Chapter 2: How Do They Rise Up? (IC)

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Talanall
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Chapter 2: How Do They Rise Up? (IC)

Sunset, 14 Imogen, 973 IR
Outer Bailey, Grimilon Keep
Zeno, Enteria

Enough haze still clings to the earth so that it lends an otherworldly beauty to the countryside as you look out from the ridge towards Zeno and the bulk of Grimilon Keep next to the river, but it's still clear enough by now that you can enjoy something even better: the sight of a straight, smooth road cutting through lands that offer no good places for anything to hide and ambush you. Despite all you've gone through and the comrades you've lost on this trip, it's hard not to feel a little better about the immediate future now that there is demonstrably lower probability that you'll be devoured by ravening monsters.

An hour or so later, it's nearly dark but you're passing through the main gate at the keep, back where you started twelve days ago. Somewhat to your surprise, Maeric Dorn is standing next to the gate into the inner bailey, and when you arrive he immediately walks closer, signaling for your attention. Once you're close enough to hear without his needing to raise his voice, the grizzled half-orc says, "Be silent, and speak to no one until I give you leave. Take your gear and anything you seized while you were away, and follow me. A groom will take care of the mule."

Once you've got your belongings collected and have the sacks and containers that you used to stash the plunder you looted from the bleak banyan orchard, the half-orc leads you to what looks very much like a ballroom, although it currently is only dimly lit and is entirely devoid of furnishings except for a long, bare table of rough wooden planks. A short, willowy, arrogant-looking woman with golden blonde hair waits there, garbed in an elaborate gown of rose silk. With her is a portly gnome in the austere robes of a scholar.

Dorn makes a deep bow, and announces, "The mercenaries, Lady Zeno. They've spoken to no one. I was there when they walked into the outer bailey, and the sentry watched them come up the street."

"Excellent, Dorn. You may begin, Magus Dilmer," the woman replies in musical tones.

The gnome nods curtly, and approaches your party as he mutters a spell under his breath. His eyes flare with a blue light, and for a time he inspects you, before he announces, "They appear ordinary. Several articles of magical provenance in the various sacks they carry. I see no reason for alarm. No signs of intrusion via scrying sensor. I believe that we have privacy for the time being."

Inclining her head, the woman answers, "Provide oversight for the debriefing. Master of Horse."

"Congratulations on your success," rumbles the half-orc. "We'll settle accounts for your daily pay and survivors' benefits momentarily. Please set all of the confiscated goods on that table. Go ahead and take them out of their containers in order to make life a little easier for Dilmer, here. He'll be appraising them, so the quicker he gets it done, the quicker you get paid. While you're at it, you can tell us about the details of your expedition. Are the necromancers dead?"

Fixxxer
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Johten stays put, towering over everyone with his arms crossed. He glances to Mbali, obviously waiting for the expedition leader to handle the debriefing.

deadDMwalking
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Henrik doesn't wait. "Dead as doornails. The grove destroyed. We had some losses, aye, but we did everything we were tasked with."

Talanall
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The gnome is already sorting through your loot as it comes out of the assorted bags and boxes you used to transport it, but he's evidently paying some attention to the discussion at hand, because he breaks in to say, quietly but with evident sincerity, "I'm sorry for your losses," before he makes a soft, pleased noise, and holds up the grimoire you took from one of the slain necromancers, "But it may be that they didn't die in vain."

He opens the volume and begins paging through it, as Dorn agrees, somewhat perfunctorily, "Losing comrades is never pleasant. But Dilmer's correct; we're very pleased to see that book. Did you encounter any of their overseers?"

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"The ones what had silver spikes in their head? Sure!"

Talanall
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Dilmer makes a happy noise at this response, and says, "Found that already. Magically inert."

It's not clear whether Dorn really understood that announcement; he plods on, "Estimate the quantity of bleak banyan wine on the premises, please."

Mbali speaks up at this, having fished some papers out of her pack, "Roughly two thousand gallons, stored in a barn. We poured it out, and then set fire to the building. The necromancers were using an old farmhouse as living quarters, and the majority of the goods here were retrieved from its basement. There was a heavy chest there, locked and trapped. Also a hidden storage room, with a trap on the door. I have sketches here, and separate inventories from the chest and storage."

This announcement draws an elated, "Eeeeeexcellent! That's fine operational intelligence," from the gnome.

Dorn is less effusive, but seems grudgingly impressed, commenting, "Two thousand gallons is much more than we expected you to find. This was supposed to be a minor plantation."

"Indeed," agrees Lady Zeno. She maintains a cultivated air of boredom, continuing languidly, "It sounds as if this undertaking may actually have been worth the time and expense involved. I suppose that you have my leave to permanently recruit these mercenaries to my service if that will quieten your eternal whining about short staff. At least they seem marginally more capable than the last crew of derelicts and reprobates. Now, I am holding a salon this evening and don't wish to be interrupted for anything that is not of the utmost urgency. Brief me in the morning, Dorn. And keep it short." She turns and swans toward the opposite entryway from the one that your expedition used to get here, then pauses and adds as an afterthought, "Have them bathed if they're to remain here, and put them in clean livery. I don't care if the seamstresses have to spend all night fitting them."

Dorn bows deeply to her retreating back, replying, "As you wish, Lady Zeno."

She doesn't acknowledge him.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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Kobolds don't have eyebrows. None-the-less, a telling arch ascends over Vandersrike's left eye at the mention of new livery.

Disquietingly, the kobold smiles.

Talanall
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Showing no sign that he is bothered by his liege's treatment of him, Dorn announces, "Well. You're hereby offered the opportunity to swear fealty to the March of Zeno. I'll get back to that in a moment, for those of you who're interested in the details of that."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
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"That plantation... not high on Lady Zeno's 'honeydo list,' I take it?" asks Johten somewhat sardonically.

Talanall
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Unperturbed, Dorn replies, "The marchioness prefers not to gamble unless the outcome is a sure thing. It was no small expense for Magus Dilmer and me to dig up enough information to direct a strike at this plantation, and even with the possibility that you would capture valuables that would help defray the costs, we really didn't expect to do much more than break even. I'm honored and pleased that she decided to trust our judgement."

From over next to the table, Dilmer chuckles melodiously, and replies, "She'll be happier once I prepare an inventory and valuation of the captured goods here. At a rough estimate, there could be as much as half a million in Imperial gold specie sitting on this table. She keeps ninety percent of the sale value of these goods, but even so I think that each share of the prize money should be somewhat more than two thousand. You aren't wealthy now, exactly, but you certainly are well-to-do for commoners."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Talanall
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Dorn smiles after a moment, and muses, "Yes, she will be pleased." Switching back to business, he asks a few more questions about the events of your expedition, all of which Mbali answers succinctly.

At the end, Dorn says, "Alright, as we touched upon earlier in this debriefing, you're all hereby invited to take service in Lady Zeno's household. If that sounds like it might be agreeable, then here's what's on offer: a new set of clothes, literally before tonight's over, and a second set as soon as our tailors can practicably sew them up for you. Both will be livery, and you will be expected to wear it when you attend to your duties. You'll be able to count on the marchioness's household to provide you with sleeping quarters and two meals per day, one at morning and one at evening. It won't be fancy, but you'll be warm and well-fed. You'll also be paid two silver pennies per day," he gestures toward Mbali, "Except you, who will receive six and your own room." He seems bluffly cheerful about the offer he's making, so far, and that remains his attitude as he goes on, "Most of the time, if I tell you someone or something needs killing, that's going to mean that it's already been judged to be an enemy of the March, which makes any property forfeit. So there'll be the occasional chance for you to get a little something extra in your pocket. I'll let you know when that's the case. Be warned that if you start acting like bandits while you're in service, I'll give you a hemp collar."

"Mostly, your job will be to do whatever Lady Zeno or I bloody well tell you to do. If I find out that you've got a knack for something useful other than putting metal to meat, then I'm not averse to finding a way to put that to work instead. I should be clear that if you take service with her, you'll be expected to swear an oath of fealty that will be considered binding until Her Ladyship releases you from it. There's a counter-oath from her involved, and she'll have legal obligations to you above and beyond those that I've discussed as the terms of your daily payment and maintenance." Dryly, he adds, "You'll be swearing the same oath I serve under. I don't regret making my oath, and I don't expect you to regret it either."

Dilmer chimes in, "But if you'd prefer something less . . . regimented . . . you might also speak to me. I'm a member of Lady Zeno's household just like Dorn, but you wouldn't be; you'd remain your own men. Or women. Hobgoblins. Whatever. Obviously, I won't be party to anything that wouldn't be copacetic under the marchioness's law, but you may find me a little more easygoing about discipline than the esteemed Master of Horse." He flashes a grin at the half-orc, who seems amused rather than offended—the two look to be on friendly terms. "I'm prepared to offer you the same daily rate of tuppence a day, plus food and shelter. No spiffy livery, though. You'll have to pick out your own duds every morning like the rest of us."

"Take a minute to talk it over among yourselves," Dorn replies.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"I like my own clothes, thank you very much. I'll take Dilmer's offer. I don't plan to be here forever and as willing as I am to help out, I'm not taking an oath of fealty to a fehdem." The dwarven word doesn't have any direct translation but might mean closest to 'pretender' - the term is used for dwarves that assert a genealogical claim that is spurious. It at least makes it clear that he considers her status as a recent creation and no more noble than he is outside of the narrow definition of the current political situation.

Darker

Rasnak gives an exaggerated shake of his head, "I will not ssstay. I mussst return to othersss of my faith and tell them of my clan. I have our artifactsss and they need to be sssafely given to the othersss to watch over."

Cronono
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Vandersrike looks up at the other members of the adventuring party.

"As I am quite small in comparison to some of my companions, would it be possible to receive the equivalent leftover cloth for additional livery?"

Talanall
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"You would have to ask the seamstresses. I have no objections, if there's enough cloth left over that it wouldn't impose any additional expense upon the March," answers Dorn.

Evrinel frowns a little, and comments, "I appreciate the offers of employment, and in your case, Magus Dilmer, I may come to change my mind at some later date. But for now, I think that I'm finished serving the Marchioness of Zeno. Even indirectly."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"And what do you have in mind for yourself, I wonder? Stay or leave makes no difference to me, but I don't want to try to make it on my own."

Talanall
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"I'm going to try to make it on my own," Evrinel replies.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"I've heard half elves don't really fit in anywhere - too human and too elf at the same time, but you'd have to be crazy to make a go of it on your own. Or maybe not all of the stones you're carrying are for your sling. If we meet again I hope you're alive and well and not coming out the south-end of a north heading spider-tentacle-vagina thing. If you change your mind, you're welcome with me anywhere."

Talanall
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"Oh, you've encountered a slitherweb?" asks Dilmer, sounding both interested and excited (but not surprised). "I suppose they'd be fairly common, as far out into the wilds as you would have gone to find the plantation. I've been hoping to acquire a specimen for my collection."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"I think it may have been hoping to acquire you for its collection," Henrik rejoins, "but without fog to hide in, I'm pretty confident we could bring one in dead, not likely alive."

Talanall
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"Fog? Oh, you must have seen one today! And right on the road! Ha ha, that's excellent."

Dilmer's jubilation is curtailed when Dorn clears his throat, and the gnome goes back to sorting through the loot while the half-orc rumbles, "Right, very exciting. I'll tell the morning patrol to keep an eye out. Your casualties weren't awful for this outing, given how long you were in the field and how far out you went. But for form's sake, go ahead and tell me what happened."

"We lost two on our way to Baronet Delavee's manor," supplies Mbali, in wooden tones. "Owlbears. Then on the fifth of the month, we lost someone when ghouls attacked us in the night. One in battle against the necromancers and their slaves. Then another the night before we started back. We do not know what took him, but he followed a snake-armed woman into the woods. We found his body in the morning; she killed him by eating his . . . " she pauses, searching for the word, then gives up and says, " His ipeni. She struck Fanyana blind."

Dorn grunts, and says, "Well, sorry about your comrades. Never easy seeing a friend die." He sounds sincere, so far as he can be bothered to care. "Do you want to take service with the marchioness?"

Mbali looks around at the other hobs for a moment, and then shrugs, "Very well."

At this, Dorn replies, "Good. I think you'll do well here." To the room in general, he continues, "Alright, we're done here. The March will spring for you to have a meal and a place to lay your head tonight, whether you're staying on or not. Come morning, you'll need to be ready to swear fealty, go to work for Magus Dilmer, or get gone from the keep and find some other way to keep your arses in business." He goes on to provide directions to the barracks, where he says water will soon be available for you to scrub down before supper.

As he's finishing this, you can hear a raven calling from just outside the door, followed by a strange, cawing voice that says, "Okay, boys. You can go on inside. Boss says the private bits are done."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

MinusInnocence
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Kisasi helps his brother open the door. He is in the process of shrugging off the shield strapped to his arm when he raises his gaze to pan over the room. The hob's wide blue nose stands out in sharp contrast against his ruddy orange complexion, and his eyes and fangs are share a bright yellow hue. He isn't quite as tall as Joe, but is broad-shouldered and easily over six feet, the same as his brothers-in-arms.

The paladin's jaw drops when he sees Mbali. His shield clatters to the floor as he rushes past the others, throwing his arms around her in a wordless embrace.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Talanall
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Mbali grabs the young hob in turn, and seems to be either trying to crush him to death, or hugging him as if she'd thought him dead and then found that he was alive. She seems to be trying to say something, but since she's also crying hysterically and switching from Goblin to Common and back again faster than she can get out a sentence, it all comes out as a bit of a garbled mess.

The other hobs look too dumbfounded to celebrate, even as Uluwasi peers at Kisasi's brother and gapes, "Gazini?!? You live!"

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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"Well, that's lucky, isn't it? Your tribe growing without the need to pass a few dozen young-uns. Still, in the long-run,that's the only real solution, isn't it. I'm guessing that one's your brother, but if he's not, maybe he'll sow the seed."

MinusInnocence
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Kisasi releases Mbali and laughs. "We have come a long way." He looks around the room, all smiles (fangs and all) as he regards the rest of the survivors. "So few. But... we thought ALL of you dead before we picked up your trail."

The hobgoblin draws his sword, revealing the red blade engraved with black lettering down its length. He kneels and offers it to Mbali. "This belonged to your father. It is rightfully yours, but I have borne it thus far and would gladly wield it at your command. I am sworn to your service, by blood and bond."

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

deadDMwalking
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Henrik observes to nobody in particular, "Okay, not a brother then, but still incestuous, I'd wager. Cousin maybe?"

Fixxxer
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"'ey, Henrick? Shut it," comments Johten without even looking at the man.

Cronono
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Vandersrike looks to Rasnak.

"Holy one, my tribe no longer contains other kobolds among its members. When the time comes to breed, might I visit your tribe?"

Darker

Rasnak does not hesitate, "The clan would welcome new blood. Yesssss."

Cronono
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Vandersrike smiles.

"When my new employer permits me time to rut, I look forward to rutting with your tribe."

Talanall
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To nobody in particular, Kakaka comments, "Well, that wasn't strange at all," showing that he is one of those people who notices things when other people are having emotional bonding experiences. Probably he also looks around at temple services when you're supposed to bow your head and pray.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Dafyd
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Leland watches the happy reunion between M'bali and Kisasi as well as the many leave-takings that seem to be occurring without much comment. To the others, he offers, "I'm happy to stay on in a...less than official...capacity, if the marchioness has need of a doctor of sorts."

deadDMwalking
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Henrik appears to ignore Johten as he observes, "A doctor of sorts? It sounds like they're going to be in major need of a midwife in a few months."

Cronono
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Vandersrike walks over and taps Henrik on the back.

"Tribesman Henrik, I would entreat you to educate me about stone. If you and Tribesman Leland would join me for the promised repast, I hope you can help me discern the most effective way to build a device that would drop rocks on intruders without being easily detected by stonemasons. I am afraid that the majority of my experience involves substances such as wood, moss, and various skins."

Vandersrike looks to Johten.

"You would, Friend Johten, be welcome to join us and tell Tribesman Henrik to shut his various orifices whenever convenient. I suspect Mbali and her band will likely tell my Tribesman to shut his orifices with some regularity during the consumption of beer."

deadDMwalking
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"Sure thing. No point in standing around doing nothing. Let's give the newcomers some privacy." Henrik accompanies Vandersrike.

Cronono
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Vandersrike and Henrik begin walking toward the barracks.

"Tribesman, I'm remembering our stay in the cave and realizing that additional effort should have focused on the mouth of the cave. I realize that a falling rock trap would do well there. What method do your kin use when they decide to smash their rocks into interlopers? Do they prefer dropping their stones from above, or do they assault from behind?"

Vandersrike is clearly oblivious to his wording, passionately curious about Dwarven self-defense techniques.

deadDMwalking
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"From above, of course. If you launch your stones you have to ensure that the launch mechanism is well-maintained and that's not easy. If above, even if the mechanism fails, the trap will work. Of course, that creates its own problems. I'm personally an adherent to a more radical trap design philosophy. Rather than create a working trap, why not make something that looks like a trap. If it's hidden, people walk into it. Maybe they die, maybe they don't. But if it is obvious, they spend time investigating. And if they think the traps they're going to find are obvious, then they don't spend time looking for where the real trap is!" Henrik is gleeful as he warms to the subject.

Fixxxer
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Johten heads off with Henrick and Vandersrike.

"Makes sense," he comments to Henrick's suggestion. "If your watch is any good, he's gonna spot anyone pokin' around, tryin' not to get crushed by what he thinks is a deadfall trap. Fake trap just gives him more time to see 'em and warn everyone else."

Cronono
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Vandersrike nods.

"What difference in stone do you exploit to subtly expose the false trap and obfuscate the true trap?"

deadDMwalking
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"No, no, no, you're misunderstanding. You don't have to be subtle with the false trap. You take a load of stones, wrap them in an iron cage and hang them by a chain from the ceiling. Any fool can see that they're hanging and just as surely that if the chain were released, they would fall. You simply don't bother with a mechanism that will release the chain. Consequently, you don't bother with a trigger mechanism. Your target spots the trap but doesn't want to step under (lest they be crushed). So they look for a trigger, but because it does not exist, it cannot be found. So what do they do? Start shoring up the deadfall with timber? That gives you plenty of time to discover them before they even pass below. Now, let's say they do screw up their courage and move through. Well, the next trap could be real or could be fake. The thing is, fake traps are quick and easy to make but you can get just as much benefit out of them! More even! If the rockfall were hidden and they triggered it, sure, it falls on their head. Maybe it kills their scout. But now the rest of the team know that it's safe so they rush right in. A trap that can't be triggered can't be deemed safe. You think the expedition leader is going to risk it?"

Cronono
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Vandersrike scoffs.

"Tribesman, I do not think you mean to insult me, but I do ask you to consider your audience. While I acknowledge that an unskilled laywyrm might spend some time trying to disarm your ornament, which is the kindest term I could use for the device you describe, I practice traps not as a hobby or as a profession, but as a religious calling. I am an artist who worships through devices of death. Perhaps we are attempting to thwart different intrusions?"

Vandersrike considers as they meander toward the barracks. While the top of his head barely comes up to the waist of his companions, his tail is elevated so as not to drag across the ground.

"Perhaps a device which is only armed when a secondary device is thoroughly inspected?"

deadDMwalking
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"Ultimately, you have to deal with your people moving through a trapped area. If your tribesmen are passing through the entrance to your fortification one hundred times for every intruder, you risk causing them harm. And if you disarm the trap, who's to say it will be armed when you need it? You might catch a few fools with an obvious lure like treasure in a passage that your tribe never uses and you might try triggers that require more weight than your heaviest member, but traps aren't terribly effective at defeating anything other than lone intruders. Their value lies in slowing them down. And for that, a false trap is at least as effective as a real trap and probably more so."

Talanall
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Meanwhile, back in the ballroom, Mbali raises Kisasi to his feet and replies, "Retain the sword, embi, and wield it in memory of my father. Unless you and Gazini come to us with better tidings than I look for, the Nkonkoni are no more, and I am no chaka." Awkwardly, she goes on, "Tomorrow I will make an oath of vassalage to House Grimilion. I am no chaka, so I cannot order you to follow my example. But I hope that you will."

Her announcement goes over about as well as can be expected. Uluwasi takes it worst, and stalks from the ballroom to get away from the crowd of upset, somewhat confused hobs. Johten, Henrik and Vandersrike can hear him coming up behind them, and a look back at the huge hobgoblin warrior shows his brows knit in a scowl and his blue nose twitching in agitation.

Under the cover of this uproar, Dorn says to Leland, "I think we may be able to arrive at some sort of arrangement, although I cannot promise you that you'll be able to act solely as a physician. Being able to patch up my men after a battle would be a fine thing, no doubt. But there still will be times that I'll have to send you into the field."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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Vandersrike readies a response to his adopted-Tribesman, but catches Uluwasi's angry and approaching footfalls.

"We go to eat and drink, Uluwasi." The kobold makes a sweeping gesture toward Henrik and Johten. "My dwarven-Tribesman says he can drink my weight in ale. Are you capable of such a feat?"

Talanall
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Uluwasi pauses, looks from Vandersrike to Henrik, and then finally replies, pointing at Henrik, "I will drink HIS weight in ale. Or possibly the humans' marchioness will have me beaten and thrown into the street. We shall see which is the case."

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
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"Not my weight, then?" quips Johten.

deadDMwalking
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Henrik seems to respond to Uluwasi's mood, but he probably assumes that the arrival of additional hobgoblins has created a love triangle. Even if he doesn't understand the underlying problem, he offers some words that might even be appropriate in the circumstances. "Whatever has you upset, you can't know how it will work out. This might be a temporary obstacle. Give it some time. Situations change whether we do anything or not. Don't fight the tide. Make yourself strong to withstand it on the way in and ready yourself to take advantage when it flows out."

Talanall
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"Mbali has rejected her place as chaka of the Nkonkoni," Uluwasi tells Henrik. "Imagine if your clan were no more, owodwa. The last of your clan-kings dead, his heir unwilling to reign. This has befallen the Nkonkoni. There are but ten of us remaining, and a chaka who renounces the iron rings of her station." He takes in and then releases a long, wavering breath.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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Vandersrike nods.

"My friend Uluwasi, the same thing happened to me. I will tell you the story while we drink, if you will hear it."

Talanall
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"I may as well," agrees the burly hob. "Do you mean to swear fealty to the human chaka, scaly one?"

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Vandersrike nods, his slender head bobbing on his long and sinewy neck.

"It wasn't so long ago that I had a tribe. My people, like yours, take care of our kin. We have a reputation for cowardice because we are misunderstood. I am a veritable giant among my race, Uluwasi. Yet here I am, barely able to touch your coin purse. My people are not cowards, we are cunning. We do not unnecessarily partake of unfair fights."

Vandersrike lifts his head as high as he can, which is not very high.

"My tribe inhabited a beautiful cave not too far from the city. It was glorious, Uluwasi. There were walls covered in fungus, there were rich veins of ore, and there were spawnings. So many spawnings, my friend. A well-to-do Kobold could breed and breed and breed and be surrounded by seething swarms of young. It was a fine time in my life."

Vandersrike's features are not so animated as another humanoid, but his eyeridges still manage to waggle.

"Then they came. Grotesques from within the Earth burst forth from our mines. They brutalized and consumed by family. The seething masses of my young and my family disappeared down the gullets of the monsters from the deep. When battle arrives, Kobolds run either toward the fighting or away from it. This keeps as many Kobolds alive as possible. At the direction of my Holy One, I was selected to grab as many eggs as possible and run away. Before I got to the spawning pits, the monsters had their fill."

Vandersrike shakes his head.

"The only survivors were males. We were a tribe of males without younglings and without the chance to breed."

He puts one hand on Uluwasi's knee, a rough equivalent to putting a steadying hand on a companion's shoulder.

"My tribe was no more. A pack of males could not endure with no females, no home, and no Holy One. Slowly but surely, my kin perished. Kobolds do not do so well above the ground, where the burning fire blinds us. Kobolds do not do so well as nomads, where we stumble into more traps than we set. Kobolds do very well when we have a tribe and we can run away for the good of our kin."

Vandersrike gently punches Henrik's thigh.

"I tried to explain my story to a travelling merchant. I did not speak Common so well, and barely explained that I was the last of my tribe. The merchant laughed at me, calling me the heir of the kobolds. He mocked me, calling me the 'Little Lord.' That's how I came to be known among the people of this town as 'Lord' Vandersrike. It was a diminutive pejorative for a joke among the humans."

He shakes his head.

"I was tribeless until I brought Henrik and Leland into my circle. We've fought together, bled together, and drunk together. I'm not going to breed with them, but the Holy One Rasnak's tribe has permitted me to fertilize their eggs. My tribe was slain, Uluwasi. Every single one was consumed. Yet, here I am with new tribesmen, a small fortune, and I'll soon swear to the very city that calls me Lord."

Vandersrike smiles.

"My tribe lives on, every time I run away. My tribe lives on every time my new tribesmen," Vandersrike points to Henrik, "are willing to fight on the frontlines with me. My tribe is dead, Uluwasi. Long live my tribe!"

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