Muthuselan 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Do you remember the first time you got hurt?  Probably not.  It’s a good design that we can’t remember what happens to us the first months of our lives because if you were able to remember things at that time you’d never try anything.  There’s a period of time after you’re born that you don’t even know what pain is, you don’t know it exists.  Hunger?  Sure.  Discomfort?  Yeah.  But you don’t figure out what pain is for a while, and when you do it’s a good thing you’re not really sentient yet because if you were you’d never attempt to walk or do anything – you’d just lay there like a lump terrified of everything.  I learned a little earlier than most because I was bitten by snake while I was in the crib but that’s a story for another day. 

Every now and then at court you’d run into a kid who was so pampered that they didn’t really know what it meant to get hurt.  There were kids who never fell down and got hurt because they had servants to follow them around and break their fall with cushions.  I saw a kid like that get scratched by a cat (they’ll do that you know) one time and he screamed like he was being torn in half.  Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure actually.  The point is that while I had my share of hardships I lived a pretty comfortable life for many years.  Now in the last few months I’ve been stabbed, shot, fell off a roof (twice), been kicked in the chest, punched, trampled, sliced, you name it.  I’m not going to say that you get used to the pain, but you kind of do.  Every now and then when actual life and death bloodsports went out of vogue at court they’d have pugilists come in and beat the shit out each other.  There was this one fighter they called Oak or some other stupid tree name like that.  He’d win his bouts by basically just leaning in and letting his opponent punch the Gods out of him until they were tired out and then he’d wail on them.  People said that he was a masochist and that he liked pain.  I don’t think so.  But he didn’t hate it. 

Even with magical healing almost dying takes the wind out of your sails so I slept like a rock in the hidden chamber under the stairs.  I don’t know what time I finally got up but the food that had been left for me was stone cold.  Stella was out making arrangements and I got bored waiting down there so I emerged into the common room.  In addition to Archum there were two other hard cases sitting there pretending to nurse drinks – a scar-faced redhead also wearing chainmail and common looking fellow wearing hunterish looking garb.  Stinty was manning the bar and remarked as I walked out.

“Is it a good idea for you to be out here?”

I changed my appearance to that of blonde Northman with a beaky nose “Is that better?”

“Not really, if he has the place under surveillance he could have seen you come out.”

“There’s no clear eyeline to the stairwell door, as I’m sure you know.”

“And as I’m sure you know eyelines only mean so much when you’re dealing with magic.”

I sat down at the one table not occupied by a watchful goon “It’s boring down there, looks like there’s plenty of protection up here anyway.”

“I’d rather not get killed because you were bored.”

“Oh, you meant a good idea for you, not for me.  Do you think it’s likely this place is being watched?”

“Yes.  It wouldn’t have taken our talented friend, as you call him, long to figure out my story was bullshit.  That was a mistake on my part.  I was trying to scare him off but that was foolish, he’s not going to be scared off easily.”

“And if knows you lied he knows you’re in on it.  You should have just said that I left and you didn’t know anything else.  Why are you in on it anyway?”

“Stella’s an old friend, and she pays me money.”

“So mostly the money.”

“Mostly the money.”

“So she had this place ready just in case?  That’s very cunning of her – she’s really quite good at what she does isn’t she?”

Stinty nodded his tiny chin “She is.”

“Where do you suppose people like her come from?  Where do Dukes and Earls and whatnot find these highly competent, mostly loyal, shadowy operator types willing to do the dirty work of keeping a kingdom running?”

“From what I’ve seen of you so far you’re a noble, or at least a skilled noble imposter, who can change shapes and survive five arrows to the chest.  Not to mention you tossed out a thousand gold like it was nothing nothing.  I was going to ask you where such people come from.”

“A fair point.  I can’t change shapes though, it’s just an illusion.”

“Oh, well then I guess I’m not impressed.  You said you were bored, what do you want to talk about – you know, that’s a topic interest enough that it’s worth endangering our lives?”

“Hmm, good question.  How’s the war going?”

“Which one?”

“Take your pick.”

“I hear we’re winning.  Should be wrapped up by summer, another victory for the good guys.  Parades, medals, land grants, and congratulations all around.”

“That’s nice to hear.  Do you think the propaganda machine breaks down before a country is defeated in war or does it keep on churning away right until the end?  Do the people that buy that hogwash think they’re going to win the war the day before the enemy soldiers come burn down their homes, rape their wives, and sell their children into slavery?”

“I hope never to find out.”

“True, it’s more of an intellectual curiosity.  Do you have anything to eat around here?”

“I have an ox shank I could cook up for you.”

“I meant something good.”

“Oh no, we don’t have anything like that.”

“What’s the chance of you sending out for some nice roasted duck with cashew bread and a fine bottle of wine?  And not fatty duck, the good juicy stuff.”

“Probably about the same as your chances of surviving being poisoned.”

I sighed “Being stalked by a master of disguise is really annoying.”

“That’s something we could talk about, why is this surely very expensive hired killer trying to kill you?”

“Oh, could be for any number of things.  For some reason there are people that just don’t take to me despite how lovely and charming I am.”

“Jealously, that’s what that is.”

“Probably.  You got a deck of cards around here?  We could play a few hands to pass the time.  I know a few games.”

“I’m sure you do, but we need to stay vigilant, not be distracted by a card game.  You’ve had your fun, it’s time for you to go back downstairs now.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Reluctantly I passed back through the secret door and into the tiny chamber – my only companions a blood soaked bed and a wash basin.  These folks are clearly professionals but would it kill them to bring me some news clothing and some clean sheets?  I don’t know how the knights and men at arms do it – do they bring like fifty sets of clothing with them when they sally forth?  Maybe that’s why the supply trains are so important – you can’t go into battle with a stained shirt now can you? 

I don’t think I’ve ever get good at waiting.  But since I had all day to wait I thought waiting.  And about why things are different now –before my life was filled with long periods of doing nothing and it was fine, now I can’t stand it.  Here’s what I came up with.  Normal boring life creates one set of expectations for your mind.  Waiting doesn’t seem so bad because you’re not used to much happening.  But then, WHAM, something insane happens – every moment you’re under threat seems new and vivid.  And your mind changes – time warps because the experience is so intense.  It’s a survival mechanism that amplifies our awareness and packs more memories than usual into a short time interval. We’re tricked into thinking more time has passed. So your expectations change and it becomes an ugly cycle of expecting things to happen quickly, becoming impatient, getting angry.  And getting angry makes things seem like they take forever.

However having this theory doesn’t help anything.  The good news is that night when Stella finally came down to talk to me she brought some decent food and a bottle of raspberry liqueur with her.  She brought a ridiculously small chair down with her as well to sit across from me.

“How do I know you’re not the assassin here to poison me?”

“Do you think he’s that good at disguising himself?”

“Why not?  I am.”

“Sure, but you have . . . advantages.  Hmm, what’s something only the real me would know?”

“What’s the shape of the birthmark I have on my ass?”

“How would I know that?”

I took the tray of food from her “You passed.  Every man assumes that women have nude tickle fights when they’re not around and therefore would expect that you would know that and try to answer.”

“That’s some ironclad logic.”

“How are we looking?”

“The wheels are in motion.”

“Since our talented friend knows about this place should we change locales?”

She pursed her lips “I considered that.  I think it’s too late.  If we had moved right away that could have done some good but I think now if we try that it just gives him a chance to strike.  I don’t think he’s watching alone, he’s the killer but he can’t be doing all this legwork alone so I think he has a team of watchers.  Even disguised, with decoys I think it’s too risky.  Here at least there’s no way to get you unless he wants to fight his way in, and I don’t think that’s what an invisible rooftop archer wants to do.”

“That’s pretty much what I was thinking as well.  You should be careful about coming and going as well, he has to know at this point that you’re helping me so he might try to take you out.”

“I’m always invisible when I come and go.”

“That only goes so far.  I would expect an invisible rooftop archer to have a way to deal with other people like him.  Isn’t having smart enemies the worst?”

“I’m used to it in my line of work, but yes, I much prefer my enemies to be morons.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

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 

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