Evening, 18 Imogen, 973 IRBallroom, Grimilon KeepZeno, Enteria
". . . but quicklime seems to do the trick, and it won't permanently poison the waters where it's employed," Dilmer is saying to Dorn as you head into the ballroom for the briefing Dorn mentioned in the dungeon.
Kakaka and Fanyana endured a solid six hours of guard duty over Porp Seventh, and the gossip around the castle is that Porp spent that entire span of time experimenting with various ways to pronounce the word "duty."
Fortunately for you, it looks like Dorn and Dilmer have something else in mind for you than for you to stand guard in a cellblock. Once you're all assembled in the disused ballroom, the gnome takes the lead by announcing, "You've got a new project that involves something other than killing a monster and dragging it back to the castle! Who's excited? Are you excited? I know I am!"
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Vandersrike sighs. "Are you familiar with the phrase 'bury the lede,' my gnomish friend?"
"No, that actually worries me," Swarbrick mutters, low enough only his companions can hear.
"Dilmer, before we get to that, does anyone actually know what's going on around here? What is that thing in the basement? Was it alone? What can it do?"
Dorn interrupts, "I don't think you need t—" and is in turn interrupted when Dilmer replies sounding and looking absentminded, "He's not from this universe. I have some theories about what he's doing here, and I don't like any of my conjectures so far, but it's not really anything that would be productive for me to share with you. And no, he's not alone."
Dorn glowers at the gnome as Dilmer continues, "In fact, there's a sort of . . . hmm. Call it a courier, yes. A courier is due to make an appearance in the area tomorrow evening. I wasn't able to glean the exact location from Porp's consciousness—irrespective of the drugs I fed and have continued to feed to him, his mind is highly disorderly. But believe that the courier is actually the spider-centaur creature that I'd previously had slated for you to hunt down. We're going to have a slight change of plans in that regard. I don't want you to hunt for it and capture or kill it now. I want you to observe it, and then follow it clandestinely to see what it does."
Vandersrike eyes up his larger companions warily.
"That sounds safer. I think it would benefit all of us to defer to Lord Vandersrike on covert manners."
"Well, that's not really in my balliwick, but I'll give it a shot."
Glancing around the assembled group, Kaarys asks, "So, when it notices us, because I don't think 'clandestine' is in this lot's repertoire, what should we do? Then do we kill it?"
"If you must resort to lethal force, then that's what will have to happen," Dilmer replies, "but the resource in which we're most lacking is information. I would like for us to gain information without definitively alerting Porp Seventh's masters that we've done so, and for that reason I would like you t do your utmost to follow the courier without alerting it. Failing that, I would prefer it captured rather than killed, so that we might at least learn something from it. The creature you're looking for is likely intelligent, and therefore I would like to question it, but I wouldn't like you to put yourselves in unreasonable danger in order to make that happen."
Kisasi turns to Armund. "We may have to break into separate groups to give our sneaky colleagues a better chance of success. But with aliens running around, I don't want to leave them out in the middle of nowhere on their own."
"That is a reasonable concern," replies Armund. "Even without other...univers-y..." (Armund has the good sense to cringe at his own use of this not-word.) "...threats around, the marsh is full of dangers. Best to have someone nearby who knows the terrain and the inhabitants."
With a nearly-apologetic look to Dorn, he turns to Dilmer. "Any idea why these creatures are here? I mean here, specifically. The marsh. Anything that might give us a starting point?"
Dilmer shrugs, "They want to take over, evidently. Beyond that, I've no idea." He says it matter-of-factly, as if it's an everyday thing for him to speculate that odd not-really-humans from another universe might be trying to take over the world for their own inscrutable purposes.
The gnome produces a scroll from under his robes, and unrolls it into a map of the March of Zeno, which he uses to point out an area to the far southeast edge. "If you can find any clues, I think they'll be somewhere near here. As I said a moment ago, Porp Seventh's mind is very disorderly. But I saw a circle of standing stones in his thoughts, coincident with Armund's and Vandersrike's questions about his masters and any allies of his. There are several such monumenta in this general area."
Since there haven't been any further questions, Dilmer sets aside the map on the same trestle table that was used to collect the loot from the expedition to the bleak banyan plantation, and continues, "It may be helpful for you to question the local serfs. A lot of what I gleaned from Porp's thoughts was gobbledeygook, but I think it's possible that his . . . " the gnome hesitates, and settles on, ". . . his people are attempting to recruit them for an insurrection against the marchioness. I don't know if you'll be able to make it seem plausible that you're not associated with her household, but maybe one or two of you can manage to convince them that you're disaffected with her rule. They're not likely to be much help if they think it might result in their being punished."
Vandersrike looks at his companions. He looks to the gnome.
"Do we have the ability to arrange pardons for serfs who return to the good graces of the March?"
"No," replies Dorn, immediately. Dilmer opens his mouth to speak, but shuts it as the half-orc continues, implacably, "And you wouldn't be wise to misrepresent yourself as being empowered to speak for the marchioness in that regard. She won't honor it, and she's already understandably angry about this morning." Grudgingly, he concedes as Dilmer starts to look like a sad puppy, "If someone tells you something, I think you're probably doing him a favor if you forget his name and what he looks like. These are extraordinary circumstances, so I'm willing to act on rumor. If you follow me."
Dawn, 19 Imogen, 973 IRGreat Hall, Grimilon KeepZeno, Enteria
By the time it gets light enough to see outside, a heavy thunderstorm has moved in. It's breakfast time, and Dorn and Dilmer have made it clear that they're expecting you to go out hunting for Porp's spidery compatriot today.
Armund feels pretty sure that the worst of this storm is happening right now; flashes of lightning and peals of thunder rock the castle roughly once a minute. Likewise, Swarbrick feels pretty sure that by the time you've all finished eating and gotten your mounts and supplies ready, it'll still be rainy, windy and miserable out. But it should be safe to travel by then. Both men feel sure that there'll be a period of calm weather until roughly noon, at which point another storm, this one bigger and lasting longer, will roll through. The worst of it will pass by late afternoon, leaving you with clearing skies overnight.
Swarbrick and Leland, however, feel like they can predict how things will go a bit further out. Maybe it's something in the bones, or a hunch, or just simple pessimism. But they expect a cold snap before mid-morning tomorrow, with temperatures plunging down to freezing by noon, followed by a spritz of sleet, and then the beginnings of a snowstorm that evening.
Leland senses that it's going to be a really nasty one, too. Probably several days' worth of howling winds, accumulations of at least a foot of snowfall, and then a brief warm spell before another wave of cold weather hits. He doesn't know whether the next cold snap will bring snow with it, but the druid feels quite certain that getting caught in the upcoming blizzard will be a death sentence.
You have a very narrow window of opportunity to make this expedition work for you.
Leland speaks up before the group: "As best I can tell, we have an ugly storm coming--perhaps several days of biting cold. I don't advise going out in it, even if we're bundled up. Another storm is sure to follow, as well." He clarifies: "There's a strong risk of both the remaining mounts and us getting frostbite or dying of exposure if we don't hole up a while."
"I agree about the storm and the timetable. So we'll just have to make sure we're back in our warm beds before that happens, eh?" Swarbrick shrugs, "There won't be too many unoccupied hidey-holes if the weather gets as bad as it's looking that it will right now, so we need to know how far out we're traveling to make sure we can be back before it gets that cold."
"That should be doable," says Armund. "I know all of the standing stones in the marsh, so it should be an easy affair to visit them and get back."
He pauses. "Should. But I will be bringing extra wool, because nothing in the marsh is ever really an easy affair."
After taking counsel and braving the storm for long enough to secure cold weather clothing, horse blankets, and similar gear, you're on the road for the southeastern parts of the March, to seek out stone monuments that may have attracted Porp's compatriots. Fortunately, this leg of your trip carries you down a reasonably good road of packed gravel and sand, the kind of thing that serfs break their backs laying down as part of the corvées that are used to extract peacetime taxation from people who are so poor that they don't use cash.
By noon, you're in the general neighborhood, although still not out of the settled part of the Marchioness's fiefdom. Strictly speaking, Armund thinks this area is actually part of the estates of a baron who owes fealty to the marchioness. But that's kind of an academic question, from your perspective as monster hunters.
What isn't academic is that another wave of rainfall and stormy winds seems to be kicking up. Swarbrick, Armund, and Leland all recognize that within the next hour it's going to be pouring down, likely with a dangerous amount of lightning to go with it. It'd be smart of you to find a sheltered spot to wait out the worst of this storm, which will pass by midafternoon.
There are several such places in the general vicinity. Armund thinks that the baron's manor will likely have a small village nearby, which may in turn contain a tavern or similar establishment (and possibly a stable). Another possibility would be to seek shelter at the manor house itself, although getting your foot in the door probably will require some fast talking to reassure the household that you're the marchioness's men. A third option would be for you just to continue in the rain, trusting that if things get bad you can simply demand shelter from some poor serf. They're not allowed to own real weapons, and you're all hardened warriros. So it's hardly as if they can put up a fight.
Noon, 19 Imogen, 973 IRThe Badger's Cellar TavernBarony of Mamor, Enteria
You make it to the village of Mamor just before the bottom falls out of the clouds overhead. Mamor is unprepossessing, but like most manorial villages, it consists of a cluster of residences, buildings for smiths and other crafters, and a few services like a tavern, all surrounded by fields and a common pasture. The baronial manor house is some distance away, looming above the fields, although it's more than close enough see and to reach via a few minutes' brisk walk.
Fortunately, the village's pasture includes a kind of open-sided shack that provides shelter to the serfs' livestock. The presence of a hitching rail and watering trough suggests that it also sees some use as a stable, so you leave your mounts there and walk over to what looks like an alehouse or tavern. The presence of a sign over the door depicting a very crudely carved animal of some kind is suggestive that you've found what passes for a public house in Mamor. The muddy lane down the middle of the village is deserted except for some chickens and geese, which are pecking for insects, shitting copiously, and making a lot of noise. Your arrival sets them off to greater efforts in the last two of these activities, but nobody comes out to see what's stirring them up.
Inside, it's dim and a little smoky, since the illumination is drawn mostly from the fire burning fitfully on an open hearth in the center of the room, and from windows that also serve as ventilation. The tavern is only sparsely inhabited; there's a bony, nervous-looking human male whose position at a crude counter with barrels behind it suggests that he's the tapster. An ugly young woman with a deformed foot sits next to the fire pit, seemingly tending a pot of stew or soup, although "tending" really seems to mean that she sits next to it, mumbling to herself. Next to one of the windows, a couple of greasy-looking young men are nursing a flagon of something and playing some kind of board game.
All four of the tavern's inhabitants stare at you in frank curiosity; in the cases of the men, there's a tinge of wariness as well. The girl doesn't stop muttering to herself, and from the vacant look in her eyes it seems possible that she's slow of wits in addition to being lame.
Vandersrike looks around the establishment. "Food and drink," he calls out to no one in particular. He nods to the homely woman before making his way to the seat closest to a corner.
The man behind the counter brings out a set of wooden bowls, and calls out to the woman, "Put soup in the bowls, Minna." She lurches to her feet and shuffles to obey, while he fills a big leather flagon with wine from one of the taps behind his counter. Once it's filled, he drops it off at Vandersrike's table with a blunt, "Two silvers for this. Five coppers a bowl for the soup. Ale for four coppers a pint, if you want that instead."
Vandersrike estimates that there's probably a gallon of wine in the flagon. It's cheaper than the ale.
Kisasi fishes a single gold coin out of his purse and extends it between finger and thumb to offer to the proprietor. "We're going to be here awhile."
The tapster accepts the coin, looking a bit surprised at the gold, but he simply nods and replies, "I'm called Amer." Pocketing the money, he fishes out a collection of crude earthenware cups from underneath his bar, and sets them where your party's members can get to them. "Hiding from the rain?"
"Surveying the march." Vandersrike wipes down his livery. "Also looking for entertainment. Any man who can drink more than this dwarf," the kobold points to Henrik with a claw, "or this dandy," the claw turns to Swarbrick, "will have his bill compensated and then some. Any man who cannot must pay his own bill."
Vandersrike turns to look at the approaching bowls.
"Do you have any sausage to go with the soup?"
Amer tosses his head in negation. "This is it." The soup turns out to be some kind of thick pottage. Vandersrike sees a lot of beans, along with various herbs and some kind of grain. Maybe a few shreds of egg.
For their part, the other two patrons of the tavern look interested in Vandersrike's offer. But neither comes forward; they may still be feeling a little guarded around strangers.
Vandersrike just out his beak toward one of the two men.
"I am interested in some meat to go with my supper. Is there anyone around here who sells any?"
He points a claw toward the board game.
"When you're done playing, I also want to learn how to play that. I'm tired of this rascal," he points his claw toward Leland, "taking all my money when we play with his cards. I'll buy your drinks if you teach me how to beat him. You have to teach him too or he won't pay up. I'll pay for your dinner too if you teach me better than you teach him."
Vandersrike makes absolutely no effort to hide his "duplicity" from Leland.
Nervously, Amer says that Mamor lacks a butcher, but that someone might be willing to kill and sell a chicken or goose, if Vandersrike would like to buy one.
The gamers, likewise, seem agreeable to working out a deal where they teach Vandersrike to play. One volunteers that he'll go out and fetch someone to sell a chicken if there's a mug of wine waiting for him when he gets back.
Swarbrick takes a seat and a swig from his own flask, eying the flagon of wine. He's not sure whether to be amused by the kobold's behavior or worried by it, but figures, either way, he's out of the rain. Saying nothing, he leans back in his chair looking content to relax and wait the storm out.
Vandersrike nods at the gamer. "Chicken will do nicely. Hurry back. The dandy is well known for making wine disappear and I would hate for poor Amer to run out because the dandy drank it all while I was waiting for your return."
The kobold looks up to the nervous Amer. "How much wine do you have? While I'm asking, how much ale? The dwarf can drink a horse's weight in ale."
The serf disappears outside despite the downpour, presumably to go off and find someone who's willing to part with a chicken.
Amer looks a little uncertain at the questions, but gestures at the two barrels behind his counter. "These are both maybe half full. I tapped them about a week ago. If you drink me dry of this, I can get more without any problems."
Vandersrike thinks the barrels on hand look like they hold sixteen gallons each, when full. So there must be eight gallons each of ale and wine on hand.
Kaarys drinks from his own flask for the time being. Wine that's cheaper than ale isn't quite his cup of...wine. He has no such compunctions with the stew, however. Sparing only a slightly amused glance at the kobold, he sits down and tucks in. After his first bowl disappears, he digs out a gold piece himself and lays it at the end of the table closest to the bar, along with his empty bowl and a look that asks for more soup.
Amer instructs the woman, Minna, to get Kaarys a refill of the stew. Scooping up the gold coin, he asks the elf, politely, "Is there something else I can get you besides pottage, yeoman?"
Kaarys smiles, "Unless you have some fine vintage hidden away, I believe the stew will manage."
"Sorry, it's just table wine here," replies the tapster. "It's not swill, though."
Meanwhile, the gamer turned errand boy comes back in with an old woman in tow. She's got to be seventy if she's a day, and she's got a very agitated chicken clutched by the legs in one hand, flapping its wings and making the distinctive screaming noises that such fowl produce when they're in distress. The old woman ignores the sounds, instead fixing Vandersrike with a flinty glare and demanding, "Are you the lizard that talks? You want a chicken, yes?" Brandishing the poultry, she declares, "Here is a chicken! Look! Very healthy! Two pennies! Only two pennies! Young and tender!"
Amer doesn't even bat an eyelid at this spectacle, even though it's happening in his place of business.
Vandersrike turns to Amer. "I promised this man wine. Would you please pour him some?"
Vandersrike turns back to the old woman. "I am the lizard that talks, yes. If my companion," Vandersrike points at Leland, "inspects your poultry, I will purchase it with his approval."
The errand boy helps himself to a mug and a fill of the wine, and takes a swallow with evident enjoyment, while the elderly woman booms at Vandersrike, "What about cooking this magnificent bird?!? Are you a barbarian lizard, to eat it raw? Is that the way you do things in your burrows? Eat your chickens raw, feathers and all?" Tsking her disapproval, she admonishes, "this is civilization, talking lizard. If you do not know how to cook, then I shall do it for you. For only three more copper pennies, I will slaughter, pluck and clean, and then fry this delicate bird!"
Vandersrike laughs. "My burrows are the court of the Marchioness. If I were to eat your magnificent bird in my burrow, my table would be surrounded by her court!"
Vandersrike looks at Amer. "I hope this exchange does not otherwise disrupt your place of business."
Amer shrugs. "You're buying wine and aren't smashing the place up. Nothing for me to be upset about." At this point, the taverner doesn't even seem terribly nervous, despite the still-screaming chicken that is still clutched in the old woman's fist.
"Amer is a scoundrel, but he's a sensible one!" agrees the old lady, shaking the aforesaid chicken in Vandersrike's direction. She continues, "Now, do you not prefer your chicken fried? Perhaps you'd rather have it roasted over a fire? This also I can do for three pennies."
"If it meets his approval," Vandersrike points to Leland, "then a roasted bird sounds lovely."
Leland, the self-professed leaf-eater, assures Vandersrike, "It seems meet for your noble maw to consume such things, my Lord." To the proprietor, he says, "For my part, a porridge of grain and a bit of bread will be more than sufficient."
Vandersrike nods. "Roast away."
Another shrug from Amer, "No bread, yeoman. Baking for this week isn't 'til tomorrow. I hope the pottage suits you alright."
The old woman nods. "Let's see your money, talking lizard."
Vandersrike pulls out a silver. "I will require change as I am all out of pennies."
The peasant matron takes the silver, gives Amer a meaningful look until the man makes change for her, and then returns five coppers to Vandersrike. This done, she unceremoniously wrings the chicken's neck, then clumps her way outside of the tavern, drawing a small but sharp-looking knife as she goes.
Leland nods graciously and seems perfectly content with the prospect of his pottage. He doesn't flinch at the slaying of the chicken--after all, Raksha routinely devours things.
Armund watches the exchange with a mixture of confusion and mirth on his face.