Martialla and I reached Preen after dark last night but thankfully Preen is such a disorganized mess that it doesn’t matter – you just walk into town as plain as you like. Finding a place to stay the night was a little trickier, but we figured there would be something across from the vice district and we were right – a place called Lucky Jester. It looked like it had been a gaming parlor in a previous life and was turned over to an inn sometime later. There were hideous jesters painted all about on the walls. There was also a huge sign on the wall that strictly forbade gambling of any kind on the premises. The night manager was insistent about this as well and lectured us about how that wasn’t just a rule of the joint but he claimed that there was a curse on the place and anyone who rolled a die or turned a card inside the walls would be cursed with ill-luck. I assured him we had no interest in gambling there but that didn’t stop him from warning us over and over for close to fifteen minutes. I wish I was good at punching people because I really wanted to punch him. By now I really should have some loyal muscle that will punch people for me. What have I been doing with my life?
We had to share a room but not a bed so I was able to fall asleep quickly and get a good night’s rest. When I woke up I saw Martialla sitting on the edge of her bed with her head in her hands looking haggard and tired. I mean moreso than usual.
“I take it you didn’t sleep as well as I did.”
She shook her head, her voice raw “No, I had nightmares any time I fell asleep. A laughing demon was forcing me to play games of chance. The more I played the more I lost and I knew that eventually I was going to gamble my soul. I think this place really might be cursed.”
“Pfft, you call that a nightmare? That’s practical a sweet dream for me.” I plucked at my Amulet and then let it fall back “You need to get yourself one of these.”
“My mother always told me that wearing more than one chain was a sign of rapscallionity, you look like a pirate.”
“If was a pirate I’d have you keel-hauled for that remark so you should be glad that I’m not.”
“What is keel-hauling?”
“I don’t know. Something with the butt?”
She gestured and I handed her my Flask, which she took a pull off of “You’re a gambler, what’s the appeal there? The allure of getting something for nothing?”
“I rarely gamble, and when I do I’m just being sociable. I play cards for money, which is different, that’s pitting your skill against someone else in a contest.”
“But the cards are random.”
I smiled “Not when I’m dealing. But that’s not even the point. There’s an element of randomness but the better player wins most of the time, that’s why when they don’t everyone acknowledges it as a bad beat. But being the keen student of human nature that I am I can answer your question even though I am not a gambler. It’s easy to assume that it’s the thrill of winning that calls to the gambler, but that’s not it at all. When a gambler lays a bet they feel anxiety, and if they win they feel relief – not joy or happiness, just relief. What draws them in is the moment between when the best is placed and when the result is determined – a moment of hope – when anything is possible. That moment, the anticipation or what might happen, is sweeter to a gambler than actually winning. What they love is the risk, not the winning.”
“Sounds like bullshit.”
She handed me the Flask back “What do you know about it?”
We crossed the bridge to get a decent breakfast at one of the casinos before heading to Vetovia’s shop to slap down a soggy bag of hag gristle on her counter. As surprised as she was that we were undertaking this mission at all she was even more surprised that we had accomplished it – and so quickly.
“What can I say, monster hunting is our specialty. So what happens now, do we need to find Vasya and subdue here and drag her into a magic circle or something?”
Vetovia shook her head as she picked through the sinew and slime from the bag without any hint of squeamishness “No, the ritual works or it doesn’t, her presence isn’t required.”
Martialla “That could be dangerous though. I don’t know what a hag does to kill time, especially in a city, but she could be someplace where it would be dangerous to suddenly turn back into a normal lady.”
I nodded “Plus she had a clan of bastard gnomes at her beck and call, if she reverts to her normal form and they’re around they’ll cut her to pieces.”
Vetovia was concerned “Do you think you can bring her in? Didn’t she almost kill you both last time?”
“Yeah, but she caught of us off guard. Do you have some magical thingamajig that could help us contain her? Like a ball we throw at her that shrinks her down and traps her inside it?”
She made a face like that was a crazy idea “No, why would something like that exist?”
I scowled back at her “Why would anyone make magic beans? Or a stick that summons butterflies? Or a musical instrument that lures sewer rats into the streets? Or a cube that sucks up water? Or a horn that shoots out bubbles? There’s all kind of stupid magic shit, don’t bust my ass about it.”
What’s even more annoying is that she did have a little rusty sphere of iron that when you throw it at someone and shout “Mangalman!” it turns into a bunch of iron bands that trap someone – which is pretty much exactly what I said! Even the good magic people are annoying.
I examined the magical bauble she had handed me “Doesn’t look like much.”
“It will work.”
“Can you use your magic to divine her location or how do we find her?”
She took a breath and then sighed “No, but I know how we can find her. Her sister.”
I nodded “So we grab her sister and rough her up and she comes running?”
Martialla frowned “I’ve never known hags to have a lot of filial piety.”
Vetovia shook her head “No, nothing like that. What Vasya wants more than anything is to kill her sister Elania, to protect her I’ve put wards around her home.” She stopped and took another breath “If she steps foot outside of the protective area I’ve made Vasya will turn up. Rather quickly I would imagine.”
“And then we grab her up with this little metal ball. What could be easier?”
The “home” in question turned out to be Lem Renny’s Restaurant an “authentic” Shireling joint. Authentic in this case means built into the side of a hill like Halfling homes allegedly are. I personally wouldn’t want to eat in a dirt-tunnel no matter how good the food was but when we got there people were lined up outside the door. A fact which the people in that line were quick to point out as we headed for the entrance.
Martialla gave them a friendly wave “It’s fine, we’re not going in to eat, we’re making a delivery.”
A fellow with a stupid copper pin respond “Delivering what, I don’t see any boxes!”
I turned back to him myself “Sorry my friend misspoke, what she meant to say was go fuck yourself.”
Outraged murmuring ran through the line as Martialla opened the door into the cloak room “Remember when you used to try and keep a low profile?”
The layout of the place was very odd, which I guess is to be expected from a hole in the ground – it was basically a long straight line that had nine tables each with two chairs – all of which were occupied. There was a counter at the back and directly to the right was a tunnel that purported to be to a private dining area. Faint music could be coming from that direction – wasn’t half bad. Behind the counter was a scrawny Halfling with red hair idly counting coins from one pile on the counter to another. He looked up languidly as we approached.
“You’d be Lem then?” He nodded almost imperceptibly “We need to speak with your cook, Elania.”
He very slowly spread his hands wide at the happily eating patrons “She’s working, this is our busy time.”
Seeing my eyes narrow Martialla halfway shouldered me aside “What would be a better time to come back?”
His smile also crept up his face slowly “We’re always busy. Best food in town.”
I’m not sure what I was about to do, something for sure, but Martialla crowded me out of the way and did some magic on him and suddenly he was our best friend. I’m not sure why she doesn’t do that more often. I suppose it only works on the weak-minded. But Ela, didn’t that happen to you more than once, are you saying that you’re weak minded? Shut up. We went back into the kitchen to speak with Elania as she and her two assistants whirled about in a maelstrom of flour and spices. We told her about the plan and while she was overjoyed at the possibility of having her sister back she was less enamored with the idea of being bait. We assured her that it would be fine, she could hide and I would take her appearance – as long as she’s outside the wards it should work. She didn’t seem terrible comforted by that but she agreed – but only after the lunch rush. She implied that we could help out in the kitchen or by bringing people their food which was hilarious. We went back into the main room just as a couple was leaving and took their table just as another couple was coming in the front door. They glared at us and I flipped them off.
Martialla shook her head “Didn’t your main thing used to be making people like you?”
“Yeah, but I was never that into it.”
I’ll say this for Lem Renny’s Restaurant – by hole in the ground standards it was pretty good. I’m not a big beer drinker but it was a tasty brew. I’m not a huge fan of meat pies either but they were indisputably good. The strawberry pie for dessert was much better though. Once the last of the customers straggled out Elania took off her apron, leaving her minions to prepare for the dinner rush, and came outside with us where we stashed her behind some conveniently located boxes – there actually was a delivery that day. Amusing. I disguised myself with an illusion of her and we waited.
“So you never leave this place?”
“No, there’s a room for me farther in. Um, deeper I guess I mean.”
“That sounds awful, living and working in a hole in the ground?”
“I’ll be glad to leave this place but I’ll be even more glad to have my sister back.”
Martialla scowled at me “Quiet down, don’t think you talking to a box is suspicious?”
“You give people too much credit M”
I shrugged “I thought I’d try it out.”
Here’s the thing about the old move where you casually walk by someone in a crowd and surreptitiously jab them with a poisoned knife – it only works when you do it in a crowd. There’s no way to nonchalantly walk right up to someone leaning against a wall with one other person. Martialla and I both knew what was up when the tall hard-faced woman with a massive wall of dark hair came sidling up to us as we loitered in front of Rem’s. I grabbed the hand as it reached for the knife and Martialla got her about the shoulders. She was strong, strong as a bull seal, and she shook us off easily but we expected that. I had Vetovia’s orb in my hand and tossed it at her. As promised, the would-be assassin was instantly bound with iron . . . uh, bonds. I was just about to say something to Martialla about how easy it had been when the trapped assailant fell to the ground and revealed their true form – a shrieking hyena-headed monster with patchy fur.
“Now who the Hells is this?”
Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,523 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, Ring of Urban Grace, 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), assorted hag pieces
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, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar