RE: Swamped
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She seems to be leading you... to the docks? You're not sure you like where this is going.

"Are we actually slipping out of the base?" you ask.

"Shh! You don't want to get caught, do you?"

"Strictly speaking, I'm in much less trouble than you are," you say.

"We're just going to the barge. Got a bit of a meeting to get to. The barge patrollers will cover for us."

A meeting? Well, this is interesting.

"And you want me there?"

"More of that at this point, I prefer inviting you to letting you stumble on it."

You suppose that makes sense. You follow her into the docks.

Tom Ninth and another knight whose name escapes you wave at you, then lead you to the interior.

"Good luck," Ninth says to Lisa. "Though I suppose you don't really need me to wish you that, do you?"

She gives him a bit of a knowing smirk.

"It's the thought that counts. Warn us if you see anyone coming."

Lisa leads you in, where you see Eighth, Grey, and a few other knights, most of whom you don't recognize off the top of your head. Grey, in particular, isn't happy to see you.

"You brought Sixth along?" he groans. "He'll just blab about the whole thing!"

"Now, look, I can keep a secret when it's important," you say, annoyed. "And if this is about what, or rather who, I think it's about, it's certainly important."

"I was actually thinking we could use his talents," Lisa says calmly. "He's got a good grasp of the rumor mill, even if he just got back here. Could spread word that we want spread, or warn us about what he's hearing."

"Yes, that too," you say. "Although, admittedly, I'm not up to speed on how you organized this."

"It started with the two of us wanting to talk, and we decided to look for other knights we can trust," Grey says. "So this is who we found. Outside of Dean, who's not exactly available right now."

"Marshall, too," Lisa says. "It's really worrying that we've heard so little from the Marshguards. Don't they want their prisoners back, at least?"

"Can we get on with this," Eighth grumbles. "We're already taking a big risk meeting at this hour. Especially since a good chunk of the patrollers are you-know-who's flunkies."

Nobody's naming names. Well, you're pretty sure you know who, anyways, so no need to make a fuss about it.

"Suppose we can't do anything about him now," Grey grumbles. "He's seen who's here, after all. Okay, let's get on with this. Lisa, what did you find?"

"I cracked his code," she explains. "And I found this."

She holds up the wood.

"That looks like ordinary wood," Grey says.

"Yeah. Because it's a hollow container for what the real contraband is."

She demonstrates by taking a small chunk of it out, and pulling out a smaller, significantly less ordinary piece of wood.

Darkwood. You're taken aback, and so is everyone else.

"He's involved with that stuff?" Grey just shakes his head. "Worse than I thought."

"And that's not all," Lisa continues. "There's one other thing I found out."

Now what could that be?
RE: Swamped
A bigger threat!
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She pulls out a letter. It's badly torn and held together with tape.

"Pieced this together from scraps in his wastebasket. It's pretty hard to destroy secret communications out here, considering fire's not viable. And with the code I worked out earlier, I can see exactly what it is: an agreement with, someone."

"That's real helpful," Grey grumbles.

"Wasn't able to decipher the name," Lisa says, though without a hint of concern about it. "What matters here is the contents of the agreement. If Ash becomes commander, he'll launch an all-out attack on the Marsh Fortress with the help of whoever this is. And in exchange for their help, he gives them a foothold in the swamp. Don't know who would want that or why, but damned if it doesn't sound sketchy."

"And bad for those of us here who don't want Ash's pals in the swamp," Eighth says. "This is for real? I might be able to change a few of the less greedy minds among Ash's crew if you've got evidence."

"It's a bit thin on that. But it's clear this is the final negotiation after a long-running relationship. For instance, it discusses how their plan involves distracting the Marshguards by launching an attack from under the fortress with some kind of special digging machines..."

Well. Now you have to interject.

"Whoever it is has already made their move," you say. "Without waiting to hear from Ash. Just before I ran into you, I came across some strange digging machines drilling through our floor."

There's a lot of murmuring.

"Well, hells," Lisa says. "That kind of changes the focus of this meeting, doesn't it. We're going to need a plan, and we're going to need it fast."

"If he's not just making this up," Grey says.

"This isn't one of those things where I embellish a bit and say I saw it with my own eyes. I really did see it with my own eyes. And, um, I might have let Ash know about the attack because he happened to be the closest officer."

A sudden silence falls over the gathering.

"As I said," Lisa continues. "We're going to need a plan, fast."
RE: Swamped
We'll need to conduct two simultaneous missions: one to warn the Marshguards and enlist their aid or cooperation (dangerous and potentially leaves you open to accusations of treason), and one to join Ash's cronies and identify the incoming routes/supply lines of Ash's allies (probably the Guild) so that we can prevent them from entering the swamp (again, dangerous and potentially leaves you open to accusations of treason).
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You know what else tunnels and would be a real pain to deal with when you're trying to operate machinery?

That's right, let's lure swamp rats to their tunnels
~◕ w◕~
RE: Swamped
"If they're attacking us, they might be going for the Marshguards on their own," you muse. "Deciding they don't need Ash's help after all. We should probably warn them."

"That's going to get us in a lot of trouble," Grey says. "Under normal circumstances, whether to warn them about an outside attack or not is the sort of decision that would be left to the base commander. But, Burgundy's not exactly commanding under normal circumstances and if she made that kind of call now, who knows what the other officers would do."

"Good point. So we can't involve her."

Grey sighs.

"You're pretty much right on that point. Which means whoever does send the warning is going to be in a world of trouble. And Burgundy is going to have to decide what to do about that, which brings us back to the same problem."

"Not to mention, who's to say they'll believe it," Lisa points out. "It's one thing if it's backed by the authority of our commander, but if it's just some private? They'll think it's a trick."

A thought strikes you.

"But they'd believe one of their own, wouldn't they? If we could persuade one of the prisoners... no, there's no way we'd be able to let them loose and get away with it. But maybe we could convince them to give a sign of approval to a message we sent by crow?"

"I don't like it, but I don't see a better option," Grey says. "And if whoever does it gets caught, well. That's going to be a real big mess. So I'll take on that, because you can all trust me not to blab on who's involved in this."

You feel a bit bad about that.

"The other thing is, we should probably work out how Ash's 'friends' are getting their machines in here. Maybe we can disrupt their supply line."

"And how do you plan to do that? Just ask Ash?" Lisa says.

"I might be able to help with that," Eighth interjects. "Not asking Ash, but I do know people in his circle. Problem is, it'll be hard to get back here and make a plan based on what I find out."

"So that means we'll need something to disrupt the machines in the meantime," Lisa says. Don't suppose anyone has any ideas on that?"

"Rats," Grey says. "Just regular swamprats. Get enough of them crawling through the tunnels and they're sure to keep the machines busy."

"In that case, maybe I should handle the prisoners," Lisa says. "Since you know more about dealing with rats than I do."

"But I also know more about negotiating with Marshguards than you do, which is a lot more sensitive." Grey points out. "And we don't have much time to argue about this."

"All right, I'll handle the rats then. Everyone, you know what we're doing now, so pick someone to help out."

Well, you suppose that includes you. So who are you going to provide support for?
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You can't help but be drawn to the mission with the most potential for trouble. Besides, you still want to hear that juicy info Grey knows. You step up near him.

You can't help but notice it's not a very popular job. There's only two other knights going with you. Grey lets out a little sigh as he leads you off the barge.

"Right. So here's the plan in a little more detail. First, before we even get to the prisoners, we're going to want to get ahold of one of those machines. It'll be a lot easier to convince them this isn't a trick of some kind if we've got something to show them."

"That'll be the easy part," one of your companions says.

"Not if the attack isn't widespread yet." Grey glances at you. "We might have to slip in somewhere specific to find the things."

"It wasn't widespread when they caught Lisa." You see the look on Grey's face, and realized some details got skipped. "Oh, that's right, Lisa got found by a search party. Apparently when she was digging up that darkwood. And they brought her right to Ash. Um, that's when she dragged me along."

Grey just groans.

"Well. You can tell me where the attack was then, right?"

"Right. I can. Can't speak for what they did with the machines afterwards, though."

"Okay. Lead us there and we'll figure out how to proceed. After that, we go for the cell, distract the guards on duty, and I talk to the prisoners. That's mostly my problem, though it wouldn't hurt to come up with some details for the distraction."

"I was thinking a fake fight would be good," one of the knights beside you says. "We start pounding on each other near there, the guard comes out to break it up, we gang up on them."

"Well, if we can't think of anything better, we'll go with that," Grey shrugs. "For now, though, we've got to find those machines."

You lead the group back towards where the attack happened, trying to stay out of sight as best you can. There are holes in the floor, and a couple of knights standing around looking at them. But no sign of the actual machines.

"They're probably waiting to see if any more pop up," you whisper to Grey.

"That would be handy for us, but I hope it doesn't come to that. We need to figure out where the machines that turned up earlier went - whether they retreated or got confiscated."

He's got a point. How are you going to go about that?
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Push a guard in. If they freak out then they're probably worried the machines are down there. If not, well then they send you to the bring, which is where you want to go anyway.
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You notice that the holes are just about big enough to drop someone down. For a moment, you consider pushing one of the guards to see how they react.

But then you remember the rumors of tunnelers. The machines alone wouldn't cause panic. Not to mention, even if they'd chased them off, they might worry about another strike.

And getting caught would probably just result in you getting dragged over to Ash again and told off for pulling a dangerous prank. You can't see any way that would be helpful. Even if he got mad enough to send you to the brig, you're likely to be kept several cells away from the actual prisoners.

On the other hand, dropping something down a hole could tell you a lot, if it was big enough to make a noise. Too bad you don't have any rocks on you.

"Got anything we can drop down one of the holes?" you whisper to Grey.

He pulls a rock out of his pouch and hands it to you. It seems a good size.

"We use these sometimes when we need to distract animals or lead them away," he whispers back. "Should be good enough. But I'm not going any closer if I don't have to."

So you'll have to do it, then. You wait until you're fairly sure both knights have their backs turned, then quickly step just a bit closer and toss the stone at the nearest hole.

Then you slip back as fast as you can, and watch. The knights turn to the holes as they hear a sound.

"Don't suppose that's another machine?" one asks.

"I dunno. They made a lot more noise than that."

"I really hope we got them all. What were those things, even?"

The other knight, as best as you can tell, is shrugging.

"Beats me. Maybe Ash'll find something out when he finishes looking them over."

You and Grey exchange glances. Seems you've got to find wherever Ash hid the things.

So how are you going to do that?
RE: Swamped
Time to use the secret password to get these guys to show you the way.
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Check under his bed
~◕ w◕~
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You consider revealing yourself and giving the password, but that's risky. You don't think every patroller is in on Ash's schemes, after all. And while you have little doubt the machines themselves are in the custody of knights he's picked out himself, watching the holes is something that anybody could do.

So you might just wind up confusing them, getting yourself disciplined anyways, and worst of all, if they take you to Ash for being in a suspicious place, they might mention the codephrase and tip him off.

All in all, not worth the risk.

On the other hand... well, now that you think about it, you do want to find Ash. And he's probably wondering where you disappeared to when Lisa caused that ruckus.

You quickly whisper your idea to Grey. He doesn't seem happy, but he signals you to go forward.

You step out and wave to the patrollers.

"Hello! I know I should be getting to sleep, but I ran into a little bit of trouble a while ago and I think Sergeant Ash is going to want to know about it. Could one of you take me to him?"

The guards look at each other.

"You could tell us and we can pass it on. We're pretty busy right now."

"It's a bit of a complicated message. I think it'd be best if I spoke to him myself. You can at least tell me where he is, right?"

"Um, actually, we don't know. He said he was going to have a talk with Sergeant Roxley, I think, but didn't mention where they were going to meet."

Damn. That's inconvenient.

Now what?
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Consider what you know about Roxley. Would Roxley have any special insights into digging machines? Or does Roxley have connections?
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You have to wonder why he'd be going to Roxley. Burgundy is still technically in command, so he should be contacting her to coordinate the response.

Well. Given what you know about his ambitions, this is probably some effort to "take initiative" and look more like a commander. Keep Burgundy out of it, and he sends the message that he can handle a situation like this by himself. Maybe swaying someone to change their vote, even if they were skeptical about him before.

So maybe you should pay Burgundy a visit yourself.

"I guess there's nothing for it but to go look for him," you sigh. "Thanks for the tip anyhow."

"Good luck finding him. Sorry we couldn't be more help."

You walk away, and Grey and the other two join you when it's safe.

"So much for your plan. Now what?" Grey asks.

"I was thinking I'd pay Burgundy a visit, since I'm not sure Ash wants her filled in on what's going on here," you explain. "Which is perhaps getting sidetracked a bit, but it's got to be done at some point."

Grey nods.

"Then I guess we'll leave that to you. We'll see if we can find one of the machines, and if not, we'll head to the brig and do what we can without it. We'll wait near the laundry room before we make our move, so if you find anything, meet us there."

He's actually relying on you. How about that.

Well, all you need to do now is get over to the commander's office. Between your sneakiness and your charm, you manage to get close without much effort.

But when you're almost there, you see quite a few patrollers standing in each hallway leading to the place. Among them is Sphagnum.

They must be here specifically to keep someone like you from informing Burgundy about what's going on. So how will you slip past?
RE: Swamped
Run by when their backs are turned?
~◕ w◕~
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The closest group is firmly holding position. Three of them are physically blocking off the hall, while two are walking up and down behind them. They're treating this seriously. You're not going to be able to just sneak through a blind spot, even if they were to suddenly decide to turn around.

You suppose you could just march in as if you belonged there, saying you had a report for Burgundy, but they'd find some way to stall you. You're not even sure the password would do you any good - these are almost definitely all Ash's knights, but they're clearly under strict orders to keep the acting commander in the dark. Even if they accepted the password, they wouldn't let you through.

Hang on a moment, though. When it comes down to it, what you're trying to do is get Burgundy's attention. So if you can't get in, maybe you can draw her out.

You rush towards the group, shouting as loud as you can.

"Emergency! Emergency! I need to talk to Burgundy right away!"

The knights standing guard are taken aback. Probably torn between orders and the thought that maybe this really is an emergency, and maybe bad enough that Ash really wants help.

But one of them soon finds his composure.

"If it's about the digging machines, we've already informed her," he says, clearly lying. "Anything else, just tell us and we'll pass it along."

"What's all that commotion about?" you hear someone ask, on the other side of the hall. The knights panic, and you can see the two in the hall rushing to reassure her. You start to call out, but one of the knights in front of you quickly covers your mouth, and another moves to grab your hands.

This is not going well. You can't see Burgundy too well from over here, so she likely can't see what's happening to you. But you've got to get her attention, fast, or you'll be in big trouble.
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Yell for her. Just scream.
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You've only got one chance you can see. If you yell loud enough for her to hear something past these hands, she'll come and investigate.

So you gather up as much air as you can manage and scream at the top of your lungs.


It's not exactly impressive.

Fortunately, the knight covering your mouth hasn't quite gotten his grip entirely in place. It's enough to let the scream escape - still not exactly a coherent scream, but right now it just needs to be loud.

It also takes a lot of breath out of you. You start to feel light-headed. Though, you can hear some rather forceful footsteps approaching, and in a panic, the two knights let you go, and you collapse to the floor.

"Now what?"

You feel a kick in your head.

"Now we hope we can knock him out before she gets close enough to see what we're doing. Then we tell her he fainted suddenly."

"Stupid! Don't do it that way, she might see us. Let's make it look like we're helping him."

They kneel down and start pressing on your throat. Another sits on your legs, while the third pins your arms.

You've got to fight back, with whatever strength you can find. But you're already winded. You won't last long.

But they won't last long either, will they? It won't take Burgundy more than a minute to arrive. If you can just stall them a little bit, you might be able to hold on to consciousness... But what can you even do?
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Squeak out the password.
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Tom Ex-machina
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You've got one desperate idea. They must know the password - and it probably won't stop them, but it should confuse them. That might be all you need.

"A golden rose has silver thorns," you wheeze out. The knight at your throat pauses for a moment.

"He knows that password?"

"What's that matter? He was causing a ruckus a moment ago," the knight gripping your hands shoots back. "Just keep it up."

"But how did he find it out?"

"We can worry about that when we don't have Burgundy down our throats!"

The knight resumes his grip. You're not sure if that bought you enough time, but it bought you some. You desperately try to hold onto consciousness, but though Burgundy's figure is growing ever so slightly larger, you don't think it's going to be enough...

"You three! Hands off, now! Get up so I can see your damned faces!"

The gruff voice echoes in your ears, but strangely enough it seems to be coming from behind you.

Thankfully, the knights obey. You feel a great sense of relief as the pressure lifts from your legs, hands, and throat. You may just be able to hold on just long enough.

"Sir! He collapsed, we were trying to help..."

"By putting your hands on his throat?"

There's no further protest.

"I don't know what you were up to, but we're going to have a talk about it once this poor fellow's taken care of. Come on, now. Can you get up?"

You feel someone holding you by the hand, and helping you to your feet. You're still winded, but you think you can hold together for a bit.

"What's happening here, Tom?"

That voice is Burgundy's. You're a bit surprised she'd be asking you, can't she see you're still worn out...

"Not sure. Did you ask for this many knights watching your office, sir?"

Wait. Hold on. Maybe she isn't talking to you?

"I didn't. Who's the poor fellow having trouble standing?"

"Good question. You there! Can you tell us your name?"

"Tom Sixth," you mutter weakly. "Um, I came here to tell you something, sir..."

"Oh, of course there's two Toms here," Burgundy sighs. "Well then. Corporal Second, you tend to these troublemakers while I take Sixth to the infirmary. Got a feeling I need to have a look around the base."

"Yessir!" You glance at Corporal Tom Second; he's got a rather bushy mustache, and a stern expression. You can't recall running into him before, but you'll have to remember to thank him later.

Burgundy takes you by the shoulder.

"Come on. Seems I caused you some trouble because the records were a bit out-of-date, sorry about that."

"It's no problem. But, um, we've got something serious happening."

"I assume it involves Ash."

She's good.

"Um, that's right, sir. We were attacked... by... digging machines? Did you get a report?"

She gives you a glance.

"Digging machines? Just how hard did they hit you?"

"It's for real, sir! I swear! Ash is trying to manage the response himself. Don't know if any more are turning up."

You're not sure if you should mention the letter.

"Then I guess I'll have a talk with him after I leave you at the infirmary. Thanks for the heads-up. Now, try not to talk too much, you're clearly short of breath."

She's right. But you've also got to help out Grey, somehow. And if you're stuck in the infirmary, that's not going to be easy.

So how are you going to slip away?
RE: Swamped
Claim incredibly urgent bathroom break.
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Well, there's one old reliable dodge you can always pull. Especially since you just got back from leave.

"Er, Sergeant Burgundy, sir?"

"It's Private," she sighs. "Things have been really weird lately."

"Right. Well, ah, I haven't been in the base for a good while, and, well, I really need to find a chamber pot. I'm sure there's one in the infirmary, but I don't know that I can last that long."

You'd like to think you could have come up with something cleverer, but you're just not in great shape right now.

"Hmm. Closest public one would be by the laundry room, it's just down the hall over there. Given your condition, though, I'm going to have to ask you not to lock the door. It wouldn't do for you to fall unconscious in the privy."

"By the laundry room. Excellent."

The same laundry room where Grey and the others are waiting for you. You hadn't realized it was so close.

This could be awkward. First off, there's a risk of Burgundy finding Grey, and asking what he's doing there that late at night. Second, you bought yourself some time, but Burgundy's still sticking close.

What should you do?