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The Subtle Art of Negotiation by Skint Jagblade

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    Posted: 09 Jul 2016 at 21:39
The Subtle Art of Negotiation

The Clan Envoy wrinkled his nose and shuffled forward in the gloom. Wisdom Ajonn couldn't see the roof of the artificial cavern, but he knew its dimensions from the old schematics. This had been a workshop before the Usurping. At twenty-seven crooked paces he was somewhere amidst several vast ventilation contraptions. The machines whirred no more; barely a breath of air stirred the thick grey beard now matted by sweat to his stern Dwarven features. Apparently the kobolds liked it hot, humid, and cluttered. He could feel their eyes peering at him in the musty dimness. Appraising. Eager. 

Their scratchings echoed through the spiderweb of tunnels zig zagging through the wreckage of dwarven refinement. Broken chairs, stained tapestries, smashed furniture, and the occasional rusted suit of armor were all heaped to the ceiling. Ajonn caught the gleam of white from a tilted helmet. Rage bristled. His kin, unburied. Savages. Their corpses should not be part of the warren of debris the Parvacones called their Great Mountain Home.

The retired spymaster emerged into a narrow slice of open air in the gloom. To his right, a towering wall of rust curved away into the darkness, part of a once-magnificent dwarven contraption. To his left, a thicket of chairs had been piled so high that it leaned over to touch the machine. Their legs protruded into the claustrophobic gap like painstakingly milled wooden thorns. There were kobolds here, sitting on the cut stone floor with their backs to him. They paid him no heed, peering intently at a dark little hole beneath a looming chunk of smashed statuary. On their tattooed backs, the Wisdom could see a large green eye glowing. His spies told him the dye was extracted from phosphorescent moss mixed with powdered Trove.

This was the place, then.

A gravelly voice crawled from the kobold hole. "Cannon fodders am go."
Wordlessly the scrawny kobolds on the floor rose and began to slip past Ajonn into the debris tunnel. He could smell them as they passed: musk and mud and something sharp and sweet. Their sickly grey skin was covered with a sheen of moisture and dust, their bulbous eyes gleaming... but they did him no harm.

Wisdom Ajonn straightened his dark blue robes. The silversteel chain was heavy against his body, reassuring. Ajonn cleared his throat, and began in a smooth barritone, "Esteemed master Jagblade, I am..."

The gravelly voice cut him off. "Dorf am pretend to be Wisdom Ajonn, dorf from Beleagh, and say lots talky thing for Skint."

The Wisdom flushed to his beard roots. Ajonn was not his true name, it had been one assumed upon retirement. Nobody knew that he had once been a Keeper of Secrets. Nobody alive, anyway. His mind flashed out like a dagger, seeking a clever retort, but the kobold leapt from the hole with frightening speed, and landed with a thud before him. This Jagblade was an unkempt creature. His limbs were scrawny, and the fine dwarven robe he wore had been tattered. The Wisdom did not recoil. One did not show weakness to pack predators. His keen mind noted that the kobold did not seem to stink. There was a scent of pine and rain and strange undercurrent, distinctly metallic. The kobold studied him for a moment from within arm's reach, and then his hand unfurled to reveal an intricate, gleaming mechanism, inscribed with thousands of precise glyphs. Ajonn involuntarily sucked in his breath.

"Beleagh-dorf am here for this," purred Skint Jagblade, "for dorf poison list, so gray-iron rocks am give more gray-iron."

The Wisdom frowned, his crisply manicured beard bending like a wooden mask. "Yes," he admitted with a calm glare, "that bauble describes a formula for Kieregar's Acid, which is used to efficiently extract Arterium from ore."

"You of course already knew that."

The scrawny greenskin smiled back, his wide lips peeling back to reveal sharp and surprisingly white teeth. "Jagblade are know many secret thing," he admitted with a sly smirk, "and more dorf secret thing than dorf Keepers like. But Skint am be rude. You am tell Skint what you am offer, pretend-Ajonn. This am the talky part."

Claws of unease crept up the Wisdom's thick neck. Nonetheless, he proceeded with the Guild's offer. Ten king-cut Trove jewels, twenty chests of copper, fifty pots and pans, a hundred good knives, the pelts of two hundred bears, five hundred jars of pickled meat, a thousand short kegs of black beer. The dwarf went on at length, but he knew the effort was doomed. This was not the scatterbrained little greenskin he had been sent to trick. Jagblade would not give up the precious formula for mere trinkets, of that the Wisdom was certain. Regardless, he could not leave here without it. Ajonn began to make a tiny motion towards the thicket of heaped chairs, when Jagblade interrupted him.

"Pretend-Ajonn," his gravelly voice said sternly, "this am not good offer. Talky part am over. It am time for negotiate."

The Wisdom stopped in mid-gesture. In the dim thicket of chairs, his practiced eye could see the Deep Dweller lifting a blowgun to his lips, waiting for the signal.

"I'm sorry," Ajonn cleared his throat, "but if the talking part is over, how can it be time for..."
Jagblade rolled his eyes. "Because it am. Time. For. NEGOTIATE!"

A dull boom echoed through the trash warren, reaching the cavern ceiling. What had looked to be another part of the ventilation contraption simply stood up, debris crashing to the ground. Ajonn's eyes bulged as the narrow gap of the furniture canyon was filled with the knobby blue form of a Zau Brulk troll. It glared at him in mute rage at having been so rudely awakened. To his left, the Deep Dweller suddenly sprang into action, but Negotiation the Troll was faster. The beast hefted a sawed off catapult beam and swung it into the huge chair pile. The furniture exploded into matchsticks, showering splinters into the dwarven assassin like a Gnomish grenade. Hundreds of similar splinters ricocheted harmlessly off Negotiate's rubbery skin. Jagblade crouched behind his monstrosity, then turned his eyes towards the Wisdom with malicious glee.

Finally Ajonn's survival instinct kicked in. The emissary turned and began to rush through the kobold tunnels with the speed of a much younger dwarf. He could hear the troll crushing a path behind him, hacking through the trash with his catapult-club. Terrified kobolds scattered like rats as Negotiate thundered blindly through their tribe-nests, roaring his frustration at the fleeing dwarf.

Ahead, the Wisdom could see a gleaming slit of light at the broken chimney stacks. His thick legs pumped towards it like a machine possessed, burning with exertion. The bulky silversteel armor now felt like an anchor dragging him back into the Parvacone depths. He had just made the furnace door when he felt the faintest spiderweb touch against his neck. Instantly, Ajonn knew that it was fatal. He flopped undignified into a pile of graffiti-painted rubble, dying. The blood was hot against his neck. In the shadows, he could see the Iquadron Acolyte carefully coiling his razor wire thread.

It was quiet for a while, and then he saw the scrawny form of Skint Jagblade standing over him. The kobold tucked his long hands behind his back like some wizened philosopher, gazing towards the outside world and freedom.

"When Negotiate am fail," the kobold mused, "then it am time for Subtlety."

Ajonn saw Subtlety smirk, and then the world went black.


Edited by GM Rikoo - 22 Jul 2016 at 22:25
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sheza Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2016 at 02:59
Nice ..  loved it .. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote GM Rikoo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2016 at 03:14
This is going into the Herald, but GM TC is out today so it will go up this week with art. :)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ElfLark Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jul 2016 at 01:34
I liked it. It had a rhythm, and I almost danced to it...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote abstractdream Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jul 2016 at 02:33
Brilliant. Yay Skint!
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