After our battle to the death with the pain-worshipping backwoods murder clan we staggered the rest of the way to a village called Carterette. It was the kind of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at one point a cow had been elected mayor. But they did have a “wise woman” healer type who attended to the wounds of my compatriots with mud and berries and so forth. I must be mistaken but I thought I heard her say her name was Shark. She looked like a rock that had been turned into a person, not in the sense of someone being chiseled out of stone, just round and squat and blocky. Unlike most rocks however she had a pretty noticeable amount of facial hair. She talked incessantly about the light that lives within us all and how that light connects us all and the universe is love and so on. I think she thought that I was a slave and she was trying to convince Martialla to let me go in a circuitous way.
I’d like the record to reflect that I was the one who was bound with chains during that fight and I still came through without a scratch. I may have the change my opinion about my prowess as a warrior – I may not be swinging a sword around and screaming like a maniac but if the goal is to win fights I think I have a pretty good record. I mean the fact that I’m still alive at this point is nothing short of a minor miracle. Except that it’s the kind of miracle that I pulled it off all on my own without any dumb Gods helping me out.
The Carterettians also told many tales of bandit woes, but who was going to do anything about it? Not us for sure. We stayed in workshop of a local woodcarver which also doubled as a shrine to Adariel and Strider and some other countryfried God I had never heard of – some stuffy fellow with the horns of a stag. The cousins made a big deal over the puzzle boxes they bought from the woodsman and said that they would be all the rage in town (which town I don’t know) but I don’t know if they were just kissing up to him because he was letting us stay there or if they were really into it. I could see that going either way, sometimes cityfolk are weirdly and patronizingly effusive about “outsider” art.
In the morning Martialla was banged up enough that she decreed that we would stay that day in Carterette as well so she could receive further attention from the bearded rock lady. The cousins went off all in a lather about learning how to milk a cow so I was left sitting in the “town square” (the area between the three buildings a fence that make up the place) with Martialla glaring at me while she was brined in whatever slime poultices and salves she had been dipped in.
It seemed like we were in for a tedious day of staring at each other balefully until a Shireling walked up to us. Shirelings are usually pretty tidy with their appearances but this fellow had quite the unruly mop of dark brown hair, must have been quite annoying in terms of getting in the eyes. Not only that but he was wearing Kostelos-style moccasins, that should tell you all you need to know about his sense of style (and arch support). Without any preamble he made a complicated gesture in my direction and the manacles fell off me with a loud click.
I stood up rubbing my wrists “Thanks buddy.”
Martialla jumped up, sending half of her bandages flying off “Hey, what are you doing?!”
The small men waved his hands at her in a way that was reminiscent of someone holding a box or something else cube shaped (what else would be cube shaped?) and spoke a few words under his breath but nothing seemed to happen – which quite startled him.”
“Oh . . . um . . . what I am doing?” He peered at her curiously “You not part elf are you?”
She had her sword half-way drawn “What? No, I’m not an elf.”
He pulled a pouch out of his pocket “Huh, that usually works, except on elfs.”
She had her sword all the way out “What are you doing with my prisoner?!”
The Halfling tossed some dust into the air from the pouch and he faded from view – I have to assume that I did as well based on Martialla’s reaction. I’ve spent a decent amount of time being invisible at this point and the funny thing about it is that you can still see yourself. So it’s hard to know sometimes if you really have become invisible or not. Sometimes I think I can feel the invisibility but that might just be my mind playing tricks. His disembodied voice called out for me to follow him.
“How am I supposed to follow you when I can’t see you?”
“Oh right, here, take my hand.”
“I can’t see your hand either!”
“Just follow the sound of my voice.”
That’s clearly what Martialla did because she cast her own spell and then there was no more disembodied voice.
“What the Hells, did you disintegrate him?”
Martialla didn’t bother to try and track my voice, knowing my skills in that arena “No, I just put him to sleep, which is probably what he was trying to do to me.”
“Oh well, I’m going to run away now.”
At that moment I could “feel” the invisibility wear off, but mostly I knew because Martialla looked right at me – her hand ready to unleash eldritch might upon my comely head. Also the Halfling appeared as well which was a tip off too. I don’t know if he fell or actually lay down but he seemed to be in a pretty comfortable sleeping position.
She raised an eyebrow “You were saying.”
I sat back down “What kind of shitty magic was that? I wasn’t even invisible for ten seconds!”
“Maybe now you’ll have a little more respect for my magical ability. Not that it matters anymore.”
We resumed our positions and a couple minutes later our guest woke up, yawning and stretching languidly like a cat and then looking around and becoming startled – also a little like a cat. He jumped to his feet and cast around wildly.
His eyes were wide as he saw Martialla “Oh shit!”
“I’d say that about sums it up.”
He looked timidly at Martialla “So exactly what’s going on here? Is she your . . . slave?”
Martialla scowled “Why does everyone think that? Also I have a better question, who the fuck are you and why were you trying to steal my prisoner if you don’t even know who she is?”
He looked back over my way “I don’t know her name but I know who she is.”
“And who I am exactly?”
“You were once a normal mortal woman, but you’ve been saddled with a rare but terrible curse. Within your body lies a conjunction of the worlds, a nexus if you will, an imperceptible sliver of otherworldliness that has skewed your entire existence. Spiritually speaking you live on an angle perpendicular to the rest of us, most of us anyway. Infected by a magical mistake or otherworldly conjunction you unconsciously connect to other worlds in your dreams – breaches between the waking and unconscious worlds that occur when potent magics attempt to tamper with the boundaries of the universe. A drifter trapped between a thousand strands of reality.”
I nodded sagely “Yes, that sounds right.”
Martialla was not amused “Alright you lunatic, you have four seconds to leave before I burn you to ash.”
He took out a little (even for his size) bottle and took a drunk, shaking his head like you do when you slam some hard booze “I know how it sounds, but I have a mission here. Because of your special position in the cosmos I need to take you to the cave so you can seal away the creature.”
“A real cave or one of those philosophical allegory caves where you learn about the nature of reality? Is the creature my own negative perception of the world?”
“Wait, you can’t mean the same cave those other lunatics were talking about.”
He took another drink and then put the bottle away “The very same.”
I rolled my eyes “Don’t give me that horseshit, you’re not going to convince me that those inbred fuckers were really saving the world by murdering travelers.”
He shrugged “You don’t have to believe it, just come with me.”
I started to get back up “Alright.”
Martialla pointed a magically glowing finger at me “No one is going anywhere!”
He edged out of the path of her finger “It’s kind of important, fate of the world and all.”
Martialla shook her head resolutely “No.”
“You said you were on a mission, where did this mission come from?”
“From my God.”
“Which God would that be?”
“Oh you know . . . . one of the usual . . . ones.”
Martialla snorted “Did your God actually come and give you this mission themselves or did they send an angel to tell you that you needed to save the world by setting my prisoner free?”
“There’s no reason to get into all of that, just accept that I have it on good authority this is what needs to happen.”
“Why you? What’s so special about you?”
“Well I am a faithful and loyal adherent of my God, but honestly I was probably just the closest one to you.”
“And which god was that again?”
He sighed “Kozilek.”
“The Butcher of Truth?” He nodded “The Great Distortion?” He nodded again “So let’s see, you’re on a mission from Kozilek to save the world, assuming you’re not completely nuts and somehow Kozilek did send you on this mission isn’t it likely that it’s a joke at your expense? You know, seeing as how he’s the God of lies and trickery and cruelly making fools out of people?”
“Kozilek isn’t really a deceptive God, not in the way people think, you see . . .”
Martialla gestured impatiently “We’re not here to discuss comparative theology. She’s not going anywhere, you want to muck about in some cave go do it on your own!”
He sighed again, heavier “Look, I can prove this is all true, just tell me this – do you have a birthmark that’s the shape of a stick with five branches?”
He looked stunned “Are you sure? Have you checked everywhere?”
I smiled “You want to look me over? This is quite a long way to go just to see a naked woman, I appreciate the hustle.”
He was waving his hands in a frantic manner “No, no it’s not that! It’s just . . . . I was . . . . I thought . . . . in the book . . . . and the . . . . okay well it doesn’t matter, just you’re her okay? You’re the one that can keep back the thing in the cave. I can tell, I can see that you’re already doing it for another thing like this.” He frowned “Or you were anyway.”
“I think what you’re saying is that my rope is greasy.”
Martialla’s hair was starting to frizz out with all the magic energy crackling through her, which I’ve never seen before – the stress must be getting to her. “Shut up the both of you! You’re not getting my prisoner so fuck off!”
He looked at her with a lamely hopeful look “It will only take a minute.”
“Can I ask you something? Why would you even tell me that you were doing this for Kozilek? If you wanted to believe me why didn’t you say it was Adariel or some other God that I might believe? In addition to being a better plan it seems like the kind of thing a real Kozilek person would do impersonating another kind of priest – what with the lies, sorry, distortion of the truth I meant.”
“Well ah . . . kind of . . . the thing is . . . . I can’t lie . . . it’s uh . . . . kind of a joke . . . thing . . . . ahem, a geas someone put on me.”
“As the Countess said to the Bishop, come again?”
He stomped his little moccasin “Alright look, it’s not a big deal, I can summon a portal that will take us to the cave and then you just do a ritual and then it’s over okay? I don’t want to set anyone free or mess anything up, I just want to do what my God wants and save the world okay? Can we just do that?”
Martialla shrugged “Sure.”
She nodded “Sure. You show me the portal and we’ll go. We’ve got nothing else going on, might as well save the world.”
I didn’t really think that he could summon anything, but he did draw some blazing sigils in the air and then there was a weird circle where what you saw was not what was really there – it was somewhere else. It hurt to look at it too closely, a weird flat plane hanging there like a mirror reflecting something that wasn’t there. Once I saw that it was real my plan was to shove Martialla through and then clobber the little guy in the hopes that that would make the portal close but she was a step ahead of me again – she shackled us together instead of putting me hand to hand. She’s a crafty one that Martialla. As disorienting as looking at the portal was, stepping through it was as easy as stepping through a door. Normally I find magical travel to be very befuddling but this was fine, this this fellow has it worked out. The cave was more of a problem, I don’t think it was even three feet high, which is fine for a Shireling, not so much for me.
“Hmm, so this is it huh? I think I’ll pass.”
“Pass? What do you mean?”
“I wouldn’t be terribly excited about slithering in there even if I wasn’t chained to someone else, which I am. Crawling through there sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden, I’m out.”
“Out? What do you mean?”
I smiled slightly, bemused “I think it’s pretty clear what I mean, I’m not going in there.”
He was speechless for a moment “But, but you have to! The world is at stake! Literally!”
“Eh, what’s the world ever done for me?”
“But . . . but . . . . you . . . . I . . .”
Martialla did something and suddenly we both shrunk down to about the same size of our Halfling friend, who now that I think about it never mentioned his name – rude.
“Since when can you do that?!”
Martialla sighed tiredly “Long time Ela, you were there when I bought the thing that does this.”
“I’ve never seen you shrink before!”
“Maybe I was worried you’d step on me with your giant feet. Can we go in now?”
Our nameless friend lit a torch (he said magic light would ruin whatever we were doing) and in we went. Even in our smaller forms it was a pain in the ass getting through there. You ever want to be really frustrated chain yourself to someone else and then try crawling through a tunnel – the chain got caught on rocks approximately every five inches. Plus the smoke from the torch was giving me a headache. Why can’t saving the world ever involve a fine meal or a nice nap? Nameless had to tell us when we were there because I wouldn’t have even noticed the “cave paintings” seeing as as they were just smudges on the wall. The cave wasn’t even any bigger there or anything. At that point I was convinced that this was all a cosmic joke but since I was there no reason to go through with it.
Our guide burned some sage and marked some lines on the ground with ash and there was chanting and I looked into a mirror for a while and then I sat in darkness for a while until some candles were lit. It was a whole to do. I would have been impressed with him for remembering all the choreography but for the fact that I have no idea if he did it right. And also it was boring. After the anti-climactic ending of the world saving ritual we crawled back out into the light.
“I skinned the Hells out of my elbows, wouldn’t it be hilarious if the cuts got infected and I died from it?”
Martialla snorted “I’d think you’d be used to by now.”
“Knees Martialla, you’re thinking of skinned knees. Whores don’t skin their elbows as I infer was your allegation.”
The little Kozilekian was eyeing us nervously “Well uh . . . . thankssss . . . I guess . . . that’s about it. Um, see you around?”
“That’s it? I don’t even get anything for saving the world?”
“Do you usually?”
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