I’ve been told that it’s a myth that the smell of smoke will wake you up if there’s a fire and that in fact the smoke will dull your senses and make you fall into a deeper sleeper – the kind you don’t wake up from. It may very well be true, all I can tell you is that I woke up this morning and I was instantly coughing and choking amidst a cloud of smoke. No, not a cloud, more like a fog maybe? Or a mist? The point is there was smoke down there. It was coming from under the door of the only exit, where I could see flames lapping underneath the door as well. What’s the bottom of a door called? The door jamb? Or is the jamb the frame? The point is there was fire flickering under the thing like the door itself was maybe on fire.
There are people that will tell you in an emergency situation you’ll get a surge of adrenaline that will make you strong and sharpen your decision making skills. This is total horseshit. There’s no superhuman strength, no clarity, almost invariably people make worse decisions under pressure because of course they do. How many people do you know that can make a good decision when they have all the time in the world? And you think these people are going to make better decisions when their life is on the line? That dog won’t hunt monsignor.
You may be saying “But Ela, why would our bodies do that if it wasn’t helpful?” Clearly you don’t understand the relationship between us and our bodies. Our bodies aren’t really on our side, they’re stuck with us and they have to make the best of it but they don’t like it. Take the brain for instance. It could make you feel good all the time. But it doesn’t. It only makes you feel good for short periods of times when very specific conditions have been met – and not even then half the time. Because it’s an asshole.
Why do I bring this up? Because I want you to know that when I dragged the bed over to the other side of the room and propped it up on end and climbed onto it so I could reach the bottom of the staircase above and I smashed (pushed maybe honestly) one of the boards of the stairs (do those have a name?) out of its place and then wriggled through the gap I did that. It wasn’t adrenaline, it wasn’t temporary super strength, it was me being smart enough and strong enough to save myself.
As I was pulling myself through the small gap in the stairs (thank Gods I’m not one of those women with a comically outsized bust eh?) even through the smoke I was able to smell the stink of massive amounts of lamp oil and I saw that the common room was mostly engulfed in flames. But that’s not terrifying enough. Oh no, not for old Ela. I couldn’t see well through the smoke and the shimmering of the heat from the flames, but what I could see was a vaguely humanoid shape in the fire. And by in the fire I mean it was the fire. Part of it at least. It even looked like it might have been wearing a helmet. This figure also appeared to be holding a sword made of flame which makes no sense on a lot of levels. Why would you want a sword made out of what you are? I wouldn’t want a sword made of skin and bones and muscle (insert cock joke here). But even more than that what is the point of a sword made of fire? A flaming sword? Sure, it burns you as it cuts. But you can’t cut anything with a sword made of fire. It’s just fire. Think what you’re doing fire monster.
Retreating up the stairs into one of the rooms above my instinct was to run to the window, but I had to assume the sniper was out there waiting for just that. I did my second bed-flip of the day (and of my life) to block the window, and then awkwardly pushed the bed out as a shield of sorts and jumped/fell down to the street. My landing wasn’t bad honestly, but the bedframe cracked me on the head pretty good and I was stunned for a second. In that second I was exposed and five arrows came screaming down at me. I managed to duck down at the last instant but one of them passed completely through my ear and the other gazed the top of my head. I didn’t even have a chance to see where the shots came from. Trapped behind a bed pinned up against a burning building? Not bad enough. The archer started shooting through the bed – somewhat successfully, hitting me in the forearm.
What saved me, oddly enough, was the fire- monster bursting out of the tavern and into the street – emitting great plumes of smoke from its body that provided me with cover to run along the front of the building and then through the narrow alley to the north. Before I knew what was what someone had grabbed me and tossed me into the back of wagon under a tarpaulin, I was about to start fighting free when I saw Stinty under there with me. After a moment the wagon lurched forward. The canvas covering us had an odd odor –like it was fishy but it wasn’t a fish smell. If that makes sense. Which it doesn’t. It was dark but light enough that I could search out Stinty’s little eyes.
“Sorry about your place burning up.”
“Well it was only my life’s work, the product of decades of hard work, all my wealth, and the thing I wanted to do the rest of my life. No big deal.”
“Where is this wagon going?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to know in case the guy after you can read our minds.”
“That’s admirably insane. Sitting here under a tarp, my ear filling with blood, I can’t help but wonder – where did things go wrong?”
“It’s pretty easy for me to pinpoint – it’s when you showed up.”
Several hours later the wagon came to a halt and we crawled out from under the covering in what looked like a large building dedicated to turning fish guts into some kind of slurry – which is exactly as disgusting as you’d think. Of the drivers there was no sign.
“What’s the next move? Are you still on the payroll or did you obligation end with your establishment?”
“I’m committed now, I have nothing else to lose and only your payday to look forward to. That’s the mistake people seem to make a lot – if you want to discourage someone you shouldn’t take everything away from them, then they have nothing to do but seek revenge. Just take most of their stuff and leave them something to cling to, much more effective.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“Archum and the lads are running around town being suspicious to hopefully draw the attention of any watchers, but we have to assume that someone was following the wagon just in case. So we’re going to have to go through the tunnel.”
“And should I assume that this tunnel is a claustrophobic Hellshole filled with rotting fish slime that no one would ever want to go through even if their life was on the line?”
“You’re certainly clever, I give you that.”
The tunnel wasn’t actually so bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was bad, but I’ve been in worse holes. Come up with your own joke there. Being the svelte and taut exemplar of womanhood that I am it was snug but not awful – I can see how a bulkier non-Halfling type would look at crawling through there as a nightmare. We ended up in a cave of some kind, where we were able to wash off the worst of the fish slime with some shockingly cold water running nearby and then made our way up a ladder into the basement of a scrap-metal storage building. Shop? Warehouse? Whatever, it had a bunch of scrap metal in it. We made our way up and out where two horses, well one horse and one pony, were waiting for us, ready to go. I disguised myself as Archum just in case and we were off.
“This is quite an operation you have set up here.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice. I used to be part of a group that smuggled people out of bad situations.”
We made our way out of town and maybe two hours later we turned off the trail and into the woods for maybe another mile – where there was an old but serviceable campsite set up. Stinty and I cooled our heels there until nightfall when Stella appeared on an speckled grey mount that looked like it had been a warhorse in its younger days. Stinty jumped up nervously.
“Were you followed?”
As dismounted a little stiffly “Not to be contrary, but I wouldn’t be here if I had been followed.”
Stinty glanced around suspiciously “This guy seems pretty cagey, even if you didn’t think you were followed you may have been followed.”
Stella shook her head lightly “We can’t start down that road. He’s smart but he’s not omnipotent, if we start anticipating that he’s anticipating every move we make we’ll paralyze ourselves with indecision.”
Nevertheless Stinty stalked off to check it out, leaving the two of us alone.
“I’ve never been the target of an assassin before, I didn’t know they were so tenacious.”
“Depends on the assassin, like any profession some people are more serious about it than others.”
“I wonder what path leads one to assassining as a profession. A philosophic conversation for another day. What’s the plan?”
“In three days you’ll move to another campsite, by then we’ll have everything ready in town and then if Sergeyevna is as good as she says she is we’ll have this little detour wrapped up.”
“If I’m safe out here why didn’t you move me out here in the first place?”
“Too much risk of being followed then, starting the inn on fire really gave us a nice chance to move you stealthily.”
“You were just teleporting me around with magic yesterday – why didn’t you teleport me here?”
“Because . . . . well . . . this is embarrassing. I guess no one thought of that.”
Funds: 79 gold
Inventory: Artisan’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