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File: Oneshot Part 4 Image.png (2180 KB, 1600x1000)
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“I need a proper axe,” you dismissed the talking haft, “and I didn't promise you anything else anyway.”

A strident shrill followed. A damned, uncanny weight—abnormal in its strength—pressed upon the floor of the waggon, gushing bursts of dust and kindling into the open air. The axe-haft violently lurched, cracking the surface. You leapt inside as the waggon wavered and budged. You broke off a Black Horn twig and, before it was too late, you smacked the haft with the heavy end of its branch, sending it skidding against the square-built wall.

Catching your breath—pointing your branch towards the miscreant—you said with an angry voice, “If you break the waggon I’m not doing -anything- for you. I will just leave you here!”

The haft trembled, failing its attempt to turn from its side. “It does not belong to you! It is neither yours nor dwarf’s to possess! You, do not dare to call it an ‘axe’! It is my like your arms, it is part of myself! Bring it to-”

“I am -not- bringing it to life,” you said. “I’ll bring you to the tree, and that’s all, as a thank you for finishing the beast.” You spat out, climbing out of the waggon, your eyes watching the haft, “However, if you are going to act like an ass, I’ll leave you. I know you can’t ‘move’, so you’ll just stay on the ground, for a long-long time.”

You closed the door before it could slither a response. You sighed. How do the elves deal with such imbecilic creatures? Do they treat them like royalty? They’re lucky if every single one of them is pleasant and kind.

*** *** ***

An hour later Carinda awoke. You greeted her with a lousy breakfast of cold ham, cold cheese, and bread—it would’ve been better if you could hold it a couple of minutes above flaming ashes. Still, she enjoyed it.

You told her about the passing men-at-arms and warned her about the axe-haft. She echoed one of the knight’s words: you, she said in particular, should have had enough of dealing with monsters. Carinda begrudgingly admitted she was in no condition to travel the jammed tunnels of the Quarry and asked that you leave it to the knights. There were many other things you had to deal with, so you agreed with her.

Your arrival to the Quarry was met with less grandeur: Carinda, the only dwarf in those districts, was already a common sight, and you no longer had Tetreus to attract the crowd. The trio should’ve arrived by now, and three royal men-at-arms held more fascination than just one; especially when those three actually arrived to help. Your waggon passed the gates; rested ponies walked the roads with much vigour.
>>
> What will be the first thing you’ll do now?

> Search for Ontour to talk with him.
> Find a local blacksmith to test the fire of the Black Horn branches.
> Approach the mine of the Quarry, perhaps what the knights must deal with -now- is much worse.
> Search for a local clay-maker to make a proper-solid cast. It’ll need to survive in the stomach …
> [Write In]
>>
> Is this a LOTR fanfic?
> No.

> What is this?
> A oneshot quest about an apprentice and his female dwarf master.

> Who are we?
> A 17-year-old human apprentice named Julian in the small human hamlet of Crisscross.

> How often will you update?
> I want to update once a day if I am able to.

> Will there be mechanics and rolls?
> Not in this quest.

> Where are the images from?
> Heavily edited OP pic. Credit to the original owners/creators.

> Where can I find the other threads?
> https://lws.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?searchall=shortstack

> If you prefer to read it as a story instead of a thread:
> Chapter 1:
https://pastebin.com/raw/TrhwrD4c
> Chapter 2:
https://pastebin.com/raw/PY7YH7VG
> Chapter 3:
https://pastebin.com/raw/ZT9J0N3J
> Chapter 4:
https://pastebin.com/raw/v2AF1Y22
> Chapter 5 (so far):
https://pastebin.com/raw/4fRxrgHR
>>
>>5196134
>Search for a local clay-maker
>>
>>5196134
> Search for a local clay-maker to make a proper-solid cast. It’ll need to survive in the stomach …
>>
>>5196134
>> Search for a local clay-maker to make a proper-solid cast.
>>5196133
>How do the elves deal with such imbecilic creatures?
I bet they just toss them in a pond for a few decades
>>
File: She span the clay ....jpg (81 KB, 1080x720)
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“I think I’ll need to find a clay maker’s shop,” you stood up, wobbling on the waggon’s porch.

Carinda nodded. “If it’s a form you’ll need for the Ecline Ore” —perceptive she was— “then making it out of clay would be the quickest way.” She stretched her fingers across her chin and lips, “But with the beasts’ …” She paused, shaking her head. She pulled the ponies’ halters with the reins, altering the waggon’s route.

“I think I know where it might be, do you want me to stay outside?”

Your master savvied that she would easily guess the nature of your masterpiece—its shape and its size—by the form you would ask to be made; she asked you, so you could say yes, and not have to tell her to wait around directly. The clay shop was a two-level boulder- and cobblestone building; it had the exact appearance as the other dwellings left and right of it. The -only- thing to differentiate it was a hanging sign. It was a thick wooden board with a ‘pair of hands shaping a bowl’ engraved on it.

As you entered the shop, a bronze bell above the door rang. It was far too close to your ears for your appreciation. A row of shelves guided straight to the counter; crammed entrances to the left and right of the shelves lead to a maze-like library of clay works display of all shapes and sizes. Some of the clay pots even had flowers growing in them: red and orange.

You thanked the Gods you were slim -and- small. You couldn’t imagine an adult passing here without accidentally breaking some of the clay work. You approached the empty counter: it had more space behind it than one would usually have. ‘Brick’ pyramids of clay towered at the back, with buckets of water as well as clay soil circling a sizeable spinning wheel.

Sitting on a woven thatch rug was a girl your age. She wore a dark-red conical cap with its apex bent over, with all of her hair underneath it.

She was working on some, still, misshapen clay pot. She didn’t react to the bell; how could she not hear it?

"Excuse me?" You cleared your throat, coughing into your hand. No reaction.

> She was way too young to be the owner … she must’ve been an apprentice, like you.

> Step up behind the counter and in front of the girl.
> Go to the bottom of the stairs and shout for the owner.
> Return to the door and try ringing the bell again, and maybe a third time, if the second time does not work.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5197050
>Step up behind the counter, and in front of the girl
Maybe she's deaf, or an autist
>>
>>5197050
>> Go to the bottom of the stairs and shout for the owner
>>5197066
Some say pot really helps you focus so..
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>5197066
> Step up behind the counter, and in front of the girl

>>5197655
> Go to the bottom of the stairs and shout for the owner
>>
You gently knocked the surface of the counter. Nothing. Again, the girl had ignored you. With a sigh—exaggerated in its tone—you turned away to move to where the wide oaken stairs began. On each rear, there were long white rails to hold onto with ones' hands. Glancing up, you raised your voice, “Is there anyone up there?”

You waited, and—fortunately—a raspy trembling voice preceded an elder woman, hunched and strolling above the stairs with a crooked cane. “I hear you,” she said, edging towards the stairs. She moved lackadaisically, as if, with every step she took, fearing her knees yielding to age. She stopped, whistling a breath. Then, she took a slow step down. A -very- slow step—and the stairs had at least twenty more. Overcautious ...

> Patiently wait. Rush? What rush?
> “Perhaps I can come to you instead?”
> This might take a while. Return to the apprentice girl and see if you can try and catch her attention instead.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5198549
Perhaps I can come to you instead?”
>>
>>5198549
>> “Perhaps I can come to you instead?
Don't have all day!
>>
>>5198549
Patiently wait. What's the rush?
>>
You tapped your foot, waiting impatiently for the old woman— she took her time. You soon realised it would take half an hour for her to descend. “Perhaps I can come to you instead?” you asked, pacing upon the steps as soon as she bowed her head. You assisted her back up the staircase.

“Thank you, young man, it’s not often I have to come down nowadays,” she said with no twinkle in her eyes.

You smiled, letting go of her hand. “I can guess, but I’ll ask just in case: are you the owner of this clay shop?”

Her lips quivered, “Yes … perhaps … for a year, maybe a few more months.” It was hard to tell whenever she was melancholic or saying it in jest. She briefly glance at you: she wasn’t blind, at least; her eyes were of bottomless bluish-grey colour. The shop owner lead you to an open room, adjacent to the stairs, slogging inside and leaving the door unclosed. It was a bedroom, not poor but neither rich in decorations and draperies.

There was a round table she sat at. She gallantly put her cane into a glazed stand: made uniquely for it. Elegant spirals of blue and hazel mixed together to form shapes and patterns you struggled to describe. “If you are looking for a bowl, or a vase, we have a lot of them downstairs to purchase.” Struggling, she pushed the large austere chair towards herself and mounted to sit on it. She leaned her head to gaze outside of it, although you were unsure as to why: her window was thick-stained.

“Or” —she paused, staring you up— “do I know you?”

You shook your head, “No, it’s just something specific that I’m after.”

“Specific?” both of her greyish brows rose at the same time.

Your hands reached into your bag, taking out the string model of the beard bead—made thanks to Vera—out of your leather bag. You affirmed, placing the frame on the table she sat behind. “I need a form, a cast, made out of clay to pour liquid ore inside of. And then," you hesitated, "inside a beast’s stomach.”

She shut and opened her eyes. Finally squinting, she said. “Liquid ore? The stomach of a beast?” Her tongue pressed against her parched lips. Scoffing, she—unsuccessfully—reached for her cane. Still reaching for it, she said, “I have a lot of free time, young man, but this is -just- absurd-silly. What did you expect, coming here to ‘entertain’ me with such plea?”
>>
You picked the metal frame. “I know it might sound … uncommon, but I’m not sure how else to go about it.”

“We make bowls and pots … have you thought of asking a blacksmith?”

You pushed the clump of strings against your forehead. Stiffer than necessarily, you likely left a mark. “I don’t think a regular cast will do. The Ecline Ore, in its melted form, can only be solidified by the matters from the stomach of the beast.” You came to a realisation. “Yet, while it is supposed to turn the ore solid, it will also petrify everything else around it." Damn it. "That’s why I need a clay cast, something easy to-”

“-to remove it from, I understand,” she closed her eyes tight. “If everything which you said is true, then it is a complicated issue.” She furrowed her brows, “I’ll make what you want, but I’m not going to do your thinking for you, young man.” She opened her eyes, sluggishly reaching for the form—you let her have it. She rose it to her eyes, paused, and then lifted it even higher, nearly grazing the metal with her pint-sized eyelashes. “I can do it in any clay, or perhaps, even in a box of sand. Your money; but, I know nothing about this ‘stomach acid’.”

> Was there anything the beast could not petrify …?

> Ask the woman to make the cast out of the strongest clay she has, with the thickest glaze she is able to apply. It might get petrified, but you’ll then just have to slowly break it piece a piece until you are able to release the Onestone beard bead.
> Ask the woman to make the cast out of the most fragile but solid clay she has. It might get petrified, but you’ll then just have to slowly break it piece a piece until you are able to release the Onestone beard bead.
> Ask the woman to make the cast in a box of sand. If you can get it wet, then it might avoid getting petrified the way other things were, and you'll be able to remove the Onestone beard bead without much hassle; right?
> You are not certain, but … find garden turf and ask the woman to make it out of it. Then, bring the turf to sentience the moments before you’ll put it inside the stomach of the beast. Quit cruel, but it just might work out.
> Ask Carinda for advice.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5199609
> Was there anything the beast could not petrify …?

Maybe meat? It would be difficult for it to eat, if it petrifies anything nutritious which it consumed...

> Ask the woman to make the cast in a box of sand. If you can get it wet, then it might avoid getting petrified the way other things were, and you'll be able to remove the Onestone beard bead without much hassle; right?

Then, maybe we can place a thin layer of sashimi in there...
>>
>>5199609
>> Was there anything the beast could not petrify …?
It's own body, may be water?
> Ask the woman to make the cast in a box of sand
Oh I see it was already an option
>>
>>5200099
>its own body

SMART. Good thinking. Make stomach-beast sashimi, or use its hide, as the protective layer.

>>5199661
Updating this to reflect 13Ber1X6's cleverness.

>>5199609
>>
> Sorry, there won't be an update today.
>>
You leaned away from the table, staring vacantly at the same stained glass. Maybe the elder woman wasn’t trying to look outside, but instead, pondered on the flowing leaded lights? Would she change her mind and offer you a solution if you gave her more time, information, and money. Potentially. You were the only person besides Carinda who read the book, but, either you missed it and it was left untranslated, or the thick dwarven book of blueprints didn’t cite the -exact- way to turn Ecline Amalgam into Onestone. And if not, why was it?

You scoffed—you went through the book hundreds of times, and you made sure every single world Ontour translated was error-free; he was sincere in his trades. Was there anything the beast could not petrify …? The branches and boughs, once they were turned to “stone”, even the sentient Black Horn could no longer swing them. The muddy ground beneath it—it too froze solid from the swamp-beast’s vomit.

You figure drowned in the old woman’s bottomless eyes; she laid her hands on the table, placing fingers above each other, staying silent. She wasn’t urging you. Sunshine fell on the bluish glass—too thick to penetrate and blind you, it spread over and across the window: each glass piece its own candlelight. You could’ve always returned to Crisscross, to go through the book again. You could’ve asked Carinda for her master advice.

You shook your head: you were, perhaps, the only person foolish enough to make a beard bead out of Ecline Ore. If you asked Carinda for advice, then she would know more than you wished she would, and it would neither be a surprise nor a display of your abilities. That humongous creature lived in a swamp. It wouldn’t be able to petrify water, would it? But to make a cast in water would be impossible … Ice? No, it was only the very beginning of winter, and it would melt quicker than you could work with it. Wet sand, how moist should it be?

Your eyes widened—of course, the beast wouldn’t be able to petrify its own body, its own flesh: how else would it eat? If you cut it into pieces, they would be too uneven to form a mould with, but if you finely minced then, and then mixed it with water.

Yes! You felt relief as if a chain holding a boulder over your neck shattered and fell. Clenching your uninjured fist, you turned to the master potterer. “It won’t be neither mould of clay or sand.”

She smiled. “I see you came up with a brilliant idea; your face has that shine. Then, if you do not need me-”

“-I do … sorry.” You interrupted, following with a quick apology. “Can you -show- me how to make a cast out of—let’s say—wet sand? I can tell you what I’m planning on, but I can’t guarantee that you won't be disgusted.”
>>
She blankly stared at—as if through—you. Her face grimaced: her imagination strumming with your words.

“I only have one apprentice, and even individual lessons I no longer give,” she inhaled, slipping one of her legs off the chair and on the floor. She grasped the cane, steadily moving its end off the ground, above the table, and then, pointing, at you. “I retired a while ago, sigh. You said wet sand … ? Fine. I’ll use my dying brain for just one more, young man. Value it.”

*** *** ***

An hour afterwards, you left the clay shop with mediocre knowledge of forming a casting using moist sand. While it was obvious you could just push the bead’s metal model into the sand until it formed a small cavity, there were nuisances to deal with the intricate details, as well as to even the layers of sand faultlessly; she taught you that. The apprentice-girl paid you no attention, even an hour after you came down. She wasn’t being rude, but busy, and uncaring of the world around her. If a thief came here to steal pots and bowls, she wouldn’t have had noticed. How many pots could one steal? It’s a hard thing to sell.

You picked a sturdy and heavy jar with a firm lid on your way out, something to transport the future liquid ore in. Since the girl ignored you in favour of her work, you had no choice but to leave money on the counter.

“Sorry for the wait,” you said to Carinda, closing the door and -again- ringing the deafening bell.

Your master was leaning on the waggon, caressing her ponies' necks with her uninjured hand. She glanced at the enclosed wooden form given to you by the nameless woman. “Julian. Is that the thing you needed?”

“Not … exactly,” it was filled with half-dried sand you had to replace with mincemeat. You smiled at the dwarf’s baffled expression. ‘Then what did you spend the last hour on?’ as if she asked. “I’m not sure I can explain until we return to the carcass, master. Let’s just say, it’ll be a good start.”

Carinda narrowed her eyes at the box. “Damn, Julian, you can’t finish it soon enough. I’m intrigued.”

> You have an axe, but you might need a knife. Find a local forge, and buy one.
> It’ll be hard to mincemeat with an axe. Find a local forge, and ask to forge one yourself.
> Find a local blacksmith to test the fire of the Black Horn branches if they permit.
> Search for Ontour to talk with him.
> Approach the mine of the Quarry to check on the knights' progress.
> Spend time with Carinda, walking the streets: like a date!
> [Write In]
>>
>>5200953
> It’ll be hard to mincemeat with an axe. Find a local forge, and ask to forge one yourself.
> Spend time with Carinda, walking the streets: like a date!

We can do the latter while we're looking for a place to do to the former.
>>
You smiled. “I am going to need to cut the meat into fine pieces, mince it. I don’t think we have a knife with us, do we?”

Carinda shook her head, “We have lots in the smithy shop—but they are all there, Julian.” With a chuckle, she added, “Of course, we can always go back to grab one, but that’ll take a couple more days, and will require us making circles.”

You placed the wooden form and the jar inside the waggon; you glared at the silent axe for a couple of seconds. “Yes, that’ll take too much time … “

“I’m sure there are a few shops around the city that sell butcher knives.” Carinda climbed on the waggon bench, offering you her soft hand—you gracefully accepted. “Or, at least, cooking knives. Was -that- man’s sword of any use in your fight?”

Pausing with a frowned hesitation, you said, “I used it against a different marsh beast, half the size of that monstrosity. I couldn’t swing it in the water, but I managed to stab into it.” You added with a cheek, “Your axe was -far- more useful, master Carinda. While I had to make it sentient, it’s also the 'only' thing that impaled into it and then killed the behemoth.”

Briefly, she raised her chin. “I’m not surprised—those -axe-heads- took quite a lot of work, and a whole day's work of making them sharp.” Once you were sited—even now, without a crunch, Carinda was standing on the bench—she pulled the reins. The ponies harrumphed: they preferred to either move or to rest, not to do alternate between the two.

The craftsmen row was not much different from its merchant district: the series of streets just as cramped and busy as its counterpart. The patrons varied, from rare rich folk in large groups browsing the masterpiece wares, to workers delivering the raw materials, and lastly, the middle-class citizens purchasing the cheaper alternatives. Each type of shop stood next to its twins, in a defined ward. Even though the space was lacking, there was a tree—nearly leafless—in the middle of each of such wards. Pricked into the bark were pieces of metals: glowing in the sun.

Carinda pulled to stop the waggon: not in the middle of the street, but to a far corner from the cobblestone road. Regardless, the people passing raised their voices and fists in anger, but your master ignored them. She bowed her head towards the tree. “Iron bits, this must be the blacksmith row. See if you can find anything -you- think will do.”

There were at least ten buildings here—each, a forge and a shop like your town's lonely. “I was thinking of asking if they’d allow me to forge my own. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I can likely make a better one.”
>>
Carinda scoffed, bumping your shoulder with hers, “Of course, you can, Julian, but you should focus on your masterpiece. Even for you, that’ll take at least half-a-day; you could sharpen it as we travel back, but … ” Your master turned to look you in the eyes, “You are right, a hand-made will do better. Let me make it for you.” She had an earnest, motherly sparkle in her irises. Was she missing the forge, was she unsure of your abilities, or did she really want to help? This was -part- of your masterpiece, even if not a direct one. You scratched your cheek.

> “It’ll take a lot of time, you are right. It’s meat, any large knife will do. I think we better just buy one and focus on the other tasks.”
> “If you are offering me a gift, dear master, I have no right to refuse.”
> “I think it’ll be for the best if I make it, master Carinda.” if Tetreus is not satisfied with your -real- masterpiece—the beard bead, you can just show him the knife. It won’t have your love, soul, or hard effort, but it will still be something. A back-up plan.”
> [Write In]
>>
>>5202262
>> “If you are offering me a gift, dear master, I have no right to refuse.”
Since Tetreus didn't think much of the stuff we sold to the merchant, he'll probably get all pissy over us 'wasting time' again.
Also a gift from master is nice too.
>>
“If you are offering me a gift, dear master, I have no right to refuse.”

She hummed. “Aren’t you right, Julian? This -would- be my final (the word stung) gift to you.” She turned her head to inspect each of the smithies, yet, her eyes barely grazed the tall window vitrines or the artistries behind them. Then, she raised them to the chimneys, as if judging the black smoke. A moment later, she pointed her hand at one of the shops.

“There?” you asked; the dense smoke felt indistinguishable.

Carinda nodded, grasping the reins. “Do you want to stay and wait? You can take the waggon and go somewhere else meantime.”

You avoided her gaze, preferring the stone road to her eager beauty. “You shouldn’t trust me with the reins.”

“You won’t learn without practice, Julian.” Even Carinda would be unhappy with you crashing her waggon, or injuring her ponies, the day before she would've had to return to Vag Ladur: it -was- her way back home.

You had tried riding before … it was not a disaster, but close to it.

> Suggest you both go to the smithy. Knowing the axe-haft, it’ll be loud enough to hear if someone tries to steal it.
> Thank her for the offer, and accept the reins. Go to another place while she crafts the knife. [Where?]
> It’s not a good idea, you are unsure of your pony-leading abilities. Sit on the waggon and wait.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5203361
> Thank her for the offer, and accept the reins. Go to another place while she crafts the knife. [Check on how things are progressing at the mine]
>>
>>5203361
Going with >>5203972
May be we will be lucky
>>
> No update today because of >>5204342 I had to change the text. (This is a joke).
>>
With some fear, you reached for and took the reins offered. “Thank … you,” you swallowed; backing down was out of the question. As if they somehow knew of the swap, the ponies’ turned to ogle at you. You returned a stiff grin.

Making sure to find steady ground with her crutch, yet somehow rushing at the same time, your master jumped off the waggon. You wished her farewell, watching her disappear behind closed doors. “Alright … “ you muttered, wrapping the leather belts between your fingers and palms.

You followed your loud whistling with a gentle pull: the streets were far too narrow to risk the ponies acting with frenzy. “Excuse me! Please! Forgive me! Sorry! Coming through!” Carinda's ponies gaited, occupying all of the street, and stretching your arms like—thankfully abolished— form of torture. Continuing to move up the street would have taken -much- longer, but turning around may have been the wrong decision.

The iron waggon creaked, its large wheels trampling the stones beneath. You knew the ponies weighted half a dozen times your weight, and there were two of them. On this overcrowded street, losing control of one of them would have had ended in a disaster.

You continued to pull, the speed of the waggon’s turn was slow but steady. You ignored the shouts; as long as no one was trampled dead or injured you were satisfied. Carinda was playful, but she wouldn’t had had given you a task you could not do. She believed in you—now, you had to believe in your abilities. Once more, you cried out all kinds of apologetic synonyms, grasping the barriers of the bench to stop your arms from being torn off.

With a tired-blurred vision, you watched the horses move. One of them was trouble-free. The second one was not: a woman with a basket of baked sweet stood unmoving. The pony lowered its gaze—and its mouth—and whined.

> Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to assist. [How?]
> Control the ponies with the rein pull solely, avoiding the whistles. Use your boyish voice to shout for the crowd to disperse instead.
> Do nothing and allow the pony to reach for and eat the sweets. You can deal with the woman’s complaints afterwards.
> Shout at the woman to offer the pony one of her sweets, and then hush her to sneak away.
> Demandingly whistle and then knock your tongue to ask-order the pony to continue moving.
> Shout for the woman to continue moving and ignore the pony.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5205051
> Demandingly whistle and then knock your tongue to ask-order the pony to continue moving.
I want to ask the moss to help, but I see no way that it can without creating further problems, such as startling the horse or panicking the people.
>>
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> Fun fact, I wrote this update at work.
>>
> Sorry for the silence. I'll post another update tomorrow.
>>
>>5205087
That fact IS fun.

>>5206713
See you tomorrow, QM
>>
You lifted your hand to bother the sentient-moss, but you held back seconds later. No, that would only cause problems—problems you didn't need. If it further startled the horse or panicked the people, it’d have had been impossible to take reins of the situation. You forced air between your teeth, demanding the pony’s attention. Briefly, the pony ceased heeling, her white ears twirling in response. You had her attention.
With steady yet careful tempo you pulled the reins to gesture for the pony to continue moving. She turned her head—only just—from the over-sweet smell of the baked goods—with a loud neigh, she yanked it back, starting the young damsel. She was unmoving as if dug into the grout. Again, you knocked your tongue and hoisted the reins; slowly, you coerced the pony to move its head even further away and to step past the woman. She remained defiant: the tantalising smell was sweeter than your voice.
“Hey you, watch your damn horses!”
It could’ve had been anyone in the crowd.
You pushed the reins, straining the feeble leather swathes; one more time, the pony looked as if she was obeying you, only to wither your hopes near immediately. During all this, her partner continued to move with a stepping pace: anything was faster than standing still. He was much further away, and the waggon behind them both scrambled from their conflicting pace because of it. Large metal wheels crumbled the stone, digging into the clay beneath.
The second pony would have had to wait for the first pony to catch up. You pulled his reins, and he came to a halt. He fixed his gaze and knit its brows upon its floundering companion; nothing but anger in his black eyes. He made a step to turn around, letting out a loud squeal: a sign of a forewarning. Squeals were commonly heard just before a bad squabble.

> Allow the male pony to set up the female one straight. Hopefully, they won’t have to fight, and after a short confrontation, you’ll be able to move the waggon out of the street without issues.
> Pull the reins of the male pony, demanding it to stop and cease the potential assault. Continue pulling the reins of the female one—you almost had it—and then have them both pace up together.
> Shout for the woman to continue moving and ignore the pony.
> Shout at the woman to offer the pony one of her sweets, and then hush her to sneak away.
> Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to assist. [How?]
> [Write In]
>>
You lifted your hand to bother the sentient-moss only to hold back seconds later. No, that would only cause problems—problems you don’t need. If it further startled the horse, or panicked the people, it’d have been impossible to take reins of the situation. You forced air between your teeth, demanding for the pony’s attention. Briefly, the pony ceased heeling, her white ears twirling in response. You had her attention.

With steady yet careful tempo you pulled the reins to gesture for the pony to continue moving. She turned her head—only just—from the over-sweet smell of the baked goods—with a loud neigh, she yanked it back, starting the young damsel. She was unmoving, as if dug into the grout. Again, you knocked your tongue and hoisted the reins; this time, slowly, you coerced the pony to move its head even further away, and to step pass the woman. She remained defiant: the tantalising smell was much sweeter than your voice.

“Hey you, watch your damn horses!” you heard an angry voice. It could’ve had been anyone in the crowd.

You pushed the reins, straining the feeble leather swathes; one more time, the pony looked as if she was obeying you, only to wither your hopes quickly after. All this this, her companion continued to move with a stepping pace: anything was faster than standing still. He were much further away, and the waggon behind them both scrambled from their conflicting pace. Large metal wheels crumbled the stone, digging into the clay beneath. The second pony would had to wait for the first pony to catch up.

You pulled his reins, and he came to a halt. He fixed his gaze and knit its brows upon its floundering companion; nothing but anger in his black eyes. He made a step to turn around, letting out a loud squeal: a sign of a warning. Squeals were commonly heard just before a bad squabble.

> Allow the male pony to set up the female one straight. Hopefully, they won’t have to fight, and after a short confrontation you’ll be able to move the waggon out of the street without issues.
> Pull the reins of the male pony, demanding it to stop and cease the potential assault. Continue pulling the reins of the female one—you almost had it—and then have them both pace up together.
> Shout for the woman to continue moving and ignore the pony.
> Shout at the woman to offer the pony one of her sweets, and then hush her to sneak away.
> Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to assist. [How?]
> [Write In]

> Forgot to break into paragraphs.
>>
>>5207662
> Pull the reins of the male pony, demanding it to stop and cease the potential assault. Continue pulling the reins of the female one—you almost had it—and then have them both pace up together.
> Tell the baker lady to get going
Want to just ignore the pedestrians and focus on the horse but the bread is probably too tempting
>>5205087
I've always found that the best way to skive out of work is to look busy
>>
>>5207672
Supporting.

>>5207662
>>
You couldn’t allow a scuffle—especially since you were, sort of, at fault. You grasped and pulled the reins of the second pony with both of your hands. The pony obeyed, striking its hooves to grind-stop the waggon. You gifted the stallion a tired nod, laying your eyes back to the mare. Repeating the approach, you focalised your efforts on her reins alone. She was fed just yesterday, possibly the sweets were tastier than hay.

You shouted, startling the lady, “Please continue on your way.”

Her scared eyes darted from you to her paper bag, and lastly to the pony. With a gulp, she stepped ahead. You felt a pull as your arms got yanked away. Damn it, no! The pony abruptly turned back to the young woman and let out a loud cry. The woman cried in response, her eyes shrinking and cheeks turning pale-white; the bag slipped out of her hands and fell on the ground with a mushy sound. She cover her eyes, stumbled on her long dress, and broke into the crowd.

Gratified with her “efforts”, the pony shoved its large head inside the bag, chewing on the sweets. This was embarrassing, if not illegal. You put your palms over your face and sighed.

*** *** ***

You had to wait, but once her sweet tooth was etched, the pony steadied one with your calls. To your relief, the area surrounding the “anthill” mine had more space and fewer people and thus was much easier to traverse. You looked around; actually, there were -far- fewer people here. Though the mine was inactive, the last time you had visited, the work was uninterrupted outside of it. Now, even the tents and forges outside stood empty. There was no smoke and no human bustle.

You circled the waggon around the immense mountain hill, which seemed to you to be the obvious solution. After several minutes of unwelcoming silence—with only the complaining neigh of dissatisfied stallion to break it—you finally reached voice: a tremendous and tangled cacophony.

You pulled meters behind the large crowd gathered around one of the mine’s many main entrances. There were dozens of people: miners, and the families, and people who weren’t supposed to be here; together they formed a malformed circle. You climbed off the waggon to approach.

“Excuse me?” you asked. You tried to shove your arms to glance at what they’ve been looking for.

There, lying in the middle of it, was a disgusting black corpse. Its bony shape resembled a hideous spider carcass, each of its legs twisted like rigid tentacles. Its swollen flesh formed a myriad of ebony tumours resembling boiling water. You shuddered; the miner was not lying.

Near the corpse were standing the three men-at-arms, joined by their squires. They did not look triumphant but bothered. You sighed; the crowd was too packed to let you pass through.
>>
“If you are asking me, that loot should be split between the miners!”

“And how will you split it, pray tell? Just rush at it? We are not barbarians!”

“What are you talking about! My husbands’ corpse is still there! It should be buried!”

“I would like the gold, but I would rather not get a chunk of my co-worker’s flesh.”

“You are not getting anything! Who even are you? ‘Co-worker’? This is the first time I see you!”

> Shout for the men-at-arms to recognise you, and let you in.
> Step away from the crowd: whatever is happening, it is not your problem.
> Ask one of the miners nearby what is going on, aside from the obvious.
> Stay silent, and be part of the gathering. Maybe you’ll benefit somehow.
> [Write In]

>>5207672
> I've always found that the best way to skive out of work is to look busy
> I just have long breaks, but that's true!
>>
>>5209129
> Ask one of the miners nearby what is going on, aside from the obvious.
What's this about loot? Did the monster have money that wasn't just... Property of the mine? Are the knights taking metal and such from the mine, or demanding payment? I would have thought the King handled that, with taxation and the treasury.
>>
>>5209129
>> Ask one of the miners nearby what is going on, aside from the obvious
All we need is access to the mine after all
>>
“What’s going on?” you asked the man closest.

He turned his head with a light bob; a marble iris rolled inside his glassy left eye. Scoffing and smirking, he replied, “It took them a long time, but the knights finally paid us a visit and dealt with the trouble we had.” His real eye peeped over the crowd. “If you are able to see it: it was a -monster-.”

“So what’s with the uneasy atmosphere”? You muttered.

The man scratched his greying moustache. “They can’t decide what to do with the corpse.” His silence lingered until his gaze returned back to you. “Oh, you’re confused? From what they explained, that demon-thing is made out of dozens of small ones: each of these blobs is a monstrosity. One of the knights decided to cut a pair of them.” He paused, “One had a hunk of silver inside, the other, a chunk of human flesh. Everyone here saw it, and many want to get their hands on some of those precious ores.”

If they just left the corpse alone, it would’ve had been a disaster.

“And nobody wants the corpses.”

The man grinned, “They should’ve left it in the mines—too late for that.”

> Push through the crowd and offer a solution to the knights: each person gets one random monster-blob.
> Push through the crowd and offer a solution to the knights: the carcass, and the corpses of the people within, best to be buried with grace and sanctity.
> Push through the crowd and offer a solution to the knights: sort the blobs with flesh and blobs with ore and then let Head Prospector Phone deal with it.
> Ignore it all. See if you can find anyone who’ll be willing to go into the mines and find Ecline Ore for you. You’ll pay that person for their efforts, of course.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5210181
>Push through the crowd and suggest that everyone get a random monster blob
Maybe, if we're lucky, someone will get some ecline ore and we can trade them.
>>
>>5210181
>> Push through the crowd and offer a solution to the knights: sort the blobs with flesh and blobs with ore and then let Head Prospector Phone deal with it.
It's their duty to keep the peace after all, and this is a part of that even if they don't care for it
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>5210234
>>5210525
>>
Yes. It -was- too late to avoid this predicament, so it was up to the men-at-arms to take responsibility. You reached your hand forward, pushing yourself through the dozens of burly soot-covered bodies. You hushed your mind before it began to wander. Some of the crowd kindly let you pass but others responded with spleen. Ignoring—or apologising—to their barks, you left the crowd behind. You inhaled the fresh sweatless air, raising your head to meet the concealed eyes of one of the men. Who was it?

“Apprentice boy?” he raised from his quarter-kneel to approach you; you did the same. “If you wished to join us, you are a bit late.” He said, his voice unmocking. The knight pointed his hand, “The mines are safe now, so feel free to go and find the ores you need … if you have the permission."

“You dealt with it rather quickly,” you said; up close, the body was even more grotesque and creepy.

“We did,” he nodded. Prissus’s fingers clamoured, tugging the rims of his gloves. “It was a fair fight.”

You were at the crowd’s attention now. “I heard you have some kind of problem with the corpse?”

“Darn right we do,” Eudor said—his voice far harder to mistake. “They don’t like my suggestions!”

“If I, or Prissus, or your own squire, or ‘half’ of the crowd, disagrees, it is the folly of your suggestion, Eudor,” the third man-at-arms said. What was his name? Kleon? “We already -wasted- too much time in this town.” He muttered “Pop-pop-pop” —pop-pop-pop?— “just appoint one of the miners.”

You failed to spot or hear Pfone anywhere in the crowd: was he missing?

“Have you met the Head Prospector?”

“ … We did.” He turned to his companions, barely acknowledging you, “Let’s leave it to the so-called Head Prospector to deal with. If we leave now, we should be able to travel for a couple of hours more before night.”

“You can’t!” You raised your voice. Kleon’s attention turned to you. “At least wait until Pfone is back.”

“It is rather fine with me if they pocket those ores without his knowledge.” What? “And you are … ?”

“He is the boy we meet on Eudor’s detour,” Prissus yawned, pushing one of the blobs with his sabaton.

Kleon nudged his head to let you see the disinterested look in his eyes. “The dwarf’s appointee’s apprentice?” Under his breath, he muttered what he would then repeat in a much louder tone. “And you speak to me why?”

Your brows furrowed—you wished to avoid so.

Eudor laughed, “Kleon, stop scaring the young lad.”

“You are too soft. He said ‘You can’t’. It is not his business what we do."

“If you just leave the carcass here, it will be a bloodbath.” You continued irregardless of his “demand”.

“That might be right, but Kleon is correct as well: we dealt with the issue, and we should be returning.”
>>
“If you want to keep the peace, then all you need to do is separate the black blobs with the precious ores, and those with the flesh inside, into two piles, on your own. Then the flesh can be buried proper—with all the rights—and the ores can be given to Pfone to deal with like any other haul from the quarry.”

Prissus hesitated, “I would rather not; its blood is annoyingly hard to remove, and we only just did that.”

Kleon huffed, “That would take too long.”

“Darn, Julian. It’s not my idea of fun.” Eudor said once you looked at him.

A yell—louder than the crowd—intruded. It was a man, the last survivor, forcing his way through the mass of people. He pointed his trembling hand at the corpse of the monstrosity, “It is! It was it!”

“Giso, calm down,” a man near said, “It is done, killed.”

“Those ores, they are not what they seem!” With every vowel, he spluttered. “I-I can’t say how … but I know, I know it is cursed! All of it is their flesh and bones, turned into gold by the spiders! Don't take it!”

Parts of the crowd fell into silence; the others fell into a loud uneasy murmur.

“Giso, what you are saying doesn’t make sense!”

“Right-right?” another fellow joined, “are you saying those spiders wield fabled magic of the alchemy?"

“You said it yourself, Giso, ‘I can’t say how …’. You are just being hysterical now.”

None of the men-at-arms was disturbed by this suggestion. Just one of the squires seemed uneasy.

> Insist that the men-at-arms do the sorting, it is their duty and their responsibility.
> Suggest that the squires deal with sorting the two—ore and flesh—piles.
> Offer to sort the two piles yourself.
> Maybe it was a bad idea after all. Go into the mines for the Ecline Ore.
> Maybe it was a bad idea after all. Search for someone who can go into the mines instead of you.
> If the survivor is correct … cursed in what way? Suggest burning the carcass in forge fire instead.
> If the survivor is correct … cursed in what way? Suggest burying the carcass deep in the ground.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5211282
>Offer to sort the two piles yourself
As a, smith, a flesh-to-metal alchemical process must fascinate us.
>>
>>5196133
> No update today as I had no time. Vote will remain open.
>>
>>5211282
>Offer to sort the two piles yourself
>>5211848 plus we might get lucky. Though what Giso said is concerning, he was right about the monster after all..
>>
You had a quick look over the marred carcass. “-I- will sort it out and make two piles: ores and flesh.”

The men-at-arms glanced, first at you, and then at each other.

“Just make it quick,” Kleon said with a sharp tone, folding his hands and tapping his clanging sabaton.

Prissus differed, “Take your time, boy” —he rose his hand to veil a yawn— “and what of it all later?”

“Let’s hope Pfone will come back by then and will deal with it properly."

Prissus nodded. He turned to face the mob. “Call for your Head Prospector and then get lost.”

They stood outraged, “Are you going to take it all?!” “The King already took fourth of what we mined this week!” “No way, I am not going anywhere until I -know- that my father’s remains are left untouched!”

Prissus sighed. He pushed his hand across his helm; cursing moments after. The knight slid one of his palms beneath the helmet and pushed another hand inches away from the right of his visor. With an echoing grumble, he slowly twisted and turned his helm, as if trying to make it fit.

“The mine is now clear,” Kleon ricocheted. He held a sword, slamming the hilt against his shield: a feet-less blackbird surrounded by large white feathers, ones it seemed to lose. “I -promise- we won’t take a piece!”

For a while longer the crowd continued to maunder. Following Kleon’s proclamation, one by one they walked away from the affair until five people were left. You passed the untrusting and suspicious type—their cold glares scrapping your neck just like sandpaper—to reach your waggon and take the axe, the unsentient kind, from inside of it. Despite your apprehension, even though you snatched part of its “self”, the axe-haft didn’t come alive, didn’t trash the waggon, and didn’t wail in anger.

You could had asked to borrow one of their swords, but—there was no dispute—Carinda’s axe was better in near-almost every way. You took a deep breath, sitting side-by-side with the swollen cadaver. You had mittens yet somehow the disturbing slimy fell of the bloats skirted past and through the wool. The disgusting sensation made your hands quiver.

One by one, you scalped the blobs and separated their mineral entrails from their abalone bodies. With every precious clump of ore, you “found” a human remain—it felt thawed as if it stayed frozen in ice … but not. The flesh contained no stone, no pieces of ore, and was unpetrified; alike, the chunks of copper, silver, yellow gold, and Ecline Ore had no fleshly bits. They each had a suspicious red streak …

“How is it to study under a dwarf?” One of the squires asked.
>>
> Put the Ecline Ores into your bag; it is an ore -no one- but you will find a need for.
> Wait until Pfone arrives to give him all of the ores, and then ask him to take the Ecline Ore.

> “Why are you asking?”
> “She taught me a lot. I doubt any other blacksmith could teach me as much as she did.”
> “How is it to be a squire to a … before that: who is your knight?”
> “I don’t think I can answer in brief, what exactly do you want to know?”
> [Write In]

> Sorry for the delay.
>>
>>5214348
> “She taught me a lot. I doubt any other blacksmith could teach me as much as she did.”
> “How is it to be a squire to a … before that: who is your knight?”
>Definitely ask for an Ecline Ore chunk or two when Pfone arrives
>>
>>5214348
Going with >>5214411 .Though I still don't think we should trust this ore we may as well let Carinda have a look at it first
>>
“She taught me a lot. I doubt any other blacksmith could've taught me as much as she did.”

“Have she?” the kid moved nearer, nudging his knees together. “What was the last thing you made?”

The sparkle in his eyes matched one of the lustrous minerals. You reached for the unsteady pile of precious ores, taking one of the two Ecline Ores you had identified before. It was disquieting serendipity: Ecline Amalgam was made from upwards of two deposit-differentiated Ecline Ores—but that was the smallest amount required. The dwarven tome glossed over any quantities or details. An alloy consisting of only one type of ore: distinct but identical. The more Ecline Ores you’d had mixed, the better quality(?) would have been.

You held the silver-white chunk—half your fist’s size—before the boy’s eyes. “I am working on it right now,” you said, briskly smirking. “It will be my masterwork, the last thing my master will appraise.”

He spoke, preventing the customary moments of silence. “What will it be?”

“I … “ you hesitated, “I can’t tell you.” It would be weird to have him, but neither your master nor Tetreus or anyone but your closest friend, to know.

“You can’t?” the boy gasped, his eyes widening. “You are making something -that- important?!”

Your smirk curved into a frivolous grimace. You shook your head—not to the boy, but yourself—placing the Ecline Ore back into the stock. “I don’t really know how long it takes for an apprentice to become a mastersmith in the king-towns, but I knew nothing zilch about blacksmithing seven years ago."

“It takes about seven years,” he followed your last word with his, scarcely letting you catch your breath.

“From a know-nothing apprentice to a master craftsman?”

“No, then you are a journeyman for—it varies—several more years.”

“So it’s not much different for them, as it was for me.” You pondered—you left the boy nothing to go on. Tetreus said you would (if you were not sent to the lord-town) train -your own- apprentice; didn't that mean you were only a few days away from becoming a master blacksmith—one of a few dwarfsmiths? It did.

“How is it to be a squire to a … before that: who is your kni-?”
>>
“It is a grand opportunity,” he interrupted with glee, beaming. “The King’s men-at-arms are -always- busy, and they travel across the -entire- kingdom, borders or not. And as a squire, I follow my knight everywhere.” He paused to think (the last time he did so). “He does not teach me; the knights do not teach. It is the duty of the squire to learn from example. We take care of them, and then of our own selves. It is an opportunity, and a huge responsibility.” You noticed his smile … cracking. “I am a son of the Shoons’ family.” The boy cleared his throat, implying you had to be aware of it. He was nobility. “If the knight we are assigned is displeased, it is a great shame. If he dismisses his squire, they are -finished-.”

You frowned, catching the sight of the knights in a new tenebrous light.

Clattering armour echoed a whistling huff. “Aleif,” Prissus called, “help me with this piece.”

The boy sprang up—your question answered—nearly bumping your forehead with his. He did as told.

The piles were soon done, and to your relief, Pfone came back a wink before you were done. Shining his golden teeth and fidgeting the way a flea-infested dog would, he greeted you. Unless you were mistaken, he wore yet another layer of pants, shirt, socks, and even two hats! “Julian. Sorry, it took me that-that long.”

“I am finished here,” you declared, letting go of the limp arachnid body. The knights turned around.

“The darn monster is dead. The ‘loot’ is your answerability, Head Prospector. Unless there’s anything else you want us to kill~” Eudor jeered. He stabbed the corpse—inches from your boot—to make his point. “Is there … ?”

“Were there any more where it came from? I would hate to have to call you every two weeks.”

Eudor cheerfully ignored Pfone’s cuff. “Trust us, that deep there’s not a single living thing left. Of course, obviously, if you continued to dig deeper, another monstrosity might crawl out. We’ll always be happy to help.”

Pfone stared down, at the ground beneath the men’s feet. “Thank you, noble men-at-arms, for assisting us.”

“We did take long, but it will take us just as long to return to the king-town. Explain that to the people.” Prissus stepped before Eudor. “There were no eggs or spiderlings. If you are worried about what Eudor just said, then you can request another King’s man-at-arms to investigate the nature of the beast, and if it is safe to dig.”

Pfone smirked, “I don’t think there’ll be anything left of this thing by the time he comes.”
>>
Prissus placed both of his hands on his shoulder-plates, only afterwards following with a shrug. The men-at-arms, and their squires, prepared to leave. Usually-cheerful Pfone looked at the pile of flesh sorely, shaking his head. He approach the heap of glistering ores—it lifted his spirit and his lips. “That’s about two-weeks work.”

“There is no iron in there,” you said.

Pfone moved his arms like a wooden puppet, rummaging the pile. “You’re right … Do you think your master will let us take back some of what we sold her? She’ll be leaving soon after all, and you won’t need much of it.”

“I know you are joking,” you smiled—assuming he did. “But do you think -I- can take something from here?”

“Please listen!” Giso cried in your face, pushing on both of Pfone’s shoulders. Head Prospector stumbled, holding himself from slamming his head into the bony carcass. The few men that stayed pulled Giso back.

Pfone sneezed, glancing at the taller man from his shorter height. “Giso? What are you trying to pull?”

“All of those ores are turned and deformed out of corpses of the men who -died- there! That’s disgusting ... and outright cursed! You don’t want to make tools or coins or anything else out of them, why would you?!”

“Even if what you are saying is true … ” he looked at you, his sentence incomplete and hanging.



> “I did not notice anything strange, and no marks that the ores and the flesh are the same.”
> “The ores have a strange glow to them, but perhaps that’s just the type of ore at the bottom levels."
> “Store it away, for now. I can take a few pieces of Ecline Ore and have Carinda take a look at them.”
> "Giso is right, I don't think we should be touching this ore."
> “It is up to you to decide, Head Prospector Pfone.”
> [Write In]
>>
>>5215365
> “I did not notice anything strange, and no marks that the ores and the flesh are the same....
>... But store it away, for now. I can take a few pieces of Ecline Ore and have Carinda take a look at them.”

The red marks give me pause. Don't wanna' give our master/waifu a cursed beard-bead. Still, let's to panic people unduly.
>>
>>5215365
>“The ores have a strange glow to them, but perhaps that’s just the type of ore at the bottom levels."
> “Store it away, for now. I can take a few pieces of Ecline Ore and have Carinda take a look at them.”
>>
“There is one thing … ” you subdued your voice, letting only Pfone—and Giso—on your worry; there was no reason to panic the people unduly. “There is nothing that would mark the ores and the flesh being the same, or altered from one another. However, all of the ores have a strange glow to them,” you let the sunshine highlight the reddish-amber sparkle. “Like this—that is not supposed to happen.”

The last survivor latched onto the prospector. Giso had the advantage of stature, but to grasp the bulky mantle of garments was an impenetrable task; a task he failed. “I-it’s not! Look how unnatural it looks, Pfone!” Resting above the soft pillowness of Pfone’s clothes, the tremble of the man’s hand was less apparent, yet it was still present. Pfone sneezed.

“-it is not supposed to happen, but the Quarry never went -this- deep. Perhaps, that’s just the type of ore that is on the lowest levels of the mine.” You tapped your fingers across one of the Ecline Ores, rolling a circle around the strange—strange in many ways—ore. “Head Prospector Pfone, let me take the Ecline Ore to Carinda to have her take a look at it. If you’ll allow me to, and if my master deems it safe, I’ll use it for my masterpiece, and then come back to let you know if it's cursed or not.”

Pfone mirrored the way you stroke the ore with his, much more rigid, hands. His head seesawed, flashing the pair of golden teeth underneath the crookedness of his upper row. “Alright. I'll consider it pay for the ore.”

*** *** ***

Your return to the blacksmith row was as painful and exhausting as your departure; conceivably, less just slightly. With every passing hour, the business of the streets, markets, and shops dissipated. You wished there was a way to leave the waggon away from the narrow boulevards and roads, but you knew it was a risk to do so. Even if the axe-haft would had reacted to thievery the way it did to show its dissatisfaction a day ago, and if you asked the sentient-moss-on-neck to deal with vagabonds as well, the potentially disastrous consequences were not worth it.

You left the waggon a few meters away from the recognisable smithy: there was just enough space for the ponies to move around. The sweets were flung across the cobblestone now, trampled and gross. No one had bothered to clean the mess you left. The mare -had- noticed, but was—or so it looked—no longer interested.
>>
You entered the shop; the first time you were in a blacksmith shop that wasn’t yours. The smithy was bigger, and the stonework and interior were more elaborate and undarkened—the tall window displays and smaller roof mirrors swayed the sunshine and candlelight to brighten the shop's shelves. In one word: a spectacle. Yet, the regular metal works, showpieces, and even the grandiose masterpieces looked—to your eyes—second rate. There were imperfections Carinda taught you to avoid, some of the items lacked Carinda’s polish, and the swords … their very blades were short of just one more whetstone stroke. It wasn’t a lord-town, but how could they miss it?!

“I’m afraid I can’t sell you that,” a languid voice noted into your ear.

You jolted around, staring at the woman standing behind you. Her chin was perked and sharp like a diamond.

“You have an eye—I’ll admit—that’s an expensive and master-crafted sword, but you should know the laws about the weapons, and kids.”

“I am looking for a dwarf woman, is she here?”

“ … Dwarf woman? Why would a -dwarf- be in the Quarry?” she asked.

> “I’m her apprentice. I know she is here, so please, lead me to where she is.”
> Roll your eyes and step past the woman and to where the forge room is. She is obviously here.
> If she’s -really- not here, she either left some time ago or is still working on the gift-knife. Wait for her.
> Come back with Carinda’s axe to show them what a real masterpiece looks like. Then ask to see her again.
> “-That- is a master-crafted sword? It’s not even sharpened completely. Is this a blacksmith shop?”
> [Write In]
>>
>>5216367
>> “I’m her apprentice. I know she is here, so please, lead me to where she is.”
>>
“I am her apprentice.”

“Who’s?” the woman asked in a remarkable ignorance.

“The dwarf’s.” you looked to where the forging area—according to the chimney—premised. “I know she is here, so please, lead me to where she is.” You crossed your arms, looking fixedly at the woman’s pale face.

Her face turned wry. “There is no dwarf here, boy. I would know.” She grabbed at the bottom of your shoulders with her unladylike hands, pushing you away from the sword and then turning you to the exit door.

“Now, since you are not here to purchase anything … ” If she was trying to lie, she was a phenomenal liar.

> Allow the woman to kick you out of the shop. Wait to see if Carinda will come out outside.
> Apologise and ask if you can continue to browse the metalworks. Wait to see if Carinda will come out outside.
> Come back with Carinda’s axe to show them what a real masterpiece looks like. Then ask to see her again.
> Rush past the woman and to where the forge room is. She is -obviously- here!
> [Write In]
>>
>>5217747
>Allow the woman to kick you out of the shop. Wait to see if Carinda will come outside.
>>
>>5217747
> [Write In] Show her the ecline ore tell her the head prospector sent you to get it appraised
>>
You bit your tongue as the woman—barely in her thirties—pushed you towards the entrance. The bell rang audaciously as the door got slammed behind you. You furrowed your brows, returning to the waggon.

You scaled back to the top of it, resting on the lukewarm—warmed by your bottoms—bench.

*** *** ***

Maybe the shop-worker wasn’t lying outright; Carinda might have left to search for you (as you never agreed on the place to reunite) … ? Just as you began to doubt, your master left the blacksmith shop. She paused as if doubting if you ever left, and then grinned from ear to ear, waving her hand.

“Julian!” she said—her talking voice as loud and careening as ever. She was clean of sweat or ash, appropriately allowed to do so by the smiths. You came to a realisation that you’ll never see your master working the forge with her sweating beauty again. “You were faster than me, how so?”

You glanced at the window to see if you could spot the liar within; no, she hid from you well. “It’s a long story, master Carinda.” You revealed the ore from within your bag—glistening with both mercury-white -and- orange shine. Her eyes widened, her uninjured hand reaching to touch it … You let go of the rock to land safely in her palm. “Unlike Tetreus,” you scoffed, “the three knights I told you about took care of the beast—it was huge and hideous—and brought it to the surface.”

You shared with you the rest of the story: the rowdy crowd, the discouraging wives, the fleshy bloats clinging to the carcass like spiderlings to their mother, how it was resolved, and the supposed “curse”.

“Curse eh?” the ore reflected in her just-as-beautiful amethyst eyes, “That’s interesting.” She turned and twisted the chunk, raising it towards the sun and then away from it. “I doubt it's cursed, Julian. You have -far- deeper to find something one might consider ‘cursed’.” She threw the ore back, making you catch it.

“I don’t want to end up making a masterpiece that’s cursed …”

“It’ll be alright,” she waved her hand, stumbling to do so with her crutch.

“-but the shine … ”
>>
“Just makes it more valuable,” she said with a playful wink.

You climbed down to look at the ore yourself (again). Carinda pulled the iron doors open to let the daylight into the interior. The sap of the branched reflected the shining sun, like drooping water following a sunshower. “You have everything now. Ready to start on your masterpiece?” As she reached for the forge-wood, she gasped and struck the wooden floor. She turned around and reached for the pockets of her pants; she took out a curved rectangular knife in a simple leather sheath with a large round handle with a silver-like circle at the end. It was heavy—much heavier than you expected. “I’ll give it to you now, Julian.”

> Accept the gift from your master and open the sheathe to look closely at the knife.
> Accept the gift from your master but leave it un-open. Place it in your bag, for now.
> Tell Carinda that you feel un-welcomed in -that- forge and it’s better to go to another.
> Tell Carinda nothing and enter the shop with her again. Look bitterly at the worker-woman.
> Tell Carinda that you are making the masterpiece for her. Will that change her opinion of the “curse”?
> [Write In]
>>
>>5218954
> Tell Carinda that you feel un-welcomed in -that- forge and it’s better to go to another.
> Accept the gift from your master and open the sheathe to look closely at the knife.
>Thank her, like, a LOT

As for what we should definitely NOT do:
>Do NOT tell Carinda that you are making the masterpiece for her. Will that change her opinion of the “curse”?
That won't change her opinion. She's a proud master-smith. She wouldn't give us a half-assed appraisal or let us make a cursed masterwork out of selfish disinterest.
>>
You decided not to doubt your master. You kept it secret from her—successfully—for so long, it wouldn’t make sense to reveal it now … and for what? Carinda wouldn’t change her mind just because you would make it for her; your master would not let -you- make a cursed masterwork out of disinterest, would she?

You accepted the large butcher-like knife, placing the rounded handle within your palm. “Thank you, master Carinda,” you whispered, unsealing the leather sheather with your dexterity-less injured hand.

Brought to the light, the beautiful iron reflected your face like a polished mirror. It had a convex grind—a smoothly curved cutting blade: an ideal of sharpening art. It fit perfectly in your hand, with four of your fingers to surround and grip around the handle, and a flat surface to shelter your thumb. The metal glossed with a pearly-white hue, with the sharpened edge seeming almost transparent. Did she make it in a few hours?

Beneath the blade's spine, you spotted small-sized letters: light-bluish in colour and shallowly etched. The whole sentence was no bigger than half of your finger and was written in a dwarven language.

“Thank you a lot, master Carinda!” you embraced your master.

She patted your shoulder, chuckling with light-hearted coy, “If you’re going to hug somebody else, make sure to put it away first, Julian. It is -quite- sharp.”

You felt your cheeks burning, “That -would- be safer.”

She took the sizeable branches, holding them in her sound arm, swinging some of them over her shoulder.

You sheathed the knife and safely put it in your bag. You followed your master’s example, procuring a pile of Black Horn firewood. You peered into the window through the chopped twigs, struggling to keep the large branches from falling in your hands. “Do we have to go into that forge?”

“What do you mean?” she paused from opening the door.”

“I feel un-welcomed in -that- forge and it’s better to go to another."

“ … Are you sure, Julian?” her eyes narrowed, “The smiths there let me use their iron for nought; only asking to let them watch me work. Nice bunch. We would have to do all that again if we go to another one.”

> Ask Carinda about the runic letters on the blade; what do they mean?
> Don’t ask Carinda about the runic letters … they are there for a reason?> Agree with Carinda, you can just ignore -that- annoying woman.
> Maybe they were welcoming of your master, but certainly not of you. Insist on another smithing shop.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5219896
>Tell Carinda what happened; maybe it's all q big misunderstanding?
This is a weird situation. If they're kind to dwarves, why rudely lie to their apprentices? Maybe Carinda can shed some light.
>>
>>5219962
> Te-he-he, no update for today. Sorry, was feeling down all day.
>>
>>5221036
Sorry to hear it, QM. Feel better soon!
>>
You weren’t sure: why would that woman tell you such a blatant lie? You reiterated what had transpired in the shop, quoting the middle-aged woman. Standing in bemusement, Carinda paid attention to your words.

“She said she knew of no dwarfs?” She smacked the front door open with her boot, “Let’s ask.”

Immediately, the woman emerged with a loud gasp. “What’s the bright idea?!” she said, her brows tightening at your presence, and then relaxing at Carinda’s. “Oh …” she took a deep breath, verging behind your master to close the door she held. “Open the door with care—I’d like to ask you. Now … how can I help?”

“Why did you lie to my apprentice?” Carinda’s voice was as blunt as a strike of an anvil’s hammer.

“What do you mean -lie-?” the woman said, backing away. “He said he was looking for his dwarf master.”

You frowned, “That -is- what I said.”

She turned her head, pointing her sharp chin at you like an arrow, “There are no dwarfs in the Quarry!”

Carinda stepped to close the woman-made distance, “Y’for real? -I- am that dwarf!”

The pale outlines of the woman’s face halted—unchanging. She ultimately blinked, “There’s no way … ” From her height, she eyed the dwarf, her lips pressed with a sulk. “You are a dwarf? But then … oh, I see-”

“What did you think I was?” You heard a crack: Carinda’s fingers splintering the hard-crusted branches.

“I thought you were just a midget,” the woman rubbed her neck, smiling in discomfort.

Carinda’s eyes narrowed. She maintained a largely fake smile. “Are 'midgets' more common than dwarfs around here?”

She looked away. “I’ve -seen- a couple! You are the first dwarf in my life or this shop!”

Carinda pushed past and towards the steps, nudging her head for you follow, “Maybe those 'midgets' were dwarfs too, and now you'll never know!”

You descended the steps and into a short hallway—a hulking white door blocked your way. Before Carinda could struggle to open it, you did so yourself. Burning moist air scorched your face as you pulled the handle: a blacksmithy's whiff.

Inside were three men. Two adults, and one a late teenager. They had begun to prepare the forges of the smithy, filling each with black and fresh coals. Only one furnace burned with lingering ashes. They looked over to Carinda. The oldest of the three, a man with an envy-inducing reddish-grey beard, spoke first, "Miss dwarf, what brings you back? W-we are happy to see you again, of course.”

Half of her face concealed by the bought and twigs, she pointed her finger at you, “I was wondering if my apprentice could use your smithy as well.” With a huff, she threw the branches at one of the empty corners..
>>
You did the same, joining it into one large pile. The man—and then the others—turned to you. “He is your apprentice, master dwarf?” The bearded man began to stroke his beard, his eyes inspecting you. He glanced at the nevergreen wood, then at his forges. He grimaced, “Apologies, but I can’t 'offer' any more free iron to you, miss dwarf.”

“That will be okay,” you said smiling. “We have the ore, all we need is an empty forge, and some fire to burn our branches into coal.” You mentally crossed your fingers: making proper charcoal would take long days!

“You have your ore?” he asked with a smithing interest.

You nodded, removing the other chunks of Ecline Ore from your bag to offer them to the man. He accepted, inspecting the two ores in detail. The other adult stepped in, ‘I have never seen anything like it.’ He said to him.

“It’s called Ecline Ore, and it can only be melted and combined using the firewood coal of the so-called Black Horn wood we brought over there,” you clarified. “I won’t be forging anything here, I just need to dissolve it.”

“Hmph. Well, if -that- amazing woman is putting her trust in you, I don’t see any way I can refuse.”

*** *** ***

It took hours, but gradually, the light branches began to break and crackle. The wood burned with a haunting viridescent flame and produced no heat and almost no light. It sizzled as if either fat or oil was being splashed onto it—neverendingly. There was smoke, but it was weak—almost invisible. It melted no metal, you tried; you simply put the clay jar inside of the flames, and it stayed unharmed. You could use the thongs and even a metallic form to hold the ore in place, but there was a problem: the ore would only melt when exposed to greenish flames. It wasn’t the heat but the fire itself that melted the bizarre Ecline Ore.

> You are not sure how dangerous the smoke actually is; if it even is! You know almost nothing about the Black Horn tree, and neither does Carinda. Try and convince all of the men and Carinda to leave, for their safety; they might not like it or be unconvinced.
> Ask to bring you a wet towel to cover your face. This might scare Carinda (?) and the others away.
> Continue doing it that way, slowly turning the form to the flames and black with thongs to drop the slowly melting ore drops into the jar. The height is annoying, there’s a chance you’ll miss and waste some.
> Ask for a tall candle holder to put into the forge—the ore on top and clay jar below—to have it slowly melt and drip.
> Hold the ore with your own gloves inches away from the jar, not wasting any drop. You will be too close, this way, and will inhale the smoke, but, likely, you’ll be able to collect the most drops of Ecline Ore.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5221949
>Get a wet towel to place around your face
>Ask the Moss-on-Neck of they can help filter smoke from the air
>Get as close as possible, and do not waste a drop
>>
>>5221947
>“I thought you were just a midget”
wut.
>>5221949
>>5222021+1
Green fire will but hairs on your chest! I read it once in a book. I think.
>>
Coming forth the pellucid smoke, you took in the sight of the curling blazes. The thick stone edges of the forge pushed into your stomach: you were the closest you could be without crawling into the forge herself. This close, you tasted a faint bitter-spiced smoke parching off the burning timber. You had -no- idea what you were dealing with. Raising your hand to cover your nose and mouth from the uncalled smoke, you paused. With a side glance, you looked at your master and the smiths. “I think it’ll be safer if you keep some distance from the forge,” you said. Was the smoke harmless … or not?—you couldn’t be -too- careful.

“Would it be alright for me to ask for a wet towel?”

The men side-glanced at each other, and then the gaze of the adults fell on the youngest one. The bearded man gave a nod; it was less of approval and more of a request. The boy ran up the stairs immediately.

Carinda came closer; she kept some distance between herself and the abyssal coalwood. “Julian, even with regular carbon, you shouldn’t be shoving your head that close.”

“It’s the only way I can think of, master Carinda.” You took the ore into your cotton-veiled hands: were you to use thongs or even a metal shape, the ores were sure to slip out of either into the flaming ashes, or fall and shatter the jar. You waited for the towel before starting, not wishing to risk it. The situation seemed to be more cumbersome than you realised. The ores were heavy, and there were two; you put the chunks on the very edge of the forge, coughing into your frail-injured hand. Your fingers reached for your aching throat, unintentionally touching the mossy scarf. That’s right, hey, you had your sentient compatriot!

“Sentient-moss-on-neck,” you whispered to awaken them but also to keep the smiths from freaking out.

“We were wondering when you would call us! We know he only calls when he needs something from us. We don’t mind; we are in seeing even when we stay away from talking, and from moving. We disagree, we don’t want to-”

The second-adult came closer, taking a few steps around to get a clearer view of you. “Apprentice … boy? Are you talking to yourself?” He had to realise you were not; you were talking to a sentient moss—a far crazier explanation. Carinda stepped before the man, pushing the clutch like a fence, and then her entire body like a wall.

You clutched and dragged parts of the moss above your chin and mouth. “Just thinking out loud—hehe.” Sentient-moss-on-neck understood the predicament: the dozen impalpable voices were now even more dead-quiet. Were they not upfront to your ears even you would have had failed to hear them. “Can you see the smoke from the wood we are burning?” you muttered, holding the moss closer. “Do you think you could filter it?"
>>
The boy returned with a bucket of water, a towel hanging off its side. Unlike his better, he was trusting of your cautioning words; the young teen held the towel in his arms: there was a large span between them and his boots. Once you took the cloth, he let go, bouncing back to a “safe” distance. “Thanks …” you said in an awkward monotone. You nudged your head to glance into the blackened chimney, “If I place you in there, will-”

“We will not filter the smoke in there, human. How unpleasant will that be for us?”

“Alright-okay,” you said, taking the bucket with you to the furnace. “Can you keep it from me if I put -you- on instead of the towel?” You lowered your hand, directing it down at the bucket. “Do you need me to dip you?"

“We are not sure; that might not be necessary. We think it might be, the water will make it much easier for us; if not, it is the boy’s face that will be moist and covered in gunge! That will be funny, and not our problem!”

You dipped the funereal scarf in the well’s chilly water, incidentally drenching your mittens. “I remembered I had my own scarf,” you said semi-apologetically to the group of smiths. Unassisted, the sentient-moss-on-neck slid up your arms, over your neck, and then around your nose and mouth. The feeling … it was a wet swampy moss, what other feeling could there be?! Avoiding thinking about it, you returned to the forge. You made sure the jar was where it was supposed to be before you picked the ore and poised it directly above the flames with your hands.

As the green flames flickered, the ore began to melt. Excruciatingly slow, the drops of liquid Ecline Ore fell into the jar; drop by drop—one by one. The chunk smelted in your palms: you had to make sure there was no space between your fingers for it to leak besides the one gap. You could make a mistake here—a -single- one—but you wished to avoid such; you wouldn’t waste a single drop. It took you hours; maybe four, maybe five …
>>
*** *** ***

The sun began to descend beyond the Quarry’s hive, but the sky was still alight with its radiance. You did not (you couldn’t) count the hours. It was long-drawn-out work—a considerable length of time had passed. You let a few drops fall past the jar or brush and roll down the rim into the fire. It was not the type of work you were trained or even trialled with. That said, in your hands, you held Ecline Amalgam!

Laughing, Carinda hung her hand below your chin. “Julian, you are already growing a beard I see?”

“What … do you mean, master?” you fumbled, flinching your head to see where she was looking: at you.

Within a blink, she unclipped the many straps and bands to free her heirloom hammer, raising one of its bigger-blunter sides to your face. It was like a mirror—was that the real reason behind such masterful burnishing? Greenish-grey leftovers of mossy leaves shrouded your face. They were as thin as needles and just as sharp.

“I think you forgot -something-,” you harrumphed. The sentient-moss— hanging on your neck—ignored you.

“If it weren’t green, it would suit you,” Carinda slapped your back, placing the hammer back into the sheathe and looking off at the distance.

> Ask Carinda if it’ll be a good idea to begin your return now.
> In a few hours, it will be nighttime, ask Carinda if she wants to rest in a proper inn.
> Ask Carinda if she can go and tell Pfone about the uncursed ore.
> Plan to visit the market—and specifically Ontour—as soon as the morning comes.
> The market row is most certainly closed, but perhaps, you’ll be able to find Ontour resting in one of the inns or the local pubs. There are questions you would like to ask him … even if he asks you to pay for the answers.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5222390
> wut.
> As if you never mistook a dwarf (midget) and a dwarf (a member of a mythical race of short, stocky humanlike creatures who are generally skilled in mining and metalworking)!
>>
>>5223149
> In a few hours, it will be nighttime, ask Carinda if she wants to rest in a proper inn
>tell Pfone about the uncursed ore
Though only if it's on the way to an inn/the wagon. We're probably too knackered to do much
>>5223147
>That will be funny, and not our problem!
Nice to see they finally agree on something
>>5223153
The closest I've seen was an alcoholic who smoked like a chimney. Think the guy was only just over 1m. Didn't think midgets existed in-game actually. Wonder how they feel about being mistaken for dwarves and visa versa.
>>
>>5223190
Supporting.
>Rest in a proper inn
>Tell Pfone tomorrow, before we leave

>>5223149
>>
You parted with the slumbering daylight—you felt as knackered as the sun. Gritting your teeth to stifle an irksome yawn, you turned to Carinda. “Master, in a few hours it is going to be nighttime.” You briefly looked through the iron doorways, inside the now-empty carriage: she had, with your approval, gifted the blacksmithy what was left of the Black Horn lumber. It did not burn iron, it was cold to the touch, and gave no light … and it was now theirs to decide what to do with it. You shook your head, “May I suggest we find a proper inn to rest at if that’s to your liking? We deserve it.”

Carinda struck her palms, thawing the temperate streets with her voice, “Yesh Julian, I don’t -mind- sleeping in a waggon, it is as soft as a bed to my back and bones, but I don’t -prefer- it!” She grabbed the waggon’s sturdy metalwork, pulling herself up on the rider’s bench with just one hand. “You deserve an inn’s bed, after your efforts today, for certain! You -almost- made me jump in to help you” —she explained— "by your work!"

You laughed, climbing the stairs and joining her on the bench with -much- less show of strength and awesomeness.

“Pfone asked me to return and tell him if the ore is cursed or not.”

“The inns are at the other side of the Quarry. Don’t worry, Julian, no one is working at night. Pfone can wait.” She snapped the reins the moment you sat yourself down. “Let’s first find an inn that’ll have a stable large enough to hold not only the ponies but also our waggon. That might be a problem …” For ponies, pulling their heads in the opposite direction of Carinda’s meant a loss of teeth, at best! “It’s not often merchants come in waggons this big.”

*** *** ***

There were inns complementary to your master’s demands; not one, but many. It seemed that enormous waggons were less of an unexpected sight than she originally thought. The waggons had to be separated from the horses and were placed in their own staggeringly-large cabin. There were no windows and a heavy flat roof obscured it from the outside streets. The stables were less protected, and were smaller, with each stall big enough for a pony, but almost unsuited for stallions and mares larger in size. You pitied them. The owner presumed no one would steal them.

Carinda returned—previously asking you to wait in the waggon. She presented a dusky bronze key, “The last one, I hope you don’t mind us sharing a room, Julian.”

Your cheeks reddened. A warmish mist rose from the tips of your ears—in the poorly lit cottage, it should had been visible! You covered them; gulping down your saliva. She continued as if she was oblivious to it all.
>>
“There are two beds, but if you are still shy about it, I don’t mind spending the night in the waggon. We can meet-”

“That is fine with me!” you said, needlessly interrupting. “T-they are far enough apart, r-right?”

“I don’t know,” she looked at the key, “We can move them as far from each other as you feel comfortable, Julian.” Carinda—you wished to beg—do not hurt your heart. “Right, let’s go check the room and … I think I’ll go for a few drinks before going to sleep first.”

You walked out of the only present entrance to the shelter of the waggons; there was a man, a worker of the inn, hired to protect it; just one. Surprisingly, he gave you a lukewarm farewell.

> You felt tired and sleepy …

> Ask Carinda if you can join her on her pre-night binge drinking.
> Ask Carinda if you might order some drinks and share them with her in the room instead of the tavern floor.
> Ask Carinda if she can postpone until your masterpiece is complete. All of her good drinks, the ones she brewed herself, as in Crisscross anyway. Even if she drinks in here, that will not make her happy … not much.
> You would like to join, but you’ll just end up falling asleep on a table. Go to the room and trust your master.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5223190
> Didn't think midgets existed in-game actually. Wonder how they feel about being mistaken for dwarves and visa versa.
> Who knows, the fabled meeting might just happen in this very Quest! Probably not.
>>
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Unpopular QM Bump
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>>5224179
> Ask Carinda if you can join her on her pre-night binge drinking.
Nothing can possibly go wrong.
>>
>>5224179
> Ask Carinda if you can join her on her pre-night binge drinking.
But let's take it easy and keep our wits about us...

Unlike how my actual weekend went
>>
>>5225748
>>5225780

You entered the inn to check into your room: a reasonably sized abode with chairs, a table, a set of brass candle holders—a tall one between the beds, and another standing on the table, a coarse cotton rug with tattered and uneven patterns, and, taking at least one-fifth of the room’s space, a wooden wardrobe. You opened the cabinet’s heavy door, putting your bag, and the precious things within, inside. Could’ve had been worse! You sweat just as much to shift the door back.

Two old-styled single-sized beds smelled of beeswax and aged linen. The distance between them was just-about-enough for two adults to reach and amorously hold each others’ hands; a dwarf and a short teen wouldn’t had been able to do so … even if they could, and if they wanted! The rest of the room's odour wasn’t abhorrent, but neither was it pleasant. Carinda pushed the window wide open.

She put her bag on one of the empty beds, spiralling with the use of her crutch like it was never a problem to her—like she was born with it. She placed a few soapy pebbles into her mouth, chewing and then spitting them out.

“I would like to join you,” you said. “With your binge drinking, master Carinda. If you’ll have me, ”

Despite what she was saying, on her face there was a lenient smile, “Julian, you’ll need a clear head for tomorrow. Aren’t you tired after today? You don’t have to worry about me, I won’t—most likely—even get drunk.”

You placed your hand on the door: you attempted to coolly open it with one hand, but the burdensome devil laughed at your disappointing physique; it was another failed attempt to impress your master. “A few cold drinks shouldn’t be a problem, master Carinda.” Grimacing, you pushed more of your weight to open it before her.

She chuckled, offering you a thanking nod; she closed the door herself. “You have me convinced!”
>>
*** *** ***

The drinking floor fit dozens of tables, chairs, and intoxicated bodies: with its large ceiling, it was the biggest room in the inn. Excluding a single person drinking all on his own, everyone else was rowdy and bunched. The people inside celebrated, they shouted, they laughed, and they smashed the tankards and mugs against the creaking but held tables. Foam overspilled and flew on the thatched floor like rills. The wrought iron chandeliers twisted and turned above the crowds—melting wax raining on the unlucky.

“There we go,” Carinda placed six (!) wooden mugs on the small table she spotted unused, and nicked, together with a pair of small stools. Unlike the lonely drinker who sat in an obscure corner, you were in the middle of two cacophonous crowds. “Eh … Julian, do you mind bringing the rest of the drinks?”

“Of course, master Carinda.” You sprang up, pushing past the much-larger men to advance towards the bar, where four mugs waited. Disputing whether to risk it and take all, or not, you overheard two men talking.

“You seen her? Was that a dwarf?”

A burlier one, with snout nose, rounded ears, and beady deep-set eyes, answered, “Likely a dwarf, there’ve been a few rumours of one vising the mines; guess that’s the one.” Two crack-like scars were on each end of his lips—they widened with his grin. “You know what they say about dwarfs: they are bestest drunkards.” He raised an empty mug to clean it of foamy remains. He spat inside, rubbing it with his fingers. “Sounds like self-made scuaqbash. Let’s see if that’s really true.”

> Don’t interfere, let the men come to Carinda and allow her to deal with it. Return with drinks after.
> Stop the men. Ask them not to bother your master, she’s not here for a stupid drinking challenge.
> Stop the men. Ask if they’d like to have a drinking challenge with you instead, a dwarf’s apprentice.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5226328
> Don’t interfere, let the men come to Carinda and allow her to deal with it. Return with drinks after.
Let her know what's coming down the pipe, though.
>>
>>5226328
>> Don’t interfere, let the men come to Carinda and allow her to deal with it. Return with drinks after.
Ah yes, attempting to drink a race famous for being beer-based lifeforms has never gone wrong.
>>
>>5226343
>>5226570

Before the men could stand, you snatched two of the mugs and hastened back to the table—it would take too long to bring the four in one go. On your way, you glanced aback: the two men were already standing up. Pushing past the crowds—wincing from pain as you struggled to hold onto the mug with your injured hand—you reached Carinda, putting down the beers before her. You were surprised: she did not touch the drinks yet.

“Master” —you gasped, slowly letting go of the handles— “there are people coming here to challenge you!”

Her eyebrow rose, “Challenge me?” Tapping the lip’s edge, her mouth slightly opened, “Ah, for a drink?”

A hefty hand slid in between you. The man chuckled, “Woman, you are planning on drinking all of that?”

“There are two more. I need to be fresh in the morning.” Carinda’s amethyst eyes rose to meet the man’s.

The man looked at his less-talkative companion, then back to your master. “That’s one robust boast, dwarf. You drink often?”

“I’d love to drink a lot more often—but I confess: I can’t do it every night. Anything I can help you with, stranger?”

He put his hand to his throat, “Name’s Justin. We don’t see dwarfs that often—ever—so we are just overcurious.”

“I’m just like any woman, I don’t like to be stared at for -long-,” her mug slid from one hand to another, scratching the wooden surface like a knife.

“I keep my stares to my kind, "Justin harrumphed. "We were ... we are just doubting—still—that you can outdrink us.”

Carinda laughed. She pushed your shoulder with her hand, pointing at the men with the widest of grins … The men did not change their expressions. “You weren’t joking … my bad! Sure, but let’s make it fun! My rules!"

Justin offered a passing nod. His friend departed and soon returned with two empty barrels they soon sat upon; why didn't you think of that?

“I’ll share drinks with you—five for you and five for me. The quickest to finish and hold it is the victor and will buy the other one another dozen drinks.” She shook her head, swaying braids out of the way. “Sounds alright?"

“Two of us against you?” Justin’s hand clutched into a fist; there was a thick metal ring, adorned with ornaments, on his thumb (of all fingers!). He dipped his head at you, “That’ll be unfair. What about the boy?”

Carinda looked sideways, “Only if he -wants to-. He needs to be fresh."

> You are not the best drinker. In fact, you are no drinker at all.

> Agree to make it “fair”. You probably can handle a drink, maybe even two! You’ll just have to hold it in …
> You will only get in the way. Shake your hands, and trust Carinda to know what she is doing.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5227353
> Agree to make it “fair”. You probably can handle a drink, maybe even two! You’ll just have to hold it in …
We planned to drink anyway. Just pace ourselves and don't be disappointed when we don't win, since we already knew Carinda had this in the bag.
>>
>>5227353
>> Agree to make it “fair”. You probably can handle a drink, maybe even two! You’ll just have to hold it in …
Eh, one won't kill us and no one is expecting us to do more then that anyway.
>>
> Update tomorrow.
>>
>>5227370
>>5227708

You clung to one of the five mugs tightly. “I’ll join,” you spoke, your eyes shifting from the foamy liquid to Carinda’s face; she was untroubled and smug. She looked you over and, as if giving it some thought, she nodded.

Alike you both, Justin pulled a pair of mugs to himself, “If he didn’t agree, I would ask my friend to not join either.”

The man mentioned acknowledged the mug. His eyes, like poached eggs, widened. He gawked at Carinda, then back at the mug. He leaned toward Justin to whisper ... something.

“It’s ‘calf’?!” Justin's mug fell but was unspilled. His eyes quivered as he stared at the trembling alcohol inside. “You ordered the costliest one?”

“-and the strongest!” Carinda laughed, lifting the mug to the middle of the table. She winked at you. “Or so they said, I doubt it’s -that- strong, but what can you do? Are you two having second doubts now, stranger?”

The second man carried on whispering; you could barely make out his words. “Justin, rethink … if we lose, we’ll have to buy a dozen of those … a dozen! I don’t think we even have enough; do you want to get into debt?”

The brawny man pushed his companion aside, shoving a mug of ale into his hands: onto his chest. Justin wasn’t hiding his voice: “How often do you get the chance, Jub’? All we have to do is finish drinking before her!”

“That’s all you have to do,” Carinda swooned forward. She licked her lips.

With a lengthy swing, the man struck Carinda’s mug with his; the wood thwacked and the foam oozed out like a fountain. Justin and Carinda crossed their eyes. At once, they raised the mugs to their mouths, sipping on the “pristine” beverages. You and the Jub-fellow stumbled, joining onto the binge and the challenge long after the beginning of the bet.

You watched Carinda: the instant she took a sip, her face twisted into a grimace. Master … ? She paused, shut-closed her eyes, and continued to quench her dwarven yearnings. Gulp-gulp-gulp! The gilded ale looked as if it evaporated. Five seconds and it was no more. Carinda lowered the mug, and without even placing it down, she began to drink the second.
>>
You took a sip; a deep wheat flavour, like baked bread, caressed across your tongue and, hot and fresh, flowed through your body, the strange heat flooding into your muscles. The drink was strong; damn strong. Carinda’s moonshine ale was more potent, but it was tastier and softer. The “calf”—they called it—was indelicate. Your head pained with every swallow, and when you finally emptied the mug, the yeasty aroma was no longer there.

Everything further than the table was turned into a blur, and the loud voices echoed. Carinda was now finishing her third drink, and the two men were on their second, with a fifth and final one untouched between them. You raised and shook your head. She slammed the mug, her hand reaching for the last mug; like yours.

> Take the mug before Carinda can. Drink and finish the alcohol to complete the challenge for her.
> Ask Carinda if she’ll be willing to let you drink-empty the last mug. You feel like you’ll be able to, no issue!
> Ask Carinda if you can split the last mug between the two of you, and win the challenge that way.
> Pull back your hand and, with a smile, let Carinda finish the last drink.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5230132
> Pull back your hand and, with a smile, let Carinda finish the last drink.

Funny as it might be, I don't want to sabotage our master when it's been such a good day.
>>
>>5230132
>> Pull back your hand and, with a smile, let Carinda finish the last drink.
Jules would probably spew from the next one
>>
You pulled your hand away from the mug. You placed it on the table’s edge, nodding to Carinda with a smile. Whether it was the alcohol or not, you felt like you could outdrink them: with Carinda's help, or even alone. Yet, however slight it seemed, there was always a risk of sabotaging your master’s efforts; a risk you were not willing to take. Carinda briefly acknowledged you. She gripped your shoulder, pulling you to herself.

She raised the ale and drank it dry. “I’m done,” she sang, landing down the mug. Her beautiful eyes stared at the men and their remaining drinks.

Justin coughed. He let go of the mug, his beard, chin and lips soaked in the alcohol. He dragged his hands against his face: it did little to help. “Damn it,” he spoke, looking down at the mugs left.

Carinda yanked the untouched mug, skidding it from their end and into your palms. “Sorry for taking yours’, Julian. You can drink this.” She chuckled into your ear—if only she knew what it did to your throbbing teenage heart. She let go of your shoulder, raising-waving her hand at the two men. “You can finish your drinks as well.”

Jub' looked at his now-abstaining friend with a sheepish smile. Without a word, he continued drinking the expensive liquor. Justin frowned, pushing the half-finished mug away. He stood up; the large barrel rolled from under him. He grabbed his friend by the collar of his jacket and sharply yanked him—with the mug still in his mouth—away from the table. They vanished behind the festive crowds in the same way they appeared here.

You fidgeted. You took a sip, placing the mug down. You faced your master, “What if they don’t come back?”

“Then it’s a stain on their honour,” Carinda said, gazing away from you and to the people cheering her on. Was that really alright?

“Was something wrong with the ale?” —she wouldn’t give it to you if there was— “I noticed you scowling.”

“Oh, that … maybe I should’ve kept the pebbles for my own-made.” Carinda grasped the table. She inclined, looking towards the glittering candles of the chandeliers. “The ale’s not bad—not great but passable.” She bit her lip on every dot as if trying not to sound too arrogant.

The men returned, placing and moving aside the empty mugs to the edges of the table—it was a small table, and was becoming full.
>>
“We could only afford eight,” Justin wheezed through his snout. “I hope that is still alright with you, dwarf.” He turned away as if not expecting an answer. Jub followed the man like a shadow; he repeated his motion: putting down the mugs, nodding, and drawing away. You glanced at Carinda who whistled them back.

“As I said,” she pushed a pair of wooden jugs to the table’s opposite edge, “I need to be fresh tomorrow morning. It’ll be too harsh of us to leave you without money -and- sober. Sit down, join us for a few hours more.”

They stopped, exchanging uneasy glances between each other. “You don’t have to feel pity for us, dwarf … ”

Carinda looked at you; she was wondering if you had any objections.

> Nod your head and let the two men join your drinking bout.
> Tell Carinda you would prefer to drink alone with her.

> Pretend to drink and take short sips of the ales offered. You can’t let yourself get drunk and embarrass yourself.
> Drink. Drink! Drink!!! It might be your last time drinking with your master.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5230186
>>5230563

> I apologize for the delay and random update times.
>>
>>5231063
>She gripped your shoulder, pulling you to herself
just as planned
>>5231066
> Tell Carinda you would prefer to drink alone with her
> Take short sips of the ales offered
Might be the last time after all
>>5231070
Eh. Easter weekend means everyone's all over the place anyway
>>
>>5231066
>Drink. Drink! Drink!!!
>>
> No update today. Voting still open.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>5231091
>>5231102
>>
It might have been your last time drinking with your master. You took a quick look at Carinda. “I would prefer if it was a drink between you and me, master Carinda.” You looked at the men in, hoping they'd understand.

Justin’s eyes waded through you and back to her. He scratched his ear and then turned to leave the tavern.

As they left Carinda pursued her lips. “Are you sure? It’s ‘the more the merrier with taking the bottle!”

“I am sure.” You took another swing of the mug. You clenched your eyes, trying to hold on to the tangy sweetness of it.

Carinda leaned forward, “Is something wrong, Julian?” She smiled, “I did not mean to force some strangers on our company.”

You shook your head, “It’s not about them, master … I just want to drink with you, and only -you- tonight, if that’s alright?”

“So what you are saying is,” she said, “that you don’t want to share the drinks with anyone, especially -them-. Eight’s not that much to share, you are right!” She raised one of the many mugs bought by the runner-ups; you raised yours, weakly smashing one blunt with the other. The alcohol coiled, and you hurried to bring it to your lips before it got splashed. Belonging to a "drinking race", Carinda did the same without any issue.

“You don’t have to try and keep up with me, Julian. Drink at your leisure!”

*** *** ***

There were times when you forgot a name or a promise you made; some things were not as how you remembered them. Memory was a flimsy thing, and unless protected and tender, would often betray. The time you opened your eyes, however, your memory was barren. You felt a splitting headache; you never felt this way before. Your memory was a fragile glass, shattered into hundreds of pieces; to mend it to how it was, you would had to work on a floor coated with spikes, and as glue you only had gelatine.

A sudden familiar voice rang like thousands of bells. You scowled, covering your ears and looking up. A blurry figure came from the indistinctness in the background; first, it was her outlines, then her clothes, and, finally, the features of her face. She had black circles beneath her eyes, as well as a dimmed glow.

“Master Carinda?” you whispered. You drank much, yet you felt thirsty.

“Subterraneous rain, Julian. How- wait, before that, here; drink,” she pushed a mug to your mouth.

You took a sip, unconsciously hoping for more ale. No, it was the blandest and most lukewarm water. You coughed. It felt as if thorns scrabbled your mind. Your stomach turned. Carinda grasped your neck, pushing-forcing you to drink more and more, to the very last drop. She had a firm grip.
>>
She let you slip out when the mug was empty. You felt as if you were about to vomit, but it never came out.

Carinda stepped back, a smile on her face, “You made me worried there for a second, Julian. I told you to keep it easy.” Looking down at the mug, she sighed, “I wish I could get you some of our dwarven hangover medicine. It's made out of mushrooms and hundred-years matured whiskey and some other things you just can’t get here or anywhere else.”

Your throat was still coarse. “You haven’t slept?”

She looked vacantly, her eyes unblinking. “I don’t think it’s me you should be worried about.”

“At all?” you continued, grasping the edges of the bed. “W-what time is it?”

“It is still early morning, but I don’t know if you should be moving yet. Do you want to rest some more?”

> Ask Carinda if anything embarrassing had happened last evening.
> Despite how painful it is, stand up from the bed. Insist that you are ready to return to the Russet Swamp. If you’ll feel worse, you can rest in the waggon on your way back to the swamp beast’s carcass.
> You are in no condition to move. Suggest to Carinda that she’ll take some rest, and then return to sleep. You do not feel tired, but if there is a medicine that can heal your condition, it would be sleep …
> Suggest to Carinda that she rests now. Fresh air will do you wonders: go for a long walk, perhaps to Pfone and then to the marketplace to see Ontour. Maybe he’ll know, or sell, you a way to cure your hangover.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5233327
>Suggest to Carinda that she rests now. Fresh air will do you winders: go for a long walk to Pfone, and then maybe Ontour
>>
>>5233327
>> Suggest to Carinda that she rests now. Fresh air will do you wonders: go for a long walk, perhaps to Pfone and then to the marketplace to see Ontour
Hangovers are a bitch but i think Jules is young enough to tank it
>>
>>5233386
>>5233658

You slid off the bed like a slug. Your legs were soft and cottony, and the rest of your body floundered with every step you footed to the side. “You should rest now, master,” you stopped, turned around, and leaned on the gnarled wooden wall. It was not meant to be leaned against: it scratched your skin and clothes, but the lingering alcohol somewhat numbed the discomfort. You focused on the, again unstable, figure of your master.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t be moving, but take it easy, Julian,” Carinda said.

You leaned on the impassable door. “I will. I will … go for a walk.”

“Tsk-tsk,” your masted hummed. She bent her head, massaging her neck with two of her fingers.

You made a hopeless attempt to open the door—forget a blacksmith, those lands needed a doorsmith! Your master stepped past you, thrusting the door open with her strength. The door made a peeved creak.

You limped into the open entranceway, bowing to pass underneath her arm. “The fresh air will do me wonders,” you stood up. You covered your mouth, sensing your unwellness returning. Like glue it turned inside of your stomach, but—to your relief—shunned away from gushing further.

Carinda’s mouth was open but firm and unmoving; it was as if she was unsure of what to say.

“You should rest.” you insisted, glaring into her misty eyes. “Carinda … I’ll come back after a few hours.”

She paced from the door and to her bed, flumping on its edge. Her voice unusually quiet, she sighed and said, “Very well, but if I go to sleep now, we won’t be able to leave until I’m awake again—eight hours from now. That won’t do.” She covered her lips, “I can go days without sleep, Julian—I had to, back in Vag Ladur.”

She made you curious to ask, to know what those reasons were. You -wanted- her to rest, but she was your master, and your crush: you could not just demand her to sleep. You could only nod, and so you did. “It won’t take long, a few hours at most,” you swore, putting all of your strength to close the -damn- door. With it somehow dealt with and closed shut, you had to take the long steps down the storey, and a -very- long march to the market row. You also had to travel to the Russet Swamp ...

This day was not to be an easy one.
>>
*** *** ***

You came to the market streets at the commencement of its buzz. The tents, canopies, carts and waggons were primed and prepared, the wares were polished and displayed, and the barkers, travelling merchants, and traders were rested and happy. The fresh air was helping you recover, but the heating-blinding sun did not. Harrowed by your alcoholic withdrawals, you pushed on, advancing further into the market rows in search of Ontour. You looked for the man, but he was nowhere to be found, especially not where you last saw him. The men who you asked couldn’t tell you anything of his name or whereabouts.

> Continue looking for Ontour in the market rows; carry on asking the traders if they know where he is.
> Depart from the market row empty-handed. You had things to ask him, but if he is nowhere to be seen, then there is no point for you staying in the market. Carinda is waiting for you, you can’t be just wasting time.
> Check the market rows if anyone is selling any hangover cures.
> Check the market rows if anyone is selling any cures for tiredness.
> Ask the other traders if they know anything about the swamp flowed that hypnotised Carinda.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5234551
> Check the market rows if anyone is selling any hangover cures.
> Check the market rows if anyone is selling any cures for tiredness.
>Go see Pfone
>>
>>5234593

‘I am already here; I might as well look for something to cure this horrible hangover, and potentially, a way to relief master Carinda’s tiredness’ you decided. Were you to encounter Ontour during this search, that would be a sweetener, but you could not just keep looking for him. You passed several large tents, but the things you were searching for: cures for hangover and tiredness—were not the kind of wares that were favoured.

You stumbled upon a large pavilion made out of gentle flowing chiffon fabric in chocolate colours and intricate abstract patterns (of landscapes and animals yet not) in intense reds and whites. It was a spiced tea stand, with small and low desks and soft round cushions for people to sit on; there were no people here just yet. A strong tea—freshly brewed—would do wonders for Carinda … were she here with you. There was nothing worse than cold tea.

You entered the canopy, hopeful of purchasing the mixture of spices and tea leaves. Nauseous chaos of aromas took to you. It was a mixture of hundreds of scents, so intricate and distinct you could differentiate each. You would have had preferred anything but this! You felt sick, even sicker than when you woke up. Glancing briefly at the confused expressions of the merchants of the pavilion, you rushed out of the pavilion’s draperies.

You ran until the scent loitered only in your memory. Again, you did not vomit, but it was pretty damn close; were you to do it—to let your juices out—you would have had to leave the market … You gasped for air, begging your ale-soaked mind to shut out the pungencies of the spices. This only made you remember the scents in more vivid detail.

A fresh breeze cooled you. You raised your head to the sudden quiet chiming. Before you stood a petite half-rounded caravan. The interior of it was veiled by thick linen cloths, but on the outside, the wooden shell was intricately carved and decorated with flecked paint to imitate shimmering gold. On the bench sat a woman with three … no, five different summer scarfs, each a diverse colour of yellow. In her hands was a white oaken stick, without any necessities of a cane. One of her tooths was golden.

“Suffering from an illness?” she said. With lightning speed, she pointed the long pole to one of the bottles hanging off the waggon’s roof and sides. “Stomach bugs, perchance? I have just the thing for it.” She stood up, spinning the staff in her hands before pointing it to a different bottle, “Were you poisoned, perchance, and are now counting minutes until your demise? No worries, friend, if it's the type of poison uncreative women like to use, I have just the thing! -You- are lucky to find this beautiful panacea corner!”

“I have a hangover,” you grimaced.
>>
“Oh …” the woman paused. She lifted a bottle off a hook with her stick, blending the ingredients inside with a twirl. She lowered the stick, hanging the bottle towards you. “This will help you, friend; it is -guaranteed-!”

“Guaranteed?” you swallowed, glancing at the swirling bluish waters. “How much?”

She named her price: the last of the money you had on you …

“Can I try it out first?”

She shook her head. She raised her little finger, wobbling it. “Depending on how bad your hangover is, friend, it might just be enough to heal it. You won’t buy it then, will you? You can drink it right here after purchase if you have your worries, but you should have -no worries-, friend. My medicine cured most things!”

> Will it work? Will it not? If it doesn’t will you have to demand to have her return your money?

> Pay the woman the last of the cash you had on you, and drink the bottle to see its’ effects.
> Thank her but reject. Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to protect your nose from the spices’ smells and mouth from the tastes. Enter the tea pavilion and purchase refreshing and vitalising spiced leaves for you and Carinda.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5235654
> Pay the woman the last of the cash you had on you, and drink the bottle to see its’ effects
While master would probably have some choice words about trusting random merchants in wandering caravans, our job here is to get the materials for our masterwork. Need to be awake and alert for the day, we can rest more on the way back home.
>>
>>5235654
> Pay the woman the last of the cash you had on you, and drink the bottle to see its’ effects.
>Ask the woman if she knows about a flower, growing in swamps, hypnotic to dwarves.
>>
>>5236116
>>5236313

You had migraines, you had colds, and you had flu—the hangover headache felt the worst! Drawing a defeated breath, you passed over the last of the savings you carried. The money—shining in her eyes—the woman reached for with her hand. She closed her fist with a coy unrestrained smile. “Very good, my friend.” She lowered the stick and the bottle hanging off it: the strange mixture swirling within. Failing to put your hands together, you reached for it with just one. “Be careful,” she reminded, watching you uncork it. You turned your head aside from the stink of the noisome concoction. “Even one sip might just be enough.”

You raised the bottle’s neck, taking—as the woman warned—a thimbleful. You turned your head away, pushing the cork back, holding the bottle as far from your nose as you could feasibly manage. You swallowed the oily liquid—the flavour of burned-out tallow and smoky lard muffled the taste of seedy husks.

… Have you swallowed it? You gulped again—you heard yourself doing so, yet your mouth felt no different. You placed fingers into your mouth, but they simply laid on your empty tongue. You couldn’t breathe, not through your mouth. Wheezing for air with your nose, you could no longer swallow or keep it open. A strange blob, like a bubbled resin, took shape and grew … or so it felt, but there was nothing you could pop! The woman watched you with a mellow expression, unconcerned for your well-being; she had barely moved from the bench. She blinked and smiled, raising one of her hands to wave it near her face.

You could not control your tears; the cause was neither fear nor pain, but something arcane. It -felt- like all of your ills were pulled from your: stomach, lungs, and organs you were too unread to know the names of … but it only felt that way. You inhaled again. You could do nothing but continue gnawing on the invisible sac, and keep yourself composed.

About sixty seconds after, the ethereal bubble burst. You took a deep breath, and another, and another. You fight for air, and enjoyment of its’ virgin taste, lasted for the same amount of time as your struggle for it. Your hands slipped onto your knees and your head slumped towards the ground. You couldn't—you didn't—hide your discontent. 'That was horrible!'

“Perchance, did you expect it to taste like honey milk? That’s not medicine, my friend!”

You drew the bottle into your bag: away from your eyes. You rose your head, facing the woman! … She wasn’t a blur, neither were her contours, or the aesthetically pleasing surroundings of her travelling waggon. Even above—clouds resembling hedges and hogs, and hedgehogs—were sharply defined. Your headache was gone, even the memory of it was hard to recall.
>>
“I assume it worked,” she spiralled the stick. She let go of it for a momentarily blink, letting it whirl on its own, before grabbing it and placing it onto her shoulder. “Make sure to tell your dear friends!”

It … worked, but you wished not to repeat it; neither to give it to your friends, nor your enemies. You left it unsaid, but it was bad as poison. You paused. The flower … she was an alchemist, or at least, she had access to someone who was. “A question” —you leaned on one of the massive wheels— “a flower, an amber-orange lily, growing in the swamp, and hypnotic to dwarfs; does that ring any bells to you?”

The merchant met your eyes. She tucked one scarf into her others and, humming an exotic but backing-worthy (a whistle?) melody, she raised her pole to lead it through the many bottles on one side (and then the other) of her waggon. She sat in silence for a second and shook her head. “Can’t say ‘I do’.”

*** *** ***

Ontour was nowhere to be found. He said he would not leave until all of the things he brought were sold. Knowing Ontour, were he to leave the Quarry so soon, that was the only explanation. You could have had asked him about the runes on Carinda’s gift, or his knowledge of swamp plans … well, there was always next time.

You next came to Pfone, who was delighted to hear that the precious ore was not cursed. He bitterly acknowledged Giso’s condition. The whole “consortium” had agreed to give Giso a week to rest and recover from it all.

Coming back to the tavern, you found the ponies reined in, and the waggon standing out in the open, waiting only for you. Carinda knew the less time you wasted, the better it was for everyone: you, and her, and Tetreus … maybe not Vera. With everything prepared by your master, you departed in the middle of the day. You did not stop for camp, instead, you sheepishly took the control of the waggon to let Carinda rest. The day was clear (a tad cloudy) and the first half of the journey was more or less riskless. On those open plains, there was nothing for the ponies to be distracted by; they were obeying you with no wrangle or visible dislike.

By evening time, Carinda woke up and assumed control of the waggon and the ponies. She let you rest, and rid yourself of the last drops of withdrawal When you woke up the morning after, you were fresh as a daisy.

*** *** ***

You and Carinda entered the Russet Swamp, pushing through the thorny bushes and overhanging crowns; as luck would have it, your master still had a non-sentient and sharp axe left to swing around. Despite the vicious and deep mud, you and Carinda found the way to where Tetreus and Vera were with no hassle; except, there couldn’t be a reunion—not a happy one. The carcass stood secure, the way you left it: it was unrotten, at least on the outside of it. But everyone else …
>>
Vera laid beneath the carcass, unconscious, wrapped in cloths previously sported by God’s Gallop. The stallion was seated near your friend, his hind legs pulled behind him and both of his front legs curved in semi-improper form. Tetreus was not far from the two; he was leaning against the corpse of the swamp beast and was in a sitting pose as well. The lower half of his armour and body was covered in a thick layer of mud and clay. Tetreus acknowledged your presence, and tugged himself upwards: the hardened quicksand crackled but stayed clinging to the armour, like a sandy slime.

What happened he-

“What happened here?!” Carinda demanded, rushing to Vera’s side to put her head on her knee.

Tetreus waited until he was standing proper before he spoke. “I had to knock her out,” he said.

You could see Carinda’s grip tightening around her crutch’s handle, and then over the haft of her axe. “You had to knock her out?” She repeated.

“Yes,” Tetreus said, his voice as thin as a reed. “However, I was late.” The knight lowered his gaze—hidden beneath the fancy helm still—to look at Carinda. “She went to bring some firewood, and disappeared soon after.” He took a step forward, the mud plastering his leggings interrupting his movements. Tetreus stalled, smashing his gauntlet against his knee.

“I came to search for her and found her chewing on some plant as if she was a famished orphan. I called for her, but she showed no response.” Tetreus briefly changed the object of his gaze, “It was a swamp basin, and when I went to bring her from it, she became barbaric … mad.” The man shook his head, “I knocked her out, but found myself half-buried, with no way to bring myself back. I called for God’s Gallop, but he struggled to pull me out. At first. Eventually, he managed, of course, but he lost a pair of horseshoes in the process, I am not sure how exactly.”

“-and you did not think to bring her to a physician?” Carinda said.

“To where your peasant-town?” Tetreus mocked—he was still looking at Vera, “Let us let her rest first.”

“H-How long ago was it, King’s Representative Tetreus?” you asked.

“In hours, I would say the evening before. From sixteen to twenty hours ago.”

> Ask Sentient-Moss-On-Neck if it knows anything about the plant she ate.
> Approach Veronica and give her some of your hangover medicine … it is unlikely to work, and you should be careful with those things, but what if ... ?
> Approach Veronica and push two of your fingers down her throat to force her to vomit.
> Ask Carinda if she can repair the two horseshoes so Tetreus can take her to Crisscross; or the Quarry; or the nearest lord-town.
> Offer to repair the horseshoes yourself and then …
> Watch over Vera until she wakes up. Tetreus is right: no need to panic.
> [Write In]
>>
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>>5237777

> Nice get! I didn't sleep at all today.
>>
>>5237777
>Ask Carinda if she can repair the horseshoes so Tetreus can take Vera to the nearest physician... Maybe the alchemist?
>Ask the Moss if it knows anything about this plant
>Ask Tetreus if he saw the plant, and can describe it
The flower affects WOMEN, not DWARVES. Shit.
>>
>>5237777
Oh fuck. >>5237974 +1
>>5237781
I always wondered why tattoos were associated with dwarves. Fine needle work doesn't seem like it would go well with dimly lit under grounds and dwarf hands
>>
>>5238571
Dwarves have Darkvision and are known for fine craftsmanship requiring delicate precision.
>>
>>5237974
>>5238571


Was the flower affecting women, not dwarves? If that -was- the case … You touched the spongy moss to bring it to sentience, and to wake it up. “Sentient-moss-on-neck, do you know -anything- about the plant she got ill from?”

“We and our cherished rock stood in one place, inseparable; if this flower grew, it was far from our sights. We have seen people pass—the recent being the man who brought alive the Black Horn tree—but never with a plant; not one fitting your description. We can’t help you with solving this problem. -We- can, with a suggestion.”

“Suggestion?” you looked sideways at your master.

“You have?” parts of the funeral lichen whispered. “We have. It’s simple, bring another such flower to live.”

It’s true. That makes two flowers, which means there would be more. But how was that going to help you?

“It can answer your questions better than we can; we know a lot about ourselves, but not of other things growing in this swamp.”

“If it’s less like you and more like the Black Horn tree, it’ll be able to run away; which will be a disaster!"

“It would be, we agree. You don’t have to, but we would prefer, we would be happy, if you followed our advice.”

“ … Thanks, I’ll think about it.” You half-lied. You approached Tetreus: the man was struggling to get rid of the pestilent mud without making it seem like he did. “King’ Representative Tetreus, have you seen the plant itself? Do you remember how it looked?”

He pressed his leg with his iron elbow to turn it; clods of clay rolled off his legging. “She ate all of it by the time I reached her, Jybean,” he said, “there were a few orange petals on her cheeks, but she swallowed those.”

Orange petals! Flowers were rare in the Swamp, especially of this colour, especially growing all alone in deep morass basins. Unless there was an unkind coincidence at play, it was the same flower Carinda found before.

“How far if the nearest lord-town?” you asked.
>>
“Three days away. One full day if my horse has all of -its- horseshoes, but one was lost in the swamp.”

“Master, do we have anything to fix God’s Gallop horseshoe so that Tetreus could take her to the nearest physician?” Nearest physician?

Crisscross only had Eryn, the veterinarian: what could she do? The merchant in the Quarry? She said she knew nothing of the flower but maybe she would have a medicine to deal with its symptoms. Maybe? Tetreus would have to buy it or demand to have it, as the royal man-at-arms. No, why her? The Quarry, the town of its size, would have proper physicians, but would they be able to help your friend?

Carinda gently lowered Veronica’s head on a muddy pillow. “I can and I will” —she glared at the knight— “although the horses can travel fine without one, or all of the horseshoes. I am not a farrier, but I’ll do my best.”

> Advice Tetreus to bring Veronica back to Crisscross. The soon she is looked at by Eryn, the better.
> Advice Tetreus to seek the alchemist-merchant in the Quarry.
> Advice Tetreus to seek a proper physician in any of the hospitals on the Quarry.
> Ask Tetreus to bear Vera to the nearest lord-town, as it will have an even better doctor: likely the very best if you ignore the king-towns.

> Ask Carinda if she can accompany Tetreus and his horse out of the Russet Swamp once she puts on the horseshoe. You wished to keep your master as far from those flowers as you could. Ask her to wait for you there.
> Don’t ask Carinda to accompany Tetreus and wait for you outside. You would prefer her assistance now.

> Seek another of the orange-amber flowers.
> Concentrate on the masterpiece once Tetreus departs with Veronica.

> [Write In]
>>
>>5238571
> I assume its because of viking influence.
>>
>>5239222
>Advise Tetreus to bring Vera to Quarry -- try a hospital, and the alchemist if they cannot help
>Ask Carinda to accompany him -- warn her that the same flower may be at play which bedevilled her
>Go into the swamp, to seek the flower
>>
>>5239222
> Advice Tetreus to seek a proper physician in any of the hospitals on the Quarry.
Since it seems to be a local plant chances are better someone here would know about it
> Ask Carinda if she can accompany Tetreus
To make sure Vera is alright, and she won't be that much help in the swamp anway
> Seek another of the orange-amber flowers
Jules wouldn't leave Vera hanging afteral
>>5239223
>>5238637
These always seemed like cop out answers to me. Dwarves seem better known for making stuff that lasts forever and vikings for being sailors/raiders. Eh.
>>
>>5240179
>These always seemed like cop out answers to me

If we're talking dwarves from folklore, they aren't necessarily stocky, broad-fingered beings, being more synonymous with elves.

If we're talking Tolkien dwarves, they're based more prominently on Jews more than vikings. While Jews have a traditional religious aversion to tattoos, they have sometimes been stereotypically known for fine craftsmanship of little and delicate things, which Tolkien acknowledges in his Dwarf-lore, which certainly lends itself to needle-work if you want it to.

As for Viking influences, well, they might be BEST known for other things, but bodily adornments such as tattoos were certainly a part of their aesthetic in popular imagination. Likewise Celtic peoples, of course, such as Irish and Scots, who likely have an even BIGGER influence on popular imaginings of Dwarves these days than Jews or Norsemen.
>>
You nodded to your dwarf master. You turned to face the knight, “King’s Representative Tetreus,” you cleared your throat, “I believe the best place for you to take Vera to will be the Quarry town. There should be many infirmaries there. If they can’t help, there is a waggon in the market district—a trader there sell medicine, and she just -might- be able to help.” You bowed your head at your friend. Veronica’s face was pale-yellow and she cringed at every unexpected (to her) noise and touch.

You expected Tetreus to refuse, to assert that he was going to stay here, for his only mission—as he said before—was to see you complete your masterpiece. He turned away to approach Carinda. God’s Gallop, without any words from Tetreus, devotedly came closer. He placed his hand on the waggon and harrumphed.

“I am not ignorant of the clinics, Juryan, but I shall keep the suspicious wandering trader you mentioned in mind.” He watched your master climb into the waggon, rummaging-searching through the many heavy bags. “Are you going to fix the horseshoe any time soon, dwarf?” He raised his head to the bleak sun, “Will you do it in time?”

Carinda spat, “I’ll do it ‘in time’, knight, don’t ‘cha worry. If I can’t find a horseshoe large enough, we’ll just have to remove the other three to make it stable.” She crossed her eyes with the stallion; he snorted back at her.

“Master, it might be better if you accompany Tetreus back to the Quarry.” She continued her forage in silence. “I have a reason to believe that the flower Vera ate, and the one you were bedevilled by, are the same.” You explained, telling both her and knight Tetreus of what you knew of the cursed flower, and what you only supposed. “I managed to save you once, but I might fail a second. It’s best if you stay away from here.”

“Your deduction seems sensible. As for the dwarf, she won’t be able to follow-”

“The waggon is not fast enough to follow him, Julian,” Carinda—still on her knees inside of the dimly lit interior of the waggon—interrupted, swaying her head to him and then to where the Quarry was supposed to be. “It’s best if he travels with Vera alone, that way he’ll reach help faster.” She sighed, “Are you sure you want to seek this flower? There might had been another reason why it did not bedazzle you, and you are risking it now.”

Another reason? It was the only one that made sense. “I still have some elvish pollen left to use. No one in the Quarry could tell me about this flower, so I have no choice but to ask it itself.” You assured, “I’ll be safe, master Carinda, but I am worried for you. Can you, at least, wait outside the Russet Swamp for me?”

Carinda freed a large horseshoe and a pair of imposing hoof nails, slapping them against the floor. “Finally!” She exhaled, meeting your gaze ... “Julian,” she said with a sigh, “alright. I will be outside, waiting for you.”
>>
You appreciated her trust. You did the same thing—a nod—to Tetreus, and God’s Gallop. You sat beside slowly breathing Veronica, placing your hand on her shoulder. She shivered. “Vera, everything is going to be alright,” you whispered a promise you intended to keep, “Just stay alive."

You had Carinda’s gift, your masters’s razor-sharp axe, and sentient-moss-on-neck to assist you. You passed the towering carcass of the beast, its petrifying droll still there, dangling off its chin. You took a deep breath: you killed the biggest creature of the swamp, you had -nothing- to be afraid of. Clenching the haft of the axe, you prowled not too far from where the Black Horn trees grew; this is where Carinda’s axe landed before, and Vera wouldn’t go far to seek firewood either. Another flower should had been very close.

You saw it: it was a closed amber lily perking from the surface, surrounded by a crown of reddish lilac leaves. It was the only flower, and the only plant, in the large and deep pit of murky waters. With your arms spread wide to keep yourself balanced (or so you hoped) you stepped and began to be ferried into the sloppy morass. The bog drowned you, pulling down your boots and, when you tried to escape, the rest of your lower body. You pushed and twisted, leaping at the very end to free yourself from the entangling peat. The mud you landed on was no different and snapped you like an alligator from a nesting burrow.

You jumped and crawled until you reached the bottom of the basin. The marsh's surface was covered in yellow-green algae. You forced through the ankle-tall water; it was easier to do than through the damned mud.

Standing above the flower, you caught your breath. You raised the pouch not far above it, not willing to take any risks; you had just enough of the elven dust to “awaken” it. You gently fell it on your palm and, using your fingers like a sieve, you sprinkled the golden dust over the unbloomed plant, patiently waiting. The voice came from within the unopened flower bud: it sounded hollow, distant, empty and lethargic.

“Keep away from me … Keep away from … I am not ready to come up just yet. Keep away from me … ”

> "Hello, my name is Julian! What's yours?"
> “Hey. My friend ate petals of a flower similar to you, do you know a way to get rid of your poison?”
> “Listen here, I would keep myself away from you, but your I-don’t-know-what had tantalised my friends!”
> “Tell me a way to get rid of your poison, and or I’ll have no choice but rip and tear you, flower.”
> [Write In]
>>
>>5240251
> The viking are more popular for me regarding tattoos than Irish and Celts, but you are correct. Regardless, dwarfs are also know for intricate chiselings of their stone buildings, engravings on their masterworks, intricate designs on other stuff like armour, which, ignoring the tattoos, also don't go well with dimly lit underground and dwarf hands.
>>
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>>5239419
>>5240179

> I keep forgetting to quote you guys, sorry!
>>
>>5240456
> “Listen here, I would keep myself away from you, but your I-don’t-know-what had tantalised my friends!”
>>
>>5240483

You dusted off the pollen off your hands. You crossed your arms, scowling at the unbloomed flower. “Listen here,” you said, gripping beneath your triceps. “I would keep myself away from you, but your I-don’t-know-what had tantalized my friends!”

“I did not tantalize a thing … I bloom here, in sanctity and solitude, not to be disturbed … I do not tantalize a thing, and I don’t know what you mean. All I ask it to be left alone, for I am not ready … ”

“Ready for what?”

“To bloom … It is not the time for me to bloom.” The flower ruffled its long leaves like it was wearing a skirt, dragging them unlifted around its slender stem. “Your friends; my sisters. I see. It is not their fault either.”

Keeping your hands in an embrace, you accusingly pushed down your elbows to point below. “Both my friends became bewitched at the sight of your ‘sisters’; they wanted nothing more than come close and … eat them.” Taking into consideration the flower’s sentience, it was weird to say this without wincing. “What do you say about that?”

“ … That is why I hide until I am ready to bloom. Once I blossom, the whole world will be in my care, gracing me with their gratitude … but impatience ruined not only my sisters, but your friends. Poor things.”

> “What the hell are you talking about? Just tell me how to stop your poison.”
> “What will happen when you will bloom? When you’ll stop being poisonous then?”
> “I see you don’t know anything about yourself. What does it take for you to bloom?”
> “But I am not bedazzled by you, is it because I am a man? Why does it only work on women?”
> Break the flower with your axe: the less of those things there are in this swamp, the safer it'll be for any female in this kingdom.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5241644
> “But I am not bedazzled by you, is it because I am a man? Why does it only work on women?”
> “What will happen when you will bloom? When you’ll stop being poisonous then?”
>"Please, tell me how to stop your sisters' poison.”
>>
>>5241644
>>5241683 +1
A part of me wonders if elves get angry when people use their magic rather recklessly, and then it laughs
>>
>>5241683
>>5241878

You tightened your self-embrace. “Please, tell me how to stop your sisters’ poison.”

“There was no poison in my sisters or me. What it was was a treat … unbloomed.”

You let out a resounding grunt. “What is it if not a poison?” You examined the acute fiery details of the flower, “I am not bedazzled by you, is it because I am a man? Why does it only work on the women?”

“I can’t say … I don’t know how to answer,” the flower “said”, each of its words a frightened whisper. Like leafy chains, the petals tensed around the bottom of the bud. “What I know is that my sisters and I are sought after … sought before we are blossomed by the impatient. We are grown here to hide … and they seek us … They can’t wait until the time is right."

“Is eating you suppose to give women some kind of … fulfilment they unconsciously seek for?”

“Once I have bloomed … “

“What will happen when you will bloom? When you’ll stop being poisonous then?”

“I do not mean to harm … When blossomed … I won’t be … poisonous.”

“What will it take for you to blossom? Do you need a few months?” You stared at the flower, unblinking. You tried to sound menacing, but ...

The whole plant pivoted, the water beneath it wavered into steady circles. The flower bud tilted a few inches back as if trying to glance at the cloudy sky, shaded by the enmeshed scarlet canopies.

“I can bloom tomorrow or today, but it is not the time that I decide. I know that it's not the right time. The swamp, I am waiting for it to repose.”

> Offer to take the flower outside the Russet Swamp, but at a distance from the waggon.
> Offer to take the flower outside the Russet Swamp, to the waggon, but keep it hidden from Carinda.
> Leave the flower be, who knows what will happen if you take it outside the basin.
> Destroy the flower with your axe. It is speaking in suspicious and untrustworthy riddles.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5241878
>A part of me wonders if elves get angry when people use their magic rather recklessly, and then it laughs

> Elves are very protective of their lands, and they would be -very- angry. The pollen is elven magic, but at this point, it is self-sustained and can be considered magic of the elven lands, so to speak. Trees, mossy rocks, grasses and so on come alive on their own will in the land of the elves, but the elves make sure that the pollen does not spread any further outside of their borders- they usually do.
>>
>>5242812
> Offer to take the flower outside the Russet Swamp, but at a distance from the wagon.
>>
>>5243374

“You are waiting for the swamp to repose?” you turned, dragging your leg through the murky waters. With your head raised to glance at the bleak windswept rays of the sun above you sighed. “I don’t know what you mean by that, why do all of you sentient plants have to speak in such riddling accents? The swamp is stopping your growth, is that what you are saying? I can take you outside it.”

“That would be strange. It wouldn’t be the right time.”

“Maybe, but the swamp will be here for a lo-o-ong time. I don’t think flowers live that long, though you are an unusual flower, and not in a good way. You are also sentient now, which could also make it harder for you?”

The flower answered with a meek ill voice “I have no strength to refuse if you decide to reroot me.”

You rolled your eyes, leaning to pick the water lily from beneath its orange leaves by its reel-like tube of roots. You did not know what to expect, but you had to try and do something for Vera. With your clothes drenched and muddied, you began to ascend the drowning slope. Just as before, climbing out of each was an ordeal; a trial. You did it once, with Carinda’s inhuman strength, and without holding a fragile plant in your hands. Tetreus did the same to rescue Veronica, wearing his suit of armour, and he would have had failed without God’s Gallop assistance.

You pushed higher. You fell face first; the wet mud pushing you down like a rushing river. You rose your arm to protect the mousey flower from the fall, biding to push your feet deep enough to find stability. Once you ascended high enough, the sentient-moss-on-neck came for a branch of a distant collapsed tree, wrapping itself around it and pulling you out of the morass. You fell on your knees, exhausted and thirsting.

You thanked your plant-friend, watching it return to its scarf-like form.

From behind the bushes—at a distance away—sounded a rhythmic, clock-like growl. A pair of yellow eyes, one horizontal to another, blinked from the murky redness of the swamp. The creature slid one of its front legs, clawing the rest of its bluish-black body into your sight; it had no hind legs and no tail, but a large frog-like torso. It was small compared to the things you fought, as long as your arm, and it was not that tall either.

You stepped back, meeting the edge of the basin. You didn't wish to go back if you could avoid it. You circled the flower around you, watching the beast’s head turn to where you had it. Of course … it was a female beast.

> Place the flower on the ground and step away. Once it reaches to eat it, attack with your axe.
> Clutch the flower to your chest and, dodging out of the way, rush away to avoid fighting it.
> Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to cover the flower out of the beast’s view without harming it, in hope that it'll make it lose interest in it.
> Let the beast jump at you and the flower, and then pierce it with your master’s gift: the knife.
> [Write In]
>>
>>5243849
> Ask sentient-moss-on-neck to cover the flower out of the beast’s view without harming it, in hope that it'll make it lose interest in it.
But if that fails
> Let the beast jump at you and the flower, and then pierce it with your master’s gift: the knife.