Fun fact, my Amulet protects me from the nightmare intrusion of my Ring and from the dream haunting powers of the many hags that I’ve crossed but it does nothing to prevent normal mundane nightmares. Isn’t that a pisser? If it can block out magical dream invasions why wouldn’t it also stop normal bad dreams? It makes no sense. Typical magic bullshit. Last night I dreamed of being pursued through a forest by deadly giant insects intent on feasting on my flesh. I had dreams of writhing worms engulfing me and devouring my eyeballs. I dreamed or all manner of creepy crawling abominations. It wasn’t a great night. My mood didn’t improve on iota when I woke up to a breakfast of hard biscuits, dried vegetables, and whatever other sticks and dirt Martialla had gathered up for our traveling provisions. After a few sullen bites I angry threw the mess into the distance as Martialla watched impassively from across the ashes of the fire.
“If you didn’t want to eat that you could have just given it back, there’s no reason to waste it.”
“It was wasted the moment it was made. I bet if we come back this way it will still be there. No animal would bother to eat that garbage. I bet if we came back in a year it would still be there, it won’t even rot. Why doesn’t someone create some magic gewgaw or whatever to make decent food while you’re traveling? Why do I have to put up with this?”
“I’m sure someone has.”
“They why don’t I have it?!”
“It’s a good thing we’re such close friends, otherwise I’d point out that this was all your idea so you have no one to blame but yourself. You’re the one who always wants to travel to strange exotic locations where things try to kill us.”
“Yes, good thing.” I sighed and then looked around “Where’s the bug worshipper?”
“I don’t think he worships bugs, I think it’s more of a meditative aid of sort. There’s definitely some kind of magic going on there but I don’t think he’s a priest or anything. As I understand the mantis idol helps him to fully focuse on the inner self, which helps him to enter a deep meditative state that allows more perfect control over mind and body.”
“How uninteresting. Where is he?”
“He said he saw some people in the distance and went to check it out.”
I rolled my eyes “Great, so he’s dead then. I’m sure they were bandits or an adventuring party or a roving horde of demon worshipping cannibals. Where are we going to get another gladiator? Answer me that. We’re going to have to go to some other gross town and there’s going to be a guy there who has a stable of gladiators but he’ll only give us one if we travel to Krazadroomin in the Fribuules Jungle and recover the lost jewel of Princess Roundbottom. And to get there we need to take a caravan but the caravan master is in love with the Queen of Harpies so in return for letting us travel the secret path that only he knows we have to get him the severed finger of the Ghoul King Bloodyface McGee which as everyone knows was lost at sea five hundred years ago. I miss the old days when the only thing anyone wanted from me was sex.”
“Do you really?”
I sighed “No. What did he say about these people? Were they . . . oh fuck! I just realized I forgot to buy a new crossbow! Now when the murderous mutant goblins come to kill us what am I going to do?”
“I could transform you into a shark monster and you could bite their heads off.”
“Really?” She nodded “Well, let’s call that plan B. I bit a guy once back when I had that lion tattoo. Remember that? That was great.”
“I thought you hated tattoos.”
“I do, but those were really useful and if anyone could pull it off it would be me. Here’s the deal Martialla, I hate the aesthetics of tattoos more than the concept. I roll my eyes automatically at a good half of standard tattoo artistic conventions. I find it embarrassing that people want to give parts of their bodies to this nonsense. Some of them might look okay somewhere else I think they look terrible on the human body. I have seen beautiful tattoos that are works of art in their own right, but I rarely think that the human body is the right medium for them. Tattoos almost never fit harmoniously into the look of the entire body. Especially when they cover large areas, over curving surfaces, and are not naturally self-contained.
Beautiful realistic art does not nestle easily onto the available body surfaces. Stupid tattoos fit better but are stupid. Line art can manage to look okay enough as art and work with the body overall. But even if the art looks good none are a visual improvement that works with the person’s entire body. The vast majority just look like islands of crappy art disrupting the natural masterpiece of the human body.
They look like a horrifying violation of bodily integrity. But the thing that really gets me is how so many people don’t share my level of concern for body integrity and purity. Other people devaluing their bodies cheapens the value of mine. Tattooing encourages people to profane their bodies and treat them like crap. I’m not comfortable just letting other people screw up in their own lives. I am witnessing violence against the body, with insults my sense of body sacredness.”
“But you think most people are ugly anyway right?”
“Well yeah, but we still have to have standards don’t we? Just because a house is ill-constructed and shoddy that doesn’t mean we should fling donkey crap at it should we?”
“I don’t know how to respond to that.”
Ismail returned with three fellows in tow – one was a fresh faced young man with short cropped hair and battered armor, but not the kind of battered where it made it look old or ill-kept but rather that of someone who’s seen a lot of action. That one was real easy on the eyes. His friends were less pleasing. One was dressed in the “vestments” of a Strider cleric – dirty traveling clothing and a stupid quarterstaff – and had one of those faces that you see on holy men sometimes where you can they just love to shout a lot about sin and whatnot. Despite all my problems with the clergy of Strider they’re usually not the stuff stuck-up types that I pegged this guy for. The last fellow was impressively tall and brawny but he had pale eyes and long white hair which looked terrible, especially with his red cloak. His crest was a white stag with the motto “Pure In Heart, Strong In Body” underneath it. Whitey came forward as their spokesman.
“Good morning ladies, Ismail here tells me that you’re traveling to Cauldron.”
My eyes flicked to Ismail with annoyance “Does he now?”
Whitey nodded solemnly “He does. I would advise you strongly against that. I don’t know what you seek there but there’s no more ill place to visit that I can conjure. I know many go there seeking help for problems that don’t seem to have solutions but there is a price to be paid when you bargain with the dark beings that inhabit a place like that. If you even survive to make such a dark pact. Lawless doesn’t even begin to describe what that place is. It is evil, simply that.”
The Striderian shook his staff angrily “It’s illegal to go there!”
Whitey glanced back at him “It’s not illegal, it’s just not a good idea.”
“Thank you for your kind warning good sir, but I know the nature of Cauldron, I’ve been there once before. Believe me I wouldn’t be going there if I didn’t have to. But trust me, I don’t plan on making any bargains. I know full well the trickery of hags and their ilk.”
“May I ask why you’re going then?”
“Sure, if I can ask you a question first – are you part of the Silverlight Order?”
Whitey looked distressed but Handsome smiled slightly and spoke up “There is no such order My Lady. That’s just gossip that floats about these parts. Baron Ridley keeps retainers such as myself – hunters, slayers, warriors – to bump back against those things that go bump in the night. This has spawned rumors of the Order that you mention, but it doesn’t exist.” He winked “Just fools like us doing our best. Silverlight sounds very impressive through doesn’t it? A bunch of knights in fancy armor running around rescuing virgins from vampires and werewolves? That would really be something.”
I curtsied prettily to Whitey “My apologies Baron, I didn’t realize whom I was addressing. It’s refreshing to find a man in your position who actually protects his people.”
Handsome’s smiled widened “You don’t know the half of it.”
White seemed gruffly embarrassed “She doesn’t need to know my entire life story Kendrick.”
He continued with eyes glittering mischievously “You see before the Baron was a Baron he was just a lad roaming around the towns and villages of his father’s domain. And what did he find? Villagers full of tales about abnormal beasts that appear only on the night of a full moon, monsters that crawl out of deep wells, and malicious spirits that haunt the waterways.”
“Oh yeah, I had a dust-up with one of those soggy ghoul women.”
“The common folk had no way to protect themselves and so the little not-yet-Baron asked the great lords of the land what was to be done – for was it not their charge to care for the little people? But they merely tutted and wagged their tongues and did nothing, for isn’t it the natural order for the peasant to suffer? Theirs is a hard life. But did didn’t sit well with you at all did it Lord?”
Whitey sat stone-faced.
“So the baron’s son gathered up all the silver in the house and melted it down and made it into a little curved blade like the one he used to skinning deer – for even as a youth our man was a skilled hunter – and made a dozen silver arrows as well. The man who would be baron set out with his little arsenal, tracked the beasts and set traps for them and when necessary stood against them in battle. Merely a boy and he stood before the tooth and claw the wild things where many a man would have fled. And he was wounded, badly wounded, almost unto death – but he survived and he was victorious. And now here we are, he’s all growned up and now he’s the Baron and we fight the good fight.”
“That’s quite a story, normally I wouldn’t believe it, but there’s a ring of truth to it.”
Whitey looked uncomfortable, much to the delight of Handsome “Yes well . . . be that as it may . . . ahem.”
“You answered my question, now I shall answer yours. We’re going to Cauldron because we need to find a kill a hag. A friend of mine is suffering from a blight placed on her by one of those twisted beasts and the only way to free her involves some unsavory components that can only be had one way.
The Striderian thrust his staff forward “Yes, a righteous cleansing of that den of iniquity!”
Handsome looked embarrassed by this outburst but Whitey took it in stride “That seems like an extraordinarily dangerous path.”
“I couldn’t think of any other reliable way to find a hag. You know how it is, they always turn up when you least expect them, not when you need them. Which is never usually, but this is a special case.”
Handsome and Whitey exchanged a glance and then Whitey nodded slightly, which elicited a grin from Handsome.
“It may be serendipitous that our paths crossed My Lady.”
The priest broke in but was ignored by all “All paths are as Strider lays them out.”
“We’re on our way to a village now that has fallen under the influence of an evil presence – what you’re calling a hag. I would normally never suggest that you accompany us into that kind of danger but if you’re intent on helping your friend by this . . . unique method this is a much safer way. Going to Cauldron to pick a fight with one of these beings is tantamount to suicide.”
“Oh, we tend to be pretty clever about these things – and hags don’t seem to care much about one another – I’m sure we could have pulled it off. But as you say your mission seems much easier and also it helps out some villagers, sounds like a win win.”
“I assure you madam it will not be easy.”
“Of course, but easier than suicide eh?
I thought that we were going to become a party of six then, but I should have known better – Barons, even heroic monster hunting ones, don’t travel without some attendants. We were joined shortly by another dozen or so of Baron Ridley’s men (and women) all of them hard looking sorts with spears and daggers and missing eyeballs and ears and so forth. Some of them doubled up as squires and servants but they were all clearly rough characters. It’s nice to have some back up assuming they aren’t going to turn on us and murder us in our sleep – I hate that. It’s also nice to have some domestics bustling around attending to things. There’s something about sitting by a fire enjoying a high-quality brandy while other people gather firewood and wash dishes and the like. It just feels right. Not to mention they had camp chairs. A magic tent is great and all but I really need to get some better traveling accommodations.
Martialla was watching the Baron’s workers working away “I feel bad.”
“Don’t worry, you can survive off my leftover charisma for years yet, like a charisma parasite.”
“Hilarious. Doesn’t it bother you to be doing nothing while everyone else is working?”
That caught me so off guard that I couldn’t help by laugh “Have you met me? Besides not everyone is working, the Baron and his mighty men aren’t doing shit.”
“Isn’t that what’s wrong with the world?”
“Who said anything was wrong with the world? I’ve been thinking, Dulphistos may be dead but there are probably lots of other people out there plotting against the Duke. One of his own minions is probably thinking of ways to supplant him. If only I could harness some of that.”
“Unfortunately people tend to keep things like plotting the assassination of their liege lord under wraps.”
“I know, it’s a sad world where you can’t be honest about your plans for regicide.”
“Isn’t that just for the king?”
“Ducalcide? Whatever, you know what I meant.”
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