Montalan 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I have no idea if the Gods are just and good beings (actually I know for a fact that some of them aren’t) but if they are I sincerely hope that whatever being first invented the bed is enjoying all the best the afterlife has to offer.  Which is what exactly?  Ambrosia?  We have that here and it’s not that great.  Some variable number of virgins?  I’ve never understood the appeal of that, what’s the fun in having sex with a virgin?  I guess you can be assured that they don’t have chlamydia, which is something.  But if there’s chlamydia in the afterlife I think you chose the wrong God anyway.  I’m getting distracted, whatever saint came up with the idea of sleeping on a soft bag of feathers (or whatever) instead of laying on the ground like a moron is probably the greatest person that has ever lived and I hope they’re getting what they deserve in the next world.  I don’t care what other horrible things that may have done, for this one idea they should have all sins forgiven.  I mean think about it logically, let’s say this historical bed-maker intentionally started a plague that killed off an entire nation hundreds of years ago.  That literally means nothing to anyone now, but the fact that they invented the bed means that life is worth living.  Just consider that for a second, in the face of that contribution to humanity is there anything they could do that would be bad enough to suggest they should not enjoy eternal paradise?  I suggest that there is not.  Not even being a shabby dresser (which they assuredly were).

Every time I get back to civilization I swear to myself that I’m never going tromping out into the wilderness again to sleep on the ground like an dumb animal, but like the promises of an unfaithful lover they’re always empty words that mean nothing as soon as they are said.  Until the Duke lies at my feet, naked and defeated, crushed and regretting that he was ever born I must venture ever forth.  After a truly delicious breakfast (Even if the person who invented jam was a serial killer they should still be rewarded in the afterlife right?  It’s only logical) I bid the Quirivas a fond (relatively) farewell and set out with their guide.  He’s a stern looking fellow with one of those dumb hats where you pin up one side.  He had a crossbow, which I know isn’t a good weapon for a horseman, and this mount had some sort of facial deformity that I found disturbing.  It was like halfway down the horses head there was a fifteen degree downward angle.  It seemed a sturdy enough beast but every time I caught a glance of it I was startled by its appearance all over again.  My borrowed mount was far greater, one of the Lord’s personal riding stock I would wager.

I didn’t catch his name and seemed ill-disposed towards the entire endeavor, and therefore didn’t have much to say, which suited me well enough.  What are the chances he would have anything interesting to talk about?  We headed due west from Arbeven heading for the now-dry banks of the Arkes, making good time across the generous terrain.  As we traveled it occurred to me that I have no idea why the Arkes no longer flows.  I assume it has something to do with the devastation of Chemnost but I don’t know for sure.  I asked my guide if he knew and he didn’t respond.  Possibly because he didn’t hear me but possibly because he’s being a jerk.  Given either event I considered clocking him in the back of the head with my Walking Stick but decided in the end that I didn’t care enough to do it.  Mid-day when we stopped for a quick “lunch” of dirty rations and to rest the horses I finally figured out that his piss-poor attitude wasn’t because he thought this duty was beneath him or anything like that, it was because he was scared.  Presumable of the orcs that have infested Chemnost since it turned from a horrible area of mining and alchemical bullshit into a horrible area of desolate choking Hells-scape.

“Do the orcs raid this far east do you reckon?”

He sounded as cheery as a man going to his execution “They’ve been known to.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, we’re going to find an adventurer’s secret hideout, I would bet my last coin that they’ve killed every dangerous living thing in a twenty mile radius around it.  And probably most of the non-dangerous things as well.  Honestly we’re close enough that I’m surprised that they haven’t turned up already to kill us, loot our bodies, eat our horses, and then set a few fires just for fun.” 

He gave me an odd look but this seemed to calm him down somewhat.  Until the orcs showed up an hour later.  Just kidding.  That does seem to be how my luck goes though doesn’t it?  Once in a great, great while I wonder if when I say bad things aloud that makes them come true.  Like the Gods are just waiting to make up things that I talk about because they’re bored and want something to do.  I know it’s not true but when you get attacked by your fifteenth wyvern you start to wonder about things like that.  It was getting on towards dusk when we found the dry river bed but according to Bacca the stronghold of the unknown but probably extravagantly named adventurers is supposed to be only a couple miles to the south so we pressed on.  And sure enough an hour later we came into sight of the bridge and its two guardhouses.  There was a small booth-like stone building on the west side and on the east side there was a far more elaborate building that had a small tower next to it as well.  I found it visually displeasing that that hadn’t made it the same on both side.  Why couldn’t they have made it symmetrical?  I’m sure there’s some military or bridge-building reason for it but it still annoyed me.

As we got closer to I saw that the ground around the place was littered with discarded weapons and bits of armor and was decorated with orc-heads on pikes as well.  Up until that point I wasn’t sure if I was going to find anyone there, but this told me for sure this was an adventurer’s stronghold.  Who else would need to make such a show of how deadly and cool they are?  I told my nameless guide to stay back with the horses and I would approach alone.  I explained that I would present a less threatening appearance alone but really I just knew that if things turned ugly he would be killed instantly anyway.  As I walked up I saw that there was an old arch with a portcullis that could be used to block the bridge, so I guess they extracted tolls here back in the old days.  Doesn’t seem like a very good way to encourage trade to me, but what do I know about macroeconomics?

A mohawked fellow with surprisingly round shoulder came out to confront me.  He was a large man and should have looked strapping and strong but his slumping shoulders really ruined the effect.  Otherwise he had the standard adventurer look – missing an eye, complete with claw scratches across the face, missing part of one ear, big beard, fancy armor, all that.

“Ahoy there.”

His voice was full of bluster “Ahoy yourself!  Who approaches the domain of the Steel Saviors?!”

“Well I do, I would have thought that was obvious.  As to who I am, I’m a potential patron for fine heroic heroes like the Steel Saviors.  There’s dark deeds being done in Alleene and only you can help save the Baron.”

His mouth moved in a weird way like he was chewing on his own lip “Not interested.”

“You haven’t even heard the terms yet, I’m sure you’ll be interested.  I have yet to meet the heroes that weren’t intent in getting compensated for a bit of heroism.  And I assure you, you will be well paid for this job.  Or quest, you guys like to call them quests right?”

His arms dropped to his sides like all the strength had gone out of them “Two weeks!”

“Pardon?”

“Come back in two weeks!”

“Why?  What happens in two weeks?”

He seemed to be struggling to formulate an answer and I’ll never know what that answer may have been because at that moment his head fell off.  It just fell off.  Like he was a scarecrow with a gourd balanced on top and the wind just came along and tipped it over.  No blood, no nothing.  Well that’s not true, there was something, and that something was a centipede creature peering at me from the neckhole like a snake peeking out of a tunnel. I have to admit, I did not expect this to happen.  The now headless body lurched forward awkwardly, carrying its passenger forward and then collapsed forward – the centipede monster launching itself from the neck like a crossbow bolt as the body stumbled to the ground.  Stifling a scream I knocked it out of the air with my Walking Stick and then managed to batter it to death as it snapped at my legs with its fangs or pincers or whatever you call the mouth-part on a centipede.  It wasn’t terribly sturdy, all it took was a couple whacks to crack it open and kill it.  Which is good because I don’t particularly want a centipede burrowing into me and controlling me like a puppet until my head falls off.  That would be bad.

“Hello!  Is there anyone in there that isn’t a host for a parasitic centipede monster?!”

There must not be because no response was forthcoming.  I decided to check the tower out first, which was squat and square and probably only twenty feet tall.  Which made me wonder if it’s even a tower.  I mean what makes a building a tower as opposed to something else anyway?  The top floor was a little look-out post area that had three bodies lying in it.  I could see something moving about under the flesh of all three of them – something that turned towards me as I came in.  I took out my crossbow and shot one of them but there was no reaction, it was just like putting a bolt into dead flesh, which is what it must be.  I thought about trying to shoot at the things moving around inside the bodies but in the end I just tossed my Campfire Bead on them to give them a proper cremation.  My intention was to get the Hells out of there as soon as the fire was going, but immediately some purple and black grub-like things crawled out of the bodies trying to get away from the fire.    They were maybe six inches long and were sick with blood and body-slime.  I made sure to flick them back into the fire where they exploded with a disgusting pop.  I had the urge to toss my Walking Stick into the fire as well but I paid a fortune for the thing so I just cleaned it off thoroughly with some of my extra clothing and then threw that in the flames.

Heading back down and out the tower I saw that two people more had come out of the guardhouse – another one eyed fellow (I assume so many adventurers are missing eyes because they don’t wear helmets) brandishing a wand that appeared to have its head being held on by a wide leather belt, along with a mostly naked obese fellow who looked to be somewhat rotten already swinging a broadsword wildly.  I backed off, firing my crossbow, which didn’t seem to do anything.  It must be that the bodies are dead dead and the creatures inside them are just moving them around so anything you do to them doesn’t matter.  They appeared to be pretty clumsy but also quite powerful, I was able to dodge the blows of the swordsman but they craved out big rents of dirt like he was swinging a mattock.  The other one shook the wand at me but nothing happened.  I have no idea what was going on there.

Eventually I was able to deal the obese puppet body a solid blow to the head with the butt of my crossbow and it separated from the body, toppled to the ground with a loud crack, exposing the puppeteer inside.  It scurried out on its many legs and tried to bite at me but I was able to skewer it with my Blade, although in doing so the other one was able to get its hand on me.  Gripping me in a bearhug it came in like it was going to kiss me and the centipede monster popped up out of its throat like the world’s most obscene jack-in-the-box spitting some manner of nauseating yellow-white foam at me.  I managed to mostly duck out of the way, avoiding getting it directly in the face, but I started coughing and tearing up instantly regardless.  I staggered away as the puppet-body lurched at me with the centipede-rider protruding out the mouth like the world’s longest and most revolting tongue.  Choking and mostly blinded I reeled away as best I could and pulled out my Flask to douse myself with rice wine, trying to clear the creature’s bile (or whatever it was) off of me.  It lunged for a bite, but then instantly pulled back into the host-mouth.

I splashed some of the alcohol at it and it retreated further down the throat and out of site, the body continuing to wave the wand in a useless fashion.  After dumping some more wine on myself I tackled the body to the ground and poured gallon upon gallon of the stuff into the mouth of the host body.  Eventually I saw the centipede creature scurry out of the pant-leg of the host but I had my Tankard in the other hand and bashed it to bits.  Every time I encounter something appalling I think things can’t get any more disgusting and horrible and awful than that, but then they do.  It can always get worse, I need to remember that.  I’m going to have nightmare about this one for a good long while.  Is there some kind of guard that you can wear so centipede monsters don’t crawl down your throat while you’re sleeping?  Is that the real reason for chastity belts?  Not to prevent sexual congress but to protect yourself for nighttime orifice intrusions of another sort?

Steeling myself for what I would find inside, I headed into the guardhouse.  Although there wasn’t much to be found, at least not in the horrific-bug monster category.  A pantry full of spoiled food, a couple of nice bedrooms, and a locked chest presumably full of adventure loot – that’s all there was to be found on the first floor.  Heading up the stairs I found several blood-caked splashes on the steps and a locked door at the top.  I used my Walking Stick to weaken the wood and then managed to break the door down with a dozen or so good whacks.  The top floor was a master suite of sorts that had two people sitting against the far wall holding hands and looking weak and pale as ghosts.  I would have thought they were dead had they not gasped when I finally smashed my way in.  The one on the left was a half-orc whose sickly pallor made him look utterly gruesome in combination with his normal pallor.  The one on the right clinging to his hand was a tall woman (had she been standing) with red hair and dark eyes.  They both tried to struggle to their feet and reach for weapons that lay at their sides.

“Are you guys full of worms or bugs or whatever?” I frowned “Hey, do I know you?”

Through the pain and the exhaustion and confusion I saw a glimmer of recognition in the woman’s dull lifeless eyes “Ela?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 725,701

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, 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

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), 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, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, locked chest

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