[WotD] Chapter One - A Rock and a Hard Place

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Cronono
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[WotD] Chapter One - A Rock and a Hard Place

The knocking on the Archdruid's door should have woken him up at three in the morning, but the halfling was already wide awake. Dressed in his nightshirt, Taron opened the door without his crown of antlers. One of Kendarr's lieutenants, the drow Yuson, stood in his doorway. The drow was scowling.

"Archdruid, the tiefling stonemason is mad about something and wants to talk to you about it." Yuson's voice belied patience. It was clear that Yuson was decidedly uninterested in conveying the message of Dyrakus.

"Send him in, send him in." Taron returned to his desk to pour his irate visitor some tea. Yuson turned on his heel to fetch the nighttime visitor.

"Archdruid, we have been deceived!" Dyrakus' voice was far too loud for this late hour. "Sandstone is worthless for this contruction!" Dyrakus then proceeded to launch into a tirade about various types of rock, the feasibility of fortification construction with each type of rock, and a detailed analysis of the various costs associated with each type. After Taron finished drinking the bowl of tea he never had a chance to offer Dyrakus, he held up one hand.

"My friend, are you saying that I need to send someone to get the right rocks for you?" The Archdruid completely disarmed the tiefling.

"That's exactly what I'm saying, Archdruid!" Dyrakus was exasperated. It remained to be seen with whom.

"Then Yuson will send somebody. I'm sure they will get your rocks quite swiftly. For now, please get some rest."

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Yuson gathered the search party shortly before dawn. In the courtyard of the Outpost along the northern wall, he gave their orders.

"Yesterday, a stone merchant from Wet Rocks sold our tiefling stonemason three wagons of stones. Apparently, these stones are not the stones that the tiefling wanted. For some inexplicable reason, the tiefling paid for the stones anyway. The Archdruid has informed me that you are to follow the merchant and bring back our money or bring back our stones. The merchant is a dwarf named Hollinger, and he works for Hilde, Illitar, Lok'ten, and Associates. He carries a warhammer, but Kendarr says he doesn't know how to use the damn thing. Hollinger has about 20 hours on you. The sun is up in 30 minutes, and I want to be asleep by then. Any questions?"

Yuson is supremely annoyed.

deadDMwalking
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"So the merchant has the stones and the money? How does that make sense? What's the name of the stonemason and can we ask him about it? Maybe he pocketed the money. He is a Tiefling." It doesn't even occur to Able that it might be unfair to assume a Tiefling is a natural thief - everyone he ever knew did the same thing.

Cronono
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"Hilde, Illitar, and the other assholes have the stone. That's what they do for money. Since Hollinger works for them, he may have the money and the stone. Bring back either. You can talk to Dyrakus, as long as you don't bug me more than 29 mintues from now."

Yuson taps his foot.

Dafyd
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Charn nods at the orders given to him by Yuson and asks, "What are your orders about the merchants themselves? I am sure leaving them. . .unspoiled. . .is preferred?"

Cronono
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Yuson shrugs. "Where I am from, you would string him up by his toes and feed him to spiders." The drow spits. "Since I'm not from there anymore, do whatever you would normally do that won't get anyone to yell at me." He frowns. "That should just be your standing orders. Do what doesn't get me yelled at."

MinusInnocence
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"Maybe it isn't fraud, but if something is wrong with the goods, the merchant should offer some kind of compensation for the stonemason's trouble. We will get to the bottom of this."

"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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"Considering recent events, I would expect orders like 'don't do anything that gets my hand bitten off'. That's why I tell everyone that'll listen that you're the best boss I've ever had."

Cronono
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Yuson sighs at Able's response. "I saved thousands of lives with that hand, Able. I'd give up the other one again in a heartbeat." The drow spits.

FoxWyrd
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Raven Sarifoli

Raven tilts her head at the Drow as he spits and then turns her head to Able.  She doesn't say anything, but she seems intent to watch the conversation and see where it goes.

"You have the same twenty-four hours as me; don't be mad just because you don't use yours like I do." -Tupac Shakur

Cronono
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Yuson nods at the assembly. He points to a well kept hovel with an active chimney. "The blasted tiefling is in there. You can see the smoke coming out of his kiln. If you need anything from him, or if you want to take him with you, that's fine. I'm going to bed. When I wake up tonight, I look forward to stories of your valor recovering rocks."

Yuson walks away from the party, heading toward the barracks. The courtyard is starting to get busy in the predawn light, with the handful of vendors and peddlers who made it to the frontier trying to turn a profit. Yuson manages to slip between a wagon carrying a load of fruit and a merchant yelling at a farmer before he disappears from view.

To the west, the road leading back toward civilization is open. The guards posted at the gate make perfunctory efforts to inspect incoming wares. Archdruid Taron has a more liberal interpretation of contraband statutes than many Imperial barristers; the guards are primarily interested in preventing greenskin and scaled interlopers from emerging inside the pallisade.

Cronono
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Finding the stonemason's home isn't difficult. In the pre-dawn hours, the lingering tendrils of sleep still permeate the minds of the merchants in the Outpost streets like a tranquil unending sea. Like any reasonably sized body of water, a little disruption sends out waves and waves and waves.

"Agitator!" The ultimate insult of the Dictatorial Creed erupted from the angry dwelling of the stonemason. Some of the men and women setting up their carts to sell their goods ignored the outburst. Some of them smiled. Some of them, however, were caught off-guard by the vulgarity.

Peering into Dyrakus' home, it is very clear that the tiefling loves his craft. Carefully shaped stone composes all of the tiefling's furniture, from the tables and the chairs to the bed and shelves. His abode is spartan, but for a rather large pile of a white dust on the floor. Dyrakus himself sits with his legs spread around the pile, holding two halves of what appears to be a rock.

deadDMwalking
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"We need to ask you a few questions about the recent order you refused."

Cronono
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Dyrakus stands up, an impressive task for his 6'5" frame. He holds up one half of the rock in his hand and says angrily: "This. I was deceived about this!" He tosses the rock to Able. As Able catches it, it crumbles.

"My job here is to help rebuild the Outpost into the glory it had when it was Castle Vuzuvaan! I can't do that with inferior materials. Sure, the stone on the exterior of the wagon was a beautiful white adamant, but the interior of the cargo was worthless chalk!" He almost sobs, a faint tear welling up from his good eye.

He asks Able, his tiefling compatriot: "Are you experienced with stone?"

deadDMwalking
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"I have other interests. I trust you to determine the quality of the stone and reject that which is unworthy of your project. What I don't understand is why you paid for the stone that you rejected. Why does the merchant have both the useless stone and your money?"

Cronono
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Dyrakus shakes his head. "I originally thought that the shipment was legitimate and therefore authorized the disbursement from the Outpost's treasury. As Hollinger never gave me the stone we ordered from Hilde, Illitar, Lok'ten, and Associates, I must assume Hollinger still has the shipment we requested. Given that he has the Outpost's money, I would be surprised if he spent it already!" The one-horned tiefling shakes his head.

"Do you need me to go with you? Is that what this is about? If so, I have already packed my bag." He pulls open the top of an ornate stone chest, revealing a backpack.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb nods. "It couldn't possibly hurt, unless you antagonize them further when we get there. At the very least, it would save us another trip, because I know nothing about rocks and might come back with yet another shipment you would be dissatisfied with."

"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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"Your presence would be a welcome boon. Not only can you validate the quality of any stone we find, you can help ensure we don't accost the wrong merchant."

Cronono
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Dyrakus smiles. His bright white teeth contrast sharply with his remaining black horn.

"An adventure it is, then!" As he picks up his bag, sharp metallic objects striking each other can be heard, along with the rattling of various small objects.

Dafyd
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Charn watches these goings on with mild interest and nods in agreement. "A jolly gallivant it will be, I am sure," he says dryly. "I'm certain that when faced with his array of options," the dragonkin says with an intimidating rattle of his chain mail as he shifts his weight, "our dear business associate will come to agree that making amends peacably is the best course of action." His voice has a low, rumbling sound, a bit like an avalanche rolling off in the distance, and one may wonder if that's the smell of fresh snow on his breath.

Cronono
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There are two roads leading out of the Outpost, both headed West. One takes a northerly route, tracing the outline of the Wet Rocks River, while the other bends sharply to the South, eventually approaching Orcus' Rest. Dyrakus witnessed the merchant taking the northerly road to the Outpost and believes that Hollinger typically takes the northerly road out of the Outpost.

A few hours into the travel, Caleb is the first to notice that a tree bent over the road has a pair of dwarven feet hanging from a branch. It doesn't take long to see that the rest of the dwarven woman is dangling by her neck from a branch. Her boots are gone and her toes dangle about 12 feet off the ground. She still wears the livery of Elector Gladestrider, the ostensible governor of territory that includes the Outpost. From the rest of her heraldry, Charn deduces that she is likely a tax collector. There appears to be some sort of note nailed to her chest, but it is impossible to read from the ground. What is obvious is the stylized C that was painted onto her back. Charn also realizes that this "C" is a rallying mark of communist rebel groups, although it would take a more knowledgeable theologian with better access to the marking to deduce which one.

Dyrakus begins retching at the side of the road.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb makes a face but steels himself. He shrugs the pack off his shoulders and sets it next to the tree, then looks for the most obvious way to safely get her body down from there.

"A moment's rest for any who don't want to help. But I cannot leave her for the crows."

"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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"Why not? They need to eat, too. It's work to cut her down and more work to bury her. And that means the stone mason gets further ahead, so it's even more work to catch up. We're being paid to settle the masonry business, not to pick sides in a civil war." Able tries to discern if the tree would give him a vantage point to espy the merchant, but he has no interest in the body.

Dafyd
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Charn's eyes narrow to molten silvery slits as he considers Able's words. "Well, then. Let us split the difference. We'll bring her with us. I'm sure they'll want their compatriot back to render proper honors."

deadDMwalking
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"Sure, but let's get her on the way back. I don't think we need to worry about her wandering off." Able continues, "Carrying around a corpse isn't the best way to make a good impression."

Dafyd
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Charn grimaces and continues to haggle. "I tell you what. Give me five minutes, and I'll at least hide her body higher in the tree so no one else bothers it, and then we'll retrieve it on the way back." With that, the dragonkin proceeds to climb the tree.

Cronono
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The tree is some variety of Oak, and Charn is able to find easy footing as he ambles up to the tax collector's remains. Now that he is much closer to the dwarf, he is able to inspect the note affixed to her chest, which reads:

Tyrants are monsters who would lord over their fellow citizens! The Thousandfold Men of Industry will fight back against all oppressors! Death to the exploiters of the people!"

Additionally, Charn sees that the tax collector was a member of the Satrapy of Faith. The ideal ceremony for a deceased member of the Satrapy would be to be laid out on a marble altar consecrated for this purpose, then to be slowly turned into ash by a procession of clerics casting Sacred Flame cantrips over the course of an hour while he contributions to the community were recounted by loved ones. In less ideal circumstances, anyone casting Sacred Flame would be sufficient. In war, it is acceptable to simply burn the body with a torch.

Finally, Charn questions what happened to the tax collector's companions. Very few tax collectors travel alone.

deadDMwalking
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Despite Able's ancestry, he is himself a mortal being. He uses the rest stop appropriately.

FoxWyrd
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Raven Sarifoli

Raven watches Charn scoop up the body and begin to make his way towards where he planned to deposit this fellow.  "To what end does this serve us?" she asks, her words calculated and cold like the frigid air of a cold winter's morning. "There is a calculable Risk-Reward ratio here and I simply can not find any point at which it balances in our favor--so again I ask, why are we concerning ourselves with the wills of a man who has left this world for another?" 

"You have the same twenty-four hours as me; don't be mad just because you don't use yours like I do." -Tupac Shakur

Dafyd
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Charn mutters something profane about Bahamut's balls or some such in Draconic as he fishes the dead dwarf's body up and proceeds to stabilize her to one of the thicker branches on the tree. He calls down to his companions, "She was one of the tax collectors, looks like, and ran afoul of the 'Thousandfold Men of Industry,' whatever that is." The warrior pats the dead body respectfully and assures it, "We'll be back for you to ensure you get proper honors. Just...Ah. Don't fall or get eaten." With that, he tries to climb back down the tree. "There. Off we go."

deadDMwalking
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"Proper honors? You're guessing a lot. There are a few people I wouldn't mind seeing left dead in a ditch somewhere." Able continues, "If someone cares about them, they can pay to see them taken care of. Digging graves is a profession - you're robbing some of the hardest working people around by doing their work for free."

Dafyd
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To that, Charn responds congenially, "I care about it. I'll see to it on the return trip." He's ready to get a move-on now.

deadDMwalking
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Able seems unable to allow Charn the last word and mutters to himself, "Just seems like you're asking for a disease. I don't even like handling a dead chicken."

Dafyd
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As he marches along, Charn has moved onto other things, apparently. After a few minutes, he observes, "There are many ways to eat a chicken, but I do prefer them to be dead first."

FoxWyrd
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Raven Sarifoli

Raven walks a few feet behind Charn and snickers a little at his comment.

"You have the same twenty-four hours as me; don't be mad just because you don't use yours like I do." -Tupac Shakur

Cronono
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Two more hours of walking yields nothing but crisp morning air. The sun rises to the east and warms the backs of the travelers. While Dyrakus periodically grumbles about amenities such as a hot tea or breakfast, the travelers still make remarkably good time as they go. At the end of the second hour, signs of wear along the road make it clear that a tremendously heavy wagon parked in this location for some time.

The wagon itself pulled off the main thoroughfare and up the path toward a barn. This far from the outpost, scattered farms are the only form of civilization in the wilderness. It would not be unusual to see several farmhands working the land at this hour. The area around the barn, however, looks barren. There is a house, maybe 150 yards from the barn. The land is clearly well cared for and maintained. However, there isn't even a grazing farm animal to indicate that there is any sign of sentient life near the barn.

deadDMwalking
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"I suppose we should follow the wagon."

MinusInnocence
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"Yes. Announcing ourselves would be prudent, I think. No need to make anyone inside nervous." The cleric begins moving up the path toward the barn, his hands in the open and nowhere near his weapons.

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

MinusInnocence
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Caleb clears his throat and projects his voice so it should be audible even across the divide between his current position and the merchants inside the barn, if any. "Good morning! We come from the Outpost. We're escorting a stonemason named Dyrakus and are looking for the merchant Hollinger."

He looks back over his shoulder at the rest of the party before turning to the barn and continuing. "We don't want any trouble. Just helping renegotiate a deal."

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

Cronono
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A heretofore unseen door on the side of the door bursts open. A little boy, maybe two and a half feet tall with the stocky build of a half dwarf and the angular facial features of a half elf, runs as fast as his tiny legs can take him toward the cleric. From inside the barn, an adolescent woman cries out: "Garesh! No!"

As the child continues toward Caleb, he is clearly in an agitated state. He holds his arms wide as he runs toward the cleric, a universal sign that even a human recognizes as a desire to be hugged, held, and carried.

In the doorway, the adolescent woman appears with a loaded hunting crossbow. She has the same dwarven/elven features as young Garesh. Similarly, the young woman has the same signs of agitation as the boy, though only Caleb's discerning eye recognizes her weariness. The remainder of the companions see only the young woman's fierce demeanor and the finger she holds precariously close to the crossbow trigger.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb smiles and holds his hands out wider. He nods to the girl. "We mean you no harm. Do you know anything about what I mentioned? We will help you even if you can't help us."

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

Cronono
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Young Garesh grabs Caleb's left leg, holding tightly to the human's calf. "You'll save me from the bad men even though I'm not villein, right?" Garesh correctly pronounces the word for followers of the Feudal Order with closed eyes. "I'm a good friend of the villeins! Ask Orien!" Garesh spins around to point at the crossbow wielding woman in the barn door. His right hand still clings to Caleb's shin. "Orien! Tell him I'm good!"

The young woman tenses as Garesh grabs Caleb's leg, waiting for signs that Caleb intends the boy harm. "Yes, Orien, the satraps are good friends with the villeins. Villeins and satraps tend not to get along too good with commies though." She points the crossbow away from the travelers, although it remains ready in her left hand. With her right, she points toward Caleb. "Are you travelling with commies, villein?"

MinusInnocence
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Caleb frowns and gently places a hand on the boy's head. "No, child. I am afraid we saw some of their handiwork on the road on the way here, however. A tax collector has either been murdered by Communists or her killers tried very hard to make it look that way."

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

Cronono
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The boy starts to yell. "NO! NO! NO!" His knees slowly give out as he collapses to the ground. With his right hand still on Caleb's leg, he begins pounding the ground with his left fist. His emotive display of grief masks the approach of Orien, crossbow-less, who scoops up the child with tears in her own eyes.

At this distance, Charn can clearly see the tax collector's features reflected in the faces of Garesh and Orien.

Dafyd
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The dragonkin grimaces when he makes the connection between the half-dwarf family and the slain dwarf. "We made sure her remains were unspoiled and safe from meddling. It was an ugly thing they did." He thinks a moment and offers, "I would like to return her body to you. Can you give us any leads at the task at hand? I pledge we'll see she's honored properly after we're finished with our present business."

Cronono
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"Commies. Damned commies." Orien whispers the condemnation from behind her quivering lip. Garesh continues to wail into Orien's shoulder. "They came to our uncle and threatened to kill our mother, his sister, unless he gave them some rocks that he delivers to The Outpost from his job in Wet Rocks. He was supposed to deliver the rocks yesterday. He didn't make it here until earlier this morning. Our mother was on her way to The Outpost to . . ." Orien holds the back of Garesh's head as she tries to console the boy. "She wanted to get your help."

Dyrakus shakes his head. He mutters something under his breath, which Raven overhears as an admonishment: "Hollinger should have told me. Fool."

"Please, come with me." Orien, who did not hear the remark, carries Garesh back toward the barn.

Raven notices that the barn is inelegantly fortified, as if someone who had never been in a battle attempted to quickly make it inaccessible to attackers. While she inspects the rush job, Caleb, Charn, and Able all hear a groan from inside the barn.

deadDMwalking
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Able had seen the relationship before anyone had said anything, but he had a good eye for figuring out alliances and ties of kinship. If there was going to be a fight, best to know who would stand together. He would have tried to break the news more delicately - despite his fiendish appearance he wasn't a monster - but the deed was done.

"I'm sorry we didn't think we'd find family out here. We didn't think it would be proper to take her farther from the city, but we didn't know we would come across her kin out here. I wish I had more to offer you than my condolences." In point of fact, Able is probably glad that they already have a mission and he silently prays that nobody from his group tries to offer to bring the killers to justice.

FoxWyrd
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Raven Sarifoli

Raven looks at the barn and then to the woman, but doesn't say much.  She makes a mental note of this.

"You have the same twenty-four hours as me; don't be mad just because you don't use yours like I do." -Tupac Shakur

Cronono
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The inside of the barn is crowded with confused sheep, all herded around a wagon full of beautiful white rock. A dwarf sits on a stool on the second floor nursing a crossbow bolt lodged in his leg.

"Hollinger, you agitator!" The tiefling's attempts to approach the ladder leading to the wounded man are stymied by the teeming masses of unshorn sheep in the barn.

"Aye, I'ma right bastard, Dyrakus. I'll be a dead right bastard if the commies come a'callin. Can you save mah sister's kids? You do that and I'll make it all up to yeh." The groaning stone merchant yells down from above, doing everything he can not to disturb his wound.

"I ought to let you hang, you agitator!" Dyrakus is still incensed and the sheep are not helping alleviate his frustration.

"Yeh said that already, Dyrakus. But the commies are going to come here, they're going to kill me, they're going to kill the kids, and they're going to take your stone for some reason. If you want your white adamant, you gotta save the kids." The stone merchant attempts to load a hunting crossbow, but it is manifestly obvious to the travelers that he does not know how to use the device.

Orien, still holding the wailing Garesh, yells up to Hollinger. "Uncle, can we just run away?"

Caleb is the first one to hear the drums. They are still distant but audible. Someone is coming.

Dafyd
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Charn claps himself on the forehead with the palm of his gauntlet and mutters, "Damn! We're in a tight spot." Grimacing, he wonders to Hollinger, "How big of a group do you suppose they'll bring?"

deadDMwalking
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"Fortunately there is an easy solution. Give us our money back and we'll keep the kids safe when we return to the fortress. They'll probably want to exterminate the commies." Able concludes. "Time is of the essence."

MinusInnocence
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Caleb turns toward the door to regard the sound of drumbeats. He looks back at the girl. "Justice comes calling sooner than any of us expected, it seems," he offers and shrugs. He wades through the sea of woolly impediments and clasps the ladder, raising his voice as if in prayer. "The roads of the State bring our quarry close enough for Law to come crashing down on their heads! Even now, the institution they rail against urges them closer to their deaths." When he reaches the top, he clasps his holy symbol and places a hand around the bolt through the dwarf's leg. He snaps it off, then reaches under the man's leg and tugs the other end all the way through. "May the will of our lords, instilled with the virtue of Divine Right, bolster your spirit."

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

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