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Well...if there was a big pile of tunneler dung that would one thing but uh...bloodbeetles kind of have a sordid history...they were used as a sort of biological weapon against...well Greblings for one. But if you get them into an opposing army's food stocks, you can end up with a serious infestation that will clog all the latrines and leave an army weakend and dehydrated.

Oh also they're from Kandria? I thought we were seeing mostly desert creatures so that's weird.
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"Well. If they'd been in a deposit of dung, it would suggest they'd have been excreted by the tunneler, or at least brought along with it. But by themselves... well, it calls to mind a tactic the Aedran empire once used to suppress a rebellion."

Razor gives Dean a look that suggests he'd better skip the boring bits.

"Right. The Empire knew that blood beetles could kill greblings, but they also realized that releasing a large number at once into the food supply could cripple even a human army. The rebels were struck by sickness, and two days later when the Aedran forces came for the actual attack, they were severely dehydrated and easily overpowered. Ironically, since the Aedran soldiers hadn't been informed of the tactic in order to prevent word from reaching the rebels, many of them looted the food store afterwards and came down with sickness themselves..."

Razor starts glaring.

"But that's an entirely separate story about paranoia towards your own soldiers. The broader point is, if the egg sac is just there, it suggests someone might be trying the same tactic. Although, I can't see why they'd just toss them down a hole, considering our main meal is swampleaf... you'd either go directly for the food reserves, or poison the parts where your target scavenges."

"So it's likely hostile action?" Razor says. "And I don't suppose you can tell us who might have caused it."

"Well... they aren't exactly a common creature. It's hard to find any outside of the northern forests of Kandria. And even there, it's not as if you're likely to run across them accidentally. The adults tend to keep to dark and damp places."

It's hard to notice, but for just a moment, Razor's usual gruff expression is replaced with one of pure rage. Not surprising. Kandria's not exactly his favorite country in general.

"Thank you for that information," Razor says, sounding exactly as upset as he usually does. "How do you recommend disposing of the eggs?"

"Crushing them is risky, as you might miss one that's already hatched. The larvae are very small and hard to notice. Fire is reliable, but not really safe in the swamp. There's also depriving them of moisture, but again, difficult to do in the swamp..."

"What about freezing?" you say.

"Oh, that should work. The main reason they thrive in Kandria is the mild winters."

"Great. Someone, not me, should get that thing to Keeper as soon as possible, then."

There's an uncomfortable silence from the assembled officers.

"Look, you cowards, it's just a real bad stomachache for you. For me it's life and death."

"Before we deal with that," Razor says, scowling, "I still want to know if anyone would care to dispute this Bogknight's story. And, of course, on what grounds."

Figures. Razor's not one to drop a subject easily.

You take a good long step away from the jar and watch the crowd for a response.
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Nobody says anything.

Greblings aren't the best at reading human body language, not that you don't get it, just that you interpret things differently.

For instance, Greblings take comfort in their scars. A healed wound helps give them confidence that they can survive, over come obstacles and weather the storm.

It took you a while to realize that humans touch their scars when they feel vulnerable, it's an unconscious reminder of their frailty.

Just like how Claws is rubbing her namesake markings now.
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The room is silent. Razor seems to have the crowd intimidated.

"No one wishes to speak up?" Razor continues. "No one is willing to come forward and say that the poison was used for any reason other than dealing with a greatrat infestation?"

Still silence.

"This is the last chance. If no one speaks up, then we accept the Bogknight's story by default. In which case, of course, it would be irresponsible to tolerate rumors to the contrary."

Lots of the humans seem unsettled. That's kind of how Razor does things. You suppose you've got to pick out who seems to be struggling not to answer.

There's two main reasons why someone might be looking to talk. Either they have real doubts, or they're aiming to cause dissent.

If they've got real doubts, well, they might be a little worried about Razor's tone of voice and everything, but they know he'd come down on them harder later if they thought of something and didn't speak up.

A troublemaker, though. That'd be another matter. A troublemaker, especially a spy, would want the rumors to keep percolating, but wouldn't want to be held responsible. They'd be trying to think of a way to bring it up that sounds plausible, or they'd think it best to keep quiet, avoid Razor's attention, and look for another opportunity to stir up problems.

So you scan the crowd for anyone who looks like they're thinking, not just panicked. If they wind up not bringing anything up... well, that'd be quite suspicious.

But as you're looking, you catch a glance of Claws. She seems... bothered. She's holding her hands together, claws out. You've seen her like that before; it's something she does when she's mulling over a hard decision.

Finally, she speaks up.

"Actually, Razor. I've got a question for the prisoner. Something that's been bugging me for a while now."

So that's it. You saw for yourself just how upset Claws was after the vote to attack. If Razor's ploy works, Claws' vote against is effectively vindicated. But if the kid's story is off, that's another matter entirely.

Must be a real good question if she's willing to risk her reputation over it.
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it's just some esoterica about animals
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Yeah like who cares Claws?

"When does the northern Raven roost?"

What a pointless question! Even Dean is taken aback. He can barely even stammer out the phrase "midnight" before being escorted out by Bigfoot. Are humans normally that pale?
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"What color are a wild swamphen's eggs?"

That wasn't the sort of question you were expecting. Though by the look on Dean's face, he wasn't expecting it either.

"Dark blue," he says, looking incredibly nervous. "The old Bogknight field guide had it wrong. I think the author stumbled on a cache of mallow eggs near a swamphen and misclassified them."

"Dark blue, you say. Based on your own observations?"

"That's right."


She doesn't say any more. Razor seems completely baffled, but finally he seems to settle for the silence.

"Well. If that's everything, Bigfoot, escort the prisoner back to his cell. And drop that jar off at Keeper's on your way."

"You hold it," Bigfoot snarls at Dean. He doesn't object.

You suppose you'll have to ask Keeper for it back later. For now, Razor seems to be about to move on with the meeting.

"So. Nobody objected to the Bogknight's story. I hope you'll all keep this in mind when any irresponsible rumors catch your attention," he says. "With that taken care of... Crosswinds, come over here."

Oh, hells. What does he want with you?
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One of the marshguard benefactors is looking for a meeting. You gotta deliver the counsel's message to them.
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"You are well aware of how valuable our benefactors' aid is, I'm sure," Razor says, not even waiting for you to respond. "So when one of them make a request of us, it is very important that we look into it promptly. Just before I called the officers in, the Council made a decision about such a request, and we need you to deliver our reply." He hands you a sealed letter. "Take this to the Roost."

You take a glance at the name on the envelope. Huh. They're calling in a favor now, of all times?

"Is that all?" you ask. You suspect it isn't.

"That's all. Just make sure the crow's been fed before it flies out. It's a long trip, after all."

Oh, that's clear enough. You show yourself out, with official backing this time, and head over to the roost.

Then you check the feed bag. Deep inside is a list of names - all officers. Knowing Razor, you have no doubt what this means.

Surprisingly, Grey-Maw is at the top of the list. You did see her looking real grumpy at the meeting, but it was hard to separate that from how she usually looks.

Of course, Razor wouldn't have time to update this with observations from the meeting, but you suppose that's why he wanted you to have a look at it.

Well, first things first - you can tell from the seal on it that this letter isn't just an excuse. And that means the crow probably does need to be fed, so you take care of that and send the message off.

Then you glance over the list and think about who's on it. Is there anyone whose behavior during the meeting looks especially bad now that you know Razor suspects them?
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Well most everyone on here is in Rider’s group, great Razor, just what we need, more discord among the ranks.

The handwriting is definitely Razor’s though. Or...so you would think...except your name is on the list too...

Someone screwed up. There’s only one marshguard who can copy someone’s handwriting this well, and you just left him alone.

Looks like you need to have a chat with Quills about his “script”
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You take another glance over the list, reminding yourself who's who.

That's when you notice that about two-thirds of the names are officers who usually report to Rider.

Now. If you were someone who didn't regularly get orders from everyone on the Council, you might well have the impression that Razor and Rider don't like each other. They're always arguing at the meetings, after all.

But you know full well that the two of them have a deep-seated mutual respect, despite their disagreements, and that Rider's not naive. There couldn't be a conspiracy this widespread among his officers without him knowing about it. One or two might be able to sneak around without catching his attention, but for there to be this much suspicious behavior... he'd have to be part of it.

You almost wonder if the list is faked... but no, Mudviper's name isn't on it. Razor's been keeping his opinion on her real quiet, just to throw off the spies.

So why are there all these Rider officers... oh, wait.

The one-armed kid.

There's something up between Rider and that new Bogknight, and you don't really know or care what it is. But there's been plenty of not-to-be-shared-with-the-Council stuff that Rider's been scheming involving that whole mess.

So Razor must be having trouble separating "acting suspicious because they want to help Rider" from "acting suspicious because they're spies".

Which means it's up to you to narrow that particular category down. Well. Where are you going to start?
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Well. Easiest place to start is by looking over what you know.

Mudviper's basically as trustworthy as Rider himself. You've known as much longer than Razor has, but he seems to finally have been convinced.

She's also been dragged to that meeting, despite still being in recovery. So you're not going to get a lot of chances to ask her about what Rider may have done, even though she'd probably know almost all of it.

Corvus' squad was also involved in some of the operations, most notably attempting to capture the kid. But they wouldn't actually know much. Corvus might know a little more than the others, but, well. According to Claws he's gone wandering the desert.

What you need to do is ask someone on a squad closer to Rider. Someone who isn't actually an officer, so they wouldn't be stuck in the dumb meeting. And someone who you can trust to give good answers.

Stinger. He's on Bluesight's squad, and you've checked him out enough recently to be confident in his loyalty. He's your best starting point.

So, first things first, gotta find him. Now, what would he be doing at this time of night?
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Snoozin' in his quarters
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It's after his last shift, you think. So he's probably asleep, or at least getting ready for it.

Well. He'll just have to wait a bit while you ask a few questions.

You make your way over to Stinger's room and walk up to the door.

Just before you knock, though, you realize there's a faint glow behind the door. And it's a color you saw earlier tonight.

What should you do?
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Better knock on that door. Last time you snuck up on stinger you almost got a dart to the neck.

Might want to figure out what is below this room.
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It's a bad idea to surprise Stinger. You don't know his past, but it's clearly the sort where he had a lot of worry about people sneaking up on him.

So, you may not know what you're in for, but you're damn well going to make sure Stinger knows you're here. You pound on the door very loudly just to get the point across.

Then you back off a bit as you open it. Just in case.

It turns out to be for the best, as someone charges out of the room just as you open the door. Whoever that someone is, they've got a mask with unusual crystals on it. That explains the light, though not where it came from earlier.

And whoever this is, it's not Stinger. You can see him on the floor, gasping for breath. You might have gotten here just in time.

So. How do you handle this?
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You've sworn off killing but maybe you can trip him up?
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Might be worth shouting to sound the alarm for any other nearby snoozers
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"We've got an intruder!" you shout. Hopefully that gets the attention of whoever else is nearby - Stinger's going to need some help, and you wouldn't mind having backup against this masked assassin.

The assassin doesn't waste time, though. They rush at you as you're yelling, reaching right for your throat.

But you catch their hands with your own before they get a chance. Not the first time someone's underestimated your reflexes.

And your yelling has already borne fruit, as Clams rushes out into the hall. In his underclothes, mind, but he's tough enough to take a few blows, and this assassin doesn't seem armed.

He runs up behind them, just as they wrest themselves free of your grip. But before Clams can lay a hand on them, they vault over his shoulders and start running.

You're already following.

"Get Stinger to Doc's!" you shout back. "On the double!"

"And miss the fight?" Clams grumbles.

"That's an order!"

The one good thing is that the assassin's main concern seems to be escaping, rather than causing more damage. But they move fast, much faster than you'd expect for someone human - or at least human-sized. And your calls for help don't seem to be getting much attention... is everyone sleeping that soundly, or are they busy with late shifts?

Maybe you should have told Clams to sound the alarm. Well, if he doesn't think of that himself, you suppose Doc will once she hears about it.

In the meantime, you need to think of some way to cut off the assassin's escape.
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How well do they know the layout of this place? Try to guide them towards the cells, they should be manned. If the assassin avoids your play, then they might know more about this place than an outsider should.
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Your best bet is to try to guide the chase. If you can direct this intruder to the cells, the guards should be able to help you out. And you won't have to drag them very far to lock them up, as a bonus.

Of course, it's tricky to guide a chase when you're the pursuer. Best you can do is make moves towards the hall you don't want them to go down, in hopes they take it as a cue to go down the other to gain distance. All the while hoping they're in too much of a hurry to catch on to your feints.

But they don't seem to care about your feints one way or the other. They're barely paying attention to what you're doing. Seems they know where they're running to.

So maybe you can figure that out before they get there.

Your first hunch is that this has something to do with the lights you saw near the storage room earlier. Since the mask has the same glow.

Which is weird. Why would someone trying to sneak around wear something so noticeable? You wouldn't even have known anything was up if not for the glow coming from Stinger's room.

But you're not heading towards the lights. So even if there's a connection, that's evidently not where the intruder is going.

Where could they be headed, then?
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Rider's Menagerie.
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You're suddenly noticing a distinctive smell. Several, actually.

The menagerie is nearby... and the intruder just took a turn towards it.

Maybe they're looking to cause a diversion by releasing the animals. That wouldn't help much, though; not when you don't have any backup as it is. The animals would just alert more troops to the area. And opening cages would take precious time, you'd be able to catch up easily.

They could just be making a desperation ploy. But... well, you've got a hunch they're up to something else. Not that you have any clue what.

The answer arrives not long after they run into the menagerie. Before you can get in yourself, they're glancing around the room for some reason.

Then they turn towards the caged fenguin.

As you enter, you see the intruder's body change form. The flames on their mask start shifting, and they change into an enormous creature - part human, part fenguin.

Well. This definitely wasn't what you were expecting. Now what?