Martialla’s enthusiasm for going through a magical portal is annoying. She should know better. Remember that mage gate we went through in Heller’s Hills? What a disaster that was, harpies and spider monsters and another damn cult. Sure, I did get some time in a nice spa, but overall the whole thing was a nightmare. I wonder if the people of Heller’s Hills have managed to get rich yet. I should go back there some day and check. They probably bungled the whole thing. Also we know what’s on the other side of this portal – a mercenary camp. What’s so interesting about that? That woman makes no sense sometimes. Probably the magic has rotted her brain. That makes a lot of sense actually, the way she talks about being a sorcerer instead of a wizard it sounds like some kind of venereal disease. Once I was dressed I walked, yawning, down to the stupid laboratory (which is a fancy wizard word for a big room full of trash) where Martialla had several staves “plugged in” to the gate she was winging on about and doing magic shit. Passing through the gate at Heller’s Hills wasn’t much of an ordeal, it was mentally jarring to suddenly me somewhere else but if you had your eyes closed you wouldn’t have noticed anything. This was different. I felt like I was being stretched in a very uncomfortable way, all my joints popped simultaneously. Once we were there I had a pretty bad dizzy spell.
“There” turned out to be a crude wooden building bisected in half by metal bars. On the other side of the bars were four men with crossbows pointed at us. Despite it being the early hours of the morning they seemed perfectly alert, bright-eyes and bushy-tailed and ready to shoot us to death at a moment’s notice. As is apparently required by biological law for mercenaries they were wearing black light armor and were looking at us covetously.
“You aren’t on the schedule. That’s fine thought because you’re a cut above the girls Tarver usually sends us.” He looked over at Martialla “Well one of you is anyway.”
Martialla favored him with an obscene gesture “Hey, I got it where it counts buddy.”
Crossbowman #4 chuckled “I like her, I call first dibs.”
“Sorry boys, this isn’t that kind of visit. Go wake up your commanding officer.”
The first one who spoke scoffed “Why should we do that?”
“Because Tarver is dead. As is his master and all this pals. The guy who pays you being murdered seems like the kind of thing your boss would want to know. But hey, maybe I’m wrong about that.”
They took this news fairly well all things considered, maybe because they didn’t believe us. We were left behind the bars to cool our heel with the portal at our back for a good fifteen minutes or so before in came a bald middle-aged man who was clearly not happy about being woken up. He was more the fifty year old badass veteran who’s lost a step or three but can still kick your ass than the flabby spineless middle-aged man – which is what you’d expect from a mercenary commander. On his right was a woman in a black uniform of some kind (does she sleep in it?) and a massive head of hair and on his left was a lean ugly fellow with cruel eyes – they were both armed and clearly knew their business. One of the crossbowmen brought in a stool which Baldy lowered himself down on with a grunt, looking at us curiously.
“What’s this all about then?”
I leaned on the bars to speak with him “Duphistos, or Blywen, whichever name you knew him by, is dead. As are the majority of his apprentices, certainly the loyal ones. His bodyguards, the Bravos, have moved on since they don’t have anything to guard anymore. I don’t know how far in advance he paid you but whatever payment you got is the last of it.”
He seemed completely nonplussed “Did the Duke’s men find him?”
“No, it was a personal matter. He had an eye for the ladies and he got himself into trouble with a jealous type.”
He grunted again “What is it that you want?”
“Throwing in your lot to oust the Duke, that’s not a normal mercenary assignment in my estimation. I assume this has to be about more than just money for you, I’m guessing that you have your own reasons for wanting the Duke overthrown.”
It was a moment before Baldy spoke “He’s not good at making friends.”
“Actually he’s very good at making friends, that’s why he’s still alive despite his almost equal level of proficiency at making enemies. Even for a Duke the man has a way of rubbing people wrong, most of them can’t do anything about it though on account of his powerful friends – those he did rub the right way.”
“I thought you looked familiar. You’re the Duke’s woman right? Elsa?”
“Close enough, you have me at a disadvantage sir.”
“Okay then. One of the Duke’s very good friends was the King. Since he went and croaked I understand that he’s not nearly so chummy with the Queen.”
“Yes of course, Queen Regent, can’t have a woman running the Kingdom for real and for true. The Duke and the Queen Regent aren’t the good friends that the Duke and the King were so I would imagine that you and Dulphistos-Blywen were on the verge of making your move. Armed rebellion against the Duke in the old days? Well, that’s a civil war isn’t it? But now? With a woman on the throne and the Kingsom involved in so many other wars to worry about? If you took out the Duke and put Dulphistos-Blywen in his seat probably you’d just get a stamp of authority. The Duke was actual bad all along and you did the Kingdom of a favor. Something like that was the plan?”
“So what’s the plan now that the wonderful wizard of Preen is dead?
“Why would I speak to you any plans?”
“Because we want the same thing. Or actually maybe not, maybe you just want the Duke out of power – I want him to suffer – but what we want dovetails if nothing else. Dulphistos-Blywen had a lot of money, but not enough to keep you here just waiting for the day things were right to make a move, you had to have been offering him a steep discount for whatever your own reasons are. Now that the money has dried up I want to know if you’re going to make your move. If you’re going to try and overthrow the Duke I need to know so I can adjust my plans.”
After a moment Baldy stood up from his stool and dismissed his minions so we could speak in private, looking at Martialla pointedly.
I waved away his concerns “It’s fine, I tell her everything.”
“How comforting. No, I’m not going to attack the Duke now, I don’t have the manpowe. If Blywen is really dead we’ll have to seek out a new assignment and start recruiting again the old way. The slow way. This is going to set us back years, if it’s even still possible.”
“What if I told you there was another way to get to the Duke?”
“Assassination? He’s too cautious for that.”
“No necessarily, I have a sword, a Turnbill weapon that I guarantee you will draw him out. He wants it more than just about anything. The tricky part is making it seem like it’s coming from a legitimate source. Setting up a false broker would take months, if not years, so I was thinking about finding someone already in that line of work and getting control over them them – blackmail or hostages, something like that. But you already have a provenance of sorts. A mercenary captain turning up with a rare and valuable blade? That’s exactly the kind of thing people expect from freebooters like yourself. I give you the sword and you don’t say anything about it, you don’t approach the Duke, you just let word filter back to him. He’s got men out there looking for any word of this sword right now, I assure you. He’ll reach out to you, and that’s when we have an opportunity.”
He mulled on it for a while “Give me the sword and I’ll see what I can do.”
I shook my head “No. It has to be me. I have to be the one that kills him.”
Another long pause before he spoke “Killing the Duke isn’t my objective. If he dies one of his followers takes over and nothing changes. That doesn’t help me.”
“You said you don’t have enough soldiers to take on the forces of the Duchy, if you throw in the death of the leader what then? Their military will be in chaos. You’re the tactician, surely there’s some way you can make that work. Cut off the head and all that.”
“It’s possible. But it’s too risky. I won’t commit until the chance of winning are in my favor. Killing the Duke and attacking now would be long of odds.”
I did my best to convince him, and as you know my best convincing it really something, but he wouldn’t budge. He isn’t going to oblige himself to any plan that isn’t rock solid, and I will admit my plan didn’t do much for him. I asked him how long it would take for him to reach Alleene, why shouldn’t I have my own army? But he said that it would be weeks at the soonest and if I haven’t fixed things by then I don’t know what I’ll do. In the end it seemed like there was little that we could do for each other, which frustrated me to no end. There should be some way to combine our efforts, there has to be right? And what’s really frustrating is that if I think of something later I will have no way to contact him to coordinate anything. There’s a whole army of men within striking distance of the Duke and I can’t do anything with that? That’s beyond depressing. Eventually I gave up and we crossed back through the portal to Dulphistos’ basement.
“Well that didn’t pan out. Maybe I should buy this place so we have access to the gate.”
“I don’t think I can activate it again, I don’t have enough juice and I used up all the staffs I took off Dulphistos and his apprentices.”
“Wonderful, I’m going to back to bed, if you find any other promising leads that will fail in the end they can wait until morning.”
“I’ll join you.”
“When I was moving out those bodies I saw some kind of giant shadow serpent moving around, I think we should stick together if we’re going to stay here.”
“This night just keeps getting better. Just so you know I bite in my sleep. Hard.”
Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,545 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, 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, Ela’s Boots
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, eyeless hag