Muthuselan 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Last night was fun, but as my grandma always said fun is for babies and dullards, today it’s time to get back to work.  Or get too work rather I suppose.  I spent the morning doing a little more reading about the Macourek Theater and the “Dreamers” and came across a potential reason why the mayor was interested in them in first place and why they might be willing to kill to preserve their secrets.  The mayor’s missing (and probably dead) brother suspected that the Dreamers, aside from being moony drug-users were also importing and selling large quantities of bloodbrush extract.  Which is the kind of thing that the civic authorities tend to frown on – a populace that is tripping the light fantastic isn’t working and if you’re not working you’re not paying taxes.  It’s simple exploitation.  I mean economics.

Infiltrating a strange and possibly murderous cult on my own doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time so I decided to recruit some help.  I went to the west gate and talked to the guards on duty there as a beginning step to tracing down the whereabouts of Miss Vablis.  I worked my way up the chain of command until I talked to a corpulent watch-captain who told me that Iconia Vablis was exonerated of all charges regarding the theft of the lumber payroll and by a wild coincidence was staying at the home of that very watch-captain at his guest.  What a twist of fate!  I told him that I would ever so much like to pay a visit to my good friend Iconia and found myself that very day having lunch with Misses watch-captain and the lost little lamb herself in his large but very pedestrian home. After the second course Misses watch-captain went to scold one of the servants for dropping a plate and we were left alone on the veranda.

“So, have you had to sleep with that bloated elephant seal yet?”

She blushed like a champion “Whatever can you mean?”

“You can drop the act, it’s just us girls here, I’m not trying to wreck your swindle here, I’m just curious.”

Her voice suddenly became 98% less sweet “What are you trying to do then?”

“I need some help with something I’m working on and I think you’re the person to give it.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Money of course.  Plus this situation isn’t going to last.  Eventually you’re going to have to fuck the elephant seal which is bad enough on his, but there’s no way he’s going to keep his trap shut about it so his wife is going to find out and then you’ll be out on your firm little bottom.  You’ll have risked being crushed under that leviathan for nothing.  You probably got a decent score off the lumerjacks but then you must have spent most of that hiring all those guards just to get you here so I don’t imagine that you have much cash on hand to work with.”

“I’ll get by.”

“Probably you would, but why scrape by when you can get a leg up?  Why did you spend all that money to get here anyway?  Why Beresford?”

“There was someone here I thought I could count on.  It didn’t work out.”

“That’s always a kick in the tits.  Seems like counting on other people never works out well.”

“You’re asking me to count on you.”

I smiled “Sure, but I’m one of the truthworthy ones.  I’m not asking you to count on me though, I’m asking for your help, which is a whole different thing.”

“How much?”

“Ten.”

She scoffed “Ten gold?  Are you out of your mind?”

“Not ten gold, ten thousand gold little miss.” Her eyes nearly jumped out of her head. “Yeah, that’s some real walking around money eh?”

“What are we going to do, steal the crown jewels?”

“Nothing so dramatic, just a simple missing person case.”

She studied me for a moment “You’re serious aren’t you?”

“Always.  Can you sing?”

“Well enough, I’m better at playing the pipes.”

“That will work.  Are you in or out?”

She pursed her lips “Let’s say for the sake of argument that I was interested, how do I get out of here?”

“Nothing could be simpler, you just walk out with me after lunch.  I’m your old friend that came to visit and check up on you, and you, not wanting to impose on the good captain and his lovely wife any longer are going to come and stay with me.  The elephant seal will be disappointed of course, but he couldn’t really have expected anything else given what a pure and chaste young lady you are.”

“I don’t want to burn any bridges here.”

“You won’t.  Thank the good ladywife profusely for ‘putting up’ with you and thank and thank her again and then we go.  Trust me, it will be better if you’re just gone when the captain comes home – a goodbye gives the chance for closure.  This way you leave on good terms but he’s still thinking about you.”

“You said trust me, I never trust anyone who says that.”

“I knew I was going to like you.”

A few hours later we were upstairs in my room at the gravedigger’s inn talking strategy as the few workmen not too hung over to work were banging away downstairs.  Despite what she said Vablis was more than an average singer but her piping was very pedestrian, I can see why she might think otherwise though since the pipe was magic and was helping her out with some enhancements.  I wonder why she didn’t know that, or bothered to lie about it, a normal pipe can’t harmonize with itself. I suppose it’s possible that she actually doesn’t know that much about music – it’s an odd skill in that you can be good at it without understanding it at all.  And conversely many people who would consider themselves experts in the field can’t carry a tune nor play a single note.  Is there a lesson there?  Maybe.  It was late in the evening when we decided to call it a night.

“Well, I suppose it’s simple enough, tomorrow we go to the theater and audition.”

“And then what?”

“And then we see what happens.”

“You haven’t asked me why I came here.”

“I’m not the type to pry.  But it seems like you want to let it out so you can tell me if you like.”

Her claim was that she had been the King’s mistress and was married to a Lord at court in order to keep the affair a secret.  Said Lord wasn’t super excited about having a wife that he couldn’t have sex with, but what was he going to do about it?  The King dying had really thrown a monkey in the works though and her husband told her he was planning on divorcing her by way of accusing her of infidelity.  Which was bad enough, but then she got wind that the Queen was planning on having her killed on suspicion that she had birthed a royal bastard that was being hidden in the wings as part of some nefarious plot to displace her son from the throne.  She said that she had slipped out of the capital and had been making her way across the countryside by doing things like scamming the payroll of a lumber camp and telling a caravan master that she was the wife of a cruel baron fleeing his wickedness.  It was a tale convincingly told but what con artist can’t spin a good tale? 

“That’s quite a story.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet, but the good news is that it doesn’t matter.  I don’t really care who you are.  But, if you were the King’s personal cock-warmer my question would be; do you think the Queen or your husband has sent anyone after you?”

“I wouldn’t think so, they just needed me out of the way and they got it, but I can’t stop looking over my shoulders anyway.

“That’s not a bad habit regardless.  Bad things often come from behind.  And from in front of you.  And from the sides.  And from above and below.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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 

Muthuselan 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The first order of business today was hitting the market and liquidating some of the gear I stripped off the plethora of assassins that had come to murder me as well as that of the anti-assassins that died sort of trying to protect me.  Can’t go after a theatrically themed cult without some operating capital no can I?  I tried on the chain mail shirt but even though it was much smaller than a lot of the mail armor I’ve seen people walking around with it still weighed a Gods damned ton so I ended up selling it.  I don’t see how people can prance around in those things – the pressure on the shoulders is crazy. 

And there is no way I am going to wear the leather armor – I refuse to walk around looking like a battle dominatrix.  I’ve come to realize from experience now (sadly) that the amount of money changing hands in the aftermath of one of these knockdown drag out murder affairs is truly staggering.  I’ve always thought of adventurers as providing little to no value to society but I realize now that weirdly I think they may be a grass roots way of redistributing wealth.  They go one place, kill a bunch of people and steal a bunch of gold, then they go somewhere else and get killed and the economy there has a boom.  If only there was a way to predict their comings and goings, you could make a fortune on speculating in adventurer futures. 

It’s also interesting how much time and effort it takes to resolve these sorts of transactions – it’s not like you can pop on down to the magic store and sell off whatever you have in bulk.  You have to talk to a guy who knows a guy whose cousin is in town who has a connection with an art dealer who knows a merchant who’s looking for a thing for his bodyguard and so on and so on.  By the time I got back to the inn it was already noon.  And there was a new addition – an “opening soon” banner along with a new sign – a smiling skeleton digging up a grave which contained a coffin within with was a still living man hugging a barrel of ale.  The inside was a whirlwind of activity with Archum and the rest of Stinty’s crew hammering and sawing and bashing things with sledges.  Josta looked on from the balcony with a stein in hand looking as impassive as ever.  I walked over to where Stinty was doing something workmanlike to the ladder downstairs.

“You don’t let grass grow under your feet do you?”

He stopped his work, wiping his brow and helping himself to a ladleful of water “That I do not.  I thought you were kidding when you said there was a hidden room down there.”

“You said the same thing about me giving you a new place, do I seem like a kidder to you?”

“No not a kidder, more of a wiseass.  For someone who claims to not be much of a fighter you have a real sharp tongue from what I’ve observed so far.”

“My grandma always said that hard words have never won a fight, but I can’t seem to help myself.”

“Your granny was involved in a lot of fighting was she?”

“No, she was smart enough to stay away from that sort of thing.  If only I had inherited that trait from her.”

“Maybe you take after your old gaffer.”

“I wouldn’t know, I never met him.”

“So who exactly knows about this hidey hole?”

“A bunch of smugglers, a couple prostitutes, a city watch lieutenant and some of her men, a few other random people – as I said I don’t know if you can really claim it’s a secret room anymore.”

“We’ll have to talk more about these smugglers, I’m going to be doing some remodeling anyway – I’ve got a few ideas.”

“So I noticed.  What’s with the sign?  I get the gravedigger theme because of Josta, but while that might be good for a low down dirty drinking hole this is a middle class inn, I don’t think people are going to want to stay the night in a place with a death theme.”

“You’d be surprised.  Besides, we don’t want a lot of people coming through here anyway, just enough to make things look legit.”

“I assume you know your business, I’ll leave you to it.”

I headed upstairs to my new room, the one that used to be Stella’s before she got killed protecting me, and I opened up the packet that the mayor’s attendant had given me.  The Macourek Theater was the center of the investigation which was purchased a few years back by one Crawdore Van Saar allegedly at the behest of his beau Lypara Emprenzo.  There was an extensive dossier on Van Saar – he invented some kind of new yoke or something and that apparently is enough to make you semi-rich.  The documents reputed him to be an artist and an inventor as well as a steel merchant, I assume this last one is what actually brings in the money.  There wasn’t much about Emprenzo other than that she seemed to be the one that brought Van Saar into the fold of the maybe cult.  The fold in question had something to do with an entity they called the Dreamer – the sense I got was that it was not a cult so much as just a bunch of dilettantes messing around with mystical bullshit and taking hallucinogens.  But it was something serious enough for the mayor to send his brother to investigate.  And possibly for the Dreamers to discover and murder said brother.

There were pages and pages on known associates and goings on at the theater but I had no appetite for digging into details reports of people’s movements and what plays were put on at the place when.  I did some skimming and then I found myself just shuffling papers around and not really looking at anything.  I wandered out onto the overlook with Josta and watched the workers down below for a few minutes. I glanced at the rail-thin former gravedigger, realizing that she was something like a coffin nail herself – lean and long and not much to look at but tough as they come.

“How’s the studying going?”

“I got the gist of it.”

“Is a special job for the mayor a ‘gist of it’ kind of deal?”

“You want to go get drunk?”

“Yeah.”

I yelled down to Stinty and his men “You guys want to get drunk?”

Stinty glanced up from using a lathe for something or other “It’s not even three bells.”

“Josta and I are going to get drunk, anyone who wants to knock off early can come with – I’m buying.”

In my old life I had a “colleague” by the name of Madeline, or at least that’s what she called herself – probably her real name was something different.  One day while nursing a hangover she confessed to me her jealously of my ability to over-imbibe and not end up in bed with someone by accident.  Being a courtesan is similar to walking a tightrope, one misstep and you’re facing a long drop, and having sex with the wrong person is a real misstep.  I told her there was no special secret to it because despite what everyone tells themselves nothing you do under the influence of drink is an accident.  Booze is not a magic elixir that makes you do things that you don’t want to do.  It’s an amplifier, it takes those little parts of you that you hide and it screams them out to the world.  If you’re an angry drunk you’re an angry person who manages to hide it most of the time.  If you’re a sad drunk you’re a sad person who manages to hold it together most of the time.

A drunk person’s words are a sober person’s thoughts – this is a fundamental truth.  You don’t end up in bed with someone by accident, some part of you wanted to be there.  You regret it later maybe, but that doesn’t make the motivation not be there.  I don’t spill secrets when I’m drunk like many people do because there’s no part of me that wants to tell my secrets.  I don’t act a fool when I’m drunk like many people do because there’s no part of me that wants to be a fool.  I don’t get belligerent with people when I’m drunk like many people do because there’s no part of me that wants to confront people directly.  And I don’t end up in bed with people by “accident” like many people do because there’s no part of me that wants to end up there.  So I didn’t end up in bed with anyone but as other people were off making their drunken “mistakes” I did end up at the end of the night sitting at a table with Stinty’s scar-faced redhead friend. 

“How do you wear that chainmail all the time without being horrible discomforted?  I tried it on and the stress on the shoulders in incredible.”

“There’s padding you put under it that helps, but mostly you get used to it.  It’s less discomfort than a spear in the belly.”

“I suppose it is at that.” I turned my head towards her “How does my ear look to you?”

“Not great, but I’ve seen worse.”

I sighed “It’s going to cost a fortune to fix.  I got my face slashed up one time and it was a major pain in the ass to get the magic needed to restore me to my original glory.  The worst thing about that is my fucking bodyguards didn’t do a damn thing about it.  I did learn a lesson though, make sure you have at least one female bodyguard, they don’t have any issue getting rough with a female attacker.  What’s your availability should the need aspire?  

“Aspire?”

“Sorry, arise.”

“I’m pretty happy with Stinty.”

“That’s fair, he seems like a solid citizen, in a crooked sort of way.”

“Could that magic you’re talking about fix my scars?”

“Yeah, but as I said it cost an arm and a leg, and finding someone to do it pretty hard too.  Magic is pretty fucked up.  As far as I can tell a first months student can kill someone with a word at a hundred paces but you need to be super advanced to make a scar go away.  It’s almost like the Gods don’t like us.”

“The Gods are assholes, if they aren’t why did they let my mother carve my face in the first place?”

“I’ll drink to that.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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 

Muthuselan 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

The city watch was helpful enough to clean up in the aftermath of the running battle through the streets that resulted in nine people being killed – your tax dollars at work.  They didn’t even ask me any questions.  I’m not sure if it’s because they mayor told them not to bother me or if that was still the results of the assassins’ bribery or sheer laziness or what their reason was.  Miraculously Stinty was still alive.  Unfortunately Stella Roseback was not.  I’m not sure what that means in regard to Duke Lodvocka and myself, nothing good I’m sure.  Once again a promising developments turns into another disaster for old Ela.

After the ministrations of some gold and silver robed adherents of Odobenine who turned up Stinty was as good as new.  They handed me a receipt with my new “credit” total.  I admit I was a little dazed by the events that had just transpired, which wasn’t made any better by my lack of sleep.  I just stood there with the receipt in my hand was they walked away wondering if they somehow knew to show up because of their God or magic or whatever or if they just always turned up at the scene of a bloody battle looking to make some money off healing.

“How do they know?”

Stinty frowned “How does who know what?”

I pointed “The priests.  How do they know how much they owe me?  Even with magic it seems to be almost impossible to communicate over long distances efficiently.  How do they do it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know anymore.”

Stinty looked around at the blood and carnage in the streets “What a mess.”

“Yeah.  Well, let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“I owe you an inn.”

We walked for what seemed like an hour, even though it was only a few blocks, to the scene of the murder solved by the great cat detective.  Josta was there behind the bar almost like she had been there the entire time I was gone, which she probably was – aside from breaks for sleeping.  She nodded as we came in the door.

“You’re back, that must be what all the shouting and people running through the streets in terror was about.

“Ta-dah.  Josta this is Stinty, Stinty this is Josta.  Stinty’s place burned down so he’s going to help you run this one.  There’s a secret room in the basement like you had in your old place, but a bunch of people know about it now so I don’t know if it’s worth much.  I’m going to go sleep for a while.”

“That one whore came back and is in the room you were using.”

I headed up the stairs “That’s fine, I can use the room Stella was in.  She won’t mind.”

Stinty called up to me “How did you get this place?”

“Last woman standing, isn’t that the way people normally get stuff?”

I went up and collapsed into the dead woman’s bed.  It’s funny, you never think about it, but the bed you sleep on at an inn has definitely been slept in by at least one dead person – law of averages and all.  Probably more.  But unless the person just died you don’t think about it.  My hands were shaking and my legs felt like they had no strength left in them.  I was so tired that I thought I would fall asleep instantly but instead I laid there for a long time – it was one of those situations where you’re too exhausted to even sleep.  Like the act of falling asleep itself takes a tiny little bit of energy and you’re so drained that you can’t even do that.  Eventually I burrowed under the covers and drifted off to sleep with a noseful of Stella’s perfume.  Jasmine I think.

Eventually I woke and wandered downstairs where I found Josta, Fiestia, Stinty, and another Halfling sitting at one of the tables in the common area having themselves a grand meal.  Ale stew, rooster and dumplings, cherry pie squares, shepherd’s pie, three-berry tarts, honey cakes, and lots and lots of bacon.  It looked so delicious that I actually felt a tear slip out of my eye and race down my jawline.  They seemed to be quite jovial and waved for me to join them like everything was fine, which I guess it was.  The other Halfling was introduced as Addalia Applebottom or some silly Halfling name like that and I noted that Fiestia was dressed normal, not like, you know, a sex worker.  I learned that despite my expectations she had gotten herself a job as an apprentice lutemaker. 

The four of them were getting along famously and I felt like something of a fifth wheel.  But that was fine with me, I just wanted to eat and recede into the background.  Despite what some people might tell you, I have no interest in being the center of attention – I only move to the forefront when I have something to say.  I was perfectly happy to let these four new friends gab and joke the night away while I stuffed myself with hachis parmentier and black bottom pie and drank more than a little wine.  Eventually in the wee hours of the night it was just Stinty and I left around the table and he was kind enough to share his pipeweed with me.  He sat back looking satisfying and blowing the occasional smoke ring.

“I admit, I thought you were joking when you said that you owed me an inn.  This place needs some work, but it’s got good bones.  You’re full of surprises aren’t you?”

“Oh yes, you never know what’s going to come about with me.”

“So what’s next on your agenda?”

“Well, I’ve been giving a very special mission by the mayor himself.  Once I finish that, and the seventeen other things that will sidetrack me along the way, I can get back to the reason I came here in the first place – finding Lord Wesel.”

“What is it that you do again?”

“I’m a courtesan, you know, I travel the land rescuing people and delving into tombs and fighting dire battles and feuding with powerful crimelords and freeing slaves and overthrowing corrupt regimes and parleying with dragons.  Normal courtesan stuff.”

“Indubitably.”

“You appear to be a man about town Master Stinty, with a network of comrades and informants and such – maybe you can help me out.  There’s a cult of some kind that operates out of a local theater that probably killed the mayor’s brother.  Do you know anything about them?”

“I can’t say as that I do, but then I’m not much of a theater goer.  Nor much of a cult joiner.”

“I should probably read that information packet I was given.”

“What stopped you?”

“A guy shot me with a bunch of arrows, you’re familiar with the rest.”

He nodded “Indeed I am.  But why didn’t you read about it when you were hiding out at my place?  Or when we were out in the woods?  Pretty much all you did the whole time is is complain about how bored you were.  Why didn’t you read it then?”

“Because . . . . because . . . . shut up, that’s why.”

He started packing up his pipe “Well, at least you have a good reason.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 5888 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, +2 Studded Leather (2), +1 Shock Composite Longbow, masterwork rapier (3), Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Cloak of Resistance +1 (2), Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, Ring of Protection +1 (3), disguise kit (3), sunrod (4) +1 Leather Armor (3) +1 Heavy Crossbow (2), +1 Chain Shirt, +1 Composite Longbow, Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, masterwork longsword, masterwork falchion, masterwork heavy crossbow, +2 chain shirt, masterwork short sword, dreamtime tea (2), wand of restoration, +1 Quarterstaff, sap, Assassin Mask (2)

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 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

For some strange reason being kidnapped by bizarre hybrid fey beasts really had Stinty on edge – we walked in the dark through the forest for hours before he realized that I was following him and he was just walking without pay attention to where we were going.  Once we got started back in the right direction the sun was coming up by the time we got back to the campsite.  And then I had to spend a good hour talking him down – he was so jittery it seemed like he was going to fly apart.  I have a lot of tools in my bag of tricks, but the one that I dislike using the most is gently reassuring someone that everything is going to be okay.  It’s not hard, staying calm yourself is the lion’s share of calming someone else down.  Speak in short simple sentences, give them a lot of (undeserved) praise, ask them what they need, say things like “You can do this”, “stay with me”, “what you are feeling is frightening, but it is not dangerous” – crap like that.  So it[‘s easy but it sucks because it takes time and all you want to do is to tell the person to get the fuck over it and be an adult.  But that’s counterproductive. 

Once Stinty was “okay” I was going to lay down for some sleep, but instead it was time to head to the secondary location. This annoyed me because if he had been thinking we would have just gone straight there and then I would be asleep right now but I couldn’t say anything because they could get him all riled up again.  So instead of sweet, sweet sleep we were stomping through the forest again – it was good four hours before we got to the second campsite where Stella was waiting for us.  The relief on her face was obvious as we slogged towards her.

“Thank Gods, I was starting to think something had happened to you two.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see you until tonight.”

She blinked in surprise “I thought you were going to be here last night.”

“Well whatever, sounds like we had a miscommunication there.  Tell Stinty the plan, I’m going to sleep – we had a rough night.”

“What?  No, we need to go now – everything’s ready in town, we’re going to be late as it is.”

“Late for what?  If you have the decoy why do you even need us at all?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to stay out here while the broad with the mismatched eyes kills the guy?”

“You said that you wanted to be there, that you wanted to be part of it!”

“Oh right, I did say that.  Ugh . . . . . fuck.  Let’s go then I guess.  Did you at least bring horses?”

Stella gestured “Look around, do you see any trails here?  It wouldn’t be much of a hideout if there was a road for horses.”

I yawned, mouth gaping open like a commoner “Don’t be reasonable with me.”

And so sleepless, we set off again – with Stella herding us along at what seemed like an unreasonable pace.  What’s the rush?  Is the assassin going to leave down before he tries to kill me?  She kept going on and on about how important timing was but that makes no sense – the killer is waiting on us, it doesn’t matter when I show up.  If I hadn’t been so tired I would have eviscerated her argument’s ass off but I was so I didn’t.  I don’t know how Stinty was able to keep up better than me with his little legs but he did, which only served to irritate me further.  It was late afternoon when we moseyed into Beresford.  It seems like I’ve been here forever.  Why did I even come to this stinking burg anyway?  What am I doing here?  I was so caught up in my negative thoughts that I realized Stella had been talking for a while.

“ . . . and then what we’re going to do” she stopped in mid-sentence on account of the arrow that slammed into her chest. He stared down at it, and touched it with her hand as if trying to make sure it was real.  “I . . . I’ve been shot.”

I knocked her to the ground as another arrow flew by and then scrambled into an alley to get out of the line of fire.  I saw no sign of Stinty, he must already be in hiding, but what I did see is an archer on a rooftop, looked like a woman with one foot up on the eave as she drew back an very impressive looking longbow.  I grabbed my dagger and watched helplessly as Stella was trying to crawl for cover and the archer coolly shot her in the back several more times.  Stella stopped moving and it looked like the archer was going to continue shooting at her fallen body so I dashed across the street to draw her aim, if only for a second.  I dove behind a trough but it I was trying to hide behind it the short way and they didn’t work very well – I was hit in the leg and gazed on the scalp.  I heard Stinty shout “make yourself fucking small!” and then saw a stick of some kind trailing big plumes of smoke come flying end over end and land on the roof where the archer had taken up their position.

Stinty ran out of wherever he had been hiding and under the cover of smoke, I helped him drag Stella’s limp form into the alley.  He was about to say something when I saw a disruption in the swirling smoke along the roof of the adjacent building and suddenly there was an arrow protruding from his shoulder – or at least the vanes were – the rest of the arrow was buried in his body.  I’ve never seen an arrow go so deeply into someone.  Stinty fell sideways, slamming his head on the ground with a sickening thud as above the archer’s invisibility dissipated and she took aim at me. I threw my dagger at her, not even coming close, and then flared my cloak out to try and conceal myself as I ran for all the good it would do.  But the shot never came.  Suddenly the archer was hit by a crossbow bolt – right through the eye.  She stood for a moment and then pitched over the side, bouncing off the opposite wall with her legs and landing in a heap. 

I looked and saw Sergeyevna Kostornaia and three men standing on a roof a several blocks away.  She was holding her crossbow upright and had a smug smile on her face as her cronies patted her on the back and told her how great she was.  I headed their way.

“That was your fucking plan?!  What happened to the decoy?  What happened to controlling the situation?  Why were your men up there with you instead of down here?!  What the fuck were you doing?!”

It looked she was about to say something when all of a sudden she was pin cushioned with arrows across the upper chest and neck.  With looks of horror her men tried to hold her up and tend to her, but they were being pelted with arrows as well and looked panicked – except for one man wearing a bearskin of some kind who roared with anger and started leaping across from rooftop to rooftop.  Before I could process this turn of events a masked man in black robes appeared on a rooftop between me and the building Kostornaia was on with a nasty looking crossbow – shooting me directly in the sternum with enough force to knock me backwards and off my feet.  I crawled back into the alley as he reloaded, taking cover behind the lifeless form of the first assassin.  The rooftop crowssbowman sent a few shots into the back of the first assassin and then gave up to move to a better firing position.  I quickly rifled through the first assassin’s bag and found a potion which I drank blindly – and I found myself turning invisible.  I grabbed an arrow from her quiver and ran, having no idea how long I was going to be unseen. 

As the crossbowman moved around the edge of another building scanning for me I found a horse tied up, saddled and ready to go.  I mounted up and then stood up on the saddle, using the horse to leap and catch the edge of the roof – I’m not ashamed to admit it was a real struggle to pull myself up.  Still invisible I came up behind the crossbowman as he scanned the streets below and jammed the arrow into his neck – it must have been enchanted because his neck exploded like it had been hit by a ballista, showering me with gore.  Falling down in surprise, I narrowly missed being skewered by a barrage of arrows.  Sliding to the edge of the building for cover I saw the original assassin who started this whole mess turning invisible – still partially blurry as he jumped to an adjacent roof.

“Why is everyone else in the world so much better at jumping and climbing than me?” I said to no one. “And where is the fucking city watch?!  Why don’t they ever show up when I need them?”

I slithered careful to the body of assassin #2 and drank whatever potions he had – which healed my wounds but really I was hoping for more invisibility.  I dragged his heavy awkward looking crossbow into my hands and then activated my scrivener’s desk, hiding behind it and grabbing the vials of ink.  I heard a voice shouting from some distance away.

“Is that a writing desk?”

“Yeah.”

“Well how odd.”

“Any chance I could bribe you?”

“Sure, come out in the open and we’ll talk about it.”

Assuming that the assassin was moving into position to fire at me enfilade (maybe, I’m not one hundred percent sure what that word means) I draped my cloak on the desk to hopefully make it look like I was hiding under there.  I doubt it would have worked at all if not for the fact that I kept talking and threw up voice to make it sound like it was coming from under the desk as I crab-crawled into cover between it and the low wall of the roof.  A barrage of arrows shredded the cloak and slammed into the desk and I spied the archer on the very next building in the process of turning invisible again – I dashed up and hurled two pots of ink at him.  My aim wasn’t great, but enough spattered on him that I could tell where he was.  He fired another volley of arrows as I dove behind the other side of the desk.

“Very clever.  If all your friend weren’t dead already you’d probably have the advantage now.”

“How many arrows do you carry around?  Haven’t you shot like a hundred by now?  When are you going to run out?”

“Never.  I have a magic quiver that never runs out.”

“I used to have a crossbow like that.”

“What happened to it?”

“The watch took it.”

“Fucking watch.”

I threw my voice so it was coming from directly behind him “Tell me about it.”

At the sound of a voice behind him the archer spun around and fired at nothing and I popped up from behind the desk and shot him in the back before dropping back down.  I couldn’t see him well on account of he was just an ink-spattered outline but it didn’t seem like that one shot bothered him too much.

“Nice.  How do you do that with your voice?”

“I’m a mermaid that drank a potion to turn into a human.”

“To pursue your true love?”

“To pursue revenge on the pelican that ate my family.”

“What’s your next trick?”

“Trying to figure out how to reload this fucking crossbow.  What the Hells is this thing?  There’s like levers on here and shit.  I thought the whole idea of a crossbow was that it was supposed to be simple to use, unlike a longbow.”

“Well you know how people are, they only thing they like more than simplifying something is making it more complicate.”

“Do you normally talk this much when you’re trying to kill someone?”

“No, but this hasn’t been a normal job.  When that desk appeared I had to know who you were.  You’re a tough nut to crack, but I think you’re about out of time.”

“Eventually the watch has to show up right?”

“Not this time I’m afraid.”

He was right, I was pretty much out of tricks.  One thought kept going through my mind, if only I could turn invisible again – and then all of a sudden I was.  Turns out that wedding coat they gave me was more than just stylish, it had some magic in it as well.  I carefully walked to the edge of the building expecting to be shot down like a dog, but I saw the ink-outline moving methodically back and forth as if scanning for an opening.  I made a terrifying jump to a very close building and pulled a short blade out of my secret pocket.  From that building I made it to where the archer was and approaching with maximum caution, I came up from behind and slashed him across the back of the neck – then giving him a shove.  I have no doubt without having taken a vicious blow to the back of the neck he would have agilely flipped to the ground and landed like a cat, but as is, he tumbled headlong into the ground with a hideous crack.  I pulled a rope and hook from my pocket and awkwardly slid down the side of the building where I stabbed him a half dozen more times to be sure.   It was at this point that I saw a few city watchmen peeking around as if checking to see if the coast was clear.

“Good response time guys!  Real bang-up work!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind

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 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Stinty made some kind of healing sludge from leaves and dirt and whatnot that he said would help with me ear.  I figure I’m going to need magical restoration anyway so why not try it?  Aside from the possibility of infection and blood poisoning of course.  There are a lot of things to hate about nature.  Insects.  Mud.  Itchweed.  Bogs.  Wildebeest stampedes.  Man-eating porcupines.  The sun.  Malaria.  Dirt-worshipping boneheads.  Bone-worshipping dirtheads.  Lakes of fire.  Land sea serpents.  The list goes on and on.  But one of the worst things about nature is when you’re attending to certain necessary business – you know the kind I mean – and a bird flies down and looks you dead in the eye.  And it just sits there, staring at you.  As happened to me this morning.  And it wasn’t a cute little bird either, it was a razorcrow the size of a Taxfeast turkey – the branch it landed on creaked like it was going to break.  Somehow that makes it worse. 

I flipped a hand at it vague “Shoo, get out of here you greasy son of a bitch.”

“We need to talk.”

I sighed “Does every talking animal in the world just come directly to me?”

“You have to do something for me.”

“No, what I have to do is pull my pants up.  Then I’m going back to my campsite forget that I saw you.  I don’t have time for this shit right now.”

And that’s what I did.  But of course the bird followed me.  I was hoping that Stinty would be there to throw a rock at it, I’ve heard Halflings are good at throwing rocks, but he wasn’t – probably out scouting again.  That little guy is truly paranoid.  I made an exaggerated show of laying down on my bedroll and closing my eyes.

“Follow me if you want but I’m ignoring you.”

The shiny black bird flapped over and landed right by my head “We have your son.”

I snorted “I don’t have a son, nice try though.”

“Whoever that kid was who was at this camp, we grabbed him.”

“You mean Stinty?  He’s not a child he’s a Halfling.”

“I don’t care what he is, we have him – and unless you do what we say he’s going to die.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah, tell me what you want me to do.”

He cocked his bird head to the side “I thought it would take a lot more convincing.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, so what’s the deal?  What do you want from me that’s worth kidnapping over?”

“There’s a farm not far from here.  There’s many humans there, it’s a gathering, I need you to go there and poison the male human with the blonde braid.”

“Alright, where’s the poison?”

“Don’t you want to know why you’re poisoning him?”

“No.”

The bird led me to meet with one of his cabal of plotters – a vaguely man shaped clump of rotting vegetation with antlers.  I don’t know if the antlers were part of it or if they were just discarded antlers that got caught in its festering rotten head-mound.  One thing I can tell you is that it stunk with the fury of a thousand dead skunks in the summer sun.  It’s a good thing I hadn’t had anything to eat that day.  The compost heap turned it’s “head” to the razorcrow and spoke is a burbling voice that was somehow even more gross than its odor.

“Is she the one?”

I snapped my fingers “Yeah, yeah, I’m the one, you’re the poison guy?  Give me the thing.”

The rotting mass raised its “arm” and dropped a big asymmetric furry looking plant into my waiting hands – or it would have if I hadn’t pulled my hands back and let it drop to the ground.  I nudged it with my foot.

“What am I supposed to do with this?  Are there berries on it that are poison or is there sap or something?”

The bird spread its wings momentarily in what I imagine was a display of anger “He needs to eat it.”

“The whole thing?!  This is like a branch.  How am I supposed to trick him into eating this?  What part of it is poison and how much do we need?  I feel like you’re not answering me because you don’t know.  Do you even know what you’re doing?”

The vegetable man’s “face” turned into an exaggerated scowl “We know exactly what we’re doing!”

“Do you?  Do you really?  Look, let’s not get upset about this I don’t want to bicker, are you just trying to kill this guy or is there some specific reason you need him to eat an entire small tree?”

The bird and the stink-pile looked at each other “He just needs to die.”

“Well then get me a knife and I’ll cut this throat, you can save this tree limb for a rainy day.”

The bird cawed like a normal crow before speaking “Garic is a great warrior!  You’ll never defeat him in combat!”

“I’m not going to fight him, I’m going to uses my wiles and take him unawares.”

“You don’t seem very wily.”

“Do you have a damn knife or not?”

The bird led me back the direction of the campsite and then to a small low cave filled with bones – including human skulls.  The bird gestured with one wing.

“What?  You want me to go in there?  Won’t I be killed by the giant centipede or whatever turned all these people from alive into piles of bones?”

“There’s nothing in there, this is just were we keep our bones.”

“Of course.”

“Dig around in the pile and you’ll find a weapon.  Probably.”

Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to do today.  You can now add to the list of things that I never thought I, or anyone else would ever do, that I have done – ploughing through a pile of bones.  Thankfully they were picked clean, no gristle or anything clinging to them.  That is where my level of thankfulness is these days – that at least the bones I’m handling are clean.  I was worried about pricking my hand on whatever sharp things might be in the pile I was using a long bone to kind of poke at the pile in a not very efficient manner.

The bird stomped its little bird foot angrily “Come on, we don’t have all day!”

“What’s the rush?”

“The gathering may end!”

“So what?  I can kill this guy whenever.”

Eventually I did find either a long dagger or a short sword.  I’m no expert on these things but it looked superbly made even though it only had an edge on one side.  The metal looked slightly blue, which probably means something to people who know about metal – it just made it look pretty to me.  By this time the bird was fuming.

“About time.”

“Cool your beak bird.”

The bird took the lead again, barking at me to go faster the entire way, taking me into a cleared valley where instead of forest there were fields and buildings and other farm stuff.  There was a main building that was decked out for festivities and there was a bonfire out front around which several drunken partygoers stood slapping each other on the back and laughing at what were probably dumb jokes.

“So the guy is down there?”

“Yes, the one with the blonde braid.  Kill him and return to me with proof and your son will be returned to you.”

“I told you he’s not my son, he’s like sixty year older than me.”

“Just go!”

And go I did.  I was fairly sure that it was a wedding feast and when I got down there I saw that I was right.  I also saw a couple humping in the dirt behind one of the grain storage huts.  Why is it that you never walk in on anyone that you want to see having sex?  It’s some kind of universal rule.  As I walked to the main building several people hailed me heartily as if we were good friends – that’s the kind of goodwill you get at these kind of parties.  The beer probably helped with that as well.

Inside there were flower garlands and a blushing bride and the whole thing – not to mention several tables dangerously overladen with enough food to feed an army.  A small army but still.  Sitting at the head table beside the aforementioned blushing bride (in a BLUE dress, you know what that means) was a burly jovial fellow who was crass enough to wear some kind of military outfit for a wedding who happened to have his long blonde hair in a braid.  Which is even worse if you ask me.  I approached the table of the laughing drunken wedding party and popped off a quick courtesy.

“Congratulations you two.  I hope you have many years of happiness.  But getting down to the nitty gritty here a bird sent me here to kill you.  I don’t know what kind of beef you have with a bird but I would take care of that if I were you.  Anyway, the bird has kidnapped a friend of mine so would you mind if I cut off your stupid braid and took it to him so as to make him think I killed you?  Otherwise I’ll have to kill you for real.”

After a brief pause they all burst out laughing uproariously as only drunk people can.  It took me a little while to convince them I was serious but only because they were so drunk.  This valley used to be home to some fey creature that now is trying to get revenge and the bird works for him and so on and so forth.  It took me even longer for me to convince the bridegroom to let me hack off his braid but here the booze worked in my favor.  What really made him cave in was the bride’s drunken admission that she thought long hair made him look like a maiden.  He truly looked wounded by this drunken candor, some of which was the drink in him, but some of which was that I think he really took pride in his hair.  And why shouldn’t he?  It was a good head of hair, it just belonged on a lady. 

I hacked off the braid and stayed for a while to eat, drink, and be merry.  I even favored them with a few songs – accompanied by a fiddler who wasn’t half bad.  Wedding songs are all dreadful, but you have to give people what they want.  Well you don’t have to, but you know what I mean.  I caught the bouquet – you know what that means, seven more years of war!  For not murdering the groom on his wedding day they gifted me with a very fine women’s surcoat.  Black isn’t really my color but it would have been rude to refuse.  Wishing everyone the best of luck, I returned to the woods where I found the razorcrow waiting anxiously. 

“What took so long?!”

I tossed the braid at his bird-feet “How about a little gratitude?”

“You did it?  He’s dead?”

“As dead as dead can be, now for your part of the deal.”

It was dark by this point so it was hard to follow a jet black bird flitting around, but his insults and abuse helped me pinpoint where he was.  He led me into a forest clearing where Stinty lay in a circle of weird glowing mushrooms.  Outside the circle was an array of hodgepodge beasts – something with the body of an egret with the head of a meerkat, a reindeer with the head of monkey sporting a single horn, a humanoid with the head of a sperm whale, a falcon with some bits of jellyfish and sea urchin on it.  And those weren’t even the weird ones.  The bird flew into the middle of the gathering.

“Garic the Despoiler is dead!”

The assembly made a cacophony of hybrid animal noises that I sincerely hope never to hear again.  Once that awful noise died down the egret-meerkat gestured with a wing-paw and whatever magic was holding Stinty down was dispelled.  He jumped up, looking around wildly, before hopping over the mushroom circle and running over to me. 

“Alright freaky beasts of the forest, good luck to you and your war against humanity.”

Stinty looked like he wanted to dash off into the night but since neither humans nor Halflings can see in the dark I set a more sedate pace.

“I went to a wedding today, what did you do?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 466,301

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind

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 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As I’ve mentioned a time or two there were often a couple old soldiers hanging about at Duke Eaglevane’s court dispensing their “wisdom” about the nature of the world to anyone who would listen.  Once in a while anyone who would listen included me.  One of these timeworn campaigners told me that being at the battlefront is long periods of boredom punctured by short bursts of terror.  Even if you should know better when you’re waiting on the edge of a battle you kind of want it to get going – but then as soon as it does all you want is for it to be over.  That’s where I’ve been lately – first in the tower, then as a cat, then in the hidden basement at Stinty’s – just waiting and being annoyed and then wishing things were boring enough to annoy me.  At the risk of repeating myself I don’t like waiting while other people try to solve my problems.

Stinty was up and down all night “checking the perimeter” and for all the supposed stealth of Shirelings he woke me every time he made his rounds.  That didn’t stop him from rising before the dawn though – maybe Halflings need less sleep?  With a long day of nothing ahead of me I slept, sort of laid around more like, for several more hours before dragging myself up.  Even after spending two hours helping to gather wood – that’s how bored I was, manual labor seemed okay – we were still left with a lot of day ahead of us.  Stinty was whittling a chunk of wood into a rabbit or a fox or a shaggoth or something but I had no such entertainment as we sat at the camp doing a whole pile of nothing.

“What should we talk about?”

“I’m actually content to just pass the time in companionable silence.”

“Fat chance.  You said that you were involved with getting people out of bad situations in the past – was that a general thing or specifically for your people?  I know that in some of the bigger cities servants aren’t called slaves but that’s basically what they are.”

He glanced over his whittling at me “A little of that, but mostly it was dealing with actual slavery.”

I frowned “Is there that much illegal slavery going on?  I’ve encountered it here and there lately but that was out in the wild lands.  Is that what you’re talking about?  Ranger stuff?”

He took a moment to respond “No, slavery is legal in Ulpine.”

“I thought that was just propaganda.”

“No.”

He seemed like he was going to say something else but then stopped. 

“I thought you were from the Kingdom?  Are you an Ulpinite?  Or are you from the Eight Shires?”

“The thing you have to remember is that up until twenty years ago a large chunk of the western Kingdom was Ulpine – territorial conquest.  I was in that area for a good forty years, so you tell me what I am.”

“I know that some Halflings are politely asked to leave the Shires to run their scams on the big folk, but where are there so many Halflings in servitude, and apparently outright slavery?  There can’t be that many of your people that are asked to heed the call of the road.”  It didn’t seem like he was going to respond.  “You may as well answer, we’ve got nothing but time.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you, I was just thinking how to phrase this.  I don’t want it to sound cold-blooded, which I suppose maybe it is – although we would say pragmatic.  The Eight Shires are a green and fair land.  Which is somewhat in conflict with the Halfling desire to have large families.  There are only so many resources.  When I was a kid and the whole family would get together there were more than two hundred of us.  Halflings don’t live as long as dwarfs or elfs, but we live longer than humans, and unlike the older races but like humans we reproduce quickly.  The point is there ends up being a lot of us, relatively speaking.  We don’t want to restrain ourselves when it comes to having children, but we also don’t want the Shires to become like human lands – no offense – where there’s people everywhere all the time. 

Overcrowding leads to poverty and misery.  So some people have to leave.  And usually those families want to stay together so a lot of them all leave at once.  Unfortunately once we’re out here it’s hard to stay together.  There aren’t a lot of places were a couple hundred Halflings can just transplant themselves and start a new community.  We usually end up on the short end of the stick in human lands.  But the good thing about humans is that they don’t really give a shit who comes into their cities.  Elfs aren’t very welcoming and living underground with dwarfs isn’t really out idea of a good life.  So here we are.”

“So what, the government comes and kicks some people out every few years?”

“Nothing so dramatic, it just kind of . . . happens.  On its own.  When we start to feel crowded in someone pulls up stakes and heads somewhere else.”

“That seems impossible that it would just work out without the state strong-arming people.”

“That’s because you’re human.  It’s just how we are.  You are human right?”

“Probably.”

I was quite for a good while before speaking again.

“I don’t usually reveal much about myself to, well to anyone really, but I feel bad about you losing your place.  So I want you to know that I’m not completely a dick.  Helping me out isn’t a total loss on your part.”

“O. . . kay.”

“In my old life I was mostly an idle rich person, sort of, I was the plaything of an idle rich person so I was but I wasn’t one of them myself.  It’s a weird position, but that’s neither here nor there.  In addition to be a parasite on society I was also involved with a secret group that helped people like you did – they weren’t slaves by the law but they might as well have been – not all Shirefolk of course, but some.”

He paused in his whittling for a moment “You shouldn’t say something like that just to try and make me feel better.  I don’t mind most forms of dissembling much but that’s one thing that you don’t make claims about with me.”

“Total honesty here, I was operational with such a group, I guess it would be wrong to say that I was part of the group but I was helping them.  I’ve never told anyone that before.  Never.  But it’s the Gods honest truth.”

He looked at me sidelong “Did they have a name they called you?”

“Mockingbird sometimes.  Nightingale others.  Even Whippoorwill a time or two.”

“Do you know Tybor the Builder?”

I smiled slightly “There is no Tybor the builder, or actually maybe there is a guy named that somewhere, but that’s a codephrase they used.”

“What does it mean?”

“It changes.  I haven’t known what it meant for years.”

He looked at me for a long while and then chuckled and returned to whittling “Well I’ll be Gods damned.  What are the chances of that?  You don’t seem like the type.”

“That’s the point right?”

“I suppose it is.”

“I know that doesn’t make us best friends or old war buddies or anything, but I wanted you to know that you didn’t lose your livelihood for just anyone, I’ve done some things that I can be proud of.  Well not me, but someone can be proud of them.”

“Is that why someone is trying to very hard to murder you?”

“No.  I’ve done plenty of other horrible things as well, one of them is probably why there’s an assassin after me.”

“A friend of a friend of a friend told me about a Whippoorwill from the big city one time.  He said that she was a slippery one – not exactly someone on our side, someone who could help but someone that you had to be careful around while you were working.  Is that right?”

“It’s always a good idea to be careful, no matter who you’re working with.”

“Too true.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

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 

Muthuselan 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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.”

“That’s fair.”

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

XP: 454,301

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 

Muthuselan 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

With nothing else to do this morning, they didn’t even bring any food down to me today, I took out the magic scrivener’s kit that I stole from Rindol.  I had some vague notion of writing down some of my experiences since I woke up in that alley in Graltontown – an alluring courtesan left for dead who survives and seeks revenge?  That’s a tale that would interest people, if well written.  But I’ve never really had the discipline for writing so I ended up instead with fifty sheets of crude doodles, many of them pornographic, which I eventually crumpled into balls that I threw into the corner one by one, trying to get them into a single pile.  I don’t know if it’s possible to die of boredom that was certainly put to the test this morning.  By the time Stinty came down I was so happy to see anyone that I could have kissed him.

“What’s the good word Mr. Stinty?”

“Stella sent us a message, she wants to meet.”

I hopped off the bed “Great, let’s go.”

He shook his head “It’s not that easy.” He handed me a small piece of parchment “Here use this.”

I looked at the sheet, which was covered in crabbed spidery writing “Use it for what?”

He made a vague gesture “You know.”

“I have no idea.”

He seemed needlessly exasperated “I know you’re not a wizard but you sorts always know how to use scrolls at least.”

“You sorts?  Am I a certain sort?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

He grabbed the paper out of my hand and shook it “Are you telling me you can’t read this?”

“Looks like a bunch of crazy jumbles to me.”

He stared at me for a moment “Okay.  I guess what we do then is have everyone leave one at a time and then have you leave as well disguised as one of us and hope that our friend doesn’t have enough people to follow us all.”

“That sounds very dangerous.”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“Yeah, take the scroll to Stella and have her use it to come here. She’s magic.”

He frowned slightly “Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?”

I had the urge to reach down and ruffle his hair but I resisted because I have to believe that Halflings hate that shit – everyone would be much better off probably if they didn’t look so much like human children. I think.  It would avoid impulses like that which only serve to make things awkward between the two races.    A few minutes later with a pop and a rush of air and a bright flash of light Stella appeared right there in the room with me.  The good news is that she had a change of clothes for me, the bad news is that she had new bed sheets as well.

I took the clothing and sheets from her “I suppose this means I’m going to be here for a while?”

“Actually we’re leaving right now, but yeah, you’ll probably be back.”

After I got changed Stella took out another strip of paper and read the crazy magic words on it – I’ve never actually been nearby a spellcaster casting a spell when there wasn’t a terrible deadly fight going on.  Having a chance to actually hear the language of magic without being under threat of death it sounds a little like the dragontongue.  Is it a real language?  Can you speak “magic” to someone?  Or is it just a bunch of weird trigger words?  Regardless, with a nauseating lurch one moment I was in a basement and the next I was in a tower – it actually looked a lot like the Tower of Woe where I had been imprisoned.  Until I got turned into a cat.  Which is an underutilized method of escaping imprisonment.  After the instant magic transporting it took me a moment to regain my balance – even though there was no forward momentum it felt like I had been shoved.

The room was sparsely furnished but there was a chair in which sat a dark-haired half-elf with heterochromatic eyes wearing a gaudy emerald necklace.  She was wearing tight black leather, as is apparently mandated by regulation for lady fighters, and she had an odd looking crossbow similar to the one I saw on the caravaneer on the way into town.  She was chewing on a toothpick in a way that managed to annoy me instantly. She was leaning back in the chair with her feet up on a very narrow window.

Stella motioned “Ela, this is Sergeyevna Kostornaia.”

The woman did some weird licking thing with her tongue that flipped the toothpick around “They call me the eye taker.”

“I’m sure they do.”

Stella continued as Kostornaia seemed to be deciding if she should be offended “Sergeyevna and her crew are experts in counter sniper work.”

I looked at her in her freaky eyes “So you’re an assassin that kills other assassins.”

She took out her toothpick and twirled it around in her fingers before popping it back in her mouth “That’s about the size of it.”

Stella seemed strangely anxious “She killed Karlock One-Eye before he could assassinate Duke Gharnkorse.”

“I don’t know who that is but I assume that’s an impressive feat.  Let me guess you shot him right through his one eye just as he was about to shoot the Duke?  So the world’s premiere anti-assassination squad just happens to be in Beresford when I need them?”

Kostornaia let her chair fall to all four feet with a clatter “No, we teleported in just for you, aren’t you lucky?” She stood and I was further annoyed to see that she was about an inch taller than me “We’re getting paid a lot of money for this so let’s get down to the plan.  We send out a decoy, when your guy takes the bait I kill him.” She tucked the toothpick behind her ear under her hair “And that’s the plan.”

 “What do I do?”

“Nothing, just stay hid.”

“You know normally that’s exactly the kind of plan I would love, but for some reason this time I’d like to be involved.”

She smiled, I’ve seen warmer smiles on paintings.  Of crocodiles.  She pointed at me in a way that seemed oddly personal.

“You know, I just had a feeling about you, I thought that you might say something like that.  We’ll find something for you, just don’t get in our way when the action starts.  It’s going to take us a few days to get everything in place.”

“Wonderful” I turned to Stella “Can I get a book to read or something?”

The answer to that turned out to be no.  Also since the original plan was for me to teleport here they only had two scrolls so there was no way to magically whisk me back to my basement hole.  I asked Stella why I should go back at all, given that we were assuming that the assassin knew I was there surely I would be safer somewhere else.  She rejected that notion though saying that at least there I had protection.  Apparently she only has one safehouse in Beresford.  And here I thought she was a professional.  In the end we merely walked back – her invisible and me in disguise – since we never came out it seemed safe enough to assume that the sniper wouldn’t suspect anyone coming in.  Relatively speaking.  It was nerve-wracking making that walk, feeling like there were eyes boring into me the entire time, but I didn’t get shot in the head.   So it worked out. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

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 

Behind the curtain: Ela has no ranks in Use Magic Device.  I’ve debated that many times but it seems more fun if she can’t just buy and use tons of items all the time.  For the same reason she’s never taken Minor Magic or Major Magic, even though that’s one of the cool things about Phantom Thief.  “Playing” a sub-optimal character is a lot more fun when you’re not really playing.  

Muthuselan 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Do you remember the first time you got hurt?  Probably not.  It’s a good design that we can’t remember what happens to us the first months of our lives because if you were able to remember things at that time you’d never try anything.  There’s a period of time after you’re born that you don’t even know what pain is, you don’t know it exists.  Hunger?  Sure.  Discomfort?  Yeah.  But you don’t figure out what pain is for a while, and when you do it’s a good thing you’re not really sentient yet because if you were you’d never attempt to walk or do anything – you’d just lay there like a lump terrified of everything.  I learned a little earlier than most because I was bitten by snake while I was in the crib but that’s a story for another day. 

Every now and then at court you’d run into a kid who was so pampered that they didn’t really know what it meant to get hurt.  There were kids who never fell down and got hurt because they had servants to follow them around and break their fall with cushions.  I saw a kid like that get scratched by a cat (they’ll do that you know) one time and he screamed like he was being torn in half.  Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure actually.  The point is that while I had my share of hardships I lived a pretty comfortable life for many years.  Now in the last few months I’ve been stabbed, shot, fell off a roof (twice), been kicked in the chest, punched, trampled, sliced, you name it.  I’m not going to say that you get used to the pain, but you kind of do.  Every now and then when actual life and death bloodsports went out of vogue at court they’d have pugilists come in and beat the shit out each other.  There was this one fighter they called Oak or some other stupid tree name like that.  He’d win his bouts by basically just leaning in and letting his opponent punch the Gods out of him until they were tired out and then he’d wail on them.  People said that he was a masochist and that he liked pain.  I don’t think so.  But he didn’t hate it. 

Even with magical healing almost dying takes the wind out of your sails so I slept like a rock in the hidden chamber under the stairs.  I don’t know what time I finally got up but the food that had been left for me was stone cold.  Stella was out making arrangements and I got bored waiting down there so I emerged into the common room.  In addition to Archum there were two other hard cases sitting there pretending to nurse drinks – a scar-faced redhead also wearing chainmail and common looking fellow wearing hunterish looking garb.  Stinty was manning the bar and remarked as I walked out.

“Is it a good idea for you to be out here?”

I changed my appearance to that of blonde Northman with a beaky nose “Is that better?”

“Not really, if he has the place under surveillance he could have seen you come out.”

“There’s no clear eyeline to the stairwell door, as I’m sure you know.”

“And as I’m sure you know eyelines only mean so much when you’re dealing with magic.”

I sat down at the one table not occupied by a watchful goon “It’s boring down there, looks like there’s plenty of protection up here anyway.”

“I’d rather not get killed because you were bored.”

“Oh, you meant a good idea for you, not for me.  Do you think it’s likely this place is being watched?”

“Yes.  It wouldn’t have taken our talented friend, as you call him, long to figure out my story was bullshit.  That was a mistake on my part.  I was trying to scare him off but that was foolish, he’s not going to be scared off easily.”

“And if knows you lied he knows you’re in on it.  You should have just said that I left and you didn’t know anything else.  Why are you in on it anyway?”

“Stella’s an old friend, and she pays me money.”

“So mostly the money.”

“Mostly the money.”

“So she had this place ready just in case?  That’s very cunning of her – she’s really quite good at what she does isn’t she?”

Stinty nodded his tiny chin “She is.”

“Where do you suppose people like her come from?  Where do Dukes and Earls and whatnot find these highly competent, mostly loyal, shadowy operator types willing to do the dirty work of keeping a kingdom running?”

“From what I’ve seen of you so far you’re a noble, or at least a skilled noble imposter, who can change shapes and survive five arrows to the chest.  Not to mention you tossed out a thousand gold like it was nothing nothing.  I was going to ask you where such people come from.”

“A fair point.  I can’t change shapes though, it’s just an illusion.”

“Oh, well then I guess I’m not impressed.  You said you were bored, what do you want to talk about – you know, that’s a topic interest enough that it’s worth endangering our lives?”

“Hmm, good question.  How’s the war going?”

“Which one?”

“Take your pick.”

“I hear we’re winning.  Should be wrapped up by summer, another victory for the good guys.  Parades, medals, land grants, and congratulations all around.”

“That’s nice to hear.  Do you think the propaganda machine breaks down before a country is defeated in war or does it keep on churning away right until the end?  Do the people that buy that hogwash think they’re going to win the war the day before the enemy soldiers come burn down their homes, rape their wives, and sell their children into slavery?”

“I hope never to find out.”

“True, it’s more of an intellectual curiosity.  Do you have anything to eat around here?”

“I have an ox shank I could cook up for you.”

“I meant something good.”

“Oh no, we don’t have anything like that.”

“What’s the chance of you sending out for some nice roasted duck with cashew bread and a fine bottle of wine?  And not fatty duck, the good juicy stuff.”

“Probably about the same as your chances of surviving being poisoned.”

I sighed “Being stalked by a master of disguise is really annoying.”

“That’s something we could talk about, why is this surely very expensive hired killer trying to kill you?”

“Oh, could be for any number of things.  For some reason there are people that just don’t take to me despite how lovely and charming I am.”

“Jealously, that’s what that is.”

“Probably.  You got a deck of cards around here?  We could play a few hands to pass the time.  I know a few games.”

“I’m sure you do, but we need to stay vigilant, not be distracted by a card game.  You’ve had your fun, it’s time for you to go back downstairs now.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Reluctantly I passed back through the secret door and into the tiny chamber – my only companions a blood soaked bed and a wash basin.  These folks are clearly professionals but would it kill them to bring me some news clothing and some clean sheets?  I don’t know how the knights and men at arms do it – do they bring like fifty sets of clothing with them when they sally forth?  Maybe that’s why the supply trains are so important – you can’t go into battle with a stained shirt now can you? 

I don’t think I’ve ever get good at waiting.  But since I had all day to wait I thought waiting.  And about why things are different now –before my life was filled with long periods of doing nothing and it was fine, now I can’t stand it.  Here’s what I came up with.  Normal boring life creates one set of expectations for your mind.  Waiting doesn’t seem so bad because you’re not used to much happening.  But then, WHAM, something insane happens – every moment you’re under threat seems new and vivid.  And your mind changes – time warps because the experience is so intense.  It’s a survival mechanism that amplifies our awareness and packs more memories than usual into a short time interval. We’re tricked into thinking more time has passed. So your expectations change and it becomes an ugly cycle of expecting things to happen quickly, becoming impatient, getting angry.  And getting angry makes things seem like they take forever.

However having this theory doesn’t help anything.  The good news is that night when Stella finally came down to talk to me she brought some decent food and a bottle of raspberry liqueur with her.  She brought a ridiculously small chair down with her as well to sit across from me.

“How do I know you’re not the assassin here to poison me?”

“Do you think he’s that good at disguising himself?”

“Why not?  I am.”

“Sure, but you have . . . advantages.  Hmm, what’s something only the real me would know?”

“What’s the shape of the birthmark I have on my ass?”

“How would I know that?”

I took the tray of food from her “You passed.  Every man assumes that women have nude tickle fights when they’re not around and therefore would expect that you would know that and try to answer.”

“That’s some ironclad logic.”

“How are we looking?”

“The wheels are in motion.”

“Since our talented friend knows about this place should we change locales?”

She pursed her lips “I considered that.  I think it’s too late.  If we had moved right away that could have done some good but I think now if we try that it just gives him a chance to strike.  I don’t think he’s watching alone, he’s the killer but he can’t be doing all this legwork alone so I think he has a team of watchers.  Even disguised, with decoys I think it’s too risky.  Here at least there’s no way to get you unless he wants to fight his way in, and I don’t think that’s what an invisible rooftop archer wants to do.”

“That’s pretty much what I was thinking as well.  You should be careful about coming and going as well, he has to know at this point that you’re helping me so he might try to take you out.”

“I’m always invisible when I come and go.”

“That only goes so far.  I would expect an invisible rooftop archer to have a way to deal with other people like him.  Isn’t having smart enemies the worst?”

“I’m used to it in my line of work, but yes, I much prefer my enemies to be morons.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’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 

Muthuselan 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I wasn’t a good rider initially.  Even though I liked horses when I first started learning to ride I was kind of afraid to get close to them – they’re bigger than you think.  And those hooves, one of those comes down on your foot and you’re going to be laid up for a while.  Horses, domesticated horses at least, can be pretty finicky.  They can pick up on your good and if you’re afraid it makes them skittish.  I also found out later that the horse they gave me to learn to ride was naturally nervous anyway – not a good choice for a beginner.  This was done on purpose, as everything at court is, but that’s a story for another day.  The point is that I got thrown a few times and just generally banged up when I was first learning to ride.  But that allowed me to learn another lesson, an even more important lesson.  Never let them see you hurt. 

Who is them?  Everyone.  People talk about sharks being able to smell blood in the water from miles away – they have nothing on humans.  Show any weakness and they’ll be on you faster than you can blink.  You get thrown from your horse and bust your ass?  You get up, smile, and walk back over as if you’re complexly fine.  “Took a little tumble there” you say lightly.  I’m not saying that I’m king badass of the world, by no means, what I’m saying is that I’ve known for a long time how to act like everything is fine even when it’s not – at all.  That’s how when I disguised myself as a person who was not bleeding to death I was able to walk down the street perfectly calm and normally even though I was honestly wondering if I was going to lay down and die right there at that second.

At my suggestion Stella kicked a hole in the wall of the bakery into the adjoining business – it looked to be some kind of store that makes spectacles, it was hard to tell exactly on account of the blood loss and wooziness.  There was no one there, they’re going to in for quite a surprise when they come to open up.  Emerging from next building over isn’t the best way to throw our invisible assassin off the scent but it was the best we could do – between that and my appearance I was able to walk out without being immediately shot down like a dog.  Stella turned herself invisible and went head to make arrangements.  It was only a few blocks but it was easily the longest walk of my life.  I was so unsteady on my feet I was surprised I didn’t fall over with every step.  It felt like I was stepping on loose rocks.  But I made it to a large timber and brick building named Stinty’s, which is stupid name for an inn.  A Halfling standing on “battlement” of sorts behind the bar, perhaps the titular Stinty himself, gestured for me to go upstairs and flashed me three fingers. He did it with his thumb and forefinger together as if saying everything was “okay”, which it was not.

I used the railing on the stairs to haul myself up and staggered into room number three, the door shutting and locking behind me.  I collapsed onto the bed, thoroughly soiling the sheets with blood, as Stella’s invisibility dissipated and I saw her standing by the door.

“You’re tougher than you look.”

My voice sounded weird in my own ears “I’d pretty much have to be.”

“I need to go get some things to fix you up.  Are you going to be okay here on your own?”

“No, but what choice do we have?”

“You need to sit up in case you pass out, otherwise blood could settle in your lungs and you’ll drown.”

“I don’t think I can.”

Stella helped me roll over and then dragged me into a sitting position, stuffing pillows behind me as best she could.  I was left tottering there on the bed as she slipped out and somehow managed to lock the door behind her from the other side.  This broad clearly has more going on than I thought.  I never really lost consciousness but I wasn’t exactly with it either – it was a strange twilight zone that I hope to never experience again.  My vision was swimming but my ears were working just fine.  Some undetermined amount of time later I could clearly hear someone downstairs asking if “two women” had just come in “one that could be wounded” along with a pretty fair description of yours truly.  I forced myself to my feet , somehow made my way to the door, and after what seemed like hours of fumbling with unstead hands I was able to get the door unlatched. 

I lurched out onto the stairwell, remembering to disguise myself as a tall man with a yellow ascot at the last moment, where I saw a nondescript looking fellow talking to Stinty.  I also saw what I thought I saw on the way in – a narrow faced fellow with dark hair wearing chainmail with a massive sword set leaning on the chair beside him.  He was drinking a mug of something and looking dour.  I looked at him and pointed at the man talking to Stinty.

“I’ll give you a thousand gold if you kill that man right now.”

For emphasis I tossed a handful of coins onto the stairs with a metallic ping as they hit the ground and variously rolled and ricocheted about.  Narrow Face didn’t hesitate for a second, he was out of his chair and swinging his sword before one of the coins stopped spinning.  The other man ducked out of the way and produced a now familiar thin blade which he plunged into the other man, his strike being deflected by the mail.  Narrow Face swung wildly with his two-handed sword again but again the other man dodged the huge swing and jabbed at his opponent, who now would be on the ground bleeding to death if he wasn’t protecting his vitals with links of metal.  There’s a lesson I could learn.  Stinty hurled some weird little star-shaped throwing knife at the guy from behind, but even unwares he was able to partially duck out of the way – although his wig was knocked off and a lot of blood and skin with it.  This allowed my new best friend to finally catch him with one of his big swings, slicing him badly across the chest.  Still though, he managed to dart out the door without any trouble. 

“Thanks for the hand guys.”

I shoveled most of the gold out of my purse in their general direction, then grabbing the railing to keep from falling over. 

“Now he knows where I am . . .”

I felt a swoon coming on but I was able to fight it off.  Stinty said something to Narrow Face and he carefully stowed away his weapon before coming up the stairs.  He looked at me gravely.

“Do I have permission to touch your body?  It’s not sexual. Not that you’re not an attractive woman. You’re actually a very attractive woman but I’m just trying to help you right now.  If you feel uncomfortable I can . . .”

“Touch away buddy.”

He lifted me into his arms without an effort and carried me back down the stairs and around sharply to the left where Stinty was holding open a concealed door that went into a short staircase down under the staircase – which was an odd sight.  He carried me down to a small room that had little more than a too short bed and a wash basin.  He set me down on the bed gently and then turned to leave.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be safe down here.”

“Will I?”

“Safer.”

This killer gets high marks on disguise and persistence but he totally fails at vocal alteration – I could tell it was him up above pretending to be a city watchman talking to Stinty and the other man – whose name is Archum apparently – they told him that after the fracas I had left in the company of three men armed to the teeth and bearing a symbol of an green eye pierced through with a long needle.  This Stinty isn’t a half-bad liar, and I know from liars.  I don’t know if the assassin bought it, but he left either way and felt myself fading.  I actually did feel like there was fluid in my lungs so being worried about downing like Stella said I crawled into a sitting position on the floor with my upper body draped across the bed.  Even in that awkward crouch I fell asleep almost instantly, or passed out, six of one, etc.

Some time later Stella roused me and fed me healing potions until was completely fine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will never get used to that.  One moment you’re on death’s door, the next you’re not even injured.  It’s more than your body can reconcile.  I took one last long drink out of the weird squat little canteenish bottle and tossed it on the floor with the others.

“Why can’t someone make a potion that doesn’t taste vile?”

“It’s harder than you think.”

“Obviously.  Well, I think I know what boon I need from your employer – whoever this talented fellow is I need him taken care of if I want to keep being alive.  Which I do.  A lot.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’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