Montresor 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There were three of them which speaks poorly of their organization right at the start because as we all know adventurers should come in fours.  FOUR against darkness, not three.  And don’t give me any bullshit about the Six from Shadow, that was made up bullshit for a book chumps, I’m talking about real life here.  Miloai Laizirs admitted he made up the whole thing in 862 as an excuse to whip up anti-Danelanders sentiment.  There never was any such person as brave and noble Sir Rieckard – cry about it babies.

One of the trio was a snakeman (or snakewoman how would you know the difference?) which is interesting.  Never seen that before.  Adventurers are widely known for their lack of uniformity, but I have to wonder how that works.  If you’re a weird monster from some other continent and you come here to raid tombs and kill “bad guys” why don’t people freak out about that more?  I imagine that someone screams because a seven foot tall winged lion-eagle man comes into their village and one of the other villagers calms them down by saying “it’s okay, they’re an adventurer”.  People are odd.

The snakeman (or snakewoman) had legs so how did I know it was a snakeman (or snakewoman) rather than a lizardman?  No tail.  A lizardman would have a tail right?  Also forked tongue.  It certainly wasn’t a dragon person because . . . . well it just wasn’t okay?  I’m the one who saw it so just take my word for it.  Accompanying the snake guy was a woman who looked to be in her forties, which is ancient for an adventurer.  Well, for a human adventurer anyway.  Most of them either die or get rich well before thirty.  I wonder if that means she’s really good adventurer or a really bad one.  She had her head shaved, for lice control I assume, and was missing an ear.  Most of the ear anyway.  Which is a nice change of pace from the standard eye patch look for wounded freebooters.  I wonder why you never see an adventurer with a hook hand or a peg-leg.

The third member of their little band looked more like a shoemaker than a murderer for hire.  I don’t know exactly what about his appearance made me think that but something just said “shoemaker” about him.  Cobbler I guess they’re called.  His armor looked to be about one hundred years old and he would have been attractive it not for dozens of tiny scars on his face.  I wonder what did that.  Looks like he fell face-first into a pit of spikes a couple dozen times. 

They rode up hard behind me and I had a lapse in judgement – I assumed they weren’t after me and moved aside to let them pass.   Instead they surrounded me, as much as three people can surround someone, and shoemaker stared off into space like a loon while snakey and one-ear told me they worked for Baron Saltwheel and I should give them back the necklace because of the fate of the world depended on it.  Also they would kill me if I didn’t.  These kids are master of subtle negotiation.  The stick is murder and the carrot is also murder.  I told them that people shouldn’t bet anything they aren’t willing to lose.  A sure thing is never a sure think you know?  Chaos is the natural order of the world.  And that I wasn’t giving back anything.

One-ear made to grab the reins of my mount and Teremana bite her hand.  Have you ever been bitten by a horse?  It fucking hurts.  Based on the amount of blood I wonder if she lost a finger to go along with her missing ear.  Teremana is a well-mannered mare but she is trained for battle – you can’t just go around grabbing at her and not expect consequences.  I wheeled and we galloped off.  They pursued but none of the three were more than an average rider and their steeds were nothing to get excited about so I was able to lose them easily enough.  It was quite exhilarating, I haven’t really had a chance to ride like that in ages.  Nothing wrong with having a bit of fun here and there.

But if there’s one thing we know about adventurers it’s that they’re persistently annoying.  Well if we know one thing about adventurers it’s that they’ll beat you until an eyeball pops out for six silver but if we know two things it’s that and the persistence thing.  A few hours later and I saw them on my tail again.  Probably they’re using fucking snake magic to find me.  I remember when this used to happen all the time.  People are always using magic to track me down and foul up my day.

This is the problem with traveling by horseback.  I can disguise myself with a mere thought, but I can’t disguise Teremana and she’s pretty distinctive.  I should have thought about then when I was picking out a horse.  Oh well.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, I’m sure the adventurers would have slaughtered anyone they found on the road just in case it was me.  I thought about shooting them to death and riding away from any counter-attacks but these kinds are tricky.  Sometimes they can breath fire or fly up into the air or Gods knows what else.  I reserved the right to shoot them later but it seemed too risky.  I stopped about a mile away and used my vocal abilities to speak with them.

“Alright, you want the necklace?  Fine.  Ten thousand gold.  I’m sure a fine fellow like Baron Saltwheel can afford that with all the shakedowns he’s running along the river up north.” I saw their mouths moving and waved my arms angrily “I can’t hear you morons, you’re too far away – just nod if we have a deal.”

One-ear shook her head furiously, seems we did not have a deal at all.

I shrugged “Alright, but the price only goes up from here.”

I rode away from them again and this time their pursuit seemed like a token effort at best.  And why not, since they can just snake-magic out my location whenever they want?  Friggin’ magic.  I hate it so much sometimes.  One I was out of their sight I decided to abandon by path to Tyburst and head for Eree instead, on the off chance that they were just using normal tracking methods.  There’s rumored to be death worms in the Shoddy Hills, but shirelings live there by the pile so it can’t be true.  Besides I’m going to skirt the hills anyway. 

This turned out not to be the greatest idea either.  I saw a rider coming towards me, which I thought was the snakeman (or snakewoman) with an illusionary disguise but when I changed course to avoid them the other snakeman (or snakewoman) was behind me with the other three.  Turns out there had been four of them all along.  How the fuck this one got head of me and knew where I was going I don’t know.  I wasn’t exactly boxed in, but I was boxed in enough that I didn’t want to make a run for it without good reason.  When they were about a hundred yards away I threw my voice their way again.

“Alright, looks like you have me on the ropes here, how about this – I would like to speak with the good Baron anyway.  I won’t hand over the necklace and I just so happens that I have it in a magic satchel that cannot be opened if you kill me.  So how about we all just go have a nice chat withthe Baron and work something out here?”  I saw their mouths moving and sighed “You have to shout, just because you can hear me doesn’t mean that I can hear you.  I thought we covered that before.”

In the end a deal was struck, there wasn’t really much else they could do.  Killing me wouldn’t work and that’s all they know how to do.  Why didn’t I just give up the necklace?  The necklace that is ugly and I don’t want anyway?  I’m not standing on principal here.  I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of rules for life.  Living life by a set of rules is abdicating your responsibility to think about what you should be doing.  But there are some things you have to stand by if you want to have a life worth living.  You don’t let anyone take something from you, even if you don’t care about it.  The old saying give someone an inch and they take a mile – that’s true.

It’s like this, two watchmen beat one of the Duke’s pages to death once and the reason that happened is when the page was busting the balls of the first watchman he let it go.  But that just made the page act like even more of an asshole to the point where the watchman couldn’t let it go anymore without losing all credibility on the street.  So he and his buddy dragged the dude behind a laundry and kicked him until he was dead.  And then they both got executed for murder.  If the watchman had just slapped the shit out of the page in the first place like he should have all three of them would still be alive.  If people get over on you fine, they got over on you, but you can’t let them do it.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

The Baron of course is in the exact opposite direction I want to go, that’s a given, but it’s not that far away.  Which for me is about as much of a win as I ever get.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold

XP: 1,288,351

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Satchel of Plentiful Feed, Horseshoes of Surety, Teremana (light warhorse), Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod, Singer’s Stole 

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 (631), 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, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  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, cruddy gold necklace

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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag

Mantelderith 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It wasn’t yet mid-day and already the caravan was stopped.  I knew this was going to be a slow method or travel but this is getting ridiculous. At the head of the line Diarmaid Hücresel and the half-elfs and some assorted others were speaking with a small part of armed men.  Martialla was standing up and craning her head to try and get a look.  I swatted her on the leg.

“Sit down, you look like a fool gaping about like that.  Plus you’re going to knock this box over with your giant feet and break both our bloody necks.”

She sat back down and pulled a flask out of her coat, just a normal one not a wonderful magic one like I had before a stupid nixie ruined it.

She took off the cap and had herself a long drinking before passing it to me “There was a gang in Cwabbmare that called themselves the Bloody Necks.  Never made much sense to me, I guess they were trying to say they would give their enemies bloody necks?”

“Gangs giving themselves names is senseless anyway.  It’s fucking criminal enterprise not a puppet show – have some dignity.”

“You’ve mentioned that before several times, I think you’re forgetting how violent and stupid most criminals are.  What do you think is going on up there?”

“Some local assholes trying to make some coin probably – collecting ‘tolls’ for some made-up lord.  Or a real lord who’s an asshole himself.  A standard shakedown.”

“Why does the Crown allow it?  They tend to get upset by anything that takes money out of their pockets and this is basically chipping away at their tax base.”

“They still get their pound of flesh – it just means that the people getting squeezed have to work harder, which isn’t their concern.  Plus what could they do anyway?  They don’t have the manpower to patrol all these roads even when there isn’t a war on.  Which there is.”

“Have you heard anything lately about how we’re doing?”

“We’re winning, just like we always do.  I believe it’s treason to lose a war so nobody ever does it.”

“That’s wise of them, I wonder why the other side doesn’t do the same thing, they must be too dumb to think of it.  My bosom is swelling with patriotic pride.”

“It’s about time it swelled with something, you look like a tall twelve year old – except for the chin whiskers.”

“Well we can’t all be as physically gifted as you.”

“And more’s the pity for that.”

“Shouldn’t we go down there so you can smooth things through with your silver tongue?”

“I’ve never understood that expression, who cares about silver?  Golden voice that makes sense, but silver tongue?  That’s almost an insult.”

“Precious metals of the ear, nose, and throat notwithstanding shouldn’t we help them?”

I scowled “Why are you so Hellsbent on helping these people?  We’re just tagalongs, let them handle things themselves.  This is their job, why do you always want to do everyone’s job for them?  What kind of socialist bullshit is that?”

“When did you get so lazy?”

“I’ve always been very lazy, you just haven’t had a chance to see it because we were always in the process of almost getting killed by someone or something so I had  no choice but to to apply myself unless I wanted to die.  Which I do not.”

“Speaking of, no Vultur people have tried to abduct you in a while – seems like you’re due.  I feel like we should expect to see their stalwart blue cloaks flapping in the wind any day now as they ride down to make you feel the salty sting of justice.”

“Bite your tongue.”

“Now if someone did have a silver tongue that would be really hard on the teeth.  Although on the plus side silver doesn’t rust so they wouldn’t have to contend with blood poisoning from their rusty tongue.  I knew a guy called Rusty Tongue once on account of he never spoke much.  The odd thing is though that whenever he did talk he’d usually say everything twice.”

“How uninteresting.”

The caravan ground to a halt that evening in a place called Hobrahellar which was a bit more than a waystation and a little less than a village.  There was a claypit that seemed to be their central asset and a couple other buildings of indeterminate usage.  There was a small fort for some reason, I guess to protect their clay.  It was one of those little wooden jobs and although I’m no expert looked like it needed some repairs or upkeep.  They call it a motte-and-bailey maybe?  What do I know about military installations.  But most surprising and shocking was they had an inn.  As the caravaneers were unhitching their wagons and setting up their hammocks and whatnot Martialla and I headed for the wide barn looking building that had all the earmarks of being a roadside inn to see what dubious comforts they had to offer.  Out front there was a sign with some kind of blob on it that said “the Curious” that looked like there had been another word but it had worn off over the years.

Martialla squinted at it “What is that?  A chicken?  The Curious Chicken?”

“I think it’s a tree.”

“What kind of name is the Curious Tree?”

“I don’t know but the Curious Cock would be a decent name for a male brothel.”

“Do they have those?”

“They’re rare but they exist.”

We went in to find a couple tables and a very sad looking man in a fine gold doublet sitting at a table staring at nothing with an untouched drink in front of him.  He looked like he was a tallish fellow but he was hunched over like someone was standing on his shoulders and had been for several years.  He had a droopy blonde mustache that matched his depressing droopy face – does the mustache look happy when he’shappy?  Can facial hair match human emotions?  That seems pretty advanced for hair.  I looked around but didn’t see anyone else.

“You don’t work here do you?”

It took a long while for him to realize that anyone was talking to him, his head came up slowly as the rising sun “What?”

“We want a room, and some food, do you work here?”

As slowly as he came around the first time the look of derision came on his face that fast “Work here?!  I should think not madam!  I am a knight and a lord not some lowly lice-ridden tavernkeeper!”

“Yeah, you look like you’re doing great, where’s the staff?”

He stood up abruptly like he was going to leave “I’m sure I wouldn’t know!”

He looked at the door but didn’t move a step, just stood there for a moment and then slowly sat back down.  Before I could lay into him with a richly deserved upbraiding (is downbraiding a thing?  Sounds dirty) a handsome young fellow with eyes like the deep blue sea and thick dark hair like crashing waves at night came into the room wiping blood off his hands.

“My apologies ladies, I was just slaughtering the night’s entrees, what can I do for you?”

What he could do for us was serve us some piss-poor ale, some barely acceptable barley beer, and a pretty good duck soup followed by a very nice pheasant dish and peaches and cream for dessert.  After he cleared away our dishes he sat down with us and brought up a very small bottle of Coldhome vodka to share with us.

“You’re not a half bad cook my boy but your alcohol menu could use some serious work.”

He shrugged slightly as he poured three glasses “I get what I can afford.  As you can see Hobrahellar isn’t getting a lot of traffic these days.”

“These days?  Was it ever?”

“Cathars is the county seat, there used to be a decent amount of traffic between here and Renwick before it got burned to ashes by a dragon.”

“And what is it that people around here think happened to that dragon?”

“A true and faithful virgin priestess of Adariel drove it away with the shining purity of her goodness.”

Martialla choked and sputtered on her vodka and then collapsed in gales of laughter – and I mean that literally.  She fell forward onto the table and then out of her chair onto the ground she was laughing so hard.  She was laughing so forcefully that she did that thing where she started hyperventilating and looking like she was going to die.  She started pounding her fist on her chest to try and get control of her breathing.

Ocean Eyes looked down at her with concern “Is she okay?”

“She’s fine, she just has these fits – got kicked in the head by a mule when she was sixteen, hasn’t been right since.  It will pass, don’t worry about it.” I gestured at the man with the golden garment “What’s the deal with Lord Autumnbottom?”

He looked over at the motionless man and then leaned in and half-whispered “He hasn’t been the same since he got kicked out the fort.  He just hangs around here all day – he hides in his room when they come around.”

“They being who?  Or is it whom?  Who.”

He looked over at gold shirt again to make sure he wasn’t listening “We had some trouble here a few weeks back.  Some Lumber Consortium legbreakers from Three Rivers came to town to lay low for a while and they weren’t being very cordial about it.  Sir Canelight called in a favor from a friend of a friend and some people came to deal with it.”

I shook my head “Adventurers?” He nodded “And let me guess, after they chased the lumber people out of town they wouldn’t leave?  So now they’re hanging around here harassing people and generally making asses of themselves?”

He sat back “Well as I understand it there was some misunderstanding about who would be paying them for their efforts.  Sir Canelight thought that his friend had compensated them and the friend thought that his friend had told them something else other and so on.  Honestly I think that Sir Canelight was hoping that once they were done they would refuse any reward like noble heroes.”

That should have set me off laughing as hard as Martialla but I, unlike her, am able to comport myself like a civilized being “Not much chance of that.  Adventurers are greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied they gather to themselves the wealth of all the nations and makes captive all the people of the land.  They never do anything out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Martialla had by this point crawled back into her chair “So they took over the fort until he pays?”

The innkeeper nodded again “Or as payment maybe.  I’m not sure.”

I raised my voice in the direction of droopy mustache “You’re in lucky my good sir knight, my friend and I specialize in removing rowdy adventurers.  We’ll have a good night sleep and then sort them out in the morning.”

He continued staring straight ahead “You will do no such thing.  They are my invited guests, nothing is wrong at all.”   

I snorted “Sure thing pal, everything is fucking great.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,161,951

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

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

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

Montagem 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’ve met some mismatched adventuring parties in my day but this one takes the cake (and sells it in town to buy a magic cleaver so they can take more cake from people to buy a bigger cleaver so they can take more cake . . .)  First and most obviously there’s six of them, when everyone knows that the magic number is four.  Even beyond that their composition is all off.  Two wizards is one wizards too many (possibly two) and as far as I can tell they have no warriors or religious types.  It’s surprising how many groups don’t have a divine specialist – how do they expect to get the sweet magic healing?  It shouldn’t be surprising since that’s the one occupation in the bunch that comes built in with responsibilities that don’t include wandering around murdering people on a whim but holy warriors are traditionally considered part of the iconic adventuring group mix.  I suppose priests of Adariel are too nice, priests of Strider wander off too much, and Odobeninians want too large a share of the booty (if you know what I mean).  I think the elf implied that s/he was a fighting type at one point but everyone knows that elfs are too willowy and ethereal to be warriors.  Plus I saw her/him cast a spell – make up your mind elf, it can’t be both.  Can you imagine an adventuring band with three wizards?  It’s sheer madness. While the tiny woman went to speak with the commander of the Harmenkar forces I spoke to the other five.

“Thanks for the rescue folks but I need to get away from here as fast as possible.” I plucked at the silver chain around my neck “This bad boy is a magic homing beacon and as soon as they figure out that I’m gone they’re going to able to find exactly where I am.  And you saw how many of them there are.  I know that you’re used to facing long odds and coming out the victors but this is different, these are legitimately dangerous people.  There’s one woman over there in particular that’s as ruthless as they come.  The best thing I can do is put as much distance between them and me as possible before they realize that I’m missing.”

The Shirelings were so similar looking that I could tell them apart only because one had a shield and the other did not.  I hope they’re siblings or something and I’m not just totally racist.  The one with the shield asked me why they had a magic tracker on me.

“I really need to get out of here so I don’t want to get into a deep conversation, in a nutshell what happened is that I found out that the Królewna and Bonifacja Trading Company were betraying the King – he was still alive then – and the King’s advisors decided to hide me away rather than letting that information become general knowledge.  I rabbited on them a couple times so they saddled me with this ugly thing so they could fine me.”

The other Shireling had a thoughtful expression “I never did hear a convincing reason why K and B was getting pulled apart, I assumed the King just needed money for the war.”

One of the wizards (you can tell because he was wearing robes) snorted at this “And I told you that made no sense, the tax revenue the Kingdom makes off of a trading company of that size would far out-strip any short term gains they’d get from seizing property.”

“Look guys, I really need to get moving, I don’t mean to be rude.  So thanks again, but it’s time for me to go.”

The other wizard, who strangely was wearing a helm, motioned for me to wait “There’s no need to rush off in the night.  May I examine that artifact?”

He said artifact like a total douche but I nodded my head anyway.  He came forward, putting his face right next to mine while he examined the silver necklace the Baron yoked me with – he could have stood to the side instead of being obtrusive and weird but you know, wizard.  His breath smelled like an old garment that has been stored in cedar chest for years.  How would you even accomplish that kind of mouth smell if you wanted to?  After a while he muttered some arcane words and the chain glowed for a few seconds while he stared at it sightlessly like I’ve seen Martialla do when she’s checking out magic shit.  He nodded and then called the other wizard over to stand too close behind me – they had me bracketed pretty good.  The second wizard took out a scroll and carelessly grabbed the necklace as well, choking me a little, as he cast a spell.

“That will misdirect them several hours, time enough for us to come up with a plan.”

“You mind backing off there champ?”

He blinked in surprise and then took one giant step backwards like a weirdo.  I slipped away and to the side to get away from the other one who was still breathing on the back of my neck like a freak.

“I appreciate that, but I couldn’t ask you to do any more behalf, you’ve already done more than I could ever expect.”

The Halfling without a shield grinned “Nonsense, we love this kind of stuff.  This is what we do darling, this is what we do.”

I have to imagine that the commander of the real soldiers was livid to find out about this little side trek his hirelings went on, but when the tiny woman returned she seems unperturbed.  I suppose adventurers are used to doing whatever they want and getting away with it because they can kill you if you cry about it.  That’s probably why real military people hate them.  She said that her name was Diatala and we all talked for a few minutes (except the elf who was probably out doing mysterious elf things) before she suggested that I get some rest as I was “clearly exhausted”.  How rude.  Rude and accurate.  I reiterated my opinion that I needed to run as far as I could while their magic locator was blocked but she shook her head resolutely.

“You’re under our protection now.  You’re stuck with us until we figure out a way to get that necklace off of you.”

It’s kind of nice to have the insane stubborn intractability of adventurers on my side for once.  I didn’t point out that they were basically holding me captive for my own good just like the people I’m running away from.  Those kinds of details tend to me lost on these sort of people.  The wizards promised me that they would put their heads together and come up with a solution.  When I mentioned that my shoulder was fucked up they gave me a potion that tasted like crap but fixed me up eighty-eight percent.  So much for the legendary stinginess of adventurers, I guess it’s different when you’re their rescue.  All they had for me was a bedroll, but after the last few nights it was as welcome as a feather bed in a luxury suite.  I fell asleep immediately.  The funny thing is, not funny ha-ha but funny like when a mule falls off a cliff, is that it’s actually probably good that I haven’t been able to sleep.  Without my necklace to protect me I was assaulted by nightmares throughout the night.  I still woke up feeling better though, that’s how tried I was.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I woke up, I must have slept for more than ten hours.  Diatala was sitting nearby fiddling with a kind of little puzzle that was made up of little rings of metal that fit together in some fashion.

“I won’t ask if you slept well, I know that you didn’t.  Bad dreams?”

“The worst.  There’s some kind of magic bullshit that makes me have nightmares all the time.”

“Królewna and Bonifacja really did a number on you didn’t they?”

“You can say that again.”

“Your captors have been combing the area on the other side of the river looking for you.  They asked Baron Saltwheel’s men about you but they were uncooperative, I doubt they really think that you’re in their camp.  Ibix used another scroll on your necklace to keep it from signaling your location but that’s the last of them.  Before sundown they’re going to know exactly where you are.  But we have a plan.”

“You really don’t need to take any more risks on my behalf.”

She held up her hand to stop my protestations “Just accept that we’re going to help you.  Emam and Sarpol put their heads together and they have a way to get that necklace off you but it requires some components they don’t have.  The good news is we’re not far from the home of Archbaroness Relonge and she owes us a favor.”

“Oh, Relonge you say?  Have you spoken to her recently by any chance?”

We didn’t get to continue that conversation because there came a hue and a cry.  Isn’t a hue a color?  Anyway, Baron Saltwheel’s men and Kartak’s men were coming across the bridge looking grim.  Kartak must know (or at least suspect) out that I’m over here and made some manner of alliance with Saltwheel’s goons.  Martialla probably figured it out actually, she’s pretty sharp.  The Harmenkar soldiers looked uncertain what to do, but the adventurers jumped on the bridge ready to fight – you have to give them points for bravery if nothing else.  The commander of the Harmenkar soldiers looked horrified.

“Wait, stop!  Don’t do anything you’ll regret, just hand me over to them.”

Seeing reason the adventuring party admitted that they couldn’t fight that many enemy soldiers, but that didn’t mean they gave up of course.  They backed off the bridge and wizard number one hit it with a massive fireball while wizard number two attacked with a stroke of lightning.  Even the elf got in on the action using its elf-power to warp the wood like it had been sitting underwater for decades.  The men on the bridge sprinted back to safety as the wizards continued their arcane assault and the bridge collapsed with a massive sprout of river-water.  Martialla barely made it off the bridge and I saw her standing, wet as a duck’s ass, on the other side of the river staring a hole in me.   

I know that it worked out for me in this case but this is a good example of how insane adventuring types are.  You know how hard it is to build a bridge?  You know how important they are to the local community?  And they just blew one up to save one person that they don’t even know.  Although, that’s not even why they did it – they didn’t really do it for me, they did it because they wanted to win.  At the core of every adventurous soul there is the belief that they are better than everyone else – even the nice ones think that without realizing it themselves.  Working a job and obeying the law and being normal is fine for other people, lessor people, but they are too important for that.  They have a destiny.  They could never live the kind of humdrum boring exist of people like you, although they mean no offense by saying so. 

So destroying a bridge to stop their opponents makes perfect sense to them.  It doesn’t matter that without this bridge here the local populace with suffer.  It doesn’t matter that for all they know I am a violent criminal who was being held legally.  It doesn’t matter that they just screwed over the guy that hired them.  All that matters is that they won.  Adventurers would rather be alive then dead of course, but they would definitely rather die than lose – what would be the point of living if a normal person bested them? 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

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

Montagem 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Night three with essentially no sleep.  I’ve heard the claim made that skipping one night of sleep results in a condition almost the same as being drunk.  I don’t think I buy that, but string a few nights like that together and then you’ve got something.  After a while your mind just feel sluggish – you kind of feel like you are asleep somehow even though you’re not.  Which would be bad for you, but just imagine how awful it is for someone as quick-witted as me.  I think what happens after a few sleepless nights is that your brain does start sleeping for a couple seconds here or there and your body just keeps going.  Someone says something and you realize you have no idea what it was even though you responded, which you also don’t remember.  You think to yourself “man, I really have to piss” and then a few minutes later you’re somewhere else and you don’t have to go anymore.  What happened?  Did you piss and forget about it instantly?  It’s not a fun experience. 

One of the Satanders (Satanderians?  Satandish?) brought me a little cup of some delicious coffee liquor but I barely got one sip before Martialla came over and kicked it out of my hand (I was sitting on the ground chained to a tree you see).  The man that gave it to me looked at her like she was some kind of bug.  I know very little about Satander culture overall, so I have no idea how they normally treat women.  There was no shouting, no words exchanged even, he just glowered at her for a moment and then walked away.  Martialla noticed a couple of the Baron’s men giving her the evil eye and she did stop to curse them out before making to unlock the chain holding me to the tree.

“You have a real talent for winning people over.  I think I realized what it is though.  Until you teamed up with me you worked alone for so long that you don’t think that you need allies.  What it is is . . .”

“Shut up Ela.”

She didn’t even bother to unlock the cuff on my wrist, using the chain to drag me over to the wagon.  She was disgusted to find that someone had made a little blanket-nest for me to ride in in the bed of the wagon.  I think she really wanted to jump up and toss it all out but she didn’t – showing some restraint for a  change.  She just herded me in and locked the other end of the chair under the seat.  Clearly her intent was to drive the wagon herself, which she doesn’t really know how to do, but since she’s also a crappy rider I guess it’s a toss-up.  While the rest of the camp was mobilizing I used my Beastspeech to talk to the horses pulling the wagon.  I was curious if they knew what was so important that three people were willing to kill and die to get it back but they didn’t.  I mean they’re horses, they don’t really know much.  I love horses but they’re not the brightest.  Speaking to animals is helpful sometimes but overall it’s kind of a letdown.  It’s tough to communicate beyond the very basic level because animals don’t really think about things the same way that we do – a lot of common human concepts are beyond them.  It can make for some frustrating dialogues. 

Eventually Martialla realized what I was doing and once again was pointing her sword at me “Stop that!”

Kartak was sitting on his horse nearby “What’s the problem now wašičú?” (Wašičú is a Kostelos word that’s hard to translate into the King’s tongue, it’s kind of like calling someone lazy but it’s more like a person who just can’t manage to do anything)

“She was talking to the horses.”

There was some general laughter at this and even Kartak couldn’t help but smile “She was talking . . . . to the horses?”

“Don’t laugh, there’s nothing funny about this!  It’s something she can do, she can communicate with animals!” She pointed at one of the Baron’s men “You!  You know right?  Didn’t she spend a lot of time with the Baron’s kennel master taking care of the dogs?”

He looked startled to be singled out but before he could say anything one of the Kostelos made a comment in his own language and they all started laughing.  The guy I think is the leader of the Satander exiles smiled as well so he must be able to understand them at least.  Martialla was fuming but she didn’t lose focus – locking her eyes with mine.

“Don’t do that again Ela.”

I held my hands up in mock surrender “Of course, I won’t plot against you with the horses nor any other animals that come along.  Raccoons or fluffy bunnies or so forth.  Nothing to worry about there.”

It wasn’t really that funny but it set off another round of laughter anyway.  When you’re bullying someone what you say doesn’t actually have to be very humorous, people just want to make someone else feel small so they usually get on board.  One of the Kostelos rode up and said that there was a chipmunk that Martialla should watch out for.  I thought she was going to run him through but she finally managed to grit her teeth and sheath her sword and sit back down to wait.  Eventually we lurched off and even at wagon-speed we managed to make the bridge by mid-day.  Well before we reached the bridge though I saw that our old friends, the Baron’s Saltwheel and Harmenkar had their bridge interdiction crews out doing their work.  The set up was similar to what I had encountered on the way to Preen so it must be the strategy – Saltwheel with regular forces and Harmenkar leaning more on adventurers.  So either Harmenkar must have less men or he just likes adventurers.     

Martialla came into the back of the wagon to threaten me with impalement once again “Don’t speak to any of these people.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

The two barons must not have had this bridge blockaded when Kartak and company came south to get me because they didn’t seem to know what was going on.  Kartak and a few others rode forward to remind these fellows that this was Baron Juost’s land and they had no authority to be doing this, but this is where setting Juost up as an ineffectual puppet failed them.  Baron Saltwheel’s men clearly didn’t give a shit – they even specifically invoked the time honored tradition of noblemen stealing each other’s land when one of them fails to hold up his obligations.  Kartak was clearly stymied, he had more men, but not enough more to make intimidating his way through a sure thing, and once you play that card and they call your bluff you’re in real trouble.  I could have pulled it off of course, but no one asked me.  Martialla stopped menacing me to join the conversation about what to do, or to try to anyway, they seemed intent on freezing her out.  Eventually she was able to convince Kartak to speak to her privately.

“I’ve dealt with these assholes before, all we need to do is bribe them.”

“With what exactly?  I don’t travel with the Baron’s treasury on me.”

“There’s a literal fortune in Ela’s pouches.  The amount of money she’s managed to amass is indecent.  But only she can get it out.”

“So how does that help?”

“Make her get the money.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“You’re the torture expert, figure it out.  I know you’re not supposed to hurt her, I’m sure you know some ways to fuck people up that won’t leave marks.  There’s a river right there – can’t you drown her until she agrees to get the money?”

“I assume you wanted to speak in confidence because she really does have a lot of money, enough to concern you about people’s loyalty when they find out.  Even if I thought this was a good idea what’s to stop her for pitching out the entire treasure horde and inciting the kind of frenzy you’re worried about?”

“Figure it out, do I have to come up with everything?  If you don’t want to kill these people, who are violating the sovereignty of your lord, bribing them is the only way.”

They must have realized they were close enough that I could hear them, but they were still both surprised when I spoke up.

“You have quite the fortune yourself Martialla, if getting across is that important why don’t you pony up for the bribe?”

Kartak was on board with that notion but Martalla was not.  She can be very tight-fisted that one.  It’s probably because of her dirt-poor commoner background.  They had quite a discussion about that, which ended with Kartak deciding that they’d head north to find another crossing.  Martialla was not super pleased but this plan.

“You must be joking, we’re already three days behind schedule and now you want to head north?  Do you even know if there’s another bridge within a hundred miles of here?”

Kartak stared her down “I have had enough of your insolence.  You are not in charge here.  You are not in charge of anything.  I’m not interested in your input.  Going forward keep your opinions to yourself.”

“The Baron . . .”

“The Baron isn’t in command of anything!  Why are you even here?  You want to return to the compound then go, no one here is going to miss you.”

“I am the only reason you have Ela and if it wasn’t for me she would have escaped already!  I am the only one keeping her here!”

Kartak snorted and looked at me bundled in the back of the wagon “Oh yes, she’s terrifying.”

Kartak sent a couple scouts upriver to look for a crossing while the rest set up camp on a hillside near the bridge.  Between the three groups there have to be over a hundred fighting men here – is there even still a war going on?  Maybe the war ended and no one told me – that would explain why I seem to find so many bodies of armed men roaming the countryside with no specific agenda.  Kartak put one of his men, Baru, “in charge” of me.  Not sure exactly what they means but I assume that it was another move designed to tweak Martialla’s nips.  It certainly worked.  The Sky-Thunders are a little taller than most Kostelos, who are a shortish people, but Baru was pretty squat.  He made up with it with a six inch mohawk somewhat though.  His first order was that I wasn’t going to be chained up at night anymore – after all where was I going to go even if I did get away.  Martialla pointed out reasonably that that may have been true before but now there were two groups of armed men within spitting distance that I could insinuate myself into if I got loose.     

Baru was not interested in taking this detail under advisement.  Martialla managed to choke down an explosion at that point but shortly thereafter she yelled at me for chatting with Baru in Kostelos and then there was a blow-up after Baru told her to go fuck herself.  I think she would have killed him if he didn’t have twenty other dudes to back him up.  I never knew that Martialla had such a temper.  Kartak was clearly done with all of this and told Martialla she was banished from the camp.  The look on her face was priceless.  I was installed in the back of the wagon as my sleeping place for the night, with Baru slumbering loudly in the driver’s seat (that has a name right?  Like the buckboard or something?).  When I felt the wagons shift slightly I thought that it was Martialla coming back to murder me in the night.

But what I saw instead was the round apple-cheeked face of a Shireling peering at me through the darkness.  After the incident last night the guards around camp had been doubled, but this little fellow and his friend had managed to slip right past then anyway.  Halflings can be pretty sneaky, some of them anyway.  He beckoned for me and I crawled carefully off the wagon where they helped me to creep out of the camp – aided by someone else distracting one of the guards.  A short distance away we met with an elf whose skin looked blue in the moonlight and a human woman so small that I thought she was also a Halfling for a moment.  The five of us crept down the hillside where two more compatriots of theirs were waiting.  One of them cast a spell to cloak us in darkness and the other did the same to silence our moves.  We made our way quickly to the river, where, and I kid you not, the elf took what looked like a folded piece of paper out of a pack and when they set it into the river it turned into a full sized rowboat.  It was a tight fit with seven of us, but we were on the Baron Harmenkar side of the river in no time.   As they were bringing me into their camp I had to ask.

“Why are you doing this?”

One of the Shirefolk got a lopsided grin “We’re heroes, what better reason could there be?”

The elf was more solemn in speech “You were clearly being held against your will.”

I never thought I would say this, not ever.  Thank the Gods for adventurers and their reckless ignorant glory seeking. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

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

Montalan 11 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After our touching reunion last night this morning Martialla gave me the inside view of what has been going on at Juost Manor after we parted ways in Beresford.  Obviously the first part went off without a hitch since Roseblack showed up to help me out of my legal issue in Beresford.  Martialla’s intention had been to return with her but the Baroness had insisted instead that she take up my tasks – or really just one task in specific, making sure that the Deepmare gap was closed to any rebellious Satander exiles that were feeling frisky.   Martialla didn’t feel like she had any obligation (or desire) to follow those orders but she didn’t want to cheese off the Baroness while I was under her thumb still so off she went to Deepmare and from there to the fort that controlled the pass.  The commander of said fort was none other than one of Duke Eaglevane’s abundant cousins – Zedkath.  Old Zed was vociferously unhappy with his posting and knowing my ultimate goal regarding the duke Martialla tried to think or some way to turn this to my advantage but she couldn’t come up with anything.  The entire endeavor seemed like a waste of time to her since while Zedkath has not loyal to the Juosts personally he’s not about to let an enemy force through the gap to attack the Kingdom either.

I asked her what the Baroness had her working on next and she simply said that it was the kind of work that rich people send people like her to do instead of their actual minions.  I hope it wasn’t anything too distasteful, it’s hard to imagine the Baroness ordering much in the way of dirty deeds but it clearly wasn’t charitable work either.  This only went on for a short while before the Baron returned with his new Kostelos best friends.  It was clear to Martialla from the outset that the Kostelos shaman or witch or whatever had overthrown the Baron’s mind and he was under her spell – literally.  After that people started disappearing and the Baron’s closest advisors and allies were all sent on missions far away.  Martialla herself was sent on some fool’s errand, but instead she stayed in disguise and tried to unravel the magic on the Baron.  She was found out and managed to escape with her life, but that’s when she was declared an outlaw and a bounty was placed on her head.  Since she was labeled an outlaw anyway she decided to become one, taking to the woods as is the outlaw’s way, and robbing traders coming into Alleene. 

She said that she didn’t really think that this was an effective way to wrest the Baron from the hands of the Kostelos but she didn’t know what else to do.  She tried to come south to find me three times but any time she leaves the forest bounty hunters are on her tail and the last time sounds like it was a pretty close call to escape alive.  Plus she didn’t actually know where I was so there was a very good chance, given how much I move around, that she wouldn’t have been able to find me anyway so she decided that the best thing to do was to stay put and wait for me to turn up at the Manor.

“And then you climbed out of a tree in the middle of my camp.  You always did like to make an entrance.  How did you manage that anyway?’

“I don’t know honestly.  You’ve really gone above and beyond here, you could have just left and attended to your own business.  You are a loyal friend and I appreciate that more than you can know.”

She shied away slightly “You’re not going to hug me again are you?  This new attitude of yours is messing with my head.”

“I’ll get over it shortly, don’t worry.”

I met the rest of her crew of daring and deadly bandits which was made up of a whole three people.  There was a fellow called Rum who had been a dock worker in Renwick until, well you know what happened there, and ended up being branded a thief on account of he was stealing stuff as he went through the countryside trying to get to Cathars where his sister lives.  There was an army deserter by the name of Riv who looked like a tough son of a bitch but was obviously having some mental issues.  And the third fellow was called Bacca, a lumberman who was on the run from the consortium for reasons he didn’t go into beyond saying they had a falling out.  Martialla explained that she was the one who was doing the vast majority of the banditing and these fellows mostly just stood around and looked intimidating.  They weren’t really bandits so much as lost lambs she was taking care of out of the kindness of her heart.  She didn’t think when it came to doing any real bloody business they could be counted on for much.

“What’s this I hear about you cavorting with bugbears?  You’re not ripped in half so I assume the truth is something else.”

“I wouldn’t say cavorting but I have been dealing with a small tribe of bugbears here in the woods.  I’ve disguised myself as one of them and earned their trust – and by trust I mean that as  long as I give them targets to attack they attack them.  I don’t know if you know this, but those things are fucking terrifying.”

“Why are you dealing with them?  That sounds like a great way to get yourself killed.”

She’s pretty good at hiding her feelings but I could tell she was a little rattled “I didn’t feel I had a choice, with the people that have been coming after me I needed some muscle.  It’s been pretty bad.  You and I have been in a couple of bad scrapes and I’ve been truly and fully afraid for my life twice before, but the kind of people that come after you for money?  They’re something else.  I’d be dead if I hadn’t turned those savages on them.”

“I’m sorry.  Why didn’t you just go back to Graltontown and finish up your business there?”

“I couldn’t abandon you.”

“Sure you could have, honestly we barely know each other.”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“I thank you for that.  So what’s the play?  Get your bugbear buddies all riled up to attack the manor?  Will they know enough not to kill the Baron?”

She shook her head “They’d never do it.  Tribe is maybe too grand a word, there’s not even a dozen of them, and they wander away from the group regularly ,at any given time there’s only six in the forest together usually.  They’re not like orcs or goblins where there’s a bunch of them all together and there’s leaders and a hierarchy and all that, they’re more like coyotes – they form packs but it’s a casual sort of deal.  Besides as bloodthirsty and powerful as they are they don’t really like a stand-up fight against a determined opponent, they prefer raiding and terrorizing people that don’t fight back.”

“Who doesn’t?  So it’s just you and me huh?  I’d chastise you for your choice of allies but I had a whole party of knights headed up this to help out, some of the Baron’s own men too, but somehow that didn’t work out.  So I can’t really say shit about it.”

“What do we do then?”

“Well how do you feel about just the two of us infiltrating the manor and taking out the Kostelos one by one using disguise and guile?”

“Not great.”

“That’s fair, it’s not a great plan.  Are any of these bounty hunters that have come after you still alive?  If they love money so much maybe we can get them on our side.”

“The last one is.  The one who almost killed me.  I have no idea how bribable he might be though.  I think we’re overlooking an obvious answer there though – what about the legitimate authorities?  I have to assume enchanting a Baron and messing up his lands is illegal.  How do we get the law on our side for once?”

“The Baron is the legitimate authorities.  As long as they’re not failing to kick up their taxes the Crown isn’t going to care.  Renwick is ruined, you were in Deepmare, do you feel like anyone there would both care about this and be able to do anything about it?”  She shook her head “That only leaves Cathars and I don’t know if the chances of getting anyone there to listen would be good anyway.  What’s the Baroness doing during all of these?  Do they have her under wraps too or what’s going on there?”

“I don’t know, when I was still at the Manor she had made herself pretty scarce since the Kostelos showed up.  I think she’s still alive but she’s keeping her head down, probably because she wants to stay that way.”

“Well, I hate to say it, but the situation we have there is that we have a local person of importance that has fallen under the sway of an evil witch and our main asset is that we have a lot of coin to spend.  What does that sound like the setup of to you?”

“Adventurers?”

I sighed “Adventurers.  Getting paid money to save a Baron from the clutches of some barbarians?  That’s the kind of shit they live for.”

She nodded “Yeah, I’m sure they’re do something.  The Manor will probably be burned down and half the city will be dead but it will certainly shake something loose one way or the other.  Assuming that we can find some.”

“Where’s the nearest tavern?  Adventurers infest those places like fleas on a dog’s ass.  It’s their natural habitat.  They just hang out drinking and waiting for people to show up with cloaks to give them an urgent and dire mission.  Its genius in its way, without a home the tax man can’t find you and without a real name you can’t be sued for all the damage you do.  I mean how are you going to serve papers on Axios the Destroyer?  That’s not a name.”

“Has it really come to that?  It is time release the doomsday device?”

“There is wisdom in facing a threat with a proportionate response. Go too far and all you do with your victory is guarantee that the next threat is that much stronger. But every so often, the time comes when the threat is so great, the situation has gone so horribly wrong, that there is no proportionate response. When circumstances are so dire as to justify the use of anything and everything that might solve it, no matter how reckless, nonsensical, or horrific, regardless of cost. When even the hiring of adventurers could not possibly make the crisis any worse.  I don’t know if we’re there yet, but we need to steel ourselves for the possibly that it may be the only path forward.”

“May the Gods have mercy on us.”

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 725,701

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace,  Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

Courtier’s Outfit, 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 (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring

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  

Behind the curtain: One dedicated reader pointed out that I had lost the strike-through on the revenge list at some point. What a catastrophe!

Myam 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I should have known.  I should have known that as soon as I asked Stionty for back-up what I was going to get.  What other kind of violent lunatics are going to be available on short order to go on a wild goose chase?  I knew as soon as I walked into the Rest Inn Peace, as soon as I laid eyes on them I knew – adventurers.  Where do they come from?  Any time a settlement reaches a certain size you get these types of troublemakers hanging around.  It’s like some kind of immutable law, like there’s a certain threshold number of people that if you go beyond that adventurers starting springing up like mushrooms.  Some day I’m going to found my own town and grow it just to measure when the adventurers show up so that I can present these findings to the Queen or whomever so we can put some kind of counter-measures into place. 

I suppose it’s a symptom of the fact that for as settled as the Kingdom is there’s still so much wilderness out there – bugbears and dire wolves and giant plants that bite you and other crazy shit – that’s going to cultivate a certain sort.  I suppose I should be grateful, without monsters to slaughter these people would all be serial killers.  Makes you wonder what’s going to happen when the last monster is slain and all the wild places are tamed.  What becomes of these people then?  A plague of madmen slaughtering their neighbors?  Once I asked one of these hoopleheads what made them different from any other murderer and she said “I know the difference between the monster that need to be killed and those that are just monsters because of what they are.”  I have no clue that that means but I didn’t like the way she was looking at me when she said it.

When I walked into the RIP Stinty was talking to the four of them, there are always four, it’s some kind of natural law of adventurers.  Four must be the sweet spot where you have enough people of varied abilities to murder and solve riddles (monsters love riddles) and disarm traps and have enough people to carry all the treasure.  But any more than that and you start fighting amongst yourselves.  It’s like a wolfpack, too few and you can’t take on the mighty elk, too many and there’s not enough elk to go around.  No, not wolves, wolves are too noble to compare to adventurers – lets’ say a pack of rabid mongrel dogs.  The kind you throw rocks at if they come to near your farm. 

Two of them I actually recognized, one from Gisa’s band of treasure hunters – I recognized the ridiculous fur-lined coat he was wearing.  That thing is what you’d need up North, not down here – it has to be sweltering in that thing and he’s a big fellow so he doesn’t need any extra help sweating his balls off.  He probably uses some kind of magic to keep it cool which is utter nonsense.  The other fellow I recognized as one of Captain Charum’s men from my escapades along the Compass River, a scrawny fellow with a shaved head that looked ill.  The other two were an unassuming fellow with a maniacal grin who was dressed more like a basketweaver than a warrior and a Halfling that was all duded out in a way that combined with his small size made me think of a fighting cock – the way he was strutting around all aggressive like probably contributed to that sense as well.

“Stinty, normally I would lecture you about bringing these types on as my bodyguards but you’re going to get away with this time.” I clapped Gisa’s fat wizard on the back of his ridiculous coat “I happen to know a couple of these fellows and their solid reputations.” I nodded at Charum’s soldier “What’s your deal?  Did you muster out of the army or did you desert?”

He looked around wildly “Desertion!  Who said . . . . I mean . . . I wouldn’t . . .  you see . . . what had happened was . . . ”

I chuckled “Don’t make no matter to me son, just making conversation.  Well let’s mount up and go, I’d like to get there and back again today so let’s not waste any time with your ridiculous backstories, I’m sure they’re all appropriately tragic and laden with pathos.  Or is it the other one?  I always forget.”

The basketmaker frowned slightly “Don’t you want to discuss our fee?”

I clapped him on the back companionably as well “Not in the slightest!  I’m sure Stinty has everything all worked out, he’s a very industrious fellow you know.  Whatever he said will be fine.”

The basketmaker shrugged uncomfortably “But I . . .”

I gestured dramatically “To the stables!  Sharbus awaits!  I assume you procured a mount for me as well.”

They hadn’t, but I was able to borrow a steed from the stables for a nominal price – a placid chestnut mare with the odd name of Bund.  I prefer a more spirited mount but what can you do?  The Halfling, Dondarian Saltfoot looked even sillier mounted on his battle pony but despite appearances he was obviously the most accomplished rider by a wide mark and was the most interesting conversationalist to boot.  The smallfolk often seem to be blessed with the gift of gab.  When I asked the former solider what news he had of Captain Charum he got all flustered and tongue-tied again and moved his horse to the back of the pack top get away from me.  Gisa’s man didn’t have much to say and the other new guy mostly made snobby comments about art and hummed annoyingly the entire time. 

We had a little bit of trouble getting out of Beresford even though Baron Redmynd had given me special dispensation to do just that and we had to wait almost an hour while various messengers ran here and there and everywhere, but even so once we hit the road we were in Sharbus before mid-day.  Dondarian and I were laughing and having a grand old time, such that Aurisks the humming art lover, told us to keep it down.  We ignored him.  Sharbus is the kind of nothing little village that you find around larger communities like a tick clings to the buttocks – a couple dozen farmer families and four buildings and not much else.  The reeve Adriane Dekros was there to meet us – how she knew to expect us I have no clue – and she was pretty disappointed when I told her we were just there to check out the cabin and not to take Nacario with us back to Beresford.  She was very anxious about having a murder in her custody and wanted to get rid of him as soon as possible.

“Huh, so there really is a Nacario?  I assumed the whole story was made up.”

She frowned deeply “What?  Why would anyone make up a murder?”

“Oh, you’d be surprised.”

“Do you want to talk to him first?”

“Nah, let’s go out to the cabin and get the ambush over with.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just lead the way will you?”

It was a mere twenty minutes to reach the cabin in the woods, Adriane talking breathlessly the entire time about taking Nacario into custody and what had happened that night as if she was seeking reassurance that she had done the right thing.  The cabin itself didn’t look to be in great shape and Adriane explained that the cabin was built more than eighty years ago by the Whiterock family and no one had lived there for years.  They paid some of the Sharbusians to keep the place in good order but until Nacario and Rosalee came there hadn’t been anyone staying at the place for years.  It would have been pretty nice if it had been kept up better, in addition to a parlor and a lounge there were two bedrooms and a full kitchen – most people don’t live in a place as large and well equipped as this “cabin”, these Whiterock people must be fairly rich.  I poked around a little but it all seemed neat and tidy inside.

“Everything looks to be in order here, if you found Nacario wandering around outside what makes you think the murder even happened here?”

Adriane pulled back and rug to reveal a trap door in the floor “The blood is in the cellar, that’s where he must have killed her.”

I nodded “That makes sense, hide the cultists down there for the ambush.”

“Why do you keep talking about an ambush?  Did I do something to offend you, I don’t . . .”

I waved her concerns away “Don’t worry about it.  Alright folks, this is it, head down the ladder and . . .”

Adriane looked worried “It’s pretty cramped down there, I don’t think it makes sense for everyone to go down, there’s not a lot of room.  You won’t be able to look around very well if you’re all down there I don’t think.”

I chuckled mirthlessly “Oh, of course, I should go down there alone right?  Undefended and vulnerable?”

Adriane was getting annoyed “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

Aurisks and Gisa’s man both twiddled their fingers and did some wonky chanting, telling me that their magic didn’t detect anyone down in the cellar.

“Wait, you’re both wizards?  That’s all wrong.  You already have two warriors and now you’re telling me you have two mages as well?”

Aurisks piped up “Actually I’m not a wizard, I’m a sorcerer.  Eldritch energy runs through my veins.”

“What’s the difference?  Nevermind, don’t care.  Alright Donadrian, let’s go – there should be enough room down there for me and one Shireling right?  Plus you seem to be the only one in his group worth much of anything.”

The deserter was offended by this “Hey, that’s not fair, you . . .”

“Shut up.” I gestured to the hole “After you Master Saltfoot.”

With a grin he pulled out his tiny sword and an even tinier buckler – you know how small a normal buckler is?  Now imagine that for someone not even four feet tall.  It wasn’t much bigger than a playing card.  How does that even make sense?  Wouldn’t a smaller person want a bigger shield so more of them would be protected?  With a spring he jumped into the hole, ignoring the ladder and plunging into the darkness.

“I admire his enthusiasm.  Now that I think about it I should have sent one of you lot down there to get killed instead.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 27,817 platinum, 44,850 gold

XP: 635,101

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Censer of Dreams,  potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace,  Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Nymph’s Favor, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk

Courtier’s Outfit, 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), severed hag head, 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, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, bottle of elfen absinthe, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55)    

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