I’m sure there’s all sorts of military wisdom on what to do when faced with a superior force. Helpful notions like “take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses”, “wait for them to make a mistake and then do something good”, and “use tactics that are advantageous when it is advantageous to do so”. Most advice never really tells you how to do anything – it’s more like encouragement than anything. Good thing this isn’t a military outfit. Here’s my theory, if you can’t run away try harder to run away. But if you really can’t run away go on the attack. People don’t like being attacked (well some of them do but you can’t account for freaks) and it puts them off their feed. If there’s one military truism that I would like to add to the pile, one that’s actually true, it would be “fuck it”. There are no reinforcements, no one is coming to bail you out, your enemy isn’t going to get bored and leave, you’re basically screwed – so what’s the harm in trying something really?
Of course that’s not the situation that I’m in. I could, and should, very easily leave this half-ass village behind to suffer whatever fate comes it’s way. And yet here I am, about to embark on a daring commando mission that’s as dangerous as it suicidal. And why? Honestly I don’t know. Do I feel sorry for these people? Sure, but their lives are pretty stupid anyway – being tortured to death by backwoods marauders would honestly be a step-up for them. What I’m worried about is that I’m doing it because Martialla wants me to – which is a far more insidious threat than pity. Martialla’s a good sort, but she’s dangerously unpredictable on account of her sentimentality. And if I’m developing an affinity for her opinion of me that means that I’m letting her emotional nonsense effect (affect?) my decision making, which is bad.
Now I know what you’re thinking “Ela, Martialla is a loyal and trustworthy friend to you, of course you should care about her opinion of you”. Well, I should and I shouldn’t you know? Have you ever heard the expression keep your eye on the prize? That’s chumbait designed to get you robbed while you’re staring at a stupid prize, but the intention is to remind you not to get distracted. I can’t let feelings like “friendship” and “love” (the way women can love each other and still have sex with men) get in the way of my quest for revenge. That would be wrong. Some things are just more important that personal relationships not matter how satisfying they may feel – things like revenge.
“But Ela, you get distracted all the time. Some would say the past eleven months have been naught but one distraction after the other.”
Counterpoint – shut up.
Anyway, the idea was that we’d find out where Ukra and his pals hang out and get them before they came to get us. This idea fell apart pretty quickly once no one knew where that was other than “in the woods”. Even the filthy blue-haired spitter didn’t know, claiming that she only met with him to deliver her ill-gotten (ill-delivered? They may have been gotten legitimately) goods in town. She claimed he was very secretive about where he and his buddies hid out, presumably polishing their ridiculous belt buckles. I insisted that there had to be some shady characters in town that have some idea where their honeycomb hideout is and there was – Nilda and her two friends. Who had left earlier. And probably also the mayor, who was missing. And maybe the dwarf merchant. Who I killed. Then I posited that there must be someone in town who could track the Belters (do you like Belters or Bucklers better?) that had fled only moments ago and lead us to their hideaway. There was a tracker or two but they claimed that trying to track at night doesn’t really work. Probably they just didn’t want to get killed. Dirty cowards.
So the new plan is to wait until they murderous gangsters show up and then wing it. You know, the usual – survive and don’t get caught. Its genius is its simplicity. The more you plan the more things can go wrong right? That makes sense? You can’t control the world or what’s going to happen – all you can do is influence it by leaning and making waving gestures and saying “go go go” like when you throw a rock at a crow sitting on a branch and you miss and it’s going to break and window and you’re trying to make it go the right way by sheer force of will. Or, you know, some other better metaphor. I explained my cunning plan to the assembled townfolks.
“Alright, I’m going to lie down for a while, wake me up when the guys get here to kill everyone.”
I hate when people use the idiom (expression?) that they felt like they were woken up as a soon as their head hit the pillow – but I have to admit that’s how it felt. I went into Nilda’s cottage with the intent of maybe searching the place a little first, she left in a hurry so who knows what interesting items an assassin may have left behind, but as soon as I saw the bed it was all over. It wasn’t even a nice bed – it was rickety as Hells and lumpy as well. She must not have had any gentlemen (or lady) callers because you couldn’t do anything in that bed. Nothing good anyway. The point is I felt like I had lain (laid?) down and fell asleep hard and then four seconds later I was awakened (woken?) by a copious amount of flamboyant argle bargle outside. Coming to my feet and staggering outside I saw that it was sunrise – a horrible beautiful sunrise. I think that’s a military thing too – attack at dawn so your enemy has the sun in their eyes. If they’re facing the right way. Or maybe the idea is to make them fight when they have to piss.
Swaggering about and being “gangy” was a good score (that’s twenty right?) of hard-fighting, hard-farting, ugly-ugly sons a bitches. Last night I was pretty focused on the crazy wide belts they were wearing (is it some kind of kidney armor?) with the elaborate (and stupid) belt buckles but in the daylight I saw that many of them also had a hard calloused ring of skin around their neck and several others were wearing awkwardly high collars like a fancy lady does sometimes. I tell you I hate anything with a high neck – I’ll decide when I want to feel like I’m being strangled thank you (it’s never FYI). The lead asshole in charge was a lanky fellow with more than bit of a beer gut that didn’t match his breathtaking hazel eyes at all, nor his exceedingly long very ruby red hair. Honestly that has to be a dye job – that color of hair doesn’t exist in nature. But what kind of shit-kicking redneck would dye their hair like that (or at all)? The world is a strange place for certain. His particular belt buckle was a giant tiger’s head about the size of a fist. It was plated with something that was supposed to look like gold. It was not gold.
I shrugged off the blanket I had around my shoulders because I was too lazy to start a fire last night “I told you guys to wake me up when they showed up.”
Ukra gave me a good once over, you know in that gross way men do “You must be this mystery woman I’ve heard so much about.”
“Nothing mysterious about little old me, I’m just a simple village girl really, trying my level best to make it in a world that can seem cruel at times.”
He snorted “You’re going to say that with that bloody emerald on your neck?”
“Emeralds are green, this is actually a colorless sapphire – known as a fancy sapphire because people are bad at naming things – that’s tinted black by hematite. It’s really quite a piece of jewelrycraft.”
“The point is that it’s expensive.”
I chuckled “Shit man, you don’t know the half of it, it’s magic as fuck – that makes things way more expensive. I had to kill a hag to get it, and cure another hag of her hagness.” I held up my hand “You see this ring? It’s got a demon in it and if I don’t have this necklace to protect me it infiltrates my dreams and slowly devours me with madness. Probably eventually it would kill me.”
“I don’t know what to say to that.”
I waved away my blabbering “You don’t care about any of that, sorry I haven’t had my morning vodka yet so my thoughts are a little scattered. Are you here for the money or for revenge?”
“Two of my men were killed last night.”
“Yes, killed by men in the employ of the Chimera Trading Company. Although I believe they were operating under their own . . . uh . . . . recognizance at the time. Is that the world I mean? You know what I mean right? They were acting on their own.”
“And why was that?”
“I stabbed their boss in the stomach a bunch of times and then he fell down and then he died. They probably assumed at that point their contract was nullified. I’m not sure about the particulars of that. What kind of opt-out clause there may have been as so forth. Contract law isn’t really my thing.”
“And why did you do that?”
“He was being very rude to me.”
“And where are these scoundrels that killed my men now?”
“Gone, rolled right out of town on the luxury coach that I rode in on – actually no I was on a horse at that point – but I was in it . . . before. I brought it here is what I mean.”
“Not really, they took all the money.”
He chuckled and looked back at his cronies, prompting them to chuckle as well in sycophantic support “Now that’s very convenient. The people I want and the money aren’t in town anymore. I should just leave then huh? How about I start conducting little interviews with everyone like the investigators in the mystery novels do? Are they going to tell me the same story?”
“It was pretty chaotic, I don’t know who saw what, but no one is going to gainsay me for sure because it’s what happened. Somewhere around here there’s a broad with blue-blonde hair – total dye job, no offense – and a back that looks like someone ran a plow over it a couple dozen times. That was one of your men that did that by the way. Anyway, I think she saw most of the action, it was quite a melee I tell you that. There were a lot of different factions involved. I’m not sure I have it all straight myself.”
“Some of my men were there as well.”
“Great, they should be able to back me up then.”
“They told me that you’re a liar, and a magician.”
“Magician! That is bullshit sir!”
“They told me that you came into town wearing the face of a military man, and that you climbed up the sides of buildings like a spider, and that you made a ladder fall apart with a gesture, and that you grew to giant size.”
“Well yeah, but I’m not a magician, I’m just really rich.”
Ukra was about to say something when one of his crew shouted from the mob “I saw her kill Fritzell!”
“You didn’t see shit. After I jumped on the dwarf I think I gave myself hip bursitis, I could barely move last night. All I did was strangle a soldier, knife the dwarf, and then murder the other soldier that surrendered.”
Ukra raised an eyebrow “You did all that?”
The shouter pushed his way to the fore, he was a short pinched-faced no-neck with a face like thunder “I saw you burn Fritzell to death with your magic!”
I stared him down “You are confused sir, because I don’t have any magic. Look, I understand your mistake, that fight last night had an unusual number of women in the mix – which is not what you’re used to seeing in your normal business right? So you got me confused with someone else.”
He puffed out his chest like a bulldog “I saw a woman with long dark hair kill Fritzell!”
I smiled “Well there you go, it wasn’t me then. As you can see I wear my hair up so that during deadly fights to the death it’s not flying all over the place. In addition to the visibility factor I don’t like the feeling of hair sticking to my neck or face you see, and I tend to get sweaty during knock-down drag-out fights to the finish. I know men like to pretend that women don’t sweat, and maybe that’s true to women who just stand there and look pretty in their ruffled dresses but we working class gals get a little slick from time to time.”
Ukra held up a hand to forestall Shorty “This is all very interesting, but this isn’t a trial. Maybe you killed Fritzell and maybe you didn’t. Someone needs to pay for that. And here you are.”
I pointed to the road out of town “You better get on their tail then. They’ve got a good lead on you but those coaches don’t move faster than men on horses.”
He grinned and made a weird clicking noise with his mouth “You know what they say about a bird in the hand.”
“It’s a good way to get a handful of shit?”
He laughed, a real throw your head back laugh “I like you woman. But unless someone vouches for you . . .”
Another voice came from the pack of goons “I vouch for her.”
All eyes turned to the speaker – a tall solid looking fellow who was entering his middle years but still hanging onto an aura of strength. This belt looked like some kind of gladiator prize bauble and its buckle was a stylized hammer. I think. It was very stylized whatever it was.
Hazel was surprised, but not as much as you’d think “You vouch for her?”
He nodded “I do, she saved my life in Paladore.”
That’s when it clicked for me. All those marks around their necks – that’s what happens when you wear a collar around your neck for a long time. A slave collar. I would find out later that the whole thing with the belt buckles is they were made out of slave chains. They weren’t all literal slaves, some of them were “just” indentured servants that were practically slaves – but they were all escapees or runaways from some kind of “arrangement” like that. With no one to rely on but each other they banded together and became criminal assholes. When they can they attack slavers, but still, they’re mostly just criminal assholes – it’s important to keep that in mind when you want to feel sorry for someone. You can feel sorry for someone and still remember that they’re assholes.
“Well there you have it. Is that pretty much it then?”
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’s wizard soldier, those guys with the stupid belt buckles, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company