Content of the article: "Counteroffer (Steelshod 435)"
I don’t post these daily anymore, so just in case you’re a newcomer and you’ve never seen a Steelshod post before… click here to start at the beginning
This is the latest chapter out of several hundred, and I don’t think it will make much sense without context. This isn’t an episodic story so much as one long narrative.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you back here in good time. If not, no big deal. But I think if you start here you’re going to be very, very lost.
Table of Contents – includes earlier installments, maps, character sheets, our discord server, and other documents.
First | Previous
Note for Binge-Readers: This is generally live-updated to reflect the current state of the game! Hopefully if you’re binging you can keep better track of who’s going where, because you just recently read about them going there.
The One Forest
It takes a little while for things to settle back down.
But Cyril sees an opportunity here, with Partholon still absent and Dolan somewhat senseless from his beating.
So he, Cara and a few others make a few rounds throughout the various interconnected groves, trying to meet with any Laochra or the various headmen of the families that make up the Collar of Thorns.
Specifically, Cyril has a list from Agrippa of the captives they have back at the Basin, and their names.
So he is trying to figure out which families those men belong to, and who might be willing to negotiate for their release.
They eventually find the right guy, a Laochra from a clan that had many of its warriors stationed at the Old Tower
He’s about medium drunk when they find him, and at first he just gets very aggressive
Demanding that they let his people go.
But they stand their ground, utterly unconcerned by his attitude, and eventually get him to talk.
It turns out his nephew is on the list of captives—nephew on his wife’s side, they realize, and one he’s been getting a lot of shit for at home ever since the lad went missing
He’s definitely interested in getting the boy back, and they determine they have three more of his more distant kin as well.
He tells them he will pay for all of them.
If they want Middish coin, he has some. A few hundred silver pieces, at least.
But if that is not enough, he says his family has a wealth of leatherwork and whisky that he could trade for as well.
Cyril quietly suggests that they go for the leatherwork—he has something in mind, but he does not reveal what.
Cara agrees, and she gives an oath of safe passage if the man comes to meet them at the Basin. He seems reluctant, but he understands they’ll need to meet somewhere neutral. Right outside the Basin is probably logical.
They agree that he will come by Ronald’s Basin with a cart of leather and leatherworkers to trade goods for his kin.
Meanwhile, Snorri the bersark has decided to start his own little competition with these Collar of Thorns
He’s noticed some of the same men Felix noticed, that are eating considerable amounts of food
And he has gone over and sat directly across from a couple of these men, locked eyes with them, and joined them in their non-stop binge eating.
He matches them bite for bite, grinning all the while.
It’s a petty contest, and the Collars pointedly ignore him, but Snorri seems to be enjoying himself.
While they are trying to make inroads with the various Collars, Cara has a brief interaction with another Laochra. He shakes her hand, at least which is nice, but seems to shrug her off soon after.
However, when they return to their table Cara quietly talks to Cyril and Felix. She says that the man said he might wish to talk later, about future relations between the Collar and Steelshod.
And he passed her a coin.
Cara passes the coin to them, and they quietly look at it.
It’s a Caedian silver shilling, a mundane enough coin. One side is stamped with some bit of architecture, a castle or a tower or something, and the other is stamped with the king’s profile
But on this particular coin, someone has gouged a small but deliberate mark onto the coin, destroying the king’s eye.
It’s a mark Prudence and Felix have seen a few times before, on the streets. Perhaps they’ve even spread a couple such coins themselves.
It is not an official mark by any means, but perhaps a common enough sort of Thieves’ Cant symbol
The meaning of which is self-evident.
You may have already guessed… /u/ihaveaterribleplan asked if he could burn a lot of his Spy Network points to get someone willing to at least talk to them here, and I allowed it.
More than that, given how many points he burned I realized it made sense to establish a proper Laochra and his men, maybe a tiny faction within the Collar, that might be sympathetic.
Someone that has heard about how Steelshod has managed to get the Wncari out in Caedia their independence, and wonders if such a thing might be possible here.
Someone that might dream of prosperity and independence without the endless bloodshed Dolan and Partholon want.
It’s just one man, and maybe a few of his kin, but it could be a start.
They’ll have to wait for him to come find them later, since this party is not the time for such discussions.
Dolan eventually seems to return to his senses, and he emerges from the depths of the grove where his wounds were being treated.
It is now quite late at night, and the party is winding down.
Most people are thoroughly drunk by now.
The main exceptions are Osion and his men—the ones that escorted Steelshod in—who nominally joined in the festivities but seem to have exercised moderation.
They’re all seated behind Steelshod, ringing the edge of the grove, watching without interfering.
The only other group that seems sober is the group of twenty men Felix noticed earlier… the hard-bitten warriors that are still gnawing on the scraps of the feast.
Now, as things are winding down, Felix notices something somewhat concerning.
Those twenty men are the only members of the Collar of Thorns still sitting in the central grove with Steelshod.
Everyone else seems to have withdrawn to the outer rings.
Before Felix can comment on this, however, there is movement on the platform above them.
They saw no one climb up it, but now they see movement in the shadows within the burned out tree trunk.
And Partholon steps back out onto the platform.
He stares at them in silence for a long moment.
The sounds of the party die down immediately.
It seems that even the drunken warriors have enough wits about them to show proper respect to the Druid an Fáinne.
“Hello,” Partholon says slowly.
He stares at Steelshod, and eventually settles his gaze on Cara and those nearest her.
“Have you come to a decision? Do you accept my offer of help against the foe you seek?”
It’s a hard question to answer.
Of course they’d love his help, Cara says. They came here to get help against Unferth.
But they won’t stab Victoria in the back.
At this point, Partholon seems exasperated.
He’s not asking them to stab anyone in the back. He thinks that a trade of inaction for inaction, words for words, is a balanced offer.
They leave Victoria and the Collar alone, and he leaves them alone.
In exchange for such a fair arrangement, he will tell them where they can find Unferth. He even offers to answer other questions they might have about Unferth.
If anything, he thinks his offer is quite generous.
Cara points out that they won’t be able to verify Partholon’s word.
They won’t know if he tells the truth for weeks, months probably
And if they take the deal, they’ll return to Steelshod without the troops that are expected.
With just Partholon’s word as consolation. She can’t imagine her commanders will accept that.
Partholon tells Cara that she doesn’t have to rely only on his word.
He could show her where Unferth is.
Borthul perks up at this. Silent literally for the entire party up to this point, the old man suddenly becomes quite alert.
“You speak of some sort of far-seeing!” he exclaims.
Partholon gives the old wizard a skeptical look, and says “Aye, old man.”
Borthul returns Partholon’s look with a scornful expression of his own at the “old man” line.
Cara asks Borthul if such far-seeing is possible. Can Partholon do as he claims?
Certainly. Such sorceries are possible. Unferth himself has demonstrated at least one method of projecting one’s awareness and will far beyond their physical location.
And there are others Borthul has read of.
But it’s also possible for a sorcerer to weave a glamour, and show someone what they wish to see, or what the sorcerer wishes them to see.
Borthul is pretty sure Steelshod’s run across that sort of thing as well.
Cara asks if Borthul can tell the difference. Borthul shrugs. Maybe, maybe not. Hard to say.
Fucking useful, Borthul is.
Cyril leans in to whisper his opinion to Cara
Namely, that if Partholon can show them where Unferth is, and keep Unferth from seeing them in return, that may well be more valuable than whatever aid Victoria could render the Coalition.
Assuming Partholon can be trusted, for example if he swears to show them the truth.
Felix crosses his arms, giving Partholon a skeptical glare.
He doesn’t bother to lean in close to Cara, and instead announces his opinion at normal volume.
“Na, don’t trust ‘im,” he declares.
James speaks up at that, loudly agreeing with Felix.
He says that even if they assume Partholon will not break his word of honor, that’s no guarantee he won’t twist whatever he promises
He could show them Unferth as he is right now… but what’s to stop Unferth from moving?
And it could be that he shows them Unferth hiding out in a nondescript cave, with no background details with which to deduce his location in the world.
Technically the truth, but how useful would that be to them?
It’s a pretty savvy insight from James, honestly.
Cyril agrees that if they agreed to such a thing, they would need Unferth’s precise location—including directions, or even a map.
He glances at Partholon. Is this possible?
Though, Cyril mentioned the importance of keeping Unferth from knowing he has been spied upon, and that Partholon cannot necessarily guarantee.
Cyril is a little nonplussed at this, since he whispered that comment to Cara. He gripes that Partholon has unusually good hearing.
Regardless, if Partholon cannot promise that Unferth will be ignorant of them spying on him, how is his information worth anything?
Unferth will simply relocate the moment he realizes they’ve been observing him.
Partholon clarifies: Unferth may not know it was them watching him, but he could easily know that someone was watching.
Partholon meets Cyril’s eyes and says, with a wry smile, that Unferth has “good hearing” too.
But if they’re worried about Unferth running from them… he won’t.
Partholon knows Unferth has been in the same place for some time, and likely will for longer still.
Furthermore, Partholon says, he thinks Unferth feels quite safe where he is. From what he’s heard of Unferth, the prospect of Steelshod going to him will only excite him.
Cyril sighs. He says that, given this information, he advises Cara take the Collar up on their offer. This intelligence could be more valuable than Victorian troop support.
He pointedly ignores Lioness’s venomous glare and mutter of “fucking Loonie”
Felix reiterates that he doesn’t trust Partholon and doesn’t trust this offer.
Cara ponders the words of her various advisors.
She observes that Partholon is probably right. Unferth isn’t necessarily the type to balk at a confrontation, especially one on his own terms.
But that sort of begs a question, then.
After all, they have made contact with Unferth numerous times. No doubt they will again. If Unferth is really that keen to meet them, they could probably go get his attention and just ask him where they can find him
Whatever Partholon might claim, a big part of the appeal of getting special intelligence was Unferth not knowing that they have it
She isn’t willing to accept this offer. She won’t sell the Victorians down the river just for this offer, just for a glimpse of Unferth.
If Partholon will trade his knowledge for something else—more antimony perhaps, or gold or steel—that could probably be arranged.
The members of Steelshod that have heard what Agrippa learned, and what Partholon is probably using the antimony for, wince at that offer. But nobody objects.
Cara says she could also offer their healing services.
Any Collar of Thorns that Steelshod wounds in the coming fighting, but does not kill, she says will be welcome at the Basin.
Allowed to come for medical treatment and then allowed to leave.
She knows Agrippa would love that.
And, looking around the groves, Cara says she mostly feels bad for the Collars. She knows they have no idea what they’re in for, once this fight gets serious.
And she has no real quarrel with them
“Our fight is with you,” Cara says to Partholon. “And with him,” she gestures towards Dolan.
Partholon says that he will consider her words.
He raises his gnarled cane and clacks it against the blackened tree, speaking a few words in an ancient tongue
Perhaps the old dialect of Wncari that he sometimes speaks in, except the final word he speaks has another quality to it
A quality that sets them all on edge, and within which Borthul and even James recognize a deeper sorcery.
But even those with no particular magical “awareness” still perceive an underlying meaning that transcends normal language.
A Word of Power.
All around the innermost clearing, plants suddenly writhe and grow along the trees.
They spring up dense and tangled, creating a sort of wall of vines, bushes, and brambles that runs all along the perimeter of the central grove.
The lighting dims as the light from most of the cookfires is obscured, leaving only the cookfire and lights in the central grove
All of Steelshod are within this grove
The only members of the Collar that are with them are now the twenty hungry men Felix noted earlier, and Partholon himself up on the blackened heart tree.
Those twenty men were already noted to be adorned with thorny vines of brambles, and those vines have grown in size. The thorns have grown long and sharp, and pierce the flesh of the men waring them.
Those twenty men have stopped eating, finally. They are sitting silently, staring up at Partholon.
Felix immediately reaches for his bow
Cara glares at Partholon, asks him what the fuck this is
Is he breaking his word now? Threatening them, after making such a big show of being a man of honor?
No, Partholon says. He’s not threatening them at all.
The Collar of Thorns has sworn not to harm them until they return to their walls
So it shall be
“But the Mac Tíre Ocracha,” Partholon says. “Are not, strictly speaking, men of the Collar of Thorns. Or men at all. What they do is their business.”
Felix begins stringing his bow.
“So if you are as skilled as you seem to think you are, we’ll talk again,” Partholon says “Maybe make some sort of a deal… but I don’t think so.”
At that, Partholon ducks back within the blackened tree, and the twenty men standing around them begin to transform.
That should be good for now.
Our last meeting got canceled so I don’t have a ton more content to write up, but definitely enough for one more solid post I think. So hopefully I’ll have the resolution of this meeting written up within the next week or so.
Hope this post finds you all doing as well as you can be, given the state of everything these days.
- Savage Negotiations (Steelshod 434)
- The New Druid (Steelshod 433)
- Preemptive Strikes (Steelshod 431)
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