It’s 2 am. After the fish people slink back through the barn door and into the darkness of the swamp, we sit around and frantically whisper about what to do next. None of us are good at hiding our panic right now, exhausted as we are from fighting the horde of zombies the day before. A twisted part of me feels a sick satisfaction in having seen my arrows penetrate their dead, evil flesh. It pleases me to foil and frustrate Salithius in some small way by hacking his creations to bits. We decide that if the fish people light the barn on fire, we’ll use Blythe’s potion and run. In the meantime, Aija and I will take first watch, and we’ll wake everyone up early so we can get as far across the swamp as possible while it’s still light. Erik and I reset our alarms on the window and door before settling in for the rest of the night. When I look outside, there’s a fish person standing on the edge of the swamp, holding its trident and staring blankly into the moonlight.
Daylight is streaming through the window when we all wake up. Our inability to keep an effective watch would be funny if our lives weren’t so unquestionably at risk every time it happens. Heading outside we take stock of our surroundings. The sun shows it’s just after midday, and the fish person is still watching us from the edge of the swamp. Dolf checks the sword and ring again for magic, just in case we are inadvertently carrying around the means for Salithius to track us. Unfortunately the ring is magic again, so Aija and Vegard toss it into the outhouse. That done, we head out, skirting the swamp with it on our left and the field and farmhouse on our right. The fish person is still following us and watching us from a short distance away. He wades through the muck easily, never stepping from the more solid ground into deep sludgy water. When I look around us I see a zombie in the tall grass to our right. We stop, it stops. We walk, it walks. It stares at us expressionless. Presumably this is a pawn of Salithius being used to spy on us, and we must either escape it or kill it if we don’t want another swarm of those fast monsters on us again. The road we are following veers into the swamp, and we follow it. The zombie does not follow us, but this doesn’t put me at ease. Maybe its master thinks the swamp will take care of killing us.
Erik and I notice flashes of movement in the weeds around us, and suddenly we are surrounded by fish people. Their wet buggy eyes stare at us with malice, and they brandish their tritons menacingly. I struggle not to reach for my bow and pray to Helga that the rash Hans doesn’t pull his hammer and start swinging. Jensa steps out and tries to speak to them, but she can’t make herself understood. Out of the crowd in front of us steps a large fish person with what can only be described as bravado…a word I never thought I would use to describe a fucking fish. It speaks to us in a croaking baritone, in English. Its first proposal is that we can pass through the swamp if we give them all of our clothes and weapons. This would be death to us, so we obviously don’t agree with him. This goes on for a while, with the fish leader making more and more ridiculous requests. Hoping to appeal to their sense of reason, we tell him our story about the zombies and the destruction of our Egersund, and how the zombies will probably come for them eventually. The stupid motherfucker then decides to allow us through with our weapons and clothes, but only the men. He wants the women in our group as some kind of expendable half-breed brood mother. Aija tenses with fury and I feel my fingers twitch towards the short sword at my hip. When it’s clear to the fish that this isn’t going to happen, we start to negotiate a fight between a champion from each group. This turns out to be impossible, however, when we are told that the “place of dispute” is both far and deep underwater. This fish people are as slimy and disgusting and stupid as they look. Again, we try to use their fear of zombies, telling them that we will defeat the zombies starting with the one watching us from the edge of the swamp. Hopefully a display of force will impress these stupid motherfuckers. I hate that we are at the mercy of these barbarians just by virtue of their numbers. The fish people agree to let us try to kill our stalker, scoffing with disbelief because they obviously haven’t realized that lopping their heads off is the only way to kill them.
Hoping to impress the fish people with a grisly and awe-inspiring killing, Vegard (eventually) slips stealthily into the grasses to come at the zombie from behind. We all take out our weapons trying to look as deadly and competent as possible. When Vegard pops up again, it’s to fill the zombie with holes with his rapier. Fucking idiot forgets to stab its eye or chop its head off, so I shoot it in the eye as an arrow from Hans’ bow whizzes past its shoulder. Dolf lights the thing on fire, which freaks the fish people out. They grumble and growl and look skittish, like a horse at the edge of a riverbank. Apparently the ability to make fire out of nothing is enough for them to let us pass, which is good to know if they decide to accost us in the future. Hopefully the zombie saw enough before its destruction to assure Salithius that the fish people would take care of us for him.
The path weaves on deeper into the swamp. Erik and I lead, picking our steps carefully to avoid sinking into the muck. All of a sudden, Erik jumps backward and slashes at a thick, twisted tree like a madman. I’m confused until I look closer, and realize the “tree” has fangs. As we draw our weapons, Erik tries to attack the thing again, but it wraps its branches around him and squeezes until he passes out, at least I hope he’s just unconscious. Aija and Hans and I unleash on the thing with varying degrees of success. I climb a branch and stab it in the eye but it barely seems to notice as it’s too busy throttling Erik, who has managed to free himself from the choke hold. During the frenzy, Vegard has managed to sneak behind the tree and now jumps out and repeatedly stabs the thing in the face. While Jensa heals Erik, Hans gets his shit together and uses his hammer to its full potential. He smashes it in the mouth and it goes limp at last. Erik looks haggard and the rest of us are shaken and breathing hard. Someone is clapping and making little sounds of delight. We look up and see a beautiful little woman sitting in a real tree, clapping her froggy fingers together and smiling. Her long green hair floats around her head like its caught in a perpetual wind. Her skin is an iridescent bluish colour. She introduces herself as Arianna, and asks us why we’re trying to make our way through her swamp. Apparently this horrible place belongs to all the fucked up creatures that live in it, and we’re going to have to pay every one of them.
Once more, we explain our mission, trying to scare Arianna by emphasizing that she could lose her swamp to marauding undead. As Vegard is speaking, Dolf whispers that she is neither evil nor magic, which somehow doesn’t put me at ease. Arianna’s price for our safe passage is sex with Erik. He balks, but after the fish people’s requests I feel like this one is pretty reasonable…pleasant, even. She’s a gorgeous thing, even if she looks a bit amphibious. Erik’s hesitancy angers Arianna, and when Vegard offers to take Erik’s spot she gets even more agitated. I throw Vegard a look and roll my eyes. We’ve been sharing the sled almost every night and he’s not lacking for sex. Aija tries to offer Arianna some of our possessions, and her irritation deepens. All of a sudden, Erik is more than happy to go with her, eager, even. More than a little of me is relieved. It’s about time the innocent Erik got laid, and it’s an easy “sacrifice” for our safe passage. Dolf and Jensa try to stop Erik but he’s determined to go with Arianna. His dramatic change of mind starts to make me a bit uneasy and Arianna is getting more and more frustrated with our refusal to follow her. Vegard, whose pride may have been stung a bit by her rejection, makes the world’s stupidest decision and attacks Arianna. She starts to sing, and we are enveloped in a purple mist.
When it clears, I feel horrible for ever feeling any mistrust towards the lovely Arianna. I’m sure everyone else is thinking the same thing, because we are falling over ourselves to follow her off the road and into the swamp towards her home. I can’t wait to see it! I don’t even bother to check for tracks or orient myself, because I know Arianna will not lead us astray. I hope to Helga that Erik pleases her; she’s been through so much with us already that it would be devastating to disappoint her any more than we already have. When we arrive at her little yurt, she tells us to make ourselves comfortable in her charming main room while she escorts Erik to her bedroom. I sit down and breathe in the sweet smell of her home, waiting patiently as Erik is deflowered in the next room. They are not being quiet. When she finally comes back, she is tousled and happy. It’s adorable! She says she will lead us to the edge of the swamp as soon as Erik wakes up. Her kindness is really overwhelming, and I’m just happy to be around her! I can’t believe she’s going to be our guide! I think I doze off, and a few hours later Erik struts into the room, walking like he’s suddenly extremely aware of his dick. Arianna comes in with a little lantern, and we prepare to head back out into the swamp.
It’s now approximately 10 PM on May 22, 1136