Grey skies loomed over the hunting party as they picked their way through the swamp. Mud squelched underfoot as the four moved deeper into Vanern - a troll, a norseman, a kobold and a dwarf. The troll had a massive sword slung on his back that a man would struggle to lift, let alone wield. The norseman wore a dark cloak and anything underneath was obscured in its folds. The dwarf muttered about the mud and the wetness and seemed ill at ease in these watery lands, all the time keeping one hand on the hammer slung in his belt. Of them all, only the little kobold seemed comfortable with his surroundings. Deftly he led the others through the reeds and bushes ever westward. Just out of sight could be heard sounds of various beasts caught up in the daily struggle of the food chain. Snakes ambushed swamp frogs, massive chitinous mud crabs larger than a man speared snakes with their huge pincers, and here and there in the deeper waters larger, more deadly creatures waited for the unwary or the weak. Giant worms called Orms swam the lakes and waterways and anything venturing into the water was rapidly killed and eaten. The swamp was a vicious place, and deadly to the unwary. "Konda, you sure he came this way?" asked the norseman. "Yes," answered the kobold, "he was headed this way with that damned spirit of his." "Its been a whole day," continued the norseman, "you sure you still have the trail?" The kobold was visibly annoyed with being questioned. He didn't like it because it broke his concentration on following the trail. But mostly he didn't like his skill being questioned. "Girnek, the trail is clear. He's only a fool mystic who wanders too much. If you know how to read the paths, its like a whole jotun tribe passed this way. Now be quiet and let me concentrate." The norseman subsided into sullen silence. Both corners of the dwarf's mouth turned up slightly and he kept moving his head from around, keeping an eye out for any movement coming towards them. There was no more words between them for another hour. the landscape gradually changed from small pools and mud to larger areas which could almost be called lakes. The ground underfoot got harder and the way ahead easier. The big troll scratched his chest, "Ullok hungry. Eat now." Konda sighed. Fair enough, it was getting on in the day, and would probably be soon time to set camp anyway. "I'll find us a suitable spot." "Ullok hungry now." "Just be patient, we need somewhere dry and defensible just in case." "In case of what?" asked the dwarf. Konda set his jaw and frowned, "Don't know, Toosnan." They found a suitably dry spot between some trees and begen to set up a basic camp while Konda went off and caught some small game. Konda also used the time to check out most likely approaches to their camp spot. Satisfied their camp was fairly defensible he set about catching dinner. A short while later, Toosnan cooked the small bear that Konda caught. The others sat around on their bedrolls, except Konda, who walked around their little camp, constantly peering into the dark beyond the light of their fire. "Sit down," said Girnek, "you're making everyone jumpy." Konda paused, "Have any of you actually been out here before?" All answered no. "Heh. You stay on your guard out here. During the day the snakes come out and you take your life in your hands when you step in the tall grass. At night there's other things prowling, many of which I've only heard, not seen." As if he hadn't been listening Toosnan said "Food's ready. Pull of a hunk and eat what you like." He piled some meat into a bowl and retreated to his bedroll to eat. Ullok was in there right after him and grabbed himself a couple of legs. He paused before going to his own bedroll as if gauging if he had enough, "Ullok get more when finished this." Girnek shook his head in disdain and took a tiny portion of the meat. He sniffed it then wrinkled his nose. He was stuck with peasants and he hated being away from Jordheim. Bad food, uncomfortable surroundings and not even a proper bed or a place to wash. The sooner this miserable job was over the better. Finally Konda finished his latest circuit of the camp and sat down to get himself some food. "Have you heard of the Vanern Witch?" he asked as he chewed. Girnek shook his head, Toosnan said no and Ullok didn't respond or pause between mouthfulls but all of them watched him. "Sometimes at night, you can hear a wailing. No matter where you are in this part of the world you can hear it and it always sounds far off. If you try to track the source it seems to move, always out of sight, always just close enough to seem worth chasing." Girnek rolled his eyes. Here we go. Ghost stories around the campfire. Good bloody grief he hated being stuck with peasants. Konda noticed Girnek's disdain but continued, "They say there is a witch, beautiful and terrible to behold, who cries for her dead lover. She cannot sleep, but instead mourns and cries until dawn." "So what?" said Girnek, "the wind, the trees, the bugs and beasts make noise. It's just be old wives tales same as you hear everywhere. There's always some ghost or monster can be heard in the night somewhere." "This isn't..." "Look just cut it out. I want to get some sleep." Konda shrugged, put down his bowl and decided to resume his watch. "You all get some sleep then, I'll take watch through the night." "Fine," answered Girnek, "so long as it cuts out the ghost stories I'm happy." Toosnan chuckled, "Not afraid of ghosts are you Girnek?" "Oh shut up dwarf." Toosnan winked at the norseman then turned to Konda, "You heard this woman then Konda?" "I never said anything about ghosts. I said there was a witch." Konda stopped to pick up his bow and his quiver, "And yes, I've heard her." Ullok reached over for more food as Konda stepped out of the firelight into the darkness. Konda decided he would take watch the full night and not rotate shifts with his companions. He doubted they had any wilderness craft about them. Fortunately he always carried some potions to fend off sleep for extended hunts and one of these meant though not quite as rested as his counterparts, there was no danger of exhaustion the next day. He watched through the darkness and sure enough around midnight as the wind picked up he was sure he could hear a faint wailing. He frowned and patrolled around the camp, always just beyond the light cast by the dying fire and always careful to make sure he never looked directly into the camp, so his nightvision stayed sharp. The night passed uneventfully, much to Konda's relief. At dawn Konda roused his companions. Only Ullok rose without difficulty. The big troll stood and stretched his massive frame and his arms easily reached into the lower branches of the tree beside which he had rested. Much to Konda's amusement, the troll started doing some stretching excercises. When he picked up his sword and did a few practice routines Konda's respect for the troll went up. He had thought Ullok to be just another huge brute suited to beating an opponent to a pulp but as he watched him, it became obvious that Ullok was very skilled with the sword. While Ullok went through his routines, Girnek grumpily roused himself and wrapped his cloak around him, feeling the morning cold on him. "Toosnan," he said, "you got any spells to get the heat back in our bodies?" The dwarf opened one eye and muttered just below the threshold where it could be made out. It didn't matter because the tone he used basically indicated that Girnek should leave him alone until he was properly awake. Konda shook his head. If he was by himself he would have been up and moving by now, all traces of the camp hidden. This lot were painful travelling companions but they did come highly reccomended. Eventually he got them moving and after finishing off the cold remains of the previous evening's meal, they set off again. Konda didn't bother hiding the remains of the campsite as his companions left such a trail anyway it seemed pointless to cover it up. He doubted there was anyone around here, but the habit of years made his mind itch at the thought of not covering up his tracks after himself. It was sunnier than the previous day, though it never actually got warm. The sky had that pale look as if the heat had been drained off and the sun only provided light, not warmth. They walked on through the swamp, occasionally Konda pausing the party while he scouted ahead. About noon he returned from one of these forays with news for the rest of the party. "He's stopped. He's in a large clearing and looks like he's resting. That ghost of his is watching though, it may be hard to surprise him completely but we should have the edge. All I need is one clear shot." Girnek snorted, "If it was going to be that easy you wouldn't need the rest of us." Konda's eyes slitted, "I was just being cautious when I asked for some company on this trip but you've yet to prove I was assigned someone useful. I should be able to do this in one bowshot. You three are insurance. Now prepare your spells so we can move into position." Girnek just glowered at him but began casting his various shield spells. Briefly he glowed as the shield spells were cast. He hefted his staff and nodded his head to Konda to indicate he was ready. Toosnan was rapidly chanting and moving his arms in complex motions. Each one of them briefly glowed as the gods bestowed extra strength and agility on them. Lastly he conjured his most powerful spells and each one of the party could feel their blood quickening as the haste spell hightened their speed. Even big lumbering Ullok felt a deftness beyond that of an ordinary troll. "I am ready." said Toosnan. "Ok," said Konda, "I go from the east of the clearing. Girnek, you're on the west. Shield me in case that bloody spirit comes at me. If I don't get him with the first shot, cloud his sight so he can't cast at me. Toosnan, you hang back out of sight where you can chant your heals safely if they are needed. Ullok, if the Spirit attacks you keep the it busy and if you manage to finish it off before I finish the kill, charge him." Konda looked around at each of them, "Everyone understand what they've to do?" Each of them nodded or grunted assent. "Right," added Konda, "time to kill Roo."