Even after eating the last of our food and another healing draught from the Flask Rova and Pragma were still weak as baby otters so my Quiriva guide (whose name is turns out is Autane) gave up his crook-faced mount to Pragma and walked. At first I had no interest in doing the same but after riding double with Rova for a while I changed my mind about that. First of all whatever illness or curse or malady has hold of her made her radiate heat like a tin pan in the summer sun. Which is not ideal when someone is clinging to you like a baby gibbon. Plus she was breathing right in my ear – big rasping breaths that threatened to drive me mad. Not to mention which she couldn’t seem to figure out a good way to sit behind me – sometimes she grasped me around the waist, sometimes around the neck like she was trying to strangle me, sometimes with her hands on my shoulders, at one point she even grabbed me by the hips – all that fidgeting was getting on my nerves. So that’s how ended up leading my mount instead of walking. So someone else could take it easy. Voluntarily. Don’t ever tell me that I’m not a benevolent. I’ll gouge your eyes out if you do.
Going thusly our progress was slow but we headed south and hit the road after a couple of hours, turning east towards Arbeven. Even riding (which does take effort you know) was tiring for my old compatriot Rova and her tusky husband so we stopped frequently to rest. They drank up the last of our water before it was mid-day so we’ll be running on pure rice wine from here on out. Hopefully it’s good for what ails them. During one of these rest stops I heard the shout that I’ve come to know so well.
“Stop! In the name of the law!”
I turned and saw six men heading our way – three riding and three hut-hut-huting along on foot trying to keep up with them. They were a mixed bag, on horseback were a long haired-fellow with a rakish beard and fancy mithril greaves, an white-haired one-eyed veteran with the most mismatched set of armor I have ever clapped eyes on, and a burly squared-headed thug with bare arms and spiked gauntlets (how do you hold the reins with those things?). The footman trying to keep up with them consisted of a frizzed haired fellow with sideburns, a bald mustachioed fellow in a very nice black jacket who was trying to smoke a cigar as he ran, and a fierce looking Kostelos fellow in the standard mixed attire of a renegade. Of the three footies this last one was the only who wasn’t laboring badly from trying to keep up with the cavalry wing of this little band.
“We already are stopped, what was the point of shouting that?”
Mithril greaves pulled his mount to a stop in a shabby display of poor horsemanship “Well stay put then, in the name of the law!”
“You don’t look like any lawdogs that I’ve ever seen.”
He produced a cheap piece of copper that sort of looked like a badge and shoved it forwards like he was striking someone with his palm “What do you think of this?!”
“I think you idiots are trying to run some sort of scam on us pretending to be law officers. I assume you’re going to accuse one of us of some crime and then when we’re good and scared talk about how it can all be smoothed over by paying a fine right here and how.”
“How dare you speak that way to an officer of the law?!”
I pulled out my tax collector’s badge and revealed it dramatically “Because mine’s bigger.”
I’ll give him this, the look of shock on his face was quickly shouldered aside by a look of grim determination. Their weapons came out at this point and I could see Rova and Pragma doing their best to look battle-ready even though they were about to fall over like autumn leaves.
Greaves pointed his sword at me like he was looking down the blade at me as if it was a spyglass “Give us all your money and your weapons and your horses and then maybe if you ask me nicely we’ll only kill the men.”
I nodded “That’s a pretty great offer, but that will leave you with five horses and there are six of you. How will that work? Who’s going to walk then? Right now no one can really complain because it’s half and half, but if everyone is riding except one man?” I shook my head “That’s going to be real bad for morale.” I looked at the Kostelos, who had a mean looking hatchet in hand “And how much do you want to bet that you’re going to be the one hoofing it? I mean am I right?”
Autane rush up to grab my arm and hiss at me “What are you doing?! Give them what they want!”
I scowled as I elbowed his hand off me “Why?”
“He’s got a sword.” He said it like having a sword was some great feat.
“You call that a sword? That’s not a sword. This is a sword.”
I took out my crossbow and shot him in the face area. Amazingly the bolt hit him right in the mouth and aside from smashing his teeth out it rebounded and fell to the ground instead of splitting his head like a melon. Out of the many things I’ve seen this last year that’s one of the damndest. I would say a good two thirds of the time when someone has a weapon out and is threatening me, I’m able to take my crossbow out and shoot them without them reacting before I take my shot. I’d be interested to know why that is. Is it because they’re confused by a crossbow coming out of a space too small for a crossbow? Is it because I’m a woman and they don’t expect that I’ll actually shoot? Is it because they think I’m just going to threaten them back? Some people obviously just go for the kill when I pull out the crossbow, but they’re in the minority, many others just stand there and let me shoot them in the teeth like I did this fellow.
Perversely I wonder if part of it that they’re not ready for a fight. It hardly seems like it makes sense, you have your sword out, and you’re waving it around saying you’re going to kill someone, why wouldn’t you be ready to use it? Dogs, unless you train them to be killers, are generally all show. They bark and they run at you and they bite, but really what they want is to chase you away. They’re happy with that, they defended their home or their master or whatever, they don’t want a deadly outcome – they just want to “win”. I wonder if some people are like that too. They see weapons as tools of intimidation rather than tools of killing. Which is odd because killing is what crossbows and swords and spears and axes are for. Well axes are also for other things, but you know what I mean.
Getting a crossbow bolt to the mouth stunned the leader, but the rest sprang into action readily enough. The other two horsemen quickly moved to dismount, which seems wise given what looked like poor equestrian skills to me – it’s quite a challenge to ride a mount in combat you know – while frizzy hair charged at me with a rapier, not poking like he should be but slashing like a sugar cane cutter with a machete. I sidestepped him and turned the head of my Walking Stick into its serpent form and whipped it across his face. As lucky as his boss was with the crossbow he was unlucky with the snake. The fangs struck right on his eye and as I came around on the swing it popped out of his head and bounced to the ground as easy as you like. He screamed and dropped his blade as his two friends moved to flank me. I was standing near my horse (which Rova was on) so I ducked underneath it (don’t do that kids) and grabbed at the reins, inducing my four legged friend to lash out backwards with a kick and clobber the cigar-smoker on the ribs and shoulder as he tried to come around after me. He went flying and hit the ground with a thud while the cigar went flying from his mouth and left a very pleasing spiral of smoke hanging in the air for a moment.
The Kostelos came around the other (less dangerous) side and I backed away from the horse as he pulled a knife out of his belt with his left hand and hurled the hatchet at me. I was able to duck/knock it aside with my Snake-Stick but I think that was the idea – a distraction while the knife attack comes. It never did though because Rova, while desperately clinging to her bucking mount and let’s not forget also desperately ill, had dragged out her rapier and stabbed the Kostelos man through the back of the head – the point of her blade sticking out slightly like a second nose.
And that’s when the orcs came at us. No joking this time. Where did they come from? I have no idea. There’s not a lot of cover around here. I don’t see where they could have been hiding waiting for us. Were they just running up the road after the bandits? Is it possible they burrowed out from under the ground? Orcs live underground right? Or in caves? Are those the same thing? For a split second I thought that maybe these were Greaves reinforcements, but as soon as he heard their orc war screams he and his men immediately turned to fight them. Which you have to give them credit for. Not for joining forces with us, because everyone hates orcs so that’s a given, but because they could have just hopped back on their mounts and made a gallop for it. I can only assume they had enough loyalty to their comrades – you know the ones I had just wailed on – that they didn’t want to flee and leave them to be raped to death, devoured, and skin sewn into clothing. Not necessarily in that order.
I flipped Rova’s rapier to my good hand (it’s terribly well balanced), the now cigar-less blackjacket staggered to his feet and swung about with a maul, Autane looked absolutely terrified but fired with a bow resolutely anyway, Rova and Pragma did they best to use their mounts to trampled and stomp, and smash-mouth and his two riders dove into the fray with a kind of frantic courage that you see sometimes when people see impending doom. Although if you think you’re going to die anyway is it courage or desperation? Perhaps they’re closer cousins than we like to admit.
People have a lot of bad things to say about orcs, all of them true, but you have to hand it to them – they never surrender and they don’t stop fighting just because you impale them through the chest. Not right away anyway. It was quite a melee but I’ve learned that much like the mighty moose when surrounded by wolves, with orcs as long as you stand your ground against their initial charge and don’t get rattled by their frenzied attacks they’re not so deadly. One-eye was slaughtered here he stood, still clutching his face and crying, but the rest of us managed to rally around and fight off the orc raiders. And by fight off I mean kill on account of the no surrender thing I mentioned.
Sometimes I wonder if the orc leaders when they have too many orcs in their cave send out some of the more useless ones to go raiding in the hopes that they won’t come back – kind of a twisted version of how the Shirefolk make sure their lands don’t get overpopulated. After the guy with the bare arms finished bashing the last orc to death with his horrible gauntlets, I sat down heavily in the middle of the road, Rova’s rapier falling out of my gasp. I pulled out my Flask to dump a gallon of wine over my head to wash away the blood – orc blood, horse blood, my blood, someone else’s blood – and then took a good long pull off it.
“Oh fuck. I am so sick of this bullshit. I want to go back. I want to go back to when I never shot anyone, never stabbed anyone, never kicked anyone in the dick, never had anyone trying to cut me in half. I mean what the fuck is the point of all this? You kill and you kill and you kill and for what? What’s the point? What is accomplished?”
Rove looked at me curiously “Who are you talking to Ela?”
I sighed “No one.”
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, 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 (2)
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