"As requested, we moved through the area to the area impacted by the monstrosities. There are a number of fae in the area who instructed us to leave them alone. I did not agree to their request, although they would likely disagree. Once we found the monstrosities, we engaged them. There were four small ones, similar to what we previously encountered. They fought from the tree tops and were decidedly difficult to engage. There is a much larger one which we were able to obtain. It is brutally effective in combat and I do not think our current capabilities are adequate to bring down another. The loss of our large friend and several pack animals took something like 14 seconds, but I would not swear by that number before the court. If continued action is to take place against these slitherwebs, we should consider crossbowmem and fire wizards who can strike outside their reach and stench."
"Their flesh is unpalatable, even for me. We managed to destroy a number of their eggs as well, which are similarly in religious. The remains of those eggs and my bile are contained in this canteen."
He taps his disquieting container.
"I am sure the gnome can already smell it, but you should avoid it if possible. There were a sufficient number off eggs to indicate that the monsters are a growing threat to the region. I am no druid, but I would be concerned about their ability to threaten the viability of fauna in the region."
Vandersrike looks to Henrik.
"Henrik deserves to be commended for his diligence in discovering the eggs."
Dilmer looks enlightened by Vandersrike's last comment, and exclaims, "Ah, that explains the smell!" His expressive face shifts to a hopeful look as he continues, "I don't care to seem ungrateful for the, uh, sample that Vandersrike has brought back. But would I be out of line if I expressed a hope that someone thought to retrieve a sample of intact eggs?"
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Vandersrike shakes his head and tosses the gnome his canteen.
"They were all destroyed. This is the best you're going to get."
Swarbrick steps forward, holding a wineskin, "Ah, I did think you might be particularly grateful if someone was considerate enough to bring you a sample... uh, sans bile. These should still be... viable." He frowns at the bag, "It's a same about my skin though, I don't think any amount of washing will ever make it the same again."
Leland, doubtlessly still recovering from his close encounter with death and the permanent sound of Joe's cracking neck in his mind, has been fairly quiet until now. When Swarbrick produces the eggs, however, he winces. "You'll risk killing us all with those," he hisses, then avers, "You'll be wise to bar the doors and keep a loaded crossbow handy with them around, and wiser still to smash them."
Vandersrike holds up a clawed hand at Leland.
"Tribesman, you're not wrong. I suspect our friend, Dilmer, will be dissecting his specimens. He isn't going to try to raise one, is he?"
Vandersrike arches a scaled brow at the gnome. "He wouldn't hide his spoils from his companions in the service of the March, yes?" Vandersrike turns his incredulous gaze to Swarbrick.
Kaarys laughs, perhaps darkly. "As funny you raising pet slitherwebs would be, Dilmer, I don't think you could stand the stench. You'd probably have to move out of the keep, at the least."
Armund lets the companions banter for a while before breaking in himself. "In all seriousness, Dilmer," he says with real gravity in his voice, "there's at least one pool that needs be dredged. There's much worse out there, but if they're laying eggs, you know the wera'h... slitherwebs are going to be a problem in the area."
Gleefully, Dilmer collects the waterskin from Swarbrick. "Outstanding! First thing I'll do is see what kills these things. Looks like you've got enough here for me to try several different things and still have leftovers for other experiments. Well done." Despite the gloom and doom from Leland, he seems cheerful as he posits, "I think I shall have to see how long they take to hatch, and what the young look like. Nobody actually knows, you see. And it's important to know something like that. Easier to kill them when they've just hatched from an egg the size of a plum, wot?"
Even as Dorn is drawing in a breath to erupt at the gnome, Dilmer forestalls him, "I'll kill them when they hatch, damn it all! You have my word. We'll put them in that basement I used for the spider, and I'll put a guards on the door night and day. Nobody inside but me."
This seems to quiet the half-orc's nerves a bit, but he still grouses, "This is stupid. I'm stupid for allowing it."
Vandersrike nods in agreement with Dorn.
"Dilmer is right. The slitherwebs have been a problem and they'll get out of hand again and again if you don't find a solution. Learning to 'nip it in the bud' is the best thing you can do. Solving a problem before it is actually a problem is always the smart way to go. But until that happens, I guess we'll all have steady employment."
"How lovely for you," Dorn replies, a bit sourly. Still, he doesn't make anymore fuss about Dilmer's cockamamie plan to hatch experimental subjects. Instead, the half-orc growls, "The kitchen will have food for you in about half an hour. Get washed and changed in the laundry before you go eat, or the Marchioness will have all our heads."
Vandersrike departs for the warm water without another word.
"That's what I was waiting for!" Henrik heads to the washroom. His companions will be getting a second dose of dwarven nudity before the day is through.
Kaarys takes Ser'ciltharon to the stables and personally removes her gear and brushes her down. After she's settled, he heads off to get cleaned up and then to his bunk to get his more comfortable clothing out and sorted before dinner. Any other details can wait until afterward.
For his talk of living in the marsh, Armund doesn't seem at all adverse to taking a nice, warm bath.
Morning, 18 Imogen, 973 IRGrimilon KeepZeno, Enteria
Life in the household of the Marchioness isn't terrible, most of the time. You have a warm place to sleep, plenty of food, and you don't have to push a plow for a living. All good things. But it doesn't offer a lifestyle that gives you a lot of chances to sleep in, even if you're recovering from having the shit kicked out of you prior to a forced march through a temperate rain forest.
So you're up and about at the same town as most of the rest of the castle's residents, which at least means that you're able to avail yourself of a hearty breakfast before Dilmer makes his appearance in the great hall and takes your patchwork squad aside to return your scrolls and other loot and deliver an appraisal. Somewhat unexpectedly, the gnome looks like he must have gotten a full night's sleep. He seems eager to get to work on dissecting the slitherweb, but offers to buy the artwork off you.
You're just finishing up with that when one of Mbali's former retainers bursts into the great hall. After a moment he catches sight of the gnome and hurries over, not quite running. The big hobgoblin—Henrik, Leland and Vandersrike recognize him as Kakaka, the most outgoing of the bunch—is visibly out of breath, but he manages to pant, "Master Dilmer! There's been an attack on the Marchioness. She is unharmed, but Master of Horse Dorn calls for you." He gestures at the rest of you, and adds, "All of you, as well. Armed."
Vandersrike slides what remains of his breakfast into his pouch.
"Kakaka, lead on."
The kobold, clad in his cleanest livery, approaches the hobgoblin survivor of the previous Slitherweb's attack.
Swarbrick groans and sighs, realizing nursing his hangover will have to wait a bit longer.
Leland pats Raksha, who had been lying at his feet, and remarks, "On the bright side, it probably isn't those eggs hatching. . .yet." He shudders visibily, but rises.
"If we're going to put a round the clock guard on her, I don't mind taking the darkest watch of night. 'Cause I can see in the dark, you know." Henrik is ready and moves to follow Dilmer to the Marchioness.
In between sips from his flask, Kaarys asks, "Where do we find Dorn after we've gathered our weapons?"
"Upstairs," replies Dilmer, as he hurries away with Kisasi and those of you who already have weaponry on hand.
Upon your arrival, you Mbali and another hobgoblin (Fanyana, his blindness cured) standing over a prone humanoid—probably a serf, judging from the threadbare clothing and crude sandals that make up its attire. Mbali is bloody from an ugly set of contusions where something beat her about the head, but she seems calm.
Upon seeing Dilmer, she gestures to the door, "Magus. The Master of Horse and the marchioness are inside. I will announce you." She proceeds to do so, knocking on the door and calling, "Magus Dilmer is entering."
Once he's inside, the former chieftain greets all of you, "I heard about Joe. He was a good man and I'm sorry he died."
Vandersrike nods. "So are we. We are glad you live through," he gestures at her bloody contusions, "this."
"What is this?"
Kisasi embraces Mbali warmly when he sees her. "He died on his feet. But it was a dear price to pay for a dead swamp beast."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Mbali nods her agreement with Kisasi, and tells Vandersrike, gesturing toward the comatose serf, "This is the would-be assassin. He came in through the balcony with some kind of . . . creature."
"Where's the creature? I'm sure Dilmer would like it if it can be found. Do you know what it looked like?" The death of Joe bothers Henrik, but so does the death of Rory. Every one of his companions would die if he lived long enough to see it - that was true of life in general, but for adventurers it was particularly fast. Best not to dwell on it, no matter how heartless it seemed.
"It evaporated when we killed it," Mbali replies.
"It was a strange beast. Like a little man the size of a gnome, but made of something that looked like white ice. Or wax, maybe," Fanyana adds. "I've never seen anything like it, but it was quite solid. When we came in, it had just killed the Her Ladyship's," he hesitates, looks over his shoulder, and then finishes, "her thandi. Her lover, you see?"
Vandersrike snarls. Perhaps by reflex, his hand snakes into his bag and retrieves one of the sausage rolls stored there. He nibbles it while inspecting the scene.
Vandersrike can see that the "serf" is unconscious, but he appears to be breathing normally. Several small cuts and bruises mark his skin here and there, and as a result there are some small bloodstains on his clothing. He's big for a human, probably almost as tall as Johten if you stood him on his feet. Not as heavy, Vandersrike thinks, but still big even for his race.
Vandersrike goes to the balcony where the assailants arrived. He snakes out another biscuit and nibbles it greedily. The kobold checks to determine if the would-be-assassin had a planned method of egress or if this was a one-way-trip.
Kaarys arrives in rather decent time, as if he actually made an effort to do so. Whether that's out of any concern for the marchioness or more from a curiosity of just how close someone came to taking her life, it's not clear in his scarred expression. Equipped for battle, he is still tying his hair back into a braid as he walks up.
Swarbrick crouches down to examine the "serf" alongside the kobold. He looks carefully at the unconscious man and raises an eyebrow. "Well, he's a big fellow. We don't usually grow 'em this big around here. And he seems to be a bit well fed for your usual serf." He stands up, taking the opportunity to look over all of the prone body at once.
"Now look here," he points along the man's fingers, "His joints aren't quite right. And he is tall... too tall. His torso is all stretched out to give him that extra height. It's like someone wanted to look human but didn't get it quite right."
Once Swarbrick points out the incongruity of the killer's shape, it's easy to see that he's right. Most obviously "wrong" about him is that his thumbs appear to have an extra joint.
"Well, it looks like we missed all the action. Do you think she's going to want us to investigate why someone is trying to have her killed?" Henrik has a lot of questions, but it doesn't look like anyone capable of providing answers is in any hurry to do so.
"No. I cannot imagine why she would be curious about something like that." Kisasi looks and sounds like he definitely could have gotten more sleep last night.
Leland examines the serf a moment, but has nothing constructive about it to say about its possible identity. His brows furrow, and he finally suggests, "Well, we might start by questioning the fellow here."
Armund, having quietly followed the rest of the group without asking whether or not he was actually invited, makes an affirmative noise. "It might be worth binding him tightly before he wakes," he suggests, stating the obvious.
"Anyone know what in the hells that thing even is?" Kaarys wonders aloud.
"Perhaps Dilmer does."
Dorn comes out of the marchioness's chambers, and greets you brusquely, "Good, you're here. Mbali, Kakaka, and Fanyana, you will remain on guard here, with Mbali inside her ladyship's rooms. I will send servants to clean up and take away the remains of Master Rentrow."
"The rest of you are to take this individual," he prods the comatose 'serf' with his foot, "to the basement, where there are some cells. Make sure he gets there unharmed, excepting that you're to knock him unconscious again if he starts to come round. Don't let anyone near him, and don't stop for anything until you have him locked up."
The half-orc is visibly upset by whatever has transpired recently, and continues, "There will be manacles available. See to it that he's restrained and blindfolded before you put him into a cell, and then remain in the cell block with him to keep him under observation. Nobody is to be allowed in except for me, Dilmer, or Mbali. Nobody, do you understand? If someone tries to tell you otherwise, beat the dog shit out of him. Trust no one until I personally inform you that you can stand down."
"Seems simple enough." Henrik hikes the man to his shoulders.
The trip downstairs is utterly without incident. Nobody attempts to stop you, and when you arrive in the basement, it looks empty of people. No problem.
The cell block is a walled-off area in one corner, and consists of three cells, all of them having three walls of blank masonry and a fourth that consists of iron bars with a gate built into them, confining inmates while simultaneously denying them privacy. A stout table with a stained top, a desk, and a few stools in the area facing the cells are the only furniture besides a few shelves on the walls; prisoners here take their fitful rest on the bare stone.
One of the aforementioned shelves holds a selection of heavy manacles, collars, and restraints, all of them with shackles to accept a lock. The next shelf over is home to a collection of devices that look like they belong, variously, in a shoemaker's workshop, a farrier's shop, or a stock yard. Maybe this is just where the marchioness's household stores spare tools, and nothing ominous at all. Maybe the unlit brazier over in the corner is just there to take the chill off of the stone walls and floor, too.
Speaking of unlit, it's dark in here. A torch in a sconce next to the basement door was easy enough to snag as a light source, but putting fire to the sconces along the walls in here will probably—uh, possibly—conceivably! It will conceivably improve the atmosphere! And even if it doesn't, most of you will be better able to see what you're doing.
Henrik drops his prisoner none to gently to the stone floor while he sees about lighting the brazier to provide light and heat.
Kisasi watches the dwarf unceremoniously dump the murderer on the floor. "Swarbrick, you said earlier you thought it looked like it was trying to pretend to be human. Do you think it, or one like it, could look EXACTLY human with practice? Like, a particular human?"
Swarbrick shrugs, "I don't know what *it* is. Just extrapolating on my own observations, is all. I don't have the foggiest."
In short order, the brazier is burning. It provides some degree of light, and it warms the air slightly. The stones of the floor, however, are still quite chilly under your feet, even through your shoes. If the prisoner was awake (and human or some kind of near-human that you're familiar with), you feel sure he would be uncomfortably cold while lying down.
But for now, he's unconscious and helpless. From the way Mbali talked about her fight with him, he's got some kind of capability to use magic, so that probably explains Dorn's request for manacles and a blindfold.
Kisasi frowns at Swarbrick's words and looks at the door leading into the jail. "Well, if it can, everyone outside this room could be a monster, even if they look and sound exactly like someone we live and work with."
The hobgoblin moves to the door, stopping about ten feet away from it, and draws his sword.
Kaarys states, "Hells, in my experience, everyone outside this room could be a monster any way, whether or not they can change the way they look."
The kobold looks to the hobgoblins. "I don't know about you, but I am frequently called a monster."
Vandersrike sits on the unconscious body.
"If he moves, I'll handle it. Until then, let's speak of something that doesn't invoke paranoia. For example, did any of you bring provisions?"