Macendamandel 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Today I saw a wildcat of some variety chasing after a hare.  They flashed across my path for just a few seconds before disappearing into the scrub.  At first it looked like they were going straight for the river before they turned off.  Hares and wildcats are both renowned leapers but I assume they can’t vault over a river.  That would have been something to see if they could.  Nature is awful and should all be cleared away to make room for more cities but there are some things we can learn from it.  When a cat pounces at a hare the hare doesn’t complain about how unfair life is, it doesn’t whine about its hard childhood, it doesn’t bemoan the fairness of the world.  It runs for its fucking life.  And if it gets away it goes back to nibbling on summer lilac, butterfly-bush, and orange eye – it doesn’t dwell on the fact that it was almost ripped to shreds by cat claws.

And the bushy tailed wildcat doesn’t worry about morality or agonize over what to do – it needs to eat so it attacks.  The end.  It either lives or dies by its own wits and strength.  Either it eats the hare or it starve to death.  It doesn’t worry about the hare and the hare’s hopes and dreams and it’s little hare children.  I does what it does do and it doesn’t worry about it.  Life on the ragged edge.  Clearly human life is a little more complicated than that of a cat or a hre but there are still some gems to be gleaned there.  Don’t dwell on the past.  Keep moving forward.  Don’t hesitate.  As my grandmother used to say if you have to sleep with a disgusting man waiting isn’t going to make him any less revolting – if anything the opposite.

Being exceptional is not normal by definition.  I made the decision to be this way. I made the conscious decision to act and become this.  When the chips were down and everything was against me it would have been easy, so easy, to slink away into the darkness and never be heard from again.  No one wants to be uncomfortable.  No one wants a real challenge.  No one wants to be afraid.  But that’s what I have to do to reach my goals.  I can trace most of the real problems I’ve created for myself to silence and hesitation. I didn’t speak up when I should have.  I didn’t take action when I needed to.

This is the kind of self-indulgent philosophizing that I become prone to when I’m alone for too long.  Is there anything more ridiculous than talking about being decisive and taking action?  Thankfully shortly before sundown I trudged into Gib’s Tor.  It’s a nothing town on the ass end of nowhere (which to be fair is the more interesting end of nowhere) but at least there are some people here.   It was significantly bigger than I was expecting though – there were probably more than THIRTY buildings.  And it wasn’t a one horse town because I saw a stable that had four horses in it.  Adding to the mix were several Kostelos tents, Ples Del’mer wagons, and some kind of dome-shaped things made from mountain goat hides that must be the home of choice for the mountain people. It was a real hodge-podge of humanity.  Had quite the frontier feel to it. 

The hag had told me to meet “her man” here and no other details were worth forthcoming about who this person might be or how to contact them.  But first things first, I went to the tavern the soldier (sailor?  He was in the army but he was on a boat.  I guess he was a marine?) had told me about and ordered some of their “pretty good” brandy.  It was in fact pretty good.  The food was slop but at least it was warm slop.  That’s another thing to hate about travel, you get so sick of dried salted meat that you’re glad to have warm slop.  I got a few mildly curious glances being a woman traveling alone, but there was a time when every eye would have been on me – and lingered too.  Because I would have been looking like the nobbiest nob from nob hill.  Now I just look like another drifter, a devastatingly pretty drifter obviously, but still just a drifter.  I blame the scar.  And the shabby clothing.  And the lack of bathing.  And everything else.   

Amazingly I saw someone I knew there.  She was older and dressed more plainly (sounds familiar) but I recognized the copper hair and smashed nose of Anies Peutre.  Last I knew she was minting counterfeit coins in Paladore, which is not the safest of professions, which is probably what ended her up here.  She was sitting at a table talking to a Kostelos with a fox-fur on his shoulders.  Funny how the same apparel can appeal to dirty barbarians and fancy rich ladies.  I was debating going up to talk to her and staying to continue drinking brandy (the brandy plan was getting a lot of support) when a fellow with short blonde hair and a sharp angular face wearing a ragbag of different clothes approached my table.  His voice was raspy like he had just climbed out of a coal mine.

“I’m to take you into the mountains.”

I gave him a once over “You’re the guy then?” He nodded “How did she get you?”

“Wife got sick.”

“How do you communicate with her?  Does she come to you in your dreams?”

“Come to my house tomorrow, it’s the one with the green door.  I’ll take you into the mountains.”

He started to turn “Wait.  Our mutual friend said that she needed me to take action because the other one – the one in the place you’re taking me – was gathering followers here in the real world.  Does she have her people in town?  What do you know about them?  What kind of shitstorm am I walking into here?”

He didn’t even turn fully around “I don’t know anything, I just know I’m to take you into the mountains.”

I smiled and dropped a sassy wink “Well you know one thing then don’t you?”

He walked out of the place without another word.  When I looked over Anies was gone as well.  Which is too bad, it would have nice to be able to gather a little intelligence about who might be in town and looking to stick a poison dagger in my flat taut and toned belly.  On the plus side I saw a group of people at a table in the corner playing cards with decent stacks of coins sitting around them.  I tossed back the last of my brandy and made my way over.

“Evening fellas.  Got room for one more?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6919 gold

XP: 1,199,351

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Yesterday’s swimming and beast-drowning reminded me of one of my grandmother’s favorite bits of wisdom – you can’t swim for someone else.  You can carry them for a little while but if they can’t swim on their own and you try to hand oto them all that happens is you both end up drowning.  I carried Martialla for a little while when we first met, but she could definitely swim on her own after that.  So why did she stick around?  If we had gone after Beltian Kruin right away she would have needed my help but not now.  After all the shit we went through now she’s fully capable of melting that skinny pigfucker to slag without even breaking a sweat.  While I’ve been slogging up this damn river she may have done it already.  He could be dead, which would cause a problem with my list.  But she stayed around because it’s always more fun to execute a degenerated piece of shit with your best buddy. 

I’m mildly disgusted with myself for mooning over her like a jilted lover but this isn’t anything I’ve experienced before.  I never had a friend so I never lost a friend.  I don’t know how to do it.  In my weakest of moments I think that maybe she’s just mad at me right now and we’ll cross paths again some day and then we’ll be friend again.  That feeling makes me more than mildly disgusted with myself because that’s like a child mewling for their parents to fix everything for them.  I did what I did and what happened happened, there’s no sense in being moody and emotional about it.  And yet, here I am doing just that.  Perhaps I haven’t hardened myself as much as I think.  I should work on that.

Another thing I need to work on is picking up the Gods damned pace getting to Gib’s Tor.  When I was sleeping last night I could tell that whatever dream shenanigans are going on my side is starting to lose their grip.  By my side of course I mean the horrible nightmare creature that wants to prolong my suffering instead of killing me now.  You know that.  I’ve only been headed upriver a few days now but it seems like forever.  I get this sentiment whenever I have to walk a long ways in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Why couldn’t the ancient empress had the good graces to die and have put her mortal remains in a more convenient location for me?   Just once I would like to be sent scaring off after some wild goose that happens to but just across town.  Just once.

Of course since I wanted to move quickly today it started raining.  Hard enough that I found some scabby hackberry trees to sit under and feel sorry for myself instead of forging ahead.  I wish I had some booze because nothing goes better with self-pity than alcohol.  I can’t even remember the last time I had a drink.  Now there’s a revolting development. So instead I enjoyed the lovely view of the new terrain that pops up after you cut down a forest.  Obnoxious little nettle bushes, heath, poppies, and other ugly crap like that.  There’s some kind of rule in nature that the tough hardy plants and animals are all unpleasant looking, makes you wonder how the fragile beautiful stuff makes it through.  Luckily for me I’m both tough and dazzlingly lovely.  Lucky for you too. 

The brown prickly landscape wasn’t improved at all by the rain turning everything to mud.  As the rain kept falling I saw hundreds of locust looking things crawling out of the wet earth to start scampering around.  Truly nature is a disgusting miracle.  As I sat there getting wetter, madder, and thirstier I realized that I was staring at something in the mud.  It was too straight to be anything natural but it was buried enough that I couldn’t tell exactly what it was.  I glared at it for a good hour before I decided to get even more soaked my leaving the dubious comfort of my gnarly trees to see what it was.  I feel like I have spent entirely too much time lately in wet clothing.  Maybe that’s to be expected while traveling along a river but it’s still putting me in a dour mood.

What I dug out of what was more of a slimy pile of rotten debris than mud was the remains of a fan – with the silk gone leaving just the wooden handle/case with a couple metal spines jutting out of it.  It almost looked like a weapon, something you’d snap open to stab someone in the face with.  That’s not a bad idea, whenever I get somewhere civilized again I should have a thing like this made that appears to be a collapsed fan but is actually a knife.  I’m surprised there’s not already something like that.  Although I suppose the makers of tricky hidden murder tools don’t usually craft them with women in mind.  Which is a real shame because women’s apparel has so many places to hide killing tools.  You could work a short blade into a corset easily enough.  For that matter if you made a magic corset that could fly onto a man that would probably kill them on the spot.  They’re fragile you know.

I saw a scrap of cloth in the mud that I thought might be part of the fan, I don’t know why I grabbed it because it’s not like it could be fixed, but I did.  It was not part of the fan, what it was was the sleeve of a dress – I know this on account of the hand that slurked out of the gunk when I pulled on the material.  At this juncture I’ve probably seen more dead bodies than a veteran soldier mustering out of the service after twenty years.  I have absolutely made more dead bodies than even the most bloodthirsty of army grunts.  I knew a fellow in Paladore that had fought in three major battles and had gone up the ladder in five sieges and he thought that he had probably killed thirty men.  I passed that mark in my first six months of exile I’d wager.  My point is that I’m not the kind to be rattled by a corpse.

Maybe it was just my mood, or maybe it was finding someone dead in all this slop, but for some reason this one really caught a hold of my insides and gave them a good squeeze.  I didn’t jump or scream or run away or anything, it just made me depressed.  I went back to my not-very-dry tree stand and sat down and just stared at that hand from across the way.  Here was a woman that had a life.  Hopes?  Maybe.  Dreams.  Maybe.  Fears and anxieties?  For certain.  Pain and hardship?  Definitely.  But maybe some good times too.  Someone had raised her up and kept her alive and put a lot of effort into making her a person and what became of it?  This definitely isn’t a grave – they don’t bury people face down in three inches of dirt – so probably someone killed her.  Or she just fell down because she was too tired or too hungry or too sad to go any further.  And that was it.  All that time and effort and resources come to nothing.

It’s almost enough to make you reconsider a life dedicated to revenge.  To give up your dreams of carnage and just resolve to live a life worth living – a life where you grab whatever happiness you can and let the past be the past.  Let go of your anger and become free to pursue whatever you want to do with your life.  Make things better if you want.  Help people if you want.  Be selfish and drunk if you want.  Do whatever you want to do.  Almost.

The longer I stared at that hand sticking up out of the ground the more it annoyed me.  I mean she didn’t even have a ring for me to loot.  Is that inconsiderate or what?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,199,351

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  I think that’s supposed to mean that things have gone from bad to worse.  But how else are you going to get out of a frying pan but for jumping into the flames?  Being in a fire sucks (sadly I know that for a fact) but you’re one step closer to getting out of the whole mess.  Things don’t have to get worse before they get better, but they usually do.  I bring this up because as I was traveling today an animal slash monster slash beast slash whatever came charging out of the brush at me.  Not sniffing around, not giving me a look, not growling or snorting, full on murder running at me. 

Even when a human runs at you with a weapon ready to kill you in a way it’s not fully intimidating because people aren’t very graceful runners, especially when they have an ax in their hand as well.  It takes a damn good bit of coordination to actually charge at someone with a weapon and hit them.  You ever see a group of untrained soldiers try it for the first time?  Fully half of them go down faster than etcetera etcetera etcetera crass sexual comment here.

But when a dangerous animal (or whatever) runs at you it’s pretty terrifying because they’re great at running and killing things while running.  That’s their whole deal.  I’ve seen dogs loosed at people, I’ve done it myself a time or two, it’s obscene how strong and fast they are.  The thing that came me was doggish but with strong overtones of boar and weasel as well as deer-ears just to round things out.  It was lanky and somewhat ill-formed looking to the eye like a greyhound or a cheetah but guess what greyhounds and cheetahs have in common.  They’re fucking fast.  Cheetahs are much faster though, I’ve seen the evidence.  I had a split second to react and what reaction was was to jump in the river. 

You maybe be thinking “Ela, that doesn’t seem like a good idea for several reasons – it can probably swim too and you’re not a good swimmer.  Plus just yesterday you saw a giant fish-monster in that very river.”  Too true, too true.  But what you have to figure is that if I lose half my speed in the water and the boar-dog-weasel does as well it’s losing a lot more than I am.  If you have a thousand men and your enemy has ten thousand and you have an attack that will cost you both half your men you definitely should do it.  But you’re still outnumbered ten to one you say?  Sure, but you’re only outnumbered by forty-five hundred instead of nine thousand.  This is the kind of math you have to think about when you’re always on the short end of the stick like I am.  It’s amazing that I always manage to triumph given the odds against me every step of the way.

As for potential river monsters, well better the devil you don’t know.  That’s the expression right?  That long strange body that was so great at running was less great at swimming.  It was still gaining on me in the river, but it was at a much slower rate.  I was right is what I’m saying.  As it closed in I realized another good reason to be in the water – I, as a human being (a glorious example of one but still just a human woman) have hands.  It was surprisingly easy to turn and push the beast’s head under water as it came at me.  It thrashed around some, but it was rather simple to down it – I’ll have to remember that for future encounters.  One of the advantages of being a biped.  Thanks primitive humans who decided to stand upright, if you weren’t already dead already I’d really owe you one. 

The bad news, because per the laws of reality nothing can ever be an unmitigated success for me, is that during the drowning time I was swept a goodly ways down river.  It was probably more than a mile.  I’ve said it before but you always underestimate how strong the current in a river could be.  It took me maybe another half a mile of being swept to paddle to land.  When I managed to pull myself up onto shore I saw that I wasn’t alone.  Standing on the riverbank was woman with a sun-burned face despite her broad black hat wearing strange puffy pants and a ragged white shirt that looked several sizes too big for her.  Or maybe she just lost a lot of weight recently – in the upper body.  Framing her peeling face was long dark hair that looked to be both tangled and in need of a good washing.  She seemed decidedly uncurious about a woman climbing out of the river.

I nodded at her “Thanks for helping me out there.  I really appreciate it.”

“Is that a cape?”

“It’s a cloak, for hunting vampires.  Vampire are the ones that wear capes, the people that hunt them wear cloaks.  Vampires hold their capes out like wings to turn into bats, vampire hunters wear cloaks so they can wrap them around themselves and turn into shaggy mountain dogs.”

“Is that a true story?”

“It’s certainly true that it’s a story.  What brings you out this way?  You don’t look like a Kostelos horsewoman.  Did you try to commit suicide and then get swept upriver to become a priestess to a minor God?  Or are you from the convent?  Or are you from the military ship?  For a land that’s supposed to be empty I seem to be running into a lot of people.”

“Neva Firare.”

“What’s that?  That doesn’t tell me anything.”

“That me, that’s my name.”

“Huh.  Sounds like an Ulpine name.” She nodded “Are you Ulpinese?” She nodded again “Oh.  I feel like we should battle then or something since our countries are at war.  Although we’re both civilians so I’m not sure what the protocol is.”

She looked around “Am I in the Kingdom now?”

“You sure are.  At least I think that you are, I haven’t seen a map recently, but I heard that we won a big victory that knocked you dirty reject barbarians out of the war so it seems unlikely that you would have seized territory this far north.”

She continued to peer at landmarks “I was told that we were winning the war.”

“That’s propaganda for you, I can assure you that you’re not though.  My government tells me the truth.”

“That’s disconcerting.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for my husband.  What were you doing in the river?”

“Drowning a deadly beast.  In addition to being a vampire hunter I’m also a general slayer of monsters.  And a spycatcher, but don’t worry I only catch Vieland spies.  Frankly I was told that the Ulpine were too stupid and primitive to have an espionage arm.  No offense.”

“None taken.”

“You’re not a spy are you?”

“Not that I know of.  Was the beast you killed something like a wolf?  I was just at a village where they were saying everyone was being killed by a canine beast that was something like a wolf.  Only longer.  And immune to arrows they said.”

“It was something like a wolf.  Good thing I drowned it instead of trying to shoot it eh?  You think they would pony up a reward of some kind for killing it?  A reward worth finding and dragging the carcass out of the water?”

She shrugged “It didn’t seem like they had much to give anyone, even themselves.  There’s not a lot out here for them to have to give.  Makes you wonder why we’re even fighting over this land.”

“That’s just how nations pass the time, it’s like knitting for people, or getting drunk – it’s a hobby.  I mean what else are they going to do?  Public works projects?  So what’s the story with your husband?  Is he a soldier?”

She shook her head “No, but they sent him to fight anyway.  I got letters for the first few months, then after the Battle of Gevudan I didn’t hear from him anymore.  I thought he was killed or captured or maybe just lost.  I don’t know what I thought, I just want to find him.”

“Gevudan?  There’s been no battle there, also that’s a ways to the south.  How long ago did the letters stop coming?”

“How long has the war being going on now?”

“Difficult to say exactly when the previous war ended and this one got spun up but I’d say at least three years now.  Give or take.”

“Probably about two years then.”

“And you’ve been wandering around the border all this time?!”

“It’s been . . . . . difficult.”

“I would fucking imagine!”

I was thinking how mad she must be when I realized that I didn’t have to imagine, I had been wandering around for almost two years myself.  And even though her husband is one hundred percent likely dead her quest is probably less of a longshot than mine is.  It’s an odd feeling when you’re about to judge someone very harshly and then realize that their behavior is the same as yours almost exactly.   Self-awareness, it’s a sneaky bitch.

“Well, good luck finding your husband I guess.  You must really love him huh?”

“Actually he’s an asshole, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Good Gods woman, that is about the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,199,351

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Out of character interlude – magic items

I was accused of being “a little down” last night. I denied it but maybe it’s true because I don’t feel like writing anything today. But I am required to by the terms of my probation so here’s some magic items Ela picked up. You know, in case you still play an outdated version of an RPG that’s getting blown away by 5th edition D&D and you’re not satisfied with the 17 zillion magic items that already exist. As a special treat they have no prices or requirements to make them!

Remember the card game Rage? I do. It was great.

Blessed Robes

+5 Armor bonus to AC

When struck by a critical hit or sneak attack, the wearer can spend an immediate action to negate the critical hit or sneak attack (similar to the fortification armor special ability, but without requiring a roll). The damage is instead rolled normally. This ability functions once per day.

Melee weapons wielded by the wearer strike true against evil foes. The weapon is treated as having a +1 enhancement bonus for the purpose of bypassing the DR of evil creatures or striking evil incorporeal creatures (though the spell doesn’t grant an actual enhancement bonus). The weapon also becomes good-aligned, which means it can bypass the DR of certain creatures. (This effect overrides and suppresses any other alignment the weapon might have.)

Vampire Hunter’s Cloak

The wearer gains a +2 resistance bonus on all saving throws against negative energy and level drain, and whenever he makes a Fortitude save to recover from a negative level, he may roll the save twice, taking the better of the two results as the actual result.

Once per day, the wearer can target an undead creature with a halt undead effect (Will DC 14 negates) as a swift action.

The wearer can infuse a single melee weapon she wields with the purifying light of the sun as a swift action for up to ten rounds per day. These rounds do not need to be consecutive. While a weapon is infused with the sun, it deals +1d6 points of damage to any undead creature that is susceptible or vulnerable to sunlight, such as specters, vampires, and wraiths. A weapon infused with sun strike sheds illumination as if it were a sunrod.

Macendamandel 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Of the many cold shoulders I’ve gotten over the last two years this one ranks as the most discourteous.  I kill two vampires for these religious broads and they turn me out without so much as a how do you do?  Disgraceful.  Sure killing the vampires was easy but that’s because I’m magnificent.  My magnificence shouldn’t be held against me.  Lashmi abandoning me is no big deal, she was a Striderian after all so what else would I have expected?  In truth I’m lucky that she didn’t try to kill me to win favor with her stupid shabby itinerate God.  I mean seriously, what kind of occupation for a deity is traveler?  Of course that ignores the even more interesting question of why Gods should have occupations at all.  Does Demuren need to pay rent?  Does Eltara need some scratch because she has an eye on whatever the forge-God makes and sells?  Gods with jobs, there’s a horrifying concept that no one seems to understand – if the Gods have to work for a living eternally what hope is there for us?

Some say that death cancels all debts, but the priests of Odobenine and their Church of Deals goes quite the opposite way – to that faith there is no greater sin than dying with your debts unpaid.  A sin that is punished with many lifetimes worth of servitude in the afterlife.  It almost makes you think that Odobenine must be right because no person would create a mythos so bleak.  No sane person anyway.  The problem with insane people is they always catch you off guard because you can’t even imagine what they think.  It’s like when Haimatt fought the Master of Many on the Bridge of Kumort – at first the Master was able to block Haimatt’s every attack because he was so skilled at reading the intentions of his opponents.  Haimatt was only able to prevail when he unleashed the madness inside him and attacked without thought or pattern.

But all that mumbo-jumbo is neither here nor there (nor anywhere else) what’s real is that I am heading north along the Pipestone alone heading towards Gib’s Tor.  I never thought of myself as one of those people that needs to be around other people – back at court I was never happy, but I was always less unhappy when I was alone.  But that was an entirely different situation.  I find now that trudging alone through the deforested wilderness gives me time to think and that’s not entirely welcome.  Too much time to think turns to pointless rumination about what should be or what could have been done.  And that manner self-flagellation does no good for anyone, except the religious types maybe.  What is is what is and you just have to deal with it and move forward.  There’s nothing for it. 

Early in the morning I saw some Kostelos riders watching me far off to the northeast.  Despite the good chance of decapitation I almost wished they would approach me just so I could have someone to talk too.  Plus I might get a horse out of the deal.  They were shaggy wild little things but I didn’t even know there were Kostelos that husbanded horses so that’s something.  They didn’t come anywhere near me though, they watched for more than an hour probably and then rode off.  That was the extent of the morning’s entertainment but things got interesting again later in the day. 

From a goodly distance off I saw a ship up ahead.  As I got closer I realized that it wasn’t moving.  As I got closer still I realized that it was canted off center a good fifteen degrees or so.  I assumed it was hung up on a reef (do they have those in rivers?) or rocks or whatever boats get hung up on in rivers but as I got closer still I saw that one side of the hull was staved in and protruding from that side was a massive fish.  It was the size of a small watercraft itself and it was covered with hard scales like a crocodile as well as seemingly random boney knobs. 

There were men in the water and on both banks, and more men climbing all over the ship as well – carrying supplies to the shore and hauling on ropes and generally shouting and cursing at one another.  Some folks on the east shore were pulling on strands attached around the tail of the beast and with a last heave pulled it free to reveal that the piscine abomination had horns like a bull.  Out of the many strange beings I’ve seen you wouldn’t think that a fish with horns would rate that high but it was the damndest sight.

When the colossal fish was pulled free I expected the ship to dramatically shift as a result and send men on the deck flying but it didn’t move at all that I could tell – must be run aground as well as fish-rammed.  What did happen is the river was dyed dark as the bloody head of the dead creature was yanked free to run into the water.  I approached the dozen or so shirtless and/or waterlogged men loitering on the east bank watching while other men continued to work and dipping cups into a barrel.  Said shirts, hung out to dry or clinging to their owners, were those of the King’s Own.  Or Queen’s I guess.  Royal soldiers is the point.  I directed my remarks to a mustachioed fellow who though bare-chested had his cap on, I took this to mean he was in charge.  Hats equal authority eight times out of eleven.

“Having some trouble with your ship?”

He glanced at the listing holed boat in the middle of the river “No, no trouble, why do you ask?”

“I noticed that your flag was flying upside down, I thought that was a signal for help.”

He grinned “Come running to help us poor lads did you?”

“I could do no less, every citizen of the Kingdom must do their part and so forth and so on.  What are the King’s men doing on this desolate patch of river?”

“Don’t you mean Queen’s?”

“Haven’t you heard?  She’s remarried thank the Gods.  Can’t have a woman in control of the country can we?  What would become of us?  Here’s what you’d get with a woman running the Kingdom.  Murder.  All the time.  Everyone’s going to be murdering each other.  And mail fraid.  Your wives will lose their virtue, having sex willy-nilly all over the place with lots of different men.”

“Thank goodness that’s over.  What we’re doing here is patrolling the river in case the Ulpine or the Vielanders try to sneak an army in by river.”

“Given that there’s an army of Vielanders sneaking in through the Lodge Forest right now that seems pretty unlikely – especially with all the great victories we keep hearing about our side winning.  How many armies can they have left at this point?”

“I always sat the best place to look for the enemy is where they aren’t.  You never know what kind of devious schemes our enemies are capable of, it’s only through our courage and the grace of the Gods that we’re still here at all – surrounded my enemies like we are, both at home and abroad.”

“Wise words.”

“And what are you doing out here that you were able to rush to our aid with such alacrity?”

“Hunting vampires.  I’m a famous vampire hunter, you’ve probably heard of me – Baroness Cisastasia Sarovna tussenvoegsel Cobradefreytagy.  Just yesterday I killed two vampires at a convent down the river.”

He touched two muddy fingers to his forehead “My Lady.”

“No, no, please, no reason to stand on ceremony.”

“Vampire hunting sounds like an even worse line of work than soldiering, how does one get into that field?”

“Oh, it’s a family thing.  My grandfather was a successful vampire hunter and he passed on the business to my father.  My brother was all set to take over when he choked on a clove of garlic ironically, what else could I do but step into the breach?  I had to give up a very promising career as an opera singer don’t you know, but family comes first.” 

“A most noble of sacrifices.  How many vampires have you killed?”

I gave a world-weary sigh “Oh, I used to keep track when I first started, I even had all their vampire skulls in a room in my basement all organized and documented with the tale of their destruction. But after the first fifty or so it becomes a blur, you know how it is with work, after a while you don’t pay close attention anymore.  Hundreds certainly.  Thousands perhaps at this point.  I’m undoubtedly the most prolific vampire killer the world has ever known.”

“Wow, that’s quite impressive.  Were they all vampires or did a couple normal people sneak in there?”

“That’s the nice thing about it, legally anyone I kill is classified as a vampire – liability reasons and so forth.  Can’t have my important work being interfered with now can we?”

He chuckled “Certainly not.”

“I’m heading to Gib’s Tor, looks like once you’ve got this scow right-side up you’re heading downriver.” He nodded “Well then, I guess I can’t ask you for a ride.  Do you know anything about Gib’s Tor?”

“We stop there often.  There’s no vampires that I’ve noticed but I don’t have a professional eye for them like you.  It’s a nothing town on the ass-end of nowhere, not even sure why it is there.  Lot of half-orcs there for some reason.  I guess because there’s orcs in the mountains.  There’s a tavern there that has terrible whiskey, worse beer, and pretty good brandy.”

“I wouldn’t have taken you for a brandy drinker.”

He glanced at his foundering vessel “Well, as they say, any port in a storm eh?”  

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

This replacement Martialla isn’t working out well at all.  Lashmi doesn’t talk much and when she does she never has anything remotely interesting to say.  I expected her to at least have some entertaining and grotesque and gruesome stories from her old days working the streets but she never talks about it.  It’s like she wants to forget being a sex worker or something.  I told her she should make a list of all the clients she had that were particularly unpleasant and then enact some form of petty, or not so petty revenge, on them but she wasn’t the least bit interested.  What’s even worse though than her taciturnicty is that she doesn’t seem to realize how great all the stuff I’m saying is – and trust me what I’m saying is pure gold. 

Here’s a good example of why she probably isn’t going to pan out as my new sidekick.  Once I determined that we were dealing with a vampire I had the priestess superior roust all the nuns and herd them outside to see if any of them would burst into flames and die.  They even wheeled Sister Agata out still strapped to her infirmary bed.  None of them did burst into flames, but it’s an overcast day so maybe a vampire is among them, best to keep an eye on them anyway.  I asked if anyone was missing and sure as shit they eventually figured out (took forever, I expected nuns to be more organized) that Sister Loke was not in the gathering.  For some reason they all thought this meant she had been killed by the vampire rather than that was the vampire.  People are strange. 

At this point is Lashmi suggested that we search the abbey, which is foolishness because clearly we need to search the crypts – where else is a vampire going to be hiding?  Martialla would have never suggested anything so stupid.  The priestess superior insisted that we would not be allowed into the catacombs under any circumstances while she continued to insist just as strenuously that there is no such thing as vampires.  I hate the part of the book where the protagonist is trying to convince everyone that they’re dealing with a vampire (or whatever) and everyone else insists on denying it even though all the evidence is in front of them.  Seemed unrealistic to me, but here I am.  I’m not even sure Lashmi believes there really is a vampire.  Martialla would be sharpening stakes right now.  She’d probably already have some pre-sharpened stakes in her bag.   

“Fine then, we won’t disturb the dead yet, but I reserve the right to disturbing the dead at a later time if need be.  Where do the secret passages go?  That’s maybe where the vampire is hiding if they aren’t in the crypts, which they are.”

The old priestess scowled “What secret passages?”

“There are always secret passages, you’re in charge you must know where they are.”

I looked to Lashmi for support but she stood like blank-faced like she knew nothing about secret passageway or that I’m always right about these things.  Martialla would have backed me up.

“Why would a religious order need secret passageways?”

“I don’t know, for secret lesbian love affairs, or to hide from the enemies of your seemingly ill-defined and amorphous faith, or from the old days when this was a fort – how should I know what you do with them?  I just know that they’re there.”

The old priestess got herself all ready to huff and puff about it, but another priestess (or nun or novice or whatever) a pink cheeked gal with massive smile-lines and a thick neck came forward to say that there were in fact two secret passageways.  I don’t know if the old broad was lying about it or if she just didn’t know – I couldn’t get a good read on it and I’m great at reading people.  This whole group of nuns is weird as Hells, even for nuns.  Cheeky Thick Neck led us to a tiny storage closet where you pushed on a panel to have a wall slide away and reveal a staircase.  I was in the middle of smiling smugly and about to annihilate the good superior with a brutal comment about how I was right when a form lunging out of darkness knocked me to the ground.

“Oh shit!”

That’s apparently what I say when I’m tackled to the ground by a blood-drinking nun (or novice or whatever).  I didn’t get a good look at her when she was hurling herself at me, but she looked small – like barely five feet maybe – but she was strong.  Not strong as a bull, more like something that’s good at wrestling.  Something that can use it’s forelimbs to grapple you.  Like a bear.  But not as strong as a bear.  She was as strong as a small bear.  Not a baby bear, but like a sub-adult bear.   Unlike a sub-adult bear though she was hissing like a bat and biting at me like a rabid wombat.  She wanted my blood bad.  I was able to hold her biting face away from my very fetching neck and was surely just about to make my move to turn things in my favor when Lashmi splattered the vampire nun’s head-goo all over my face with her hand ax.  That much at least was very similar to something Martialla would have done.

I heaved the corpse off me and spat out some eyeball jelly “Thanks.” I clambered to my feet and looked down at the now mostly headless corpse “Huh, I thought they turned into mist or something when you killed them.”

The old priestess and Cheeky were horrified “Sister Reesblout!”

“I thought you said Sister Loke was the one that was missing.”

They looked at each other “Sister Reesblout must have been missing too.  I don’t remember seeing her.”

“What kind of operation are you running here?  Don’t you even know who’s on the roster?”

Lashmi crouched down to look at the ax-hole “So was she a vampire or what did I just kill?”

I grabbed a mop sitting nearby and used it to soak up some of the nun-sludge on me “Of course she was a vampire, did you see the way she lunged at my carotid?”

All the color had drained from Cheeky’s face “Maybe she was hiding in there from the vampire and just got startled.”

Oldy was resolute “There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“She was a vampire Gods damn it!  You don’t try to bite someone’s neck because you’re scared!”

Lashmi and I went down the stairs which led to a very short tunnel that came to another staircase that led up and through another panel into a hallway by the dormitories.  I feel like Cheeky could have told us that it didn’t really lead anywhere.  I turned to Lashmi as we walked back around to the supply closet.

“You know in Morinly some vampires took over a bordello and were killing the people that visited it.  What I don’t understand is how they got away with it for so long.  Didn’t anyone notice that all the whoremongers were disappearing?” I wait a moment for a response “Do you have any thoughts on that?”

“Huh?  Uh, no, I guess not.”

“You don’t think that’s strange?  How do you think they were getting away with it?  A whole nest of vampires had to be killing a lot of people don’t you think?  Granted a lot of them were probably people that no one would miss but plenty of married men go to brothels, I think at least some of the wives would wonder why their husbands never came home.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”

“Good Gods woman, I’m trying to make conversation here, give me something.”

She didn’t.  We met back up with the two nuns and Cheeky led us into the head priestesses own office, much to her surprise and shock.  Pushing back the desk and pulling out the rug there was a trapdoor underneath.  We were greeted by a blast of cold air when the trapdoor was thrown up.

I look at the old priestess “You ever notice any vampires or giant rats crawling out of here when you were working?”

Lashmi cast a suspicious eye at Cheeky “How do you know about this?”

“There’s a map in the library.” After a beat “I’m the librarian.”

I leaned over the hole slightly “There’s a light down there, do vampires need light to see? Seem like they shouldn’t.  Well, let’s go kill the damn thing, I suppose the rats will still be here but maybe without the vampire around they’ll wander off.”

Lashmi looked around nervously “Doesn’t it seem strange that we haven’t seen any rats?”

I pointed “They’re probably all down there.  Or out in the courtyard killing all the nuns.”  I put my hand to my ear “I don’t hear any screaming though, I feel like if you were a nun being eaten by giant rats you’d scream a lot.” I drew a rapier from my secret pocket “Anyway, let’s hit it New Martialla.”

“What?”

“Just go.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a large round room with a small pillar or pedestal in the middle.  On the pedestal pillar was a wildly incongruous little pillow that had a deep indentation in it as if something had been sitting on it for years and years.  Standing nearby in a bloody white nightshirt was a raven-haired young woman who was ghostly pale and clutching a skull to her chest like it was a newborn babe. 

“Well this is unsettling.  You would be Sister Loke them I presume?”

She smiled, overly large fangs glimmering in the lantern light, speaking in hushed towns like we were trading secrets at the opera “You want it don’t you?  You came for it didn’t you?  Well you can’t have it!”

“Uh no, I’m good on skulls, we just . . .”

Her fangs, already appearing too large to even shut her mouth lengthened and her eyes seems to shift shapes “YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!”

I was ready for the lunge this time and shoved Lashmi in the way.  Maybe you think that’s a dick move, but she’s a priestess alright, why wasn’t she confronting the vampire with her holy symbol?  What is the holy symbol of Strider anyway?  I feel like it’s a boot and a walking stick maybe.  Sometime dumb like that.  Sister Loke and Lashmi went down in a heap and I carefully stabbed Loke through the kidney.  She screamed and flailed around a lot and what seemed like eighteen gallons of blood came out of her but she died all the same.  The skull clattered out of her hands and rattled to a stop as if was looking at me – jawless but with two large fangs on the top row of teeth.

“Huh, I though vampires were supposed to be harder to kill.  What keeps the teeth in a skull after the body is dead anyway?  Shouldn’t that root rot away?  It’s not bone is it, it’s like whatever your gums are made of?”

Lashmi finally managed to yank one of her hatchets free and seemed to be brandishing it at me “What the fuck was that?!”

“A vampire obviously, maybe they’re weak at first and they get stronger over time.”

“NO!  You fucking pushed me into her!”

“Yeah, I needed a distraction so I could backstab her.  Calm down, Martialla and I used to do it all the time.”

“Who the fuck is Martialla?!”

I guess we’re not going to be friends at all since she left in a huff when I asked her to help me drag the body up the stairs for verification that it was Sister Loke.  Have you ever tried to drag a dead body UP a staircase by yourself?  Try it sometime and then tell me it’s not next to impossible.  The old priestess confirmed that it was indeed poor Sister Loke and then after much badgering did a role call to make sure no one else was missing.  I guess it was just the two vampires then.  Or whatever they were.  I never did see any rats.  I wonder what that’s about.  Maybe the Pied Piper of Illmarsh lured them away. 

When I asked for a little something for the effort the good sisters invoked the whole vow of poverty thing, which doesn’t make a ton of sense since this place itself has to be worth a fortune.  Cheeky did show me to yet another secret room though, where the gear of an old hero who had died in their care was hidden away. Seems like the kind of stuff that would have been helpful to get my hands on before fighting a horde (two is a small horde) of vampires.  When I asked why they had a vampire skull sitting on a pillow in a special hidden room they all but gave me the bum’s rush.  They didn’t even invite me to stay the night or feed me.  That’s gratitude for you.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

The ratman (not a literal man-rat a guy who hunts rats) refused to have anything further to do with the convent, but since my new friend the priest of the travel-god has no idea how to travel anywhere  he agreed to at least show us the way to the place.  He kept up a steady stream of recriminations about the rat-catchers guild and their leadership interspersed with sleazy comments about Lashmi and me (mostly me) but as we got closer to a copse of trees he fell silent.  Why are there trees still here when all the other ones have been cut down?  Ambience probably – loggers are well known from their sense of dramatic tension. 

There was a heavy fog clinging to the trees (nature likes a dramatic spectacle too) which were splashed with orange and yellow leaves several months out of season.  We came up on what looked like a monolith from olden times – great grey walls that you might expect to see at a fortress not a religious institution.  Maybe it used to be a fortress back when there were Kostelos to fight and was converted to nunnerism once they were all dead or scared off. 

I gestured annoyedly “You see, this is what I’m talking about, how the Hells did this get built way out here away from everything?  Who drug all this tone all this way?  And why?”

Lashmi glanced up at the walls “Well there used to be people here, we passed many old abandoned villages.  And, the river is called the Pipestone because there’s available stone all over the place that’s easy to quarry right?”

“Oh . . . I knew that I guess.”

The ratman bid us farewell and scuttled off before I could ask him exactly what he had encountered here that spooked him, a professional rat killer, so seriously.  Some more details about what happened would have been nice.  Going around the walls we found a short stone bridge over a tributary (contributory?) of the Pipestone.  Across the bridge was a massive wooden door, more of a gate really, with one of those little slit-things with a sliding window.  I pounded on the immense wood for a while before the window sild open to reveal the beady eyes of an old nun.

“I’m sorry, we’re not taking on initiates at the moment.”

“What?  Oh, you mean . . . me?  A nun?”

A had a good long laugh at that, which the eyeballs clearly didn’t like.  Lashmi took over and said that we were there to help with the rat problem while I was still chortling over the idea of me in nun school.  The mighty gate swung open and I laughed some more at the idea of a bunch of grunting nuns straining to move that massive hunk of wood, but inside there was no one else.  I guess the door operates on faith alone.  The gatekeeper shuffled off without another word and there was no one else in sight.  Lashmi and I looked at each other and started to wander into the seemingly uninhabited complex when we were chased down by a slightly younger but much more spry priestess.  She grabbed me by the shoulder, slightly out of breath.

“Come, the infirmary is this way.”

I frowned “Why would we want to go to the infirmary?  Neither of us is infirm.” I looked over at Lashmi “Are we?”

She frowned back, confused “That’s where Sister Agata is.”

“Who’s Sister Agata?”

“I thought you were . . .” she suddenly seemed suspicious “Who are you?”

“We were just passing by and we ran into the rat-catcher guy that you guys hired.”

Lashmi piped up “Otis.”

“Yeah, that guy, oddball in a disgusting big rat-fur cloak.  He told us that he was running away like a cowardly failure so we thought we’d come take a look and see if we could help.  Lashmi here is priestess too so you should get algone well, although she worships Strider instead of . . .” I looked around “What God is this place dedicated to?  Doesn’t look like any temple I’ve ever been to, it looks like a prison.”

“This isn’t a temple, it’s a postulary.”

“What’s that?”

“A facility of a religious order dedicated to self-sufficiency and service to the community.”

“What community?  There’s no one else out here.”

“All communities, once their training is completed here our members go all across the kingdom to serve in churches, dormitories, libraries, balnearies, and hospitals.”

“And which God is this facility dedicated too again?”

“We are in the service of all the Gods of good.”

“Which ones are the good ones?” She looked at Lashmi who make an apologetic half-shrug “Maybe you should just tell us what’s going on, the rat-man didn’t have much to say other than that he failed horribly and was running away like a dirty craven coward.  Why would we want to see Sister Agata?”

She stared at me for a moment before speaking “Several weeks ago some sisters complained of hearing whispering in the night and being tormented by violent dreams in their sleep.”

“I can relate to that, I’ve had dream people attacking me for months.”

“At first I didn’t think much of it this, bad dreams and whispers are nothing to be concerned with – just an overactive imagination – but then Sister Agata fell ill, and soon afterwards the rats came.  Huge and vile rats that have driven us out of the abbey.”

“So there is an abbey, the rat-guy and I were debating that.”

“They act as if controlled by a single mind, I believe that Herla, called King Herla by the debased and the wicked, is here in spirit controlling these dire vermin to vex us.”

“Who’s that?  And what is he king of?”

Lashmi seemed concerned “Herla is the conqueror of the invincible city, the devil-price of Alphas, it is said that Herla is a master of disguise who seeks to trick his victims by using a dozen voices and a hundred different faces.”

“That doesn’t sound that impressive for a devil lord, as far as I know the number of voices and faces I can use has no limit.” I took on the form and mimicked the voice of the priestess superior “See?”

Lashmi elbowed me “Stop that, you’re going to get us burned at the stake!”

I returned to my normal form “I was just making a point.”

The old nun was revolted “Who are you?!”

I waved casually “Don’t worry about me, I’m here to help.  What makes you think this Herla person would care about one little abbey like this?  Seems like a demon lord would have better things to do than personally send rats to attack you guys.  And better minions than rats.”

Lashmi corrected me “Devil prince not demon lord.”

“What the fuck’s the difference?” The old priestess gasped “Good Gods woman, calm down, your people are being devoured by rats and you’re clutching you pearls over some profanity?  Priorities okay?”

Lashmi frowned “She’s not wearing pearls.”

“It’s an expression.”

The old priestess shook her head “No one has been eaten by the rats.”

I made an exasperated noise “I didn’t mean literally, I was just . . .” I took a breath to calm down “Look, we’re getting nowhere slowly, just tell me why you think this devil-guy is all up your ass.”

“Five thousand years ago Grotrad sought the help of an oracle of Bleftrianze and was given the thousand swords of the dust-lord Agramemnon. When Grotrad and his men arrived outside the city as instructed wielding the swords all the warriors the Agramemnon had turned into dust with his vile breath sprang up into battle as undead beings. For ninety years . . .”

“Fuck me, forget I asked, let’s just go this see sick nun.”

“But the Society of Mask and Cloak, of Blade and Boot, dedicated itself to the service of Herla with debauched rites and forbidden magic and . . .”

I sighed “Can we just go look at this broad?”

Scowling the priestess led us to a wide shallow room lined with beds. They were all empty save one, where a young woman lay, pale skinned and heavy with sweat despite the chill in the air.  Her chest was heaving like she was having a panic attack.  Possibly because her hands and feet were secured to the bedframe with knotted sheets.

The priestess touched her wet forehead tenderly “She wouldn’t stop failing, even when we called up our divine magic to calm her.  We had to restrain her to prevent her from hurting herself.”

“Well this is pretty messed up.  Clearly she’s possessed, what do you expect us to do?  You’re the ones who should be able to cast out demons right?”

Lashmi was kneeling by the side of the bed “Devils.”

“What’s the difference?!”

Lashmi gestured “Look at all these bites on her neck.  I don’t think these are rat bites, and even if they are why would they only bite her on the neck?”

The girl spoke, which for some reason startled the Hells out of me “I was sleeping and in my dreams I was being watched by horrible red eyes.  I was stripped naked before them and ran, but they were everywhere, I couldn’t get away.  When I woke up I was on the floor of the abbey and there was blood running from my neck.”

“Huh.  Isn’t controlling rats something vampires are supposed to be able to do?”

Lashmi look up at me “How would I know that?”

I looked over the priestess superior and she crossed her arms “There’s no such thing as vampires, that’s a heretical peasant superstition.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  You think a devil price is after you but vampires are too incredible to believe in?”

Lashmi stood up “If there’s a vampire here shouldn’t we leave as soon as possible?”

“Don’t sweat it, I’ve killed several vampires, they’re push-overs really.  One of them we had to dig out of the grave out by the Scar.  There was this talisman of Korrok that . . .” They both gasped as the mention of the name “Oh by Gods don’t tell me you buy into that He Who Shall Not Be Named bullshit.”  They both started frantically making various religious signs to ward off evil “Yeah, vampires are superstition but you two are the very soul of modernity.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I had an uncomfortable but untroubled night’s sleep at the Strider shrine.  I asked Lashmi (that’s the priestess) if my unmolested dream state was because her God protected was those who sought shelter in his holy place and she just shrugged and said maybe.  Back at court there were many religious people who were not all that faithful, I didn’t expect to find them out here in the real world as well.  Although this seems different, those were second and third sons who took up the robes as a path to power and prestige – that’s clearly not this woman’s motivation.  There’s no power nor prestige to be had in hermiting it up by a forgotten shrine in the middle of nowhere.

Last night she had told me how she ended up out here – she had been a prostitute in Three Rivers and decided that she was done with that so she jumped in the river with a heavy chain around her neck.  Impossibly she had been swept upstream and deposited here at this shrine instead of drowning and moving on the next life.  Seems like the kind of thing you would ascribe to the God of the shrine you ended up at and that’s why you would take up his worship but she downplayed that as well.  She’s an odd one for sure.  Of course I don’t really know anything about the orthodoxy of Strider, perhaps they’re all this casual about their devotion. We headed north on the riverside together and after a couple hours of walking we saw a figure in the distance heading our way from the north.

I turned to my new traveling companion “You ever use those axes for anything other than cutting firewood?”

“I killed a worg once, although a centaur did most of the fighting and I came in at the end.”

“Why would you do that?  Worgs are usually good temporary allies, you can buy them off just with some cooked food.  Granted that backfired on me once, but otherwise treated with sentient wolf monsters has worked well for me.”

She gave me a very strange look as we continued towards our rendezvous with destiny.  Destiny in his case was hairy overweight fellow with chipped teeth, oily facial hair, and battered hat that looked like it had merged with his tangle of black hair.  He was holding some kind of stick that I think was the worst designed spear I have ever seen.  The blade looked like the bayonet I used to have for my crossbow, it was off-set in a way that a real spearhead never would be.  And the butt end of the stick also had a stock like a crossbow would.  On top of everything else it was incredibly short for a spear, maybe not even five feet.  It was the most useless looking weapon I think I have ever seen.   

He was wearing a thick cloak made out of the skins of giant rats.  How did I know that it was rat skin and fur?  Because there was a rat-head still attached to one of the pelts.  I like a good fur as much as the next person but I’ve never understood why some people prefer for the head to be made part of the garment.  It’s ghastly if you ask me.  Once I realized this was a man wearing a rat-cloak I understood that he was wearing a rat-hat as well.  Possibly rat boots too.  As soon as we were close enough to see his face he started grinning like a cat happening upon a nest of helpless baby mice.  He continued grinning all the way up to us, where I gestured with my crossbow that he had come close enough for my liking.

He whipped off his rat-hat in a half bow “Well hello ladies.  I never expected to find beautiful creatures like you out here, and two of you even, I like these odds.”

“And what is a prosperous rat farmer like yourself doing out here to find beautiful creatures like us?”

He crammed his hat back on his massive head “Rat hunter good madam, rat hunter, I don’t know as there’s much money to be made in farming rats.  Even though they are a good source of meat and hides.  It breaks my heart to think of all the starving people in the world that could be fed with rat meat – but for some reason people don’t like to eat certain animals.”

“Plague probably has something to do with it.”

He clucked his tongue disapprovingly “Rats don’t carry the plague the madam, the fleas on the rats do.”

“And the rats carry the fleas so what difference does it make?”

“They’re safe to eat is my point.”

“I’ve gotten deathly ill before from a rat-bite.”

“Well sure, if you let them bite you, I’m just saying that . . .”

“Look, I don’t want to debate the health concerns of rat meat with you, if you’re a rat hunter what are you doing out here?  I would assume that most of the money from rat killing would be in the big cities.”

“And you would be right in that assumption my fair lady, but I was called out on special commission by the blessed church itself to render my services at the abbey nearby.”

I looked over at Lashmi “There’s an abbey around here?” She just shrugged “What kind of exploration priests are you?  You don’t see to know where anything is in the area.  What exploring have you done?”

“I told you I’m just getting started.”

Rat-man nodded eagerly “There certainly is, a convent I guess it is, not any abbey, full of nuns.  Although I didn’t see too many of them when I was there, they were all locked away on account of the rats.” He grinned again “Or maybe my reputation proceeded me.  If you know what I mean.”

“They were hiding from the stink of your rat-vest?”

He laughed uproariously for a moment and then smiled even wider “I like a woman with a sharp tongue, usually means that tongue . . .”

I held up the crossbow “Hold that thought for . . . ever.  That must have been quite an infestation if they called you all the way out here.”

He nodded “It was, I’ve never seen worse in all my years.  Giant rats, big swarms of them, more than even and experienced and celebrated rat killer like myself could handle – I’m lucky to have gotten out of there with my life.  I think there must have been some wererats pulling the strings, it’s the only thing that explains their coordination, and the sheer volume of them.  Normal rats you might see in the hundreds, but it’s unusual to see this many rodents of unusual size all together in the same place.  Something must be going on.”

“So you just left the nuns infested with giant rats?”

He seemed unperturbed “I’m a normal rat fighter not a wererat fighter.  Fighting wererats is an entirely different discipline you see.  You need silver for that, which is mighty expensive.  Maybe wolfsbane too, although that probably only works on werewolves huh?”

“I hope you at least gave them the money back before you ran out of them.”

“I don’t charge anything for my services madam, I ask only that those I work for take a pledge not to use poisons for rat control nor to engage in any way with the rat-catcher’s guild.  I make my money off crafting and selling rat-furs and various other rat byproducts.”

Lashmi frowned “That sounds insane.”

He seemed delighted by this accusation “Far from it!  The manufacture of rat poison is ruining our waterways, I will gladly rid anyone of their rat problems if it means they will no longer suckle at the teat of the rat poison industrial complex.  There are solutions to every problem that don’t rely on destroying the environment, and spreading that message is my true calling in life.  And as for the rat catcher’s guild let me tell you something . . .”

He launched into an extensive airing of grievances against the rat-catcher’s guild, which I didn’t even know existed.  Mostly it was a semi-hysterical diatribe about how they were conspiring against him and keeping him down with their political clout.  Which is what guilds do by default – that’s the whole point.  Take control of the workforce and anyone not in the guild gets the shaft.  While he was ranting about the personal faults of the guildmaster I turned to Lashmi.

“So you want to check out this rat-infested nunnery?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“You know for a follower of the exploration God you’re proving to be surprisingly skittish about going places and exploring.”

“My theory is that I should explore myself before I spend a lot of time exploring the world around me.”

“I would have thought that your self would have been thoroughly explored in your previous profession.”

“Don’t be crude, I meant explore my thoughts and emotions – really find out who I am who what my place is in the world.  I think you knew that.”

I turned back to the rat-man “What about you Ratso?  You want to head back and have another go at those rats?”

He stopped in mid-tirade “Huh?  What?  Go back?  Why would I want to do that?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Macendamandel 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Lunch with cousin May stretched out into the afternoon and before you know it the two of us were sitting on the stern (that’s part of a boat right) trading tales of her social climbing and my . . . whatever you call it that I’m doing.  A good time was had by all.  With all the whimsicality of the idle rich she invited me to stay and I saw no reason to refuse her.  We drank to the ill-health of our enemies and continued our nattering until sunset.  It was a particularly picturesque sunset, probably because of all the miniscule wood particles in the air from Three Rivers.  I’ve heard that just the right amount of air pollution is what you need to have a really nice sunset. 

Driven below decks by the emergence of the night’s biting insects I was treated to a somewhat less extravagant meal than lunch had been which was saved by the appearance of the good wine.  There was a part of me that wondered if my dear cousin was suckering me in to betray me to the consortium but a much larger part of me that didn’t care if she was.  I don’t meant to be dramatic but the wound from Martialla leaving was still fresh and if there’s better ways to stitch those wounds than getting drunk I don’t know what they are.  Cousin May could still drink like the farm girl she was but she was still no match for me, she retired to her state room hours before I decided that I had had enough. 

The room I was given was basically a fancy closet, but what do you expect on rivercraft?  No matter how rich you are there’s only so much space you have to work with inside a boat.  Unless you get magic involved and I guess she either isn’t that rich that she can afford it or is that conservative not to do it.  I feel into a deep and dreamless sleep in the closet.  I can’t imagine that it’s because of the booze, it couldn’t be that simple, maybe she is rich enough that the boat has some kind of protective wards.  I was just happy to get some good hours of sleep for once. 

In the morning she had some new clothing for me, not anything she’d wear now, clearly some clothes from the trunks of her servants – I’m sure she was delighted by that.  She made sure to load me down with food and supplies.  She was quite enjoying lording her success over me and I wasn’t embittered in the least by it.  After all if you can’t count on family you can you count on?  No one.  Which you can’t.  She was kind enough to confirm that it was the Umberlee River we were on and she dropped me off on the west side so I could make my way further west to the Pipestone.  She wished me well and we were off our separate ways – she floating downriver and me heading upriver, although not on the same river as we just established.

The Pipestone is so named because there is (or was) an abundance of a kind of mudstone in the area that the natives use (or used) to carve pipes and other trinkets out of seeing as it is a fine-grained and easily worked stone that even their primitive methods could handle.  As I understand it the Pipestone was once (maybe still is) considered a sacred land by the Kostelos and several differing tribes went to war to control it – as one does when something is sacred.  Allegedly all the Kostelos have been cleared out of the area south of Gib’s Tor but with my luck I’ll stumble across some stragglers looking to even the score.  I believe a tor is a rock formation of some sort but who Gib might be and why he or she decided to lay claim to a rock formation I have no idea.  I suppose I’ll find out when I get there, assuming that I’m not killed by savages before I get there.

If there’s anything good about walking alone in the wilderness (there’s not) it’s that it gives you time to think.  Thought such as, what was the point of chasing the Kostelos away from here if no one was going to live here?  I frequently came across the remains of what used to be logging camps, small towns even, all abandoned now that the timber trade has moved south.  Seems like we could have just come to an agreement with the natives “hey we’re going to spend a couple decades cutting down your scared woods but then you can have the land back okay?”  All they had to do was give up with primitive stupid religion and they wouldn’t have been driven away.  Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. 

It was a little eerie seeing all those deserted communities but I’ve certainly seen worse.  At least this desolation was just the march of progress rather than the result of war or plague or something like that.  Still it all seems rather wasteful.  If people living in the slums of Paladore knew there were whole little towns sitting out here idle I wonder what they would do.  Would they come?  Can you just claim a town once everyone leaves?  If I convinced people to settle and populate all these places did I just make myself a Baron or a Lord of some sort?  Is that how new counties are formed?  Not by an edict from the Crown but simply by taken action?  Could be, I’ve often said that one of the main things I’ve learned from my exile that no one is really in charge, you can get away with quite a lot just my having the balls to do it.

I suppose it’s like that old story about the circus elephant that’s held in place by a tiny stake – a manner of learned helplessness.  They could get away but they never try because they don’t think about it.  I suppose that’s what society is in a way, just a veil pulled over people’s eyes to keep them from trying too much.  After all we can’t have everyone trying to live a good life and we now?  That would be bloody anarchy.  It’s important to make sure that the blood is spilled only when and where the government says.  More or less.

I walked all day and didn’t see another soul, nor any traffic on the river.  My understanding is that of the three rivers the Pipestone is the one that doesn’t have a lot to contribute to decent society.  The Umberlee is an main artery of trade, the Visgoth will pick up more once the war is over, but there’s still plenty of traffic that way – the Pipestone is the old maid of the three watery sisters though, her virtue given away and used up long ago.  I didn’t see much in the way of animals either other than beetles, which I guess is what you get when you cut down a forest.  Still though it seems like by now some other kind of ecosystem should have developed – come on nature get off your ass and repopulate this new desert we made.

Late in the afternoon I came across a riverside shrine to Strider.  I always think of Strider as the God of roads, but I suppose he oversees river travel as well, although I’ve never seen such a shrine before.  Maybe there’s some other river God that usually handles river stuff, I don’t know exactly how the Gods decide who’s in charge of what.  Seems like there should be a lot of Gods fighting over the interest of revelry and getting wasted but instead as far as I know there isn’t a single one.  What kind of management structure is that?  Maybe there is and I just haven’t heard of them – there are so many Gods who can keep track of them all?  And most of them are real duds let me tell you.

I figured that was as good a place as any to bed down for the night, and by bed down I mean sit down and have some of the food my cousin packed with me.  Even with all the travel that I’ve done I’ve never really gotten the hang of making a camp.  I suppose a more rangery type would have a hammock set up and a fire merrily blazing and be snatching fish out of the river and digging a latrine and all sorts of things.  I just leaned against the pipestone carving of a boot or whatever the lump dedicated to Strider was supposed to be and enjoyed a box of sweets from my dear cousin.  They won’t keep long anyway so there’s no reason not to polish them off, and if you ask me there’s little that compliments wine better than sugar.  Since I was there anyway I figured a prayer wouldn’t hurt anything.

“Dear Strider, how are you?  I am fine.  I apologize for not praying to you more often but I don’t really believe in you.  I mean I know you’re real because your priests can do magic, I meant that I don’t believe in you in the sense of I don’t trust in you or care what you deal is.  I’m praying to you today because I would like to apologize for killing some of your priests.  Just two I think, but I don’t really remember so it may be more.  Not that they didn’t have it coming but I could have been nicer about it.  I realize now that there’s no reason to torment people before you croak them, it’s best just to kill them and be on about your business.  So that’s my bad.

But I wanted to ask you something as well.  If you’re so into travel and exploration and people moving all around for the pure joy of it shouldn’t you be doing more to make it safe for them to do it?  Seems like you can’t walk five miles in any direction without being ambushed by bandits or attacked by monsters or set upon by a rape gang or slavers or some other damn thing.  Shouldn’t you be doing something about that?  Just the other day I ran into some Vultur people who are going to patrol the roads – seems like the kind of thing that your people should be doing. 

I don’t want to tell you your job but it seems a little embarrassing to me that another God is taking up your slack.  Instead of be trail-worn wanderers with dusty backpacks and battered hats shouldn’t your followers be hunting down monsters and killing bandits and so forth?  Again, I don’t want to tell you how to run your religion, but it seems to me that people might be more willing to travel if there wasn’t a one hundred percent chance of them being murdered when they leave the city.”

“That was some prayer.”

The voice came from a lanky woman with deeply tanned skin, dark hair is tied in a tight braid with the sides of her head shaved to the scalp.  She wore a shabby work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and those leather braces that workmen have sometimes along with coarse trousers tucked into well-used boots.  She had a hatchet dangling on each hip as well.

“You step lightly friend, it’s pretty hard to sneak up on me.”

“You were clearly deep into your religious observations, probably your awareness as impaired by your piety.”

“Probably.  Are you going to kill me?”

She smiled slightly “Something tells me that wouldn’t work out if I wanted to try, but no, I’m not one of the bandits you mention – I’m one of the people that you think should be doing something about those bandits.”

“You’re a Striderian?  Wow, who knew that prayer worked so quickly?  Is maintaining thi rocks a full time job or what do you do all the time?  Travel I suppose, seeing as how that’s your divine mandate.”

She sat on the ground across from me “Not as much as you might think, I mostly just hang around here.  I’m from the city, I’m still getting a handle on this thing where you have to catch and cook your own food.”

“I was just wondering if that happened, this is really some kind of divine intervention.”

“People typically find the hand of the divine anywhere if they look hard enough.”

“That’s a surprisingly coherent statement for a priestess.”

“Well I’m new to that too, I’m sure over time I’ll become a true fanatic.  I couldn’t help but overhear in your prayer that you killed some priests of Strider, so I turn the question back to you – are you going to kill me?”

I shook my head “I don’t think so, you seem like a decent enough sort at least on first impression, I’d keep an eye on me regardless though, I’m very dangerous.  See, I have a scar and everything.”

“Very tough looking.”

“Do you want to escort me safely to Gib’s Tor?  You know, because of your God and all?”

“Where’s that?”

I laughed shortly “Aren’t you the one who worships the travel God?”

“I told you I’m new to it, until a few months ago I never set foot outside of Three Rivers, and I was never much of one for geography.”

“Seems like you have no choice but to come with me then, isn’t visiting new places what your religion is all about?”

“Something like that.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Macendamandel 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It’s been said that you sometimes don’t value something until after you’ve thrown it away.  The reverse effect of buyer’s remorse I suppose.  I miss Martialla, which doesn’t make sense because I just saw her yesterday.  We used to go days or weeks at a time without actually laying eyes on one another so why should I be melancholy when I just saw her last night?  I mean, I know why, but still it seems strange.  But there’s nothing for it, life goes on and all that.  Even sleeping fitfully as I did I didn’t notice her leaving in the night, she was gone when I woke up, headed south I assume.  Speaking of fitful sleeping my non-dreams have been increasingly feeling even more strange.  Have you ever watched a snake swallow a fat rat?  It’s slow and awful and you can’t look away.  Somehow that’s the feeling I get while I sleep  now – like the power that that bitch hag is using to protect me is being worn away inexorably.  I need to get to Gib’s Tor as soon as possible. 

Should be easy, all I have to do is follow the river north, problem being I’m not sure which river I’m looking at– it’s not like they have signposts.  I assume it’s the Umberlee and what I need to do is cross to get to the Pipestone but I don’t know that for sure.  It could be the Pipestone.  Another issue, all the nearby bridges are back in town and given my (totally justified) murder spree yesterday it seems like a bad idea to go back there.  But as I said, there’s nothing for it.  I headed north along the river hoping that some method of crossing would present itself.  I thought maybe that one method would be the river being fill of logs floating downriver to be milled, but I quickly realized that all the logging was going on to the south – this was the area where all the trees had already been felled. 

It’s hard to imagine that this dry desolate land was once a massive forest.  I wonder at what point we’ll reach the time when we’re cutting down trees faster than they can grow somewhere else – and will we realize it in time to stop ourselves from cutting them all down?  You know I’m feeling gloomy when I’m sparing thought for sustainable forestry practices.  Another thought I was kicking around, which I’ve had before, is how easy it is to get away with things when you can change your appearance on a whim.  I’ve been told that disguising yourself with an illusion is fairly elementary magic.  Given all the things I’ve gotten away with simply because I can appear to be someone else at the time it doesn’t take much to imagine that a small group of illusionists could cause an inordinate amount of damage to foundations of society.  Which quickly leads to the thought, maybe there is already a cabal of shape-changing mages out there that are up to all kinds of evil shit.  Who would know?  Maybe all those people being hung while protesting their innocence actually are innocent.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking kick in the ass?

There was a minor noble back at court that would let slip if be imbued enough that he was convinced that there was a sect of demon worshippers that were secretly controlling everything.  Once he was drunk enough he’d go on at length about how they would feed babies to alligators or sharks or something nonsense like that.  As is usually the case his belief was rooted in the fact that he had achieved nothing in his life and never would – and he was a great man so clearly the reason for his failure was because the world was controlled by a secret group that he was not a part of.  Usually I was intent just to listen and be entertained by his nonsense but one time I got exasperated and told him that if what he was saying was true, it would mean thousands of people killing tens of thousands of people a year all without leaving any evidence and without anyone being the wiser.  It would be the greatest cover-up in the history of humanity.  He looked me in the eye, dead serious, and said “now you understand what I’m dealing with.”

Although in his defense I have run into an inordinate amount of cults since my exile from court, not demonic all of them, but potato tomato you know – they were sacrificing people so it hardly matters to whom (or what).  I have a theory about that.  There’s all kind of crime in the city, but it’s all normal stuff like theft and murder and rape.  Out in the countryside is where the real freaky stuff happens because there’s nothing else to do.  You work day and night busting your ass to grow wheat day after day year after year with nothing to look forward to other than plowing your ugly wife occasionally and suddenly some weird monster with fifteen noses and lizard-lips is saying you should carve your neighbors heart out on a weird stone you found in the woods and doesn’t sound half-bad as an alternative.  Some people say that idle hands are a demon’s best friend, but I think idle minds are the real problem.  You need to numb people’s minds with the sweet allure of entertainment.  Alcohol is doing as much as it can, but it needs some help.   If you’re a musician or an actor or a storyteller or some kind of performer you need to be touring out in the sticks.  It sucks, but do your part to keep human sacrifice to a minimum okay?

I was contemplating these kinds of weighty issues so much that it took me a moment to realize that I heard a voice.

“Is that you cousin?  I scarcely recognize you.”

I turned and saw that the voice was coming from a boat making its way downstream towards Three Rivers.  It wasn’t exactly a pleasure craft but it clearly wasn’t a dedicated working vessel either – it was a hybrid of sorts, the kind of thing you might find in the grubby hands of a wealthy peasant who wants something nice but can’t help but be practical as well.  The voice belonged to a woman sitting on the deck in a camp chair with a maid holding a parasol over her and a manservant hovering nearby clutching a bucket of ice holding a bottle of wine. 

It took me a long moment to realize that it was my cousin May.  Last time I saw her she looked different.  To call her an unfortunate looking woman would have been overly kind.  She looked like she had been hacked from a fallen log by a blind woodsman.  Her chin was pointed, her cheeks hollow, her face creased from constant frowning, her back bent as if she was always cowering from a blow that never came, and her short dark hair was streaked with grey even though she was not yet thirty.  That was what she looked like before.  Now she was drop-dead gorgeous.  As I well know some of it was artifice – cosmetics and a fine dress and all the right accessories – but I know enough as well to spot a stone cold fox when I see one. 

Her hair was long and thick and lustrous without a hint of grey.  Her face had been alternatively sharpened and softened as needed, and if we’re being honest symmetricalized as well.  Her eyes were bright and confident, her skin was smooth and pure, and if she had gone a little overboard with the fullness of her bosom who can blame her?  Depending on your preferences some might have said she was even more comely than I.  They would have been wrong, but they would have said it.

“You’re looking well cousin, whatever can you be doing here?”

She managed to sound bored by the idea “I’ve just returned from a retreat in the mountains – hot springs, rejuvenating treatments, that sort of thing.  I wanted to go before the snows set in, winter is coming in the highlands and I wouldn’t want to be trapped in that ghastly part of the Kingdom for months on end.”

I couldn’t help but smile, remembering my awkward country cousin “Certainly not.”

She smiled meanly “You’re looking a little ragged there cousin.  I couldn’t quite believe it was you walking beside the river like a common peddler.  Last time I saw you you were the very height of fashion and good taste you were.  I was quite jealous at the time.”

“Events have conspired to teach me to be humble since then, not too humble mind you, but my circumstances are much reduced as you can plainly see.”

She was clearly delighted.  Her boat was in danger of floating beyond speaking range and she gestured slightly with her fan for the crew to pull over to the side of the river and they silently moved to obey.

“Would you care to join me for lunch cousin?  You’re looking rather underfed.”

There’s no pleasure in life quite so grand as rubbing your success in the face of someone that used to have things better than you – why should I want to deny my dear cousin that?  Her skiff (is that the right word) glided (glid?) to the shore and I walked a rickety gangplank on board where a group of efficient servants was bringing out a table.  It was a nice table but still it was quickly hidden like a shameful bastard child under a thick tablecloth and then decorated with glittering dining ware and fine crockery.  Charcoal grilled fish with white asparagus, steelhead trout roe with a sauce of cured grapefruit and spices, candied strawberry with hot strawberry jam, ravioli, chicory and ricotta topped with grated white truffles – it was quite a spread, especially for a traveling meal.  The wine was subpar, certainly not worthy of an ice bucket attendant but beggars and choosers etcetera.

“Eternal damnation suits you well cousin, you’re looking radiant.”

“Yes well if I had know that selling my soul would work out so well I would have done it years ago.”

“And here I was thinking that if I met you again you might be cross with me over the whole thing.”

She waved away my concerns flippantly “Oh Gods no, best thing I ever did.  What good did having a soul ever do me anyway?  Useless thing I say.  Nothing to compare to beauty and dignity certainly.”

“Indeed a small price to pay for eternal torment.”

“If you listen to the priests of Odobenine poor people go to the torments of the Hells anyway so I didn’t have anything to lose.  The Adariel women will tell you something other altogether but that’s why I leave theology to the theologians.  I intend to live well and let the Gods worry about souls and the afterlife.”

We touched our glasses together in a toast “I couldn’t agree more.  I have to say I’m impressed cousin, based on the manner in which you travel you’ve done a lot in a short time since I visited you on the farm.”

“That was more than a year ago cousin.”

I raised an eyebrow “Was it now?  Time flies doesn’t it?  Regardless though it’s not as if you can just walk into town and say ‘look at me, I’m pretty give me money’.  You can only go so far on looks alone, you’ve done remarkable well based on your lack of refinement and cleverness inherent in your upbringing.”

She smiled “That insult was so thinly veiled as to be practically barefaced, but I forgive you cousin because I am rich and attractive and can afford to be generous with the envious.  You’re correct though, being dazzlingly lovely doesn’t throw open all the doors of wealth and power, just opens one or two a crack – you still have to jam your foot in and then force them open.  As my sisters learned much to their remorse.”

“You were always the smart one May.”

“Damning with faint praise that is, comparing me to Liddie and Elba.  And no one calls me May anymore, my name is Maianjuno now.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“I can’t have people thinking I’m common now can I?  Rich people always have stupid names.  And what do people call you now cousin?”

I chuckled, so briefly maybe it was only a chuck “Any number of things.  People really have no manners these days.”

May regarded her wine glass for a moment and then tossed it overboard “I have something to confide in you cousin, I don’t know if anyone else could appreciate it.  When I was a girl I used to pray every day, to Adariel, to Odobenine, to Melmoth, to any God that might be listening.  I promised them I would be good if I could just have a little more.  But now that I have instead of have not, I see that was childish.  I don’t promise the Gods that I’ll be good anymore, I promise myself that I will be as evil as I need to be to never go back to the way things were.  People born rich have never known hardship so they don’t really know what they stand to lose.  That’s why people like you and me, people that fought up from the bottom, the ones who know – we’re the really dangerous people.  Because we know what it’s like to never be clean.  Never be warm.  Never be full.  To be sick and scared all the time.  We know.  And we know that there’s nothing so bad that you shouldn’t do it to avoid going back.”

“You’re quite the philosopher for a poor country girl from Cymrile county.”

She snapped her fingers for someone to bring her a new glass “As they say, you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”

“So true cousin, so true.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, ruined nobles traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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