Vario insisted on going to check out the bandit camp himself – convinced that we must have missed some hidden loot. While he went off on his fool’s errand I set Lermo and Jalista to cleaning up one of the lumberjack’s cabins, no reason not to enjoy a roof when we have one. They did a piss-poor job of it but they found a jar of some sort of moonshine so I can’t be too harsh with them – it was only mostly awful, which is pretty high praise for a jar of squeeze. Under my supervision the two chuckleheads built up a massive fire in the hearth and then they sat on the floor like children fondling their new treasures as I sat against the wall on a crude lumberhouse bed and relaxed for a moment.
Vario returned in an even fouler mood than usual. I almost wish we had missed something so that he could have found it and his ego would be soothed. Lermo and Jalista tried to regale him with tales of their heroics during the battle but he cursed them so thoroughly they slunk away and went to sleep like whipped dogs. Vario blustered around the longhouse for a few moments, full of energy he didn’t know what to do with. I offered him a drink and he snatched the jug of booze and smashed it against the wall. I watched him impassively as he stomped around in circles.
“I think you need a new plan.”
He scowled even harder “What are you talking about?”
“Most people fill the hole inside them with religion or with family, things like that. You strategy isn’t working. You’re never going to cause enough pain to fill that hole – that’s like trying to fill a cup that has no bottom.”
He frenetically made his way to the corner and stood there facing away from me, shifting his weight from side to side. “You don’t know me.”
“No, but I know that you’re mad at the world for having the audacity to bring you into it. Here’s a little secret my friend, none of us asked for this. You just have to make the best of it.”
He leaned his head against the wall as if he was too weary to stand on his own. “Why?’
“There’s only one other choice. And no one can make it for you.”
“You don’t seem so happy, what do you know about it?”
“Oh pish, I’m the happiest woman in the world.”
With that I turned over and went to sleep. In the mourning a cold rain was falling, I would have suggested just staying in the camp the day but Vario was already up and had his precious horse ready to ride. Didn’t seem like a good time to press him. It was a miserable day of travel, not made any easier by Vario’s barrage of verbal abuse and Lermo/Jalista’s even more prodigious complaining. Vario threatened them with various acts of violence endlessly but they have grown immune to it – you see if you don’t follow through with a threat every now and then people stop listening. There was an old knight back at court who was like that, Hawkspar or something like that he was called, full of threats and never backing them up. Eventually he was viewed almost as much of a fool as the jester.
The rain had slowed to a diffuse mist by the time we reached what the map claims to be Ather’s house. A footpath lead up the side of a bramble-covered hill to a rambling fieldstone house. Every time I see a fieldstone house I wonder how much longer those will be built. At some point we’re going to run out of fields and stones right? The footpath looked to be long overgrown but recently cleared – from here the house appeared to be dark however. Vario dismounted to check the footpath.
“This has been cleared recently.”
“Perhaps Ather has returned from the dead. Wizards do that from time to time, usually making a big deal about wearing different colored robes. Except for Willunia the Colorless of course.”
Lermo looked up at the path like it led to the mouth of the Thirteen Hells itself “What are we going to do?”
“Go up and knock of course, see who’s home.”
Jalista and Lermo stayed with Vario’s mount while the two of us approached the house. To the left was a spring from which a small brook flowed behind a rusty iron gate. One assumes it was created by magic of some sort. The front door had been kicked to pieces and then nailed back into place as a barricade of sorts. I guess whoever’s in there isn’t worried about getting back out. I peeked through a gap in the door-shards and saw two fellows in dirty leather armor with weapons at the ready – one of them holding a hooded lantern.
“Howdy boys, you two squatters or what’s going on here?”
I backed away as one of them ran forward and tried to stab me through the hole snarling like a maniac.
“How rude. Vario, do your thing.”
Vario smashed the boarded up entryway with one swing of his morningstar and charged in with a kick t the chest that sent one of the thugs falling ass over teakettle. Vario is a stout warrior but honestly he’s not the terror in melee that I was expecting. Any knight worth his salt would have cut down these two in the first pass but he was struggling with them. As the three of them flailed at one another in the front room I went through a door on the left and into what was once a fine bedchamber – now comprehensively ruined by water coming in through a hole in the roof.
I don’t claim to be the most perceptive person in the world but I have a pretty good sense of danger – it’s not often I get caught off guard. Before I knew anything was amiss though a fellow had come up behind me and caught me around the throat with his arm. He grabbed my other arm and pinned me against the wall – making it impossible for me to reach my dagger. I struggled to get free but even with my new Belt it was useless – like trying to pull against an angry bull. I felt an intense pressure against my skull and then a strange tingling sensation. There was a moment of dizziness, a shockingly short moment, and then everything was black.
Appearing before me out of the darkness was a tall, jet-black skeleton with a long, bony tail, and the massive black-feathered wings of a crow. Over its odd bird-skull face was a bronze mask that appeared to be of the face of the creature inside.
“So I’m dead then?”
The being looked off into the darkness. “You’re getting there.”
“Because you wasted your life?”
“No, because I used to be so careful. I’m not sure what happened. A few months ago I never would have put myself into a dangerous situation unless I had a very good reason for doing it. Lately I seem to charge headlong into things without really worrying about the potential for, you know, this outcome we have here.”
“Is it possible you wanted to die subconsciously?”
“Well I don’t know then. I don’t really explain them, I just process them.”
“Are you an angel then or a demon? Which way am I headed?”
“Neither, I’m a psychopomp.”
“That’s a stupid name.”
“I didn’t come up with it. As for where you’re headed it’s a little more complicated than that. My job is just to make sure that you don’t snatched up by a soul-stealer, your night hags and the like.”
“Hmm, thanks I guess. Who do I talk to about becoming an undead monstrosity? I have all sorts of unfinished business in the revenge category – that seems like fertile ground for coming back as a varcolac or a wraith or something.”
The bird-skeleton looked off in the distance again “Looks like we’ll have to discuss that another time. I’ll be seeing you.”
It faded away as the darkness gave way to what at first seemed like a blinding white light but was just the dimness of the moldy bedroom. Vario’s face loomed over me, I thought I heard music but it faded away as I came to my senses. He helped me to my feet. On the floor lay an ugly fellow in a rusty mail shirt that didn’t fit over his bulging belly – his looks not being helped at all by the fact that his head was collapsed in from what I assume was a blow from a morningstar.
“Did you take a little trip there?”
“Yes . . . I was very far away for a moment. Very far. You finish off those other two?” He nodded. “Well then, let’s crack on.”
“I just killed three men, what are you bringing to his operation?”
“Charm, good looks, a winning attitude. Plus I had the map.”
Funds: 340 platinum, 807 gold, 6 silver
Inventory: Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Fake Signet Ring, False Papers, carnelians (2), Bag of Concealment, Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Horn of the Hunt Master, +1 Chainmail, Cold Iron Greatsword, Ring of Sustenance
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