I should have known that our good fortune wouldn't last. After our pleasant respite in the company of the Miredancers, we decided to press northward. Our guide, Reelus, urged us to reconsider. "The deep murk devours outsiders," she said. She reminded us of the incident at Keel-Sakka bridge, and explained that the northern natives are even less willing to barter than the Tum-Taleel. Many of us were willing to cut the expedition short, but in the end, we were outvoted.
It did not take long for us to realize our folly. As we ventured northward, the vegetation grew thicker by the hour. The small swarms of flesh-flies we'd encountered before swelled into great, billowing clouds of buzzing pain. Again and again, Reelus encouraged us to turn back, but we continued to trudge farther into the dark.
Early Morndas morning, we noticed that Percius was missing. We fanned out to find him—shouting and stumbling through the thick mud for over an hour. When we reconvened at the wagons, we realized that Valentina and Morten had disappeared as well. I feel no shame in saying our misguided bravery melted away quickly. We turned the wagons immediately, moving southward as quickly as the swamp would allow. That's when we started hearing the croaking.
It was quiet at first—like a small gathering of frogs. Slowly, it grew louder. After an hour of panicked marching, the sound had swelled into an almost deafening cacophony. Then came the screaming. I couldn't say whose voice it was. All I can say for sure is that it came from a place of total agony. I saw shadows moving through the trees around us, but never for more than an instant. I only got a good look at one of them. Reelus tells me it was almost certainly a naga—a member of the terrifying Naga-Kur. Apparently, the members of this Dead-Water tribe control vast swaths of northern Murkmire and are greatly feared by Saxhleel in surrounding villages.
As for the one I saw, I will never forget her. Her face resembled a snake of some kind, and her entire body was covered in mud. What struck me most, however, was her shield. It had a face! Reelus tells me that the Naga-Kur often adorn their weapons and armor with pieces of fallen comrades. Faces, claws, leg bones and the like. I winced at the idea of butchering a fallen friend, but Reelus just shrugged. "Naga-Kur fight all the days of their lives. This lets them fight after death too." It makes sense. I guess. Luckily, we escaped without any other losses. We won't soon forget the Naga-Kur, though. Of that I am certain.