RE: Swamped
Even while mounted, you could use your mudpike to kick some sand into their eyes if it comes to that.
RE: Swamped
Be casual
RE: Swamped
You don't really want this to turn into a fight. You can just stir up some sand with your mudpike as a diversion if it comes to it.

For now, you just act as if nothing's wrong as the two of them approach.

"Where's Jeremy?" one of them asks. The other takes an aggressive pose, clearly ready to strike if needed.

"I don't know. I haven't seen him since the Director gave him an earful."

Your answer is greeted with only silence. You're not sure if that's a good sign or a bad one. This group doesn't seem very talkative in general.

After about a minute without any apparent response, it seems clear that one way or another, you're going to have to be the one to get things moving here.
RE: Swamped
Ask them where Dominique is
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Probably the best way to avoid escalating is to just respond with a question of your own.

"Where's Dominique?" you ask. You know she's probably either in her own workspace or in a meeting, but it's all you can think of to push back with.

"Don't see why I should care," the one grebling shoots back.

"Well, if you get out of the way, I can look for her myself and quit bothering you."

No response. You're starting to get frustrated - and maybe that's the point. Maybe they want a fight, but they want you to get blamed for it.

Well, if that's what they want, they're going to have to work a lot harder for it. You've gotten a lot better at keeping your temper under control. You're not about to undo all that work for a minor nuisance like this.

You could just back away, but that wouldn't help you meet Dominique. Her tent is easily within sight of the former guards, and if you took another route, they'd probably intercept you again.

So how can you best handle this?
RE: Swamped
Could you just, try going around them? They probably arent here to keep you away specifically.
RE: Swamped
Diffuse the situation. Dismount, introduce yourself to the one grebling, and ask what this is all about.
RE: Swamped
Despite their silence, the greblings are very clearly stating with their expressions and body language that you shouldn't come any closer. What's not clear is why - maybe they just don't like humans.

Well, if you're going to change their perception of you, the best way you can think of to start is by getting off your high desert-horse. You consider crouching down to further reduce the height difference, but you don't really know how they'd take that. Could easily come across as mocking them. Best to be yourself and see how that goes, then adjust your approach if necessary.

"Why are you blocking the way?" you ask the more talkative grebling.

"We ain't. We just don't see a need to move on some human's account."

Ah. So it is that sort of thing.

"I've got a name, you know. It's Corvus. And I'm a guest of the people who actually run this camp."

"Which matters to us why? It's not like they can kick us out."

Ugh, this is getting nowhere... although, you can't help but notice that the other grebling keeps glaring at this one whenever she talks. Maybe the silence isn't entirely a matter of preference.

Well, that could be useful to know later, but right now you need to figure out where you're taking this conversation.
RE: Swamped
It's tempting to ask these guys if they've ever heard of the Oracle of the Sands. But hey, how long has Jeremy been missing?
RE: Swamped
Well. Seems that if you're going to get anywhere with these people, you're going to have to focus on what they want.

"So how long has Jeremy been missing?"

This time, the grebling just shrugs. Wonderful.

"When's the last time any of you saw him?"

Another shrug. Maybe they're not really that concerned about him, maybe it's just something to blame on you.

"Well, if you don't even know that much, why were you asking me in the first place? I'm not an oracle or something."

Hmm? You think the quieter grebling looked surprised for a moment when you said "oracle". And you did just hear about an Oracle of the Sands... Maybe something's up here.

"Just checking," says the talkative one. "If he's not back soon, we'll need to send out a search party. Would have saved some time if you knew where he was, that's all."

She doesn't sound particularly concerned. It's unsettling, even. Jeremy's not exactly likable, but his safety is this group's responsibility. Why is she being so dismissive about that?

Well. This doesn't seem to be getting you anywhere. Maybe you should just press forward and see how committed they are to getting in your way. You grab the reins of the desert horse and start walking forward.

"Hold it! Where are you going?"

"I'm taking my mount to the stable. Is that a problem?"

The angry glares of the two greblings, combined with three more stepping out from the crowd to join them, makes it clear that the answer is yes.

Now what?
RE: Swamped
Had this been a distraction? Does it look like the whole crowd is here or could some of them be elsewhere, up to mischief, and these remainders are playing lookout?
RE: Swamped
Ask them if they intend to take the horse to the stable if they won't let you.
RE: Swamped
You're starting to wonder if this whole thing is some kind of distraction. Maybe a small group has broken off to do something else while the rest of the crowd sits around looking intimidating. You can't tell, it's not as if you did a headcount before.

Well. If you're not sure what's going on, your best bet is to confuse the enemy and even the playing field a bit. So you turn to one of the greblings.

"Okay, if that's how it's going to be, can you take this horse back to the stable?"

They're surprised. Probably because you don't sound very intimidated. But they soon gather their bearings and just glare pointedly at you.

"Just trying to be considerate to my hosts," you say. "Since they've so graciously let me stay here for a few days now. Wouldn't want the poor thing making a mess somewhere it shouldn't."


This is a different voice. Another grebling steps out - slightly taller than the others, but just barely enough to be noticeable. He seems important.

"You are disrupting our supper, human," he says. He doesn't seem angry at all.

"I just want to pass through and leave my desert-horse at the stables. I'd be done by now if your crew here hadn't stopped me. Seems to me that would have been a lot less disruptive."

"It would be even less disruptive if you were to take another route," he says.

"This is the most direct one. Look, I just want to go between those two tents over there, and your group's not exactly close to that path. Why is this such a big deal?"

"At the risk of repeating myself, I would recommend you take another path."

He's not even acknowledging your argument. Clearly he's trying to scare you off.

You've got half a mind to just go along with it, frustrating as it is. But now what you really want to do is figure out exactly what's going on here, because it's very strange and keeps getting stranger.

So how can you get somewhere with that?
RE: Swamped
go around, but take your time. look at the speaker closely to try to work out who he is, what his position is etc.
RE: Swamped
Well. You don't have a better plan than going along with it. But there's also no need to hurry.

"Guess I'm taking another way, then," you grumble. You hold the reins and make a show of pulling on them, without actually doing it. "Oh, come on! I just need you to turn around!"

While you pretend to be struggling with an uncooperative desert-horse, you keep your eyes and ears open.

The first thing that strikes you is that nobody is talking at all. There's this whole crowd of greblings, and as far as you can see, there's not a single conversation going on in it.

Now, the Marshguards aren't exactly the most disciplined group around. But you doubt that many Bogknights could keep quiet either, unless someone was actually speaking to them.

You already worked out they were fighters. But to keep this quiet in what looks like downtime... that's something else entirely.

The leader seems fixated on you. You try not to look at him for too long at once, just so he doesn't catch on. The first thing you notice is that he's got both hands at his hips - probably fights with two weapons, then. A bit more observation makes you think he typically uses handaxes; his hands move up and down a little around where the handles would be, but don't go near the edges.

It takes you a few more glances after that to notice there's a symbol on the clasp of his cloak. When you manage to sneak a better look at it, you realize it's the same symbol that's on Jebediah's tent.

Once you catch it, you start looking at some of the other greblings for comparison. But you don't see any symbols on them.

So you might be dealing with some sort of holy warrior. You wonder if he's sanctioned by the church, or simply thinks himself close to Reth and everyone else is going along with it. Hard to say... but at least you have some idea of who to ask now.

You finally start making a real effort to move your desert-horse.

"Finally! Gods, what a lot of trouble that was."

As you say it, you get the idea to look at the leader one more time to see if he reacts to the word "gods". You think you catch him recoiling slightly. But you don't get any more trouble as you get on and ride the desert-horse away.

You take another route and drop it off at the stable, as you said. You shouldn't need it to get back to where you found the strange sphere.

But the group is still uncomfortably close to Dominique's tent, and you're not confident they'll let you get in. So you think it's time to gather a little information.

You head into Jebediah's tent. The two priests are sitting far apart from each other - probably to maintain some measure of peace, you suppose.

Well, it's probably best to just pick one and start talking. So who are you going to consult?
RE: Swamped
RE: Swamped
You head on over to Jeb. You've got more of a rapport with him, after all.

"Hello," he says, somewhat blankly. "Looking for spiritual guidance? Or does the Director just want my latest results?"

"Actually, I'm here about Jeremy," you say. "Or rather, the unusually quiet group he brought with him."

"Ah," Jeb says. He seems even less enthusiastic than he did a moment ago. "That would be the so-called Protectors of Life. Not bad folks, at least the ones I used to know were just fine. But more than a little bit odd."

"Protectors of Life?"

"That's the name they give themselves. They're... well, they're sort of like mercenaries who only take jobs from the clergy. I don't know how else to describe it."

"What sort of jobs?"

"The most common one is serving as security when a priest has to go on a diplomatic mission. The church has its own guards for the main temple and other important sites, but they don't have enough to spare. So the Protectors fill that gap for a modest fee."

"Any idea what they're doing here, besides serving as backup for Jeremy? He seems to have gone missing, and they don't seem all that concerned."

Jebediah shrugs.

"No clue. I recognize a lot of them, but I also haven't seen those people in years. I only know what they tell me in letters, which tend to be sparse on details."

"How about their leader? You know anything about him?"

Jeb pauses for a good long while.

"I did know him back when he was a guard here," Jeb finally says. "Not too well, though. He was never very talkative. But there was one thing that stood out about him."
RE: Swamped
He was unusually interested in bird noises.
RE: Swamped
"Whenever a bird passed through the camp, he'd try to get close and just listen to it for a while. I never really asked why. Could be because birds are one of Reth's main symbols, could be he just liked birds."

You muse on this.

"So a quiet, devout guard who likes birds becomes leader of a weird religious mercenary group? Have to say, I don't really see how that connects."

"Well, ex-military usually have trouble moving onto other sorts of jobs," Jeb says. "I hear the same happens with humans, but it's even more pronounced with us. I think that's why the group started, anyways. Just to give that sort of grebling something to do."

"Provided they're strongly religious," you note.

"Yeah, well. It was a particularly rough time to be a strong believer ten years ago."

"Why, what happened..."

Jeb shakes his head.

"Sorry. Shouldn't have mentioned it. Really don't feel up to talking about it, and it's not important any more anyways."

You can see in his eyes that this is something it's best not to pry about. At least, not through him.

You thank him for his time, and think about what you're going to do next.
RE: Swamped
You've been running around a lot today, is it close to dinner time yet?
RE: Swamped
You're really starting to get hungry, but you're already leaving Rider and that other guy hanging. You've already gotten sidetracked enough.

On the other hand, maybe Dominique's eating. That would save you a lot of trouble. Worth investigating before you go and deal with those Protectors again.

You start heading out, giving a wave to the other priest on your way. Might as well try to keep on good terms with him.

You approach the mess tent, which thankfully is far away from the Protectors. You take a glance in.

It's crowded. Hard to spot any individual grebling in here. It would be great if you can find Dominique, but if you can't, well, you can start by looking for someone you recognize and ask if they know where she is.

So who's in here who looks familiar?
RE: Swamped
The kid!
RE: Swamped
The first one to catch your eye is that trouble-making kid. Max Junior, was that the name? They seem to be with an older grebling, probably the Max they're named for.

You don't see anyone else familiar at a glance, so you suppose this is your easiest starting point. You walk on over.

The kid immediately recognizes you and recoils. The older grebling sighs.

"Junior, did you cause trouble for our human guests again?"

"No! I mean, I didn't! I mean..."

You decide not to let the kid squirm for too long.

"Are you Max, then?"

"Yes. I'm an herbalist. Lately, I've been at work on replicating the swamp sickness remedy as best I can with the materials we have on hand. Not much grows well in the desert, after all."

"You have my gratitude for that. Starling's as well, I'm sure."

"Starling? Oh, that's the patient's name. An unusual one."

"Yeah, well, I'm Corvus. Names are a funny thing with us Marshguards, but I'm afraid I don't have time for small talk. Or to reprimand your little one there for last night's troubles. I'm looking for Dominique."

"She tends to eat late, to avoid the crowds. Or so she says. Personally, I think she's just trying to avoid the Director."

They definitely don't seem to get on well.

"So she's still in her lab?"

"I can't say for sure, but most likely. If you wait for things to thin out, she'll turn up."

"I'm kind of in a hurry. And it'd waste time if I went to the lab and it turned out she wasn't there. Don't suppose you've got an idea of who'd know for sure? Someone she works with, say?"

"She tends to work alone. She's the only one in the camp who can work with ether effectively, after all."

"I see. Guess I'll check the lab, then. Thanks again for your help with the medicine."

You turn to go, but just as you do, Junior speaks up.

"Wait, that's the magic lady, right? I know where she is."

Max sighs.

"Please tell me you're not making up stories again."

"No! I saw her right before we came here! I swear! You just didn't notice."

"I was a little fixated on getting dinner," Max admits. "Well, if you really did see her, please tell Mr. Corvus, politely, where it was. And then we can have a talk about calling people by their proper names."

You hope Junior's not just pulling your leg. But you might as well hear the kid out.
RE: Swamped
She was accompanied by two of the Protectors and she didn't look happy about it.
RE: Swamped
"She was walking along with two of those weird people who showed up today. You know, the ones crowding around outside the boss lady's tent. Didn't look very happy."

"The Protectors?" Max asks, surprised. "I can't imagine any reason why she'd ever want to go with them."

"I can't either," you say. "Did you see where they went?"

"It was right as we were leaving the tent... and they were going in the other direction."

"Hang on," Max says. They grab a napkin and start doodling a quick map on it. "Here we go. We headed straight for the mess tent, so they would have been going that way. If that helps you figure things out."

Hmm. Well, glancing over it, they didn't seem to be heading to Dominique's tent. Not unless they were taking a very roundabout route. You take a moment to think about what's noteworthy in that general area of the camp.