"So you're allying with those that worship nether gods, which is just as bad," Terzin asserted.
"I didn't know anything about this!" "Me either!" "It was just a good deal!"
"You've got caves full of dead guys walking around," Harrick started.
"What dead guys? We didn't see any."
"Who the hell are you?" He started over impatiently. "Bring some barbecue sauce, I hate eating dead guys dry," he said to a bugbear guardin Rell, to see what impression it made on the captives. Their eyes managed to get bigger.
"So, talk," Robin suggested.
"We're just highwaymen," one of them said desperately. "You know, couple bandit raids, we don't kill anybody, it's a good way to make some money. Protection in one of the caves here, our boss's worked the whole thing out, they take the money, give a cut to the people who arrange things for us...."
"What's the purpose of that cave dug out to the southwest of here?" Terzin asked. "It's filled with loot, don't tell us you don't know anything about it!"
"I do know about that, we're supposed to drop off some stuff there once in a while."
"Then you never noticed the zombies that filled the main hall?"
"What are you talking about!?"
"There were twenty-four zombies in there last time I was there." He waved his sword under the man's chin.
"What are you smoking? I would love to be able to tell you. Look, get us out here, bring us to the Keep, we'll suffer whatever punishment's required for some light banditry, we didn't kill anybody!"
Harrick put in, "I gotta tell you, light banditry might be on your end of the description, but as far as the Keep is concerned, whole caravans have been going away. Every man, woman, child, and horse."
"Those are the dwarves, we have nothing to do with that!"
Finally, something interesting. "What dwarves?"
He calmed down a little. "There's a group of mercenaries, they came in, they're sharing some of the same space we were. The bosses weren't happy about it, but said these guys need room. They're vicious, sadistic, evil bastards."
"They're dwarves," Robin shrugged with assumed worldliness.
"If there have been any caravans wiped out, you can bet that they've done it," the bandit insisted. "We don't do that."
Terzin left the room to remove the choker from its hidden place on his person. Holding it so that only the clan marking showed, he returned and asked the man, "Ever seen anything like this before?"
He departed to hide the necklace again.
"I don't think these guys can tell us anything useful," Robin sighed experimentally. "The bugbears can play with them."
"No! Don't!" "They've been torturing us for days, bring us back to the Keep!" they begged. "We'll help!"
"You will not," Terzin muttered. "I don't trust you any farther than I could spit you."
"Get us out of here, bring us back to the Keep, we'll tell you everything we know about the operation."
"Tell us now."
"Then you're gonna keep us locked up and feed us to the bugbears like that corpse you just killed. We didn't even know that guy."
"You never saw him before?"
"He works for your boss' bosses," Harrick informed them.
"I don't know anything about that."
"Put it this way," Jared suggested. "You don't talk to us, you definitely stay with the bugbears. You do talk to us, we might take you with us."
"Look guys, I know it's a bad situation, but you know what? It ain't getting much better," Harrick said.
The prisoners held a brief conference. The adventurers, fairly confident that this lot were telling the truth, had no intention of torturing anyone. The bugbears were going to be leading an assault on the other humans and probably wouldn't have time to give them any more of their hospitality for a while, either.
"There's about thirty of us," the one said. "Maybe down to twenty-five now, we've had a couple of losses recently. That's the men, not the stinkin' dwarves."
"How many dwarves are there?" Harrick asked.
"What cave are the dwarves in?"
"The same we are, the one on the far side. They're mean, nasty bastards," he emphasized.
"So you mentioned," Robin said.
"I just want to nail the point home, if anyone's getting killed... you have to know, there's no point in us killing anybody, you do know that, right?"
"Except to make zombies out of them," Terzin pointed out.
"What is it with you and zombies?!"
"Which one of us is chained to the wall?" his cousin inserted, getting impatient.
"Thirty of you, eight dwarves," Harrick counted. Bad.
"We're normally out in groups of five. Most of us go out, hit small caravans, wander through the woods... maybe the zombies, or whatever they are, are what's been picking us off out in the woods?" he hazarded.
"No, that was probably the harpies," Terzin said.
"The harpies nail people to trees with spears?"
"Maybe it's not the harpies. That doesn't sound like zombie style, either."
"No, they'd probably take the person along, or eat them or something," Harrick agreed.
"Well, something's out there hunting us."
"Have any of you ever heard of Eshkagril?" Terzin asked.
"Uh... no." They all shook their heads emphatically, obviously lying.
"Really," Harrick remarked. "You haven't. Try again."
"We could have the bugbears ask you," Terzin suggested.
"And they don't speak Rell, so...." Robin let them make their own conclusions.
"The dwarves have mentioned the name," one admitted. "I've just heard it, they talk to one other in Dwarvish, they barely speak to us at all. Whatever that stupid clicking tongue of their is, the word stands out because it doesn't fit."
"That's all you know?" Terzin prodded.
"I think it's the name of one of the bosses. Maybe."
"The ones in the other cave?" Robin pressed.
A nod. "Not our bosses. I've heard one of them mention it once or twice too, as if that was one of the boss' bosses, or the boss' boss' bosses. We're just the grunt guys; it's a living."
Harrick went looking for the goblins to see if anyone had been hunting bandits out in the woods. Both they and the bugbears killed them where they could, but no one was going out looking, he was told. Nailing them to trees with spearsgnolls. They were still out there somewhere, if they could be found....
Terzin asked about the mysterious man in plate mail, but the three said they hadn't seen him or heard about any visits from a big boss. In a matter somewhat dear to her heart, Robin found that the guy who had stolen the chain mail had been the one eaten by the harpy. The mail itself had been handed over to the big bosses in "one of the caves up top," who the bandit leaders reported to.
Harrick returned with a bugbear and a goblin. The prisoners quailed.
"How do you think it's going?" the bugbear asked him in Harran.
"Not too bad, these guys are pretty much telling everything they know."
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