Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I think that’s supposed to mean that things have gone from bad to worse. But how else are you going to get out of a frying pan but for jumping into the flames? Being in a fire sucks (sadly I know that for a fact) but you’re one step closer to getting out of the whole mess. Things don’t have to get worse before they get better, but they usually do. I bring this up because as I was traveling today an animal slash monster slash beast slash whatever came charging out of the brush at me. Not sniffing around, not giving me a look, not growling or snorting, full on murder running at me.
Even when a human runs at you with a weapon ready to kill you in a way it’s not fully intimidating because people aren’t very graceful runners, especially when they have an ax in their hand as well. It takes a damn good bit of coordination to actually charge at someone with a weapon and hit them. You ever see a group of untrained soldiers try it for the first time? Fully half of them go down faster than etcetera etcetera etcetera crass sexual comment here.
But when a dangerous animal (or whatever) runs at you it’s pretty terrifying because they’re great at running and killing things while running. That’s their whole deal. I’ve seen dogs loosed at people, I’ve done it myself a time or two, it’s obscene how strong and fast they are. The thing that came me was doggish but with strong overtones of boar and weasel as well as deer-ears just to round things out. It was lanky and somewhat ill-formed looking to the eye like a greyhound or a cheetah but guess what greyhounds and cheetahs have in common. They’re fucking fast. Cheetahs are much faster though, I’ve seen the evidence. I had a split second to react and what reaction was was to jump in the river.
You maybe be thinking “Ela, that doesn’t seem like a good idea for several reasons – it can probably swim too and you’re not a good swimmer. Plus just yesterday you saw a giant fish-monster in that very river.” Too true, too true. But what you have to figure is that if I lose half my speed in the water and the boar-dog-weasel does as well it’s losing a lot more than I am. If you have a thousand men and your enemy has ten thousand and you have an attack that will cost you both half your men you definitely should do it. But you’re still outnumbered ten to one you say? Sure, but you’re only outnumbered by forty-five hundred instead of nine thousand. This is the kind of math you have to think about when you’re always on the short end of the stick like I am. It’s amazing that I always manage to triumph given the odds against me every step of the way.
As for potential river monsters, well better the devil you don’t know. That’s the expression right? That long strange body that was so great at running was less great at swimming. It was still gaining on me in the river, but it was at a much slower rate. I was right is what I’m saying. As it closed in I realized another good reason to be in the water – I, as a human being (a glorious example of one but still just a human woman) have hands. It was surprisingly easy to turn and push the beast’s head under water as it came at me. It thrashed around some, but it was rather simple to down it – I’ll have to remember that for future encounters. One of the advantages of being a biped. Thanks primitive humans who decided to stand upright, if you weren’t already dead already I’d really owe you one.
The bad news, because per the laws of reality nothing can ever be an unmitigated success for me, is that during the drowning time I was swept a goodly ways down river. It was probably more than a mile. I’ve said it before but you always underestimate how strong the current in a river could be. It took me maybe another half a mile of being swept to paddle to land. When I managed to pull myself up onto shore I saw that I wasn’t alone. Standing on the riverbank was woman with a sun-burned face despite her broad black hat wearing strange puffy pants and a ragged white shirt that looked several sizes too big for her. Or maybe she just lost a lot of weight recently – in the upper body. Framing her peeling face was long dark hair that looked to be both tangled and in need of a good washing. She seemed decidedly uncurious about a woman climbing out of the river.
I nodded at her “Thanks for helping me out there. I really appreciate it.”
“Is that a cape?”
“It’s a cloak, for hunting vampires. Vampire are the ones that wear capes, the people that hunt them wear cloaks. Vampires hold their capes out like wings to turn into bats, vampire hunters wear cloaks so they can wrap them around themselves and turn into shaggy mountain dogs.”
“Is that a true story?”
“It’s certainly true that it’s a story. What brings you out this way? You don’t look like a Kostelos horsewoman. Did you try to commit suicide and then get swept upriver to become a priestess to a minor God? Or are you from the convent? Or are you from the military ship? For a land that’s supposed to be empty I seem to be running into a lot of people.”
“What’s that? That doesn’t tell me anything.”
“That me, that’s my name.”
“Huh. Sounds like an Ulpine name.” She nodded “Are you Ulpinese?” She nodded again “Oh. I feel like we should battle then or something since our countries are at war. Although we’re both civilians so I’m not sure what the protocol is.”
She looked around “Am I in the Kingdom now?”
“You sure are. At least I think that you are, I haven’t seen a map recently, but I heard that we won a big victory that knocked you dirty reject barbarians out of the war so it seems unlikely that you would have seized territory this far north.”
She continued to peer at landmarks “I was told that we were winning the war.”
“That’s propaganda for you, I can assure you that you’re not though. My government tells me the truth.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for my husband. What were you doing in the river?”
“Drowning a deadly beast. In addition to being a vampire hunter I’m also a general slayer of monsters. And a spycatcher, but don’t worry I only catch Vieland spies. Frankly I was told that the Ulpine were too stupid and primitive to have an espionage arm. No offense.”
“You’re not a spy are you?”
“Not that I know of. Was the beast you killed something like a wolf? I was just at a village where they were saying everyone was being killed by a canine beast that was something like a wolf. Only longer. And immune to arrows they said.”
“It was something like a wolf. Good thing I drowned it instead of trying to shoot it eh? You think they would pony up a reward of some kind for killing it? A reward worth finding and dragging the carcass out of the water?”
She shrugged “It didn’t seem like they had much to give anyone, even themselves. There’s not a lot out here for them to have to give. Makes you wonder why we’re even fighting over this land.”
“That’s just how nations pass the time, it’s like knitting for people, or getting drunk – it’s a hobby. I mean what else are they going to do? Public works projects? So what’s the story with your husband? Is he a soldier?”
She shook her head “No, but they sent him to fight anyway. I got letters for the first few months, then after the Battle of Gevudan I didn’t hear from him anymore. I thought he was killed or captured or maybe just lost. I don’t know what I thought, I just want to find him.”
“Gevudan? There’s been no battle there, also that’s a ways to the south. How long ago did the letters stop coming?”
“How long has the war being going on now?”
“Difficult to say exactly when the previous war ended and this one got spun up but I’d say at least three years now. Give or take.”
“Probably about two years then.”
“And you’ve been wandering around the border all this time?!”
“It’s been . . . . . difficult.”
“I would fucking imagine!”
I was thinking how mad she must be when I realized that I didn’t have to imagine, I had been wandering around for almost two years myself. And even though her husband is one hundred percent likely dead her quest is probably less of a longshot than mine is. It’s an odd feeling when you’re about to judge someone very harshly and then realize that their behavior is the same as yours almost exactly. Self-awareness, it’s a sneaky bitch.
“Well, good luck finding your husband I guess. You must really love him huh?”
“Actually he’s an asshole, I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“Good Gods woman, that is about the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”
Funds: 6922 gold
Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane
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, Nightmare Hag