Yesterday I was up here with two people to whom I boldly proclaimed that rationing wouldn’t be necessary. Now they’re both dead. Which means two things. One thing it means is that the food they ate was completely wasted. But more importantly it means I can think about rationing without feeling foolish. I initially figured that one way or the other I wouldn’t be hanging around here for long but now I’m not so sure. Based on what I saw this morning this riot seems to be turning into a full-fledged revolution, and those tend to take a while to work themselves out.
Several times now I’ve been lost in the wilderness without much in the way of supplies and with one exception I never really seriously considered that I might die. How dramatic would it be if I starved to death instead in the middle of a city? Aska crawled out from under the bed long enough to scarf down her share of the dwindling pile of rations. If you’re not familiar with rations they consist of things like little discs made out of wheat flour and beef powdered, dried meat, hardtack, cheese that looks and tastes like a rock, and things of that nature. It’s the kind of thing that soldiers on the campaign eat, partially to keep them alive but mostly to make them not care if they live or die. Rations are the main reason for cannibalism. It’s been proven.
I woke Corune up to eat and drink as well. Or maybe not woke up because she was more unconscious than asleep exactly, maybe roused is the correct word. She ate as slowly as Aska did quickly – everything she did was in that very deliberate way you move when every part of your body hurts. I know she had a bad night and all, got roughed up pretty good, but I was starting to think in the back of my mind that she needs to get over it. After this grand repast Aska scuttled back into hiding like a crab under a rock and Corune lay back down to sleep/pass out.
The rugmaker had mentioned that she had some food downstairs which was probably already gone but the idea that it might be down there got stuck in my head and eventually I couldn’t help but crawl down to check it out and make sure. There was nothing left in the kitchen area and even worse I saw movement outside. I scrambled back up to the second floor as quickly and quietly as I could (not well on either count) and rushed to the window where I saw a group of men outside a building much like this across the street and two houses down. Most of them were carrying torches.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone with a torch in the daytime before. It’s more menacing than you’d think. Someone with a lantern in the daylight would be a loon, but someone carrying around a naked flame in the broad sunshine – that person has plans. The door to the building across the way was evidently barricaded and the one window was boarded up. I’m sure if you wanted to you could smash those boards away pretty simply, but this crew was content to stay outside and shout. After a moment a woman appeared in a second story window much like the one I was watching from. She was wearing a standard peasant smock and looked as haggard was I felt – her hair hung down around her face like it was sopping wet even though it appeared to be dry as a bone. I couldn’t hear what was being said but there was clearly a negotiation of some kind going on, one that resulted in the woman in the window becoming increasingly frantic.
In the end the man on the street that had been doing all talking for the group shook his head and several of his men started hurling pots of oil onto the building. The woman starting weeping and pleading with them – I could read her lips at one point saying that she would do whatever they want. The man said something and a minute later the door opened and the woman came out with another woman and two men. The torchbearers handled them roughly, taking anything they had on them before two of them went inside, only to emerge moments later looking disappointed. At the leader’s command two things happened – one was that his men threw a couple torches onto the building, setting it aflame. The second was that they forced one of the men who had come out of the building to his knees and cut his throat right there in front of the other three. I’ve had the misfortune to see a lot of death since my ejection from the Duke’s court, but this was one of the worst. This wasn’t anger, this wasn’t battle, this wasn’t anything other than expediency. The two men that forced him to the ground and the man who did the killing, none of them had any particular interest in what they were doing. This was just work, this was just what they were doing today – it had no more meaning to them than a butcher slaughtering a hog.
The other man looked like he wanted to try and fight but the women begged him not to – since it was clear they were perfectly willing to kill him as well if he wanted to cause a ruckus. The leader came over and leaned close to him, saying something, and all the fight went out of the man. At the leader of the torchbearer’s gesture the three of them stumbled off together, stopping frequently to look back at their burning shop. After this display they moved on to the house directly across the street, skipping over the one in between, which would indicate that they’ve scouted out which places have people in them. There was some conversation through the door and then after a moment the door flew open and a wild-eyed man came charging out swinging a fireplace poker. The men stepped away from his attacks and one of them doused him with oil, another stepping up and setting him on fire as easy as you like. The blazing man rushed at one of his tormentors but he was knocked to the ground and quickly was just a burning corpse on the ground. A couple men went inside the building, coming out with a couple items of value before they came across the street.
Getting a good look at the leader of this band of murderous pyromaniacs I saw that he had a heavy brow and strangely thick eyelids, his face framed by thin but long sideburns. He hitched his hands through his belt as his men lit more torches and fondled their flasks of oil. He called up in a voice that was better suited for shouting across a country field than the streets of Beresford – I can’t believe I couldn’t hear him before with that voice.
“What have you got for us love?” I pulled one of the Rings off my finger and tossed it down, which he caught adroitly and put up to his eye, squinting “It don’t look like much.”
“Its magic friend, it’s worth more than this building.”
“How am I supposed to believe that?”
“Put it on and give it a half-turn to the left.”
“Don’t look like it will fit on my finger.”
“It will resize, that’s part of the magic.”
He was amazed when the ring did in fact shift to fit on this thick finger, but not nearly as amazed as he was when he turned invisible. His voice came even louder after he disappeared, as if he thought that because I couldn’t see him I wouldn’t be able to hear him as well either.
“Why are you still here if you had this?”
“It only works for a couple minutes. Turn it back the other way to become visible again.”
He did so, his weather-beaten faced appeared again “This will do. It’s been a pleasure.”
“I can’t help but think that with that fire you started over there the whole block is going to go up. I don’t mean to tell you your business but maybe you should lean more on just the threats than the actual fires if you want there to be a city left to squeeze.”
“Who says I want there to be a city left?”
He and his crew moved on to another house up the street and across the road again but I couldn’t stand to watch what happened. I was pretty shaken but that encounter, there’s not much you can do against a foe that’s willing to burn the world to the ground. There’s no real way to reason with that type. It’s barely past half-light and already that’s two encounters that could have easily tuned violent. How many more can happen in one day? And how many more can I endure? What sprang to mind was a scene I witnessed at Threegates. There was a gladiator there that had somehow displeased the Count so they just kept sending in more beasts and fighters to take him on. It didn’t matter how many bouts he won because they sent in another opponent for him. He was always going to lose eventually. How many of these situations can I deal with? And how many more are coming? It’s a simple matter of arithmetic – if one is larger I’m okay, and if the other is larger I’m dead.
I watched the fire spread across the street, but thank the Gods for small favors, after the third building it seemed to sputter out rather than spreading any further. I was so on edge that I felt like I was continuously tensing my muscles, like I was hanging off the side of the cliff by my fingers and I need all of my strength to hold on. I knew that I was going to exhaust myself so I tried to calm down, but I just couldn’t compose myself no matter what I did. Every minute it seemed like something horrible was going to happen. Eventually I activated my Flask for another draught of healing and gave it to Corune. I passed her the chain shirt I had taken off Sperry and told her to shrug it on.
I took a long drink from the Flask as she was getting the armor on “No more lying around princess, I know you’re not one hundred percent but I need you to help me – things are not getting better out there, they’re getting worse. I keep telling myself that I’ve been in worse jams, that I’m going to make it through this, that everything’s going to be fine. Nothing’s fine. You’ve been asleep so I don’t know if you noticed this, but everything’s been getting worse, every second.”
“Maybe you should lay off that if things are so bad.”
I laughed “This is the only thing keeping me from screaming right now. Besides, it’s all we have to drink.”
A couple hours later a group of men came sprinting towards the building. A full out sprint directly at us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone running that fast in all my life – and they were carrying broad, flat blades with a hook on the back edge. They looked more like some kind of tool for clearing vegetation than dedicated weapons. I tossed my Walking Stick to Corune and moved to the hole in the floor.
“How the fuck does everyone know we’re here?! Corune cover the window, Aska get the fuck out here right now and help us!”
I heard her voice from behind me, clearly still underneath the bed “I can’t, I’m too scared!”
“You’re scared of dying? Well you are going to die right now if you don’t get out here! Get over here and if you see a face in this hole smash it with your fucking hammer!”
I heard her come out from under the bed but she didn’t come over to me. I could hear Corune speaking to her softly, I was going to shout at her some more but then I saw through the massive hole in the floor two men come hurtling into the bottom floor of the shop. They didn’t even pause, with blades still in hand one of them leapt onto the broken stairs and started to climb with the other started scrambling up the loom-frame as I had done a half dozen times at this point. I tried to move to a point where I could see both men but the one on the stairwell was out of my sight, what I could see was Aska standing frozen in the middle of the room.
“Get the FUCK over here!!!”
A hand came through the hole, grabbing the floor, and I moved to the edge where a snarling man was pulling himself up. I shot him through the cheek right below the eye at point blank range but he didn’t even flinch, he kept hauling himself up through the hole. I reversed the crossbow and slammed the stock into the crown of his head as hard as I could but that didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest either. In a simultaneous action he yanked himself through the hole and launched himself at me – slamming into me and then slamming me into the floor as well. The crossbow was trapped between our bodies as his free hand searched for my throat while I strained to control his blade-hand with both my hands. I was hoping that the crossbow poison would make him weak but his grip was like iron and he felt like he weighed a ton pressing down on me. He leaned his elbow on my face, turning my head to the side so that I was looking at Aska still standing like a statue in the middle of the room. I could see Corune hanging out the window fighting with someone climbing up the side of the building. My voice was so filled with desperate terror that I didn’t even recognize it as my own.
“Help me GODS DAMN IT!!!”
As I was shouting the man’s finger slipped into my mouth and I bit it as hard as I could, my mouth filling with blood instantly. Choking, I let go of his blade-hand and snatched out my dagger, stabbing him just above the thigh. He raised his sword-tool to cleave my head in two and Aska finally moved, although rather than caving his head in with her hammer she dropped it and dove forward to grab his arm, checking his swing. I managed to shove my knife in through the soft part under his chin and as he finally staggered back I kicked at the hilt with both boots – driving the blade into his brain like a tent stake. Even this damage it seemed like he was going to ignore for a second before he keeled over stone cold dead. I scrambled to grab my crossbow and load it while I saw the second man emerge at the top of the stairs on the other side of the hole. He gathered himself for a leap and a hurled Aska into his trajectory – he jumped over what had to be an eight foot hole as nimbly as a deer and crashed into Aska awkwardly. I heard their skulls bang together like two butting mountain goats, Aska flew back into an unconscious heap with blood streaming down her head while the savage attacker was stunned long enough for me to load the crossbow and send a bolt through his sternum. As he staggered forward I shot him again and a third time before he collapsed backwards through the hole to the ground.
I moved forward to see a third man down below looking around wildly. I shot him as well but he ran out of my line of sight. I turned around just in time to see Corune going flailing through the window, falling with a man draped over her and grasping at her hair. I rushed to the window to see the two of them lying in a heap on the street – a third attacker already dead a few feet away. As they came apart Corune was still on her hands and knees, dazed as the man popped up like a jack in the box and grabbed his sword. I grabbed the Desk out of my Haversack and held it out the window – activated the magic to expand it to full size and send it crashing down on the man’s head. The Desk as smashed to bits, but it was still in better shape than the man it landed on. Another man came running at Corune but she was back on her feet and between the two of us we were able to bash and shoot him to death. Corune dashed back inside and I helped her climb back up to the second floor through the hole where we both collapsed next to the unmoving form of Aska.
“It’s not even three bells.”
Funds: 50,874 gold, 2000 silver
Rations – 5 days
Inventory: Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (3) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise
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