Martialla has really gone off the deep end. I know that she’s worried about me outsmarting her and escaping but she’s giving me too much credit. I generally only have two workable strategies – taking someone by surprise or charming them, neither of which is viable against her in my current predicament. She already took all my stuff, and although I hate to say it I am reliant on my stuff, without it I’m not all that effective so that’s kind of the endgame right there. It stings to admit that but it doesn’t make it any less true. The point is that her paranoia about the sudden appearance of my distant relatives is wildly illogical, and as you all know I told her as much. There wasn’t much else that I could do so as she was glaring at the three of them and they were fearfully eyeballing her back I slid off the kitchen table where I had been so rudely deposited and crossed the room where I laid down on the murderer’s bed. Proving my point Martialla’s eyes were full of panic as if this was some master stroke of genius.
“What are you doing?!”
I pulled the murderer’s pillow to my head and rolled onto my side “Seems like you two are going to be staring daggers at each other for a while so I’m taking advantage of the bed while I have access to it. Wake me up when you figure out what you’re going to do.”
The unfortunate thing is without my amulet I’m haunted by hag-fired nightmares every night. This means that no matter how tired I am, and trust me I’m plenty tired, there always a sense of dread when I have a chance to catch some sleep because I know what’s coming. It’s like if every time you sat down to eat someone unavoidable and unerringly kicked you in the ribs on both sides and then in the kneecaps. You’ve got to eat right? So there’s nothing for it, other than to cultivate a sense of trepidation about a basic human thing that you need to do live and was once something that you found joy in. They say that you can’t die because of what happens in a dream, which is probably not true because I’m sure there’s some magic dream-killing spell because magic ruins everything, but I’m certain that a long enough period of time without restful sleep will kill you. If only because you might nod off and fall and crack your skull. Isn’t it stupid to think that just falling down can kill you? The human body is a crappy design and I’ll tell the Gods that myself if you want.
This batch of nightmares started off a little different, usually they’re the “archetypal” stuff of being chased and attacked and maimed and mutilated, but last night things took a more cerebral path. Makes you wonder how these dream attacks work – does the nightmare hag actually craft these narratives herself or does she just send the magic out and the magic somehow “knows” what’s scary and does the work itself? Once again magic questions for which there appear to be no answers. In the dream I was put in charge of distributing food throughout a massive city – not real city that I could tell, just a dream construct of a bunch of cities I’ve been to or read about or imagined. The person that ran the place before me had detailed records of all the food coming in and out and all the people they had saved. Of course, this was all bullshit and they hadn’t done any of it, but I knew that if I said anything about it I would be executed by the King, he was still alive in the dream you see. And not just me but all the staff of the place would be killed as well. And of course said staff was populated by various people with sad backstories and children that counted on them and so forth that needed me to protect them.
So in the dream I continued the lie and did everything I could to buy and steal food to fill their quota so that at least more people would be getting fed than before. The King’s minions were so delighted by all the people that were seen in the streets hale and healthy (not really but they weren’t dead) that I was praised and hailed as a miracle worker and I was given a medal and everyone was kissing my ass and I was known as an angel who’s feeding the masses. So of course the quota was increased and the lies had to become bigger and we had to buy and steal more from elsewhere, and the staff under me became bitter and jaded and evil since they spent most of their time taking food from people that needed it to give some of that food to other people that needed but mostly to avoid being hung. This led to more accolades which led to more demands which resulted in more lies and more theft and eventually outright violence, and of course in the end cannibalism – killing the poor and feeding them secretly to other poor people. This cycle repeated until eventually the whole scam became too big to conceal on account of the streets were full of people dead from starvation who rose up as undead famine monsters to hunt the living.
At that point things returned to normal, “just” the humdrum horror of being ripped apart and eaten alive by unliving beasts from beyond the grave. But then things took another turn that was even more unexpected. While I was in the middle of being held down and devoured by ghouls suddenly everything stopped and then the nightmare city and its carnivorous inhabitants disappeared. In its place was a parlor/salon/decadent room of decadence. The air was sweet, literally with lemon oil, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot and figuratively with soft melodies being played from behind silken screens so you didn’t have to look at the musicians and ruin the effect. In the middle of the room a marble fountain of unspeakably suggestive statues bubbled with cool water underneath a delicate wooden lattice. An imperious looking woman with skin as pale as ivory and eyes the color of bright silver sat on a luxurious chair smoking something that gave off a fruity narcotic scent while being fanned by eunuchs. How do I know these were eunuchs? Trust me, I know the eunuchs when I see them.
I sighed and reclined on one of the many overstuffed couches scattered about “I assume this is just the part of the nightmare where you make things seem normal and nice before the monster jumps out and bites my head off.” I plucked a plum from a nearby bowl “But I’ll take it.”
The woman’s voice was silky and seductive “You will have no more nightmares tonight, I’ve blocked the creature that was attacking you.”
“I’m sure. I don’t mean to criticize but this plum is just very delicious. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making a dream plum why not make is the greatest plum in the universe? That way when the plum turns into a cricket in my mouth it will be even more revolting.”
“I told you there will be no more of that, you’re safe here with me.”
I lay back further on the coach “Yeah, yeah, thanks. Is it possible to fall asleep in a dream? I feel like I’m about to do that.”
A tiny bit of irritation crept into her smooth voice “I’m doing you a favor by preventing your nightmares, as a courtesy you should listen to my proposal.”
“I can listen with my eyes closed, go ahead.”
“Five hundred and seventy years ago by the way that your people reckon time I ruled over this land as Empress, at my wish simple peasants could rise to riches and power, businesses could thrive or crumble, and people would live or die – all as I desired. But that all came to an end when . . .”
She went on for quite a while about Gods and curses and disasters and death and spirits and stuff like that. I think I really did fall asleep which doesn’t even make sense, how can you fall asleep inside a dream? And can the dream that you’re dream have its on dream inside that dream? Asleep inside a dream or not I wasn’t really paying attention, I think she wanted me to find her tomb or her bones or something. She probably wants me to bring her back to life like I did with Harda. Now that the word is out about that all kinds of dead people are probably going to turn up at my door like beggars wanting me to do the same for them. No good deed right? All I know is that when I woke up it was the next day after dawn – I must have slept for more than fifteen hours. And I felt fantastic, I felt refreshed, the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I saw Jesslin and her brothers sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, Martialla was nowhere to be seen.
I stretched and made a wordless noise of satisfaction “Did you guys actually do it? Did you off Martialla to rescue me? I can’t remember the last time she wasn’t hovering over me ready to impale me.”
Lady lips looked over at me “She’s outside. We told her we’d keep an eye on you.”
I chuckled “And she went for that? Great.” I threw me legs over the side of the bed and clapped my hands together “Let’s get moving then before she gets back.”
Jesslin shook her head “We’re going to help you get to Juost Manor.”
“Why would you do that? Isn’t blood thicker than water?”
“You said yesterday that you weren’t trying to evade your responsibilities anymore, that you wanted to go. After you fell asleep we talked with Martialla and we agreed to help you get to Baron Juost, once you’re there we’ll speak on your behalf. When you were made his ward you didn’t know about us – maybe we can convince him that you’d be better off with family.”
“Well how kind of you, and what, in return Martialla said that the Baron would help you with their inheritance problem?”
Baldy grinned but Jesslin scowled at him before he could say anything “We’re just trying to work things out what’s best for everyone like you said we should.”
I walked over and sat down at the table, clapping Lips on the back and “accidentally” whacking him with the chains of my manacles “Well done, welcome aboard and all that, nice to have family around, etcetera. What’s this we have here for breakfast? Looks like a bowl of weeds, where’s the meat?”
Martialla strode in looking quite refreshed herself, she clearly had bathed and prettied herself up some “We weren’t sure about the meat, we figured it was best to avoid it.”
“Gone bad huh?”
“Or was bad to begin with.”
Jesslin responded to my questioning look “We weren’t sure about it’s . . . origin.” She cleared her throat uncomfortably.
“What? You think it came from the people he killed? So what? I don’t care, where is it? I’ll fry some up for myself.”
All four of them gasped, Martialla even stopped in her tracks, almost dropping her rucksack.
I snorted “Oh, don’t give me that, they’re already dead. No reason to let food go to waste.”
Martialla looked ashen, after all we’ve seen and done somehow this was too much for her “You cannot be serious.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is, I’ve never understood why people are so squeamish about this topic. Killing people is wrong, usually anyway, but once they’re dead why not eat them? It’s just flesh, what’s the difference.”
Baldy was outraged “The difference is it’s a person!”
“It was a person, once they the spirit has fled the body is just garbage. What do you think happens to people once they’re buried? Why is being eaten by worms and beetle grubs better than providing nourishment to your friends and loved ones?”
Martialla was shaking her head “You are fucking vile.”
“Don’t judge me you prudes, you’re the ones who have hang ups not me. We eat animals all the time, and as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise we’re no better than any other filthy animal. I’ve definitely met people stupider than some chickens. Plus you don’t even know that it is human meat, it’s probably just deer jerky or something like that. And if you don’t know who cares?”
Jesslin looked over at her brothers “I told you there was something wrong with that side of family.”
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