After the sun went down the temperature dropped significantly more than usual for sunset. It wasn’t freezing cold by any means but it was not comfortable by any stretch. Despite the day of rest Corune didn’t seem to be getting any better, if anything she seemed weaker. Having nothing to eat probably didn’t help. I’m no healer but even setting that aside it seemed like there was something else going on – some kind of malaise seemed to have settled over her. It was like all the vitality had been drained from her. As the day wore on she seemed more and more listless to the point where she barely responded to my insults anymore. Once night and the cold set in she started shivering so badly she couldn’t fall asleep. So of course a few hours later it started drizzling. Somehow that made things even more miserable that a true driving rain.
Things were getting pretty grim around the old “campsite” so I thought about trying to get a fire going. Sunrods normally don’t seem to produce any heat but they’re creating light with some kind of alchemical goo inside so I thought it was worth a try. Since Corune hadn’t really moved I rolled her over and cut some strips off the back of the trademark blue greatcoat of her dumb order assuming correctly that it would be mostly dry. I stuck that in my Haversack and gathered the driest wood I could find before dumping out the whole mess and breaking a sunrod over it. Or trying to anyway, the thing was pretty damn hard to break. I had to cut it halfway through with my dagger before I was able to finally snap it and pour out the stuff inside – which was mostly powder. I was expecting liquid for some reason. It created a few sparks and I saw a tiny flicker of flame, which was encouragement enough to take out the last sunrod and do the same thing. This got a nice little fire burning and I dragged Corune next to it, covering her with a cloak from my secret pocket even though I knew it would only last a couple of hours. Maybe that would be enough to get her warm.
About ten minutes later the alchemical goo fizzled and popped and the fire went out. Out of all the things I’ve seen lately it was one of the more depressing sights to cross my eyes. I tried to sleep but between the cold and the rain and Corune’s wordless moaning there was no chance. I was starting to consider kicking her until she shut up when I noticed a tiny glimmer of light in the distance. Rather than getting up immediately I stared at it spitefully for a long time, I couldn’t tell you why exactly. You know that feeling when there’s something you should do that you know is going to make things better but for some reason you resent having to do it so you just sulk and get madder and madder? Yeah.
When I finally did get up and haul myself towards the light the first thing I saw was a wheelbarrow that looked like it was hundreds of years old and all that was holding it together was hope and good intentions. Even so it was piled high with ramshackle goods and items – junk really. Amongst the treasures I saw half a broken bedframe, a dozen soiled wigs, pieces of rugs, part of a blanket, the basket of a catapult, some hunks of rotting cheese, a spinning wheel without wheel, loose nails, a cage missing two sides – that kind of stuff. I would have said this was the cart of a rag and bone man but most of this stuff even a ragman would turn his nose up at. Coming around the garbage-barrow I found a merrily burning campfire with three shifty older codgers sitting around it. They were startled by my appearance due to their semi-inebriation and their advanced age although I couldn’t tell you in what proportion.
They jumped up, well not jumped but creaked, and brandished a variety of “weapons” at me. One had a chair leg sharpened to a point, another had a hayfork with only one tine left – so a spear maybe – and the third had a broken bottle with cloth wrapped around the neck to make a hilt. Which means he carries it around like that, which means he’s insane. I tried to reason with them, I really did, but they were cursing at me and shouting and yelling for me to lay down my weapons – I had no weapons at the time mind you. I admit that in short order I lost my temper. My grandmother always told me that if you lose your temper you’ve lost – that you have to stay in control if you want to survive, you can’t let your emotions overrule you reason. Normally I’m great at that.
I have every reason to be angry, but you have to hold back that anger. Because there are consequences to expressing your anger, and because I have an image to maintain, and for a thousand other reasons. Eventually though, there will be a last straw. Actually no, I won’t like the straw and the donkey’s back metaphor because that implies that it’s an incremental process and it’s inevitable when neither of those are true. When it happens it comes out of nowhere and it’s just one thing that makes it happen. It’s not an accumulation of slights, it’s not that I’ve had all I can stand and I can’t stand no more – it’s like hitting your funny bone, it’s just the wrong touch at the right time in the right place. Do I regret killing those geezers? Yes, I do. But honestly, not very much. Not because it wasn’t wrong, but because it didn’t really matter.
After they were dead I grabbed a stout burning branch out of their fire and carried it back towards Corune but halfway there the fire went out and I hurled the then smoldering stick into the darkness and screamed for a little while. I was still pretty angry. Once I calmed down I went back to their camp and dumped all the crap out of their wheelbarrow and used that to convey Corune over the fire instead. Have you ever tried to carry a person on a wheelbarrow in the dark over rough terrain? It’s maddening. It took me almost two hours to travel maybe three hundred yards. My arms ached so badly I just left Corune in the wheelbarrow by the fire and tossed some of the rug scraps and paper-thin blankets from their pile on her. I never did manage to fall asleep. I was too jittery and worked up.
Sometime before dawn I decided to leave. Why was I even there in the first place? So of course as soon as I started to walk away Corune miraculously is finally able to stand up and asks me where I’m going. I could have lied to her, I could have lied to her so easily, told her I was going for help, told her I was just going to take a piss, told her a hundred other things. And she would have believed me because that’s what I do. But I didn’t, I told her I was going back to Beresford. She asked if I was going to leave her there and I told her that I was. Her voice was frail and frightened.
“I’ll die if you leave me here.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
She looked like she was holding back tears, not for herself – but for me!
“What happened to you? What made you this way?”
“That would be very convenient wouldn’t it? I had a hard childhood or I was mistreated in some way or somehow traumatized and that’s why I ‘act out’. I find that offensive. I do what I choose to do because I choose to do it. I’m not a victim, I don’t replay old horrible shit that happened to me and act on it. I move on, I get on with my life because I am a Gods damned adult. One of the few I seem to come across.”
“I need your help.”
“So what? Nobody ever helped me do a damn thing, I had to do it all myself. Where would I be if I sat around waiting for someone to help me out? I’d be dead is where I would be. Waiting for someone else to save the day is a long wait for a horse that doesn’t show up. You want to live you need to fight. Get up and walk to town. The real question isn’t why won’t I help you now, it’s why did I ever help you? You were taking me to be tortured to death! I should have shot you the first moment I saw you.”
“You don’t know what they were going to do.”
“What the FUCK do you think they were going to do? Have me to dinner? Serve tea and raspberry tarts? If they weren’t going to kill me they were going to make me wish I was dead.”
“If you had killed me then you’d be dead too, I saved your life.”
“I would have been fine either way, I would have figured a way out.”
She laughed a laugh so bitter it was hard to even tell it was a laugh “Your ego is astounding. Until just now I haven’t been able to figure out what’s wrong with you, I couldn’t tell if it was anger, fear, or hatred. But it’s all three together – pride. You become angry at anyone who attacks your self-image of perfection, you fear the judgement of others, and you cultivate hate of those who force you to see the unpleasant truths about yourself. It’s not enough for you to deny the truth when I point it out, you have to silence the source of your frustration with your insults and slander.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me! You’re the narcissist for thinking that you know better!”
“Tell me this one thing, why do you want revenge on the Duke so badly?”
“He ruined my life. He tried to kill me but he didn’t even have the balls to do it right, he just left me to die. You talk about morality, I am morally bound to ruin the Duke for what he did to me. You claim to love justice so much, what about my justice? Why aren’t you on my side? I’m left to administer justice myself because no one else is going to do it. I’m the one who was wronged.”
“And that’s what it is, not that the Duke did something wrong, but that he had the audacity to damage the foundation of your fragile self-worth. It’s not that he ruined your life it’s that he beat you – that’s all you care about.”
“You don’t know me, you don’t know anything. And you have a very strange way of asking for help, if you want me to keep you alive another lecture doesn’t seem like a great way to go.”
“Without me you’re not going to get your possessions back.”
I smiled “And there it is. You abandon the high ground pretty quickly when your ass is on the line. Your God, your code, your precious laws it’s a bad joke. So it’s not about right or wrong huh? It’s a simple you scratch my back and I scratch yours? Finally, now we’re getting somewhere.”
“I didn’t abandon anything, I just know who I’m talking to – you’re empty Ela, appeals to a higher purpose are pointless.”
“And yet you keep making them. What’s that say about you I wonder? You already told me where my stuff is, I’m sure I can get it back without you. So that argument doesn’t hold a lot of water. What else you got? What else will you bargain with? What can you offer me to make me save your life? Money? Jewels? Eternal life in Vultur’s heavenly kingdom? What have you got for me sister? I’m entertaining all offers. How badly do you want to live?”
“Not badly enough to listen to you for another second.”
With that she shuffled back and lay down by the fire.
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, 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, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Altar of Adariel, Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror, darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword
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