “Make it stop!!” You had run to help him, but when you reached over he pushed you back, whipping you with the bridle. You saw true rage in his expression then – he was furious at something, maybe himself.

The rumors were he had been sleepwalking. Apparently some night-maids had seen him wondering around the last few nights. Like he was unconsciously trying to go somewhere, but each time he’d suddenly wake up and storm back into his room.

That night in the portico was the last instance of sleepwalking you know of…You wonder if Ash still sleeps with his wrists bound to his bed.

(Spoiler tag content ends here.)

None of that is relevant to what Razor wants to know.

He’ll want to know about the slaves.

He’ll want to know how Ash realized he could maximize profits by dealing in unscrupulous activities. How when he discovered the merchants underground trade he found ways of maximizing it, instead of trying to shut it down. How sometimes people just went missing, and the more that did, the more the wealth of the merchant community grew. How you finally realized that, in Ash’s mind, people are pawns, and pawns can be property.

But you can’t tell Razor that, because if he knew that he’d rally the troops and attack the Bogknight base in an instant. Razor has no mercy for slavers.

(Another spoiler tag here. Physical abuse content warning doesn’t apply here, other warning does.)

You left after you found out what you had been helping, what you had a hand in building. But there were some questions you still had about Ash. Why did he keep you around even after he gained affluence? Why did he let you carry messages about the trade if he was one of the few that knew you could read? Why the hell, after all these years did he finally decide to leave and come to the swamp?

You did realize the answer to one question you had about Ash, however. You couldn’t have known until you experienced for yourself. You knew why Ash could never sleep, and why he kept himself tied to his bed at night.

The Swamp called out to Ash, and he fought it.

(Spoiler tag content ends here.)

…sooo consider the non-spoilered bit my actual suggestion, the rest is just…wordy musings.

Ambition… no, that wasn’t it, that’s not the right word. It’s true that the man stops at nothing to get what he wants but… At the same time he doesn’t really want anything. Life’s a big game to him — others, his own. Nobody could count the number of times he risked his life and limb over nothing at all. And when he got money, he never saved it, he spent it and then gave the rest away to whoever was standing close by. He’s terminally bored.

Well… There is one thing you think he wants now. Ever since he got to the swamp… he wasn’t called here… he’s been sending you letter after letter, weekly. It doesn’t matter that you never answer, they just keep coming. Sometimes he tries to set up chess-by-mail, sometimes he talks about his regrets, sometimes he laments his sleepwalking, his nightmares and convulsions, most of the time he just talks about his week and the newmucks and Long. If you didn’t know him better, you’d think he wanted you, or anybody, to be his brother and friend again. Maybe that’s still true, but you do know him better, and you’re just plain scared.

Whatever his current cause is, he’s probably gathered a group of Bogknights to support him. The content of his letters are more frivolous than not – no real tactical details. I suspect though, if or when Ash gains command, the Bogknights will be split internally. Razor look at me – we cannot attack him during that time. He will try to provoke us, but if we outright attack he will be able to rally the entire base under him against a common enemy.
We must act first, recapture and convince our prisoners of the great danger Ash poses not to us, but to them. Sew discord and sedition in the Bogknight ranks.
Are you going to eat that?