Montresor 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

“I’m not really a witch hunter.  I’m just an poor girl from a poor family roaming the countryside looking to put right what once went wrong.”

He shrugged “That’s fine, you’re the next best thing.”

“How so?  I admit that I do hate witches – one of them would be infesting my dreams with horror right now if I didn’t have magical wards keeping them out – but that hardly qualifies me to take on the somber duties of witch hunting. Isn’t that a government thing?  Part of the Royal Inquisition or some such?”

“Well you’re here so you’ll have to do.”

“Will I?  I don’t see any particular reason why I should care about your witch.”

“If you help me with your witch I’ll help you with yours.”

“Fair enough, but I would like to state for the record that I don’t believe you can actually help me do anything.  I think you suck at magic and I’m just going along with this out of curiosity.”

“Let the record so reflect.” He took a deep breath “Alright, we’ll go in a second, just give me a minute to catch my breath.”

“You’ve been standing here doing nothing, why are you so weary?”

“Trust me, I’m doing all sorts of magic things that you aren’t even aware of, it takes a toll it does.”

“I’m sure.”

We stood there wordlessly staring at each other and then after a minute he waved his hand and we crossed back over the bridge and headed downriver.  Despite taking a moment to rest he was wheezing like an old man.

“Why were you waiting for me on the other side of the bridge?  Also where are we going?”

“I thought you’d be coming from the other way.  We’re going to Peacevast, it’s a fishing village up the way.”

“Why are we going there?”

“That’s where the witch is.”

“If you know where she is what do you need a witch hunter for?”

He didn’t respond to that, not sure if it’s because he was too out of breath or because he had no answer for me.  Peacevast wasn’t more than a mile down the road, which makes you wonder why there was ever a need for a ferry crossing here in the first place.  It was your standard flyspeck of a village with one mildly interesting feature.  Outside of town (in as much as you can call two dozen buildings a town) there was a statue buried in the ground so that only the top of head was poking out.  The dirt covered it up about to the lips.  That protruding portion itself was a good two feet in height so based on that forehead the entire thing must have been massive.  My companion pointed at it with an incongruous tone of pride.

“No one knows who that’s a statue of, or how it ended up in the earth like that.”

“That’s King Harad the Fourth.”

He stopped in dismay “What?  How could you know that?”

“I’d recognize it anywhere, they have that same statue all over the place in Indlecastle and Paladore.  Municipal buildings and parks and such.  Even from just the top of the face I’m sure that’s what it is.  They made them out of a special kind of alabaster that I don’t think was ever used for anything else, that’s why it’s kind of sparkle like that.  Bit effeminate if you ask me but I think it’s supposed to be the shining of his moral righteousness or something.”

He stared at me like his entire worldview had been shattered “Well . . . how did it get in the ground?”

“I have no idea.”

That seemed to satisfy him “I didn’t think so.”

Once that odd little exchange was over we continued into the village and I saw the other distinguishing characteristic of Peacevast – the woman they had rigged up in the middle of town.  She wasn’t tied to a stake, as is tradition with witches, it was more like they had her hanging from a very large sawhorse.  Or a drying racking maybe.  You know what I mean.  Not like hanging upside down by the ankles, she had been lashed to the crossbeam (?) like a suckling pig on a spit.  It was hard to tell with all the ropes across her but she looked like a pretty normal woman in a gaudy purple dress.  Her dark hair hung down like a veil about her head, almost touching the floor.  The wandering wizard pointed.

“There she is.”

“Looks like they got her, seems like my job here is done.  Now for your end of the bargain.”

He shook his head “No, you need to set her free.”

“First of all you were looking for a witch hunter because you wanted to set a witch free?  Second of all I don’t even think she is a witch, she looks normal enough to me – witches are all misshaped and lumpy.  Third of all you’re a wizard and you can’t untie a rope?  I’m starting to suspect you don’t know what you’re doing.”

He sighed like this all just too much for him “Just get her down will you?”

I laughed shortly “Oh I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?  Somehow now I’m wasting your time?  Look at all that fucking rope, it must have taken them hours to tie her up like that.  I don’t want to undo all those knots.  Maybe we can burn the ropes off her.”

“How are you going to do that without killing her?!”

I scowled “You’re the one with magic!”

A weak voice came from the direction of the hair “Grigori is that you?”

He moved to kneel by the contraption and grabbed her bound hands “Yes my love, I’m here for you.”

“You two know each other?  Are you incapable of telling the truth?  Why didn’t you just say you wanted my help rescuing your lover?”

“You’re here aren’t you?”

“You are a nitwit.”

The hair quivered with fear “Grigori you have to get out of here before they find you. It’s too late for me, save yourself.”

He clutched more desperately at her hands “I’ll never leave you again, and don’t worry, I brought reinforcements.”

I walked over “That would be me.  As you can tell from my boots I’m very heroic and great.  Maybe if we lift the pole off this . . . whatever it is then we can slip it out and then maybe she can wriggle free of the ropes.”

Grigori glared at me “Why don’t you just untie her?”

“Why don’t you just untie her?”

“Oi, what are you two doing over there!”

That was the voice of a beardless dwarf with outrageous eyebrows (they looked like a waxed mustache) who was coming out of one of the buildings.  He was dressed in golden mail and he brandished some manner of sword/axe/thing that was longer than he was tall.  I think it was an elf curve blade.  I feel like this is the third time I’ve seen a dwarf wielding one of those.  What gives?  I thought dwarfs and elfs didn’t get on.  Maybe that’s why these dwarfs are exiles.  Coming out behind him was another beardless dwarf who was also hairless – his head looked like a fleshy boulder.  He was pointing a crossbow at us that looked like it was made of the finest darkwood with gold filigree and silver.  It was a beautiful looking killing tool aside from the fact that it looked like it had a long spyglass attached to the top.  What a ridiculous notion.

I gestured “We were just discussing the best way to untie this woman.  Would you mind not pointing that crossbow at me?”

His ludicrous eyebrows twitched like the antenna of a cave cricket “Untie her?!  She’s our captive!”

I nodded “Yes, and a fine job you did of it too my good sir. “I flashed my badge at him “I’m here to take her off your hands.”

“And who are you?!”

His back-up lowered the crossbow slightly so I would just be shot in the stomach instead of the chest if he loosed “What about our pay?”

“Marguerite Bennett, Captain of the Cathars Chapterhouse.  You’ll get the full amount promised you from Baron Harmenkar, you’ll just have to go get it.”

The crossbowman frowned and lowered his weapon a tiny bit more as eyebrows turned red in the face “That isn’t what we were hired for!  We were told . . .”

“Look, I’m sorry, but things have changed.  There’s been an organization reshuffling and you got caught in the shuffle it looks like.  It a bad hand but that’s what it is, no use bellyaching about it.  Baron Harmenkar is overseeing funding this entire region under the supervision of Colonel Tarl Ciarán.  You have a complaint, take it up with him.  I’m just here to remand your prisoner unto my custody.”

The crossbowman’s bolt thrower dropped to the ground in dismay “But what about our money?”

Eyebrows looked like he was about to grab me by the shirt “We need that money!”

I coolly moved his hands away from me with the Baronial Cane “Don’t get grabby with me sir, there’s no reason to turn this into something ugly.  You got a raw deal here but you’re still getting paid, it’s just going to take a little longer.  How about you act like professional instead of mewling children and roll with the punches?  If it will keep you from yapping I’ll write a letter to Baron Harmenkar suggesting that you be awarded additional funds for your trouble.”

Eyebrows growled “Who are you calling a child?”

A light came back into the crossbowman’s eyes “How much additional?”

I looked the angry dwarf in the eyes “Thirty percent.  You want the letter or not?”

Montresor 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I arrived at the Compass River today.  I’ve had bad luck with river crossings what with the pirates and monsters and undead beasts, so I was not looking forward to the ferry but when I got there I saw that a brand new bridge was ready and waiting for me.  I guess because of the all the troops moving through here (you know the war and all) they decided it made sense to toss up a bridge.  It’s startling when presented with actual proof that the government can accomplish things when they want to.  And building a bridge is no easy task – they must have really busted the asses of some indentured servants to get this completed so quickly.  I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that slavery is illegal in the Kingdom. 

It wasn’t some rickety little country affair either – this was a Hells of a bridge.  I mean if you like bridges.  You could have marched a whole platoon (I have no idea how many people are in a platoon) across it with room to spare for their train of cooks, laundresses, bootleggers, nurses, prostitutes, and war profiteers.  Truth be told it was far more bridge than you would ever need on the road to a place like Graltontown but fighting wars is mostly about building bridges I’m pretty sure.  The ferryman’s little shack was still nearby but the ferryman himself was nowhere to be found.  I assumed he hanged himself once the bridge was completed and now haunts it at night, strangling travelers unlucky enough to be crossing under the light of the moon with the very ropes with once he made his livelihood. 

As I crossed over this new construction I passed a man pushing an overburdened cartful of cabbages accompanied by a girl dressed in boy’s clothing stooped under a pack bigger than her.  I think it wasn’t just dressed, I think it was supposed to be a disguise, probably as an attempt to dissuade potential rapists.  Surely they couldn’t have been planning on taking those cabbages all the way to Ardint but where else would there be to take them?  I was almost curious enough to ask them.  Almost. 

Aside from cabbages the other thing I wondered about was how I crossed this river the first time.  Five hundred and twenty seven days ago I woke up in that garbage-strewed alley in Graltontown being molested by a diseased mongrel.  What happened before that?  Was I whisked there by magic?  Was I bound and gagged and drugged the entire time, did the ferryman watch as the Duke’s goons manhandled by unconscious form onto his skiff?  Was my mind overthrown by enchantment and I was going there “willingly”?  I suppose before I finally kill the Duke I’ll wring that answer out of him, just for my own curiosity.

On the other side of the river a man was waiting for me, leaning against the bridgehead (is that a thing?) the kind of lean where you need support rather than want it.  He was mostly dressed in dilapidated traveler’s garb, several layers of such in fact, but had added a few items.  Some puffy culottes, a frilly light violet dressing gown, and a horribly clashing floppy red hat with a sad feather really added something to the ensemble.  What that something is I’ll leave for each individual to arrive.  He had a very unmasculine long neck and a disgrace of a beard.  About the only thing that recommended him was the bottle of Oldlaw whiskey he was working on as he leaned at an awkward angle.

“Aren’t you hot under all those clothes?”

He peered at me from under his hat as if trying to assess if I was real “I have a skin condition.”

“And sweating your balls off makes it better?”

He took a moment to consider that “Yes?”

“You also appear to be wearing women’s trousers.”

He took a drink before corking his bottle and tucking it away without offering me any like a real asshole “No such thing madam.  Women won’t wear trousers so there can be so such thing as women’s trousers, ergo and therefore all trousers are men’s trousers.”

“I’m a woman and I’m wearing trousers.”

He frowned and then leaned forward preciously to examine me for a moment “Yes . . . . it seems that you are.  Hmm . . . . this changes things.”

I carefully pushed him back into a more upright position before he fell on his face “I could go on at some length about your fashion choices but in the interest of brevity let me ask what it is you need from me.  It appeared you were waiting for me.”

“Yes . . .” he nodded as if he had just decided “Yes, I talked with a Shepard of the Wandering God and his disciples, he was called Dormus, and he told me of a meeting with a witch hunter by the name of Buckleuck.  It’s him that I was waiting for but it appears that you are him.”

“Good eye, most people would never peg me for Buckleuck since I look nothing like him and also he doesn’t really exist.”

“Existence is not as black and white as people think.  And appearances can be deceiving, I try not to rely on anything so undependable as vision if I have other options.”

“And do you?”

He nodded slowly “Oh yes, I’m quite a powerful wizard.”

“You look like a vagrant.”

“I’m that too.”

“I suppose you must be a wizard since here you are in front of me when the people you said you talked to yesterday are now far behind me.”

He looked around, confused “They are?  I admit that directions and geography aren’t something I’m good with, I have the bad tendency to get turned around.”

“That’s something we have in common.  I have to tell you my shabby new friend, I don’t get on with wizards very well.  They have a disturbing tendency to live in isolated towers where they can kidnap and torture women without being bothered by angry mobs.”

“I don’t blame you there, most wizards are real stiffs.  I can assure you that I have no problem with women.  I love women, why else would I pay them thirty silver to have sex with me?”

“You don’t look like you have thirty silver to spare very often.”

A sighed sadly “True enough, wizarding is not a very lucrative profession.”

“Disagree whenever I buy anything magic it costs a fortune.  I feel like you’re just a bad wizard and that’s why you’re poor.”

“Maybe, but it takes a lot of money to make those things too.  The overhead is substantial.  And it takes forever.  One measly little magic ring takes months to create.  It’s crazy I tell you.  Plus I never really mastered the art of crafting magic items, mine had the bad habit if not working which doesn’t do much for your reputation.”

 “That is pretty strong mark against any merchant – your competitors can say mean things like ‘at least my stuff actually works’ and what can you say back?”

“Exactly.  That’s why so many wizards get drawn into the tawdry and ugly world of adventuring, there’s just not a lot of other ways to get rich using your skills of setting people and things on fire at fifty paces.”

“But you can do other things with magic other than killing right?”

“You’d think so wouldn’t you?”

“We seem to have gotten sidetracked again, what is it you want from me?”

“I need a witch hunted, what reason would there be to look for a witch hunter?”

“Maybe you want one of those big hats they seem to love so much.”

Montresor 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

In retrospect I’ve given Peronel too much credit when it comes to not hesitating to employ swift and blinding violence.  With his magic as back-up I think he had enough men to take out the Ardint city watch.  I’m pretty sure that was the entire city watch since last time I was here they didn’t even have one.  He could have killed all the law men in Arindt and then taken over the entire town – which you may remember as the plot of the Eight Cavaliers.  I enjoyed that book but I think people give it too much credit for having one of the “cavaliers” character be Kostelos. 

First of all that character gets very little attention and undergoes no development of growth throughout the story, and secondly the character also in no way presents a shred of authenticity about the Kostelos experience.  IF anything what it really represents is the same stereotype of the subservient mystic barbarian who helps out the very people who are destroying his way of life.  But more importantly, even if that character was well done and a good representation of the Kostelos people who cares?  How does that help anything?  Kostelos don’t read and if they did why would they give a shit?  Having a character in a book doesn’t give them their land back.  Nor give them any status in the Kingdom.  Nor make them be alive again. 

But they’re dirty barbarians anyway so screw them.  Peronell missed his chance (maybe being a drug dealer doesn’t mean you’re willing to engage in mass slaughter of the legal authorities and the flouting of the King’s sovereignty) and we were all taken into custody.  I figured that would be fine since the mayor and I are old chums but he didn’t seem to be around.  Instead there was some pinch-faced magistrate that looked like a schoolmarm (gender aside) who seemed to be in charge of the situation.  Whatever they were going to do it seemed like it was going to take a long time so in the confusion I changed appearance (Peronell’s anti-changing magic seemed to have worn off) and walked away from that mess.  Just to be on the safe side I snuck (sauntered really) out of town and slept under a hedge like a dirty knight errant.

That’s two times now (or three depending on how you account for it) that Peronell has managed to avoid being revenged upon by me.  It’s starting to get annoying.  Maybe he’ll get hung and I won’t need to worry about it.  Once upon a time I was very strict that I had to be the one that took care of people on my list.  I’m not so worried about that now, with some of them at least.  There are just so many people that I need revenge against and I can’t be revenging all day you know?  Maybe I should make two columns on the list – a premium tier of people who I need to destroy personally and a lower level of miscreants who need to come to a bad end but it doesn’t necessarily need to be at my hand.  Then I can start contracting out some of the lesser revenge jobs.  Revenger smarter not harder.

Traveling the road to Graltontown there was nothing much going on and I was feeling a bit blue so I entertained myself with one of my old games.  As I was traveling I would take on a different appearance and persona with each fellow traveler I came across.  A group of young fellows were out running the road, training for a long distance competition of some kind, I talked their ear off as Lemiel the stuttering ratcatcher.  Buckleuck a greedy witch hunter came across a scruffy priest of Strider and a few acolytes.   They claimed to be roaming the the land helping those in need but you and I really know how those Strider people really are.   Buckleuck regaled them with grisly tales of witches and the terrible fates of their victims while bragging about his victories over such demonic enemies. 

A veteran back from the front on the way to visit the family farmstead got into a blistering row with Leoet Violetteus a nobleman disowned for his drunkardness – and if you know anything about nobles you have to be fantastically drunkardly to get disowned for that.  I was in my own form when I came across a skinny fellow drawing the scenery.  I accused him of being a Vielander spy and he ran away.  So I must have been right.  When I was tired I sat down on the ground with nary a comfort to be had, retrieved some rations from my Greatcoat pocket and chewed on the vile “food” and felt sorry for myself.  You can’t indulge in that too much or you become melancholy and gross but it’s okay every now and then. 

Emotions need to be stuffed deep down inside where they can’t interfere with your decision making but every now and then you need to trot them out and give them some air otherwise they fester and grow like things that live in caves.  Mushrooms?  Some like that.  Mold maybe.  You need to drag them up into the sunlight every now and examine them to make sure that they’re not undermining your tower of self-control.  Emotions hidden TOO well have a way of insinuating themselves into your mind all sneaky like and making you react in unproductive and unpredictable ways. Not giving your feelings a good kick occasionally can impact your ability to make reasonable, thoughtful decisions.

Think about someone who know who’s a real disaster (if you can’t think of anyone it’s probably you). That person is at the mercy of their emotions. They feel abnormal, weird and avoid sharing them. They feel lost and don’t know how to pull themselves out of their misery.  Feeling sorry for yourself can be helpful, just don’t go overboard with that bullshit right? 

It’s okay to moan and groan and think that the whole world is against you. Just be mindful that you’re doing it, and teach it who the boss is. You can cry and whine for about twenty minutes and then you’re done.  If you do feeling lousy right it can be quite cathartic and energizing. But the path to change and feeling better is action, feel crappy for a little while and then get over it and crack on.

This ends Ela’s book corner and self-actualizing workshop.  Fifty gold please.  No refunds.

Montresor 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I hope Jonah got clear of that mess yesterday without too much trouble.  But also I don’t really care you know?  It’s like when you see a yak crossing a river frequented by dracodolphins, you’re cheering for the yak to make it across but if it gets slaughtered by a dragon-porpoise hybrid you just shrug go about your day.  You know what I mean?  I think you do.  I suppose either way Jonah’s career as a proxy duelist is over, which I think we can all agree is for the best.  He wasn’t cut out for that line of work.  The worst thing about that grand melee is that I lost my crossbow in the press.  Seems like every time I get a nice shooter something happens to it.  I guess that could be the one good thing about magic, no one can take it from you.  All they can do is break your hands and rip out your tongue so you can’t cast spells. 

I found the road today and was mildly taken aback to arrive in Ardint instead of Tybhurst.  I guess I got a little off course.  No big surprise there eh?  I arrived there just as the markets were closing down (a place like Ardint has no night markets) and was able to get a replacement crossbow and a nice bracelet as well.  Not bad for a quick shopping trip in a place like this.  I was surprised to find that the place wasn’t swarming with soldiers, since the last time I had been here I alerted them to a Vielander plot to infiltrate the Lodge Woods and conquer the entire region with the help of dirty traitors.  Maybe the soldiers all in the forest slaughtering Vielanders gloriously.  I didn’t even hear much chatter about the sacking of Malgareth.  For a town basically on the front lines the Ardintites don’t seem to be taking the war too seriously. 

After my hasty trip to the market I found the only decent inn in town – I believe it used to be student housing for the third rate university they have here so it was much larger and kind of an odd layout for a hostelry.  They had done some renovations to create a common room and when I walked in who did I see sitting at a table but the Missplitters – Peronell and his wife, who probably has a name.  Remember how bent out of shape I used to get about women being called just Miss Their Husband’s Name?  And now here I am doing the same thing.  Shame on me.  It’s undoubtedly the worst thing I’ve ever done. 

Since things didn’t work out for them in Three Rivers (you know because of me) they must be fleeing to Heathgrove to throw themselves at the mercy of Psyhundt and his hairy chest.  Peronell looked much the same, being a shabby wizard or alchemist or whatever kind of potion making schlep he is but his wife was dressed in common traveler’s garb.  Gone was the magenta lace and tulle gown and the crystal wine glass and she didn’t look happy about that fact.  I on the other hand took great amusement in that fact. 

When I spotted them I immediately took on a difference appearance but it was too late – they had both swung around and made me the moment I walked in.  I’ll give this to Peronell he’s a decisive fellow – he instantly ordered his drug addict goons and slovenly bodyguards to grab me.  They surged forward as I dashed out the door, swapped appearances again, and circled back around.  While they thugs were searching the area I walked right past them back into the converted dormitory.  I had forgotten how annoying this Peronell guy is though, even disguised he clearly knew who I was and did some sort of magic shenanigans at me – two things happened.  One I felt like I was punched in the chest, getting knocked against the wall and to the floor.  Two, my disguise melted away and somehow my ability to generate another was blocked.  Although since his goons only ever saw me in a different disguise anyway I’m not sure what good that did.

The ladywife Missplitter overturned a table and ducked before it for cover with shrieking in a most unladylike way for the remaining thug to “kill that little bitch”.  Which I take exception to, I am not little.  Said goon leapt into action at his mistress’s command and started whirling about a length of chain covered with barbs.  I’ve heard about these things but I’ve never seen one before.  Seems like a nonsensical weapon even for a gladiatorial performance, and those people use fucking nets.  A sword has a sheath, an axe you kind of just strap on your back, a spear you just hold but that’s fine because it’s like a walking stick – how the Hells do you even transport an eleven foot length of spiked chain?  Where do you put it?  And how do you “draw” it?  Seems like it would get tangled up ALL the time. 

Notwithstanding how do you even learn to use the damn thing?  Seems like the first time you swung it you’d rip your own face off and then maybe decide to get a real weapon.  This fellow, wearing a chainmail and leather number and possessing an oddly bestial face, had it all figured out however it happens.  He flicked that thing out like a dancer’s ribbon and caught me around the lower leg.  As he dragged me towards him the spikes dug into my ankle so far I could feel them touching bone.  I believe I said something like “Ah, my fucking ankle!”  I say things like that in combat far more often than witty quips.  I should work on that.  Winning is one thing, but poise counts too.

Peronell came over and stood directly over me like a jerk to cast a spell – didn’t seem to do anything.  That would have been a perfect time for a wisecrack about impotence but there’s just no time you know?  Instead I called upon the magic of my Stole and blasted him in the face with some razor shards courtesy of the refrain from “A Kiss At the End of the World”.  He fell back with a bloody face and his goon snapped the chain entangling me like a dockworker trying to shake out a knot and got the chain around my throat as well.  You know what’s worse than being strangled with a chain?  Being strangled with a chain that has GODS DAMN SPIKES!!!

I managed to get a hand up on the front of my throat to prevent a spines from going through my jugular (and whatever else important is in there) but they were still digging into the back and sides of my neck.  I didn’t care for that at all.  I expressed this displeasure by retrieving my Belt Sword and stabbing the chain wielder through the groin.  Which is what he gets for wearing a chain shirt instead of the full deal.  A groinful of rapier dampened his enthusiasm for chain swinging and I managed to wriggle loose.  I was gulping down some healing potion when the Missus clobbered me with a chair.  Looking up at her I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more hatred in a person’s eyes.  I guess that I of all people should know what kind of ire is stirred up when you’re dragged out of a life of luxury and prominence and thrown down to wallow in the mud with everyone else.

She swung at me again but I rolled out of the way and got a hold of her – she wasn’t much of a fighter she was just enthusiastic about bashing my skull in.  I got the tip of my sword under her chin as Peronell was regaining his wits, clutching at his horrendously bleeding eye with one hand.

“Alright, everybody be cool or the dame gets it.”

I halfway (maybe three-quarters) expected him not to care about the fate of his wife, but he seemed very concerned.  Peronell took a step back and waved off his goons as some of them came running back into the common room.  The chain wielding man remained bleeding and crying on the ground.  I’ve been stabbed a good many places at this point, but never the crotch.  I’m grateful for that.

Peronell’s one eye glared at me “What are we going to do here?”

“How about we call this one a draw?  Your wife and I are going to slowly back out of here while you and your men stay here and once I’m clear I’ll let her go.  Sounds good right?  We can conclude out business a later date.  Assuming that Psyhundt doesn’t skin you alive in the meantime.”

“What guarantee . . .”

“Do you have that I’ll let her go?  Let’s not get into that whole thing, you have no choice.”

It looked to me like he was starting to cast a spell but just then several watchmen burst onto the scene and started shouting for people to drop their weapons and such.  Their leader was quite a statuesque fellow.  He looked like the watch captain from a romance novel, in real life they tend to look more like human bulldogs.  Or disapproving tutors.  But this fellow was handsome as you like.  After quickly taking a measure of the situation he looked me in the eye.  His voice was strong and commanding, the kind that could make you weak in the knees if you let it.

“What’s going on here?”

“Would you believe that we’re rehearsing a play?

Montresor 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Thing’s didn’t exactly work out as I had planned.  Convincing Jonah to let me take his place in the duel took some doing but not as much as you might think.  As much as he didn’t want me putting myself in danger on his behalf (or at all) he really didn’t want to fight Brevoy either.  Once I had him convinced that there was no risk in this switch the rest of the convincing was a forgone conclusion.  He didn’t even raise the masculine objection of being ashamed of hiding behind a woman’s skirts once, which I feel speaks well of him.  Or maybe he’s just a total coward, but I don’t think so.  And I’m a pretty good judge of these matters.

The idea was that I would walk out with Jonah’s appearance and then once everyone was ready for the bloodshed to begin I would drop the disguise, Brevoy would see that it was me – the woman who had taken his hand and presumably haunted his nightmares ever since.  If necessary I would denounce him for the bounder, liar, and dastard that he is and either way he would crumble before my withering gaze, piss himself with terror, and surrender without a single blow being struck.  Sure there might be some moaning from the dueling purists but with Lord Brandymoore having selected such a pathetic blatherskite for a champion there wouldn’t be much he could do about it.  Unless he wanted to pick up a sword himself.  Which he most assuredly would not.  As you well know rich men prefer others to do their bleeding for them.

At first everything seemed like it was going to pan out exactly as I predicted.  The crowd was gathered, ready for blood.  Some bulky fellow with a massive white mustache blathered on about the rules of the contest for a while and then it was time to get down to business.  Brevoy took his position, I took mine with Jonah’s appearance, and then when I revealed my true form Brevoy completely fell apart.  His sword slipped out of the grasp of his fingers and he fell to the ground crying in a heap.  I proclaimed to everyone in attendance that his tales of glory were naught but filthy lies and that I had taken his hand to protect the world from his predatory actions.  People were disappointed they wouldn’t be seeing anyone slashed to ribbons but they were still entertained by this shocking turn of events so all in all they weren’t too angry.

What I hadn’t counted on is that once Brevoy was over his initial shock and fear that he would see this as an opportunity to reclaim his manhood.  Turns out that if you humiliate and maim someone, depriving them of their main source of self-worth, they may hold that against you.  Brevoy is a murderer and a rapist but that doesn’t preclude him from being able to gather up enough courage to do something about his reversal.  I should know better.  Bravery isn’t the providence of the just by any means, a fact which I am well aware of.  I’m tempted to say that I outsmarted myself but that’s not quite right, I just misjudged things.

I was made pointedly (pun) aware of this when Brevoy returned to his feet with sword in hand and executed what everyone agrees was a picture perfect thrust towards my heart.  I don’t know how much he’s been practicing over this last year with his left hand but his progress is pretty impressive.  I only just managed to get my sword in the way enough to deflect his stroke from a killing blow to merely a massively wounding one.  I got run through the belly with a spear once.  That was pretty bad.  Getting a sword through the chest, also not great. 

His second thrust would have gone through my neck if not for the fact that I collapsed to the ground on account of had I had a gaping chest wound.  I’m not sure why he expected that I would still be standing after that first attack hit home.  On the ground I pulled out an adamantine bolt and stabbed him through the foot with it.  He fell down next to me as I dragged out my crossbow as well.  He tried to roll and stab at me awkwardly from his side but a rapier is not a good weapon for ground fighting.  Neither is a crossbow really but I managed to get that bloody adamantine bolt loaded and shot him through the side of the head.  He didn’t die, not right away, but he did stop moving.

One mistake was underestimating Brevoy.   The other mistake was forgetting how seriously some people take dueling.  Trading places with someone in a duel under false pretenses is definitely not okay with these those people.  Nor is producing a hidden weapon.  Or using a crossbow in what was supposed to be a sword fight.  Fighting on the ground also not cool.   And the whole not being a man thing doesn’t help either.  I was still in the dirt guzzling healing potions as fast as I could and trying to avoid dying when several people stormed the dueling field to grab me.  Jonah and some other people counter-stormed and then the retinues of the two lords were in the mix and before you knew what was what it was a mob scene.

I know a little (far more than I want to) about fighting now, but I don’t know much about mass battle.  What I do know is that if you want to live you have to stay on your feet.  If you get knocked down you’re fucked.  If you’re on the ground you have to get back up immediately or you’re dead.  What they don’t tell you is that getting to your feet is pretty hard when you’re being kicked and trampled.  I had just managed to regain a vertical base when someone got a hold of my hair and dragged me back down to the ground.  If I had any idea who it was I would put them in the number two slot on the list right after the Duke.  What kind of human garbage would do something like that?  Drag a woman down in a riot?

I heard a veteran opining once that when you’re getting kicked the instinct to roll into a ball and cover your head is the worst thing you can do – that leaves you open to being attacked.  According to him you need to keep trying to evade and defend yourself.  But I think that advice only makes sense when someone is specifically trying to hurt you, in a scenario like this where it’s impersonal it seems like better advice.  I was able to get the Baron’s cane out and start swatting at legs, which worked okay to clear some space before someone I cracked on the shin fell on me.  I’m not sure I ever wanted anything more than I wanted to get out of that tangled mass of suffocating confusion.  I think the only thing that saved me is biting onto someone’s hand and being dragged up unintentionally by my fucking teeth.  The man who did it punched me directly in the face afterwards.  Hard.  I definitely would have fallen back down if I wasn’t pinned upright by the crush of the crowd at that point.  I think I was unconscious for a split second.

Eventually I managed to slither my way free of the main mass of . . . well fight isn’t the right word, it was more like the frenzy of fish caught in a net and being dragged onto the boat.  I ran towards the vendor stalls and a man on horseback tried to grab me as he rode by.  It was like being clothesline by a tree limb, and he didn’t even get a hold of me, I fell out of his grasp and the horse stomped on my thigh.  Have you ever had a horse stomp on your thigh?  It hurts. 

I crawled under the edge of one of the merchant tents and almost immediately was set upon by a snarling man wielding a cudgel.  I clubbed him in the groin first with the Baronial cane (probably the first time it’s been used like that) and then smashed him on the head until he stopped moving.  A terrified woman was sitting in the corner (some tents have corners) clutching several bolts of cloth to her chest.  He voice had that shrill thinness that people get sometimes when they’re so scared they’re beyond being afraid.

“What’s happening?!”

I spat out a gob of blood and reached for my Flask “I’m having a bad day.”

Montresor 12 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

(Note – I suddenly became annoyed by the inventory and list at the end every post and moved those to their own page. For anyone who cares.)

After watching the elder statesmen (and one stateswoman and one statesrat) of a cult dedicated to sexual deviancy, human sacrifice, and cannibalism be devoured by a massive death worm I was tempted to spend a few days with the Halflings of the Shoddy Hills – seeing that kind of thing with your very own eyes makes you want to rest and relax for a while.  You know how it is.

But as they say, no rest for the gorgeous.  I didn’t get terribly familiar with the philosophy (is that the right word?) of the goat cult people while they were busy trying to kill me but as I understand it they believe they can live outside of the natural cycle by emulating the Dark Mother who is her own food and her own parent – some manner of cyclical self-cannibalism and incestuous restitution.  So maybe for them being eaten by a giant worm is not that bad of a way to go.  Best not to speculate on the motivations of such people.   

The Halflings shook their head in sorrowful reproof of my haste to leave.  One of the shirriff’s commented that we overly large folk are “Always in a big hurry to get from something foolish to nothing at all”.  Once again they’re not wrong, but revenge is a stern mistress.  And not the fun kind with leather clothing.  I asked them if they could lead me through worm-tunnels to Eree and they looked at me like I was insane.  They’re the ones that were snuggling up to a beast the Kostelos call “the Clan Eater” like it was a tame petting goat and somehow I’m the crazy one?  Typical.  They did lead me back through the hills on worm-safe paths and sent me off with several rucksacks full of sweetened dried fruit, aged sausage, hard sharp cheese, honey cakes, and a mixture of roasted grains, nuts, and molasses.  They believe that a full belly strengths your resolve – there’s a lot to like about these little folk.

Once the Halfling ballyhoo was ballyhooed I headed south towards Tybhurst, as was the plan before I got diverted by all this nonsense.  Sometimes I really do think that some God or Gods is taking measures to keep from ever making progress on my goals.  Mostly though I think Gods have better things to do.  What those things might be I can’t imagine, but they have to have them.  Right?  As I traveled I saw an owlbear prowling around at the edge of the hills but I stayed well away from it.  I have no desire to be ripped to shreds by one of those things.  How is it that replacing the head of a bear with that of a tiny bird somehow resulted in a creature that is stronger and more vicious?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – magic is crazy.

I never found the road so I must not be heading the right away, or I’m misremembering the topography of this area, but despite that fact I still somehow managed to encounter a large gathering of people.  I must be drawn to them unconsciously by the longing in my soul for civilized areas.  The reason for this gathering in the middle of nowhere was odd, although I guess there isn’t a reason for a gathering in the middle of nowhere that would be normal. 

Dueling is illegal is most jurisdictions although enforcement is spotty at best – people love watching two rich guys hack each other to bits.  Those duelists that are concerned about getting in trouble with the law simply meet outside the city limits to carve each other into bloody chunks, unless a forest warden happens along who’s going to arrest you?  Two fellows from Caeptil who should be old enough to know better decided upon a duel on account of one of them cheated the other in a deal or some kind and then someone’s wife was dishonored and this and that and so on.  Word got around, as it does, and the mayor put his foot down – they would be no dueling in or AROUND the city.  In order to bypass this the rare show of law enforcement the aggrieved parties decided to head south of the Shoddy Hills to spill blood.

A lot of people had no intention of missing this duel so they also made arrangements so travel south of the city to watch it go down.  A group of wandering players heard about this and they decided they would turn up and put on a performance beforehand.  Then a traveling circus heard about it and joined in and next thing you know you’ve got yourself a festival going.  Usually they don’t end with two gentlemen stabbing at each other, but there’s a first time for everything.  Except things that never happen.  There’s not a first time for those things.

Normally these festivals are crawling with low class types but this was an upscale affair – after all it’s not like your average person can afford to go haring off at the drop of a hat to watch a duel.  The crowd was mostly compromised of merchants and the retinues of the two dueling lords – who did their part to support their lieges by giving each other dirty looks and stepping on each other’s boots as they waited in line for candied apples.  One such merchant was more than happy to let me borrow his fine pavilion and actual bed for the night while he slept under a tarp with his manservant.  I’ve gotten so skillful at talking people into acting against their own best interest it’s almost not even fun anymore.  Almost.  It was a delightful surprise to get the sleep in a fine bed in a decent pavilion rather than on the ground like a filthy mole. 

After securing my lodgings for the night I wandered the merchant stalls and other perused the offerings of the opportunist and then headed to the “grand concourse” to watch the players mount a decent effort at the first act of Dawnflower’s Gold and laugh internally at a singer that couldn’t hold a handle to me.  She was pretty, very pretty, but she couldn’t sing worth a damn.  I was leaving when I spotted a face from the past – one Jonah Hillless.

Jonah is cursed with one of those babyfaces, last time I saw him he was eighteen and looked like he was eleven.  Now all these years later he looks like he might be all of seventeen.  He was a pawn in the tradition of fostering that nobles sometimes like to do – the ritual exchange of hostages dressed up all fancy like to be something else.  Some lords take their duties as surrogate father very seriously.  Others play more into the hostage aspect and treat their wards little better than prisoners.  The Duke couldn’t be bothered to care about Jonah.  He was basically left on his on (sound familiar?) and was usually so meek an unassuming that people forgot he was there at all.  He probably would have starved to death if the kitchen staff and the servants in general didn’t adopt him as a mascot of sorts. 

He was wearing those same cheap spectacles that the girls used to tease him about.  He’s slightly cross-eyed without them but I don’t understand why he doesn’t buy a better pair.  His family has plenty of money.  He was one of the only nobles at court that was truly devoted to his faith – attending Adariel’s services religiously (pun) which served to make him all the more liked by the lower class types.  He was kind and generous and totally out place in the Duke’s court.  It’s a good thing he was so inconspicuous, if anyone took notice if him he probably would have ended up a pawn in someone’s game and then ended up dead shortly thereafter.   Even though his face was still that of a boy he had grown tall and athletic where once he was soft and weedy.  As he was heading back to a tent of his own I fell into step beside him.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

When he looked over her literally tripped over his own feet in surprise, but managed to avoid falling just barely “Ela?”

I held my arms wide like a magician revealing a trick “The very same.”

He was incredulous “But . . . how . . . everyone said that you were dead.”

“Oh I am, can’t you tell by the decay ravaging my body?  I’m a revenant you see, back from the grave for revenge.  Come kiss these rotting lips.” He blushed furiously at the very idea and took an involuntary step backwards.  I laughed good-naturedly. “Good to see you haven’t changed.  What are you doing all the way out here?  The Jonah I knew isn’t the kind to be interested enough in a little bloodshed to travel all this way.”

“Well, duty calls.”

“You’re not in service to one of these fools are you Jonah?”

“Not in the way you mean.  I’m here as the proxy for Lord Hovecraft.”

I was almost as surprised by that as he was to see me “You’re joking.”

He shook his head “I’m afraid not My Lady.  My family has fallen on . . . hard times.  The only asset we have at this point is my skill at battle.”

I put my hand on his arm “Don’t take this the wrong way Jonah, but I don’t remember you having much in the way of skill at battle.  Didn’t one of the kitchen boys beat you senseless with a broom one time?”

He winced “I’ve gotten . . . better . . . since then . . . somewhat.  My father’s sword is very powerful . . .” he shrugged helplessly “It’s all I can do.  Things . . . are . . . not going well.”

“Good Gods Jonah, how is you getting killed going to help your family?  If you have this great sword and you need money why not sell it?  I’ve learned that people pay a lot for that sort of thing.”

He gasped as if I asked him to sell his mother’s virtue on the street corner – even Jonah isn’t immune to the stupidity of the aristocracy.  Better to hang onto a family heirloom than your life.  I bet if I offered him money he wouldn’t take it either, because of “honor”.  What a bunch of crap.  These are the people we’re putting in charge of the world? 

He turned to enter his tent “It’s good to see you Ela, but I really need to rest up for tomorrow.”

I grabbed his shoulder “Wait a minute Jonah, is Lord Brandymoore fighting himself or does he have a proxy too?”

He gulped “Elkin Brevoy is fighting for Lord Brandymoore.”

“Wow, he must have learned how to fight with his left hand.  Good for him.”

Jonah looked confused “How did you know about his hand?”

“I’m the one who fucking took it!”

His confusion only deepened “What are you talking about?  After defeating Fenrir the Fearless Brevoy cut off his own hand because no one could match him and he wanted a challenge.”

“Ha!  Talk about spitting shit onto gold eh Jonah?  I tell you plainly that I bit off his hand and ate it.  It’s a whole story.” I put my arm around him and walked him into his tent “I’ll tell you all about it while we discuss the plan for the duel.”

Out of character – Ela by the numbers and other jibber-jabber

(Editor’s note, I say D&D when I mean pathfinder as well because I’m like that)

Back in the heyday (what does that mean?) of this blog when it was read by as many as five people one request I got a couple times is for Ela’s character sheet.  RPG people love character sheets.  I never posted it for two reasons.  One I couldn’t figure out how.  Two, I kind of prefer to leave her exact stats a mystery.  I’ve never understood why some people like having characters from books and movies they love statted out.  Tanis was much cooler before I knew he was a 7th level ranger with 12 Dexterity. 

One thing I can say is that her Bluff modifier reached silly proportions pretty quickly.  It’s currently sitting at +37 which means by the book she can convince 99.99 percent of things with brains of even the most outlandish lies.  I try to be a little reasonable with that.  And that’s not even taking into account her once a day +20 bonus on top of that. 

Most campaigns fall apart after the first 4-7 sessions.  Those that make it past that first stage and last a good while seem to generally peter out around 12-15th level.  Which is fine by me, I’m not into high level play.  It’s interesting how quickly you can just make so that there’s little to no chance of failing at any skill check you want your character to be good at.  I guess that’s good, no one likes it when their character fails all the time but it seems strange.  One of my RPG buddies that prefers to play other systems than D&D has leveled the critique that at low levels you can’t do anything and once you get past that everything is too easy.  He’s not entirely wrong.  Just mostly. 

In the last real campaign I played in (I’m currently playing in a roll20 campaign now but its gross 5th edition so it doesn’t count) I had a mythic charisma based character at high level.  Ela’s Bluff is slightly better than his was.  I’ve actually thought about having him turn up in this blog but that seemed a little too self-indulgent even for me.

A couple of people have asked how Ela manages to survive so many fights without being combat oriented.  Her Sense Motive and Perception are not as crazy as her Bluff, but they’re high, and she has Phantom Thief Social Sense +5 on top of that so she’s unlikely to be taken by surprise.  Innocent Façade, Another Day, and Like Smoke all make her pretty shifty and add to that the speed from her boots and her the effect of her ring and she’s pretty hard to catch, especially in an urban area.   

In the early days she almost died several times, but after you reach a certain level you’re kind of hard to kill outside of dirty magic spells that kill you right off the bat.  Paradoxically I think being a solo act helps survival too.  In a normal D&D party once people start dropping you’re unlikely to run – you try to heal them or at least win so you can recover their bodies or whatnot.  Leave no PC behind.  If you’re alone there’s no real not to bail if things turn ugly. 

A couple times Ela has gotten an invisibility magic item and I usually find a way to get it off her because it’s annoying.  Sometimes people say that as a DM if you can’t handle invisibility and flying that’s because you suck.  I do suck, what would be useful is some advice people who say that. 

Anyway, here’s a magic item.

Saltwheel Family Cane

A slender walking stick made of strong gleaming blackthorn wood, the handle is sunsilver in the shape of a bird of prey and wide enough for a very large hand to grip comfortably.

Despite its apparent delicateness the cane can strike as a +1 Heavy Mace.  Any aberration struck by the cane takes an additional 1d6 points of damage and becomes sickened for 1 round (no save).

While held the cane amplifies the wielders voice to carry as far as a mile away.  This effect can penetrate the area of a silence spell.  When the cane is in hand additionally the holder can cannot be detected or tracked with the scent ability or any other special senses that rely on acute smell.

The cane’s owner rolls twice to confirm critical hits against aberrations and keeps the higher roll.

Montresor 11 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Halflings tend to the same size of livestock as everyone else so why would they make barns that are half the dimensions?  They don’t have special Halfling sheep the size of dogs.  Or do they?  No, no they don’t.  Don’t get me wrong, a half sized barn is still pretty big, I’m just saying that waking up in one is a little disorientating.  Did I grow to twelve feet tall is what you wonder until you figure it out.  I suppose the explanation is that shirefolk being so much small don’t raise as many animals and therefore they don’t need as much room?  Yeah, that makes sense, giants (if they had barns) would make them bigger even though their animals would be the same size because they need more of them.  Excepting cloudgoats of course which are very large indeed. 

Normally I’d be pretty upset about being tossed in a barn but I have a little touch of a soft spot for shirelings.  They’re so little and everyone is so mean to them and yet they still just cheerfully go about their business and overcome through perseverance.  You have to admire that in a heartbreaking kind of way – they got the short end of the stick (not a pun) and they don’t bellyache about it, they get to getting.  Not unlike myself.  Despite the fact that I am impressively tall, I have a lot in common with the smallfolk.  Which is probably why when I ran until I collapsed they came upon me and stuck me in a barn.  Which I don’t blame them for doing, it’s not like they could drag me into their little badger-hole homes. 

Moments after I crawled out of the half-sized barn a smiling welcome committee of Halflings were there to greet me with overflowing baskets of tea-cakes, banana oat muffins, lemon poppy seed cake, toast with jam, jam with toast, and enough other pasties and sweets to choke a mongoose.  They assumed I was Baroness Saltwheel on account of I had the Saltwheel staff of office clutched in my hand when they found me passed out in the dirt – and on account of my elegant clothing and noble manner.  You can’t blame them really.  I saw no reason to correct them.  They surmised appropriately that I had fled from the Saltwheel country manor due to violent unrest.  They clucked their tongues about the foibles of the bigfolk – always fighting and feuding when we should be getting down to drinking and eating and making merry.  They’re not wrong about that.

We were having a gay old time until my tattoos started shining through my clothing like a brilliant star.  Should I be happy that I have these to warn me, or is their very presence what it making these abominable things come after me?  It’s a chicken egg situation.  I stood up from my cross-legged position on the ground and dusted crumbs off my jackets (lucky birds!).

“Sorry my friends, but trouble is coming and I need to be on my way.  I don’t suppose you have a fast horse around here do you?  A fast horse suited for someone of my stature?”

They did not.  Did you know that the word sheriff comes from Halflings?  I didn’t, although I suppose I should have known – Halflings live in shires, hence shire reeve, contracted to sheriff.  Although they say it shirriff.  When I suggested a hasty departure the little folk wouldn’t hear of it – if there was danger the shirriff’s would protect me.  They were four little men wearing feathered hats, jackets, and waistcoats each with a stout club.  One of them was wearing a cravat for the Gods’ sake.  Now I know why I so often catch people off guard when it comes to combat – you don’t seem threatened at all in fancy clothing.

I told them that I appreciated it but this was trouble they couldn’t handle.  They wouldn’t hear of it – what kind of hosts would they be if they allowed me to come to harm?  My plan was to ignore them and run anyway, but it was already too late just with that small amount of back and forth.  A field of darkness appeared in the hilly meadow and out of it strode three forms.  Two I recognized from the carnage yesterday.  One was the horned man, although I saw then that what I thought was a robe the day before was in fact more of a leather jerkin and kirtle type scenario worn over trousers.  In one hand he held a short crooked stick carved with sigils and topped with what appeared to be a still functioning eyeball.  His other hand already danced with magical flame.

The second familiar face was one of the women I saw stark naked and covered with filth yesterday – now heavily garbed in a blue and purple robe and dress combination.  Makes sense, you wouldn’t want your cult robes to be damaged in battle.  She was startlingly white, pale as chalk she was, and she had some kind of crude writing tattooed on her arms and face.  She held in her hand a long staff topped with the skull and horns of a goat.  The newcomer with them had the appearance of a young nobleman, handsome as you like and dressed to the nines albeit with clothing that was several seasons out of fashion.  His boots in particular were immaculate and shiny.  The only thing ruining the effect was that nasty little human-faced rat monster clinging to the lapel of this overcoat.

I turned to the Halflings who were standing in shock at the dramatic appearance of the devilish trio “You need to run my friends.  Run and hide.  And don’t come out.”

The horned man sneered and rasped in the voice if a nightmare “Yesssssss, run away little morssssssssels!”

The woman all but rolled her eyes at him and the dandy fellow smiled apologetically, he spoke in that slow sleepy voice that some nobles affect for reasons unknown “Don’t mind him, he gets excited.  No one needs to get hurt, just give us the necklace.”

“Are you kidding me?  All this has been about that stupid ugly necklace?” I tossed the chunky crude thing at their feet “Here, you could have just asked, there was no reason to attack the Saltwheel house with your freak legion.”

The woman smiled as the sharp dressed man picked up the necklace and tucked it into his vest pocket “Freak legion, I like that, what better name for the brave fighting men and women of the dark goat of the woods?”

“Sounds like you’re done here, best be on your way, I’m sure you have all sorts of rituals you need to conduct involving goat piss and the blood of virgins and so forth.”

The dapper dandy mirrored his lady friend’s smile “Well, being totally honest, retrieving the necklace wasn’t our only reason for coming here.”

At this point the horned man released his magic fire in a Hellsish vortex of fiery death that would have engulfed me and burned me to death if not for the fact that the gold stitching on my Greatcoat flared to life and cancelled out his magic.  I’m not sure if I knew that it could do that.  Good purchase past Ela.  The magic absorption made the jacket sparkle in a pleasing way, it would have been a great time for witty quip if I was into that sort of thing, but the problem with real life fights to the death is your opponents never give you time to banter.  In the novels when the hero is fighting with the big bad guy there’s always several minutes between thrusts for them to trade insults and explain whose great-grandfather stole whose land and so on and so forth.  Murdering people in the real world is sadly allows for far less exposition.

Although I was doing very little murdering.  I shot with my crossbow once, which was deflected by a gust of wind and then pretty much the rest of the time I was running for my life, dodging and ducking and diving as they hurled spells at me.  It hardly seems fair to send three spellcasters to kill one normal person.  I suppose that’s the point though.  The horned man flew up into the sky and was lancing out with burning shafts of light all around me.  I feel like I could have shaken them and made a run for it without him hovering above and spotting me like hunting bird out no matter where I ran.  The woman with the ram-stick preferred summoning bolts of lightning at me but the dandy dresser was the real jack of all trades.  He summoned a wall of spinning blades, he blasted me with freezing wind, he summoned a massive rain of sleet, he had all manner of tricks up his fashionable sleeves. 

It wouldn’t even really be fair to call it a fight, it was more like a fox hunt – and if you know anything about fox hunts it’s that the fox never gets away.  I’ve said this once before but I’ll repeat it now because it’s probably the best advice I can give you about fighting, aside from don’t.  Only morons die like heroes – accepting their fate with a brave face.  When you’re been beaten like a dog act like a dog – beg, grovel, whine for mercy, show your belly.  Do whatever they want, offer them anything they want.  Do whatever humiliating revolting thing you need to do to gain yourself one more precious second of life.  You wouldn’t think that would work with these lunatics but they found my abasement amusing.  They stood smirking as I pleaded for my life.  They laughed when I offered them my womb for their twisted monster-babies.  They sneered as I cried so hard I choked and blew big bubbles of snot. 

And then they died when the earth beneath them opened up and they plummeted into the forty foot wide maw of a Shoddy Hills land serpent, also known to some as death worms, and until that very moment not something I thought existed.  Looking down its throat (do worms have throats?) in total shock it looked like a striated flesh-cave ringed with thousands of shark-teeth the size of my head.  My tormentors and their dirty rat friend were shredded as they were swallowed alive, being ripped to bloody shards in a manner of seconds.  The creature’s emergence had been so swift and sudden it threw up a cloud of dirt like the water from a breaching whale. As shocked as I was by its appearance I was even more stunned by what happened next.  That massive worm-maw closed, making it look like just a huge brown leather rope and the Halflings emerged to start patting its hide like it was a prize pig!  I swear to you one of them fed it a bushel of corn!

It took me several tries to find my voice “What . . . what . . . . just what?”

One of the shirriff (sans club) looked over at me “Oh this is just Sally.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Behind the curtain: Ela hit level 17 taking another level of Rogue, making her Rogue 15/Master Spy 2 is anyone interested in the details of her leveling up?  Nah.  I’ve been playing pathfinder forever and I just found out there’s a Noble Scion prestige class.  I’m thinking about rebuilding her for that.  If nothing else I can get another rip-off OOC post out of it.   

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold

XP: 1,329,951

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod, Singer’s Stole, Saltwheel’s Cane 

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (631), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag

Montresor 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

What kind of name is Saltwheel anyway?  I feel like I heard of an ocean-going paddlewheel ship one time but if one of this guy’s ancestors invented it, and it was a noteworthy invention, why aren’t they all over the place?  In what other context would a wheel be salty?  Can you make a waterwheel on the ocean shore?  What would be the point of that?  All barons are bad, but is Saltwheel worse than other baron?  All he did was lock me in a bedroom which is a pretty feeble response to my defiance.  Maybe he had more convincing inducements to come but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. 

With my Boots I was out the window and up the side of the wall before you could get a knife from the barn.  It’s an expression.  The next window I climbed in just so happened to be that of the good Baroness Saltwheel.  Given the late hour she was abed and the room was dark so she was little more than a lump and a mass of curly brown hair on a pillow to my eyes.  Taking on the form of the Baron (in what I imagine are Baronial pajamas) I slipped slyly into bed aside her.  She made a noiseless not awake noise (it makes sense!) and rubbed her feet together as I snuggled up to her and started favoring her with manly baronial caressing.  Eventually she rolled over sleepily and our lips met, filled with Baronial passion.

That’s when I changed forms again to that of one of the snakemen (or snakewomen) that had hauled me here.  At first the Baroness’s lips puckered like when you bite into a bad spot on a mango.  Then her eyes fluttered open and even in the dim light she knew something was wrong.  Mainly that she was smooching on a lipless snake-face.  I flicked out my borrowed snake-tongue.

“What’s wrong baby?  Your husband said you would be down for this.”

I tell you this much, that woman can scream, my ears were still ringing several hours later.  I slithered back out the window and down to the lawn where I took up the appearance of the Baron again.  I started shouting for men under arms to attend me and then rushed them over to the outbuilding where the adventuresome four we housed – explaining to them all how my ladywife had been assaulted in my very own matrimonial bed!  They were in no mood for shenanigans by the time they broke the door down and adventurers being adventurers the fighting started instantly.  There’s not much they don’t react to with deadly force. 

Once things were well under way I climbed back into my locked room to watch and listen to the chaos and shouting and people rushing about with torches.  In the melee one of the buildings was set on fire – it’s a classic move.  When you’re not sure what to do burn some shit down.  I saw both snake people dragged dead into the middle of the courtyard.  I saw the former knight Harweal angrily challenging the Baron to a duel and when the Baron laughed in his face I saw the former knight Harweal cut down six soldiers before he was impaled through the leg from behind by a spearman and captured.  I saw no sign of the one eared woman.  She must have escaped. 

As I watched this deadly scene play out I wondered what is the appropriate revenge for the Baron.  Merely denying him his necklace seems too thin.  But I can’t go around killing everyone on the list can I?  It just doesn’t seem very elegant, there has to be some more creative revenges I can come up with right?  The problem is I simply don’t have the time.  What I should do is spy on him for a few weeks and find out what he really cares about and then hit him there.  But I don’t want to hang around here for a few weeks.  Not at all.  No one ever told me this revenge business would be so mentally taxing.  Maybe I should get in touch with Kralten the god of revenge, if nothing else he has to have some good ideas about different forms of revenge.  Although all of the Kralten people I’ve meet have been very boring – they were all about murder.  Maybe I just don’t encounter the subtle ones.

I decided to sleep on it, wondering if with all the excitement in the night I would be forgotten about in the morning.  I was not.  Before dawn I was rousted and after an insulting short amount of time allowed to make myself presentable was escorted back to the Baron’s study.  As sickly as he looks normally it was hard to tell that he was haggard and sleep deprived as well but the signs were there.  After some obligatory nonsense he apologized for the commotion, which I obligingly and lying said I hadn’t noticed, and he again restated his insistence that give him the necklace.  I gave a pretty speech about how because of the commotion, which of course I didn’t notice, I would relent and give him the necklace.  I produced instead the very nice silver and moonstone number I’ve had for a while.

His face was impressively impassive “That is a fine piece my lady, but sadly it is not the necklace I’m after.” He sighed “It seems those vondrooks have betrayed me in more ways than one.  I should have known better than to place my trust in a disgrace like Harweal, he was once such a loyal knight, it’s such a pity how base he’s become.”

I tucked the necklace back away “Good help is so hard to find My Lord.”

He started to say something and then stopped, giving me a quizzical look “What are you doing?”

“Pardon me My Lord?”

“Your skin appears to be glowing, stop that at once!” 

I looked down and saw the tattoos of Hadar blazing through my clothing “Oh shit!” I jabbed my finger in Baron Saltwheel’s face “Are you an abomination from beyond the stars?  You have to tell me if you are!  That’s the law!”

The door flew open as if from a stout kick and in lurched/hopped/galumphed a nude man.  An unexpected nude man is bad enough, but this fellow’s surprising appearance was made all the less welcome by the fact that he had a massive growth on his left shoulder.  Have you seen a hunchback?  It was like that only instead of the back it was on the side.  At first you think that’s the head but then you’re like “oh no, that smaller thing next to it is the head”.  That head wasn’t doing him and favors either.  Have you ever seen someone who was fat and then lost a bunch of weight and was left with a big flap of loose skin around the belly?  It was like that only on the head – he had a face it just wasn’t attached to the skull, it was hanging loose a good foot to the south.  Did I mention that he had three arms?  I mean the additional arm on the right side wasn’t much of an arm, but it was still there.  That’s one more arm than most people no matter its quality. The axe clenched in its two right hands with blood and chunks of hair on it was possibly the least disturbing thing about him. 

“Blllaaaaaaaargheseshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

That’s what it “said” by way of introduction while I dodged and ducked and scrabbled and slid out of the way of the swinging axe.  The Baron, to some credit, did draw his pussified courtier’s sword and make one attempt at a strike before trying to use me as a human shield – which was annoying because I was trying to go out the window and he was holding me back.  We stumbled into the mutant freak and I managed to pin the axe between our attacker and the Baron.  The “man’s” clacking teeth were trying to bite the Baron through a veil of its own droopy skin.  I wish I never saw that.  I managed to maneuver/stagger us to the window and we all fell through. 

The mutated axman hit the ground and bounced up like it was nothing.  I don’t know why exactly but I kept one hand on the Baron’s belt as I stuck to the wall with the rest of my limbs.  This turned out to be one of my less good ideas as my shoulder was torn out of its socket.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH FUCK!”

That’s what I said when I let go of him on account of the agonizing pain.  Which seems like a pretty good reason to let go of someone if you ask me.  The Baron caught me around the waist, squeezing the life out of me and nearly yanking me off the wall with his extra weight.

“Climb you scar-faced whore!”

Those were his words of encouragement as we dangled precariously on the side of the building.  I would have shaken him off if I could but there was no way.  Here’s the fun thing about these Boots, they only allow me to climb and cling like a spider about a minute.  So as much as it hurt I had to climb as quickly as I could.  Which was not very quickly.  It was only about ten feet to the roof but it took a good thirty seconds.  Once I was within grasp the fucking Baron started climbing over me to get to the roof himself.  I tried to grab his foot and shake him off but he stepped directly on my face.  I managed to haul myself over the side where I immediately clutched my mangled arm to my chest.

“I’ll assume that’s your way of thanking me for saving your fucking life!”

I don’t think he even heard me.  He was standing on the edge of the building, jaw gaping open, staring down.  I took a drink from my Flask to heal my shoulder, and another to calm my nerves and then sat up to see what he was gaping at.  It was certainly gapeworthy.  It was like the chaos of the previous night multiplied by a factor of seventeen.  A mob of stark nude people, both normal and those with ghastly mutations, covered with mud and bearing various forms of ram-head staves and sticks were attacking the complex, viciously hacking and tearing at the Baron’s staff.  I saw with them a black goat as large as an elk with horns that glinted razor-sharp.  Among them I saw a bloated flabby winged creature with elements of ant and bat on a human frame.  I saw several heavily armored men and women with a triple headed goat symbol on their shields.  I saw a savage minotaur dressed in the clothing of a civilized man while humans ran and ravened like beasts.  Directing the chaos was a robed man with curling horns and on his shoulder clung the rat-beast I saw the day before – whispering into his ear with its filthy humanish face.   

I gave the Baron a ‘wake up’ shove as I retrieved my crossbow “Snap out of chief, the day has taken a real turn here for both of us, it’s time to either get to fighting to getting the Hells out of here.  I know which one I vote for.”

His mouth moved wordlessly for a moment before he could speak “What do we do?”

“Run for our fucking lives.”

“How?”

“A distraction would be helpful.”

“What kind of distraction.”

“Something like this.”

I shoved him off the roof into the waiting clutches of the . . . whatever these people are.  Cultist of some kind I assume.  It’s always Gods damned cultists.  Half the world must be in some cult or other just waiting for the signal to start killing everyone.  As he toppled over the side his cane flew out of his hand directly into mind as if he was tossing it to me.  The hordes below fell upon him like squealing hogs chasing after corn.  I saw the minotaur and the horned man gazing at me calmly.  Even the little rat-beast turned its eyes on me.  I fired at them with my crossbow but the bolt was blown aside by a gust of wind – they didn’t even flinch.

I took a deep breath, climbed down the opposite side of the building, managed to fight my way free and ran until my tattoos stopped glowing.  And then I ran some more.  I always thought “run yourself ragged” was just an expression.  It isn’t.  I guess death will have to do for the Baron after all. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold

XP: 1,297,951

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod, Singer’s Stole, Saltwheel’s Cane 

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (631), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal, cruddy gold necklace

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag

Montresor 9 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I woke up this morning a rat monster was looking at me.  It was longer than a non-monster rat, kind of weasely in the body, and it’s front paws were somewhat human-like.  This matched well with its hideous humanish face.  It reminded me of a rat version of a barghest – you wouldn’t call it a ratman by any means, it’s more like a rat with eleven percent human added in.  The face was twisted up on account of it had giant rat fangs stabbing awkwardly into its human mouth.  Well not fangs, that’s not the right word for a rat, but you know those big teeth rats have in front.  Incisors?  Whatever, you know what I mean.  It had little ropes of glistening drool hanging from its repugnant little face.  I tell you, this is not the way I wanted to wake up.  It scampered away before I could say or do anything.  I’m sure that bodes well.

Yesterday after I came to an agreement with the snake twins and the two boring normal humans we headed towards the Shoddy Hills together and they set up a luxurious campsite of a firepit and a couple of blankets.  I shouldn’t complain about that I guess, it’s better than I could have done for myself.  Still though I don’t understand adventurers – why raid a tomb and kill a bunch of old barbarian kings turned into wights and steal their gold just so you can get yourself a magic sword?  I mean sure, adventurers do a lot of murdering so they need good killing tools, but even the most murderous person probably doesn’t kill someone even every day.  On the other hand they’re constantly on the road, searching out more monsters to kill, avoiding tax collectors, civil lawsuits, and the hangman.  They should be spending their gold on ways to travel in comfort first and magic swords send.  Why waste your money on a magic sword that sits in your scabbard ninety nine percent of the time and then sleep in the mud like a pig and eat food that’s even worse than the slop you give a sow?  Adventurers are all crazy anyway so there’s no reason ascribing human motives to them.

The snake people turned out to be a real disappointment.  I assumed that the two humans were their mind-slaves and they were advance scouts a wicked race who use their shapechanging abilities to infiltrate and influence human society by reaching positions of power. I mean they’re humanoid snakes for the Gods’ sake!  But they weren’t anything like that at all.  They’re some kind of nature people that are all about the land and seasons and flowers and nuts and shit like that.  They’re vegetarians!  It was a huge letdown.  They’re basically the same as elfs – right down to not being able to tell the genders apart.  Maybe elfs are all secretly snake people, that would be something.  The snake people knew that humans wouldn’t like them in their real forms so they invented elf culture.   I think I’ll start spreading that rumor around, seems like it has legs.

I found out that the shoemaker looking guy used to be a knight in the service of Baron Saltwheel but because of some terribly tragic story involving his lady love marrying another man he’s just a normal killer now.  That’s why he’s always staring off into the distance like a mental patient, he got his little heart broken and now he pines away like a lost baby bird.  As we traveled today we happened to be riding side by side so I seized this opportunity to delve into the mind of a knight. 

“Mr. Harweal would you mind if I asked you a few questions about knighthood?”

He had the broken voice of a man whose sweetheart was just lost to him even though it was years ago “I am no longer a knight madam.”

“I know that but you were for many years, I’m sure you remember.” He inclined his head slightly “I understand that knights have many vows.  I’ve always had a bit of a question about this vow to fight fairly.  As I understand it knights are supposed to refrain from using poison or attacking from hiding or other dirty tricks like that.”

He nodded “That is correct.  Poison and underhanded tactics are the tools of men that possess an evil heart, implements of corruption and destruction. Using poison is an evil act because it causes undue suffering in the process of incapacitating or killing an opponent.”

“But can you explain to me why splitting open someone’s head with an axe is fine but poisoning them isn’t?” He stiffened noticeable “I’m not trying to bust your balls here, I’m honestly interested in how it works.  Let’s say back in the old days one of Baron Saltwheel’s vassals was in open rebellion against him, raising troops and the whole nine yards.  You lead the Baron’s men against his and a bunch of soldiers die in battle and crops are ruined by the marching and fighting and there’s a famine and more people die and so forth.  Now instead let’s say I was there in the Baron’s service.  What I would so is I snuggle up to the rebellious lord and after the fucking I slip him some black lotus and he dies in bed.  Isn’t that better?  Then just one person dies.”

He seemed legitimately horrified “But madam what about your virtue?!”

“Who cares?  I don’t mean to be flippant but it’s just sex.  If I have to bang one dude to save the lives of thousands what seems like a no brainer.”

“A victory through deceitful tactics is a defeat.”

“Why?  The people who are alive sure don’t give a shit how you pulled it off.  And even if they do at least they’re alive to hate your guts.  Isn’t your vow to protect the Kingdom?  And isn’t the Kingdom the people?  Shouldn’t your honor demand that you do anything to protect them no matter how personally vile you might find it?  What about this, let’s say a troll is attacking an isolated village.  If you fight the troll you may win you may not, but if you trick him and use poison you’re certainly win.  Surely fighting is the immoral choice.”

“I would fight with honor and lose if I must, there is no other choice.”

“But how is that honorable if you lose and then the troll eats all the villagers?  I’m not trying to say that the ends justify the means but you have to use common sense don’t you?  What about this, what if just lied and told the troll something that made it go away.  That has to be okay right?”

“A true knight always tells the truth as he knows it. He may decline to speak or choose to withhold information, but a true knight will never intentionally mislead anyone, even his enemies. He may ask permission not to answer a direct question, but if pressed, a true knight will tell the truth.”

“Sure, that’s the vow, but intellectually you understand that that’s asinine right?  All you have to do to save the entire village is tell one little lie and you won’t do it?  Instead you put everyone’s life at risk?  That’s purely ego right?  It’s not about the people it’s about you.”

“You have a wicked tongue madam.”

With that he spurred his horse away from mine and I turned to one of the snake people “Back me up here, there’s nothing wrong with ambushing someone and biting them with your venom snake style right?”

It’s hard to read snake expression but it seemed confused “I don’t have any venom.  Why would you think that I did?”

I restate, these snake people are a serious disappointment.  As we traveling along the Shoddy Hills I saw more shirelings than I ever have in my life.  They were all over the place, tending to gardens and whistling and crawling into and out of their holes.  If there’s this many here how many are there in the Eight Shires?  Eight shires worth I suppose.

Late in the afternoon we came upon Baron Saltwheel’s country home.  Why anyone, even a shoddy baron, would want a country home on the fringes of the Shoddy Hills I couldn’t speculate.  It was more of an overgrown hunting lodge than a proper country villa, but it was decent enough.  Strangely all the servants were humans not Halflings.  The four adventurers were directed to one of the outbuildings while I was shown in to meet with the Baron, which is a surprising show of good breeding.  A gentlemen may have to deal with these roughnecks but that doesn’t mean you have to break bread with them.  I approve of this approach.

The Baron himself had a long neck and a sallow face marred by a thick red rash under the eyes on both cheekbones.  He didn’t act sickly in other way but he certainly does not look like a well man.  He wore an odd brown and grey number that seemed more like the vestments of a religious sort than the loungewear of a high born.  He served some weak lukewarm tea in his study and we chatted a bit before he got down to business.

“Now my lady I’m given to understand that you have come into possession of something that belongs to me, is that correct?”

I shook my head shortly “No My Lord, it appears that you have been misinformed.”

His eyebrow twitched like it wanted to raise but could not “You don’t have the necklace of Ru’ias Mitherva?”

“Oh I have the necklace My Lord, but it doesn’t belong to you.  I won it fairly in a game of chance, it belongs to me.”

He pursed his lips and set down his teacup “Yes well, it wasn’t Miss Rilotto’s to wager now was it?”

“I couldn’t say sir, being unfamiliar with the provenance of the item I couldn’t speculate on that.  However since there may be some irregularity in the change of ownership I explained to your men that I would be willing to sell the item at a reasonable price.”

His lip curled slightly “Yes, they told me about your price, reasonable is not how I would describe it.  Madam near the Lake of Daggers I have some land and there is a pestilence there that has being caused by an old enemy of mine.  An old companion came to me and . . .”

I held up my hand “Yes, yes, your goons told me the sad tale of why you need the necklace but that doesn’t change the price in the slightest.  Let me tell you a tale good sir.  I was orphaned when the great Paladore fire in sixty three killed my parents.  You remember how cold it was that year My Lord?  I slept in heaps with other orphans like dogs.  We lived much like dogs, scavenging and begging for food, fighting and running.  Every now and then the snatchers would come through just like dog catchers – only they would take you to the Church orphanage.  And you didn’t want to go there, as bad as it was on the street you didn’t want to go there, oh no, not to the orphanage. 

I was better at hiding than any of the others, the snatchers never could have found me.  But he did.  Maybe he was interested in me because I was such a good hider.  Stitches they called him.  He was a cutthroat for the Bloody Coin.  The whole hang was hung in mass in eighty – I’m sure you heard about it.  At first I just helped him clean up his murders but then I graduated to being his gopher as well.  In time I started acting as bait for his targets.  I didn’t like it but any man who wanted to diddle a thirteen year old girl had it coming right?  That’s what I told myself anyway.  Helped me to not cry every night.  Eventually I was assisting him with his work – you know the kind I mean.

But then I heard from one of my fellow ‘apprentices’ that Stitches was on the outs, I never found out why, he seemed like a loyal Bloody Coin man to me, maybe he just knew too much, and they were sending men to take us both out.  When the other Bloody Coin hitters showed up I was waiting for them with Stitches head in my lap.  I had taken a lot of effort to saw it off.  I told them I was with them to the end, if they wanted Stitches out that’s what I would do, and if they wanted my life too it was theirs.  One of the killers started laughing. He thought it hilarious that a girl had taken out Stitches.  He was the big bosses’ son so that was it, I was in.”

Baron Saltwheel looked like he smelled something foul “And what was the purpose of that shocking tale of gutter trash killing one another?  To intimidate me?  I can assure you it did quite the opposite.”

“No, nothing of the sort, I just wanted you to know who you’re dealing with.  You can pay me for the necklace or I can continue on my way.  There’s nothing else.”

He let out a breath in a weird little half-cough “Madam I must insist that you give me that necklace.”

I nodded “I thought that you might.” I set down my teacup and locked eyes with him “It’s been said that there are two kinds of barons – the bad ones and the really bad ones.  Which kind are you?” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold

XP: 1,288,351

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Satchel of Plentiful Feed, Horseshoes of Surety, Teremana (light warhorse), Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod , Singer’s Stole 

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (631), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal, cruddy gold necklace

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag