RE: Swamped
"The hell is that?"

One of the other knights takes notice as you back away.

"I don't know. It was under the desk."

"Right." Ben turns to the knight who just called out. "Dana, you go fetch someone on pest control. Natalie, you help me with the big bug. And you - you're repair squad, right? Just stay back."

"I'll see if I can find Penelope," you say.

"Whatever. Just don't take any unnecessary risks."

The two of them head towards the scorpion. They keep striking it, but it seems surprisingly well-armored. But you're more concerned about where Penelope could be.

You look throughout the whole office, even glancing up at the ceiling in case she's somehow climbed there, but you can't find any sign of her.

All you manage to find is a few grains of sand. Which is more than a little strange.

By the time you give up, Dana's come back with Grey and Florentine.

"Really wish Dean was here," Grey grumbles. "Well, at least we can cage the damn thing, not that I know what we're going to feed it."

Between the five of them, the scorpion is soon caught. You feel more than a little relieved that nobody was stung.


You're now Penelope. You're surrounded by sand in every direction. Luckily, you got your breather mask on before you inhaled too much of it.

Less fortunately, there's someone in a cloak and mask walking towards you.

You have a grim feeling that they want the item you just found in Vera's office, and that it would be very, very bad if they got ahold of it.

What do you do?
RE: Swamped
Swallow it.

Then fall asleep.
RE: Swamped
You've got few options. You could bury it in the sand, but you're not a great digger. You could toss it away, but who's to say they wouldn't find it. Not to mention, if you do that, you have no idea how to find it again.

So all you can think of to do is swallow it. You carefully squeeze it into the gap between your mask and face, and let it slip into your mouth.

Good thing this strange rock isn't very big. Although you're not sure how easy it'll be to get out again, but you can worry about that later.

Hopefully, anyways. As the cloaked figure approaches, you find yourself suddenly getting drowsier...


You wake up with a start.

"Don't be in such a rush, it's not good for your blood pressure," Eve says. "Not even one day back and you get your big nose in trouble? You haven't changed a bit, Sixth."

"Where's Lisa, what's going on," you mutter.

"Tom Eighth got mad and punched you. He wouldn't tell me more than that, other than that he was sorry. Also, one of my other patients said you were having swamp sickness earlier. Is that true?"

"Me? Not at all. Probably got me mixed up with some other Tom, you know how many of us there are."

"Well, you just got back, so you'd be particularly prone to catching it again. It's easy to forget standard disease precautions when you get back from 'civilized' society. Anyhow, you had some luck there, Eighth dragged you here right after the line cleared out. You should rest a bit more until you've got your strength back, though. Can't assume you're fine just because you've regained consciousness."

Which is to say, she's not going to let you run off and try to figure out what Lisa's up to.

Well, you'll just have to deal with it the best you can. Which is to say, see what sort of info you can get out of Eve.
RE: Swamped
Were my friends from Squib Squad okay when they got their checkups?
RE: Swamped
Have you heard about any golden roses?
RE: Swamped
"I did notice there was a line here earlier," you say. "Mostly made up of rather big fellows. Were they all right?"

"Can't go into specifics," Eve says. "They didn't have anything contagious, that's all I can tell you. If you want to know how they are, ask them yourself."

"I'm just wondering what got those strapping lads, really. In case it's something I need to worry about."

"Well, they weren't willing to tell me what might have caused them trouble, so I can't give you any specific warnings either," Eve mutters. "You and your boundless curiosity. What did you even say to set Eighth off? Did you go poking into his room to figure out what his invention was or something?"

"No, not at all. I barely remember what I said." Which is true. You think it had to do with Ash, but your head's still spinning a bit. However, it gives you a thought to pull a little bluff. "Was it him I mentioned golden roses to, or someone else..."

"Golden roses?" She seems a bit surprised. "Why would you be asking Tom Eighth about a fairy tale?"

"Oh, is that where it comes from? Yes, I think I heard someone use the phrase and was planning to ask the Recordkeeper if he knew what it was from. Still getting my bearings a bit."

"It's just a story about blindly pursuing beauty and getting hurt for it," Eve says. "Which I suppose explains why someone would mention it to you."

Now that's just mean.

"I think we have a copy, actually. Not that I have any time to read these days. Maybe you could benefit from it." She digs through the shelves and hands you the book. "Enjoy."

"Thank you," you say, as sincerely as possible. No sense letting her insults get to you.

"Anyhow, I've got other patients to check on. I'll be back in a few minutes and then we can see if you're awake enough to leave."

She heads out.

Well, you're not one to let an opportunity to poke around pass you by. Even if it's just a small bedchamber in the infirmary.

So what are you going to take a look at?
RE: Swamped
This kick-ass fairy tale.
RE: Swamped
You take a quick glance, but nothing in the immediate area seems unusual. So you may as well read the book, whatever spirit it was given to you in.

Gale was, all in all, a happy youth. Popular, with a promising apprenticeship to the best tailor in town, and perhaps most importantly of all, had a promising relationship with the handsome Robert.

And yet, it was that last one that Gale was in agony over. For they wished to give Robert a token of engagement, yet nothing in town seemed fitting for such a wonderful man's hand in marriage...

You have to say, the illustrator is really selling Robert here. Not that Gale is bad-looking by any stretch, but if there's a real person Robert's modeled after, you definitely want to meet him.

Then Gale heard the strange story of a castle deep in the mountains. Those who had passed by said the castle itself seemed to be abandoned, yet its gardens seemed to be lovingly tended, holding the most beautiful flowers in the world.

One flower in particular stood out - the golden rose. Once Gale heard of it, they knew it would be the perfect gift.

Actually, you think just meeting the illustrator would be interesting. The drawing of the golden rosebush - which, you note, carefully avoids showing any thorns on the roses - is absolutely gorgeous. Curious, you glance at the cover to see if their name is listed.

Hmm. That's odd. Both the author and illustrator use obvious pseudonyms. You recognize them as Kandrian words - Vadren and Alleste - but your Kandrian's rusty and it takes you a bit of thought to recall what they mean.
RE: Swamped

Vadren means Wood. Which, you suppose, is not that far off from Paper, which would make perfect sense for an author. A little odd, but far from inscrutable.

Alleste is a bit odder, as you recall it means Club. You can't really see what such a weapon has to do with this book's art - at the least it suggests a lack of subtlety that's the opposite of what you see here. Perhaps your memory's off on the meaning?

Well, regardless, you're eager to see more of the art. So you dive back into the book.

The prose isn't half-bad for something written for children, but the art continues to be exceptional. Gale's journey into the mountains is exquisitely drawn, and the mountain troll they encounter halfway up looks so real you could imagine it giving you nightmares when you were younger.

You're just at the part where Gale finally arrives at the palace when Eve comes back in.

"Good to see you're enjoying it," she says. "But I've got to check if you're ready to leave now. How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Four," you say, only glancing up briefly. "The art in this is incredible."

"What's your name?"

"Tom Sixth," you reply, just as you come across a drawing of an enormous eagle. Alleste's work impresses you more and more with every page.

"How many years ago did you join the Bogknights?"

That gives you pause.

"Six, I think? I always have trouble keeping track of years."

"Well, you look to be thinking about it rather than confused," she says. "So it looks like you're well enough to get to your room. You can feel free to hold onto the book, though."

She pauses a moment.

"But don't go waving it around, keep it in your pouch or something. That's one of those books that's banned in Kandria, damned if I know why, and we've got a few Kandrian knights who take that sort of thing seriously. I don't care what they think, but we don't need you getting your nose bloodied again."

She's in a rush to get rid of you. Still, you're never one to pass up an opportunity to ask a few questions. Never know what someone might say that they shouldn't.
RE: Swamped
Any particular Kandrian knights I should be careful of?
RE: Swamped
"Which knights in particular? It'd be good to know who I have to watch myself around."

She gives you a skeptical look.

"More like so you can go pestering them and get yourself hurt again."

It's not worth fighting her on this. She knows you too well, so no sense in denying it.

"Maybe. But is that really better than me running into them by chance and not knowing who they are?"

"You've gotten in enough trouble for one night already, Sixth. I'd advise you to just go back to your quarters and get some sleep."

"I"m pretty sure I just had some," you reply.

"And it's all the more important you get more so your injury has time to fully heal. Which means not picking any other fights. So I'm not going to help you pick them, and that's final."

Well. She's got a point, you could look into this tomorrow. You've been up fairly late as it is.

But you also don't like ending a conversation like this without getting some good info out of it, especially if it's likely to be your last talk of the day.
RE: Swamped
I bet you could subtly pump her for her opinions on Ash vs Greenwoods as you get ready to head back to your quarters. Since your poke to the face was somewhat related to questions about Ash (now that you're back in mental action), you should be able to bring it up naturally.
RE: Swamped
Well. You can get this back to what's supposed to be your main subject of investigation.

"I'm just saying, I might get in less trouble if I knew ahead of time what sort of things set people off. I mean, how was I supposed to know that Tom Eighth would get so mad when I brought up Sergeant Ash?"

Eve is visibly surprised.

"Huh. I thought he was one of Ash's proteges. Well, then again, with how ill-tempered he gets, I can't be too surprised if something came up between them."

"Proteges?" You've already heard this, but getting another viewpoint on the matter might tell you something new.

"He has this tendency to pick people out not long after training, put them with squads of other knights he's trained. Most of them are quite talented, but they mostly socialize among themselves. Which worries me, frankly. And that's before some of the injuries I've seen them get."

"What do you mean?"

She realizes she's said too much.

"Never mind. That's confidential. I'm just concerned that Ash is pushing them too hard, both physically and mentally. It also seems the way he's doing things could easily wind up dividing the Bogknights in two. And it'd only get worse if he were left in charge."

"Left in charge?"

"He was made acting commander when Long needed a break. I wouldn't have done it myself, but when the Captain was still around it wasn't that serious. But now..." She pauses. "Never mind that. Burgundy's doing a good job for now. And hopefully Vera will take over for her."

"Did something happen to Captain Long?" you ask, knowing full well that something did happen to Captain Long.

"Vanished. I'd be very surprised if someone as nosy as you hasn't heard the story already. Though if you want the most accurate account, you'd be best served talk to Corporal Alexander." She gives you a stern look. "After a good night's sleep, mind."

"All right, thank you. I'll be getting to my quarters now."

She looks at you in a way that suggests she doesn't expect you to at all. Which is a pretty damn good guess.

Where are you heading?
RE: Swamped
Squib date.
RE: Swamped
It suddenly strikes you. You made an arrangement to meet Squib in the auditorium.

And you've lost track of time. So you might as well head there. Hopefully your little altercation with Gorp hasn't raised any suspicions.

And if it has. Well. You do have some money to spare, if not as much as you might have implied. They seem like the sort who can be placated with a good enough bribe.

Still... This is probably the most dangerous thing you've done all night, and that includes getting knocked out by a punch to the face. You should probably have some sort of plan in case things go sour.
RE: Swamped
Smile and/or wink.

Or I guess shamelessly complement.

I suppose you could grab some backup.
RE: Swamped
The simplest plan is just to have someone nearby to help you out if things go sour... or, worst case, to give the officers a heads-up if you don't return safely.

Thing is, you've been out of the loop for so long, it's hard to be sure who you can trust. Normally, your best candidates would be Lisa or Grey, but they've got their own secrets to keep and that's likely to make them wary around you.

Dean wouldn't be a bad choice either, but he's off at the Marsh Fortress.

And if you asked an officer... well, that's a sure way to get into trouble.

Ah, but wait. There was that good-looking Mark fellow. He was there at the time, and he already knows you're plotting something. And he certainly didn't seem to care for Squib Squad. He's also fairly new, which somewhat limits where his room could be.

So it doesn't take you much poking around to find him heading to his quarters. You give him your best smile as you walk towards him.

"Oh, it's you again," he groans. "You want something, don't you."

"Well, I've got that meeting with Squib. I could use someone to keep watch."

"Curfew's just starting. I'll get in trouble. To say nothing of messing with Squib Squad!"

"I'm not asking you to come with me. Just stay down the hall a bit, out of sight, and if I'm not back in twenty minutes, run and alert an officer. Not Ash, though."

"I wouldn't tell Ash for all the money in Kandria's treasury, you don't need to worry about that."

Hmm. That's intriguing. You might want to talk to him about it later, if you make it back.

"So, will you do it?"

"There's still the matter of curfew. You got some kind of plan to keep me from getting caught?"

Ah, yes. There's always little details like that to deal with.
RE: Swamped
Easy enough. I've been running around doing odd jobs since I'm squadless. I'll trade you one of my tasks which would conceivably require you to be out and about past curfew. Surely you've got some task on your docket that I can take on tomorrow to even the score?
RE: Swamped
You think back on the day and realize that you have just the excuse you need.

"I'll spare you the bureaucratic details, but I've been doing odd jobs since I got back. And I just got into a fight with another Tom, which naturally means I haven't been able to get around to..." You pause. "What's some sort of simple job that could be done near the auditorium?"

"Looking in weird nooks and crannies for greatrat holes?" Mark shrugs.

"Perfect. And since I'm not formally on a squad and I've bounced around a bit between officers, I can be vague about who exactly ordered it. And since I'm still recovering from my injuries, you graciously offered to take care of it for me. In exchange for me doing some work for you tomorrow. What do you say?"

"Maybe," Mark muses. "Still sounds like it could fall apart."

"Well, you had no particular reason not to believe me when I told you. So you should be able to get out of it without too much trouble if we're found out. I'll be taking on all the risk."

"Unless you tell them it was my idea," Mark says. "And if I run into Bernard, I don't think he's going to bother hearing me out. Wait, no... he got shoved on one of the extra repair squads, he won't be doing patrols."

Hmm. Another intriguing piece of information you'll have to follow up later.

"All right, I guess that's not a problem," Mark continues. "But there is the matter of why I'm supposed to trust you not to pin this on me if things go wrong."

"I'm already risking my neck dealing with Squib," you say calmly. "That's the whole point of this. A little dressing-down by the officers is nothing in comparison."

He seems to be giving it some serious thought. Maybe you can sweeten the deal for him somehow.
RE: Swamped
Pillow talk.
RE: Swamped
Well. There's one service you're always ready to offer. It's a bit personal, perhaps, but you think it might be persuasive here.

"Have you ever found your pillow too lumpy?" you ask nonchalantly, as he's still considering things.

"What?" he asks, looking puzzled.

"It's a common complaint. We just get the cheapest pillows we can, and they're not very good. That is, if you leave 'em the way they come out of the box. But with a little modification, you can have something nice and soft to rest your head on. And I know just how to do that modification. So, you know. I could throw in that little fix for you, no big deal."

"I think I'm getting used to it," he mutters. "But... yeah, okay, I'm tired of waking up with a headache. Can you take care of it now?"

Time's tight, but you think you can spare it.

"Sure. Except I might not have time to sew the pillow back up afterwards."


"I just make a little hole, rearrange the feathers, and then sew it back up. Don't worry, the hole's not noticeable, the sewing's just to make sure feathers don't spill out."

"No, it's fine, I can handle that, got my own needle and thread. Thanks."

You nod, and head in. A few minutes of ruffling some feathers later, you present the pillow to Mark, smiling.

"Give it a try."

Skeptically, he rests his head against it.

"Wow, that really is a lot softer. How did you..."

"I just did what the original stuffers were too lazy to do. Now come on, I don't want to put Squib in a worse mood by being late."

"All right, all right. At least once this mess is sorted out I'll have something to show for it."

You lead Mark down towards the auditorium. You're pretty good at dodging the patrols; you've done plenty of late-night snooping. Though Mark has a bit of trouble keeping up, it's not so much that he risks giving you a way.

When you're at the last hall, you leave Mark in an empty room and make your way over to the auditorium alone.

The two knights standing guard give you a glare, but Squib soon comes by and says he'll take care of it. He whispers something to one of the guards; they nod, and let you both through.

The first thing you notice once inside is the large, gaping hole in the middle of the floor. It occurs to you that this meeting could be even more dangerous than you thought.

"Let's cut to the chase," Squib says. "What sort of meat are you looking for? Tell me that and I'll tell you my price."

Squib seems in an even worse mood than when you saw him earlier. Maybe he doesn't trust you, maybe he just wants to get this over with. Either way, it'll be tough to get real information out of him, especially when there's a very convenient hole he can make you disappear down if he gets particularly upset with you.

But then again, you never were one to shy away from a challenge.
RE: Swamped
It's got to be something fancy, expensive, and probably too hard for them to actually obtain but easy enough for them to fake or substitute so that they don't reject you outright.

Maybe you want meat from a fancy desert horse, for instance, and it needs to have been humanely treated and raised on a diet of tender grasses. You saw things like that (but not exactly that) advertised in town.
RE: Swamped
Your best move is to string Squib along. Right now, he's skeptical that talking to you is going to be worth his while, so you've got to change his mind on that.

Which means asking for something valuable. Of course, anything genuinely valuable is probably going to be hard for him to acquire... unless, of course, he can fake it.

"Well, how extensive is your menu?" you ask. "Just this side of the swamp? Or can you slip over and grab creatures that are more common on the Marshguard side?"

"Depends what you're willing to pay for," Squib says. He's sounding more confident. "If the price is right, we can even arrange for something outside the swamp entirely."


"Like a desert horse?" you ask. "I've heard their meat is exquisite, but I've never had a chance to try it myself."

"A desert horse?" Squib seems taken aback, but quickly catches himself. "Yeah, I think we can swing that. For about... three hundred gold?"

Or, more likely, bet on the idea that you won't know the difference between desert horse meat and whatever he gets you. Well, time to lead him on a bit. Make him squirm a little, see what he lets slip when he's desperate to get your money.

"You 'think'? I'm not paying you three hundred for your thoughts, I doubt they're even worth a penny."

"I mean... it's tougher to get ahold of than what we usually deal in, you know? Hard to make guarantees. We got good sources for our supplies, but I can't be totally sure they're that good."

Sources. That sounds like something it would be interesting to know more about. But if you make it too obvious you're trying to get info about them, he may well clam up.

So how should you respond?
RE: Swamped
Ask how long it would take. Make him think you have access to more traditional sources from back in town. How are his any better? Hard to get the meat here fresh.
RE: Swamped
"How long is it going to take? The nearest town is four days away by carriage. And I doubt they have desert horses waiting there to be slaughtered."

"Don't worry yourself about the details," Squib says. Figures. He probably just plans to get you whatever he can pass off as desert horse meat.

"It's just, if you'd just be getting the meat from in town somehow, even from somewhere disreputable, I could send a crow to one of my friends there and make arrangements. And if it's further away than that, how are they going to keep the meat from spoiling? Even four days would be pushing it."

"I don't really know the details of how they do it," Squib says. He's clearly out of his element, but he knows there's a good deal of money at stake. "For all I know, maybe they'll ride the desert horse out to the swamp and kill it there. All I gotta do is be on hand to bring it to you."

"And you're not sure if they can deliver. And, seeing as this whole thing is very much under the table, I can't say I'm confident you'll pay me back if they can't."

It's funny. Just by his size, Squib is intimidating. But right now, he's not frightening at all. That's what happens when you bring enough money into the mix, you suppose.

"Well, hold on," Squib says. "If you're not willing to risk it, we don't have to go for the desert horse right away. You could ask for something easier, like wild hare. Makes a pretty good stew, I hear. Or maybe mallow eggs? Point is, you can just try us out, and if you're satisfied, maybe you'll take a chance at the desert horse. If not, well, do what you want."

You've already got him desperate to make a sale. That's good. It'll make him more careless about what he gives away.

You just need to think about how to lead this conversation towards something juicy. And you don't mean the illicit meat he's offering.