I know what you’re thinking, “Ela if the person who poisoned you can disguise their appearance wouldn’t they have bought the poison in disguise as well? So what’s the point of threatening the black market guy to find out who they are?” That’s a good question, thanks for asking it. Kisha and people like him don’t do business with people they don’t know – that’s how you get caught. If you’re ever running a black market operation and someone comes in that seems a little off but you’re thinking about it because the money is too good it’s one hundred percent a trap. So he knows exactly who he sold the poison to. And I know what you’re thinking now “Well maybe the person has a well establish alternative identity and he does know the person but that’s a false face as well.” Another fine point, you’re really on the ball today. But here’s the deal, a well-established alter ego is basically a real person – they’ve got roots, you can find them. You see it doesn’t really matter of Katu of Ambor is in actuality Bokter of Radok and Katu is a made-up persona because if you find Katu you’ve found Bokter as well. You see?
With his goons out-gooned and a deadly venomous viper in his face Kisha told me that he sold the jellyfish toxin to a young woman named Essa who was an assistant to the quartermaster Rayfield and was rumored to be fraternizing with military leader of this prisoner of war camp Baron Kartov. Now, to be clear he’s not baron, his name is Baron and he works for the Alliance of Barons which is made up of actual barons not people named baron. When I asked him why someone so well connected would come to him to get something rather than relying on the quartermaster – who you have to imagine is quite good at getting things – or her lover, the commander of the whole operation, he didn’t have an answer. Although I do, whatever she’s up to it’s not something that they’re privy to. Which is a fun wrinkle.
I tapped my Walking Stick again to revert the scary hissing snake-head back into a harmless cane-head, which was also shaped like a snake-head, but you know.
“Kisha, I apologize for that, it was rude of me to threaten you with death by snake-bite. Given enough time I could have charmed the information I want out of you but this is a quickly evolving situation and I simply didn’t have the luxury of taking my time. Which is a real shame for both of us because being charmed by me is really quite an experience. I don’t want us to get off on the wrong foot though, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here and I really want us to get along. Do me a favor and have your thugs bring in some barrels.”
“I don’t . . .”
I tapped his cheek with my Walking Stick “Just humor me for a moment will you?”
He gulped and sent his two sullen bodyguards out of the tent, returning a few minutes later dragging what I think were pickle barrels.
“Cheer up gents, sure you just got your asses kicked by two women not even half your size but things are looking up!”
I took out my Flask and started pouring rice wine into the barrels. Yhey were cross at first, they thought I was mocking them with my little flask, but as the booze kept coming and coming and coming and filling up both barrels their expressions turned to astonishment. I took a hearty swig from the Flask myself before tucking it back away.
“There you go, that should bring in a little more than that fermented horseshit you’re serving up currently. Any time you need a refill just let me know, this baby never runs dry and as long as you’re willing to help me I would be ever so happy to help you.” I nodded to my two guards “Ladies, let us take our leave shall we?”
As we made our way through the darkness towards my tent one of them, not sure which, spoke up “That’s the most fun I’ve had since we got here.”
“Stick with me and I’ll guarantee you one thing, it won’t be boring.”
It was late when I got back to my tent and I thought about pulling about the Amulet to give myself some time to think, but in the end I decided to get another night’s rest. Having guards is helpful but it’s also limiting – if they weren’t around I could essentially take the form of a solider and walk out of here whenever I wanted to. But as it is I need to be careful. A little careful anyway. The next morning there was a halfway decent breakfast waiting for my outside of my tent and there were another two almost identical women standing nearby. I was starting to pick up on the differences, one of them had hair that was more dark down than black and the other was a little taller. As I sat down to eat my honeyed toast I gave them a good once over.
“Seriously, what the Hells is your deal? There’s six of you now?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Fuck you, I saw you smile! Quit the mysterious crap, tell me what’s going on. And why. Why would anyone want a bunch of similar looking women trained in unarmed fighting? Why would anyone spend the time and money to make that?”
“You don’t look like me, otherwise I’d assume you were decoys.”
“And what do you think happens to decoys when the person they look like dies? They throw themselves on the funeral pile.”
“Pile? Isn’t it pyre?
“No, it’s pile like a pile of sticks that they set on fire. A pyre is someone who makes pies.”
“That’s a baker you dolt! So what you’re saying is that you’re an elite cadre of handmaidens slash decoys that served some woman that looked like you and she’s dead now so you’re left to just be mundane bodyguards that happen to look alike?”
“I never said that. But yeah.”
“So the woman you all look like is dead? That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”
“She was killed before we ever worked for her. We trained for years in hidden isolation to learn our skills and then one day some man wearing a dress came and said that our to-be mistress was dead and we were turned out in the middle of the wilderness.”
“That has to be a real kick in the tits. Being taken away from your family to train to be killed in someone else’s place is bad enough but then you never even got to do the thing you were trained to do? Whoo boy. You say were your trained for years? How old were you when this started? Because even if you looked like whomever you looked like when you were younger people don’t always grow up to look like you think. Two of my cousins looked enough alike to be sisters but one of them grew up to look okay and the other is a pit of despair. Or she was anyway, she’s a very handsome woman now. Long story.”
“Some of us had our faces cut to make sure we looked right as the years went by, they’d bring in this sadistic monster to do it and then there was another guy who’d pour chemicals on us to make sure we’d heal without scars. He was even worse.”
“Are you shitting me?”
“How many of you are there?”
“We don’t discuss such things.”
“So you were taken to be trained as soldiers or whatever when you were young? Are you all messed up in the head then? Is this one of those deals where you can run down a water buffalo and leap over a giraffe but you don’t know how to buy bread at the market and human social interactions frighten and confuse you?”
“Water buffalos aren’t very fast.”
“You know what I mean.”
“It was an adjustment as first when we were kicked out of the training facility but I assure you we can buy bread.”
Brown hair spoke up at this point “And who isn’t frightened and confused by human social interactions?”
“Me, but I see your point.” I raised my glass of weak watery ale “Well here’s your dead mistress who you never got to protect but who totally fucked up your lives.”
As I was eating my breakfast several of my new not-noble-but-rich friends dropped by to shoot the breeze. It was almost time for lunch before I was given a moment’s peace but it gave me some time to think about what to with Essa. There’s no reason to believe that she wanted to kill me on her own, and there’s no reason I can think of that her boss nor her lover would want me dead either. My first thought is that Master Sergeant Costell Monague is the only enemy I have in camp as such, but aside from a wild leap of non-logic there’s no way for him to know that I’m the one who stole his stuff, and it seems pretty petty for him to try and kill me just over me treating him like garbage. Dealing with barons all the time he has to be used to that. So it comes back to the demoness Lypara Emprenzo maybe? The only way to know for sure is to ask her.
I had lunch with and spent the afternoon idling with my fellows in the “rich” camp. Someone had found a deck of cards so we played This and That for a couple hours – my head wasn’t really in it so I only won enough to make sure everyone knew I was as a canny and strong player. After this they decided they wanted to put on a show of some kind and they spent the bulk of the afternoon talking excitedly about it. One woman started singing and I had to stifle a laugh – she wasn’t horrible but she couldn’t hold a candle to me. There was a part of me that wanted to put her to shame right then and there but I hid my light under a bushel basket, I had other things to do that night. After dinner with the tent aristocracy I went to see Kisha, who of course had a much nicer tent that anyone else in the “poor” camp and of course had found a way to weasel out of being part of the work gangs.
He jumped up at first like he was afraid I was going to attack him with a snake-stick but I calmed him down and traded him the drugs I took offer the marauders the other day for the location of Essa’s tent and her schedule for visiting Baron the non-baron. Luckily tonight was her night off so I stayed and chatted with Kisha and observed his enterprise – a lot of people coming and going and dropping off and picking up various goods.
“You really have a way with people don’t you?”
He gave me a wary glance “Usually.”
Once I felt it was appropriately late I bid goodbye to Kisha and headed towards another section of tents – adjacent to the military section was much smaller section of non-military helper types attached like a bunion. At some point my two minders had been switched out for one of the original ones and one of the second duo I think.
“Do you report everything I do back to one of the Barons? You’re been surprisingly accepting of my schemes.”
“We would if any of them cared. We were told to protect you and keep you from leaving, no one said to babysit you.”
“So you have no issue with me attacking the quartermaster’s assistant?”
“How much are they paying you?”
“It’s rude to discuss finances.”
“We should talk, I’m sure I can give you a better deal. Assuming there’s not like a hundred of you.”
I stood outside the tent for a while to make she was asleep before entering. I stood for a while to let my eyes adjust to the darkness and then moved forward, taking out my flask and dumping a gallon of rice wine on the sleeping form before me. She came up kicking and spitting but she quickly realized I had my dagger in her stomach, or actually maybe it was a little lower than that, it was hard to tell with the blanket and the darkness.
“Shush your mouth girlie. You know why I’m here. Out with it.”
Funds: 50,874 gold
Inventory: Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds
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, Essa