As someone who’s experienced it firsthand (but now has built their mental defenses to unassailable levels so don’t even try it chump) being the victim of mindbending magic is quite disorienting. When the spell takes a hold of your thoughts you feel like the person that cast it is your best friend – they don’t control your mind but most people are going to be accommodating to their best friend. That has to be a real shock though when a mindbender runs into a true blue sociopath who doesn’t care about friendship, that’s probably how most of them meet their end. They’re lurking out there like . . . like . . . something that lurks. Like a crocodile? Anyway, eventually the spell wears off and when you don’t feel like that person is your best friend anymore. At first you’re just confused. Why were you being so nice to that person who you don’t even know? Why did you lend them money? Why did you let them stay in your house? Why did you let him in the castle when you were on guard duty? If you don’t know anything about magic that’s probably as far as it goes, you write it off as a slip of the mind. Everyone does things they don’t understand sometimes.
But if you know the potential with magic to influence people eventually you figure it out, eventually you start to catch on to what has happened. At that point most people are probably terrified and do everything they can to avoid the person that victimized them. You can’t blame them either, because realizing that your thoughts can be manipulated like that is very frightening. The other option is that you get angry. Real angry. Anger like you can’t believe. The kind of anger that makes your head feel like it’s going to split open if you don’t do something about it. That’s why aside from the Duke himself Kellgale Nickoslander is the person on my list who’s going to suffer the most. She got over on me but she didn’t even come by it honestly like a con artist with a shell game or Find the Lady, she just cast a spell. That’s what really stings, she didn’t even have to work for it. I can appreciate someone swindling me fair and square, but magic mind control? That’s not something that I can forgive.
The simple kind of charm that Martialla can do isn’t even the worst of it. People who are really good at it (I think they call themselves mesmerists, but I refuse) can sometimes modify your memory with their magic. So they entrance you, make you do stuff, and then make you forget that you did it. That shit is terrifying. If it happens to you frequently enough you begin to lose touch with your own sense of self, of your own personality. You forget what your own thoughts and desires are. You no longer know exactly who you are. Your mind slips away like the sands in an hourglass. I’ve met one of these wretches and it is truly a pathetic and horrific fate. That seems like a fitting doom for Kellgale but the problem is she wouldn’t know that had happened to her – in which case there’s no point in doing it. Coming up with a fitting revenge is harder than you think. I wonder if I can get in contact with whoever comes up with the fiendishly ironic tortures in the Thirteen Hells and have them help me come up with a fitting punishment for her. It’s probably a union thing though. Labor guilds are ruining this kingdom.
The remaining sailors of the Black Swan are still firmly charmed (you know magically like I was just talking about) by Martialla so they were getting the ship (boat?) ready to go while Kartak paced on the other side of the river. I have to admit, the look on his face when the craft headed upriver instead of across to deliver me to him was priceless. I guess Martialla’s plan is head to north until the river converges with the road to Aleene? That doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but she’s never been a great planner – that was always my job. Kartak and his men continued to shadow us from the river bank which proves that that whole grappling hook trick was assisted by Martialla’s magic, otherwise they would have just tried it again. I’ve never wondered which is faster a ship (boat?) sailing upstream or a party of mounted men but now I know. Kartak and his men didn’t have any trouble keeping up. It’s hard to judge exactly but I think the ship was going about as fast a slow runner.
The speed of the Black Swan didn’t inconvenience them but Kartak and his men did run into an issue when we passed by a thick patch of woods on the bank – mostly hackberries I think. They probably would have been well-served to go around, it’s not like they didn’t know where we were heading, but they slowed down to pick their way through the trees. In addition to slowing them down this turned out to be a bad idea on account of they were attacked by huge hairy humanoid creature wielding a large tree branch for a club and it’s pet (friend? Wife?) boar that was the size of a small boat itself. The creature was vaguely apelike and for all its bulk was a stealthy son of a bitch. It came out of nowhere and dashed one of the Satander exile’s brains out with its branch-club before you could blink. A second later its tusky friend came charging out of the underbrush and ripped the stomach of a horse wide open. That was one of the more gruesome sights I’ve seen lately. I think Kartak has about half of his original force at this point, which is probably enough to take on a whatever that thing is and it’s war-pig, but they were having a real hard time gathering themselves to counter-attack in the thick of the vegetation whereas the creature seemed to be unhindered. Something that big should have has similar problems but it moved through the brush with the grace of a dancer. By the time the Black Swan floated out of eyesight I think half a dozen men and horses and been put to the ground.
“Whoa, what the Hells was that?”
Martilla’s mouth gaped “I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“The great monster expert is stumped? I’m not sure which is more surprising, that or the fact that you said something other than ‘shut up Ela’. That was a Hells of a thing to witness.”
She nodded “Yeah . . . anyway, shut up Ela.”
Since she has just seen how poor of a swimmer I was I wondered if Martialla would count on that to keep me in place, but she was too smart for that and had me chained to the deck by the ankle. I definitely would have jumped, the odds of me drowning are pretty slim, I’m not that hopeless a swimmer but it would have taken some convincing. It’s an odd thing when you have to do something that you don’t want to do and you balk the first few times but eventually you do it. What’s going on inside your head? One moment you can’t make yourself grasp the hot iron or leap from a rooftop or murder a horse to save yourself and then the next moment you do it. What happened in the interim? What sort of transformation took place and how did it happen?
One moment you’re walking around in circles and muttering inspirational insults to yourself and then next moment you’re able to do it. What happened? How is it possible to talk yourself into doing something? Aren’t you you always? If you’re able to motivated yourself to do something that you’re afraid of why did you have to do it in the first place? If it was “in” there why did you have to “find” it? Why does imagining yourself doing something help you do it? Why does someone telling you that you can’t do it make you more likely to be able to do it? If the ability is already there why can’t we just access is consciously? Why do we have to trick ourselves? By the same token have you ever seen someone psych themselves out and fail at something they can do? How does that happen? There’s some weird stuff going on in our brains – I’m not sure we’re even on the same side.
A light rain fell off and on most of the day, and there was a low patchy fog hanging on parts of the river. Heading upriver we passed a small fishing boat with two men working away. What would have happened if I called out to them for rescue? Assuming they cared what would they have done? What could they have done? Headed back to shore and tried to find a sheriff or someone like that. And by the time they did the ship would have been long gone. They could have provided a description but what good would that have done? Would the memory haunt them? Would it drive them mad? A beautiful woman drifts by on a barge, the prisoner of an evil sorceress, she calls out for help – and you can’t do anything about it. That seems like the kind of thing that could mess you up in the head. Assuming they cared at all. They may have just had a good laugh at my expense, you never know with people.
I’m not sure when is a good time to encounter river pirates, but when you’re chained to deck of the ship you’re on is definitely not a good time. Late in the afternoon one of the sailors spotted a large tree that had fallen into the river partially blocking it. Not blocking things so much that you couldn’t get around it, but there was already a ship caught up there. When they spotted what looked like an official patrol boat of legitimate law enforcement people they started shouting for help saying that river pirates were around the bend of the river and coming their way. I saw that there was a bloodhawk circling in the air above them and occasionally diving down to scatter and harass the crew of the entrapped vessel.
You see here’s the problem with using magically influenced people to do your bidding, because the sailors actually ARE part of the river patrol and naturally they want to help people in situations just like this. They may think that Martialla is their long lost best friend because of her spells, but they’re still themselves and they still want to do their job. If your friend tells you not to rescue people when rescuing people is your thing you better have a damn good reason why not otherwise your friend is going to ignore you. And that’s exactly what happened. Martialla wasn’t able to convince her good buddies to pay no attention to the plight of the trapped river people. I could have done it absolutely, but that goes without saying.
I at least give her credit for this much, once it became clear that her crew wasn’t going to budge Martialla got on board (pun!) with their rescue mission. I’m sure she wanted to get done with it as soon as possible. She chased the bloobhawk off with some magic beam (I could have killed it with a crossbow) and they got to work roping up the other ship so they could break out the oars and drag it off the watery tree obstacle. The two crews were discussing the possibility of repairs (much to Martialla’s annoyance) when the river pirates appeared around the bend. You know they were pirates because their keelboat was in such poor condition – it had a real makeshit piratey look to it. You’d think that pirates might keep their shit in better shape just so that people wouldn’t know they were pirates right away but I suppose they’re probably drunk most of the time. I know I would be if I were a pirate. Which I am not.
The other ship they just rescued literally cut and ran, heading downriver as fast as they could while the Black Swan was left facing the wrong direction – that’s what you get for helping people out. The pirates swung around and opened up with their crossbows, forcing everyone to dive for cover – you know except me since I was chained to the ground. Martialla, being the clever gal that she is, was prepared to surrender – after all pirates are more interested in booty than mayhem and it’s not like she cares about this boat – but this wasn’t your ordinary pirate crew. Because of course it wasn’t. While the sailors were running up the white flag of cowardly but prudent surrender an adorable river otter climbed onto the Black Swan away from the action – I think I was the only one who saw it.
The delightful little furry-faced scamp dashed across the deck of the ship and then expanded, transforming into a gnarly-limbed, boney, thick-skinned green-blue crone. Usually hags have a big knotted mess of hair for spiders and maggots to live in but this one had shorn all her hair off (or it fell off because of hag-diseases) and it’s knobby malformed skull was on full display, made all the more horrible by the water running off it like tiny rivers through the head-creases. I only saw it for a moment before it turned invisible and the next thing I heard was Martialla’s shout of pain. I saw the hag standing with bloody claws in the middle of the ship, her bloodhawk pet swooping down to slash at Martialla’s face.
Hag’s like stuff as much as pirates as far as I know, but they seem to like bedlam better. I could see the fear in Martialla’s eyes – she’s a pretty cool customer but that one time (or two or three) a hag almost killed us both shook her up pretty good, it left a mar on the inside. Even so, she rolled to her feet and came up with her sword and dagger to fight – she’s many things, but a coward isn’t one of them. With seven sailors as fodder I would have liked Martialla’s chances against the hag, but the bulk of the men on the pirate ship were still firing their crossbows and any target that presented itself. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
Two other pirates jumped across to the Black Swan, not men though. Man-like beings with cloven hooves, muscular bodies and horned bestial heads. Their matted hair was encrusted with blood and excrement, and served as home to a rippling mass of fat ticks and fleas. In theory you might say they were goat-men, but goats are pretty nonthreatening and these things were monstrous. That probably made it worse. A lion-man you expect to be a killing machine, but a goat-man? That’s just disturbing. The axes they were swinging around were pretty disturbing as well – what with the blood spraying and the hunks of flesh being ripped out and so forth.
I pulled my wire saw out of my secret pocket and started working on the chain holding me but the entire fight was over in maybe thirty seconds. I have no idea how long it would take me to saw through a chain, if it’s even possible, but it’s certainly a lot more than thirty seconds. Martialla was bleeding buckets of blood when she finally gave up and dove into the water to escape. Probably not the best plan since that’s where the hag came from originally, but she wasn’t pursued. Quickly establishing that there was nothing much of value on the patrol boat the hag ordered her men to pursue the fleeing merchant ship while she stayed on the Black Swan. She crept over to me on all fours and sniffed me over thoroughly like a hound dog. Her voice was smooth and consoling despite her awful appearance.
“It looks like your friends have abandoned you my pretty little flower.”
I smiled “Good thing you’re here, now I have a new friend.”
She let loose with an enthusiastic cackle. No one can cackle like a real honest to Gods hag.
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