Montresor 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I first heard that Vieland had captured Gevudan I wondered why they would bother.  Later on when I uncovered their operation with the traitors in the Lodge Woods it made a little more sense.  When I first heard that my jailers/guards/minders were taking to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan I said “Isn’t that village in enemy hands?”  I was assured that it had been retaken by the brave men of the King’s Army.  Our first indication that the statement about Gevudan being back in the poxy bosom of the Kingdom might be incorrect is when a few miles away the guy who’s name I didn’t learn and who never said or did anything both said and did something.  What he did was catch an arrow in the thigh and what he said was “I’m shot.”  Very calmly as if saying “hey look at that bird over there.”

I had mentioned several times to my jailers/guards/minders that wearing the uniforms of the Duke’s Guard this close to enemy territory was perhaps not the best idea but as usual I was ignored.  I’m no expert on fieldcraft but I feel that when you’re moving through a warzone it’s best to do so in plain clothes.  Bolbec, Findley, and Cavnas ran for cover as another arrow snapped the unknown soldier’s head back by hitting him in the face.  I’ve seen a depressingly high number of people get shot through the face in the past two years.  Granted I shot most of them but still.  I went the other way with it, I let loose a very convincing scream of terror and ran towards the Vieland patrol that was shooting at us.  As if I was a captive escaping from my captors, which is what I was.

As I ran towards them one of the bowmen took aim at me, but I shrieked and threw myself to the ground and he held his shot.  A couple of Vielanders ran out of cover to drag me back off the road.  From what I saw the Duke’s guards didn’t have crossbows or any other missile weapons so there was no return fire, but the Vielanders were still cautious.  A fellow with a cloak that looked like a pair of damn bat wings wearing a stupid pointy hat asked me what the Hells I was doing.  I babbled in a frightened tone about how the Kingdomers had arrested my mistress Lady Krebuleus for treason on account of she was conspiring with Vieland and they grabbed me as well.  I cried tears of relief at being “rescued”, the whole bit.  Batwings Stupidhat dispatches one of his soldiers to run me back to town while they continued their standoff with the Ducal Guard.

Gevudan wasn’t much to look at to begin with, now the place looks like it has been flattened by the stamping feet of giants.  The village has essentially ceased to exist aside from a couple buildings that looked like they had been half burned.  It was just a place for a Vieland military camp now.  For a such a small unimportant place it looked like the fighting have been vicious – there were still bodies lying about and discarded pieces of equipment being picked over by some dead-eyed cattlemen under the guard of Vieland soldiers.  One of the buildings still standing was Wolcott’s home, which is where the soldier took me.  It was weird to be back at the sight of what was probably my most cold blooded killing.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but in retrospect I probably could have some up with a better plan.  It was all bit a much.

The Vielander who had turned the place into a command center of sorts was sour looking fellow with blonde hair that came too far down his forehead.  He tersely asked me who I was and what was going on and then proceeded to interrupt with more questions a third of way into any answer I gave.  The only time he let me talk was when I told him about the Ulpine fleet on the Compass River.  After he questioned me about that at length he gave me a stern gaze, not a real one, more like a teacher who thinks a pupil is being “cheeky”.

“So what you want from me madam?  Your mistress was captured, her plan failed.  Many men died because of her carelessness, letting the plan be discovered.  And you expect what?  Asylum?  To be sent home as a hero?  You’ll find cold welcome for any Kingdomer there.”

“I don’t want anything from you, I was brought here against my will.  I wasn’t coming here to speak with you, I just wanted to get away from my captors.  Truth be told I don’t care a nonce for your war and I resent that my mistress has made me a traitor to my homeland.  But a traitor is what I am now.  If you leave me my to my business I’ll leave you to yours.”

He snorted “I can’t have you wandering around my battlefield like a ghost.”

“What do you propose to do with me then sir?”

“You’ll be my assistant.  You can start right now by fetching me some wine.  If you are disobedient you will be disciplined.  If you serve well you will be treated well.”

I raised an eyebrow “Ooh, disciplined huh?  Kinky.” I put my feet up on his desk “You know I’ve been here before.  This house used to belong to a man named Wolcott.  We had sex and then I cut his throat.  It was part of a scheme I was working, framing another guy for devil worship.  It was pretty convoluted.  I was a little too clever for my own good back then.” I produced a dagger from my secret pocket “You want to see how I did it?  The throat part I mean, not the sex part, that was pretty standard.  I’m sure you can imagine what that looked like fairly easily.”

For a military man he reacted in a gutless way, even for an officer, instead of drawing a weapon to defend himself he ran into the back room and slammed the door, shouting for his guards.  I guess it’s not totally unjustified, he probably thought that I was a doppelganger or a fey tricksteress.  By the time two guards came running in I had taken his form and voice.

I gestured “Get this door down now!  Be careful, she’s a shapeshifter, so whatever you see on the other side don’t get thrown off.  Whoever is in there grab them.”

The two men picked up the desk and hurled it through the door, smashing it to pieces, then awkwardly dragging out their commanding officer who was protesting that I was imposter all the while.  They kept a hold of him but they eyed me warily.

“She’s trying to fool you, but she’s right you know, you don’t know which one of us to trust.  Until further notice you should disregard what either of us says.  You, stay here and make sure that neither one of us leaves, you grab the first officer you can find and bring them here – they’re in charge until we figure this out.”

The commander was apoplectic at being restrained by his own man while the other ran off to obey my orders “I’ll have you court martialed if you don’t release me right now Vanger!”

I rummaged around in the wreckage of the desk and found an intact bottle of Cherrywood Select Whiskey, setting up the chair and taking a seat to have a pull “I tell you what, this day is not going the way I expected.” I shook my head “You can’t put anything past these Kingdomers can you?  Shapeshifting assassins?  What’s next I ask.”

He looked at me suspiciously “Why didn’t you call me Vanger?”

I smiled shortly “Sorry son, but I have no idea what your name is.  I hate to break it to you but I don’t know the names of every man under my command.” I raised the bottle to him “I’m sure as Hells going to remember your name after this though.  Is Vanger your first or last name private?”

The man in his arms shouted desperately “Casan!  Casan Vanger!”

The soldier looked at the man in his arms and then let him go – only to slam a knife into his back.  Blondie’s eyes widened comically as he was stabbed and slipped to the floor.  Vanger retrieved his spear and finished the job of murdering his commanding officer.  He looked over at me with a happy grin.

“I knew the real you wouldn’t know my name sir, but now you do.”

I took another drink and then spoke in my own voice “I like your initiative soldier, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do when your friend came back.  The bad news is you just killed your commander, which I believe even the Vieland military frowns upon.  The good news is that I have a plan for us.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever see someone more crestfallen.  And I know from crestfallen. 

Montresor 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

You cut one guy’s face off and all of a sudden people look at you strangely.  You’d think that the Duke’s personal guard would be made of sterner stuff.  I’m sure they’ve done all manner of depraved things in service of their lord and master the Duke.  Who are they to look askance at me for one defacing?  It wasn’t like the guy didn’t deserve it.  Everyone deserves it.  Justified or not (it isn’t) Bolbec and Cavnas are eyeballing me like a dangerous forest cat.  Finchley would occasionally grin at me like we shared some private joke.  The other guy whose name I don’t know and never says anything was the same.  I guess I can take comfort in that. 

Eedraxis’s . . . compound I’ll call it, was much the same, the tree looked a little more sickly and burned perhaps and there was some manner of glowing weather-vane thing sticking out the top of the main building but otherwise it looked like the same madman’s workshop was I visited almost two years ago looking for poisons.  I think that if I had found a normal black market alchemist instead of this lunatic things would be much different now.  I made a lot of mistakes in those early days.  With a reliable source of drugs and poison I think I could have handled my business much neater and more quickly.  The Duke would probably be dead by now.  Maybe I should learn alchemy myself.  You know, in my spare time.

While the compound itself was the same the surrounding area was much different.  There was a large bonfire nearby and a roped off area with several wagons.  Big wagons.  Big wagons heavily laden with junk.  It was as random as collection of junk as you’d ever want to lay eyes on.  There were a couple of ruffians listlessly guarding the piles and up “front” was a battered table where a dozen or so people were queued up to hand over their junk.  Manning the table was a brawny scruffy looking fellow who looked like a lumberjack but was dressed like a prosperous merchant.  He had on a tight cap that was pushing out a mass of hair at the edges like a reverse muffin.  With him was a female gnome with eyes that bulged out like those of a tree lizard and who had an extra joint between the elbow and the wrist.  I haven’t seen a lot of gnomes but I don’t think they’re supposed to look that pale and glistening.  Kind of like a slug’s flesh.  Brawny was examining whatever the people brought up to him and the gnomette was freaking everyone out with her weirdness and then handing them a couple bricks of wandermeal. 

If you don’t know what wandermeal is consider yourself lucky.  It’s an edible rock made of flour and water with some other surprises.  It keeps for months without spoiling.  People say that it was invented in the Shire but that is utter bullshit.  Shirefolk would never create a foodstuff so terrible.  The best wandermeal is bland and tasteless.  The worse has all kinds of flavors.  Fun fact about wandermeal, it fills you up but it has little to no nutrition in it – if that’s all you eat you have zero energy and eventually you die for malnutrition.  The scheme playing out was as simple as it was obvious – the war is starting to make things scare so come trade all your worldly possessions for a couple handfuls of what is technically food.  An alchemist can turn out wandermeal by the basketload easily.

The ruffians by the wagons looked over incuriously as I headed for Eedraxis’s cottage but bustling out from the front door (inasmuch as the random collection of wood and iron can be said to have a front) was the gatekeeper – a Kostelos man dressed in the motley of a renegade.  He was a tall fellow with a tall hat that made him seem even bigger, although he was skinny as an elf-maiden.  He had a hatchet on his belt that his hand strayed to touch for comfort every few moments.  When he pointed at the table and its two odd inhabitants his arm wasn’t quite straight – like it had a little crook in it from being broken and not healing correctly.

“No one is allowed inside, if you want to sell something you go over there.”

“Oh I’m not here to sell anything, I just want to chat with my old pal.  He used to get very upset if people came around here, looks like he got over that huh?  Commerce can do wonderful things for people’s attitude.  Some say that war profiteering is bad but look what it’s done for Eedraxis and his social anxiety.  Marvelous isn’t it?”

“Eedraxis isn’t seeing anyone.”

I moved to walk past him “I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me.”

Put his non-crooked arm out to block me “No one is allowed in.”

I gave him a cool look “Take your hand off me sir.”

The Duke’s guards weren’t right there with me but they were nearby, and they look like some bad men if you don’t know better like I do.  The Kostelos man looked at them nervously but he didn’t back down.  He did draw his hand off me though.

“I can’t let you in.”

I snapped my fingers “Hey, I know you don’t I?  You’re Grey Horse right?  You’d skulk around on the edge of town selling phony charms and potions?  I remember Augrim talking about what a disgrace you were.” I chuckled “Man did he want to kill you.  The whores used to talk about you too, you’re the one with the dick that . . .”

“No one calls me Grey Horse anymore, my name is Sartorious now.”

“Wow, that’s about as un-Kostelos a name as you can conjure up now it’s it?  Decided to join the winning side huh?  Good luck with that.  Look Sartorious, I don’t want to get into a while thing with you here, can you just go inside and ask Eedraxis if he wants to see me?  I’ll just stay here and wait.  Maybe I’ll check out those junk wagons, perhaps there’s something I’d be interested in buying.”

He seemed dubious but I convinced him with my winsome smile.  I can winsome as fuck you know.  A moment after he went inside I turned to the Ducal Guards and gave them wink before disguising myself as the merchant woodsman and going inside myself.  The inside of the complex had been altered radically – I get the feeling that Eedraxis is constantly changing the place up to facilitate whatever crazy stuff he’s working on.  I’m sure he’s got body parts he’s trying to reanimate in there somewhere.  I didn’t see Eedraxis but I did see a couple more weird looking gnomes – I didn’t get a good look but I could swear that I saw one that had a carapace like a beetle.  I give wizards a hard time (and rightfully so) but alchemists are into some pretty freaky shit as well.  Let us not forget that Eedraxis was chased out of Graltontown for kidnapping and experimenting on dwarves.

Grey Horse was surprised by the appearance of whoever it was I appeared like and was about to say something when I grabbed one of the many flasks of bubbling shit the gnomes were working on and hurled it into a small fire that was in the middle of the room.  It exploded into a cloud of choking vapor because what else was it going to do – explosions and poison are what alchemy is all about.   That and addictive drugs and graverobbing and turning people into weird bugs.  I held my breath and covered my eyes and knocked over more stuff until the place was well on fire.  When I finally ran out noxious smoke was pouring out of Eedraxis’s hut.  But it wasn’t going up into the air, it was creeping along the ground like animal.  It was pretty strange.  Bolbec and Cavnas had their swords out as I ran over to them and started coughing like an old man.

“What happened?  What’s going on?”

Eye burning eventually I was able to speak “Wrong house.  I think my friend lives north of here.”