I had another lazy morning but since I’m stuck here until Baron Juost shows up there’s not much I can do to advance my schemes anyway. And I know what you’re thinking “Ela, you’re a resourceful and intelligent woman you can get out of town if you want” which is entirely accurate, but I don’t need another enemy and I do need to reconnect with the Juosts and see about getting rid of this monitoring necklace they’ve hung around my neck like an albatross. With that in mind I slept late and then puttered around my suite for a while, so sue me. If it makes you feel better I was up and out the door in time for lunch – roasted chicken with ginger and cashew, cranberry torts, strips of braised duck served on waybread, and sautéed eel skewers – now that’s something worth waking up for. The wine was pedestrian but what can you do?
After stuffing myself (elegantly, like a lady) and enduring the small talk of my fellow suite-renters I made my way over to the Rest Inn Peace, which was miraculous still standing and looking very fine as I walked up. Stinty and his crew have made a real effort to give this place some curb appeal. Even though it was late afternoon the common room was packed with people drinking and talking and generally carrying on, I guess with the city being on lockdown there are a lot of people without much work to do – why not drink? Behind the bar dealing out mugs of ale was not Josta or Stinty, but a heavyset plain-faced fellow with a receding hairline and ruddy cheeks.
“Who the Hells are you?”
He folded his arms truculently “Who the Hells wants to know?”
I drew myself to full height “I’ll have you know that I’m the owner of this establishment sir! Unless Josta sold it anyway, then I’m just some person.”
“You must be Ela, Josta and Stinty are downstairs. Oh, and your cousin’s here.”
“Oh shit, she must want her soul back – which one?”
“The pretty one.”
“They’re all pretty . . . now.”
He moved his mouth in a weird way like he was trying to chew up the memory “She said her name was Emmalina, something like that.”
I rolled my eyes “Hilarious.”
I made my way into the store-room off the kitchen and shouted down the ladder-hole before climbing on.
“Put your clothes on, I’m coming down!”
I’ve never much cared for ladders but I negotiated my way down well enough and then made my way to the basement store-room where the “secret” door was hanging up and Stinty was trying to level up a table that had some manner of gaming wheel on it while Josta stood by impassively, as always, with a mug of beer in her hand, as always. She glanced at me as I walked in, but I beat her to the punch, mimicking her unharmonious voice perfectly.
“I was wondering if we were going to see you again.”
She nodded “Yes, that.”
I returned to my normal speaking voice “What have you got going here?”
Stinty continued squinting at the table and shifting it up and down imperceptibly “Since people know about this ‘secret’ room I’m going to turn into an illegal betting parlor. That way they won’t be suspicious about the second secret room that I built for my real business.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s genius or moronic. I came to collect Kalisha.”
Josta shook her head “She’s gone. When the riots started she thought you were dead and got spooked, left town the next day.”
“I have no fucking luck, I tell you. Did she leave behind a detailed plan for destroying my mortal enemies? Or at least tell you where she was going?”
“It’s annoying how people don’t just wait indefinitely for me to come and use them for my own personal goals. It almost makes me wish that I hadn’t gotten her off the drugs.”
“I think I was the one who did that.”
“Maybe you did the heavy lifting but I got the ball rolling. Wherever she is she’s probably turning copper tricks to get money for shiver now anyway, what else is she going to do? Besides try to blackmail the Duke and maybe get killed.”
Stinty was finally satisfied and stepped away from the table dusting his hands off “What do you think?”
“I think it’s way too busy, you got numbers and colors and balls and wheels spinning around – it’s too much. People are stupid, and gamblers are especially stupid, you need a game they can easily grasp. Dice and cards, shit like that.”
“Aren’t you a gambler?”
“It’s not gambling when you cheat.”
Josta finished her beer and looked at the mug sadly “Did Paideyn tell you your cousin has been waiting for you to show up?”
I snorted “Emmalina? Yeah, a lame joke even for you lot. I mean what’s the punchline?”
Josta and Stinty looked at each other “Why is that a joke?’
“Because she doesn’t exist. I must have mentioned that persona when we were playing cards one night. What baffles me is that somehow you thought that I wouldn’t remember something that I made up. Or what was the gag?”
Stinty glanced up at the ceiling as if looking through it to the common room above “There’s a woman waiting for you up there who says her name is Emmalina, she’s been here for a couple of days.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?”
Josta nodded “You want me to have Jernah and Bobble run her off?”
I sighed “No, I better go see what the scam is, just be prepared for the place to burst into flames or for an earthquake or something.”
Stinty was dismayed “No, you wrecked my last place and I just got this one looking decent!”
As I headed back up the ladder I made a mental inventory of everyone who knew about “cousin Emmalina” – Alice Kinsey, Percy Ringle, the Ladyheads, Vendriana Leisaro, Crookjaw, and an assorted few other courthouse types. But out of all of them the only one who knew that there was no Emmalina was Crookjaw and he wouldn’t have been up to any kind of plot even if he wanted to, which he wouldn’t be because he loves me. Although he certainly could have spilled the beans, I suppose I should have killed him before I left Graltontown, but then again I expected that I would be back in just a few days and that was months ago. Who could have guessed that I would so thoroughly distracted from that pigsty of a community?
Josta and Stinty clambered back up with me and directed me to the private area on the second floor balcony where I was told Emmalina would be waiting. Even though I was only here for a short time walking up the stairs gave me a very odd feeling of familiarity. I suppose with my itinerate lifestyle now anyplace I stay for more than a couple of days starts to feel “homey”. On the second floor overlook was the table where I had whiled away a few nights with Stinty and Josta now occupied by a single individual. Whoever they are I have to give them credit – they put together a mirror image of myself when I was disguised as cousin Emmalina. I tell you this much, if you like blondes, cousin Emmalina is a stone cold fox – having only ever seen the appearance in a mirror before I never got the fully glory of her countenance before. Is it possible to be jealous of yourself? That’s a weird thing to think about.
If it’s an illusion it’s a good one, and by good I mean fantastic – I’ve gotten pretty damn good at seeing through magic trickery. This doesn’t make it impossible of course. I’m not one of those people who thinks they can never be fooled just because they’re good at not being fooled most of the time, but it does make it less likely. The more likely explanation is that I’m dealing with a shapechanger – I can’t see through that because it’s not a trick, it’s an actual physical metamorphosis. And what shapechanger have I dealt with recently? Ergo the most likely explanation is that the succubus had a little succubus friend who’s out for revenge and taking this form. But that doesn’t seem all that likely either considering that the aforementioned demon-whore would have no clue about Emmalina. Although she did try to read my mind several times, so who knows?
When “she” saw me a beautiful smile lit up her comely face.
“Ela! I was starting to think you weren’t going to come!”
I sat down across from it “How could I miss this?”
“I don’t want to be rude cousin but there’s no time to catch up right now, I need your help with a case.”
“Rrrright, because you’re a lawyer.”
A small frown came and went across its face “Yes. I’m representing a man whose been accused of murdering his wife. I know that he didn’t do it but there’s no real evidence of anything, I’m concerned that without knowing who did . . .”
“I admit, I don’t get what the play is here. Is the idea to make me trust you so that you can get close to me for some reason? If that’s the goal why not shapechange into someone that I already trust? Granted that’s really only one person. And even that is a little shaky. I guess if you wanted to take me out what you should do is impersonate Cladarielle. That would be a better way to lure me into whatever trap you have set up.”
A real deep frown now “Cousin, what are you talking about?”
I laughed “Don’t cousin me whoever you are. How about this, if I guess who you are will you drop the act? Are you Vendriana? She didn’t seem to be a magic user but she seemed to know how to use magic items and had a source for getting them. I don’t have a great theory, but maybe that’s it, you’re her and you have a magic nose ring or something that doesn’t disguise you, it actually allows you to change shapes.”
Now a world-weary sigh “Ela, you’re talking nonsense, are you drunk?”
“Not drunk enough to fall for this horseshit.”
Funds: 27,817 platinum, 44,859 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Nymph’s Favor, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk
Courtier’s Outfit, noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring, pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, bottle of elfen absinthe, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55)
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