Mantelderith 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I grant you that my life at the Duke’s court was not exactly like the Baroness’s life here, but even so it’s becoming more and more inexplicable to me how anyone (well any woman I mean) with any kind of a functioning mental capacity can stomach this life without jumping off the highest wall they can find.  Morning prayers. Getting dressed and preparing for the day.  Discussing the recent betrothals, marriages, poetry, and music over breakfast.  Teaching.  Mid-morning prayers.  Lunch.  Supervising the servants.  Embroidery and dance practice.  Evening prayers.  Supper in the main hall.  Day over.  Process repeat.  Over and over and over until death.  And the worst part is that most people (women I mean) would kill for a chance to live like this.  Just so they wouldn’t have to worry about food or getting sick anymore.  The world really is a disgusting place.   Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers. 

Before the BIG ceremony the day after tomorrow there was a smaller ceremony today for the people who actually did the killing and dying to bring the Baron back to his throne.  I mean he was technically always on the throne but you know what I mean.  Martialla and I were not included among the honoraries of course since all we did was everything.  Mord Eli Ciraanova, bookmaker, fight arranger, and (semi)organized crime member was rechristened Sir Mord Eli Ciraanova knight of the realm.  No one seemed to be more surprised about this fact than him.  His new finery sat ill on his frame and he had a look of a man whose head is placed in a guillotine but is facing an open window with a nude woman inside – terrified but optimistic.  This despite the fact that he wasn’t even present for the fighting.  I guess it’s logistically the only way the Baron can make use of Mord’s dick-kickers and eyeball-gougers.  People like that can’t take orders from the Baron directly, nor would any of them be elevated to knighthood.  The Northman with the bird tattoos also received some kind of acknowledgment but I don’t know what.  Whatever the noble equivalent of a “good job” is.  I don’t keep up on these things. 

Only slightly less fraudulently Parfinis and Betrei were made knights as well.  I’m confident that they did no fighting either, but at least they were in the manor while it was happening – hiding in a closest is more than some knights have ever done.  I heard through the grapevine that Jesslin actually did protect some of kitchen staff with her magic, receiving a wound for her troubles, but there was no mention of that of course.  Unlike Mord, my good cousins (or whatever they are) were in hog heaven to be receiving this honor and knew exactly which leg to dip and how high they could raise their eyes and all that courtly bullshit.  Along with them another six newly minted knights were turned out as well as a dozen other squires and honor holders and whatever else – some of them actual fighting men.  I think a butler was posthumously made a baronet (or maybe a paralictor) for saving the Baroness’s petticoat.  This meant that his family was immediately in arrears on their patronage and thrown in debtor’s prison.  Just kidding, that won’t happen for a couple months.

Hellerhad was nowhere to be seen during this very long and very hot service but he did turn up at the feast that came afterwards, sitting at the Baron’s side and laughing like a jackass when he wasn’t giving me dirty looks.   The feast itself was only mildly less tedious than the ceremony but at least the food was good and the drink was, if not good, at least copious.

Martialla was adjusting her dress uncomfortably “Remind me never to get knighted, that thing went on forever.  How many vows are there to swear?”

“Oh, they make you swear and swear they do, the idea is that there are so many vows you can’t help but break one – that way they can screw you over whenever they feel like it.  Like most game it’s rigged, but it’s the only game in town so what can you do?  The good news is that women can’t be knighted, they’re too weak and emotional to save the Kingdom.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

“Indeed.”

“So what’s going on exactly?  We saved the Baron and now . . .?”

“I figure the big celebration day after tomorrow is the good time to ask him to take this necklace off as a show of trust.”

“Which you will immediately betray?”

“Which I will immediately betray, why else work so hard to get someone to trust you?  Then we head back to Graltontown, take care of Beltian and a few other loose ends, and then on to the Duke himself.”

“About time.”

“Tell me about it.”

“What if the Baron doesn’t go for it?”

“I think I’ve proven my loyalty at this point, I doubt he’ll refuse me, but if he does we’ll just have to figure something else out won’t we?  Maybe we can learn something about this necklace and how works, I feel like some monster or other told it was a fey charm.  If I go into the woods there’s probably more mermaid vampires – maybe I can ask one of them.  I was attacked by a mermaid vampire last time I was here you know.”

“No, it’s certainly not something you mention all the time.  Also you said it was a satyr, keep your lies straight.”

“Maybe it was a faun, or a korred, or a baccae, or one of the dozen other fey creatures with goat legs.  Why do fairies like goats so much?”

“Goat is delicious, they probably eat the top half and then not wanting to be wasteful attach the bottom part to themselves.  Then they use the horns to make their flutes.”

“That’s probably it.  Do you think minotaurs and satyrs get along?” 

“I suppose so, they both like getting drunk, that’s usually all it takes for people to get along.  Or . . . not people, but . . . things like that.  Peoplish monsters.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

And we did.  I’ve you’ve never been to a country nobleman’s feast before, which you haven’t, the farther away from the main table you are the less stuffy things are.  Things are reversed with urban sophisticates like the Duke, but out here where nobles take their uptightness serious the only chance of fun is to be as far away from the host as possible.  So there’s a little bit of a silver lining to being snubbed despite your contributions.  As the festivities carried on, down at my table a couple fellows, who no doubt though themselves very “naughty” started up with a little gambling.  Copperante dice bullshit at first, but someone turned up with a deck of cards and soon afterwards a more interested fellow turned up with another deck of cards – you know the kind I mean – and not long after that we were playing Gin and Maidens in earnest. 

Normally in this kind of setting I would refrain from playing – what proper lady would gamble at all, not to mention even playing a game with adult themes and alcohol – and if I did play I would make sure not to win too much.  But for some reason this time I did neither of those things.  Probably the booze was part of it, but I can’t really explain why – maybe I was just tired of restraining myself.  After I had cleaned out all the grooms and butlers and valets and whatnot word had spread and men were coming out of the woodwork to see this fancy lady who was taking everyone’s coin in this lewd game of lewdness.  As the night wore on and I defeated all challengers those who thought themselves seasoned gamblers started to turn up to try and take me down.  There were a couple who gave me some trouble, but the nice thing about being a woman is that no one is going to accuse you of cheating no matter how many hands in a row you win. 

As the night wore on and the feast was losing steam the gambling was still going strong.  I found myself sitting across from Hellerhad.  He was a good player but not a great one.  Like a lot of smart people he mistakes intelligence as a substitute for skill – dummies aren’t going to get far but there’s no substitute for experience.  After about twenty minutes he started using his magic to cheat – subtly, but not subtly enough for me to miss it.   That increased the degree of difficulty so that it was another hour before I had all his money.  For a country butcher he sure had a lot of money.  Maybe there’s a spell that creates gold.  That would be pretty bad for the economy though so maybe it’s just a spell that finds gold – which is fine?

There’s a lot of “wise” sayings about gambling (and everything else) but one that’s actually pretty smart is don’t bet anything you’re not willing to lose.  No matter how sure you are, never put up anything that you aren’t willing to see go away.  Once Hellerhad pulled a ring off his finger and I saw the look in his eye when I swept it up as winnings I knew that I had him in a tough spot.  I could almost see the thoughts running through his mind “I’ll just keep playing until I get the ring back”.  It’s interesting how stupid smart people are sometimes.  Once I had all his items of value I wondered idly if he was going to incinerate me with a spell, but he just sat there looking like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.  You see that look a lot on people who just gambled away all their money – it’s like they blacked out or something.

I turned to say something to Martialla and realized that I could see right through her.  Martialla wasn’t sitting next to me, there was a Martialla illusion there instead.  I hadn’t noticed it before because I was just seeing her out of my periphery.  My first thought was that she had conjured an illusion of herself so that she could sneak away without anyone noticing.  No one would care if she left, but she’s a commoner, she doesn’t know how these things work.  I quickly rejected that idea though, because she would have no reason to sneak away from the drinking and gambling. 

I nodded my head at the illusory Martialla “Hey, butcher, can you track who did this?”

He looked up slowly “What?”

“This illusion of my friend, you’re a great and powerful mage right?  Can you do your thing and tell me what’s going on here?” 

He seemed disinterested until I told him that I’d give him his ring back if he helped me, that sobered him up – not that he was drunk but it snapped him out of his depression, you know what I mean.  He stared at the illusion for a moment and then told me he “had it” and started walking.  I followed him out of the great hall and down the stairs.  As we left the manor house I snapped my fingers at two guards idling outside the door.

“You two, come with us.”

After a moment of surprise they did as they were bid.  Hellerhad led us to the stables where several Juost Manor servants were struggling to load a statue into the back of a wagon under the supervision of a woman who would have been attractive if not for her hideous nose ring and the fact that she was dressed like a man – stupid feathered hat and everything. The statue was the spitting image of Martialla – I’ve never seen such a realistic statue before.  Except of course you know that time where I found all those people that been turned to stone by evil dwarfs. 

Nosering glanced at us and waved her hand “We don’t need any more help, we’ve just about got things wrapped up here.”

I looked at the Juost retainers “Why are you helping this woman?”

They looked back and forth uncertainly between the two of us, and then over at Hellerhad who had nothing to say.

I turned back to nosering “Okay, how about you tell me yourself what’s going on.”

She looked me over “Oh, it’s you.  Would you believe that I’m picking up the statue I had made to look exactly like your friend?

“I’ll believe anything anyone wants for the right amount of money, but somehow I doubt you have the funds to pull that off.”

“I might if you let me drive out of here.” I shook my head and she sighed “Your friend is a notorious outlaw, I was going to collect the bounty on her.  Another few minutes and I would have been free and clear.”

“Somehow you turned her to stone and replaced her with an illusion without anyone noticing?  That’s very impressive.”

“You were pretty engrossed with your gambling, I had some help clouding the minds of everyone else present.  You’re a tough nut to crack mentally, did you know that?”

I pointed at Hellerhand “But you were able to hoodwink the mighty mage?”

She half laughed “He’s not a wizard.”

I turned to him “You aren’t?”

He crossed his arms “I told you when I first met you that I don’t do magic anymore.”

“What about all that wizard shit I took off you?”

“It’s complicated.”

Nosering clasped her hands together “Shall I go then?  Let you two talk this over alone?”

“No, get her down from there.  If this is a legal bounty why all the subterfuge – why didn’t you just tell the Baron he had a criminal in his midst?”

“The Baron and I don’t really get along, plus even if we did he’d probably try to take the bounty for himself.”

“True.  Can you turn her back?”

“That depends.”

“No it doesn’t.  I’ll take that to mean that you  can, so do it right now or I’ll have my not-wizard friend strangle you like a chicken.  Even if he doesn’t have magic look at the size of him.”

She eyed Hellerhad “How could I not?  I’ll unpetrify your friend.  Then what?”

“Clearly you’re a resourceful woman, maybe if you help me out with something the Baron doesn’t need to know about this.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,660 gold

XP: 1,096,451

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

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 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It was quite a while before anyone found us.  As I said we watched the sun rise yesterday and it was dark before a couple grim faced blood-splattered soldiers came marching up the stairs to our not very secret secret hiding place.  You’d think that checking the perimeter (or whatever) would be one of the first things that you’d do once the fighting was wrapped up.  You’d also think that finding your wife would be a pretty high priority.  But the old Baron has just been freed from the malevolent depraved mind control of Kostelos witch so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – it’s probably akin to be hung-over, you’re not at your best.  Takes some time to get your wits about you and make good decisions again.

The soldiers escorted us and we escorted the Baroness to an almost genuine looking teary reunion with the good Baron – much hugging and exchanging of pretty words.  He explained sorrowfully to us all that his mind was not his own when he was betraying his sacred wedding vows.  Although I felt that message was undercut somewhat because he spent a good deal more time going into detail about how the witch turned herself into a comely young woman for these couplings.  There was no mention of any of his other violations of the wedding vows which if you ask me was a missed opportunity.  Were I the Baron I would have taken that chance to explain that the witch had been messing with my mind for years – which caused all the infidelities of the past.  I also would have elucidated that there was still a little witch magic rattling around in here that was to blame for the infidelities I had planned in the future.

Since Martialla and I had robbed the Baron of his revenge by killing the witch and the shaman and the witch-shaman (and possibly a shaman-witch) he had to settle for a mass hanging of the handful of Kostelos warriors that had been captured.  A popular thing for rich and powerful people to order in these scenarios is to leave the bodies to rot on the walls as some kind of lesson but that presents all manner of logistical problems.  Rotting corpses aren’t very handy to have hanging around (pun).  To make him feel better about not getting to execute any Kostelos women I presented him with Greysmith’s dwarf-axe saying that it had been the weapon of mightiest Kostelos warrior in the battle. 

The good news is that Zedkath had been captured.  With very little prompting he said that the goal of the Kostelos-Satander alliance was succession from our beloved Kingdom and the creation of a new kingdom dedicated to their God and their cultural whatevers.  I got the impression that Zedkath had gotten mixed up in the scheme out of boredom rather than any manner of religious ecstasy, a theory which Martialla backed up.  I guess that’s what you get when you send an ambitious young asshole warrior to guard a mountain pass instead of to the front lines where he can make a name for himself.  Although I suppose that was the point, the Duke doesn’t need any rivals. 

I explained to the Baron how I saved him and all his lands making sure to downplay everything I had done and emphasize that he had mostly broken free of the spell himself and had probably only fallen under it in the first place because of something someone else had done.  I told him how his lands had fallen into disarray and that many of his holdings have been either given away in his name or were being usurped – particularly usurped by Baron Saltwheel and Baron Harmenkar.  Since the Kostelos had done such a good job of stripping him of his loyal fighting men I suggested that Mord’s crew of warriors would help him start righting the ship – they’re not your typical baronial sworn men but these aren’t typical times and they had proven themselves effective in doing their small part to help him had they not?

After all that talking it was late and I was dispatched with Martialla to my old room – someone else had been living there clearly but the man (either a very casual soldier or a servant with a weapon) that escorted us assured us that they wouldn’t be coming back.  I wonder how many “innocent” bystanders got the shaft in this whole fiasco.  I had a weird sense of repetition being back in that room – even though it was full of someone else’s possessions.  For a weird moment it felt like I had never left.  Before I banished it I was overwhelmed with the helpless feeling of being trapped here that I had when they first demonstrated that they could track me with the necklace they’ve sealed around my neck.  But things are different now.  So many things are different now.  Things such as waking up in a bed – a nice bed.  A nice bed a place that is safe (sort of) and has good food and clean water and zero lurking rays (probably).  Case in point when I woke up Martiall was sitting by the window eating breakfast corn and having herself a morning cocktail. 

She nodded over at me as I stirred “How were the nightmares?  Soul crushing or just spirit destroying?”

“I’m not even sure it was a nightmare.  I dreamed that Auraluna Domeil’s daughter was working with a group of blood wizards to turn the Queen into a vampire with their blood ritual so they could control her with their vampire controlling amulet.”

“Ah yes, who doesn’t have one of those?”

“Exactly.  Of course I was the only one who had the cure and I needed to get it to the Queen before it was too late.”

“Where was I?”

“Absent.  I assume you sacrificed yourself to the Blood God in order to get the cure.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Why would I try to save the queen?  It’s a dream, they don’t have to make sense.  Speaking of, I promised to tell you about a new development.  The ghost or spirit or something of an ancient Emperoress has visited me a couple times and wants me to help her come back to life or something.”

“How tedious.  Also it’s Empress.”

“You mean it’s impressive.” 

“No, it’s Empress, you said Emperoress.  That’s not a word.”

“Impress who about what?”

“No, not IMpress, EMpress.”

“What?”

“Forget it.”

After breakfast the Baron gathered everyone in the town square and made a grand declaration that in three days’ time there would be a great feast in honor of his victory so everyone better get off their ass and fix up all the damage that had been done in the fighting.  That’s a pretty good example of how life works for these people.  You work like a dog all day and then suddenly out of nowhere there’s fighting and fires burning in your home.  You hide or run or do whatever and manage to survive the night – congratulations now you have to clean it all up!  Oh, and also this extra work that needs to be done right now!  And these are the privileged ones – they’re lives are much better than the farmers out in the countryside.  It’s almost enough to make you feel like those Black Bride/Widow/Whatever people are onto something.  Almost.  Remember how I accidentally created that movement?  Well not accidentally, but unintentionally. 

After that I “got” to attend to the Baroness since all her ladies in waiting had been killed or fled or killed while trying to flee.   Things were so dire that even Martialla was impressed into service as one of the Baroness’ attendants.  Martialla clomping around the Baroness’s sitting room?  That’s how bad things were.  After a couple hours on Baroness duty I managed to slip away and leave Martialla to attend to her needs by herself – which is probably the worst thing I’ve ever done to her.  And remember that I stabbed her a few days ago.  It might be the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone.  Maybe not. 

I went to see the Baron and who did I see by his side but Hellerhad.  It took me a moment to recognize him since he was dressed in fine clothing now instead of being draped in animal guts, but a man that size with that stupid of a mustache?  You don’t forget a sight like that.  What’s the world coming to when a man like that is a wizard?  He’s got to be close to seven feet high and he looks like he could pick up a manatee like a sack of grain.  Or at least a dugong. 

“Good morrow My Lord, I thought all your enemies had meet their final disposition.”

He frowned “Speak plainly woman, what can you mean?”

I lowered me head demurely “Sorry My Lord, I just assumed that Master Hellerhad being the powerful man of magic that he is could have long ago broken the witches spell that affected you rather than leaving you to struggle free triumphantly as you did.  Much hardship and loss could have been prevented if he had defended you as one should their liege lord.  Ergo I assumed he was your enemy by proxy.”

The Baron’s frown turned into a look of curiosity as he glanced at his advisor “Do you know this woman?”

He nodded “We met briefly while you were away My Lord.”

“Yes, met when I went asked for his aid in protecting the Baroness, and in helping her to manage the land in your absence.”

“And what was his response?

“Why don’t you tell the Baron what response you gave to my supplication Master Hellerhad.”

His face turned to stone and he paused before speaking “My Lord, it was purely a case of bad timing, you see . . .”

“Very bad timing I must imagine, for there was no response at all My Lord.  Master Hellerhad sent me on a fool’s errand and then fled like a thief in the night, leaving not so much as a word to me or your good wife.”

Hellerhad was halfway out of his chair before the Baron waved him back irritably.

“This is a serious accusation.  Do you deny it sir?”

Hellerhad stopped glaring at me to look kindly at the Baron “It’s not quite that simple your Lord, the situation is more complex than a woman . . .”

“How convenient.  I think it’s very simple, I came to you for help and you ran on account of your cowardly soul.”

The Baron gave me the stink eye “That’s twice you’re interrupted when it is not your place to do so.  Don’t do it again.”

I curtsied retiringly “Apologies My Lord, it’s been an eventful few days, all the excitement has made me forget myself.”

“Hmm, yes, quite so.  Well, this is a troublesome problem isn’t it?  I shall need good councilors around me in the days to come and they are sadly in short supply just now.  I was counting on Hellerhad to advise me on many matters, many matters indeed.  But as you say his absences before now is rather damning.”

Hellerhad now did stand to address the Baron “My Lord all I can say is that I am here to provide you all the wisdom I have to offer.”

“My Lord, if I may, two relations of mine have traveled here with me, I would suggest that they could provide much better counsel than this vondrook and would be happy to do so.”

The Baron was shocked by my language “Madam, you forget yourself!”

I ducked my head in apology once again “I’m sorry My Lord, but the sight of a blackguard sitting at your strong right hand quite inflames my passions.”

Hellerhad spun on me “Blackguard?!  How dare you madam?  How dare you?!”

The Baron gestured at him “Sit down my friend.  Perhaps you should remove yourself until your passions are calmed Lady.”

Another bloody curtsy “I shall My Lord, again my apologies for any upset I have caused.  Before I retire however I would like to bring up one thing.  You spoke of a boon for the small part that I played in your return to your faculties.  I would request that it be banishing this scapegrace from your court.”

“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

“How about a duel My Lord?”

He looked like a rabbit had just ridden by on the back of a giraffe “A duel?”

“Yes My Lord, a contest of some sort.  If I win Master Hellerhad is exiled.  If he wins I shall apologize and never speak ill of him again.  We’d have to figure out some fair competition of course, clearly I cannot match magic with him just as he’s no match for me physically.”

He was incredulous “What?  I could break you in half with one hand!”

“So it would have to be something where we had an equal chance – letting the Gods decide as is the intention of these things.”

The Baron’s surprised turned to deep thought “An interesting proposal.  I shall think on it.” He waved his hand airily “You may go now.  And in the future don’t turn up in my chambers unannounced.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it My Lord.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

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

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 12 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After chopping down the door (it chopped down if you destroy it?) to the chamber where the Baroness was being held prisoner I realized that it probably would have been safer to leave her in there until the fighting was over.  After all no one should be trying to kill her specifically, and I would judge that door was pretty impregnable if you don’t have a magic dwarf axe.  Oh well, what can I say, I like making an entrance.  Since that horse was out of the barn (so to speak) we escorted her up to one of the parapets of stately Juost Manor.  Is it still a parapet if it’s not on a castle?  What is it, a turret?  You know what I mean, one of the high parts of the manor.  Crossing through the upper hallways we had to kill a couple of the Baron’s men – why they didn’t obey the commands of their Baroness and stand down I don’t know.  They were probably just confused and frightened.  Ironically (?) the only Kostelos we saw, who would be reckoned as our actual enemy turned and ran as soon as he saw us.  Not sure how he knew who we were, I guess word gets round.

The Baroness explained that once her husband came back with his barbaric new friends and started banging a geriatric death shaman she just resolved to keeping her head down and prayed extra hard to Adariel to save her.  After a while though the Kostelos became increasingly paranoid and suspicious that she was working against them so she was locked away until the Baron could be mind-twisted enough to execute his lawful and true ladywife.  She didn’t think it would have been much longer since just the other day he came to visit her alone and gave her a long and confusing “goodbye” speech.  She seemed to think that the timing of our rescue had something to do with that – I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was purely a coincidence.  Actually that’s not true, I had plenty of heart to tell her, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I didn’t resist from chapping her hide about expecting prayers to do anything though.

She smiled “You’re here aren’t you?”

I rolled my eyes “Don’t give me that mysterious ways bullshit.  My being here is not part of some divine plan.”

She looked down her nose at me, which is tough when you’re looking up at someone who’s taller than you “I see your time away hasn’t improved you manners.”

“My manners are fucking impeccable when I went them to be.”

The good Baroness seemed rather anxious about her household being torn apart by chaotic violence, and the potential for her own death probably didn’t help so I asked Martialla to put her to sleep with her magic.  Martialla said that it would only last for a couple minutes but the Baroness stayed asleep even laying on the hard floor for hours.  I guess after the magic wore off she was asleep for real.  Not sure how that works.  What’s the difference between magic sleep and sleep sleep?  I’m sure no one knows.  No one asks questions about magic, not even the people doing the magic, it’s exasperating.  From our high position we had a good view, not of the fighting which was below us, but of the countryside.  We watched the sun rise – which normally I don’t care for but after being stuck in a lightless tomb for a while it stirred a little something inside me. 

“It is beautiful country out here isn’t?  If you like that sort of thing.”

“That it is.”

“What’s today’s date?”

“The twelfth I think.”

“Huh, it’s my birthday.  If I remember correctly last year on my birthday is when I ran into the Hurmont family.  I think that was the first time I got cursed and that time it was by a god no less.  I mean Kratlen, but still a god.  And I believe that was the first time I ran into a secret cult of murderers trying to kill me.  It was definitely the first time I threatened the life of a child.”

“Sounds like quite a day.  What were you doing the year before that?”

“Nothing probably, my birthdate wasn’t anything anyone cared about at court.  The Duke’s birthday though – that was really something.  I bet you could found a colony with the money spent just on the appetizers.”

“You could?”

“Maybe not be but someone could.  I wouldn’t count civil administration as one of my skills.  I’ve heard that deciding on the proper location for a latrine is harder than you think.  Do we need to talk about the stabbing or anything else that happened on the way here?”

Martialla shook her head after a moment “No, I’m good if you are.  That was unpleasant, let’s not do anything like that again.”

“Seemed like you were enjoying it.”

“I thought I might get a little kick out of it, at least at first, but I didn’t.  At all.  Turns out that pretending to betray your friend and treating them like a hated enemy isn’t much fun at all.”

“If you love me so much why don’t you marry me?”

“Maybe I will.”

An hour after sunrise or so we saw a large body of men (and some women maybe) fleeing the grounds.  No one was chasing them that I saw, but they were certainly in a hurry.  It’s hard to say for sure but I think they were the Satander exiles.  I asked Martialla how those dirty foreign bastards got involved in all of this but she didn’t have much information other than that Zedkath had made a deal with them to let them through the gap he was supposed to be guarding.  What that had to do with Kartak or the Sky Thunder tribe or the Kostelos in general she didn’t know.  Clearly though it didn’t work the way they wanted since they were bugging out of the manor with extreme prejudice. 

“I suppose it doesn’t really matter what was going on, probably just another plot against the Kingdom that I’ve thwarted.  It really isn’t fair that I’m an enemy of the Crown given the regularity with which I save the entire nation from certain disaster with nothing more than pluck and determination.  In the stories when the brave heroes save the Kingdom there’s a big ceremony and the King gives them medals – or at least the human members of the party get medals.  The male humans anyway.  I mean there’s only so many meals to go around.  But what do I get?”

“Maybe if you tell the Queen about all the times you’ve saved the realm from our enemies she’ll kill the Duke for you.”

“That would be no good, I have to do it myself.  Speaking of, what do you think happened to Kartak?  You think that shaggy beast got him?  I’m worried that I’m going to have to bring him back to life so that I can kill him myself.  Which, as you know, is a whole can of worms.  Resurrection is a tricky business, it’s a worm on a worm it is.”

“I bet he escaped.  I bet he’s on his way here right now and you can grab him when he shows up.”

“That would be nice.”

“Back to the other thing though, maybe if they capture Zedkath he’ll explain what the plan was and how the Satanders fit into it.”

“He’s here?  I wish you would have told me that.”

“Why?”

“I would have tried to capture him.”

“You think the Duke would care enough about his cousin that he would make himself vulnerable by leaving Indlecastle to come get him?”

“Probably not, but there’s no harm in trying.”

“Isn’t there?  Right now the Duke thinks you’re dead, if he thinks about you at all, if make a move on him and it doesn’t work out that’s probably going to be it.  Once he knows that you’re alive and a credible threat he’s probably going to make sure you’re dead.  I think you’re only going to get one chance at this, I don’t know if this is a situation where you want to just try things and see if they work.  I think you want to make your move only once you’re sure.”

“I suppose you’re right about that, but having the Duke’s cousin under your thumb couldn’t hurt – as the old saying goes it’s better to have the Duke’s cousin as a prisoner and not need him than need the Duke’s cousin as a prisoner and not have him.”

“Wise words.  Does the Duke have any siblings?  Maybe they’d make better hostages than cousins.”

“A couple sisters that got married off as consolation prizes to some other nobles, all his brothers ended up dead one way or the other – funny how that happens with rich people.  I can’t think of a single solitary soul that he cares about even a little besides himself.”

“A real humanitarian huh?  Sounds like the fighting is dying down, should we go down?”

“Nah, let’s let them find us whenever they wander up here – you know how men get when women are acting with too much independence.  Can’t have the Baron thinking that we saved his fiefdom after all.  This is a fiefdom right?”

“What if it’s not the Baron’s men?  What if the Kostelos are the ones that win out and find us?”

“Obviously we’ll surrender and beg for mercy.” I took a deep breath “Not a bad day is it?  Not a bad day at all.”

“The only thing that could make it better is a drink.”

“You still got that bottle of Oldlaw?” She shook her head and I pulled out my Flask “Oh well, I suppose this will have to do.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

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, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe 

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

Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

You spend a few days in utter darkness and your mind starts to play tricks on you.  I’ve heard that sensory deprivation can cause you to hallucinate and that must be true unless a highly localized version of the Northern Lights was happening by me.  I suppose your brain gets bored with not having anything to see and just starts making things up.  Beyond dreams and lights though despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m in an old storeroom I started to convince myself that the room had no door.  That they sealed me in here somehow, with magic, or just normally with bricks like nobles too sometimes when they’re bored with their mistresses.  I’ve worked all around the walls several times and I only felt stone – nothing that felt like a door.  It would explain why no one has come to taunt me or throw food at me or anything since I’ve been here. 

But like I said, it was just my mind playing tricks, which was made apparent when the door opened today.  The very small amount of light that came in through the doorway was enough to sting my eyes like flying grit and start them to watering.  Once I was able to stand looking I saw Martialla coming in holding a candle and a pitcher, maneuvering the door with her hip – she’s more graceful than I give her credit for.  Sometimes. She handed me the pitcher and I took a drink (sadly of water) as she unslung a pack from over her shoulder and brought out some bread and cheese.

Martialla shielded the candlelight with her body “I figured you’d need to regain your strength.”

“I’m fine actually, I had a dinner date just the other night.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later.  Have you made contact with Mord?”

“Would I be here if I hadn’t?”

“Don’t get touchy, I was just asking.”

“I think I’m entitled to get a little touchy since you fucking stabbed me.”

“I knew you wouldn’t die.  And we could go tit for tat on that, all the shit you pulled on me.”

“You said that it had to look real!  You said that they could be watching us at any time so . . .”

“I know what I said, I wasn’t the one complaining, I was just titting at your tat.  I won’t insult you by asking if you’ve identified the targets but can you at least tell me who they are?”

“The old lady is the main one we need to deal with, there’s a couple other women too – as long as we catch them by surprise it shouldn’t be a problem.  One of them is a real hardcase though, we need to be careful with that one.”

“Aren’t we always careful?”

“No.”

I took my gear out of the satchel and stripped off the peasant rag I was wearing to start getting dressed “You kept my clothes in the same bag as the cheese?  And you just wadded it into a ball?  You’re lucky this magically repels wrinkles otherwise you’d be in a lot of trouble with me right now.”

“What are you going to do?  Stab me again?”

“Good Gods are you going to keep bringing that up forever?  You kicked the shit out of me like ten times!”

She crossed her arms “I feel like an apology is in order.”

“I’m sorry I stabbed you.”

Her eyes widened slightly “That almost sounded like you meant it.”

“I do mean it, why would I want to stab you?  It was just for show, and I’m sorry.  I’d do it again in the same circumstances but that doesn’t mean I’m not sorry about having to do it.  I had to sell the story you know?”

“I just hope someone was watching.”

“So what’s the deal?  Why are these Kostelos taking orders from women now?”

“I don’t know really, something Kartak brought with him changed things for them – after he slaughtered their old shaman anyway.  Brutally slaughtered that is.  Apparently he brought about some kind of religious sea change that favored women.”

“And marginalized himself?”

“I’m just telling you what I know.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

“Do they say that?

“They’re going to start.”

Once I was dressed in my clothes I felt a thousand times more calm and confident.  I’m sure I still looked like a scarecrow and smelled like a dockworker after a hard day’s work but even so I felt much better.  There’s just something about being properly dressed you know?  Also it was just nice to have boots on – my feet are going to need a lot of attention once this is all over.  I looked at Martialla as I slipped the Whiterock ring back on my finger.

“What do you think happened while I wasn’t wearing this?”

She shook her head slowly “Nothing I hope.  I agonized over that, I thought maybe I could slip it to you and no one would notice, but you said . . .”

“Yeah, I know what I said.  Why are you carrying a candle instead of using your magic?”

“Seemed a little too conspicuous.”

I didn’t understand her reasoning there but I let it lie.  She’s not pretending to be anyone other than she is, and they all know she’s magic so what’s the point?  I assume it made sense in her mind.  Martialla took on the appearance of the one of the Juost manor maids so I could copy it and then we were off.  The room I was being held in was indeed a tower, but I think from the outside it looks round and I know the room was square – I’ll have to check from the grounds when this is all over.  We went down a short staircase and across the upper halls to the master bedroom where the old Kostelos woman who’s causing all the problems had installed herself.  As we left the room where I was imprisoned I saw a guard sitting on the floor sobbing uncontrollable and covering his face in horrified sadness.

“What’s with him?”

“I learned a new spell.”

I shook my head “Magic is awful.”

When we walked into the room I had a flashback to the keep outside of Hillside.  Or was it Tall Elk?  Anyway, you know the one I mean.  The room had the same kind of stink infusing it and there were similar looking markings painted on the walls.  And while I am no expert, these seemed to be less of patterns to ward off evil spirits  so much as patterns to invite the evil spirits in to have a good old time.  One of them specifically I know is the reverse of a sigil that’s supposed to ward off death.  So draw your own conclusion there.  The Kostelos are not a large people generally and the women was shrunken with age, looking even more so in the comprehensively soiled former grandeur of the Baron’s massive bed.  Martialla grabbed her legs and I put a pillow over her face and in a couple minutes her days of evil doing were over.

Now you may not think that murdering an old woman in her sleep is not particularly heroic but you’d be wrong.  If an orc comes charging at you and you stand your ground and hit with a club that takes guts sure, but fighting against someone attacking you is one thing.  That’s an immediate reaction to something right in front of you.  But the cold blooded murder of a defenseless old-timer?  That takes some real courage.  And I’m not saying that murders are courageous, they’re mostly cowards, which is just the point I’m trying to make – I’m a normal person and I did this anyway because it needed to be done.  This weak old woman brought down ruin on thousands of people, she had to go – and I had the willpower to do it.  That’s a hero.

Not to mention what I had to go through to get the chance.  And what Martialla had to go through.  I wonder if she had sex with the Duke’s cousin.  I’ll have to ask her later.  As we headed for another part of the manor we heard fighting outside – Mord’s crew must be doing their part to keep attention down in the courtyard.  They’re a little early, but what can you do?  Timing is hard.  When we got to the next room the woman inside was out of bed and throwing on some kind of primitive animal-skin armor (looked like an armadillo but that can’t be right) and had an axe lying close at hand.  She wasn’t old, but she was ugly.  I don’t know if she was deformed or possessed or had a curse on her or what, but she didn’t look precisely human.  Her eyes were kind of oblong and set at an angle – like they were sloping down towards her nose.  It was unsettling.  And that nose itself was upturned like that of a bat.  Her hands seemed to be fifty percent too large as well.  I didn’t care for her whole vibe.

She snarled at Martialla “What’s going on down there?!”

Martialla affected a tone of fear “The peasants are revolting!”

I couldn’t help myself “Of course, but she asked what’s going on outside.”

They both turned to look at me, confused, and then Martialla extended her hand with the magical words of magic and assailed her with a line of fire.  This didn’t bother Batnose too much as she countered with some magic of her own and deflected the attack – sending up a huge wall of flame between us that bisected the room.  And set the bed on fire.  It was just a perfect plane of fire hanging in the air – I never saw anything like it.

“Huh, will you look at that.”

Martialla cast another spell to protect us from the fire and we dove through – which was quite exhilarating.  If you ever get the chance to walk jump through a giant wall of fire you definitely should.  I don’t know why we jumped instead of just walking, it just seemed more apt.  Batnose was waiting for us and blasted us with another pillar of fire which burned the Hells out of us even through Martialla’s protection.  She claimed later on that it wasn’t real fire, that it was divine energy that looked like fire but I think Batnose just had a better spell and it overwhelmed Martialla’s.  Martialla is always making excuses for her mediocre magical powers.  Batnose expanded in size to where she had to duck to avoid hitting the ceiling and then lay about with her axe but there’s the thing – she was big but she didn’t seem that strong.  She was four times my size but I was still able to pin her down with my Walking Stick while Martialla heroically stabbed her in the ribs until she died. 

It’s really nice to have my Walking Stick back in my hands.  More than anything else I felt naked without that.  There’s something about the heft of holding an item that you can really whack someone on the noggin with that makes me feel assured.  It’s like you can point your stick at the entire world any say “You, you’re in my way!”  I can see why rich people like it so much.  Well that and for beating poor people so badly that they go blind.  We stepped back through the fire just as another woman was coming in the door. She was wearing full armor, even the helmet, but you could tell that under all that metal she was a muscular slab of humanity.  She’s have to be to move so easily with all that weight – I tried a chain shirt on once and it nearly brought me to my knees, she had on plate mail and it didn’t seem to bother her in the least.  She had long ornately plaited blonde hair that hung down to her waist – that part looked like what opera people think that warriors look like.  We looked at each other at the same time and then Martialla and I hopped back through the flame wall.

“I assume that’s the dangerous one?”

“Yeah.”

“The one we need to take by surprise?”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t we go after her first?”

“I was just going by the rooms that were closest.”

“Okay, so we climb out the window and . . .”

That’s when the opera warrior came charging through the flames – she had no protection, she just didn’t care about running through a wall of fire.  She smashed Martialla into the wall with her shield and she was swinging a hammer at my head.  You know a warhammer, not like a hammer for carpentry.  I managed to get my Walking Stick up to block it – and by block I mean get in the way sort of.  You have your friend swing a sledgehammer at you and you try to block it with broomstick and see how that works out.  The good news is the hammer didn’t hit me in the head.  The bad news is that the Walking Stick was driven back into my head with enough force to knock me on my ass.  The even worse news is that the Walking Stick broke into three pieces.  I just got it back!

Scrambling to my feet as opera warrior hammered Martialla I grabbed a flaming blanket off the bed and tossed it over her head.  I tried to grab and hold her as well, but she shoved me off with one elbow like I was a silk ribbon trying to hold back a rampaging rhino.  At least Martialla was able to get in a few stabs while she was blinded by the blanket of fire.  At least I think she was able to, as an observer it’s hard to tell with all that armor if the strikes are getting home of just glancing off.  With no other bright ideas I double-fisted my Flask and my Tankard and then pulled out the axe I took off Greysmith.  Not being an AXEpert (come on that’s funny!) I don’t think I struck a single telling blow, but I did slice her shield in half – this thing is ungodly sharp!  And more importantly I distracted her enough for Martialla to stab her in that area between where the back of the breastplate (is the back of a breastplate still called a breastplate or is it a backplate?) and the armor that covers your ass.  Does ass armor have a name?  It must right?  That was that, and neither of us got our brains dashed out by a hammer in the process – but it was a close thing.

Martialla looked at me grimly “One more stop.”

I grimaced “I think I liked being a prisoner better.”

At this point servants and various other people were running in every direction not knowing what to do – which I understandable when there’s a fire in the building and you’re under attack by unknown partiers.  It’s not like they were under siege or anything, they went to bed thinking this was going to be a normal night.  Martialla and I made our way to a solid door that was locked up tight, but this dwarf-axe made short work of it.  One the other side, in a small bedroom clutching a book to her chest and looking scared out of her wits stood Baroness Juost.  I’m not sure what surprised her more, seeing her axe-wielding maid on the other side of the door or when I returned to my normal appearance.

She gasped “Cousin?”

“Are we still doing that?”

“I never expected to see you again.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

She frowned “Do they say that?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

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, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe 

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

Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why’d you ask?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you talking about?!”

“Just making conversation. 

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

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

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

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

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

“I shall place my mark upon you.”

“That doesn’t sound very helpful.”

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

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

“I’ve told you twice already!”

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

“Revenge!”

I smiled “Now that I understand.”

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

“No.”

“No?”

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

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

“Pass.”

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

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

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

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

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

“When will you give up?”

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

Mantelderith 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

They say that stories are the best way to help people learn lessons, which is and isn’t true.  Telling people what to do rarely works because they don’t pay attention, cloaking your message in the guise of a story sort of works better because people will pay more attention – depending on how good you are at telling stories.  But the problem is that while people will listen to a story they don’t realize that stories are warnings.  I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves because we send mixed messages – we tell a story about a kid going into the woods and being eaten by goat-monsters and then we say that there are no monsters lurking in the dark.  Which is a lie.  Everyone knows there are monsters and the darkness is where they hide.  The monster monsters anyway, the human monsters are right out in the light for everyone to see – it’s just that it’s polite to pretend that you don’t see them. 

The city is dangerous of course, possible even more dangerous than being out here, but the difference is that those dangers are known.  Knowing about the dangers in the city doesn’t mean that you can always avoid them – three men with sackcloth hoods on their head bust down your door in the middle of the night intent on hacking you to bits that’s probably what’s going to happen.  But it’s the devil you know you know?  Things out here seem more dangerous, and maybe they really are anyway, because you don’t know what you’re dealing with.  In the city the users and the corrupters and the destroyers are all well-known commodities, you watch out for them as best you can, but out here who even knows what’s going on?  Some wrinkled little man with fingernails two feet long whose invisible when you look directly at him toting a bag full of human hearts – what the fuck are you supposed to do with that?

Since nothing much happened today, just uneventful travel, I thought that I’d share a few of the tidbits that I’ve picked up over the last year.  The first one isn’t really helpful advice, more of an item of interest.  You know when a town is being plagued by the unquiet spirit of a local woman who was hanged for sport by Kralten cultists?  And the townfolk don’t like this so what they do is they grab another young woman and dress her up in fancy clothing and then banish her from the town?  They’re actually not sacrificing her to the spirit – what it is really is a simple ritual that symbolically banishes the spirit from the town.  I don’t know how it works, but it does.  The fact that the ghost massacres the banished woman is incidental.  If the woman could get away from the spirit without being killed everything would still be fine.  You know, relatively speaking.  Actually I guess there is some advice here –  if you’re the woman who’s been selected for this honor try to figure out to a way to outrun a ghost.  And if you do figure it out let me know, because I am not a runner but it would be really helpful if I could run away from things better.  Simply running away is more effective than you think, if you have the wind for it.

Are you familiar with ghouls?  I am.  Here’s the interesting thing about ghouls, while scary they’re actually not that dangerous.  Think of them like stray dogs, and not just because they creep about belly to the ground like hounds.  No one wants to get bitten by a stray dog, but as long as you keep your wits about you they’re not terrible deadly.  In a warrior against dog battle the dog is going to lose every time.  Ghouls are like that.  They’re scavengers, not fighters, they don’t want to tangle with anyone that can fight back they just want to eat dead bodies.  Don’t get in their way and they’ll leave you alone.  Probably.   

What sets people off about ghouls is that they used to be someone they know.  I’m no expert on these things, but ghouls seem to be somewhere between alive and undead.  When you see the old gaffer from the general store skulking about with his fish-belly white skin hanging off his bones like a robe you hesitate because your mind at first thinks that it is the old gaffer and he’s sick and needs help.  But that’s not what it is anymore.  And the other issue is that ghouls are kind of pathetic, when you wail on them they mewl and flop about like wounded animals.  It’s an awful sight, but you have to learn not to worry about it.  Seeing the mindless inhuman hate in the eyes of a ghoul will cure you of that impulse but if a ghoul is that close to you things have gone wrong already.  The point is don’t be a ninny, just exterminate them like the vermin they are.  

When you’re facing off with a creature of some kind – a chimera or a manticore or a kulwata or a numblit – there’s no harm in trying to talk to it.  A surprising number of them are capable of speech and generally they’re rather stupid.  It’s not too hard to trick them into bothering someone else.  But you have to keep in mind that they are stupid so don’t get too elaborate with your speech – the simplest tricks are the best, anything too complicated they won’t understand.  A simple “there’s more food in that village over there” generally works fine, something along those lines.  Flattery usually goes a long way with these types – they’re strong and kill whatever they come across so they don’t realize that humans are in the process of making them extinct.  Their eventual doom is something they don’t have the smarts to key in on.  They think they’re the best thing in the world and you should encourage that thought process if you want to live – no one likes being shown up by their supposed inferiors.

This may seem counterintuitive but for the more humanoid menaces like bugbears and orcs and yetis generally you’re better off just going for the kill and not wasting time trying to talk.  Obviously if you have no other choice go for diplomacy, but the difference is these things, while still generally pretty dumb, are smart enough to know that humans are taking over everything and they’re not happy about it.  They’re pretty much out for blood from the get-go so there’s nothing much to chat about.  In terms of intelligence the flesh-eating cattle of Akerbeltz are one step above a dog, it’s desires are simple so it can be easily mislead with offers that appeal to those desires, bugbears and thouls are the next step above that – not as smart as people but smart enough to have more complicated desires.  Like killing all humans.  That doesn’t leave you with a lot of room for negotiation. 

If for some reason you need to speak with them do it from a position of power.  Their societies are kind of like being in prison, there’s a clear pecking order based on the ability to inflict and endure violence.  If you have to bargain with them do so in force and kill a couple of their weaker members to show them you mean business.  But keep in mind that no matter what they have not accepted you, they are never truly cowed.  They will always be looking for a weakness they can exploit.  It’s like the old fable of having a tatzyltiger by the forelock – you can’t ever let go unless you want it to rip your face off.  Which I hope that you don’t.  If you do want your face ripped off please feel free to stay far away from me at all times.  Thanks.

I’d like to call special attention to the category of animal-like things with humanistic intelligence – your worgs and your demon bears and your devil swine and the like.  In my experience these creatures tend to be as smart as people, not smart people just normal people, but people nevertheless.  What this means is that when you’re talking with them you tend to treat them like people – I’ve fallen for this trap myself.  This is a very bad idea.  A giant wolf that can talk just like a “normal” person is nothing like a normal person.  They don’t reason like a person, they don’t have anything in common with a person.  They are wild things.  Never assume you know exactly where they’re coming from or what they want – I almost died doing that very thing.  Think about like this.  We tend to think of dogs and cats both as domesticated but they aren’t are they? 

Dogs?  They’re on our side.  We got them.  They’re our buddies.  Even the mean ones are mean for a reason – conceptually they don’t see humans as anything other than potential friends.  A faithful dog will die for you without a second thought.  You look in the eyes of a dog and you see love or fear or hurt or anger – it’s all right there.  Cats on the other hand?  Next time you see a fat lazy housecat rip a mouse in half and then sit there purring and looking content stare into its eyes.  What do you see there?  Nothing.  They’re not “in” like dogs are, they’re still “other”.  It’s easy to forget that because they live among us and they do cute things like bat at strings and rub on our legs and are little and helpless.  But they’re just looking out for themselves, they serve no master.  The talking animal section of beast are like that – they seem familiar because of their manner but are alien.  Don’t be fooled.

Speaking of being fooled, at first I thought I wouldn’t say anything about the fae folk because they seem to be so varied as to defy any kind of stratagem but there are a few things I can approximate.  First of all the ones that build their homes out of flesh and bones are feared far and wide, but when they don’t need building materials they’re actually fine.  In my experience unless they need to fix the roof or shore up a wall they’re perfectly harmless.  They just don’t see anything wrong with killing people to make their houses.  Which I think is a good example of the deal with faeries overall – our concepts of good and evil and morality are foreign to them, not just foreign but incomprehensible. 

Do you feel bad about cutting down a tree to make a table?  No, it’s just a resource. Or maybe you do, but you know what I mean.  That’s what the fey folk are like with us.  Think about that whenever you have to deal with them.  Even the “benign” ones that make shoes for you or milk your cows or whatever the Hells they do – what they’re doing is perfectly insane.  Hiding in someone’s house and cleaning up after they go to bed makes exactly as much sense as dipping your cap in blood to make it red – it’s all nonsense from our point of view.  It’s good to keep in mind that there are no “good” fey and no “bad” fey, there’s fey that steal eyeballs and there’s fey that make horseshoes – and they’re both equally mad.

Now let’s talk about bandits for a moment.  I know what you’re thinking “Ela, I thought you were telling us about monsters not about human threats” but here’s what I’ve started to wonder.  Are bandits human?  I’m sure some bandits are humans, but I think that maybe bandits are a unique race of beings that reproduce through having big piles of stolen goods.  They look like humans and act like them in many ways, but their lifestyle revolves around attacking caravans and stealing stuff so they can put it in a big pile and somehow generate more bandits.  It’s some method like when you take part of a plant and put it somewhere else and then you have two plants, but there has to be a massive amount to stolen boxes to make it happen.  It’s the only thing that explains why there are so many bandits if you ask me.  I need to make friends with a chirurgeon so the next time I run into some bandits and kill them I can have him slice them open and see what the deal is.  I bet I only need to do that twice before I find one that’s got a whole bunch of different stuff inside it from a human.  All I’m saying is that you rarely ever see female bandits, so where do they come from if not spontaneous generation on a pile of loot?

And hags?  Fuck ‘em.  Kill them if you can.  Run away if you can’t.  If you can’t do either spit right in their face and tell them Ela says she’ll see them in the Hells.  You’re going to be tortured to death or turned into a pig-monster mind slave either way.  May was well go out with a little dignity. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

Mantelderith 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So I keep telling people.”

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

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

“Uh . . . no.  May I sit?”

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

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

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

“You must have me mistaken for someone else.”

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

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

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

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

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

“By who?”

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

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

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

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

“Okay Ela, have it you way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I snorted “Well that’s what counts.”

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

Mantelderith 3 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After our battle to the death with the pain-worshipping backwoods murder clan we staggered the rest of the way to a village called Carterette.  It was the kind of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at one point a cow had been elected mayor.  But they did have a “wise woman” healer type who attended to the wounds of my compatriots with mud and berries and so forth.  I must be mistaken but I thought I heard her say her name was Shark.  She looked like a rock that had been turned into a person, not in the sense of someone being chiseled out of stone, just round and squat and blocky.  Unlike most rocks however she had a pretty noticeable amount of facial hair.  She talked incessantly about the light that lives within us all and how that light connects us all and the universe is love and so on.  I think she thought that I was a slave and she was trying to convince Martialla to let me go in a circuitous way.

I’d like the record to reflect that I was the one who was bound with chains during that fight and I still came through without a scratch.  I may have the change my opinion about my prowess as a warrior – I may not be swinging a sword around and screaming like a maniac but if the goal is to win fights I think I have a pretty good record.  I mean the fact that I’m still alive at this point is nothing short of a minor miracle.  Except that it’s the kind of miracle that I pulled it off all on my own without any dumb Gods helping me out.

The Carterettians also told many tales of bandit woes, but who was going to do anything about it?  Not us for sure.  We stayed in workshop of a local woodcarver which also doubled as a shrine to Adariel and Strider and some other countryfried God I had never heard of – some stuffy fellow with the horns of a stag.  The cousins made a big deal over the puzzle boxes they bought from the woodsman and said that they would be all the rage in town (which town I don’t know) but I don’t know if they were just kissing up to him because he was letting us stay there or if they were really into it.  I could see that going either way, sometimes cityfolk are weirdly and patronizingly effusive about “outsider” art. 

In the morning Martialla was banged up enough that she decreed that we would stay that day in Carterette as well so she could receive further attention from the bearded rock lady.  The cousins went off all in a lather about learning how to milk a cow so I was left sitting in the “town square” (the area between the three buildings a fence that make up the place) with Martialla glaring at me while she was brined in whatever slime poultices and salves she had been dipped in.

It seemed like we were in for a tedious day of staring at each other balefully until a Shireling walked up to us.  Shirelings are usually pretty tidy with their appearances but this fellow had quite the unruly mop of dark brown hair, must have been quite annoying in terms of getting in the eyes.  Not only that but he was wearing Kostelos-style moccasins, that should tell you all you need to know about his sense of style (and arch support).  Without any preamble he made a complicated gesture in my direction and the manacles fell off me with a loud click. 

I stood up rubbing my wrists “Thanks buddy.”

Martialla jumped up, sending half of her bandages flying off “Hey, what are you doing?!”

The small men waved his hands at her in a way that was reminiscent of someone holding a box or something else cube shaped (what else would be cube shaped?) and spoke a few words under his breath but nothing seemed to happen – which quite startled him.”

“Oh . . . um . . . what I am doing?” He peered at her curiously “You not part elf are you?”

She had her sword half-way drawn “What?  No, I’m not an elf.”

He pulled a pouch out of his pocket “Huh, that usually works, except on elfs.” 

She had her sword all the way out “What are you doing with my prisoner?!”

The Halfling tossed some dust into the air from the pouch and he faded from view – I have to assume that I did as well based on Martialla’s reaction.  I’ve spent a decent amount of time being invisible at this point and the funny thing about it is that you can still see yourself.  So it’s hard to know sometimes if you really have become invisible or not.  Sometimes I think I can feel the invisibility but that might just be my mind playing tricks.  His disembodied voice called out for me to follow him.

“How am I supposed to follow you when I can’t see you?”

“Oh right, here, take my hand.”

“I can’t see your hand either!”

“Just follow the sound of my voice.”

That’s clearly what Martialla did because she cast her own spell and then there was no more disembodied voice.

“What the Hells, did you disintegrate him?”

Martialla didn’t bother to try and track my voice, knowing my skills in that arena “No, I just put him to sleep, which is probably what he was trying to do to me.”

“Oh well, I’m going to run away now.”

At that moment I could “feel” the invisibility wear off, but mostly I knew because Martialla looked right at me – her hand ready to unleash eldritch might upon my comely head.  Also the Halfling appeared as well which was a tip off too.  I don’t know if he fell or actually lay down but he seemed to be in a pretty comfortable sleeping position. 

She raised an eyebrow “You were saying.”

I sat back down “What kind of shitty magic was that?  I wasn’t even invisible for ten seconds!”

“Maybe now you’ll have a little more respect for my magical ability.  Not that it matters anymore.”

We resumed our positions and a couple minutes later our guest woke up, yawning and stretching languidly like a cat and then looking around and becoming startled – also a little like a cat.  He jumped to his feet and cast around wildly.

His eyes were wide as he saw Martialla “Oh shit!”

“I’d say that about sums it up.”

He looked timidly at Martialla “So exactly what’s going on here?  Is she your . . . slave?”

Martialla scowled “Why does everyone think that?  Also I have a better question, who the fuck are you and why were you trying to steal my prisoner if you don’t even know who she is?”

He looked back over my way “I don’t know her name but I know who she is.”

“And who I am exactly?”

“You were once a normal mortal woman, but you’ve been saddled with a rare but terrible curse. Within your body lies a conjunction of the worlds, a nexus if you will, an imperceptible sliver of otherworldliness that has skewed your entire existence.  Spiritually speaking you live on an angle perpendicular to the rest of us, most of us anyway. Infected by a magical mistake or otherworldly conjunction you unconsciously connect to other worlds in your dreams – breaches between the waking and unconscious worlds that occur when potent magics attempt to tamper with the boundaries of the universe. A drifter trapped between a thousand strands of reality.”

I nodded sagely “Yes, that sounds right.”

Martialla was not amused “Alright you lunatic, you have four seconds to leave before I burn you to ash.”

He took out a little (even for his size) bottle and took a drunk, shaking his head like you do when you slam some hard booze “I know how it sounds, but I have a mission here.  Because of your special position in the cosmos I need to take you to the cave so you can seal away the creature.”

“A real cave or one of those philosophical allegory caves where you learn about the nature of reality?  Is the creature my own negative perception of the world?”

“What?”

“Wait, you can’t mean the same cave those other lunatics were talking about.”

He took another drink and then put the bottle away “The very same.”

I rolled my eyes “Don’t give me that horseshit, you’re not going to convince me that those inbred fuckers were really saving the world by murdering travelers.”

He shrugged “You don’t have to believe it, just come with me.”

I started to get back up “Alright.”

Martialla pointed a magically glowing finger at me “No one is going anywhere!”

He edged out of the path of her finger “It’s kind of important, fate of the world and all.”

Martialla shook her head resolutely “No.”

“You said you were on a mission, where did this mission come from?” 

“From my God.”

“Which God would that be?”

“Oh you know . . . . one of the usual . . . ones.”

Martialla snorted “Did your God actually come and give you this mission themselves or did they send an angel to tell you that you needed to save the world by setting my prisoner free?”

“There’s no reason to get into all of that, just accept that I have it on good authority this is what needs to happen.”

“Why you?  What’s so special about you?”

“Well I am a faithful and loyal adherent of my God, but honestly I was probably just the closest one to you.”

“And which god was that again?”

He sighed “Kozilek.”

“The Butcher of Truth?” He nodded “The Great Distortion?” He nodded again “So let’s see, you’re on a mission from Kozilek to save the world, assuming you’re not completely nuts and somehow Kozilek did send you on this mission isn’t it likely that it’s a joke at your expense?  You know, seeing as how he’s the God of lies and trickery and cruelly making fools out of people?”

“Kozilek isn’t really a deceptive God, not in the way people think, you see . . .”

Martialla gestured impatiently “We’re not here to discuss comparative theology. She’s not going anywhere, you want to muck about in some cave go do it on your own!”

He sighed again, heavier “Look, I can prove this is all true, just tell me this – do you have a birthmark that’s the shape of a stick with five branches?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

He looked stunned “Are you sure?  Have you checked everywhere?”

I smiled “You want to look me over?  This is quite a long way to go just to see a naked woman, I appreciate the hustle.”

He was waving his hands in a frantic manner “No, no it’s not that!  It’s just . . . . I was . . . . I thought . . . . in the book . . . . and the . . . . okay well it doesn’t matter, just you’re her okay?  You’re the one that can keep back the thing in the cave.  I can tell, I can see that you’re already doing it for another thing like this.” He frowned “Or you were anyway.”

“I think what you’re saying is that my rope is greasy.”

“What?”

“Huh?”

Martialla’s hair was starting to frizz out with all the magic energy crackling through her, which I’ve never seen before – the stress must be getting to her. “Shut up the both of you!  You’re not getting my prisoner so fuck off!”

He looked at her with a lamely hopeful look “It will only take a minute.”

“Can I ask you something?  Why would you even tell me that you were doing this for Kozilek?  If you wanted to believe me why didn’t you say it was Adariel or some other God that I might believe?  In addition to being a better plan it seems like the kind of thing a real Kozilek person would do impersonating another kind of priest – what with the lies, sorry, distortion of the truth I meant.”

“Well ah . . . kind of . . . the thing is . . . . I can’t lie . . . it’s uh . . . . kind of a joke . . . thing . . . . ahem, a geas someone put on me.”

“As the Countess said to the Bishop, come again?”

He stomped his little moccasin “Alright look, it’s not a big deal, I can summon a portal that will take us to the cave and then you just do a ritual and then it’s over okay?  I don’t want to set anyone free or mess anything up, I just want to do what my God wants and save the world okay?  Can we just do that?”

Martialla shrugged “Sure.”

“Sure?

She nodded “Sure.  You show me the portal and we’ll go.  We’ve got nothing else going on, might as well save the world.”

I didn’t really think that he could summon anything, but he did draw some blazing sigils in the air and then there was a weird circle where what you saw was not what was really there – it was somewhere else.  It hurt to look at it too closely, a weird flat plane hanging there like a mirror reflecting something that wasn’t there.  Once I saw that it was real my plan was to shove Martialla through and then clobber the little guy in the hopes that that would make the portal close but she was a step ahead of me again – she shackled us together instead of putting me hand to hand.  She’s a crafty one that Martialla.  As disorienting as looking at the portal was, stepping through it was as easy as stepping through a door.  Normally I find magical travel to be very befuddling but this was fine, this this fellow has it worked out.  The cave was more of a problem, I don’t think it was even three feet high, which is fine for a Shireling, not so much for me.

“Hmm, so this is it huh?  I think I’ll pass.”

“Pass?  What do you mean?”

“I wouldn’t be terribly excited about slithering in there even if I wasn’t chained to someone else, which I am.  Crawling through there sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden, I’m out.”

“Out?  What do you mean?”

I smiled slightly, bemused “I think it’s pretty clear what I mean, I’m not going in there.”

He was speechless for a moment “But, but you have to!  The world is at stake!  Literally!”

“Eh, what’s the world ever done for me?”

“But . . . but . . . . you . . . . I . . .”

Martialla did something and suddenly we both shrunk down to about the same size of our Halfling friend, who now that I think about it never mentioned his name – rude.

“Since when can you do that?!”

Martialla sighed tiredly “Long time Ela, you were there when I bought the thing that does this.”

“I’ve never seen you shrink before!”

“Maybe I was worried you’d step on me with your giant feet.  Can we go in now?”

Our nameless friend lit a torch (he said magic light would ruin whatever we were doing) and in we went.  Even in our smaller forms it was a pain in the ass getting through there.  You ever want to be really frustrated chain yourself to someone else and then try crawling through a tunnel – the chain got caught on rocks approximately every five inches.  Plus the smoke from the torch was giving me a headache.  Why can’t saving the world ever involve a fine meal or a nice nap?  Nameless had to tell us when we were there because I wouldn’t have even noticed the “cave paintings” seeing as as they were just smudges on the wall.  The cave wasn’t even any bigger there or anything.  At that point I was convinced that this was all a cosmic joke but since I was there no reason to go through with it.

Our guide burned some sage and marked some lines on the ground with ash and there was chanting and I looked into a mirror for a while and then I sat in darkness for a while until some candles were lit.  It was a whole to do.  I would have been impressed with him for remembering all the choreography but for the fact that I have no idea if he did it right.  And also it was boring.  After the anti-climactic ending of the world saving ritual we crawled back out into the light.

“I skinned the Hells out of my elbows, wouldn’t it be hilarious if the cuts got infected and I died from it?”

Martialla snorted “I’d think you’d be used to by now.”

“Knees Martialla, you’re thinking of skinned knees.  Whores don’t skin their elbows as I infer was your allegation.”

“Shut up.”

The little Kozilekian was eyeing us nervously “Well uh . . . . thankssss . . . I guess . . . that’s about it.  Um, see you around?”

“That’s it?  I don’t even get anything for saving the world?”

“Do you usually?”

“Fair point.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

Mantelderith 2 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oof, what a day huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t see a ring on your hand.”

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 75 gold, 25 Silver

XP: 1000

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

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

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

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