Mr Ruth

April 20, 2010

Were it not for the silence that held the house, the soft rapping upon the door would have been unheard. It was fortunate then for the visitor that their gentle knocks were free to echo through the stately home to the ears of Mrs Dubante. She rose from her stoic vigil by the phone and drifted to the door. A thin layer of dust was brushed off the bannisters as she descended the stairs.

To each of the participants, the opening of the door was a shock. Mrs Dubante found herself greeted by a tall, thin man in casual clothes, carrying a travel bag. He smiled openly and bowed slightly before taking her hand in a weak handshake.

‘I’m assuming you are Mrs Dubante? A pleasure.’

For the guest, he did not see the Mrs Dubante the newspapers showed. Where once there was an elegant, beautiful woman there was now a half starved shell, bags under the eyes and a dirty dress. She looked at him with confusion, a great sadness radiating from her.

‘Wh… who are you, sir?’ Her voice strained.
‘I’m not from the press. My name is Maxwell Ruth, I’m… an investigator, of a kind.’
‘I fear you are too l-late in that regard Mr Ruth. The trial is next week and the sentence is almost guaranteed.’ She made to close the door, but Mr Ruth raised his hand.
‘What if I were to say I believed your husband was innocent, Mrs Dubante?’ He placed the travel bag on the ground. ‘And if I were to say I believed some of your other stories?’
‘I would say you are as full of fancy as I, Mr Ruth, though I thank you for your sympathy. There is nothing you can do however, the police have combed the place from top to bottom in their investigations.’
‘Mrs Dubante I have seen the evidence, and there-‘
‘How?’ she interrupted.
‘I’m sorry?’
‘How have you seen the evidence? I was taken to understand there were no reports allowed until after the trial.’
Mr Ruth smiled again. ‘I could explain further. May I come in?’

She looked at the man once more. There was something more to him, she could feel it. Something genuine, something pure. She stepped to the side, opening the door further and allowing him through. He grabbed the bag and entered, smiling still.

The front hall was tall; the ceiling seemed miles above him and the walls were lined with paintings, all of which was covered in a fine layer of dust and grime. In the upper corners, he could spy a couple cobwebs of spiders left undisturbed. Mrs Dubante took point and led him up the stairs to a drawing room. A breeze drifted through the open window as she took a seat beside the telephone. He looked across the truly vast garden behind them, the grass was overgrown and the flowers looked to be wilting.

‘Mr Ruth, would you please explain yourself now?’
‘I have a friend in the police department. In return for some favours, he sends information my way.’
‘You are a private investigator, like the protagonists in…’ She paused, eyeing him with scrutiny.

‘I am no rabid fan, Mrs Dubante.’ He smiled again. ‘Personally I’ve never much liked private detective novels. When you’ve worked in the field you understand it receives a certain amount of glamour that real life cannot match. ”Though you are a detective?’ She pursed her fingers.

‘In a manner. A specialist detective. But that’s besides the point for now. I have seen the evidence held against your husband, and it’s frankly ludicrous to consider that he could have ever done it.’
‘How so?’
‘For one matter, by your testimony he was not even in the country. And you were awake right up until the incident, so unless he managed to enter the house the moment you fell asleep and then work incredibly fast he could not have done it. Secondly, the… method that he used would have been incredibly loud, waking you.’

Her voice grew very quiet. ‘The police said it was a drug in my water.’
‘That conveniently cannot be tested for and the remaining packet of which cannot be found? This is still operating under the assumption he was hiding around the house, despite you leaving him on a plane, waiting for his moment to drug you and then strike. Just because they cannot find witnesses overseas who will vouch for him being away that weekend, they therefore assume it was a poorly constructed alibi.’
‘You’ve thought this through Mr Ruth.’
‘No, the police have thought this through via you, Mrs Dubante. Dealing with a murder mystery writer has glamoured their minds, assuming this was some carefully preplanned scheme to claim your fortune somehow in a divorce.’
‘A d-d-divorce?’
‘Yes. He filed for divorce, just before leaving. The papers were in his pockets when he was arrested. I already know the police told you of this, Mrs Dubante.’

Suddenly she leaped to her feet. ‘Mr Ruth I have been very gracious with you thus far but you are touching on delicate matters that are none of your business. Furthermore you have given me little reason to assume you know anything useful.’
He sighed deeply, the smile wiped from his face. ‘I’m terribly sorry, I truly am. But I need to work fast and there’s a lot I need to cover. If I did this the way I wanted I would’ve sat here with a box of tissues and helped you through the grieving in as comforting a manner as I can muster. But I do not. Have. Time.’
On the final word he threw his arm out across the air in some angry gesture which in turn threw several necklaces out from the confines of his T-shirt. Small lumps of crystal, a crucifix and a Jewish star hung around his neck. Now too, she noticed the charm bracelet that jingled across his wrist. He stowed the necklaces back down his shirt and continued.

‘I have my own theory Mrs Dubante. He was overseas with another lover and I am deeply sorry but I believe this fully. This other lover was so shocked and ashamed when she heard of his death that she has not come forward, racked with guilt about the whole affair. He told her of his plan to divorce you when he returned home, which is why he had the papers upon his person when he returned. He has made no confession of this affair to save her from being drawn in as a suspect and to save face for you.’ A deep breath. ‘But I can prove none of this.’

A moment of silence between the two as Mr Ruth caught his breath and Mrs Dubante struggled to take it all in. Finally, she spoke first.
‘Then what are you here for, Mr Ruth?’
He knelt before her, taking her hands in his.
‘I have read the diary excerpts the police took as evidence, the short stories you posted online, the odd reports about your home life in the backs of newspapers nobody believes and I believe that you may be in terrible danger.’
‘You-you believe me?’
‘Yes Mrs Dubante, yes, I believe you. I believe everything you have written about this house because I have read it all before from other parts of the world. Yours is not the only story like this, but yours is different because I can change it. I can save you, unlike the rest of them.’
‘The res-rest of who? Mr Ruth you are scaring me now.’ She tried to retract her hand but he gripped it tight.
‘The other people who have lived in houses like this. The Taiwanese woman, the couple in Minnesota, the old Scottish woman, the Lord and Lady who last lived in this house before you and now your son that the world believes was murdered by your husband. But I don’t.’

‘Mr Ruth?’

‘There is a very dark side of the world, very dark indeed. Most people can’t see it, because they don’t look for it. That’s why my job is. I told you I’m a specialist detective and I am. A paranormal detective. And you have one very pissed off and powerful poltergeist in this house.’


A Hiatus

March 22, 2010

Due to internet problems. I can’t guarantee anything for a while, thus I won’t. However there should be new stuff appearing over the weekend and then we’ll be back to normal.

Imusholtar: Journal 12

March 18, 2010

Apologies for the erratic updates. I get the fortress running again only to be struck by a severe case of terrible sleepiness. In future all missed updates will be replaced with the Baby Hippo.

Balthasar’s Journal

It seems I’m unofficially in charge for now. I tried to talk to Jibar, but he’s been in mourning for Rutskarn. Says we need to dig tombs, for the rest of us. Doesn’t want any of the Orbs of Comedy to die like Rutskarn did. I’ll go talk to InksGuy about plans and give Jibar his space.

The plans are all done up and minings already under way. There’s a hill, further north, covered in greenery. We dug out space under there. A room for Jibar, and then rest of us will share a hall. I’ve never liked this ritual, digging your tomb before you die, but tradition is tradition. Always struck me as kind of morbid. Rutskarn sleeps now with the Mario brothers, Djinn and the rest. Spirits are low right now.

Jibar still hasn’t recovered, so I’m trying to get the fortress running as normal. Get everyone working again. There’s some new stockpiles going up down below for the essentials, food, wood and stone and I’ve ordered a gaol to be dug. Maybe we should think about a militia of some kind, keep the kobolds away.

This Gods damned caravans. Every time they arrive I bring them great riches of platinum, worth far more than any of their poxy goods and they claim they can’t carry such a weight. Our dwarfs can carry them to their wagons to trade easy enough, their job should be even easier.

Hey, puppies. Must play with puppies.

Apparently the metal crafter, Egorn or Egom or something threw an almighty tantrum. The kind of tantrum that dismantles entire workshops. Fortunately she did it outside the fortress and ended up just tossing around some boulders until she calmed down. That could have been a disaster.

Speaking of disaster, Dis has died of thirst. First Rutskarn, then his consultant. Doesn’t get any easier.

The gaol is finished, and perhaps just in time. A letter arrived from Home. Same old Menenar, filled with idle threats and promises of retribution. Said the Hammerer is preparing to make the long journey to Dikegild to personally crush all of our heads, while also making the most ever so polite request that we provide lodgings for when he arrives. Thank you very much Menenar, now if you’ll excuse me I have a Sheriff to elect.

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The Desk: Part 1

March 17, 2010

John stared at the desk. It was roughly three foot high and 4 foot across. He didn’t know if this was normal for a desk. He had never taken the time to measure out a variety of desks until he could come to an educated opinion as the ‘norm’ for desks. It was made of some high quality wood, as he had been assured by the salesman that this ensured that this desk was a truly superior desk to anything their competitors could offer and it could quite easily serve him well until the end of his days. Truly, this desk was some sort of ubermensch of desks, an uberdesk if you will, that John should frankly consider privileged to own. John wasn’t entirely aware what any of this meant. He just needed something to keep nick nacks and papers on. The surface was awfully smooth though, John thought, and he ascribed this to the aforementioned properties of the desk. Or maybe all desks were like this. He wasn’t sure. The idea of running tests on a variety of desks to make a fair comparison seemed like an interesting prospect but he ultimately dismissed it as a waste of time.

It resided just under his window in his small flat so John could look across the city while he worked. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to be working on but it was his understanding that that is what one did with desks. You worked with them. At the very least the television was just to his left when he sat at the desk so he could at least watch something while he worked on his mystery projects. The desk looked good here, he thought, very Fung Shway. He pretended he understood this and decided he had some skill with interior decorating and briefly considered going to some sort of art festival to find some sort of abstract art or amateur portrait to hang upon his walls to make himself seem more cultured. It was a very specific consideration as he decided that it would have to be some sort of landscape comprised of nothing but asymmetrical shapes of a variety of colours but none of them particularly bright or a smudged and very poorly defined watercolour portrait of a middle aged man who clearly did not pose for the picture but instead provided a photograph to work from. Or maybe a painting of a cat. Again, he dismissed this and sat at the desk.

It struck him again how very smooth it was. If he opened the window, he might trip over, fall onto the desk and the smoothness would make him just slide straight off and out of the window plummeting to his death from this seventh floor window. Mayhap this level of smoothness was in fact dangerous. Maybe he should return the desk and trade it for one that was not so smooth and was in fact just a regular desk. And then he could get a new bookshelf. Maybe he could find a new, cheaper desk after trading this dangerous uberdesk in and use the left over funds to buy a new bookshelf. He was caring a lot about his furniture. He wasn’t sure why.

Finally John decided that no, trading in this uberdesk would be a difficult procedure that would require a lot of slow carefully explained speeches to people who would not listen, a careful read over of shop policies on returning goods until he could find some sort of loophole or clear rule that specifically allowed him to return uberdesks for their original value which would require him to photocopy the receipt several times, post some of these copies to people high in the chain of desk command and use the rest of the copies to accost the customer service people until they submitted to his demands and let him return the uberdesk. He slapped himself mentally for referring to it as the uberdesk. He was buying into the salesman’s jargon. There was nothing special about this desk and he could not let the salesman get to him like that.

It had been a long day and he had to work the next day. John stood up, stared at the desk and retreated to his bedroom. He was too tired to bathe or prepare accordingly and instead just fell onto the springy mattress, drifting off shortly afterwards.The clock blinked that it was just past three in the morning. John stared at it, hoping in some way his hatred for both this time and the clock could somehow combine to send him straight back to sleep, destroy the clock and forever eliminate this time of the day from existence so that no one would ever have to know the misery of being awake at this time. He had given up on these late nights after leaving university. He did not have the time or energy to be awake at this time. He did not like being awake at this time. The clock blinked still.

Try as he might though, John could not go back to sleep. It was not the clock or the memories of university or the looming worry of work in the morning that bothered him. It was the desk. For some reason it was there in his mind, burrowing deeper into his thoughts. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. The straight legs, the mysterious wood, the ever so smooth surface. It haunted him and here, late at night when a thousand other worries should be taking precedence, it scared him more than anything in the world.

He sat up, a single bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. The room was dark but his eyes had adjusted. He stared at his door, suddenly aware it was all that separated him from the living room, from the TV near the window and from the desk. What could a desk do to him? It was an inanimate object made of wood and probably nails. He was worrying too much. He didn’t need to worry about it at all really. He could just lie down, go to sleep, and not worry about it at all. He had to go to work tomorrow and he needed his sleep. Yes. That is what he would do. He would go to sleep and then go to work and he would realise the desk would just slip from his mind.

Yes. That is what he would do.

John flicked the light switch on in the living room and sat down in his desk chair. The rigid, horribly broken back only made him more awake as he became painfully aware of all the places on his back he ignored until the chair brought them straight to the front of his mind. Here was the desk, straight in front of him. Outside the window was the orange glow of the city at night. Out there were thousands of people who could sleep. There were also probably thousands of people who weren’t asleep. John missed university sometimes.

He wiped his hand across the surface of the desk. It was still just as smooth as a few hours ago. He wasn’t sure what he expected really, that it would transform during the night into some kind of horrible monster that would devour him while he slept. Ah. Now he really wasn’t going to sleep. The desk would keep him awake until that precious hour he had to get ready for work, he knew it. Then he would fall asleep, oversleep, go to work in a horrible rush, get fired for being late, lose all his money, get tossed out on the street and the desk would still be here, mocking him. He had been told he needed to stop being this negative about everything, but John could not control his mind so easily.

He looked at the clock that hung lonely on the wall. Fifteen minutes more. He couldn’t afford to lose this much sleep. He needed sleep to get through the day, it was a vital part of his well-being much like food and water. He had read too many stories of people going insane from a lack of sleep and he couldn’t help but feel that he was already halfway there. Fifteen more minutes, he thought, and I will well and truly be mad. He wondered how he would go insane; would he start hearing voices, believe he was Jesus, go on a mad bloody rampage? Then he’d never get to work on time. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t wake the neighbours. The desk was silent.

‘John. John. Wake up.’

John’s eyes jumped awake. Oh that’s not good. If you’re in a situation where your eyes opening can be described as jumping that’s very not good. John quickly made a check of his surroundings. Cardboard boxes. Shelves. Stacks of books. Shirt that revealed just enough cleavage while still conforming to the uniform. Lingering just a little too long there.

‘John, get up.’
He was still resting his head on its side. Felt like wood beneath his cheek. Not very smooth wood, very grating. No John no, he thought, we have to get up, lift our head up and focus on the day’s tasks. We have things to do to make our wage so we can purchase the essentials of life and not starve.

A face lowered to his eye level now. Thick raven hair flopped over and she pushed it aside. John smiled unconsciously. Or was it consciously? Was he awake? Was he referring to himself in the third person? He wasn’t sure.
No, wait.
‘Oh Christ!’ This time it was John who spoke.
He shot upright, eyes wide and panic bubbling upwards from the bottom of his stomach. What time was it, where was he again, what did he have to do and oh good God on high did he drool while he slept?
‘Calm down, calm down. Bad night?’

This was Rachel. She was 24 and had worked here for three years now after finishing studying for a degree in sociology. John ran through this information in his head. Two years younger than him, worked here for a year less than him, no current boyfriend, enjoyed horror movies and musicals. His name was John, he liked card games and the theatre and his last girlfriend may have been an android.

‘John… John?’ Rachel said.
Yes, response. Prepare a response. Explain why you’re tired, again, and why you are actually doing whatever you’re meant to be doing and your plans to once again commence with whatever you’re meant to be doing.
‘I didn’t drool did I?’ Smooth John. Smooth.
‘No, don’t worry.’ She smiles. That’s good.
‘Okay. Okay. What was I doing?’
‘Sorting. Bad night?’ Interest seems honest, safe to proceed.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Never can sleep right. Always something.’
‘I think this is the fiftieth time I’ve woken you up in here.’ Another smile, good, good. ‘Want some help? It’s slow outside.’
‘Uh, yeah, thanks.’

They both set about taking a book out of one of the boxes and then putting on a shelf alphabetically. This is what they did every day, save for weekends when John had time off and Wednesday and Thursday when Rachel didn’t work. Occasionally, they would be asked to man a till and serve customers. This consisted of taking a book, scanning the barcode, typing the income and giving the customer the change the till told them they should give. John worried sometimes that if they ever made sentient tills they might cut his hours.

6:00 pm.
‘Hey, closing time. We all done here?’
‘For today for you, for the weekend for me.’
‘You can spend it sleeping.’ She winked.
A nervous laugh. ‘That’s what I do.’
‘It’s the weekend for me too.’
‘Oh really?’
‘Yeah. Susan and me are switching shifts now her husband can watch the kids at the weekend. Working same hours as you now.’
Phew, John thought. Susan was 39 and showing it yet still felt she was attractive and used a metric ton of make up to reinforce this. This meant two less days of her and two more days of Rachel. He could live with this.
‘So, any plans?’
‘Returning a desk.’

Site stuff

March 17, 2010

Hey there, Chiiiildren, it’s your host, Three-Dawg! Awoooooo!

Ok, so I lied. But maybe you got the Fallout 3 reference. I’m posting this anyway: thereby proving that I do not, in fact, spontaneously combust when typing.

I’m slowly getting around to coding some custom CSS for this site, and when I’d finished categorising away Jibar’s posts in the early hours of this morning (I’m not one to complain, but he seems incapable of doing it himself…) I took the opportunity to fiddle about with WordPress’ settings.

As a result, you can now search the entire Catmuffinominicon by keyword (or go to a specific month) using the box at the bottom of the page, and I’ve also enabled up/down voting of comments. This may be disabled again, pending abuse: I know you’re out there, kobolds. I’ll go to sleep when you quit throwing things down the stairwell.

Imusholtar: Journal 11

March 16, 2010

Balthasar’s Journal

I’ve had my rest, now to save the Fortress. Why do I have to do everything around here?
First thing first, let’s find out who’s still sane.

I’ve done a quick check. Curly and Dragonrider are still about, but they’re useless for this. InksGuy, Trog and Shadow are around, but they have jobs to do: I told InksGuy to go make coffins just in case, and Shadow and Trog are putting together drinks for everyone we save.
More useful is Sir Mario, ElfLad and Dis. ElfLad and Dis are up and healthy, while Mario is resting. I left a note for him and told the others that they’re to help me hunt the kobold.

We can’t find the kobold.

Things seem to be back to normal around here now. Player Zero, a miner, died of thirst amidst the chaos but that was our only casualty. While everyone recuperates I’m doing up a mining chart with whoever can lift a pick. If we can’t build a bridge over the moat, then we can dig a tunnel under it.
I also did some reconnaissance concerning the kobold. Apparently Curly proved herself useful and dismantled one of the walls allowing access to the moat. The beast quickly made its escape. I’m not entirely sure what happened then, but we’re now cleaning chunks of kobold off the tunnel walls near the entrance. Apparently someone really hated that kobold.

Another kobold just tried to cross the moat. Took one look at the dwarf carrying a bag of kobold and legged it. InksGuy chased it a fair distance before he made his way back. Let the creature be, I say, less mess for me to clean up later.
Speaking of doing everything, there’s an awful lot of dwarfs who are just wandering around nothing. Rutskarn is still stuck on that island, and Jibar wandered off muttering something about camels, so there’s no one to give orders around here.

Sir Mario II has died of thirst. That wasn’t a normal nap down below it seems. He was sleeping away wounds he took while hunting, and none of us were free to treat him. At least the graveyard has a good view.

Autumn arrives, and the tunnels are a bit of a shamble. As soon we get close to Rutskarn, we have to stop or else the damp walls will give way and we’ll drown ourselves. But, with each wall we chart as dangerous we chart another as safe. Pick by pick we’re getting there.

We’ve done it! We’ve done it! Rutskarn has made it out through our tunnel! He is alive! Now we must-
Oh Gods, one moment.

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Baby Hipp

March 15, 2010

Imusholtar: Summary 2

March 14, 2010

Oh man, where did things go wrong?

Well, I’d say it was the channel system. Building a moat is a lovely idea, but we had a couple major problems with ours:

1. The water was too far away, and to get a decent flow I had to link up other small lakes nearby. This is why Rutskarn is now stuck.
2. Nobody built the bridge. I’ve no idea why either, as I set about five dwarfs to get architectural so someone would slap some wood together. Until they do, there’s a wall inbetween the two halves of the moat where the bridge would be so I can’t simply wait out and let the kobold drown.
3. That kobold. That damn kobold. I thought it would be pretty neat to have our own starving monster, but instead it just made everyone freak out. And freak out they did. Half the fortress was on the other side of the moat to help dig the channels, gather plants or gather wood. The other half are now trying to get food and water to the dorfs who are on the other side of the moat, and then get freaked out by the kobold. Apparently all our dorfs have a terrible phobia of kobolds.
4. The channel project and the ramp project. One or t’other? Probably good ideas. Helped turn our little fortress into a real defensible location. Even unfinished it funnels enemies towards the bridge whereupon they’re very likely to be set upon by one of our Original 7 who by this point are very strong.
5. Balthasar. He is my one sane dwarf right now, who isn’t terrified of the kobold. If I’m to save Dikegild, it is in Balthasar’s hands.

As things are, we’re at a real make it or break it moment. Should Balthasar kill the kobold, we then face an agonising season of recuperating and bridge building. If he doesn’t, we might have to start thinking about Menenar sending in the troops to reclaim Dikegild. No matter what, unless someone builds a bridge fast I fear Rutskarn may be drinking ales with the Gods soon.

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Imusholtar: Journal 10

March 12, 2010

Atheist’s Journal

Things have gone very very bad. Everyone is scared of kobold in moat, can’t do anything. I snuck round backway, throw buckets to Rutskarn. He’s trapped by river.

Rutskarn is stuck. Jibar is scared too. I took charge. Build farms on top of hill. Dig stockpiles below.

Kobold still trouble. Everyone is confused by the moat. Told Balthasar to fight. He went to bed.

Everybody is sick. Hungry and thirsty. Don’t know what to do. Things gone bad.

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Imusholtar: Journal 9

March 12, 2010

Rutskarn’s Journal

Investigations have come up successful as to the cause of Djinn’s death. It seems while digging out the moat, he ended up upon the wrong side, cut off from all supplies and hope of rescue since the hill had been cut away. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I looked at where they were digging. I might want to check.

Oh dear, I may suffer the same fate as Djinn it seems. What I thought was an escape from the busy rush of the fortress actually was a sealing of my own fate. Fortunately, someone noticed me and they’re digging out a small ramp as I write. I told them to do the same so that we might retrieve Djinn’s body and give him a proper burial.

Summer draws upon us and things with the moat operation have turned out with some minor successes. True, the whole channel project has been a death-trap, literally, but it has proven great for moral since progress halted on the second level and this does bring fresh water closer to us. I hear they’ve actually connected half of the moat to the distant lakes already, though I’ve yet to make the trek to verify myself.
The barracks received a recent upgrade so more dwarfs might sleep at once thanks to the efforts of a few miners when Jibar wasn’t looking. He’s been so preoccupied with building defences he’s accidentally ignored all of the fortress itself. No problem, truly, less of his insane projects to work upon the better and it lets us who still reside indoors to work in peace.

I was to talk with Dis about the other recent migrants, but it seems he’s become taken with a fey mood. I’ve heard stories of the drastic results of these and I dread to lose one of those here still sane and useful.
It also means I have a lost a partner to view the lakes with. I should go consult with Phase. He’s also relatively sane, despite his fascination of the outside.

More kobolds have come sneaking about, but I fear there are no epic battles to report this time. Atheist happened upon the first kobold by luck again, and it seems his presence was enough to spook the kobold away. Perhaps Atheist would be a good place to begin for a true guard force.
The second kobold drew not so much an epic battle as an inglorious massacre. Phase came upon it and drew upon some bestial rage to lift the kobold above his head and smash it into the ground repeatedly. Just as the kobod gained its feet again it prepared a counter attack, screeching and spitting it entered into a mighty rage and made to attack. Made to, as Phase immediately gripped it into a mighty headlock and near enough ripped the beast’s head from its shoulders.
I do not know the the dwarf who engaged the third, as he was one of those who skipped the census. I expected him to attempt a similar fight, but instead he simply grabbed the kobold and threw it into part of the moat. It’s trapped there for now, and I suspect that once the water is flowing we’ll have to pull a body from it.

I may have made a grave mistake with the lakes. They were still working when I arrived and did not stop. Now there’s a small river in between me and the fortress. And there’s nobody else around. This could prove troublesome.

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