It would have been nice to take on the form of a gnome or Halfling – the smaller size would help me pass unseen through the night if I were alone, but now that I’m party of a party of three there’s no point. It also would have been nice to turn invisible every now and then to break up the eyeline of anyone watching me, but that would be equally as pointless. But as a trade-off at least now I have someone to help me find my way around right? Wrong. Because why would things ever be easy for old Ela? Aska Urolyin (as I learned her name was) the sooty cobbler (hence the hammer) was too frightened to give me directions. All she seemed capable of doing was holding onto the battered Vulturian, who, and I don’t mean this as any sort of rudeness, was heavier than she looked. She was sort of capable of supporting her own weight but we were essentially dragging her along with us – it felt like we were pulling her through deep water. Wait, that sound easier because things float in water, but you know what I mean. Quicksand? Whatever, it was hard.
There’s nothing I wanted to do more than to set her down and take a little rest, but I knew that would be a bad horrible terrible awful idea. As morning closed in I was seeing more and more people about and none of them looked sociable. Probably most of them were just worried about protecting themselves but that still leaves the few who are looking for trouble. Since Aska couldn’t find her voice (I wanted to shout at her so badly but I knew it would only make things worse – I hate being reasonable) I was taking streets at random, heading away from noise and fire, hoping that I would see something familiar. And eventually I did – we ended up back in the square where it all started.
By my calculations the machine Rindol and Murdane were building would have been completed tomorrow. Instead it was smashed to smithereens. Do you know how small a smithereen is? No you don’t because no one does. A smithereen issomething so small you don’t even know how small it is. We should have kept moving but I stopped and looked at the one piece remaining – a maybe three foot tall post. That’s all that was left. There was a powerful acrid stench in the air that I couldn’t identity but it stung both the eyes and the nostrils. Hells, I think it stung my ears. It had been getting lighter out for a while but as I stood there the sun came up over the buildings to give me a good look around.
I saw half a portrait of the Queen smeared with mud and/or feces sitting against the frame of a building. I saw the remains of dozens of shattered barrels with pickled fish scattered about and crushed under boots. I saw the body of a royal courier laying face-down, which is to say that his face was down and the rest of his body was facing up, this neck horribly twisted. I saw ants and rats swarming over boxes filled with sugar beets while crows did the same on a pile of gristle that may have been a horse, a dog, or a man. Burning torches, rotten food, broken furniture, torn clothing, blood, I saw it all lying in the street. I even saw a gravestone and I don’t think there’s a graveyard anywhere near here. I saw rubble piled up with torn off boards balanced precariously on the rock ramp to form a kind of shaky “bridge” into the second story window a building – the window of that building was splattered with blood. My old friend in the blue coat had come around enough to bless us with his gem.
“What a waste.”
“Sure, that’s one way to put it. Fucking Hells would be another.”
She frowned “Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar.”
“Yeah, yeah you know me. Come on, I know where we are now.”
We made our way to the rugmaker’s shop which would have been a confusing sight had I not known that a temporarily very large person had crashed through the ceiling because it looked mostly intact from the outside but the interior was a shambles. Seeing it in the daylight it seems much bigger than I thought from having been inside. Coming back here was possibly not the best idea, Sperry could very well still be about, but there’s something instinctual about returning to someplace you’ve already been. A random building could have been better of course, yet it could just as easily have been much worse. The Devils you know and all that. I helped Aska carry the priestess into a side room stacked with rags and then I shimmed my way up the remains of the loom to the second floor. I didn’t call out because I didn’t want to potentially alert Sperry but that was foolish because I’m not exactly quiet as a ghostcat in the best of times let alone when I’m clambering up a wood frame.
Sperry was still there, looking out the window, but he was overlaid with the appearance of the rugmaker – not her real appearance but the one she had projected. The result was a grotesque shadow amalgam that almost made me wish that I couldn’t see through the illusion. His attempt to mimic her voice was preposterous, in different circumstances it would have been comedic.
“Thank goodness, I was so worried about you! How . . .”
“Did you kill her or did you just rob her?”
“Whatever can you mean? I . . .”
I shot him in the stomach, the bolt punching through his chainmail like it was nothing. I suppose at this range you can’t expect much else but whenever I see armor pierced so easily it makes me wonder why people put up with all the weight and chafing. He went for his sword but I dashed forward and bashed him in the shoulder (I was going for the head but he moved) with the stock of my crossbow hard enough to knock him to the floor.
“You’re poisoned my friend, this is a very special crossbow, so you’re done for. Just tell me if you murdered that woman or if you merely stole all her shit and kicked her out of her own house to get murdered by someone else.”
He reached for his dagger and I shot him through the meat of the forearm – pinning that limb to his chest unintentionally. For a dirty coward he was admirably trying to fight on anyway and I had to shoot him again in the side, sending him staggering towards the hole. I kicked him over the side and watched him crash into what was left of the loom with a horrid cracking sound – flipping off the frame and slamming into the ground. The cartwheeling action of hitting the loom is the only thing that prevented him from hitting head-first and breaking his bloody neck. Incredibly, after a moment he started to crawl away. I walked to what was left of the staircase and slid/fell/jumped down and moved to his side. His body was wracked with tremors as he painfully and glacially crawled towards the street on hands and knees.
“The poison has you now. You may have fatal injuries anyway but either way you’re done.”
He managed to lift his head to look me in the eye, his voice shaky “Ant . . . i . . . . dote?”
I shook my head “I can do nothing for you. I could lie and tell you that I can save you if you tell me what you did to her, but I can’t. You’re already dead. This is your last chance to do something halfway decent for once in your miserable life. Where is she?”
He lowered his head back down “N . . n . . no . . .”
“I figured. You know I’m not usually one to deliver a monolog to a dying foe, I mean is there anything more pointless? I understand that sometimes people can’t help themselves – they need to explain why they did something or they want to get in a few last digs, or whatever it may be – but talking to a dead man? What a waste of time. But I’m going to do it in this one special case because I want to thank you. Even though you’re be gone in a couple minutes, or seconds maybe, I want you to know that you reminded me of something and I really appreciate it. You reminded me that trusting people is always a poor choice. Always. This is a universal truth. And I didn’t even really trust you is the thing, but I left a little sliver for you to exploit and you did because of course you did. You can’t give anyone anything, unless you like being fucked over. Which I knew, but clearly I needed to be reminded. I mean look what happened here with you huh?
As I was talking he slumped to the ground, most likely dead, so I don’t even know how much of it he heard. But I suppose it was for my own benefit. The illusion of the illusion of the rugmaker didn’t fade after he checked out, it stayed active until I stripped the ring off his finger that was making the effect. He had a massive amount of coins on him – all silver. There’s probably a story behind that but I guess I’ll never know it now. After stripping Non-Longer-Smiling Sperry of his gear I helped Aska to climb up to the bedroom. Then it was time to have a little heart to heart with the third member of our trio. She was laying on a stack of rugs in the side room looking like she had nothing left in her – pale as a sheet (a clean sheet), clammy skin, eyes kind of unfocused, having trouble breathing, the whole nine. She looked like she had been tortured only hours ago, because she had. I knelt down beside her and patted her on the arm.
“What’s your name?”
“Writha . . . .Corune . . . .”
“Corune? Surely not of the Indlecastle Corunes.” She nodded very weakly “Seriously? Well shit what the Hells are you doing here? We can talk about that later. Here’s the deal Lady Corune, you’re not safe down here, I’m going up to the second floor – which isn’t really safe either but it’s at least must safer. And I can’t carry you. And I don’t have any other way to get you up there. So if you want to live you have to fucking rally right now. Whatever strength you have left in you you have to conjure it up. Aska and I can help you but you have to be able to climb. You have to get up and you need to get it together for like thirty seconds. And I realize that that’s a long time in this situation but this is what it is. There’s nothing for it. If you’ve been holding anything in reserve this is what you’ve been holding it for. If you’re completely spent you need to manufacture something. If you can’t what I would suggest is that you hide under some of these rugs and I’ll sneak down and give you some food and water occasionally, but someone’s going to come in here and they’re going to find you and it’s unlikely anything good is going to happen after that. You need to save yourself right now if you can. We can help you, but we can’t do it for you. You want to give it a shot or you want to stay here?”
You probably think that there’s no chance she would chose the latter but you’d be surprise how many people won’t fight for their own lives when it comes down to the bitter end. If someone attacks you you might fight back in the moment, but that’s different – when you’ve been beaten to a pulp and you’ve been hung by your arms for a couple hours and you’re halfway dead already, do you have the guts to haul your ass up and try to make it? Maybe you do, but it’s not as universal as you might think. Animals, they never give up, they can’t, they don’t know how. You drop a dog in the middle of the ocean and it starts swimming because it doesn’t know it’s dead no matter what. We humans have been blessed with consciousness and with that comes the fun knowledge of how royally screwed we are sometimes. And when you know that you have a decision to make. Can you find it within yourself to press on or do you lie down, give up, and enjoy some peace for a few moments before it’s over?
Writha Corune proved to be a gamer, this time at least. I helped her up and I got under the shoulder and I helped her stagger to what was left of the loom-frame. Aska’s face appeared in the hole above us looking scared as ever. I got underneath Corune and pushed her up as best I could but she had to do her part, she had to climb up on that shaky piece of garbage (not easy when you’re in the best condition let me tell you) and she had to balance and reach up and take Aska’s hand and she had to do her part to haul herself up. Aska for all her (understandable) pusillanimity was clearly a woman with a physically demanding trade so she was strong but still, she couldn’t haul Writha up all on her own as dead weight – the woman in the blue coat had to do her part. Her hands were shaking so badly it took Aska several tries to grab them and her breath was so fast and shallow I thought she might pant herself unconscious but she did it. She did enough to keep herself alive a little longer.
I climbed up after her and Aska and I carried Corune over to the corner and placed her in the rugmaker’s bed. I gave her another drink of rice wine and offered her some of the rations that I had taken off Sperry but she waved them away. Aska ate and drank as fast as possible and then hid under the bed where she fell into a deep and troubled sleep. I moved to the window and looked out at the streets, empty of people in the early morning light but filled with the wreckage and rubbish of yesterday’s excitement. Writha’s voice came from the bed sounding marginally stronger but still barely audible.
“I know you. You’re Ela. You saved me.”
“Yeah well we all make mistakes. At least the rest of us do, I’m sure you Vultur people are perfect in every way.”
“We were doing our just duty, you . . .”
“You were paid assassins and the only reason you stopped is because someone else paid you more.”
Her voice actually rose slightly with anger “We are not mercenaries, we had an unbiased and legal contract to . . .”
“Saying something doesn’t make it true!” I sighed “Look, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. You have your point of view and I have mine, we’re never going to agree. You need rest, don’t get all excited about it.”
“What’s going on out there?”
“Nothing. But I doubt it’s going to stay that way for long.”
Funds: 50,874 gold, 2000 silver
Inventory: Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (3) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise, +1 Mithril Shirt
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