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!”
“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
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