Here’s the kind of logic people use. I show up yesterday and they accuse me of being a spy, then when it gets dark they build up a massive fire that can probably be seen from the Shoddy Hills. A random (yet magnificent) woman showing up clearly is a spy from . . . someone . . . to find out . . . something about a group of shepherds, berry pickers and mushroom collectors. But starting a huge fire in the middle of a war zone? That’s fine. They didn’t even have anything to cook, nor was it that cold (when you have shoes anyway), they just did it to make themselves feel better. I get it, there’s something comforting about a fire, but if there’s a better way to announce to the world “here I am!” in the darkness I don’t know what it is. Ironically shouting “here I am!” would be less effective. Something has gone seriously upside down in the world when I’m the one disgusted but a lack of austerity.
Late last night Corune and some of the dullards started talking about heading for a village to the north called Ardinst, which I have never heard of but someone said that it was a training ground of some kind of Adarielistic acolytes and other healers. The more I heard them talk about it the more convinced I became that Corune was going to try and talk me into helping take them there. I’m not sure why that thought disturbed me so much, it’s easy enough to say “no”, but for reasons I can’t explain that notion wormed its way into my mind and festered there. Making me angrier and angrier as the night wore on and they talked more and more about Ardinst. I started wondering why I was even still there. I didn’t sleep, just stood against the far side of a tree away from the rest of the group and got myself all worked up. Eventually in the pre-dawn light I decided to stop standing around doing nothing and headed back towards the Beresford.
Before I had cleared the trees Corune came running up behind me.
“Where are you going?!”
“Back into town. Good luck with Ardinst, go with the Gods.” She grabbed my arm to check my movement and I whirled on her, getting my finger in her face. “Don’t. Don’t touch me. I don’t like being pawed at.” I have her a slight shove, more of a poke really “Do you like it when people put their hands on you? Huh? In the bad old days didn’t you get enough of people groping you is that it?”
She seemed genuinely taken aback “I’m sorry, I didn’t . . .”
“Didn’t what? I know what you did, you knew I wasn’t going to listen to your words so why not just engage physically right? If someone doesn’t like what you have to say just use force right? You were a slave right? You learned that lesson. Sticks and stones, that’s how you make people listen, words – words are wind. Here and gone, like nothing.”
She scowled “It’s not a big deal, I didn’t attack you, I just grabbed your arm.”
“Don’t. Touch me. You think I want your hairy man-hands on my body? I know you’re used to knocking people around but I’m not some horse-fucker you’re taking to be hung, you paw at me and I’ll cut your throat.”
She took a step back “Ela what’s gotten into you?”
“Don’t act like you know me, don’t act like we’re old pals.” I took a moment to take a deep breath and compose myself “No.”
“You were going to ask me to tag along to Ardinst right? The answer is no.”
She gestured back behind us “These people need your help.”
“What help? I’m not a guide, I can’t show them the way. I’m not a warrior, I can’t protect them. I’m not a healer, I’m not anything. You want to put your neck on the chopping block for them go ahead, I want no part.”
“How can you say that? In Beresford you fought off several attacks, I helped you as much as I could but you were the one . . .”
“Look at me, do I look like a fighter to you? All I do is protect myself as best I can, anything else is incidental. But it doesn’t matter anyway because I don’t want to help those people and I’m not going to.”
“Because it doesn’t matter. When you get to Ardinst the place is going to be taken over by slavers and everyone’s going to be sold into bondage. Or a cult is going to be operating there and sacrifice them. Or there’s going to be a monster or a vampire or a plague of zombies or some other Gods damned thing. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, everyone needs help all the time. We’re all fucked, I don’t know why you can’t see that! I go one place and a dragon burns it down. I go somewhere else and gnolls attack. There’s bandits on the roads, there’s criminal syndicates in the towns, monsters and goblins and things from other damn planets. I don’t know how anyone is still alive! Just yesterday you listened off seventeen different creatures you thought were mimicking a baby to murder us.”
“That was different, that was just us, now there are all these people, we have a responsibility to them.”
“Why? They ran out here, if they didn’t have a plan that’s their fault. I take care of myself why should I expect any less from them? Why is it my job to bail them out?”
“The strong must protect the weak.”
“Even if that was true I’m not strong, I’m the one who needs to be protected!”
She shook her head resolutely “No. You may want that to be true for some reason, maybe a part of you even believes it. But you’re strong. You’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever met. You’re also cruel, and you’re mean, and you’re callous, and honestly I think you might be insane. But you don’t back down from anything. You’re clever and you never let anything rattle you and you find a way to turn things to your advantage. I don’t really believe in luck but you’re lucky too, more than anything else perhaps.”
I couldn’t help but laugh “I’m lucky?”
“You always find a way through don’t you? A few days ago my friends and I had you in custody, in a tower from which no one has escaped, and here you are aren’t you? And my friends are dead. People come at you and they never know what hits them do they Ela? Everyone has you at a disadvantage, but somehow you turn it around on them. Somehow whatever they want to happen the opposite happens. And they can’t even figure out why.”
“It doesn’t matter, I’m not going.”
“Do you want me to beg you Ela?”
“No. I don’t say this to be cruel, this is just a fact, your opinion means nothing to me.”
“This is a chance to do some good though, to balance out all the other things you’ve done. You have . . .”
“You keep acting like you know my whole story and that I have this catalog of horrible acts that I’ve committed. I haven’t done anything that I need penance or redemption for, I’ve done nothing wrong, I mean not really wrong. I have no issue sleeping at night and I don’t need to help any lost lambs to make up for anything.”
“I’ll pay you.”
I snorted “What could you pay me with?”
“I know where all your possessions are.”
“What do you mean? The mayor has them.”
She shook her head “No, he lied to you. We cataloged all your items and stored them at the church of Odobenine, the mayor just said that to manipulate you.”
“You wouldn’t be lying to me would you?”
“Ela, who do you think the liar would be? Me or the politician who’s already betrayed you twice?”
“Well fuck. If that’s where my stuff is then it’s gone anyway. The Church of Commerce is the first spot they’re going to attack during a riot.”
“Have you seen that place? It’s a fortress in the nicest part of town. There’s no way any rioter got anywhere near it. That’s probably why there were royal soldiers in the city to begin with, to protect the temple.”
I thought for a moment “Huh, that’s probably true.”
“You help me get these people to Ardinst and I’ll go into Beresford with you and get your possessions from the vault.”
“Why didn’t you lead with that? Why’d you waste all that time with an appeal to phony morality or whatever that was?”
We headed back to the group and got them rounded up and lurching northward supposedly towards Ardinst. At the edge of the woods we saw a giant preying mantic chewing on a goblin, which was disturbing. I’ve seen a oversized insect or two, sadly, at this point but there’s something especially grotesque about the eyes of a mantid. It’s like they’re looking at you and sizing you up, seems like there’s intelligence there even though there isn’t. Hard to say which is more frightening. A few hours after that we saw a huge cottonwood tree engulfed by gray, papery nest as large as a two-story house. Some of these morons wanted to check it out. No sooner had I lit into them about hat genius idea than we all saw a man-sized wasp crawl out of it and taking flight.
“What the Hells is with this place? Is this some kind of giant bug area?”
Corune looked around curiously “There are no farms around here, I had wondered why. If there’s ankhegs that would explain . . .”
“Sorry I asked, can we just go before a giant ant attacks us?”
“Actually giant ants aren’t . . .”
As we continued our way toward Ardinst we did see some signs of ankheg tunnels, or at least that’s what I was told – they could be Halfling holes for all I know about it. And around mid-day we saw a manticore feasting on the body of an upturned spider the size of a rowboat. We made a broad detour around it but they didn’t stop it from flaring its wing with an angry yell-roar and flicking a couple tail spikes at us as a warning. Manticores are supposed to be as intelligent as people so why did it think we were going to try and fight it for a spider carcass? Actually I guess that’s the answer right there, they’re as smart as people.
Late in the day we saw in the distance a cottage that had collapsed due to undermining by a tunneling creature of some kind. Most people assumed that it was ankhegs, because why wouldn’t they, but some people insisted that ankhegs don’t do that so it must be some other borrowing horror. Eventually I had to shout at them to shut up about it because who cares what did it? I did spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about their barge I found full of ankhegs in a magic torpor. I wonder whatever happened to that.
Miraculously a few hours after dark we came tromping into Ardinst without being eaten or slaughtered or attacked by anything – giant bug or otherwise. The people of Ardinst were initially alarmed at a large group of people coming out of the darkness, but they quickly rallied with the hospitality and good natured pushoverness that you’d expect from a bunch of Adariel people. In surprisingly short order everyone was fed and lodged in extra rooms and barns and infirmary beds and the like. I found myself in a bunk bed with Corune above me.
“I still think something is going to happen, all these people are going to turn out to be cannibals or something.”
She replied through a yawn like a real rube “I’m sure if they do you’ll figure something out.”
“I fucking knew you were going to say that.”
Funds: 53,775 gold
Inventory: Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), 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, Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck
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