They say that stories are the best way to help people learn lessons, which is and isn’t true. Telling people what to do rarely works because they don’t pay attention, cloaking your message in the guise of a story sort of works better because people will pay more attention – depending on how good you are at telling stories. But the problem is that while people will listen to a story they don’t realize that stories are warnings. I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves because we send mixed messages – we tell a story about a kid going into the woods and being eaten by goat-monsters and then we say that there are no monsters lurking in the dark. Which is a lie. Everyone knows there are monsters and the darkness is where they hide. The monster monsters anyway, the human monsters are right out in the light for everyone to see – it’s just that it’s polite to pretend that you don’t see them.
The city is dangerous of course, possible even more dangerous than being out here, but the difference is that those dangers are known. Knowing about the dangers in the city doesn’t mean that you can always avoid them – three men with sackcloth hoods on their head bust down your door in the middle of the night intent on hacking you to bits that’s probably what’s going to happen. But it’s the devil you know you know? Things out here seem more dangerous, and maybe they really are anyway, because you don’t know what you’re dealing with. In the city the users and the corrupters and the destroyers are all well-known commodities, you watch out for them as best you can, but out here who even knows what’s going on? Some wrinkled little man with fingernails two feet long whose invisible when you look directly at him toting a bag full of human hearts – what the fuck are you supposed to do with that?
Since nothing much happened today, just uneventful travel, I thought that I’d share a few of the tidbits that I’ve picked up over the last year. The first one isn’t really helpful advice, more of an item of interest. You know when a town is being plagued by the unquiet spirit of a local woman who was hanged for sport by Kralten cultists? And the townfolk don’t like this so what they do is they grab another young woman and dress her up in fancy clothing and then banish her from the town? They’re actually not sacrificing her to the spirit – what it is really is a simple ritual that symbolically banishes the spirit from the town. I don’t know how it works, but it does. The fact that the ghost massacres the banished woman is incidental. If the woman could get away from the spirit without being killed everything would still be fine. You know, relatively speaking. Actually I guess there is some advice here – if you’re the woman who’s been selected for this honor try to figure out to a way to outrun a ghost. And if you do figure it out let me know, because I am not a runner but it would be really helpful if I could run away from things better. Simply running away is more effective than you think, if you have the wind for it.
Are you familiar with ghouls? I am. Here’s the interesting thing about ghouls, while scary they’re actually not that dangerous. Think of them like stray dogs, and not just because they creep about belly to the ground like hounds. No one wants to get bitten by a stray dog, but as long as you keep your wits about you they’re not terrible deadly. In a warrior against dog battle the dog is going to lose every time. Ghouls are like that. They’re scavengers, not fighters, they don’t want to tangle with anyone that can fight back they just want to eat dead bodies. Don’t get in their way and they’ll leave you alone. Probably.
What sets people off about ghouls is that they used to be someone they know. I’m no expert on these things, but ghouls seem to be somewhere between alive and undead. When you see the old gaffer from the general store skulking about with his fish-belly white skin hanging off his bones like a robe you hesitate because your mind at first thinks that it is the old gaffer and he’s sick and needs help. But that’s not what it is anymore. And the other issue is that ghouls are kind of pathetic, when you wail on them they mewl and flop about like wounded animals. It’s an awful sight, but you have to learn not to worry about it. Seeing the mindless inhuman hate in the eyes of a ghoul will cure you of that impulse but if a ghoul is that close to you things have gone wrong already. The point is don’t be a ninny, just exterminate them like the vermin they are.
When you’re facing off with a creature of some kind – a chimera or a manticore or a kulwata or a numblit – there’s no harm in trying to talk to it. A surprising number of them are capable of speech and generally they’re rather stupid. It’s not too hard to trick them into bothering someone else. But you have to keep in mind that they are stupid so don’t get too elaborate with your speech – the simplest tricks are the best, anything too complicated they won’t understand. A simple “there’s more food in that village over there” generally works fine, something along those lines. Flattery usually goes a long way with these types – they’re strong and kill whatever they come across so they don’t realize that humans are in the process of making them extinct. Their eventual doom is something they don’t have the smarts to key in on. They think they’re the best thing in the world and you should encourage that thought process if you want to live – no one likes being shown up by their supposed inferiors.
This may seem counterintuitive but for the more humanoid menaces like bugbears and orcs and yetis generally you’re better off just going for the kill and not wasting time trying to talk. Obviously if you have no other choice go for diplomacy, but the difference is these things, while still generally pretty dumb, are smart enough to know that humans are taking over everything and they’re not happy about it. They’re pretty much out for blood from the get-go so there’s nothing much to chat about. In terms of intelligence the flesh-eating cattle of Akerbeltz are one step above a dog, it’s desires are simple so it can be easily mislead with offers that appeal to those desires, bugbears and thouls are the next step above that – not as smart as people but smart enough to have more complicated desires. Like killing all humans. That doesn’t leave you with a lot of room for negotiation.
If for some reason you need to speak with them do it from a position of power. Their societies are kind of like being in prison, there’s a clear pecking order based on the ability to inflict and endure violence. If you have to bargain with them do so in force and kill a couple of their weaker members to show them you mean business. But keep in mind that no matter what they have not accepted you, they are never truly cowed. They will always be looking for a weakness they can exploit. It’s like the old fable of having a tatzyltiger by the forelock – you can’t ever let go unless you want it to rip your face off. Which I hope that you don’t. If you do want your face ripped off please feel free to stay far away from me at all times. Thanks.
I’d like to call special attention to the category of animal-like things with humanistic intelligence – your worgs and your demon bears and your devil swine and the like. In my experience these creatures tend to be as smart as people, not smart people just normal people, but people nevertheless. What this means is that when you’re talking with them you tend to treat them like people – I’ve fallen for this trap myself. This is a very bad idea. A giant wolf that can talk just like a “normal” person is nothing like a normal person. They don’t reason like a person, they don’t have anything in common with a person. They are wild things. Never assume you know exactly where they’re coming from or what they want – I almost died doing that very thing. Think about like this. We tend to think of dogs and cats both as domesticated but they aren’t are they?
Dogs? They’re on our side. We got them. They’re our buddies. Even the mean ones are mean for a reason – conceptually they don’t see humans as anything other than potential friends. A faithful dog will die for you without a second thought. You look in the eyes of a dog and you see love or fear or hurt or anger – it’s all right there. Cats on the other hand? Next time you see a fat lazy housecat rip a mouse in half and then sit there purring and looking content stare into its eyes. What do you see there? Nothing. They’re not “in” like dogs are, they’re still “other”. It’s easy to forget that because they live among us and they do cute things like bat at strings and rub on our legs and are little and helpless. But they’re just looking out for themselves, they serve no master. The talking animal section of beast are like that – they seem familiar because of their manner but are alien. Don’t be fooled.
Speaking of being fooled, at first I thought I wouldn’t say anything about the fae folk because they seem to be so varied as to defy any kind of stratagem but there are a few things I can approximate. First of all the ones that build their homes out of flesh and bones are feared far and wide, but when they don’t need building materials they’re actually fine. In my experience unless they need to fix the roof or shore up a wall they’re perfectly harmless. They just don’t see anything wrong with killing people to make their houses. Which I think is a good example of the deal with faeries overall – our concepts of good and evil and morality are foreign to them, not just foreign but incomprehensible.
Do you feel bad about cutting down a tree to make a table? No, it’s just a resource. Or maybe you do, but you know what I mean. That’s what the fey folk are like with us. Think about that whenever you have to deal with them. Even the “benign” ones that make shoes for you or milk your cows or whatever the Hells they do – what they’re doing is perfectly insane. Hiding in someone’s house and cleaning up after they go to bed makes exactly as much sense as dipping your cap in blood to make it red – it’s all nonsense from our point of view. It’s good to keep in mind that there are no “good” fey and no “bad” fey, there’s fey that steal eyeballs and there’s fey that make horseshoes – and they’re both equally mad.
Now let’s talk about bandits for a moment. I know what you’re thinking “Ela, I thought you were telling us about monsters not about human threats” but here’s what I’ve started to wonder. Are bandits human? I’m sure some bandits are humans, but I think that maybe bandits are a unique race of beings that reproduce through having big piles of stolen goods. They look like humans and act like them in many ways, but their lifestyle revolves around attacking caravans and stealing stuff so they can put it in a big pile and somehow generate more bandits. It’s some method like when you take part of a plant and put it somewhere else and then you have two plants, but there has to be a massive amount to stolen boxes to make it happen. It’s the only thing that explains why there are so many bandits if you ask me. I need to make friends with a chirurgeon so the next time I run into some bandits and kill them I can have him slice them open and see what the deal is. I bet I only need to do that twice before I find one that’s got a whole bunch of different stuff inside it from a human. All I’m saying is that you rarely ever see female bandits, so where do they come from if not spontaneous generation on a pile of loot?
And hags? Fuck ‘em. Kill them if you can. Run away if you can’t. If you can’t do either spit right in their face and tell them Ela says she’ll see them in the Hells. You’re going to be tortured to death or turned into a pig-monster mind slave either way. May was well go out with a little dignity.
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