Mantelderith 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

Late yesterday afternoon a powerful storm rolled up on the caravan without much notice.  I’m no weather expert, but it seemed pretty abnormal to me.  In the course of a few minutes it went from being a fine sunny (a little too hot maybe) day to being black as night with menacing clouds and then a hard rain and fearsome wind whipped up.  I feel like usually you see these things coming.  Probably some idiot wizard messing with the weather.  They do that you know.  They conjure up some rainclouds to water their stupid garden and in the meantime that kicks off a thunderstorm that floods an entire village a few miles away.  To say nothing of the unicorn hit by lightning bolts – those horns are like lightning rods you know.  People have cruelly taunted me with the brand of murderer but I tell you mages kill more people by accident then my lies ever could.  I wonder why they’re even allowed in the Kingdom.  Why can’t we direct our prejudices at people that deserve them for once?

Turns out that circling the wagon isn’t just an expression – it’s what you actually do in a storm.  Apparently you’re also supposed to do it when attacked also but in my experience when a wagon train is attacked everyone is dead and the wagons are on fire before anyone can circle anything.  It was a pretty miserable night for everyone hunkered down under tarps and whatnot as the wind howled and threw tree branches at us, but I actually slept pretty well underneath a wagon.  It’s a gloomy testimony of how accustomed I’ve become to the miserableness of my new lifestyle – the old me would have lost her shit if she had to sleep in the dirt under a wagon during a storm.  I’m pretty sure a rat ran over me in the night and I didn’t even care.  That’s where I’m at now.

The storm gave out sometime in the night but nobody was real chipper this morning – not just because of the storm but in part because they all had bad dreams again.  They didn’t have the same bad dream, but it sounded like they were all variations on a theme – they were being menaced by a sickly looking canine monster that was nevertheless giant and terrifying.  And who was commanding this gaunt vicious beast?  None other than yours truly – although the dream version of me had a monstrous fanged mouth and weeping lesions all over the skin.  This definitely seems like evidence that someone is manipulating people as they sleep helplessly.  People were giving me dirty looks like I had done something – you ever have someone get mad at you because of a dream they had?  Talk about some bullshit.

But as I said that was only part of the reason everyone was in a shambles.  The other part was that someone was missing.  The terrible cook’s young assistant Pulin Tarloon (sounds like the name of an old man not a teenager doesn’t it?  But all old people were young once, which makes old sound names really weird to think about) was gone when they did the morning headcount.  Everyone in the group loves this Tarloon character because makes a big show of being helpful and kind and all that, but it’s a sham.  He puts on a polite and kindly act but I can tell he’s going to grow up to be a real asshole.  I’ve looked in his eyes and I know his kind.  The question is if I cared to do anything about it could his assholery be abated or is it inevitable at this point?  And if you could be stopped what would stop it?  Love?  Ass whippings?  Military service?  Loving ass whippings in the military?  What straightens out a young man who’s headed down the path of assholedom? 

Some people were foolish enough to think that maybe he had wandered off during the storm, but talk about your wishful thinking.  After a couple hours of searching the half-elf brigade found the tracks of the people that took him.  Because of course he was taken.  This spurred a brief debate amongst the caravaneers – the half-elf quartet (does that make it an elf duet?) was more than willing to go after the boy, but they wouldn’t without the say so of Madam Hücresel since she hired them to protect her investment, not go haring and scaring across the countryside looking for wayward proto-assholes.  They’re shockingly professional and committed for an adventuring band.  Maybe it’s a half-elf thing.

The young miss Hücresel was the most vocal of the proponents for sending the squad to rescue Taroon, she clearly has a little thing for him (I’d wager if that was allowed to play out in a few years he’d leave her pregnant and heartbroken) while the elder Hücresel clearly did not want to waste her resources – proving her to be a wise woman.  It was equally clear though that she was going to cave to peer pressure until I stepped in.

“This is obviously a trap, why are were even discussing going after him?”  All eyes turned to me “I mean these tracks are unmistakably left on purpose – even I could have found them and I don’t know anything about tracking or woodcraft.”

All eyes then swung to one of the nameless (okay they have names I just didn’t bother to learn them) half-elfs who looked more woodsy than magicky (they’re are all proportions of both) that I think was a male.

“They are very clear tracks.”

“Suspiciously clear?”

S/he reluctantly nodded after a moment “It’s very unusual to find tracks these clean, I only remember seeing tracks like this when someone was laying them down to teach me how to find tracks.”

I cocked my head “And there you have it.  Tough luck for poor Tarloon, but there’s no sense in walking straight into a trap is there?”

Martialla has a thoughtful look “Well, if someone is setting a trap they’re already after us aren’t they?  Ignoring it may not do much good either.”

I shot her a dirty look but she just shrugged – that woman has no sense of when to keep her mouth shut.  We’re already going slow enough, we don’t have time for this wild goose hunt.  Especially not for the benefit of someone who’s going to be horrible in a few years anyway.  I wish more people were as perceptive as me, nobody would be all bent out of shape about finding Tarloon if they knew what he really was.  As they continued to debate I became aware that a scarecrow with a pumpkin head had walked into the group and was smoking a pipe.  No one else seemed to notice so I pointed.

“What the fuck is that?”

The scarecrow took the pipe out of its gourd “lips” and gestured “Don’t mind me, I’m just listening.”

There were some screams, several people moved away from it, and the half-elfs were ready to annihilate it, but it seemed harmless enough.  It didn’t seem to have any reaction to be threatened by half-elfs anyway.  After a few moments of everyone staring at it, the casual animated scarecrow told us that it had been brought to “life” by a local wizardess and was just curious what we were up to.

“I thought wizards used familiars for that kind of thing, ravens seem to be a popular choice.”

It nodded its pumpkin head “Sure, they can fly, but they don’t have hands do they?  Plus I don’t shit all over the place.”

“How exactly are you smoking?  You don’t have lungs.  Or do you?  Are there some human lungs in that straw chest of yours?”

“Of course not, don’t be silly.”

“Yes, because otherwise what’s happening here is completely serious.  Look buddy, we’re kind of in the middle of something here so beat it will you?”

Its pipe flared as it took a deep drag “You’re a bit rude aren’t you?  I just caught the end of what you were saying, but I think you’re the reason I’m out here.  Someone was taken?  My mistress is trying to find help in dealing with some people that like taking other people.”

“Do these people also spew violent deadly nightmares out of their heads?”

Have you ever seen a scarecrow look chagrined?  I have now.

“Uh, no, that’s probably my mistress doing that . . . seemed like the best way to get someone’s attention.”

“Sure, like shouting fire in a crowd, smart.  How was that supposed to work?  Everyone is having bad dreams but it’s not like she was handing out directions.  Why didn’t she just appear in the dreams and say ‘hey I need some help?’”

“I’m no wizardess but I guess it doesn’t work like that.”

I rolled my eyes “Of course it doesn’t why would magic ever work in a way that made sense?  So who are these people who took our beloved assistant cook to lure us into a trap?”

“Trap?  Why do you say that?”

“The trail they left could hardly be more noticeable, they want us to follow it.”

“Hmm, that’s interesting.  They only go after people with magic ability for their rituals, so far they’ve restricted themselves to people that have nascent ability but haven’t learned to use it yet.  Sounds like maybe they’ve changed tactics.  Are any of you magic users?”

“Those four guards are.” I jerked my thumb at Martialla “And this one.  It’s actually a surprisingly magical caravan for its size now that I think about it. “

It “chewed” on the end of the pipe thoughtfully “Hmm, so maybe they were hoping to lure them into an ambush to harvest their magic.  That would be quite a step up for them.”

“And by harvest I assume you mean by ritual sacrifice.”

“Torture and then sacrifice.”

I nodded “Of course.”  I turned back to the assembly “Alright, you folks go on ahead, I’ll rescue Tarloon and then catch up with you.  And before you say anything there’s no reason to send the magic people because that’s who they’re after – they must have a way to neutralize them or they wouldn’t but putting the lure out there.  I’ll go talk to the wonderful wizard and figure this all out.  If you have anyone who can fight I wouldn’t mind some company, but I don’t see a reason to send the magic users.”

There was a surprising lack of push-back to this plan.  Everyone seemed perfectly happy to let me risk my life for this little shit while they stayed safe and happy.  Martialla did take me aside to explain that animated scarecrows was more of a witch thing than a wizard thing and reminded me that witches get their powers by forging pacts with the dark ones.  Which I’m well aware of course.  But I tell you I prefer and honest demoniac to a shifty wizard most of the time.  At least with them you know where you stand – wizards?  Who knows what they’re up to. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Despite my words to Martialla I did try sleeping without my defensive dream-cancelling jewelry last night to see what would happen.  I figured that if things got bad enough I could just wake up and put it back on – that’s how sleep and dreams work right?  These are the results from that experiment.  I experienced (hey, that’s where the word experiment must come from!) the usual nightmares I have when not warded against dream penetration.  In the dream I remember best I was approached by a sweet little girl who was looking for her mommy and when I took her hand to help her she transformed in the most horrifying way possible into a gigantic grotesquely fat bulbous flesh mound with more than twenty arms dragging it along and eight eyes without lids on the bottom – so they’re getting scraped over the ground like you do with eyeballs.  If you were so inclined you could that that it looked like what result would be if an angler fish and a jellyfish made sweet love and then had a baby (a jellyangler if you will) that they then threw acid on for some reason.  We won’t go into what it did to me.   

But everyone else had nightmares too – so I think we can dismiss the idea that what was happening was the bad dream death rays bouncing off me and splitting like light in a prism to infect everyone else.  So what’s the next hypothesis?  Fuck if I know.  Nothing good I’m sure.  Although that would be quite the twist if horrible night terrors were a portent of something great on the horizon.  Makes about as much sense as anything – which is to say none.  None sense.  Or Nonsense if you will.  The good news is that Melusine is still alive.  That’s really more like neutral news (or newstral if you will) but if you really like weird fey fish girls it’s good news to you.  My first evidence that something was wrong is when I went to drink from my Flask this morning and out dropped a thing that looked kind of kind of like a the top half of a seal smash to the bottom of a carp.  Other people claimed that to them it looked like a monkey and a carp but they’re crazy – it was more human looking up top than a seal normally is (unless you count seawolves weirdly) but if that’s what people think a monkey looks like then I’m the Queen of the moon.  It came spilling out with a bunch of water (not wine) and was about two feet long.  It wiped at its little ugly face with a webbed claw and looked up at me.

“Hello.”

“Uh, hi.  What are you doing in my magic Flask of limitless booze?”

“Is that what that was?” It perched up on its flippers/monkey arms and looked around “Where am I now?”

“Uh . . . . on the road to Cathars.”

“I have no idea what that means.  There’s now water around here so I hate it.  Send me back.”

I pointed the Flask at him but nothing happened “I guess I don’t know how.”

It bared grotesque little fangs “Send me back or I’ll bite you!”

“I’m not too worried about that, I think I could just stomp on you.”

It looked at me and screwed up its disgusting face in disgust “What are those?  Legs?  Gross, you’re gross.  What kind of beast are you?”

Before things could escalate further (I totally would have won, I have yet to meet the monkey-seal-carp that I can’t best in a fair fight) Melusine herself slorped out of the Flask and glomped into the dirt like a sack of afterbirth.  She grabbed the wriggling little beast with her frog web hand tossed him back into the Flask my some means unknown.  Possibly magic. 

“I thought you were dead.”

She bobbed her fishy head in a weird way that I assume is the equivalent of shaking side to side for a person “No, just exploring, that place you put me is great, it goes on forever.  I was able to find my way back to my pond.”

“How?  It’s just a flask that makes booze.  Although I guess an infinite amount of booze is pretty crazy magical when you think about it.”

“It’s not infinite, whoever told you that is lying – if you left it on all the time it would run out after a couple thousand generations.”

“What a rip off.”

“I just came to say bye and to tell you thanks.”

“And bestow a magical gift upon me?”

She looked at me for a moment “Um . . . nah.”

“I guess a good deed is its own reward.”

“No, it’s not really, but whatever helps you sleep at night.  Anyway, have a good life and death while I continue existing immortally forever.”

“You don’t have to rub it in.”

As she disappeared into the Flask I could hear her voice becoming very remote and hard to hear “Sorry the thing isn’t going to work anymore.”

“What what?!”

I tried the Flask, but she was right, it doesn’t make (effectively) unlimited amounts of rice wine anymore.  Or small amounts of magical potions.  Or even water.  It doesn’t do anything.  Well, I guess it holds liquids like any flask but it’s no longer magic.  This is some supreme bullshit right here.  I loved that Flask.  For sure more than anything I’ve ever had or any person I’ve met.  It was the best thing I ever got.  I’d rather all the nixies in the world died than for me to lose it.  All the other fey creatures too.  I don’t know why elfs and forest gnomes think they’re so cool.  Most of them are pretty fucked up and the one’s that aren’t are super annoying.  As we traveled today I was reduced to making the rounds amongst the caravaneers to rustle up some low qualities booze.  When I got back to the cart Martialla and I have been perching on like stately gargoyles I was pretty mad – when I saw that she had scrounged up a bottle of coconut honey elf wine I was madder than I’ve ever been.

“How did you get that?!”

Martialla grinned as she climbed onto our box pile “People like me better than you.”

“Improbable!”

“Yet true.  Don’t worry, I’ll share.” 

“How could this happen, I’m both more charming and more attractive than you.”

“Again true, but even when you’re trying to be down-home country-spun there’s still a bit of an upstairs downstairs sentiment about you, something with the eyes – people find that off-putting.  It’s like you think you’re better than them.”

“I am!  But I’m good at hiding it.  Very good.”

“Clearly not as good as you think you are.  Tell me something Ela, how would you describe yourself?”

“Shapely, with a saucy hint of deviltry lurking in the sparking eyes.  Add in an impertinent cast of the luscious lips and you’re really got something to write home about.”

She snorted “Shapely?  What shape is that, a skeleton?  Men like a little something they can grab onto you know – women maybe too, it’s harder for me to say what they like.  You’re like a scarecrow without enough straw in it.”

“What?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

She shook her head “No, you’re all out of proportion.  Spindly, that’s what you are.”

“Spindly!?!?! The last person who said something like that to me got stabbed to death!”

She glanced around “Say it a little louder will you?  I don’t think everyone in the caravan heard.”

“Who are you to talk anyway?!”

“Hey, I know I’m not winning any beauty prizes unless all the judges like broad shoulders and a strong chin.  Look, don’t get me wrong, you’re obviously pretty in the face, I’m just saying you could use some more meat on those bones.”

I snorted “I’ll take that under advisement.”

She peered at me closely “I don’t think you will.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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

Out of character interlude – You have no power here Gandalf the Grey!

I don’t know if anyone actually reads this or if they do if those readers cares about me as a human man beyond the baseline level of feeling your average non-sociopath has for all living things. But if there are such people after 441 days of daily postings I missed the past couple of days because the great state of Iowa, where I live, was flattened and I have been without power. By which I mean electricity. Also the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events but that’s always true.

They’re calling it an inland hurricane – which is clearly nonsense. I know the signs of Rodan flying overhead. Rodan the colossal, prehistoric, irradiated species of Pteranodon not the French sculptor François Auguste René Rodin. Nothing much happens when he flies overhead.

Anyway, barring a cruel joke of some sort it seems like service has been restored to my area and I’ll be back at it tomorrow. If anyone is reading this. If you are hello! If you aren’t hello anyway!

Mantelderith 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I got up this morning I checked my Flask to see how the nixie (and the Flask) was doing but there was no response from her.  I dumped out a gallon of rice wine to see if she would appear, but there was nothing.  So I guess she’s dead or gone or something.  Apparently putting magic being into a magic bottomless flask of wine was not the best idea.   I’ll shoulder most of the blame on this one.  But look on the bright side, if I hadn’t come along she would have died several days ago – when you’re facing your last moments you want every second you know?  So I did a good thing. 

Today our caravan ran smack into another caravan – one of those Shireling ones you always hear about.  Although I guess if they travel around all the time they’re not from the Eight Shires and aren’t really Shirelings.  You know what I mean, they were little people.  But you know not like humans who are short, I mean they to look mostly like very short humans, but you know what I mean.  I was told one time that the reason that the Eight Shires is such a nice place is that every so often they take a whole family (and Shireling families are big) and kick them out so that they can avoid over population.  Of those not-quite-exiles some of them come into human lands to settle and mostly get treated like crap.  Others decided instead to wander eternally in nomadic caravans like this one.  It seems like an easy choice but you have to factor in how many of these caravans you don’t see because they’ve been swallowed by trolls.

Arbeven must be on a secret Halfling migratory pattern since this is the second time I’ve seen one in this area, but it was definitely not the same one.  The one that I sold a ring to lo those many months ago was a relatively small affair populated with lean hardnosed smallfolk that you kept your eye on.  This had more of a small village on wheels vibe.  Most of the wagons were pulled by robust Shire ponies but the lead wagon was instead being dragged forward by two animals that looked like hornless rhinos – not like their horns were cut off, just that they didn’t have them.  They kind of had beaky mouths too – not like bird beaks but like a turtle you know?  I never before saw whatever they were.  How do you find and tame something like that?  That wagon the not-rhinos was pulling was massive as far as wagons go, not as massive as that ridiculous merchant “land-ship” that I was once, but it looked like a Halfling hole had been dragged out of the ground and mounted on a frame. 

The Hücresel Merchant Company (all both of them) were more than happy to stop and swap at this serendipitous meeting.  It was a long enough delay for Halfling children to turn out by the wagonload running about and riding on their burly hound and playing some manner of stick-game similar to lacrosse only it seemed that you could just throw the ball as well.   Looked very much like the kind of thing that would result in human children losing an eye or two but they seemed pretty adept.  The master of the caravan, Mr. Big Jobo Hairyfoot (if I have one complaint about the Shirefolk it’s their heavy dependence on foot or feet in their surnames) was more than happy to show me to their heavily guarded (relatively speaking) premium goods. 

Jobo, who true to his name was well over four feet tall, showed me a few trinkets and charms that I had little interest in but then he showed me a long duster style overcoat that was a real find.  It was a double-breasted number with wide lapels (but not too wide) and both a storm flap and buckling straps around the wrists.  This is important to keep water from running down your forearm when you raise your arm in the rain – I HATE that.  If you’re going to make a waterproof coat you better have it seal up so water doesn’t get INSIDE of it Gods damn it!  The lining was fine piece of seamstressing and it fit me like a dream – coming down to just above the ankle, which is long enough to keep you dry but not so long that you’re getting tangled up.  I have a hard time finding lady’s coats like this that reach beyond the knee on account of I’m so tall and magnificent.  Sometimes I have to resort to a man’s coat which swallows me up like a troll eating a Halfling, but this was clearly made for a fine lady such as myself.  The horn buttons were just the icing on the cake.  It cost a fortune because it is all kinds of magic, but it was worthy it just for the style alone.  I look great in this thing.

Speaking of cake and icing, the best thing about doing business with a Halfling caravan is they invite you to lunch.  And they know how to eat well on the hoof, so to speak.  Instead of the beans and refried mush I’ve been treated to by the “cook” Hücresel Merchant Company (who’s a nice enough fellow despite being terrible at his job) Jobo invited me to his table to enjoy stuffed pork loin, poached guinea fowl, oysters and liver, wild truffle and bleu cheese salad, and a fluffy buttercream cake that had such a preponderance of icing that it made your teeth hurt just looking at it.  I have as much of a sweet tooth as the next gal, but it was a bit much for me.  I was able to manage with just some chocolate pudding pie and strawberry mousse.  It wasn’t easy but that’s why I’m renowned as being so heroic – I manage under such challenging conditions.

Once business (and lunch) was concluded the Halflings were packed up and back on the road with marvelous alacrity.  The children and dogs disappeared back into the wagons with admirable discipline and the whole caravan was underway within a matter of minutes.  I noticed then that a couple of the out-riders (or whatever you call them when they’re on foot and not riding) were humans.  I certainly didn’t notice them when it was time for happy faces and the brisk back and forth of trading.  They must be the real heavies with sordid pasts who wander the land with these folk to avoid their troubles.  There should be a series of books about that, its fertile ground for melodrama.  It took quite a bit longer for the Hücresel Merchant Company to get going even though they had a third as many wagons and one tenth as many people (although they were bigger of course).  Although I will say in their defense that everyone was stuffed to the gills with rich Halfling cuisine so they were a little sluggish.  Once again Martialla and I were perched on our boxes watching as the teamsters and drovers struggled to get things moving.

“All I’m saying is that they mostly sell to humans right?  You’d think they’d have one crossbow the right size for me.”

“I find it odd that they had crossbows at all, I’ve never known a Shireling to use one, their big thing seems to be slings.”

“Slings?  Who can you hurt with a sling?  No wonder the trolls get them all the time.”

“Have you ever been hit with a sling?”

“Of course not.”

“Well I have and it hurts.”

“But you’re still alive huh?  Ergo my point is proven.”

“You’ve been shot with a crossbow a bunch of times and you’re still alive.”

“I’ve been shot buy ever Gods damned thing under the sun it seems like.  And I am still alive but that’s not a commentary on the effectiveness of the weapons that’s a testament to my legendary fortitude.”

“I thought that was about how much you could drink and not get drunk.”

“That too.  My point is that I’m tougher than . . . something that is very tough.”

“Good one.  Tell you what, I’ll get a sling and you let me nail you between the eyes and then you tell me how you feel.”

“Do you think you could make that shot?  Slings don’t seem like very accurate weapons to me and I’m guessing you’ve never used one – I doubt you could hit me in the head at all, let alone between the eyes.  I would bet heavily against that happening.”

“I might take that bet.  How have you dreams been lately.”

I patted my Necklace fondly “Just fine since I got this baby back.”

“How do you tell the difference between a normal nightmare and when you’re being dream attacked by a hag?”

“I’d say the easiest thing to identify is that you wake up feeling like you got tramped by an angry mob and instead of feeling rested you feel even more tired – and like you might die at any moment from sheer exhaustion.  Beyond that the dreams themselves are remarkably vivid and awful.  There’s really no mistaking them for the real thing.”

“Hmm, I’m starting to wonder if some of the dream horror coming your way is being deflected onto people around you.  I’ve had some pretty bad dreams the last few nights and I’ve heard other people complaining about the same.”

“That’s a shame.”

“That’s all you got?”

I shrugged “What else do you want from me?  I’m no dreamweaver.  There’s probably a god of dreams right?  Find one of his or her priests and maybe they can help.”

“How about you just take the necklace off tonight?”

“Why on earth would I do that?”

“If you sleep without it and no one else has nightmares tonight then we’ll know that’s what’s happening.”

“And then what?  What good does that information do?”

“Well, if the hag nightmare attacks are ricocheting off your shield onto everyone else don’t you want to do something about it?”

“Something like that?  What can I do?  I did my part, I protected myself, am I responsible for everyone else’s dreams now?”

“Maybe you could force the nightmare hag into some kind of final confrontation in the dreamworld and defeat her.”

“How?  She’s the one with dream powers, I can’t do anything.  That makes no sense, why would you want to confront a monster on their home grounds?  If anything what we’d want to do is to confront them in the real world were presumably they have no power.  Or at least less power.  How am I supposed to defeat something in a dream?”

“With the power of imagination?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“I’ll think about it, maybe there’s something we can do.  I think there are some drugs you can take that are supposed to help you with lucid dreaming.”

“I know dreamer’s star tea is supposed to give you pleasant dreams but I’ve never heard of it letting you control your dreams.” 

“I was thinking of Gold pesh maybe or one of those other kinds.”

“Isn’t pesh terribly addictive and horrible for you?”

“What do you care, you smoke flayleaf all the time!”

“Not ALL the time, only when it’s available, it’s not like I seek it out.  Most of the time I don’t I mean.  And flayleaf is barely even bad for you, the Duke’s physician told me so once.  It’s basically like medicine really.  Calms the nerves.”

“So that’s why you’re so leveled headed.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Back at court I had a lot of time to think, but I rarely did.  I’ve made a petty big deal about how awful and repetitive and zombie-like the life of the Baroness and women of her ilk is but if I wanted to be completely fair (which I don’t) my days as a kept woman to the eighth most powerful man in the Kingdom weren’t terribly diverse either.  I’d say maybe one day in three I was with the Duke and doing whatever he wanted to do.  Those days weren’t boring in the sense that it was like walking a tightrope, one misstep and you’re dead, but they weren’t not boring you know?  It was stressful and demanding but it wasn’t thought-provoking, not usually anyway.  There’s a reason jaded high society types are so jaded.  The rest of the time I was left to my own devices but that wasn’t all that exciting either now that I think back on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was the in lap of luxury, but I couldn’t really go anywhere – I was expected to be ready to answer the Duke’s call at any time.  And as strange as it seems there wasn’t much to do really. 

I had no one to talk to, the real nobles wouldn’t give me the time of day unless the Duke was around when they would kiss my ass shamelessly – I guess they thought they could win his favor that way.  Boy were they braking up the wrong tree there.  And anyone else had enough of their own troubles – I wasn’t going to be one of those people that forced the servants to listen to their bullshit problems.  I went riding a lot, I went into town to buy stuff occasionally, and I would be reading a book more often that I thought, but mostly I drank.  Martialla busts my tits sometimes about how much I drink now, but it’s nothing compared to back then.  I suppose if you wanted to be one of those types you could say that I was a functioning alcoholic.  It’s pretty easy when your function doesn’t involving doing much.  Those same sensitive types would probably tell you that I was drinking away my pain and sorrow, and maybe there was a little of that going on, but mostly it was just something to do.

I remember the early days after the Duke dumped me in Graltontown, I think I spent half of what little money I was able to scrounge up on booze.  I’m pretty sure I bought a hundred gold bottle of wine that first week or so.  Stupid.  I could have been drinking for free, it’s not hard.  So maybe at that time I had a bit of a problem with drinking.  The point is though that I have a lot less time to think now but I definitely do a lot more thinking.  I don’t know if I’m more curious now or if constantly almost getting killed sharpens the logical muscles but whatever it is I wonder about a lot more things now.  Some of it is planning, figuring out what my next move should be, but some of it is just idle curiosity.  I guess when you’re at the top of the pyramid (or adjacent to the top anyway) and all the stuff is flowing do you it’s easy not to think how it gets there.  But once you’re down in the muck and the mud you really have to wonder how it all works.  Like a village blacksmith – how is there enough blacksmithing for them to get by?  How many people need a horse shoed on a weekly basis?  Or a buckle of nails?  And how do the farmers pay them?  How do they turn their crops into money?  And how did they afford the horse in the first place?  Those things are expensive. 

And don’t even get me started on the economics of magic items – that makes no sense.  Anyway, these are the kind of things you have time to think about while you’re traveling by caravan.  Melusine wasn’t dead so I transferred her to my Flask – I was curious what would happen there since that’s magic on magic.  After she was out of the whiskey barrel I dipped myself a shot.  It was better, but not tremendously better like the wine had been.  Fat Bear is a middle of the road whiskey and it was improved to being a pretty good whiskey.  So a poor quality wine was made into a great wine and an okay whiskey was made into a decent whiskey.  I wonder if the potency of how bad the booze is directly relates to the transformation – so the worse it is the better it ends up.  Such as, maybe if I stick her in a decanter of Six Roses single barrel it wouldn’t change at all because that’s already high quality.  I can’t wait to try this out with other kinds of booze and get more information.  I guess I can see why wizards do shit like this – it’s interesting to experiment.   On the other hand that’s how we ended up with owlbears and lizardbats and boaraffes.  I saw a boaraffe gore a gnome once – it was pretty fucked up.

Late in the afternoon Martialla and I were sitting on our stack of boxes on wagon number seven watching the countryside slowly go by.  I had tried to find a comfortable reclining position but it turns out that boxes don’t make fodder for a good recline.

I sighed “Can’t you summon up lounge chair of some kind?”

“I think you’d fall off the wagon trying to sit in something like that up there.”

“I meant a magic lounge chair.”

“Ah, no, I can’t do that.  I could make you feel profoundly stricken with intense grief.”

“A generous offer, but I think I’ll pass.  So are you a mind mage or what?  You have some spells like that that mess with people’s heads but you also turn invisible and conjure illusions and burn people alive like an illusionist or a normal murder wizard.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times, I’m not a mage, I’m a sorcerer.”

I made an exasperated noise “Yes you have told me that a bunch of times, but what is it supposed to mean to me?  You get all bent out of shape about it, but how am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?  I didn’t go to magic school.”

“Neither did I!”

“How do you learn horrible spells that make people suicidally depressed then?”

 She looked aggrieved “I don’t learn any spells Ela, they just come to me.”

“How, come to you from where?  Or from what?  Wizards learn magic from dusty books, witches make deals with demons to get their magic, what about you – where does you magic come from?”

“It’s just inside me.  When I was a kid little things just started happening around me, like there was a poltergeist or something.  Over time I learned how to control it.  I know for some sorcerers its part of their heritage, there’s a dragon or some other magical being in their family tree back somewhere that is the source of their powers.  For me I don’t know where it comes from, there’s nothing like that in my family that I know about.  Some people think that originally sorcerers came from fey curses but no one really knows.”

“How is being able to do awesome magic without having to learn it a curse?”

“If you don’t learn to master it the magic consumes you.  It still can even if you do.  It’s like a burning flame in a house – as long as you keep it under control you can use it for all kinds of things, but if you can’t the house burns down.”

“That still sounds better than any of the curses I’ve been hit with.  So what you have to mediate or something or you’ll explode and rip a fabric in reality?”

“No, it’s more like learning to walk, you can’t really explain it it’s just something you do.”

“Sure you can, lift your foot up, move your leg forward and then put it down again.”

“But how do you do that?  How do you lift up your foot?  You just do it.”

“Hmm, I suppose.  That still doesn’t explain where your spells come from.  Are you able to mess with people’s heads because that’s what you do without magic?  You were manipulating people with your words and actions so your magic got in on the action too?  And you learned to turn invisible because you were always sneaking around?”

“No one knows Ela, you just reach for your magic and sometimes there’s something new there.”

“There has to be a reason why you can turn into a yeti instead of something else.  Aren’t there thousands of spells?  Why do you know the handful you know?  Does a wizard have to invent the spell before a sorcerer can know it?  How the Hells would that make sense?  Or can you do stuff they can’t?  Aren’t a lot of spells basically useless?  Why don’t you know any of those?  Are there sorcerers out there that suck and can’t do anything good?”

“I know some of it is shaped by the ancestry, if you had an ice dragon in your family ten generations ago you tend to know more ice spells, but it’s not like you only know ice spells.  It’s not a strict thing Ela.  No one really understand how it works.”

“As per fucking usual.  Why hasn’t anyone studied this?  Hmm, so maybe you have a progenitor creature of some kind in your family history and you just don’t know about it.  Let’s think about what you can do.  You can bend, influence, and crush the minds of the weak.  You can turn invisible.  You can burn people alive and make them miserable.  What kind of creature does that sound like to you?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”

I smirked “Come off it Miss Monster Expert, that sounds like a succubus to me.  Clearly someone in your family got down and nasty with a vanity demon and lived to tell the tale.”

“That doesn’t make any sense Ela, even if that happened, the succubus would be the one that had the baby not my ancestor.”

“Bah, they can take human forms of either gender – I’ve seen it.  Probably your great-great grandpappy was a demonic entity in disguise.”

“No.”

I patted her on the shoulder “Don’t worry Martialla, I won’t look down on your because your demon heritage or your family history of summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”

“I do not have demon blood!”

“Prove it.  Say the Third Blessing of the Holy Mother without bursting into flames.”

The fellow driving the wagon turned round to look at us “What’s that you say about the summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation?  Can you do one of those ones with the claw hands and tail?  Just asking for a friend.”

Martialla scowled at him “Shut up and turn around!” She folded her arms sulkily “I hate you Ela.”

“I’m just trying to learn more about you Martialla.  You’re the one who’s always complaining that I’m self-centered but whenever I try to get closer to you you shut down.  Quit playing hard to get Martialla, let me love you.  I know you’ve been hurt before but I’m here for you.”

“You’re a terrible person Ela.”

I shook my head sadly “That’s just the demon blood in you talking Martialla, you have to fight it.  Do you want to pray with me Martialla?”

She tried to kick me but I was able to dodge out of the way – although I was laughing so hard I fell off the wagon anyway. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake (with Nixie) Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Out of curiosity I tried the Gridrieu Halbtrocken to see if I could detect any hint of nixie in it over the bad taste of the win itself.  I don’t have to tell you folks that Gridrieu Halbtrocken is garbage wine for garbage people, but it tasted wonderful.  Instead of its usual acrid foulness it now had romantic raspberry elements and an explicit piquant finish that was a delight for the palate.  Who knew that straining booze through the body of a fey creature would make it better?  Maybe the wizard did and that’s why he put her in that wine cask in the first place.  Seems like a lot of work for the result but wizards are an anomalous bunch – most of their schemes make very little financial sense.  I wonder if there’s different results based on the different kinds of faeries.  Boggart Bock anyone?  Leprechaun Lager?  Atomie Ale?  Brownie Bourbon?  Gremlin Grog?  And so forth. 

I was curious how strong the powers were so I sent one of the Quiviras’s servants into their liquor cellar to bring me a barrel of Fat Bear whiskey to keep the nixie in while we traveled today.  He was mildly confused when I had him lug it out the front of the compound to the water feature where I stashed Melusine,  But that was nothing compared to the look he got when he saw Melusine pop out of the water at the edge of the fountain (or whatever it is) and snatch a pick-necked green pigeon in her maw like a frog eating a butterfly.  He looked like he was going to swoon like a high society dame.  I gave him a reproachful look.

“Get a hold of yourself man, haven’t you ever seen a water spirit before?” He gulped as I turned back to Melusine “Why are you swallowing a bird whole like a dirty water snake?  I thought you fey types were sustained by sunbeams and rainbows and the laughter of friends.”

Feathers puffed out of her mouth when she responded “Nope, birds.  And water snakes aren’t dirty, they’re fastidious about their scales.”

“I mean nothing by it, some of my best friends are water snakes.” I tapped on the side of the barrel “Your new traveling home, I thought you could use some more room to swim around, or whatever you do in there.”

She magicked herself into the barrel “What is this?  This isn’t wine!”

“Don’t worry, it’s better, you’ll like it.”

I gestured to the Quiviras servant to hammer the lid back on and load it up on one of the caravan carts.  After he did so he hung around awkwardly for a moment.

“What, you want a tip or something?”

“No ma’am . . . . I was just thinking.  This reminds me of an old friend of mine.  He used to talk about how he once worked at a tavern in Scirus that he claimed was beleaguered by what he called cask imps.  He said they lived in casks of ale and such, coming out at night to steal the best booze.  He said they could control the minds of men that were deep in their cups and would make them commit nasty acts.  I assumed he was tellin’ tales but seeing this now I’m not so sure.”

“A good rule of thumb is that any story that’s awful is probably true.”

“He did say that if you caught one of these buggers and bound them with chains of cold iron and immersed them in water it would turn into top shelf cognac.”

 “Oh, that’s definitely true.” I winked “That’s why they call them spirits you know.”

While the caravan was slowly getting underway – it takes these things times you know, there’s a lot of people and animals and stuff to wrangle – Martialla elbowed me and gestured at the two half-elf guards, who had been joined by two more half-elfs of similar mien.  That mien being armed to the teeth and dressed in a mismatched yet flamboyance fashion.

“Well that completes the set, now their mystic powers are increased sixteenfold.  We’ll have to keep an eye on them.  Until they abandon the caravan to look for treasure anyway.”

“How is if that half-elfs seem to be so much more common than elfs?  You hardly ever seen elfs about here in human lands so where do all the half-elfs come from?”

“The only half-elfs I ever knew were the progeny of the same elf who traveled around the Kingdom because he had the human fever.  You can’t blame them, elf maids are reckoned to be beautiful and I suppose they are in a way, but it you ask me it would be like making love to a canoe paddle.  Despite that obvious superiority of human women though apparently it’s a pretty shameful condition in elf culture.  Elfs live a long time, maybe they’re all the sons and daughters of that one super virulent elf making the rounds.  Or a small group of amorous outcasts.”

“That would be quite an accomplishment.”

“I know there’s an old orc in Gentzilhorm that’s the father of most of the half-orcs in the country, now that’s an accomplishment.  What starry eyed tavern slut isn’t going to fall for the charms of a handsome elf?  A fat ugly old orc on the other hand knocking up that many ladies – that takes some doing.”

“I stand corrected.”

The good thing about traveling at caravan speeds (when you’re not working on said caravan) is that you stop early enough in the day to do things like consult with the local mage and have dinner with the gentry who owe you big when you’re in town.  You have time to get some things done along the way.  The bad news is when you don’t have anything to get done there’s a lot of time waiting.  Good thing I had a freshly improved bottle of wine to split with Martialla as we sat and watched a stubborn donkey (that’s redundant I suppose) hold up the hold proceedings for over an hour.

Once we got underway on the road to Cathars the inevitable attack inevitably came today.  At mid-day a boulder (well a large rock anyway, to me a boulder has to be bigger) brained one of the wagon drivers.  One wonders why giant society has never progressed beyond thrown rocks.  Some of them are primitive idiots, I know that, but some of them are intelligent and numbered among the best craftsmen out there.  Why do those “civilized” giants still throw rocks?  I understand why they throw them at us, we’re smaller than them, but are they throwing rocks at each other?  That doesn’t seem like it would make sense, but I’ve never seen a giant with a bow or even a sling.  I guess I saw one throw a spear once.  At me.

Martialla and I looked at each other, deciding if we wanted to fight giants or take cover, but it turned out we didn’t need to do either.  The four half-elf caravan guards sprang into action and surprisingly did their job.  Not only did they kill two of the giants and send the others running one of them healed the waggoneer (there’s a name for that – teamster?  Shouldn’t that be someone who’s one a team?  Oh I get it , because of the team of horses).  He was up and around and doing great even though minutes before you could see his brains.  Magic healing is interesting, as long as you’re still alive no matter how bad the injury is it seems like you can be right as rain in an instant.  I often give magic a bad name, and most of the time I’m dead on in my complaints, but the healing injuries part they have down.  Not diseases or course as we know, but injuries magic can handle.  Once the crisis was over I turned to Martialla.

“I don’t have a crossbow otherwise I would have been shooting at them. What’s your excuse?”

“They seemed to have things under control, no reason to waste good magic.”

I nodded “They were surprisingly competent.  They didn’t even desert the caravan to follow the giants back to their lair and get their treasure hoard.”

“Should we follow them back to their lair and get their treasure hoard?”

“They didn’t kill all of them, the survivors are probably there licking their wounds, do you feel like fighting wounded giants?”

“Can’t you entrance them with your beguiling siren song while I steal all the gold?”

“No.”

“Then no.”

“How much of the Kingdom’s wealth is wasting away in the giant and ogre and medusa and dragon dens?”

“A good ninety percent I’d wager.  That’s why adventurers play such a vital role in the economy, injecting that money back into the system.”

“Bite your tongue.”

“Plus it sends the worst humanity has to offer out into dangerous situations where most of them die –it’s a good way to kill off the violent lunatics that don’t have the discipline for military service.  You can’t kill them all of course, some of them get so good at killing that they become lords, but it helps keep the numbers down.”

“Now you’re starting to talk sense.”

For a day featuring a giant attack it was a surprisingly humdrum day on the road.  There was no town or village to stop in so there caravan set up camp at the side of the road at the end of the day.  Martialla and I had no gear of our own but it was easy enough to talk our way into a supply tent – whatever they’re transporting it apparently warrants unpacking and covering with a bivouac of its own.  Must be sugar or something like that that you wouldn’t want to get wet.  We’ll have to be on the lookout for giant ants.  Once we were set up I popped the lid off Melusine’s barrel.  Instead of just hearing her voice her head and arms came out to hang over the edge of the barrel like some twisted magic trick or puppet theater.

Martialla glanced over “I’m not going to lie that’s an upsetting sight.”

“I walked around for a while but I couldn’t find a body of water, are you going to be okay in there?”

She shrugged her skinny fish-frog-lizard shoulders “Probably.”

“You seem awfully sanguine about the possibility of dying given how panic-stricken you were about it when I found you.”

She waved one of her fish-paws “I’m pretty fucked up right now.  Whatever is in here it’s strong.”

“I could probably find a horse-trough or something to stick you in for the night.”

She shook her head slowly “Its fine.  I already lived millions of years, if I die I die.  We fey are older than time itself.  Or something.”

“How did you end up in there anyway?  You said a wizard out you in a wine cask?  Why did he do that?”

She puffed out her scaly cheeks, sending her seaweed hair flopping wetly “Why?  Why do your kind do anything?  Pure orneriness.” She poked her webbed finger-thing at me “You humans are always wrecking shit for everyone else.”

“I’ve met some pretty ornery fey too.”

She poked at me more emphatically  “Cause of YOU.  The bad fey, the ones that are cruel and mean are a reaction to the coming of people to the old lands.  It’s an attack on our way of life – no, on our very existence!  They’re transformed by their malice and anger at the pillaging and destruction of the natural world.  Their hated as twisted their bodies into ugly false humans, their beauty twisted into ugliness and their minds turned to vengeance.  We’re not trapped in one shape like you pathetic monkeys – we’re transformed both by the environment and our own behaviors. Those fey have internalized the corruption wrought by you and your kind and in doing so have remade themselves in your image.  And they are ashamed because they have become what they hate most.  And that shame is what makes them perform vile acts.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Waddaya mean?”

“If the problem is that humans are mean being mean back to them doesn’t help anything – that’s just more meanness.  Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-revenge, but revenge is more about elimination and you can’t kill all the humans.  You can kill humans all the live long day and not make a dent – there’s always more humans.  If the problem is one of behavior meanness only begets more meanness.  The response should be to try and make us nice with more niceness.  I mean it wouldn’t work, but logically it makes more sense.”

“Yeah . . . well . . . that’s like your opinion lady.”

“So you didn’t do anything to this wizard?”

“I mean . . . I did lure his son into the pond and drown him.  Do you think that could be why he did what he did?”

“Hard to say, hard to say, humans are capricious and unpredictable.”

She fish-snorted “Don’t I know it!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Nixie in a whiskey barrel  

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Yesterday when the caravan ground to a halt I took a little walk around and found a lovely bubbling (not babbling) stream to dump the nixie wine into.  I never really thought about what a nixie would look like before that moment but if I had I would have been expecting that like most watery fey that lure men to their deaths she would be tarted out.  She was not.  Her hands and feet were both webbed froglike monstrosities bigger than dinner plates and her skin/scales were a glistening grey color that looked very unhealthsome.  Her seaweedish green-brown hair was about the best thing about her, certainly her giant all white eyes were not.  I guess unlike water nymphs nixies entice people to drown with their personalities.  Once she was released straight away she started complaining.  This wasn’t HER pond, it wasn’t a pond at all!  Seems to me like a stream would be a much nice place to live than a pond but when do I know about it?  While she was whining at me I wondered for the seven hundredth time why I ever help anyone.  They never appreciate it.  If there’s a number one bullshit saying out there it’s that beggars can’t be choosers – they sure as Hells can and they do all the time. 

“Aren’t you fairies supposed to have some old forgotten by mortals code of hospitality?  I just saved your life, instead of being verbally abused shouldn’t I get a wish or something?”

If she could blink I think she would have, but she had no eyelids “A wish?”

“Yeah, like I wish to be reunited with my parents but somehow you twist things around so that my wish backfires.  Like I’m back with my parents but they’re mean and beat me or something.  That’s not a good example, but you know what I’m talking about – monkey paw type shit.  You know, the old saying that the best curse is to give someone exactly what they want?” She seemed to be staring at me but with those eyes it’s hard to tell “Forget it, look, I don’t know what to tell you – this is the only body of water around.  Can you live in there or what?  Because if you can’t I guess you’re going to die.”

Her disturbing lips twisted into a fish-pout “I guess I can live here.”

I sighed “I’m not promising anything but where is your pond?”

She smiled dreamily and started maundering about the virtues of her watery home – I’ve heard poets on drug trips make more sense.  She waxed romantic for several minutes about the way the water tasted between her toe flaps and how the light smelled.  I would say she not only loved that pond but also that she was in love with it.  It got uncomfortable after a while.

“That’s not terribly helpful.  Is where the dragonflies dance in the rainbow light in the cool morn north or here or what direction?”

She fish sneered at me, which is really something to see “My people are as old as the land itself, your petty directions mean nothing to the Old Ones.”

“I’ll take that to mean you don’t know where it is.” I turned to leave “Have a good life.  Or immortal whatever you people have instead of lives.”

“Wait stop!  Please don’t leave me here.”

I turned back around “Look, here’s what I can do for you.  I’m heading south, if you want to hop back in that wineskin I can see if there’s a better body of water to let you out in.  I’m not going to go haring all over the land looking for your home though.  This is the best I can do.”

Her voice was quiet “Alright.”

“Are you sure?  You said you were dying in there.”

“I’m sure, anything is better than living here.”

I’m not sure why she hated that stream so much she would risk her life to get away from it, it seemed fine to me.  Maybe there was an eel in it or something.  Or a snail.  Snails live in water right?  But don’t gardeners always complain about snails?  Are snails amphibians?  I’ll have to check on that.  They’re gross, I know that for sure – give me a good honest slug over a shifty snail any day.  Rather than putting her back in a wineskin I went back to the caravan and nabbed a bottle of Gridrieu Halbtrocken ’76 which incorporates heavy licorice flavors and a hedonistic mango-fandango aftertaste – which is why it’s more fit for nixie housing than drinking.  I dipped the neck in the stream water and she magicked herself back inside.  Afterwards I popped the cork back in.

“What happens if I drink this?”

Her tiny voice could barely be heard with the cork in “I’d die.”

“What about me though?  Would I get some kind of magic powers from ingesting a fey creature?”

“No, you would die too.  In horrible agony.”

Sounds like a cock and bull story to me, I bet I would get magic powers.  I’m pretty sure that if I drink this I’ll have the powers of one human woman and one nixie – which isn’t bad if you ask me.  But there’s no reason at this point to murder a thing just for more power.  Before I sipped the bottle in my Trunk I found an inkwell and pen and wrote across the label “Nixie inside, do not drink” just in case I forget or a dreamhag eats my memories or something. 

Despite the eminent attackability of the caravan we passed to Arbeven today without molestation.  I paid a visit to my old friends the Quiviras and took advantage of their hospitality for a third time.  Now these are people that understand how you treat someone after they save your life.  They’ve told me I’m always welcome in their home and I bet they kind of mean it – I am sure I could come here six or seven more times at least before they start getting snotty about it.  They had a water feature that I dumped Melusine (that’s the nixie) into but she didn’t like it at all.  There’s really no pleasing her, it’s a perfectly lovely fountain waterfall well type thing.  I don’t know what you call it, it’s one of those things where the water comes up somehow and then pours into a thing that then dumps the water into another thing when it’s full.  You know what I’m talking about. 

Once I had things squared with the Quiviras I went to see my old friend Maudi the wizard.  He’s never nearly as happy to see me even though I saved his life even harder than I did Lady Quiviras.  He’s happy enough to take my coin though, that’s a nixie style of gratitude if ever there was one.  I wonder if I could get the expression “as ungrateful as a nixie” to catch on.  He bought up some of the items I took from Hellerhad fair and square as greedily as a pixie (another new expression – try it out and if you like it pass it around) but he had garbage for sale.  I want a new crossbow but all he had for weapons was a warhammer that he said would protect your allies which is useless on two fronts being as that I can’t swing a giant hammer and the person I want to protect is myself.  The other “weapon” is what looked like a miner’s pick that he was trying to pass off as a military item.  He squealed like a baby about how most of his work in on commission so I shouldn’t be mad at him and tried to wheedle an invitation to the Quiviras’ compound.  I told him that I’d be glad to introduce him as soon as got some decent wares.  There wasn’t even a place in town where I could get a non-magical crossbow, but I’m not the type to complain.

After striking out with Maudi I went back to the Quiviras to have a nice dinner with their guests while Martialla was out seeking whatever low class diversions she entertains herself with when I’m not around – probably betting on weasel trousering or participating in blood pig or something.  She’s my oldest and dearest friend but sometimes she so common she makes my hair hurt. 

People in the good part of the Kingdom like to make mock of the country gentry, and rightfully so in large part, but the Quiviras know how to do it right.  I showed up here out of the blue without any prior notice (I know that’s redundant but shut up about it) and they still managed to throw together a decent dinner party.  Nothing that anyone back home wouldn’t turn up their nose at, but I’m at the point where I appreciate good food and decent company for what it is.  None of their guests were very annoying, and that’s taking into account that one of them was a Strider priest.  He was a Shireling though so maybe that mitigates the normal boorishness of Striderians.  A local “artist” did drone on for an improbably amount of time about a lost goat – I’m not even sure if it was a story or a joke or a cry for help or some kind of parable.  But other than that it was a plainly enjoyable evening.  I certainly enjoyed myself to five eights of a good bottle of rye whiskey.  For most people a little drop helps them sleep, I tend to go the other way – for reasons unknown being a little tipsy tends to keep me up.  I was still awake and sitting in the window smoking some leaf when Martialla came clomping in smelling like a newly cut wheat field.

“Where have you been?”

“There’s a company of adventurers in town, I wanted to see if they were one of the many that want you dead or that you want dead.  Or if they were going to attack the caravan.”

“Do adventurers do that?  I thought the one valuable service they provided to society was guarding caravans.”

“They must right?  They attack everything else.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“So what did you find out.”

She waved her hand idly as she set down to take off her boots “Oh, I never made it, I got distracted.”

“Nice work, thanks for bringing it up.  How long do you think will it take to get to Cathars?”

“At caravan speeds?  Ten days, two weeks maybe.  But once it get destroyed by marauders we’ll go faster on our own, once we escape from the clutches of said marauders anyway.  Or escape from the slavers they sell us to.”

“Where do all the slaves go do you think?”

“Ulpine right?  Slavery is legal there.”

“Good Kingdom peasants toiling under the lash of dirty Ulpinese slavemasters?  Now I’m glad we’re at war with them.  We’ll give them what for”

“How’s the war going anyway?”

“I keep forgetting to ask.  When the caravan gets destroyed who are you going to shed a few quiet tears in private for?”

“Diarmaid Hücresel, I like her, she seems like a tough broad.  Her husband and sons were all killed the last war you know.  And yet she carries on the family business and she doesn’t take guff from nobody.”

“Maybe they were just taken as slaves.”

“Is that better?”

“It is if they escaped together weeks ago and after a harrowing journey where the father learned that he can rely on his sons as men and the boys learned that their father would sacrifice anything to save them and their love for one another grew deeper than they ever thought possible and then they return to their wife and mother on this very night.”

We both stopped and listened for the sound of a joyful reunion but there was none.  Maybe tomorrow night. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Nixie in a wine bottle

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There’s a very popular book that a Shireling wrote a book about various things that he learned spending eight years walking through the Kingdom – he did this on purpose for some reason.  Maybe his wife was a real bitch.  There were some tales about man (and Halfling) eating forest cats, hard drinking wild men of the hills, slavering gnolls, diseased orcish warbands and the like but for the most part it was a collection of ruminations on walking around and travel itself.  I didn’t read all of it but I found what I did read to be dreadfully dull.  Give me Courtship of the Flower Demon over a dreary travelogue any day – that’s a story that has some teeth (literally). 

Now that I’ve spent the better part of a year walking about some of the Kingdom myself I find this book even more ridiculous.  I’ve done enough walking from place to place to know that there’s nothing special or sacred about it.  The author was famous for saying that we should “treat every road as a classroom and every journey as a teacher”.  What a bunch of bullshit.  I can’t dismiss that I have learned many things on the road but they’re all horrible.  A better expression would be “treat every road as a classroom for a class you don’t want to take and every journey as a teacher who’s going to take you into the backroom and touch you inappropriately”. 

As far as I can tell (racistly perhaps) Shirefolk come in two flavors – dedicated homebodies who eat seventeen meals a day and wanderlusty rascals.  The first one makes sense, the second does not.  Especially when you consider that the main feature of travel is shitty food.  I’ve talked about trail rations before – they’re literally just edible garbage.  And that crap that people who claim to be “survivalists” scrounge up along the way is even worse.  You can’t survive on that shit (ironically?), a few days of that and you’re deader than Baron Juost – who’s the deadest dead guy I’ve ever seen.  And even on the rare occasion that someone in your party manages to hunt something edible it’s still just a half-scorched half-raw hunk of bloody gristle that you’re trying to choke down.  You can’t cook shit over a campfire.  And most of the time what they come back with isn’t even considered food.  Have you ever eaten a newt?  Or the head of a turtle?  I have and it’s awful.

Despite all that though, here I am on the road again.  There’s nothing for it.   If you want to go somehere you have to go there.   Not only that, I’m on the road to Graltontown of all places.  When Belzegara and Rakhaj heard that’s where I was heading they decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  I can’t say as that I blame them.  Graltontown isn’t any place to make a living.  I told them I would have business for them in Three Rivers along the way but they didn’t go for it so I gave them some gold for what they had done on my behalf and we parted ways on good company.  I suppose it’s for the best, we would have needed a wagon train to keep Rakhaj from withering away to nothing.  That’s not a fat joke, it’s just a fact.

I got up early this morning and put on a fine dress to attend Kartak’s hanging.  Attendance was surprisingly light.  Usually people turn out in droves for a good old fashioned public execution – and for the execution of a man who killed the local lord?  That’s usually pretty big doings.  I think people are just tired of all the turmoil around here lately, they just want things to quiet down.  Which they won’t, the Baroness is going to be up to her ass in alligators pretty soon.  I told her that she should show her face at the hanging just to reassure people that a steady hand was on the tiller (that’s the expression right?) but she disregarded my words.  I don’t think she’s adjusting to her new reality very well.  I feel a tiny bit guilty about leaving her n her own, I think she’s going to get to be trouble, but as I told her – I have my own issues to worry about.

Aside from me there were just a handful of looky-loos and cluster of members from a local Kostelos hate group of some kind.  Their forced joviality was really grinding on me.  If the Baroness was smart she’d snuggle up to them.  Given what happened this is a good time to cash in on Kostelos bashing as  way to unify people but I doubt she would even if she didn’t have moral objections to accepting help from racist assholes.  She’s an odd one is the Baroness.  After Kartak was hung until dead he was slated for a pauper’s grave but I instructed his remains to be burned instead.  I already have at least one undead creature seeking revenge on my from beyond the grave (and probably several more that I don’t know about), I wasn’t going to take any chances. 

Martialla and I arranged to travel with the Hücresel Merchant Company, which as far as I can tell the entire “company” consists of a solitary woman and her daughter.  For some strange reason they decided that relocating from Alleene to Cathars would be a good idea right about now.  Some merchants see crisis as an opportunity, Diarmaid Hücresel is not one of these merchants.  So we wouldn’t be walking, we’d be sitting on a wagon filled with boxes of whatever these people sell – at least until the inevitable attack where they’d be killed and or carried away to be sex slaves.  If there’s a sage or wise man out there’s whose studied caravans and can tell me what percentage of them actually make it to their destination I’d legitimately be curious about that.  It must be a lot because commerce exists, but seems like I haven’t seen one yet.

Aside from a dozen or so porters and drovers and outriders the Hücresel Merchant Company had retained the services of two half-elfs that we either siblings or one of those weird couples that act like they’re siblings.  They seemed like they were unattached adventurers since as everyone knows you need four people to go on an adventure.  Usually this happens when some of the group is wiped out by demons or goblins or demon goblins and the survivors sign on for caravan duty until they can meet up with some other orphaned adventurers and merge to form a new group to immediately abandon their posts to go looking for The Three Rings of Count Modrune or some other damned thing.  Once everything was squared away the caravan lurched off down the road to Arbeven.  Sitting on a stack of boxes wasn’t terribly comfortable but it was nice to be up high where you had a good vantage point to see where the unavoidable attack would come from.  After a few minutes Martialla glanced over at me.

“The more things change huh?”

“What?”

“I’m just saying that here we are again.”

“What does that have to do with thing changing, if anything they’re the same.”

“I know, that’s the expression, the more things change the more they stay the same.”

I scowled “That doesn’t make any sense, things can’t stay the same more – their either the same or they’re not.  I don’t want you saying things that don’t make any sense and embarrassing me.”

“It’s a widely used expression!  It’s like when you get a new boss down at the docks, things technically have changed but they’re still the same because your still have to work for some asshole and work is still the world.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss right?”

“Done a lot of dockwork have you?”

“That’s not the point!  The point is . . .” She moaned and pulled out a wineskin “Forget it, you want a drink?

“I smiled, now that’s something that makes perfect sense.  Say more things like that.”

She grinned and handed me over the wineskin, but when I pulled out the stopper I heard a tiny female voice calling for help.  I frowned and looked over at Martialla.

“Is this a joke?  Is this like a trick magic wineskin?”

She shook her head “No, I just grabbed it the manor.”

I sighed “You have no idea how much I want to just put the lid back on this thing and throw it in the ditch.”

“I have some idea.”

I peered into the wineskin as if I could see in there “Who’s in my wine and what do you want?”

The tiny voice was clear but sounded drunken “Oh thank Goodness!  I thought I was a goner.  I was trapped in a wine cask by an evil wizard and somehow ended up in here!  I’m dying, I need your help!”

“Sure, you just need me to pour this all out or what?”

“No!  That would kill me.  I need you to find my pond and return me to my home!  I’m fading fast, I feel like I have only hours to live!”

“You sound like you’re wasted.”

“I am in wine.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m a nixie.”

Martialla nodded “Nixies a fey water creatures that . . .”

I waved her down irritably “Yeah, yeah, I get it magic fuckery.  Does it have to be your pond or can it be any pond?”

“Well it would be ideal if you could return me to my pond, but any body of water you find will keep me alive.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”  I put the stopper back in the wineskin “You see, this is what I’m talking about – if it’s not one thing it’s another.”

“What is?”

“You know ‘it’.  I mean that’s an expression everyone knows, unlike that thing about changing making things the same.”

“That’s not what I said, what I said that the more things change the more they stay the same and everyone knows that expression!  One thing and another isn’t an expression, it’s barely a sentence.”

“First of all that’s not what I said.  Second of all . . .”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 20,000 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The good news is that none of the blood got on the Saryah Phidaner gown that I had worn to the Baron’s chambers.  I never would have forgiven myself if that work of art had been ruined by splattering Baron blood all over it.  I have garments that magically clean themselves so there must be some way that I could have gotten it restored but I’m glad that I didn’t have to go down that path – you never know what magic is going to do.  I wouldn’t have liked to trust something so precious to something so unreliable. 

I had no idea how long I had been “out”, I wouldn’t think that it had been more than a few minutes but for all I knew I had been sitting in that chair for half an hour.  I knew that the Baroness wasn’t expected back until dawn what with the fasting and praying and the religiosity but it didn’t seem like a good idea to hang around regardless.  I wiped the blood off myself as best I could with some of the Baron’s clothing and then tossed them in the fireplace and stoked up the flames good.  I thought about putting on one of the Baroness’s dresses but then if someone found it in my room there would be questions – it’s a longshot but there’s no reason to take risks if you don’t have to.  A piece of advice if you’re ever trying to cover up a crime and you find yourself saying “Oh, no one will notice that” you need to think again.  It’s best to make sure you cover everything you can.  If you can’t you can’t, but don’t rely on the stupidity of others to do your work for you.  The stupidity of others only comes into play to ruin you not to help you.

I didn’t want to put the gown back on since I was sure there were still some spots of blood on me, so I covered myself with the illusion of maid – a fully clothed maid – and carried the garment with me like I was taking it to be laundered.  I made triple sure to wipe off my feet as best I could – there’s really nothing so damning as bloody footprints leading from the murder scene to your room.  I’ve only done it a couple times but there’s something about being nude with the illusion of clothing “on” that’s worse than just walking around naked.  I can’t explain it but it’s an unpleasant feeling.  Thankfully it’s only a short way through the halls back to my room.  This time I did pass another servant on the way, which is a problem.  I did some quick math – better to kill them or would another body/disappearance just make things more suspicious?  In the end I let them go, not sure if that was the right choice at the time but it ended up not mattering.

When I got back to my room I saw that Martialla was in my bed.  I jostled her with my foot on the way to putting the gown back in its protective Trunk.

“What the Hells are you doing here?”

“There was a disagreement over the bed in my room.  I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Based on everthing you know about me that seems like a strange thing to figure.”

She yawned as she sat up in my bed “I just fell asleep, what are you doing back so soon?  Is the Baron that fast?”

“Not exactly, that spell you have that cleans thing, does that work on blood?  Having the servants bring water up for a bath at this time of night would be pretty unusual.”

She sighed “What did you do now?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I did, but it wasn’t my fault.  You should probably go down to the kitchen for a midnight snack – establish a nice solid alibi for yourself just in case.”

Her eyes widened “Me?  Why would I need an alibi?”

“You know how it is with murder investigations, they always look at any strangers hanging around pretty closely.  Beside you are a notorious outlaw with a grudge against the Baron.  Anyway make with the blood cleaning lady, I need to go alert someone.”

“Alert them to what?”

I held up the necklace “That this magic necklace came off in the middle of the night for no reason.  There I was sound asleep and suddenly it was tangled up in my nightgown.  Whatever can it mean?”

Since so many people had been killed or disappeared lately I wasn’t even sure who to notify.  I just grabbed the first person I saw – some kind of junior apprentice footman or valet or something.  I don’t think he even know what I was talking about, why would he?  But my scared maiden in the middle of the night act is flawless.  He quickly progressed from wanting me to come back to his room for safety to worrying that something was actually very wrong.  He took me to his master and up the chair of servant command we went until we came to the newly minted captain of the Baron’s guards.  The guy you’re guarding getting killed three days after you take the job probably doesn’t bode well for future employment opportunities.  I guess mercenaries have to come from somewhere.

He was a rangy rawboned fellow with a mass of curly hair down to the shoulders.  Not what I’d expected to see as the captain of a Baronial guard but then these are lean times for the Juosts are they not?  I expected there to be an uproar after he checked on the Baron at my subtle suggestion but he kept things very quiet.  I would have found that to be very suspicious if I didn’t know that I was the murderer.  I read a mystery novel where it turns out that the narrator was the killer and didn’t know it.  It was okay, it’s an interesting idea but I wish a better writer had come up with it – it’s disappointing when a good twist is wasted like that.

I assume that Curly had plans to investigate somehow, or to call in some better people to investigate, but the next day in a stroke of good luck Kartak was nabbed skulking about the outskirts of the manor.  Talk about your bad timing.  Now if anyone was thinking logically they might wonder why a man who just murdered the Baron was riding towards the manor without a care in the world but there wasn’t a lot of logical thought just then – and I did my part to make sure any tiny flames of rational thought were extinguished before they could spread.  I feel like I have more than my fair share of bad turns, but this was really mana from the Heavens – it’s hard to imagine a more fortuitous turn of events.  For me I mean, it was rather unfortuitous for Kartak.  He managed to survive the attack of an ape-bear monster, the sole survivor no less, and fight and struggle and scratch and crawl his way back to where he expected to find his friends and allies and instead they’re all dead and he’s captured to be hung for murder.  It almost seems bed enough to be the kind of thing that would happen to me.

Although they kept me a tower in the manor when I was a prisoner here Kartak was taken to the small watch house in Alleene – where he and Zedkath occupied half of their sum total of cells.  I went to visit him a couple hours after his capture later in my finest mourning gown.

“You’re looking surprisingly intact my friend, I would have thought you’d have gotten a good thrashing when they took you into custody.  There’s hardly any bruises on you at all.”

He looked up at my through the bars – his eyes dull but with a spark of restrained anger “They weren’t gentle with me but I’ve had worse.”

“I would imagine so given where you came from.  I’m told that at some point after the destruction of your lovely tribe you ran into something that scrambled your brains and that’s why you were helping prop up this matriarchal whatever was going on.”

“Maybe I just grew as a person.  Maybe a woman killing my family and friends made me rethink my views on gender.”

“Probably not.”

“Probably not.  Did you come to gloat or to see me rant and carry in a rage?  If you stick around long enough I might lose control and start ranting and raving.”

“Neither, just making sure you were actually here – I try not to make assumptions when it comes to my deadly enemies.”

“I guess I underestimated you.” He tapped on the bars with his knuckle “And now here I am.”

“Don’t feel bad, everyone does.”

“I should have listened to that woman, the one that betrayed you, she tried to tell me how dangerous you are.”

“She never betrayed me, it was a con, she’s the one who let me out and helped me kill all your new friends.”

He was still for a moment and then sat back in the shadows “So I was fucked from the very beginning.”

“Aren’t we all.”

When I turned to leave Zedkath was standing in the other cell holding the bars and staring out at me.  He wasn’t a bad looking fellow – he was going a little soft as tends to the case with soldiers on garrison duty but nothing that wouldn’t burn off quickly enough once he was back in the field.  He reached out through the bars like he was trying to grab me but his hand was in an odd position of supplication.

“Who are you?”

“Your cousin’s mistress.  I think we met once years ago.”

His eyes were feverously calculating “Can you get me out of here?”

“Do you want to help me kill your cousin?”

He nodded “Absolutely, I hate my cousin.”

I chuckled “I didn’t even tell you which cousin.”

That evening the Baroness called me into the grand hall where the Baron used to hold court and proclaim his grand pronouncements.  Curly was there but beside her she didn’t seem to have acquired any other councilors or sycophants or hangers-on yet.  Her ladies in waiting were all dead or fled.  Same for her husband’s inner circle, aside from my cousins who had been in his service for all of a couple days and I don’t think she had even spoken to.  The House of Juost was looking pretty lean. I snapped off a quick curtsy just for old times’ sake and stood before her with hands clasped like a proper court lady.

“Good evening Baroness, you never answered me before but I assume we can dispense with the cousin fiction.”

“The King’s messenger said . . .”

“The King’s messenger is dead.  As is the King, you were quite upset by that news I recall.  You’re not going to get in any trouble if we stop pretending.”

She pursed her lips “Yes, well, be that as it may, I called you here to inquire of your intentions.”

“I have business elsewhere that is long overdue, I intend on leaving in short order.”

“Without my permission?”

I smiled “Not if you give me permission I won’t.  We can part friends if you like.  Hells, if you want we can even keep in pretending that we’re cousins.  We can write letters about what we’re up to and inquire about each other’s health.”

She stared at me for a moment and then let out a short breath “I would like for you to stay.”

“No.”

“With my husband dead . . .”

I held up my hand, her eyes flashing slightly as I interrupted her again “I get it.  You need help.  The Barony was in bad shape already and with your husband dead the sharks will be circling.  Your family must not be able to willing to help you or you wouldn’t be asking me.  You have nobody on your side and enemies all about.  I can certainly relate to that.  Saltwheel and Harmenkar were already nibbling away at your lands before – now they’re going to be drooling with anticipation.  Maybe you can play them off each other and weaken them enough that they can’t hurt you.  You want my advice?  Get remarried as soon as you can.  Find a strong lord who isn’t entirely awful and spread your legs for him.  You’re going to get fucked either way – at least you can make a choice of who does the fucking that way.  That’s your only move.  I can’t help you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Either.  Both.  The end result is the same.”

“How can you be so callous after all we’ve been through?”

I frowned “What exactly have we been through?  You mean how you enslaved me for six months?  That may not have endeared me to you as much as you seem to think it did.”

“I wouldn’t call it that, I just did as I was bade – you certainly spent a lot of time gallivanting around the countryside doing whatever you wanted for a slave.”

“That’s not how I remember it.  But it doesn’t matter.  I have my own problems.  I don’t need to add yours to my plate.”

She stared at me for a moment “Can I trust your cousins?”

“I don’t know, I barely know them.  If I had to guess I’d say they’re not entirely corrupt.  They are social climbers for sure, so you can certainly trust them to help you as long as your interests are aligned.  Jesslin is a little naïve but I think she’s mostly okay, if you play up the women supporting women angle you can probably get her on your side.  Betrei is dumb but he’s not entirely stupid, and I think he’ll mostly do whatever the other two do – you can probably count on him.  Parfinis is the one you might have to watch out for.  He’s ambitious enough to be dangerous – none of them are that ruthless but they could cause problems.  Like I said though, this is all guesswork, I barely know them.  You might want to marry Betrei – they’re commoners but they’re well to do commoners and their family has some resources.  They’d be in hog heaven to ascend to Baronhood and then you’d have them on your side, or at least the side of the Juost name.”

“What can I do to make you stay?”

“Do you want to help me kill Duke Eaglevane?” Her hand flew to her mouth with a gasp and I smiled “I’ll take that as no.  I sympathize with your problem, I honestly do, and if I didn’t have other matters to attend to I would stay and help you.”

I turned to leave but she stopped me with her voice, heavy with desperation “What if I give you Zedkath?”

I thought as I slowly turned around and eventually shook my head “Too thin.  The Duke doesn’t care about him enough to be used as bait.”

“What about a funeral?  The Royal Accusers are on their way here to bring Zedkath to the capital to stand trial for treason.  What if an accident befell him before they got here?”

“I think his body would be returned to his family, the funeral wouldn’t be held here – I doubt the Duke would leave Indlecastle even if the funeral was somewhere else.”  I could see her mind working furiously behind her eyes “Look, remember the first night I was here?  You had me dragged before you and you told me how it was going to be.  You had some iron in your spine that night.  You need to find that part of yourself and summon it up right now.  You need to be stronger than you’ve ever been before.  You have to make a decision and then see it through.  When you decide to go, or the decision is made for you, you go all the way – you don’t stop, you don’t look back, you make it work.”

“Are you saying that I don’t need your help?”

“Gods no, you desperately need my help – even with my help some man would probably march in here and take over everything – what I’m saying is that if you want to have a small chance of making it through this without something terrible happening to you what you should do is gather up whatever scraps of courage you have inside you and make your play.  Let’s not mince words, your husband was an asshole, nobody really gave a shit about him beyond his title.  You are a good person, or seem like one anyway.  Your staff here and the people of Alleene love you.  Out in the countryside things are going to shit, they might hate you, but the people here are will fight for you – you have to give them a reason to do it.  All that praying and shit that you do, that seems legit – lean on the church.  Lean on the people around here.  That’s a start.  Give them someone to believe in.”

“It’s that easy huh?”

“No, it’s not easy at all.  It’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, your cushy boring life is over, and as hard as you fight you’re probably going to fail.  But think back to when your husband first went to war and left you here.  What did you do?  Sit in your room and cry?  No, you sent me out on a bunch of dangerous errands that almost got me killed – that did get other people killed.  You were terrified but you did it anyway.  That’s what you have to do.”

She was quiet for a long moment “When will you leave?”

“Tomorrow probably, after I see Kartak dead.”

“Couldn’t you stay for a little while, just until I get my feet underneath myself?”

“What does that mean?  When will you have your feet underneath yourself?  A few days isn’t going to make a difference.  You’ve been dropped in the river with a stone around your neck – either start swimming or drown.”

She stood and smoothed out her dress “Good luck to you cousin, and safe travels.”

I ducked my head “May Adariel grant you peace and long life cousin.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Warning – this post is super duper sexy and erotic. Anyone with a heart condition or women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not read it!

I heard the necklace hit the ground and then felt the chain sliding against my neck after the fact – like I was experiencing time in reverse for two seconds.  It made a chiming sound like tapping on a crystal glass with a silver fork.  Which doesn’t make sense, the floor is wooden.  It shouldn’t have made a sound like that.  The sound should have been flatter and lower.  There was a kind of a thumping sound when the clasp unlocked as well – a sound like when you close a book.  Not slam it shut, but when you just close it a little harder than you meant to.  Kind of a soft slapping sound.  That also makes no sense, but that was sound was magic so you can forgive that, there are no rules for magic.  But the necklace hitting the floor I can’t explain that.  I’ve dropped necklaces on wood floors before, that’s not what it sounds like.  I don’t know what that sticks in my mind. 

My first instinct was to run, to get as far away from Juost manor as possible.  The only reason they found me the first time I rabbited on them was because of the necklace that isn’t a problem now.  I’m pretty hard to find when I want to be.  Not to mention which it would take them time to start looking.  Their first assumption probably wouldn’t be that I was the murderer.  Matter of fact they may never come looking for me at all.  While the desire to run is natural when you find yourself sitting by the bed of a dead guy covered with blood that only makes you look guilty.  If someone turns up dead and you’re riding away on a horse in the middle of the night that’s a confession.  There’s no reason anyone would suspect me, so running would be the worst thing I could do.  And yet I was a fraction of a second away from doing just that.  I had all but decided to get up and flee the scene before the rational part of my mind raised its hand.

The smart move is to merely return to my room like nothing happened.  Even if anyone saw me come in here, which I don’t know if they did, what reason would they have to suspect me?  The only people that knew I was coming here were my friends.  Well, not my friends, but one friend and two hirelings.  Rakhaj I think I can count on not to rat me out, Belzegara on the other hand is more of a question mark.  All I know is that she’s in it for the money – if she thought that there was more money to be made in snitching on me there’s no reason I see that she wouldn’t.  I could probably make sure that retraining me as a paymaster was the more attractive path for her to go down.  To be totally safe I should kill them both.  But I can worry about whether or not to kill them later. 

I certainly hadn’t come here expecting to kill anyone.  In the morning I had sent Martialla and Belzegara to pick up some things for me while I took Rakhaj with me to the old church to look at some of the records they had been telling me about.  The old clerk they had mentioned turned out to be fairly hale.  Don’t get me wrong he was old, but I tend to reserve calling people old for people that are enfeebled by age and he seemed to get around fine.  It was mildly amusing to see Rakhaj pawing through crumbly old documents with his giant hands – he’s got a surprisingly delicate touch.  This was mostly to kill time but it never hurts to get more information about the problem you’re trying to deal with.  I was hoping at that point that the necklace would come off later in the day but I wasn’t sure.  I certainly never thought that the millstone around my neck would be released the way it was.

After I had lunch with the gang we spent the afternoon shooting the shit.  Rakhaj seems a lot more comfortable around women just talking and hanging out than a lot of men.  Maybe because he’s not interested in them sexually.  His tales were as gruesome, as you might expect from a gladiator, but some of them were actually pretty funny.  A mark in his favor is that unlike a lot of men who hack people’s arms off for a living he hasn’t totally lost perspective of what’s amusing to normal people who aren’t desensitized to violence.  Or at least people like myself, Martialla, and Belzegara who aren’t totally desensitized to violence.  I’ve found that a lot of those types mistake grisliness for entertainment value.  Rakhaj understands that a story about a guy getting his head chopped off isn’t funny in and of itself, the guy has to be naked or something.  Belzegara is a much better weaver of a story, but for someone who was in the army and then became a bounty hunter she had a surprising dearth of good material.  Maybe she just saves the good stuff until she knows you better.  Some people try to win you over with their best stories right off the bat, but some people hold back the good stuff until they feel you deserve it.

In the late afternoon I took a nap to make sure I would be well-rested for my rendezvous with destiny.  After I woke up I took a nice long bath and then while everyone else was eating dinner I started my preparations.  I usually skip eating in this scenario because you don’t want to be bloated when it gets down to business time.  At least I don’t, there’s probably some weirdoes out there that do.  I know what you’re thinking “the meeting with the Baron wasn’t until midnight!” but here’s the deal, I’ve told you this before, beauty takes time.  Obviously I’m gorgeous no matter what, but the ultimate beauty of a diamond only comes out after you polish it and set it on the right ring the right way you know.  This was an important event, there was no reason not to look my absolute best. 

 And I say this without a hint of ego – I was looking ravishing.  The queen is reckoned to be a great beauty, but that’s all blowing smoke – I know who the truly eye-catching women are in the Kingdom are and on that night there’s only a handful that could have held a candle to me.  No brag, just fact.  About an hour before midnight I took a little wine – not enough to get tipsy (although it takes quite of bit to get my tipsy these days) but enough to kind of smooth things out you know?  I’m not one of these people who advocates getting stinking drunk before having to do something you don’t want to do, but a couple drinks never hurts the situation.  Calm the nerves a little bit, nothing wrong with that.  Twenty minutes before midnight I spritzed on a little scent – that’s enough time for it to dissipate enough not to be overwhelming, what you want is just the hint of the perfume.  Or a suggestion of the perfume if you will.  Martialla and Belzegara hadn’t been able to find any of my usuals in town but what they brought back was good enough.

A few minutes before midnight I made my way the Baron’s bedchamber.  It really is too bad that no one saw me (probably) as I made my way through the halls because as I said I was looking very fine indeed.  It’s the kind of thing that really should have been captured in a painting.  For posterity.  A hundred years from now people are going to want to know how great I looked on this night.  And yet, sadly, they cannot.  It’s a real shame.  When I went through the door he Baron was already lying on the bed with the possessive/dismissive/admiring/degrading smirk that men like him always have in situations like this.  I’m used to it, but there’s a part of me what would love to wipe those smirks of all the faces of all these men in the world.  I guess I did this time, although I didn’t know what then.

When I first got saddled with his surveillance necklace I thought about seducing the Baron as a way to get it off but there was just never time.  Is it ironic that in the end he called for me?  No, but it’s something.  Serendipity?  No, I think that’s for good things.  I’m sure there’s a word for it. 

It’s been a while, but I fell back into the old routine easily.  After all, this is what I do.  Or did anyway.  I brought him his booze, I lit his flayleaf, I tittered when it was appropriate to titter, I was demure when it was time to be demure, and I was bold and provocative when it was appropriate to be so.  Nothing I hadn’t done many times before, it was all old hat for me and probably for the Baron as well.  Or maybe not, maybe he’s mostly just dragging his maids in here and hasn’t worked with a pro.  I suppose we’ll never find out now.  Which is fine.

He told me to undress for him.  This is a pretty standard thing but it’s one of the steps in the dance that I’ve come to loathe.  Which isn’t to say that I’m not good at it, I’m fucking great at it!  It just reinforces the power dynamic – it’s not enough that you’re going to have sex with them first you have to perform for them.  And that performance better be just what they fucking want or there’s going to be trouble.  The only thing that I hate more is when they ask me to sing for them.  Thankfully that’s pretty rare, most men don’t have time for that nonsense. 

Everything was going great up until this point, it was a by the book affair that promised to culminate in what I expect would have been by the book sexual congress.  But I noticed that as I was undressing sensually for him that I wasn’t getting quite the reaction that I was expecting.  I told you, I am GREAT at this.  I didn’t expect him to sit up and pant like a hound, but I know the (not) subtle signs of when a man is getting what he wants and they were just a little off.  I didn’t think much of it though, no big deal right?  It was about to turn into a very big deal.  Once I stood before him in my fully glory – and I don’t mean to belabor the point but there was a fuckton of glory to be beheld – he didn’t seem pleased.  In fact he seemed to be scowling slightly. 

My first thought, honest to Gods, was that some monster was behind me.  Given all the crazy shit and bad luck I’ve had lately when I saw his face what I envisioned was that there was a giant spider monster on the wall behind me.  Or that Wesel ghost had raised out of the ground rotted face and all.  Or a skin hag had flown in the room.  Or Kartak was standing there with a sword in hand having just climbed in the window.  Something along those lines. 

“What’s wrong My Lord?” I asked while subtly trying to turn my head and look for monsters with my peripherals.

He made a face like someone who’s been served an inferior bourbon and is going to drink it anyway because what are they going to do?  Not get drunk? 

“Oh, it’s just your body . . . it’s not quite what I was expecting.  I can deal with it though.”

I still didn’t understand at that point.  Without trying to be obvious about it I tried to look myself over for some weird magic mark or a hag’s brand or something like that – some bizarre magic blemish or mutatation that had just appeared on my body or that I had somehow managed to overlook.  It seems strange to say that perhaps, but it’s easier to overlook an odd thing on your own body than you think.  Even if you stand in front of a mirror nude you don’t get the same view as someone else – and who the Hells stands in front of a mirror nude?  I asked him what he meant.

“I thought you were a proper lady.  But you have sun lines on your arms and neck like a peasant girl.  And you have scars.  Did you father do that do you?  How did you come by all those scars?  And you have . . . . muscles.  I can see them on your stomach and on your legs.”

He said muscles as if that was the most disgusting thing that anyone could ever possibly observe – like in the totality of the universe.  Honestly he put more revilement and repugnance into that one word than I have ever heard before.  I doubt he could have found it more grotesque if live snakes had been slithering out of my pussy onto the floor.  I was stunned and shocked and astonished and speechless and whatever other word you want to put in the mix.  That was not a reaction I would have ever anticipated in a thousand lifetimes.  In a million lifetimes. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that with all the physical activity I’ve had over the last year that my physique is a little more athletic than the courtly ideal (which I assure you I nailed on the noggin before).  And yes I do have a few very tiny scars that you can’t really notice.  The tan lines thing I’ll give him but when you’re outside all the damn time there’s not a lot you can do about that. 

I’ve been poised before, and drugged.  Not to mention the times I’ve been rendered insensible by magic.  A handful of times I’ve gotten drunk enough not to remember what I did.  Although it’s never happened to me, I’ve been in enough fights to understand battle-rage or “wearing the bear shirt” as the Northmen call it.  But up until that point I never really believed the people who claim that they blacked out and murdered someone.  Someone claims that they sliced up their wife and tossed her in the bog but they don’t remember it?  I always called bullshit on that before.  And maybe most of the time it is bullshit. 

But what I can tell you is that I remember standing there in front of the Baron completely paralyzed by his words and the next thing I remember is sitting in a chair beside his bed with a knife in my hand and the necklace falling off.  There was blood on the knife, there was blood on me, there was blood on him – the bed was soaked with blood.  And I mean that literally, it was so saturated with blood I could hear it dripping through onto the floor underneath.  The Baron was dead as dead can be.  I’ve seen a lot of dead people over the past year and I can unequivocally say that he was the deadest dead guy I’ve ever seen.  I must have stabbed him fifty times, well after the point where he was dead.  He was deader than fuck is my point.

After the necklace fell off I said to no one “Well that was easy.”

You probably think that I killed this man out of pure vanity.  And maybe I did, I can’t say what was going on my mind because I can’t remember.  But I don’t think so.  I think that was only part of it, that was the trigger maybe, but I think what was really behind it was everything.  The Duke’s wife getting me thrown out of court.  The Duke tossing me aside like garbage, leaving me in an alley to die.  All the shit that’s happened since then.  All the trauma, all the horror, all the violence, all the schemes and the lies and the scams.  And probably, if you want to get philosophical, it was all the stuff that happens to me before I even went to court.  Leaving my family at a young age, the training, the struggle, life at court itself, all of it.  My whole life.  I don’t think this was me murdering a man because he said I wasn’t attractive enough for him, not entirely.  I think it was me murdering a man because of all the things that have happened to me.  His words released a dam.  Or an avalanche.  Whatever metaphor you want to use. 

I stabbed a man to death, apparently quietly enough that he didn’t scream and bring everyone running.  And then I kept on stabbing him.  Based on the blood on my legs I climbed into him and was stabbing him like that at one point.  And then I sat down on a chair.  And I don’t remember any of that.  This is troubling.  I don’t think this sort of thing is likely to happen again, a straw can break a camel’s back only once right?  And even if it were to happen again I doubt it would be a regular occurrence.  But I don’t know that.  And in any event it doesn’t feel good to know that you were out of control for a moment even if it never happens again.  I don’t know what you do about that.  How to you combat your own mind?  Maybe I need to be more in touch with my feelings?  I don’t know.

The Baron?  Who gives a shit.  He was an asshole anyway.  And at least I the necklace is off now.  All things considered it could have gone worse. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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