If you had asked me a year ago if I wanted to be torn away from my gilded cage and tossed in the gutter to die, I would have said no. Seems reasonable. But I am forced to admit that since it did happen this experience has given me many new insights. Most of them I don’t want but I’ve certainly learned things about the human experience that I never would have otherwise. Such as this – the bravest of people are also the biggest cowards. We generally associate courage with battle but if you think about the idea of courage you know it’s far beyond that – your mettle is tested in dozens of different ways, hundreds maybe, and most of them aren’t a bugbear jumping out at you with a morning star. So don’t think necessarily about the bravest warrior you know, but the bravest person. Fix them in your mind. And then think about what that person would do when their courage fails them. “But it wouldn’t” you say “they’re so brave”. Maybe that’s so, but probably not. Maybe there’s some people out there that have unlimited reserves of courage but if there are there aren’t many.
The brave person you’re thinking of? There’s something out that there’s beyond they courage. And that thing, if they should ever encounter it will probably break them. Because of their courage. They’ve always been able to keep the hands of fear at bay so if/when they finally get touched by them what do they do? They fall apart. It’s past their experience. They don’t know how to handle fear so they run away as fast as they can like the dirtiest weakling coward that ever lived. You have to train yourself to accept punishment – be it physical or otherwise. They’ve never built up the armor they need to protect themselves from fear because they’ve never had to. Their courage has been their shield but when something gets past that shield they’re left defenseless. The dark blade of fright finds its way to their soft bellies.
I’m seeing a bit of that with Chaucier and Nasso before my very eyes. They’re clearly valiant warrior types but they’re scared because this situation is beyond what they’re prepared for. Last night one of the servants tried to sneak away – a groom called Bershou – and was caught by Nasso. He claimed that he just scared and wanted to get away from us (which is technically illegal anyway since he kind of belongs to the Baron but not in slavey way– it’s complicated) but the other servants said that he was going to warn the Kostelos at Juost Manor and was in league with Kartok. The two Juost men-at-arms were still agonizing over what to do with him well after sunup when we should have been on the road – so to speak, since there is no road. You know what I mean.
I was nibbling on a tart apple one of the servants had found for me “It’s pretty easy guys, either you believe him or you don’t. And if you don’t then you know what you need to do.”
Chaucier pursed his girly lips “It’s not that simple.”
“Sure it is, but it does bring up a more pressing matter – what exactly are you going to do with the rest of these folks? Even if you can trust them it’s not like they’re of any use on this mission of ours to save the Baron from the clutches of the barbarian hordes.”
One fellow with an odd looking fur cap came forward nervously “I don’t mean to contradict you M’Lady but I think that’s not true exactly. When we get back to the manor we could help by going back to our duties and keeping our ears to the ground – giving you information on what’s going on.”
“Hmm, I suppose you could at that. Spying is a dangerous business, are you sure you’re up for that?”
“I can’t speak for these others M’Lady but I would be. The Baron has been good to me and it doesn’t sit well with me that these foreigners have bewitched him.”
“Technically they’re not foreigners but I take your meaning. I suppose we can just stash the rest away at some village along the way if they don’t want to be infiltrators. Which just leaves the matter of Mister Bershou, what will you have gentlemen? If it makes things easier I’ll kill him for you if you wish.”
Nasso gave me a sharp look “There’s not going to be any killing.”
“It’s pretty early in the day to make that declaration. Then what? Evidently you don’t think he was just sneaking off otherwise because he didn’t want to be here anymore or you’d have left him go already. So what are you going to do with him? You can’t have him warning the Kostelos right? So what’s the plan? Do you have some buddies who can hold onto him around here? If not I don’t see as that you have a lot choices.”
They must have thought that they did because they kept debating, and by debating I mean talking in circles to avoid making a decision. It’s strange how squeamish some of these warrior types are – if you’re going to be a murderer be a murderer, don’t be a murderer when it doesn’t matter and then wuss out when you really need to murder someone. It was almost an hour after sunrise and we hadn’t moved a yard when I came up with an idea.
“Okay guys how about this – how about we have Bershou write out and sign an oath saying that he’s not going to sell us out to the Kostelos? You guys are into oaths and honor and things right?”
They seemed to be considering this seriously when Bershou spoke up to admit that he couldn’t read or write. I smiled and took out my Deck of Curses.
“Perfect, pick a card, any card.”
Everyone was quite confused by this, until he picked out the card that struck him mute – it was the third card though, one wonders what those other two did to him. I slipped the remainder of the Cards back into my Haversack.
“There you go, problem solved, now either way he can’t tell anyone.”
Chaucier looked on with furrowed brow “And you can undo the magic once this is all over?”
“Absolutely” I lied “Nothing simpler.”
They didn’t seem to like it but the matter was resolved so finally we were off with Rudo leading the way through the trees. It seemed to me like we were heading more west than north but then you know how I am when it comes to navigation and directions. It was late in the day when we came across two very recently dead horses splayed out on the forest floor. They were tacked for pulling a wagon and sure enough maybe ten yards away was a battered and partially splintered cargo wagon. Scattered around it were the bodies of several women and men. Rudo came up short at this gruesome scene but Chaucier and Nasso both dismounted and started to stomp forward like you would expect, I had to call them to a halt.
“What are you doing? This is clearly a trap. There’s no road around here. We’re having a hard enough time finding a path we can ride on, can you imagine a way to drag a wagon through here? It’s a trick.”
They both stopped and Nasso turned back to me “What kind of trick?”
“Aren’t all the woods in the world filled with capricious fey? This has to be an illusion, nothing else explains how out of place this is.”
But here’s the thing, I’ve gotten good at spotting and seeing through illusions – very good – and everything I was looking at seemed completely real. I activated my Hood for truesight and saw nothing amiss – which only served to convince me further that it doesn’t work and I’ve been suckered by a craftmage. Waving the two soldiers back I dismounted myself and found a stone that I whipped at the side of the wagon – it bounced off with a very non-illusion sounding crack. Finding another stone I hurled it one of the bodies. It didn’t disappear like the shadow figment of a fey trickster, what it did do was stagger to its feet and lurch forward on its dead legs, reaching out with its dead hands, and emitting the loan moan that the undead seem to love so much. Add in the glowing red eyes and you get the picture. What was unexpected and horrific though is when the horses did the same. Undead horses? There’s something I could have done without ever seeing.
Nasso and Chaucier drew their blades but as the creatures pitched towards them as noxious yellow gas started rolling off their bodies like the fog coming in off the ocean and they started coughing – although what was worse was the stinging in the eyes. I don’t know about them but I felt like I was mostly blind almost instantly. As the cloud of vicious vapor rolled forwards our mounts ran off into the forest and I could hear Rudo leading the others away from the advancing corpse attackers. Even half blind and choking through it wasn’t much of a fight, the revenants or zombies or whatever they were ended up back as just plain old corpses in short order, mostly due to Nasso and Chaucier – for some reason the undead don’t seem to care at all how much you shoot them with a crossbow. Even when you shoot them in the head, which doesn’t seem fair – all the folk tales told me that should work like a charm. A charm that works, not a fake charm.
At the tail end of the encounter I saw three of the forest witches standing not far off watching. Although as I approached them I saw that what I initially took for green robes in the dim light under the shade of the trees were actually more of a blue-grey. I’m not sure why put I got the impression that these weren’t the dancing naked around a fire kind of dirt-worshippers. Before I could utter a greeting one of them spoke in an odd flat voice that wasn’t masculine exactly but more like that of a young boy. The smell of alcohol came off them so strongly that I could smell it from several feet away.
“You destroyed our work.”
I looked back “You did this? I thought all you nature people hated undead.”
“Nature’s beauty is the circle, perfect in its continuance, with no break between death and life. Let the circle be unbroken.”
“O . . . kay. Sorry about that then. Did you drag this wagon out here?”
I waited a moment for some elaboration “Why?”
The grey-robed arm pointed “As a lure, bait for the trap. You destroyed our work.”
“Yeah, again, my apologies. Are you guys drunk? You smell like you fell into a barrel of whiskey for three days.”
“Alcohol helps summon the magic of the earth.”
The one in the middle had been speaking but the one on the right stepped forward “It’s natural.”
The one on the opposite side stepped forward as well “We need it.”
I nodded “Sure, sure, nothing wrong with a little nip. Welp, I guess we’ll be moving on then. Nice to meet you, good luck with . . . whatever it is you’re doing here.”
“You destroyed our work. You must pay.”
It didn’t turn out to be very hard to kill them either, I guess they didn’t drink enough to make their magic very powerful. Or maybe they drank too much. There has to be a fine line there between getting lubricated enough to call upon the dark arts and drinking so much that when you try to summon lightening instead you’re so drunk you turn yourself into a bullywug. I don’t know about that. What I can tell you is this, the large amount of booze they were carrying around in little wooden gourd-looking things was awful. I think fermented urine would be better.
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 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, 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 (seven cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Red’s Riding Hood
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, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring
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