The problem with confronting a mob is that the best way to address them is take up a position exactly where you don’t want to be if things go south. That’s a weird expression. The North is the place that sucks. You should say that things “went north” when they go awry. Anyway, with the power of my voice and my commanding presence I made my way through the crowd to the epicenter of the conflict. Stone had been doing his best to try and cool the situation but his best wasn’t very good – I mean the guy’s a labor organizer not an orator, what do you want from him? Being in the most dangerous spot did gave me a better look at the ringleaders of this confrontation.
I got the sense that the fellow in the old city watch uniform was the main instigator. He had a chaotic mess of brown hair that was badly in need of a trim but it did nicely frame his lean, hard face – quite by accident I assume. There’s a couple looks you see on the faces of people who once had a comfortable living and now are now guttertrash, the most common is a blank numbness, just not understanding to believing what happened to you. The second most common is despair and utter hopelessness, knowing full well what’s come to pass and not being able to do anything about it. But this fellow had the third and most rare – hatred sharpened on the twin stones of suffering and anguish. A look of hunger that shouts out that this person is going to get it all back or die trying – or more likely make other people die trying. Or really both probably.
You rarely see a half-orc with facial hair but the second of the trio had big beefy sideburns that made his bald pate even more prominent. He had a very long face for a half-orc, looked very marginally like an elf face only magnified to double the size. He had little notches cut out of the tops of both his ears that were too similar to be battle-wounds, although what kind of adornment that is I have no idea. The broken longsword he was waving around looked like it had once been a very fine weapon – the hilt was wrapped with some kind of exotic leather (manticore?) and was ornate enough that I wasn’t sure if it was a functional weapon or an ornamental deal. He was backing the play of the fake watchman but the impression I got was that he didn’t really care about what was happening, he was just looking for a reason to get loud and try and intimidate people. There are people out there that just want to pick a fight, they don’t really care with who. Whom? Who.
The third member of the angry mob leadership committee looked even older once I got a good look at him. As battered and scuffed up as his plate mail looked he himself looked even more abused by time. He still had a goodly amount of wispy white hair but the lines on his face were so deep they were more like cracks in his flesh. His eyes were so droopy I wasn’t even sure if they were open and his nose looked like it had been broken about a hundred times. Based on how ancient his face was it was shocking to see him walking around at all let alone being draped in what I have to assume is sixty pounds of armor. He must be one of those stout old guys who look like they could crumble to dust at any moment but are actually tough as an old tree stump.
I tried to address my questions to Tree Stump as he seemed the most reasonable, but Fake Guard jumped in to answer most of the time. This mob had assembled because someone (I think we know who) was been spreading the rumor that what was being built here was temporary art installation to honor a Vieland diplomat who was going to be visited in a few weeks. Which is a story so ludicrous that it’s absolutely going to gain some traction. The beauty of that rumor is that the truth, that we’re building a demon-cage, is so implausible that you can’t use that to counteract the claims in question. Instead I decided to try and go with the flow, saying that it was indeed an art installation but that it had nothing to do with dirty Vieland dogs and instead was dedicated to the new Queen. What I hadn’t considered though is that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge, even though she’s not really, so it backfired on me a little. But instead of changing course I doubled down, playing up the fact that it was really about the Kingdom and the people rather than the queen herself.
Over the course of a solid twenty minutes I orally sparred with the three men and I say this without a hint of overestimation – I eviscerated them. I could see the mob around them seeming to shrink before my eyes as all the wind went out of their sails. I belittled them and made a mockery of their retorts. I baited them into verbal traps and they stumbled into them headlong. I appealed to the emotions of the crowd, I plucked at their heartstrings. I had stories and tales that framed my overall message. My reach was total, my tower secure, my cause noble, my power pure – they were eating out of my hands by the end. I had that mob completely talked down. And none of it meant shit when someone hurled a rock and smashed one of Stone’s leg breakers in the face. Half an hour of work to defuse the situation all undone in one second. It’s an unfair reminder that violence always wins.
In a heartbeat it was a full-scale melee as the mob attacked the workers and their handful of protectors. I turned invisible but it hardly mattered – I was right in the thick of it. My only goal was not to get knocked down and trampled and to get the Hells out of there but I still ended up getting shoved from behind and sent flying to the ground. I realized that being invisible maybe wasn’t a benefit since there might be a few people who wouldn’t intentionally stomp on a woman if they could help it. I ended the effect and scrambled to my feet in the midst of the whirling fists and shouting. There isn’t much that really frightens me, I mean really and truly frightens me at the core – but one of those things is the idea of being trampled.
Crowds are a part of city life. You pass through them without even thinking about it – some part of your brain guides you through without even touching anyone. There are even times when you join a crowd voluntarily – a public hanging, a victory parade, an entertainer – you press together in a weird kind of communion with strangers that transcends the fear of being touched. But the transition from good natured civic smooshing to suffocating pressure occurs imperceptibly – you don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late to escape. Everything seems fine but then you feel pressure on all sides of your body. You realize that you can’t raise your arms. You are pulled off your feet, and melded into a block of people. The crowd force squeezes the air out of your lungs, and you struggle to take another breath.
The crowd is like a living thing, but it’s one without thought. It can’t be bargained with or bullied, you can’t talk your way around it. It’s like a natural disaster – power being exerted without intelligence. What can you do but hope that it doesn’t take you? It’s all the anger and violence inside of people without any of the gates built up by morality or society or religion. After all if two hundred people all step on a woman one time each who’s to blame? “I just stepped on her once, I didn’t kill her – and only because someone else was pushing me.” It’s the ultimate in deflected responsibility. It’s the pure inverse of a victimless crime, it’s an offenderless crime. Someone is dead and there’s no one to blame.
My initial strategy was to try and stay upright, protect my head and just go with the flow of the crowd. But this resulted in my being pushed towards the center over and over so I adopted a new plan – take out your dagger and stab the shit out of anyone near you. This was much more effective. I managed to get clear of the press and catch my breath. This whole process took maybe ninety seconds but it felt like forever and a day. I thought that the good news was that it was just a relatively small number of people in a single clearing maybe a block wide, but then I looked down the street to the north and I saw a group of a dozen men pry a cobblestone from the ground and hurl it through the window of a shop – they went in through the shattered glass and drug a man and woman screaming out into the street where they started to beat and kick them.
I looked down the street to the west and saw a dwarf with a bloody head wound hurling a flask of alchemist’s fire into a market stall and setting it ablaze. A riot is like a wildfire, it can spread quickly but this was something else – Lypara Emprenzo (if she’s behind this and it seems pretty likely that she is) had agents in place to fan the flames, people were waiting for this, they were ready, it was their chance to release their animal side. I should know since I pulled the same trick in Graltontown. Standing there, looking at danger on all sides, I couldn’t help but once again think how much going up against the bride of the Hells was like trying to defeat myself.
I turned invisible again and waited for a moment to make a dash – ending up in an alley where I found a young woman in a maid’s dress clutching at a holy symbol of Adariel and whispering prayers as she cowered against the wall. In the split-second after my invisibility faded but before I was deciding whether to ignore her or help her a four men came tumbling and falling into the alley as well – being driven forward by six guardsmen with big heavy shields side by side forming a wall. They marched step by step forward, herding the four men before them like sheep.
Trapped, one of the men turned and looked at us with wild eyes, dashing forward and yanking the praying women to the feet and holding her like a shield in front of him. One of his fellows came at me to do the same and I stabbed him three times in the neck as the guards continued inexorable forward battering the other two men before them. They praying woman screamed in terror as the man grabbed her by two handfuls of her dress and shoved her forward at the guards like she was a battering ram and not a ninety pound girl. The shields of the guardsmen turned slightly to the side and through the narrow slits came the flash of spearpoints – skewering both the woman and the man holding her. They continued their slow steady movement forward, stabbing down the other two men with their spears as well and showing no sign of slowing or halting.
“What the fuck are you doing?! Stop!”
I’m not sure if they didn’t hear me or didn’t care – they kept coming like a miniature spiked wall, a trap in some bad adventure novel. I grabbed my Flask and activated it for a swig of magic – growing instantly to more than ten feet tall. This even didn’t give them pause, at least until I reached over the shields and picked up one of the men like a child and hurled him back into the others, knocking them arms and legs akimbo. With my new stature I was able to reach up the roof of the building to one side and pull myself up – but the roof immediately groaned with my increased weight. Moving as slowly and carefully as I could I tried to crawl to and down the other side but the roof collapsed under me, sending me crashing into what I think was a textile shop of some kind – not only knocking the wind out of me but also piercing me with broken boards. The worst part was that I was too large to get out the door so I had to stay there stuffed in like a leg in a stocking until the magic wore off. By then the riot was in full swing.
I saw maids and servants dumping waste bins, meat trimmings, and chamber pots off the balcony of a building into the masses below who responded with a barrage of rocks and debris. I saw two men grabbing giant bags out of a granary and ripping them open, spilling food out into the streets were people raced to fill their pockets, skirts, and whatever they could grab to fill with grain. I saw women running screaming from a fancy building with a red tinted glass window attempting to cover their nakedness with bedsheets and mismatches pieces of clothing. I saw a bloody and battered man sitting in the doorway of a looted building crying. I saw a man on the roof of a building firing indiscriminately into the crowd below with a crossbow. I saw a shirtless man with elaborate tattoos tying another man to a rope of other people already lashed together like a chain-gang. I saw a sobbing man trying desperately to bandage the bleeding stomach of a woman in the back of a wagon.
Funds: 50,874 gold
Inventory: Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet
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