Swamped

Swamped
RE: Swamped
"Ring three times if you need help!"
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RE: Swamped
"Ringer! You need any help? Make three quick rings if you do."

You hear two quick rings, a pause, a punch, and a squawk, then another ring.

"I'm going to take that as a yes. The lamp broke, right? Can you get near the moss and ring your bell so I can find it?"

A few moments later, you hear some ringing, interspersed with more punching and fighting. It's enough to at least find the glowing moss - without the magnification of the lamp, it's not much light to see by, but it's better than nothing.

And from what few glimpses you can see, it looks like Ringer is fighting... someone in a bird mask? Well, at least this one isn't glowing, so it's probably just for stealth and not magic.

Probably.

They both seem to be taking quite a few blows. You're not eager to go punching in the dark, though. But what are your other options?
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RE: Swamped
Something that Mantis said... sound magic cancels out light magic. Could this intruder be taking advantage of the other side of that equation?

Perhaps their mask uses sound magic to make them quiet, but they needed it to be dark for it to work.

But no, it wasn't just sound that cancelled out the other mask's spell... it was sound *magic* (which is contained in music). There's nothing magical about lightmoss itself, is there? But the lamp has those finely traced etchings in the glass to catch the light. Could there be some magic to the patterns?

See if you can find the shards or remnants of the mosslamp and use them to reflect light from the hallway into the room, onto the intruder.
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RE: Swamped
A thought strikes you. Mantis mentioned sound magic - what if that's what the squawking is, the mask making sounds on its own? Perhaps to hide other sounds the wearer is making?

And if sound magic disrupts light magic... then, going the other way, maybe the lamp didn't just break naturally in the fight. Maybe it was deliberately broken to avoid interfering with the mask.

Except... that doesn't make much sense to you. It's just glowing moss in a special lantern with patterned glass that makes the light brighter.

But... well, now that you think about it, you don't really know that much about how the lantern actually works. And if a song can carry magic, even for people who aren't wizards, who's to say a lantern can't? Maybe, just maybe the patterns have something to them.

You feel around on the floor for some shards. You hold them close to the moss to see if there's any part of the patterns on them.

You think you can make out a line. Well, it's something.

If you could make it back to the hall, maybe you could reflect some of the light into here...

You get knocked over with a sudden kick. Oof, seems this bird-lover has noticed you're here. So if you're getting to the hall, you'd better figure out how to keep yourself safe.
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RE: Swamped
You start to, but then everything goes silent.

Or it would, except you're a grebling. And you can clearly hear someone chanting. And you recognize the voice.
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RE: Swamped
Right, you can do this. You just need Ringer to...

ringringringringringringringring

...to stop ringing that damned bell, apparently. What's going on?

Ringer stumbles into the light, stares you in the face, and points at their ear, while ringing their bell.

Can't hear anything? That's weird. They don't look like they got hit in the ears...

...wait. You hear something. It starts as a whisper, but gets gradually louder.

"okti okti okti okti... okti okti okti okti..."

Now that... That's a word you know. It means "silence".

More disconcerting, it's a voice you know. A voice you never expected to hear again.

You have to put that aside for now, and focus on your next move. This must be like the sleep spell - it's designed to work on humans. And in this weak light, El... the intruder probably hasn't realized you aren't one.

That means you can use the chanting to figure out where they are. Not far, you think. Just about a foot... if you step forward...

"okti okti okti... okti?"

They sound a little confused. Maybe their mask is letting them see in all this darkness, and they weren't expecting you to move the way you did.

You try flailing a little, as though you don't know where you're going. The next chant doesn't falter. Though, as you get closer, they sound a little nervous.

You tackle them before they have a chance to act.

Ringer's bell rings a few times, then stops. Without an active chant, the silence spell seems to be broken.

"Get to the hall!" you call out. "I've got the intruder."

You pull your captive to the hall, and Ringer soon joins you. The mask makes a sound like it's in pain.

You pull the damn thing off. And the face beneath confirms your fears.

It's Elmin. Elmin, who you could have sworn you killed with your own two hands years ago.

At least they can't hide behind a language barrier. But what the hell do you even ask to someone who's supposed to be dead?
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RE: Swamped
It's a sick tactic, making captured prisoners fight each other for amusement. Especially when someone has sworn off killing.

What was it she said to you? Something about fate and how the wind blows. It was fate that killed her, she said.

Fate blew a dagger right into the neck of your guard and the warden the following night. Funny, that.

Might as well let them know what your name is now.

Oh also HOW ARE YOU ALIVE? Is also a good question. Maybe worth getting that out of the way before the interrogation room.
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RE: Swamped
Urgh. You've got a lot of bad memories coming back.

The alliance breaking down. The sudden ambush. You thought you were dead, but considering what happened after your capture, you think you might have been better off that way.

They forced the prisoners to be gladiators. And they didn't end the matches until someone died. You were just toys, to be broken for their amusement.

And because they could tell you were comrades, of course they made you and Elmin fight each other first. While you were full of frustration for what your respective commanders had done, too.

The worst part is that you enjoyed it. You were so damn mad at the humans for giving the greblings the dirty work that you didn't even care if Elmin had any say in the decision. That the whole time, she'd fought hard to call you all real soldiers and even asked to go in with you, if no one else would. You were exactly what those bastards wanted you to be - a wild, dangerous creature, with nothing on the mind except thoughts of violence.

Right up to the moment when you heard her neck snap.

You could see her mouthing the word "fate", even if she didn't have the breath to say it.

She'd been on about that for as long as you'd known her. That fate was no different from the wind blowing, it just happened and you couldn't fight it. She saw everything that happened as fate.

Fate killed me, she thought in her final moments.

That's when you started to despise fate. That's when you became the crosswinds to blow it aside.

That's when you escaped.

And it probably would've killed you if Claws hadn't made her own escape that very night. You don't know if that was fate or not, but when she said she was fleeing to the swamp so they'd never catch her again, well... you couldn't think of anywhere else you wanted to be.

Funny how that worked out for the both of you.

None of that tells you how in the hell this dead woman is sitting in front of you, clearly alive. So you ask her flat-out, in her own language. It may have been more than a decade since you spoke it, but you can't really forget.

"Torim samwa cassiks ef?"

Elmin blinks.

"Nat," she says.

Or, in Common, "I'm not." Real helpful answer there.

Ringer is just staring at you.

"I heard her chanting and recognized the language," you mutter. Technically accurate, if skipping over some significant details. "You got a problem with that?"

Two rings.

"Right. So I've got a few different messes to deal with here. Mantis is in the menagerie, dealing with a different prisoner in a magic mask. Apparently that one put a bunch of people to sleep. So we need some loud music..."

"Sanne," Elmin says suddenly. Meaning, roughly, "I can fix it".

If anyone else were saying that, you'd expect it was a prelude to bargaining. But the way she says it... it sounds like she's just volunteering to do it, not wanting anything in return.

So what in the hells do you tell her?
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RE: Swamped
Yeah. You want to find out what these wizards are doing here anyway. And it's particularly fortuitous that you know this person.
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RE: Swamped
You're having a real hard time saying no. Even as you list all the reasons in your head why you should never let a prisoner just do something, especially something that's probably magic, all your instincts are telling you this is Elmin and she's on the level.

And that means she can take care of one of your problems way faster than you can on your own. Real tempting.

But you didn't get this far by being stupid. You're not letting her do anything before you get some details, at the least. And preferably find out what she's doing here.

"Ferref?" How are you going to do that?

"Sko. Ether. Tallat."

Ringing.

"She's asking for the mask so she can cast a counterspell and wake everyone up," you tell Ringer. You had a hunch it might be something like that.

Two rings.

"Yeah, sounds sketchy as hell to me too," you agree. Even as your feelings tell a different story. "What's stopping you from pulling some other magic to escape?"

"Taratchie."

Hells. She would say that. You're completely thrown off, and Ringer can clearly see it.

"It's hard to explain what that means," you say, finally. "It's... a promise, almost an oath. Not a word to be uttered lightly."

Two rings. Ringer's clearly determined to do the sensible thing here. You appreciate that.

But to refuse a Taratchie... that ain't no small thing either. It'd be like killing her all over again, and you still haven't figured out how she survived the first time.

So. What are you going to do?
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RE: Swamped
Take her to Mantis
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RE: Swamped
"You know what, we'll let Mantis handle this," you say. "Maybe he can figure out how to use the bird mask. Or keep her from trying anything else. I dunno, he seems to know more about magic than anyone else we've got."

A ring and a weak second ring. Uncertainty.

"Look. That oath she gave might not mean much to you or me. But to her? It's like her life. I'm not just gonna let her do whatever, of course, but I gotta at least take it seriously. We ain't in the business of needlessly disrespecting prisoners, are we?"

A brief pause, and two rings.

"So we'll drag her over to Mantis. That's all."

Grudgingly, Ringer grabs her by the arm and follows you to the menagerie. You hope this works, otherwise you'll have to come all the way back here for your original errand.

The moment you walk in, the other prisoner spots Elmin and starts shouting wildly in their incomprehensible language.

Mantis glances at you.

"Crosswinds," he says, in that matter-of-fact way of his. "Why is this prisoner's aura so closely linked to your own?"

"I don't know what in the hells you're babbling about," you say, trying not to sound unnerved. Ringer's sure looking at you suspiciously. "I know her language, though. She had this bird mask, which as far as I can tell seems to be all about sound magic, and she offered to..."

"Ah," Mantis says, before you can finish. "Taratchie. To you specifically. That explains everything. Well, go ahead, let her cast."

This is not what you were expecting at all. Ringer and Bigfoot seem pretty startled, too.

"Now hang on a minute here, Mantis!" Bigfoot interjects. "You may be able to order these two around, but not me. And I'm not going to sit by and let a stranger cast a spell right in front of me!"

"She is no stranger, not to Crosswinds," Mantis says calmly. "There is no discord in her aura. She is sincere."

"And supposing I don't believe in your aura nonsense?"

"Well. I believe Crosswinds will be better at making that case than I will."

This was a terrible idea. But now it seems you're stuck with it.

So how in the hells are you supposed to persuade Bigfoot to let this happen?
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RE: Swamped
Your mind's a blank. You've got your reasons, sure, but you can't say you'd be able to defend them with anything more convincing than Mantis' mumbo-jumbo.

"I don't appreciate being put on the spot like this," you grumble.

Mantis doesn't say a word. The prisoner who had the flame mask is sure being a loudmouth, though.

"Ringer, don't suppose you could grab us a gag for that one?"

Ringer has already produced one, and gags the prisoner. Well, you were hoping for at least a bit more of a stall that way.

Ugh. What the hell does Mantis think you're going to say? You know this is a bad idea, you just don't believe it is. Which is because...

...it's because you trust her. Hells. That's what he wants you to say, isn't it.

Bah. You don't like it, but it's true. Well, these are the Marshguards, they won't pry too much into what exactly happened. You can't see it selling Bigfoot, but you can't see what else you can say. So you may as well...

You hear what sounds like a bell dropping. You turn around and see that the other prisoner has gotten loose, and they're holding the gag around Ringer's throat. Not choking, but it's clear enough it could turn into that on a moment's notice.

"Just for the record, I tied 'em up real tight," you say, as the prisoner glares at you.

"Well that doesn't matter much if they're loose, right?" Bigfoot growls. She turns her attention to the prisoner. "I don't know if you can understand me, but we Marshguards protect our own. You hurt Ringer there, and you will pay for it, you understand me?"

"Gasto!" the stranger shouts, pointing at Elmin. "Suta!"

"What, you want us to let your buddy go? Let ours free first and we'll think about it."

"Rapat!" Elmin shouts. Yeah, you knew she wasn't working with this jerk already. Which means he wants her for... what? Interrogation? Revenge? Who even knows. You just know you're not handing her over.

So how do you help out Ringer here?
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RE: Swamped
Ringer is a highly competent hand to hand fighter. You just need to give him a distraction.

And that's what Bigfoot will understand, ability. In the same way that you know Ringer is able to get himself out of this mess. You know that Elmin doesn't have the ability to go back on a promise like the one she's made. She's essentially shackled herself.

Of course revealing that you know that means revealing that you know her, so just tell Bigfoot the truth: "I've fought her before."
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RE: Swamped
The problem, really, is that gag. Ringer's good enough to get out of that hold otherwise.

And even with it - well, the gag's not going to choke on its own, is it. Just distract the prisoner good for a few seconds and Ringer should be able to take care of the rest.

Well. Turns out you're in a room full of distractions, aren't you. The animals have been plenty agitated since Rider disappeared, after all, and this joker ain't helping. They're already making a fair amount of noise... you just need to push that up to a point where it can't be ignored.

Which would probably be easier if you were one of those damn animal experts, but you're not. You only fed them occasionally, and you had notes on what to feed each so you don't remember that too well off the top of your head. Aside from that, about all you know is which ones are particularly messy to clean up after.

And, well. Which ones you have to watch out for in the wild. But releasing one would be hard to do. Your best bet is to provoke one, preferably one behind the prisoner, into making a lot of noise.

...noise. You've still got the bird mask, don't you? Then again, you've got no idea how to use it.

Except... maybe you do. Not conventionally, mind, but animals usually aren't too bright about this sort of thing...

Time for a little gamble. You can see an enclosure with a few greattoads sitting around. You remember how much noise they make when they're upset. A band of 'em nearly gave you away once, when you agitated them while trying to slip past a Bogknight patrol.

Then you hold the mask carefully, in hopes that one of them sees it. It'll just take one; the rest will follow that one's lead. It's well below the prisoner's line of sight, so it shouldn't look odd...

A few seconds later, you hear exactly the kind of noisy croaking that you were expecting - and which the intruder clearly wasn't. They turn their head for just a moment... long enough for Ringer to pull away the gag and knock them to the floor.

"Do we still need that troublemaker here if our other intruder wakes everyone up?" you ask Mantis. "Because I don't think I can tie 'em up any tighter, but they can cause way less trouble in a cell with a good lock."

"It shouldn't be as necessary, no," Mantis replies. "Go right ahead."

"Now hang on," Bigfoot says. "Why should we..."

"I get it now. I knew Ringer could get out of that hold. If I didn't know that, I wouldn't have tried to pull off that little stunt."

"Don't change the subject."

"I ain't. I just realized what I know. If we give her the mask - she's not gonna pull anything because she can't. Not after the promise she gave me. It's not just that she wouldn't want to - she's just plain not capable of it."

Bigfoot glares at you.

"And what makes you so sure of her character?"

You don't want to get into the details. So you go with what's technically true.

"I fought her before. Years ago. It's something I realized after that fight."

Bigfoot's clearly not satisfied - but, as a rule, Marshguards don't pry.

"All right, fine. But if anything goes wrong, you're responsible for this. You understand me?"

"Yeah," you mutter, handing Elmin the mask. You really hope your instincts are right on this.

You'd still like to know how in the hells she survived, but one thing at a time, here.

She puts the mask on, and starts chanting. Kadra - it means "awaken". Nothing weird so far.

Wait... what's with all the shaking all of a sudden?

But... you're pretty sure it's no trick. Elmin seems surprised, too. She looks to you, as if to ask if she should keep going.

Great. Of course you get stuck with another tough decision.

So what's it going to be?
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RE: Swamped
I mean, as a reader, I want this to continue.

Just don't switch to some random character just before the crazyness starts up.
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RE: Swamped
Tell her to go through with it and make it snappy. Whatever is happening, the fortress should be awake for it.

Switch to some random character just *after* the craziness starts up.

(The craziness being a tunneling machine breaking through the weakened floor of the menagerie, perhaps?)
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RE: Swamped
Look. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the shaking started when the spell started going. Maybe it isn't.

Either way, it'll be easier to deal with the problem if everyone's awake.

"Sah," you reply.

"kadra kadra kadra kadra..."

"The hell is going on here, Crosswinds?" Bigfoot asks.

"It's not the spell," Mantis says suddenly. "It's something below us... wait, no, it's moving up..."

You check below the floor. Hells, the pounding is strong here. It's just like earlier, only here there's a spot without so much wood.

...and come to think of it, wasn't Elmin nearby, using the mask, when it happened before? Maybe it's not that she's waking something up, maybe she's drawing it to her...

You don't have time to think about that right now. You crawl closer to the weak spot and get ready for whatever's coming. As ready as you can, anyhow.

The shaking gets closer, and something pops up. It looks weird, like it's made of metal, with a bunch of spidery legs and two big drills on lengthy arms.

And it's turning those drills towards the floor up above.

On the plus side, it doesn't seem to be paying any attention to you. But what can you even do to something like that?
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RE: Swamped
Look for a weak point. If not, just aim for joints (that's where it's weakest).
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RE: Swamped
Okay. You can handle this. You may not have ever seen a machine like this before, but at the end of the day, it's basically the same idea as fighting a heavily armored opponent.

And the key to that is looking for flaws in the armor. Making the blows you land count.

Joints, in particular, are hard to protect without constraining movement. Seems like that would be even more true here, when the limbs themselves are made of metal. Metal's not going to bend on its own, unless you deliberately soften it up.

And indeed - looking closer, you can see how the joints are linked up by some kind of connector. It looks like it's even designed to be removed - maybe so whoever made this thing can replace the limbs if they get damaged.

Of course, that doesn't mean it'll be easy for you. The designer probably has their own tool for pulling out the connectors, but you'll have to improvise.

You prod at one of the connectors for the drill-arms with your mudpike. It takes some effort, but it seems to loosen a bit.

But before you get any further, one of the thing's legs pushes you away.

What's weird is, it's a surprisingly gentle push. Like it's not trying to hurt you, just keep you from getting in the way.

It also stops digging suddenly, and that's when you realize those drills aren't actually part of it - it's holding them in small mechanical claws on the end of its arms, and right now it's using one claw to adjust the connectors on the other. You'd have to disable both claws at once to stop it, which is more than you can handle down here by yourself.

On the other hand, you've stalled it for a bit. Maybe you should go topside and issue a warning... then again, maybe there's something you can do down here with the time you've bought.
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RE: Swamped
Zip past the robot drill spider, go down!
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RE: Swamped
You're actually a little tempted to go down and see what this thing has been up to. But getting past the thing would be risky, and you're not inclined to look without telling anyone where you are.

So, a warning it is. If it does burst through, you've probably got enough people up there to take care of it. You head up through the floorboards.

"The hell's going on, Crosswinds?" Bigfoot asks. She's clearly not pleased.

"There's some kind of digging machine underneath. It's going to pop up here any moment. I've got no idea what it'll do after that."

Bigfoot frowns.

"And this doesn't have anything to do with your friend here casting?"

"Not unless the machine's tracking her somehow. I don't know enough to rule that out."

"A machine?" Mantis asks, puzzled. "But machines shouldn't have auras."

"You can wonder about that later. I can't fight that thing too well under the floor, not enough space. But once it pops up - should be about there - we may be able to stop it. And when you do, maybe you can figure out where its aura is coming from or whatever."

You turn to Ringer.

"Get that prisoner in the cells already. Don't need 'em slipping away again."

Ringer nods, picks up their bell, and drags the prisoner away.

Elmin's still chanting. And the shaking's getting worse. You wouldn't think those two drills could cause this much of a ruckus...

Wait. How do you know that's the only one?

"One second. I've got to check underground," you say.

And just as you're about to head through the floorboard, you see another drill lifting it up.

Great. So there are more. Now what?
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RE: Swamped
Better get some real leadership involved in this one. If Mantis has no suggestions, go to the council.
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RE: Swamped
Strictly speaking, you don't need to think of anything. You sent Ringer off, so out of the three Marshguards in this room, you're technically supposed to be taking orders, not giving them.

If you had any ideas, of course, you wouldn't let that bother you. But you're a bit stumped.

"I think we got a full-on infestation of these things," you say. "So, uh, they might be turning up underfoot."

"What in the hells? What is that?" Bigfoot asks, pointing at the drill.

"Dunno. I think they might be having some trouble with the wooden floors, since the only one I see is where there's a loose board. But, judging by the shaking, they seem to be making progress."

"I only see one aura," Mantis mutters. "If there are multiple machines, then where is it coming from?"

"Don't suppose you can tell us what kind of aura it is?" you grumble. May as well humor him. If he actually knows something, it could get you somewhere.

"Not human, not grebling, and it doesn't fit with any creature I've ever seen in the swamp. So, no, I can't tell you what kind it is, only what it isn't..."

He stops suddenly.

"Wait, perhaps I did see an aura like it once, long ago. Before I arrived here. But I can't recall exactly where, or what it was..."

"Real useful," you mutter, as you attempt to dislodge the visible drills with your mudpike. Maybe you can clear enough space to see what's really going on down there. "If you remember anything else, let me know."

"Someone really ought to tell Razor and Claws about this," Bigfoot grumbles. "In case this gets worse."

"Is that an order for me? Or a suggestion for Mantis?"

Bigfoot gives you a glare.

"You think you can fight these things yourself?"

"Well, not under the floor, it's too cramped there. Hard to say how it'd go in open space, if they manage to break through."

"Right. Well, I'll have a better shot at dealing with them either way. So you go and do it, unless you find a messenger you can send over."

Makes sense, you suppose.

"You're not going to interrupt her, are you?" you say, pointing to Elmin.

"As long as she doesn't try anything funny, no."

Good enough, you suppose. You head for the door and...

...well, there goes the floor under you. Seems the things are breaking through now, and this one's blocking your way out.

You'd call Bigfoot or Mantis for help, but they've got their hands full with the others as it is.

So what do you do here?
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RE: Swamped
Try climbing onto it instead of attacking it.
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