I admit fully that I am merely an average card player, but I am an exceptional card cheat. Stinty on the other hand is very a good card player and a mediocre card cheat – that thing he did were people shuffle the cards all fancy? That doesn’t mean you’re actually good a double dealing or other chicanery necessarily – for him it was clearly just a trick he had learned. We had fun sparring for a couple hands (I came out head of course) but we realized that us jousting like that wasn’t very entertaining for Josta and Kalisha so we cooled it after that and just played things straight and enjoyed the evening. Kalisha was clearly the worst player at the table and she’s by a wide margin the most educated. Is there a lesson there? Maybe.
We played and drank and joked and told tales well into the dark of night – it was an amusing diversion from the typical people shooting at me or trying to kidnap me or random immolations that are now part of my life. After the game broke up and I went to bed the fun was over. Again I was wracked with disturbing dreams. I hesitate to call them nightmares because I feel like there’s a connotation there that you don’t know what’s going on and I certainly did. The quaint nails in my flesh of the previous night were gone. In their place I dreamed of being ripped apart by arrows, spears and swords on some snow-covered battlefield. I dreamed of being on a riverboat that was shooting out the mouth of a river into the ocean and being knocked off the deck and carried away by surging waves, sometimes to drown sometimes to be torn to pieces by sharks and wicked sea serpents. I dreamed of many hands being upon by body, dozens maybe hundreds of hands holding me firmly and throwing me into the midst of a great fire to burn and smolder – the stench of my own seared flesh plugging my nostrils. I dreamed of being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, being carried by a great wind and falling from thousand-foot cliffs, shaking and convulsing and vomiting blood from disease. And I dreamed of killing myself – placing a dagger to my chest and falling forward to drive into my heart.
While all this was going on in my mind I was also aware of my sleeping body being subjected to strange undulating sensations of intense heat that felt like it was coming from under my skin. It was like a fever only it was traveling around my body in patches. What it felt like was as if someone had taken a rolling pin and was running it along my skin from the inside after having heated it up in an oven. It was unpleasant to say the least. When it would travel over some of my more sensitive areas I could feel tears slipping down the side of my face. Who knew that you could cry when you were asleep?
Eventually the dire visions of death and dismemberment faded away and I was left in a featureless misty void. Facing me was Lypara Emprenzo, not Lypara Emprenzo the woman, the vision projected into the world – but the real demonic presence in all her glory. I see now why certain types get all hot and bothered about studying these foul fiends – she was something approaching physical perfection. Assuming that you can get past the scaly wings and horns and claws and all that. Which I bet you most men wouldn’t pick up even after doing the deed. They’re like that you know. “Oh, she had fangs and a tail? To be honest I didn’t notice.” Of course she wasn’t wearing a stitch, I assume because the Hells are so hot and all.
“Those breasts are anatomically incorrect. They’re like coming out of your collarbone.”
She was looking around as if there was something to see “You’re very closed off, no wonder I couldn’t get inside you the other day.”
“I don’t care for that phrasing.”
She smirked “Don’t play the prude with me.”
“Fair enough. Is this the correct venue for a dream invasion? Shouldn’t it look like there’s a bunch of file cabinets that you’re rifling through or something obvious like that? Or like a library maybe and all the books have titles like ‘Ela learns to ride a horse’, ‘Ela’s first day in court’, ‘The time Ela fell off a roof and busted her ass’ something like that?”
“I can conjure that up if you like.”
“I’m not here to tell you how to dream-haunt someone, I just thought you’d want some feedback. So I assume that was you last night, and the night before? Was I really visited by the ghost of a dead man or was that you messing with my dreams?”
“I guess you’ll never know.”
“When I was younger some other kids told me that if a demon intruded on your dreams three nights in a row you’d die.”
“They were right.”
I snorted “I doubt it, if you could dream-murder me you would have done it already.”
“Maybe I want to recruit you.”
“For what? A sewing circle? I’ve never understood demon worship, is the idea that somehow at the end they won’t go to the Hells? Because logically that makes no sense. If you’re worshipping a demon where else are you going to end up? It’s like riding a horse off a cliff and not expecting to fall.”
“Well there aren’t a lot of logical demon worshippers. Besides, most people don’t think too far into the future. Who can be bothered to think about their immortal soul when they can have a shiny new sword? You’d be amazed what people are willing to damn themselves for.”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t at that. You’ve a pretty bleak outlook, for a mortal.”
“That kind of goes hand and hand with the mortality thing. As soon as you’re born you start dying – it’s a race to the grave and all the rest is vanity.”
She smiled “It doesn’t have to be like that.”
“Naturally. The simplest bargains are the most enticing – eternal life for eternal servitude.”
Her wings flared slightly, which I assume is a succubus shrug “Don’t say I didn’t offer.”
“If you can’t kill me why are you here? Just to drive me mad with sleep deprivation? That’s not a bad plan I guess but I think that’s going to take too long, I’ll have you trapped like a rat in a few days.”
“No, I was trying to see if I could breach your defenses while you were asleep but you’ve really walled yourself off here. You are one guarded mother fucker.”
“You’ve said that a couple times now, am I supposed to be flattered by that?”
“Sorry, I can’t help myself, since you’re not a mind invader you can’t really appreciate what you’ve done here. It’s like trying to describe a masterpiece painting to a blind man.”
“It’s just the way I am, nothing to get worked up about.”
She shook her head “No. I can see your mind laid out like a strata on a rock. I can see the layers. You had a little bit of fight in you when you were a child, you’d have to make this, and then you gained some strength later on. But for a long time it was unfocused. You had some willpower but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be overcome. I could have cracked you in a few minutes. But over the past few months you’ve built a castle on that rock and a wall around that castle and filled the moat with flaming lava and manned the gates with vukodlakcrs.”
“What are those?”
“It’s a beast that’s like a combination of a giant black wolf and a horse.”
“They’re fearsome, trust me.”
“Why are there so many beasts that are just a bunch of different animal parts put together? Are the Gods lazy? I mean chimeras? Come on. And don’t even get me started on galluvix or esquilax. Even the deadly minotaur is just a man with a bull head. Where’s the creativity?”
“You don’t need to tell me about the Gods and how much they suck, I’m a demon, that’s my whole deal.”
“Oh right. So are we about done here?”
“No, I’m going to continue making you dream of your own mutilation and destruction until you wake up.”
“Oh, I guess I better wake up then.”
And so I did, feeling like I hadn’t sleep in three days. Most likely because I hadn’t slept in three days. I tell you this now. I’ve said before that being bone-weary and not being able to sleep is tortuous, but what I learned is that being so tired you can barely keep your eyes open and knowing that you could very easily fall asleep but that if you do so you’ll be tormented mentally and physically – that is real torture. This is some next level shit right here. Embodiment of evil or not this succubus knows her stuff.
With little else to do I drug myself downstairs in the lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunch rush. I shuffled down to the bar and asked Josta for one of the standard wake-up drinks from the old days – some people called it the Trash Bin, other’s called it something much more crude involving the bum. Half an ounce of gin, half an ounce of dark rum, half an ounce of vodka, half an ounce of peach Schapps, and half an ounce of blue curacao served in a heated mug – that takes the edge off. When I asked for it, and then explained what it was Josta just stared at me.
“What? I need something to keep awake.”
“I know I’m standing behind a bar so I can understand your confusion but I am not a bartender. I don’t know how to make drinks. I can tap a barrel, that’s pretty much it.”
“You are useless you know that?!”
“You’re mean when you’re tired.”
“To be fair I’m pretty mean most of the time.”
She walked away, I assumed in a huff, but she returned a few minutes later and tossed an only sort-of ugly necklace at me. I was startled but managed to catch it anyway due to my catlike reflexes. The pendant was made of decent sungold and it was in the shape of a stylized eye – very stylized – it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at. It had some symbols on the back that I didn’t exactly recognize but I had a feeling with religious in nature.
I frowned “What’s this?”
“Just put it on.”
“Yeah no thanks. Is it magic? I’ve been cursed enough times already, I don’t need to be putting on some cursed magic necklace you stole from a grave.”
She sighed “Just do it.”
“Wow, what a convincing argument.”
“It will make you feel better.”
“Fine but if this turns me into a hunchback I’m blaming you.”
I slipped it on and as soon as I fastened the clasp I felt the weariness drain out of me from the top down to the feet – like it was running out a cup with a hole in the bottom. Two seconds later and I felt fresh as a daisy and ready to take on the world.
“Wow, thanks, where did you find this?”
“I actually did take it off a dead guy. I figured if there’s anything the dead don’t need it’s that. It only works for seven days at a time, then you crash hard. Just so you know.”
After getting myself cleaned up and grabbing a bite to eat I decided to check out the worksite. Before I even got there I knew something was wrong. The people on the street there were all going the other way and they were walking with that weird leaning forward tension you see in people when they don’t know what’s going on but they know something is going on. They weren’t exactly rushing away but they weren’t not rushing you know? Once I got closer I saw Stone and a couple his men along with the guards provided by Hans and Grete facing off with a man in a tattered and outdated guard uniform, a half-orc waving a broken longsword, and an older fellow in battered platemail who stood at the head of whatever you call a mob before they start rioting. I guess that’s still a mob. There was a lot of posturing and metaphorical (and some literal) chest-pounding. I used my vocal abilities to project over the thrumming of voices.
“What’s going on here?”
Funds: 50,874 gold
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, Everwake Amulet
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