Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I assume it’s still eight eighty-eight, I don’t know how long I’ve been down here but I don’t think it’s been six months.  Pretty sure.  Also I say down here but I don’t really know that I’m “down” anywhere, it’s probably more likely that I’m “up” in a tower or something.  I didn’t really get to know the layout Juost Manor that well, I wasn’t really here that long.  But they don’t really have a dungeon, I think I would noticed that.  Also no one really has a dungeon – those big holes in the bottom floor with the trapdoors?  Those are for storing ice.  I wonder what lunatic first started spreading the rumor that they keep people in those.  Any person that actually had a dungeon in their castle would have to be wildly insane, fabulously wealthy, and a good architect to boot because who the Hells is going to design something that impractical for you?  Don’t get me wrong, torture chambers are real, but any chamber is a torture chamber if you torture someone in it.  It’s just a place you store your pokers and gougers really.

Where I am is dark, and the floor and walls and stone, so maybe it is a secret dungeon.  The ceiling is high enough that I can’t touch it.  On the other hand it’s perfectly dry and I’m given to understand that dungeons are damp.  Nor is there any moldy straw on the floor or the scuttling of rats which I’m given to understand are necessities for a dungeon.  Also there’s no sadistic yet easily tricked guards to tell me that escape is impossible and then get clobbered while I’m escaping the next day.  It’s probably just a storeroom they cleared out.  Or maybe it was already empty but it seems very much like a storeroom.  It’s certainly dark, they nailed that part.  There’s something very melancholy about realizing that your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and there’s simply nothing to see.  Unless you’re in a cave it’s pretty hard to emulate total darkness but they managed it.  Kudos to them on that.

Sadly I don’t even have a great story on how I got here.  I didn’t ride into Juost Manor full of righteous indignation, there was no verbal confrontation with the Baron where I told him his mind was overthrown, no cruelly smiling Kostelos witches, no shameful weeping from my betrayer with my cousins begging for my release from the sidelines.  What happened is once we got within sight of Alleene we halted for a moment and Martialla took off my shackles.  Despite her earlier words when this started she did apologize for stabbing me in the back and explained unhappily that she had to do what was best for her and since I was doomed to failure anyway she made the decision to switch sides.  She even claimed that she regretted it now, but there was no turning back.  She didn’t ask for understanding or for my forgiveness of her actions, she just wanted to share one last drink with me.  She didn’t expect that we’d ever have the chance again, regardless of what happened.  She took out a bottle of Oldlaw whiskey and we toasted to friendship as we locked eyes and both understood if we ever met again it would be with knives in hand.

A few minutes later I started to feel groggy.  I don’t know how she did it, but she poisoned me, I guess she probably put poison in my cup before she poured.  That fucking bitch got me twice.  That almost bothers me more than being stuck in this lightless hole.  Fool me once, etcetera.  People unfamiliar with human nature wonder how known bounders and scoundrels keep conning people – with their reputations how can anyone believe them?  As this example shows it’s easier than you think.  You come at people sideways, you come at them when they’re at their lowest, you take advantage of the fact that even the most cynical people want to believe deep down inside.  And it doesn’t hurt when what you’re doing is complete overkill.  She already had me chains, why would I be expecting poison? 

I don’t know what she got me with, I was never unconscious I don’t think, but my brain was fuzzy for a good while, I was seeing stuff with my eyes but the image wasn’t making it home you know?  I just remember a few flashes of the manor and then by the time I regained my wits I was in here.  It’s a smallish room but it’s not nightmarishly small like you might expect – it’s probably fifteen feet by twelve feet.  I’ve paced it out several times.  I think I’ve been down here for a couple of days.  I’m hungry and more than that I’m thirsty but I don’t feel like I’m dying yet.  I can’t really go off sleep because my sleep schedule is all messed up before.  Normally when it’s this dark sometimes it can be hard to even tell if you’re awake or asleep, but lucky me I always know when I’m asleep on account of the nightmare creatures that attack me every night.  That happened three or four times but I wouldn’t assume that means I’ve been here three or four days necessarily.  Like I said my sleep routine is all messed up.

After that third or fourth time though my imperious looking friend was back.  Instead of being stripped naked and beaten over the head with a wine bottle by the King himself (who’s dead you know but ‘they’ keep putting him in my dreams, I wonder what that means – I never even met the guy) I dreamed that I was in thein the middle of a massage given by someone who really knows what they’re doing.  That was actually kind of a nice transition – from the darkness of the prison room, whatever it is, to the closed eye experience of massage.  How can you have your eyes closed in a dream?  Fuck if I know.  I wondered if I was not dreaming at all, if it was just my mind finally playing a GOOD trick on me, but when I opened my eyes there was light.  I was in the salon/lounge/pleasure den/whatever of the authoritative woman. 

This time she was dressed in transparent silks and wherefore was showing pretty much everything.  I saw that she had tattoos over each breast and across the belly.  You know how I feel about that.  But she was smoking croff, which I’m sure you know is a mixture of vayav, flayleaf, and roasted beans of caladock.  It’s very hard to get the mixture exactly right, which is why croff is so rare and expensive but in the dream is was perfect.  I know because after the massage I went over and smoked some with her as well.  This time there was no gaggle of noblewomen clustering about, just inconspicuous servants bringing us excellent wine and fresh fruit.  After getting nice and relaxed, you know the way I mean, I helped myself to some ripe sensational granee fruit.

“Can you have your dream people bring me something more substantial?  Like a nice crispy duck?  Not fatty duck you know, but the juicy good stuff.  I wear clothes that cover everything up so I don’t have to eat only fruit.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I’m dreaming I still feel like I have to go to the privy.  Weird huh?  I suppose if I went to the facilities here I would just be shitting myself in real life huh?”

Her voice was dreamy (pun) like she had been smoking for a while before I got there, you know, before the dream started because that makes sense “Did you do what I asked?”

I finished off a glass of wine and poured myself some more “I did.”

Her eyes flared slightly “I’d know if you did.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

Her eyes started to clear from the drug-fog and harden “Your ingratitude surprises me.”

I laughed briefly “I say the same thing all the time.  I’m always saving people from monsters and then they’re jerks about it.  I guess I’m a hypocrite huh?  Although what exactly did you do for me?”

“I protected you from the dreads presences that feed on your sleeping mind, as I’m doing now.”

“I just thought the night hag had other things going on that night.  So what are you then, some kind of sweet dreams faerie?  If you’re a dream though what does it matter if I don’t repay your help?  I mean you’re not real right?  It’s kind of confusing, I know that dreams aren’t real – but they are a real thing that happens?  What does it all mean?”

Some women look good even when they’re angry, some look even better – she wasn’t either of them “I explained this all last time.  Do I need to go over it again?”

I held my hands up “No, no, not at all, I . . .”

She gestured grandly “Thousands of years ago, I ruled over this land and all the people within it.  This was a time of splendor and majesty and I was at the center of it all.  For you see . . .”

“Thousands of years ago?  Last time you said I it  was. . .”

“THOUSANDS of years ago a warlike race of elves from . . .”

Just like that she was off the races again.  I tried to pay attention to her this time, I really did, but she went on forever and it was boring.  After a few minutes I started pacing around the room and toying with different things she had lying around.  I wasn’t sure that I believed this wasn’t a dream-dream and was instead a dream communication of some kind until she droned on for over an hour – no real dream is ever that tedious.  She kept saying that she wanted to give me a gift without getting into any details. Nor was it ever made clear what she wanted from me or what I supposed to do.  At least as far as I can tell, after the first few minutes I was only halfway listening. 

“Well dream princess lady, I tell you, it would be nice to have someone on my side for once.  I never thought that I’d think that, but despite the way it ended I really did like having a partner – not you know like a tongue kissing partner but a partner partner.  She was always worried about people thinking we were together.  I don’t know why, nobody cares about that.  Maybe she was secretly into me and it was some kind of overcompensation, I don’t know.  She certainly fucked plenty of dudes whenever she had the chance, but I’ve heard that what really matters is who you fall in love with.  Like if you’re a guy you can go to town on many another guy, but if you don’t feel anything – you know, inside – then . . .”

“What are you talking about?!”

“Just making conversation. 

For a moment her mouth twisted into a weird smirk, although maybe smirk isn’t the right word – it’s the face you make when you see someone who’s been talked up a lot and they’re not that impressive.

“You are a frustrating person to speak to.  I’m offering you the partnership you seek if you would be attentive enough to listen.”

I shrugged “It’s just a dream, nothing here matters.  I appreciate you keeping the nightmares away.  Can you do that every night?” She shook her head “Well then, what’s the point?”

“Your ally has abandoned you.  I am offering you a more powerful alliance.”

“Are you though?  What can you do for me?  You’ve been pretty vague what I get out of this deal”

“I shall place my mark upon you.”

“That doesn’t sound very helpful.”

Her eyes flashed with anger again “You do not understand, I . . .”

“You’re right, I don’t understand.  Is this really more than a dream?  If so what kind of magic bullshit is going on?  I don’t know about any of this kind of stuff.  Why would I make a bargain with you?  I don’t know who you are or what you want.”

“I’ve told you twice already!”

I snorted “You gave me a bunch of horseshit history lessons.  That doesn’t tell me anything.  What are you?  A dream ghost?  A demigod?  A demon?  What do you want?”

“Revenge!”

I smiled “Now that I understand.”

“You must give up your meaningless futile quest and do my bidding, my revenge is against powers greater than . . .”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.  I will never give up on taking revenge on the Duke, never.  Not as long as I draw breath – and maybe not even after I stop.  If you can help me with that, great, then we have something to talk about.  But I’m not going to give up on it to help you out, that makes zero sense.”

“You would be the most favored of my minions, once . . .”

“Pass.”

Her face turned grim “As you see my powers over your dreams are even more potent than those of your enemies, if you spurn me . . .”

I grinned “Ah, so now we come down to it.  The threats.  I guess the foreplay is pretty much over huh?  Time to get down to business.  You think you can cook up worse nightmares than when I’ve been experiencing?  Give it a shot lady.  You think you can make my life any worse?  You gave up pretty quickly on the ‘let me help you’ tactic, makes me wonder what exactly you could have ever done for me.”

I could tell that her initial reaction was to lash out with anger, but she mastered herself quickly and I found that she was beside me with a reassuring hand on mine – I wanted to pull away but found that I was only able to move as the dream wanted me to.  I could feel the dream trying to press comfort from her touch on my mind, but it didn’t take.

She purred in my ear sordidly “I didn’t mean to be cross with you, it’s just I’ve waiting for so long.  People like you are very exceptional and special.  I want to be your friend and sometimes friends have to tell each other truths they don’t want to hear.  You have fought a good fight and you have tried your best to get your revenge, but you have failed.  The fight is over.  They have you now, if you continue this fight they will break you – your life continues only in my service.  There’s nothing odious about being in my command I assure you, quite the opposite.  Look around you, this doesn’t have to just be a dream.  You will become wealthy and powerful and you will serve only me, all others will be beneath you.  The race is run and you have not made the finish line.  Now you must do what is best to carry on.”

“No, I’m in a tight spot for sure but I’m not done, not my any means.  Lost the fight?  I haven’t even started yet.”

“When will you give up?”

“Like I said, as long as I live I will fight.”

“Are you living now?  Consider that.  You walk the roads and you fight monsters, and what becomes of it?  Is that a life worth living?  You are poor and powerless and the plaything of anything that comes your way.  You have been battered and ruined.  The only joy you will ever know again comes through me.”

“You got it all wrong dream queen.  I don’t fight monsters, I kill them.”  

When I woke up, if indeed that’s what even happened, I could still smell the fruit, incense, and narcotic smoke of the pleasure den.  My muscles still felt relaxed and languid from the massage.  But most convincingly of all, I was full, and I was no longer thirsty.  The food and wine was really in my belly.  So it’s not JUST a dream and she probably can hurt me in the dream world, maybe even kill me.  Well fuck, that’s a problem.

“I should have taken a shit while I was there.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There’s some old saying about how after you find enlightenment your life is the same as before.  I’m not sure what the point of that is unless they want to discourage people from trying to find enlightenment.  Which they probably are, that way there’s more enlightenment for them.  Crafty jerks.  Regardless of the intent I now see that saving the world is a bit like that.  Yesterday I saved the world and everyone in it.  Today?  Same as the days before it.  Okay, that’s not exactly true because I woke up on the floor of a woodshop like a tame beast instead of on the ground like a wild beast and breakfast was home cooked biscuits and honey instead of whatever salted and dried garbage Martialla pulled warm from body heat out of her pocket but the point is that had nothing to do with saving the world and it’s only better by comparison anyway.  You know what I mean. 

Martialla was treated to more healing from the village “wise woman” and before we left she showered the community with gold as way of thanks – which is a rookie mistake.  She has a lot of learn about being affluent.  It may seem generous to reward people with more gold than they’ve seen in their lives up to that point, but it’s very disruptive, most people can’t handle it.  And it’s not only bad for the people themselves but for the community as well.  People don’t react well to sudden drastic changes, even one that in theory should be beneficial.  I guarantee you if we ever come back to this place everyone will be cursing her name for all the misfortunes that have befallen then.  Befell?  Is that a word? 

Today we finally reached the road to Alleene, or least a road to somewhere, who knows really.  And surprisingly there were no bandits seeking our gold or our lives, no knights demanding satisfaction (of various types) no stingmoggies to vex our path, no basilisks sunning themselves in the middle of the road, nothing like that – just a road and the people traveling on it.  There weren’t many of them though, not as many as there would have been a few months ago.  Renwick being destroyed is going to have a profound effect on this area.  I wonder what’s going to become of this part of the county and what other place is going to experience a windfall because of it.  Assuming Vieland doesn’t conquer the whole place in the next few months anyway.  I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to study the “evolution” of cities, once I’ve become the world’s foremost scholar on that topic I should be able to expand my expertise to the growth and decay of larger areas like counties.  I’m going to have to live a long time to apply that knowledge to the entire Kingdom, but we’ll see what we can do about that.

Despite Martialla’s paranoia we camped that night some fellow travelers – maybe she assumed that since nothing had happened that day we were due to be attacked by nightgaunts and having more people around would diffuse the possibility of one of us getting grabbed – or at least herself or me, I doubt she cares too much about one of the cousins being dropped from a great height by a nightgaunt.  There was a brother and sister with a daughter (not sure whose) pulling a cart stacked full of cages, each one containing a scorpion the size of a cat – they were bound for some manner of giant insect bloodsport in Heathgrove.  There was a couple who introduced themselves as Lady Penrhyn and Sir Cropton Sarver but they were (to my expert eye) clearly frauds.  Whether their cadre of servants were in on the joke of were the ones being duped I don’t know.  There was a troupe of traveling players who talked excitedly of performing at places I had never heard of – Golden Borrow, Grovedale, Friendship – seriously who names a town Friendship? There were a couple other people hanging about, I think they were going to look for work in Preen.  A brickmaker or a basinmaker or something, a guy that picks berries (that’s a job?), a woman who builds wells (makes sense now that I think about it, wells have to come from somewhere) and various people like that.

As sometimes happens in these impromptu gatherings of traveling folk banding together in the dark dark night someone brought out the booze then an instrument or two turned up and the evening transformed into a good old fashioned hootenanny.  For the first time in a long time I heard music and had no interesting in singing – not because the music was terrible (although it was) but because it felt wrong to sing while in chains.  Even when you’re singing something sad and somber the act of singing itself feels like something free and joyous, at least it does to me, and it wouldn’t feel right to do that while in bondage.  The cousins joined in the lowbrow revelry with abandon while still maintaining a superior air.  Even Martialla loosened up a little – taking some drink and chatting with some of the travelers – but only after making sure that I was tightly secured to a tree.  She made sure to keep half an eye on me as well. 

Not long after people started kicking up their heels a fellow came over to stand near me semi-awkwardly.  He was one of those types you see sometimes that you can tell has been hard used by life but wears it well – rather than looking haggard or used up they’re more like a dented iron pot, a little damage but still mostly fine.  He was a bear of a man but he had long dark hair in two braids, which looked strangely girlish on his unwieldy frame. 

“Sorry friend, I’m not really looking for company tonight.”

He held up a bottle and a clay cup that looked tiny in his big mitt “I thought you could use a drink.”

I sighed “Oh, I wouldn’t mind that at all, but my hands are occupied at the moment and I don’t like it when people feed me or give me drink from their own hand.  It’s undignified.”

He nodded “Got yourself into a little trouble with the law have you?”

“Something like that, you’re the first person to say that – most people seem to think that I’m a slave.”

He frowned slightly “Isn’t slavery illegal in the Kingdom?”

“So I keep telling people.”

“Well uh, I wouldn’t want to intrude if you aren’t looking for company but I was hoping that I could speak with you for spell.  It’s not a coincidence that I’m here, I was sent to communicate just with you in particular.”

“Oh yeah?  I’ve been getting a lot of that lately.  What God sent you and what eldritch abomination am I supposed to help you contain?  Is your speech going to be something about how there is a darkness outside reality, a darkness born not from the absence of light but from the presence of true darkness.  And that darkness is full of things.  Nasty things that as long as they’re ‘out there’ have no shape or form, but when they come here they turn into something that shatters the minds of mortals.  Something with a dreadful hunger.”

“Uh . . . no.  May I sit?”

I nodded since my arms being bound precluded any gestures “Be my guest.”

It took him a moment to lower his bulk to the ground and get into a comfortable position, taking a drink from his bottle before speaking.

“I don’t know anything about any entities, but I do know you from the old days out at the farm.”

“You must have me mistaken for someone else.”

“Ela right?” I nodded “Yeah, I knew you when we was both just little nippers.  Not knew really in honest, but we were in the same area before you went off to wherever you went, knew of you I guess.  Don’t look like the years have been overly kind to either of us, but we’re still standing.”

“Somehow you tracked me down from when I was six?  That’s . . . . awful?”

He shook his head “No, not as such, I was sent – kind of like you said.  Only not by a God, not really.”

“Is that it?  I thought you wanted to talk, what’s the story?  Who are you and what’s going on?”

“Folks call me Oldlaw on account of my love for Oldlaw Whiskey.  What’s going on is that I’ve been sent to check in on you.  See how you’re doing.”

“By who?”

 He took another drink “Well, that’s where things get complicated, I don’t mean to be enigmatic or try to make this seems like a mysterious visit but I can’t talk too much about it.  It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to you anyhow.  So?  How are you doing?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  What the fuck are you even talking about?”

His look was mildly reproachful “Do you have to curse so much?  In the beginning you never cursed at all, do you remember?”

“Well at court that kind of language marked you as boorish, which was bad – it wasn’t the thing to do at the time.  Now, with the way things are going cursing seems like exactly the kind of thing that I should be doing.”

“Okay Ela, have it you way.”

“Quit talking to me like we’re old pals out on the porch sharing a jar of peach booze and gossiping about our neighbors across the way and their dumbass son.  I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with this folksy bullshit routine.”

He seemed a little hurt “I just thought that you could use a friend.”

“Mm, is that what you are?  A friend?  A friend who’s going to help me?  Are you going to unlock these chains?   You should be careful about that, that woman over there eyeballing you right now has a fearsome temper – and she has the perspicacity to back it up.  Are you going to take her on for me my friend?”

He glanced over at Martialla “Oh, I try not to do that so much these days.  When I was younger my friends and I used to get into all kinda scrapes.  I wish I had learned my lesson about that sooner, wasn’t until a couple of my buddies got killed that I realized that’s no way to go through life.”

“Yes well, I’m glad that you came all this way to talk about your personal growth through tragedy while I’m chained to a tree.”

“Huh, I guess this wasn’t very helpful.  But at least I tried.”

I snorted “Well that’s what counts.”

“It’s a hard path you’ve chosen for yourself Ela, very dangerous stuff.  I hope you make it through alright.  Do you think you will?”

I shook my head “What the fuck is wrong with you pal?  Did you get dropped on your head?  What kind of question is that?” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 3 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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?”

“What?”

“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?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

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.”

“What?”

“Huh?”

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.”

“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.”

“Shut up.”

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?”

“Fair point.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 2 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Why is it so satisfying to tell someone “I told you so”?  There’s nothing worse than being right, so it must be purely the delight you feel in seeing someone else fail.  Which certainly isn’t an attractive quality by any means but it seems to be pretty common.  I suppose it stems partially from a sense of competitiveness – when someone doesn’t listen to you and then falls flat on their face you’ve proven yourself to be superior.  It’s a biological thing I guess, still rattling around in our brains from the old days when you had to fight your way to the top or die like a dog.  Actually I guess in that regard nothing much has changed.  That’s a question for the philosophers I reckon – all those animalistic tendencies that were so important to get where we are today now hold us back from progressing further, so how do we get rid of them?  Whiskey? 

My point is this, if we had gone to Margrain like I wanted to we never would have been captured.  Technically I was already captured but you know what I mean, Martialla and the cousins were captured and I was transferred to someone else’s captivation.  Turns out that the Bloody Jake that Martialla killed (pretty sure I wasn’t involved in that one at all) wasn’t a lone wolf – this was more of a family of killers scenario like those Harrow people from up in Verdal.  They had a slick operation, I’ll grant them that.  I don’t know if they had mystical backwoods shenanigans up their sleeves like their dead friend or if they were just really sneaky but they caught us completely unawares – and it’s a rare bastard that can catch Martialla and me one hundred percent off guard.  We’re pretty good at sniffing out ambushes you know – most of the time. 

There were three of them, one normal and two less so.  The normal one was a tall rawboned countrified roughneck with short curly dirty-blonde hair, he was actually fairly handsome, or would have been if he wasn’t going to kill me.   Friend number one was a short fellow whose face had that waxy look of someone who’s been burned but it also looked like it had been stretched somehow, like it was taffy that had been pulled into the shape of a face and then left to harden.  In addition to being short he was also slender as a maiden, a look that wasn’t helped by his overly loose puffy red pants and frilled shirt – he looked kind of like a scarecrow, only lighter.  Friend number two though was the main event.  His skin was not a color I’ve ever seen on a healthy person – a kind of green-grey, I’d say it’s similar to the color of the mold that grows on a peach if you leave it too long.  He was also oblong shaped – very skinny up top, then bulging in the middle only to taper away to scrawny chicken legs.  He was wearing dirty orangish trousers and that was it, which didn’t do anyone any favors.  Why is it that the only men that walk around without a shirt on are the one’s you’d never want to see shirtless?  It’s uncanny I tell you.

They sprung out of hiding and eliminated their only real threat immediately – Curly and Taffy seized Martialla and Chicken-legs put a sack over her head that had been soaked in something.  Smelled a bit like some kind of trumpet lily to me, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a floral perfume because Martialla went all rubbery legged (and rubbery everything else) in a matter of seconds.  I’m not a poison expert, but I know a few things about toxicology, and I’m telling you that whoever whipped that up knew their business.  Putting someone down like that, like a blown out candle, that takes some real skill.  The fight was over before it began, Parfinis and Betrei made an effort with their scavenged axes but there were two things hindering their effectiveness.  First if that while most people of a certain status have a passing familiarity with light blades, fencing lessons and so forth, very few fancy people are trained to fight with axes.  I don’t know where you’d even go to learn something like that.  Maybe ask a dwarf?  Is that racist?

So that was one problem, but the more pressing hindrance is that they are, at best, enthusiastic amateurs in the fighting arts.  All three of them managed to get captured by one of these Bloody Jakes when they had their own gear, what chance are they going to have when the odds are turned the other way about and they’re working with borrowed equipment?  Plus you have to consider the domestication factor.  The cousins are soft-hand types from the big city, not nobles, but not the kind of people that don’t have to empty their own night jars you know?  What chance are they going to have against wild creatures like these three?  You ever see someone’s pet dog tangle with a feral?  It aint pretty.  Civilization has many good qualities, but making you tough isn’t one of them.

Jesslin was completely useless.  She had a scavenged knife but she didn’t even try to use it.  I guess her magic isn’t the kind that’s useful when someone is attacking you, which seems pretty stupid to me.  Seems like one of the first spells you should learn is one that dissuades someone from ripping your lungs out.  Maybe that’s just me.  I don’t know what they teach you at magic school in Indlecastle but it clearly isn’t the kind of stuff I’m used to seeing Martialla to where people are doused with motel iron or blasted with acid or burned alive.  I guess even magic has a wild unruly dangerous side and a sedate weakling cultured side.  Seriously though, what’s the point of studying magic if you can’t even use it to crush your enemies?  Tell me that.  Parfinis and Betrei had the good graces to at least get wounded before they threw down their weapons and begged for mercy, Jesslin didn’t do anything – Chicken-legs just grabbed her by the elbow and she fainted dead away.  It’s embarrassing that we’re even distantly related.

“Well fought gentlemen, a great victory assuredly, I assume you’re here to rescue me?  Can we get these manacles off, my shoulders are killing me.”

Taffy chuckled and Chicken-legs shot him a vicious look “This woman killed our brother, don’t laugh!”

“Point of order sir, I didn’t kill anyone, the unconscious young lady over there with the bag over her head is the one you’re looking for, she’s the one you want to torture to death.  I witnessed it myself, I saw her kill your brother in cold blood, the rest of us were just innocent bystanders so you should probably just let us go.”

Taffy laughed again and Chicken-legs came over to breath his onion-rotting meat stink in my face “You’re all going to die!”

“Now then, let’s not be hasty shall we?  I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement right?  Some manner of exchange of good or services?  My cousin over there, the one that’s fainted, she’s a real tiger in the sack you know?  I’m sure that . . .”

Chicken-legs was spitting mad “You will die!  Do you have any idea what you’ve done?  All the work that you ruined when you killed Vancher?!  Do you have any idea what you’ve unraveled here you gnat?  You worm!  You insect!  Our work here is more important than anything you can comprehend!  You’ll suffer for what you’ve done.  You will cry until there is nothing left wet in you.  You will scream and beg and pray to all the Gods until your throat ruptures and it will make no difference!  The pain will go on, you will never be released!”

“Okay, well, that’s your opening position, I would like to present my counter-offer where that doesn’t happen.”

Apparently he wasn’t interested in hearing the counter-offer because he kept ranting.  He went on at some length about how he and his family where some kind of cosmic guardians.  On their land they had found an old cave where some people that lived on this land before even the Kostelos had documented by cave-painting that there was manner of force that would devour the world if it was not appeased with human lives.  He really belabored the point that this was NOT some alien inhuman and incomprehensible being of the far universe, but rather just the opposite – a grotesque creation of pure, distilled, and entirely human hate.  He claimed that his family had for generations been the caretakers of the world by feeding this entity lives to keep it abated from annihilating everything.  He was upset because somehow they store up the deaths until they go into the cave and release them to the entity – and by killing Vancher we had “wasted” a bunch of souls or whatever and therefore put the entire world as risk.  He really went on and on about it.   

“Good gods, do you ever shut up?  I thought that the good thing about being captured by primitive country murderers would be that at least I wouldn’t have to listen to a lot of speeches about why they’re doing what they’re doing like with city murderers, but here we fucking are.  You’ve been talking non-stop for half an hour!  I get it, there’s an eldritch abomination that I’m responsible for too, I have this ring I have to wear or this creature my great-uncle summoned from beyond the stars will destroy the world.” I looked over at the injured cousins who had been kneeling in horrified silence this whole time “That reminds me, we should figure that out genealogically, to see if you’re related to the Whiterocks or not, it would be good to have a back-up for that ring in case something happens to me.  Although, if we’re being honest, it’s hard to care about the world ending if I’m already dead.”

Chicken-legs stopped ranting long enough to look at his brothers.  Curly stared at me for a moment and then nodded.

“I do see something.  Her rope is greasy.”

“My rope is greasy?  What the fuck does that mean?  Sounds obscene, and not the kind of obscene that I could ever be.  Although I met this woman one time who used to be a male gladiator and she was cursed so that . . .”

Chicken-legs grabbed me by the unbreakable necklace around my throat – which hurts more than you’d imagine “Show me this ring.”

“Sure thing chief, just get these manacles off me.”

Curly came over and did something behind my back, not like a normal something, some kind of backwoods magic bullshit – it didn’t sound like any spellcasting I’ve heard before and I’ve sadly heard a bit and this point – and the manacles popped off.  Chicken-legs grabbed my hand and pulled it up to his face like he was near-sighted or something which made it easy to stab him in the belly with my off-hand.  My secret pocket isn’t as handy as those magic tattoos were, but it’s pretty convenient to always have access to a weapon.  Well not always, but almost always.  Obviously there’s no way I would have taken these three on by myself even if I had all my gear.  I don’t know if Jesslin was faking it or if she had woken up from her swoon, but I had spotted her moving her hand a little and pulling the poison-sack off Martialla’s head from afar with her (not entirely useless) magic.  It took Martialla a long while to come around, but once she turned invisible and not one of the Bloody Jakes noticed I knew it was time to interrupt Chicken-legs monologue and get the party started. 

When I cut Chicken-legs across his bulging belly I halfway expected spiders or fanged worms or dirt or something to pour out, but it was just regular old blood.  Martialla reappeared as she ran Taffy through from behind, using a dagger in left hand her to cut his throat for good measure as well.  Chicken-legs threw me aside like a . . . thing that you throw aside and pulled out some kind of ugly piece of hooked metal to go after Martialla.  I screamed for Jesslin to help me and we tried to tackle Curly, but he was too strong even for the both of us – thankfully her brothers jumped in the scrum as well and we managed to drag him to the ground while Martialla and Chicken-legs were hacking each other’s bits off and doing magic shit to try and kill one another. 

I got a hold of the sack and shoved in in Curly’s mouth – there was enough juice left in it to knock him out but was clearly less potent at that point because we had to pin him down for a good long while.  Once he was out I sprang up and dashed in at Chicken-legs enough to distract him so Martialla could really lay in some good stabs.  We’ve done this kind of thing enough times that we have a good system worked out – I’m pretty good at getting someone’s attention hard enough that a better fighter can take advantage.  And Martialla is damned good at taking advantage.  She’s no great warrior, but she’s like a surgeon when she strikes someone from behind – which is always the best way to strike someone.  Once he was done for I went back to put my sword through Curly’s neck, finishing off the noble guardians of the earth.  I plucked a jug of shine off him and sat down against a tree to take a drink. 

“Oof, what a day huh?”

Jesslin was looking around fearfully “What do we do know?”

I looked over at Martialla “On to Alleene right?”

“No, I meant about what they said!  About the entity.”

I smiled slightly “You believed that shit?  Some inbred morons find some charcoal lines on a cave wall and they start killing people?  I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Betrei was pressing his bloody shirt against his stomach “So what you said about the ring that was just so they’d let you get free?”

“Oh no, that is true.  We really should figure out something about that.”

“I don’t see a ring on your hand.”

I looked at Martialla again and she shook her head “I believe that I’ve misplaced is just at the moment.  But it probably takes a while for a being to destroy the entire world so . . . you know.  It’s probably . . . . fine.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Behind the Scenes: One million experience!  That’s almost like an accomplishment. 

Update/repost/edit – Montagem 10, Year 887 (New Imperial Calendar)

NOTE – Re-writing this old post to close a plot hole that I’m sure has been tormenting you all for over a year now.

Uncharacteristically for me I woke early today.  It’s hard to sleep late when your body is practically vibrating with nervous energy.  Actually nervous isn’t the right world, and neither is anticipation really – is there a word for a feeling you get when you’re about to experience something new that you know is going to be dangerous but you’d interested anyway?  Is there is what’s what it was.  I never thought I’d be anywhere near a battle in my life – watching one far away sure, but near a battle, like on the ground?  I would have lost money on that bet.  In addition to thinking that I would never be near a battle I also hoped that I never would.  Who in their right mind would want to be in a battle, those things are dangerous.  Nobody, that’s who.  And before you say that you know lots of people that love to fight please note that I said someone in their right mind.  I don’t dispute that a lot of people either because of brainwashing or insanity are ready to fight and die at the drop of a hat. 

Before I set out to meet up with my brave adventuring companions and charge into danger I figured I should give notice to the only God that I really care about.  That’s a thing that you’re supposed to do before you head into battle right?  Some manner of last obeisance to the Gods to make sure if you die your soul is going to be taken care of? 

In the old days worship of Kozilek was forbidden.  By necessity one assumes – you can’t have someone in your tribe who you can’t count on right?  But even then there were people that didn’t feel like the rules applied to them.  After all if you make a statue of a God and then tell everyone “now don’t look at this one” some people HAVE to do just that.  There’s a kind of strength to be found in disarray.  I have to assume that the tribal leaders looked the other way on that a bit – when you’re going to fight another bunch of savages over a lake of a date tree or whatever there’s no harm in having someone on your side that doesn’t have any problem not fighting fair.

In these modern times a lot of people claim that Kozilek isn’t even a proper God, that Kozilek is just a powerful being from outside of space and time that provides divine powers to its followers.  If you can explain to me how that’s different from a God please let me know, but while the distinction if lost on me it’s important to some people.  God or not worship of Kozilek isn’t forbidden anymore but it’s not something that anyone would admit to, it’s more like being really into visiting brothels – the people that do it are into it but they don’t go around advertising it.  Anyone who declared themselves to be a priest of Kozilek would be considered unstable and irrational – and they probably would be.  I mean it’s not like there’s temples of Kozilek where you go to services every week, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense.  What kind of trickster god would have people sitting in rows listening to sermons?  But there are people out there that pay homage to the Cypher Lord, it’s more of a personal faith.  It’s not a wearing robes and lighting candles and scared meal kind of a thing, it’s more of a do whatever you want and think “this one’s for you Kozilek, you want to help me out please do.”

Worshippers of Kozilek are considered to be fringe lunatics nursing grudges against the society that they couldn’t function in, which is mostly accurate, so I’m clearly not one of them – but Kozilek is the God that I can at least identify with somewhat.  I would sum up Kozilek’s Godly advice like this –

My life is my path, and none will sway me from it.

If you want something take it, but you know, but subtle about it, don’t be a goon – show some artistry about how you go about it, if you do it right no one will even notice. 

There’s no such thing as getting even – if someone wrongs you repay that slight on their head at least tenfold, more if you can swing it. 

Be the instrument of your own justice. If someone messes with you take matters into your own hands, aint nobody in this life going to do it for you.

Those are simple to the point tenants that I can get behind.  Or in front of, however that works.  There being no temple at which to pay my respects I wandered around town just taking in the morning and silently I gave thanks to the Butcher of Truth, the Great Distortion, the Confusion of Panic, the Trap of Enigmas , the Harrower of Thought, for helping to make me cunning.  I asked him to watch over me on this day.  I’m not sure what it means to have a trickster God watching over you, it may not even be what you want, but I’m a sucker for tradition. 

After fulfilling my very important religious obligations I met up with my companions at the edge of town, my friend with the eye-patch looking like he was coming off a night of hard drinking and low down dirty carousing.  His gaze lingered on me hungrily.  I felt like I needed to bathe again just at the “touch” of his vision. What a way to start a day.

We set out into the woods at a fair clip but I could tell they were showing me some consideration with their pace.  Obviously I am well versed in pretending to be interested in the stories of men, but I had my fill of their war-tales pretty quickly.  Yes it was winter and you had no boots, yes you were starving and ate rats, yes your friend had his legs hacked off by some doc sawbones, blah, blah, blah.  It’s all well-worn territory narratively speaking, and there’s nothing quite as boring as someone else’s misery.  Luckily this lot wasn’t very good at picking up on social cues and they construed my uninterested silence as rapt attention.

I will admit to being a bit winded when we came to a stop, I haven’t really lived a life that has me in condition to do a lot of marching around.  I showed them the spot where the woodsman met his grisly fate and they fanned out to look for tracks or other signs of the beast.  It was clear these men knew their business but to the untrained eye it seemed we wandered randomly, the method of what they were doing was lost on me entirely.  I realized quickly that this was unlikely to be a one day excursion, if we found the worg at all it could take days or weeks.  This was unexpected and dismaying.

At some point during the day eye-patch mentioned that we were being shadowed by the tribal folks of the forest.  Who can say why?  For all I know this great wolf was their sacred beast and they all took turns being married to it for a season.  I hate these primitive types, if your society can’t make a pleasant wine what’s the point of it?  I mean why even both right?

As night came on they built a rough camp and stirred up some awful oaty gruel-like mixture that I was nonetheless glad to have, I was famished after a hard day of traipsing around the forest.  I was semi-hypnotized staring into the flame when all of a sudden my four companions leapt to their feet, grabbing their spears and bows.  Off in the distance skulked the beast.  My heart fluttered in my chest but long tense minutes passed without anything happening, it was too far away to attack and came no closer.

Wanting to bring this confrontation to a head I did something very foolish, I convinced them to let me approach the beast saying I would bait it closer.  I’ve never been so frightened as when I stepped out of the campfire light into the shadows towards the low form of the worg.

The monster demanded to know what I was doing and I whispered that I had brought him “treats” as I had promised.  He declared they were too big and strong but I was able to appeal to his ego, seems as though males of all species are vulnerable to that ploy.  He paced about quite a bit, working himself up to it, but with my coaxing he finally slipped away into the night to prepare his attack. 

When the great beast burst into the camp a moment later, all Hells broke loose. In a flash the worg had borne one of the men to the ground and ripped his throat out. It was over for that fellow in half a second.  Just like that.  No chance to fight back, just alive one moment and the next not.  Makes you think.  With a mighty leap the word knocked over the leader and tore into him with his jaws.  Somehow he seemed even more massive than ever in that wild rush, must be a trick of the light.  Patch fired with his bow and missed as the other man charged forward with his spear, trying to help his boss who struggled on the ground with the worg.

The sound of the howl the worg unleashed when Patch scored with one of his arrows was ear-splittingly horrific.  I turned away from the awful scene, not half a minute later though, all was quiet.  Two men lay dead, Patch was terribly wounded, the leader of the little band was all over with blood but seemed steady on his feet.  The worg laying dying so near the fire that its fur smoldered.

While the leader was distracted I palmed my stiletto and came up on Patch with a strip of clothe as if to bind his wounds.  He had a look of grateful appreciation on his face until I stabbed him through the liver.  He fell to the ground silently without a sound.  The sole survivor (other than me) sat at the edge of the firelight for a long time, it seemed best not to bother him.  I picked up the spear of one of the fallen men, just to see what it felt like to have a real weapon in my hands.  So crude and rough – graceless.

“Your brother is avenged . . . . at a heavy price” he said to me finally.  He had a far-away look in his eyes that made me uneasy but we worked together to bury the bodies, the most back-breaking effort I have made in twenty years, and then fell into an exhausted sleep.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 75 gold, 25 Silver

XP: 1000

Inventory: Peasant outfit (with hidden pockets) , Signet Ring , Stiletto , Map case, quill pen, red riding cloak, candlerod (5) , dreamer’s star tea (4 servings) , poison ring, awful pendant, disguise kit (8 uses) , Fashionable Accessories, hollow heeled boot, poison locket

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler , Alice Kinsey , “Patch”

Rumors : Murderous servants (25%) , exiled noblewoman (10%)

Behind the curtain: I used the vagabond stats from the Game Mastery guide for the 4 ex-soldiers, that worg was a real terror though, without a bow critical at the end I think the whole crew would have gone down.  I debated if Ela should get any XP since she all she did was hire people to fight for her – although thematically if you got XP like that it that would explain why mayors and lords and such are always hiring adventurers to do their dirty work, would also explain how they tend to be mid-level sorts.  In the end I decided to award her half XP like a cohort for this encounter since she was there and cohorts don’t always do a lot during combat. 

Mantelderith 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Look people I’m going to state this plainly so there’s no question – am I not a cannibal.  As we traveled yesterday all afternoon people were giving me funny looks and acting weird.  Even Martialla was giving me some unusual glances when she thought I wasn’t looking.  I was merely pointing out that from a logical perspective once someone is dead eating them is no different from eating anyone else.  Obviously I wasn’t actually going to do it.  Okay, I was going to do it before everyone flipped out on me, but that doesn’t make me a cannibal.  They didn’t know that it was human meat, they were just assuming that – based on nothing I might add – because they were scared.  Obviously I would never violate societal norms and cultural taboos like that because I am a non-deviant upstanding member of the community.

Betrei (sounds like betray, what kind of name is that?) and Parfinis (the bald one), which are apparently the names of the two make distant cousins had armed themselves with axes from the murder’s cottage.  Although if you ask me they don’t look like they’d be worth much in a fight.   They’re far more useful as pack mules, Martialla scavenged quite a haul of supplies from the Bloody Jake’s larder (no meat though obviously because that would be WRONG) and it’s not like she was going to carry it all herself.  Jesslin, despite her talk of spellbooks did seem perfectly capable of doing magic to summon a quick localized rain shower to gather water and emitting a spark to start a campfire – convenient but what a liar right?  The cousins weren’t exactly old hands at wilderness travel but they did show us to a trail that they claimed should take us to the road that leads to Alleene.  I suppose we’ll see.

I guess my mysterious dream benefactor was really a figment herself because last night’s dream-slate was back to regularly scheduled nightmarish torment – impalement, stabbings, being poisoned and thinking that you’re going to be okay and then not being okay, trampled by horses, mauled by bears, being tortured for information that I didn’t have, strangulation, being executed for a crime you didn’t commit, the usual.  Although this last one was a twist because the method of execution was tied to a stake and then drowned, you know like in a cove where the tide is going in or whatever happens in coves.  That at least showed some imagination rather than the usual burned at the stake.  You ever visit one of those sea-side spots where you can still see the timeworn chains on the rocks from the bad old days of “giving people to the sea” to ensure bountiful fishing?  It’s chilling. 

With nothing much else to do as you’re marching through the countryside I took a good look at the cousins.  Their clothing is definitely worse for the wear (literally) but it was fine enough in its prime.  And of course if Jesslin was sent to Indlecastle to study magic that means they’re for sure not part of the lower crust.  I don’t think they’re bigwigs of any kind, but I would mark them as prosperous commoners – that thin middle layer of people that aren’t really important but get to lord over the people on the bottom of the pyramid.  The kind of people that don’t have enough money to hire other people to wander the countryside getting captured by Bloody Jakes but do have enough money to wander the countryside getting captured by Bloody Jakes inside of having to work like a dog every day of their life until they drop dead pushing a plow in their fifties.  When they were talking about their bequest problems I assumed they fighting over nothing, but now that I’ve had a chance to scope them out better it’s probably something worth a little fuss. As we traveled today I decided to ask them about it.

“If you don’t mind my asking what kind of inheritance are we talking about?  Enough to lure you out into the savage hills clearly.”

Parfinis was on my right, having appointed himself my watcher “Actually I do mind.”

Betrei laughed “I don’t.  Our family has a couple lots of farmland that we rent out, as well as some city holdings – although our best personal home was in Renwick sadly.  We’re part owners in several mercantile endeavors.”

“And why are you the heirs rather than your parents?”

Betrei started to answer but Jesslin cut him off “Normal family squabbles, nothing that would interest you.”

“And this uncle of yours what’s his story?  Is he an asshole trying to steal your fortunes or does he have a leg to stand on?”

Jesslin interrupted Betrei once again “I’m sure the feels he’s in the right, it’s for the courts to decide, no use wagging tongues about it.”

“So you guys grew up, if not in the lap of luxury, at least on the shoulder of luxury – whereas my family were copperless dirt-farmers in the worst county in the Kingdom.  How do you suppose that all shook out?  Why the difference?”

Betrei laughed obnoxiously “Probably because our grandmother married a successful furrier while yours was a wanton.”

“Wanton?  I didn’t think anyone said that in real life, I thought that was just a word that you see in books.  Actually the only other time I remember hearing that is from my grandmother oddly enough – wanton kittens make sober cats was one of her sayings.  She had hundreds of them.”

Parfinis gave me an odd look that I couldn’t interpret “You seem to have done pretty well for a copperless dirt-farmer.”

I raised my manacled hands and plucked at my tattered dress-sack “Yeah, things are going great for me.”

Betrei looked thoughtful “Present circumstances aside you’re clearly not a farmgirl.”

“I was pretty young when I left home, I . . .”

Martialla, being the big swinging dick of the group (so to speak) was leading the way, but as I was speaking she stopped and spun to face us, looking displeased.

She gestured “Stop.”

I looked around “What is it?  Bandits?  Owlbears?”

She pointed “No, you stop, stop talking.  Don’t try gaining these people’s sympathy with stories of your sad childhood and how awful the world has been to you.  Don’t weave us a tale of what terrible wrongs were done to set you on this path.  No one wants to hear about how hard everything has been for you  and how the world has been against you from day one.  You want to talk?  Talk about the weather.  Better yet don’t talk at all.”

Betrei looked over at me “Wow, and you two used to be friends?”

“I don’t take it personally.  It’s just business.”

What the cousins had neglected to mention is that this trail leads to the village of Dawn Plains, which was a highly disagreeable thing to neglect to mention as far as Martialla was concerned.  Although being displeased seems to be her default state now.  She was much happier before she betrayed me. Just pointing that out.  Seeing a village kicked up her paranoia again, assuming that this was part of some plot against her, but clearly the cousins just didn’t think it worth mentioning – in their minds of course we would be staying in any village we could find.  Despite being terrified of Martialla they offered a compromise – they’d go into town to get some more supplies and she could stay here any watch over me.  In her suspicion though somehow Martialla talked herself into going into town and leaving the four us here – which makes no sense because if they were plotting against her to set me free this gives them the perfect chance.  What she should have done is stayed here with me and Jesslin as a hostage and sent the brothers into town.  I’ll forgive her through because she’s clearly under a lot of stress.

It was all moot anyway thought because not long after she left a man come walking up the path anyway – and older fellow with a wide face and a crazy wrinkled forehead who nonetheless had long lavish black-grey hair going strong.  I tell you, I know from a good head of hair and that’s it.  He had a fishing rod over his shoulder and a friendly smile on his face.

“Morning folks, what brings you to EEEGHHHA!!!”

That’s the noise he made when Martialla jumped out with sword in hand, we were all pretty startled by that.  I retract my previous statement – that was a pretty good plan, pretend to leave and then lurk invisibly to see if anyone is plotting against you.

He clutched his hand to his chest only semi-teasingly “Ye Gods woman, you about gave me a heart attack!”

She gestured angrily with her sword “And who might you be?!  Another conspirator?!”

He frowned, he had great eyebrows too “Conspirator?”

I scoffed “What?  Are you worried he’s going to hit you with his fishing pole?  He’s just an old man.”

His face was alive with mock outrage “Old?  I’ll have you know that I . . .”

His good humor seemed to be making Martialla angrier “Shut up all of you!”

All the shouting brought another pair of fellows out to see what all the hubbub was and before long half the village was out there (it was a small village) shooting the breeze as best they could with an increasing aggravated Martialla blustering all the while.  They clearly don’t get many visitors, which makes sense, there’s no a lot of call for traveling from nowhere to another nowhere.  Eventually Martialla gave up and stomped off.  The village people were very interested in us of course, but they were also eager to tell us their tale of woe – everyone loves sharing bad news.  The bandits mentioned by that guy Martalla murdered in cold blood (possibly justified) were all anyone had anything to say about.  Once they took over Margrain (the place to the north mentioned by that guy Martialla murdered in cold blood) and destroyed Hallkin (the place where Martialla murdered that guy in cold blood) they had moved on from banditry to setting themselves up as the local warlords, extracting “taxes” from all the surrounding communities.  The Dawners had appealed to Baron Juost for aid but their call went unanswered.  They had sent letters to Renwick (apparently their information is a bit outdated) and had even tried to hire an adventuring party to help them but nothing had worked.

After breathlessly telling us their tales of despair they invited us to stay with them, but by that point Martialla was back with her supplies and wouldn’t hear of it – insisting that we camp outside of town.  Which was pointless, because most of the villagers just came out there and speak with us.  And more importantly to bring us delicious downhome cookin’ including a huckleberry pie that I would literally murder a person in cold blood over just like Martialla did to that guy in Hallkin.  Martialla sat stewing while the rest of us enjoyed an impromptu country jamboree.  Although no one even asked me why I was shackled – why do you think that is?  It was late in the night by the time the villagers returned to their shacks and shanties, leaving Martialla and I sitting across a fire – just like old times, regarding each other across the flickering flames.  Only everything was different.

“So what’s the plan?”

For a moment it seemed like she wasn’t going to answer but eventually she spoke “Continue north until we hit the road.”

“No, I meant about the bandits.”

“Why would we do anything about that?”

“Why wouldn’t we?  These people are suffering Martialla, didn’t you heard their crude homespun lamentations?  It’s like when you see a rabbit stuck in a trap, either you let it go or you put it out of its misery.”

“Or you just keep walking because it’s not your business.”

“We have to do something, you know that we could, it probably wouldn’t even be hard – just a little trickery and shenanigans like we used to do.  Remember Martialla?  We used to be quite the team, and we could be again, if only for a while.”

“And blood, don’t forget about the blood.  And the screams of pain.  And the shit, you know when people are dying and they shit themselves.  Don’t forget about that.  You’re not in charge anymore Ela, you seem to have a hard time understanding that.  I’m not sure what will make you understand but I’m thinking about it for sure.  None of your pointless sidetracks, not anymore.  It’s not my job to wander the hills setting things right that have gone wrong, my job is to take you back to the manor.  And that’s what I’m going to do.”

“When did you become so cold?”

“Don’t pretend like you know me.  You never knew me Ela, you never took the time to know me.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Martialla has really gone off the deep end.  I know that she’s worried about me outsmarting her and escaping but she’s giving me too much credit.  I generally only have two workable strategies – taking someone by surprise or charming them, neither of which is viable against her in my current predicament.  She already took all my stuff, and although I hate to say it I am reliant on my stuff, without it I’m not all that effective so that’s kind of the endgame right there.  It stings to admit that but it doesn’t make it any less true.  The point is that her paranoia about the sudden appearance of my distant relatives is wildly illogical, and as you all know I told her as much.  There wasn’t much else that I could do so as she was glaring at the three of them and they were fearfully eyeballing her back I slid off the kitchen table where I had been so rudely deposited and crossed the room where I laid down on the murderer’s bed.  Proving my point Martialla’s eyes were full of panic as if this was some master stroke of genius.

“What are you doing?!”

I pulled the murderer’s pillow to my head and rolled onto my side “Seems like you two are going to be staring daggers at each other for a while so I’m taking advantage of the bed while I have access to it.  Wake me up when you figure out what you’re going to do.”

The unfortunate thing is without my amulet I’m haunted by hag-fired nightmares every night.  This means that no matter how tired I am, and trust me I’m plenty tired, there always a sense of dread when I have a chance to catch some sleep because I know what’s coming.  It’s like if every time you sat down to eat someone unavoidable and unerringly kicked you in the ribs on both sides and then in the kneecaps.  You’ve got to eat right?  So there’s nothing for it, other than to cultivate a sense of trepidation about a basic human thing that you need to do live and was once something that you found joy in.  They say that you can’t die because of what happens in a dream, which is probably not true because I’m sure there’s some magic dream-killing spell because magic ruins everything, but I’m certain that a long enough period of time without restful sleep will kill you.  If only because you might nod off and fall and crack your skull.  Isn’t it stupid to think that just falling down can kill you?  The human body is a crappy design and I’ll tell the Gods that myself if you want.

This batch of nightmares started off a little different, usually they’re the “archetypal” stuff of being chased and attacked and maimed and mutilated, but last night things took a more cerebral path.  Makes you wonder how these dream attacks work – does the nightmare hag actually craft these narratives herself or does she just send the magic out and the magic somehow “knows” what’s scary and does the work itself?  Once again magic questions for which there appear to be no answers.  In the dream I was put in charge of distributing food throughout a massive city – not real city that I could tell, just a dream construct of a bunch of cities I’ve been to or read about or imagined.  The person that ran the place before me had detailed records of all the food coming in and out and all the people they had saved.  Of course, this was all bullshit and they hadn’t done any of it, but I knew that if I said anything about it I would be executed by the King, he was still alive in the dream you see.  And not just me but all the staff of the place would be killed as well.  And of course said staff was populated by various people with sad backstories and children that counted on them and so forth that needed me to protect them. 

So in the dream I continued the lie and did everything I could to buy and steal food to fill their quota so that at least more people would be getting fed than before. The King’s minions were so delighted by all the people that were seen in the streets hale and healthy (not really but they weren’t dead) that I was praised and hailed as a miracle worker and I was given a medal and everyone was kissing my ass and I was known as an angel who’s feeding the masses.  So of course the quota was increased and the lies had to become bigger and we had to buy and steal more from elsewhere, and the staff under me became bitter and jaded and evil since they spent most of their time taking food from people that needed it to give some of that food to other people that needed but mostly to avoid being hung.  This led to more accolades which led to more demands which resulted in more lies and more theft and eventually outright violence, and of course in the end cannibalism – killing the poor and feeding them secretly to other poor people.  This cycle repeated until eventually the whole scam became too big to conceal on account of the streets were full of people dead from starvation who rose up as undead famine monsters to hunt the living.

At that point things returned to normal, “just” the humdrum horror of being ripped apart and eaten alive by unliving beasts from beyond the grave.  But then things took another turn that was even more unexpected.  While I was in the middle of being held down and devoured by ghouls suddenly everything stopped and then the nightmare city and its carnivorous inhabitants disappeared.  In its place was a parlor/salon/decadent room of decadence.  The air was sweet, literally with lemon oil, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot and figuratively with soft melodies being played from behind silken screens so you didn’t have to look at the musicians and ruin the effect.  In the middle of the room a marble fountain of unspeakably suggestive statues bubbled with cool water underneath a delicate wooden lattice.  An imperious looking woman with skin as pale as ivory and eyes the color of bright silver sat on a luxurious chair smoking something that gave off a fruity narcotic scent while being fanned by eunuchs.  How do I know these were eunuchs?  Trust me, I know the eunuchs when I see them.

I sighed and reclined on one of the many overstuffed couches scattered about “I assume this is just the part of the nightmare where you make things seem normal and nice before the monster jumps out and bites my head off.” I plucked a plum from a nearby bowl “But I’ll take it.”

The woman’s voice was silky and seductive “You will have no more nightmares tonight, I’ve blocked the creature that was attacking you.”

“I’m sure.  I don’t mean to criticize but this plum is just very delicious.  If you’re going to go through the trouble of making a dream plum why not make is the greatest plum in the universe?  That way when the plum turns into a cricket in my mouth it will be even more revolting.”

“I told you there will be no more of that, you’re safe here with me.”

I lay back further on the coach “Yeah, yeah, thanks.  Is it possible to fall asleep in a dream?  I feel like I’m about to do that.”

A tiny bit of irritation crept into her smooth voice “I’m doing you a favor by preventing your nightmares, as a courtesy you should listen to my proposal.”

“I can listen with my eyes closed, go ahead.”

“Five hundred and seventy years ago by the way that your people reckon time I ruled over this land as Empress, at my wish simple peasants could rise to riches and power, businesses could thrive or crumble, and people would live or die – all as I desired.  But that all came to an end when . . .”

She went on for quite a while about Gods and curses and disasters and death and spirits and stuff like that.  I think I really did fall asleep which doesn’t even make sense, how can you fall asleep inside a dream?  And can the dream that you’re dream have its on dream inside that dream?  Asleep inside a dream or not I wasn’t really paying attention, I think she wanted me to find her tomb or her bones or something.  She probably wants me to bring her back to life like I did with Harda.  Now that the word is out about that all kinds of dead people are probably going to turn up at my door like beggars wanting me to do the same for them.  No good deed right?  All I know is that when I woke up it was the next day after dawn – I must have slept for more than fifteen hours.  And I felt fantastic, I felt refreshed, the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.  I saw Jesslin and her brothers sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, Martialla was nowhere to be seen. 

I stretched and made a wordless noise of satisfaction “Did you guys actually do it?  Did you off Martialla to rescue me?  I can’t remember the last time she wasn’t hovering over me ready to impale me.”

Lady lips looked over at me “She’s outside.  We told her we’d keep an eye on you.”

I chuckled “And she went for that?  Great.” I threw me legs over the side of the bed and clapped my hands together “Let’s get moving then before she gets back.”

Jesslin shook her head “We’re going to help you get to Juost Manor.”

“Why would you do that?  Isn’t blood thicker than water?”

“You said yesterday that you weren’t trying to evade your responsibilities anymore, that you wanted to go.  After you fell asleep we talked with Martialla and we agreed to help you get to Baron Juost, once you’re there we’ll speak on your behalf.  When you were made his ward you didn’t know about us – maybe we can convince him that you’d be better off with family.”

“Well how kind of you, and what, in return Martialla said that the Baron would help you with their inheritance problem?”

Baldy grinned but Jesslin scowled at him before he could say anything “We’re just trying to work things out what’s best for everyone like you said we should.”

I walked over and sat down at the table, clapping Lips on the back and “accidentally” whacking him with the chains of my manacles “Well done, welcome aboard and all that, nice to have family around, etcetera.  What’s this we have here for breakfast?  Looks like a bowl of weeds, where’s the meat?”

Martialla strode in looking quite refreshed herself, she clearly had bathed and prettied herself up some “We weren’t sure about the meat, we figured it was best to avoid it.”

“Gone bad huh?”

“Or was bad to begin with.”

Jesslin responded to my questioning look “We weren’t sure about it’s . . . origin.” She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“What?  You think it came from the people he killed?  So what?  I don’t care, where is it?  I’ll fry some up for myself.”

All four of them gasped, Martialla even stopped in her tracks, almost dropping her rucksack.

I snorted “Oh, don’t give me that, they’re already dead.  No reason to let food go to waste.”

Martialla looked ashen, after all we’ve seen and done somehow this was too much for her “You cannot be serious.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is, I’ve never understood why people are so squeamish about this topic.  Killing people is wrong, usually anyway, but once they’re dead why not eat them?  It’s just flesh, what’s the difference.”

Baldy was outraged “The difference is it’s a person!”

“It was a person, once they the spirit has fled the body is just garbage.  What do you think happens to people once they’re buried?  Why is being eaten by worms and beetle grubs better than providing nourishment to your friends and loved ones?”

Martialla was shaking her head “You are fucking vile.”

“Don’t judge me you prudes, you’re the ones who have hang ups not me.  We eat animals all the time, and as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise we’re no better than any other filthy animal.  I’ve definitely met people stupider than some chickens.  Plus you don’t even know that it is human meat, it’s probably just deer jerky or something like that.  And if you don’t know who cares?”

Jesslin looked over at her brothers “I told you there was something wrong with that side of family.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

Martialla picked me up and at first I thought she was just going to keep going, trying to carry me the whole way, but even in my poison-addled mind I realized  quickly that she was looking around for the Bloody Jake’s hidey-hole.  Even being as slim and attractive and well-proportioned as I am I was surprised that she was able to pick up and carry me so easily.  She’s probably wearing my magic strength belt like a dirty thieving bitch.  I thought she was crazy to look for his hideout, I thought that it could have been miles and miles away, but it was actually very nearby and she found it easily.  Seems lazy at first, but then again if you had the ability to mystically alter people’s paths so that they would get endlessly lost walking in a circle forever wouldn’t you make it so they were doing that right by your house?  It’s just convenient to live nearby to where you work, that’s all.

I don’t know about you but I expected a dirt-covered murder tramp to live in a tarpaper shack infested with botflies and baby raccoons.  That wasn’t the case at all.  The murderer’s shack wasn’t a shack at all, it was a proper cottage.  Dare I say it practically looked homey.  I wonder if he built it all by himself out here of it he had people help and then killed them.  Either way it would have taken months, I say having no idea how long it takes to build things.  It creeps me out to think about the mundane logistical background of the many murder-dens I’ve encountered in my travels – like someone going to market to buy nails for this house of horrors.  Actually, now that I think about it probably what happened is that some nice couple built the cottage to live in with the aid of their friends and family and then this dude killed them and stole it.  That makes more sense.

Martialla carried me inside, heedless of traps (luckily there were none but that woman needs to be more careful) and set me down on the hard kitchen table instead of the nice comfortable bed.  The place was tidy and well-maintained, but not TOO tidy you know?  Sometimes when you walk into a place and everything is completely organized you know the person that lives there is bonkers.  Messiness is a sign of a disorganized mind, but also there’s a limit to the amount of neatness that sanity can bear.  Martialla started rummaging around in the kitchen/poison brewing area, I guess looking for some kind of anti-venom (anti-poison?  No, antidote, that’s the word) but I was more interested in the three people tied up in the floor.  No special torture chamber or murderer hole, just tied up and laying on the floor in the normal house.  They were hog-tied which is a term that has never made any sense to me because you can’t tie a hog like that.

Three bound people in a murder’s home would have been interesting regardless, but what I found especially intriguing is that one of them was the spitting image of my grandmother, you know, when she was young.  Being ravaged by poison like I was It was hard enough for me to speak that I threw my voice to Martialla even though she was only a few feet away, she started, which is understandable because it would have sounded like I was right behind her whispering in her ear.   

“Hey, what do you think of them?”

She whirled around, thinking I was behind her as I said, and then spotted the three captives.  Her first reaction was to go over to them.

“Wait, hold up, if there is something that can help me find that first – they’ve been here a while, a few more minutes won’t hurt.”

She grumbled something about me not being in charge but she returned to her search and found something that she poured down my throat without asking – which is unspeakably rude.  It did make me feel six hundred percent better but that’s not the point.  I sat up on the table but was too woozy still to hop off.

“Now what are the chances of that?  That the guy who poisons you would have a potion of neutralizing nearby?”

“I’ve say one to one if the person is smart.  You want something like that on hand in case you make a mistake when you’re smearing poison on your arrows – those things are sharp you know, and the poison doesn’t know whose side it’s on.”

“Huh, that’s a good point actually.”

“I do occasionally have them.  The question is what to do with these people.”

“Is there a reason you wouldn’t let them go?”

“Yeah, you.  I don’t want you suborning them with your wiles.  Speaking of which.”

Under threat of magical annihilation I sighed and obeyed her command to put the manacles back on. 

I held my chained hands up “There, now are you going to let them go?”

“I’m still deciding.  If I hadn’t come along they’d be dead anyway so doing nothing is kind of just allowing nature to take its course.”

“That’s some good self-deception there, and you said you weren’t a good liar.”

“I never said that, I said that I wasn’t a good actor.”

Martialla is a practical sort, and she can be ruthless (especially when it comes to me apparently) but she’s not quite so cold blooded as to let three presumably innocent people die for no real reason.  The woman as I said looked very much like my grandmother in her younger days, or at least what a painting of her looked like – maybe the artist was being nice.  She was a tall dark haired woman with features that were just this side of sharp, staying in the attractive range rather than being frosty.  Unlike my grandmother’s easy charm and self-assuredness though she had a severe and somewhat fragile expression.  Along with her were a fellow with the pouty lips of a maiden matched up with scraggy sideburns and an overly large nose and a haunted looking companion who was balding and had small ears. 

After the initial panicky rush of thanks and crosstalk about what had happened they explained that they had been captured at least a week ago and when they had been brought here there were two other men who were already tied up there.  After a couple iof days the Bloody Jake took one of them out of the house and they weren’t seen again.  A few days after that he did the same to the other man.  They were in awe of Martialla that she had killed him which doesn’t seem quite fair since I’m the one who came up with the plan and executed it and got shot over it.  I never get my due.  Once the opening salvo of jibber-jabber was over I got down the important matter at hand.

“Pardon me Jesslin, but would you mind giving me your surname?  Actually no wait, can you give me your grandmothers maiden names?”

She frowned slightly like this was some kind of trick “Why?”

“Just humor me would you?”

She glanced at Martialla who shrugged before answering “Wylcott . . . . and Castrumfield.”

I nodded “That explains it, your grandmother is my great aunt I think.  You look just like her, my grandmother I mean, it’s uncanny.”

She blinked “That’s why we were out here, because she died.”

“What?  My grandmother has been dead for years.”

She was as confused as I was “No, not your grandmother, our grandmother – your great aunt.  She died in Renwick and the will was destroyed by the fires as well.  She named us her heirs but without the will our uncle is asserting priority.  We heard that there might be another copy on file with Archbaroness Relonge so we were headed to her compound.”

“Wow, that’s quite . . .

Martialla barged in the way with her hand on her sword hilt “Wait a minute, so you guys are cousins?”

“Second cousins.”

Baldy small ears jumped in as well “Aren’t we first cousins once removed?”

Lady lips got in the fray next “Our mother was her first cousin once removed so that would make us . . .”

Martialla had the look she gets when things are going south and it’s time to maybe start killing in her eye “What the fuck ever, the point is you’re related?!”

Jesslin and her brothers exchanged glances before she answered “Sounds like maybe we are.”

Martialla whipped out her sword and summoned her ‘look I have magic’ ball of threat-energy to her hand “Back up all of you!  Get on the other side of house!”

They were all startled, Lady Lips especially, but Jesslin seemed to have a little more grit in her – and she threw up her hands like she was going to cast a spell of her own.

Lips looked at me “What’s going on here?  Why are you chained up?”

Martialla let some stray magical force leak out at them “I said back up!”

I ducked my head “You better do what she says, she fried a dude yesterday for less than this.”

Martialla moved around behind me to use me as cover and to put her sword against my back, I could see from her shadow that she was shaking her head in disbelief “I don’t know how you fucking arranged this Ela, but it’s not going to work.” She shouted at Jesslin “You, put your hands down or I’ll slice your cousin in half!  I fucking mean it!”

Baldy helped out “Second cousin you mean.”

I glanced back at Martialla as best I could “Look, everyone just calm the fuck down.  All right, everybody, relax.  Calm down. Just calm down. Everything is fine, we’re all friends here.  I didn’t arrange anything, I know you’re afraid of me because you know what I can do, but I’m not this good.  It’s just a coincidence.”

I could feel her tension hitting my back like a wave of energy “You expect me to believe that?”

“If it was part of my plan they would have just jumped you from the get go right?”

“Unless they’re trying to earn my trust!”

“If they were trying to do that why would I have asked them about their grandmother in the first place?  They would have played it coy.”

“Maybe you’re not even related, maybe you’re playing them hoping they’re going to help you!”

“Sure, there’s a lot of things that could be going on, but what is going on is that I bumped into some distant relatives who don’t know me – I doubt they’re going to risk their lives for me based on the fact that our grandmothers were sisters.  I know I wouldn’t risk my life for them because of that, no offense.  But that doesn’t really matter because they can’t hurt you anyway, look at them, they’re just people with no weapons or anything.  They’re no threat to you.”

“That one was going to cast a spell!  She’s arcane!”

“Jesslin, is that true?”

Her eyes were darting around as she answered “I studied magic at Indlecastle.  B-but I don’t have my spellbook.  H-he burned it.”

“Spellbook?” I looked back at Martialla “I’ve never seen you studying a magic book.”

“That’s because I’m a fucking sorcerer!”

Jesslin took a half step forward “A spellbook is how a wizard does magic, you have to memorize the spell before you cast it.”

I glanced at Martialla again “And you can just do it without a book?  What a rip-off.  So there you go, she can’t do any magic on you, they’re harmless.”

Martialla jerked her head at the door “Fine, you’re free, now get out.  Go wherever you’re going and if I see you I’m going to assume you’re coming for Ela and kill you.”

They started to move towards the door but stopped when I spoke “Now wait a minute, that’s hardly fair, if you send them out there without any supplies or weapons they’re just going to die anyway.  Why bother to save them if you’re just going to condemn them anyway?  You may as well just kill the now.”

Baldy threw his hands up “No, no, we’ll go, we don’t mind!”

“No stop!  Look Martialla if you chase them off now they’re going to wonder what the fuck is going on and maybe they will come back to try and help me and then you’re going to have to kill them – and I don’t want that.  Let’s just figure out a way we can part company without anyone worrying about anything.  Can I tell them what’s going on?”

She laughed bitterly “Which version?”

“The truth.  Jesslin, two male cousins who’s name I’ve forgotten but don’t take it personally because I’m under a lot of stress, this is the situation.  For political reasons I was made the ward of Baroness Juost, I didn’t like that so I ran away and Martialla here was tasked with taking me back to Juost Manor.  This is all legal and everything is on the up and up, I don’t like it but I’ve accepted it for what it is – I ran out on my responsibilities and now am going to pay the price.  Everything is fine and she’s not going to hurt me.”

Jesslin had a little bit of tough bark in her eyes “She looks like she wants to hurt someone.”

“She’s just trying to scare you.”

Baldy nodded “It’s working.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I spent last night sleeping on the floor of an abandoned boathouse. Or trying to sleep anyway.  Set aside for a moment the fact that I was laying on a wood floor with my arms trapped behind my back, the real problem was that Martialla set me up right next to the . . . whatever, the hole where the boats go.  I became convinced that I was going to roll over in my sleep and fall into the water and drown.  Not only tha,t whenever I did managed to snatch a few minutes of sleep my dreams were universally about something coming out of the water to grab me – a tentacle, a crocodile, a leaping shark, whatever that sea-monster was that Martialla turned into the other day, those abhorrent sea-elfs that I helped out a while back, a freshwater mirror, a river troll, a giant river slug – you name it as soon as I drifted off they were crawling out of the water to flay my skin off their claws or dragging me into the water to drown me.  I feel like I haven’t slept in seventeen years. 

Also what is the point of places like this?  There’s no settlements nearby and no houses or anything.  I admit that I know very little about riverine trade and travel but what purpose did this serve when it wasn’t abandoned?  Why would you store a boat so far away from anything?  Add this to the empty villages up north and this section of the river is really going through some hard times.  If this keeps up long enough the whole place could just fall into disuse like some of the northern counties.  Is it the war?  Is it Renwick being destroyed (more or less)?  Is if all this nonsense with the Baron and the Kostelos?  Who knows, but this area is not doing well and the future predictions aren’t good either.  Before we started slogging off again Martialla fed me some of that gross honey and oat mixture she made and gave me a drink of spiced wine.  It was better than nothing by the slimmest margin you can think of.  I hate being fed more than just about anything, I feel like she’s be wildly overcautious with these shackles.

“Can’t you bake these into a little cake or something, this is humiliating.  Not like a cake cake, but like a rice cake you know?”

“If you don’t like it you don’t have to have it.”

“Could you at least wash your hands first?  For my sanity?” She had no response this “Hey, what about this, why don’t you catch some fish?”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Transform yourself into that river beast like you did the other day and just dive in and grab them with your fish-paws.  A nice crimson trout or a rainbow bass or something would really hit the spot.  I bet it would be easy, those things have to eat somehow right?”

“I’m not going to waste magic on that Ela.”

“How is that a waste?  We’re fucking starving here!  A handful of waxy oats a day isn’t doing shit!” Again she had no response, she was much more talkative before she betrayed me, must be a guilty conscience. “How does that work anyway?  If you turn into a goat and eat a bunch of grass and then turn back are you still full?  Like can you live that way even though people can’t eat grass?”

“I can’t turn into a goat Ela.”

“But you see what I’m saying right?  If you turn into a goblin every day and eat a bunch of snake-meat that is good for goblins but has no nutrient value to a human and you don’t eat anything else are you going to die?  Or does the magic somehow transfer the food energy over?  Or do you just have a bunch of deadly snakemeat in your human stomach and you kick the bucket?  For that matter if you turn into a being with a bigger stomach . . .”

“I don’t know Ela.  It’s magic, it works however it works.”

“You see this is what I’m saying about magic, how can you not know?!  If I could turn into a hobgoblin I would want to know everything about it!  If you’re a hobgoblin and you get pregnant what’s the baby going to be?  What if you’re a human when you give birth?  Does that change things?  What if . . .”

It looked like she wanted to throw something at me but had nothing to throw “No one knows these things because no one cares!  No sane person would even want to know the answer to these questions!  I’m not going to turn into a hobgoblin and then get pregnant, what are you even talking about?!”

“That was just an example, what I’m saying is that the lack of curiosity about how magic works in general is . . .”

She sighed wearily and got to her feet, coming over to drag me up as well “I don’t care Ela, lets’ go.”

As we walked along the river a wispy fog came off the waters.  Is it fog or mist that comes off of a river?  Whatever it is I thought that it might help cool things down but instead it just made everything clammy in addition to hot – and you know what I mean by everything.  I miss my old clothes, they were magic you know – not only did they clean themselves and resist rips and wear but they also kept me cool when it was hot and warm when it was cold.  Magic stupidity aside enchanted clothing is really the way to go, I don’t know why anyone bothers with mundane pants and shirts when for just a couple thousand gold you can have something great to wear. 

There’s a opinion that countryfolk while ill-bred and unsophisticated and deformed and diseased and abnormal and illiterate and ugly are nicer and more helpful than cityfolk.  This is somewhat accurate.  Things are harder out in the country so people do help each other out more readily.  It’s necessary to survive.  You may hate your neighbor and wish he would drown in a bog so you can nail his wife but when he needs help protecting his goats from an antspider you grab your whacking stick and come a’running because you may need his help when the kinderboggen steal away your newborn baby.  There’s more of a sense of community in the rural areas because everyone needs each other more. 

However, this does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that there aren’t some rotten turnips in the pie.  What you have to remember is that in the city everyone is all up in everyone’s business – everyone is watching you and judging you all the time.  There’s an element of safety by means of gossipy nosy bullshit.  In the city if you start down the path of being a dyed in the wool asshole there’s more people to catch on and slit your throat and toss you down a well before things get bad.  Out in the country on the other hand people are more isolated, and also too busy to worry about what someone else is doing.  Not to mention which there’s ALL kinds of empty land for you to do whatever evil shit you’re into.  In the city no matter where you go to try and hide there’s a chance someone is eyeballing you and can’t wait to blab to everyone about whatever weird stuff you’re doing.  Out in the farmlands there’s all manner of dells and dales and ditches where nobody’s going to see a thing, ceptin’ the rabbits and they know to keep their little rabbit mouths shut.

It’s not common, but it’s common enough that it has a name – they call these people Bloody Jakes.  Why?  I have to assume because there was an infamous bushwhacker torturer at some point whose name was Jake.  Although I’ve never heard of such a tale, being the sophisticated urbanite that I am.  These cruel backwoods folk prey upon their country neighbors if they have to but what they really like is terrorizing civilized people who venture into their rural hunting grounds.  There probably are, per head, less bad people out in the hills than in the city because they tend to work and beat that out of you better in the hills but when they go bad there’s less of a safety net to find and squash them.  If the whole family is in on it you can get away with things for generations.  What does this have to do with anything?  Hold on, I’m getting to that.  Calm down will you?

When we stopped for “lunch” (resting for a bit and enjoying some dirty river water and dried roots) we heard indistinct voices down the way that were distinctly unfriendly sounded.  I told Martialla unequivocally that this was a trick, an auditory illusion.  But even though I know this because I do it myself all the time and I also have a demonstrated knack for sniffing out illusions she didn’t listen to me – she never does anymore.  It’s like her betrayal of our friendship has made her suspicious of me for some reason.  Worrying about an ambush ahead she moved us west into a rockier area, which I fucking guarantee you is what the phantom illusionist wanted us to do.  This was confirmed when we quickly lost our way, and I know this is going to sound stupid because we get lost all the time anyway, but it wasn’t normal getting lost – something was messing with us.  That probably sounds like an excuse, but when have I ever made excuses for getting lost?  Something was disorienting us in the “we walked by that tree three times already way”. 

Martialla gestured imperiously “I am sick of this, Ela, take cover.”

She proceeded to call out to whoever was skulking around out there.  The usual come out and face me stuff, insults, appeals to masculinity and so forth.  Those kinds of things can be effective if there’s an audience to shame the person and if they care – I knew that wasn’t the case.

“You’re going about this all wrong.”

“Thanks for your input, I told you to get out of the way.”

“Look, whoever is out there isn’t going to come out and fight you just because you call them a pigfucker.  I mean besides the fact that they probably do fuck pigs that’s not what this is about.  If you want to draw them out to have to act afraid.  It’s the old broken wing gambit only this time everything is set up so it absolutely will work.  What this guy, and I think it’s safe to assume it’s a guy, wants is to scare us with their cruel tricks, to break us down and terrorize us to the point where he can come out and kill us.  That’s the fun part, the killing is just the icing on the cake.  This isn’t a fighting man, this is a coward who likes to torture things that can’t fight back.  Even if he did win the fight that would be like food without taste without breaking you down first.  What you need to do is draw him out – pretend like you’re getting frustrated and then scared by his shenanigans. Break down and cry.  Then when he reveals himself kick his dick off.”

“I’m not . . . I can’t . . . I don’t know how to do that.”

“What are you talking about?  You’re not as good as I am but you lie to people all the time.”

“But this is like acting, it’s different.”

“You only think it is.”

“Well it doesn’t matter now, he already heard me challenging him to a fight so it won’t work now.”

“Of course it will, everyone loves knocking someone off their high horse.  Breaking the defiant ones is the sweetest candy of all to these freaks.  You start off haughty and sure of yourself but over time you slowly unravel into a sobbing snotty mess.  That’s some good stuff right there, you know, for an insane backwoods murderer.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You have many fine qualities Martialla but you’re too stubborn for your own good.  Fine, next time we’re out of sight we’ll switch, I’ll take on your form and you take on mine and I’ll do the routine where I slowly go from mighty warrior woman to scared, aimless and depressed victim.”

“I’m not going to take the shackles off Ela.”

“You want to wander around out here for the next three weeks while this idiot messes with us?  What am I going to do Martialla?  Run?  Have you ever seen me run more than a block?  You’re going to be right there keeping an eye on me, there’s nothing I can do.  Can you unbend for one second so we can get something done?”

“Sure, just explain why you would help me with this.  How does it serve your goals, I know that’s all you care about.”

“I just want to get to the manor and get this over with.  I’m sure I can talk my way out of whatever is waiting for me.  With this necklace on I can’t get away anyway right?  If I get away from you someone else will grab me.  Might as well be you, maybe you still like me enough to protect me some.”

“That’s not terrible convincing.”

“Well, what do you want to do then?”

Eventually she agreed, although if whoever was doing it was close enough to hear us the entire thing would be pointless.  Martialla took of the shackles and we pretended to be looking around the rocks for food and when it seemed like the sightlines were as restricted as they could be and we were right next to each other anyway we flipped our appearances.  People are weird about feigning weakness to trick their enemies, even when they’re willing to do it they HAVE to explain how it was a trick before they attack which often ruins the whole thing.  Why do they care so much about the opinion of someone who’s trying to kill them?  Who’s going to dead themselves soon anyway if you do the trick right?  I will never understand people.  By the time night fell and we were still walking around in circles I had reached the stage (I admit I rushed it a bit) where I was calling out for my momma and begging the Gods to help me.  It was a bit over the top, but these types generally aren’t in it for the subtlety.

When he finally appeared to make his final strike on his terrified prey he was a blocky fellow with wild eyes and a huge poor quality tattoo of a scorpion on his chest – you could tell because his shirt was ripped down the front and was operating like more of a cape.  He had a weird head situation going on where he was bald sort of but also had a long braid on the top of his head.  Never seen anything like that.  The part where he had a small bow and shot me in the chest wasn’t in the plan.  And the part where that arrow was fucking poisoned certainly wasn’t part of the plan.  It really put the kibosh on my plan to run away when he and Martialla were fighting.  Instead I fell to the ground mostly paralyzed as he came at her with an axe.  These types always like axes, I guess hacking people is more fun than stabbing them.  The fight was mostly over after Martialla stabbed him in both kidneys and then burned his head off with a beam of magic fire from point blank range.  She came over to where I was convulsing with her sword still in hand looking suspicious.

“Is this real or are you faking it?”

I grinned foamily “The Duke used to ask me that all the time.  Just kidding, he didn’t care.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Fucker had poisoned arrows, what kind of a world is it where an inbred backwoods murdering necrophiliac doesn’t right fair?”   

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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