“There was a time not long ago that I would have found this very unsettling.”
This is what I said to Martialla as we watched the outcast sea elfs crawl out of the soft earth like zombies spilling out of grave ground. The soil wasn’t wet enough that you would call it mud, it actually looked like it had the consistence of a nice sponge cake, but it was forgiving enough that the elfs could wriggle out of it like worms. Holloway looked like he was going to puke this guts out, but he’s been looking that for a while now. I don’t know if he’s actually ill or if recent events are just grinding him away physically. That can happen you know. Some people just can’t handle seeing weird shit. It eats away at them like a disease. There was a mage back at court, a seer I guess really, who saw some real messed up shit in his little scrying pool and he went from being one of those wildly obese laughing fatmen who seem full of energy and lust for life to being a flabby skeleton in the span of six months. Towards the end he wouldn’t have even needed to wear his stupid wizard robe because his own skin hung off him like bolts of cloth. Everyone was happy we didn’t have to look at him anymore when someone slit his throat and put him out of our misery. Except for him probably. Or maybe death was a sweet release from the nightmare visions that haunted him.
Once we corralled Holloway and got him moving the sea elfs started plodding along with us looking none the worse for wear for having taking a literal dirt nap – although they were looking pretty sad to begin with so maybe there wasn’t much in the way of a downward step they could take. I was surprised to see that by the middle of the afternoon the trees were starting to thin out as we came to the periphery of the forest. Which either means we were nowhere near where Martialla thought we were when we set out or somehow time and distance had been magically warped causes us to travel at several times our normal speed. Probably the first thing. Probably. When I pointed this out to Martialla she just shrugged.
“I wasn’t trying to rub your face it in, I was more wondering, if we continue on is there going to be a bounty hunter out there waiting for us? And by us I mean you.”
“I don’t know. Also, can’t the Baron find you any time he wants with that necklace they yoked on you? What do you think he thinks you’re up to at this point? Aren’t you long overdue to respond to his summons?”
“I’ve been wondering about that as well. Maybe the Kostelos don’t know about that? Maybe they’re controlling him too well? I suppose we’ll find out if we’re attacked by a bounty hunter and or a band of Sky Thunder berserkers.”
“I was going to suggest that you go on alone to thwart the oracle after me, but since we both have magical albatrosses around our necks I don’t know what good that would do. We’re really up against it here aren’t we?”
“As always. But that’s what makes our triumphs so epic.”
“Which triumphs are those?”
“I’ll get back to you.”
As we got towards the edge of the woods late in the day there came a sudden shout from Holloway. I’ll give this to that crazy bastard, he’s got good eyes – I don’t know if the sea elfs can see well on land but in any case neither Martialla or I saw anything before he did. Holloway gestured to a half dozen orcs charging at us. I wonder, does anyone ever get a chance to talk to orcs? Seems like all they do is attack on sight. And yet don’t evil masterminds always use orcs as their foot soldiers? How does that work? Must be some trick of evil masterminds. I wonder also how there are even any orcs left when they’re so mindlessly savage that six will attack fifty without any pause. I snatched out my crossbow and Martialla started summoning her magic (have you ever been right next to a sorcerer channeling power? It’s weird, they radiate a kind of heat) to defend our herd of fish elfs, but it wasn’t necessary. The orcs ran headlong into a bog, a bog that I am one hundred percent confident wasn’t there when they started running at us. The non-normalness of his bog was confirmed for me when I saw “arms” made out of mud helping the orcs to drown faster. Also the bog disappearing after the orcs were underwater (underground?) was a tip off.
I turned to the sea elfs “I thought you didn’t have any magic.”
They didn’t bother to answer of course, but Martialla piped up “Actually they never said that.” She pointed at Holloway “He did.”
He went pale like he had just been pointed out as a murderer in court “That’s what they said. They told me cut off from the seat of their power they had no magic. Or maybe just that it was diminished?”
“That looked pretty damn magical to me.” I turned again to the elfs “Anyone want to explain what that was to me?”
After a long moment I heard a voice unseen from the crowd “Guardians.”
“Well that’s an enlightening answer. I suppose we shove on.”
As you all know I have nerves of steel and never get scared of anything ever but I was a little rattled heading out into the open country. I had the awful feeling that a band of horsemen was going to swoop down on us at any moment. Probably because that’s what happened last time. But there was no woman in armor and her Shireling bloodhounds, no traitor Kostelos war party, no wild bands of raiders. What we did see in short order was burned out farmsteads and ruined fields. We didn’t see anything in the way of bodies, orc or otherwise, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t out there. I wonder how many people made it to Preen ahead of the horde and how many did not. My thoughts turned to the Everard family and Samwort who have to be somewhere in this area. That would be a bit of irony (not irony irony but you know) if I left him here to spare him being in the war only for him to be caught in the path of an orc war-host.
I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I didn’t notice at first that we had come across an irrigation ravine of some kind that the sea elfs were disappearing into. I tried to tell them that it might be better if they waited until we got to the actual Tremor Creek, since I have no idea how irrigations works – aren’t there locks or dikes or something? But they paid me no mind and in short order they had all disappeared under the water. They left the promised relics on the edge of the drop-off and were gone without a word. I walked forward to pick up the blade I needed.
I called into the slightly rippling water “You’re welcome.” I saw Holloway hovering nervously a few yards away, afraid to approach “Come and get your share, I was speaking true when I said the rest are yours. Except that Martialla deserves half as well, since I wasn’t really in a position to speak about the entire pack.”
Martialla clapped him on the back, startling him badly “You can have first pick good sir, you’ve had a tough go lately.”
Holloway scrambled forward like he was worried about his opportunity literally being grabbed away from him at any moment. Once he had gathered up his goods he seemed intent on running away that very moment but I was at least able to convince him that it might be a good idea to find some boots and a pair of trousers before we parted company. In one of the more undamaged farmhouses we did find some clothing and with that he was gone as fast as his legs could carry him. I told him that it might be safer it he stuck with us for a while but he would have none of it. I can only assume that as soon as he was out of sight some thieves fell on him and murder-robbed him. The farmhouse was burned enough that we didn’t care to stay there so the Pavilion was the best option again. The barn was mostly intact but if you’ve ever slept on straw you know why we didn’t bother with that. We did find some hard bread and cheap wine in the kitchen, which we “enjoyed” under the stars having dragged some of the less burned furniture outside by our tent.
“Aren’t sea elfs the one’s that lure sailors to their deaths on the rocks? I know that being at sea must be lonely but how the Hells desperate do they have to be to fall for that from women that look like that?”
“You’re thinking of mermaids. Or sirens maybe. Or selkies perhaps. Or those other ones, the ones that turn into seals. Or rusulkas. Or undines. Or nereids. Or selkies. Or melusinas. Or . . .”
“Shut up about it, how many water tarts luring sailors to their door are there?”
“A bunch, although some just bite their heads off without bothering to lure them. And probably most of the luring is just drunk sailors falling overboard and they get blamed. Oh, they’re also those dolphin ones, I forget what they’re called.”
“No, that’s something else.”
“How do you know so much about monsters? Assuming any of these things you say are real.”
“Oh, you know . . . . magic.”
“Would you believe that my father was a professor of monsterology at university?”
“I’ll believe anything for the right price. Man, look around, the orcs really did a number on this place.”
“It wasn’t orcs.”
This was a voice from the darkness. It sounded vaguely familiar to me, but nevertheless Martialla and I were both ready for a fracas until we saw that it was an old woman clomping up to our “camp”. Martialla was still somewhat on edge, but I recognized the face from the past.
“Jasmi, this is quite a coincidence.”
She shuffled up and sat on the partially couch with Martialla who was still a little concerned but by this point was used to odd people turning up “No coincidence, I have enough of the far eye to seek you out.”
“You and everyone else it seems. My friend here is being vexed by some manner of oracle even as we speak.”
“I know, that armored woman of hers is not her because I sent her a false vision. She has power but she wasn’t expecting anything like that so I was able to get away with it. Otherwise she would have swatted me away like a fly.”
“Hmm, well thanks. Did you come all this way to reminisce about old times?”
“I feel I still owe you.”
“Between keeping the oracle off our backs and what you did for me at the trial I’d say you’re paid up.”
She shook her head stubbornly “You saved my life.”
“For my own reasons. Plus you’re so old you don’t have much life left, so really did I do much when you think about it?”
She smiled “Charming as ever you. Whether you’re owed my help or not you need it. If you two go up against the Kostelos witch on our own you’ll die. I’ve seen it.”
“What else are we to do? The allies we’re tried to gather so far have turned out to be unreliable.”
“I have no idea, I just came to warn you that if you go alone you’ll die.”
“Huh, well I guess that’s better than nothing.”
Martialla was looking curiously at the old woman “You said that orcs didn’t do this, who did?”
“People. Soldiers came from Preen and run the orcs off. I guess they didn’t get enough of a fight to quiet down their bloodshed though because they did this on their way back.”
She shrugged “Since when do people need a reason to be awful to each other?”
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 52,143 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, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, Cape of the Mountebank, Sandals of Sprinting, +1 Agile Rapier
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, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, lots of luxury goods, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three)
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