RE: Swamped
A thought strikes you. Swamp mush isn't exactly the most appealing of meals - but with how long it takes to bring anything here, and how much the rain devastates the local animal populations, meat isn't much of an option. Hunting requires special permission.

But there's always people who don't respect the rules. And there was something going on involving animals that Grey didn't want to talk freely about.

What about a poaching operation? Pest control would have exactly the tools you'd need to capture an animal. Grey could be involved in the scheme... or it could be he noticed the missing tools, and doesn't want the information to get out too far.

Well. You can look into that later. What you're wondering about right now is if Squib Squad is involved in unauthorized hunting.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the leaves made me sick, honestly," you groan. "Forgot how unpleasant they were. I suppose I spoiled myself when I went back home. Now I wish I'd at least treated myself to a good steak before I got on the return carriage... It's not like I didn't have the money to spare for it, after all."

You can almost see some gears turning in the Squib Squadder's head. He looks like he sees an opportunity, but isn't sure on it.

"Just quit whispering behind our backs," he seems to settle on after a minute or so. Then he almost immediately rushes over to the man at the head of the line - Squib, most likely. And - hypocritically enough - begins whispering to him.

You don't have much practice with lipreading, but you think you catch the word "greatrat". Are they desperate enough to eat greatrat meat? That's definitely a good way to get sick.

"What was that all about?" the other knight asks you. "You're up to something, aren't you?"

Hmm. It might be worth taking on this fellow as a helper. He seems eager enough. But, while you've worked with others on information-gathering before, you never quite got the hang of working out which details to share with your would be accomplices.

So what should you say to this (rather good-looking) knight?
RE: Swamped
Asking them if they want to go...hunting...together.
RE: Swamped
"Just checking a huntch," you say. You keep the mispronunciation subtle, but the knight seems to pick up on it.

"Squib Squad's actually been stayin' outta trouble the last couple of days," he says, not directly addressing it. "Don't know why, but there's been some weird stuff going on with them lately. First Squib got knocked out when he was on guard duty, then the next morning, one of the squad, guy named Clancy, just up and quit the knights entirely."

Now that's interesting, combined with what you already heard. Grey thought that this group had an arrangement with Ash. So what if Ash asked them to do something so dirty it gave their departing member a crisis of conscience? Or perhaps he'd been having a few of those, but on that night, Squib was in no shape to talk him out of it?

Of course, you might be sensationalizing things a bit there. Although... if Ash's requests really are that bad, it could also explain why the squad seems to be lying low. He wouldn't want to risk them getting caught, and possibly pointing a finger back at him, until he was securely in command.

You suddenly remember that when you got in, another knight left in your carriage. Damn! That must have been Clancy. A shame, he could have told you so many interesting things.

"Squib Squad gets in a lot of trouble, then?"

"I'd rather not talk about it while they're around. What's taking the medic so long, anyways? I know they just changed shifts, but it shouldn't take this long to start seeing people, right?"

"Maybe it just feels longer because of the company you're keeping."

"I guess," he shrugs. "Say, we haven't introduced ourselves, have we? I'm Mark Conchway, been here about six months."

"Tom Sixth. I've been off on leave for about eight months. No wonder we haven't met before."

"There are worse ways to meet someone, I suppose," Mark says. You can tell he's thinking of someone specific - but that particular piece of gossip will have to wait, you may be on the cusp of something big.

Squib and the other knight are still whispering. Doesn't look like they're coming to any sort of agreement, but then they stop. And now Squib's coming your way.

Mark backs away a bit. You suppose you can't blame him.

"Hey, you," Squib says.

"Are you Squib?" you ask. "That was the impression I was getting."

"That's right. And I'm the one asking the questions here. What's this I hear about you being able to afford steak?"

"I do a good job of saving up my pay," you explain. "Got about two or three weeks' worth that I could dip into to treat myself, not that it does me much good out here in the swamp. Not on me right now, of course, because what's the point in lugging it around?"

"Well, y'know," Squib says, not at all subtly. "You could always toss a few coins at a fellow knight as payment for a favor. I'm sure they'd find a way to use the extra money when they go on leave."

Well. This tells you a lot about what sort of people Squib Squad are, but it doesn't confirm Grey's suspicions about Ash.

Maybe following this trail a little further can help you out in that regard.

"And what sort of favors might you be willing to offer?" you ask.

"Who, me? Oh, I was just mullin' over the idea. I mean, if you'd like to talk later, after we're done here, well, that's no problem, we can meet someplace quiet. But I can't promise nothin' until I know I ain't gonna be too sick."

"Well, it can't be a problem to talk out here while we're both waiting, can it?" you say as innocently as possible. "You're not suggesting anything that would get us in trouble, are you?"

"Oh, nah, nah," Squib says, very unconvincingly. "It's just that I'm too worried, y'know? Ain't been able to sleep properly. Hopin' it's nothin' too serious. Hard to focus on things."

You're not sure what he's here for, but after the way he said that, you're quite sure it isn't insomnia.

You wonder if you should try to get anything more out of him now. It might be better to take him up on his offer for a meeting and see what you can learn at that point.
RE: Swamped
Yeah, see if he'd be willing to meet later for a game of swamprats in the auditorium.
RE: Swamped
"Well. That sounds intriguing, at the least. All right, I'll talk to you later, then."

"Great," Squib says with a grin. He then whispers in your ear. "We'll meet in the auditorium in a couple hours. It's closed for repairs, but I can make arrangements to get us in. Don't say a word of this to anyone."

"Next!" Eve finally says. Squib turns around, glares at the rest of his crew, and marches in. Obviously, he's insisting on being treated first.

Well. If Squib Squad's going in first, you can probably keep up the swamp sickness bluff for a while. No problem in dropping it once it's just you and Mark.

So in the meantime, you've got a chance for some conversation. Will you discuss things with Mark? Or would it be more productive to try and get some answers from a Squib Squadder first?
RE: Swamped
You could talk to Gorp. You know, the big one whose face is 90% beard.
RE: Swamped
You realize that you have a unique opportunity now. With Squib preoccupied, the rest of his squad might be a bit more willing to talk about what they really think of him. That would be interesting in and of itself, but it could also be a good opener to a more informative conversation.

The trick is in figuring out which of them to single out. You're looking for someone who doesn't care much for Squib, but wouldn't tell him that to his face. Which means, someone who looks to be relieved that he's gone.

And you think you spot one. One of them who's turned towards the wall and is brushing his rather long beard. Funny, you thought there were regulations on beard length; too long and they can get tangled in breather masks.

"That looks like it takes quite a bit of work to maintain," you whisper to him.

He gives you a look that very clearly says "don't make fun of me." Yes, this is definitely a promising target.

"I'm sorry if that came across wrong. It's just that I once tried to grow a beard, but all the day-to-day work proved too much for me. I can't help but respect someone with the self-discipline to manage a beard like yours."

He starts beaming proudly.

"Well, I'm glad someone appreciates it," he says. "Squib sure doesn't. He always has some choice words for me if I do my beard care in front of him."

You definitely picked the right person to question.

Now that you've got his attention, how should you proceed?
RE: Swamped
What's it like on the S-quad?

Talk about Clancy!
RE: Swamped
"So what's it like on your squad, anyhow?"

"Not so great lately," the bearded knight grumbles. "For one thing, Squib's not actually in charge right now, so he's been even rougher on us when we've got downtime. Which we ain't had much of since Clancy quit. Makes me wonder if he somehow knew it was coming."

"Wait, what do you mean Squib's not in charge?"

He seems real upset now.

"Burgundy filled Clancy's slot with someone who's pretty obviously there to keep an eye on us. Here I thought it'd be smooth sailing once she got busted down to private, but no, she still finds ways to give us trouble. And it's put Squib in a worse mood than usual."

Intriguing! Squib Squad has a minder now. Apparently, this isn't widely known, since Mark didn't know the reason for their better behavior.

"So who's she got watching you, then?"

"I think her name's Nora? Don't care much for her. She's bossy."

The only Nora you know is Nora Feldspar, and 'bossy' is not at all how you would describe her. She's one of the most cheerful people you've ever had the pleasure of meeting, even when she's on the job.

Although you can certainly imagine her giving this group a hard time.

"So what was this Clancy like? I'm naturally curious, and it sounds like I won't get to meet him."

"Why would you want to? He's a little weasel. Always mouthing off at bad times, acting like he was smarter than the rest of us just 'cause he could read. Y'know, he blabbed on us at the newmuck the other day. And then he acted like it was Squib's fault! Hated that smartass. Didn't help that he was practically second-in-command, and hells, some days it felt like Squib answered to him. The way he made a big deal of it every time we got orders from..."

He suddenly stops himself.

"Never mind. Point is, Clancy was a piece of shit and I don't miss him in the slightest."

Well. This clarifies a lot about why Clancy left. You can't imagine this group being subtle in their disdain.

But it also seems this fellow came very close to saying something he shouldn't have. Which has definitely piqued your curiosity. He doesn't seem to have much restraint, so perhaps if he's upset enough while talking, he'll spill a few significant beans.

So. Where do you take the conversation from here?
RE: Swamped
Better talk about burgundy. Think she's gonna stay in charge?
RE: Swamped
More like Burgun-DUMB, amirite?
RE: Swamped
"Why is Burgundy in charge, anyhow?" you ask. You've heard answers on this already, but as this is a particular sore spot with him, it might get him a little less cautious.

"Beats me. It's nuts, though. What was the point of demoting her if she's allowed to run the base?"

"Why'd she get demoted in the first place?"

He shrugs.

"Don't know, don't care. I just hoped it'd get her off our backs. But it didn't. Figures, can't have anything good last around here."

He seems rather ill-informed.

"So, what, you think they'll just leave Burgundy in charge?"

"I dunno. Who the hell knows how officers think. I don't even get what Ash is thinking half the time he..."

There's a sudden pause.

"...he chews us out," he concludes quickly. "Which he's always doin' for one thing or another."

So there is something up between Squib Squad and Ash. Something they aren't supposed to talk about.

"I'm a little confused. Why's Burgundy such a problem if Ash is the one lecturing you?"

"Sometimes she thinks Ash is goin' easy on us," he says, sounding annoyed. "So she gives us even more work to do."

"Sounds rough. Gotta wonder, though. If they pick someone else to be in charge, who's it going to be?"

"I'd say anyone would be better," he grumbles. "Except, well, they might pick Ash. Ugh, he'd work us so damn hard if that happened. Not sure who'd be worse, him or Greenwoods."

"What's wrong with Greenwoods?"

"She's a teacher," he says, as though that's adequate explanation. Says a lot about what sort of person you're dealing with.

It seems that if you're going to hear a case for Ash, you're not getting it from this group. If this fellow is any indication, they don't like anyone telling them what to do.

Probably including Squib.

But it's also clear that they are working for Ash, on things that he doesn't want them blabbing about. Considering how easily he let that much slip, they must not be used to small talk, at least not outside their group.

Maybe that's enough for you, and you're done here. Or maybe you can push him a little harder and get some juicy details.

What's the plan?
RE: Swamped
Tom Sixth don't push, he glides.

Why does Squib answer to Ash anyway? Does he have something on him?
RE: Swamped
"Why does it even matter if you get assigned more work? I have a hard time seeing why Squib would particularly care about orders from anyone."

"Now hang on a sec," the bearded knight says, sounding annoyed. "We may have a bad rep, and we may talk back a lot. But we're still Bogknights, and we take that seriously. When we got a job, we do it, even if we gripe a lot. I ain't a quitter, not like Clancy."

Hmm. Interesting. Not really what you were looking for.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest anything about you in particular. I just meant Squib didn't strike me as the type. Maybe I'm wrong."

"Okay, yeah, that's fair," he says with a shrug. "Squib probably wouldn't stick around if he wasn't in charge of the squad. As it is, I'm pretty sure he likes having a squad to boss around more than he hates working."

And now this is going in an interesting direction.

"So why is Squib in charge, then? He doesn't seem particularly well-suited for it."

"No kiddin'. The hell was Ash thinkin'..."

He stops suddenly. He realizes he's said too much.

"Ash picked him for squad leader?" you ask, pretending not to notice his nervousness. "I wonder why."

"I mean, I'm just guessin'," he says, visibly panicking. "Ash was talkin' to all of us before he formed the squad. So I figure that was about picking the leader. Can't say for sure, though."

His sudden fear is more than a little strange. There's nothing unusual about an officer picking out a squad leader, after all, and it's not as if the other officers wouldn't already know about it. So why would it be so worrisome to admit to Ash picking Squib?

Because maybe this fellow knows the reason why, and he almost let that slip.

You'll have to tread carefully here. He's frightened right now, but if you make the wrong move, he might get violent. On the other hand, he's also not thinking clearly, which means he might forget to hide something if he's focused too much on hiding something else.

How do you approach this?
RE: Swamped
Huh..ash was talking to you individually? Wonder what he told Squib...
RE: Swamped
"So, he was talking to you one at a time?"

"Uh, yeah. Asked a bunch of weird questions. I don't really remember 'em, though."

Or rather, judging from his expression, he does remember but he'd rather not pass them along.

"I wonder if he asked Squib the same questions. And what Squib's answers were that got him picked as squad leader."

Silence. He's not taking any chances now.

"Oh well, I suppose we'll never know, will we? I doubt Squib remembers either."

"Yeah, probably not," he says. He's so easy to lead right now. Move away from the truth, and he talks. Move towards it, and he clams up.

Of course, if you take too long getting to the point, he might remember that he can shut you up with his fists.

"And if you don't remember the questions, well, then you probably don't have any idea which one you answered in a way he didn't like..."

His face practically freezes. You must be getting really close.

So it's time for some quick speculation.

This fellow actually seems to care about being a Bogknight, at least a little. Or he's concerned with putting up appearances, at the very least.

So, let's say your guess that Ash is up to some dirty business is right. Then if he were assembling a squad to do it for him, he'd probably ask them questions about how they'd handle orders. Figure out who'd do what he said without blabbing.

And Beardy here said something in response that was less to his tastes than what Squib said. That'd be your guess.

So what can you say to hopefully lead your new friend here into confirming it?
RE: Swamped
From what you can gather, Ash is a tactical type focused on results.

Did he ask you to do something unethical?
RE: Swamped
"Well, it probably wasn't just one question," you continue, acting as if you haven't noticed his reaction. "I mean, I'm having trouble thinking of an important enough question to ask that wouldn't be very memorable. It's not like he'd pass you over because, say, you weren't eager about eating swampleaf. If it were one question, it would have to be something big, like, I don't know. What would you do if an officer gave you an unethical order?"

You glance at him. The terror in his eyes is growing...

Oh dear. It just turned to rage. He tosses a punch at you, and you dodge just in time.

"What was that for?" you ask, as if you didn't already know.

"Shut up! I've had enough of you and your damn questions!"

"Sorry, sorry! I'm just a talkative sort. I'll leave you alone."

"I got a better idea. Why don't you stay right there while I give you a pounding..."

"What's going on here?"

You both turn to see Sergeant Dominic. Hmm, he's even better-looking up close.

"Nothing, sir," the bearded knight says sheepishly. "We're just waiting for a turn in the infirmary."

"I don't usually see knights throwing punches over nothing, Gorp. If it really is nothing, then I think you owe this fellow an apology."

"Tom Sixth, sir," you say. "Just got back from leave."

"And you're already sick?"

"It's been a few months since I was in the swamp. I think I'm having more trouble than I expected adjusting."

"I suppose that does happen, yeah. Lots of stuff that can give you trouble her. So, what exactly happened here?"

At that moment, Gorp shoots you a dirty look that suggests there will be consequences for being too honest. So, what are you going to say?
RE: Swamped
Oh he was trying a shock remedy for my stomach ache. Huh...woah I think it actually worked! Wow. Really just a jolt of adrenaline was all it took. So Sergeant, since I'm currently freed up anything I can help you with? Winky
RE: Swamped
"It's nothing serious, Sergeant. You see, I had a bit of stomach trouble, and Gorp here was telling me about a folk remedy where you shock the patient into feeling better. I was skeptical, but, well, it seems to have worked!"

Sergeant Dominic looks more than a little skeptical. It's a rather appealing look for him.

"Even if we leave aside how ridiculous that story is on its own, these troublemakers aren't exactly known for helping other knights out of the kindness of their hearts. There's no need to protect him."

"Who said it was out of kindness?" Gorp shoots back. "I just wanted a little favor from him, so I offered to save him the trouble of a visit to the infirmary. And if it didn't work, well, I'd get a good chuckle out of it."

"Really, it's nothing important," you try to explain.

"Maybe you can explain to me just how unimportant it was when Squib Squad's out of earshot," Dominic says, dragging you away.

Well. That's one way to get a one-on-one conversation with a handsome officer. Not the way you would have picked if it were up to you, perhaps, but you're not one to pass up an opportunity.

Dominic leads you down a few hallways, into an empty room.

"You have no need to worry about retaliation," he says. "Now, tell me just what happened there."

So. What do you say?
RE: Swamped
I asked too many questions. Still trying to get the lay of the land and get caught up on all the gossip I missed, but I struck a nerve with a question about an officer's actions.

I meant it as small talk, but I think Gorp misinterpreted it as innuendo.
RE: Swamped
"Well, sir, I just got back from leave. So I've been trying to get caught up on everything I missed - and it certainly sounds like the last few days have been eventful. I was asking that Gorp fellow some questions, because it's always useful to hear about things from different perspectives."

"And you were just asking questions when he punched you?"

"Oh, the subject of how his squad formed came up, and I was curious about why Squib in particular was picked as leader. Seems Sergeant Ash was interviewing members of the squad, and decided Squib was the best fit."

"He was handling reserve squad assignments that year, yeah," Dominic says. "The idea was you put all the troublemakers on one squad and keep a close eye on them. As to the choice of squad leader, well, I wouldn't want to speak to that without interviewing them myself. I don't think I would have picked Squib, but maybe he'd have surprised me somehow." He pauses. "But that's all beside the point. The point is Gorp punched you after that?"

"Well... I wanted to get a sense of why, but Gorp said he didn't remember his own interview. So I started musing on that, and I guess something I said upset him."

"I see," Dominic says. "I don't suppose you remember what?"

"I was more or less talking to myself by that point, and my memory of the moment is a little focused on the part where he tried to attack me. But I think I was speculating on the sort of questions that might get asked?"

You actually remember it fairly well. But you pause for a bit, just to get a read of Dominic's reaction. Is he, perhaps, worried on Ash's behalf?

Unfortunately, he's not giving much away with his expressions. Seems he has a fair amount of emotional control. You wonder if he's any good at Swamprats.

"Well," he says after a while, "I suppose it doesn't matter much. It's clear enough that Gorp attacked you, so he'll be punished accordingly. I can't imagine how anything you might have asked could have angered him for a good reason."

"Oh, wait," you say. "I think I remember now. I tried to come up with an example question, and I think it was something like, what would you do if an officer gave you an unethical order. It was just off the top of my head, but maybe he thought I was implying he'd done something?"

Dominic frowns.

"That would be a serious accusation. I suppose you wouldn't think of it as one at the time, but now I can see why Gorp might take offense. Still, the fact remains that he attacked you, lied about it, and threatened you to go along with the lie. All serious matters that warrant a strong response. Thank you, you've been very helpful. You can go now."

Oh, that won't do at all. You can't end this conversation now, it's barely started. And you're sure there's quite a bit this handsome sergeant can tell you.

So how can you keep Dominic interested in continuing?
RE: Swamped
Does he have a sword? Ask him about his sword.

Or some other general innocuous compliment. He doesn't seem too busy. And he opened up about Ash's role with Squib Squad. He might be chatty if things seem relevant.

You should get some info from people who support Ash as a leader. Squib squad worked for him but they didn't care much for the boss it seems.
RE: Swamped
For the moment, you just want to keep him talking. So it's best to raise a subject he might want to keep talking about, anything at all, and see if you can drive the conversation from there.

Compliments are a good starting point. Particularly if they're about something with a story behind it... ah, and you think you see just the thing.

"Thank you, sir. By the way, that's an interesting shape of blade you've got there. Is it custom?"

He glances down and pats his sheath.

"Grandmother was a swordsmith. Damn good one, too. She made this when she was in her prime, and it's still in solid condition decades later. So yeah, it's one-of-a-kind. Surprised you noticed, most people don't."

"I suppose I just have an eye for detail. Do you know much about smithing yourself?"

He shakes his head.

"Nah. I mean, I thought about taking it up, but it's pretty complicated stuff. And I'm just too simpleminded for that kind of work," he chuckles. "Can't see myself doing a job that takes more thinking than being a sergeant."

"Well, that can't be easy work. I mean, you've got to weigh on lots of important decisions."

"It is pretty tough, yeah. To be honest, I nearly turned the job down," he says. "But now I'm stuck with it, so I'm just aiming to do the best I can."

You didn't even have to lead him very hard. Maybe he's just been looking for someone to talk to about how he's feeling.

"What convinced you to take it?"

"Not what, who. Sergeant Ash encouraged me, said I should think about if I really wanted to pass up the opportunity. About if I'd regret saying no. And, well, I gave it a little more thought and decided I would. So I accepted."

Interesting. He's already brought the subject to Ash, and you weren't even actively aiming for it yet.

In fact, you hadn't even had time to think about what you'd ask him once you got there. So you'll need to figure that out before he tries to dismiss you again.
RE: Swamped
Ask how long he's been friends with Ash, but ask in a way that's complimentary to both of them.