There’s something about a scream that really grabs your attention. I mean a real scream scream you know? A girl might scream when the boy that likes her puts a spider down her dress. A woman might scream because her beau proposed to her. An older woman might scream at her husband after she goes town to the pub to drag him home before he can waste any more of his wages and catches him getting a handjob from a barmaid in a dirty alley. That same woman might scream when her drunk husband drags her down the street by her hair. An even older woman might scream because she sees someone of a different ethnicity or national background. But a real scream scream is unmistakable – it’s the kind of thing that people look towards from all around. It’s the kind of thing you put on pants for and go out the door to see what’s going on. It’s a noise that demands attention – even after killing four men in cold blood with malice aforethought.
Martialla and I slunk back towards town to see what the screaming was about. It was easy to ascertain because someone had thoughtfully lit several torches – can’t have their handiwork go unappreciated right? In the middle of town there was a barrel. And bent over that barrel was the woman with the blue-blonde hair who was smuggling something into town and was conspiring with several other parties to steal the money we brought in (which is now safely in my possession). Based on the fact that her shirt had been torn off and one of the fellows with the crazy belt-buckles was beating her across the back with a horsewhip I made the mental leap that they had some manner of falling out. You know, because the money wasn’t there. Because I took it. The merchant and his goons and the four remaining soldiers (who didn’t yet know that their commander and the rest of their squad was dead) were standing by watching the proceedings, as were a goodly number of horrified townsfolk. Notable by their absence were any of the militiamen.
Her friend in the peasant dress was being held there as well while the beating went on and she looked pretty terrified, although unless I miss my mark it was more about the possibility of her being the next one over the barrel rather than over the torture of her friend. So maybe friend isn’t the right word so much as work acquaintance. Blue wasn’t screaming every time she was struck, most of the time she was gritting her teeth and taking it, but eventually the pain would build up blow by blow and become too much for her and then she’d cry out. Normally I’d say that it’s pointless to hold back, all that buys you is more pain, but in this case it clearly didn’t matter – the same amount of pain was coming no matter what. That’s probably a metaphor for something.
I looked over at Martialla “You want to do something stupid?”
“Head to the coach and see if the other smugglers are there – if they don’t know what’s going on let them know. I’m going in as the sergeant or squad leader or whatever the Hells he is – don’t kill me when you come charging in t save the day like a big damn hero.”
Martialla started flanking around to the other side of town while I ran back and grabbed the reins of horse of the last soldier we had killed. Mounting up, I thundered into town as Blue’s screaming had given way to helpless sobbing – I thought about trampling the whip-wielder but reined up at the last moment, which still scared the shit out of him.
“What the blazes is going on here?! What are you doing to that woman?!”
One of the soldiers stepped forward “Sir, the money wasn’t there, well it was but it wasn’t.”
“What the holy fuck does that mean soldier?! Either the money was there or it wasn’t!!!”
The other three soldiers started edging back as the volunteer gulped “Sir, what I mean is that when we went to look in the box all the platinum was gone and it was full of gold instead.” He pointed at one of the Buckle-boys “He said that these two had come to watch the money and . . .”
“And you believed them?! Are you stupid son?! What did YOU see?!”
“I didn’t see anything, by the time we got there the money was already gone.”
“Get the fucking woman off of there you fucking morons!”
One of the Buckle-boys stepped forward pugnaciously “She’s not going anywhere, these two stole our money.”
“And replaced it with gold? How does that make any sense?”
“Well something happened!”
“And you think beating the shit out this woman is going to tell you anything? Use your head boy!”
He and his friends were getting ugly looks “You’re not in command here old man.”
“You want to try me you little pissant? I am a soldier in the King’s army! I kill people for a living! What the fuck are you? Some duded up piece of country-trash who makes their living stealing chickens from little old ladies. I’d kill you where you stand you garter-wearing goat molester!”
In pretty short order I realized that really only two of the soldiers had backed off, not three. One of them, who I also realized wasn’t wearing armor, had taken maybe a half step back but was more watching with a sharp expression than reeling from the anger of his commanding officer. I realized all of this when he cast a spell and my illusion was stripped away just as I finished what was a pretty good bawling out I thought.
I spurred my house (figuratively since I wasn’t wearing spurs) into action, but people were grabbing at me like crazy. Seems like everyone and their brother was grabbing at me. Once it became clear that I was going to get dragged off the horse I did something very stupid – I stood up in the saddle and jumped for it like a circus performer. It wasn’t pretty, it was anything but pretty, but effective nevertheless (well some the less) I managed to hit the hit the side of a building and with my boots I clung there like a spider and started scurrying up onto the roof. The soldier wizard (who ever heard of such a thing?!) summoned up some more magic and shot a mass of sticky webbing at me, but it didn’t even slow me down – maybe because of the Boots, maybe because he’s a crappy wizard. Who knows? Once I was up on the roof, seeing no bows or the like I peeped over the edge ready to duck back if any magic bullshit came my way.
“Okay guys, honesty time, here’s what happened. My friend and I enchanted that gold to make it look like platinum for a scam we were running . . .”
Wizard soldier shouted up “We had the money before you idiot, we know that’s not true!”
“Oh right, there’s a lot of moving parts here, I kind of lost track of . . .
“Someone get a ladder!”
“No, no, no one needs to get any ladders, you see what’s happened here is . . .”
Some of the Buckle-boys dragged Blue, shirtless and bloodied, off the barrel and one of them held a hooked knife to her face “Come down or I’m going to cut her nose off. For starters.”
“Look, I don’t even know her, and I know that’s what people always say when they’re in a situation like this but it happens to be true this time. I just have this funny thing about wanting to help women being tortured in the town square for no reason.”
“How do you know it’s for no reason?!”
“Look, I can explain everything if you just give me a minute.” I saw a couple of the townspeople carrying a ladder over “There’s definitely no need for that, you just stay down there and I’ll stay up here and we can just talk and everything . . .”
The Buckle-boy with the knife was practically frothing at the mouth “Get down here now or I’m going to slice this bitch in half!”
“Eh, go ahead, show everyone what a tough piece of business you are by murdering a helpless woman – that’s some real dangerous stuff, you’re clearly not a man to be trifled with. I tell you what champ, if I had a crossbow right now I’d shoot you right through your nose. I’m a great shot, I could totally do it with a nose like that. You wouldn’t die right away, that’s the fun part – it would take days. You’d want to die long before you actually did – it’s pretty gruesome usually but with you it would be hilarious.”
They brought the ladder up against the building and I waited until I saw a face appear over the side of the roof before I touched the ladder with my Walking Stick and caused it to crumble and shatter like it was made of toothpicks – dumping the men climbing it to the ground. I made a show of chuckling.
“Oh, that’s some classic comedy right there. What’s your next routine?”
I think it was the dwarf that had the bright idea to set the building on fire. It was certainly his men that did the torch work. Calling on my Boots for a burst of speed I ran and jumped as far I could – not far enough to reach other roof, but far enough to spider climb up the side and make it to the roof that way. The mob followed and the merchant guards seemed like they were going to repeat the process.
“Alright people of Cataola, doing nothing while a woman is stripped and beaten like an unruly dog in the middle the night – I get that, that’s just some good old fashion woman beating, nothing wrong with that. But now these fuckers are burning your town down. And you’re just going to stand there? I can jump from roof to roof all night until there’s no buildings left. Is that what you want? Look around, who’s not here? The constable and his men. Because these people killed them. I don’t see the mayor either, so either she’s dead too or she’s letter this happen. There’s no one to defer responsibility to here, it’s just you right now – are you going to let these out of town assholes destroy your town?”
A few people in the crowd did seemed concerned about this casual arson but after they were smacked around a little by the buckle brigade they piped down. I guess they are willing to see their entire town burned. I mean what’s the alternative? Standing up for yourself? As the merchant guards came forward with their torches again I ran to the edge with my hands out wide.
“Wait, wait, I’ll come down, I’ll come down. But I need certain assurances about my safety.”
That puke of a sissified looking dwarf laughed “You’re not going to be safe.”
One of the Buckle bandits chimed in “If you give us the money we won’t start ripping pieces off of you, that’s the only thing that can save you. Either you give us the money or we fuck you up, nothing you say or do matters other than that.”
“Fair, fair, that’s totally fair, I get that. The problem is that the money isn’t there anymore, we used magic to send it away.”
The solider wizard scoffed “Bullshit. If you could do that you would have done it in the first place.”
“We couldn’t, not until we got here. We didn’t know the spell, we used a scroll.”
“Who’d you get the scroll from?”
“Nobody, we just had it stashed here.”
“Your lies are pathetic. Do you even know what the truth is anymore?”
“Look, what do you want me to say? You’re going to accuse me of lying no matter what.”
“I don’t want to hear you say anything, either you give us the money or you die screaming – those are the two options.”
The dwarf nodded “Now come on down from there before we have to burn another building down in this nice town that you’re so worried about.”
“Alright, I’m coming down.”
Lucky for me it was after midnight, I took a drink from my Flask and grew to ogre size. I don’t know why magic cares what day it is but it does. Magic is stupid like that. With my increased size I leapt off the roof and landed on that bearded turd. My plan was to come up swinging with my Walking Stick and try to fight my way free as best I could but jumping on a roof and landing on a dwarf really knocks you for a loop – who would have guessed it. I think I might have really screwed up my hip. And my knee. And my foot. Pretty much everything on the left side behind the waist. And the worse part is I don’t think the dwarf was even hurt that badly. I was seized and my Walking Stick wrestled away from me before I could turn the head into a real live snake.
I got punched and kicked a couple times as they dragged me towards the barrel but the whip-wieldier cautioned them about knocking me out before he could go to work on me. Considerate fellow. They tried to rip my clothing as well to reveal my back but they found that my clothing is pretty rip-resistant – it would have been comical to anyone watching them try. Who could find comedy in such a grim moment.
I laughed “It’s magic you fucking morons, it’s not going to rip.” The whipper responded by smashing me in the mouth with the handle of the whip “Good compromise. Way to be adaptable.” I spit out a gob of blood and saw something white in it “Oh, fucking Hells, if you knocked one of my teeth out you are going to be in real trouble. My mouth is very important to me.” With a growl he bashed me between the shoulder blades with the whip-handle. It took me a moment to catch my breath. “It’s okay, it’s okay everybody, I can kind of feel them with my tongue, I think all the teeth are there.”
They were still struggling to rip my clothing off (in their defense they were excited) when the commander of the soldiers came riding up in a suspiciously poor manner to anyone who would have been playing close attention other than myself.
“What the blue blazes is going on here?! Report soldier!”
One of the soldiers moved to start blabbing in a sycophantic manner but the wizard-soldier jumped the line “What’s my name?”
His face became a thundercloud “What?! What the Hells do you think you’re doing son?! I asked for a status report not an inquisition! I’ll ask the questions here Gods damn it!!!”
The wizard soldier backed up, his hands moving in arcane shenanigan “It’s another imposter, kill him.”
What would have been nice is if Martialla and smoothly rolled off the back of her mount and landing nimbly on her feet with her rapier in hand. What actually happened is she mostly fell out of the saddle, landed badly on her hands and knees and lost her sword in the process. On the plus side she did scramble to her feet emitting three beams of magic fire at anyone who looked dangerous. That really got the crowd scattering. I was forgotten in the chaos and took a swig from my Tankard, hoping that it would buoy me enough to help Martialla. Filled with magical heroic vigor (and rum) I managed to limp forward and strangle one of the soldiers with my Necklace – good thing it’s, well not indestructible, but less destructible enough to be used as a garrote rather than breaking. Although that’s going to be bad news if I’m running or falling and it ever gets caught on something.
As if the odds weren’t bad enough suddenly there seemed to be those belt buckle people everywhere. Where the Hells did they all come from? I had a split second to realize how screwed we were before the big guy and the lady Shireling from the coach showed up – followed in a moment by our friendly neighborhood assassin and her pals. What really turned the tide was when I got a hold of the dwarf though, and by got a hold of I mean grabbed the bejeweled knife off his belt and stabbed him in the gut six or ten times. Once his guards had nothing to fight for and two of the soldiers were dead (the wizard disappeared as they always do) the Brotherhood of the Belt Buckle ran for it and the last soldier threw down his weapons and begged for mercy. I found my Walking Stick and clubbed him in the head until it was gone. His head I mean. Not my Walking Stick.
Funds: 53,040 platinum, 9,605 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace
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), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek
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, Colonel Tarl Ciarán wizard soldier, those guys with the stupid belt buckles, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company