RE: Swamped
It occurs to you that, with the Postmaster gone for the night, there's no one to unlock the crow's cage. Which means the letter would be just sitting there, where you could grab it at any time after she leaves.

Of course, if you just get out of her way, she might realize that and then who knows what she'll do. So you might as well play it honestly.

"What's your rush?" you say. "That letter's not going anywhere until morning, whether you leave it there now or not. Unless you've gone and swiped the Postmaster's keys."

"Damn! You're right," she grumbles. "It might not get there in time. And that's just going to make everything more complicated."

"In time for what?"

"Never mind! Will you just quit bothering me already?"

She definitely doesn't want to talk about the letter.

"Well, I was just thinking that if this letter is important enough, it might be worth waking up the Postmaster so he can send it tonight. But if I don't know anything about what it is, well, I'm not going to risk getting him angry."

"If I were going to do that, I'd just ask him myself."

"You could, but I know him better than you do. In fact, I have a favor I was doing for him. It'd go better if you had me vouching for you."

She goes silent.

"By the way, those are some very nice boots. Where did you get them? And how do you keep them so clean when there's so much mud everywhere?"

Elize lets out a sigh.

"My mother's a shoemaker. I was planning to be one, too, until I heard the damn call. So we made this pair together and then I headed out to the swamp. It's got a special coating on it that the muck doesn't stick to very well."

"You did an excellent job."

"So everyone says. I'd really rather not talk about them, though. I get asked about them a lot."

"You could just not wear them, then."

"I didn't say I didn't like them. I just don't like repeating the story to every busybody I run into."

Now that just stings.

"So are you sending your mother a letter, then?"

"No, and what do you care? It's just a letter."

"A letter that you're in a hurry to send, apparently while hoping no one sees you sending it."

She goes quiet again.

"This isn't something illegal, is it?"

"Not in most kingdoms," she says. Then she sighs deeply. "Just back home."

You take a glance at the sign on the cage. You haven't actually seen it yet.

It says "KANDRIA". That explains a lot.

So. Where do you go from here?
RE: Swamped
"I've heard things about Kandria," you say confidently, as if you know more than you actually do. "It's not a pleasant place to live, from what I hear."

"Not for people who aren't inclined to do what they're told, no. And I'd really rather not say more than that. Too much at risk."

"Mind if I take a guess?"

"Yes," she says angrily. "What if someone's listening?"

As an experienced eavesdropper yourself, you can't deny the possibility.

"Then let me show you something. If we are being observed, it'll be difficult to make out the details."

You pull the book out of your pouch.

"Would it be something like this?"

It's a guess, but it does make sense with what you know. If she were looking to get her hands on a banned book - or perhaps, to write a book she expects to get banned - that would fit with her comment on "hobbies".

She doesn't say anything in response. But her expression tells you quite clearly that you're on the right track.

You put the book away.

"Well. Perhaps we can talk about the details in a more secure place," you continue. "But I certainly wouldn't be against helping you send your letter a little more promptly."

She seems conflicted, but after a while she seems to accept that you probably know more than she'd like already.

"Fine. I'll stay here and wait for you to come back. But if you're not back in fifteen minutes, I'll just forget about the whole thing."

"That should be plenty of time," you agree. You promptly head down the ladder.

The officers' quarters are all in a hallway just off from the main offices, which aren't too far from the Roost. The offices don't tend to get a lot of patrollers at this hour; most of the focus is on the areas where people actually sleep, and the officers aren't subject to curfew.

Tonight, however, is an exception. There's someone standing on guard outside of... Vera Greenwoods' office, if you're remembering the layout correctly. And you can see four more patrollers wandering the area.

You don't know why they're here, but right now you're more concerned with getting past them. So how are you going to handle this?
RE: Swamped
You have a clear path, but you will need to duck into another office to make it through.
RE: Swamped
You don't have much time to watch, but you do see a point where everyone's back is turned. You quickly crawl down the hall, and spot an open door nearby.

It's dark inside, which should help you hide and see if you can slip through the rest of the way. So you stay there, and wait a bit for your next chance.

At least the way back will be easier if you can persuade the Postmaster to help. Maybe not so fast if you have to swipe his keys, though.

Wait, hang on. Keys. The offices are normally locked at this hour. But the door to this one is wide open.

On the other hand, it's dark, suggesting the moss-lamp is covered up. So it's not likely to be someone working late.

This is definitely odd, but chances are you won't make it back to Elize in time if you look into it now.

What are you going to do?
RE: Swamped
Dark room vs secret letter?

Frig even you sometimes leave doors unlocked so you don't have to hassle with opening them later.

Not to mention, gaining the trust of an anti-kandrian spy is valuable in all sorts of ways...
RE: Swamped
You decide to stay on track. There might just be a perfectly normal explanation for why the door's open. Maybe it was left unlocked, one of the patrollers opened it by mistake, and someone's gone off to fetch the keys.

And it wouldn't do to abandon such an intriguing opportunity only to find out some officer forgot to lock their door. Although, you do make a point to remember which door this is, so you can find out who works here when you've got a bit more time. Just in case there is something noteworthy about it.

Indeed, your hunch soon seems to be borne out, as someone rushes over and the patrollers turn their attention to the new arrival. Providing an excellent chance for you to slip over to the other end of the hall.

Good thing you held off. Imagine if you'd gone snooping and they'd locked you in!

Still. You have this funny feeling that there's more to this than a forgetful officer. But you don't have time to chase that particular hunch.

"Hey! I think I just saw someone over by the officers' quarters!"

In fact, you have less time than you thought. One of the patrollers must have spotted you just as you turned the corner.

So. What now?
RE: Swamped
Run for it!

Can you throw something the opposite direction that you're going, either now or when you reach a corner, to make some noise and get them off track?
RE: Swamped
Your best option is to divert them. Get them confused about which direction to run in.

And you do have this book that should be heavy enough to make quite a bit of noise, and, more importantly, isn't actually yours, so they can't prove you were the troublemaker.

You toss it down a side hall as you turn a corner.

"I heard something! Over here!"

You don't have time to breathe a sigh of relief. You just keep going to the Postmaster's door.

You knock very gently. Don't want to be drawing their attention again.

The Postmaster opens the door, and groans.

"Should've known you'd show up sooner or later. This had better be good if it can't wait until morning."

Well. How should you explain this to him?
RE: Swamped
Okay, one: there's a bunch of shady stuff going down and Ash is up to his fishy little gills in it.

Two: there might actually be shady stuff going on right now, and I'm kinda scared I might get caught up in it. Can I come in?
RE: Swamped
"Right. First, can I come in, I might have drawn some unwanted attention."

The Postmaster groans again.

"All right. But don't think you're getting off easy, even if you do have something important to tell me."

Well, it's not as if you haven't gotten a lot of free time today. Can't hurt to pay it back. You step inside and the Postmaster closes the door.

"So what's this about."

"First off is what I've heard about Ash."

"That's important, but most likely not can't-wait-until-morning important."

"Even if he's involved with a group of corrupt merchants?"

The Postmaster pauses.

"I'd be very surprised if that was the case. Have you got proof?"

"Not... hard proof. Not yet. But I did get Squib to slip up and mention 'the Guild', and if you'll pardon me saying so, he doesn't seem like the sort who's smart enough to make those kinds of connections on his own."

The Postmaster just grumbles for a while.

"I'm not eager to accuse an officer on such grounds."

"It's not just that. I talked to quite a few knights who just don't trust him. Even got punched by one when I brought up his name. A story like that floating around would make things even worse. Whether the accusations are fair or not, I don't think he can be effective as a commander under those circumstances."

The Postmaster doesn't say anything for a bit.

"I suppose that's clear enough as far as the vote goes," he sighs. "I hope it's not true, but even then, we'll need to have a talk with Ash about building trust with the rank and file. Pains me to think that we'd have such a gap, whatever the reason for it."

You don't say anything.

"But that still could have waited until morning, couldn't it?"

"Well, yes," you agree. "But, er, there's this other thing, someone who's very eager to get a letter sent off tonight. And, ah, doesn't want a lot of attention drawn to it."

The Postmaster stares at you.

"A favor's a favor, I suppose," he shrugs. "I won't even ask questions. I'll give you the keys, and write you a note to show the patrollers. Just don't get in further trouble. I could really use some sleep."

"Yes, sir!"

Well, that worked out well, at least. You head back out with the note and soon encounter the patrolling group. There's four of them; probably one stayed back to keep watch on the hall you fled from.

"Halt!" one of them says.

You hold up the note.

"Running a quick errand for the Postmaster," you explain. "He's been stressed lately and forgot to feed one of the crows, so I'm doing it for him."

The patrollers glance at each other.

"Is this your book?" one of them asks, holding up the one you threw earlier. He sounds more than a little suspicious of you.

How should you answer?
RE: Swamped
With a distraction.
RE: Swamped
Oh my gosh! Yes! I had dropped it on the way to the Postmaster! Urgent buisness after all...oh you're the person from the Rock! Hey buddy.
RE: Swamped
"Why, yes! Well, not mine, strictly speaking, I borrowed it from the infirmary. How did it... oh, silly me, I must have left my pouch open after I took it out for a quick read."

You didn't actually close your pouch after throwing the book, since you were in a rush. So at a glance, your story seems to hold up.

"You know this book's banned in Kandria, don't you?" the knight asks accusingly.

"Well, last time I checked, this wasn't Kandria. What's the problem?"

He's giving you a rather fierce glare that suggests you should forget about the book and maybe this won't go any further.

Eve probably wouldn't blame you for this, at least as long as you leave out key details about how the exact encounter happened, but you feel you ought to at least try to protect the thing. The art is excellent, after all.

So you need a diversion, but what...

Wait. That's a familiar, and potentially helpful, face.

"Erin!" you say. "How nice to see you again! How is it going?"

Erin's face freezes up, as she realizes you know she messed up and told you the password. Which means you could embarrass her in front of anyone else involved in this business, and maybe cause trouble.

"Oh!" she says after a moment. "It's you. Don't give him trouble, Sphagnum. I can vouch for him."

The rather large knight evidently named Sphagnum looks annoyed, but relents.

"Okay, but if anything goes wrong, it's your problem," he grumbles to Erin, handing you the book. Now you can hopefully get back without any further trouble.

You head up the ladder, and Elize is still there. Looking to be at the limits of her patience.

"Took you long enough. I was about to leave."

"Well, luckily, you didn't," you say. You unlock the cage, Elize ties her letter to the crow, and you let it loose.

Then you think you hear a noise.

"Someone's climbing the ladder!" Elize hisses. "Someone large, by the sounds of it. Were you followed?"

"Maybe," you admit sheepishly. You'd better think fast about what to do next.

RE: Swamped
Drop a swamp chicken on the climber.
RE: Swamped
You're about to suggest something when a swamphen shows up. Didn't you chase her off? Or is this another one?

Either way, it gives you an idea. You rush over to the ladder and drop it before the climber arrives.

"The hell? Who's keeping swamphens in the roost?" Sphagnum shouts.

"Well, don't try to knock it off!" someone else says. You don't think it's Erin's voice. "Just climb down and we can grab it."

"Sorry about that!" you call down. "That hen just came out of nowhere and scared off the crow. I tried to catch it, but it fell down the ladder. Seems you had bad timing... why were you coming here, anyways?"

The knights at the bottom of the ladder glance up at you. Looks like there's two besides Sphagnum. Erin's not among them.

"We wanted to make sure you were doing what you said you were doing," one of the knights says, after pulling the swamphen off Sphagnum's head. "And not using a fake note to go sneaking around."

"The Postmaster gave me the note, just ask him yourself. In fact, I'll go with you, so I can tell him what happened."

The knights start whispering among themselves. Finally, one of them waves to you.

"All right, come down, then. We'll get this sorted out. But after that, you're going directly to your room!"

Suits you fine. If they're focused on you, Elize should have a chance to slip out afterwards.

"Yes, I'll be right down," you say. "Let me just close up the cage, I haven't gotten around to that yet. The crow may be gone, but we wouldn't want a pest slipping in there."

There's some grumbling, but eventually they just tell you to hurry it up. You use the excuse to talk to Elize.

"I'll lead them away. And I'll keep talking, so if you listen until I'm too far away to hear, that should tell you when it's safe to go down."

She looks at you, a little confused.

"You're going to a lot of trouble to help me."

"What can I say? I don't know exactly what you're doing, but if Kandria isn't going to like it, that's good enough for me. Anyhow, go hide for now, I really do have to close the cage."

You do as much. It occurs to you that it might be better to cover your tracks by making it less clear the Kandrian crow is missing, but you can't think of a good way to do that. Anyways, even if one of your pursuers gets suspicious about that, it's not as if they'll be able to do much about it.

So you head back down, and two of them start leading you away. Sphagnum looks at the hen and grumbles.

"I'll take this thing back up," he says. "Let it out so it doesn't cause any more trouble."

Oh dear. Elize is probably close enough to overhear that, but just in case she isn't, you think you want to send some kind of warning. Or perhaps dissuade Sphagnum, if possible.

So how can you do that?
RE: Swamped
Do you really think it belongs in the roost?

We should check with the postmaster before contaminating the flock.

Do you think someone smuggled it in for meat or eggs? Or that it wandered in on its own?
RE: Swamped
"Taking it back up there? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

He looks at you, a bit puzzled.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, this seems like a pest control problem, doesn't it? Seems a bit irresponsible not to check in with them about what to do. What if the hen's sick, we wouldn't want the crows catching whatever it's got."

"She doesn't look sick to me," Sphagnum says, staring at the swamphen.

"But are you an expert on swamphens? I mean, you can chance it, but if it were me I wouldn't want to get lectured at if it caused a problem."

He grumbles for a bit, then relents.

"All right. I'll go check in with pest control. This is their problem now."

He starts walking off. The other two knights continue leading you away, though you keep talking all the while.

Hopefully, that should give Elize a chance to get down. Even if she gets caught, as long as she's not in the Roost that shouldn't draw any particular attention.

Naturally, you soon sort things out with the Postmaster, returning his key and "explaining" that the crow was scared off. He makes a show of lecturing you, especially as the crow's probably not going to come back until it hits Kandria, and you give back the key.

Then it's an uneventful walk back to your room, if still under escort.

Or at least it is until something bursts through the floor.

"Not the greatrats again!" one of your escorts shouts, panicking. But a moment later, it becomes clear that it isn't; it's some sort of digging machine.

And here you are without a weapon.

What do you do?
RE: Swamped
Nothing comes to mind. You just sit there, stunned, as your escort fights them off.

"Hey! Don't just stand there, help out! Or if you can't fight, at least alert someone who can!" one of them shouts.

Right. Alert someone. That would make sense. Got to run to someone nearby who can help, or ideally give orders.

But who would that be?
RE: Swamped
Ash. It has to be Ash.
RE: Swamped
There's always some officer awake. Eve is, of course, but she's not a combat officer... still, you know where to find her, so that's a plus...

You start rushing to the infirmary when you run into Ash talking to some patrollers. It's been a while since you last saw him, but you definitely recognize his face.

He looks at you as you approach.

"I don't believe you're on patrol tonight," he says.

You don't have time to consider all the rumors you've heard.

"There's some kind of attack happening down that hall!" you shout, pointing back the way you came. "Some kind of machine coming up through the floor!"


There's something off about Ash's reaction. You can't quite put your finger on it. Still, he's quick to act on it.

"You three, go check it out and help if necessary. If there's nothing there, come back here right away and tell me. If there's one thing we don't need around here, it's pranksters starting false alarms."

That's what feels off. He doesn't seem nearly as skeptical as his words suggest. Does he know something about this?

The knights rush off, and before long you hear the sounds of clashing.

"It's for real, sir!" you hear someone shout back. "What in the hells are these things?"

"Whatever they are, they're a threat," Ash says. He sounds strangely collected. "Right. The rest of you, spread out and see if there are any more. And pass the word along to anyone else you see!"

"Should we wake everyone, sir?" a patroller asks.

"Hmm. Not until we find out how widespread they are. Or if we actually find one in a room. We need to assess this threat first."

He's remarkably calm. You can actually imagine him commanding the base. No wonder he's got fans among the officers.

But you also know what you heard. And this would be a prime opportunity to talk to him and see his true character for yourself. Then again, maybe you should wait until this business with the strange machines is taken care of, so as not to distract from it.
RE: Swamped
He knows a lot about you already. How did he know the postmaster asked you to investigate him? Did he just deduce that?

He has a reassignment offer that... actually doesn't sound too bad.
RE: Swamped
Well. Nothing's going to happen until he gets reports on whether there are more machines. So you might as well ask some questions.

Starting with the ones where you pretend to be helpful.

"Er. Should I go looking, too? I'm unarmed, and I was supposed to be getting to sleep... had a long and busy day, you see."

He mulls over this.

"Just stay here for now. If it turns out to be a full-scale attack, you won't have time to sleep."

There's something unsettling about the way he says that. It's like he isn't actually afraid of it happening. Almost as if he'd be disappointed if it turned out to be nothing.

"Wait, hold on," he continues, almost out of nowhere. "You're the fellow who wasn't assigned to anything, right? Tom Sixth, wasn't it?"

You just nod in response.

"Hmmph. That's what happens when you can't settle anything and leave a disgraced sergeant in charge. But I suppose that will be sorted out soon enough, won't it."

The way he looks at you when he says it makes you feel as though he knows what you've been doing. That you're trying to help the Postmaster make up his mind.

"I imagine it's just been hard to keep track of everything," you reply. "I heard the base has had a lot going on lately... and, well, depending on how bad this is, maybe it still does. Easy for some paperwork to get lost in the chaos."

"I've actually been thinking it would be good to get a new Recordkeeper," Ash says. "John's getting on in years and his memory isn't what it used to be. He's got some capable assistants who could easily take over by now. And, of course, if one of them were to be promoted, well. We'd have a new slot to fill in the archives, with a corporal's salary but much less danger than combat operations. And hells, probably a lot less messy than repair work."

He's looking at you very pointedly.

"But that would all depend on having a captain who wouldn't go easy on the poor old boy and would keep pressing him until he agreed to retire. He's a good man, but a bit stubborn, as old folks tend to be. Don't mind me, though, just thinking out loud."

Thinking out loud, indeed. Thinking about loud about how you could have a nice, safe, well-paying job if you just persuaded the Postmaster's vote to go a certain way.

It's almost tempting. Almost.

But you also know that a man who deserves to be Captain shouldn't resort to bribes. If you knew nothing else about Ash, this meeting alone would convince you he doesn't have what it takes.

Before you have time to mull this over, though, one of the knights comes back.

"Did you find more of those machines?" Ash asks.

"No, sir. But we did find something else odd."

You wonder what that might be.
RE: Swamped
It's Lisa! Looks like she was responsible for those attacks all along! Good job catching her Sargent Ash!
RE: Swamped
RE: Swamped
A moment later, two more knights arrive, leading a familiar face towards you - Lisa Black.

"We spotted her poking around under the floorboards in a room nearby. She's repair squad, but she didn't have any tools on her, or permission to be working this late. So naturally, we found that a bit strange."

"I see," Ash says. You can tell he and Lisa don't like each other. "And what, exactly, were you doing under the floorboards?"

"Looking for something," she says calmly. "And I found it. So why don't you just let me get to sleep now?"

"Now hold on. What were you looking for?"

"Nothing important." She reaches into her pouch and pulls out a piece of wood. "Though I imagine whoever hid it there will have some explaining to do."

"Wait, where did you..."

All of a sudden, Lisa makes a quick motion and the hall fills with a thick smoke. You hear Ash panicking.

"Find that wood! Quickly! She must have set it ablaze! And bring it to me when you do!"

You don't get a chance to consider whether to follow that order, however, because Lisa drags you away.

"Should've known you'd find trouble on your own even if I tried to keep you out of it," she mutters to you.

"What just happened there?"

"Oh, don't worry about the smoke." Lisa smiles. "I was just testing a theory. Ash is going to feel like a real fool when someone finds that mistflower, though."

"That's not what I meant! What were you even doing?"

"We'll talk when we get somewhere safer. Follow me."

Well, you don't suppose you have much choice at the moment. But where is she even taking you?