The fetid swamps of the Muckmire were home to all sorts of noisome maladies and disgusting diseases. But the constantly shifting morass of hills and pools and fens filled with rotting vegetable matter were forever churned from beneath by rising gasses liberated by volcanic activity, and they were forever bringing valuable minerals and treasures from the Fifth Age to the surface or near it.

So every day, vast and ragged fleets of swamp trawlers would set out from the few outposts of civilization in the Muckmire, from Grant’s Crossing at the edge to New Maun in it heart on the largest and driest of the swamp islands. Floating above the morass on ancient and sputtering hoverdrives, they would use metal detectors and the crew’s keen eyes to find valuables and bring them back for sale on the thriving scrap markets. It was an open secret that trawling the Muckmire markets was the best way to acquire rare minerals on the cheap, or to find spare parts for (or the rare working example of) technology that had since passed beyond the ken of man.

But there was a price.

The swamp trawler crews regularly sickened with all sorts of horrible illnesses. There was swamplung, which caused he afflicted to drown in foul secretions from their own chest, unless they could be drained by a piercetap in a clinic (an operation which still had a frightening rate of death and permanent disability). There was wetboils, where great blisters that wept watery fluid formed on every exposed surface, leading to death by dehydration or choking or disfigurement.

A most dreaded malady, though, was the walksleep.

Crews would fall asleep, one at a time, and exhale spores and gasses which caused their fellows to do the same. Unless they were flung overboard or isolated in the airtight chambers some of the biggest trawlers kept, walksleep could incapacitate an entire crew. The coma was so profound, and so deep, that nothing would wake the sleeper. At a clinic they could be fed through a tube, but in the Muckmire they would die of dehydration in their sleep.

But that wasn’t the thing that the trawler crews dreaded, bad as it was. Dying of the walksleep caused sufferers to rise after a time, animated by strands and filaments of an unknown fungus-like organism. They would then perform a dreamlike parody of the work that they had in life while constantly exhaling the selfsame spore-laced gas. Thus it was possible to find trawlers crewed by walksleepers and even small settlements thereof, and any trawler suspected of bearing the contagion stood the risk of being blown away by the harbor guns of New Maun or any settlement worth its salt.

To the adventurer, though, the stalkers who walked through the fens on foot or the freeloaders who trolled them on small skiffs, the walksleepers were a tempting target. For in their actions after death, the afflicted would often haul in additional treasures, and continue to bear those that they had found (to say nothing of their ships and equipment). It was risky work, and many a stalker or freeloader with a dodgy mask or filter wandered the Muckmire as a walksleeper, but the rewards drew many who were at their wit’s end and had no use for the plodding pace of a swamp trawler.

Saul and Alina Rozchenko were two of the best. But even they could not see the ends that awaited them in the gloom of the Muckmire.

Inspired by this.

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