Swamped

Swamped
RE: Swamped
It's clear that you need to take charge of this situation. If that entails making a few embellishments about how, exactly, you ended up here, then so be it.

You pick up the lizard.

"Well. This confirms most of my suspicions. I only need to clear up a few more details, such as who precisely you are..."

The human grabs you by the shoulders and lifts you off the ground.

"I'm starting to wonder if that fool is really as bad as hiding things as he seems, or if he deliberately made it too easy to find."

"Reth will not look kindly on you harming one of her priests!" you shout indignantly.

The human suddenly looks amused.

"A priest of Reth, you say? Maybe Ash did something useful after all. You can save us quite a lot of trouble."

This isn't how you were expecting the conversation to go, but you need to maintain whatever authority you still have.

"I don't see why I owe you anything."

"I warned your goddess of a threat, and helped to mitigate it. I should think that counts for something."

You're about to protest, but you suddenly feel strange.

Oh no. It's Reth, isn't it? But what is she trying to tell you?
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She's... amused?
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Reth seems... amused? Maybe she doesn't think it was much of a favor.

"While I'm sure Reth appreciates whatever you may have done, her power is great. I'm sure she could have handled it herself."

You aren't sure how that came across to the goddess, but the human's not very impressed.

"I don't mean to ask for a favor. Rather, I have a plan, which would also be to your goddess' benefit, and you can help with it. Otherwise, we can toss you in our one holding cell, which currently has two humans in it. So it would be rather cramped."

You aren't sure how to respond. Reth doesn't seem to be providing any new guidance, either.
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Accept to placate them, but have no actual intention of doing what this person says. You need to get out of there and find out where you are.
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For the moment, you suppose your best move is to play along.

"And what exactly is this plan of yours?"

She pauses a little.

"We're trying to get somewhere in particular. We missed our best chance at it. But a priest of Reth offers us another way there."

"That doesn't really explain anything."

"It is... difficult for me to say more. I cannot directly name the place, but if you can help us, you should be able to work out where it is."

"If you're talking about somewhere on sacred ground, I can't help you. Even priests can't go to such places without a direct command from Reth herself."

"Not quite sacred, in that sense. Somewhere of importance to the priests specifically. Someone... yes, someone is planning an attack on it, and I have the means to defend it."

She's being painfully vague. Humans can be so irritating.

Well, you may as well start by trying to figure out just where this place she's talking about is.
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Give the lizard a "get a load of this guy" look, then ask her what kind of people inhabit the place in question.
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Have a look around you.
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You glance at the lizard, the only living thing here that might have some sympathy for your situation. It doesn't seem particularly interested in anything at the moment.

It does give you a chance to look at your surroundings. The walls are mostly wood, reinforced by the occasional metal band. It reminds you of a ship, except it's not moving at all. That's odd.

"It's not entirely clear to me what you're talking about," you say. "Can you tell me anything more? Who lives in this place?"

She seems upset.

"The sort of people who don't welcome most outsiders," she says.

A place important to the priests, where outsiders aren't welcome? Wait, you think you know what she's talking about. It's the place where higher-ranking priests go to train for their new duties.

You never qualified for a promotion, according to your superiors, so you never went there yourself. But you do have permission to go to the place.

On the other hand, bringing a stranger there - especially a human - would be highly questionable. Even if there was an attack coming.

You also have a strange feeling passing through you. It's as if... it's as if Reth is laughing. Is she simply that confident in her defenses?

Well, the important thing is that you keep control of these negotiations.

"I can pass on your warning if you simply release me," you say, though Reth can probably do the same herself - just without words. "To be able to justify anything more, however, I would need proof."

She doesn't say a word. Instead, she reaches into a pouch and pulls something out of it.

What is that?
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a key
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It looks like an old key. A very old key. You don't see what she's getting at...

Wait a moment.

"Does that open one of the cages?" you ask.

"Oh, good. You're not completely thickheaded. So would you care to take a guess as to where the rest of the keys are?"

"In the hands of whoever is planning this attack of yours? Is that what you're getting at?"

"Good guess, but it's only mostly right. There's one other key they don't have."

You're starting to get annoyed. Why can't she just explain things, why does she have to circle around the stone, just like when she wouldn't tell you about the training grounds directly... wait a minute.

"Are you saying the last key is at the training grounds?"

"I'm sure there's someone at your temple who'd know for sure," she replies. More of this circling around the stone! It's so tiring.

"Very well, then. Give me the key and send me back, and I will send a warning along."

"I need the key to help you."

"That key is a sacred relic. Besides, what good is it to you? All it does is open an empty cage."

"And let you lock it up again," she says, putting the key back in her pouch.

You don't seem to have much negotiating leverage here. You do need to agree to something if you're going to get out of here, and she's given you plenty to allow the temple to evaluate her warning. But that key is too important to leave in the hands of a stranger. You could be kicked out of the priesthood if you just let her hold onto it.

What should you do here?
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Gather more info. What's this human's name? Who are her affiliates? What's her history?
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Tell her that you'd rather not play this conversational dance to get scraps of information from her and you'd prefer if she just told you what she's willing to tell you.
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"This is getting tiring. Why all these damned games, why don't you just tell me what you're getting at."

"That would be much easier, I agree. Unfortunately, it's not an option, and the reason why it isn't is one of the things I can't talk to you directly about. Nor is it particularly relevant to you. You know everything you need to know now, anyhow."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

She sighs.

"I suppose we're not going to get further unless I provide an explanation of some kind. Perhaps an allegory would be useful. As a priest, there are certain things expected of you, yes? A code of conduct."

"Of course," you say. More circling the stone, this had better at least be good.

"And among that, I imagine there's information that's only for priests. So, if you were to stop being a priest, even though you wouldn't be held to the general code of conduct any more, you still wouldn't be allowed to share that sort of information freely."

"So you quit your job but you still can't tell me this stuff? Why didn't you just say that, why do you keep circling the stone all the time?"

She pauses for a while.

"Some employers can be very effective at enforcing that sort of prohibition," she finally settles on.

Oh. Magic.

"Fine. Then if we've covered the main things you can't actually talk to me about, let's stick to the main point. That key is a sacred item, and I have no reason to trust you with it. I don't know anything about you, not even your name."

"That I can tell you, at least. It's Carma."

"And who are you working for now? Or are they holding you to the same conditions?"

"Right now, I work for myself alone. But I'm willing to aid Reth."

Reth isn't giving you any particular guidance as to how sincere she is on that point.

"And how would you holding onto the key aid her?"

"I can... make use of it," she says. She's hesitating. How irritating, this must be one of those things she's not able to talk about.

Should you press her on it, or would another line of conversation be more productive?
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So what, you go this training ground, and you ask around for the key, and then what? Its unlikely they's just give it to you even if you are a priest, and even if they did, then what? Its not like you have the cages they open. Is she expecting you to bring it back to her? Because that's not going to happen.
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It's probably easiest to start with how the current situation is a problem for her.

"You know, they're going to be more than a little wary if I go to the temple and tell them I know they're keeping a sacred key at the training ground, and that some mysterious someone's aiming to get it. If I return the key you've got, and say I was given it by the person who warned me, they'll take it quite a bit more seriously."

"You don't have standing as a priest?"

"Of course I do!" you say insistently. "It's just... A number of my past reports were not considered important enough to act on. Enough that I may have an... exaggerated reputation."

"Who's circling the stone now?" she says, amused. "So you gave a bunch of bad reports and they're not inclined to trust you much any more, is that it?"

"No! They simply disagreed with my assessments."

"Sure they did. So what you're saying is, you don't have the credibility to deliver this warning. Well, if that's the case, then I don't see much use for you, so I might as well keep you in the cell and look for someone they will take seriously."

"No, wait!" you protest.

Too bad you were in such a hurry to object that you didn't think of what you were going to say next.
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Let me take an impression of the key so that they can confirm the authenticity of my claim.

(Of course, that will allow me to rally enough support to wrest that relic from your unworthy fingers.)
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"This had better be good."

You don't have time to think about how good an idea it is. It's just the only one you could come up with.

"Get some clay. Make an impression of your key. Then I can present that as proof."

She seems to relax a bit.

"I suppose that's better than hoping we can contact a more reputable priest in time."

She puts you down, finally.

"Just one moment while I find some clay."

The more you think about it, the better an idea this seems. You might be able to talk her into allowing you another point of contact, and use the impression to persuade the higher-ups to come along and grab the key from her. For how rushed you were when you thought of it, it actually seems quite clever.

Although you don't have much time to reflect on that, because a moment later you find yourself getting very, very tired.

"Can't have you running around freely," you hear the human's voice say. "And I don't need you to be awake until we're done."

---

You're now someone else.
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Someone reading.
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"Master, I hate to interrupt your reading, but we have a new problem."

You close the book. It was getting boring, anyhow.

"Lar, we have had a lot of problems lately. Reth has started moving against us directly, and we have had to respond by taking more risks than I would like. Most notably, the attacks on the Bogknight and Marshguard bases ended in failure, and our main asset in the Bogknights was exposed. Then the Ritual of Hope failed, and not long after, Carma and Shume vanished, along with several magical items."

"I am aware, Master."

"And yet, all of these are minor setbacks. Reth's minions are no match for my power, even without the Ritual of Hope; they are merely an inconvenience. And once we are successful in either the swamp or the desert, things will fall into place for the other soon after. Nor are the betrayals a significant concern, as they are restricted in what they can reveal to others, and only the missing keys affect our plans significantly."

"As you say, Master. Regardless of what hardships we face along the way, I have absolute faith in you."

Lar bows.

"You do. And because of that faith, you would not deign to bother me with a problem if you could find a way to solve it yourself."

"Of course not, Master."

"Then what is our new problem, Lar?"
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A really big rock that is very inconveniently placed.
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The temporal field appears to be destabilizing. Tyrannodons have breached the outer perimeter.
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In lieu of a spoken answer, Lar raises his hands, and a projection appears in front of him, showing an enormous rock blocking off the entrance to a valley.

Or rather, that's what it looks like at first glance. With just a little effort, you can see that the "rock" is, in fact, alive. An ancient beast, larger than even a full-grown tunneler, which supposedly died off long ago.

"A tyrant?" you ask. "I'm less concerned by the fact that it's in our way and more concerned by the fact that it exists in this era at all. It implies that powerful time magic is at work, and may already be turned against us."

"As you say, Master." Lar stops the projection. "The beast on its own is not a major problem. But all our plans for dealing with it would likely reveal the existence of our airships. The wizard, or wizards, responsible for the creature's appearance would be able to strike back."

This is a significant complication. The easiest way to resolve it would be to claim the cages now, so your acolytes can simply capture the beast without your aid or that of the ships. But that could alert the church to your interest in the keys, making it harder to claim the one in their possession.

Alternatively, you could deal with the beast yourself - but that would force you to delay one of the most crucial steps in the plan, as it requires your presence. And you can't afford more delays now, not now that one of the gods has noticed what you're doing.

You can't see how any of your current resources can get you out of this dilemma. But then again, that's why you've got someone along who excels at creating new resources, isn't it.

"I'll go speak to our inventor and see what he can do."

---

You're Corvus again. When you arrived, your mudpike wasn't where you left it, you can't find the specific lizard you promised a meal, and the metal sphere was lying out in the open.

Dominique said nobody should touch the sphere until she's drained the ether, so you're just sort of waiting. Meanwhile, the crew you brought with you is feeding the other lizards, mostly just to pass the time.

You don't feel like there's a lot for you to do specifically. So maybe it's time to go looking for that oasis. You ask around and learn there are about four or five relatively close to the camp; the lizards don't seem able to offer any more clarification as to which one is correct.

Still, you did bring a desert horse out here. So maybe you should just take a guess as to which one to ride out to. Unless you can think of some way to narrow it down, of course.
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Pick a random one
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Well. After a few minutes of staring at a hastily-sketched map, you decide you just aren't that clever. So you head out to the one that's nearest.

As you approach, you can see a figure there. For a moment, you hope that blind luck might have worked out - but as you get nearer, it becomes clearer that whoever is standing there isn't Rider. The stature is all wrong, and their clothes are a lot more colorful.

You've got no idea who this is or what they're doing. But their back is turned to you, and they've shown no sign of noticing your arrival.

How should you handle this?
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What are they doing?
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