Myam 11 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Crawling out of the belly of a gluttony (sloth?) demon really took the wind out of Corune’s sails so we traveled no farther yesterday.  I mean I’m the one that killed the demon and I’m fine, but I won’t bring that up.  I dragged/carried/helped her limp off the road and made camp – by which I mean I sat down in the dirt and start drinking from my Flask.  With Corune passed out there wasn’t much for me to do other than catalog the loot that had been hauled out of the demon’s gullet.  The only thing I learned really is that either the aforementioned demon really liked onyx or alternately that maybe onyx is currency in the Hells.  Is there currency on the pits of the damned?  Is there an economy?  Do demons need to eat and sleep and weed their gardens?  For as much religion as people like to shovel around I don’t know much about the Thirteen Hells at all.  The religious types really focus on the eternal torment aspect of the Hells but what goes on there?  Do demons have communities and book clubs and jobs and taxes to pay?  I guess their job is to tempt mortals, or maybe to punish them, it’s unclear. 

Why do demons even exist?  Did the Gods make them?  If so that seems like a real dick move.  If they didn’t where did they come from?  I’ve dealt with a couple demons now and they’re a curious lot.  We’re told that demons are evil desires and thoughts made flesh, beings that feel no kindness, no empathy, no mercy.  Creatures with the singular goal of our destruction, body and soul.  Which is scary, sure, but people have a tendency to overestimate the abilities of things that scare them.  Demons are powerful, some of them anyway, but don’t confuse power with invincibility.  As far as I can tell they’re actually riddled with flaws that can be exploited.  I may write a book about it some day, How to Deal with Demons the Ela Way, that seems like something that people would be interested in, and therefore pay money for. 

One weakness they have, some of them anyway, is that they want to be here.  Makes sense, the Hells are designed specifically to be a drag – who would want to hang out there when you can come here and have food and drink and drugs and pretty baubles and lots of people with entrails to rip out?  So right off the bat they want something even more than they want to kill you – they want to stick around.  Why do you think summoned demons kill their masters so often?  They want to get rid of the person that can send them back.  This place is a vacation for them, they don’t want to go back to their boring maybe jobs tormenting souls.  They want to live and laugh and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  So keep that in mind, they have a motivation, and that is a vulnerability.

Another thing is that for all their power many of them seem to be quite stupid.  It stands to reason I suppose, an eighteen foot tall buffalo-demon is made to wreck shit, not to be clever or crafty.  I would liken them, some of them, to a baboon with a lit torch in a straw-house.  Dangerous?  Oh buddy, yeah.  But do they even know what they’re doing?  Maybe not.  Fighting a demon should be your last resort – just keep talking.  And how do you engage them?  It’s pretty simple actually, because they’re not that bright – an appeal to ego or greed does quite a long way.  In addition to torch wielding baboons I would equate them to teenage boys – full of anger and rage and violence but not that hard to manipulate when it comes right down to it.  Flattery goes a long way.

And here’s the other thing, even the ones that aren’t dumb are lazy – and many are both.  Why would they do anything themselves when they can get a moronic cultist to do it?  Or bully a smaller demon into doing it.  Julista of the Thousands Blades would annihilate me if she ever got around to it, but even though she has all eternity she can’t find the time.  So she tells Gurgolock the Ripper of Buttholes to do it, but he’s lazy as well and he tells Achivious the Lord of Kitten Eating to do it and so on and so on until you’re dealing with a demon-snake tricking a bored housewife into trying to kill you with a poison apple.  Which is something that you can deal with.  Or if you can’t then demons are the least of your problems.  I could go on but I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll have to buy the book if you want to know my eight secret steps to defeating demons.  And the ninth secret steps that those fat cats in the church don’t want you to know.  Also I’ll probably never get around to writing it, that sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden.

Left with nothing else much to do I ended up drinking a lot more than I thought and kind of passed out last night, and then not walking up until well past sunrise today even though I was laying on the cold, hard, dirty ground instead of a nice bed.  Corune still wasn’t feeling up to staggering down the road so we just spent the day sitting there not doing a nothing.  Normally I’d give her a hard time about this but she looked like an exhumed corpse so instead I lifted her spirits with my many humorous anecdotes of the old days at court.

“So obviously as it turns out that it wasn’t the soap that was causing the itching and I had the maid beaten half to death for no reason.  You know it’s funny the upper class people prefer their ladies to be smooth and hairless but amongst the lower class a woman without a thick bush is reckoned to be filthy with diseases that made it fall out.  Hence the expression ‘burnt-ass whore’.”

“That story was disgusting and inappropriate.”

“You said you didn’t want to hear any more depressing stories.”

“Are those the only two choices?”

“Yeah, what world do you live in?”

She shook her head tiredly “Do you have anything to eat?”

“No, do you want some more rice wine?”

She put her hand to her temple “No, I’m already feeling woozy.  I think I would really feel better if I had something to eat.  Can’t you shoot something with your crossbow?”

“Probably not, hunting isn’t really in my skill set.  And even if I did I wouldn’t have much of an idea how to make it edible even if we had a fire, which we do not.  Aren’t you an old campaigner out on the trails after justice?  Riding here and there and everywhere after the bad guys.  Don’t you know how to do that stuff?”

“Not really.”

“Well then why are you biting my ass about it?  It’s interesting that you mention that because I’ve been thinking lately, you can always kind of tell someone who grew up with money.  It’s a way they walk, you can see it in the stride, it’s something that just tells you that they’ve never really been hungry.  Not like you and I have been.  When you’re a kid and you worry legitimately that you might not survive because your parents can’t hack it, that does something to you, it changes you.  You walk in a different way.  No matter how good someone is at disguising themselves or impersonation of someone else there’s a difference between someone who always had what they needed and the rest of the world.”

“I saw you in disguise and never knew you grew up poor.”

“That’s because I’m the best.”

“Of course maybe you lied about being poor, you are an awful liar.”

“I’m a fantastic liar actually.  The funny thing about that though is that you can’t ask anyone to vouch for me because I’ve deceived them.  When you’re a great liar no one knows – it’s like being great at keeping secrets, it’s impossible to prove.  I don’t know why you get so bent out of shape about lying anyway.  Lying is what gives people hope.”

“Spare me this again please.”

“No, I’m serious.  People are told that if they’re good and righteous and they stand up for themselves that things will turn out alright.  But they won’t.  Being right doesn’t stop you from being straight up murdered by someone who’s wrong and happens to be big and strong and is wearing thick armor and has a sword.  People are told that one man with a stick defending his home is worth ten knights on horseback and its utter shit.  But you need to tell people that to make them not kill themselves.  If you told them the truth, that you’re weak and a strong person can fuck you up whenever they want people would lose their minds.  It’s like that crap about standing up to a bully, the reason they’re a bully is because they’re faster and tougher and get in fights all the time.  The fact that you’re scrappy and full of courage doesn’t prevent you from getting your ass kicked and your face smashed into the mud.”

She closed her eyes, looking pained “Why do you have to do this?  Why do you have to torment me with your pessimistic views?

“Torment?  I take offense to that, don’t be so dramatic.  What else are we supposed to do?  I’m just making conversation I’m not tormenting you”

“You belittle my beliefs constantly, what else would you call that?”

“Your beliefs are dumb.  Besides what do you care what I think about it?  If you’re so strong in your faith it shouldn’t matter what I say or think.”

“It doesn’t.  It’s just irritating.  Everything is a joke to you.”

“It’s a laugh to keep from crying scenario, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to hinder your healing with my bad attitude.  Hey, so if I shot a giant grasshopper do you think you could just bite into it and be fine?  I mean you can toss a regular grasshopper in your mouth without it making you sick so are the big ones safe to eat without preparation?”

“I have no idea.”

“One time I was out with the Duke and his court boar hunting, well in theory it was boar hunting mostly we were all getting drunk and frolicking out in the woods – you know the kind of frolicking that I mean.  Anyway, this beast turned up that looked like a combination of a great bear, a porcupine, and like an armadillo or something which a big spikey tail.  It killed all the horses and a dozen grooms and whatnot before it wandered off.”

“Why are you telling me this?!”

“Well if you weren’t always interrupting me I would have gotten to the part where I ate a locust, which is a lot like a grasshopper.”

“Seriously do you have any stories that aren’t horrible?!”

“Well I don’t hear any big amount of uplifting tales coming from your mouth!  It’s like prying open a virgin’s legs to get you to say two words!”

“I don’t feel well!  I almost died!”

“I almost die all the time and I don’t whine about it!” We both fell into a surly silence for a while “I rode a pegasus once.”

“What?”

“I rode a pegasus once out by the Scarlands.  That’s a happy story.”

“Oh.  How was it?”

“It was great.”

“So what’s the story, why were you out there?”

“Uh . . . . so you don’t want me to lie to you and you don’t want the story to be awful?  You’re really kind of tying my hands here.”

She sighed wearily “Forget it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Altar of Adariel,  Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror,  darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword

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 

Myam 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After my first good night’s sleep in what seems like a year and a hearty, if bland and boring, breakfast dished up by the Adarielites Corune and I hit the road to head back to Beresford.  At the advice of some of the Adrinistites we took the road (more of a path really) north, which we were told would jog back over to the west and take us to Beresford.  This should help us avoid the various humungous insects and insect-like creatures that apparently occupy the land we just came through.  Another adventure in walking.  I used to never walk anywhere really, just to the drink tray and back if I felt ambitious – unless I was out riding it was carriages everywhere, even a palanquin once – now it seems like I’ve walked the length and breadth of the world fifty times over.  It’s too bad the church of Strider screwed me over and I had to murder some of their priests – otherwise I think I’d have enough walking under my belt to be their pope by now.  Or at the very least an archbishop. 

“I knew this opera singer once, very famous.  She traveled the world, she sang for the King of Ulpine back when that meant something.  I heard she went across the sea and sang for some foreign emperor.  And this was all relatively early in her career, she was still improving, still learning – she hadn’t yet reached her full potential.  Then a jealous lover punched her right in the face, just hailed off and blasted her.  That side of her face got so swollen that you couldn’t even see that she had an eye, at the time it was one of the more disgusting physical things I had ever seen.  The bruise got infected and the infection spread into her sinuses and all that sludge dripped down into her throat, because of that she developed polyps on her vocal cords and her voice was ruined.  Not just her singing voice, she talked like an old man trying to swallow a lizard made of sand.  After that she traveled the world just as much, looking for a healer or magician or something that could help her.  She drank all kinds of potions and tonics and elixirs and spent a fortune trying to fix herself.  Nothing worked though, probably it made things worse, although it hardly mattered, she was already below what you might call rock bottom.  I’m not exactly sure what happened to her but I heard she involved in a scheme to blackmail a mercenary captain for seventy-six thousand gold and I don’t think anyone saw her after that.  Have to assume she’s dead.  I’m not sure why she thought that blackmailing a professional killer was a good idea but I guess she was broke and desperate at that point.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Just making conversation.  It doesn’t seem like things ever work out for famous opera singers.  That’s what I wanted to be when I was a girl, I guess I dodged an arrow there huh?”

“That’s your idea of conversation?  Do you know any stories that aren’t depressing?

“No.  Here’s the funny thing about that story, now that I’ve been out in the world I bet it would have be really easy for her to fix her voice had she known about what’s really going on.  Sell your soul to a devil or make a deal with hag or something – it’s easily done.  Living in polite society you’re somewhat ignorant of all the irrational magical shit going on out here.  I bet there’s a fey queen that would restore your voice not even for your first born child, for like your fourth or fifth.  It’s quite a world we live in when you think about it.  Tell me something will you, how come your beloved and eternal Vultur wouldn’t fix that lady but some mystical creature harvesting souls would?  What kind of message is that?”

“Because Vultur wants us to have a safe world, a happy world. He wants there to be enough food for everyone, freedom for everyone, the end of the tyranny of the powerful over the weak.”

“You lost me.”

“There are no shortcuts Ela, we have to do it.”

“What a load of shit.”

“All those times where someone makes a deal with a devil, either literal or proverbial, does it ever end well?”

“It wouldn’t make much of a story then would it?  For all I know it works out fine sometimes, or most of the time, but you just don’t hear about that.  What would be the fun of a story where someone wishes for great wealth and didn’t end up getting fucked over?  People want blood and guts and tragedy – not some boring story about someone getting what they want.”

“The correct answer is that they don’t have a happy ending.”

“So what?  What’s Vultur doing to help?

“He gives us the guidance to achieve a better world.  It’s all written down, it’s all ready for us, we just need to execute his plan.”

“So if people like me just got with the program and did what Vultur wanted everything would be fine?”

“Exactly.”

“And the other day you accused me of being insane?  What about the other Gods?  They’re just wrong and Vultur is right?  What about Adariel, our lady of geniality and being friends with everyone and ponies and rainbows?  Her plan doesn’t lead to world peace where everyone gets a stout-hearted mule and bag of potatoes?”

“Vultur has an agreeable relationship with Adariel, her influence is favorable to the further advancement of civilized life, but her philosophy is flawed because it doesn’t take into account the natural inclinations of sentient beings.  If people were inherently good and helpful we wouldn’t even need laws – everything would be great as is.”

“So you just happen to worship the one God who’s right about everything?  You realize that’s a level of intellectual narcissism that’s beyond delusion right?”

She gave me some side-eye “You’d be the expert on narcissism wouldn’t you?”

I was about to retort when Writha Corune did a very odd thing – she slumped and almost fell over like a tree that had instantly withered.  She immediately took on an ashen and very unhealthsome pallor and doubled over as if her stomach was suddenly causing her tremendous pain.  My head whipped around and I saw on the road behind us was that tiny flying insect-demon from the camp, and he had friends.  He was buzzing around the shoulders (not head because its head was actually lower than its shoulders) of a massive slab of putrid demonflesh that looked like a frog, a bulldog and a pile of garbage had a threesome and this is what puked out.  The stench emitting from it was bowel-churning.  Why did a succubus have so many minions that stink with the furry of a thousand dead skunks bursting in the summer heat?  Shouldn’t her minions be other sexy lady demons?  It makes no sense. 

That wasn’t all though, clustered around the frog prince were four awkward vulture looking demons that were shedding swarms of botflies off their flesh like flakes of skin.  They were infinitely more filthy and diseased looking than your standard non-demon non-humanoid vulture.  They surged forward as I ran the other way but Corune was stunned or paralyze or whatever her issue was and they seized her – the four vulture demons pulling on her arms and legs like they were trying to tear her apart as the bulldog/frog demon gurgled with syrupy hacking laughter. 

“Wait, stop!” I addressed my comments at the little flying lizard-snail since he seemed to be the brains of the operation “You want revenge for your mistress, I get that, I love revenge – ask anyone – I didn’t know that demons had this kind of loyalty but live and learn right.  But here’s the thing, I didn’t just kill her – I’m not stupid – I trapped her essence so she couldn’t reform in whatever Hells you guys hang out in.  You kill my friend and I’ll never let her go, she’ll be gone for real.”

The little flying creature started to respond, but the massive frog-demon swatted it out of the air like, well like a fly, and burbled at me in a voice that was so much like he was gargling tar that it was hard to make out what the words even were.

“You let go!  Or we kill!”

“No, that’s not how it works bub, you kill her and you’ll never see your beloved mistress again.”

The toad fiend screamed in inarticulate rage and bashed one of the vulture demons out of the way, seizing Corune and shoving her in his mouth like a kid smashing a stolen cookie in his fat face.  As he slowly and horrifyingly swallowed her the little flying demon shrieked in impotent rage and ordered the vultures to turn and attack.  Maybe there isn’t as much loyalty among demons as I thought.  The vulture demons were clawing and biting at the big demon but more than anything it looked they were trying to reach into its mouth like they could pull Corune back up.  During the fracas while the small demon-fly was distracted I took out my crossbow and shot him in the back – right through the wings, sending him falling to the ground with a sodden thud.  As the other demons were tearing each other apart the little demon tried to do some magic but I waited until just the right time and then shot him again, ruining the spell. 

As he was screeching and flopping around on the ground like a wounded duck I walked up and beat him to death (well not to death but back to the Hells I guess) with my cane.  In that short time the froghemoth had torn two of the vulturelings in half (literally) and while they scrapped I shot indiscriminately in the melee.  Bloody (assuming that urine-colored glowing sap was blood) but victorious the stinking hulk was the last one standing.  Although in another way I was the last one standing because I shot him in the head a few times and killed him.  And that’s when things got weird.  After his massive rubbery bulk slapped to the ground like two people rutting in a dirty alley, a moment later Corune crawled out from between his froggy lips like some kind of awful birthing.  Which is saying something considering how awful a normal human woman giving birth to a little baby is.  She was covered with some kind of blue-green slime that seemed thick as cold jelly and was gasping for breath to the point where she may have been hyperventilating.  

“Well fuck me, you were alive in there?!”

She didn’t answer because she was on her hands and knees vomiting and then dry heaving for a while, but eventually she gestured weakly at the corpse.

“There’s . . . . a bunch of equipment . . . . in there . . . and money and shit.”

“I don’t think Vultur would approve of that kind of language.” She collapsed onto her stomach utterly exhausted “Well if there’s stuff in there one of us should get it.  No reason to let it go to waste right?  And I mean since you were already in there . . . no reason for both of us to get dirty right?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Altar of Adariel,  Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror,  darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword

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 

Myam 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Here’s the kind of logic people use.  I show up yesterday and they accuse me of being a spy, then when it gets dark they build up a massive fire that can probably be seen from the Shoddy Hills.  A random (yet magnificent) woman showing up clearly is a spy from . . . someone . . . to find out . . . something about a group of shepherds, berry pickers and mushroom collectors.  But starting a huge fire in the middle of a war zone?  That’s fine.  They didn’t even have anything to cook, nor was it that cold (when you have shoes anyway), they just did it to make themselves feel better.  I get it, there’s something comforting about a fire, but if there’s a better way to announce to the world “here I am!” in the darkness I don’t know what it is.  Ironically shouting “here I am!” would be less effective.  Something has gone seriously upside down in the world when I’m the one disgusted but a lack of austerity.

Late last night Corune and some of the dullards started talking about heading for a village to the north called Ardinst, which I have never heard of but someone said that it was a training ground of some kind of Adarielistic acolytes and other healers.  The more I heard them talk about it the more convinced I became that Corune was going to try and talk me into helping take them there.  I’m not sure why that thought disturbed me so much, it’s easy enough to say “no”, but for reasons I can’t explain that notion wormed its way into my mind and festered there.  Making me angrier and angrier as the night wore on and they talked more and more about Ardinst.  I started wondering why I was even still there.  I didn’t sleep, just stood against the far side of a tree away from the rest of the group and got myself all worked up. Eventually in the pre-dawn light I decided to stop standing around doing nothing and headed back towards the Beresford.

Before I had cleared the trees Corune came running up behind me.

“Where are you going?!”

“Back into town.  Good luck with Ardinst, go with the Gods.” She grabbed my arm to check my movement and I whirled on her, getting my finger in her face.  “Don’t.  Don’t touch me.  I don’t like being pawed at.” I have her a slight shove, more of a poke really “Do you like it when people put their hands on you?  Huh?  In the bad old days didn’t you get enough of people groping you is that it?”

She seemed genuinely taken aback “I’m sorry, I didn’t . . .”

“Didn’t what?  I know what you did, you knew I wasn’t going to listen to your words so why not just engage physically right?  If someone doesn’t like what you have to say just use force right?  You were a slave right?  You learned that lesson.  Sticks and stones, that’s how you make people listen, words – words are wind.  Here and gone, like nothing.”

She scowled “It’s not a big deal, I didn’t attack you, I just grabbed your arm.”

“Don’t.  Touch me.  You think I want your hairy man-hands on my body?  I know you’re used to knocking people around but I’m not some horse-fucker you’re taking to be hung, you paw at me and I’ll cut your throat.”

She took a step back “Ela what’s gotten into you?”

“Don’t act like you know me, don’t act like we’re old pals.” I took a moment to take a deep breath and compose myself “No.”

“No?”

“You were going to ask me to tag along to Ardinst right?  The answer is no.”

She gestured back behind us “These people need your help.”

“What help?  I’m not a guide, I can’t show them the way.  I’m not a warrior, I can’t protect them.  I’m not a healer, I’m not anything.  You want to put your neck on the chopping block for them go ahead, I want no part.”

“How can you say that?  In Beresford you fought off several attacks, I helped you as much as I could but you were the one . . .”

“Look at me, do I look like a fighter to you?  All I do is protect myself as best I can, anything else is incidental.  But it doesn’t matter anyway because I don’t want to help those people and I’m not going to.”

“Why not?”

“Because it doesn’t matter.  When you get to Ardinst the place is going to be taken over by slavers and everyone’s going to be sold into bondage.  Or a cult is going to be operating there and sacrifice them.  Or there’s going to be a monster or a vampire or a plague of zombies or some other Gods damned thing.  It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, everyone needs help all the time.  We’re all fucked, I don’t know why you can’t see that!  I go one place and a dragon burns it down.  I go somewhere else and gnolls attack.  There’s bandits on the roads, there’s criminal syndicates in the towns, monsters and goblins and things from other damn planets.  I don’t know how anyone is still alive!  Just yesterday you listened off seventeen different creatures you thought were mimicking a baby to murder us.”

“That was different, that was just us, now there are all these people, we have a responsibility to them.”

“Why?  They ran out here, if they didn’t have a plan that’s their fault.  I take care of myself why should I expect any less from them?  Why is it my job to bail them out?”

“The strong must protect the weak.”

“Even if that was true I’m not strong, I’m the one who needs to be protected!”

She shook her head resolutely “No.  You may want that to be true for some reason, maybe a part of you even believes it.  But you’re strong.  You’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever met.  You’re also cruel, and you’re mean, and you’re callous, and honestly I think you might be insane.  But you don’t back down from anything.  You’re clever and you never let anything rattle you and you find a way to turn things to your advantage.  I don’t really believe in luck but you’re lucky too, more than anything else perhaps.”

I couldn’t help but laugh “I’m lucky?”

“You always find a way through don’t you?  A few days ago my friends and I had you in custody, in a tower from which no one has escaped, and here you are aren’t you?  And my friends are dead.  People come at you and they never know what hits them do they Ela?  Everyone has you at a disadvantage, but somehow you turn it around on them.  Somehow whatever they want to happen the opposite happens.  And they can’t even figure out why.”

“It doesn’t matter, I’m not going.”

“Do you want me to beg you Ela?”

“No.  I don’t say this to be cruel, this is just a fact, your opinion means nothing to me.”

“This is a chance to do some good though, to balance out all the other things you’ve done.  You have . . .”

“You keep acting like you know my whole story and that I have this catalog of horrible acts that I’ve committed.  I haven’t done anything that I need penance or redemption for, I’ve done nothing wrong, I mean not really wrong.  I have no issue sleeping at night and I don’t need to help any lost lambs to make up for anything.”

“I’ll pay you.”

I snorted “What could you pay me with?”

“I know where all your possessions are.”

“What do you mean?  The mayor has them.”

She shook her head “No, he lied to you.  We cataloged all your items and stored them at the church of Odobenine, the mayor just said that to manipulate you.”

“You wouldn’t be lying to me would you?”

“Ela, who do you think the liar would be?  Me or the politician who’s already betrayed you twice?”

“Well fuck.  If that’s where my stuff is then it’s gone anyway.  The Church of Commerce is the first spot they’re going to attack during a riot.”

“Have you seen that place?  It’s a fortress in the nicest part of town.  There’s no way any rioter got anywhere near it.  That’s probably why there were royal soldiers in the city to begin with, to protect the temple.”

I thought for a moment “Huh, that’s probably true.”

“You help me get these people to Ardinst and I’ll go into Beresford with you and get your possessions from the vault.”

“Why didn’t you lead with that?  Why’d you waste all that time with an appeal to phony morality or whatever that was?”

We headed back to the group and got them rounded up and lurching northward supposedly towards Ardinst.  At the edge of the woods we saw a giant preying mantic chewing on a goblin, which was disturbing.  I’ve seen a oversized insect or two, sadly, at this point but there’s something especially grotesque about the eyes of a mantid.  It’s like they’re looking at you and sizing you up, seems like there’s intelligence there even though there isn’t.  Hard to say which is more frightening.  A few hours after that we saw a huge cottonwood tree engulfed by gray, papery nest as large as a two-story house.  Some of these morons wanted to check it out.  No sooner had I lit into them about hat genius idea than we all saw a man-sized wasp crawl out of it and taking flight.

“What the Hells is with this place?  Is this some kind of giant bug area?”

Corune looked around curiously “There are no farms around here, I had wondered why.  If there’s ankhegs that would explain . . .”

“Sorry I asked, can we just go before a giant ant attacks us?”

“Actually giant ants aren’t . . .”

“Don’t care!”

As we continued our way toward Ardinst we did see some signs of ankheg tunnels, or at least that’s what I was told – they could be Halfling holes for all I know about it.  And around mid-day we saw a manticore feasting on the body of an upturned spider the size of a rowboat.  We made a broad detour around it but they didn’t stop it from flaring its wing with an angry yell-roar and flicking a couple tail spikes at us as a warning.  Manticores are supposed to be as intelligent as people so why did it think we were going to try and fight it for a spider carcass?  Actually I guess that’s the answer right there, they’re as smart as people.

Late in the day we saw in the distance a cottage that had collapsed due to undermining by a tunneling creature of some kind.  Most people assumed that it was ankhegs, because why wouldn’t they, but some people insisted that ankhegs don’t do that so it must be some other borrowing horror.  Eventually I had to shout at them to shut up about it because who cares what did it?  I did spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about their barge I found full of ankhegs in a magic torpor.  I wonder whatever happened to that. 

Miraculously a few hours after dark we came tromping into Ardinst without being eaten or slaughtered or attacked by anything – giant bug or otherwise.  The people of Ardinst were initially alarmed at a large group of people coming out of the darkness, but they quickly rallied with the hospitality and good natured pushoverness that you’d expect from a bunch of Adariel people.  In surprisingly short order everyone was fed and lodged in extra rooms and barns and infirmary beds and the like.  I found myself in a bunk bed with Corune above me.

“I still think something is going to happen, all these people are going to turn out to be cannibals or something.”

She replied through a yawn like a real rube “I’m sure if they do you’ll figure something out.”

“I fucking knew you were going to say that.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 573,301

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck

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 

Myam 9 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I kept needling Corune from time to time but she wasn’t taking the bait so we spent the bulk of the day yesterday in silence standing/sitting on the hill watching Beresford explode in an orgy of violence and hurt feelings.  I’d like to believe that she wasn’t chatty because she was experiencing some kind of crisis of faith or that she was rethinking in some way her dedication to her stupid God, but probably she was just cataloging all the legal infractions she was seeing in a mental list so she could snitch about them later.  Don’t get me wrong, I love snitching as much as the next gal, but only when I happen across something good – making an effort to learn things to snitch?  That’s low. 

There’s an old saying “some people just want to watch the world burn” I can tell you this – it’s boring as fuck.  Those people must be really dull if that’s what they want to watch.  I got so bored I wandered around the little wooded area we were sort of hiding in.  Remember that time I was in a place like this down south and I found that mask and the whip?  What the Hells was that about?  This time all I found was a sleeping rabbit.  Did you know that rabbits can snore?  The real question is how is its still alive if it didn’t wake up at my approach?  Wouldn’t a wolf have eaten it by now?  On the other hand though as soon as I started thinking about trying to grab it for something to eat it suddenly started awake and darted off like, well like a rabbit.  So maybe it’s a psychic rabbit.  I suppose it’s for the best, I have no idea how to skin and cook a rabbit.  Or make a fire.  So it was a rocky plan from the outset.

As night was falling I started to make myself makeshift bed out of one of my extra outfits – the plain looking one.  Corune looked on incredulous.

“Now where did that come from?!  It’s like you have a sack with no bottom!”

“I do.”

“Oh.  Is there anything in there that I can sleep on?”

“No.” I laid down, doping my best to look as comfortable as possible “I know a gal once they called Bottomless, not because she had no butt mind you, it’s a funny story actually.  You see one day these six guys came into the brothel and they only had one . . .”

“Shouldn’t one of us stay on watch?

“Rude, I was in the middle of a story, now you’ll never know about old Bottomless Bevie.  You can stay awake if you want, I made friends with psychic rabbit so I’m sure it will warn us if there’s any trouble.”

She threw her hands up in despair “What are you talking about?  What are you ever talking about!?”

I rolled away from her to try and sleep “You need to lighten up lady.”

Yesterday I was woken up by being speared by a boar, attacked by a pack of dogs, and vexed by a fustulent flying demon.  Today I was woken up by a crying baby.  I’m not sure which was worse.  Honestly, that is not a joke.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those battle-scared warriors who are indifferent to pain – far from it.  I don’t like pain, it hurts me.  But when a baby cries, with the loud, sustained, squealing cry, that really stabs at the brain you know?  When a baby is crying in that high-pitched, squealing tone that can drive you insane more assuredly than any eldritch secrets that man was never meant to know.  It was barely even light out when I sat up in annoyance. 

“Are you kidding me?  Now I have to deal with this on top of everything else?”

Corune was crouched by a tree looking around wildly “What is it?”

“It’s a damn baby, what do you think?”

Her eyes were wild “It could be anything!  It could be a luecrotta, they often mimic the sounds of crying babies to lure in their victims!  It could be a camulatz, they can perfectly recreate any sound they’ve heard!  It could be a demon bat!  It could be a forest fiend!  It could be a fey piper.  There’s all manner of monsters that use sound lures!”

“Writha, I say this with all kindness, but you are going off the deep end.  It’s a baby.”

“You don’t know that, it could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

“Do you mean that figuratively or is there actually a creature they call a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”

“Oh yes, upon first glance the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing appears to be a worn tree stump with many of its roots exposed, but it’s not, it’s actually a bizarre cluster of sentient fibrous tendrils that mimic . . .”

“Good Gods, sorry I asked.” I tossed her my dagger, halfway expecting it to fly back into my hand – how does it know when to return?  Can it read my mind? – and then pulled out my crossbow “I guess you better come with me to check it out then, for safety.”

“Now where did that come from?”

“I told you I have a rucksack with endless storage capacity.”

“But a crossbow is too big to even fit inside the sack itself!”

“Don’t think too much about it, it’s magic.”

“But . . . but . . . but . . .”

“Are you coming or what?”

Corune was clutching the dagger like it was a living snake that would bite her unless she squeezed it with all her might.  I think her resolve really is starting to fray.  She seemed pretty resilient before but I suppose that everyone has their breaking point.  And I’m not sure what happened to her in the camp.  Maybe I should ask.  Maybe not, it’s probably not very interesting.  We moved deeper into the trees but it was never dense enough that you couldn’t really see what was head of and around you.  After a couple minutes we saw that the crying baby was part of a group of several dozen people clustered around the embers of a little fire looking miserable and defeated.  How the heck did they have a fire without us seeing it last night?  While I was contemplating that when a man wearing one of those helmets that looks like a kettle jumped out at us brandishing a spear.

“Stay back you!”

“Alright, just watch where you’re waving that thing.”

“I’ll kill you, don’t think I won’t!”

“I doubt it, you have a spear and I have a crossbow.  I understand that the advantage of a spear is reach, but I think that the crossbow may be ever better on account of it’s a missile weapon and so forth.  Besides you’re not even holding that spear the right away around.”

I swear to you before all the Gods and devils and weird bone-monsters in the afterlife that he actually looked down to make sure that he was holding the spear the right way.  He actually looked down.  This is a true thing that happened.  I took that opportunity to step up and grab the end of the spear and I almost pulled it away from him, and I didn’t even pull that hard.  He yanked it back with all his might, I let go, and he tumbled backwards, dropping the spear as he rolled ass over teakettle into a tree.  As he was trying to get to his feet I came up behind him and kicked him in the dick.  I felt like I had too, it was too good of a chance for a dick kick.  And because some jerk stole my boots I could feel his squishy balls with my toes.  It almost wasn’t worth it.  As you all know I hate the feeling of balls on my toes.

A couple people from the group had some to stand fearfully watching this transpire “Is this your only guard?  It’s probably best not to even bother if so, a guy waving a spear around that can’t do anything with it is only going to upset people.  You’re better off playing the pity angle.  Now, does anyone have any shoes for me?”

I have an awful confession to make.  My feet are a little bit bigger than is desirable in the circles of the social elite.  I have peasant feet is what it is.  My feet were made more for stepping through the fields than for mincing about a dance floor.  The rest of me?  Total physical perfection obviously, but my feet are a little off target.  The point is that sometimes I have issues finding footwear that fits just right, but amongst the forest refugees I saw a woman with some sturdy looking walking shoes that were just about the right size for my feet.  She didn’t want to give them up at first but once I said that I could trade them unlimited drinking, well not water but rice wine, for the whole lot of them she was convinced.  Mostly by the hard looks of the rest of the people in the group, but I don’t feel bad about it – what was I going to do walk around barefoot like a mountain person?  No.

I made the mistake of asking them what they had heard before fleeing the city and was subjected to a barrage of wild contradictions and baseless speculation.  The only thing everyone could agree on is that the orange and white men at arms I saw in the camp had moved into the city and were fighting with the watch.  The Royal army soldiers seemed to be staying out of it and concentrating their efforts on quelling the rebellion of “the Bride”.  Beyond that the only fact at hand was that it wasn’t a great time to be in the city.  Although it’s not going to be a great time out here either unless you can eat bark. After talking for a while one wall eyed fellow accused me of being a spy.

“A spy?  For whom?  And why?  Why would anyone care about you people?  I think spies are the least of your problems.”

A random voice in the crowd agreed “Do you have any food?”

“I certainly don’t.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Me, I’m going back into the city.  I have a like fifteen things unresolved there and I don’t want to come back to this place.  Ever if I can help it.  Beresford isn’t exactly Indlecastle you know.  No offense.”

The guard, nursing his swollen genitals, spoke next “Maybe you could stay a while to protect us.”

“Protect you?  I can’t protect anyone, not even myself most of the time.”

Corune shook her head “You’re still alive aren’t you?”

I sighed “You’re going to want to keep that dagger aren’t you?  You’re going to stay here with these people and protect them from what?  There’s nobody out here, and if there is someone out here what are you and MY dagger going to do about it?”

“It’s the right thing to do.”

“No, it isn’t.  If your God is so great and invested in your survival and all why doesn’t he help you out?  Why do I always have to give you MY stuff?”

She smiled primly “He brings you to me.”

I scowled “I fucking knew you were going to say that.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 573,301

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck

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 

Myam 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

What’s the worst way you’ve ever woken up?  Barking dog?  Hang-over?  In bed with someone gross?  House collapsed on you?  The Massacre at Eagle Eye Peak comes to mind as a pretty bad one but technically those people never woke up so that doesn’t count I guess.  I have a new contender.  There I was in my dumb cot in my dumb tent in this dumb refugee/prisoner camp sound asleep when the next thing I knew I was knocked to the ground with a slashing pain in my side.  And what do I see standing over me?  A Gods damned boar, snorting and bristly and tusky, you know a boar.  It charged at me again, slashing the cot to pieces as I used it as a shield of sorts.  Then the dogs came at me.  That’s a little bit worse than the time you woke up because the roof was leaking right?

While I was wondering where the Hells my bodyguards were I grabbed for my Walking Stick but one of the slavering attack dogs grabbed it like we were playing fetch and ripped it away from me – meanwhile his friends where biting and snapping at me like crazy.  My only goal was not to get pulled down, as long as I’m on my feet I have a chance, if they drag me down I’m dead.  What a way to go – killed by a pig and a pack of damn dogs.  I was able to grab my Flask and took a mouthful of Growth tonic, springing up to giant size, well not giant, but ogre at least, and once again knocking the tent down with sudden enlargement.  The tent collapsing turned out pretty well though because I was able to get the cloth at the edges and pull it together like a net of sorts, trapping most of the dogs.  The boar came charging at me again, but with my increased size I was able to boot it away like a woodchuck – sending it flying and crashing into another tent.

It was at this point that a tiny little demon bastard appeared.  It wasn’t much bigger than a rabbit but it had horrible bug-eyes and buzzing insect wings to go along with relatively large black curving horns and general demon-ness.  The nasty little creature hocked a wad of phlegm that I swear was bigger than its head right in my face, which was bad enough as is but also it stank like the middens of a thousand stables.  This distracted me enough for the only free hound to clamp onto my knee like a chicken bone.  Have you ever been bit on the knee?  It fucking hurts.  I could feel my kneecap sliding around underneath the savage pressure of its jaws.  Wiping the demon-snot away with one hand I grabbed the dog with the other and squeezed it.  It’s yelping and crying was horrible but I was too pissed off to care, I threw the carcass at the flying asshole but it flitted out of the way and held out its hand, summoning another gross little demon with a ray of putrid yellow slime.

This one was bloated and piggish but upright like a hideous man with huge floppy donkey-like ears.  It was covered in its own drool and slime and looked like it wished it was dead.  I know I did.  It stumbled towards me with claws out but its true assault was the stench that it projected – even worse than the foul spittle of the first one.  I gagged as it slashed at me with its freaky spider-leg looking talons but one slap with my ogre-hand caused it to explode in burning green acid-tar, a fleck of which went in my fucking MOUTH!  As I was trying to spit away the searing pain on my tongue the flying demon hit me with a centipede the size of a galley oar.  Are you understanding what I’m telling you?  It hit me with a giant squirming centipede like it was a massive club!  The thing can’t weight ten pounds, how was it even strong enough to swing the damn thing?  The centipede head stabbed into me with its fangs and its head snapped off, leaving it lodged and biting in my flesh.  I screamed in inarticulate rage as the little monster started flying away, disappearing as it turned invisible.

Of course by this point the guards and various other people in camp were all running over.  One them was screaming about how I had killed their dogs on account of during my staggering around I guess I stomped on the ones trapped under the tent.  I would have killed the screamer too only by this point I had reverted to my normal size and the crowd was able to hold me back as I lunged at the dog owner.  Eventually I calmed down enough to gather my possessions from the wreckage of the tent but as I was doing so some of the soldiers came over to me and said that I needed to come with them.

“Fuck you, I’m not going anywhere.”

At a gesture the soldiers rushed me and in short order had me bound.  My struggling against them did about as much good as that of a fish caught in a net (or a dog in a tent).  As they led me away I saw someone in the crowd making off with my magic boots.  They carried me bodily to the southeast section of the camp and tossed me into a large round tent.  Have you ever been thrown to the ground with your arms bound behind you?  It sucks.  Baron Berlixwhouse was there looking as sallow and unpleasant as ever along with two other fancy boys that I hadn’t seen yet.  The two of them grabbed me by the arms and hauled me up to my feet as Berlixwhouse took out a fabulously lacquered darkwood box reverently.  The box was full of live wasps, which I was afraid were going to be tossed on me, but instead he took out a little wooden implement and started mashing them into a paste.  Once they were thoroughly pulped into paste he put that slime on one of those curvy knifes that demon people seem to love and came my way.

“Now hold on a minute, we can talk about this.  You’re upset about Lypara but you’re not seeing the big picture.  This is an opportunity for you to take over.  You don’t have to take her directions anymore, you can . .  .”

He clearly wasn’t interested in listening.  I started kicking at him but the two men holding me pushed me down into a sort of painful kneel as Berlixwhouse came forward with his bug-guts knife.

“Don’t you fucking touch me you freak, don’t . . . “

He tore open the bodice of my dress and very carefully carved into my chest, it felt like the delicate slice of a razor.  I stopped struggling because I didn’t want to drive the point of the dagger in deeper, but I should have because as soon as he was done his two friends let go and I was lifted into the air by some manner of invisible force.  I was flipped upside down, hanging at an awkward angle against the roof of the tent and then I felt like my body was being twisted by a pair of massive hands – like a giant was wringing the neck of a chicken.  I’ve felt pain before, even agony, but this was indescribable – it was like my bones were breaking from the inside.  I was barely cognizant as Baron Redmynd and some different orange-clad soldiers ran in with weapons drawn.  The force disappeared as the fighting started and I was dropped on the back of my head and shoulders.  If I hadn’t managed to tuck my chin I would have broken my neck and been dead.  Just like that. 

I rolled and crawled and squirmed out under the tent canvas, getting stepped on and kicked as the men were fighting to the death above me.  Once outside I managed to get to my knees but with my arms trapped kept falling over when I tried to get to my feet.  There was fighting in other parts of the camp and there was chaos everywhere, people running and screaming and just flat out panicking.  As I was struggling to get up again I saw, of all people Writha Corune looking around wildly.  I called out to her and she ran over and knelt beside me.

“Help me up!”

As she was trying to undo the cords binding me she was clearly frazzled “What’s going on?”

“I think the Alliance of Barons is fraying a bit around the edges.”

Corune was able to get the bounds off me and we ran for the edge of the camp trying to avoid any knots of people fighting, or actually just people in general.  In the “alley” between tents though we found ourselves trapped between wildly panicking horse behind us and one of the soldiers in front of us.  He got that sneer/leer on his face that let me know, know for certain, that he was going to say “well look what we have here” but he didn’t get the chance because I hurled dagger at his face.  Lucky for him dagger throwing isn’t really my thing, unlucky for him the hilt hit him right in the teeth.  Have you heard the sound of metal smashing into tooth at a high rate of speed?  It’s not great.  The blade glided back into my hand as we ran past the man who was doubled over with his hands on his bloody mouth.  Corune looked horrified.

“How do you always manage to have a weapon?”

“My grandmother told me ‘always be prepared’ it was like her motto.”

We jumped over the little wooden wall-let that marked the confines of the camp and by turns ran and skulked our way essentially in a random direction.  A few hours later, still early in the morning we found ourselves in a wooded hillock watching the camp – which was on fire by now of course, there’s always fires – fall apart.  As accompaniment fighting had started up in the city as well, but not just in the “riot” quarter this time, along the border too.  The people in the shanties outside of town had rushed the northern edge and more men were called into try and hold them back.  Why would anyone want to force their way INTO a town under martial law?  No clue.  I was standing drinking freely and frequently from my Flask while Corune sat on the ground with her knees drawn up and her arms around them.  She scowled at me.

“Doesn’t that thing ever run out?”

“No, it’s magic, you saw that a few days ago.  You have a pretty bad memory for a law . . . whatever you are.  You are a real peach you know that, I save your life and you chap my ass over a little booze?  You are something lady.”

“I saved your life!”

“That’s not how I remember it.  So what do you see down there law lady?  Doesn’t look like Vultur is doing too good of a job.  I mean what’s your deal anyway?  Do you think that people want order?  Look, look at what’s going on down there.  This is what people want.  Anarchy.  You’re swimming against a strong tide.”

“You’re wrong, it’s civilization that corrupts the natural good inside people.  At least the civilization that people like you create.  The first person who planted a flag and said ‘I own this’ and found a bunch of other people dumb enough to buy into it, that person is the real corrupter – not all the demons in the Thirteen Hells.  Crime, wars, and murders, horrors and misfortunes, they’re all the result of people trying to own things.  Once you try to own something morality is undone.  If you forget that the fruits of the world belong to us all, and the world itself belongs to nobody you’ve already lost.”

“Those people aren’t dumb, they’re just doing what comes natural.  People want to have stuff, and more importantly they want to make sure other people don’t have as much.  There’s nothing you can do about that.  It’s human nature.  And dwarf nature too I think.  Also Halfling nature.  Elf nature is a little trickier, who knows what their pointed eared freaks wants?”

She shook her head “I don’t want to talk about this with you.”

I gestured with my flask “What the Hells else do we have to do?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 573,301

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, +1 Returning Dagger, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck

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 

Out of character interlude 2 – Ela versus Negan, Dawn of Justice

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pangloss Cosmetics.

I read a blog about stuff.  It’s pretty good.  The other day the author mentioned that he was four when Return of the King (the movie) came out.  I was in my mid-20s.  It made me feel super old and lame.  Which I am, but being reminded of that is never fun.  This has nothing to do with anything but I figured you’d want to know.

I wonder sometimes what I’ll do if Ela dies.  I mean I have her name in the URL so clearly I can never write about anything else.  A few ideas I’ve kicked around are a prequel (weak), continuing the story with another character (meh), or going back and doing short runs of things from the perspective of other characters and the effects of Ela on their lives (might be okay).  But then last night as I was falling asleep I had the thought – what about putting the character of Ela in a different story?  And for a reason what came to mind is Ela in the Walking Dead. 

First obviously you MUST know my history with the Walking Dead.  I read the comic books WAY before the TV show came along and made it cool and popular (and therefore gross).  By the time the TV show rolled around we were in the tail end of the zombie fad started by 28 Days Later and I was suffering from zombie fatigue.  So I didn’t watch the first season right away and when I got around to watching I found it kind of boring.  But it was based on a comic book so what was I going to do, not watch it?  This was in the pre-MCU boom days before comic book properties became cool and popular (and therefore gross) so if something was comic book related and wasn’t horrible I was probably going to watch it. 

The second season picked up though and I was in for real.  For a while.  After a couple seasons Walking Dead started suffering from a bad case of Lost-itis, where the show was way more popular than anyone expected so they needed to milk it for everything its worth.  They started telling the exact same story over and over – everyone’s together yay!  Oh no, everyone is separated, boo!  Reunited! Yay!  Ripped apart boo!  Repeat ad nauseam.  After the Governor attacked the prison for the SECOND time I was out. 

And that’s how it was for a long time but then one day I was flipping through the channels and I saw some people with Ws on their heads running into a town and violently attacking people and I was like “Whoa, what is this show?” and after a while I saw the lady who plays Carol and I was like “that actress must be in this show” but then I kept watching and figured out that it was Carol (still alive!) because I was watching the Walking Dead.  That episode was pretty rad so I started watching again for a little while but then stopped again because it sucked.  Hard.

And that’s how it was for a while but then there was a massive media blitz – RICK’S LAST EPISODE !!!!!!!  And I was curious how Rick was going to die so I admit they got me top tune in again.  And the lead up to RICK’S LAST EPISODE !!!!!!! was decently good.  But then that episode was GOD AWFUL and I was mad because they suckered me back in to watch that crap.  I’ll never watch this show again I shouted at the moon. 

And that’s how it was for a while but then a couple weeks ago I started getting caught up for no reason I can explain.  Anyway, the point is that’s probably why when I was half-asleep the idea that came to my mind was Ela in the Walking Dead.  Which is a horrible idea.  Maybe you could argue (please do the one person who reads this blog) that Ela is an anti-hero but more probably she’s just a straight up villain protagonist.  And that doesn’t really work in the Walking Dead.  An awful person in an awful world is just depressing, and not very interesting.  An awful person in a world that’s more “normal” is little more viable. 

I didn’t really have a template in mind when I created the character of Ela, but a few months after I started writing this blog I re-watched the Last Seduction and I realized that and Linda Fiorentino’s character is basically her.  And if you take that character and stick them into the Walking Dead you have a minor character whose one of Negan’s minions and make has a couple cool scenes before they die.  Because there’s really nothing else you can do there other than a redemption arc and who would want to see that?  Nobody that’s who. 

But the idea of putting her in another setting and story could be a good one if she dies prematurely.  There’s probably a genre like that – character X in this setting and that setting and so on – but I’ve never heard of it. 

Did you know that there’s three different podcasts called Raised By TV?  Because there are.  Which is what I would also call my podcast if I had one.  Which I do not.  This has nothing to do with anything but I figured you’d want to know.

Myam 7 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

I clapped the traumatized houseguard on the shoulder in the companionable way I’ve seen soldiers do before as I headed back into the sitting room – which was comprehensively smashed from the wrestling match with the demon-lion.  Four of my bodyguards were in there looking mildly confused but wary and alert, along with a couple more houseguards who were just stunned.  I called the rest of my crew in and then asked the Van Saar retainers if they could give us a moment.  They shuffled out, probably without even thinking about it.  It’s an odd thing, when people are in shock they’ll usually do whatever you ask them to do.  It’s like their brains turn off except the part that follows orders. 

“Gather around ladies, take a knee.  You did some good work out here tonight, truth be told I would have liked if you showed up a little faster once the screaming started, but when you showed up you didn’t hesitate.  You jumped into battle and you fought your hearts out.  You grew up tonight ladies, you grew up.  Whatever you were before you’re something else now.  And this gets us one step closer to the goal.  To get where we’re going you can’t take any days off and you didn’t take today off, you brought everything you had.  No matter what anyone says, you won here tonight and you did in the trenches, by doing the dirty work, the hard work, the stuff that no one else wants to do.  I can lead you, I can show you the way, but I can’t make you a warrior – that’s something you decide for yourself.  And you did it here, tonight.”

One of the seven nearly identical faces looking up at me quizzically spoke up “What the fuck are you talking about?”

I shrugged “I don’t know I was just trying something.  The watch should be here pretty soon, until then I’ll be looting.”

“Looting?”

“It’s like stealing, only different somehow.  I guess looting is what you do when someone’s dead.  Yeah, that makes sense, you steal from someone who’s alive, you loot from the dead.  Or wait, is that graverobbing?  No, okay, what it is if they’re alive that’s theft, if they’re dead but unburied that’s looting, if they’re dead and in the ground and you have to dig them up that’s graverobbing.  But they also call it looting when you take stuff during a riot, so . . . not sure on that one.  It’s tricky. 

“What are you talking about!?”

“Just tell me when the watch get here.”

There wasn’t much coin on hand, rich people are notoriously poor, but I found some good stuff.  The find of the century though was a breathtaking original Saryah Phidaner gown, an original not a reproduction!  Black and ecru lace with light blue silk trim and iridescent elf-stones.  When I first saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes, I figured it had to be a really, really, really good knock off.  But I examined it closely and it’s not.  It’s the real deal.  I’ll have to wash the succubus-stink off it of course but I’ll be careful doing it, very, very careful.  You know it’s funny, if I were to, say let several people die to save this dress people would say that I’m a monster.  But this dress is a one of a kind work of art, there will never be another like it.  On the other hand there are lots of people and most of them are ugly.  So which is truly more valuable?  No one likes to take the long view.  Holding the dress like an excited child I ran excitedly back to the front foyer where my bodyguards were gathered.

“You guys, you’re never going to guess what I found!”

The city watch had arrived and their commander – a goat-faced looking fellow with wild eyes – was the one who answered.

“What have you got there?”

“Nothing much, just a cheap dress that Crawdore said that I could have before a demon murdered him.  I’ll glad you’re here, this is what happened . . .”

In the old days there was a lot of lying.  I lied to the Duke of course about how interesting and virile and great he was.  I lied indirectly to her wife and her “court” about being with the Duke.  I lied about my extracurricular activities.  I lied to block the schemes of others and advance my own.  Sometimes I lied for no reason at all, I lied when the truth would have served me better.  I couldn’t tell you why other than life among the idle right, but not truly one of them, is an odd existence.  But one thing I didn’t do was lie to the authorities, the Duke was the authority.  Now I do it so often it almost happens by rote.  So that’s one thing that’s different.

There are a few keys to it.  One is not over explaining.  When you have all the answers that is suspicious because the more airtight your story is the more it sounds fake.  Real life is rarely that orderly.  Everything being tied up in a nice little bow at the end of the day is something that only happens in mystery novels.  In the real world there are loose ends all over the place.  Another good practice is to let them catch you in some minor deception, makes them feel better.  Be wrong about a few things, “remember” the time an hour off because of some specific thing that isn’t quite right, say something was green when it was blue, things of that nature.  Because anyone who deals with these things knows that eyewitness accounts are eighty percent reliable at best.  And I mean at best.  Unless you’re a trained observer you’re going to get a lot of the details wrong. 

Another key is to talk a lot, not over explain as I said, but talk a lot.  Most people are nervous or excited or both when they’re talking to the law and that makes them a blatherskite, explaining their theories about people’s motivations and going down conversational side-streets that go nowhere and so forth.  Give them one piece of useful information and then five random thoughts, stories, and jokes – but act like you think you’ve giving them gold.

The point is soon enough the city watch was satisfied with my tale, some of which was true, and they were on their way.  I gathered all the Van Saar servants and houseguards in the front courtyard and thanked them for their service, telling them how lucky they were to have survived the dark events of that night and then telling them that their services were no longer needed – goodbye and good luck.  A few of them seemed like they didn’t want to accept this, seeing as how it was in no way acceptable, but the bulk of them just took it.  Either way what were they going to do?  They gathered their things, no doubt doing a little looting of their own, and then faded away into the night.  My bodyguards seemed eager to get back to the camp.

“Oh no, not yet, the night is still young.  We have a lot to do still.”

I spent maybe an hour looking through Van Saar’s house hoping to find a letter he wrote about killing the mayor’s brother, but no such luck.  I hate when my enemies aren’t morons.  I probably should have kept looking but that was boring so instead we headed to luxurious third-story shack of Old Scatch.  I sent a couple of the girls up to drag him down but they reported that his hovel was empty, empty of people anyhow, it was full of all sorts of other vermin.  Before I could formulate a new plan light spilled out of the second story window and the bald head of the bird-keeper emerged.  He helpfully explained to me that the theater troupe was at the Macourek.  Since the rioting at had started they had been running four shows a day, including a midnight “event” – an original production about a city being torn apart featuring lovers striving to get to one another, an evil moneylender, and enough staged violence and brief nudity to really bring the people in.  He claimed they were packing the place for every show.

We got to the theater maybe an hour before midnight, and no lie, there were people lined up outside waiting.  I suppose in a time of crisis people want something to distract them, even if it is the mumbled shenanigans of a group of hacks, has-beens and never-wases.  We made our way through the crowd to the doors where the tall grey-haired undertaker looking man (I never did figure out what he does here) was enjoying keeping people out until showtime with all the spiteful officiousness of a man with a tiny degree of power.  I talked to him convivially for a moment and then told him I was here with the new chorus-girls.  I was prepared to smooth-talk but he acted like they were expected and let us right in – I love it when people act like they knew about something that’s completely bullshit.  It’s one of my favorite things. We made our way to the stage and I took a seat in the front row, gesturing to the right.

“Ladies, through there you’ll find the dressing rooms, grab whoever’s back there and bring them out for me will you.”

One of the cadre, I’ll call her #3 frowned “This doesn’t really seem like . . .” I took out a double handful of gold and tossed it out on the floor “. . . right away ma’am.”

They jogged off and one by one came back with the Macourek Theater Company, also known as the Dreamers, pulling them out and onto the stage confused and in various states of being costumed and make-uped.  It was mildly amusing.  When they saw me they were quick to want to chat but I waited until the entire company was there with my bodyguards fencing them in.

“Good evening friends, it’s good to see you doing so well.  I saw the crowd out there, it’s really something, well done.  The bad news is that your patron Crawdore Van Saar is dead, as is his companion Lypara.  Now, I had very well intentioned plans of infiltrating your little group and ferreting out what happened but I got distracted by the violent uprising in the city, you know how that is.  I never have the time to do things properly it seems, but I don’t want to waste your time with my bellyaching, you have a show to put on.  I’m here because I know that some of you were involved with Lypara bringing drugs into the city, and I know that the mayor’s brother was instigating that and then disappeared, what I don’t know is what happened.  So you’re going to tell me.  I’m guessing that most of have no clue, but someone among you does, so just tell me now before things turn ugly.”

They all started talking at once of course and I had to cut them off.

“One at a time people.  And here’s a ground rule, if all you have to say is that you don’t know anything you don’t have anything to say.” I pointed to a thin fellow with a riotous mop of hair and a waxed mustache that I believe they called Hound “You first.”

He came forward and bowed nervously “I assure you madam, I know nothing about any . . .”

He yelped and ducked as I threw the dagger I had taken from Van Saar’s house at him, which curved around through the air and flew back into my hand.

“Neat.  I get that you’re artistic people so allow me to go over the rule again – I don’t want to hear anything other than the information I’m looking for, if you have nothing to say you have nothing to say.  Is that clear?” I pointed the knife at Wexley “You had a lot to say that night we were cavorting and carousing, do you have anything to say now?”

He took a hesitant step forward “Well . . . that is to say . . . . I don’t exactly . . .”

With a sigh I hurled the dagger, hitting him in the stomach – which then pulled itself free with a splash of bright blood on the boards of the stage and sailed neatly back to my hand.  He fell to his hands and knees gasping.   

“Okay folks, here’s the deal, I know that most of you are probably just mingy artistic types who are having fun and taking drugs and living it up but at least one of you is not.  Now, I don’t expect that person to come forward, why would they, but some of you have to know who’s pulling the strings on the drug smuggling operation.  Just point her or him out, because I really do not want to spend the night torturing you sensitive creative sorts.  So don’t make me okay?”

Several of them turned and pointed at a tall flat-faced fellow with stringy blonde hair falling around his face and one of those ridiculous tiny beard-patches on his chin. I walked up onto the stage and gave Wexley a healing draught from my Flask, watching his astonishment as his wound healed before it his eyes.

“Sorry about that Wex but you should be good to go for tonight’s performance.  Unfortunately your friend here is going to have to miss the show tonight.  I hope you have an understudy.”

We took patch-chin into one of the many strange superfluous rooms in the theater.  They called him Fat Tom even though he wasn’t fat at all, I’m sure there’s some hilarious story behind that.  He lied at first, and second, and third.  Once I got tired of tripping him up I asked my bodyguards which among them didn’t mind inflicting pain on a defenseless man.  One of them stepped up and kneed the man in the stomach – and I mean hard.  I think I heard something break inside him.

“Good Gods woman, nice initiative, but dial it back.  You have to start small and then escalate.”

Once he was done gasping for air Fat Tom told me that a merchant named Gridley was the one who brought in the drugs and he suspected that he was the one who killed the mayor’s brother when his cover was blown.  He said that Gridley was completely enamored with Lypara and did whatever she wanted.  When I asked him where I could find Gridley he said that his home and his business were all in the part of the city where the rioting was and that no one had seen him since they started. 

“Thank you for your eventual candor Not Fat Tom, and look we’re wrapped up as the show is just starting – maybe you can make it on stage for the second act.”

One of the seven guards said that Gridley was in the camp, which is convenient, it would have really caused me a problem if he had been killed in the rioting.   We made our way out of the city on the east side and back to the camp where Baron Elvyra’s men were quick to hustle us into a barn in the farm complex where the man himself was waiting.

“It’s done, I killed the demoness.”

“You can’t actually kill a demon, they just reform in the Hells.”

“Well whatever, I shot her a bunch and she went away.  There’s a merchant in the camp called Gridley, he’s one of hers – not sure if he’s a cultist or just a minion or a dupe or what but you can ask him.  And while you’re at it can you ask him what happened to the mayor’s brother?”

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“Just ask as a favor to me will you?  Now, if there’s nothing else I’m going to bed, it’s been quite a night.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 570,101

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, +1 Returning Dagger, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck

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