I spent last night sleeping on the floor of an abandoned boathouse. Or trying to sleep anyway. Set aside for a moment the fact that I was laying on a wood floor with my arms trapped behind my back, the real problem was that Martialla set me up right next to the . . . whatever, the hole where the boats go. I became convinced that I was going to roll over in my sleep and fall into the water and drown. Not only tha,t whenever I did managed to snatch a few minutes of sleep my dreams were universally about something coming out of the water to grab me – a tentacle, a crocodile, a leaping shark, whatever that sea-monster was that Martialla turned into the other day, those abhorrent sea-elfs that I helped out a while back, a freshwater mirror, a river troll, a giant river slug – you name it as soon as I drifted off they were crawling out of the water to flay my skin off their claws or dragging me into the water to drown me. I feel like I haven’t slept in seventeen years.
Also what is the point of places like this? There’s no settlements nearby and no houses or anything. I admit that I know very little about riverine trade and travel but what purpose did this serve when it wasn’t abandoned? Why would you store a boat so far away from anything? Add this to the empty villages up north and this section of the river is really going through some hard times. If this keeps up long enough the whole place could just fall into disuse like some of the northern counties. Is it the war? Is it Renwick being destroyed (more or less)? Is if all this nonsense with the Baron and the Kostelos? Who knows, but this area is not doing well and the future predictions aren’t good either. Before we started slogging off again Martialla fed me some of that gross honey and oat mixture she made and gave me a drink of spiced wine. It was better than nothing by the slimmest margin you can think of. I hate being fed more than just about anything, I feel like she’s be wildly overcautious with these shackles.
“Can’t you bake these into a little cake or something, this is humiliating. Not like a cake cake, but like a rice cake you know?”
“If you don’t like it you don’t have to have it.”
“Could you at least wash your hands first? For my sanity?” She had no response this “Hey, what about this, why don’t you catch some fish?”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Transform yourself into that river beast like you did the other day and just dive in and grab them with your fish-paws. A nice crimson trout or a rainbow bass or something would really hit the spot. I bet it would be easy, those things have to eat somehow right?”
“I’m not going to waste magic on that Ela.”
“How is that a waste? We’re fucking starving here! A handful of waxy oats a day isn’t doing shit!” Again she had no response, she was much more talkative before she betrayed me, must be a guilty conscience. “How does that work anyway? If you turn into a goat and eat a bunch of grass and then turn back are you still full? Like can you live that way even though people can’t eat grass?”
“I can’t turn into a goat Ela.”
“But you see what I’m saying right? If you turn into a goblin every day and eat a bunch of snake-meat that is good for goblins but has no nutrient value to a human and you don’t eat anything else are you going to die? Or does the magic somehow transfer the food energy over? Or do you just have a bunch of deadly snakemeat in your human stomach and you kick the bucket? For that matter if you turn into a being with a bigger stomach . . .”
“I don’t know Ela. It’s magic, it works however it works.”
“You see this is what I’m saying about magic, how can you not know?! If I could turn into a hobgoblin I would want to know everything about it! If you’re a hobgoblin and you get pregnant what’s the baby going to be? What if you’re a human when you give birth? Does that change things? What if . . .”
It looked like she wanted to throw something at me but had nothing to throw “No one knows these things because no one cares! No sane person would even want to know the answer to these questions! I’m not going to turn into a hobgoblin and then get pregnant, what are you even talking about?!”
“That was just an example, what I’m saying is that the lack of curiosity about how magic works in general is . . .”
She sighed wearily and got to her feet, coming over to drag me up as well “I don’t care Ela, lets’ go.”
As we walked along the river a wispy fog came off the waters. Is it fog or mist that comes off of a river? Whatever it is I thought that it might help cool things down but instead it just made everything clammy in addition to hot – and you know what I mean by everything. I miss my old clothes, they were magic you know – not only did they clean themselves and resist rips and wear but they also kept me cool when it was hot and warm when it was cold. Magic stupidity aside enchanted clothing is really the way to go, I don’t know why anyone bothers with mundane pants and shirts when for just a couple thousand gold you can have something great to wear.
There’s a opinion that countryfolk while ill-bred and unsophisticated and deformed and diseased and abnormal and illiterate and ugly are nicer and more helpful than cityfolk. This is somewhat accurate. Things are harder out in the country so people do help each other out more readily. It’s necessary to survive. You may hate your neighbor and wish he would drown in a bog so you can nail his wife but when he needs help protecting his goats from an antspider you grab your whacking stick and come a’running because you may need his help when the kinderboggen steal away your newborn baby. There’s more of a sense of community in the rural areas because everyone needs each other more.
However, this does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that there aren’t some rotten turnips in the pie. What you have to remember is that in the city everyone is all up in everyone’s business – everyone is watching you and judging you all the time. There’s an element of safety by means of gossipy nosy bullshit. In the city if you start down the path of being a dyed in the wool asshole there’s more people to catch on and slit your throat and toss you down a well before things get bad. Out in the country on the other hand people are more isolated, and also too busy to worry about what someone else is doing. Not to mention which there’s ALL kinds of empty land for you to do whatever evil shit you’re into. In the city no matter where you go to try and hide there’s a chance someone is eyeballing you and can’t wait to blab to everyone about whatever weird stuff you’re doing. Out in the farmlands there’s all manner of dells and dales and ditches where nobody’s going to see a thing, ceptin’ the rabbits and they know to keep their little rabbit mouths shut.
It’s not common, but it’s common enough that it has a name – they call these people Bloody Jakes. Why? I have to assume because there was an infamous bushwhacker torturer at some point whose name was Jake. Although I’ve never heard of such a tale, being the sophisticated urbanite that I am. These cruel backwoods folk prey upon their country neighbors if they have to but what they really like is terrorizing civilized people who venture into their rural hunting grounds. There probably are, per head, less bad people out in the hills than in the city because they tend to work and beat that out of you better in the hills but when they go bad there’s less of a safety net to find and squash them. If the whole family is in on it you can get away with things for generations. What does this have to do with anything? Hold on, I’m getting to that. Calm down will you?
When we stopped for “lunch” (resting for a bit and enjoying some dirty river water and dried roots) we heard indistinct voices down the way that were distinctly unfriendly sounded. I told Martialla unequivocally that this was a trick, an auditory illusion. But even though I know this because I do it myself all the time and I also have a demonstrated knack for sniffing out illusions she didn’t listen to me – she never does anymore. It’s like her betrayal of our friendship has made her suspicious of me for some reason. Worrying about an ambush ahead she moved us west into a rockier area, which I fucking guarantee you is what the phantom illusionist wanted us to do. This was confirmed when we quickly lost our way, and I know this is going to sound stupid because we get lost all the time anyway, but it wasn’t normal getting lost – something was messing with us. That probably sounds like an excuse, but when have I ever made excuses for getting lost? Something was disorienting us in the “we walked by that tree three times already way”.
Martialla gestured imperiously “I am sick of this, Ela, take cover.”
She proceeded to call out to whoever was skulking around out there. The usual come out and face me stuff, insults, appeals to masculinity and so forth. Those kinds of things can be effective if there’s an audience to shame the person and if they care – I knew that wasn’t the case.
“You’re going about this all wrong.”
“Thanks for your input, I told you to get out of the way.”
“Look, whoever is out there isn’t going to come out and fight you just because you call them a pigfucker. I mean besides the fact that they probably do fuck pigs that’s not what this is about. If you want to draw them out to have to act afraid. It’s the old broken wing gambit only this time everything is set up so it absolutely will work. What this guy, and I think it’s safe to assume it’s a guy, wants is to scare us with their cruel tricks, to break us down and terrorize us to the point where he can come out and kill us. That’s the fun part, the killing is just the icing on the cake. This isn’t a fighting man, this is a coward who likes to torture things that can’t fight back. Even if he did win the fight that would be like food without taste without breaking you down first. What you need to do is draw him out – pretend like you’re getting frustrated and then scared by his shenanigans. Break down and cry. Then when he reveals himself kick his dick off.”
“I’m not . . . I can’t . . . I don’t know how to do that.”
“What are you talking about? You’re not as good as I am but you lie to people all the time.”
“But this is like acting, it’s different.”
“You only think it is.”
“Well it doesn’t matter now, he already heard me challenging him to a fight so it won’t work now.”
“Of course it will, everyone loves knocking someone off their high horse. Breaking the defiant ones is the sweetest candy of all to these freaks. You start off haughty and sure of yourself but over time you slowly unravel into a sobbing snotty mess. That’s some good stuff right there, you know, for an insane backwoods murderer.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You have many fine qualities Martialla but you’re too stubborn for your own good. Fine, next time we’re out of sight we’ll switch, I’ll take on your form and you take on mine and I’ll do the routine where I slowly go from mighty warrior woman to scared, aimless and depressed victim.”
“I’m not going to take the shackles off Ela.”
“You want to wander around out here for the next three weeks while this idiot messes with us? What am I going to do Martialla? Run? Have you ever seen me run more than a block? You’re going to be right there keeping an eye on me, there’s nothing I can do. Can you unbend for one second so we can get something done?”
“Sure, just explain why you would help me with this. How does it serve your goals, I know that’s all you care about.”
“I just want to get to the manor and get this over with. I’m sure I can talk my way out of whatever is waiting for me. With this necklace on I can’t get away anyway right? If I get away from you someone else will grab me. Might as well be you, maybe you still like me enough to protect me some.”
“That’s not terrible convincing.”
“Well, what do you want to do then?”
Eventually she agreed, although if whoever was doing it was close enough to hear us the entire thing would be pointless. Martialla took of the shackles and we pretended to be looking around the rocks for food and when it seemed like the sightlines were as restricted as they could be and we were right next to each other anyway we flipped our appearances. People are weird about feigning weakness to trick their enemies, even when they’re willing to do it they HAVE to explain how it was a trick before they attack which often ruins the whole thing. Why do they care so much about the opinion of someone who’s trying to kill them? Who’s going to dead themselves soon anyway if you do the trick right? I will never understand people. By the time night fell and we were still walking around in circles I had reached the stage (I admit I rushed it a bit) where I was calling out for my momma and begging the Gods to help me. It was a bit over the top, but these types generally aren’t in it for the subtlety.
When he finally appeared to make his final strike on his terrified prey he was a blocky fellow with wild eyes and a huge poor quality tattoo of a scorpion on his chest – you could tell because his shirt was ripped down the front and was operating like more of a cape. He had a weird head situation going on where he was bald sort of but also had a long braid on the top of his head. Never seen anything like that. The part where he had a small bow and shot me in the chest wasn’t in the plan. And the part where that arrow was fucking poisoned certainly wasn’t part of the plan. It really put the kibosh on my plan to run away when he and Martialla were fighting. Instead I fell to the ground mostly paralyzed as he came at her with an axe. These types always like axes, I guess hacking people is more fun than stabbing them. The fight was mostly over after Martialla stabbed him in both kidneys and then burned his head off with a beam of magic fire from point blank range. She came over to where I was convulsing with her sword still in hand looking suspicious.
“Is this real or are you faking it?”
I grinned foamily “The Duke used to ask me that all the time. Just kidding, he didn’t care.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Fucker had poisoned arrows, what kind of a world is it where an inbred backwoods murdering necrophiliac doesn’t right fair?”
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