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Zigzag

Choices Make All The Difference

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For some time now, Tazarek has been dormant, but no longer. Now was the time for this nation of dwarves to expand their horizons, and so they looked eastward. 

Surrounding the Hidden Valley and Dark Forest were mountains, glorious monuments to the values the dwarves hold dear, and made the perfect position in their efforts. The southern portion was to be guarded with a grand fortress, to ensure that anyone who desired to go into the area on land, would have to pay the toll. To the north, a similar fortress was to be built, to guard the land in the seas, and provide similar tolls on what was going to be a thriving port of trade. All that was needed to resolve was one thing that could bring it all down.

A burgeoning city known as Nesthome was home to both humans and ratmen, a fact which upsets a good deal of the more conservative minded dwarves. While small, they posed a threat, and so diplomatic relations had to be established in order to understand whether or not further action needs to be taken. 

Approaching the wooden gate was a group of dwarven soldiers, escorting an iron plated carriage pulled forward by strong horses. Each of the soldiers were heavily armed and armored, they didn't even look as if they were breaking a sweat. Making their way to the gates, the lead dwarf shouted in a thick accent.

"Oi laddy! Get yer arse down 'ere and open up so we can talk to ya leaders abou' somethin' important! Come on now, we ain't got all day ya daft bastards." Certainly the dwarven people are known equally for their stoicism, and their inability to mince words. 

@Jotnotes

Edited by Zigzag

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The roads to Nesthome are well-worn, but still new. Instead of cobbled pathways or paved, smooth earth, the roadways are potholed and pitted with the grooves of heavy wheels. Hoofprints, footprints, and tracks of inclement wildlife, have long been baked into the drying soil by the sun and weather. Mud puddles cling to their fetor on the sides, where the brush begins and the trees still grow. Rather, where some trees still grow. There can be no mistaking the forbidden woods as untouched any longer--long before arriving at the town nestled in the heart of the trees, felled plants of immeasurable age and might are plainly visible. Where you cannot see the workers, you can still hear them, either deeper in the woods, or further down the road. The logging crews are diverse, but it's not the human loggers, or the other, more common species hacking at the trees that catch the eye. It's the plainly obvious, difficult to avoid, difficult to discuss that captures the attention of most. The man-sized, bordering-on-scrawny ratfolk that swarm these sites, a dozen, two dozen, three dozen of them working in tandem, hacking down branches, or using fire and saws to bring down the mighty trees. It's a slaughter in the making--an arborcide, perpetuated by an invasive species.

More than a few of them watch the wagon pass, ears and noses twitching as the observe the travelling wagon.

The wagon rolled towards the wooden walls of Tradetown. The walls were strong, made of heavy logs lashed together into a sturdy-looking barrier. Behind it, the peaks of rooftops peered over, as if the town within dared to peek over at the incoming dwarves. The wall itself was manned by both men and verm alike, and it became strikingly obvious that there wasn't any real cohesion between the two. Close to the gate, a simply-dressed human woman in leather gear rested one hand on a quiver of arrows strapped to her waist. Not too far off, a Verm licked his eyes nervously, his tongue snaking past his front teeth, and slipping underneath the grey iron helmet he wore. His pauldrons appeared to be made of layered bark, topped with heavy studs forced through the material. The crossbow he carried seemed far too expensive in comparison to his ramshackle gear.

On 6/20/2020 at 11:05 AM, Zigzag said:

"Oi laddy! Get yer arse down 'ere and open up so we can talk to ya leaders abou' somethin' important! Come on now, we ain't got all day ya daft bastards." Certainly the dwarven people are known equally for their stoicism, and their inability to mince words. 

The woman glanced towards the Verm, then behind her as someone else clambered up the ladder behind her.

"What this, then?" The man climbing the ladder asked. 

"Dwarves, I guess?" She shrugged, letting her hand fall to her side. "They say they want to talk to our leaders." She let that hang for a second while he got to the top. Once he was off the ladder, he smacked his lips thoughtfully.

"Definitely never been here before," He noted. The man approached the side and glanced down. 

"To be clear, whose leaders are you here to see?" He asked politely. "The Guild Masters aren't expected to arrive for another week, the Kid is off on business, and we don't have a mayor or anything."

The Verm close by spoke up, clutching his crossbow warily even still. 

"Maybe short-things are speaking about King-King." He pointed out. 

The man glanced back down. 

"You here to talk to the Rat King?" He asked.

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"Yes! We wish to speak with the bloody Rat King, what other kings are around here?!" The dwarf shakes his head. "Ya'd think these people wouldda figured out some kinda system for this." His fellow dwarves shrugged their shoulders.

When they were allowed into the city proper, the wagon made its way on the dirt road. Inside the wagon, the diplomats were feeling a little nervous.

"I heard these Verm will eat anything, even dwarves." Said one of the diplomats. 

"Calm down." Another said. "As long as we keep our heads, everything will be fine." 

"As long as we don't have to be out in that mud. It's absolutely filthy out there. Do they have absolutely no decency?" Grumbled the last. 

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On 6/26/2020 at 4:38 PM, Zigzag said:

"Yes! We wish to speak with the bloody Rat King, what other kings are around here?!"

"Yeah, there you have it." The recent guard turned to the Verm. "You wanna guide them down there?"

The Verm continued to stare down at them, crossbow to his chest, but hands on the trigger. He looked over each of them warily before his tail wrapped around the crossbow and he let it go, scampering down the ladder on all fours. A moment later the gate swung open to allow the wagon and its occupants passage to Trade Town.

With the gate down, the Verm was able to guide them along the main road, which was a fair bit sturdier and well-kept than the roads inward. Cobbled paths led the way through the various man-made structures all around, all of them made of that fine, strong wood of the once-enchanted trees that surrounded the town. Each building had similar designs, with strong frames filled in with clay or stone typically, though a few buildings were made entirely of logs, and others still were made of sod, and built deep into the earth. There weren't terribly many shops, per say, but many different open-air booths and workplaces, where the sunlight could pour down upon them.

The Verm turned inwards, up a slowly inclining hill where houses and buildings slowly got more elaborate and large. Near the top of the small hill was a large, and quite obvious structure--the sign that read "Trader's Guild" made it even more obvious. In fact, there were several large, proud signs up this far, many of them instore businesses and services with various wooden signs hanging off the front door. The roads widened as they ascended, and folks walked along the very edges of the paths.  The streets up here were busy and packed, and other wagons moved up and down this route as well. All around them, men and women of all races talked among themselves while the sounds of inner city busywork rang out. The crash of the carpenter's hammer, and the ringing of the smith's mallet were audible in equal measure. 

It was, at this point, that it became clear that there was a clear Verm presence here. Not only were they effectively everywhere, but they worked in coordination, much like the rats in the woods, often moving in large, talkative groups in and out of the busy streets. There were more than a few on the various rooftops nearby. Was the wagon being watched?

The Verm guide moved beyond even these buildings and these civilians towards what was clearly the most important part of Trade Town.

Near the top of the small hill, surrounded now on all sides by buildings and streets was a large, heavy wooden door. The door was crudely carved and cured into no discernible pattern, but rather appeared to be largely utilitarian in design. Unlike many of the other streets, the only guards posted there were Verm. These guards--almost a dozen of them--were strapped down with heavier armor along their long, exposed necks and heads and shoulders, but had very little along their chests. Each wielded well-made iron spears, although the speartips also featured a cruel, jagged hook and a pointed tip. They took notice of the Verm who approached first, then the wagon behind them and moved forward to investigate.

"Snol, who are half-things?" One of them prompted quickly. The guide, Snol, bowed his head in subservience.

"Half-men, come to speak-meet with King-King!" He replied honestly, gesturing to their cart. "Half-things say 'King-Rat is the one-only King around!'"

One of the guards snorted, amused with their supposed obedience, and stepped toward the wagon.

"Half-things," He spoke, staring up at them on their cart. "Wagon-ride is fine, but can't-take into King's-Hold. Keep-cart outside, yes-yes?"

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With a little help, the dignitaries exited their carriage. Dressed in true finery, the dwarves bowed graciously to their hosts.

The lone female of the group, Morta Ironbreath, spoke first, the blue glass beads threaded through her blonde beard shook softly. "We of the Republic of Tazarek thank you for your hospitality."

"Hopefully we can prove ourselves as worthy partners towards your success." The other, a male known as Juulgard Mountainheart.

Silence came from the third, a male dwarf older than the both of them, known as Munzim the Clever. Instead he nodded, his calloused hands clutching the warhammer he used as a walking stick. Nobody but the guard captian were aware that even in his advanced age, Munzim could still kill a man with one swing of that old weapon.

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The Verm who spoke to them stepped back as they dismounted, dressed in their finest. The Verm sniffed on sight of their finery; expensive clothing and jewelry were rarities in Tradetown, and an unknown to those of Nesthome. Around that guard, the other guards rested their hands on their hooked spears, but looked on without action, while the Dwarves bowed in respect.

On 8/11/2020 at 1:09 PM, Zigzag said:

"We of the Republic of Tazarek thank you for your hospitality."

The guard adjusted a plate on his shoulder, nudging it closer to his neck as he gestured the Dwarves towards the gate. The Verm, noticeably, didn't really seem to acknowledge the bow at all. No snorts of derision, no tilt of the head in acknowledgement, nothing. 

On 8/11/2020 at 1:09 PM, Zigzag said:

"Hopefully we can prove ourselves as worthy partners towards your success."

"Yes-yes, good-speak from visitors." The guard walked them towards the gate. "It is good-knowing that half-things come with. King-king will be pleased, yes-yes!"

The other guards remained at their post, watching the Dwarves pass them by. One of them, somewhere in the middle, sniffed suspiciously at Munzim as he passed them, old as he was. There was, clearly, a keen interest in his weapon. Eyes shifted from the Dwarf, to the hammer and back.

But not a single one of them said anything.

Beyond the door, light was quickly snuffed out, but between the Verm's comfort in the dark, and Dwarven low-light vision, it wasn't hard to see the sharp dip into the ground. These tunnels were not natural, but harsh burrows clawed open by feverish hands, only hastily propped up with wood as an afterthought. The subtle vibrations in the air ahead of them suggested that this steep-slopped tunnel did not go on for long, and beyond it lay a much, much larger system of sorts.

At this point, the guard guiding them waited while Snol ignited a lantern. It was hanging off a nearby post driven into the wall sideways, and once it was lit, light was cast down the halls in both directions, casting longer shadows down the sloping tunnel, until the very end where a proverbial abyss awaited them.

The Verm weren't terribly interested in small talk, and instead walked in silence, as they passed other Verm. 

There were, in fact, several dozen Verm moving in either direction at all times. Those coming in were carrying supplies--planks of wood, burlap sacks, small carts overflowing with roughly hewn stone and gemstones. The trundle of wheels close and distant reverberated down the hall. Many passing Verm actually paused to check out the Dwarves, but they could not pause for long before returning to work.

Seeing this many Verm in one place was enough to reveal a number of oddities about the ratlike beastmen. For one thing, the size difference between Snol and the Verm Gate-Guard who had escorted them down wasn't simply testimony to Snol's shortness. In fact, there seemed to be a majority of shorter Verm, as the laborers rushing past were all roughly the same size, and each seemed patchy and lean, scraggly and unkempt. The guard wasn't much more attractive than they, but at least their fur grew even and strong. 

Snol scurried ahead of the group, and shortly afterward dipped out of the steep tunnel into what lay beyond, which the lantern could not properly illuminate. When the guard and the Dwarves passed through it, the Dwarves likely already knew what awaited them.

Beyond, the steep tunnel opened into a massive chasm, spanning miles in all directions, and plummets for miles more, and not an inch of space is misused. The chasm is natural, but built-upon; where the Dwarves entered from, on the long wall of the crevice, a long winding path has been carved in both directions, which snake along the winding edges of the skirts of the chasm for what feels like an eternity. Right away, on both ends the outcropping of the wall, and the curve of the road hide the exact dimensions of the system from view, but artificial light pours out from the sides of the cliff face, visible even from here, the sounds of ringing metal, shuffling feet, cold whispers and digging are perennial on both sides of the chasm, and sounds near and far begin to filter in. The paths are wide enough in most places to support almost six dwarves standing side by side with room to spare, but in other areas, only a single rat can pass by, and hastily-made guard rails there make these angles all the more treacherous.

Furthermore, it seems as though the Verm cannot decide how best to navigate their strange stronghold. Rope-bridges of some recent design sway slowly as Verm tread over on them, old wood creaking and ropes groaning under the strain of the weight, where elsewhere singular lines of rope fly from one floor on one side, to another floor higher or lower on the other side, often accompanied by some kind of platform, either  a large piece of wood, a singular seat, or even a mere knot of rope to grasp. In front of them, a small cluster of laborers climb up a ladder to escape the floors below, while incoming workers maneuver a cart down a hastily-designed scaffold to the bottom floor.

There are, however, other, more interesting structures here, too. Bolted to the ceiling with chains and leads, hopefully, are many swaying chunks of rock. Looking at their design, it's safe to assume they were chipped out of the higher levels of the chasm, then slowly maneuvered downwards to serve as floating islands--the chains keeping such marvels in place are numerous, and of varying sizes and qualities, and upon these floating islands aren't homes, but larger buildings and spaces. Not far from them, a stone bridge has been hewn of a rock pillar, which is wide enough to host a platoon of rats walking across it, and in the center of this pillar, the warm, familiar glow of the forge beckons to the dwarves. Elsewhere, a large elevator appears to have been constructed for the express movement of large payloads, and is noticeably surrounded by rats at all times, eager to keep it in working shape.

That brought attention back to the Verm themselves. If there were many outside on the roads, there were thousands if not hundreds of thousands more within the chasm. A sea of rats ambled and shuffled and snorted everywhere, on each winding path natural or improvised or designed, and each seemed busy. Picks and shovels were fairly noticeable, but there were warriors, seemingly, and other occupations scattered throughout.

The Verm Gate-Guard approached a nearby guard within the chasm and gestured towards the Dwarves.

"Town-rat says half-things wish to trade-speak with our King-King." He explained to him brusquely. The other guard was dressed in much the same way as the Gate-Guard, but instead of the hooked pole weapon carried a short, flat-edged sword with a bent tip--a human design of some kind, clearly. And, with minimal conversation, he approached the Dwarves again, and beckoned for the three to follow, with Snol following with the lantern.

"See now, Half-Things, the Deepness of Nesthome!" Snole spoke to them at last, breaking the tedium of silence as he guided them down the scaffolding. Upon close inspection, it was still shoddily made, but highly ambitious, having actually been hewn into the wall to serve as integral architecture rather than temporary designs, and even allowed the rats to step off the scaffold to let other rats pass, and had multiple floors they could step off of. Snol guided them to the bottom-most floor, which was only about three floors down, and not quite close to the bottom of the chasm. 

Here, the rat ushered them towards a long, constantly rotating chain manned by two rats. You could see the first rat because of the light of his lantern on the far end of the chasm where the chain ended. You could see the other rat because he was standing on this side of the platform, on a short stool and slowly turning a crank. Besides the rat was a small pail of what seemed to be cooked ground meat, and a mallet. Next to both rats were what appeared to be foot pedals, attached to tough rope, attached to iron hooks. Snol grabbed several of these oddities and handed them around.

"This pedal-way is fastest way to King-Kings fort, yes-yes. Snol hopes Half-Things are not so scared of height-drops." He paused upon seeing the eldest of the three, and reached for another one of the hooks. Nearby, a loose pile of unused rope and hooks sat, undisturbed, and the Verm grapped the rope and quckly tied it into a knot above the pedal, creating a sort of 'holster' for the hammer.

The guard and Snol both took time to assist the Dwarves in getting their hooks on the chain, while getting their feet on the pedal, but once it was done, things moved on their own. Once the hook was caught on the chain, the Dwarves and Verm were yanked forward with a jolt, the chain sagging slightly, but otherwise moving at the same speed as they passed across the chasm. If they cared to glance down while they travelled, they would note the constant ringing of hammers and wheels, and the distant noise of explosives, most likely from the large mining project below. At one point, the massive bulkhead of a ram slowly lifted from the dark into the lantern light, before sinking away again, accompanied by the distant sound of ringing metal, and the shattering of stone. Just as soon as the trip began, however, it ended once more. Getting to the other end of the chasm, there was a short runway in which one could step out of the pedal, before it wound around the pulley it was fixed to and went back upwards. The other rat turned his wheel slowly, and as the unmanned pedals came close, he casually swatted them off the chain with a precise blow from a small wooden mallet. They fell into a pile with a clatter.

Snol paused to let the Dwarves get their bearings. Before making a generally benign offer.

"If pedal-way is not to the half-things liking, Verm can show them Winding-road on the back-way." He gestured to a long, and probably steep winding road that snaked up the side of the chasm, probably all the way to the top floor. It had high traffic, and seemed wide enough to support the largest of Verm vehicles. One of which was a human-made cart, overburdened with what appeared to be chunks of chiseled stone stolen from elsewhere.

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Their journey through the expansive home of the Verm was as interesting as it was unsettling. While ambitious, the architecture was shoddy at best, and offensive at worst. If not for their extensive years of tempering their emotions, they would have likely had disgust on their faces for all to see.

"As uhm, exhilarating as that was" Juulgard explained "I think we would prefer to try one of your wagons on our return to the surface."

"Reminded me of the old days." Munzim said thoughtfully. "Back when I was a young lad and I was part of an old adventure group."

The other two were surprised by such a revealing piece of information. Just the thought of a young and spry Munzim running about with other dwarves was more than a little amusing to the other members of the group.

"Let us continue so we may meet your ruler." Juulgard insisted.

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On 8/17/2020 at 6:57 PM, Zigzag said:

"Let us continue so we may meet your ruler." Juulgard insisted.

"As half-things insist." Snol crawled along beyond the pedal-way, and down what was arguably the closest thing to a road the dwarves had seen in Nesthome thus far. On this outcropping of stone on the far end of the chasm, the divet in the wall crept upwards in slow, easy slopes, up and up and up, until the winding road the wagons came down on met with the footpath. There was a sort of mindlessness to the Verm design; new roads and pathing were slapped down seemingly wherever they might be needed, without regard for organizing, proper direction or any real architecture. It was assumed that by carving the tunnels, building the bridges and mounting the scaffolds themselves, the Verm mostly knew where everything they needed would be. Climbing up the slopes, the pathway disappeared around the wall of the chasm, but kept going forward. Stepping out of the larger system, and into the tighter corridor, their Verm guide sent them in a lazy curve that slowly brought them by their estimate very close to the other end of the cavern, where they had originally been before taking the pedal-way.

Here, a sort of noticeable oddity was visible. The tunnel was blocked off, but not with stone or barricades, but with tightly packed dirt. The dirt was dense, but not very thick and could probably be removed with a couple hours digging at the very most. What laid beyond it was unknown. The rest of the cavern the Dwarves found themselves in was massive, and deliberately clawed open through hard manual labor, about the size of a large ballroom. It felt as though it might be large enough to fit hundreds, if not thousands of rats at once, and at the far end of the cavern was the front facade of a large citadel.

To use the word citadel in such a sense felt kind of immature. The structure before them was meant to be regal, yes, with carefully carved pillars of rough stone, etched steps and arches and smoothed stone walls, but there was such a genuine discount for quality that it felt as though it was a cheap attempt at vanity over architecture. Yet, this sort of design wasn't really noticeable elsewhere. The homes outside of Nesthome were of human and elf and other makes. The structures within Nesthome came from similar origins, with many designs lacking even basic attempts at architecture or design.This facade didn't really feel like it was copying anything--it was probably the closest to genuine Verm architecture in the entire city.

Guards flanked the doorway, numbering at least a dozen. Each wore telling pieces of armor, large helmets that were thickest on the sides and back, neck covers, a long strip of steel that ran down their spines and heavy blades with longer-length handles, like a crude marriage of a sword's length and an axe's hilt. They weren't relaxed when the Dwarves entered, and seeing the unfamiliar visitors presented their weapons immediately, taking stock of them, even while Snol tossed his hands forward in a peaceful gesture. 

"Not-enemies! No-no, these half-things come to see-speak with King-King." He squawked at the guards.

Only one of them lowered their weapon to approach, and strode forward to squint at the dwarves, particularly Munzim and his hammer. Up close, it was easier to see the strange physique of these larger rats. Though still ugly, their fur was smooth and shiny and least mostly well-kept. They had clearly-defined muscle and bone structure. Yet their eyes...why did all the Verm all look as though they were in the middle of anxiety attacks? He inspected them all slowly, and presented the sword-spear.

"Half-things, cause no trouble." He growled. "Rats have many guards inside palace, yes-yes. Nesthome dungeon always has space-room for more, as well."

With that in mind, they were waved inside. Several guards gave them sneers as they passed, and one in particular stopped to sniff at them.

But then they were indoors, and the madness of the chasm returned in full force.

There wasn't a single element of the interior of the palace that made sense. As soon as the facade was bypassed, corridors wound around in every direction, and each of them seemed pretty ordinary until Snol walked directly to his left, in a winding circular corridor that led to a flight of stairs, that ended in a flight of stairs going downwards, which led to a large room that appeared to serve as a meeting room of some kind with even more paths to choose from. From there, Snol moved them into a different corridor, and then another, before a flight of stairs sent them up to a large set of double doors.

...the double doors were built upside down, by the way. There was an odd design to them--here of all places, that Verm architecture returned. It was a sort of motif around here--perhaps some religious significance?

Beyond the doors, lay a long stone floor, polished feverishly to a shine. Though you couldn't see anything clearly in it, you could see whether or not anything was moving anywhere in the chamber. In that moment, a lot of Verm designs made sense, almost.

The oddly designed corridors that seemed to go nowhere, and had low ceilings and no furniture? The well-formed facade, designed to look like an imposing fortress? There wasn't a single guard visible in the majority of the corridors. The polished floor in this throne room, so reflective no motion was impossible to spy?

The Verm King-King, it appeared, was anticipating an attack. An assassination, most likely.

The room itself was quite nice, despite this, and a clear amount of effort had gone into the dome-shaped ceiling. Bits of colored glass and luminescent moss and fungus were generously applied to the sides of the domes and walls to simulate stained glass windows with light passing through them. On the far end of the throne room, behind the King-King's throne was a large double-door that led out onto some kind of balcony. For giving speeches, most likely.

The King-King sat in the center of the room, on his throne. The throne appeared to be devised of rat's teeth and bone, The King-King himself was draped in heavy-looking grey iron armor, with a crown modeled after rat's fangs. The king himself was surprisingly tall, and well-built, and resting next to his throne was a weapon of significant quality, a sword that seemed to glow with a ethereal moonlit glow. The King-King wasn't alone, either. Guards flanked the door they passed through, next to his throne, and near the balcony behind the throne. 

Snol quickly dropped in reverence.

"Our Holiness, the King-King," he murmured, kissing the polished floor before the king. The king raised a fist lazily, acknowledging the gesture. Snol got to his feet and turned to the Dwarves.

"Our King-King, these Half-Things came for you." He mentioned, kneeling out of the way. "Speak of niceties, want to nice-speak, yes-yes!"

The King glanced towards them, and lifted both hands in welcome.

"Half-things?" He questioned. It was immediately apparent that the King-King, unlike many other Verm, could speak common quite well, but even he didn't know what to call the dwarves.

Once they introduced themselves, he spoke again..

"Welcome then, Dwarves. This is the home of Skarr Clan, the glorious new way forward for my people. So long as you show reverence to our laws, you are welcome in these woods, if that's what you seek."

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Here they were, face to face with the king of these rat people, ready to begin negotiations.

"We come from the Republic of Tazarek, a long standing, independent nation that is seeking to stretch outwards and share its culture with others." Morta started, raising her arms outward in an open, friendly gesture towards the king of the Verm. "It is of our belief that we can be of mutual benefit to each other."

"You see, Your Highness." Juulgard continued. "We have need of the resources in this area, mainly the lumber your industrious people are harvesting. With it we intend to build some settlements, quite far away from your territory of course. In return, we have been authorized by the Representatives, the council elected to lead our people, to negotiate payment." Reaching into his robes, he pulled out a sack of coins, Morta also removing her own sack of gemstones.

"Please accept these as tokens of our willingness to pay you fairly in these proceedings." Both of the diplomats humbly offered their gifts, but Munzim stayed where he was, his cobalt blue eyes boring straight into the intelligent ones of the Verm hierarch.

"I will offer you no coin or shiny rock, as it likely has as much value to you as the dirt beneath our feet." Plowing through the surprised beffuddlements of his companions, he reached into his robes and pulled out a larger bag, tossing it to the feet of the holy rat. "Your people can't eat money, but I bet they'll like this." As soon as it hit the ground, the sack unfurled, revealing a strange square bread, with dried pieces of meat, cheese and nuts.

"It won't rot for weeks, and will sustain your people for a time more than whatever you could likely squeeze out of this forest. Lots of hungry mouthsyer highness, a problem that can turn catastrophic without some help." The others were stunned, waiting on the response of rat king before speaking, unsure of what was going to happen, but for Munzim, all this was nothing to him, or at least that's what his demeanor gave off. With his hands resting calmly on the handle of his weapon, he waited.

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On 8/23/2020 at 9:25 PM, Zigzag said:

"We come from the Republic of Tazarek, a long standing, independent nation that is seeking to stretch outwards and share its culture with others." Morta started, raising her arms outward in an open, friendly gesture towards the king of the Verm. "It is of our belief that we can be of mutual benefit to each other."

"You see, Your Highness." Juulgard continued. "We have need of the resources in this area, mainly the lumber your industrious people are harvesting. With it we intend to build some settlements, quite far away from your territory of course. In return, we have been authorized by the Representatives, the council elected to lead our people, to negotiate payment."

King-King watched from his throne, not moving as they procured a number of various presents and bribes. From his place atop his throne of teeth, he truly did look like the type to flatter with gold and shiny things; a menacing tyrant, his throne fought for with tooth and claw. Indeed, he did appraise the coins and gemstones the dwarves produced with some mild interest, but not much else. Around the room, the guards looked on impassively. Beyond the balcony, the constant ringing of pickaxes from below continued onward, the sound of digging through earth and stone, endlessly.

On 8/23/2020 at 9:25 PM, Zigzag said:

"Please accept these as tokens of our willingness to pay you fairly in these proceedings."

King-King lifted a hand in acknowledgement, but what really caught his attention was the elder dwarf who offered no such baubles. Instead, the older of the three stared him dead in the eyes and once he took notice, he shot that glance right back at him.

King-King recalled, briefly, that in his time as king, no attempt on his life had come even close. He mused, looking at the geezer's age, and his weapon, if he had a similar blessing upon him. A gift from some half-thing god of war, perhaps? What use was a war god's blessing, versus the promises granted to the Verm patriarch?

On 8/23/2020 at 9:25 PM, Zigzag said:

"I will offer you no coin or shiny rock, as it likely has as much value to you as the dirt beneath our feet." Plowing through the surprised beffuddlements of his companions, he reached into his robes and pulled out a larger bag, tossing it to the feet of the holy rat. "Your people can't eat money, but I bet they'll like this."

The sack of food hit the ground, and the guards around them shifted in their places. King-king let his gaze drop to look at the food within.

Whatever was within, he'd never seen it before. Some kind of bizarre mix of foods, mashed together in a loaf of sorts, similar to the man-thing's bread, but more. He signalled for the guards, and one stepped forwards. He appeared reluctant at first, but at the King-King's demand grabbed the food and took a bite, and then another. In fact, the King-King had to gesture at him to return to his post to keep him from eating it all. All the while, the elder dwarf continued to speak.

On 8/23/2020 at 9:25 PM, Zigzag said:

"It won't rot for weeks, and will sustain your people for a time more than whatever you could likely squeeze out of this forest. Lots of hungry mouthsyer highness, a problem that can turn catastrophic without some help."

The King-King considered their proposal. If the dwarves could feed the population while the Tradetown farms continued to grow, while the trade routes were established, that'd be a monumental boon. The idea of the population skyrocketing into the millions within a year tickled his fancy. The King scratched his neck with his claws, deep in thought before speaking.

"You seem to underestimate our numbers, Dwarves," He said slowly, hands on either side of the thread. "Food is, of course, a welcome offer, and one I would happily take. However," He raised a finger. "I must know. How much food can you offer us? Our labor force is inexhaustible--this forest, massive and hard to deplete. Can you really afford to feed my kind as long as we can afford to bring you lumber?"

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Munzim thought for a moment, or at least, he looked as though he were thinking about how to structure the deal. "Do you two remember seeing that sapling we passed on our way over?" He asked the other two dwarves.

"The one in that clearing?" Juulgard asked. "Yes, I remember it. Puny thing, probably still has a few years before it gets even to a fraction of the size of the others."

The eldest dwarf nodded at that. "Good, then that will be our means of measurement."

"Measurement?" Morta asked. "Measurement for what?"

"For the amount of wood we intend to purchase." Munzim said, looking now to the Rat King. "The tree we speak of is about this high." His hand was just above his head, hardly above four feet and nine inches. "If your people can stack enough lumber to beat both its height and shadow just after high noon, then we will give you in payment one hundred pounds of that bread, meat, cheese, and nuts. This transaction will occur once every week, with my people making certain that the tree is untouched by your people's lumber harvesters. Is that fair to you, Your Highness?"

Stunned silence from the dwarves followed, and they felt the color drain out of their faces. How could someone be considered clever if they gave out deals as foolish as that? It would take years, decades maybe, for the tree to grow large enough for the lumber to fit the value of the food they were paying. Truly the Representatives were not going to be happy about this.

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King-King stroked his chin thoughtfully, listening to the Elder Dwarf's proposal.

18 hours ago, Zigzag said:

"For the amount of wood we intend to purchase." Munzim said, looking now to the Rat King. "The tree we speak of is about this high." His hand was just above his head, hardly above four feet and nine inches. "If your people can stack enough lumber to beat both its height and shadow just after high noon, then we will give you in payment one hundred pounds of that bread, meat, cheese, and nuts. This transaction will occur once every week, with my people making certain that the tree is untouched by your people's lumber harvesters. Is that fair to you, Your Highness?"

The guard who had sampled the food earlier appeared quite eager regarding this proposal, but remained at his post, and nobody else moved as he considered. It was, obviously, a good deal to strike. The Verm could easily handle a workload of that size without fail in a day, let alone a week. A hundred pounds of food per week was a significant offering. But the Verm didn't get to where they were through deals and trust alone. King-King didn't ponder the deal in order to weigh it's value; he considered whether or not the Dwarves' treachery was plain. 

It was sort of easy to imagine how their deal would grow to be useless. As the tree grew, so would the labor required to match its height. The labor required to meet demand would, eventually, grow to be cost ineffective. Yet that would take years, decades perhaps. It seemed like a bargain worth taking, for now. 

King-King glanced towards the guard who had stepped forward to sample the food and spoke. "Call upon the Seers, if you would." The guard nodded and scrambled out of the throne room, while the monarch returned his gaze to the Dwarves.

"I believe this suits us well." He said slowly. "I will put one of my Seers in charge of overseeing the labor project, as well as transporting lumber to your land, and taking food back. From here on in, your dealings on this will be with them, and not me." With little else to say, the King-King gestured towards them. "Escort them out."

A pair of guards closest to the door waited impatiently for the Dwarves to put their things back together, then ushered them out of the room and back down the hall, in a different way from which they came. They stopped upon reaching a small chamber, which the guards invited them into. In the center of what appeared to be a war room of sorts was a squat table with no chairs. The ground here was covered in dried leaves and loose gravel. Each step made a noise one could hear from outside of the room. 

"Half-Things must wait here." One of the guards told them. "Quick-Soon, one of the Grey Seers will show-show and speak with Half-Things about business-keeping."

The guards took their place at the door, and eventually a Seer was mustered. The guards who had been barring the doorway parted, and another Verm entered. This one was draped in a lengthy grey robe that covered the entirety of his body. Holes in the top of the hood allowed a myriad of twisted horns to spiral out in all directions like a twisted crown of bone. 

Grey Seer Khrol glanced over the presiding Dwarves with something that resembled contempt and impatience. 

"Yes-yes, on with it. Explain deal to me, now-now!" Behind the Seer, another Verm trailed behind. Somewhat humorously, he bore large spectacles across his muzzle, which made his eyes look cartoonishly large. He clutched, somewhat unsteadily, several pieces of parchment of somewhat high quality, and a stick. The end of the stick was burnt to charcoal, so it was probably meant to be some kind of pencil.

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Again the deal was repeated, with Juulgard and Morta standing quietly in the background, frustrated and angry at their superior.

"The Representatives are going to have your head for this, Munzim." Juulgard said. "There's no way they'll agree to this." Red in the face, the dwarf looked like a cherry ready to pop, his arms crossed. This was supposed to be his moment to shine as a diplomat, but again he was cheated out of it by Munzim the Clever. He hated that people referred to the older dwarf as such, when in his eyes the ancient codger was more fool than anything.

"Before you interrupt me again." Munzim said, after relaying a clause to the Seers he felt was important, one where if either party breaks their end of the deal, they will pay the other party triple the amount of whatever good they were selling in gold for an entire month, with hostages being given to ensure payment. "You might want to remember who it is that secured your place in the government. Without my recommendation, you'd still be a lowly clerk." Taking the younger dwarfs defeated silence as aknowlesgement, he continued with the seers.

"That should be everything. Any questions?" The only person he was really concerned with was Morta. She had obtained her own spot within the ranks of the diplomats without need of his interference, so he didn't have much in terms of leverage. Fortunately it seemed she was just as ignorant as Juulgard was, and so he didn't see the need to try and persuade her to his side. She would likely just move on with her life, intimidated by his aggressive tactics, and maybe become a littlw more reluctant to go out into the field again. That would suit Munzim just fine, the less prying eyes the better.

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On 8/30/2020 at 9:21 PM, Zigzag said:

"That should be everything. Any questions?"

The Seer went over the deal carefully. The Seer, quite unlike the King-King, was a somewhat miserable--bordering on angry--creature. He listened carefully and impatiently, and frequently snapped at the lesser Verm to write things down. By the end of their conversation, he'd seemingly already set some kind of plan into motion, and had taken careful stock of the Dwarfs' stipulations, clauses and offers.

"Have heard enough, yes-yes." The Seer dismissed the question testily. "Seer-Khrol will speak-talk with King-King, to prepare brood-mothers for den. Brood-mothers will mother labor-rats for dwarf wood-cutting, and labor-rats will take-back food-things here."

The Verm with the spectacles scribbled that down as well. Khrol snatched the paper from the Verm immediately afterward, and struck him upside the head, causing him to recoil as he fled from the room, leaving the Seer with the Dwarfs. 

"Setting up brood-den should take Skarr-Clan a little-time." He told them. "Seven-days? Maybe-more."

But with that, there was little else to discuss. The Dwarfs were escorted from the stronghold and back the way they came. Instead of taking the pedal-way, as they did to get downward. Instead, the Verm who led them back upwards guided the Dwarfs along another pathway, across a Verm-made stone bridge to the far end of the chasm, where they could take a series of low-sloping paths up to the exit. It wasn't a short trip; in fact, it took them arguably twice the time if not more to reach the tunnel out again, which was ample time for them to recover and prepare for the journey out again.

Once they reached the surface, the Dwarf's wagon was returned to them, and they were escorted out of the city once more. The gates swung shut slowly behind them, but Verm workers along the road the entirety of the route out of the woods kept them from truly feeling free of the ratmen's presence.

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