Montagem 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

As someone who’s experienced it firsthand (but now has built their mental defenses to unassailable levels so don’t even try it chump) being the victim of mindbending magic is quite disorienting.  When the spell takes a hold of your thoughts you feel like the person that cast it is your best friend – they don’t control your mind but most people are going to be accommodating to their best friend.  That has to be a real shock though when a mindbender runs into a true blue sociopath who doesn’t care about friendship, that’s probably how most of them meet their end.  They’re lurking out there like . . . like . . . something that lurks.  Like a crocodile?  Anyway, eventually the spell wears off and when you don’t feel like that person is your best friend anymore.  At first you’re just confused.  Why were you being so nice to that person who you don’t even know?  Why did you lend them money?  Why did you let them stay in your house?  Why did you let him in the castle when you were on guard duty?  If you don’t know anything about magic that’s probably as far as it goes, you write it off as a slip of the mind. Everyone does things they don’t understand sometimes. 

But if you know the potential with magic to influence people eventually you figure it out, eventually you start to catch on to what has happened.  At that point most people are probably terrified and do everything they can to avoid the person that victimized them.  You can’t blame them either, because realizing that your thoughts can be manipulated like that is very frightening.  The other option is that you get angry.  Real angry.  Anger like you can’t believe.  The kind of anger that makes your head feel like it’s going to split open if you don’t do something about it.  That’s why aside from the Duke himself Kellgale Nickoslander is the person on my list who’s going to suffer the most.  She got over on me but she didn’t even come by it honestly like a con artist with a shell game or Find the Lady, she just cast a spell.  That’s what really stings, she didn’t even have to work for it.  I can appreciate someone swindling me fair and square, but magic mind control?  That’s not something that I can forgive.

The simple kind of charm that Martialla can do isn’t even the worst of it.  People who are really good at it (I think they call themselves mesmerists, but I refuse) can sometimes modify your memory with their magic.  So they entrance you, make you do stuff, and then make you forget that you did it.  That shit is terrifying.  If it happens to you frequently enough you begin to lose touch with your own sense of self, of your own personality.  You forget what your own thoughts and desires are.  You no longer know exactly who you are.  Your mind slips away like the sands in an hourglass.  I’ve met one of these wretches and it is truly a pathetic and horrific fate.  That seems like a fitting doom for Kellgale but the problem is she wouldn’t know that had happened to her – in which case there’s no point in doing it.  Coming up with a fitting revenge is harder than you think.  I wonder if I can get in contact with whoever comes up with the fiendishly ironic tortures in the Thirteen Hells and have them help me come up with a fitting punishment for her.  It’s probably a union thing though.  Labor guilds are ruining this kingdom.   

The remaining sailors of the Black Swan are still firmly charmed (you know magically like I was just talking about) by Martialla so they were getting the ship (boat?) ready to go while Kartak paced on the other side of the river.  I have to admit, the look on his face when the craft headed upriver instead of across to deliver me to him was priceless.  I guess Martialla’s plan is head to north until the river converges with the road to Aleene?  That doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but she’s never been a great planner – that was always my job.  Kartak and his men continued to shadow us from the river bank which proves that that whole grappling hook trick was assisted by Martialla’s magic, otherwise they would have just tried it again. I’ve never wondered which is faster a ship (boat?) sailing upstream or a party of mounted men but now I know.  Kartak and his men didn’t have any trouble keeping up. It’s hard to judge exactly but I think the ship was going about as fast a slow runner. 

The speed of the Black Swan didn’t inconvenience them but Kartak and his men did run into an issue when we passed by a thick patch of woods on the bank – mostly hackberries I think.  They probably would have been well-served to go around, it’s not like they didn’t know where we were heading, but they slowed down to pick their way through the trees.  In addition to slowing them down this turned out to be a bad idea on account of they were attacked by huge hairy humanoid creature wielding a large tree branch for a club and it’s pet (friend?  Wife?) boar that was the size of a small boat itself.  The creature was vaguely apelike and for all its bulk was a stealthy son of a bitch.  It came out of nowhere and dashed one of the Satander exile’s brains out with its branch-club before you could blink.  A second later its tusky friend came charging out of the underbrush and ripped the stomach of a horse wide open.  That was one of the more gruesome sights I’ve seen lately.  I think Kartak has about half of his original force at this point, which is probably enough to take on a whatever that thing is and it’s war-pig, but they were having a real hard time gathering themselves to counter-attack in the thick of the vegetation whereas the creature seemed to be unhindered.  Something that big should have has similar problems but it moved through the brush with the grace of a dancer.  By the time the Black Swan floated out of eyesight I think half a dozen men and horses and been put to the ground.

“Whoa, what the Hells was that?”

Martilla’s mouth gaped “I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“The great monster expert is stumped?  I’m not sure which is more surprising, that or the fact that you said something other than ‘shut up Ela’.  That was a Hells of a thing to witness.”

She nodded “Yeah . . . anyway, shut up Ela.”

Since she has just seen how poor of a swimmer I was I wondered if Martialla would count on that to keep me in place, but she was too smart for that and had me chained to the deck by the ankle.  I definitely would have jumped, the odds of me drowning are pretty slim, I’m not that hopeless a swimmer but it would have taken some convincing.  It’s an odd thing when you have to do something that you don’t want to do and you balk the first few times but eventually you do it.  What’s going on inside your head?  One moment you can’t make yourself grasp the hot iron or leap from a rooftop or murder a horse to save yourself and then the next moment you do it.  What happened in the interim?  What sort of transformation took place and how did it happen? 

One moment you’re walking around in circles and muttering inspirational insults to yourself and then next moment you’re able to do it.  What happened?  How is it possible to talk yourself into doing something?  Aren’t you you always?  If you’re able to motivated yourself to do something that you’re afraid of why did you have to do it in the first place?  If it was “in” there why did you have to “find” it?  Why does imagining yourself doing something help you do it?  Why does someone telling you that you can’t do it make you more likely to be able to do it?  If the ability is already there why can’t we just access is consciously?  Why do we have to trick ourselves?  By the same token have you ever seen someone psych themselves out and fail at something they can do?  How does that happen?  There’s some weird stuff going on in our brains – I’m not sure we’re even on the same side.

A light rain fell off and on most of the day, and there was a low patchy fog hanging on parts of the river.  Heading upriver we passed a small fishing boat with two men working away.  What would have happened if I called out to them for rescue?  Assuming they cared what would they have done?  What could they have done?  Headed back to shore and tried to find a sheriff or someone like that.  And by the time they did the ship would have been long gone.  They could have provided a description but what good would that have done?  Would the memory haunt them?  Would it drive them mad?  A beautiful woman drifts by on a barge, the prisoner of an evil sorceress, she calls out for help – and you can’t do anything about it.  That seems like the kind of thing that could mess you up in the head.  Assuming they cared at all.  They may have just had a good laugh at my expense, you never know with people.

I’m not sure when is a good time to encounter river pirates, but when you’re chained to deck of the ship you’re on is definitely not a good time.  Late in the afternoon one of the sailors spotted a large tree that had fallen into the river partially blocking it.  Not blocking things so much that you couldn’t get around it, but there was already a ship caught up there.  When they spotted what looked like an official patrol boat of legitimate law enforcement people they started shouting for help saying that river pirates were around the bend of the river and coming their way.  I saw that there was a bloodhawk circling in the air above them and occasionally diving down to scatter and harass the crew of the entrapped vessel.     

You see here’s the problem with using magically influenced people to do your bidding, because the sailors actually ARE part of the river patrol and naturally they want to help people in situations just like this.  They may think that Martialla is their long lost best friend because of her spells, but they’re still themselves and they still want to do their job.  If your friend tells you not to rescue people when rescuing people is your thing you better have a damn good reason why not otherwise your friend is going to ignore you.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Martialla wasn’t able to convince her good buddies to pay no attention to the plight of the trapped river people.  I could have done it absolutely, but that goes without saying.

I at least give her credit for this much, once it became clear that her crew wasn’t going to budge Martialla got on board (pun!) with their rescue mission.  I’m sure she wanted to get done with it as soon as possible.  She chased the bloobhawk off with some magic beam (I could have killed it with a crossbow) and they got to work roping up the other ship so they could break out the oars and drag it off the watery tree obstacle.  The two crews were discussing the possibility of repairs (much to Martialla’s annoyance) when the river pirates appeared around the bend.  You know they were pirates because their keelboat was in such poor condition – it had a real makeshit piratey look to it.  You’d think that pirates might keep their shit in better shape just so that people wouldn’t know they were pirates right away but I suppose they’re probably drunk most of the time.  I know I would be if I were a pirate.  Which I am not.

The other ship they just rescued literally cut and ran, heading downriver as fast as they could while the Black Swan was left facing the wrong direction – that’s what you get for helping people out.  The pirates swung around and opened up with their crossbows, forcing everyone to dive for cover – you know except me since I was chained to the ground.  Martialla, being the clever gal that she is, was prepared to surrender – after all pirates are more interested in booty than mayhem and it’s not like she cares about this boat – but this wasn’t your ordinary pirate crew.  Because of course it wasn’t.  While the sailors were running up the white flag of cowardly but prudent surrender an adorable river otter climbed onto the Black Swan away from the action – I think I was the only one who saw it.

The delightful little furry-faced scamp dashed across the deck of the ship and then expanded, transforming into a gnarly-limbed, boney, thick-skinned green-blue crone.  Usually hags have a big knotted mess of hair for spiders and maggots to live in but this one had shorn all her hair off (or it fell off because of hag-diseases) and it’s knobby malformed skull was on full display, made all the more horrible by the water running off it like tiny rivers through the head-creases.  I only saw it for a moment before it turned invisible and the next thing I heard was Martialla’s shout of pain.  I saw the hag standing with bloody claws in the middle of the ship, her bloodhawk pet swooping down to slash at Martialla’s face. 

Hag’s like stuff as much as pirates as far as I know, but they seem to like bedlam better.  I could see the fear in Martialla’s eyes – she’s a pretty cool customer but that one time (or two or three) a hag almost killed us both shook her up pretty good, it left a mar on the inside.  Even so, she rolled to her feet and came up with her sword and dagger to fight – she’s many things, but a coward isn’t one of them.  With seven sailors as fodder I would have liked Martialla’s chances against the hag, but the bulk of the men on the pirate ship were still firing their crossbows and any target that presented itself.  And that wasn’t the worst of it. 

Two other pirates jumped across to the Black Swan, not men though.  Man-like beings with cloven hooves, muscular bodies and horned bestial heads.  Their matted hair was encrusted with blood and excrement, and served as home to a rippling mass of fat ticks and fleas.  In theory you might say they were goat-men, but goats are pretty nonthreatening and these things were monstrous.  That probably made it worse.  A lion-man you expect to be a killing machine, but a goat-man?  That’s just disturbing.  The axes they were swinging around were pretty disturbing as well – what with the blood spraying and the hunks of flesh being ripped out and so forth. 

I pulled my wire saw out of my secret pocket and started working on the chain holding me but the entire fight was over in maybe thirty seconds.  I have no idea how long it would take me to saw through a chain, if it’s even possible, but it’s certainly a lot more than thirty seconds.  Martialla was bleeding buckets of blood when she finally gave up and dove into the water to escape.  Probably not the best plan since that’s where the hag came from originally, but she wasn’t pursued.  Quickly establishing that there was nothing much of value on the patrol boat the hag ordered her men to pursue the fleeing merchant ship while she stayed on the Black Swan.  She crept over to me on all fours and sniffed me over thoroughly like a hound dog.  Her voice was smooth and consoling despite her awful appearance.

“It looks like your friends have abandoned you my pretty little flower.”

I smiled “Good thing you’re here, now I have a new friend.”

She let loose with an enthusiastic cackle.  No one can cackle like a real honest to Gods hag. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After wrecking the bridge they were hired to protect (well, blockade but I feel like not destroying the bridge was implied when they were hired) Diatala and her friend had a falling out with Baron Harmenkar’s men.  The Baron’s squad left in a huff to much indifference from the adventurers.  With no one to fight and no loot to take I’m sure the mighty heroes were bored by this job (which no one forced them to take).  They’re probably glad that things have been livened up by my presence.  That night around the campfire I told them that I was pretty sure that Archbaroness Relonge was no longer in a position to do them any favors (which was no one’s fault) but they resolved to head north anyway.  Who can say why?  The nightmare attack was only terrible last night instead of unbearable so I managed to get a decent amount of sleep.  I wonder how long I can go without wearing the Whiterock ring before the world is devoured by a madness creature from beyond the stars.  I should probably try to get that back. 

At the rise of morning Baron Saltwheel’s men took their leave as well since there was no bridge left for them to blockade.  There appeared to be no small amount of ill-will between them and Kartak’s band.   I assume they were promised an easy victory and a nice payout and instead they got nothing.  Nevertheless Kartak and his men were in it for the long haul and ready to shadow us from the other side of the river.

“We should probably move away from the river, that way they won’t be able to see where we’re going.  I know that Kartak has sent riders upriver as well to look for another way to get over the river.  If they cross and then double back we’ll run right into them.”

Diatala shook her head “We’ll stick by the river, that way we can keep an eye on them.  As long as you have that necklace you can’t hide from them anyway.”

I was thinking what a stupid decision that was, but she actually had a point.  Heading away from the river and then turning north makes no sense since they can find me whenever they want anyway.  I must really be short on sleep if I’m being outwitted by an adventurer.  Our party was smaller and theoretically could travel faster, but we were on foot while Kartak’s men were mounted so it was a wash.  It’s very strange to travel with your enemies a hundred yard away directly to your right.  It’s unnatural to be this close to the people trying to kill you without either running away or fighting.

Unnatural or not the day passed largely uneventfully, it wasn’t until late in the day that things got interesting.  Coming downstream from the north (except the sun was behind them which doesn’t make any sense, which way does this dumb river go ?!) was a boat (ship?) that looked ungainly to me because it had those runner floaty things on each side.  However the elf claimed was a “river runner” designed for rapid transit so it must be pretty fleet, assuming the elf knows what it’s talking about.  Everyone agreed that it was a patrol boat, but what does that mean?  Who’s in charge of rivers?  I never heard the Baron say anything about having naval (is it naval on a river or is that just for oceans?) forces of any kind.  I guess I would have thought that river people would be royal troops but the flag they were flying wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen associated with the King. Er, Queen.

I hailed them from our side of the river while Kartak did the same.  That was a mistake, he should have let Martialla do it with one of her illusionary guises.  I mean if you were being hailed by a comely lass on one side and a half-savage looking marauder on the other which side are you going to head for?  The ship (boat?) floated over to our side and on the foredeck stood one of the most overdressed men I have ever seen in my life – and I’ve seen a few.  If he fell in the water there is no way that he wouldn’t drown.  He had a fancy cloak and fancy overcoat and fancy this and fancy that all the way down, he had to be wearing at least five layers.  Setting aside drowning concerns he also had to be sweltering in that get up.  He had a massive beard streaked with grey (gray?) and one of those little square hats you see sometimes – but even with all that cranium accessorizing I could still clearly see his smug face.  I don’t know why but he was very pleased with himself.  Very.

He introduced himself as Captain Bergamot (how big does a ship need to be before it has a captain?) of the Black Swan (I think the ship was made of white birch, it certainly didn’t look black) and listened inattentively to my tale of being detained illegally by Kartak.  Once he was done not really attending to my story he proceeded to drone on at length about how they were looking for boats moving contraband.  I did my best to flatter him but some people are so self-centered that you can’t even kiss up to them because they’re not paying any mind to what you’re saying – it’s an odd thing.  I asked for his aid but he said that such matters weren’t within in jurisdiction.  I made a little joke about how if I came onboard it would be in his dominion but he didn’t think it was funny.  All that elicited was a five minute lecture about the intricacies of inland maritime law.  I could see that several of the sailors aboard were sick to death of this blowhard, I wonder how hard it would have been to get them to mutiny.  Probably pretty hard, but I bet I could have done it.

After offering a tepid non-apology for not helping me Captain Bergamot bid the Black Swan to continue on their mission of looking for unspecified contraband (I guess he didn’t feel the need to hear Kartak’s side of the story) but they didn’t get far.  Someone on Kartak’s bank snagged the Black Swan with a grappling hook.  I have to assume Martialla was involved with her magic because while I’ve never thrown a grappling hook in my life I can’t imagine that you can throw one that far unaided.  I would wager maybe forty feet is about as far as you can hurl one of those things.  For that matter how did they even have a rope that long?  Also why did they even have grappling hooks at all?  They had a couple horses yoked up to the ropes help them pull the boat into the middle of the river where they tossed on a couple more hooks.  I don’t mean to disparage Captain Bergamot but I feel like they should have been able to do something about that.  It wasn’t a fast process, it took a while, couldn’t they cut the ropes or something?

I wonder of this was Kartak’s idea or Martialla’s.  I have no idea who these river constables are, but they have to be a legal authority of some kind – attacking them seems like a bold move.  All on account of little old me.  Whether it was Martialla’s idea or not I saw her on the shore transformed in a shaggy white brute to haul on a rope with monster strength.  At least until the boat was yanked close enough for someone on board to hurl a pot of some kind of weaponized glue on her.  I’ve heard of such things but I never really believed in them, some kind of alchemical nonsense.  I have to admit that it was pretty satisfying to see Martialla stuck to the ground like an ant drowning in honey.  It didn’t last long because she changed forms again into some kind of frog-lizard beast and slithered out like it wasn’t tacky at all, but you have to take those little moments of amusement when you can find them.

Despite the best efforts of throwers (they had other things besides glue-pots) the boat was pulled to the shore and Kartak’s men swarmed aboard.  As his men were fighting for their lives Captain Bergamot stood on the prow (that’s a thing on a ship right?) belting out an inspirational song.  I’m sure it inspired them to wish they had a captain that could fight.  He had some manner of sissified court blade on his hip but he never even drew it – not even when Martialla stabbed him through the side of the stomach.  While all this was going on I suggested to my new friends that this would be a good time to make ourselves scarce but Diatala said that she wasn’t worried.  In truth I wasn’t too worried either, because seizing a ship and then actually making it go are two different things.  But I underestimated Martialla.  She used her magic (instead of one of her boring stories) to put several of the sailors to sleep and then charmed them, also with magic, not by being actually charming.  So in short order (relatively) the Black Swan was headed back our way with a magically entranced crew carrying Martialla and a half dozen of the Kostelos.

Once they landed and charged us Diatala and her crew put up a Hells of a fight, but I have to say being on the opposite side of Martialla is a real experience – the woman is a terror.  I stood there helpless with no weapon and nothing to contribute while a brief savage battle was waged in front of me.  After everyone else was dead the wizards both asked for mercy but there was none forthcoming.  After Martialla murdered them both she also backstabbed the last man still up on her side as well. 

“Why did you do that?”

She started picking over the bodies “Adventurers have good loot and I don’t want to share.” She gave me a hard look “I learned from the best when it comes to sharing.”

“Seems risky, someone across the way might have seen you.”

“I doubt it, it’s quite a distance, and you know how chaotic combat is – who knows how anyone died in a melee?  Doesn’t matter anyway, I’m not going back across.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“No, I’m going to bring you in myself.  Kartak is an idiot, and now he’s an idiot without any men – all that’s left over there are the Baron’s soldiers and those weird foreigners.  If I took you back you’d take him out and turn the whole thing on its head within twenty four hours.”

“For someone who said that I was nothing without them you’re pretty worried about me.”

She picked something shiny off one of the dead men and held is up to look at it “You can have a powerful effect on the weak minded, I don’t deny that.  You’re no threat to me though.  I’m taking you back to Juost Manor and then I’m going to get on with my life and forget about you. It will be like you never existed.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’ve met some mismatched adventuring parties in my day but this one takes the cake (and sells it in town to buy a magic cleaver so they can take more cake from people to buy a bigger cleaver so they can take more cake . . .)  First and most obviously there’s six of them, when everyone knows that the magic number is four.  Even beyond that their composition is all off.  Two wizards is one wizards too many (possibly two) and as far as I can tell they have no warriors or religious types.  It’s surprising how many groups don’t have a divine specialist – how do they expect to get the sweet magic healing?  It shouldn’t be surprising since that’s the one occupation in the bunch that comes built in with responsibilities that don’t include wandering around murdering people on a whim but holy warriors are traditionally considered part of the iconic adventuring group mix.  I suppose priests of Adariel are too nice, priests of Strider wander off too much, and Odobeninians want too large a share of the booty (if you know what I mean).  I think the elf implied that s/he was a fighting type at one point but everyone knows that elfs are too willowy and ethereal to be warriors.  Plus I saw her/him cast a spell – make up your mind elf, it can’t be both.  Can you imagine an adventuring band with three wizards?  It’s sheer madness. While the tiny woman went to speak with the commander of the Harmenkar forces I spoke to the other five.

“Thanks for the rescue folks but I need to get away from here as fast as possible.” I plucked at the silver chain around my neck “This bad boy is a magic homing beacon and as soon as they figure out that I’m gone they’re going to able to find exactly where I am.  And you saw how many of them there are.  I know that you’re used to facing long odds and coming out the victors but this is different, these are legitimately dangerous people.  There’s one woman over there in particular that’s as ruthless as they come.  The best thing I can do is put as much distance between them and me as possible before they realize that I’m missing.”

The Shirelings were so similar looking that I could tell them apart only because one had a shield and the other did not.  I hope they’re siblings or something and I’m not just totally racist.  The one with the shield asked me why they had a magic tracker on me.

“I really need to get out of here so I don’t want to get into a deep conversation, in a nutshell what happened is that I found out that the Królewna and Bonifacja Trading Company were betraying the King – he was still alive then – and the King’s advisors decided to hide me away rather than letting that information become general knowledge.  I rabbited on them a couple times so they saddled me with this ugly thing so they could fine me.”

The other Shireling had a thoughtful expression “I never did hear a convincing reason why K and B was getting pulled apart, I assumed the King just needed money for the war.”

One of the wizards (you can tell because he was wearing robes) snorted at this “And I told you that made no sense, the tax revenue the Kingdom makes off of a trading company of that size would far out-strip any short term gains they’d get from seizing property.”

“Look guys, I really need to get moving, I don’t mean to be rude.  So thanks again, but it’s time for me to go.”

The other wizard, who strangely was wearing a helm, motioned for me to wait “There’s no need to rush off in the night.  May I examine that artifact?”

He said artifact like a total douche but I nodded my head anyway.  He came forward, putting his face right next to mine while he examined the silver necklace the Baron yoked me with – he could have stood to the side instead of being obtrusive and weird but you know, wizard.  His breath smelled like an old garment that has been stored in cedar chest for years.  How would you even accomplish that kind of mouth smell if you wanted to?  After a while he muttered some arcane words and the chain glowed for a few seconds while he stared at it sightlessly like I’ve seen Martialla do when she’s checking out magic shit.  He nodded and then called the other wizard over to stand too close behind me – they had me bracketed pretty good.  The second wizard took out a scroll and carelessly grabbed the necklace as well, choking me a little, as he cast a spell.

“That will misdirect them several hours, time enough for us to come up with a plan.”

“You mind backing off there champ?”

He blinked in surprise and then took one giant step backwards like a weirdo.  I slipped away and to the side to get away from the other one who was still breathing on the back of my neck like a freak.

“I appreciate that, but I couldn’t ask you to do any more behalf, you’ve already done more than I could ever expect.”

The Halfling without a shield grinned “Nonsense, we love this kind of stuff.  This is what we do darling, this is what we do.”

I have to imagine that the commander of the real soldiers was livid to find out about this little side trek his hirelings went on, but when the tiny woman returned she seems unperturbed.  I suppose adventurers are used to doing whatever they want and getting away with it because they can kill you if you cry about it.  That’s probably why real military people hate them.  She said that her name was Diatala and we all talked for a few minutes (except the elf who was probably out doing mysterious elf things) before she suggested that I get some rest as I was “clearly exhausted”.  How rude.  Rude and accurate.  I reiterated my opinion that I needed to run as far as I could while their magic locator was blocked but she shook her head resolutely.

“You’re under our protection now.  You’re stuck with us until we figure out a way to get that necklace off of you.”

It’s kind of nice to have the insane stubborn intractability of adventurers on my side for once.  I didn’t point out that they were basically holding me captive for my own good just like the people I’m running away from.  Those kinds of details tend to me lost on these sort of people.  The wizards promised me that they would put their heads together and come up with a solution.  When I mentioned that my shoulder was fucked up they gave me a potion that tasted like crap but fixed me up eighty-eight percent.  So much for the legendary stinginess of adventurers, I guess it’s different when you’re their rescue.  All they had for me was a bedroll, but after the last few nights it was as welcome as a feather bed in a luxury suite.  I fell asleep immediately.  The funny thing is, not funny ha-ha but funny like when a mule falls off a cliff, is that it’s actually probably good that I haven’t been able to sleep.  Without my necklace to protect me I was assaulted by nightmares throughout the night.  I still woke up feeling better though, that’s how tried I was.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I woke up, I must have slept for more than ten hours.  Diatala was sitting nearby fiddling with a kind of little puzzle that was made up of little rings of metal that fit together in some fashion.

“I won’t ask if you slept well, I know that you didn’t.  Bad dreams?”

“The worst.  There’s some kind of magic bullshit that makes me have nightmares all the time.”

“Królewna and Bonifacja really did a number on you didn’t they?”

“You can say that again.”

“Your captors have been combing the area on the other side of the river looking for you.  They asked Baron Saltwheel’s men about you but they were uncooperative, I doubt they really think that you’re in their camp.  Ibix used another scroll on your necklace to keep it from signaling your location but that’s the last of them.  Before sundown they’re going to know exactly where you are.  But we have a plan.”

“You really don’t need to take any more risks on my behalf.”

She held up her hand to stop my protestations “Just accept that we’re going to help you.  Emam and Sarpol put their heads together and they have a way to get that necklace off you but it requires some components they don’t have.  The good news is we’re not far from the home of Archbaroness Relonge and she owes us a favor.”

“Oh, Relonge you say?  Have you spoken to her recently by any chance?”

We didn’t get to continue that conversation because there came a hue and a cry.  Isn’t a hue a color?  Anyway, Baron Saltwheel’s men and Kartak’s men were coming across the bridge looking grim.  Kartak must know (or at least suspect) out that I’m over here and made some manner of alliance with Saltwheel’s goons.  Martialla probably figured it out actually, she’s pretty sharp.  The Harmenkar soldiers looked uncertain what to do, but the adventurers jumped on the bridge ready to fight – you have to give them points for bravery if nothing else.  The commander of the Harmenkar soldiers looked horrified.

“Wait, stop!  Don’t do anything you’ll regret, just hand me over to them.”

Seeing reason the adventuring party admitted that they couldn’t fight that many enemy soldiers, but that didn’t mean they gave up of course.  They backed off the bridge and wizard number one hit it with a massive fireball while wizard number two attacked with a stroke of lightning.  Even the elf got in on the action using its elf-power to warp the wood like it had been sitting underwater for decades.  The men on the bridge sprinted back to safety as the wizards continued their arcane assault and the bridge collapsed with a massive sprout of river-water.  Martialla barely made it off the bridge and I saw her standing, wet as a duck’s ass, on the other side of the river staring a hole in me.   

I know that it worked out for me in this case but this is a good example of how insane adventuring types are.  You know how hard it is to build a bridge?  You know how important they are to the local community?  And they just blew one up to save one person that they don’t even know.  Although, that’s not even why they did it – they didn’t really do it for me, they did it because they wanted to win.  At the core of every adventurous soul there is the belief that they are better than everyone else – even the nice ones think that without realizing it themselves.  Working a job and obeying the law and being normal is fine for other people, lessor people, but they are too important for that.  They have a destiny.  They could never live the kind of humdrum boring exist of people like you, although they mean no offense by saying so. 

So destroying a bridge to stop their opponents makes perfect sense to them.  It doesn’t matter that without this bridge here the local populace with suffer.  It doesn’t matter that for all they know I am a violent criminal who was being held legally.  It doesn’t matter that they just screwed over the guy that hired them.  All that matters is that they won.  Adventurers would rather be alive then dead of course, but they would definitely rather die than lose – what would be the point of living if a normal person bested them? 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Night three with essentially no sleep.  I’ve heard the claim made that skipping one night of sleep results in a condition almost the same as being drunk.  I don’t think I buy that, but string a few nights like that together and then you’ve got something.  After a while your mind just feel sluggish – you kind of feel like you are asleep somehow even though you’re not.  Which would be bad for you, but just imagine how awful it is for someone as quick-witted as me.  I think what happens after a few sleepless nights is that your brain does start sleeping for a couple seconds here or there and your body just keeps going.  Someone says something and you realize you have no idea what it was even though you responded, which you also don’t remember.  You think to yourself “man, I really have to piss” and then a few minutes later you’re somewhere else and you don’t have to go anymore.  What happened?  Did you piss and forget about it instantly?  It’s not a fun experience. 

One of the Satanders (Satanderians?  Satandish?) brought me a little cup of some delicious coffee liquor but I barely got one sip before Martialla came over and kicked it out of my hand (I was sitting on the ground chained to a tree you see).  The man that gave it to me looked at her like she was some kind of bug.  I know very little about Satander culture overall, so I have no idea how they normally treat women.  There was no shouting, no words exchanged even, he just glowered at her for a moment and then walked away.  Martialla noticed a couple of the Baron’s men giving her the evil eye and she did stop to curse them out before making to unlock the chain holding me to the tree.

“You have a real talent for winning people over.  I think I realized what it is though.  Until you teamed up with me you worked alone for so long that you don’t think that you need allies.  What it is is . . .”

“Shut up Ela.”

She didn’t even bother to unlock the cuff on my wrist, using the chain to drag me over to the wagon.  She was disgusted to find that someone had made a little blanket-nest for me to ride in in the bed of the wagon.  I think she really wanted to jump up and toss it all out but she didn’t – showing some restraint for a  change.  She just herded me in and locked the other end of the chair under the seat.  Clearly her intent was to drive the wagon herself, which she doesn’t really know how to do, but since she’s also a crappy rider I guess it’s a toss-up.  While the rest of the camp was mobilizing I used my Beastspeech to talk to the horses pulling the wagon.  I was curious if they knew what was so important that three people were willing to kill and die to get it back but they didn’t.  I mean they’re horses, they don’t really know much.  I love horses but they’re not the brightest.  Speaking to animals is helpful sometimes but overall it’s kind of a letdown.  It’s tough to communicate beyond the very basic level because animals don’t really think about things the same way that we do – a lot of common human concepts are beyond them.  It can make for some frustrating dialogues. 

Eventually Martialla realized what I was doing and once again was pointing her sword at me “Stop that!”

Kartak was sitting on his horse nearby “What’s the problem now wašičú?” (Wašičú is a Kostelos word that’s hard to translate into the King’s tongue, it’s kind of like calling someone lazy but it’s more like a person who just can’t manage to do anything)

“She was talking to the horses.”

There was some general laughter at this and even Kartak couldn’t help but smile “She was talking . . . . to the horses?”

“Don’t laugh, there’s nothing funny about this!  It’s something she can do, she can communicate with animals!” She pointed at one of the Baron’s men “You!  You know right?  Didn’t she spend a lot of time with the Baron’s kennel master taking care of the dogs?”

He looked startled to be singled out but before he could say anything one of the Kostelos made a comment in his own language and they all started laughing.  The guy I think is the leader of the Satander exiles smiled as well so he must be able to understand them at least.  Martialla was fuming but she didn’t lose focus – locking her eyes with mine.

“Don’t do that again Ela.”

I held my hands up in mock surrender “Of course, I won’t plot against you with the horses nor any other animals that come along.  Raccoons or fluffy bunnies or so forth.  Nothing to worry about there.”

It wasn’t really that funny but it set off another round of laughter anyway.  When you’re bullying someone what you say doesn’t actually have to be very humorous, people just want to make someone else feel small so they usually get on board.  One of the Kostelos rode up and said that there was a chipmunk that Martialla should watch out for.  I thought she was going to run him through but she finally managed to grit her teeth and sheath her sword and sit back down to wait.  Eventually we lurched off and even at wagon-speed we managed to make the bridge by mid-day.  Well before we reached the bridge though I saw that our old friends, the Baron’s Saltwheel and Harmenkar had their bridge interdiction crews out doing their work.  The set up was similar to what I had encountered on the way to Preen so it must be the strategy – Saltwheel with regular forces and Harmenkar leaning more on adventurers.  So either Harmenkar must have less men or he just likes adventurers.     

Martialla came into the back of the wagon to threaten me with impalement once again “Don’t speak to any of these people.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

The two barons must not have had this bridge blockaded when Kartak and company came south to get me because they didn’t seem to know what was going on.  Kartak and a few others rode forward to remind these fellows that this was Baron Juost’s land and they had no authority to be doing this, but this is where setting Juost up as an ineffectual puppet failed them.  Baron Saltwheel’s men clearly didn’t give a shit – they even specifically invoked the time honored tradition of noblemen stealing each other’s land when one of them fails to hold up his obligations.  Kartak was clearly stymied, he had more men, but not enough more to make intimidating his way through a sure thing, and once you play that card and they call your bluff you’re in real trouble.  I could have pulled it off of course, but no one asked me.  Martialla stopped menacing me to join the conversation about what to do, or to try to anyway, they seemed intent on freezing her out.  Eventually she was able to convince Kartak to speak to her privately.

“I’ve dealt with these assholes before, all we need to do is bribe them.”

“With what exactly?  I don’t travel with the Baron’s treasury on me.”

“There’s a literal fortune in Ela’s pouches.  The amount of money she’s managed to amass is indecent.  But only she can get it out.”

“So how does that help?”

“Make her get the money.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“You’re the torture expert, figure it out.  I know you’re not supposed to hurt her, I’m sure you know some ways to fuck people up that won’t leave marks.  There’s a river right there – can’t you drown her until she agrees to get the money?”

“I assume you wanted to speak in confidence because she really does have a lot of money, enough to concern you about people’s loyalty when they find out.  Even if I thought this was a good idea what’s to stop her for pitching out the entire treasure horde and inciting the kind of frenzy you’re worried about?”

“Figure it out, do I have to come up with everything?  If you don’t want to kill these people, who are violating the sovereignty of your lord, bribing them is the only way.”

They must have realized they were close enough that I could hear them, but they were still both surprised when I spoke up.

“You have quite the fortune yourself Martialla, if getting across is that important why don’t you pony up for the bribe?”

Kartak was on board with that notion but Martalla was not.  She can be very tight-fisted that one.  It’s probably because of her dirt-poor commoner background.  They had quite a discussion about that, which ended with Kartak deciding that they’d head north to find another crossing.  Martialla was not super pleased but this plan.

“You must be joking, we’re already three days behind schedule and now you want to head north?  Do you even know if there’s another bridge within a hundred miles of here?”

Kartak stared her down “I have had enough of your insolence.  You are not in charge here.  You are not in charge of anything.  I’m not interested in your input.  Going forward keep your opinions to yourself.”

“The Baron . . .”

“The Baron isn’t in command of anything!  Why are you even here?  You want to return to the compound then go, no one here is going to miss you.”

“I am the only reason you have Ela and if it wasn’t for me she would have escaped already!  I am the only one keeping her here!”

Kartak snorted and looked at me bundled in the back of the wagon “Oh yes, she’s terrifying.”

Kartak sent a couple scouts upriver to look for a crossing while the rest set up camp on a hillside near the bridge.  Between the three groups there have to be over a hundred fighting men here – is there even still a war going on?  Maybe the war ended and no one told me – that would explain why I seem to find so many bodies of armed men roaming the countryside with no specific agenda.  Kartak put one of his men, Baru, “in charge” of me.  Not sure exactly what they means but I assume that it was another move designed to tweak Martialla’s nips.  It certainly worked.  The Sky-Thunders are a little taller than most Kostelos, who are a shortish people, but Baru was pretty squat.  He made up with it with a six inch mohawk somewhat though.  His first order was that I wasn’t going to be chained up at night anymore – after all where was I going to go even if I did get away.  Martialla pointed out reasonably that that may have been true before but now there were two groups of armed men within spitting distance that I could insinuate myself into if I got loose.     

Baru was not interested in taking this detail under advisement.  Martialla managed to choke down an explosion at that point but shortly thereafter she yelled at me for chatting with Baru in Kostelos and then there was a blow-up after Baru told her to go fuck herself.  I think she would have killed him if he didn’t have twenty other dudes to back him up.  I never knew that Martialla had such a temper.  Kartak was clearly done with all of this and told Martialla she was banished from the camp.  The look on her face was priceless.  I was installed in the back of the wagon as my sleeping place for the night, with Baru slumbering loudly in the driver’s seat (that has a name right?  Like the buckboard or something?).  When I felt the wagons shift slightly I thought that it was Martialla coming back to murder me in the night.

But what I saw instead was the round apple-cheeked face of a Shireling peering at me through the darkness.  After the incident last night the guards around camp had been doubled, but this little fellow and his friend had managed to slip right past then anyway.  Halflings can be pretty sneaky, some of them anyway.  He beckoned for me and I crawled carefully off the wagon where they helped me to creep out of the camp – aided by someone else distracting one of the guards.  A short distance away we met with an elf whose skin looked blue in the moonlight and a human woman so small that I thought she was also a Halfling for a moment.  The five of us crept down the hillside where two more compatriots of theirs were waiting.  One of them cast a spell to cloak us in darkness and the other did the same to silence our moves.  We made our way quickly to the river, where, and I kid you not, the elf took what looked like a folded piece of paper out of a pack and when they set it into the river it turned into a full sized rowboat.  It was a tight fit with seven of us, but we were on the Baron Harmenkar side of the river in no time.   As they were bringing me into their camp I had to ask.

“Why are you doing this?”

One of the Shirefolk got a lopsided grin “We’re heroes, what better reason could there be?”

The elf was more solemn in speech “You were clearly being held against your will.”

I never thought I would say this, not ever.  Thank the Gods for adventurers and their reckless ignorant glory seeking. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I read a book once that claimed there are a group of people who practice transcendental sleeping.  People in some unspecified far away non-verifiable place, you know, where all the interesting things happen.  The idea of transcendental sleeping is that by learning how to sleep the right way eventually you can become untethered from your physical body and exist in the realm of dreams as a spirit of some kind.  If you get really good at it you can achieve a form of immortality because your dream-spirit exists forever and whenever you want to visit the world you can reform your body.  There’s tales of these immortal sleepers going into caves so sleep and what people think happen is they just lay in there for eighty years or whoever long and then wake up.  But what actually happens is their body dies and they just recreate it later when it’s time to wake up.  I mean it’s so obvious people.   

Of course nothing can be all roses and rainbows so in the dream world there’s some kind of nightmare realm that doesn’t like these sleeping immortals messing with their evil plans so there’s a whole battle going on there – and of course this nightmare realm has mortal agents in the real world as well, a cult of dream worshipping fanatics who will stop at nothing to blah blah blah whatever.  I assume somewhere in this mix there’s a dream god on one side or another.  Anyway I don’t believe this for a variety of reasons, one being that allegedly a key component of making this dream transformation is engaging in sexual acts without achieving climax – and if that was the case most of the women in the world would be halfway where am I right?  But I wish that it was true because I would study this technique and sleep for a good thirty years.  Seems very restful.  Plus then the Duke would be older and easier to wail on.  The risk of course would be that someone else would kill him in the meantime, or he would just die of syphilis – and that’s no good because I’m the one that has to do him in.  I worry about that a lot, he has many enemies and many unhealthy habits, not to mention random chance.  If he dies before I can kill him I really don’t know what I’ll do. 

It’s a little easier to sleep in manacles than staked to the ground but it was oppressively hot last night and there were mosquitoes and other bloodsucking monsters attacking me relentlessly – for some reason they were going after the ass more than anything.  My left cheek looks like it has porridge pox.  Between that and my aching shoulder it was another sleepless night for old Ela.  When I woke up, or rather stopped trying to fool myself that I was asleep, I heard Kartak and Martialla arguing about me again.  She was upset because he was suggesting that they not travel today so I would have some time to recover.  Martialla was screeching about how we should have made the road by today and instead we haven’t even crossed the river yet.  I never realized how shrill her voice can be until now.  She reiterated her opinion that I was faking my injury to intentionally slow our progress.  Kartak lost his temper pretty quickly and it seemed like they were on the verge of fighting.  She’s too smart for that, but it would be helpful if she slipped up and Kartak and his men slaughtered her like a goat.  Without her nagging them all the time about how I’m going to turn them against one another it would be easier to turn them against one another.

The best case scenario would be for Martialla to lose her temper, kill Kartak, and then be forced to flee by his men – leaving one of these other yahoos in charge.  That would make things very easy for me, the only problem is that Kartak is on my list so if Martialla killed him that would ruin everything.  So while it would be convenient it would cause problems later on.  Martialla must have won the argument because they did sit me on a horse and we set off at a sedate pace, but after an hour of me pretending to pretend that I wasn’t in pain and whimpering with every jolt of the saddle Kartak called a halt and sent a couple of his men to find a wagon for me to ride in.  Two of the Baron’s men helped me dismount and set up a camp chair for me to sit on while everyone else milled around waiting. Martialla stayed nearby and scowled away anyone who tried to come within six feet of me.

“You’re going about this all wrong you know.” Martialla’s only response was a disgusted noise “You shouldn’t be butting heads with Kartak and screaming like a harridan all the time.  What you should be doing is damage control.  You helped them catch me but nobody likes a traitor Martialla.  It’s a real conundrum, as the ruling authority you want people to turn in your enemies, but if someone is willing to turn on their closest friend they prove themselves to be untrustworthy so what are you do with them?  It’s surprising that more turncoats don’t figure that out.  They seem to be shocked when the people they betray their friends or family to treat them like crap.”

“Shut up Ela.”

“So you already had a lot of ground to make up and you’re not doing a very good job of it – you’re just digging yourself deeper.  The Kostelos are an even more patriarchal society than ours – I’m surprised one of Kartak’s men hasn’t tried to put you in your place yet, or tried to take him out for letting you.  Even for ‘civilized’ Kostelos they’re showing an amazing amount of forbearance.  You know what the Kostelos think about us?  They see Kingdom men as dog’s running to follow their women’s commands.  It’s pretty funny that they think we tell men what to do, but it’s an indication of how male dominated their society is.  Not only are you alienating Kartak but you’re making him look bad in front of his men.”

“I said shut up.”

“But really what’s more worrisome for you is that you’re making me the victim in the eyes of the Baron’s men.  You weren’t there the first time I was there, I was playing the dutiful noble woman, they don’t see me as a threat no matter what you say, they see me a helpless woman who needs their manly protection – they don’t like what’s happening here at all.  Not only are you building their sympathy for me, but you’re also creating a divide between them and the Kostelos.  I doubt they’re happy about taking orders from Kartak anyway and now you’re giving them me and my mistreatment to rally around.  If you keep it up I wouldn’t be surprised if they try some kind of coup all on their own.  You’re setting yourself up to look like the brute while I’m a broken little bird.  A fragile delicate little thing that garners all kinds of compassion – but you know, the masculine kind of compassion where they want to fuck me.”

“I said shut up!”

“The real question mark in all of this is the Satander exiles though.  I have no idea what their part of this is, or what their reaction would be if the Kostelos and the Baron’s man started fighting.  What . . .”

Martialla came over and with a shove and a kick to the chair sent me sprawling to the ground.  As I hit the ground with a cry I grabbed at my bad shoulder.  Almost immediately a couple of the Baron’s men and one of the Kostelos ran over and got embroiled with Martialla in a shouting match.  She wanted to gag me again and restrain me as well, they accused her to being a cruel and heartless she-bitch.  I couldn’t help but smile as I saw them wrangling.  Well, that’s not true, I could have very easily not smiled – but I wanted Martialla to see it.  Kartak came to get into another loud discussion with Martialla, but she angrily walked away – which is probably just as bad.  Turning your back on a man like that?  Very disrespectful.  If she was smart she would have let him rip her apart verbally in front of everyone to start rebuilding that relationship.  Martialla has a lot of good qualities but her ego is a real issue.

A couple of hours later the Kostelos came back with a wagon.  There was no blood on it so hopefully they just took it via threats rather than murdering whoever had it before.  In the back of the wagon were some sacks of apples and some jugs of moonshine which really improved the morale around the camp.  However Kartak decided that at that point they might as well just stay put for the rest of the day anyway – I’m pretty sure just to piss off Martialla.  He probably wanted to give her a chance to blow up at him again so they he could smack her down and reestablish his authority.  She didn’t take the bait though.  Once Kartak made it clear that they weren’t going any farther she dramatically left the camp, which only served to make things worse.  She really doesn’t understand how people work. 

It wasn’t until after nightfall that things really got interesting though.  Martialla had returned to chain my good arm to a small tree before disappearing again so once again I was wide awake.  Which allowed me to see two of the men on watch duty get shot down from the darkness.  That’s the problem with being on guard duty if you ask me, you’re lit up so that anyone out there can see you but there’s not enough light so that you can see them.  It’s a real pickle.  Once the guards were down a woman and two men slunk out of the darkness towards the wagon.  That must be a really important wagon.  They were trying to steal it but there were more than two people on guard duty so they didn’t get very far.  In short order the whole camp was alerted and they were swarmed.  Martialla appeared out of nowhere (literally, she must have been skulking around invisible) and had her sword on me like I was going to try something as the thieves were subdued.   

One of the men was killed in the fighting and the other was so badly wounded he was going to die anyway, but the woman was intact enough that they got to decapitate her for attacking them.  I wonder what that was all about.  Killing two men for a wagon, I could maybe see that, but they had to know that coming into a camp of this many people was more or less a suicide charge.  Seems like a lot to risk just for a wagon.  Although, based on what I know about the Skin-Takers she got off very easy with merely losing her head – I wonder what would have happened if the Kingdomers and the Satander hadn’t been around.  Or maybe they really have changed.  I guess Kartak is the only Skin-Taker anyway, maybe the Sky Thunder tribe isn’t as reprehensible.  But I doubt it.

Martialla looked at me coldly “Another day lost and two men dead.  You won’t get away with it Ela.  You won’t win this time.”

“Have some respect Martialla, five people just lost their lives, this isn’t some game to win or lose.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

This probably won’t come as a big shock to you fine people but it turns out that you don’t sleep very well staked to the ground like a dog surrounded by murderous torture cannibals.  Honestly I think I slept maybe twenty minutes last night.  Between that and my balance still being thrown off by Martialla busting something inside my ear I could barely get in the saddle when they packed up camp and dragged me to my feet.  I’ve fallen off a horse a time or two, and believe it or not there’s definitely an art to doing it – well not “safely” but less dangerously.  The key is to protect your head and your wrists.  Our dumb bodies have the instinct to throw out our hands to try and break our fall – which is bad.  What you want to do is bend through the body and bring your arms across your chest – keep your head tucked in and your chin down.  Try to roll so the impact skews throughout as much of your body as possible.  It’s counter intuitive but you want as much of yourself to make impact with the ground as possible (except your head).  Think about it like this, would you rather be stabbed with a spear or poked with a metal rod?  And what’s the difference?  The area of impact.

I’m not great at falling off a horse but I’m good enough to make due.  I mean normally I’m such an accomplished rider that it doesn’t come up.  Although here’s a fun fact, expert riders actually tend to fall more often than those at an intermediate skill level because we’re going faster and pulling fancier moves.  The point is this, because I was exhausted and my equilibrium was messed up I fell more today than I have in my entire life up until this point.  The first couple of times I managed to do it “right” and “just” get the wind knocked out of me to go along with some bumps and bruises.  But my luck didn’t hold out – eventually I landed badly on my shoulder and I heard a noise.  It wasn’t like a crack or a snap, the kind of sound you might expect from a shoulder being obliterated, it was more like the sound of a wet piece of cloth being ripped.  The pain was so intense that for a few seconds I was doing that weird there were you’re kind of hiccupping but really you’re hyperventilating. 

I grabbed my shoulder helplessly writhing on the ground “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, oh Gods it hurts!!!”

Martialla rode over by me looking exasperated “Get up Ela, no one is buying this act.”

All I could do was moan and grind my face into the dirt to hide my tears.  Martialla dismounted (awkwardly I might add, she can’t ride for shit) with a curse and stalked over to drive her heel into my shoulder causing me to scream in anguish.  My eyes were clenched shut put I could hear Kartak admonishing her.

“Stop that, she’s injured!”

Martialla gave me a kick/nudge and then took her foot off, I rolled away gasping.

“She’s faking it.”

“She looks pretty hurt to me.”

I could hear the frustration in Martialla’s voice “This is what she does!  I told you this, I told you exactly how she was going to play this.  Don’t buy into it!  This is how she gets to people and twists everything around.  She’s slowing us down and the longer we’re out here the more chance she has to get someone on her side.  She plays on people’s sympathy.”

“No one here is going to have any sympathy for her.”

“Don’t say that!  That’s what everyone thinks and then the next thing they know they’re bleeding from a knife-wound in the ribs they never saw coming and she’s walking away to the next sucker.  You know what she is!  Don’t let her get in your head.  I’ve seen it a hundred times.  People that know she’s a liar, that know they need to watch out for her still get taken in by her bullshit.  I don’t see how you of all people can fall of this tried routine.  She killed your entire tribe, everyone you knew!”

“People keep saying that but she didn’t actually kill anyone herself.  All she did was convince other people that . . .”

“That’s what she does!  She manipulates people into doing things for her!  That doesn’t make your people any less dead does it?   You sound like one of those idiots who says things like ‘well the snake didn’t really kill him it was the poison’, this is how she does it!”

“Venom.”

“What?”

“Snakes have venom not poison.”

“Are you even fucking listening to me?!  I know this woman, I’m the only person in the world who knows her!  I know what she’s done.  Don’t let her turn your own men against you.”

“My men . . .”

“Fuck your men!  You don’t know what’s in their heads.  And even if you did what about all these other guys?  You don’t know them, you don’t know what they’re capable of.  YOU, didn’t I hear you say that you knew her when she was at the Juost compound?”

I heard a new voice, one that was clearly unhappy to be the center of attention “I just, I mean, I was saying . . . . we only talked a couple times is all, it wasn’t . . .”

“And how do you feel right now seeing her down here rolling around?  I can see it in your eyes!  You feel sorry for her!  It’s already starting to work!  A couple more days and she’ll wink and smile at this dummy and shaker her little ass at him and he’ll be setting her free in the middle of the night!  You people cannot possible be this stupid!  I told you, I told you all that . . .”

“Enough woman!  I won’t be lectured by you!  The Baron said that she wasn’t to be harmed.”

“I’m telling you, she’s fine!”

Martialla grabbed my arm to drag me up and the pain was so penetrating that I blacked out instantly.  When I woke up it was near sundown and I was resting on a makeshift cot/hammock/thing at the side of the camp underneath the shade of a tree.  Doesn’t look like we travel much more than a mile from where my final fall took place.  One of the Baron’s men brought me a plate of some kind of chicken and vegetable pie and a jug of whiskey and helped me eat and drink my fill since my arm was screwed up.  I saw Martialla sitting across the way in a camp chair staring daggers at me.  Once I was done and the soldier was gathering up the dishes (such as they were) she stomped over to us.

“Search her.”

He looked confused “But I have everything.”

I was slightly amused “You think I’m going to kill you with a fork Martialla?”

She pointed a finger at me that was brimming with the beginnings of a magical ball of acid “You don’t speak.  And YOU, humanitarian, I said search her so search her!”

His face was a warring admixture of defiance and offense and fear and subservience.  He looked her in the eye for a moment and then looked away, putting down the plate and the jug and the fork and then mumbling an apology before running his hands over my shoulders and ribs.

“There. Are you satisfied now.  Ma’am?”

Martialla looked like her head was on the verge of exploding “Are you fucking kidding me with that?” She pointed “Get under those skirts!  You think she’s going to hide something by stuffing it into the side of her shirt?  I saw her stab an old woman to death with a piece of broken crockery.  Do you want that to be you boy?!”

“I can’t . . . . I . . . . you . . . . it’s . . . .”

She shook her head with a sigh “Get the fuck out of here.” She yelled after him as he scurried off.  “I hope she kills you first!”  She turned back to me with a humorless laugh/bark “You are a piece of work you know that.  I knew you were good, but I didn’t think they would make it this easy for you.  You know what that moron Kartak wanted to do?  He wanted to stop at an inn in Strandpoint and find you a bed!  And let me guess, that’s where your whore friend Adelis went right?  She and all your little whore friends have been there laying the groundwork for you right?  It almost worked Ela, it almost worked.  But you are not going to escape.  No matter how much these morons unwittingly help you I will not allow you to escape.” She held up a hand, snapping with magical fire “If it looks like you’re going to get away I’m going to burn you Ela.  I’m going to burn you alive.  I don’t care what the Baron wants, he’ll get over it, but you will not get away Ela.  You can’t.”

“So are we talking again now?  Because I tell you Martialla, I had the weirdest dream last night.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I don’t know if Hardra is really going to find Tudos, but I do know that she isn’t interested in coming with me.  I also know that if she goes off by herself she would be murdered or raped or murder raped immediately.  And there was a part of me that thought “good, let that ungrateful bitch get what’s coming to her” but it would silly to let that happen after all the work I went to her bring her back to life.  There’s no reason to let her ingratitude undo all my hard work.  I went to speak to Captain Winters (it really is him, although he’s not a captain anymore) he came back from the front lines and was all messed up in the head because of all the horrors and severed limbs and the eating of rats and all that so his family had sent him here to recover.  Once he was “better” they pulled some strings to get him out of the army and he decided to stay and work here to help other soldiers returning from the war.  Good intentions but most soldiers don’t get sent to a fancy asylum so his mission didn’t amount to much.  It wasn’t too hard to convince him to abandon his post and accompany Hardra wherever she may be going.

With that done Martialla and I headed out after having lunch with the asylum staff, which was surprisingly not terrible – once again I couldn’t help but think that I’ve stayed at inns that were worse that his institution for the mentally insane.  The nice folks at the loony bin told us that if we headed northwest we should find a bridge that would take us over the river and to the road heading east out of Alleene.  Once again I walk to face my destiny, or you know, whatever. 

“Martialla, in the unlikely event I ever get killed and you’re still alive I want you to promise me something.”

She held up a hand “I’m way ahead of you, no problem, I wouldn’t thinking of trying to bring you back.  I know that you would never want to be a broken thing like Hardra.”

“What?!  No, the exact opposite.  If I die I want you to do everything in your power to bring me back.  And I mean everything.  Under no circumstances should you let me rest in peace.  Make it your live goal to bring me back.  You do whatever you have to, my mission here is too important.  Even if it means you need to sacrifice your own life to bring me back.”

“That last part seems like a bit much to ask.”

“Don’t worry, once I’m alive again then I’ll bring you back – it’s the perfect scam.  Whoever’s in charge of all this death stuff is a real chump.” 

After we traveled for a couple hours I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large body of horsemen coming our way from up ahead.  Charging at us you might say.  When I turned to say something to Martialla she had her sword in her hand and it took me a moment to realize that she was not ready to defend us she ready to gut me.  I have my good points but it turns out that I am the stupidest woman in the world.  I should know better by now than to put any amount of trust in anyone ever.  Martialla had the point of her sword inches away from my stomach and I could see her off hand sparking with arcane energy.

“Don’t try anything Ela, I don’t want to have to hurt you.  But I will if you make me.”

“When?  This can’t have been the plan from the beginning.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, but I’d like to know.” 

“When you disappeared.  When I was running errands for the Baron.  I really hit it off with the Duke’s cousin, we came to an arrangement.”

I nodded “Nice work, I never suspected, never thought you were acting strangely.  Are you at least going to say you’re sorry that it came to this?”

“What would be the point?”

The horsemen surrounded us and I saw that it was a mixture of the Baron’s guards, Kostelos barbarians, and some other folk who I didn’t recognize.  At the head of the war party was a strapping young Kostelos warrior dressed in what I’ve come to think of as renegade Kostelos chic –eighty percent normal decent Kingdom clothing but with enough barbarian bells and whistles to stand out. 

“This won’t work.  You know that right?  I’ll escape.  And then I’ll kill you Martialla.”

“You never did lack for confidence.  But no, you won’t.  I doubt you’re capable of being honest enough with yourself to realize it, but if you look back over everything that’s happened with a critical eye you should recognize that you’ve accomplished nothing without me.  Without me to fight your battles for you, without me holding your hand, without me being your human capital, without my magic what are you?  You’re nothing.”

“You seem a little resentful there old buddy, this is more than a little personal isn’t it?”

“No I did this because it was the right move for me, betraying you is just a bonus.  I did get tired of your upstairs downstairs bullshit.  You aren’t even a real noble – you’re literal a prostitute.  You are not better than me Ela, you are a whore, absolutely the lowest rung on the social ladder.”

“You won’t suffer Martialla, I’ll just kill you – I owe you that much.”

She snorted “Aren’t you the only who’s always saying that people shouldn’t make speeches in situations like this?  Besides, you’ll never lay a hand on me.  You’re nothing without me backing you up.”

At this point the surrounding was complete and I turned to the lead Kostelos “I assume you’re Kartak.”

He nodded “And you’re the illustrious Ela.  Tales of your beauty were not exaggerated at all.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to disrobe now.”

“Vavhaav iukn’av goaumn avo appresh conceven.”

He chuckled “Your accent is terrible.  I assure you madam, this is nothing prurient, your friend has warned us all about your many bags of tricks.  If you feel more comfortable we’ll all turn our backs and Martialla can make sure you change into these.” He tossed a simple pleasant dress to the ground – it looked like a burlap sack.

“Prurient huh?  You’re really diving into this sophistication thing with both feet aren’t you?  I remember back when I was a guest of your tribe it was all ‘cut your tits off” this and “burn your eyes out” that and various discussions about what kind of sharpened sticks would be shoved up my asshole.  And now you’re throwing around fancy works like prurient.”

“Yes, the savagery of our past has made us strong, now it’s time for civilization to make us wise was well.”

“That’s quite combination for sure.  Those threats were before I had them all killed of course.  You remember that don’t you?  When I killed your tribe?  I assume your parents were in there, among the people I killed I mean, and whatever other family you had.  Too bad they didn’t make it to the civilization stage huh?  I bet they would have liked that.”

He smiled “If you’d like we can erect a tent for your privacy.  Martialla will have to go in with you of course, but that way decency will be maintained.”

I looked him dead in the eye as I reached for the buttons on my shirt.  I took off all my clothing, folding it nicely in a little pile and stood naked as a jaybird in the middle of a circle of men with swords and spears and horses.  I took a deep breath and stretched, feeling a nice pop in my upper back.

“Aaah, feels good.  I love the sensation of the wind on my skin.”

He pointed at the dress “Put that on.”

I made a face “That rag?  I’d rather . . .”

Martialla interrupted “Just put it on Ela, there’s no need for your usual theatricality.”

I started to say something and she smashed me in the side of the head with the hilt of her rapier.  I tell you this much, Martialla really knows where to hit someone.  I was instantly wobbly legged – she must have done something to my inner ear because I could not regain my balance.  I felt like I was on the hold of a ship.  Or is it the deck of a ship?  The ground felt like it was rolling was the point, even though it probably wasn’t. It’s hard to do much without your equilibrium – it doesn’t matter how heroically defiant you are, biology is biology.  It was so disorienting that I almost fell on my face trying to put on the potato sack dress they gave me.  I could hear some of the men chuckling about it.  I suppose it was pretty funny.  In the end Martialla made a disgusted noise and helped me pull it over my head. 

I very much wanted to lash out at her at that moment, but it would have been pointless.  You have to wait for your moment.  There’s no use in struggling against the net when they have you wrapped up tight – it’s painful, but you just have to wait.  Sadly I’ve been through this drill a couple times now.  Martialla thinks that I’m not going to escape?  That’s what they always think.  And look where that got them. 

They didn’t bind me, which normally I would appreciate because it sucks being lashed to a saddlehorn or thrown over the back of a horse like saddlebags – but I was so dizzy that I was having a hard time even staying mounted even though I’m an expert rider.  It wasn’t a tough pace they were setting but I was struggling nonetheless.  After the third time I almost fell out of the saddle I spoke up.

“Pardon me Mr. Kartak, but I’m having a minor difficulty here.  Would it be possible for me to double up with someone?”

Before he could answer Martialla intervened “No, don’t let her near anyone.”

Kartak seemed amused by the whole thing “What possible harm could it do for her to ride with someone?”

Martialla’s eyes bored into mine “Maybe you should ask Lord Gatz about that.  You remember him right?”

Kartak winced and adjusted himself – you know the way I mean.

“I assume the Baron or whoever’s pulling his strings wants me alive for some reason.  If I fall off my horse and break my bloody neck that’s going to put a crimp in whatever plans they have.”

“You can’t talk your way out of this Ela.  If you fall off you fall off.”

I was able to stay in the saddle mostly by just leaning forward and keeping my eyes focused on the back of my mount’s neck.  Let the horse do the work right?  Even in my hunched over state I tried to talk to people – get a little something going, starting sussing things out, maybe lay some groundwork for something in the future – but no one would talk to me.  I’m sure they had all been “warned” not to speak with me, like I was going to magically entrance them or something.  Like I could hypnotize them or captivate them just with the sound of my voice.  Martialla should know better, being a good liar isn’t some mystic power that lets you control people.  Sure, I have the sweetest voice anyone’s ever heard but that’s not magic.  Since no one would talk to me I just talked.  You can still plant some seeds just by having people listen – and it’s hard to not listen you know? After a while Martialla rode close and gave me a hard poke.

“Be quiet Ela or I’ll gag you.”

“Speaking of gagging, I have a funny story about Sir Quercus and his mistress.”

“I’m not joking Ela.”

Kartak’s tone was light “Oh, let her prattle on if she wants, it’s harmless.”

She looked at him imploringly “Probably My Lord, but why risk it?  She’s more dangerous than you know.”

I snickered “My Lord?  I never took you for an asslicker Martialla.”

A couple of the men laughed at this and her face turned to stone “I’m getting a gag.”

“Wait, wait, I won’t say anything, what if I just sing?”

Martialla may be good at whacking people on the side of the head, but she sucks at gagging – not that she was gagging, I mean putting a gag on someone, you know what I mean.  Putting a strip of cloth around and in someone’s mouth doesn’t do anything.  You have to wad something up, shove that in their mouth and then put the cloth over that to keep them from spitting it out.  It’s like she’s never gagged anyone before, she made a total mess of it – but I decided to keep quiet anyway.

I won’t lie, when they started to make camp for the day I had a spike of fear running through me.  I remember the Skin-Takers and their methods of amusing themselves.  But they really are making a show of being civilized because they didn’t erect any kind of torture platform or molest me in any way.  They did stake me to the ground like a dog, but I suppose that’s to be expected.  Martialla was the lucky one who brought me up plate of brown slop and chipped cup of water.  After she took off the useless gag she put on me she stood behind me with her sword out ready to strike.

“Good gods, you’re the one who was saying how powerless I was without you, lighten up.”

“Just eat Ela.”

“There’s no fork.”

“Use your hands.”

I shoveled some slop into my mouth “You know, this is actually better than some of the shit you brought me to eat in the past.  You really are the worst at foraging.  It took me a while, but I figured out that the other people in this little band of brothers have to be Satander exiles right?  Which is interesting.  Your new boyfriend, what’s his name again?  Zeke?  He was the commander of the pass that’s supposed to keep them on the other side of the mountains, and then you two hook up and now here they are mixed up with the Kostelos somehow.  He must have let them through the pass, but why?  What could Satander exiles and the Kostelos tribes be working together for?  It’s all very exciting.  Anything you want to share with me on that old pal?  Any thoughts?  How about you give me the inside skinny, for old times’ sake?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I have to imagine that the list of people who aren’t confined to or work in a working asylum but have spent the night in one is pretty short.  As per usual I’m in a very elite and exclusive group.  Spooky teenage girls and the boys that want to nail them probably daydream that spending the night in a nuthouse is some uncanny experience with creepy paintings where the eyes move and ghostly screams in the night and things of that nature, but it was perfectly ordinary.  Honestly it was better than half the inns I’ve stayed at in the last year.  I have to say this place is extraordinarily well run.  Based on the stories I’ve heard about these kind of places I was expecting it to be, well, a madhouse. 

Even so I didn’t sleep well.  Hardra didn’t say anything when they brought her out – she just stared at me.  She recognized me for sure, but beyond that I don’t know what she was thinking.  There wasn’t hatred in those eyes, but nothing like joy either – nothing that I could understand.  I think if a dog heard another dog speak like a person it would look at that other dog like Hardra looked at me.  In was a kind of incomprehension that was streaked with the utter conviction that this should not be happening and in fact was impossible and therefore if it was happening that it should be stopped.  Even when I told Hardra that she could leave this place with us she didn’t react at all.  Just stared.  The old man had the nurses take her away and told us that we could talk to her again in the morning.  So I had all night to think about it.

This morning before I went to see Hardra I mentioned to Martialla that one of the guards was a soldier that I knew from back at court.  I told her about how the nurse had looked like a vocal coach that I knew too and I was starting to wonder if it actually was her.

She frowned “Okay, so what?”

“Don’t you think that’s odd?  Winters was a captain, and he was from a good family, how the Hells could he get stuck out here on this shit duty?  And the singing instructor, what are the chances of them both being here?”

She shrugged “I don’t know, a hundred percent?”

“I’m serious.”

“About what?”

“Maybe someone has cast a spell on us to trap us on a fantasy realm they can control.  But they’re too lazy to create a bunch of people from whole cloth so they’re ransacking my mind to populate said realm.  Have you seen anyone here you recognize?”

“Yes, the head doctor is my father.”

“Don’t . . .” I bit back an angry retort with a sigh “Just tell me will you?”

“No, aside from you and Hardra – who looks nothing like I remember by the way so that didn’t come from my memory – I don’t recognize anyone here.  If you think this a dream and you want me to punch you in the stomach to wake you up just give me the signal.”

“I’m telling you Martialla, if I see a third person here I know there’s something weird going on.”

“We’re in an insane asylum Ela, of course there’s something weird going on.”

When they did take me to speak with Hardra they took me a tiny room with a bed, a chair, and a holy book of some kind – I guess the idea is to pray the crazy away.  She was sitting on the bed with her hands folded and if I had taken a seat on the chair our knees would have been touching, that’s how small the room was.  I was worried they were going to lock us in there, but they didn’t, so I stayed in the doorway. I was just about to speak when she beat me to the punch – although she remained staring at the wall.

“You did this.  Somehow I knew, I knew that it was you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It wasn’t worth it, none of it is worth it.  Something is broken inside of me.”

“There’s something broken inside of everyone, you’ll get over it.”

She turned to look at me for the first time, her eyes full of anguish “There was nothing.  There was nothing.  No Heavens, no Hells, no judgement, no nothing.  I didn’t see my dead friends or family.  I wasn’t cast into a pit of eternal torture.  There were no angels.  There were no demons.  There was nothing.  I was just gone.  And now I’m back.”

“Well . . . . uh . . . . I mean we know there’s an afterlife so . . . . if you’re, uh,  into that kind of thing I wouldn’t worry about it.  Who knows how magic works?  Maybe all that was wiped away by the spell that brought you back to life.”

“Do we?  Do we know that there’s an afterlife?  Do we know it?”

“Look, Hardra . . .”

He face twisted in anger “No you look!  Why did you did it?  Why did you bring me back?  I didn’t ask for this!  Am I even the same person?  What I am?!  Some empty shell walking around?  A zombie?!”

“I don’t know what you’re going through, I . . .

She clenched her fists “Yes, you don’t know!  You can’t know.  You weren’t there.  It happened to me!  Nothing feels right anymore!  I don’t even know what I’m doing sometimes!  Where are my thoughts coming from?  Why did you do it?  Why?!”

“I felt responsible, I felt I owed it to you.”

The look on her face became one of utter disgust “You felt guilty?  How is that possible?  You’re the worst person I’ve ever met in my life.  You do bad things and you get away with it so you do something worse and you get away with that too!  And it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse.  Are you even human?  What are you?  Why do you do these things?!  I used to sit and think about you, I would think to myself ‘what kind of person could do such things?’ But now I understand. There’s just nothing inside you. Nothing at all. You’re sad and empty.  You feel nothing because you’ve got nothing. You’ve got nothing to love, care for, or fight for.  You exist to destroy. And you get away with it!  I don’t understand how!  How, how are you allowed to be?!”

I held a hand up “Alright, enough of this self-pity bullshit.  You don’t want to be alive?  Then kill yourself.  It’s pretty easy.  Otherwise get the fuck over it.”

She turned her head back to the wall “That’s some great advice there, either kill yourself or just stop being crazy.  Exactly the kind of inspiring words I would expect from you.”

“What is your problem?  When did you become my nemesis?  I brought you back to LIFE.  How about a little gratitude?”

She laid down on the bed, curled up in a ball “Go away Ela.”

“You want to stay here and rot with these lunatics?  Fine.  I’m going to Juost Manor to save the Baroness.  Remember her?  I have no idea what you thought of her but she’s currently fucked right now.  The least you can do is tell me what you know about it, if anything.  The timeline isn’t clear to me , was the Baron back when you rose from the dead?  I need intel.” When she didn’t say anything I kicked her in the ass “I’m talking to you!”

She spun on the bed “Hey!”

I kicked her again as she grabbed at my foot “Good, there is some life left in you, I was starting to wonder if I got ripped off and you were just a pathetic depressed lump.  So you got a raw deal, so the fuck what?  You got a second chance!  A literal second chance!  You want to throw that away fine, but that makes you the dumbest woman that has ever lived.  Get with the program!  You want this to break you or do you want to fight?  Most of the world has it worse than you and they manage to keep going you entitled bitch.”

“How could anyone have it worse than me?!  I was dead!”

“And now you’re not.  What are you going to do with that?  You hate me so much do you?  Well I don’t give up Hardra.  I wanted to bring you back so I fucking did it.  I brought you back, me, I did that because I decided to do it.  What are you going to do?  You want to sit here like a whiny baby or do you want to grow up and be an adult?”

“I want to beat your face in.  I want to smash you in the face until its mush.  I want you to be ugly.”

I shrugged off my greatcoat “Let’s do it then.  I can’t imagine that you’re much of a fighter, but then neither am I so it’s a fair fight.  You want a piece of me you whiny whore I’m game.”

This is not how I envisioned my day going.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people have no sense of gratitude.  I honestly wonder why I bother.  Hardra stood up, I think to lay into me again rather than to fight but I slapped her as I hard as I could.  Which really isn’t a good idea, I think I sprained my wrist.  She did go down to the floor, although I think that was more out of the shock of being hit more than the force of the blow – I would imagine that the chaperone to a Baroness doesn’t get struck a lot.  Well, depending on the Baroness.  Also sometimes I forget that I’m wearing a magic strength belt – it was probably a heck of a slap.  Whatever the case it got the ball rolling.  She charged at me and we tumbled into the hallway in a tangle of limbs.

Unless you count the time mother Hurk beat the shit out of me I’ve never been in a fist-fight before.  I suppose there’s no reason I should be but I did have a whole three days of training with Hlebinksy in the fighting arts.  He’s dead now I hear, I should have brought him back instead – I think he at least would have appreciated it.  Plus, while it’s not exactly the same thing, I have been in (sadly) numerous serious kill you weapons fights so I at least knew the theory of trying not to get hit and hitting back.  Hardra clearly did not.  I’m confident that I could have beat the crap out of her but I didn’t see how that would be helpful so it was more of a mock-fight from my point of view.  I let her get in a few good hits before the staff came and restrained us – they’re really good at that on account of they spend their days grabbing crazies.

Dr. Sugarcane (if that is her real name) came running up “What on earth are you doing?”

I grinned at her with my bloody mouth “Therapy.”

A few minutes later we were in the infirmary getting fussed at by a nurse who thankfully did not look familiar at all.

“Do you feel better now?”

“No.”

“What was going on at the Manor when you returned from the dead?  Was the Baron back?  Were the Kostelos already there?”

“I don’t know.  All I did for the first few days and scream and cry.  And after that . . . I was overwhelmed with desires . . . of a sexual nature.  My behavior was inappropriate.  I was kicked out of the manor.  After that I was . . . . I was . . . . . eventually those religious people grabbed me and stuck me in here.  It’s all fuzzy, I don’t really remember.”

“So you don’t know anything.” She shook her head “Do you know what happened to Tudos?”

“I . . . I remember him being there.  Sometimes.  I think he was trying to help me.  I don’t . . . I don’t know what happened to him.”

“Maybe you should find him.  Give yourself a goal, something to work towards.  That time the bounty hunters came for me why did you think they were after you?”

“My name isn’t really Hardra, its Veda.  I came to the Baroness under false pretenses.  I knew the woman who was supposed to show up wasn’t going to make it so I took her place.  I crafted a new life for myself.  Veda was wanted for falsification of royal documents, disruption of trade, and the transportation of foreign nationals.”

“You were a criminal?”

“No, I just tried to do the right thing.”

“There’s your problem.”

I ripped off the bandage the nurse had put on my forehead and took a drink from my Flask for healing – all the cuts and bruises and marks that Harda had put on me disappearing instantly.  She watched with wide eyes.   

She shook her head “Something terrible needs to happen to you.”

I dropped her a sassy wink “It already did.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 953,251

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe  

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 (700), 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, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, 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

Montagem 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After a couple hours of walking today Martialla said that we needed to cross the river.  It was at this point I noticed that we were on the  side of the river.  How the Hells did that happen?  I know we were on the left side before – Obsis is WEST of the Scale River, the West I say!  Assuming that’s the river we’ve been following.  There’s too many damn rivers around here.

“What happened?  Did we get lost following a river?!”

“No, it’s just the asylum is across the river.”

“But the river is on the other side!”

“The other side of what?’

“We were heading north along the river and the river was on our right.  How did it get on the left?”

“The river bends to the east, besides this isn’t the river this is Turkey Creek, which splits off from the Hairpin river, which splits off from the Lower Scale which splits off from the North Umberlee.”

“You don’t know, you’re not a river . . . . . woman.  I wanted to say oceanographer but that’s for oceans.  What do you call a river expert?”

“A loser.”

“But how did we get on the other side?  If this is the Turkey Creek why is on the left and which way are we going?”

“We crossed the river, the other river I mean, yesterday.”

“We did?”

“Do you really want to talk about this?” She pointed “There’s the asylum right there, it’s on the other side – can we just go?”

I peered into the distance “Huh.  Is there a bridge somewhere?”

“How would I know?”

“Is this a ford?  Can we just walk across?”

“How would I know?”

“Well what do you know?!”

She held up a fist “One of these days Ela, one of these days.”

“You wish.  I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world.  I don’t love the idea of trying to paddle across if the water is deep.  This looks pretty big for a creek if you ask me, more like a river.  Is there a way to tell where a good place to cross a river is?”

“Probably there is, but I don’t know it.  Do you want to put your arms around my neck while I swim like a little kid?”

“Actually yeah.”

She was taken aback “You do?”

“I know you were mocking me but I think it would be a good idea.”

“Wow, I . . . wow, okay.  Let’s do it.”

Here’s what I’m saying.  We saw a caravan cross the river unmolested.  We saw a couple boats and even a dumb canoe and they were all fine.  As soon as we were in the water and far enough away from the shore for it to be an issue I saw a dark shape in the water coming towards us.  I am not kidding, the MOMENT that we were in deep enough that we were swimming (well mostly Martialla, you can kick your legs when you’re clinging to someone else but it doesn’t help a ton – plus I was all tangled up in my coat) I saw it.  Like it was waiting for us.  Me specifically.  A million idiots could have crossed this river just fine but the moment I step foot in the waters something is trying to eat me. 

As you all know I don’t believe in fate or luck or anything like that, BUT curses are real – I know because I’ve been cursed like fifteen damn times.  And Gods and demons and otherworldly “things” are also real and can take an interest in fouling up your life.  Is there some inhuman creature that loves the Duke and knows that I’m after him and is taking measures to throw obstacles in my way?  If there is why don’t they just tell the Duke so he can send a hundred men to kill me?  Is that against the “rules”?  It gets into that whole territory of “why don’t the Gods just tell their followers what to do instead of being all coy?”  If you’re a devout and true cleric why do you have to cast a spell to talk to your God, and when you do why are their answers all cryptic and infuriating?  Some people speculate that the Gods have a compact with each other to only influence mortals to avoid a universe destroying God-fight.  That’s too convenient an explanation for me.  I think it’s more likely that the Gods aren’t as powerful as people think, they don’t really know what’s going on and they don’t have time to worry about everyone.  And I think even more likely than that is that irrespective of power they don’t really care enough to bother with us all the time.

“Crocodile!  Swim faster!”

“Yeah, grab me harder around the throat – that should help!”

I let go because I saw immediately there was going to be no way to escape – if there’s an aquatic animal slower than a swimming human I’ve never heard of it.  I mean beavers look like they can barely move on land but they can still swim circles around the best human swimmer in the world.  We don’t belong in the water.  It wasn’t a crocodile, it was a canoe-sized fish with a bunch of sharp teeth.  I don’t know what kind of fish it was, I’m not an icthologist, ictheologists, ickythorigst . . . I don’t know about fish.  I thought about grabbing Martialla’s rapier as I floated away, but trying to swim with a sword in your hand is a degree of difficulty I don’t need.  I probably would have lost it in the water.  I hadn’t really noticed a current before, but once I was on my own I quickly saw that I was being swept downstream faster than I was making it towards the shore. 

Martialla was thrashing in the water and wrestling with the giant fish (gar?  That’s a big killer fish right?) and still managed to make it to shore well before I did even after engaging in an aquatic knife against tooth fight.  She probably had to walk a half mile along the shore to catch me and drag me out of the water.

“What the Hells was that?”

I struggled to haul myself up, I felt like I had half the river soaking my clothing “I told you, I’m not the strongest swimmer.”

“You can say that again.”

“Get off my back, I’m not exactly dressed for swimming a river.  What was I supposed to do, strip naked?”

“You could have at least taken your jacket off.  You know, it would have been so easy to drown you just then.  Did you think about that?”

“Yes, it’s all I ever think about, use your magic to dry me off before I catch my death.”

She tied a strip of cloth around her bloody arm “Of course, of course, priorities.  I’m fine by the way.”

The asylum was a couple miles away from the river.  I didn’t see any kind of trails so I wonder how they get their supplies.  Also who bothers to pay for a bunch of crazies anyway?  I assumed that it was so far out of the way to protect people from the plague of madness but as we got closer I saw the place was huge.  It looked like a fortress, because it was at one time.  I tend to forgot how often the Kingdom is at war with whoever’s available and how much of the land has changed hands.  Fifty years ago (I think) this place would have been on the border with Vieland – and you need forts to keep those dirty Vielanders at bay.  Since the border is now far away (although not as far as when the current war started – I should see how that’s going) the fort apparently was turned into a nuthouse.  I guess that’s better than leaving it abandoned to become home to a clan of bugbears.

The two fellows at the front door were confused, they don’t get a lot of visitors here and never any unscheduled visitors (how do you schedule a visit?  Send a letter?) but they rallied quickly and went to find an administrator.  As we waited I turned to Martialla.

“So what do you think, is the place haunted and we’re going to be attacked by giests or are the unethical doctors turning the patients into monsters and we’re going to have to fight them?”

“What’s a giest?”

“It’s like a ghost only meatier.”

One of the guards or orderlies or escaped patients wearing the face of a guard or orderly showed us to an office where we were introduced to a surprisingly attractive lady doctor which long dark hair.  I would have thought working in a place like this you’d keep your hair short so the lunging lunatics couldn’t grab it.  If it wasn’t for her disgusting heterochromatic eyes she would have really been something.  We told her that we wanted to visit Hardra, and also we wanted to know why Hardra was there.  She took us to see another doctor, who I swear said that her name was Dr. Sugarcane – which upon hearing it I filed away as a great name for a drug dealer.  We repeated our request and then were taken to see Dr. Oathsday who then took us into another office to wait for the big bossman.  Three lady doctors on the staff, but a man’s in charge.  It’s so commonplace it’s almost not even worth commenting on.  As we waited I picked up some curious instrument off the desk and examined it.

“What does it mean to be a doctor?”

“That you went to school I guess.”

“I went to school, does that make me a doctor?”

“Maybe it has to be a doctor school.”

The head administrator, or warden, or owner, or escaped mental patient wearing the face of the head administer or warden or owner was an old man whose face was so saggy that it pulled his wrinkles smooth.  It was odd.  We was wearing spectacles but they were so dirty and smudged I don’t see how he could see – it would have been like looking out a filthy window.  We talked for a while and he flat out admitted that they were keeping Hardra there because they had been bribed to keep her there.

“Well, that’s a startling admission, usually I have to pull that kind of information out of people.”

He held is hands up helplessly “Running this facility is very expensive.  And the poor woman isn’t exactly well.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Being dead and then coming back to life is a traumatic experience.  She’s not adjusting well.”

“Are you helping her with that?” He rocked his hand back and forth in an “eh” gesture. “Aren’t you worried we’re going to tell someone?”

He shrugged “Who would care?  And if they did I would honestly be relieved if I was taken away from here.  Even to prison or the gibbet”

“So why do you stay?”

“Someone has to.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Well I’m in the right place for it.”

“That woman works for Baron Juost and we’re here to take her away.”

He nodded slightly “That’s fine.”

“It is?”

“I’m sure she’ll be better off with her friends.”

“What about the people that paid you to keep her here?”

He gave me a surprisingly shrewd look “I have a feeling they won’t be a problem anymore.  I’ll send someone to bring your friend.”

“Just tell us where she is, we’ll go and fetch her.”

“That wouldn’t be wise, there are some very dangerous people here.”

“Is this a prison too?  I thought this place was just for loons.  And of course people you’re paid to unlawfully incarcerate.”

“There are several people here who have committed murders of a ritual nature.”

“You mean serial killers?  What?!  Why?!”

“They were deemed to be mentally divergent, and therefore not responsible for their actions.  Executing them wouldn’t be just.”

“So what, you’re going to fix them and then turn them loose?”

“No, they’ll never leave her.”

“So then what’s the point?  It’s wrong to execute them so you just lock them up forever?”

He had no answer to that so we sat in silence for a while until two nurses – one of whom looked just like a vocal coach I worked with back at court – brought in Hardra.  I didn’t recognize her at first, I thought maybe they were trying to pull a fast one on us, but the eyes told me it was her.  Instead of blocky she was gaunt, which strangely had rounded off her hard features rather than making them stand out as you would expect.  Her perpetually frowning face looked tight and weathered, yet also younger looking somehow.  She was wearing a grey bodysuit type thing with a thick white sleeveless dress over it.  She didn’t look happy to see me. 

At all.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 953,251

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe  

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 (700), 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, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, 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

Montagem 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The only thing we saw on the river today was a canoe.  Who the fuck would travel down a river by canoe?  It’s madness.  However they were waved at as they paddled by.  I have the whelming urge to throw a rock at them, but I did not because it wasn’t an overwhelming urge and I am a good person.  One of the best really.  I suppose to be accurate I should say that the only rivercraft we saw on the water today was a canoe – early in the afternoon (late in the morning?) we did see a caravan “on” the river in the sense that it was crossing.  We stopped and watched as the drovers (that’s the right word isn’t it?) coaxed (beat) their animals into dragging wagons through the water – as nature intended.

“You know if I was a bandit I think this would be when I would attack caravans.  Hang out by the river and wait for someone to cross.  This way you can take them one half at a time.”

“Makes sense, but why are there here at all?  There’s not even a road.  This isn’t any kind of trade route.”

I shrugged “Maybe they’re avoiding bandits.”

“But if they came from that way they probably went right past the Faith Woods – isn’t that where ALL the bandits are.”

“Before they all died in Renwick.  Remember that?  Remember how everyone died in Renwick?  Maybe now that all the bandits are gone someone is trying to start a trade route from Coalmoth.  Trade routes have to come from somewhere right?  They don’t just start off with nice roads and lots of travelers, someone have to blaze the trail.”

“Coalmoth has nothing to trade anyone.”

“With Renwick destroyed maybe they’re coming up in the world.”

We waited for a giant crocodile or a bunyip or a boondoggle to attack them as they crossed the river but nothing happened.  They just made their way safely and secure across (I forget which river this is) which I have to admit is irksome.  I guarantee you if I had been with that caravan when we tried to cross the river we would have been attacked by freshwater river cyclops or the river would have been an illusion and we could have fallen into an underground lair of a gorgimera or some other damn thing.  And I suppose to be one hundred percent accurate I should say that the canoe and the caravan were the only things we saw on the river that weren’t the severed heads of dragons.  In the afternoon (if Martialla tells it was right after I had a “hissy-fit” about the quality of lunch she’s lying) I saw a dark shape bobbing along in the water that I assumed at first was a tangle of tree branches or a dead bear or something like that.  Once I saw the giant yellow eye I took a closer look.

There aren’t many creatures that retain any hint of splendor or dignity post-decapitation but I can tell you now that a dragon’s head is still pretty fearsome even once it’s been separated from the body.  Just looking at it gave me a little jolt of fear through the old spine.  I halfway (maybe three-quarters of the way) expected it to come alive and start chomping through the waters after me.  Dragons are unrepentant assholes but it’s always a little sad to me when one dies – they’re so rare and extraordinary that even though they slaughter entire towns for laughs its a little melancholy when one dies.  Something unique has left the world.  I mean consider this, dragons are so much more powerful than humans or elfs or orcs or what have you that can you really blame them for not caring about us?  Think about ants.  If ants started talking would you crush them any less?  Maybe a little, but if they get in your house they’re going to get the boot even if they scream when you crush them.

The head was longer than I am tall and maybe half as wide – I’m no expert in dragons (yet) but it looked rather, skinny isn’t the right word, but maybe serpentine?  The scales looked sunken right up against the bone – like there wasn’t a lot of dragonmeat on them dragonbones.  Maybe the dragon had an eating disorder.  If every talked about your ravenous appetite all the time it might get to you too.  At first glance you’d say the scales were dark as midnight (like when there’s clouds or something and its dark at midnight) but it wasn’t like that exactly, there was a predominance of onyx-black but there were marks and accents in dark blues and vivid purples.  Even in death it was quite a sight to see.

Martialla whistled “Well, that’s not something you see every day.”

“We should see where the lair is, I hear dragons are into hoarding treasure.”

Martialla looked around “Where would a dragon lair be?  I thought they lived in mountains, or maybe clouds.  Plus don’t you think whatever killed it took the treasure?  Plus that head could have been floating downriver for hundreds of miles, why would the lair even be around here?”

“What else do we have to do?”

“Rescue Hardra.  Free the Baron.  Get revenge on various people.”

“Sure, but what’s the hurry?”

“I’m going to remind you of this next time you’re complaining about how you get diverted from your goals like it’s not something you have control over.”

“How about I remind you to shut your yap?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

We never did find the lair but it was easy to find where the dragonfight had started – a little ways upriver and we found the trailed of seared land where its blood had fallen.  Some people say that dragon blood is poisonous – it certainly doesn’t do grass any favors.  Again, I don’t claim to be an expert but it looked to me like the dragon had been injured badly enough that it couldn’t fly and was making a dash for the river – maybe to swim for it?  Following the trail of blackened vegetation and scorched earth we saw a campsite of sorts with a several makeshift drying racks upon which were stretched big swaths of dragonskin.  Bustling about a large central firepit doing whatever it is one does to cure (tan?) hides were four dwarfs.  Before I even saw him I recognized the booming voice (and thunderous flatulence) of one Bonder Greysmith dwarf exile and famous adventurer/murderer.  He was carrying on in his ridiculous accent instructing the other three on the proper technique for monetizing a dead dragon. 

Martialla must have noticed a look on my face “Another friend of yours?”

“Yes, from back in the early days.  I went on a caper with him and his friends in Malgareth, or Heathgrove, whichever one is less of a shithole.”

“What went wrong?”

“They’re adventurers.” 

“Ah.”

“He must have had a falling out with his old crew, those are all dwarfs down there and his other band was the standard multi-cultural adventurer mix.  I’m not sure if that makes him more dangerous or less.”

“How dangerous was he before?”

“Obscenely.  I wouldn’t want to go up against him.”

“You don’t want to go up against anyone.”

“Fair, but with good reason this time.”

“What do you think?”

“Well I’m told that dwarfs are goodly and wise folk, I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet but still I’d like to talk to those friends of his down there and see if they’re violent exiles like him or ‘normal’.  Maybe we can get them on our side.  Do you think you can lure him away for a while?”

“Which one is he?”

“The one that’s a man.”

“Which one is a man?”

“Hilarious.  Can you do it or not?”

I asked her what her plan was but said she was “just going to wing it” and headed down.  I think that was supposed to be some kind of swipe at me but let’s see how well she’d do if she had to come up with plans all the time.  Whatever she did it worked.  The dwarf quartet didn’t seem alarmed at her strolling up their dragon rendering camp and after a few minutes she and Bonder walked off heading towards the river.  I waited until they were out of sight and then covered myself with the appearance of a random wanderer and approached myself.  The three dwarf maids were conveniently color coded – blonde, brunette and redhead.  They seemed youngish for dwarfs, although it’s hard to tell really.  Also what’s young for a dwarf?  Sixty?  Unfortunately I saw that the first two were both Strider priests (I thought dwarfs had their own gods) although since I’m in disguise that shouldn’t be an issue even if they have heard of me.   They were definitely on guard as I walked up, not sure if it’s because Bonder wasn’t there or because it was the second stranger approaching them in short time period. 

I held my hands up “At ease ladies, I’m not here to cause trouble.”

We chatted for a bit, the blonde who said her name was something or other (I thought she sad Gutnish but that can’t be right) Bellringer is Bonder’s niece and the redhead is related to him in some dwarf way that I didn’t quite follow.  The other one was the daughter of a former adventuring companion of Bonder’s and they had sought him out so he could show them the ins and outs of the adventurer lifestyle.  They weren’t exiles exactly, Bellringer’s mother (Bonder’s sister) was also an exile so she grew up amongst people and the other two had been in the Kingdom from a young age as well by circumstance.  They were very forthcoming but eventually the redhead asked me who I was and why I was asking so many questions.

I paused for dramatic effect “I’m from Malgareth, it’s down south a ways if you haven’t heard of it.  I just happened across you here.” I blew out a long breath and continued ‘reluctantly’ “I don’t mean to cast aspersions, but your uncle . . . do you really know what kind of man he is?   I don’t claim to know much about dwarf culture, but I understand a little bit of youthful rebellion, thumbing your nose at the old timers and having some fun without really doing anything bad.  You probably think that’s what you’re doing here going ton quests with this man . . . . but I think you need to be very careful with Bonder Greysmith.”

I told them about how it all went down, how Bonder and his friends went on a killing rampage when they thought that they had been cheated (which they had but I didn’t mention that) including cutting down the lawful authorities that tried to stop them and then escaping like the criminals they are.  They didn’t want to believe it at first but I can be very convincing – and I had something on my side that helps, what I was saying was the cold plain truth of the matter.  I was around Bonder enough to know that he’s a true mercenary and a stone killer.  He’s not some raving lunatic psychopath, he acts like a normal person, but what he’s after is coin and he doesn’t care who gets hurt for him to get it.  Morality  means nothing to him, let alone a silly thing like the law. 

“I’ve seen him in action and it is terrifying.  There’s nothing in those eyes, when he kills people it’s not hatred or battle lust – there’s no more emotion there than a woodcutter working on a quota.  I don’t know you, I don’t know if you care about that but there’s two things you should care about either way.  One, he’s wanted man.  There’s a price on his head and if you’re hanging around with him you’re not safe from the law.  And two, you’re not safe from him either.  He’s an exile, a kinslayer, a murderer, an oathbreaker, and a traitor – you are safe from him only so long as it makes him money.  As soon as it’s more profitable for him to take you out.” I snapped my fingers.

“How do you know all of this?”

“Because I was there that night at the Sabre.  I saw it.  I saw the whole thing.  Bonder killed the bodyguards of the woman he thought stole from him.  He killed the city watch.  He killed the innkeeper and his wife.  He killed anyone he could reach.  I thought for sure that I was going to die.  I hid in the corner and I prayed to Adariel to keep me safe.  I squeezed my eyes shut and wept like a baby as I heard the sounds of killing.  When I opened them he was gone and I hoped to never see Bonder Greysmith again.  But then I did, and I knew, I knew that I had to warn you.”

Bellringer shook her head, not in disagreement but in disbelief “What can we do?”

“I don’t know, all I know is that I had to tell you the truth.”

Bonder returned a little while later muttering about a “blue-balling bitch” and not noticing me for a moment.  When he did he seemed unwarrantedly upset about my presence.  He started blustering about that when his three relatives/trainees confronted him with that I had told them.  He tried to keep his temper for a little while, saying that the story had been misconstrued but he quickly lost his cool and started in with a little speech about how there is no good and evil, there is only power.  This didn’t go over well with the dwarfs three and when he said that being a great dwarf warrior means that you’re above the laws of the short-lived races they were done. 

Bellringer backed away from the bristling dwarf warrior, raising a crossbow “Uncle you leave us no choice but to believe these accusations. You must come with us to Malgareth to speak with the authorities there.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more incredulous look “You dare to raise a weapon to me?  Othok ekonum ardol?!  Tha var drakna kadeek!”

I don’t speak dwarf but I’m pretty sure he was calling her names you’re not supposed to call a lady.  His axe was in his hand like magic (pretty sure it was literally magic) and he was advancing on her like a rolling bank of storm-clouds.  I doubt it even occurred to her to fire, she cowered before him like an hours old lamb before a dire lion.  She would have died with a single stroke had her red-haired pal not blocked the attack with some kind of complicated dwarf spear/axe/thing.  This seemed to enrage him even more.  I told a bit of a fib before, I have seen Bonder fight and it’s not the calculating emotionless workaday thing that I said it was – he’s all bloodlust.  I’ve seen battle fury a time and two and this had all the earmarks of a classic case.  Rage in a fight is generally not a good thing, not at all, but I guess if you go far enough around the bend it circles back around.

In Malgareth (or Heathgrove) when I first met this gentleman no power in the Heavens, the Hells, or anywhere in-between would have persuaded me to stand against him in a fight no matter what the odds were.  But things have changed.  I’ve changed.  I’m no great warrior, but in a five against one scenario?  I had no problem hitting him in the back of the head when his attention was elsewhere.  How far I’ve come.  If we’re being honest, and I feel like we are, Martialla did most of the damage with her spells.  Dwarfs are reputed to be resilient to magic but I didn’t see any evidence of that, must be bold talk.  Once Bonder was down and out of the fight I walked up and turned the head of my Walking Stick into a real live snake as it does and had it bite him in the neck.  Dwarfs are also supposed to be hard to poison so I let it chew on him for a while to make sure a good amount of venom got in there.  Bellringer moved to stop me but Martialla blocked her.

Bellringer looked on in alarm “You don’t have to do that!”

“He’s too dangerous to leave alive.”

Even though I was completely right they weren’t pleased by this cold blooded murder – seems to be my lot in life.  Wasn’t there some broad in the olden times that knew the future but was cursed to have no one listen to her?  I’m kind of like that.  Only, you know, different.  On the plus side they left the area immediately in their anger so they didn’t have to endure the sight us looting his body.  He had a journal full of weird dwarf-scribbles.  Maybe if I find someone who can read dwarfish it can tell me where his friends might be.

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 953,251

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe  

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 (700), 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, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, 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