Today’s FREE map is the Brackish Marsh.
This map went through a great many color changes, and I may yet upload an alternate, greener version. That said, I like the autumn feel of this one, which is convenient in that the campaign I run is currently in autumn!
Sunset hues coated the marsh’s surface in a chaos as amber as the leaves above. The reflected orange shimmered with every ripple and wave, making it nigh impossible to pinpoint the danger’s movement. It was there, circling, toying with them. They had stepped into the beast’s home, and their confidence had come with a great cost. It knew the terrain and how to use it, and now the two were all that was left.
Officers Garth and Butler stood in the waters, backs pressed, submerged to their waists. Their fists clenched exhaustedly around longswords as they scanned the mire for their predator. The water was thick with algae and grime, filling the air with a putrid rot. Ripples pulsed outward with every panicked breath and anxious flinch. But lack of visibility was both their weakness and saving grace, as being able to see the monster would only hasten their doom. The other four, their Captain included, had already made the mistake of meeting the creature face to face in isolation. They now stood, sealed in eternal death as stone warnings to future intruders.
The soldiers should have fled. They should have turned and run the moment the first of them was taken. But their bravado had forced them further and deeper. Too many townsfolk had died to this beast, and they were the heroes who volunteered to slay it. Had they known how quickly and unceremoniously they would die, they might not have.
“We should rush for the bank.” Garth broke the silence, his voice struggling to remain level. It might have been comforting, were it not for his body quaking against Butler’s back.
“If we go the same way, it’ll cut us off.” Butler had seen enough fights in his time to know their chances. They wouldn’t both make it out, but one might. Garth was younger, stronger, and his fear would grant him speed.
“I’ll count, and then we both run. Opposite directions. Make for town, and do not look back. Just run, okay?”
“Are you sure? If we split up-”
“We have no other choice! We run, and we don’t look back, okay?” Garth remained silent.
“Okay. Three… two…”
“Butl-…” Garth had reached back, gripping Butler’s forearm. His hand squeezed tight and cold, locking in place. His fearful quivering slowed to a halt. Butler didn’t need to look back to know why.
Only one remained. The creature no longer needed to be careful. It likewise might be hungry, and bloody trails had evidenced that it did not eat its petrified victims. Butler couldn’t take the chance. Garth’s frozen fingers had caged his arm at his side, so the choice to stand and fight had been made for him. He readied his blade, steadied his breath, and closed his eyes.
Between the sounds of his armor and thoughts, he heard something. A low, guttural grumbling surfaced to his right, then shifted to circle him. He could feel the water brushing his legs. It distanced itself, then stopped. When it started again, it moved with a new speed. This was it.
The monster closed in, splashing the bog around it as it charged. Several rows of viciously jagged teeth opened as it neared, ready to taste its prey. As they reached Butler’s thigh, he thrust down. The blade of his sword met a thick hide but pierced through with desperate force. His sword twisted and fought as the creature writhed in pain, but he held firm and drove it deeper. Pain shot through him as the beast retaliated, biting further into his leg. He drew his sword out, then struck back down. He stabbed more times than he cared to count. Eventually, its jaw surrendered, allowing Butler to pry it from his flesh. He opened his eyes to watch a scaled, grey mound sink out of sight.
His injury was grievous, but he was adamant to survive. Hopefully for a long time, in a retirement provided by an appreciative township. Butler almost smiled at the thought. Glancing around to those less fortunate, his eyes rested on Garth.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, readying the base of his sword to free himself.
– by Troy McConnell
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