Impostor in the Swamp

Prompt using Story Engine cards:

An impostor wants to follow a path leading to a gilded court but they will have to break a personal rule.

The setting is a growing swamp with carnivorous plants. Within it is a clearing shaped by mining activity, where a secret society is said to be gathering.

Jestin swore as the solid-looking grass hump he’d just stepped onto began to sink. Not fast enough to be dangerous, but plenty fast enough to let stinking, muddy swamp water flow into his boots.

He pulled one foot up, stepping onto ground his quarterstaff confirmed as solid, then he heaved at the other, the swamp releasing it with a loud, ugly, sucking sound.

The clearing should be somewhere around here, probably on the other side of the charming-looking bushes with thorns half the length of his fingers and tooth-edged flowers in shades of putrid purple and yellow.

There was a reason he’d vowed to never venture out of High Trellisgorn again, a reason he’d vowed to never, ever let his sly, secretive half brother talk him into impersonating him again. If he’d stuck to his vows, not let Lorsin’s emotional blackmail persuade him to once again, just this once, set out into hostile territory in the guise of the second prince of Andor, he’d be at home right now, probably in the library, hunting down the origin of that fascinating myth he’d stumbled across two months before.

But he’d weakened, and now here he was, in the middle of the Voracious Swamp, half covered in putrid mud, in search of the meeting place of some secret society that, in exchange for certain services, would gain him admittance to the glittering court of the Forestfell Empire. Not that it would be any improvement on here, the Forestfell courtiers were every bit as carnivorous as the plants in front of him, just prettier.

He scanned the grass ahead. There. An area of thinner, finer growth that might just be a pathway. He followed it, quarterstaff at the ready, those plants could get quite active when they were properly motivated.

Sure enough, as he moved closer, and the flowers and stems ahead of him began to quiver, a gap between the bushes edged into view. Narrow, but not impassable, and it seemed his swamp dunking was softening his scent, or whatever the plants used to detect meat on the move, they weren’t nearly as excited as the ones he’d had to set fire to on the edge of the swamp two days before.

He backtracked to the edge of the solid area and, holding his breath, began plastering handfuls of whatever made up the swamp mud onto his upper legs, arms, and torso. When he re-approached the gap, he reeked of swamp water and rot, and his clothes would have to be thrown in the nearest midden but the plants didn’t so much as twitch as he edged sideways through the opening.

It took several minutes of careful crab-walking, and silent prayers to uncaring deities that he’d chosen the right path, before the bushes came to an abrupt halt and he shuffled into a wide clearing eerily devoid of plant or animal life.

The ground was bare, dried grey mud without so much as a blade of grass edging through the cracks. To one side was the rotted remains of a series of wooden buildings, flanking a single stone structure that stood intact, and untouched.

Jestin scraped off what mud he could manage, concentrating of making the coat-of-arms on the front of his tunic visible again, and headed for the stone building. If this Conclave of the Learned was anywhere, it would be in there, at the entrance to the elenium mine that created this blight before its abandonment several hundred years ago.

As he neared the black hole of the entrance, a voice growled out. “Who approaches the Inner Sanctum of the Conclave?”

Jestin fought his eye roll, as if they didn’t know exactly who he supposedly was and why he was here.

“Prince Lorsin of Highmount. I seek passage to the Court of Forestfell.”

“Prove it.”

Jestin thumped down his quarterstaff in exasperation and asked. “How?”

“Display the birthmark of the royal house of Highmount.”

Lorsin was damned lucky some quirk of fate had bestowed that stupid mark on Jestin, it was supposed to only show up on legitimate offspring.

He turned his back on the door, and dropped his trousers, baring his backside, and the mark on it, to the viewers within.

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