PART ONE: THE PROPHET OF THE QUAG
Along the southern fringes of Flaz' Quag, the plains were not as verdant as elsewhere, almost as if the grayish mist that hung like a cloud over the swamp had leeched the color from the neighboring grasslands. The rain, which had intensified over the past hour since the departure from Fels, was deepening the gloom.
Lea was trying to project more confidence than she felt, although it was difficult with sodden garments weighing her down and wet hair plastered to her face. She avoided looking north, as if by not gazing into the murk of Flaz' Quag, she could dispel the creatures that lived there.
If anyone else was nervous about the proximity of the quatics, they didn't show it. The talk between Wil and Guc was of where to ford the Goldenwater River, which they expected to reach within the hour. Wil claimed he remembered a crossing just south of their current position, but Guc said that had been washed away two years ago and they would have to angle to the north, closer to the Quag and its dangers.
When the attack came, it did so without warning. The creatures, each as tall as a horse and more monstrous in appearance than any animal, had been lying in wait, using the tall grass for camouflage. By the time the horses scented the danger, the quatics were on the move, leaping to their feet and charging at their would-be quarry.
Lea did not scream, although she felt terror constrict her throat at the first sight of the quatics. Nearly twice as tall as she and possessing more bulk than her mount, they had warty, bluish green hides that looked capable of turning aside a sword. Beady yellow eyes glared from beneath a bony forehead ridge, and a three-nostriled nose dominated the face. While many of the quatics' teeth were rotten, those that weren't looked as dangerous as the blade-like claws on the four-digited hands and feet. Each was naked, its tough skin covered by a layer of fine, reddish-brown hair. There were six of them.
Three of the six horses reared, including Lea's. The queen, not an expert rider, was thrown from the saddle to land on her back in the mud. Someone shouted something to her, but she couldn't make out the words over the cries of her horse and the roars of the attackers. The impact stunned the queen, and as she tried to catch her breath and rise to a kneeling position, her mount kicked her in the head. Blackness rushed in, enveloping her consciousness immediately.
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