RE: Swamped
You feel you need to do this yourself.

The gateways have already caused a lot of trouble. And you've got more firsthand experience with them than anyone in the camp, which might be useful. So you leave Theo in charge of the camp for now, and start picking the rest of your group.

You bring Rudolph along for security, since recent events suggest there might be a fair amount of fighting. Stefan's excessive enthusiasm worries you, but it'll probably be even worse if he gets stuck around camp without an outlet. Maybe actually seeing the thing up close will be good enough for him.

The four of you would just be a bare minimum crew, though. You'd feel safer with six to eight, and that's before considering the humans you've still got hanging around.

Maybe you should give some thought as to just what sort of data you're hoping to pick up, to help you decide who else has expertise you'd appreciate here.

RE: Swamped
And what animal do Greblings ride when traversing the desert?

My vote is a pack of large fennic fox-like animals. They sleep in burrows during the day, which is why we haven't seen them yet. They are surprisingly cute.

Barb will want to come along to see after them.

Oh dammit Stefan is trying to drag Gregor into this. Why would you need a demolitions expert??
RE: Swamped
"Hang on a sec, Director," someone says.

It's Barb. She seems a little bit annoyed.

"Are you planning on riding out on sandrunners? Because they're still spooked from the last expedition, y'know, the one where you vanished. If you're taking them out again, I'm going to have to insist on coming along."

"Hmm. It is night, and they're faster than desert horses... you've got a point there. Dominique, you don't need any heavy equipment, right?"

"I can see ether, so I don't need any advanced monitoring tools. Just a handheld scanner to double-check against, and a notebook."

"What about you, Stefan?"

"Oh, that's no problem, the heavy equipment can pick up readings even at this distance. The stuff I need to look at up-close is all in my backpack already. Oh, but Gregor might want his mixing pot..."

"Gregor?" you asked, confused. A particularly short grebling next to you coughs.

"Stefan asked me to come along, ma'am. Er, you do remember me, right?"

It takes you a moment, but you do. Gregor tends to keep to himself, mostly because the volatile chemicals he works with are rather dangerous and he doesn't like exposing other people to the risks.

"I can't see a need for your expertise here, Gregor."

"Neither can I, Director. But Stefan did ask."

You let out a sigh.

"We're aiming to take readings, not blow things up."

"Well, I figured it might be worth seeing if we can, well, blow up the anomaly," Stefan explains. "Once we've taken the other readings, of course. If they're being used as a weapon, we really ought to have a way to counter them."

Well... you don't actually know that they're being used as a weapon, but he's right that it would be nice if you could figure out how to disrupt them. You doubt that anything Gregor can mix up would be helpful, though.

You put that thought aside for a moment as Rudolph clears his throat.

"What is it, Rudolph?"

"Well, ma'am, I assume if you've asked me along, you're expecting trouble. And I'm thinking if there's trouble, we might want to bring one of the humans with us. They won't be able to keep up with the sandrunners easily, but they shouldn't be too far behind."

"I see," you say. "And who would you recommend?"

"We got options. That Rider is a hell of a fighter, but..." Rudolph pauses. "Well, he's the type that gets too much into a fight, y'know? Once he starts it, he's gotta finish it. That's the sort of thing that could work for us or against us, depending on what we run into."

"I see. What about the other humans?"

"Long seems like he's got some clue about magic. Could be handy to have along if magic's involved here, which Dominique sure seems to think it is. Then again, he might be even more impulsive than Rider. You saw for yourself that stunt he pulled earlier."

You nod your head at that. It might have been helpful on the whole for all you know, but he didn't really discuss it with anyone first.

"Last, there's that Corvus guy. Not much of a fighter; he's got the strength, but his technique is only about average. But damned if he doesn't have a good head on his shoulders. If we run into something too nasty to handle, he'll be the first to catch on that we should run the hell away. So those are the three I'd be thinking about asking, your call as to who we bring along. If any, but I'd really recommend bringing at least one of 'em. Didn't you get, like, three desert horses on your way here?"

"Yes, but I don't think we can manage more than one human on this trip without it slowing things down too much," you say. "I'll need a moment to think."

Not to mention you still have to figure out how to handle this situation with Gregor.
RE: Swamped
blow gregor up ironically. bring corvus
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Starling escaped from her room again, and is sleeping curled up to the sandrunners.

Oh no! This human girl needs to be taken to her room! Stefan, Gregor can you go show her the way...

...okay, they're gone, lets gogogo
RE: Swamped
Gregor has a relatively hand-portable mixing cauldron that Corvus's desert horse can carry in a saddlebag. Probably better for Corvus to hold onto it anyway until you have a better idea of what Stefan and Gregor plan to attempt.
RE: Swamped
You need Stefan on the scene. He's the one who's been looking over anomaly numbers the hardest.

Which means you're probably going to have to humor him a little on Gregor's involvement. But that shouldn't be too bad; you just need to make sure that whatever they're planning is at least partially in your control.

And that's the sort of thing you'll need help with. Which makes one of Rudolph's recommendations stand out.

"We'll have Corvus take up the rear on a desert-horse," you say. "Barb, go find him. Gregor, you didn't actually say if you've got anything too big for the sandrunners."

"Smallest cauldron I could use for this would take both hands. It'd be iffy, Director."

"Then we'll play it safe and have Corvus bring it on the desert-horse. They've got much better carrying capacity."

With that settled, you start leading the sandrunners out. When Corvus arrives, you give him a quick explanation. He gets a pained expression on his face as Gregor hands him the cauldron, but he dutifully puts it in a saddlebag and climbs on board.

After everyone gets mounted, you start riding out. You hang back a bit at first so you don't overtake Corvus; you tell everyone that you're giving him directions to the site, since he might get separated due to his slower mount.

And you certainly do intend to do that. But you can also use this chance to clarify the situation with Stefan and Gregor, as well as mention any other points you'd rather not talk about in front of everyone.
RE: Swamped
You've been thinking about the structure of the fortress since you've had some time to yourself. Particularly that it seemed smaller than it should be, even when you got to crawl through the floorboards. Almost like it was built around something.

Stefan is convinced the anomalies are some sort of weapon. If they are, it would probably take a lot of work to aim it. Any idea what they would want to bring here?
RE: Swamped
After explaining the basics, you bring up something that bothers you.

"I was crawling around all over the place in your fortress, and one thing that kept striking me was how small it seemed on the inside. Even the hidden passages seemed to, I don't know, curve in odd ways. As if they were built around something."

"They don't tell us squat about that sort of thing," Corvus shrugs. "And for the most part, we don't care. I wouldn't be surprised if there were something, they call us Marshguards, right? So presumably we're protecting something and the Bogknights want it. Even if most of them don't know what it is either."

"So your whole little war is over something that most of you have no idea about?"

"Technically? Yeah. But for me, the Marsh Fortress is home. So, I fight to protect it. That's all there is to it."

"And what's the story for the Bogknights?"

Corvus pauses.

"I was about to say I have no idea," he says. "But... I think I do. See, I've heard the call of the swamp."

You don't know what to say to that.

"It's really hard to explain," Corvus continues. "I'm not even sure what it means, but... I think the swamp wants whatever we're protecting. So people hear the call, they join the Bogknights, and they don't really care about the politics behind it. They just hear the swamp telling them to fight for whatever it is."

You can't even process that. It sounds like nonsense, but then, plenty of wars have been fought on nonsense. So you decide to bring things back to the subject at hand.

"I was asking for strategic reasons, mainly," you say. "Stefan has this theory that the anomalies... the gateways... are being used as a weapon. So I was wondering if what you were protecting might be something they could use against us. Or, you know, anything else dangerous they might bring in from the swamp."

"No idea about our 'treasure'. But I'm pretty sure it's defended against magic. I've heard stories about us fending off wizards back in the day. And these gateway things seem pretty magical to me. And dangerous things in the swamp... there's plenty, but they'd likely have trouble dealing with the desert. I'd hazard a guess that if someone's using these things as a weapon, it's the other way around. You've got full-grown tunnelers here, don't you?"

"Yeah, we try our best to keep track of them. They can really mess with our camp. Especially the tower; everything else is mobile, though of course we do have some useful holes that have to be re-dug."

"We found a dead one at our fortress," Corvus says. "I'd bet against it being the last if someone's actively using these gateways against us."

"That's worrying," you say. "And not just for what it means for your home."

"What's that supposed to mean?"
RE: Swamped
It means the gateways could be opening underground, for one thing. In fact, that might explain some of the peculiar readings on our instruments which we'd assumed were calibrating errors.
RE: Swamped
And if that is the case, then they're occurring much more frequently than we originally calculated.
RE: Swamped
"It means they've been opening gateways underground. Which might explain some of the strange readings we've gotten lately. Theodore thought they were calibration errors caused when an anomaly was too close to the camp... but it might also be that they were picking up underground gateways that we never noticed. And we had to deal with that at least a dozen times."

"You could do a lot of damage with a dozen full-grown tunnelers," Corvus mutters.

"Or even with a dozen greatrat burrows. Tunnelers aren't the only danger below the ground, after all." You give your sandrunner a quick pat. "I'd better get back to the group now. Try not to get too far behind - your desert-horse might be slower, but the site's not that far off."

You rush forward, regrouping with your team. In less than ten minutes, you reach the site.

Not that you could miss it. There's a massive sinkhole, which wasn't here last time.

"I've only seen this happen when tunnelers get in a fight with each other," Barb mutters. "Wouldn't recommend going down there, ma'am."

"Well, someone seems to have other ideas," Dominique says. "I'm seeing ether patterns that suggest active casting."

"That's also where the anomaly is, judging by my readings," Stefan says. "So the anomaly could be a spell on its own, or the caster might be doing something with it. We're not going to find anything else out by staying up here."

"Tangling with a wizard's a bad idea," Rudolph interjects. "I wouldn't recommend it."

"What, you want us to just head back?" Stefan shouts. "And pass up our best chance at studying an anomaly up close?"

"Seems to me the Director's gotten close enough to know what they do. What else, exactly, are we trying to find out?"

"Calm down, you two," you say. "I need to think about what we should do next."
RE: Swamped
Set up a perimeter sensor perimeter, probably should grab some ultrasound readings for Simone to analyze later and - dammit Stefan no!

And there goes Stefan, jumping into the pit with the blasting jar.
RE: Swamped
But why is Corvus jumping after him?
RE: Swamped
All right.

You weren't expecting a sinkhole, but you were prepared for the chance that the anomaly would be in the middle of a sandstorm. Which means you do have some of Simone's sonar tools for taking remote readings.

You're not sure what you're checking just yet, but you might as well gather the data.

"First things first, we check what we can from up here," you say. You reach into your pack and hand out the sound scanners. "Just go to different points around the edge and point these in. I know enough of Simone's work that I can probably interpret the results. And if you've got tools that can pick up other readings, use them. We'll figure out our next move after that, Corvus will probably be here by then."

There's some grumbling, mostly from Stefan, but everyone takes a scanner and wanders off.

You start glancing at the readings, trying to make sense of what you're seeing. There's a lot of rock, of course... a few living creatures, though you'd be hard-pressed to name exactly what they are based on this... but what's that? Is it water?

Your train of thought is interrupted as you hear something a few feet away. You turn to see Rudolph holding Stefan's arm.

"This troublemaker was trying to grab a rope. I expect he was planning to slip down there himself," Rudolph says. "Which I assume you don't want. What should I do with him?"

"Director, please! I wasn't going to go all the way down. Just wanted to get a little bit closer for better readings. I was just going one ledge down!"

"Without asking me?" you say, more than a little suspicious.

"I didn't want to interrupt you."

"Let me be clear, Stefan. I'm in charge of this expedition. You do not move closer without informing me, no matter how 'safe' you think it is."

"Yes, Director," he mutters. "Permission to climb down one ledge for clearer readings?"

What's your answer?
RE: Swamped
Put the rope on him, that way if he tries anything, just have him hauled back up.
RE: Swamped
"Rudolph," you say. "How good are you at tying knots?"

"Very good, ma'am," Rudolph says. "I was taught by the best."

"Now hang on a minute..." Stefan stammers.

"So you could tie the rope around his waist tight enough that he wouldn't be able to undo it easily, lower him down, and make sure he doesn't wander too far unless he breaks the rope. At which point, naturally, we'd have no way to help him get out again."

"I think I could do that, yes," Rudolph agrees. "What do you think about that, Stefan?"

"I think that sounds, er, very reasonable," he says nervously. "Thank you, Director."

"You'd better hope you get some good readings out of this."

"Yes, yes, I'll report back once I've got enough data, no worries, I won't be dawdling down there."

Rudolph ties the rope around his waist and lowers him, leaving you to get back to your own analysis.

You're still not sure what that odd reading is. On closer examination, it doesn't look like water at all. The overall shape of the measurements is similar, so it's probably some kind of liquid, but not one you recognize the data on. Maybe Simone will be able to tell you once you get back.

As you glance over it, you hear the distinctive sounds of a desert-horse approaching. You turn around and see Corvus arrive.

"You didn't say anything about a big hole," he says, dismounting.

"It wasn't here before."

"You think it's the gateway? Pulled out a bunch of stuff underground and triggered a collapse?"

You shrug.

"Could be anything right now. Dominique detected someone casting down there, so we're taking readings from the surface for now."

"Someone's casting? As in, there's a wizard?"

"Probably. We can't tell what they're doing."

"Whatever it is, I don't think we want to be around for it," Corvus says. "The last wizard we ran into made a big sandstorm. And for all we know, this might be the same one."

"A single wizard making a sandstorm?" Dominique suddenly interjects. "That's impossible. Weather control is extremely difficult. A single person couldn't do it all on their own."

"That's what Long said. But it's what happened."

"Well, regardless, the spell I'm seeing is nowhere near that powerful. It's not even approaching the most powerful spell I've seen personally. Can't say what it does from here, and it probably is a bad idea to get the caster's attention, but it's not likely to endanger us if we let it finish. So we can take our remote readings, at least."

"I still don't like it," Corvus says. "If the wizard decides to pop up to the surface, and it's the same one who called the sandstorm, what exactly are we supposed to do?"

Well. You're in charge, so it's pretty much up to you to settle this argument.
RE: Swamped
This mystery has warped you across the continent twice, gotten your friend kidnapped, and involved you with more smugglers, wanderers, wizards and military outfits than you'd ever cared to meet (no offense Corvus). We'll take our readings, find out what is causing this and what we can do to keep our colony safe.

I guess on the plus side you've gotten pretty good at bird calls.

Corvus you don't know it caused the sandstorm. You saw a wizard, and then you saw a sandstorm. That's all we know. It's hard to see through sand...but this device...this little guy is very good at doing just that.

Greblings > Gather data
RE: Swamped
"Corvus. I spent the better part of a day in a smelly swamp, halfway across the continent, surrounded by human military types and frightened out of my mind. All because of whatever in the hells is going on down there. I don't know who's responsible, or what they want, but they're prepared to do untold damage in the process. And if we can't fight them conventionally, then our best weapon is information. Find out how their stuff works. Maybe we can figure out a way to protect against it. What else are we supposed to do? Dig ourselves into little burrows and hope whatever they're doing doesn't affect us?"

"Don't get me wrong," Corvus says. "I get the need to act. But it's not worth risking a direct fight with a wizard before we have any sort of plan."

"And right now, we're getting the data we need to come up with a plan. Because that's what we're able to do."

"And what makes it worth the risk? What are you even hoping to learn here that you didn't already know?"

At that very moment, you hear an excited shout from Stefan.

"Pull me up! Pull me up! Director, you've got to see this!"

"Let's find out, shall we?" you say, with just a hint of a smirk.

"I hope the wizard didn't hear that," Corvus mutters.

You head over to Stefan as Rudolph pulls in the rope. He hands over his notes, looking very pleased.

What's he found out that's so interesting?
RE: Swamped
He's covered in some kind of black goop.

But his notes say...

Stefan what have we told you about "mechanical tunnelers"? It's a terrible idea not even physically feasible. No we don't care that it explains the tunneler corpses, or that you found odd grind marks on the sandstone or that you're holding...a weird...metal tooth...huh.
RE: Swamped
RE: Swamped
Stefan excitedly shows you his results, and points to one line in particular.

"You detected... water?" you ask. "I thought I was picking up a liquid, but it didn't quite match."

"No, no! Not just water! Water on the other side of the gateway! Your readings are probably being thrown off because you're further away."

You glance again.

"That's a lot of water, and not much else. Where does this gateway lead? A lake? The ocean?"

"Doesn't matter where it goes!" Corvus shouts. "What matters is that's a lot of water. And I just had a worrying thought about what they might be planning to do with a lot of water."

You turn towards him, as does everyone else.

"Now, I don't know magic, so maybe there's some reason this wouldn't work. But suppose, just suppose, you could make two gateways at once," Corvus says. "And you have one leading to a lake or the ocean or wherever. And you've got another leading to, let's say, a city. Then, you connect them somehow, and all of a sudden, you've got a flooded city, and nobody has the slightest clue you caused it because you were all the way out in the desert at the time."

You muse on that.

"We should be able to pick it up in the readings if they're doing that. Stefan?"

"No sign of a second anomaly. But then, we've never tried to detect two at once in the same place..."

"Could be the spell's opening the second one, though," Dominique says.

You're faced with a hard decision. If Corvus' theory is right, countless lives could be in danger if you don't act now. But if you did intervene, you'd definitely be facing a wizard, and that's no small matter.

What should you do?
RE: Swamped
Dominique could drain the ether holding up the spell. It would take time to be done safely and you would need to store it somewhere, but it could prevent the gate from opening.

You could also blast it, you suppose.

What is Gregor mixing over there?
RE: Swamped
let's not leap to apocalyptic interpretations here
RE: Swamped
You're not prepared to commit to Corvus' explanation. You don't see what else these people might do with a large quantity of water, other than drink it if they're very thirsty, but right now the data isn't pointing to the flooding theory.

"Dominique. You're the ether expert, what options have we got for disrupting a spell from this distance?"

"Anyone with ether manipulation can do it, in theory. You just reach out to the ether and pull it towards you. There's two problems. The main one is, the wizard can see where it's going, so doing it stealthily isn't an option. The other is, I'm the only ether manipulator we've got here and I can't do much of it on my own. I could still disrupt the spell, but it'd take several minutes for me to pull an appreciable amount away. I have equipment that can do it more efficiently, but all of it would require getting close to the wizard."

"That's messing with the spell directly," you muse. "Any other way to do it?"

"Well, hypothetically if you produced a large quantity of ether all of a sudden, it would make the spell behave unpredictably. If that happens the safe thing to do is cancel the spell and try to deal with the ether. Problem is, there are very few ways to do that and they're basically all out of our control. Unless one of you has secretly been a god this whole time."

"That would have made a lot of things much easier," you sigh. "So that's it?"

"Unless you've got a few pounds of silver, or some other even rarer ether-resistant metal, pretty much."

"Silver actually works? I thought that was just a story."

"Not that well, but it does have an effect. And for something like a gateway, you'd want precision. You'd still need a good chunk of silver, but it would probably be enough to throw the spell off."

"Too bad we don't," you sigh. "Sounds like the easiest option."

"Done!" Gregor suddenly shouts. You stare at him.

"Done what?"

"Oh, sorry. When Ms. Dominique mentioned silver, I had an idea."

He points down to his cauldron, which is filled with a silver liquid.

"Is that quicksilver?"

"No! It is silver, liquified and mixed with something a bit more... volatile. Drop it down, and the hole will fill with silvery smoke. Enough to disrupt the spell, perhaps?"

You glance at Dominique.

"It might work? Each bit of silver would only have a little effect, but if it's all spread out, that could really cause serious interference. But it's not something I've ever tested. On the other hand, I can't say I have any other ideas."

"It's still going to get a wizard mad at us," Corvus points out.

"Well, if it works, then it should disrupt any spells they might attack us with. Of course, I wouldn't assume a wizard doesn't have tricks other than magic."

Well. Do you go along with this plan or not?