Myam 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 2

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.

“Well fuck.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

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

Myam 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 1

I admit fully that I am merely an average card player, but I am an exceptional card cheat.  Stinty on the other hand is very a good card player and a mediocre card cheat – that thing he did were people shuffle the cards all fancy?  That doesn’t mean you’re actually good a double dealing or other chicanery necessarily – for him it was clearly just a trick he had learned.  We had fun sparring for a couple hands (I came out head of course) but we realized that us jousting like that wasn’t very entertaining for Josta and Kalisha so we cooled it after that and just played things straight and enjoyed the evening.  Kalisha was clearly the worst player at the table and she’s by a wide margin the most educated.  Is there a lesson there?  Maybe. 

We played and drank and joked and told tales well into the dark of night – it was an amusing diversion from the typical people shooting at me or trying to kidnap me or random immolations that are now part of my life.  After the game broke up and I went to bed the fun was over.  Again I was wracked with disturbing dreams.  I hesitate to call them nightmares because I feel like there’s a connotation there that you don’t know what’s going on and I certainly did.  The quaint nails in my flesh of the previous night were gone.  In their place I dreamed of being ripped apart by arrows, spears and swords on some snow-covered battlefield.  I dreamed of being on a riverboat that was shooting out the mouth of a river into the ocean and being knocked off the deck and carried away by surging waves, sometimes to drown sometimes to be torn to pieces by sharks and wicked sea serpents.  I dreamed of many hands being upon by body, dozens maybe hundreds of hands holding me firmly and throwing me into the midst of a great fire to burn and smolder – the stench of my own seared flesh plugging my nostrils.  I dreamed of being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, being carried by a great wind and falling from thousand-foot cliffs, shaking and convulsing and vomiting blood from disease.  And I dreamed of killing myself – placing a dagger to my chest and falling forward to drive into my heart.

While all this was going on in my mind I was also aware of my sleeping body being subjected to strange undulating sensations of intense heat that felt like it was coming from under my skin.  It was like a fever only it was traveling around my body in patches.  What it felt like was as if someone had taken a rolling pin and was running it along my skin from the inside after having heated it up in an oven.  It was unpleasant to say the least.  When it would travel over some of my more sensitive areas I could feel tears slipping down the side of my face.  Who knew that you could cry when you were asleep?

Eventually the dire visions of death and dismemberment faded away and I was left in a featureless misty void.  Facing me was Lypara Emprenzo, not Lypara Emprenzo the woman, the vision projected into the world – but the real demonic presence in all her glory.  I see now why certain types get all hot and bothered about studying these foul fiends – she was something approaching physical perfection.  Assuming that you can get past the scaly wings and horns and claws and all that.  Which I bet you most men wouldn’t pick up even after doing the deed.  They’re like that you know.  “Oh, she had fangs and a tail?  To be honest I didn’t notice.”  Of course she wasn’t wearing a stitch, I assume because the Hells are so hot and all.

“Those breasts are anatomically incorrect.  They’re like coming out of your collarbone.”

She was looking around as if there was something to see “You’re very closed off, no wonder I couldn’t get inside you the other day.”

“I don’t care for that phrasing.”

She smirked “Don’t play the prude with me.”

“Fair enough.  Is this the correct venue for a dream invasion?  Shouldn’t it look like there’s a bunch of file cabinets that you’re rifling through or something obvious like that? Or like a library maybe and all the books have titles like ‘Ela learns to ride a horse’, ‘Ela’s first day in court’, ‘The time Ela fell off a roof and busted her ass’ something like that?”

“I can conjure that up if you like.”

“I’m not here to tell you how to dream-haunt someone, I just thought you’d want some feedback.  So I assume that was you last night, and the night before?  Was I really visited by the ghost of a dead man or was that you messing with my dreams?”

“I guess you’ll never know.”

“When I was younger some other kids told me that if a demon intruded on your dreams three nights in a row you’d die.”

“They were right.”

I snorted “I doubt it, if you could dream-murder me you would have done it already.”

“Maybe I want to recruit you.”

“For what?  A sewing circle?  I’ve never understood demon worship, is the idea that somehow at the end they won’t go to the Hells?  Because logically that makes no sense.  If you’re worshipping a demon where else are you going to end up?  It’s like riding a horse off a cliff and not expecting to fall.”

“Well there aren’t a lot of logical demon worshippers.  Besides, most people don’t think too far into the future.  Who can be bothered to think about their immortal soul when they can have a shiny new sword?  You’d be amazed what people are willing to damn themselves for.”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t at that.  You’ve a pretty bleak outlook, for a mortal.”

“That kind of goes hand and hand with the mortality thing.  As soon as you’re born you start dying – it’s a race to the grave and all the rest is vanity.”

She smiled “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

“Immortality huh?”

“Naturally.  The simplest bargains are the most enticing – eternal life for eternal servitude.”

“Pass.”

Her wings flared slightly, which I assume is a succubus shrug “Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

“If you can’t kill me why are you here?  Just to drive me mad with sleep deprivation?  That’s not a bad plan I guess but I think that’s going to take too long, I’ll have you trapped like a rat in a few days.”

“No, I was trying to see if I could breach your defenses while you were asleep but you’ve really walled yourself off here.  You are one guarded mother fucker.”

“You’ve said that a couple times now, am I supposed to be flattered by that?”

“Sorry, I can’t help myself, since you’re not a mind invader you can’t really appreciate what you’ve done here.  It’s like trying to describe a masterpiece painting to a blind man.”

“It’s just the way I am, nothing to get worked up about.”

She shook her head “No.  I can see your mind laid out like a strata on a rock.  I can see the layers.  You had a little bit of fight in you when you were a child, you’d have to make this, and then you gained some strength later on.  But for a long time it was unfocused.  You had some willpower but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be overcome.  I could have cracked you in a few minutes.  But over the past few months you’ve built a castle on that rock and a wall around that castle and filled the moat with flaming lava and manned the gates with vukodlakcrs.”

“What are those?”

“It’s a beast that’s like a combination of a giant black wolf and a horse.”

“Sounds dumb.”

“They’re fearsome, trust me.”

“Why are there so many beasts that are just a bunch of different animal parts put together?  Are the Gods lazy?  I mean chimeras?  Come on.  And don’t even get me started on galluvix or esquilax.  Even the deadly minotaur is just a man with a bull head.  Where’s the creativity?”

“You don’t need to tell me about the Gods and how much they suck, I’m a demon, that’s my whole deal.”

“Oh right.  So are we about done here?”

“No, I’m going to continue making you dream of your own mutilation and destruction until you wake up.”

“Oh, I guess I better wake up then.”

And so I did, feeling like I hadn’t sleep in three days.  Most likely because I hadn’t slept in three days.  I tell you this now.  I’ve said before that being bone-weary and not being able to sleep is tortuous, but what I learned is that being so tired you can barely keep your eyes open and knowing that you could very easily fall asleep but that if you do so you’ll be tormented mentally and physically – that is real torture.  This is some next level shit right here.  Embodiment of evil or not this succubus knows her stuff. 

With little else to do I drug myself downstairs in the lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunch rush.  I shuffled down to the bar and asked Josta for one of the standard wake-up drinks from the old days – some people called it the Trash Bin, other’s called it something much more crude involving the bum.  Half an ounce of gin, half an ounce of dark rum, half an ounce of vodka, half an ounce of peach Schapps, and half an ounce of blue curacao served in a heated mug – that takes the edge off.  When I asked for it, and then explained what it was Josta just stared at me.

“What?  I need something to keep awake.”

“I know I’m standing behind a bar so I can understand your confusion but I am not a bartender.  I don’t know how to make drinks.  I can tap a barrel, that’s pretty much it.”

“You are useless you know that?!”

“You’re mean when you’re tired.”

“To be fair I’m pretty mean most of the time.”

She walked away, I assumed in a huff, but she returned a few minutes later and tossed an only sort-of ugly necklace at me.  I was startled but managed to catch it anyway due to my catlike reflexes.  The pendant was made of decent sungold and it was in the shape of a stylized eye – very stylized – it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at.  It had some symbols on the back that I didn’t exactly recognize but I had a feeling with religious in nature. 

I frowned “What’s this?”

“Just put it on.”

“Yeah no thanks.  Is it magic?  I’ve been cursed enough times already, I don’t need to be putting on some cursed magic necklace you stole from a grave.”

She sighed “Just do it.”

“Wow, what a convincing argument.”

“It will make you feel better.”

“Fine but if this turns me into a hunchback I’m blaming you.”

I slipped it on and as soon as I fastened the clasp I felt the weariness drain out of me from the top down to the feet – like it was running out a cup with a hole in the bottom.  Two seconds later and I felt fresh as a daisy and ready to take on the world. 

“Wow, thanks, where did you find this?”

“I actually did take it off a dead guy.  I figured if there’s anything the dead don’t need it’s that.  It only works for seven days at a time, then you crash hard.  Just so you know.”

After getting myself cleaned up and grabbing a bite to eat I decided to check out the worksite.  Before I even got there I knew something was wrong.  The people on the street there were all going the other way and they were walking with that weird leaning forward tension you see in people when they don’t know what’s going on but they know something is going on.  They weren’t exactly rushing away but they weren’t not rushing you know?  Once I got closer I saw Stone and a couple his men along with the guards provided by Hans and Grete facing off with a man in a tattered and outdated guard uniform, a half-orc waving a broken longsword, and an older fellow in battered platemail who stood at the head of whatever you call a mob before they start rioting.  I guess that’s still a mob.  There was a lot of posturing and metaphorical (and some literal) chest-pounding.  I used my vocal abilities to project over the thrumming of voices.

“What’s going on here?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

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

Muthuselan 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Last night was another restless endeavor.  I repeatedly had a dream where I was being pierced with nails.  Nothing was driving them in that I could see, they were just burrowing into my flesh on their own accord.  Even when you’re having the most horrifying nightmare possible it’s just images and sounds – you can’t feel anything because it’s not real.  But every time this happened I would start awake because I felt like someone was pinching my legs.  When morning rolled around I not only felt like I hadn’t slept, which I hadn’t much, but I was even more exhausted – like I had spent the entire night running for my life instead of laying quietly in bed.  All in all not a good time. 

Therefore I was already in something of a foul mood and it didn’t help that the common room was mostly full with patrons seeking breakfast.  I liked it better when this was just a place for Josta to get drunk and for me to come downstairs in my nightclothes if I wanted to – I really should look into getting some different accommodations.  There’s just something unwholesome about getting dressed before you have your morning meal.  It’s not right it isn’t.  I had a breakfast bottle of wine in Kalisha’s room and told her about my experience with the Dreamers last night, hoping that she might be able to offer some insight on the best way to manipulate drugged out whackos but all she did was say that talking about that kind of thing wouldn’t help her recovery and sthen he all but asked me to leave.  The fucking nerve of this woman.  She’d be dead in the Shiver den now if not for me and this is how she repays me?  I’ve said it a thousand times – people have no sense of gratitude.

Normally I’m pretty good a regulating, Hells I’m not pretty good, I’m great!  But today when I went to market to ditch the lumbermen’s goods I could tell that my bad mood was impairing my ability sweet talk people effectively.  And even though I realized it was happening I couldn’t seem to get a grip on it.  After the third time I blew a good deal with a sharp word I decided that I needed to take a break and clear my head.  I found a patio café where I could drink dark tea and watch the world go by.  Well not the world, but Beresford, you know what I mean.

I started thinking about the “art” of seduction.  People often think that it’s some sensual amorous thing with silk veils and fluttering eyelashes and heaving bosoms, but like always the truth is far less interesting.  At the core all it really consists of is having the patience to put up with someone’s bullshit.  Old Scatch is a good example.  As much as he wants the pleasures of the flesh what he wants even more is someone who will listen to his endless boring stories about the different stupid plays he’s been in and how HE should have been lead and how everyone else is a kiss ass but he’s got true talent and blah, blah, blah.  He wants someone to agree with everything he says and flatter him.  He wants someone to make him feel younger, more powerful, like he’s not a sad pathetic loser in a third rate acting troupe.  It’s not hard, but it is exhausting.

People like to imagine exotic foreign concubines training for years in the talent of pleasure but it’s nothing like that.  Don’t get me wrong, there is an art to it, but it’s mostly just lying, and lying is mostly just telling people what they want to hear.  The hard part is not letting your resentment for them biting on your lies show.  There’s a part of you that wants to scream at them “Why are you buying this?!  You can’t possibly believe that I think you’re this interesting and cool!  You simply can’t!  You know what you are!”  But as you might imagine screaming at someone about how stupid they are for believing you is not terrible helpful.  What you’re really preying on is people’s capacity for self-deception.  They want to be the kind of person who gets the attention you’re giving them so they make themselves believe.  That’s for men anyway, I assume seducing a woman is a whole different kettle of fish.  Some day when this is all over I want to spend some time in the illusion of a man and work it all out.  It would be a good thing to know. Or at least an interesting one. 

Before I knew it mid-day was upon me and I went back into the market to peddle my stolen wares.  Much calmer, I was able to get my customary good deals.  I have to wonder though about the economics of making a magic ax to clear trees.  It costs you seven thousand gold to make the dang thing how long does it take you to make that back just by cutting down trees?  Decades?  I guess magic items can last forever so over time it makes sense but who looks at things from that long of a point of view?  Elfs I guess and they don’t seem to love the idea of deforestation. 

After my transacting that I swung by the construction site where Rindol and Murdane were practically frothing at the mouth to tell me about their harrowing almost assassinations and the brave men that just “happened” to be nearby to save them.  The two of them talked for more than an hour about a fight that probably lasted somewhere around thirty seconds.  Which is impressive in its own way.  But the point is that the scam worked, they were now residing in undisclosed locations and were sticking to their bodyguards like maggots on meat.  It must take a lot of temperance to be a bodyguard – it’s probably bad for business if you throttle the person you’re supposed to be protecting yourself.  Now all I have to worry about is the two of them being killed from afar by invisible archers at the worksite.  But who ever heard of such a thing happening in Beresford eh?

Even though there were plenty of things that I could be doing there was nothing specifically I needed to do, so I took a turn around town, just to see what all Beresford has to offer.  It reminded me very much of the first day I woke up in Graltontown, walking the city that day.  Beresford is more settled, more polished, more refined than Graltontown but that’s akin to saying that it’s better to fall headfirst into a mudhole than a shithole.  It’s true, but it almost doesn’t matter.  It’s definitely the kind of place that I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught dead in a year ago.  In an extreme emergency the Duke may have stopped here while traveling but you can be sure someone would have heard about it.  And by heard about it I mean probably been executed.  Rich people can afford their whims, that’s why they have so many of them.

Walking around Beresford, seeing the Beresfordians going about their simple lives I did something that I hadn’t done in a while.  I took stock of those who’ve wronged me, took some time mentally to remember what they did and what’s going to happen to them because of it.  It was a pleasant reminder of all the good work that’s going to come in the future.  It’s easy to get so caught up in the day to day hustle and bustle of life that you forget what’s important.  It’s good to take a day here and there and remember the importance of the vengeance that you’re going to visit on those who’ve wronged you.  How the many indignities and humiliations you’ve endured will come back to roost on those responsible.  I don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen but I know that it will.  I am inevitable.

After getting my mind right I headed back to the Rest Inn Peace around sundown and the joint was really hopping with boozehounds.  I have to hand it to Stinty, the man knows how to run a business.  I’m curious what would have become of this place if I had left it entirely in Josta’s hands.  The two of them plus Kalisha were sitting at a table with the remnants of a good looking meal on the overlook watching over the happy throng below.  I made my way up the stairs to join them. 

“I thought the idea was to have a few customers to avoid suspicion but not so many that they got in the way of other business.”

Stinty waved his little hand “We can worry about that later, a few months down the road, right now we’re just playing it straight.”

“Oh, ‘we’ are are we?”

He chuckled “As straight as it gets anyway.”  He flipped a deck of cards into his hand and did some fancy shuffling “I was just trying to get the ladies interested in some cards here.”

Kalisha bit her lip “I was never much of one for games.”

I smiled “I’ve been known to play a hand or two.  Seems like a delightful way to spend the evening.  What’s your game?”

Josta leaned forward “Have any of you ever played kosakeln?”

I raised an eyebrow “A woman with fine taste in card games.  You surprise me again Josta.”

“I’ll try not to be insulted by that.”

“That’s very big of you.  I’ll deal.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

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

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

Muthuselan 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I doubt it, why were you hung?”

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

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

“Are you the guilty one or not?”

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

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

“A woman.”

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

His side-scowl deepened “Yes.”

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

“Demon powers?”

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

“Why would I believe that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not here to kill you.”

“Really?  Why are you here then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You could help out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,788 gold

XP: 523,101

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

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

Muthuselan 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

“Really?  Josta’s been helpful?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heard from who?”

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

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

“That’s a little steep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,788 gold

XP: 523,101

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

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

Muthuselan 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

“Sounds like tax evasion to me.”

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

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

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

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

“Not precisely, but sort of, yeah.”

“And you can prove this?”

“Well no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

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

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

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

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

“Honestly no, it did not.”

“So what are we going to do?!”

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

“To kill us!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That I wish I had never met you.”

“I get that a lot.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,464 gold

XP: 523,101

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

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

Muthuselan 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For real ma’am?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who was that you brought in?”

“Drug addict.”

“Is this a flop house for pipeheads now?”

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

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

“I thought I dreamed you.”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

“Which cousin?”

“Lucien.”

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

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

“Yeah, Shiver will do that.” 

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

“Beresford.”

“Gods.”

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

“What?  Graltontown?”

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

“Me?  What could I do?”

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 55,271 gold

XP: 523,101

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

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