Muthuselan 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I got up this morning Vablis was nowhere to be found.  I suppose she rabbited.  I can’t blame her I suppose, the first time that you find yourself being hunted by an inhuman monster from another dimension that can plum rattle some folks.  I wish her well on her journey.  Not too well mind you, but you know some.  The silver lining is that at least now I won’t have to decide if I’m actually going to pay her or not.  I had breakfast with Josta and Kalisha who, though looking tired and wan, no longer looked like she might stroke out at any moment – which is a pretty good for a Shiver addict.  I said as much to her.

“Josta’s really been helpful, a couple more days under her care and I might feel alive.”

“Really?  Josta’s been helpful?”

Josta’s usually impassive face cracked a little “Why is that so hard to believe?”

“I haven’t seen you do much beyond bring a mug to your face, it’s just a little surprising is all.”

After a moment she answered “I’ve had some experience with this kind of thing.”

“Maybe you missed your true calling again, you’re not meant to be a gravedigger or an innkeeper but rather a drug counselor.”

Before I left I chatted with Stinty to see if he could give me any leads on hiring some muscle.  He gave me a couple names and then I was off to meet with Fergus Stone, collect his workers and rendezvous with Rindol (who had not been murdered yet) Murdane (also not dead) and the crew at the worksite to get everything underway.  It was clear that if Rindol was really in charge the project would be a disaster but with Stone acting as a foreman to keep the labor types from wringing the neck of the sage everything was humming along soon enough. 

I milled around the worksite for a while considering my dilemma – how to protect everyone involved from a smooth-talking shapeshifter, how to keep the project on track when it could be attacked at any time by an enemy that could look like anyone.  I had warned Stone that a person or persons unknown might want to disrupt the work and he clearly had a couple heavies around to watch over things, but I’m sure what he was used to was just a rival crew coming down and raising the Hells, I doubt they’re going to provide much in the way of defenses against a more subtle threat.  I realized that what I was doing was trying to figure out a way to defeat the tactics I use all the time, which is an issue because it always works.  More or less. 

Rindol and Murdane are the key really, you can always find more workers, but they’re the ones who know how this thing is supposed to work (assuming it works at all).  I had tried to convince them to find temporary places to stay while the work was going on but they don’t seem to realize how much danger they’re in.  Even though they’re building a demon-trap they still look at this as a theoretical enterprise rather than thinking about the very real and very dangerous demon they’re coming up against.  I decided they best thing to do is to put a little bit of a scare in them.  Of the names Stinty had given two of them stood out – one for seeming like a professional operation, the other for seeming like a bunch of violent screwheads who’ll all be dead or in prison within a few years.  Guess which I visited first. 

The nominal leader of the screwheads was a fellow called Young Mercury, ironically maybe because he looked to be past fifty – looks can be a deceiving thing though when you’ve lived a life of face punches, headbutts, booze, and dockside diseases.  You know the ones I mean.  Young Mercury and his lads could be found, when they could be found, at a bar that used to be a timberman’s guild house of some kind and was now a falling down wreck that unlike your finer bars had neither tables nor chairs – just some upturned junk and ramshackle “stools”.  I took on the appearance of a the kind of hatch-faced lowlife that would hang out in a place like this and after enduring some swill and dregs in cracked cups got down to business with the Mercury man himself.  He was a shrewd negotiator and in the end he was able to squeeze FIFTY gold out of me to home invade Rindol and Murdane and a couple of their scholastic pals.  What can I say the man drives a hard bargain.  

With part one completed I headed to an old city guardhouse not too far from the now infamous bull-baiting amphitheater that had been given to a retired watchman who ran something of a mercenary guild house for a group that acted as a brute squad when the watch needs some extra muscle.  There I met with the sibling duo that served as the guild leaders – Hans and Grete.  On the wall of their office were maybe a dozen different wanted posters charging them with murder along with various broadsheets and the like advertising their bouts in several gladiator events across the Kingdom.  At first I mistook them for one of those weird brother-sister combos that dresses alike, but to my relief I figured out that it was a uniform of sorts for their outfit.  The only thing worse than a brother-sister that seem like a couple is a couple that seem like a brother-sister. 

I gestured at one of the advertisements “You fought Achila Thel at Spessert in ‘85?  I met her once, nice lady.”

Hans chuckled lightly “As long as she’s not trying to take your eye out with a trident.”

Grete glanced at the poster “Achila gets a bad wrap because of her looks, she’s not the fiercest fighter in the world but you don’t keep those looks in this business without knowing how to fight.  There’s not a scratch on her.”

“It’s too bad what happened to her but occupational hazard I suppose.”

Grete took on a dark countenance “That’s no way for a warrior to go out.  If Mazzmus Parmalee wasn’t already dead I’d take a special trip just to murder that little worm.”

“Yes, whoever killed him is a real credit to humanity.”

Hans put a hand on his sister’s shoulder “Well, we’re not here to talk about old times, what can we do for you?”

“Protection, for a construction site and for a couple of the fellows on the project.  The two guys I need you to watch over don’t seem to comprehend the danger that they’re in, so you’re going to have to handle them with kid gloves at first.  But I was told that someone is going to make a move on them this very night and after they see you deal with that I’m sure they’ll be more cooperative.  Assuming they don’t die of fright anyhow.”

“Heard from who?”

“I’m actually not sure, overheard is more honest – there’s a bar not bar from the Macourek Theater where a vermin of a human being was talking about getting a payday going after my guys.  I followed him to a place on the edge of town that looked like it was abandoned but it had the lumber guild sign on it.  Wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to investigate.”

The two glanced at each other and then Grete spoke “Mercury.  Local assholes, they’re nothing to worry about really but they’re a rough bunch.  We’re looking at ten gold per man per day – more if things get interesting.  Which it sounds like is already in the cards.”

“That’s a little steep.”

Hans nodded “We’re the best, and the best doesn’t come cheap.”

“Fair enough, I want two of your guys each on my two guys and then during the day two guys at the worksite, four at night.  I’ll give you a hundred up front and we can settle up at the end of the week.”

We talked for a while about the details – although not all the details – and then it was time to get to the real work.  I had zeroed in on one of the actors they called Old Scatch (no idea why) as a good starting point for escalation.  He didn’t seem far enough out of the loop to be useless but he was clearly a fringe player when it came to the “Dreamers”.   I met him for lunch and allowed him to talk himself silly and generally be annoying before asking him if he could hook me up with some Shiver.  He took the bait and assured me that he could get me something “much better” if I was to meet him tomorrow at his place. 

I don’t mind a little drug use within reason, but what I find revolting is when men get all hot and bothered about “introducing” a woman to a drug.  They make it seem like it’s some grand journey that only they can take you on and you’re going to be ever so grateful to them for expanding their horizons and guiding them to new spiritual awareness.  When it truth it’s not a big deal, you want to get high you go buy some shit.  Those types make me sick.  The only thing worse than them is the women that buy into their bullshit.  I agreed and then he insisted that we “had” to go see the hanging that was happening that night.  You all know how I feel about public executions, no need to rehash that old song, but I was trying to play nice so I went. 

It seems they had caught the mysterious man in black who caused the riot scene at the bull baiting spectacular and caused the deaths of more than a dozen people.  As I stood in the crowd and watched the legal authorities kill an innocent man I was curious who he was and what crimes he had actually committed, if any.  Was he totally blameless of anything or was he one of those scapegoats that had done plenty of other bad shit?  The only thing I can tell you is that he faced death with dignity – looking in his eyes he wasn’t afraid.  Which doesn’t make him any less dead now does it?

After that diversion I was able to scrape Old Scatch off like a barnacle, rebuffing his offer of a nightcap, and headed back to the Mercury clubhouse to see how things had turned out.  The place was inhabited only by two badly injured men, one of him still had enough fight left in him to force me to bludgeon him to the ground with my new Walking Stick.  I didn’t figure there was much chance of the Mercury Boys having a stash of valuables but there’s no harm in checking right?  And good thing too because I found a secret panel in the floor that led to a stash that I assume predates these degenerates and harkens back to the olden days when this was a lumberman’s association playhouse.  Along with a little stash of coins I found some odds and ends that have to be magic.  Why else would you hide a shovel?  I suppose maybe because you’re a murderer and it’s your shallow grave digging shovel?  But you know what I mean. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,788 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, 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, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Muleback Cords, Workman’s Everytool, Heavyload Belt, Ax of Clearing

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 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I had an annoying realization, I was assuming that because I didn’t have enough magic to disguise myself for long periods of time that I would have to miss out on some things, but of course I don’t because I happen to be really great at mundane disguises.  That’s the problem with magic, it becomes a crutch and  detriment to your true and natural abilities.  You start to rely on it and then WHAM it abandons you at a critical juncture and your actual skills have atrophied in the meantime.  From what I’ve seen one of the first spells that a mage learns is now to move small objects with their magic – so of course they all end up puny pathetic weaklings with the body of twelve year old boys because once they learn that spell they never use their actual muscles again.  I’ve always been mistrustful of magic but even I fell for its allure.  And why wouldn’t you?  It’s just so convenient – with magic I can create a disguise in seconds instead of minutes or hours.  Something to guard against.  

The Rest Inn Peace is now officially open for business so there were actually a couple people down in the common room for breakfast.  I suppose I’m going to have to be more careful about conducting my business here with all these ears about.  For a moment I actually though about buying a house – I mean how long have I been in Beresford now?  Seems like half a year.  But that was a step too far, not to mention I had purchased a house in Heathgrove and look how that turned out.  Anyway, I tried to keep my voice down while I talked with Kalisha, without seeming like I was trying to keep my voice down – nothing encourages people to eavesdrop like overt casualness. 

“I don’t understand, if he’s the one collecting the taxes how can he be embezzling?”

“The Duke holds his lands on behalf of the King, Queen now I suppose, so it’s not really his money.”

“Sounds like tax evasion to me.”

“No, Duke Eaglevane pays his taxes, but he’s concealing the source of the funds to make it seem like he has less income.  Well not income exactly, but production.”

“Doesn’t the King get pissed off about that?  I’m sure there’s some measure of production that’s required right?”

“Yes but the amount that Duke Eaglevane is misrouting is not that much, not enough to draw attention, but consider what just one percent of the Duchy’s gross domestic product is.”

“Consider it, I don’t even know what I means!  The point is though that Eaglevane is stealing from the Crown.”

“Not precisely, but sort of, yeah.”

“And you can prove this?”

“Well no.”

I sighed “So why are we talking about it?  You’re new to this so I get that you don’t fully understand what information is of value, but we’re looking for something actionable here.  If you were going to blackmail the Duke what would you blackmail him with?  Think of it like that.”

“I wouldn’t.  If I tried to blackmail the Duke he’d just have me killed.”

“Sure, but IF you were going to, you get me?”

I’m not sure she did.  I left Kalisha in Josta’s care, I figure she can keep her out of trouble at least, and headed back to the market this morning since I was interrupted yesterday.  I was looking for an item to help with magical disguise but not because I needed it, just because it makes things easier.  Annoyingly I was not able to find anything to help me with concealing my appearance but I did find a fine walking stick that should come in handy if I need to rap some insolent whelp on the noggin.  After that it was back to the RIP to get to work on crafting a disguise the old fashioned way.  I was a little rusty so it took a good forty-five minutes to become Mètre .  I had allowed myself plenty of time so it was no trouble – only mildly exasperating.

The meeting between Adrist Tomin, her acolytes and the party of Murdane and Rindol’s sages was an odd gathering but it went smoothly enough.  Rindol and Murdane oscillated between loudly and excitedly explaining their mechanism and remembering they were in a holy place and trying to modulate their voices.  Adrist agreed to help with the project and pledged five thousand gold to the cause, plus whatever craftsmen volunteers they could scrounge up from the faithful.  Again, there was part of me that was hoping she’d fork over the entire amount, but with any luck we can squeeze the rest out of Lord Wesel’s friends.  Whatever amount we’re short I’ll have to cover myself, I want this to be over.

After that it was time to get ready for the party.  I needed a new dress and on a whim I invited Fiestia to come with us shopping – no reason not to bring another ally to the gathering.  Dress and jewelry shopping with Vablis and Fiestia took up the rest of the afternoon and then after a quick touch-up of my disguise it was off to Lord Wesel’s mansion to finally meet the man himself, the reason I had come to Beresford in the first place.  For the dispossessed black sheep scion of a defunct noble family Lord Wesel has really done well for himself.  His house was several degrees of magnitude too nice for Beresford, it wouldn’t have been out of place in the nicer parts of Cathars.  The grounds were immaculate, the servants were numerous and well-behaved, and the décor was very fine indeed.  If only there hadn’t been all those Beresfordians there it would have been a nice night.

I met with the Lord himself only for a moment.  He was a large man with a thick dark beard and although he was the soul of courtesy and was dressed to the nines there was something of an air of menace about him.  He seemed better suited to a battlefield swinging an axe than a fancy social engagement.  Or no, not a battlefield, an executioner’s block – that’s where it seemed like he belonged.  After chatting with him for a few minutes I was mingling with the movers and shakers of Beresford high society trying to get them to loosen their purse strings for the good cause.  Vablis, Fiestia and I rendezvoused frequently to quickly compare notes and plan our strategy.  By the end of the night half the nobles and rich pretenders at the party had said that they would contribute.  At least half of that half of them will flake out on the payment, but even so we should be in good shape to get this contraption construction underway. 

About halfway through the night Crawdore Van Saar and Lypara Emprenzo turned up to crash the event, which seemed to delight rather than offend the glitterati.  I’m not too proud to admit that a soul-sucking demoness being in attendance put me rather ill at ease.  And worse, when they came in our eyes locked for a moment and I got the impression that she was looking for me intentionally.  I did my best to avoid her, and trust me, I am great at avoiding people at a social gathering, but it turns out that she’s even better at cornering people she wishes to speak with.  As we exchanged the kind of meaningless pleasantries required in this setting it seemed like we were very far away from everyone else even though there was a crowd of people not ten feet away.  I could feel something tugging at my mind, like the light touch of a butterfly.  I shut it out, but over the course of the next few minutes as we talked without actually saying anything of substance the pressure became intense.  It was like there was an invisible clamp on my head.  Lyapara, the demon with the blue ribbons in her hair, made a concerned face.

“Are you quite alright my dear?  You seem to be in some manner of distress.”

I smiled warmly “Just a little dizzy is all, you know how it is with these corsets.”

The pressure on my head became like a thundering hammer “Oh of course, although I have to admit, just between us, I’m not even wearing one.” She giggled “How naughty!  If you’d like we can go into one of the bedrooms and I can help you loosen it a bit.  Not too much of course, but enough to give you some relief your poor dear.”

It was all I could do to keep myself from gasping at the wrenching pain, forcing another smile “I couldn’t possibly impose on you like that, I’m sure I’ll be alright, I just need to sit down for a moment.”

Her return smile was halfway to being a smirk “You’re really quite something aren’t you Miss Vablis?  Very strong-willed.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

For half a second I thought that I saw horns on her head but they disappeared immediately if they were ever there.  “Modesty becomes you my dear.  Tell me, do you really think that this device of yours will work?”

My head felt like it was going to split open as I looked her dead in the eye “Absolutely I do.”

In a blink she was gone, as was the sensation.  I was a little shaken up but thankfully the party was mostly over by that point and we left while it was still fashionable to do so.  After the event we were all back at the RIP discussing the situation.  Vablis seemed scared out of her wits.

“It didn’t occur to you that going around town talking about a demon at the theater might get back to her?!”

“Honestly no, it did not.”

“So what are we going to do?!”

“Well if you were her what would be your next move?”

“To kill us!”

“Wrong, Rindol is the threat, without him we can’t build the thing.  If I were her I’d be over there seducing and murdering him right now.  So you better get over there.”

“What?!  Why would I want to be there if that’s where she’s going to be killing him?!”

“She can’t seduce him if you’re there.  Or she shouldn’t be able to anyway.”

She was shaking her head “No, no way.”

I shrugged “Alrighty, well I’m going to bed, you do whatever you feel is right in your heart.  If letting a man die is okay with you I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

“I want my money, I’m getting out of here right now.”

“You need to learn to take these things in stride.  So a demonic temptress may be trying to kill us, so what?  Plenty of people have tried to kill me and I’m still here.  What does that tell you?”

“That I wish I had never met you.”

“I get that a lot.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 40,464 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, 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, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring

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