Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Reclaiming the Taptet Village, Part 6: Terms of Employment

The returning adventurers receive curious looks and some cheering from the Primes at work in Goswort's fields. The remorshka's claws and Neyorra's grisly trophy announce that they've met with some success, at minimum. Violetbloom and Mayor Goswort are two of those working in the fields, but they're glad to quit early and hear what the party's found. "It's near enough suppertime as is."

The mayor persuades her husband to throw together some snacks for the conquering heroes. Supper is already started, and "will be ready when it's ready," Mayor Goswort says with a sigh. "Another hour and a third or so." She evicts the children and their tutor from her dining room and settles the group around it to hear their report.

Their hosts are suitably impressed by the felling of the remorshka, and suitably sympathetic regarding Eddy's injuries. The mayor notes down the number of slunder they killed, including the three bagged specimens (one of which died in transit, but the other two survived and look, if anything, a bit better for the journey.) She does a quick accounting, then excuses herself. A ninth of an hour later, she returns with a wallet full of five- and ten-lozen pieces. She counts them out . "Three hundred lozens for scouting, fiften slunder at twenty lozens each, and eight hundred for felling the remorshka. Fourteen hundred in all. There." She pushes the pile of lozens before the adventurers. Violetbloom twitches her antennae, a bit alarmed. The Herethroy takes possession of the bag with the two still-living slunder while Goswort continues, "I don't like my people to have to wonder when the money's coming. You've earned it. Now ... what else did you find out about the village?"

Wintermint crouches in a corner, cleaning cloth rubbing the wood of her sword. Snapping an antenna toward the cani, she says "Tell the lady what we found, please."

Raspberry says, "Well, everybody's dead, obviously. And there's more monsters still lurking, so I wouldn't go heading back with plows and hoes just yet. And... some other stuff."

Raspberry looks uncomfortable, and glances at Dzahni, uncertain about whether they should tell the rest in front of everybody, although she really really wants to.

Violetbloom asks, "Were you able to identify the remaining monsters?"

Eddy says, "The remains of the monsters? Well, only by species. We didn't know them personally."

Dzhani is smiling, her tail wagging, and looking around as much as she's looking at people. At Wintermint's order she startles, "Ah! Oh, yes. We found a couple more monsters, and some other disturbing things. Right... right... what my commander always used to say, keep it short."

"The one and many monsters, they are still there and waiting to make the rubber toy of Prime and non-Prime both," Neyorra adds in what is certainly a doomsome warning tone, somewhat punctuated by her snuggling of her severed tail trophy. She pushes her head into it, purring slightly, her hood thrown back while indoors.

Eddy notes, "But we have names. We have the paperwork of their apothecary, listing mostly who died at the beginning."

Raspberry says, "Neyorra thinks they're inkutta. We didn't get a close look at them though. Wings and six legs, could be lots of things."

The lilac-shelled Herethroy glowers at Eddy and looks to Raspberry for an answer. "Ah. Thank you."

"We saw two possible Inkutta," Dzhani explains, "as well as some evidence that the Remorshka was lured there. The Slunder were also tampered with, to make them exceptionally vicious."

Goswort is looking at Dzhani, meanwhile. Her whiskers twitch. "Go on," she says, her voice carefully neutral. "Please."

Neyorra rolls her back on to the tail, paws in the air, wiggling to get comfortable. "It is being the very clever monster trap for monsters," the sleeth says, sounding appreciative, "and it is being the definate trap: slunder are not to be putting the poison in their own nest, remorshka are not luring remorshka with yellow flag and kythsoyis scent."

"Where's the yellow flag? Oh! I have it, here. Yes, you can smell the Khytsoyis, well, I can. Eddy says that's a typical way of leading them, and Neyorra too." Dzhani continues, fishing out the evidence. Pausing for a moment to look somewhat vacantly at Goswort.

"I've heard of yellow flags, but I didn't know anything was attracted to Khtsoyis scent," Violetbloom says, kinking her antennae.

Eddy says, "Oh, the flag only works if someone's WAVING it. See?"

Raspberry smiles at her joke.

"Kythsoyis scent is attracted to the scent of the many and heavy bag of lozen," Neyorra explains to the Mayor. She finally looks comfortable, forepaws in the air, hindlegs twisted in what would indicated a major spinal injury in any other Prime species.

Eddy thinks . o O ( This is a lot of money! )

Dzhani shakes her head, "Oh no, the Khtsoyis was the one holding it. Very unhappy to be doing so too. Oh! And there was something suspicious about the pond, it smelt very bad. A lot like the plague victims. We were going to investigate that when we spotted the Inkutta."

Eddy thinks . o O ( I can afford those boots from Umberline's now.! )

Goswort looks at the remains of the yellow cloth, as does the Herethroy militia leader, though neither of them try smelling it. Even a scent that's obvious to a Cani would be overlooked by them anyway. "So you think that someone brought hostile monsters to the village on purpose. That Primes did. Or at least a Khtsoyis. You said the slunder were ... what, poisoned? Magicked? Could you tell how, or by whom?"

Eddy says, "It's non-magical, so harder, but maybe with more work."

"To recap, the village is empty of friendlies, there are an unknown number of unknown but probably not friendlies, and signs that this was done by person or persons unknown, it didn't just happen." Wintermint puts the sword away, and starts working on her crossbow. "The question is, do you want to discuss hiring us for further work?"

Eddy notes, "That's why we brought the slunder with us. They're cluefull!"

"Well, Slunder can also be led, by red and blue lights or balls. These particular ones had churshash venom in them, their nests? Makes them more aggressive. Don't stick your nose in the bag!" Dzhani sits up, crossing her arms on the table as she bobs her head to continue. "So, we discovered the how, but not the who, and Wintermint wraps it all up nicely, yes."

Raspberry says, "Oh, you were planning to question them, Eddy?"

Raspberry says, "We could still go back and try to clean up the rest of the monsters. You're paying a bounty for that much already anyway."

Eddy says, "Pararenenzu, more than the slunder themselves. But actually...hmm!"

Eddy gets distracted with the planning for a spell to make the slunder actually talk...

Violetbloom looks at the bag she's holding as if it were a poisonous snake, instead of just holding poisonous snakes. "Slunder don't usually say much. What were you going to do with them?"

"It is costing the additional lozen to find the mage to be tracing the arcane connection to the kythsoyis who is holding the flag," adds Neyorra regarding finding. "We are finding the kythsoyis, we are maybe finding the employer, and the plot."

Eddy jumps up. "YES! YES! THAT'S IT!"

Eddy dashes from the room to find the bag of slunder. This will be awesome!

Raspberry says, "We might also want to talk to the taptet again, to see if they remember anything useful about events leading up to the, um, events."

Raspberry glances after Eddy as he rushes out of the room, then back towards the bag of slunder apparently still in Violetbloom's hand.

Wintermint says, "Orren."

Dzhani watches Eddy rush off. "He's wonderful, isn't he?"

The slunder inside the bag in Violetbloom's hands hiss a bit.

Wintermint says, "I think that was Slunder for 'Orren'."

Dzhani looks back at the Mayor and Violetbloom, "So, we could look into that some more for you, and we'd like to talk to the Taptet, like Raspberry suggested. What's the bounty for a monster that can turn you rubbery?"

"And, are you paying the fee for the mage who will trace the arcane connection and maybe is finding the khtsoyis," inquires the sleeth, who is now itching her hind leg against Dzhani's chair leg.

Goswort blinks at the orren's performance, and curls her tail around her waist anxiously. Her husband comes in, carrying a platter of mixed glasses and bowls of milk o'quits, and wine. "Thank you, dear," she says to him. He waves and heads back out. "Roast chub beetles are almost done, and grancakes for the Herethroy."

Eddy returns, looking alarmed. "Someone's stolen the evidence! The slunders aren't in my bag where I left them."

Eddy sees Violetbloom, holding the bag. He looks additionally alarmed!

Raspberry says, "Stop."

Raspberry holds a hand out towards Eddy. "She didn't steal them."

Violetbloom looks nonplussed.

"I was under the impression I'd bought them," Violetbloom adds, pointing to the pile of lozens on the table.

Eddy oh, that's right. We were well paid.

Eddy pauses. Then looks theatrically relieved. "Well, everything's all right then!"

Eddy sits down. Over <-- here, where he won't botch anything.

"Eddy is being the bad adventurer but the good orren, to be being the dead adventure soon perhaps," Neyorra explains with no great energy, rolling her head back from watching the spectacle to stare up at the Mayor some more.

Goswort addresses Dzhani. "We'd like you to finish clearing the village, yes, of these Inkutta and anything else that's left. You said there were more slunder, too? And of course you're welcome to speak with the Taptet, I'm sure they'll be happy to help. The bounty on Inkutta is ... ?" she looks to Violetbloom.

Raspberry tries to divide the lozens up into six even piles to pass them out, but can't seem to quite get it to work out right.

Raspberry gets frustrated and settles for five piles of 235 and one of 225, and just takes the small one.

Eddy hasn't seen that much money in...well, since the big senet jackpot last Oix.

"Well we ran through a bunch that are probably still angry we got away, and we didn't investigate every line of the treerows, so there are more." Dzhani agrees, "Okay, and I guess you want us to look into who was leading monsters there? I mean, they were almost leading them right here, it's not that far of a walk! They'd probably come here too, once they get tired of digging up Taptet graves. Well, the smarter more wandery ones, anyhow."

Neyorra sits up at the sound of lozens clattering her way, and after undoing her lozen pouch with her mouth, leans it against the table before pushing her lozens inside with a paw. She resecures her purse, then flops down with her head resting in to, snuggling up to her money as well as her tail pillow.

Violetbloom pulls out a small worn pamphlet and flips through it. "I've not got them listed. What are they rated at?"

Dzhani looks at Eddy, who has Affan in esoteric knowledge, such as how dangerous monsters from another branch are.

Wintermint works to straighten the fletching on a bolt, and whimsically answers "Hhmm, rated at? 17 warriors, 13 mages and an orren. The orren is what ups the difficulty."

"I am having the question," says the comfortable yet possibly boneless sleeth, "the trees, I am burning them all down? There are being many trees and many slunder, and I am not wanting to fight them all; perhaps I am being okay with the napping while they are dying."

Raspberry says, "They might just be guarding the pathways through the trees, Neyorra. Then we wouldn't have to burn down the whole hedgerow."

Eddy sings, o/` Land-eels, roasting on an open fiii-re... o/`

"They are attacking and biting of sleeth leg while sleeth is leaving town in the random direction of safe fleeing," Neyorra points out.

"... I'd really rather not you start a forest fire a few miles from here, if it's all right." Goswort looks alarmed.

Raspberry says, "Well, those of us who can't fly needed to flee along one of the paths, so it wasn't as random as it might have looked."

Eddy sings, o/` Land-eels, surviving through the magnaminity of prudent local governance... o/`

Even Eddy can't make that melodious. Oh well.

"Verid will be happy, Flokin and Neyorra will not be," says the sleeth with an air of being put upon. "The Inkutta, they are being rated at three warriors. More if some are fleeing from the screaming of Prime turned rubber friends."

"That'd be 150 lozens each, then," Violetbloom answers.

Eddy thinks . o O ( I've never been made of latex before. )

Dzhani wags her tail, ears perked, a smile on her muzzle, "Okay, and the turning into rubber, that wears off Neyorra? Because... I think only Luxlead is comfortable with that state, and we'd want to be sure we could afford to be turned back."

Raspberry says, "Neyorra could probably turn us into pocker, in the worst case."

Eddy oohs. That's catchy!

"I don't think a rubber pocker would be an improvement." Dzhani doesn't look at Eddy, she doesn't.

"Maybe we are asking for the more lozens for the unrubbering," suggests Neyorra.

"And, well, I suppose we'd like you to find out who led the monsters there." Goswort twists her napkin in her lap. Her husband comes in carrying a tray of grancakes, made with hosh and cyanberries, with honey oil on the side for dipping, and roast chub-beetles with certhany and a hint of arhoolie.

Eddy's whiskers twitch.

Dzhani focuses on Violetbloom, tilting her head a little, "Is that okay, a bonus of lozens for any of us that get turned to rubber, if it looks like it's sticking? Except Eddy of course, he'll probably try to do it for academic purposes."

Tying the crossbow back in place on her pack, Wintermint says, "'Like' seems a bit restrained. The only way I can see finding out that information is as Neyorra said, paying a mage to trace the arcane connection. That's expensive, are you that interested?"

The Rassimel mayor waits until her husband's left again before she continues. "Though, the thing is ... well ... would it be a crime? If we could prove that someone had put those monsters there on purpose?" She gives Raspberry a hopeful look.

Luxlead hasn't had much to say thus far. He looks much more interested in the cakes, but a pair of eyestalks do stay trained on the conversing group.

Eddy shakes his head. "No, no -- that's the point, the cleverness. There is no arcane connection they way it was done. Poison isn't magical. That's why it's harder!"

Wintermint says, "Shoggy scent, Eddy. If a person's odor isn't a connection, then I don't know what would be."

Raspberry says, firmly, "It should be! But you'd probably have a hard time arguing it in court," she admits, antennae drooping.

Wintermint says, "No primes were harmed or threatened. I doubt you could build a case where the courts - of law or of the duke - would care much if non-primes were the victimes."

Eddy says, "I'd have to agree, yes. No law in wilderness, and legally that's wilderness because it's only taptet cultivating it."

Neyorra nods, which also happens to rub her face against her sword hilt, scratchy-like. "I am the agreeing sleeth. No one is caring of the monster against monster plot. It is the town against town plot you are wanting, then the Primes are the interested Primes. More and better if the plot is being greater still," she explains.

The Rassimel nods, sinking back into her chair. She nibbles distractedly at a roast chub beetle. Violetbloom clears her thorax and gives the mayor a pointed look. "They asked about injury bonuses?"

"Mmm? Oh! Yes. We'll pay for undoing any transformation endured in our service, yes," she tells the adventurers.

Dzhani takes a grancake and splits it, sniffing the aroma that wafts from the broken halves, then dips one in the honey oil. She chews, listening intently.

Dzhani looks between Wintermint and the Mayor, "So, we should see what we can find out if further evidence shows up, or with Eddy improvising something, but not go to the expense of a mage right now. Hmmm... there is a spell that's really good for this, but I can't afford it, and it's not a cantrip, but I've wanted it for a while."

Goswort finishes her chub beetle and has a swallow of some milk o'quits to wash it down. "So ... I'd like to know who did it, of course. I'd like to see them punished for it. Especially if Primes actually caused the plague." She shudders att the thought, then shakes her head. "But I can't really justify spending my village's coffers to find out. Not much, anyway. And I can hardly buy vengeance against Primes for an act of villainy to non-primes, can I? That would be a crime."

Dzhani nods in response to the Mayor, her ears splaying a little to the sides of her head as she remembers the graves. "Yes, it probably would be, to pay to get revenge if someone caused that. Um... are the Taptet going to move back? Oh, well, they probably haven't decided. We should worry about clearing the area before worrying about what happens after."

Wintermint breaks a grancake in half, and nods at the Rassimel "To sum it up, you want us to continue to clear the hazards from the former Taptet village, for the usual bounties. You will cover the annulment of being transformed to rubber, if it happens in the pursuit of clearing the hazards." She dips the cake in the honey-oil, nibbles on it, then continues "And while you'd like to find out who was behind the luring of the monsters to the village, you reasonably don't wish to spend any real amount of amber on it. Does that cover it?"

Goswort splays her ears, and nods to Wintermint. "... basically. I -- I will pay to find out who was behind it," she says, with an uncertain resolve. She holds up a hand to forestall Violetbloom's objections. "I'll use my own savings. I'll pay you ... um ... 300 lozens, if you can get me something conclusive. Something that'd hold up in court, if it were Prime against Prime. Less for information that's not that decisive. I know that's not much, not compared to the bounties on monsters, but, well, that's what I can afford," she says, apologetically.

Raspberry says, "Thanks. I'm glad someone cares, at least."

"These are great, I see why you like them." Dzhani finishes her gran cake, then starts on her chub beetle. She takes a fork and prys off the hind legs, cracking the thigh expertly then using the tines to split the carapace so she can suck out the tiny morsel of meat. With the other leg, she pours a little honey oil on it just before eating the meat. She nods to the bug, the bigger bug who is her co-adventurer, "That's good, right Wintermint? We're getting paid to see what we can find out?"

Neyorra lets her head drop, and her eyes close somewhere during the conversation. Her ears twitch now and then, but she's since stopped providing input. She does look very comfortable, at least.

The herethroy wiggles a midhand in response to the cani's question. "Good, yes, but I can't think of a way to get the information short of an expensive mage. While I'd like to help, I can't honestly see us pulling that off. Clearing the critters out, yes, that I think we can do."

Raspberry says, "Sometimes criminals make mistakes. We might get lucky. And, um, this non-criminal might also have made a criminal-like mistake."

"Perhaps you'll find something else, when you get back to their village," Gosowrt says, optimistic.

"Perhaps." Wintermint says, politely, but with a lack of optimism. "Does anyone have any further questions, or objections? Or should we just assume a lack of response means assent?" She asks, looking around at the adventurers.

Eddy seems to be distracted, calculating something. Assume his lack of response means assent, it's convenient that way.

"Dinner should be ready soon," the mayor says, with a glance at the clock. "If you'd like to talk with the Taptet afterwards, that's fine."

Eddy says, "We ought to be careful talking to the taptet. We've just come back from the village, and the plague could be on us just from being there."

Neyorra's response, as it is, seems to be to pull the tail close against her head with her forepaws. Then, she twists her head and hides her eyes from the light.

Raspberry says, "Yeah, make sure to wash up first, if you haven't already." She already washed the icky dead body odor off herself before even thinking about going to dinner.

Dzhani nods to Wintermint, "It sounds like it's all sorted out."

Although the icky dead body odor is off of Raspberry, it's distinctly pungent on the sleeth. Well, technically, it's the dead-remorshka-tail scent, but it's still pretty bad.

The adventurers finish off the remaining appetizers, and those who've not cleaned up yet wash up before dinner (or are strongly encouraged to wash up, in any case.) Dinner is sociable; the locals even treat Luxlead well after the party's evident successes. They still give Neyorra a wide berth, but that might just be the rotting smell and the flies from that dead thing she's dragging around.

After dinner, Eddy goes for another swim while the rest of the adventurers gather with three of the Taptet down by the lakeside. The Taptet present are Redcoat, Tansy-eyes, and Brightspots. There are two others, but they're only kids and the adults are trying to spare them from further trauma.

The sleeth sat up and joined people for dinner, or perhaps woke up for dinner; only Dzhani ever seems to know if Neyorra is sleeping or just listening and resting. Now, after cleaning herself up and storing her trophy, she's joined the others before taptet, and is currently watching them with her seemingly blinkless stare.

Tansy-eyes speaks first. "The Mayor said you found Grandfather's journal."

Raspberry's antennae curl up as she nears the taptet. She seems embarassed to be talking to them, for some reason.

"Hi, we're here to help." Dzhani starts off, trying to be as gregarious as possible, smiling, even though she has a bit of a twitch. It's hard not to think of bodies, their skulls, the smells, with the three in front of her. "We thought you might remember a few things that happened at the village, a month or two ago, Vistors? Oh, and oh yes, we did."

Raspberry says, "We were going to ask you about a few things we read in it, actually. Like the incident Dzahni's talking about."

"Did you bring it back with you?" Tansy asks. She's not really little, not for a Taptet, but she's only about the height of Dzhani's middle-daughter, the Rassimel girl. She swivels her ears. "What kind of visitors?"

Raspberry says, "Yeah, I think Eddy has it. It was pretty badly contaminated, though."

"The sickening and the dying of taptet," Neyorra explains to the non-Primes. "When it is happening and why, and if you are thinking you are knowing why your village is being brought monsters that are not you, for the monster on monster killing, with the diseasing."

"You read it?" Redcoat sounds almost accusing. Brightspots pats his shoulder and shakes her head a little.

Dzhani gives some quick introductions, "This is the Knight, Neyorra, that's Luxlead, a doctor, Wintermint, an Esquire, and Raspberry and I are guards. I'm Dzhani. Uh... Tansy, yes? Well, adventurers, I believe it said. Oh no, I couldn't read a word. Eddy did, he's not here."

The Taptet look confused by Neyorra's not-exactly-questions. "The sickness started, I don't know, fifteen days ago?" Tansy says.

"Eighteen," Redcoat chimes in.

"Fourteen, I thought," Brightspots says, then shrugs. "'s hard to say. I think we all lost some days. There was this disorientation, when everything happened at weird intervals, while we were sick. Like everything would move really slowly for a while, then really fast."

Raspberry says, "It looked sort of like the sickness might have started in the pond. Did any of you see anything unusual in or near the pond, before people started getting sick?"

"Hmmmm...." Dzhani tugs the fur under her chin, "... could you tell if that was a magical effect? It happened differently for everyone, right? Not all at the same time?"

Neyorra fixes her stare on the taptet that seems confused by her words, her tail flicking. "I am wondering," she says a bit more slowly, "if you are knowing why the someone is bringing disease and monsters to you, O monsters. A sickness is enough to remove you; monsters are being the too much. Maybe the monsters are being for us." The last part Neyorra says more to herself than the taptet, in a lower, considering tone.

Redcoat sits down on the beach of the lake and wraps his arms around his knees, looking out over the darkening water. "Grandfather's potions didn't cure it."

Tansy leans down to pat his back. "They cured us."

Redcoat says, bitterly, "Or we just got better. Brightspots didn't get the potion and she got better too."

Brightspots is thinking about Raspberry's question. "The pond was an odd color, that morning. Before it started. I remember thinking the water looked a little greenish. I thought maybe it was just more algae growing on the rocks."

"Baron Swordswort wanted us dead," Redcoat says. "Everyone knows that."

Raspberry says, "The monsters might be an attempt to trigger the homestead laws, Neyorra? Anyone can claim land that they clear of hostile monsters. I don't remember an exception if you put the monsters there yourself."

The other two Taptet don't say anything. They have that vaguely guilty look of people who think they ought to argue for politeness's sake, but who don't actually disagree.

"I am thinking this is the correct thinking. No one is caring that the monsters are all dying to each other, and Goswort is not being the big town with the big adventurers to stop the taking of the town," the sleeth agrees, glancing at Raspberry. "Your thinking is giving me the thought, too: if that is the plot of it, then adventurers that are not being us will be coming to clear the land. Or we can clear the land, and claim it first."

Raspberry says, "We'd have to give up the bounty, if we wanted to claim it. And become farmers. So you can count me out."

Dzhani says, "Well, the Grandfather of the current Baron deeded it to them, and we're doing the clearing, and Goswort Village hired us to do it, so I don't think we'd have a claim on it to start with. Hmm... not sure what happens if someone comes in and tries to claim they did it, after our work. Well, we'd have all the monster bits, so they'd hardly have a case.""

Neyorra shakes her head, slowly. "If we are seeming to have the land as ours, then the people who are wanting the land, they are maybe coming to us to buy it. Or to kill us, and take it. Either way, we are maybe seeing the face of who is sending the disease and the one and more monster," she explains to Raspberry.

"It's our land," Tansy says. Her little hands ball into fists at her sides. "The old Baron Swordswort gave us the deed to it. A Prime deed. It's still ours. You can't claim it. The new Baron can't either."

Redcoat laughs, dry and bitter. "You really believe that, Tansy-Eyes? After all this? You think a piece of paper means anything to them?"

The sleeth fixes her gaze on Tansy, her tail flicking all the more. "You are being the dumb monster now," she says in a low, warning voice. "I am helping you and you are being the dumb monster. I am not wanting the farmland with many and hand-oriented tool, it is the trick I am wanting. The trick of peeing on the bed of the plot maker and giving him or her ire, so they are tipping their hand like the bad card player."

Wintermint rasps a short laugh. "That piece of paper is what has meaning. With that you get to make the deal you have, with the Primes that are paying us."

Raspberry says, "And if it failed, we could always go to pleasant court and give the land back, I guess."

Tansy turns away from the Sleeth, her eyes bright, and stares out across the lake.

"Oh! I bet that's what they were searching for, the Deed!" Dzhani perks her ears. She looks with concern at Redcoat, "We're not ... whatever you're thinking."

Wintermint says, "The deed is on file, I imagine."

Raspberry says, "The copy on file would be in Sworswort. Easy to lose."

Dzhani nods to Wintermint, "Probably, but I've got a deed to my Longhouse, in my Longhouse, and files can go missing."

Redcoat doesn't say anything. Brightspots says quietly to Dzhani, "We know. Primes aren't all the same, any more than monsters are."

"We could be saying, 'you are having this land now,' and they are having the land. But I am having the new and trick-filled thought to add to the last thought: if we try and claim the land for us, then we know if it can be claimed as we think it may, and whoever is wanting to claim it and has sent the monster, they are furious we have beat them to their scheme," the sleeth goes on to say.

Wintermint says, "If it was that easy to lose, the Taptets would have been evicted already."

Raspberry says, "We should probably get Violetbloom and Goswort's okay if we're going to use that scheme though. It'd look like we were betraying them, and they might hire adventurers to go get us."

A little louder, Brightspots adds, "We have the original of the deed. We've got it -- somewhere safe," she finishes, after a warning look from the other two. "There's supposed to be a copy at Treverre, I think, but ... We've got the original."

Raspberry says, "It's in the journal, isn't it."

Brightspots shakes her head. "No, it's not. It -- " she stops again at a another look from Redcoat.

Neyorra waits for some reaction to her idea, and seeing none, returns to staring at the taptet. "It is maybe being in the armband jewelry?"

Lamely, Brightspots says, "The mayor told us not to tell anyone where we had it." She gives Neyorra a puzzled look. "Armband jewelry?"

Dzhani shakes her head, looking at Wintermint, "It wouldn't necessarily be that easy to lose, it would take a lot of favours, and someone would have wanted to have it lost. The rest of the plan is pretty elaborate, it might be that it took some time to set up. Now, if all documentation was gone, and there were no survivors, it'd be a claimant, against the town of Goswort, and they with only a memory that the Taptet had a real Prime deed to the place? That's a better bet."

Raspberry says, "We don't actually need to know. Let's not get them too riled up."

The sleeth returns the puzzled look with an impassive one of her own, and does not elaborate.

Raspberry was a bit puzzled, until she remembered the missing jewelry Neyorra must be referring to, from the other dead taptet in the grandfather's hut.

Wintermint says, "The mayor gave you good advice there." Wintermint isn't quite looming over the taptets, given that she's using her midhands as feet right now, and hanging back. "You'll have to trade it to her, later, but for now...""

Raspberry says, "There's still Dzahni's question."

"The visitors." Dzhani nods, "about two months ago?"

Tansy-Eyes and Brightspots look confused, not sure if they've missed a question. They still look puzzled when Dzhani repeats her earlier query. "Oh no," Brightspots says in sudden comprehension. "You don't mean the raiders, do you?"

Dzhani blinks a few times, "Um... maybe? Tell us about the raiders."

"A bunch of slavers. Baron Swordswort sent them to capture some of us. He dresses it up all funny, they talk about how we're criminals and thieves, says it's 'punishment'. But it's not true, none of it. He just wants free labor and we're there so he takes us," Brightspots says.

Raspberry says, "How did you know that the raiders were from Swordswort?"

"They said they were. Wore his insignia, too," Brightspots says.

"Oh yes, that might have been it. Eddy's translating... well it isn't always the best." Dzhani wags her tail, crouched so she's more at the Taptet's height, except her thighs aren't ready for this so she keeps shifting around. "Oh, Baron Swordswort is very respected. I know he doesn't like you. I don't know why, you're adorable! Not, I mean, not in a condescending way. It's just, it'll be very hard proving anything against him. I'm not saying I don't believe you. I'm a cani, by the bark you wouldn't believe the things I've found out about some of my nobles back in Treverre! I mean... uh... in general. So what I'm saying is, it'll have to be really solid proof."

Neyorra settles down where she is to listen, somewhat reducing her apparent size as well as threat. She's not big by sleeth standards, or even average, but she's still larger than any taptet and her looming stare isn't a comfort. "Also I am asking, you are being the sick monster after drinking of the pond? Or it is happening without the drinking?"

"I drank from it," Brightspots says. "That morning. It tasted fine, even if it looked odd."

Redcoat shrugs. "Everyone drank at it. Water's fresh enough."

Tansy shakes her head, though. "I didn't. I lived on the edge, we didn't usually use that pond. You mean the big one at the village center, right?"

Raspberry says, "Yeah, that one."

"That is being the pond. I am thinking it is where the disease is being placed; poisoning the water is the good way to kill the poor village," says the sleeth.

Tansy shakes her head again. "No, I didn't drink from it."

"And you've never done anything that might deserve that treatment from the baron?" Wintermint sounds a bit skeptical.

Brightspots glares at Wintermint. "No. We didn't."

Redcoat mutters, "Maybe we should've."

Wintermint stands upright, now she could easily be considered looming. "Taptet." She stares right back at Brightspots. "Taptet are well-known for trouble. Comes with being short. Never did anything?"

"Enough, 'Mint," says Luxlead, speaking for the first time. "What do you... think to get from that?"

Brightspots shrinks further, looking small and scared. She takes a few steps away from the big grey Herethroy, and just shakes her head.

"Answers, Lux. That's the reason we are talking to them." Wintermint settles back on all fours, and swivels her gaze over to Redcoat. "This isn't the first time I've had to deal with a bit of the rough, the tree isn't sweetness and light."

Raspberry says, "We can check the records to make sure it was actually Swordwort who took them as slaves. He'd have to register them as property, if he was doing it openly."

"Hhheh... I'm no Kvarse-bound sold soul either," rasps Luxlead. "But trying to wring... out a confession won't help. Let Dzhani do her thing. S'why I'm just listening for now.""

"That may be, may be not, Lux." Wintermint's antenna wave from side to side, probably one of those things you had to be from her village to follow. "That, however, is a point you want to remember, Brightspots. The mayor may be able to use that legal status to pry loose your kin from the Baron, later."

Neyorra looks up at the looming Wintermint, staring at her through her questions and Dzhani's words, before saying, "And maybe it the the noble who is doing the plotting." There's an edge there; Dzhani and the Herethroy both know Neyorra left her home city on less than perfect terms, and exists in Treverre under about as much duress -- she has reasons to condemn lying nobles. It's rare for her to actually let her bitterness slip, as Dzhani well knows.

Dzhani reaches over and rubs at Neyorra's ears, wriggling her fingers in behind them and massaging the neck she can reach. Not something one would normally do to a knight, but perhaps allowable for a sleeth friend.

Dzhani says, "The raiders took three people, for stealing jewelry? That's what I think Eddy told me. Did they describe it? I think you generally list something they did as your reason for taking them as slaves. There doesn't need to be any proof of it beyond the Prime's accusation, though, unless the monster has special legal status. Which the Taptet might, since you held a prime-granted deed. There'd probably be a bunch of those, if he was doing it regularly.""

The Taptet all respond at once, then hash out their memories for a bit amongst themselves. The general consensus is that Dzhani's account is correct, that Swordswort's people described the exact property supposedly stolen (a gold necklace with a precious gem on it, and a pair of earings). "They 'found' the jewelry in Tuft's hut," Tansy says. "Meaning they planted it there. They've done the same thing a couple times before."

"If they are using Illusidor, we are not finding much to prove this," says Neyorra as she looks away from Wintermint.

Redcoat says, "Yeah, we have 'special legal status'. That means they get a trial. Presided over by the Baron hisself. I went to one, once. For my father. You can guess how it went."

"Pretty dangerous trek along the branch to get there." Dzhani speculates.

"Of course it went badly, you aren't prime." Wintermint explains, patiently. "The mayor, on the other hand, is. That may be the difference needed, once you are part of her village."

Luxlead muses, "And naturally, they don't have to prove... how the taptet would have come by it. Do the taptet ever even go.. hhh.. to the city? Are they allowed in?"

The Taptet widen their eyes at Lux's suggestion. Redcoat laughs.

The khtsoyis curls his tentacle tips. "I thought not."

Raspberry says, "I think the Baron has an estate outside the city, that they'd presumably allegedly steal it from."

Brightspots nods to Raspberry. "Most of the baron's holdings aren't in the city."

"Ahh," says Luxlead, bobbing slightly. "I suppose that's slightly more... mm... plausible. Not that... I think taptet would be... so inclined to raid his... no doubt guarded summer house."

Raspberry gives Redcoat a somewhat suspicious look.

Raspberry thinks he probably would if he thought he could get away with it.

Redcoat doesn't notice her look; he's deliberately not looking at any of the Primes.

"Thank you," Brightspots says to Luxlead, with apparent sincerity.

Dzhani's ears drop a little, and her tail sags to the floor. "Hmm... Uh, oh, there was something on a woman's wrist, in the hut where we found your Grandfather's journal. We talked about it, but you didn't describe it. Some kind of bracelet, what did it look like?"

Neyorra leans in to the rubbing, unapologetically pushing her head in to Dzhani's hand, and even purring softly. "You taptet, were you seeing the many and fearsome other monster around your village, or were you leaving before then?"

"It was a mnenorzion bracelet, with a bit of world-amber inset," Tansy says. "Grandfather gave it to Roselet when they were wed. It's gone?" She looks hurt.

Raspberry says, "Yeah. It looked like someone rifled through the hut and took it."

"We were still sick when we left. Everyone else, everyone else we could find, had died," Brightspots says quietly. "I saw some slunder when we were looking for the others. We all heard the slunder hissing. Redcoat and Mirror said they saw some other monsters, but not clearly. We were all still disoriented and most everything's fuzzy."

Tansy nods at Raspberry, and sniffles. Redcoat hunches his shoulders a little more, his little face set in hard lines.

Brightspots offers, "I went into their house before we left. She still had it then."

"Oh, now that's a detail. We need those." Wintermint murmurs to herself.

"I remember thinking ... she wouldn't want us to leave it behind. But I couldn't bear to take it off of her." The Taptet's eyes are bright. "I'm sorry, Tansy."

Dzhani leans in, rubbing vigorously at Neyorra's neck, with the side benefit of additional support. She looks over the three Taptet, whiskers flicking, ears twitching. She shifts position, supporting herself on one knee and reaching out to Tansy-eyes. "Hey, come here," She says softly, pulling her into a hug, "I'll find it. I can't make everything better. I saw, I was there, I saw. I know, a horrible thing happened. I'm good at finding things out, I'll find out, and you'll know for sure who, and why."

"I am wondering at the odd monster, the monster from my branch and less so this one and the many other," Neyorra says. She continues to purr at the petting, her sleeth face showing no reaction to the non-Prime's plight. Dzhani doesn't scent any reaction either, except subtle worry; but this is hardly new. Neyorra rarely shows concern for anyone, including herself.

Raspberry says, "I'll find some way to make sure whoever did this gets what's coming to them. This branch is dangerous enough without people bringing in Remorshka on purpose."

Tansy blinks at Dzhani's gesture, at first stiff, but then she melts, hugging the Cani back and crying helplessly. "I don't want to know why, I don't want to know why, I just want them back. I just want them back," she whimpers, over and over again. "I just want them back."

Raspberry says, "Someone could have gotten hurt. Besides Eddy."

Brightspots blinks quickly to hold back tears herself, patting Tansy on the back. She glances at Raspberry, though, and there's a flash of fire as well in her eyes, a thirst for vengeance. "Thank you," she mouths, not quite audible.

Neyorra stares at the crying taptet, now very close to her head considering Dzhani was rubbing her neck before pulling the taptet close. The Cani can see the sleeth's ears flick, like when she's thinking, or confused, as she watches her comfort the taptet girl. The sleeth's scent is a strange as well, a bit like when Dzhani's pups get over-excited and hug on the sleeth, which she never seems to mind.

The cani is struck speechless, at Tansy's words, her emotion, a memory, and she cries because she knows they don't come back. "It'll... It will..." She hesitates, and fails. It'll stop hurting, mostly, eventually, are hardly consoling words. Instead, she just holds the little Taptet tight, nuzzling at her head. She gives Redcoat a look, there's things she wants to say to him, but she finds she can't, and wouldn't even be able to look him in the eye if he was looking her way. Instead, she closes her eyes and does her best to comfort, and not think of the bones that were the people Tansy knew.


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