Montalan 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

I loaned Aubesh my Ring of Disguise and showed her how to use it.  She was astonished that all she had to do was think about how she wanted to change her appearance and then it would happen.  I suppose it is pretty fantastic.  It’s somewhat depressing how blasé you get about wondrous feats of magic.  On the other hand magic sucks so who cares?  Since there was some time to kill before things got really hopping at the Red Heart I left Aubesh in the room with Martialla to practice with the Ring and headed to what Aubesh said was the market district.  As a frontier town of sorts Preen has more of an active trade area than you’d expect but it’s still a large town in the middle of nowhereland – you’re not going to find anyone who can fork over thousands of gold like it’s no big deal.  Still I managed to unload all the goods we liberated from the crooked tax collector one transaction at a time.  I was giving some great deals because had I stopped to haggle with these people I would have been there for weeks.  It galled me to come out on the short end like that, not because I cared about the money SO much but because I don’t like people thinking they got over on me – unless that’s what I what them to think.  You know the deal.

Once I had cut all the mundane deals that I could stand I went in search of Vetovia, a purveyor of arcane merchandise, or so Aubesh had told me.  Her building was right on the edge of the district, and I mean that literally, it looked like there was some foundation damage and it was about to slide into the muddy river.  Aside from the fact that it looked like it was about to collapse and kill everyone inside it was a nice looking place.   Which is a pleasant change – usually these magic merchants have weird little dungeon-holes filled with stuffed lizardmen and skulls with black candles in them and shit.  The front courtyard was bursting with flowerbeds and little wooden arches covered with flowering vines.  The plants were so lively and effervescent that she must be using some magic on them.  On the downside there were also a bunch of little stone statues of griffons and other monsters that looked like crap.  I’ve never sculpted anything in my life and I think I could do about as well. Vetovia herself was a tall drink of water who would have been quite pretty if she didn’t have one of those stupid white stripes in her dark hair.  If that’s fake she’s a fool for putting it in and if it’s real she’s a fool for not covering it up.

I sold her a couple extraneous items, she probably ripped me off on the gauntlets and the staff since I don’t know what they are, but what can you do about that?  I explained to her that I was tired of lighting incense all the time to protect myself from bad dreams and she was able to swap me an Amulet that accomplishes the same thing for my Censor, along with a small large fee of course.  I traded her the Cape as well, because despite its utility it’s ugly as balls, in return for commissioning some new boots.  My Slippers are really handy and they look quite nice but fur slippers aren’t the kind of footwear that you want to be wearing to schlep mile after mile through the countryside.  Not to mention in their impracticality in deadly deadly combat.  You need some supportive footwear if you’re going to be routinely stabbing people completely in self-defense as unfortunately I often seem to be.  With that done I returned to the Song and Dance to collect Martiall and Aubesh to head for the Red Heart.  They had both taken on the appearance of fancy young society ladies out for some a little bit of a mischievous night on the town. Even though they were both in disguise I knew which one was Martialla from her postuyre and the way she carries herself.  She’s pretty good at crafting disguises but I’m pretty at picking up on those kinds of queues.  Plus I could see through the illusion anyway. 

“Don’t get too attached to that Ring, this is just a loan.”

Aubesh held up her disguised hand in amazement “How does someone get a ring like this?”

“Not by singing on street corners.”

Martialla gave me an appraising look “How do you disguise yourself without that ring?”

“You’re the wizard, you tell me.”

She sighed “I’m not even going to bother correcting you anymore.”

When people hear gambling parlor (people who have never been to one I mean) usually they think of two scenarios.  One is a ramshackle bar near the waterfront where drunken losers, smelly gasbags, and scarred unshaven mercenaries play cards across wobbly tables and every few minutes a bar brawl breaks out because someone accuses someone of cheating.  On the other end of the spectrum they think of a gigantic glittering monument to greed and bad decisions with mostly nude dancing girls and illusionary cavorting creatures and a wait-staff made up the finest slaves money can buy.  And those places do exist, especially the first one, but most of gambling halls are modest arrangements where there’s enough booze and pretty ladies to help separate people from their money but not the kind of wild extravagance people might anticipate.  Who can afford that sort of overhead?  As a result most gambling halls are pretty staid – inasmuch as the term applies to a den in inequity.  Red Hearts Gambling Palor was one of middle of the road places, although it was a good deal lager than many I’ve seen, three levels and a large patio for dining and carousing.

One interesting thing they had going on was that one of areas up front was used as showcase for folks that had invented their own games.  Tonight it was one of the serving girls there that had come up with a card and wheel game that she called Ladders although I couldn’t figure out why.  It was somewhat interesting, it was a trick taking game of sorts where the cards in your hand might change from round to round via the wheel.  I assume the house takes most (or all) of the money and but the game is successful they buy it from you.  Or maybe you end up in the river, depending on the level of ruthlessness inherent in the owner. We spread out to start seeing what information we could dig up on Tiller.  Martialla went her own way but I kept Aubesh close to me at first.  After a while it became clear that she knew what she was doing when it came to this sort of work so I let her drift away as well. 

We reconvened in a couple of hours and had a pretty clear picture of Tiller.  As you can imagine this area of town is too lucrative for anyone one criminal enterprise to control outright without a state of constant warfare of pyrrhic levels, so each establishment has their own individual “captain” that oversees the place for whichever band of criminal screwheads they work for.  Tiller is so called because he was once a part of a now defunct smuggling/highway robbery band that used farm terminology as a dumb code.  He now works the Red Heart for the group that has most solidly bent themselves over the barrel for the Lumber Consortium.  He hangs out at the Heart almost every night enjoying free drinks, hassling the female staff and generally making a nuisance of himself and knowing that he’s going to get away with it.

But all of that turned out to be moot anyway because Tarver himself happened to be there that very night and by all accounts is a frequent visitor.  No reason to pay the local criminal assholes for information when you can go straight to the source.  I adopted a disguise of my own and the three of us descended to Tarver – a tall, very thin, balding man with an odd star-shaped plague scar on his cheek and an annoying hoarse voice.  He looked like he had died and gone to the Heavens, and why shouldn’t he with a trio of beauties hanging on his every word and being alluring?  Wizards are reputed to be wise and intellectual and all that but in my experience they’re often very stupid at the same time.  I don’t want to say that it’s a book smarts against street smarts thing because that’s just something morons say to comfort themselves but it has to be something like that.  I could have worked him fine by myself, but it would have taken all night at the very least – probably a couple days.  With Martialla and Aubesh helping me out it was criminally easy, he was as helpless as an overturned turtle. 

We established that Cathédala is indeed being held against her will by Dulphistos.  He decided they were in love so why should he have to pay for her services any longer?  I got the impression that while it wouldn’t be absolutely impossible to cut a deal for the girl’s return it was impossible enough.  Later in the night once he had enough booze in him and had been lavished with our attention Tarver started giving up the really interesting stuff.  Namely that Dulphistos is the secret mastermind behind a group of outlaws operating in the area, some of which he keeps at his house as protection.  But as Tarver was glad to brag about they weren’t the big man’s only protectors.  Although is it bragging when it has nothing to do with you?  The bandits were more like glorified servants while his real protection came from a group of mercenaries known as Manzar’s Bravos.  Tarver went on at length about how deadly and awesome they were, not sure if he thought that would impress us or if even learned wizards aren’t immune to boyish infatuation with hired murderers.  When he staggered off in search of more drinks we conferred.

Martialla leaned forward, even loud as it was, concerned about eavesdroppers “What do you think?”

Following her lead Aubesh leaned forward as well “We could lure him to some place nearby and then tie him up.  Maybe Dulphistos would trade the girl for his apprentice.”

“I doubt it, who would trade the love of their life for that raspy jerk?”

Martialla glanced to where he was standing at the bar “So what do you want to do?”

“I say we tell this turd it’s time for a fourgy and have him take us back to his place, which is really his master’s place.  Once we take care of him then we slip over to wherever it is Dulphistos sleeps and take him out too and then get the girl and retire into the night.”

“When did you get so bloodthirsty?”

“Once I figured out that it’s the only plan that actually works.”

Aubesh face was ashen “I want no part of that.”

Martialla shook her head “Did you miss that part about all his guards?  Plus he’s a wizard, how much luck have we had with them?”

“Some.”

“The two of us against a wizard and his entire crew?  That’s madness.  I was joking before but I really a, starting to worry about how reckless you’ve become sometimes.”

“Look, they’re mercenaries, once Dulphistos is dead why are they going to care?  Maybe his apprentices love him so much they’ll want revenge but if this guy here is an example of what you need to worry about with a wizard apprentice I’m not worried.  Like at all.”

Aubesh perked up “Why do you need to kill anyone?  Unless he’s got the girl with him at the time once you have Tarver sneak you in can’t you just get the girl and then get out?”

Martialla  nodded “Now that’s a good idea, Dulphistos doesn’t know who we are so that’s perfect.”

“But he knows who Adelis is and when the wizard wakes up without his love slave where do you think he’s going to look first?  Adelis won’t give us up to him , probably, but that doesn’t make her problems any less serious.  And either way then he just takes Cathédala back and what has been accomplished?”

“Maybe we should talk to Tiller, maybe his people can help with this.”

“Maybe they could.  But it would cost a fortune, and that’s assuming they don’t just fuck us over and take our money.”

“What about the bandit angle?  There’s no law here, not any real law anyway, maybe we could contact the county authorities.”

“That would take weeks, if not months.  But there could be something there.  If the bandits are going after the Lumber Consortium then we have a card to play.  Assuming we could prove it somehow.  Let’s ask our buddy Tarver more about that.  But you know, subtle like.”

Aubesh looked around “I think he left.”

“What?  Why would we do that?”

We’d find out shortly why.  After waiting for a while we asked the bartender in that part of the Heart where Tarver had gone and then followed him out into the night.  Turns out that he wasn’t as dumb as I thought.  Dross was at the casino with Tarver and while he was away from the table he had his buddy use his magic to listen in on our conversation.  When we exited Tarver and Dross – a fellow in a purple robe with one of those stupid forked beards – were waiting for us with a third man, a handsome (for a wizard) blonde who looked unhappy to be there.  Not reading the “room” and still being in charm and disarm mode Aubesh walked forwards with a saucy remark but at a gesture from Dross she dropped to the ground unconscious.  I felt the magic tugging at me as well, as I assume Martialla did, but the days when we could be ensnared by that kind of simple spell are gone.  He seemed surprised when we didn’t go down.  He was even more surprised when I took out my crossbow and shot him.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,043 platinum, 53,843 gold

XP: 789,511

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, 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), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s 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 (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, 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