The Scarred South

Operation Bloodsword Part 2
Gone Fishing

First mission report, Operation Bloodsword by Blue Ghost, Spymaster of the Crimson Talons

General, as requested we have started to gather information about the rebels in order to capture their leaders and end the threat to our employer’s rule. As the freedom fighters work in independent cells, I opted to send my men on the hunt for knowledgeable members of the rebellion who could lead us to the leadership group. In a group composed of devoted members of the Church of Tiamat, the Avaricious, I was pretty sure that we could find a few greedy or ambitious enough to sell us secrets. As expected, a few days after the start of Operation Bloodsword, I was able to reach an agreement with a young assassin, linked to a cell of field operatives, who was ready to sell us secrets about the rebellion in exchange for his release from prison. Once my agents successfully extracted him from the Dragon’s Den, Battlelord Katernin made quick work of a ritual to ensure his loyalty and said agents debriefed the assassin.
“Little Fish’s” interrogation shed some light on the resistance’s modus operandi and identified a tavern, “The Laughing Jackal”, as a meeting ground for the numerous cells forming the Ormpurian rebellion. The kid also pinpointed a weapon cache in the sewers, next to the Humble Bard and confirmed that a hit had been ordered on someone in High Command. I suggest we double the protection around you, Commander Tilden and the True Suikh. There is also the rumor that a military adviser was sent from the North to help the rebels. If it is true, we have to expect an increase in sabotage operations, in assassination attempts, and in attacks against any symbols of the new power in place. I have dispatched the same agents to capture Little Fish’s cell. Their orders are to eliminate the cells once all possible pertinent data has been obtained.

Second mission report, Operation Bloodsword by Blue Ghost, Spymaster of the Crimson Talons

August leader, you will find within these pages a precise description of the event leading to the capture and elimination of a rebel cell composed of assassins. The assassin responsible for the death of Lord Kintas Enkal was a member of this cell and his collaboration was key to the success of this mission. He revealed their hideout, located on the docks and some information about their leader, a warlock named Kaltis.
After a quick reconnaissance on the wharves, my Birdeyes prepared a plan that would take the enemy by surprise, and while took advantage of a trapdoor used to discard fish parts to infiltrate the small warehouse used as headquarters by the cell. While three of the operatives, Cotazym, Ashlan and Lucius, would enter the room by the trapdoor, evading the swarm of carnivorous fishes used to discourage infiltrators and dispose of bodies, the warriors of the group (Vondal and Tristan) would assault the front door, and Roe would cover them from afar. Unfortunately, as usual, the plan had a limited lifespan when faced with reality: while looking for hidden enemies, Vondal had missed the archer camouflaged on the roof and as Tristan moved towards the door, he was almost killed by the savage elf’s poisonous arrows. Meanwhile, inside the warehouse, the three members of the group who had successfully entered the building ended up engaged in a violent fight with the warlock and two assassins. It was hard at first to identify the leader but thanks to the information collected from our young collaborator, Ashlan finally pinpointed the warlock and focused her attentions on him. While the two identical assassins proved quite easy to neutralize, Kaltis and his wild elf acolyte gave a hard time to my operatives; Roe finally bringing down the arcanist and Vondal knocking the archer with his axes.
Their interrogation of this cell revealed the existence of weapon caches all around Ormpur, caches used by rebellion field operatives to pick up any equipment needed for a mission. It also shed light on how the leadership transferred their orders to the lower echelons: first, they are using old dwarven glyphs signifying “Greed” as a symbol, marking building as safe houses for the rebels. I immediately sent word on the street and my agents are locating and mapping all locations marked with such glyphs. We also learned that the caches were operated by a group called “The Hoard”, some sort of thieves’ guild that used to work as tax collectors for the beast that you brought down when we invaded the City of Saffron. It is plausible that some members of The Hoard are aware of their leader’s identity as they were linked in the past to the Church of Tiamat who is, from what I gathered, also behind the rebels. The prisoners were not really cooperative and a few examples were to be made. Vondal executed the wild elf while the rest of the group took turns to permanently silence the others. Only Kaltis proved to have decent information anyways and as a true patriot opposed to foreign intervention in his beloved city, he heavily resisted before the magic of Cotazym, the guile of Tristan and the intimidation skills of Roe broke him. We were also informed that a plot to kill your aide, Lady Knight Zara Sernet or a member of your group of advisors, was in the works and that everything needed to accomplish that mission was already in the cache located in the sewers beneath the Humble Bard. Hoping to find another lead towards the leadership cell, the Birdeyes fed the bodies to the fishes, not without displaying disgust and requesting permission to spare their next targets, arguing that diplomacy or bribes would be enough to steer them away from their rebellious friends.

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Operation Bloodsword Part 1
Prison Break

_Excerpt of The Governor’s Journal
9th day of Ches 1485
I woke to my captain of the guard bearing orders from his Majesty, Barakvar Askulder, the True Suikh. An important prisoner was on his way, the assassin of Kintas Enkal no less. The businessman was a representative of the Delzemaer consortium that had financed Askulder’s return to Ormpur, so I understood the Suikh’s orders not to treat the prisoner’s wounds and to prepare the courtyard for an execution at dawn. The rebels had embarrassed our new king by killing one of his strongest supporters. Anyone who was not expecting retaliation from the Suikh’s sellswords was a fool.
When “Little Fish”, as the teenaged murderer was known in the streets, was brought in, I made sure that he was locked in a cell, alone. The guards were instructed not to address him, or interact with him in any way, other than to ensure that he would not die from the injury to his feet. I was later informed that some of my men had accepted a bribe from Enkal’s assistant, a gnome named Gilchryst, to allow him and his thugs access to the assassin’s cell.
Soon after, the Dragon’s Den came was invaded by six skilled soldiers who were clearly working in concert, using guile and stealth, to easily breach the fortress walls. Two of them, a dwarf and a human, climbed over the wall surrounding the prison and escaped my men’s scrutiny. Another human and an elf came in through the front door requesting a meeting with me, using a claim of information about the prisoner as leverage. The last invaders probably used stealth and magic to penetrate the walls, likely entering the cell block through a barred window. I have concluded that the six attackers were not members of the rebellion; the rebels have tended to shy away from the use of non-lethal force. Besides which, if the rebels could make use of such impressive fighting skills and magical abilities… Well suffice to say that I am glad that they cannot. In a matter of minutes, the six infiltrators were gone as swiftly as they had arrived, leaving in their wake four incapacitated warriors, a soon to be enraged gnome arcanist, and an empty cell where my prisoner should have been.
The morning after the prisoner’s extraction, the harsh yet soothing flavour of my favorite tea was enhanced by the bittersweet sensation of watching the corrupted guards’ executions, I considered whether I could further delay my meeting with the True Suikh. While I was sure that he would appreciate the fact that having gone to all of the trouble of setting up the courtyard for an execution, I was loathed not to make use the executioner’s block, I had my doubts as to how far I could test his patience. Steadfast, but reluctant, I went to inform the True Suikh of the prisoner’s escape, knowing all too well that his Excellency would blame the rebels for its escape… Even now I remain unconvinced of the rescuers’ status as rebels; the level of skill displayed points to something else… Could this “Little Fish” have planned his escape and hired mercenaries to do the job? Or maybe rogue elements of the Crimson Talons, the foreign legion hired to wrest Ormpur from the claws of Tiamat’s church? But why would Talons even bother? They were paid directly from Solonepsis’ hoard! It is not my place to investigate but one thing is certain, I will need a new captain of the guard….
_

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Trial under the sun

Two hooded figures sat calmly in a dark room. Rich tapestries surround them, all but unseen in the dimness, muting all outside noise. For a few brief moments, the rustling of garments, and the subtle whisper of breath are the only sounds to be heard. Then, barely audible at first, a dull steady sound began to fill the room, and its source, a crystal ball that sat between the two figures, slowly displays a group of crodlus plodding through the sand under cover of darkness, ridden by Crimson Talon’s newest recuits.

“Good, the ritual worked."
The wizard did not acknowledge that the other man had spoken; it was quite obvious that the ritual had worked.
“Keep an eye on them, I want to see what they are doing…”
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The six recruits left Ormpur as discretely as they could given the bulk of their gear and of their drake-like mounts. The creatures, trained as mounts by the inhabitants of the City of Saffron, did not disappoint, easily crossing the vast crocus fields surrounding the city, and reaching the arid steppes of the Western Shaar at the end of two days of travel. The riders contemplated when and where to begin setting up camp that evening, unaware of the tiefling brigands moving out of the sand towards them. The ambush was led by a powerful hobgoblin warmage, who used force spells to inflict massive damage, and was bolstered by packs of vicious little drakes, who clawed and tore at the beleagered group. Taken completely unawares, the recruits were slow to rally at first, and by the time that they had regrouped, Lucius the Red had been incapacitated by the swarming drakes, leaving the group without a healer. Lucius’ fall gave the team much needed motivation to press that attack, with Cotazym and Ashlan quickly knocking out three of the tiefling ruffians. Choosing not to restrain the lethality of their blows, Roe, Vondal and Tristan made short work of their opponents, leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. The dispersal of a last swarm of drakes by means of a particularly flashy spell from the genasi swordmage marked the end of the battle.

While Cotazym did her best to help Lucius, the rest of the band tried to ply information from the surviving bandits, with some members trying to be diplomatic, and others preferring to go the route of out right intimidation. One of the tieflings categorically refused to help his captors, and to his dismay, one of his peers, more concerned about survival than loyalties, revealed that they were rebels of Ormpur tasked with gathering resources for the rebellion by harassing caravans and travelers. The recruits discovered that even though their leader had a military background, they themselves were but simple residents of the City of Saffron who were fighting against the usurper and the foreign occupation of their city in his name. The planetouched let slip some information about the modus operandi of the rebels and the name of one of their hideouts, the Laghing Jackal.

With their captive at the limit of what he was willing to betray to survive, Ashlan and Cotazym believed that he, and the surviving ruffians could be released, as they did not posed a sufficient threat to merit their deaths; Roe, Tristan and a recently awakened Lucius, disagreed, pressing for their captives’ executions. Lucius brought up that the tieflings had seen their faces, and knew about their main objective, making them liabilities. The group quickly decided that in keeping with the mission’s requirements for discretion, it would not be possible to let their captives live. Vondal, only wanting to leave the place, and get some rest, had been waiting for the group to reach a decision. His axes met with the skulls of the poor prisoners before they could draw breath to beg for their lives.
************************************************
The man seated next to the wizard smiled as he watched the dwarf end the life of the three bound prisoners. “Ruthless and focused on the mission, as we like them,” he said, raising his glass, as if to the toast to the kills, before taking a sip of a dark, richly colored red wine. He readjusted his feet on the small table to the left of the crystal ball, and returned his full attention to the scenes unfolding before him.
************************************************
The group left the next morning, and as they rode deeper into the Shaar, the dry, sun-bleached remnants of steppe grass slowly gave over to sand dunes and rocks. Besides the very occasional small lizard skittering across the hot sands, there was no obvious sign of life around, however, the desert provides for those who know how to see its bounties. Making use of her remarkable foraging skills, Cotazym was able to provide the group with fresh food in the form of lizards, scorpions and roots which allowed the sellswords to keep more of their rations for the inevitable emergencies that plague their new line of work.

On their fourth night in the Shaar, while the light of Selûne was hidden by clouds, an scaly humanoid emerged from the sand, grabbed Tristan and tried to pull him below ground. As it struggled and ultimately failed to drag Tristan away from the group, a motley crew deformed creatures burst forth from the sand and joined what was now a battle.
The dwarf ranger scanned the scene for a moment, and then strode towards the largest creature, flatly informing his fellows that the plaguechanged dwarves were indeed Anakore and Hejkins, nocturnal hunters and underdark aberrations. As the information registered with his newly awakened team mates, Vondal dispatched his chosen target with a furious series of blows, leaving a crushed and lacerated mass in a large pool of blood.

The recruits faced off against the three other creatures, and were surprised by the powerful electric abilities of the leader of the monstrosities. Tristan almost met his end when it used his telluric field on the opponents while they were close to one another, but the paladin avenged himself by killing the three hejkins while their chieftain was overcome with an illusion cast by the wizard. The chieftain quite literally tore himself to shreds trying to fend off the attack of imaginary creatures.

With all of the creatures dead, the group took some time to dress their wounds. It was during this brief downtime that Cotazym noticed something near the spot from where the Hejkin chieftain had appeared – a spear. Its haft covered in gold thread and plumes while its head was engraved with a lion. Appreciating the tactical advantage of fighting with the weapon, Lucius claimed it, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it had magical properties.

After a night of rest, the soldiers returned to their crodlus and rode for another day, reaching an oasis that had been mentioned by their boss. They noticed that a large group of humans had settled around the oasis, and quickly scouted ahead to see with whom they would be dealing. The group was clearly made up of nomads from the honorable Lion Tribe, and the recruits decided to approach the tribesmen openly. They were rapidly surrounded by hunters armed with spears, but were not overly concerned given the nature of the Lion Tribe. After requesting a meeting with the leaders of the tribe, they were led to the middle of the camp and were offered food and milk. A few hours later, a guard came and led them to the biggest tent in the camp, a tent covered in ivory and in markings likely distinct to the Lion tribe. Inside stood the Lion’s two leaders: Adjola the chieftain and Ehiodze, the shaman.

Questioned about the events surrounding the theft of a box by gnolls, the host confirmed what the mercenaries had been told by their employer and provided details about the perpetrators. It was indeed gnolls, from the Hungry Fangs Tribe, that had raided the caravan owned by the “Merchants of Death”, a dishonorable company selling and designing weapons, and much hated by the Lions. Unfortunately, the incident happened in a zone considered taboo by the nomads and probably plaguechanged: the Black Oasis. The area was often used by the weapon dealers as a test site, and while Adjola offered to guide the Talons’ recruits to the zone, she refused to have any of the Lions accompany them into the Black Oasis, as they were forbidden to enter it by their traditions.

The shaman, who had remained silent during most of the discussion, whispered in his chieftain’s ear, his eyes locked on Lucius’ spear. Adjola asked the young soldiers where they had found the weapon, identifying it as Nguruma’s spear, an important weapon of the tribe which had been lost when one of their best hunters failed to return months ago. Realizing the importance of the spear, Lucius offered it to Ehiodze who in turn gave the group a long sword with a hilt made to resemble the wings of an eagle. The blade, a farbond spellblade, had been found on a dead body earlier that year, and since it was a weapon made specially for swordmages, Ashlan was the one to claim it.

The next morning, the sellswords left the oasis accompanied with a few hunters who guided them towards the taboo area that was about a day North of the tribe’s encampment. As the travelers grew closed to the Black Oasis, it became apparent why the nomads would not want to venture inside the zone: the ground looked as if it had been pulled out of the earth and used to erect an 80 feet wall around a section of the Shaar. The only access to the valley hidden behind that terrible wall were three fissures carved into its surface. Following the indications of their guides, the soldiers went inside one of the fissures, hoping that they might catch the gnolls and quickly finish their mission, but knowing that it would not be so easy.

It took them a little less than a day to pass through the breach, and were it not for a grove of spider cacti, they might have been made even better time. After destroying the dangerous plants from a distance, they approached the cacti only to find the body of a gnoll bearing the marks of the Hungry Fangs tribe. Having confirmed that they had chosen the right path, the group pressed on despite their exhaustion, advancing until finally rest could no longer be postponed. The next morning, Ashlan found tracks that confirmed the presence of a large group of gnolls with a caravan similar in size to the one carrying the mysterious box they were charged with bringing back. Later that day, another set of footprints were found, and the mercenaries quickly discovered that this new set, like the gnolls’ tracks, led to an abandoned trading post that seemed to be the spot chosen by the Hungry Fangs to negotiate the sale of the stolen crate. The camp was guarded by gnolls and by humans dressed as nomads; Vondal was able to identify the latter group as rebels from Ormpur. The tension between the two groups was palpable, even from distance, and it seemed deepened by the fact that most gnolls that were not on guard duty were participating in a ceremony that would end in human sacrifice and anthropophagy.

Eager and capable as individuals, but untested as a group, the sellswords went into action. They had evaluated the minutiae of their situation together before striking out on their own, with nary a plan among them. As a result, a number of them were spotted by guards, and their fervor very nearly cost them their mission. As they escaped in the desert, using a path showed by Cotazym, they stumbled upon a party of gnolls led by a priest of Yeenoghu, the Butcher King. The creatures were tough, well experienced fighting together, and put up more resistance than the thieves’ had anticipated. The violence of the pack’s hits almost brought down Tristan who was saved by Lucius and his experience as a combat medic while Vondal, Tristan and Ashlan were engaging the archers, spearmen and the shaman. The sellswords struggled with their foes who were magically kept from the brink of death just long enough to lay in a few more of their brutal attacks. Unfortunately, Cotazym own spells were ineffective against the devoted followers of the demon prince of savagery but in the end, using Lucius’ leadership and a team effort, the Crimson Talons’ new recruits prevailed, bringing down the pack and fleeing with the crate and a prisoner.

After a good night of sleep and some healing, courtesy of the Red Knight, they interrogated the gnoll and were able to confirm that the Hungry Fangs had stolen the mysterious box in order to sell it to rebels from Ormpur at a high price. The gnolls did not know what was inside the box, simply assuming for the most part that it was some kind of new weapon designed by The Branch, a company known to operate in the Shaar. The creature did not know who had given them the information about the caravan, or who had made contact with the rebels to invite them to purchase the weapon, but he supposed it was someone with an interest in seeing Ormpur fall back into the hands of the Church of Tiamat, maybe one of the cities in the Border Kingdoms. During the return trip to Ormpur, Cotazym identified the magical items found on the gnolls and was able to confirm that the box was indeed the one they seeked. The dryad wizard claimed the green robe of protection while Roe showed interest in the beautiful rapier with a basket hilt in the shape of the dragon with multiple heads. The assassin even admitted that the sword seemed familiar, bolstering the sense of “deja-vu” that he had had earlier in the mission.

Upon reaching the City of Saffron, the party met with Blue Ghost who immediately took possession of the crate and sent item well guarded.inside the city. He invited his soldiers to the ruins of the temple to Tiamat which served as the Talons’ main camp. The dilapidated mansewas already showing signs of being restored to its former glory, but this time, said glory would be that of Tempus the Foehammer, and of Red Knight, his daughter. The spymaster ordered them to bathe, rest and enjoy a good meal from the mess before joining him for a drink, and to sign of their contracts. Wasting no time, the sellswords quickly found themselves within a large tent filled with delicious food and drinks, listening to Sergeant Maerwatch give them the run down on the army’s main leaders, as well precious advice about who to contact if they ever needed something.

After an exquisite meal – although to be fair, anything would be exquisite after days eating lizards, scorpions and roots – the group visited Blue Ghost’s tent to sign a contract that seemed very straight forward and honest. Tristan insisted that a clause about his objection to killing children be included, something that their new superior officer accepted with a large, predatory smile, making clear to his newest recruits that when such tasks were required, he had others at his disposal. Once the six soldiers had signed the contracts, he offered them one last drink before sending them back to the barracks for a good night of sleep. They were officially members of the Crimson Talons serving as scouts and in special operations. A new mission would wait for them in the morning.
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The hooded figure got up as the crystal ball became blurry once again. “They are efficient when they finally manage to work together, but it always seems to be a matter of desperation rather than preparation. It would seem that this team requires a hotter fire in which to be forged. If our future operations to succeed they will need to be tempered. Let’s see what hunting vermin in the street of the city will do to improve their teamwork… If they are fortunate, the Red Lady will counsel them…”

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Join the Army they say....

Excerpt of the journal of Sergeant Verghat Maerwatch, recruiter for General Aporos

3rd day of Alturiak 1485 DR

Three months since the death of the red dragon and the miraculous survival of our beloved leader. Three months of winter in the South, with pouring rain that left our men soaked as they hunted loyalists in the silent streets of the City of Saffron. A hunt that costed us even more soldiers. The battle was declared over when High Suikh Helbareim’s head was removed from his shoulders but Ormpur is far from stabilized, the followers of the Dragon Queen working hard to avenge the destruction of their cathedral and the death of their draconic guardian.

Finally our first batch of recruits has arrived today, ready to strengthen our ranks! As one of Commander Tilden’s main recruiters, he asked me to oversee the arrival of the fresh meat, who were to be lodged and fed at the new Suikh’s expense.

Some were there for the money, others for the pleasure of battle, some had joined because it was a religious duty or simply because they had nothing else to do with their lives. This group certainly had a few weird ones, from the ash genasi to the fey-like wizard, it was almost as if the general had decided to form a foreign legion!

The whole lot was sent to Nalune’s, a good inn with decent food but I was unable to join them, having to organize the installation of the camp outside the walls and to report to the Commander about my evaluation of the recruits. When I was finally able to get there, I discovered a taproom full of life, some of the soldiers drinking themselves to death while others were playing lanceboard, our general’s favorite game.

It wasn’t long before I was intercepted by a girl named Ashlan, a fire genasi of some sort who saïd she wanted to test the battle efficiency of her group and who took me by surprise with a punch to the face! This act, along with the screams of rage of her dwarven companion set the whole inn into a fight that unfortunately finished badly for me.

I was knocked out by a joint effort of a drunk, yet fierce dwarf, a pale warrior controlling shadows and a knight, all following the rallying cry of a priest in red. Fortunately for them, they had not yet signed their contract and were safe when Battlelord Katernin came in, screaming insults at the drunk soldiers “who were fighting among themselves when there was still Tiamatan loyalists outside.” When I woke up, the taproom had returned to its joyful mood and I shared a few beers to the winners before leaving for a good night of sleep at the barracks.


Excerpt of Blue Ghost notes on his new recruits

4th day of Alturiak 1485 DR

The day had just started for the fresh recruits in the camp and I was already at work, reading the reports of my “little birds” inside and outside of Ormpur. Spying was a dangerous profession….especially in a city protected by dragons and the lost of some of my best men forced me to consider adding new blood to my team. Fortunately, among the poor souls who signed in to fight with us, some had been noticed at the interview by one of our recruiters, Sergeant Verghat and one came with the recommendation of Kiral Sabbagh, one of the battle chaplains. It was not every day that candidates came with such backing and I would be mad to miss this opportunity to strengthen my ranks. Saving a few grunts from the meat grinder would certainly be seen favorably by the Gods anyways…

When the general call was made for the rookies to visit the recruitment center, I decided to join them, in disguise, to see how they would react to provocation, especially without knowing who I was. The crippled half-orc had told me that the group was weird and he was damn right! I will definitely need to do a background check on a few of them because I have never seen such an eclectic group of recruits since I joined! Only one played along, challenging me and entertaining the recruits that were patiently waiting to sign their contract with the Company. This one, a cindersoul genasi, was also the one who had, my sources said, started a fight at Nalune’s the previous night, clearly someone to watch….I also had interactions with an elf wizard, badmouthing the poor Colonel Karanok to convince her to join me instead….Meanwhile, the rest of the bunch was looking at me suspiciously, imagining I was competition….

With what had transpired from the evening at Nalune’s, I decided to go for a group interview and, when their turn arrived, they are allowed inside together as per my instructions. When they realized I was following them, their first thought was that I was going to join them on their trial, a perspective that clearly made some of them uneasy. The look on their faces when I walked away from my chair to sit in front of them! Priceless….

Back to business, I informed them of General Aporos’ set of rules and about the importance of loyalty and efficiency in our army. I also explained them that my vision of leadership was much less rigid than in the rest of our army and that anytime, they could share their thoughts and opinions with me without fear. They seemed convinced by my little speech and seemed ready to hear about their first mission, a test to determine their level of devotion, their subtlety and their knowledge of tactics. If they succeeded this mission, they would get their lucrative contracts.

The goal was simple: track down a stolen crate containing an undisclosed weapon sent from Derlusk to help us on our mission to remove the Church of Tiamat’s influence in the region. The box, probably stolen by gnolls, was last seen at an oasis located four days away from Ormpur and was locked with a key. They were warned not to open the box but to the test the lock to confirm that the crate was not a fake. I suspect that the move was done by loyalists working against our efforts but so far, I have nothing else that could help us track the culprits. This type of hunt will be a good test for the recruits, a challenge for their synergy, their sense of tactics and their knowledge about the environment. They would also need to be subtle as the superior officers are not yet aware of the missing weapon and would certainly overreact, something that i wish to keep from the Commander and the General’s ears. They finally agreed to my terms – a good pay rate, lodging and food with anything looted as well- and left to visit the Quartermaster and request some material necessary for the mission…

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