Martialla and I took on the appearance of our friends in the black robes. It’s harder to disguise yourself as someone who’s showing a lot of skin than you’d think. Part of it might be because it’s not something either of us has done much, but there’s more to it than that. The key to crafting a good illusion is the ability to conjure an image in your mind’s eye and then project that image. Think about a wolf. You know what a wolf looks like – fur, legs, some teeth, etc. but try to put a precise image in your mind. And I mean precise. How long is the tail? How far apart at the eyes? What color are the eyes? Where are they placed on the face? How shaggy is the fur around where the legs meet the body? Are the front legs and the back legs the same length? How does that weird little crook in the legs work? How many teeth are there, where are they placed, what color are they, what color are the gums around it, how does the tongue look? And so on. You’d know a wolf when you saw it, you could tell someone what a wolf would look like and they’d know what you meant, but unless you’re an artist that spends time drawing wolves you can’t really imagine what it looks like – not really.
What you have in your mind is kind of a blob that’s more or less (mostly less) what a wolf looks like. Try to cover yourself with that image and no one’s going to buy it. And that’s why it’s easier to create an image of someone wearing a lot of cloths. A black robe? That’s pretty uniform, there may be a rip here or a darker spot here or a ragged hem there, but even if you don’t put those things in looks fine. The human body? It’s a mess. It can be a wonderful mess, but it’s a mess. We’re not nearly as symmetrical as we think. There’s little bumps and blemishes and moles and marks and all sorts of thing. One elbow is rougher looking than the other. One breast is a little larger. One finger is missing a little piece of skin. One earlobe is a little stretched out. If you don’t take that into account it’s a lot more noticeable than you’d think. It looks fake. It’s like how the face of a bat seems more hideous than the face of a snake – the snake is so different it doesn’t really bother you so much, but the face of the bat is somewhat proportional to the human face; and thus we obtain a scale of hideousness. A bat-face doesn’t look like a person but its close enough to what a human looks like generally that it become awful.
Trust me on this, I have a bit of experience, if you don’t think about what a person really looks like you end up with some weird bland statue-person that people don’t like. AT ALL. The point is that it took us a little bit longer than usual to disguise ourselves – Martialla with her magic me with pure awesomeness – but we got the job done. It’s actually really helpful to have someone else there to look at while you’re doing it – it’s like a mirror that gives you feedback and helpful tips. I have to say, I was never really on board with this “friendship” thing – seemed like a hassle coupled with a burden – but I’m starting to come around on it. Maybe it’s not so bad after all.
Martialla looked over at me as we walked towards the temple “Do you ever think that this is why we’re here?”
“Has it ever occurred to you that all we went through before, the tough times, the pain, the suffering – that was all to mold us into the people that we are now so we could do things like this? They say the best metal requires the hottest fire. We’re going to save a young woman from the clutches of a wicked cult. For like the fifth or sixth time. Maybe this is like our purpose in life, maybe this is why the Gods put us here. Has that thought ever crossed your mind? All joking aside we are kind of heroes aren’t we?”
“Martialla you’re my closest and dearest friend so I don’t want you to take this the wrong way – sometimes you are dumber than a box of dicks.”
“Where would one get a box of dicks?”
“Most port towns you could get a box of dicks. They import the dicks of exotic creatures to make into soup for old men in the hopes that it will make their dicks work again. It’s a lucrative trade. You could do worse than investing in the dick importing business.”
“I suppose that makes a little more sense than eating powdered antlers.”
“I just hope we have the best minds of our generation working on it – nothing makes me sadder than the thought that doddering old gasbag can’t get his dick hard.”
“Not even drowning foals?”
“Maybe, but there would have to be a lot of them.”
We went to the temple that used to be a dance hall first – which from the outside wasn’t much changed other than the addition of two statues of Adariel. Although now that I was looking for it I saw that these statues definitely made the holy mother look more bashful and compliant than usual – it’s a subtle distinction for a god dedicated to humility and peace but it was there. I think. Maybe it was just my imagination. The main room had been turned into some manner of training facility – lifting rocks and moving rocks and other stuff with rocks. Classic cult move – exhaust people and they’re easier to brainwash, plus it makes them stronger for when the enemies of your faith come to get you, plus you can use the threat of more training as part of the brainwashing. It’s great stuff.
There were some crappy tapestries along one wall and through that doorway was an office of sorts with a nice darkwood desk – seems like even running a cult you can’t escape from paperwork. I suppose you need to keep track of all the possessions people give up to you. A couple of blue and white robe types came to confront us but once they saw our black robes and rippling physiques they scurried away like frightened groundpigs. The next room we looked in had a couple weapon racks filled with brand new and kind of crappy looking swords and a large steel shield with Adariel’s symbol on it hanging prominently on the wall. While we were poking around in there another black robe with a wild mane of dark hair came in.
“What happened? Where’s Gannick?”
“Some big fella with curly hair kicked the shit out of him.”
His eyes went wide “What? I thought it was two women!”
I shrugged “They had a friend.”
“What are you doing in here?”
“Looking for a punch dagger. I thought I saw one in here the other day, I was going to get it and stab that big guy in the liver.” I made a jabbing motion “Like this! Not so big are you now!”
His face wrinkled with disdain “Bullshit you are! You two cowards left Gannick to get his ass kicked by some outsider and ran away to hide! You spineless idiots, why didn’t you raise the alarm?”
I sniveled annoyingly “We were going to take care of it ourselves.”
He shook his head disgustedly “You two are going to wish you got beatdown by this ‘big guy’ of yours when I’m done with you. Stay the fuck here, I’m going to deal with this! If you are not here when I get back you are dead you hear me?”
I nodded quickly with just the right mixture of chickenshit defiance and cowardly cowardice. He sneered and started stomping through the complex gathering up a posse. A few minutes later a dozen armed men rampaged out into the streets.
I looked over at Martialla “That was easy.”
Looking around we found a barracks with a dozen bunk beds that were empty and a couple other rooms of indeterminate origin until we came to a locked door. Martialla worked on it for a while with her picks but the lock was too much for her. I touched the door with my Walking Stick and it cracked and collapsed into broken planks.
I smiled at her “Where’s your magic now?”
“That’s an odd thing to be smug about when using a magic staff.”
“You wish it was magic, I have just mastered the art of internal energy. You don’t have to break the object’s physical form, you merely need to disrupt its energy with the lightest of taps – like when the wizened old monk touches someone on the chest and then two years later their heart explodes. The forbidden technique.”
“Where do you come up with this stuff?”
I chuckled and we passed through into a narrow area with three cells on each side – each contained a simple straw mat and nothing much else. Nothing much besides the women I mean. It’s another cult classic – lock ‘em up, starve ‘em for a while and they tend to get with the program. I couldn’t help but wonder, once they have all six cells occupied and they see another woman that want to kidnap what do they do? Do they wait or does one of the six get turned loose?
“Which one of you is Tamarin? We’re going to let you all out, just asking.”
Martialla was able to defeat all these locks and it gave me time to run through the annoying conversation with the rescuees that we weren’t really the people we looked like – I feel like using my normal voice should have been a giveaway – and this wasn’t a trick. One of the women was drugged out of her gourd so I instructed the others to carry her. As we were heading back out into the main room a couple of the blue and white robes where standing around holding weapons uncertainly. One of them screwed up the courage to ask us what we were doing.
I growled “There’s adventurers in town causing trouble, I looks like they’re on their way here so we’re moving the women to the other temple. Be ready to sell your lives as dearly as possible. They have a dwarf with them I saw cut three men in half with his dwarf ax in six seconds. These are bad men but remember that Adariel’s glory awaits you in the afterlife.”
They were appropriately scared witless, so much so that when I asked for someone to help carry the drugged woman they all jumped at the choice. I wonder if the irony of that occurred to the one I picked later when he realized that we weren’t heading for the other temple and Martialla slit his throat. There’s a fun lesson there, if you run away from your problems make sure you’re running the right way. Once we got to the taphouse where Tamarin’s mother first organized this raid we took stock.
“Alright Tamarin, we can’t stay here long, your mother hired us to rescue you but when the black robes came for us she disappeared – where would she be hiding out?”
“There’s a place out in the woods, I can show you.”
“Great, let’s go.”
One of the other women stepped forward timidly “What about us?”
“What about you, go back to your families.”
“They’re the ones who handed us over to the priests.”
“Really?” I looked around at four nodding heads “Well shit. Okay, here’s what we’ll do, whichever way you’re going to get out of town I’ll go the other way and stir up some commotion. You all go with Martialla and find Tamarin’s mother. I’ll sneak out of town and join you later.”
Martialla frowned “How? You get lost all the time.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
I took on the appearance of a hard-bitten tough as nails older fella with curly blonde hair and went outside to wallop the first robe-type I saw walking around – making my walking stick look like a morning star. Or a mace. Whichever one has spikes. I shouted in the general direction of anyone nearby.
“I’m right here you cowardly sons of bitches! I’ll crush every man in this village for what you did to my daughter you miserable weaklings!
Not very subtle, but there are times when being subtle doesn’t do you any good. The black robes and their mob of lackeys showed up quickly and I ran for it, it makes things a lot easier when you can take on the form of a frightened villager as soon as you’re around the corner, pointing and weeping “He went that way!”
I repeated this performance a couple times and then headed south out of town towards the only wooded area that I saw. I wandered around for a while as the sun was setting, until Tamarin found me and led me to a small tumbledown cabin where an old man was sitting on the porch wearing a uniform I didn’t recognize, smoking some leaf and holding a crossbow. He nodded at Tamarin as she led me into what was not so much a cabin as a distillery, although there was a bed and a shelf with some food on it. Martialla was checking on the drugged one in the bed with the other four sat on the floor looking scarcely less terrified than they did in their temple-cells.
I found a glass helped myself to the contents of one of the receiving flasks “Cheer up girls, you’ve just been rescued.” I raised the glass “Here’s to heroism.” I took a drink and sputtered immediately “Good gods that’s strong.”
Martialla came over and took the glass from me and sniffed it “That’s probably because it’s orange flower water.”
“Gross. How long do you think before they find us?”
“A couple hours.”
“Good, I have time for a nap then.”
“Why have you been sleeping so much lately? Are you pregnant?”
“I will come at you like a sugar addicted coyote.”
A properly designed and maintained still is pretty unlikely to ever explode, and the old timer that set this rig up (to make floral waters rather than booze for some reason) clearly knew what he was doing. But if you use magic fire to heat up the still far beyond it’s normal point, after capping the mechanism so the gas can’t release, and then you puncture the drum from a safe distance with an old man’s crossbow you can completely annihilate a shack and the half dozen religious fanatics that went into it. Half of the guys outside will survive and just be horribly injured, so you have to kill them yourself but it’s easy on account of how horribly injured they are. I handed the crossbow back to the old man as Martialla went about the grim business of slaughtering the wounded.
“What kind of uniform is that?”
“King’s Own, 7th regiment, the Sainted Sinners they called us.”
“How long ago was that?
“A good seventy years has to be now.”
“Man alive, how old are you?”
“Oh, I suppose I have to be over a hundred by now.”
“Wow, don’t get me wrong you look like crap overall but for how old you are you look great. What’s your secret?”
“Hate. The world disgusts me. People are treacherous, crude, and cruel. And the natural world is no better. I’ve traveled all around the world and when you’ve seen it all there’s really nothing left to feel but loathing. Hate keeps me young.”
Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 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, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company