Muthuselan 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I couldn’t swear to it but I’m convinced that Josta hasn’t bathed since coming here.  She seems morally opposed to personal cleanliness.  I’d suspect she was a vampire aside from the fact that I see her during the daylight hours constantly.  What other kind of creature is afraid of water?  Witches?  Is that a thing?  I feel like I saw a witch melt once and most of the witches I’ve met were pretty dirty so maybe water is their enemy.  Hmm, have to look into that.  The point is that Josta, for all that he’s a good egg, carries with her something of a graveyard smell.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – it’s not the smell of earth but it is an earthy aroma with some decay and flower-scent mixed in.  What does this have to do with anything?  I started awake in the dead of night for no reason I could discern and that fragrance was heavy in the air.  My initial thought was that Josta was standing in my room for some reason.

But as my eyes adjusted I saw that it wasn’t her.  The smell seemed to grow stronger as I was able to make out more features of the intruder.  He was plainly dressed and his hands were bound in front of him but the real showstopper was his head lolling to the side as his neck was plainly broken.  What little moonlight trickled in illuminated the skin of this face that was whiter than the sheets I was sleeping on (we really need a maid).  What was even more troubling than the angle of his head though were his eyes – they weren’t coal black, they appeared to be actual coals. 

“I assume you’re the fellow that got hung a couple hours ago.  You’re looking well all things considered.”

I was prepared for his voice to sound hollow or far away or in some manner “ghostly” but it was just normal.  Maybe the ghost sound comes over time and he’s too new for that right now.

“I’m told that you’re the reason I died.”

I slid back to prop myself up against the wall a little so I could see him better “Seems unlikely, seeing as how I’m neither judge, jury, nor executioner.  Is that right?  Do you say neither with three things?  Or does that imply two items?  Should it be either?  That doesn’t sound right.”

“You committed the crime for which I was hung.”

“I doubt it, why were you hung?”

“For killing the Master of Chains, for loosing the dread minotaur, for all the people killed in the riot.”

“If I was the one who did that why were you hung?  There must be another reason you were hung right?  Even if that reason is just that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I think you need to find out the real reason you died.  Only then can you be at peace.  Speaking of, do you realize where you are right now?  This is actually called the Rest Inn Peace, the owner is a gravedigger you see, it’s quite amusing when you think about it.”

“Are you the guilty one or not?”

“You don’t know?  Let’s take it from the top, you said that someone told you that I was the reason you died.  Who told you that?”

A slight frown came over his weird sideways face like he was trying to remember – have you ever seen a sideways frown?  I have now.

“A woman.”

“Let me guess, pretty brunette, princess curls, blue ribbons, long gloves, elegant dress?”

His side-scowl deepened “Yes.”

I gestured “You see there’s your problem.  I’m just guessing here but I would wager what happened is that she’s the one that turned the watch onto you as the perpetrator and then told you that I was the one to blame, and then she used her demon powers to bar your spirit from the afterlife in the hopes that you would do her dirty work for her after they executed you.  It’s quite a stratagem, I almost admire the heartless bitch.”

“Demon powers?”

“Oh yes, she’s a wench of the Lord of the Thirteen! A whore of darkness!  Demon concubine she is!”

“Why would I believe that?”

“Because I’m telling the truth of course.  You can tell the truth from a pack of lies can’t you?  Had you ever met this woman before?  Did she have any reason to speak to you?  And did she offer any proof?  Did she indicate to you at all why she would even know this information if it were true?  Clearly she was manipulating you, what else makes sense?”

“I . . . at the time . . . it’s fuzzy.  I can’t remember why I believed her.”

“Your mind was overthrown by her wicked powers.  Not only that but she probably came to you at a time when you were especially vulnerable.”

“She told me right before I was taken out to be hanged, as I sat in my cell contemplating my life.”

I whistled “Now that’s what I call vulnerable.  She’s trying to get at you, she’s trying to turn you into her pawn from beyond the grave.  Don’t succumb to her evil.  I don’t know how you pass on to the next life but if you throw in with her you will be damned.  Damned for all eternity.  If you kill me now you hand victory to the spawn of the Hells.”

“I’m not here to kill you.”

“Really?  Why are you here then?”

“I come as a harbinger, to warn you.  There is still time for you, tonight you will be visited by three spirits – haunted in fact.”

I lay back down and turned on my side “Oh fuck off with that!” 

For some strange reason though I didn’t sleep very well after this ghostly intrusion, go figure right?  I kept waking up and never really feeling deeply asleep – you know that feeling where you’re technically asleep but you’re aware you’re asleep so it’s kind of like you’re awake?  It wasn’t very restful.  As a result I didn’t get up until late in the morning which threw my whole schedule off.  I had intended to hit the market to sell of the junk I pulled out of the woodsmen’s guild house turned criminal flophouse but it was late afternoon by the time I was ready to head out so I just stay at the RIP and shot the shit with Josta and Kalisha.  Kalisha is doing better but her mind is all over the place, she’d tell me half of one thing about the Duke and his dirty dealings and then move onto something else, seemingly without realizing it.  I told her to start writing it all down hoping that would help her clear her mind and then I could sift through it at my leisure. 

“So Josta how are you liking the innkeeper life?”

“I think I’m going to need to find a hobby, a life of idleness doesn’t suit me.”

“Really?  You seem like a champion idler to me.”

“For a while maybe, I’ve been involved in hard physical work since I can remember – it was nice to do nothing for a few weeks – but I think about through with that.  I’m going need something to do other than just sitting back and letting the money roll in.”

“You could help out.”

“Nah, domestic work doesn’t sound very fun, I need to be outside in the fresh air.”

“You could sign on with a caravan, they’re always looking for help – on account of all the getting killed by bandits and bugbears and bugbear bandits.”

“Too dangerous.  Plus I don’t really like leaving the city.”

 “An outdoor job in the city that’s not too dangerous huh?  Lamplighter maybe?  That’s a tricky requirement set.”

“I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”

After that it was time to pretty myself up for my night with Old Scatch.  The entire theater crew seems to spend money pretty extravagantly so I was curious what his dwelling would be – turned out to be a real shithole.  It was a shack built on top of a two story building that I guarantee you was not in the architectural diagram.  You had to get to the damn thing with a ladder.  Have you ever climbed a ladder wearing a dress?  It’s a fucking nightmare.  The first floor didn’t look like a butcher’s or a slaughterhouse but it stank of blood nevertheless.  The second floor was a residence, I know this because the ladder is right next to a window where a guy was leaning on the sill feeding a bird in a cage.  Keeping a bird in a cage is bad enough, keeping that cage next to a window is a real asshole move.  I almost “accidentally” kicked the guy in his bald head as I went by on the ladder but ultimately decided against it.

Once I was enshacked Old Scatch jabbered on excitedly for a while and then thankfully (even though it meant another ladder trip) we retired to the Macourek Theater for the main event.  Even better we were met there by mush-mouth Wexley and another one of the actresses they called Butterfly.  All the women in the group seem to have cutesy nicknames but most of the men just have name names.  That probably means something. I was glad to see them because it indicated to me that Wexley was the next in the food chain and reduced the chances of Old Scatch trying to get a piece while we were high – men are like that you know.  After some more chit-chat we went into one of the strange seemingly pointless rooms in the theater and they brought out the bloodbrush extract.  They droned on about how great it was for nearly an hour and once it was time to get busy they made a real ceremony out of it.  Mystical, quasi-religious, arcane, call it what you want mostly it was annoying.

Now most of you are probably aware that it’s wildly tedious to be around people who are high when you’re not high yourself, but what you probably don’t know is that being around people who are high when you’re not high and pretending to be high is seventeen times worse.  But I knew going in that palming the goods and acting along with these fools was going to be a rough night.  The things I do for . . . why am I doing this again?  Oh right because I need to do the thing to do the other thing to do the first thing and so on and so on.  Some day I’ll make progress on something.  I just have to.  Once they were good and doped up I probed them a little bit about Lypara Emprenzo but they had nothing but gushing praise for her, mostly about how she saved the theater by getting Crawdore to buy it but they threw in some general drooling over her looks as well.    

As the night wore on eventually they call drugged themselves into a stupor and after taking another quick look around the place I took my leave.  I can’t believe I haven’t found anything here yet – the place is huge, there must be something interesting to find.  I need to just keep checking whenever I can. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,788 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Muleback Cords, Workman’s Everytool, Heavyload Belt, Ax of Clearing, bloodbrush extract

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 

Muthuselan 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I got up this morning Vablis was nowhere to be found.  I suppose she rabbited.  I can’t blame her I suppose, the first time that you find yourself being hunted by an inhuman monster from another dimension that can plum rattle some folks.  I wish her well on her journey.  Not too well mind you, but you know some.  The silver lining is that at least now I won’t have to decide if I’m actually going to pay her or not.  I had breakfast with Josta and Kalisha who, though looking tired and wan, no longer looked like she might stroke out at any moment – which is a pretty good for a Shiver addict.  I said as much to her.

“Josta’s really been helpful, a couple more days under her care and I might feel alive.”

“Really?  Josta’s been helpful?”

Josta’s usually impassive face cracked a little “Why is that so hard to believe?”

“I haven’t seen you do much beyond bring a mug to your face, it’s just a little surprising is all.”

After a moment she answered “I’ve had some experience with this kind of thing.”

“Maybe you missed your true calling again, you’re not meant to be a gravedigger or an innkeeper but rather a drug counselor.”

Before I left I chatted with Stinty to see if he could give me any leads on hiring some muscle.  He gave me a couple names and then I was off to meet with Fergus Stone, collect his workers and rendezvous with Rindol (who had not been murdered yet) Murdane (also not dead) and the crew at the worksite to get everything underway.  It was clear that if Rindol was really in charge the project would be a disaster but with Stone acting as a foreman to keep the labor types from wringing the neck of the sage everything was humming along soon enough. 

I milled around the worksite for a while considering my dilemma – how to protect everyone involved from a smooth-talking shapeshifter, how to keep the project on track when it could be attacked at any time by an enemy that could look like anyone.  I had warned Stone that a person or persons unknown might want to disrupt the work and he clearly had a couple heavies around to watch over things, but I’m sure what he was used to was just a rival crew coming down and raising the Hells, I doubt they’re going to provide much in the way of defenses against a more subtle threat.  I realized that what I was doing was trying to figure out a way to defeat the tactics I use all the time, which is an issue because it always works.  More or less. 

Rindol and Murdane are the key really, you can always find more workers, but they’re the ones who know how this thing is supposed to work (assuming it works at all).  I had tried to convince them to find temporary places to stay while the work was going on but they don’t seem to realize how much danger they’re in.  Even though they’re building a demon-trap they still look at this as a theoretical enterprise rather than thinking about the very real and very dangerous demon they’re coming up against.  I decided they best thing to do is to put a little bit of a scare in them.  Of the names Stinty had given two of them stood out – one for seeming like a professional operation, the other for seeming like a bunch of violent screwheads who’ll all be dead or in prison within a few years.  Guess which I visited first. 

The nominal leader of the screwheads was a fellow called Young Mercury, ironically maybe because he looked to be past fifty – looks can be a deceiving thing though when you’ve lived a life of face punches, headbutts, booze, and dockside diseases.  You know the ones I mean.  Young Mercury and his lads could be found, when they could be found, at a bar that used to be a timberman’s guild house of some kind and was now a falling down wreck that unlike your finer bars had neither tables nor chairs – just some upturned junk and ramshackle “stools”.  I took on the appearance of a the kind of hatch-faced lowlife that would hang out in a place like this and after enduring some swill and dregs in cracked cups got down to business with the Mercury man himself.  He was a shrewd negotiator and in the end he was able to squeeze FIFTY gold out of me to home invade Rindol and Murdane and a couple of their scholastic pals.  What can I say the man drives a hard bargain.  

With part one completed I headed to an old city guardhouse not too far from the now infamous bull-baiting amphitheater that had been given to a retired watchman who ran something of a mercenary guild house for a group that acted as a brute squad when the watch needs some extra muscle.  There I met with the sibling duo that served as the guild leaders – Hans and Grete.  On the wall of their office were maybe a dozen different wanted posters charging them with murder along with various broadsheets and the like advertising their bouts in several gladiator events across the Kingdom.  At first I mistook them for one of those weird brother-sister combos that dresses alike, but to my relief I figured out that it was a uniform of sorts for their outfit.  The only thing worse than a brother-sister that seem like a couple is a couple that seem like a brother-sister. 

I gestured at one of the advertisements “You fought Achila Thel at Spessert in ‘85?  I met her once, nice lady.”

Hans chuckled lightly “As long as she’s not trying to take your eye out with a trident.”

Grete glanced at the poster “Achila gets a bad wrap because of her looks, she’s not the fiercest fighter in the world but you don’t keep those looks in this business without knowing how to fight.  There’s not a scratch on her.”

“It’s too bad what happened to her but occupational hazard I suppose.”

Grete took on a dark countenance “That’s no way for a warrior to go out.  If Mazzmus Parmalee wasn’t already dead I’d take a special trip just to murder that little worm.”

“Yes, whoever killed him is a real credit to humanity.”

Hans put a hand on his sister’s shoulder “Well, we’re not here to talk about old times, what can we do for you?”

“Protection, for a construction site and for a couple of the fellows on the project.  The two guys I need you to watch over don’t seem to comprehend the danger that they’re in, so you’re going to have to handle them with kid gloves at first.  But I was told that someone is going to make a move on them this very night and after they see you deal with that I’m sure they’ll be more cooperative.  Assuming they don’t die of fright anyhow.”

“Heard from who?”

“I’m actually not sure, overheard is more honest – there’s a bar not bar from the Macourek Theater where a vermin of a human being was talking about getting a payday going after my guys.  I followed him to a place on the edge of town that looked like it was abandoned but it had the lumber guild sign on it.  Wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to investigate.”

The two glanced at each other and then Grete spoke “Mercury.  Local assholes, they’re nothing to worry about really but they’re a rough bunch.  We’re looking at ten gold per man per day – more if things get interesting.  Which it sounds like is already in the cards.”

“That’s a little steep.”

Hans nodded “We’re the best, and the best doesn’t come cheap.”

“Fair enough, I want two of your guys each on my two guys and then during the day two guys at the worksite, four at night.  I’ll give you a hundred up front and we can settle up at the end of the week.”

We talked for a while about the details – although not all the details – and then it was time to get to the real work.  I had zeroed in on one of the actors they called Old Scatch (no idea why) as a good starting point for escalation.  He didn’t seem far enough out of the loop to be useless but he was clearly a fringe player when it came to the “Dreamers”.   I met him for lunch and allowed him to talk himself silly and generally be annoying before asking him if he could hook me up with some Shiver.  He took the bait and assured me that he could get me something “much better” if I was to meet him tomorrow at his place. 

I don’t mind a little drug use within reason, but what I find revolting is when men get all hot and bothered about “introducing” a woman to a drug.  They make it seem like it’s some grand journey that only they can take you on and you’re going to be ever so grateful to them for expanding their horizons and guiding them to new spiritual awareness.  When it truth it’s not a big deal, you want to get high you go buy some shit.  Those types make me sick.  The only thing worse than them is the women that buy into their bullshit.  I agreed and then he insisted that we “had” to go see the hanging that was happening that night.  You all know how I feel about public executions, no need to rehash that old song, but I was trying to play nice so I went. 

It seems they had caught the mysterious man in black who caused the riot scene at the bull baiting spectacular and caused the deaths of more than a dozen people.  As I stood in the crowd and watched the legal authorities kill an innocent man I was curious who he was and what crimes he had actually committed, if any.  Was he totally blameless of anything or was he one of those scapegoats that had done plenty of other bad shit?  The only thing I can tell you is that he faced death with dignity – looking in his eyes he wasn’t afraid.  Which doesn’t make him any less dead now does it?

After that diversion I was able to scrape Old Scatch off like a barnacle, rebuffing his offer of a nightcap, and headed back to the Mercury clubhouse to see how things had turned out.  The place was inhabited only by two badly injured men, one of him still had enough fight left in him to force me to bludgeon him to the ground with my new Walking Stick.  I didn’t figure there was much chance of the Mercury Boys having a stash of valuables but there’s no harm in checking right?  And good thing too because I found a secret panel in the floor that led to a stash that I assume predates these degenerates and harkens back to the olden days when this was a lumberman’s association playhouse.  Along with a little stash of coins I found some odds and ends that have to be magic.  Why else would you hide a shovel?  I suppose maybe because you’re a murderer and it’s your shallow grave digging shovel?  But you know what I mean. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,788 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Muleback Cords, Workman’s Everytool, Heavyload Belt, Ax of Clearing

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 

Muthuselan 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I had an annoying realization, I was assuming that because I didn’t have enough magic to disguise myself for long periods of time that I would have to miss out on some things, but of course I don’t because I happen to be really great at mundane disguises.  That’s the problem with magic, it becomes a crutch and  detriment to your true and natural abilities.  You start to rely on it and then WHAM it abandons you at a critical juncture and your actual skills have atrophied in the meantime.  From what I’ve seen one of the first spells that a mage learns is now to move small objects with their magic – so of course they all end up puny pathetic weaklings with the body of twelve year old boys because once they learn that spell they never use their actual muscles again.  I’ve always been mistrustful of magic but even I fell for its allure.  And why wouldn’t you?  It’s just so convenient – with magic I can create a disguise in seconds instead of minutes or hours.  Something to guard against.  

The Rest Inn Peace is now officially open for business so there were actually a couple people down in the common room for breakfast.  I suppose I’m going to have to be more careful about conducting my business here with all these ears about.  For a moment I actually though about buying a house – I mean how long have I been in Beresford now?  Seems like half a year.  But that was a step too far, not to mention I had purchased a house in Heathgrove and look how that turned out.  Anyway, I tried to keep my voice down while I talked with Kalisha, without seeming like I was trying to keep my voice down – nothing encourages people to eavesdrop like overt casualness. 

“I don’t understand, if he’s the one collecting the taxes how can he be embezzling?”

“The Duke holds his lands on behalf of the King, Queen now I suppose, so it’s not really his money.”

“Sounds like tax evasion to me.”

“No, Duke Eaglevane pays his taxes, but he’s concealing the source of the funds to make it seem like he has less income.  Well not income exactly, but production.”

“Doesn’t the King get pissed off about that?  I’m sure there’s some measure of production that’s required right?”

“Yes but the amount that Duke Eaglevane is misrouting is not that much, not enough to draw attention, but consider what just one percent of the Duchy’s gross domestic product is.”

“Consider it, I don’t even know what I means!  The point is though that Eaglevane is stealing from the Crown.”

“Not precisely, but sort of, yeah.”

“And you can prove this?”

“Well no.”

I sighed “So why are we talking about it?  You’re new to this so I get that you don’t fully understand what information is of value, but we’re looking for something actionable here.  If you were going to blackmail the Duke what would you blackmail him with?  Think of it like that.”

“I wouldn’t.  If I tried to blackmail the Duke he’d just have me killed.”

“Sure, but IF you were going to, you get me?”

I’m not sure she did.  I left Kalisha in Josta’s care, I figure she can keep her out of trouble at least, and headed back to the market this morning since I was interrupted yesterday.  I was looking for an item to help with magical disguise but not because I needed it, just because it makes things easier.  Annoyingly I was not able to find anything to help me with concealing my appearance but I did find a fine walking stick that should come in handy if I need to rap some insolent whelp on the noggin.  After that it was back to the RIP to get to work on crafting a disguise the old fashioned way.  I was a little rusty so it took a good forty-five minutes to become Mètre .  I had allowed myself plenty of time so it was no trouble – only mildly exasperating.

The meeting between Adrist Tomin, her acolytes and the party of Murdane and Rindol’s sages was an odd gathering but it went smoothly enough.  Rindol and Murdane oscillated between loudly and excitedly explaining their mechanism and remembering they were in a holy place and trying to modulate their voices.  Adrist agreed to help with the project and pledged five thousand gold to the cause, plus whatever craftsmen volunteers they could scrounge up from the faithful.  Again, there was part of me that was hoping she’d fork over the entire amount, but with any luck we can squeeze the rest out of Lord Wesel’s friends.  Whatever amount we’re short I’ll have to cover myself, I want this to be over.

After that it was time to get ready for the party.  I needed a new dress and on a whim I invited Fiestia to come with us shopping – no reason not to bring another ally to the gathering.  Dress and jewelry shopping with Vablis and Fiestia took up the rest of the afternoon and then after a quick touch-up of my disguise it was off to Lord Wesel’s mansion to finally meet the man himself, the reason I had come to Beresford in the first place.  For the dispossessed black sheep scion of a defunct noble family Lord Wesel has really done well for himself.  His house was several degrees of magnitude too nice for Beresford, it wouldn’t have been out of place in the nicer parts of Cathars.  The grounds were immaculate, the servants were numerous and well-behaved, and the décor was very fine indeed.  If only there hadn’t been all those Beresfordians there it would have been a nice night.

I met with the Lord himself only for a moment.  He was a large man with a thick dark beard and although he was the soul of courtesy and was dressed to the nines there was something of an air of menace about him.  He seemed better suited to a battlefield swinging an axe than a fancy social engagement.  Or no, not a battlefield, an executioner’s block – that’s where it seemed like he belonged.  After chatting with him for a few minutes I was mingling with the movers and shakers of Beresford high society trying to get them to loosen their purse strings for the good cause.  Vablis, Fiestia and I rendezvoused frequently to quickly compare notes and plan our strategy.  By the end of the night half the nobles and rich pretenders at the party had said that they would contribute.  At least half of that half of them will flake out on the payment, but even so we should be in good shape to get this contraption construction underway. 

About halfway through the night Crawdore Van Saar and Lypara Emprenzo turned up to crash the event, which seemed to delight rather than offend the glitterati.  I’m not too proud to admit that a soul-sucking demoness being in attendance put me rather ill at ease.  And worse, when they came in our eyes locked for a moment and I got the impression that she was looking for me intentionally.  I did my best to avoid her, and trust me, I am great at avoiding people at a social gathering, but it turns out that she’s even better at cornering people she wishes to speak with.  As we exchanged the kind of meaningless pleasantries required in this setting it seemed like we were very far away from everyone else even though there was a crowd of people not ten feet away.  I could feel something tugging at my mind, like the light touch of a butterfly.  I shut it out, but over the course of the next few minutes as we talked without actually saying anything of substance the pressure became intense.  It was like there was an invisible clamp on my head.  Lyapara, the demon with the blue ribbons in her hair, made a concerned face.

“Are you quite alright my dear?  You seem to be in some manner of distress.”

I smiled warmly “Just a little dizzy is all, you know how it is with these corsets.”

The pressure on my head became like a thundering hammer “Oh of course, although I have to admit, just between us, I’m not even wearing one.” She giggled “How naughty!  If you’d like we can go into one of the bedrooms and I can help you loosen it a bit.  Not too much of course, but enough to give you some relief your poor dear.”

It was all I could do to keep myself from gasping at the wrenching pain, forcing another smile “I couldn’t possibly impose on you like that, I’m sure I’ll be alright, I just need to sit down for a moment.”

Her return smile was halfway to being a smirk “You’re really quite something aren’t you Miss Vablis?  Very strong-willed.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

For half a second I thought that I saw horns on her head but they disappeared immediately if they were ever there.  “Modesty becomes you my dear.  Tell me, do you really think that this device of yours will work?”

My head felt like it was going to split open as I looked her dead in the eye “Absolutely I do.”

In a blink she was gone, as was the sensation.  I was a little shaken up but thankfully the party was mostly over by that point and we left while it was still fashionable to do so.  After the event we were all back at the RIP discussing the situation.  Vablis seemed scared out of her wits.

“It didn’t occur to you that going around town talking about a demon at the theater might get back to her?!”

“Honestly no, it did not.”

“So what are we going to do?!”

“Well if you were her what would be your next move?”

“To kill us!”

“Wrong, Rindol is the threat, without him we can’t build the thing.  If I were her I’d be over there seducing and murdering him right now.  So you better get over there.”

“What?!  Why would I want to be there if that’s where she’s going to be killing him?!”

“She can’t seduce him if you’re there.  Or she shouldn’t be able to anyway.”

She was shaking her head “No, no way.”

I shrugged “Alrighty, well I’m going to bed, you do whatever you feel is right in your heart.  If letting a man die is okay with you I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

“I want my money, I’m getting out of here right now.”

“You need to learn to take these things in stride.  So a demonic temptress may be trying to kill us, so what?  Plenty of people have tried to kill me and I’m still here.  What does that tell you?”

“That I wish I had never met you.”

“I get that a lot.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,464 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring

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 

Muthuselan 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

How long after the invention of speech did it take for meetings to form like the soap-scum on a wash basin?  Was it a lengthy process or right after people moved on from grunting and pointing to words did they start saying things like “We’ll need to discuss that over lunch next week.”?  I think we can all agree that the world would be a much better place if everyone just did what I said, but sadly no one seems to understand that, so meetings.  My first of the day was with Adrist Tomin, a priestess of Adariel.  The church of Adariel isn’t big on hierarchy, what with their goddess being all about niceness and good-natured doormattery, but I was able to gather that she was more or less the second in command of the church not only in Beresford but of all the communities south of the Baku Woods and north of the river.   She was a stern looking woman, which was incongruous with her Adarielistic congeniality and politeness.  There was a part of me that was hoping when I told her about the demon of the theater she would dispatch a church-party of demonslaying warriors and fighting clerics to take care of it but she did not.  She also wouldn’t hand over a small fortune right then either – she wanted to talk to Rindol first.  Another meeting!

Then I met with Fergus “Stone” Chane, some manner of labor organizer who (whom?) I was led to believe could get me the men Rindol needed to build his crazy contraption, assuming that I could get the money to pay them.  I considered just scamming the guy into doing the work and then skipping out on the bill, but I decided against it, although I reserve the right to scam him later.  We met in his clapboard house that was the size of a barn infested with children and women like woodlice.  Either this dude has a harem or he lets a lot of widows hang around.  I pretended to like some awful cake his washed-out looking wife dragged to the table while he rambled on about his days in the navy and then his time as a dockworker.  It was even more boring than it sounds.  You expect a navy man to at least have some good stories about hanging pirates or getting venereal diseases but old Stone was a real disappointment on that front. He said he would be able to get the men though, so it wasn’t a total waste.

After that it was time to meet up with the Macourek Theater troupe just to make sure they didn’t forget about their new friend.  Tedious, but necessary.  Speaking of tedious, the next appointment was to meet with Murdane, Rindol, and their fellows.  Sorry, I mean Fellows.  They gassed on for an absurdly long time about Rindol’s “invention” – I guess all you need to do to invent something these days is copy what you saw in a book and slap some new paint on it.  It took all of Vablis and my (mine and Vablis’s?) combined powers to get them off that snoozefest to start talking about going to Lord Wesel to beg him for the money.  I was able to maneuver them into going to beseech him for funds that very day, but then I realized that I was just about out of disguise magic for the day.  This was a conundrum, I didn’t want to let them pitch on their own, but the idea of waiting even another day made my teeth hurt.  In the end I let them go, hoping that Vablis could handle Wesel and keep these windbags in line on her own. 

Annoyed by this turn of events I headed towards the market intent on purchasing another item (you know like the one I already own and is being held hostage) that would give me more disguising ability, but on the way I was shocked to see a familiar face.  The last time I saw Kalisha Shaan she was wearing blue and white robes and carrying a stack of books as she followed the Duke around writing down his memoirs.  She had her blonde hair in a tight bun always – I never saw her with her with a hair out of place, let alone with her hair down one time in all those years.  She was never a great beauty but seeing her now she looked like a wreck – her clothing was little more than rags and her hair looked like a haystack, or it would if haystacks were capable of having big chunks of them missing.  Oh, and some big fella with frizzy hair of his own and a bit of a paunch had her by the front of her “dress” and was shaking her like a dog that had a chicken by the neck.  I walked up as he graduated to punching her in the stomach.

“Pardon me sir, but what’s going on here?”

His head snapped around like he was going to shout at me to mind my business but once he saw me he changed his tune and after looking me up and down managed to doff his cap while still holding onto Kalisha. 

“Beggin’ your pardon ma’am, I suppose I shouldn’t be carryin’ on in the street like this, we’ll take our business indoors.”

“Is this your wife?  She must have misbehaved quite badly to earn such treatment.”

His eyes bugged out “Gods no!  I wouldn’t have such a woman as this as mine.  No, this is simply a matter of commerce.” He gave her a shake “I paid this strumpet two silver to write a letter for me and she bodged the job!  All I want is my money back but she won’t hand it over.”

“Hmm, I don’t want to intrude, but it hardly looks like she has two silver to me.”

He grinned “Oh, I’ll get two silver worth out of her.  Um, beggin’ your pardon.”

“Yes of course.  Well, you seem like an upstanding sort, and I hate to see you so inconvenienced by a charlatan like this.” I pressed a coin into his hand “How about you take this and we’ll call it even?”

He glanced at the coin in his palm and finally let loose of Kalisha, she dropped to a sitting position like a sack of sugar.  He looked to me and back at the coin several times.

“For real ma’am?”

I touched him lightly on the shoulder “Certainly my good fellow, can’t have a salt of the earth type like yourself getting taken advantage of now can we?”

He ducked his head several times “No ma’am, no, we cannot.”

He ran off, and I mean that literally, clutching the gold in his hand he sprinted away like he was worried someone was going to take it from him.  I knelt down by Kalisha who seemed only vaguely aware of what was happening – and I could tell why, she had the wet eyes and twitching muscles of a Shiver addict.

“Gods, if you’re charging two silver a pop you must be writing hundreds of letters a day to keep yourself high, you should have picked a cheaper drug to get addicted to.  I mean what’s wrong with just being a drunkard?  If your only goal is to get shit-faced you can do it pretty cheaply.”

She mumbled something and seemed to blink about a thousand times through the hair covering her face “Do I know you?”

“I’m shocked that you’d remember me even if your brain wasn’t being melted by dream-spider venom extract mixed with whatever else they put in there, I want to say cumin?  We didn’t cross paths too much in the old days.  I’m not sure we ever even spoke to each other.”

He head lolled back and I had to grab to keep her from toppling over “Never forget a face . . . . who . . . who . . . . where am I?”

I stood up and took a drink from my Flask “Can you walk?  Let’s get you back to my place and chat.”

She thought she could walk but she was wrong, I give her credit for trying though.  Eventually I was able to flag down a coach to take us back to Josta’s.  Once there I had Archum carry her inside where I gave her some dreamtime tea and set her down in my bed for a couple hours. The place still wasn’t open for business but Stinty and company were putting on the finishing touches as Josta watched on.  She frowned slightly at me.

“Who was that you brought in?”

“Drug addict.”

“Is this a flop house for pipeheads now?”

“Of course not, she’s a Shiver addict.”

Vablis returned to inform me that Lord Wesel was interested in our little experiment but not fifteen thousand gold interested but she had shown some initiative and set up another little gathering the next night to try and rope in some of his rich friends – and investment scheme of sorts, only one with no possibility of  payout.  So a normal investment scheme I suppose.  After dinner a bewildered Kalisha wandered down the stairs and joined me at one of the tables in the common room.

“I thought I dreamed you.”

I winked “How many times have I heard that?”

“What?”

“You know, because I’m so dreamy?  Forget it.  Joking aside that has to be a hazard of being addicted to a hallucinogen though right?  How do you know anything is real?”

“It’s actually fairly easy to tell – if I’m unhappy it’s real.”

“That’s horrible yet accurate.  How did you make your way from the halls of power to end up a dirty drug addict living in the streets?”

“I had an . . . issue . . . with the Duke’s cousin.”

“Which cousin?”

“Lucien.”

“Really?  His standards must have really gone downhill.  No offense.” 

“No taken.  I didn’t say a word about it but I guess Lucien expressed something to the Duke and I was informed that my services were no longer needed.  No one in town would hire me for fear of displeasing the Duke.  I got to a pretty low place, no money, no place to live, and a friend thought that some Shiver would help me feel better.  After that it’s pretty hazy what happened.”

“Yeah, Shiver will do that.” 

“ I’m not even sure what city I’m in.”

“Beresford.”

“Gods.”

“Yeah, but at least it’s not Graltontown.”

“What?  Graltontown?”

“Forget I mentioned it.  Here’s all you need to know, the Duke and I did not part company on the best of terms.  It would please me if he were inconvenienced.  And I feel like you can help me with that.  Is that something you’d be interested in do I have to coerce you?”

“Me?  What could I do?”

“I knew the Duke intimately, I knew him better than most, but in a way I didn’t know him at all – you don’t confide certain things in your mistress.  But you were his personal secretary, you may not know all his secrets, but I would wager that you know a lot that can help me.  Assuming you haven’t completely burned your brain to the ground.”

She thought for a moment “I know a lot about the Duke and his dealings.  But what can we do with that information?”

I smiled my first genuine smile of true happiness in a good while “Oh, we’ll come up with something.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 55,271 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind,  Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style

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 

Muthuselan 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I was curious if any of my new friends had been gored to death or maimed by a minotaur (or the panicked mob) in an event that was a complete accident and no one’s fault so I went to the Macourek Theater early (for theater folk) but found no one there.  The door wasn’t locked so that gave me a chance to snoop around but I didn’t find anything of interest.  I came upon the gaggle of actors as few blocks away having a luxurious (where does their money come from?) patio breakfast and recounting their various ordeals at the bull baiting.  When they saw me coming they let forth a hue and cry that is suitable only for thespians.  They must come here often because none of the other patrons batted an eye at their antics.  After expressing their relief that I was still alive in the most self-centered ways possible, it’s tricky but they have the art down, they asked me how I had made it out and I spun a tale daring leaps and cunning tricks that had them all on the edge of their seat.  The key to dealing with theater people is to make your lies as outlandish as possible – the standard rules of deceit about keeping things simple don’t work well with people who are already removed from reality.  Throw in a few long evil twins though and they’re happy as clams in mud. 

According to the troupe after the rampage at the venue the minotaur had mauled a couple members of the watch until some helpful adventurers took it upon themselves to slay the creature.  Everyone (mostly the ladies) was all agog about a devastatingly handsome and dashing cavalier that heroically skewered the monster in the back with his lance while it was devouring a tobacconist.  Adventuring parties must be like fleas, you can’t see them but they’re everywhere.  There was also a lot of talk about the mysterious man in black who had purchased all the Shirelings and then disappeared.  Did he have anything to do with the murder of the Master of Chains and the resulting calamity?  I wish the authorities well in their search. 

The troupe was all gung-ho about continuing to rehearse their awful play, the show must go on after all, but I was able to beg off by saying that I was still traumatized by my tribulations last night.  They spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get me to come along and I realized that it’s because they’re used to dealing with each other – and amongst these sorts “no” means “beg me to come and kiss my ass or I will freak out on you”.  It makes disengaging with them tricky because they’re not used to an honest decline.  Eventually I was able to extricate myself though and make my way back to Josta’s Inn, which semi-miraculously looked about ready to open.  That Stinty is an industrious fellow I tell you what.

Vablis told me last night that Rindol was all horned up about helping her with her demon problem – so much so they he didn’t even ask why she had a demon problem.  Which is typical of those intellectual types, when they get excited about a challenge they often forget little details like why they’re doing it in the first place.  I assume that’s how alchemist’s fire was invented, someone was really into the task of making fire that wouldn’t be put out without stopping to think WHY someone wanted fire that was really hard to put out.  And a million burned corpses later here we are.  Anyway, Valbis had scheduled lunch with him at his house and I tagged along as her older sister Mètre .  When we got there his place was already covered with papers and drawings and he started rambling without introduction or small talk.

“The frame you see needs to be a great wooden beam which forms a circle. The beam must be three feet on all sides, and the circle should be at least thirty feet in diameter. The craftsman must cut a groove in the top surface of this beam, one inch wide and two inches deep.  Eight pillars, four feet tall by three feet square must be . . .”

“Pardon me good sir, but what sort of object are you talking about constructing?”

He blinked as if noticing me for the first time and then looked over at Vablis “Oh, pardon my manners, good to meet you Miss?”

Vablis curtsied neatly, she’s clearly trained even if she wasn’t the King’s mistress and gestured “Mr. Rindol, this is my sister Mètre, remember I told you about her yesterday?”

I gave him my hand to kiss “Yes, yes, of course, told me all about you she did.” He cleared his throat. “I assume you’re aware of the situation Miss Vablis, I mean the old Miss Vablis, I mean the older Miss Vablis, I mean . . . Mètre.  What I have designed here is a magic device that will trap a demon and hold it in place.  There’s groove for holy water you see, and an iron spike, and Adariel’s holy flame – all things that demons abhor.”

I put my hand on his arm as I leaned over to look at some of his scribbles “Very impressive that you could design such a thing.”

“Well to give credit where due, the concept design is something that I found in a book but I made quite a few improvements, yes, quite a few.”

Vablis smiled and took him by the other arm “Rindol is ever so smart isn’t he?”

“Oh yes, I hardly even know what I’m looking at here!” Vablis and I laughed prettily. “Excuse a silly girlish question Mr. Rindol, but how do you get the demon in the cage to trap it?”

He smiled indulgently “That’s the best part, when it’s completed you place an object that belongs to the demon on the spike and it’s instantly summoned into the device and trapped there.”

“Oh how delightful.  Do you think it will take to build?”

He seemed confused “Build?  Well now, I’m not a carpenter you know, I say . . . if you hired some men, to put it together, under my strict supervision perhaps it would take a month?”

“A month?!  Unacceptable.”

Vablis glared at me and kind of petted Rindol’s arm “Sister, don’t be rude.”

“Yes, of course you’re right, thank you sister.  My abject apologies Mr. Rindol, I didn’t mean to speak out of turn, it’s just the idea of this fiend out there doing God’s knows what filled me with terror.”

“Hmm, fiend you say?”

“Yes, you know, the demon.  That goes in the trap.”

Vablis tugged on his arm slightly “You remember, I told you yesterday, about the demon at the theater.”

He nodded “Of course, of course.  You have to understand though that I am a man of letters so I was thinking about this purely from an intellectual standpoint, need to shift my mindset here to practical application.  Of course if there is a danger in question a month is far too long, far too long indeed.  If you hired more men, the right men, it could possibly be done in a week – with a commensurate increase in cost of course.”

“How much are we talking?”

“Probably somewhere around fifteen thousand.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“Madam such language is not appropriate for a lady!”

 Vablis acted scandalized “Sister, how could you?!  Where did you hear such language as that?!”

After much apologizing and assuaging it was finally time for lunch – or at least it was for Vablis and Rindol.  My illusion was going to be wearing off before too long and I didn’t care for the repast he had set out which seemed to be black bread and some kind of pudding, so it was time for me to leave.  But there was one last thing before I left.

“Mr. Rindol, since the public good is at stake here is there any way you can think of to get the funds we need?”

He seemed uncomfortable “Well . . . Lord Wesel usually funds our efforts but . . .”

“Wonderful!  When do you think we could speak to him?”

“That sum . . . quite a bit more . . . it’s usually Murdane . . . does all the organization . . . . usually the one . . .”

I smiled brightly “Do you think we could meet Lord Wesel tomorrow?”

After leaving Rindol’s house I spent some time making the rounds to see where some skilled craftsmen might be found for this demon-box project as well as scoping out the local churches – seems like they should be interested in demon slaying.  Or at least demon trapping.  And while I was at it I spread some rumors about the Man in Black, just to keep in practice.  It was nightfall by the time I returned to the inn where I found Vablis sitting at one of the tables drinking some kind of pinkish soup.

“Did they finally get a cook in here?”

“Yeah, he’s not half bad either.”

“Nothing like at the King’s table though eh?”

She gave me a hard look “No, nothing like that.”

“Lighten up, you need to learn to look at these things philosophically.”

“Easy for you to say.  Can I ask you why we’re so worried about this demon?  How does that help us find the mayor’s brother?”

“Well mostly I don’t want to get killed by a demon while we’re finding him.  But once she’s out of the way I figure we can grab one of these others and kick them in the dick until they tell us what’s up.”

“That’s your plan?”

“I’ve learned that it pays to keep things simple.  Complex plans just go awry.  There’s nothing much that can go wrong with a good old fashioned dick kick.”    

Vablis snorted “I’m sure you’ll find a way.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 55,273 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind,  Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea (2) Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style

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 

Muthuselan 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There’s an old saying, and by old saying I mean a saying that I am going to coin right now – when dealing with demons you need to bring in an expert.  My plan was for this to be Cladarielle, I had no specific reason to believe she knew about demons but who other than a righteous magical defender to consult on such a thing?  Sadly when I went to the Staelish house there was no one there – one of the neighbors told me that she and Bywin left town on some mission or other.  Which is highly inconvenient for me, I doubt they even considered that before they left.  So I thought why not bring in my old friend Rindol the Sage on this project?  He seems like the sort that would have academic knowledge about the fiends of the lower planes and if he doesn’t researching is his area of expertise so he can find out.  Plus, if something goes wrong he might lose his soul.  Everyone wins. 

I could have gone myself in disguise but I decided to send Vablis on that mission – might as well get some use out of her while I can.  Her reaction to this assignment was less than encouraging.

“How am I supposed to get him to help us?”

“The usual way, making him want you, and making him think that he might be able to get you.  This is pretty elementary stuff.  I don’t want to insult you here, but for a con artist you seem to be somewhat slow on the uptake.”

“I am not a con artist!  I’m a victim!”

“Of what?”

“Court intrigue!”

“Grow up.  Look, I get where you’re coming from, you were living the high life a few weeks ago and now you’re sharing a room with a better looking and more accomplished roommate in a pedestrian inn – which also happens to be under construction.  That’s a fall from grace.  Or not grace, but whatever, you know what I mean.  I’ve been where you are, except the part about encountering someone better, and it’s unpleasant.  But you got to get over and it move forward.  If you want to get back to living a life of luxury you’re going to have wallow in the mud for a while.  The sooner you accept that the better.  If all you have to do is flirt with an obnoxious pompous bookworm count yourself lucky.”

“And what are you going to be doing?”

“I’m going to go back to the theater to keep that thread alive.”

“So I have to spend the day with some moldy old scholar and you get to spend time with the troupe!?”

“Get to?  Trust me honey I would trade places with you in an instant.”

That was no exaggeration, spending the bulk of the day at the Macourek Theater helping those popinjays rehearse their stupid play is pretty close to my idea of Hells.  I’ve said a few times that if the Duke’s wife really wanted to torture me she should have done this or that – helping put on a play might be the new frontrunner in the how to torment Ela tournament.  Mercifully the rehearsal lost direction in the afternoon and turned into just a bunch of idlers idling.  They were all atwitter about a bull baiting event that night.  A lot of folk would expect that effete artistic types wouldn’t be interested in bloodsports but that’s a false assumption – many of them are bloodthirsty monsters.  They would never want to shed blood themselves, but they enjoy watching others bleed and die as much as the next person.  I had a very famous actor tell me once that he would love to go to war if his safety could be guaranteed.  So basically he was just saying he wanted to kill some people and get away with it.  What a fucking moron. 

I don’t care for such events myself, if you want to see cruelty just look out your window, but I feigned enthusiasm to ingratiate myself to this pack of nattering ninnyhammers.  The upcoming spectacle was all they could talk about at dinner, which was a laborious chore even though they took me to a very nice restaurant – actors are a very dramatic people as you might expect and it can be exhausting.  Even so, had I known what was coming I would have wished for that dinner to never end.  After eating we went to an open air amphitheater (is that a misnomer?  Are all amphitheaters open air?) that was a marketplace by day but after sundown once every two weeks was used for this awful display.  After we had been seated for a while before the event it became clear that Beresford does things a little bit differently. 

Not being content with animal cruelty Beresford “bull baiting” involves instead of a bull you pit an honest to Gods minotaur against not dogs but teams of Halflings.  I have no idea if minotaurs are sentient beings or just monstrous creatures but when they drug out the chained beast the murderous look in its eyes was chilling.  I’ve seen looks of hatred many times but this was something else – something older, something primordial and shocking.  You couldn’t look into those eyes for more than a second for fear of being struck dead on the spot.  And worse it was a cold fury, I expected the bull-man to rage and roar and strain against his chains as the crowd shouted and threw refuse at it but it didn’t – it was still as a stone.  Or no, not a stone, a volcano.  When retrained nothing to even notice, when the release comes?  Total devastation. 

“Is this legal?”

One of the actors, Wexley, a boorish oaf with a mush-mouth winked “It ain’t exactly allowed by the King’s Law but that’s part of the fun, it’s a Beresford tradition!”

“Are the Shirefolk gladiators?”

An actress they called Buttercup with a wide mouth and an awful hairstyle tittered annoyingly “A Halfling gladiator?  Who ever heard of such a thing?!”

Wexley nodded sagely “They’re indentureds, they earn enough money to buy out their contracts.  If they survive!”

Everyone in the theater troupe thought this was uproariously funny and I forced myself to laugh along with them.  I’ve seen some grotesque affairs in my day at Duke Eaglevane’s court but it’s been a long time and I have to admit that being out here in the real world has changed me some.  I’m not quite as indifferent to the suffering of others as I once was.  Plus that was in private, I could dismiss that as dreadful rich people being dreadful.  Having it out in the open with a crowd of “normal” people not only condoning it but cheering like it was a parade was stomach churning.  There was a part of me that wanted to learn the names and faces of everyone in attendance and make them all pay.  But I’m no avenging angel, I’m just trying to make my way in the world.

The first “bout” of the evening was a traditional bull versus dogs affair, an appetizer of sorts.  The host for the evening did a lot of showboating and speechifying throughout the night which stretched what would have been a brief engagement in a several hours long show.  In the second “match” I watched four wee little men get mutilated and disemboweled by the savage beastman.  I didn’t have much hope left for humanity at that point anyway, but whatever little shred I had died then I think.  Then came intermission.  I excused myself from my group claiming that I was overexcited and once out of sight changed my appearance to that of an imposing man in fine dark clothing and shaded spectacles. 

I had to work quickly but it wasn’t actually hard to find the holders of the contracts for the “fighters” that were going to be up in the second half of the evening.   I persuaded them to sell those contracts to me on the spot, which wasn’t as easy as you might think. For this disgusting display the contract holders had insurance that paid out of their indentureds died and they got a portion of the betting pool if they won – for them it was a no risk deal.  But I am nothing if not convincing so in the end I was the proud owner of the contracts of seventeen indentured Shirefolk.  When I went down to the holding area to tell them the good news they didn’t understand at first, they thought I wasn’t allowing to fight and therefore a chance at their freedom.

“It’s over, you’re free already.  Here are your contracts.  They’re yours.”

They looked on in awe as I handed over the pieces of paper that controlled their entire lives – or did until that moment anyway. 

“You lot better hustle on out of here, someone might shove you out there into the ring anyway – no reason to stick around.”

They still seemed stunned by this turn of events.   A freckled lady Halfling with an honest to Gods pot for a helmet clutching two tiny cleavers stepped forward.

“Where should we go?”

“Wherever you like, you’re free.  You were doing this for a chance to get free right?  You must have had some idea, some dream, some hope of what you’d do next.  Go do it.  Get out of here while you can.”

Step one complete.  For the next step I changed my appearance again – taking on the guise of one of those buxom milkmaid types that fellows seem to like – and went looking for the “Master of Chains”.  The guy that works the complex system of pulleys and weights and chains that keeps the minotaur from killing everyone in the crowd is a highly respected amateur.  It’s like being a deacon, only better because of the horror and death.  I found the Master of Chains in a little underground room with big wheels wrapped with chains and other clunky looking machinery.  He wasn’t supposed to allow anyone down there but the day I can’t flirt my way into a place like this is the day I release a minotaur to rampage through the streets killing at will.

The Master of Chains was a hairy overweight fellow who was strangely dressed quite stylishly.  As the intermission drug on he was overjoyed to show me how the whole operation worked – pull this lever here and pull this chain here and so on and so on – I pretended to be fascinated as hard as I could.  Here’s a fun lesson for you folks, when a man is taking down his trousers that’s a wonderful time to slit their throat.  They’re partially bent over and reaching down and their legs are encumbered – it’s a wonderfully awkward position.  Plus they’re so excited about what they think is coming next they’re not wary about what actually is going to happen.  I didn’t slit his throat though, I stabbed him through the ear – less blood.  He stood there for a moment in the awkward pants down hunch as if his brain was deciding if he was dead or not.  In the end it decided that he was and he toppled to the ground.  I took the keys off him and locked the door to his little “control room”.

I only had to wait a few more minutes for intermission to be over.  Since the Master of Chains needs to be fully aware of what’s going on there were little viewing ports out into the area floor – so it was more like a bunker I suppose than being underground exactly.  The master of ceremonies came out, I’m not sure if to announce the next exhibition or if someone had noticed the Halflings were gone and he was going to sadly announce that the show was over.  I’m not sure because it’s hard to do much announcing after a minotaur bites your head off.  The question I ask you is this – why would there even be a ‘release minotaur’ lever?  What possible use could that serve?

The crowd thought this was pretty funny at first, all part of the show, but they stopped laughing quickly.  From the floor of the amphitheater to the seating it was maybe ten feet, which wouldn’t present much of a challenge for an athletic human let alone an enraged minotaur.  It’s odd how close screams of delight and screams of terror really are, it takes some work to differentiate them.  Here’s the other interesting thing, if everyone in the crowd worked together and rushed the beast they could have overwhelmed it – some of them would have died of course, but even a minotaur can’t take on a hundreds strong mob and win.  But instead they ran, and in doing not only did the minotaur have the chance to attack them with impunity but also I grantee you more people died from being trampled by each other than from being gored by the monster.  It’s an odd paradox, you run because you don’t want to die but running is far more dangerous than fighting. 

I was trying to decide when it might be safe to open the door when I heard someone pounding on said door.  Very shortly after the pounding I heard the scraping of someone panickingly (is that a word?) trying to use a key on the other side.  Before I could do anything about that though I heard a terrific roar and then the door was almost shattered by a terrific impact.  I heard a crunching sound and saw the tips of two horns come through the door not even a quarter of an inch.  That’s when the blood started pouring in under the doorframe.  Doorjamb?  The bottom of the door.  I turned invisible and wedged myself under some chain-contraption as with a lot of snorting and snuffling the door was bashed to pieces by a mighty fist.  The creature stood with some poor sod impaled it’s horns and bits of door on top of that – so comprehensively covered with blood and gristle that it looked like it had crawled out from inside some larger creature.  Some manner of blasphemous birth. 

I curled myself into as small of a ball as possible and cursed the fact that as per usual no good deed goes unpunished.  It stood at the doorway for a LONG time sniffing at the air with its massive muzzle but instead of coming inside (it would have had to squeeze through the door but it could have made it) and yanking me out like a polar bear hauling a beluga whale out of the ice it wandered off.  The invisibility wore off shortly thereafter but I stayed under there for a solid hour just to be sure.  And even then it was really hard for me to crawl out from under there.  I heard some hoof beats in the distance but the immediate area was deserted.  Although just a few blocks away I encountered the standard night-time trickle of traffic.  When I got back to the inn Josta and Stinty and some of the lads were having a drink after the hard work of the day.  Josta did a bit of a double take when I walked in, which worried me that I had gotten some blood on my clothes after all.

“You look white as a ghost.”

“A vampire attacked me on the way here.  I said Adariel’s Prayer of Thanksgiving and it burst into flames because of the purity of my faith, but he did drain a little blood from me before turning to ash.  That’s probably what you’re seeing.”

She nodded “That’d do it alright.”

Stinty had a concerned look on his face “Some folks coming by said there was an issue at the bull-baiting tonight, did you hear anything about that?”

“Not a word.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 55,273 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind,  Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea (2) Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style

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 

Muthuselan 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’m no expert on comparative religion, but in my experience two gods split the lion’s share of religious ecstasy – Adariel the just and kind lady of community and goodness and charity and Odobenine the greedy lord of greedy greed.  The common folk tend to lean towards Adariel while the aristocracy tends to favor Odobenine – which seems understandable.  My point is that even though Duke Eagelvane was not at all a religious man there were a few priests knocking about his court.  One of these Odobeninians cornered me one time and was telling me all about how there’s a different demon for each of the ten lethal sins.  The one he was most interested in was the succubus, because for some reason that seems to be the one all the men like.  He delighted in pointing out that the succubus is NOT the demon of lust as people commonly assume but rather the demon of vanity.  This he claimed is why the succubus is an exclusively female demonform because while lust afflicts men vanity is the providence of women.  I believe he passed out drunk in a fountain one night and drowned if I remember correctly. 

Why do I bring this up?  You may recall that for a while I was carrying a small ivory sculpture of two entwined succubi, looking back on it now it unmistakably was magic and was exerting some kind of subtle influence on my mind.  I’m not sure what would have happened to me had it not been stolen, nothing good I’m sure.  Lypara Emprenzo looked exactly like those succubi, you know, only without the horns and wings and fangs.  Coincidence?  Very unlikely.  Maybe whoever carved it knew or saw Lypara and based it on her.  It’s possible.  But what I think is that Lypara is actually a succubus and the subject of that carving.  And what kind of shapechanging demon would take on a form that was exactly similar to her actual form?  A prideful one. So maybe that drowned priest wasn’t totally full of shit is the point.

Vablis was up annoyingly early and wanted to head over to the theater but I assured her that theater folk aren’t early risers and went back to bed.  When I did get up she was itching to go and not in the good excited way more in the troubling nervous way.  I’m starting to realize that she may not be the smooth operator that I thought, she may be more of a desperate woman out of her element.  Probably like I was at the beginning of this “journey” but I like to think I hid it better.  I should have spent some time reassuring her and making her feel relaxed but I wasn’t in the mood.  Why am I always the one who has to keep everyone else from losing their head?  Doesn’t seem fair. 

The inn was still the home of frenzied activity as Stinty and his men continued with their renovations.  I got sick of Valbis asking me when we were going to go every few minutes and told her to go read the papers the mayor had given me.  I stood on the overlook with Josta watching Archum and the rest of Stinty’s crew work themselves into a lather, literally.  There’s something very satisfying about doing nothing while watching other people work.  Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.  Around mid-day Vablis and I headed to theater.   

Macourek Theater is a massive building for a city the size of Bereford, one of the largest in town I would wager.  It looked like it had been through some significant upgrades somewhat recently but there were still some signs of dilapidation about the edges – someone had spent a chunk of money fixing it up but hadn’t quite finished the job.  Not yet anyway.  The layout was odd for a playhouse, there had been some remodeling on the inside as well but still there were a lot of rooms that seemed to serve no purpose.  Unless I miss my mark I think in times past this was a tenement building or something of the like.  We were met in the lobby area by a tall grey-haired man in some sort of red fluffy jumpsuit.  That’s the problem with theaters types, you can never be sure if they’re wearing a costume or if they’re dressed like they are because they’re insane.  He said that they weren’t taking auditions currently, but between myself and Vablis he had no chance of keeping us out.  We’re winsome as fuck we were. 

We interrupted practice for an upcoming show of Dead in Infinity which is a dreadful play that continues to be performed for reasons that elude me.  There’s an odd phenomena where sometimes something that sucks becomes a “classic” and then just continues on even though nobody likes it.  The players almost looked relieved to have a distraction from going over the tired dialog and nonsensical turns of plot in Dead for us to showcase our skills.  We each sang a solo, we sang a couple duets, Vablis played her pipe, I demonstrated a little sleight of hand, and even though we hadn’t discussed it before Vablis went rogue and also danced a little.  Her steps were pedestrian but her cleavage was on point.  The assembled fops and dilettantes were very impressed and came close to fawning over us as they assured us that they would find us work soon.  

It was during this fawning period that Crawdore Van Saar came in with Lypara Emprenzo on his arm, accompanied by a gaggle of sycophants.  I recognized her immediately as the same “woman” on the carving.  I halfway expected her to sprout wings and fly after me to suck my soul, but she merely played the part of the demure yet sluttish paramour of the theater owner.  Upon hearing about our audition Crawdore insisted that we perform for him as well, which we did, but I couldn’t help but stare at Lypara.  I’ve unfortunately been in close proximity for a demon a few times now (add that to the list) but somehow it was much worse with a demon in disguise.  With a slavering red-skinned monster you know what to expect, but with one hidding in the form of a pretty brunette with blue ribbons in her hair?  Who the Hells knows what’s going to happen?  Eventually after much flattery and fame-whoring and facile chit-chat we were able to extricate ourselves and head back to the inn.

“Well, that was easy.  I thought this was going to be a whole big long thing.”

Valbis frowned “What do you mean?”

“Lypara Emprenzo is a bloodsucking shapeshifting demonspawn from the pits of Hells, obviously she killed the mayor’s brother when she figured out he was sniffing around.  Case closed.”

“How do you know that?”

“Trust me, I know these things.”

After depositing her back with Josta and Stinty I headed to the mayor’s compound.  I was so pleased to have this wrapped up nice and neat without any fuss that I wasn’t even annoyed that he kept me waiting for over three hours.  When I was escorted into his office I almost skipped I was so happy with the way things turned out.

He was messing about this some papers as important men must to show you how important they are “What is it?  I have a meeting in a few minutes.”

“Lypara Emprenzo killed your brother.  She’s a succubus in human form and she drained the life out of him like sucking the juice out of a mango.  Who do I need to see about getting my possessions back?  Do you have a ticket or something that I give to a guy for my stuff?  I don’t want to accidentally get someone else’s stuff.”

“No.”

“Then how does it work?  You just summon the guy or what?”

“I mean no my brother isn’t dead.”

“Trust me on this, she got him, she got him good, he’s dead.  She demon-sucked the life out of him and left him a dried up husk of a man – literally.”

“No, the divinations of the priests indicated that he’s still alive.”

“So what?  Fortune tellers and charlatans they are.  I can get you ten mediums here tomorrow that will tell you whatever you want to hear.”

“No.”

“No?”

“My brother is alive.  Don’t come back here without real information.  I’m not interested in your speculation.  Get out of my office.  I don’t like having my time wasted.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 61,244 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind,  Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea (2) Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style

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