When I woke up I was still in the forest but I could tell that I was somewhere else as well. There were no stars in the sky for one, for that matter there was no sky, that was my first clue that something was amiss. That seems like a strange thing to say since we usually think about the sky as being the absence of other things but the sky is a thing itself – and it was gone. It was dim rather than being dark, although I saw no light sources of any kind. And I was alone. I saw no sign of my traveling companions, nor any sigh that they had ever been there – no firepit, no bedrolls, no horses, not anything. I looked around for a moment, considered getting up and walking around to look about, but in the end I just put my head back down to return to sleep. That’s when I heard a voice, a voice that would have been commanding and noble had it not been marred by a juddering sibilance.
“Do you think so little of my domain?”
I sat back up and glanced around, still seeing no one “No, it’s fine as far as domains go, I just figured I’d get some rest until you showed up rather than stalking around fruitlessly. Are you invisible or just hiding? Or are you a tree or something?”
I reached into my Bag to grab my Flask and found that it was just an empty satchel – apparently its magic doesn’t work wherever I am.
I heard amusement in the tone of the voice “Your toys won’t work here.”
“It seems you have me at quite the disadvantage, so what do you want?”
“So rude, so demanding. You trespass on my lands, kill my followers, upset my plans and yet you speak to me so, without respect.”
“Chaucier and Nasso did the killing really.”
“At your behest.”
“I suppose you could say that, I’d argue otherwise but I doubt you’d care to listen. You brought me here, wherever here is, so you must want to talk to me about something. How about you come out where I can see you? We’ll have a chat and hammer this whole thing out.”
First out the gloom came laboring and lumbering the rotting form of a great cat – some mighty forest beast lain low and animated again to serve as a decaying puppet. It did my heart ill to see such a noble creature turned into a dark sorceress’s marionette. The horses yesterday were bad enough, but this was an indignity almost beyond bearing. Next came the woman that commanded it, clad partially in torn and tattered blue-grey robes but just as much draped in sickly blue-grey vines, some of which appeared to penetrate into her flesh. She wore a massive wide-brimmed hat as well from which dangled small strips of something unseemly that hid her face as effectively as a mask. Only her hands were visible, knobby looking masses of scar tissue with ugly looking ragged claws – one of which loosely held a darkwood staff festooned with knots of hair tied like ribbons.
“You’re really going hard on the necromancer look huh?”
“Magic wraps its power in symbols, in order to harness it you . . .”
“Yeah, I don’t care, let’s just get on with it.”
“Is there no end to your impertinence?”
“Look lady, I get it, you have me at your mercy. The whole thing, I get it, you can kill me or torture me or do whatever evil magic shit you want – I can’t stop you. I’m appropriately frightened, just get the show on the road will you? I don’t want to undersell your spooky perfoamce, it’s a good one you have going on, but the thing is that you can only be terrified so many times before it starts to lose its impact you know? At some point even the most horrific of threats become boring. It’s no fault of yours, I have just had a time of it lately so I’m of all out of cowering and begging right? So I think we’re going to both be happier if you just get to the point.”
At her command the decomposing zombie tiger charged at me, intent on ripping me to shreds. I shied away, as one would, and the beast came to a halt as if it was on an invisible leash. Even though I couldn’t see her face I could tell this pleased the woman immensely.
“So you can be scared.”
“I never said that I couldn’t be, I said that I was scared! You want me to lie at your feet and act afraid, I’ll do that, just tell me what we’re doing here.”
“As I said you killed my followers, you must be punished.”
“Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. And you haven’t killed me so we’re going to negotiate the price. What did you have in mind?”
“What do you think is a fitting punishment for inconveniencing me?”
“Banishment. Cast me out of the Baku Forest never to return. Do some kind of magic so that I can’t return. That seems very appropriate.”
“That is no punishment at all.”
“Well you saw right thought me there, very astute. How about a hard spanking? I haven’t had one of those in a long while.”
“Your glibness does not amuse me.”
“It’s not supposed to. It’s not for you really, it’s for me. I suppose you would call it a coping mechanism, a way to retain some kind of control when my life is clearly spiraling downward in ever more horrific ways. It’s a defense of sorts, not a great one but it’s all that I have at the moment. When someone is threatening you and you make light of it that helps you not fall all to pieces. So when I suggested a spanking it’s not really about me trying to tweak your nose, I assume you have a nose under there, it’s more of a hilarious hilarious moment for me in a very bleak bleak time of my life.”
“I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Don’t worry about it, let’s just move forward shall we? If you don’t want to kill me the only other thing I can really offer is to pay you off. I’ve got an obscene amount of money stashed away in my bags if you let me access them, how much you want?”
“The value of money is a lie people of your world tell yourself, I have no use for it.”
“Then what? You want my firstborn? Done.”
“Powerful magic is the only currency I care about.”
“Great, I’ve got some magic stuff, you want it it’s yours.”
She did want some magic stuff but we ended up at something of an impasse, she did some spell that froze me in place and then started to rifle through my Bags, but quickly realized that the magic barred anyone other than me from taking anything out of them. But she was reluctant to let me access them of course since they were full of deadly magic items that could be used against her in theory. Eventually I was able to impress upon her the fact that the only way this would work was for her to trust me to access them myself. And I’ll grant you that my original plan was to grab my Summoning Token and make use of it – sending whatever it conjured to attack her – but the power of her magic when she so casually locked me in place made me rethink that plan. In the end she took the Deck of Curses, my Gown, and the Riding Hood – so either it really must be magic or she’s just as much of a sucker as me. I suppose I’ll never know which.
“Well there you go, you got your magic trinkets and everything’s square right? Now how about you zip me back to my world or dimension or whatever?”
“First you must tell me, what will you do to achieve your revenge? What is it to win? How much will you sacrifice when victory is more costly than defeat?”
I sighed “Why is it that all you magic people know what I’m up to? And why do you care? What will I do? Anything. Everything. Whatever I have to. I’m sick you spellcasting types thinking you know me because you did some magic dance around a fire that told you what I’m about. You don’t understand me at all, any more than I understand you, at least I have the good graces not to give a shit about you though rather than asking you stupid questions. Do whatever you’re doing, I don’t care, just leave me to my goals as I leave you to yours. I’m not interested in your prophecies or moldy mutterings, just get me out of here.”
Surprisingly she did, without anything noticeable happening I found myself back in the (allegedly) real world where it was maybe half an hour before dawn. I felt like I hadn’t slept a single solitary hour. Consequently I was dragging and weary throughout the day – a fact which several people felt the need to comment on. I was eventually annoyed enough to retort to the good chaplain.
“When I see someone else looking like they got no sleep I don’t feel the need to draw attention to it, why does everyone think I need them to tell me that I look tired? I know I’m tried damn it.”
“No offense, I was worried that you weren’t completely over your illness.”
“Oh. Well . . . that’s okay then. I’m not sick, I just had a sleepless night.” I stood up in the saddle slightly to look around “I feel like we’re going west again instead of north. Do you know which way we’re going?”
He shook his head “I’m no forester My Lady.”
“We don’t really know anything about this Rudo character, other than we found him hanging in a tree near death. He could be leading us anywhere.”
“No one else knows the way My Lady. We’re at his mercy no matter where he may be leading us.”
“Yeah, that’s what bothers me.”
Later in the afternoon as we stopped to rest and Rudo was off scouting I approached the subject with our two fearless fighting men.
“Don’t you think we should be seeing the trees thin out by now? We should be getting near the edge of the woods right? It seems to me like we’re still in the thick of it.”
Nassar just shrugged but Chaucier looked around and frowned slightly “Perhaps. It’s not really something I know a lot about. I’m not a scout.”
“You have eyes though right? Doesn’t it seem like we’ve been traveling more parallel to the border of the forest rather than towards it?”
“Maybe we’re skirting some rough terrain or a hazard . If you have concerns why not ask Rudo?”
“Because if he’s intentionally misleading us that would tip him off wouldn’t it?”
Nasso gave me an appraising look “Maybe he’s just trying to give you more time to come up with a plan. You said that you’d have a plan for us didn’t you? I haven’t heard any plan yet.”
“Don’t change the subject. I’m started to get concerned about Rudo, we don’t really know what his agenda is.”
“What would you have us do about it?”
“Do soldier stuff, grab him, beat him up, make him talk.”
They were offended by this of course and walked away to attend to their mounts. Some people are so touchy. I’ll never understand these “honorable” types. It seems like their rules, their codes, are designed specifically to annoy me.
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, 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, Ring of Urban Grace, 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
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