Well this is orcward.

Wherein nunsmeetorcs and mainsmeetalts, and little lambs eat daisies.

Game Time: Tuesday, just before midday

As soon as Katya saw the orcs lugging the steamer trunk, she had her scouts stop the party.  Katya rubbed her temples and tried to figure out how she was going to send their new allies to Ilian without taking responsibility for a pair of captured orcs.  Zoran's decision to show them the bolt-hole was unorthodox and broke most of Ilian's security rules, but it had been the right call.  Bringing captured orcs in was a completely different matter.  She sent Shard down to make introductions and learn whatever he could from them.

Shard has always learned a lot about people from looking over what they had in their pockets, so he was naturally eager to look in their steamer trunk.  What could bring a pair of orcs to carry an unwieldy box two days' march into hostile territory, where they could be killed on sight?  The box turned out to have more questions than answers.  A moneybag containing the balance of the orcs' pay, which seemed to make sense.  Two bottles of alchemical silver – good for temporarily silvering edged weapons when fighting lycanthropes.  Two bottles of clearwater solution: enough to purify two weeks' water supply for an individual, or several days' water for a small group.  Two bottles of ghoststrike oil, proof against the insubstantial undead.  Three sets of fine clothes in a leather pack.  A large crystal jar, sealed with an arcane lock and gobs of black wax, full of two or three gallons of thick black liquid that radiated some deeply evil and necrotic energy.  And then ten bars of iron, five from the McGuffin Creek mines, more solidly linking Tarin's smuggling efforts back to Thurig's orcs. While the party discussed what to do about the orcs, Shard checked out Nilgor, gave him a sip of water, and tried to talk to him.

The more Nilgor listened to the debate, the more convinced he was that he and Kreb were not long for this earth, but he kept up a brave face.  As the discussion whip-sawed back and forth from the good alternatives (let them go) to the bad ones (kill them here) to the extraordinarily bad ones (hand them over to acolytes of Moradin for a short life of servitude to the dwarves followed by an almost certainly gruesome death), Nilgor decided that he might be able to influence the debate by giving them as much useful information as his orders permitted.  He spun a yarn that seemed plausible enough:

"...I'm pretty confused about what was going on too, honestly.  We showed up to help out with the rescue op once the smugglers came back with word that Tarin had been taken alive from McGuffin Creek.  Of course Tarin wasn't where he was supposed to be, but there was plenty of room for us to crash on the floor.  While we were getting ready to spring Tarin, this witch doctor shows up demanding that we drop everything and help him instead.  Says we're not even allowed to know his name, we should just call him 'the doctor'.  Man, he was a pain in the ass – all the time referring to his higher-ups mysteriously, implying that he had General Bonewhite's direct permission to be interfering in Thurig's work and that Thurig was not permitted to gainsay those orders.  Lt. Grennec was pissed!  Then he goes off to the side, talks to the guy for a few minutes, and they walked around the warehouse looking at stacks of iron and pointing, grabbing some from the big pile and some from the little pile to put in our trunk. The L.T. came back with that look on his face.  He said things might be up in the air, and he was assigning us to escort the doctor to the Lower Ocean Catacombs, but he wasn't happy about it.

After we got underway, Sgt. Suggs told me he didn't understand the mission either, but he was going to carry out the lieutenant's orders as best he could.  He was a little scared, because he was supposed to meet with the doctor's boss down there in the tombs, and get an answer to bring back – 'clean' or 'dirty' – and the L.T. was going to watch Tarin like a hawk until word came back.  Sgt. Suggs thought it might go badly for Tarin if the wrong word came back, what with the L.T. and the doctor both ganging up on him about whatever was going on with the iron.  Whoever the doctor's boss was, the doctor seemed to think knowing who it was would put the fear of Gruumsh in us, and that we'd change our tune once we met the guy we were going to see: "He'll show you the depth of his power – her power is bigger than anything you can imagine – he's a master of the darkest magic – Bonewhite himself would bow if he met my true master – blah blah blah."  ...if it was that big a deal, he should have just said their names.  He acted like our Generals were hired help, barely competent… it wasn't easy to listen to.  Like I said, Lt Grennec was pissed, but what could he do, you know?  Then he had that weird talk with the doctor, looked at the iron bars with him, and sent us upstream to get the answer.  Told us it didn't change our standing orders one bit.  Now, as far as I'm concerned, it's good riddance to that spooky asshole and his "deep magic" and "scary dark powers".  Tarin, though… I'm of two minds, but you have me in a bad spot.  It's not like I can stop you, but as long as Thurig needs him alive, I'm honor-bound to protect that weasel-faced prick.  Those are my orders, and if you have to kill me, well, I knew it might come to that when I signed up.  So I can't tell you where he's hiding, and if that's my death warrant, then so be it. Shame to die for such a waste of skin and bones though; I'd just as soon you left me out of it."

The argument had settled down as Nilgor got into his story.  Thea continued to grumble that killing them now would save everyone a lot of trouble, but Shard and Darg talked over the different ways to give these seemingly-honorable soldiers a fair shot at survival.  Handing them to Lord Wossname was out of the question – it would put him in a bad position, and it would be morally no better than killing them outright.  Handing them to the dwarves seemed reasonable until they got a look at Nilgor's face.  Finally Shard recalled that there had been a priestess in the temple of Melora with a reputation for bucking conventions.  As soon as he mentioned her name, the party's faces lit up: Sister Marina, of course!

They asked Katya to hold down the fort, and given that her orders from Ilian said basically the same thing, she was happy to oblige.  Shard was technically under her command but she allowed him to follow the party up, to see how the prisoner situation was resolved so that he could report first-hand knowledge to Ilian.  She kept the steamer trunk safe while they hiked up the three flights of stairs and knocked on the catacomb doors.  Bree knocked loudly, and whoever was on duty ran away as though they'd seen or heard a ghost.  A few moments later Marina opened the door carrying a massive harpoon that had clearly seen some use.

"Melora's Tide, you people!  What are you doing?  Jevrem has been worried sick about you, and so have I.  Wossname's people have been coming by every six hours to ask if I've seen you!"

They filed out of the stairwell and her eyes bugged out when she saw the prisoners.  She gasped and shooed them into the acolyte's office. The party talked over each other, but Marina got the basics, and realized that her usual solution – sending them through the sewers to one of Ilian's contacts – did not really apply in this case.  She hurried out of the room, came back a few minutes later, and proposed a new solution.  A captain of her acquaintance who owed her a favor would be bringing his ship into Baerstun Harbor in the next day or two ahead of Market Day.  She would arrange with Dockmaster Moryuk to have his ship placed in the slip closest to the sewer outflow; the prisoners would be smuggled out in large casks and thrown overboard on the way out of the Bay, most likely at Buckle's Ferry.  He would be told only that Marina needed two barrels tossed overboard for Buckle, and would be paid his going rate.  The party promised to help Marina get the prisoners to the rendezvous, and Marina guaranteed the prisoners' safety for the next two days.

Some of the party were intoxicated by the scent of fresh air, and the hints of afternoon sunlight visible at the top of the basement steps, and after a brief discussion, Lenora assented to Rache, Terciel, and Thea's requests for a quick bath and a nap.  Shard pointed out that he couldn't explicitly tell them how long the trip to see Ilian might take without giving away the location, and recommended a break no longer than an hour.  What with one thing and another, the hour passed uneventfully; there were one or two close calls, but the days of filth and fighting had made most of the party unrecognizable.  They reassembled in Marina's basement office quickly and quietly, and headed back down.  Shard gave Katya the rundown; her relief at not having to involve Ilian in the war was visible.  She ordered Shard to escort the party back to the sentry point and if possible, to introduce them to Ilian.

The trip through the sewers was difficult and dirty until they reached the T-Joint, where the outflow from the Ocean Quarter met the outflow from the Artisans' and Royal Quarters and headed to the harbor.  After the T-Joint they continued upstream towards the Artisans' Catacombs. The water appeared cleaner, and the one time the party had to wade in to get around an obstacle, they noticed that it was warmer – not hot by any stretch, but not the frigid and sludgy goop that passed for water in the Ocean Catacomb sewers.

Compared to some of their other excursions, the hike through the sewers was uneventful: nobody got hurt, nobody caught any weird sewer diseases, and as far as they could tell, nothing followed them back to Ilian's location.  When they got there, they met Ilian's sentries: Ryken and Salek were on duty.  Shard greeted them, and Lenora immediately began telling the sentries everything that had happened to them over the last week; Shard was beginning to understand how the tale hung together, but he saw Salek getting impatient.  After a few abortive attempts to establish their credibility, Shard headed up to get Ilian. Ilian returned in a moment, and greeted the newcomers

They sparred for a few awkward moments, feeling out each other's trustworthiness, with Shard doing his best to explain to Ilian why Katya thought these folks would make good allies.  Lenora began to tell the tale again and Ilian shook his head, lost in the winding narrative.  Eventually he understood that they had been the ones who
destroyed Grigory's nesting site in the Ocean Catacombs – well before the wererats could arrive to set traps, and even before Katya's squad was sent out.  He was delighted at the strategic surprise they had visited upon his enemy, and relieved that his people were safe.  He explained the party that the undead and the wererats continued to make life difficult for him and his people, and that he was beginning to doubt his ability to keep his family safe against the myriad threats. When the party explained to him the magnitude of the undead problem in the Ocean Catacombs, and showed him what the orcs had carried, his eyes grew wide… the witch doctor, for all he had irritated Nilgor, clearly understood much of what was going on in the sewers.  He had been bringing supplies to fortify someone or something against both wererats and ghosts – but he had also been bringing iron and fancy clothes and a jar of something unspeakably evil.  Nobody could offer a coherent explanation for all of these things being in one place.

Ilian held the bottles of silver in his hands and stared at them while his pride and his duty to his family wrestled for control of his next words.  The party looked on, wondering if something in the trunk had finally convinced him to bring them into his circle.



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