I don’t know who invented the bed, but whoever it was better be in the Eleven Heavens right now enjoying eternal foot rubs or whatever goes on there, because that person is high in the running for my rankings as best person that ever lived. My first night back as a person sleeping in a real bed? Magnificent. And this is only a moderate quality bed. Kostelos and other barbarous people like that sleep on piles of leaves with an animal skin over them. Poor people have mattresses stuffed with hay or sometimes reeds suspended on series of ropes. Those aren’t beds through, those are places for people to sleep. For a real bed you need to have a tester, there needs to be silk or cloth of gold involved, there needs to be embroidery and fine woodwork. A real bed is something that someone remembers making.
I’ve had plenty of strong drink in my day (and will continue to do so) and I’ve tried quite a few drugs – none of them hold a candle to a deep dreamless sleep. That’s a sweet oblivion to which no substance can compare, no matter what the pipe-heads and lotus eaters will tell you. I give the Gods credit for making one smart decision – turning our conscience minds off when we sleep. If you were calling the shots would you ever wake up? Of course not, why would you? We’d all starve to death in our sleep and then the Gods would have no one to worship them. It’s a selfish move but it’s a wise one.
I felt so refreshed that I barely minded waking up to a room with no maid. After lying in bed for a good hour I finally roused myself and went downstairs where Josta was already at her post behind the bar enjoying whatever the opposite of a nightcap is. There has to be a term for that right? Seems like I should know what it is.
“Good morning to you fine innkeeper, what’s for breakfast? I find myself famished.”
She threw back the last of her drink and then looked at the empty cup for a moment as if expected it to be refilled by magic.
“I’m not much of one for breakfast myself. There’s an old feller that comes around selling meat pies sometimes.”
“Well that sounds dreadful. Hiring some maids and a cook and so forth and actually opening this place up, have you given that any more thought?”
“Yeah, I think about it.”
She just shrugged in that infuriating way of hers. Thankfully just then Stella came down and we walked a few blocks away to a decent establishment that was serving omelets made with copper pikelord, bowls of fresh peaches and mugs of fantastic perry. I’ve been accused to being too in love with the sound of my own voice occasionally, but I always have something to say – Stella is more the kind of person who’s just talking to talk. I think it’s some form of social nervousness which is surprising given her profession as a Duke’s black bag operator – you’d think someone like that would be more put together. I was enjoying my breakfast so much that I let her prattle on, I’ve never been all that enamored with fish but it really hit the spot. Maybe that’s some of the catness that hasn’t worn off yet.
After that it was off to our appointment with the honorable lord mayor Baras Haldmeer. Walking the streets of Beresford, the morning air crisp and cool and reinvigorating – who knew that all it would take for me to really appreciate being alive was two weeks spent as a pussycat? As we were escorted in to the mayoral compound I thought back to the hours I spent trying to find a way into this place as a cat to see how thoroughly he was going to betray me after I saved his city from dirty foreigners. I probably wouldn’t have come without Stella at my side, assuming that he was going to have me killed, but I don’t think he’d cross Duke Lodvocka just to get rid of me.
We waited only a few moments outside his office before we were invited in. The mayor is a guarded fellow but I couldn’t help smirking slightly when his eyes widened as I walked in. He came out from behind his desk to kiss the back of my hand and bow slightly before we both took a seat.
“It’s good to see you looking . . . well.”
“The courtesy of your hall is markedly improved of late Mayor Haldmeer.”
“You caught me on bad day the first time we met madam, but that is no excuse for my behavior, you have my sincerest apologies.”
“I love that expression. Sincerest. Could mean not sincere at all right? What fun.”
He smiled humorlessly “I would love nothing more than to enjoy a nice long conversation with you my dear but the sad fact is that I simply don’t have the time. I’m going to get right down to business, I’d like your help with something.”
“And since you’re holding all my worldly possessions hostage there’s every reason to believe that I’d be willing to help you.”
His eyes turned hard “Let’s dispense with stating things we both know just to try and make a point shall we?” He glanced at Stella “You know what this is.”
“You’re the one who was beating around the bush, you need me to do something, tell me what it is.”
He paused for a moment before continuing “For the last two years my brother has been working on something for me. There’s a group that’s been operating in the area, a cult some would call them, they’ve proven to be very elusive to standard law enforcement tactics. My brother was able to link them to a local theater owned by a prominent citizen. He was trying to figure out if the owner was involved or just a dupe of some kind but he’s disappeared.”
“And you need someone disposable like me to try and find out what happened to him.”
“That’s about the size of it.”
“I’d say we have a deal then, I find your brother and as a reward you’ll give me back own lawful possessions. Are you going to give me some kind of badge or something to get me out of trouble with the watch?”
“Do you think this job is going to involve a lot of breaking city laws?”
“My secretary has a file for you, please collect it on your way out.”
After gathering my packet of information Stella and I headed back towards the inn. She was fretting about the potential danger of this mission. I think she’s afraid that I’ll get myself killed before the Duke can repay me for saving his son, which is an odd attitude because if I get murdered then he and by extension she are off the hook.
There’s an old saying “If you’re a little paranoid it’s too much, if you’re a lot paranoid it’s not enough.” Who said that? Me. I did. You’re welcome. I just found out that I’m not paranoid enough because I heard the arrows whistling at me at the last moment but I wasn’t vigilant enough to see them coming before my chest exploded with pain and darkness washed over me. The next thing I knew I was laying on the floor of what appeared to be a bakery covered with blood and feeling like I was breathing through a hollow reed, unable to catch my breath fully. Stella was hovering nervously by the window looking up at the roofs across the street while a terrified couple slouched behind the counter looking, well, terrified.
I managed to wheeze “What happened?”
Stella looked back at me for a split second before returning to her scanning of the roofs “Someone shot you, they turned visible for a second on the roof of a building. They would have killed you with a second volley if I hadn’t turned you into mist. They turned invisible again so I lost them.”
In my grogginess I wasn’t sure that I had heard that right “What?”
“I turned you into mist and put you in a bottle for a minute, that’s why there are no arrows in you. Don’t worry about that now, don’t move – just concentrate on trying to breath. A priest will be here shortly.”
Easier said than done – it felt like someone was standing on my chest. Actually it felt like there were metal stakes stuck in my chest and someone was standing on those. I guess I should be glad that the sniper didn’t go for the head. It’s a lot harder to shoot someone in the face then you’d think though, unless you’re really close. Trust me, I know. I turned to look at the woman cowering behind the counter clinging to what I assume is her husband.
I gasped out “I think I’m dying.”
The woman started to timidly come out from behind the counter, her hand reaching for mine, when the door banged open and she scurried back. Tumbling in, and I mean that literally, came a soft-featured fellow wearing white and red robes of Adariel. I don’t know why I fixated on this, maybe because I was on the ground, but his boots looked strangely feminine to me. Maybe his feet are so small he has to wear women’s boots. He slammed the door shut and looked fearfully out the window as if he was expecting the sniper to take him out at any moment.
Stella took him by the arm “Thank the Gods you’re here, I was able to get her stabilized but she’s badly hurt and losing a lot of blood, I . . .”
He pointed to the window “You just keep a lookout, I don’t want to catch an arrow in the back of the head, I’ll handle your friend.”
Stella went back to looking anxiously out the window as the priest came towards me. But instead of any sort of healing items he produced a slim sword. The man behind the counter shouted a warning to Stella and I tried to roll out of the way as he lunged at me with the blade, but I felt the steel slide through the small of my back and into my guts before I passed out again. The next time I woke up I was still on the floor and there was flour all over the place – little bits of blood and flour were merging together into little dark dough balls. It reminded me of the bloody lemon cake when I escaped from the Vulturans. Stella had a blade out and was nursing several wounds of her own, of the bakers there was no sign. She came over to try and haul me to my feet.
“I’m having a bad day. That healer was a doozy.”
“Come on, we’ve got to get you out here. This guy is clearly good with disguises so when we get out there he could be anyone so we have to move fast.”
“Hold on, hold on a minute. Tell me where to meet and we should go separately. He’s not the only one who can disguise himself. I assume you have some way to travel incognito as well.”
“Are you sure you can make it? You’ve been shot several times and run through as well. I’ve only been able to heal you a little bit.”
“Yes, I noticed that. I can make it. As long as it’s somewhere close.”
Funds: 1282 gold
Inventory: Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk
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
Behind the curtain: Ela went to negative hit points twice but she managed to survive. I wonder sometimes what I’m going to do if/when her luck finally runs out.