San Sebastian Swamp
Going out to see Ol' Sebastian? Well, tread light and be polite. There's some spirits out there with a powerful temper... and that's just the dead ones!
Surrounding the city of Vibora Bay on three sides is the large, green expanse of the San Sebastian Swamp. This swamp, while not as large as the Everglades, is just as well known. Here, there are hundreds of unique species that make up the swamp's mix of a natural, and unnatural, ecosystem. Also, there is a unique community living there that calls the swamp home.
Meil Ming's Journal
October 1, 2009, 6:30 pm, Edge of the swamp
October 1, 2009, 6:30 pm, Edge of the swamp
I was parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Looking out at the swamp, I wondered if my informant had lied about this having anything to do with the orange ooze *.
The orange ooze was mutagenic. Sure, that team of lab jockeys from STAR Labs, Phoenix Industries, and Oscorp didn't want to commit to that description. Not officially, anyway.
Unofficially? It's mutagenic.
The lab reports and the information slipped to me from Code Blue pointed to a smuggling ring in the Vibora Bay region that dealt in something like the ooze. A group calling themselves the Bonegrinders. I figured from the name, they weren't a 'tea and cookies' social club.
Rumor said they worked Vibora Bay's North End with connections to the Golden Lotus in New York and elsewhere. Law enforcement suspected the Bonegrinders used the swamp as cover. Several reports have the group butting heads with the local vigilante and heroes in Vibora Bay.
Asking around got me nowhere. Well, almost nowhere. I didn't get any attention of the Vibora Bay heroes, but a local blues player said, "the heroes are always butting up against the 'Grinders. None more than the Croc. Most have another name for him, but I think of him as the Croc. Word is, he might have some personal stake in it. But you'll have to ask him."
Which sent me out here. To the swamp. At night.
Most in Vibora think the Croc, like a few of the other 'mystery heroes', are just stories. I'm betting not. If the Croc was real, he was a walking, talking alligator. That meant he might answer some questions.
Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my flashlight, dayrunner pack and the crude map 'Harp' Rivers drew for me. Supposedly, it lead to a place in the swamp called the 'Glenstone Mansion' where Croc had been spotted more than once.
As much as I hoped the stories of his vigilante named 'the Croc', or whatever his actual hero names was, were true, I was also hoping the other stories I've heard about San Sebastian Swamp were not. There's also the wildlife. I walked to the edge of the swamp and took a deep breath.
"Hey, I'm coming in. Whatever's living out here, so long as you don't bother me, I won't bother you. Deal? I'm just here to talk to 'the Croc'..."
I wasn't expecting a reply. But I got one...Editor's Note *
In case you've not heard, True Believers, Miss Ming is talking about the events in Grip of the Mind Thieves!
The San Sebastian Swamp is a freshwater swamp in the southern part of Lousianna. Scientifically, the swamp is a bayou, one of many in the Lousianna state. While it's not directly associated with the swamps around New Orleans, Vibora Bay's neighbor, San Sebastian shares many traits with the other bayous of the region.
As with any bayou, the San Sebastian is on a flat, low-lying area with many freshwater streams and side-branches that connect to the Mississippi River. The slow-moving water is the primary basis for the swamp environment.
Flat grasslands and "trembling earth" make up the islands through San Sebastian. This type of ground isn't entirely stable as suggested by the nickname. This "trembling earth" floats throughout the swamp, following the slow-moving water cycling in from the Mississippi. It isn't uncommon for the islands to follow the water flow depending on the weather and the season. Researchers that study the area indicate that the "trembling earth" is migrating based on the season.
These floating islands are only composed partially of dirt. They contain an equal mixture of unstable peat deposits. As a result, these islands "tremble" when stepped on, which is the source of the name. But even though they shake, the islands are stable and can support a surprising amount of weight. Yet, most animals avoid the islands because of the shaking.
The "trembling earth"? Well, story has it that's the places where the swamp can best see you. So step careful and be polite! Otherwise, it might carry you off!
Swamps are a rich collection of natural resources and the San Sebastian Swamp is no exception. Water, timber, and an abundance of plants with medicinal use are found throughout San Sebastian. There are so many that nearby Vibora Bay has become an unofficial mecca for natural medicines. This is also why Vibora Bay is also home to many pharmaceutical companies, like STAR Labs or Phoenix Industries, that research medicinal plants.
Other resources from San Sebastian are peat, which the region has in abundance, and bog iron. Companies have tried unsuccessfully in the past to establish factories in the swamp to process both the bog iron and peat. To date, any attempt has ended with the factory sinking into the swamp itself. This has happened so often that the locals say that the swamp, not wanting the factories there, is eating them.
Some resources are nothing more than rumor. Stories of rare minerals and mysterious curative plants are spurred by the Bonegrinder's unusual interest in the swamp. These minerals and plants are said to be located in concealed groves or on "trembling earth" islands in the deepest part of San Sebastian. But, despite the best efforts of treasure hunters and geologists, those mineral deposits have yet to be found. Again, locals say the swamp doesn't want them to be found.
San Sebastian Swamp features prominently in the history of the Vibora Bay region, even before the founding of Vibora Bay itself. Archeological evidence shows that there were many settlements in and around the swamp well before Spanish explorers arrived in 1520. At that time the swamp was called 'Whispering Trees' in the local language.
In 1520 and earlier, the swamp was a source of medicines, food, and transportation for the surrounding settlements. Legends retold over the generations recount stories of locals who would 'walk the worlds' by following certain trails through the deep parts of the swamp. Researchers have yet to deduce the meaning behind this myth, though stories of these glowing emerald paths persist today.
The name of 'San Sebastian' was coined by the first Spanish explorers traveled the region based on a mysterious event. Sailing up the Mississippi, they arrived at the Whispering Trees swamp and established a trading post along a curve in the river. The location was a few miles north of modern day Vibora Bay. This post was established to trade with the locals and become the eventual cornerstone of a new Spanish colony. But fate had different ideas.
When the Spanish ships returned the following year with supplies and people, they found the trading post abandoned. Food and supplies were left untouched. All animals and inhabitants were missing. It was as if the previous inhabitants vanished into thin air. On the lone dock was a plank with the words 'San Sebastian' burned into the wood. Resting on top of the plank were seven arrows.
The only comment on the incident from nearby settlements was that a large storm had swept through the region. Descriptions of the storm matched that of a hurricane, except for the large amounts of green lightning. Once the storm had passed, the trading post settlers had vanished.
Refusing to resupply what was considered a cursed location, the Spanish supply ships abandoned the trading post. Instead, a new one was established in the area that would eventually become the city of Vibora Bay.
Later, the swamp became the site of battles during the American War for Independence, the War of 1812, rum running during the Prohibition Era and more. It has also played host to numerous conflicts between criminal organizations such as AIM or the Bonegrinders and the Vibora Bay vigilantes in the current day.
The swamp was, and still is, a place of deep history. A living ecosystem that has a profound impact on Vibora Bay. One that still plays a key part in the region's story.
Meil Ming's Journal
October 1, 2009, 6:33 pm, Into the Swamp
October 1, 2009, 6:33 pm, Into the Swamp
The last thing you want to see up close at night in a swamp are the teeth of a giant reptile. Double that if the reptile talks.
"Lady, it's not real smart to go stomping around the swamp at night. But. You got your wish."
I'm from New York, so I've seen stranger than this. Way stranger. But I'd be lying if I wasn't nervous.
He was at least a six foot or more tall wall of solid muscle and alligator. The pair of blue jeans and a faded shirt with the words "it's a swampy thing” framed the whole bizarre moment.
The teeth? Yeah. Alligator teeth for days when he talked.
But his eyes weren't what I expected. They were serious, almost sad. Not what I expected at all.
"Croc?" My mind clicked the pieces together. "As in 'Killer Croc'? Waylon Jones? That hired thug out of Gotham City?"
He shrugged. It was like watching a mountain shift position.
"Used to be. But I'm done with that life. Not who I am now. A few still call me 'Croc' but not many. I go by 'Leatherback' now. One of the newspapers in Vibora Bay thought it was a clever name to use. It stuck." He smirked, showing more teeth than my imagination ever wanted to see. "I kinda like it."
His smile faded.
"But, Lady, just who are you and what are you doing out here? Especially heading for the old Glenstone Mansion at night right when that place is about to wake up. It's a good way to get killed."
He might have been a hired killer in the past, but I recognized that speech. Mouse Force gives me that speech all the time. I called it the 'hero speech'. It kicked my 'stubborn' into gear.
"My name's Meil Ming. I'm a reporter for the Dawn Sun Register. I was told you knew about something called a ‘Crystal Jade Vine’? The pollen from that plant is being used to manufacture some kind of slime or ooze. It's mutating people in New York."
If Waylon, 'Leatherback', had any eyebrows, he would have raised them. At least, the ridgelines over his eyes raised as if he had eyebrows. He looked surprised and suspicious.
"A reporter? You flew to the other end of the country for a story? Or to find a way to neutralize that stuff?"
I frowned hard, glaring at him. Or really up at him since at best I'm five foot five.
"Both. The people need to know what this is and how to deal with it. The heroes back home? They're scrambling to keep it under control but they’re having a hard time."
Leatherback held up his hands, eyebrows raised again.
"Whoa. Hold on," he growled. "I get it. I get it. All right, look. That plant... it's something else. Something dangerous. You need to leave it alone."
He waved a hand when I tried to interrupt.
"Wait, I'm not done. You need to talk to Dr. Maat. Smart guy. He studies stuff like the Jade Vine. I can't promise he'll have something that'll help, but he just might."
I folded my arms over my chest.
"All right. Does he live out here?"
Leatherback shook his head.
"Nope. He's back in Vibora. If you drive, I'll show you the way."
Whispering Trees, Ol' Sebastian, Smuggler's Paradise
Wetland / Swamp
Anyone can go visit San Sebastian! Just remember, if you're too interesting... it's said the swamp might keep you!
San Sebastian Swamp, like any wetland, is a protected environment under local law. It's also extremely dangerous for the average tourist. Insects, plants, and the native wildlife are not forgiving hosts to visitors. Yet, this hasn't deterred tourists.
The actual height of tourist season in the swamp takes place twice a year during spring and fall. The oppressive, humid heat of summer and the dead of winter often send many tourists elsewhere.
But visitors to the swamp can take hikes or swamp boat tours that include fishing or bird watching. There is also a 'historical trail' tour of some of the centuries old estates and homes that dot the swamp's edge along Vibora Bay's city limits.
All of these attractions are located, primarily for safety reasons, within a region called the Jean-Baptiste Rouchette Historical Park and Preserve. A 20,000 acre region monitored and maintained by the Vibora Bay Park Service.
Visitors to the swamp are not prevented from exploring other areas, but the idea is strongly discouraged. Posted signs warn of the dangers in the greater San Sebastian swamp. They list hazardous areas and wildlife but tactfully leave off the difficult to explain dangers, such as the occasional mutated wildlife, or the possibly haunted mansion.
Flora and Fauna
The San Sebastian ecosystem is like other swamps or bayous in the region. It's a challenging environment, because of the area being a large wetland in a humid climate with more than its share of violent storms from the Gulf.
Trees like the pond cypress, red maple, and buttonwood are found across the entire region. Smaller plants and shrubs such as the cabbage palm, cattail, and southern blueberry are a common sight.
San Sebastian has a wide variety of animals as well. Waterfowl, species of crayfish, muskrats, swamp rabbits, and alligators frequent the area. Scientists from STAR Labs and other organizations are still identifying new plant and animal species regularly in San Sebastian.Editor's Note
There's far more here than your garden variety alligator! Some heroes suspect this, but none know for certain that deep inside the swamp are hidden groves of the near mythical and mutagenic Crystal Jade Vines! Out of those, there is one grove that the Bonegriders use as a source of money. They sell the blooms to the Golden Lotus criminal gang who uses the petals to fashion their meta-power granting tattoo ink!
Not Just a Little Swamp Gas
Myths and legends surround San Sebastian Swamp. These tales range from the 'Lost Trading Post' where the swamp gets its name to the 'Path of the Green' said to let a person walk to the 'Land of Dreams'. They are fanciful and exciting, but most just consider them tall tales. But there are a determined few, intent on proving the truth of each story.
Two of the more popular tales concern the Haunted Glenstone Mansion and the Ghost Ship of Xavier Thibaut Trémaux. Both legends are retold in the Vibora Bay region, with each version more elaborate than the last. What makes both so interesting is that each have a visible phenomenon that has been witnessed countless times over the years.Glenstone Mansion
Mysteriously preserved Glenstone Mansion sits five miles into the swamp, West of Vibora Bay. The old building is reported to be haunted.
By day, the mansion looks to be nothing more than a weathered and aged, abandoned home built in the mid-1800s. But any damage done to the building is mysteriously repaired to the exact weathered condition by the next day.
At night? Brave souls that survive the visit report the sounds and sights of a dinner party held by ghosts... and visitors who never escaped!Ghost Ship of Xavier Thibaut Trémaux
There are many tales about the pirate Xavier Trémaux. Some are heroic, others criminal, and some are a little in between. Most of the stories don't agree on the character of the man, they share a common thread to the pirate's tale.
In 1756, Xavier brought his ship and crew to San Sebastian Swamp in search of a legendary flower with mythical properties. This flower was said to have 'crystal petals of jade' that could heal any wound or ailment. They could even grant a person miraculous powers.
Trémaux was warned by the local inhabitants to stay out of the swamp. Searching for the flower was not only dangerous, but would doom himself and his entire crew. That flower should only be touched by the virtuous.
The pirate didn't listen. He set sail, turning his ship upriver, then into the swamp itself along its larger tributaries. He never returned, or at least not in the way he left.
Locals say that Xavier Trémaux, 'sailed too far' in search of the plant and his greed cursed him. Now, on the full moon of each month, his ghostly green ship has been seen sailing through the swamp with Trémaux and his crew forever looking for the 'crystal flowers the colors of jade'.
The swamp has long been home to more than just plants, animals, and mysterious events. For generations, a community of people have carved out and maintained a place to live there.
These people trace their lineage back to the original inhabitants and the settlements around the swamp before the Spanish explorers in 1520. A cautious but friendly people, their culture is grounded in the natives living in the swamp but is colored with traditions from Spain, France, and other visitors to the region who decided to stay.
Learning from the swamp, these people choose to live in harmony with the diverse ecosystem. They have maintained their quiet place in San Sebastian across history, through wars, storms and all manner of mysterious events.
They remember and teach their own, the actual name of their people. But in today's chaotic world, they use a different name when speaking to outsiders.
It's an old name. They got it generations ago, but I heard tell, they do like it. Some say it has to do with how they fish the swamps. But I also hear it come from them being the ‘the fishers of the sea kings’…
Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull
I love all the detail in this article, from the history to the myths and the trembling earth! 'To date, any attempt has ended with the factory sinking into the swamp itself. This has happened so often that the locals say that the swamp, not wanting the factories there, is eating them.' You know, I think I would have stopped trying after the first time. Or at least the second time. XD Great article! :)
C. B. Ash
thank you!! And I know, right? when the *entire factory* just sinks... I would think that is a sign to go elsewhere! :D But hey, some companies are just downright stubborn!
I love that shirt.
C. B. Ash
Really, it's his favorite shirt! He gets a real kick out of it. The humor is just not lost on him at all.