Muthuselan 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There’s an old saying, and by old saying I mean a saying that I am going to coin right now – when dealing with demons you need to bring in an expert.  My plan was for this to be Cladarielle, I had no specific reason to believe she knew about demons but who other than a righteous magical defender to consult on such a thing?  Sadly when I went to the Staelish house there was no one there – one of the neighbors told me that she and Bywin left town on some mission or other.  Which is highly inconvenient for me, I doubt they even considered that before they left.  So I thought why not bring in my old friend Rindol the Sage on this project?  He seems like the sort that would have academic knowledge about the fiends of the lower planes and if he doesn’t researching is his area of expertise so he can find out.  Plus, if something goes wrong he might lose his soul.  Everyone wins. 

I could have gone myself in disguise but I decided to send Vablis on that mission – might as well get some use out of her while I can.  Her reaction to this assignment was less than encouraging.

“How am I supposed to get him to help us?”

“The usual way, making him want you, and making him think that he might be able to get you.  This is pretty elementary stuff.  I don’t want to insult you here, but for a con artist you seem to be somewhat slow on the uptake.”

“I am not a con artist!  I’m a victim!”

“Of what?”

“Court intrigue!”

“Grow up.  Look, I get where you’re coming from, you were living the high life a few weeks ago and now you’re sharing a room with a better looking and more accomplished roommate in a pedestrian inn – which also happens to be under construction.  That’s a fall from grace.  Or not grace, but whatever, you know what I mean.  I’ve been where you are, except the part about encountering someone better, and it’s unpleasant.  But you got to get over and it move forward.  If you want to get back to living a life of luxury you’re going to have wallow in the mud for a while.  The sooner you accept that the better.  If all you have to do is flirt with an obnoxious pompous bookworm count yourself lucky.”

“And what are you going to be doing?”

“I’m going to go back to the theater to keep that thread alive.”

“So I have to spend the day with some moldy old scholar and you get to spend time with the troupe!?”

“Get to?  Trust me honey I would trade places with you in an instant.”

That was no exaggeration, spending the bulk of the day at the Macourek Theater helping those popinjays rehearse their stupid play is pretty close to my idea of Hells.  I’ve said a few times that if the Duke’s wife really wanted to torture me she should have done this or that – helping put on a play might be the new frontrunner in the how to torment Ela tournament.  Mercifully the rehearsal lost direction in the afternoon and turned into just a bunch of idlers idling.  They were all atwitter about a bull baiting event that night.  A lot of folk would expect that effete artistic types wouldn’t be interested in bloodsports but that’s a false assumption – many of them are bloodthirsty monsters.  They would never want to shed blood themselves, but they enjoy watching others bleed and die as much as the next person.  I had a very famous actor tell me once that he would love to go to war if his safety could be guaranteed.  So basically he was just saying he wanted to kill some people and get away with it.  What a fucking moron. 

I don’t care for such events myself, if you want to see cruelty just look out your window, but I feigned enthusiasm to ingratiate myself to this pack of nattering ninnyhammers.  The upcoming spectacle was all they could talk about at dinner, which was a laborious chore even though they took me to a very nice restaurant – actors are a very dramatic people as you might expect and it can be exhausting.  Even so, had I known what was coming I would have wished for that dinner to never end.  After eating we went to an open air amphitheater (is that a misnomer?  Are all amphitheaters open air?) that was a marketplace by day but after sundown once every two weeks was used for this awful display.  After we had been seated for a while before the event it became clear that Beresford does things a little bit differently. 

Not being content with animal cruelty Beresford “bull baiting” involves instead of a bull you pit an honest to Gods minotaur against not dogs but teams of Halflings.  I have no idea if minotaurs are sentient beings or just monstrous creatures but when they drug out the chained beast the murderous look in its eyes was chilling.  I’ve seen looks of hatred many times but this was something else – something older, something primordial and shocking.  You couldn’t look into those eyes for more than a second for fear of being struck dead on the spot.  And worse it was a cold fury, I expected the bull-man to rage and roar and strain against his chains as the crowd shouted and threw refuse at it but it didn’t – it was still as a stone.  Or no, not a stone, a volcano.  When retrained nothing to even notice, when the release comes?  Total devastation. 

“Is this legal?”

One of the actors, Wexley, a boorish oaf with a mush-mouth winked “It ain’t exactly allowed by the King’s Law but that’s part of the fun, it’s a Beresford tradition!”

“Are the Shirefolk gladiators?”

An actress they called Buttercup with a wide mouth and an awful hairstyle tittered annoyingly “A Halfling gladiator?  Who ever heard of such a thing?!”

Wexley nodded sagely “They’re indentureds, they earn enough money to buy out their contracts.  If they survive!”

Everyone in the theater troupe thought this was uproariously funny and I forced myself to laugh along with them.  I’ve seen some grotesque affairs in my day at Duke Eaglevane’s court but it’s been a long time and I have to admit that being out here in the real world has changed me some.  I’m not quite as indifferent to the suffering of others as I once was.  Plus that was in private, I could dismiss that as dreadful rich people being dreadful.  Having it out in the open with a crowd of “normal” people not only condoning it but cheering like it was a parade was stomach churning.  There was a part of me that wanted to learn the names and faces of everyone in attendance and make them all pay.  But I’m no avenging angel, I’m just trying to make my way in the world.

The first “bout” of the evening was a traditional bull versus dogs affair, an appetizer of sorts.  The host for the evening did a lot of showboating and speechifying throughout the night which stretched what would have been a brief engagement in a several hours long show.  In the second “match” I watched four wee little men get mutilated and disemboweled by the savage beastman.  I didn’t have much hope left for humanity at that point anyway, but whatever little shred I had died then I think.  Then came intermission.  I excused myself from my group claiming that I was overexcited and once out of sight changed my appearance to that of an imposing man in fine dark clothing and shaded spectacles. 

I had to work quickly but it wasn’t actually hard to find the holders of the contracts for the “fighters” that were going to be up in the second half of the evening.   I persuaded them to sell those contracts to me on the spot, which wasn’t as easy as you might think. For this disgusting display the contract holders had insurance that paid out of their indentureds died and they got a portion of the betting pool if they won – for them it was a no risk deal.  But I am nothing if not convincing so in the end I was the proud owner of the contracts of seventeen indentured Shirefolk.  When I went down to the holding area to tell them the good news they didn’t understand at first, they thought I wasn’t allowing to fight and therefore a chance at their freedom.

“It’s over, you’re free already.  Here are your contracts.  They’re yours.”

They looked on in awe as I handed over the pieces of paper that controlled their entire lives – or did until that moment anyway. 

“You lot better hustle on out of here, someone might shove you out there into the ring anyway – no reason to stick around.”

They still seemed stunned by this turn of events.   A freckled lady Halfling with an honest to Gods pot for a helmet clutching two tiny cleavers stepped forward.

“Where should we go?”

“Wherever you like, you’re free.  You were doing this for a chance to get free right?  You must have had some idea, some dream, some hope of what you’d do next.  Go do it.  Get out of here while you can.”

Step one complete.  For the next step I changed my appearance again – taking on the guise of one of those buxom milkmaid types that fellows seem to like – and went looking for the “Master of Chains”.  The guy that works the complex system of pulleys and weights and chains that keeps the minotaur from killing everyone in the crowd is a highly respected amateur.  It’s like being a deacon, only better because of the horror and death.  I found the Master of Chains in a little underground room with big wheels wrapped with chains and other clunky looking machinery.  He wasn’t supposed to allow anyone down there but the day I can’t flirt my way into a place like this is the day I release a minotaur to rampage through the streets killing at will.

The Master of Chains was a hairy overweight fellow who was strangely dressed quite stylishly.  As the intermission drug on he was overjoyed to show me how the whole operation worked – pull this lever here and pull this chain here and so on and so on – I pretended to be fascinated as hard as I could.  Here’s a fun lesson for you folks, when a man is taking down his trousers that’s a wonderful time to slit their throat.  They’re partially bent over and reaching down and their legs are encumbered – it’s a wonderfully awkward position.  Plus they’re so excited about what they think is coming next they’re not wary about what actually is going to happen.  I didn’t slit his throat though, I stabbed him through the ear – less blood.  He stood there for a moment in the awkward pants down hunch as if his brain was deciding if he was dead or not.  In the end it decided that he was and he toppled to the ground.  I took the keys off him and locked the door to his little “control room”.

I only had to wait a few more minutes for intermission to be over.  Since the Master of Chains needs to be fully aware of what’s going on there were little viewing ports out into the area floor – so it was more like a bunker I suppose than being underground exactly.  The master of ceremonies came out, I’m not sure if to announce the next exhibition or if someone had noticed the Halflings were gone and he was going to sadly announce that the show was over.  I’m not sure because it’s hard to do much announcing after a minotaur bites your head off.  The question I ask you is this – why would there even be a ‘release minotaur’ lever?  What possible use could that serve?

The crowd thought this was pretty funny at first, all part of the show, but they stopped laughing quickly.  From the floor of the amphitheater to the seating it was maybe ten feet, which wouldn’t present much of a challenge for an athletic human let alone an enraged minotaur.  It’s odd how close screams of delight and screams of terror really are, it takes some work to differentiate them.  Here’s the other interesting thing, if everyone in the crowd worked together and rushed the beast they could have overwhelmed it – some of them would have died of course, but even a minotaur can’t take on a hundreds strong mob and win.  But instead they ran, and in doing not only did the minotaur have the chance to attack them with impunity but also I grantee you more people died from being trampled by each other than from being gored by the monster.  It’s an odd paradox, you run because you don’t want to die but running is far more dangerous than fighting. 

I was trying to decide when it might be safe to open the door when I heard someone pounding on said door.  Very shortly after the pounding I heard the scraping of someone panickingly (is that a word?) trying to use a key on the other side.  Before I could do anything about that though I heard a terrific roar and then the door was almost shattered by a terrific impact.  I heard a crunching sound and saw the tips of two horns come through the door not even a quarter of an inch.  That’s when the blood started pouring in under the doorframe.  Doorjamb?  The bottom of the door.  I turned invisible and wedged myself under some chain-contraption as with a lot of snorting and snuffling the door was bashed to pieces by a mighty fist.  The creature stood with some poor sod impaled it’s horns and bits of door on top of that – so comprehensively covered with blood and gristle that it looked like it had crawled out from inside some larger creature.  Some manner of blasphemous birth. 

I curled myself into as small of a ball as possible and cursed the fact that as per usual no good deed goes unpunished.  It stood at the doorway for a LONG time sniffing at the air with its massive muzzle but instead of coming inside (it would have had to squeeze through the door but it could have made it) and yanking me out like a polar bear hauling a beluga whale out of the ice it wandered off.  The invisibility wore off shortly thereafter but I stayed under there for a solid hour just to be sure.  And even then it was really hard for me to crawl out from under there.  I heard some hoof beats in the distance but the immediate area was deserted.  Although just a few blocks away I encountered the standard night-time trickle of traffic.  When I got back to the inn Josta and Stinty and some of the lads were having a drink after the hard work of the day.  Josta did a bit of a double take when I walked in, which worried me that I had gotten some blood on my clothes after all.

“You look white as a ghost.”

“A vampire attacked me on the way here.  I said Adariel’s Prayer of Thanksgiving and it burst into flames because of the purity of my faith, but he did drain a little blood from me before turning to ash.  That’s probably what you’re seeing.”

She nodded “That’d do it alright.”

Stinty had a concerned look on his face “Some folks coming by said there was an issue at the bull-baiting tonight, did you hear anything about that?”

“Not a word.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 55,273 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 (2) 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 

Muthuselan 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’m no expert on comparative religion, but in my experience two gods split the lion’s share of religious ecstasy – Adariel the just and kind lady of community and goodness and charity and Odobenine the greedy lord of greedy greed.  The common folk tend to lean towards Adariel while the aristocracy tends to favor Odobenine – which seems understandable.  My point is that even though Duke Eagelvane was not at all a religious man there were a few priests knocking about his court.  One of these Odobeninians cornered me one time and was telling me all about how there’s a different demon for each of the ten lethal sins.  The one he was most interested in was the succubus, because for some reason that seems to be the one all the men like.  He delighted in pointing out that the succubus is NOT the demon of lust as people commonly assume but rather the demon of vanity.  This he claimed is why the succubus is an exclusively female demonform because while lust afflicts men vanity is the providence of women.  I believe he passed out drunk in a fountain one night and drowned if I remember correctly. 

Why do I bring this up?  You may recall that for a while I was carrying a small ivory sculpture of two entwined succubi, looking back on it now it unmistakably was magic and was exerting some kind of subtle influence on my mind.  I’m not sure what would have happened to me had it not been stolen, nothing good I’m sure.  Lypara Emprenzo looked exactly like those succubi, you know, only without the horns and wings and fangs.  Coincidence?  Very unlikely.  Maybe whoever carved it knew or saw Lypara and based it on her.  It’s possible.  But what I think is that Lypara is actually a succubus and the subject of that carving.  And what kind of shapechanging demon would take on a form that was exactly similar to her actual form?  A prideful one. So maybe that drowned priest wasn’t totally full of shit is the point.

Vablis was up annoyingly early and wanted to head over to the theater but I assured her that theater folk aren’t early risers and went back to bed.  When I did get up she was itching to go and not in the good excited way more in the troubling nervous way.  I’m starting to realize that she may not be the smooth operator that I thought, she may be more of a desperate woman out of her element.  Probably like I was at the beginning of this “journey” but I like to think I hid it better.  I should have spent some time reassuring her and making her feel relaxed but I wasn’t in the mood.  Why am I always the one who has to keep everyone else from losing their head?  Doesn’t seem fair. 

The inn was still the home of frenzied activity as Stinty and his men continued with their renovations.  I got sick of Valbis asking me when we were going to go every few minutes and told her to go read the papers the mayor had given me.  I stood on the overlook with Josta watching Archum and the rest of Stinty’s crew work themselves into a lather, literally.  There’s something very satisfying about doing nothing while watching other people work.  Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.  Around mid-day Vablis and I headed to theater.   

Macourek Theater is a massive building for a city the size of Bereford, one of the largest in town I would wager.  It looked like it had been through some significant upgrades somewhat recently but there were still some signs of dilapidation about the edges – someone had spent a chunk of money fixing it up but hadn’t quite finished the job.  Not yet anyway.  The layout was odd for a playhouse, there had been some remodeling on the inside as well but still there were a lot of rooms that seemed to serve no purpose.  Unless I miss my mark I think in times past this was a tenement building or something of the like.  We were met in the lobby area by a tall grey-haired man in some sort of red fluffy jumpsuit.  That’s the problem with theaters types, you can never be sure if they’re wearing a costume or if they’re dressed like they are because they’re insane.  He said that they weren’t taking auditions currently, but between myself and Vablis he had no chance of keeping us out.  We’re winsome as fuck we were. 

We interrupted practice for an upcoming show of Dead in Infinity which is a dreadful play that continues to be performed for reasons that elude me.  There’s an odd phenomena where sometimes something that sucks becomes a “classic” and then just continues on even though nobody likes it.  The players almost looked relieved to have a distraction from going over the tired dialog and nonsensical turns of plot in Dead for us to showcase our skills.  We each sang a solo, we sang a couple duets, Vablis played her pipe, I demonstrated a little sleight of hand, and even though we hadn’t discussed it before Vablis went rogue and also danced a little.  Her steps were pedestrian but her cleavage was on point.  The assembled fops and dilettantes were very impressed and came close to fawning over us as they assured us that they would find us work soon.  

It was during this fawning period that Crawdore Van Saar came in with Lypara Emprenzo on his arm, accompanied by a gaggle of sycophants.  I recognized her immediately as the same “woman” on the carving.  I halfway expected her to sprout wings and fly after me to suck my soul, but she merely played the part of the demure yet sluttish paramour of the theater owner.  Upon hearing about our audition Crawdore insisted that we perform for him as well, which we did, but I couldn’t help but stare at Lypara.  I’ve unfortunately been in close proximity for a demon a few times now (add that to the list) but somehow it was much worse with a demon in disguise.  With a slavering red-skinned monster you know what to expect, but with one hidding in the form of a pretty brunette with blue ribbons in her hair?  Who the Hells knows what’s going to happen?  Eventually after much flattery and fame-whoring and facile chit-chat we were able to extricate ourselves and head back to the inn.

“Well, that was easy.  I thought this was going to be a whole big long thing.”

Valbis frowned “What do you mean?”

“Lypara Emprenzo is a bloodsucking shapeshifting demonspawn from the pits of Hells, obviously she killed the mayor’s brother when she figured out he was sniffing around.  Case closed.”

“How do you know that?”

“Trust me, I know these things.”

After depositing her back with Josta and Stinty I headed to the mayor’s compound.  I was so pleased to have this wrapped up nice and neat without any fuss that I wasn’t even annoyed that he kept me waiting for over three hours.  When I was escorted into his office I almost skipped I was so happy with the way things turned out.

He was messing about this some papers as important men must to show you how important they are “What is it?  I have a meeting in a few minutes.”

“Lypara Emprenzo killed your brother.  She’s a succubus in human form and she drained the life out of him like sucking the juice out of a mango.  Who do I need to see about getting my possessions back?  Do you have a ticket or something that I give to a guy for my stuff?  I don’t want to accidentally get someone else’s stuff.”

“No.”

“Then how does it work?  You just summon the guy or what?”

“I mean no my brother isn’t dead.”

“Trust me on this, she got him, she got him good, he’s dead.  She demon-sucked the life out of him and left him a dried up husk of a man – literally.”

“No, the divinations of the priests indicated that he’s still alive.”

“So what?  Fortune tellers and charlatans they are.  I can get you ten mediums here tomorrow that will tell you whatever you want to hear.”

“No.”

“No?”

“My brother is alive.  Don’t come back here without real information.  I’m not interested in your speculation.  Get out of my office.  I don’t like having my time wasted.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 61,244 gold

XP: 516,701

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 (2) 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