In retrospect pissing off a timeless incorporeal sorcereress that can attack me in my dreams any time I fall asleep was not the wisest course of action. All I can say in my defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t know for sure that she can kill me in a dream but all the evidence I have suggests that she can. I really need to figure out something in regards to that because staying awake all the time and or dosing myself with brain damaging narcotics regularly are not long term solutions. In novels I hate more than anything when they have chapters that are dreams or the characters are doing stuff in dreams – maybe this is some kind of cosmically ironic revenge for hating all those authors that do that. Do you think the characters in the books know that they’re being written? And if so how do they their feel about their authors? I know if my life was a story the person writing it would be top on my list for people that need to die in agony.
But on to more immediate concerns than death by madness from enforced sleep deprivation or terrible dreamtime slaughter. Once night fell the scute (still not sure that’s what this boat is called) kept on slowly drifting downriver but the crew didn’t drop anchor or move to the shore – a few people stayed up to make sure that the boat didn’t run aground or get tangled in anything but they kept moving. And I stayed awake with them even though I was more tired than a choirboy at a whorehouse. Remember that magic ring I had before that made it so I never needed to sleep? I wonder now if that’s what made so that to this dream woman can get to me. Maybe it messed up my dream energy or something.
Once we were into the deeps of the Lodge Forest, but before the sun was up, I produced a rope and grappling hook from my secret storage and tossed it into a cluster of bushes on the north shore. I gave it a tug to make sure it would hold fast, but it seemed like only a second before I was being pulled by the movement of the boat anyway. Seems like we’re moving very slowly, but I guess fifty feet isn’t that long of a rope. Since it was as good as it was going to get in the half of second I had to think about it I slipped overboard into the water. I was shocked by how cold it was. The night was pleasantly neither warm nor cold but that water felt like it was a good twenty degrees colder than the air. Explain that. I stifled an involuntary gasp and started pulling my way to the shore with the rope – and it’s a good thing too because that current was a lot stronger than I anticipated.
Dragging myself to shore was the easy part, pulling myself up onto the bank was a good bit harder. In the darkness I hadn’t realized how steep it was and my sodden clothing felt like it weighed fifty pounds. I had just about resolved to let out some of the rope and try father downstream when I finally managed to climb up the muddy bank and into the bushes – displacing some frantic animal that dashed off into the night. I lay there to catch my breath for a moment and then striped off my wet clothes, wrapping myself in a cloak from my secret pocket and wringing them out before hanging them over my arms to hopefully dry as I moved about.
If I know where I am (doubtful) and remember the geography of this area (dubious) if I head straight east (which is unlikely) I should emerge from the woods to find the road to Ardint or Tybhurst which I can follow on to Three Rivers. I wasn’t sure how much of an effort Lady Missplitter and her pipehead minion were going to make to chase after me so I figured I should move as fast as possible while I had a lead on them. Which wasn’t very fast honestly.
In town I have a knack for moving around quickly – cobblestone, broken pavement, dense crowds, slanted roofs, rain-slicked stones – these things hardly slow me down. In an urban environment I move like smoke. But whenever I’m in a benighted (I’m not exactly sure what that means but it sounds correct in this context) place like this I trip over every tree root, I put my foot in every hole, and it seems like every plant in the universe is sticking to my legs or hitting me in the face. Augrim told me once that the key to moving through the forest at night is using your peripheral vision. I’ll put this in the running for most useless advice against such gems are “think about people who have to worse than you” and “just don’t give up”.
After an hour or so of stumbling and falling through the woods I decided sunrise would be coming soon anyway so it would be best to stay put until it was light out. I leaned against a tree because I didn’t dare sit down – I was sure that I would be asleep as soon as my shapely ass touched the ground. I beat my clothes against a tree and then hung them on some branches, switching out cloaks for a new dryer one. I still almost feel asleep even just leaning against a tree. To keep myself engaged I started studing closely whatever I could see in the dim light of pre-dawn. Never before had leaves and sticks seemed so interesting. What really woke me up is seeing a fire though. A friendly band of Kostelos tribespeople is just what I needed.
I pulled on my damp clothing and proceeded with all stealth towards the firelight – just in case. As I got closer though I saw the red uniform of a Vieland soldier. I thought for a moment that it might be a Kostelos warrior wearing the jacket of a Vielander killed in battle but I crept a little closer and saw that was not the case. There was one Kostelos sitting up by the fire, an older man with a shaved head and dark tattoos across his scalp and face, but the rest of the men slumbering and sitting about were all Vielander army. Incongruously my first thought was disapproval for their lax discipline – lighting a fire behind enemy lines? Good way to get yourself killed.
Then a much more troubling thought bubbled to the surface – what if they weren’t behind enemy lines? Surely the front line couldn’t have advanced this far north could it? Where the border with Vieland is in the woods was never well known, but surely they couldn’t just be lost could they? Maybe they’re advance scouts of some kind but scouts would be smart enough not to lite a beacon right? Although now that I think about it I never heard anything about the Kingdom patrolling the woods. Maybe they’re not concerned because there’s no one looking for them. What the Hells are they doing here?
My plan was to wait for one of them to wander off to take a leak, take him by surprise, slit his throat and take his clothes and boots. Most importantly the boots, say what you will about Vieland but they know their way around . . . whatever tools a cobbler uses. The first part of the plan worked great – one of the soldiers totally went to take a piss. It was everything after that that failed. I don’t claim to be the best cutthroat in the world but I’ve got a pretty good technique I think. It didn’t do me any good this time though, as soon as I came up behind him and grabbed for him he had a hold of my wrist and was flipping me over his shoulder.
My only saving grace was that he was clearly expecting a heavier attacker and put too much “oomph” into the flip maneuver, which caused him to stumble forward off balance as well. This allowed me to get my legs around his head (not like that) and latch onto his one arm with my body. We fell to the ground clumsily locked together. He tried to go for his dagger with his left hand but we were pressed together body to body too closely for that and he resorted to some awkward punches. His angle was all wrong through and there wasn’t much force behind them. I figured I had a pretty good stranglehold on him with my legs but once he gave up on punching he pulled my legs apart (not like that) without too much effort. He managed to call for help shortly before I pulled his dagger out his belt and stuck him through the roof of the mouth with it – I don’t know a ton about skulls but I don’t think there’s anything protecting your brain from below. He certainly went down fast enough to make me think his brains had been splattered.
I scrambled away from the body and quickly took on the appearance of a Kostelos woman, screaming as a couple soldiers ran into sight. I started babbling at them in Kostelos and pointing into the forest. None of them seemed to understand but tattoo-head was there soon enough to translate, a strange weapon that was a combination of a buckler and a short blade strapped to his arm. I told them that I had been running from Uncle Pongracz and came across the soldier, who struggled with the old man of the woods and ended up dead before he ran off. Uncle Pongracz is a boogeyman of Kostelos legend – an outcast whose solitude drove him mad and turned him into some kind of immortal trickster being that carries people away for unknown reasons. But probably not any reasons that would bode you good.
Tattoos didn’t quite believe me but he didn’t not believe me either – the soldiers on the other hand thought the entire thing was superstitious nonsense. I always find it odd when people dismiss tales of monsters and undead creatures as silliness since there are in fact all sorts of real monsters all over the place. Why would you believe in manticores and chimeras but draw the line at hodags and skinstealers? It makes no sense. Why is one monster more “real” than the next? I suppose most people haven’t been exposed to as many abominations as I have but still, I mean dragons – everyone knows there are dragons. So open your minds a bit huh?
The soldiers agreed that clearly I couldn’t have taken away Witter’s own knife and killed him with it being a weak and powerless woman, but they weren’t about to believe that Uncle Pongracz did it either. They questioned me further with the tattooed man translating but I stuck to my story, much to their frustration. One soldier suggested that I was a spy, which was roundly mocked – who would trust a Kostelos spy? And a woman to boot? Another suggested that regardless they couldn’t let me go to tell anyone they were there but a compatriot of his pointed out that there was no one I could tell that mattered. In the end the general agreement was that I was just a crazy outcast – not unlike Uncle Pongracz ironically.
A sergeanty looking fellow asked Vulture Claw (which is the name of the Kostelos apparently) what they should do with me. His first suggestion was that they kill me, irrespective of whoever I was it was the safest way to go. They balked at the idea of killing an innocent woman in cold blood – which is quite noble for soldiers (maybe) behind enemy lines. Clearly the Kingdom propaganda about the rapacious violence of Vielanders isn’t quite accurate. Vulture Claw suggested in the alternative that I be taken as a slave and given to his son as a wife. They didn’t care for that idea. He finally said that they might as just let me go then. The Vielanders didn’t like that idea either.
(translated from Kostelos) “Why are you helping these chiftik?”
He gave me a sideways look “The Kingdomers have killed my people, why should I not help their enemies?”
“You think these will treat us any different?”
“I won’t live to see the day their wars end, I no longer care, I seek only the blood of the Kingdomers.”
“What about the rest of us?”
“Our people are doomed, the only seek vengeance now against the tribe-killers, anyone who does otherwise is a fool. Silence your wagging tongue now woman.”
The final decision was that they would take me with them. I hope that it’s someplace close since my disguise ability only lasts for a couple of hours. Although maybe that depends what waits me wherever they’re taking me – perhaps I shouldn’t be so eager to get there huh?
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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter