Montumazin 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

I’m going to admit something to you folks, despite living in Paladore for more than fifteen I don’t know what it is, I mean formally.  The Kingdom is made up of counties and those counties are administered by Counts and Countesses.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Cathars is the capital of Cymrile County and the Count lives there sometimes.  I know that Dukes are the next level above Counts but below the King.  What I don’t know is what they are actually in charge of.  You’d think that there would be duchies made up of counties and Dukes would be in charge of those, logically that makes sense.  But there are not enough counties for that.  Paladore is not the capital of a Duchy.  So what is Paladore then other than the place where Duke Eaglevane lives?  What is it the capital of?  Nothing?  

I think there are three Dukes that are in charge of all the counties and the other Dukes do stuff with trade or the military or something?  My education really gave me the short shrift on civics and political sciences but I know seventeen different ways to courtesy and so much about fashion and makeup.  Alsio it didn’t teach me what short shrift means.  What I do know that is back in olden times (not the Old Empire though, I don’t think, I got shafted on history too) Paladore was two separate cities that were in separate kingdoms right on the border.  When the THE Kingdom was formed they were forced together like reluctant lovers – not unlike the actual King and Queen at the time.  

It’s easy to tell that Paladore used to be two cities because on one side you have grand towering buildings, sprawling manor houses, bustling markets, and all manner of comforts and opulence.  The other side?  Not so much.  You ever see a turnip that looks fine on the top but the bottom part, which is scraggy and ugly even on a good turnip, is rotting away?  Paladore is a like that, right on the “border” there’s a big band of normal urban sprawl but it gives way to blight the farther you travel across that invisible boundary.  There’s no name for that boundary but everyone knows it’s there.  

I heap a lot of scorn on Graltontown, and justifiably so, but the truth of the matter is that the far west parts of Paladore are even worse.  Because of the scale if nothing else.  The only thing in this world that can make me think for a single moment that maybe city life isn’t the way to go is a glimpse of the crushing poverty and misery if those crumbling parts of west Paladore.  

“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”

I’m getting to it, hold your horses.  Living in the Duke’s palace I didn’t have many glimpses of that part of the city – even on the rare occasion he wanted to go “slumming” we went nowhere near the actual slums.  But when I was a child and was first brought there we passed through west Paladore and I saw something that I will never forget.  A woman, a girl really, was handing a shiv to what could have either been her younger sister or her daughter and saying this “If they see you run, if you can’t get away go for the eyes or the groin first, then the throat.”  That sums up west Paladore in a nutshell.  It’s good advice as well.  For me I changed it a little bit – first keep them talking, if that fails then run, and if that fails then you go for the groin stab.  

I’m fantastic at the talking part.  The running away part depends on where it is – in the country I’m not so good, in the city I’m great at that too.  When it comes to the stabbing I’m better than I ever thought (or wanted) to be but in the final analysis I’m just a mediocre stabber.  I’m good at catching people off-guard and getting the first strike, but if that first attack doesn’t end things or at least seriously debilitate whoever’s on the other end of the stabbing it often puts me in a spot of trouble.  

Keep them talking, avoid conflict, and if that doesn’t work run like the Hells.  And if that doesn’t work fight like the Hells – all thirteen of them.  I suppose I should add in a fourth step, one that has served me well on several occasions – if you can’t beat them beg for mercy.  Beg like you’ve never begged before.  Discard all shreds of dignity and grovel like the most pathetic harmless defeated worm that ever lived.  Offer bribes, flatter them, cry like a damn baby, do whatever you have to do to get them to be lenient.   This is all in service of the number one rule that necessitates all others – stay alive no matter the cost.  

I’ve broken a lot of rules, tons of them in fact, but that was one rule I hoped I would never be on the wrong side of.  Things started off promisingly enough, the undead wolf beast (that was clearly NOT an undead werewolf because that would be ridiculous) was willing to talk.  The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any wants or needs.  Nor did a rotting half-man half wolf waking corpse find me attractive or interesting or useful in any way that I could work with.  After an auspicious opening in a few minutes it was clear that the undead thing was losing interest in talking and gaining interest in attacking.  

I’ll give myself credit for having enough awareness to know that.  Cold comfort, but that’s all the comfort I’m likely to get from here on out.  Since we were in a small office running wasn’t really an option.  I could have backed through the door into the other smaller room and hoped there was a window I could dive out, but I was worried about the thing’s quickness – plus the stalhounds were out there, which I assumed were under the control of this thing.  So that didn’t seem like a good option.

The best bet maybe would have been to try and make it out the front door and onto Stranger.  The beast was between me and that door unfortunately.  What I should have done knowing what I know now is started maneuvering for the door when we first started talking and it was still being amiable, relatively speaking.  But I didn’t know then what I know now.  

So fighting it was.  When it became clear that it was time for violence I did manage to strike the first blow, sweeping it off its feet with this stick I found in Wolcott’s emergency stash.  It doesn’t look like much, but it must be lousy with magic because there’s no way I could have done that all on my own.  I would have liked to wallop a few folks with that, it’s too bad I didn’t get to have it for long.  Speaking of, I really miss that magic walking stick that I had made.  That thing was great.  I don’t usually get attached to things, especially magic things, but I really liked that walking stick.  It had so many things that it could do and it looked great.  It saved my bacon dozens of times.  Plus it was just fun.

But what really would have helped us those boots I used to have that let me run up walls like a squirrel up a tree.  Those were really useful.  If I could have gotten out the window and up the side to the roof now that’s an entirely different situation.  But as they say it’s a dead craftsman who blames their lack of tools.  I suppose I should have overcome my revulsion and learned to do some magic myself instead of relying on items.  I’m sure I could have done it based on the wizards I’ve met. They weren’t the brightest bunch so I bet I could have learned to be great at magic.  I just hate it so much.  I guess for all my talk I was as hamstrung by pride as anyone.  I don’t like magic so I didn’t want to learn magic.  So I didn’t.  I should be better than that, I did all kinds of things I didn’t want to do.  

So I got in the first hit, and maybe one more after that, but then it was all undead wolf-monster from thereon out.  I fought as hard as I could, I assure you of that, but it didn’t amount to much – I’m just not much of a fighter really.  As several people warned me would happen I ran into someone (something really) that was immune to my charms and tricks and was stronger and tougher than I could fight in my wildest dreams.  And as you folks well know I’ve had some wild dreams.  

Getting ripped apart by an undead wolfman was very painful, don’t think it wasn’t, but honestly I’ve had worse.  All the beatings and stabbings and acidings I’ve endured over the last two years were training for this moment I guess.  It wasn’t a painless death but any means, far from it, but it wasn’t so bad all things considered.  I’m sure many people would have wished worse upon me.

Remember that time that guy strangled me and I almost died, or maybe did die for a little while?  Sure you do, it was when I was ransacking the house of the people that the Juosts displaced.  During that strangling and almost death (or death)I had an out of body experience – I was floating outside of my body and I could see what was happening.  This time was nothing like that.  Everything just went black and that was it.  I couldn’t see anything, there was nothing to see.  I don’t think I exist anymore so how could I see anything?  So maybe that’s how you know the difference between a near death experience and death.   

The same guy showed up as that time though.  Out of the darkness the tall, jet-black skeleton with a long, bony tail, and the massive black-feathered wings of a crow.  Over its odd bird-skull face was a bronze mask that appeared to be of the face of the creature inside.  It was very, very, very slowing coming my way.   

But he wasn’t alone.   Coming from another direction was the thoughtful looking bear-like “angel” that was the size of a small house.  And from yet another direction was my old friend Poor Annie, the massive black canine looking like a tiny lapdog in comparison to the huge bear-angel.  I get the feeling that time no longer means anything, yet it still seemed like it took forever for them to get to me – all arriving at the same time.

“So” I said without body or voice “What comes next?” 

Montresor 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Thing’s didn’t exactly work out as I had planned.  Convincing Jonah to let me take his place in the duel took some doing but not as much as you might think.  As much as he didn’t want me putting myself in danger on his behalf (or at all) he really didn’t want to fight Brevoy either.  Once I had him convinced that there was no risk in this switch the rest of the convincing was a forgone conclusion.  He didn’t even raise the masculine objection of being ashamed of hiding behind a woman’s skirts once, which I feel speaks well of him.  Or maybe he’s just a total coward, but I don’t think so.  And I’m a pretty good judge of these matters.

The idea was that I would walk out with Jonah’s appearance and then once everyone was ready for the bloodshed to begin I would drop the disguise, Brevoy would see that it was me – the woman who had taken his hand and presumably haunted his nightmares ever since.  If necessary I would denounce him for the bounder, liar, and dastard that he is and either way he would crumble before my withering gaze, piss himself with terror, and surrender without a single blow being struck.  Sure there might be some moaning from the dueling purists but with Lord Brandymoore having selected such a pathetic blatherskite for a champion there wouldn’t be much he could do about it.  Unless he wanted to pick up a sword himself.  Which he most assuredly would not.  As you well know rich men prefer others to do their bleeding for them.

At first everything seemed like it was going to pan out exactly as I predicted.  The crowd was gathered, ready for blood.  Some bulky fellow with a massive white mustache blathered on about the rules of the contest for a while and then it was time to get down to business.  Brevoy took his position, I took mine with Jonah’s appearance, and then when I revealed my true form Brevoy completely fell apart.  His sword slipped out of the grasp of his fingers and he fell to the ground crying in a heap.  I proclaimed to everyone in attendance that his tales of glory were naught but filthy lies and that I had taken his hand to protect the world from his predatory actions.  People were disappointed they wouldn’t be seeing anyone slashed to ribbons but they were still entertained by this shocking turn of events so all in all they weren’t too angry.

What I hadn’t counted on is that once Brevoy was over his initial shock and fear that he would see this as an opportunity to reclaim his manhood.  Turns out that if you humiliate and maim someone, depriving them of their main source of self-worth, they may hold that against you.  Brevoy is a murderer and a rapist but that doesn’t preclude him from being able to gather up enough courage to do something about his reversal.  I should know better.  Bravery isn’t the providence of the just by any means, a fact which I am well aware of.  I’m tempted to say that I outsmarted myself but that’s not quite right, I just misjudged things.

I was made pointedly (pun) aware of this when Brevoy returned to his feet with sword in hand and executed what everyone agrees was a picture perfect thrust towards my heart.  I don’t know how much he’s been practicing over this last year with his left hand but his progress is pretty impressive.  I only just managed to get my sword in the way enough to deflect his stroke from a killing blow to merely a massively wounding one.  I got run through the belly with a spear once.  That was pretty bad.  Getting a sword through the chest, also not great. 

His second thrust would have gone through my neck if not for the fact that I collapsed to the ground on account of had I had a gaping chest wound.  I’m not sure why he expected that I would still be standing after that first attack hit home.  On the ground I pulled out an adamantine bolt and stabbed him through the foot with it.  He fell down next to me as I dragged out my crossbow as well.  He tried to roll and stab at me awkwardly from his side but a rapier is not a good weapon for ground fighting.  Neither is a crossbow really but I managed to get that bloody adamantine bolt loaded and shot him through the side of the head.  He didn’t die, not right away, but he did stop moving.

One mistake was underestimating Brevoy.   The other mistake was forgetting how seriously some people take dueling.  Trading places with someone in a duel under false pretenses is definitely not okay with these those people.  Nor is producing a hidden weapon.  Or using a crossbow in what was supposed to be a sword fight.  Fighting on the ground also not cool.   And the whole not being a man thing doesn’t help either.  I was still in the dirt guzzling healing potions as fast as I could and trying to avoid dying when several people stormed the dueling field to grab me.  Jonah and some other people counter-stormed and then the retinues of the two lords were in the mix and before you knew what was what it was a mob scene.

I know a little (far more than I want to) about fighting now, but I don’t know much about mass battle.  What I do know is that if you want to live you have to stay on your feet.  If you get knocked down you’re fucked.  If you’re on the ground you have to get back up immediately or you’re dead.  What they don’t tell you is that getting to your feet is pretty hard when you’re being kicked and trampled.  I had just managed to regain a vertical base when someone got a hold of my hair and dragged me back down to the ground.  If I had any idea who it was I would put them in the number two slot on the list right after the Duke.  What kind of human garbage would do something like that?  Drag a woman down in a riot?

I heard a veteran opining once that when you’re getting kicked the instinct to roll into a ball and cover your head is the worst thing you can do – that leaves you open to being attacked.  According to him you need to keep trying to evade and defend yourself.  But I think that advice only makes sense when someone is specifically trying to hurt you, in a scenario like this where it’s impersonal it seems like better advice.  I was able to get the Baron’s cane out and start swatting at legs, which worked okay to clear some space before someone I cracked on the shin fell on me.  I’m not sure I ever wanted anything more than I wanted to get out of that tangled mass of suffocating confusion.  I think the only thing that saved me is biting onto someone’s hand and being dragged up unintentionally by my fucking teeth.  The man who did it punched me directly in the face afterwards.  Hard.  I definitely would have fallen back down if I wasn’t pinned upright by the crush of the crowd at that point.  I think I was unconscious for a split second.

Eventually I managed to slither my way free of the main mass of . . . well fight isn’t the right word, it was more like the frenzy of fish caught in a net and being dragged onto the boat.  I ran towards the vendor stalls and a man on horseback tried to grab me as he rode by.  It was like being clothesline by a tree limb, and he didn’t even get a hold of me, I fell out of his grasp and the horse stomped on my thigh.  Have you ever had a horse stomp on your thigh?  It hurts. 

I crawled under the edge of one of the merchant tents and almost immediately was set upon by a snarling man wielding a cudgel.  I clubbed him in the groin first with the Baronial cane (probably the first time it’s been used like that) and then smashed him on the head until he stopped moving.  A terrified woman was sitting in the corner (some tents have corners) clutching several bolts of cloth to her chest.  He voice had that shrill thinness that people get sometimes when they’re so scared they’re beyond being afraid.

“What’s happening?!”

I spat out a gob of blood and reached for my Flask “I’m having a bad day.”

Mantelderith 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

It’s been a good while since I had to share a bed with anyone.  I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I would have gotten the bed and Martialla would have slept on the floor like a servant.  What happened?  How did things change so drastically?  I feel like the most fundamental freedom of human existence has to be getting a bed all to yourself.  Not that Martialla is particularly annoying sleeper, but when you’re in bed with someone you learn quickly that it’s possible to resent the way someone breathes.  You know, the thing that all living things need to do all the time to not die?  And it didn’t help that she had no problem falling asleep at all.  I found myself starting over at her wishing she would die.  There’s that old wives tale about cat’s sitting on your chest and stealing your breath while you sleep?  I was thinking about that happening to her.  Would I be sad?  Of course, but at least I could have gotten some damn sleep.  Sidenote that’s actually not completely made up, there’s a fey creature that does sit on your chest and steals your breath while you sleep and they often transmogrify themselves into the form of cats.  Sleep tight kids!

Remember when I had that magic ring that made it so I didn’t need to sleep?  That was really something.  I think it’s probably good that it was stolen from me though because I think it was messing up my brain.  That’s the problem with magic, you never really know what’s going on.  Maybe the magic is that it lets you not sleep but you still NEED sleep and it’s slowly driving you mad.  Remember when I had that magic tattoo that let me shoot lightening out of my hands?  Man, I used to really have some good stuff.  Now I don’t even have a crossbow anymore.  I need to remember to buy a new crossbow before I head out of town. 

Since I couldn’t sleep anyway I was up before dawn and decided to check out Double B and see how easy it would be to kill him.  Premum had told us that he was staying at an inn near the guildhall that was run by a former lumberman and hooked them up with cheap rooms.  I saw that his window was open and scampered up the side of the building with my Boots.  Remember back in the old days when would have had to charm my way into his room?  I don’t miss that.  Some folks really get off on manipulating other people, I’ve grown to loath it.  Maybe it’s because that was my job back in my old life, but now I find something very unsatisfying about having to wheedle others to do my dirty work for me.  Wow, there’s a thing I never thought I’d think.  Anyway, once I got to the top and was crouching in the window like a dirty vampire I saw Double B in bed, arm around a plain looking gal with an overly wide face and curly blond hair that looked like it had been combed by a blind baboon.  This is particularly interesting because yesterday when Premum was mooning on about Glory he mentioned her long dark hair many times in various annoying ways. 

Slipping back down the wall I crossed over to the lumberman’s guildhall and broke the door down with the magic of my Walking Stick.  I made my way to what I assumed was Premum’s office and took a seat in his chair to wait.  Surprisingly I fell asleep on the desk and was rudely awoken some number of hours later by a confused looking fellow with slicked-back hair and limp spider-like hands. 

“Um . . . can I help you?”

I blinked sleepily “Why do you hold your arms against sides like that?  It makes you look weird.”

“What are you doing in here?”

“I thought this was Mr. Anypoint’s office.”

He pointed down the hall with his filthy spider-leg of a finger and I headed down that way to find Premum hard at work shuffling papers around.  If I’ve learned one thing in this world it that’s important men have a lot of papers they need to move around desks.  He looked up as I entered.

“Did you already kill him?  That was fast.”

I sat down across from him with a yawn “Better.  He’s banging some other broad, I saw it with my own eyes.  If you kill the guy then Glory’s going to be sad right?  She’s not going to want to jump in the sack with you right away.  And some people grieve for a long time, who knows how long you’ll have to wait for her to be ready to love again?  Not to mention, no offense, you might move in too soon and ruin the whole thing.  But on the other hand we if expose Glory’s husband as a philanderer she won’t be sad she’ll be pissed.  And what better way to get back at an unfaithful husband than getting together with his best friend.  It’s perfect, she’ll think about how she should have married you in the first place.  Trust me, I know how women operate.”

His mouth hung open “B is cheating on Glory?  I can’t believe it!  What did this other woman look like?”

I overlaid myself with an illusion of the woman in the bed “Like this.”

He found this even more astonishing “How did do that?”

“Who cares?  Just tell me where Glory is, I’ll go there right now like this and confess the whole thing and in a few weeks you two will be plowing like crazy.  Or do you still want to go with the murder plan?  I think this is better plan but you’re the man in charge so just tell me what you want.”

In the end Anypoint saw the wisdom in my idea.  He wanted to come with me to tell Glory, he wanted to say that he found out about the scheme but I convinced him that was not a good idea.  It’s better if he’s merely the sympathetic friend – riding in like the white knight is often a terrible idea.  Keep that in mind folks, if you find out the object of your desire is being cheating on don’t tell them yourself – it’s not going turn out the way you want.  I popped across town to tell Glory that “I” had been getting it on the sly with the man that pledged before the Gods to love only her and forsake all others.  How “I” was being torn apart by guilt and I needed her forgiveness.  Such forgiveness was not forthcoming.  She slapped me so hard I was seeing double for a moment.  It took all my self-control not to kick the shit out of her but I managed it.  So that’s personal growth I guess.  She called “me” every name in the book, following me down the street and shouting abuse as I tried to get away from her.  In order to get away from her I did end up having to shove her into a horse-trough, but that should just help add fuel to the fire. 

Once that whole situation was squared away I went to pay a call on Vetovia at her shop and let her know that operation save your friend from hagdom was about to launch.  She was pretty surprised, one that I was following through at all (why don’t people trust me when I promise insane things?) and two that it was happening so quickly.  She seemed willing to come with us at first but then started to worry about her shop being left attended.  She was going to see about getting someone else to watch it, but I told her not to worry and just stay – there’s no one in Preen I would trust to guard an empty bucket.  A couple hours later Martialla and I were a ways outside of town ready to travel and waiting for the promised pit-fighter to join us.

“I sincerely hope I never have to return to Preen.”

“You say that about every town we go to.”

“And I mean it too.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about.  How do a Shireling and a normal person . . . you know.”

I raised an eyebrow “Normal person?  Whoa, I had no idea you were a bigot Martialla, this very revealing.”

She mad an exasperated noise “You know I’m not like that.  I just . . . that lumber guy is so little.”

“Love is love you monster.”

Eventually we saw a figure walking out to meet us.  He was plainly dressed and had a sack over his shoulder, looking very much like any other peasant out for a day of peasant drudgery.  As he came closer he failed to cut any more impressive of a figure.  He just looked like any of a thousand other countryfolk only slightly less downtrodden.  His main distinguishing features were a scar on the chin and a tattoo on each arm – a dragonfly and a spider.

I frowned slightly “Are you the guy?” He nodded. “And you know where we’re going?” He nodded again and I looked over at Martialla “I think we’ve been fleeced.”

She smiled and reached out to shake his hand “Don’t mind her, my name is Martialla.”

She shook her hand quickly, like touching her was unpleasant to him “Call me Ismail.”

“Because that’s your name?” He nodded and my scowl deepened “Then why did you say it like that?  You know what we’re going to do right?  You’re a pit fighter?” He nodded again maddeningly “You’re not on a word count limit here buddy, you can use your words.  Are you any good at fighting?”

His only response was to shrug.

Martialla clapped him on the back “Look, he’s alive right?  What better evidence could there be of success in the pits than that?”

I looked at him dubiously “I suppose.  I don’t see any weapons.  Are you one of those empty hand types?  With the kicks and the jumping and the ‘ki-ya’ all that?”

“Not exactly.  You clearly aren’t very impressed, but can I ask you a question – how many pit fights have you won?”

I smirked a little “Just the one.”

“That’s impressive, one more than most people.” He adjusted his sack on his shoulder “My understanding is that it doesn’t matter if I win, just that I fight.  So what does it matter if I’m any good?  I’m willing, that’s enough.”

“That’s true, I guess.”

As you may have predicted our new friend didn’t have much to say while we traveled – just following along a few steps behind Martialla and me.  On the plus side he didn’t complain either, so all in all a pretty neutral traveling companion.  When we stopped for the day he finally did something noteworthy.  Unwrapping his bundle, among a few other odds and ends was a crude wooden idol – if you squinted real hard it looked like maybe it was a mantis.  He set it down on a red piece of cloth facing the sun and then sat behind it.

“What are you doing?”

“Praying.”

“To a bug?

“To an archetypal representation of a bug, to the philosophical concept of the ideal form of a bug.”

“Why?”

“Doing so allows me access to unique and useful abilities.  This reverence gifts me with innate physical advantages in speed, strength and endurance.  Prayer allows me to manifest these abilities more and more over time.  Think of it as mediation if that helps.”

“Helps what?  Me think that you’re not insane.”

He closed his eyes “Oh, I’m quite insane.  What sane person would intentionally seek out a path where you fight and kill other living things?”

“Fair point.  So you’re a great warrior, let me run something by you.  Some people talk about rage and passion and fury being the key to winning a fight, but I think those people have never been in a fight.  I think people who have been know that training and discipline are the way you win fights.  But I’ve been in a few scrapes now, too many for someone as pretty as I am, and I think that they’re both wrong.  I think it’s mostly luck.  Not blind luck, but more along the lines of taking advantage what presents itself.  Realistically I should have been killed in the first battle I was in, having little to no training and no real desire to fight anyone.  Yet here I am victorious, because of what?  Resourcefulness?  Good luck?  A combination of circumstances, events, actions and personal willpower operating by chance to bring me a good outcome?” He didn’t speak so I prompted him “Well, what do you think of that?”

“I think you’re looking for meaning where there is none to be found.  You won your fights because you won them.”

I snorted “How helpful.  I thought the path of the true warrior was self-reflection.  I won because I won, you’re a regular philosopher.”

“Thank you.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,545 gold

XP: 865,721

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Ela’s Boots

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) 

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  

Montagem 3 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

Take it from me folks, there’s really nothing that can put you in a good mood like bearding a mighty wizard and getting away with it one hundred percent completely free and clear.  It’s a great feeling.  Those pointy hat types think themselves so superior with their spells and their books and their stupid robes but what are they really?  A bunch of weirdoes living in towers and kidnapping women because that’s the only way they’ve ever get to touch another human.  As my grandmother used to say they’re no better than they should be.  I don’t know what that means really but it sounds good.  After soundly humiliating the all-powerful and all-knowing Dulphistos I turned in early last night and slept the calming and relaxing sleep of the righteous and awesome.  If you ever get a chance to take on a wizard you should do it.  Probably you’ll get turned into a frog because you’re not me, but it’s worth it on the off chance that you come out ahead.  I was still basking in the glow the next morning as Martialla and I had breakfast on the veranda of my room at the Song and Dance.  

I took a deep breath “Ah, what a wonderful day.  It’s the kind that almost makes you feel good to be alive.”

“And so now we’re going to go back to Cauldron and pick a fight with a hag?  That’s the plan right?  Remind me why we’d do something like that again.”

“Oh, you know me and my flights of fancy.  If you want to be practical about it though having a craftmage on our side wouldn’t be the worst thing now would it?”

She shook her head “You just want . . .”

She trailed off in mid-sentence and then a strange look came over her face – and I mean that literally, in that her face looks strange not that she had an odd expression.  I’ve seen her disguise herself with magic illusions many times, hundreds probably, and this was a little like that only it was still her own face.  It was like someone who had seen her was trying to put an illusion of her face over her actual face.  It was rather unsettling.  Next thing I knew she was extending her arm, mumbling her magic words and twin beams of deadly fire were roiling towards me.  I managed to avoid one, but the other punched me back out of my chair and into the railing of the balcony – you know, in addition to burning the Hells out of me.  I saw her stand up calmly with another spell on her lips and I rolled awkwardly over the railing, getting my Boots on the underside of the balcony and walking upside down out of her line of sight.  I managed to disengage the Boots and tuck myself into a flip to land on the ground without breaking my neck.

Not that long ago I would have just assumed that Martialla was betraying me and thought nothing else about it, but now I thought about that strange change that came over her and figured she was being controlled somehow.  I know what you’re thinking “If you love Martialla so much why don’t you marry her!”  That is childish, you are a child.  But it’s not even that, it’s not that I’m more trusting, it’s that I’m more paranoid.  About things like wizardly mind control.  I saw a couple of Dulphistos’ goons hanging around on the street and one of them made a rush for me – getting a Walking Stick-full of snakebite in his face for his troubles.  I’ve seen men falling to the ground clutching at a snakebitten face many times now and I’ll never get used to it.  Once time Martialla asked me why I always go for the face when I use my snake-stick.  Why wouldn’t I?  I took out my crossbow and shot one of the other goons as he was standing across the street looking stupid, but then I saw the mailed axeman and the lizard-guy coming to box me in.  I was thinking about making a break for it when Martialla floated down to block off the other path – which I’m pretty sure is not a thing she can do.  I’ve never see her float before.

The voice that came out of her mouth was not her own – it was the voice of a weak man “You have something that belongs to me.”

“Last time I checked slavery is illegal in the Kingdom.  But perhaps you meant ‘belong’ in a less literal sense, more of a being chained together by the bonds of love, something like that.  Two faces of a coin or some such.  The problem with that notion is . . .”

Martialla’s hand came up, palm out, cracking with magical energy “Where is she?”

“Look man you got to get over it, there’s plenty of women out there for all of us right?  You’re getting hung up on this broad for no reason.  I haven’t seen you but I assume you’re a decent looking man.  And you’ve got all this cool magic power and bandits under your thumb and shit.  Women like that kind of thing, I tell you what . . .”

I flash of light jumped out and struck me in the chest, in addition to being painful as all get out I’m also sure that my heart stopped for a moment.”

“Ow, fuck!”

Her hand shook with invasive anger “Where IS she?!”

“I don’t know, she’s gone and I don’t know where.  I didn’t want to know, I don’t care where she went okay?  I was just doing a favor for a friend.  My father and her father are pals and they were talking one night at the bar and . . .”

“LIES!!!  Her father is dead.”

“Not her birth father obviously, the guy married to her mother now.  He never had a chance to have a relationship with her you see and my father owed him a favor from the war and . . .”

Martialla’s arm cut awkwardly through the air in what should have been an imperious gesture “Silence!  Tell me where she is or die.”

“I don’t know where she is.  I just know she left town.  You’re a mighty wizard right?  You should be able to track her down what with your mighty magic and all.  I realize that my friend and I have caused you problems, I didn’t understand who you were, like I said I was just doing a favor.  You know how it is with family right?  Now that I know who you are I am abjectly and completely sorry.  Give us a chance to make up it to you, give us a task or a quest or something, let us . . .”

“You will die, and your friend will be tortured until I find my love.  She will beg for her own death.”

“Hey, what about this, what if I take her place?”

Martialla’s face twitched as if the person controlling her as confused and it didn’t quite transmit “You want to be tortured?”

I shook my head, biting off a cutting remark “No, not in the murder-torture plan, let me take the place of whatshername, Cathasomething.”

“Cathadela!”

“Right, her. You want a woman?  I’m it.  I got a look at old Cath and let me tell you something straight, she was pretty sure, but look at me.  I mean am I right?  Plus she seemed like one of those uptight types you know?  I’m sure she was kind of lame in the sack.  I can guaranty you this, I know how to please a man.  I don’t mean to brag but . . .”

The controller’s sneer crawled its way onto Martialla’s face “You think this is about something as venal as sex?  This is about love.  Something that I doubt you know anything about!  Sex without love is like food without taste.  Why would I welcome you into my bed when my love has been taken from me?  The crass skills you brag of mean nothing to me.  My love meant more to me than . . .”

“Venal?  I think you meant venereal right?  Look if you’ve got the crotch-rot that’s kind of a deal breaker for me.  There are ways to work around it sure, but I’m just not into it you know?  I have to tell you, I’m not surprised really, when I saw Cathadela I could tell she was a filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, janky, bottom-feeding, trash-heap whore.  Sometimes just by looking at someone you can . . .”

The voice issuing from Martialla’s mouth screamed with rage, but instead of being annihilated by arcane energy I stood unharmed as she began to twitch like a marionette that has two different people working the . . . handle things.  I bet those have a name.  You know what I mean, the little wooden things that work the strings.  Martialla flopped to the ground convulsing as I activated my Boots for extra speed and charged at the lizard, transforming myself into metal form via Amulet and hurling myself at him like the world’s sexiest javelin (beating out the Winged Harpoon of Delarch Malguyre).  The crown of my head hit him right on his long lizard snout and he was walloped with the full force of a woman turned into metal slamming into his lizard face.  Have you ever wondered if lizardfolk can be knocked unconscious?  Wonder no more, they can. 

I scrambled to my feet and saw the axeman coming towards me, but then pause as if heeding unheard instructions.  This allowed me to get my crossbow up and fire but it deflected off his armor as harmlessly as a pebble. I felt a strange crawling sensation on my skin, like some manner of slick liquid was trying to crawl underneath it and grasp onto my bones, but I willed it away.  I took careful aim at the axeman, going for the eye-holes in his helm, but again my bolt clattered away harmlessly.  Martialla was getting to her hands and knees and he stood over her with his axe poised to strike.

The strange hollow voice of a man in a greathelm issued forth “Surrender or I’ll cleave her head in two.”

I carefully put down my crossbow “Okay, I surrender, now what?”

Those giant helmets are great for protecting you from getting shot in the head, but they’re terrible at letting you look around to see which of your boss’s bandit-minions are still around.  The Axeman had to turn fully to see who was still about to issue his commands to and at that moment Martialla rolled onto her back and slipped her rapier into the gap between the armor on the inside of the thigh and the groin.  Someday they’re probably make a kind of magic armor that has no gaps you can attack.  I wonder what will happen then.  It’s not like we’re going to stop killing each other.  I suppose they’ll have to make magic weapons that boil you alive from the inside right through armor. 

The Axeman was clearly a robust individual but getting stabbed through the inner hip-area tends to take the wind out of your sails.  Even so when I came at him he walloped me with his axe hard enough to cleave through my metallized skin.  If I had been unprotected he would have slaughtered me like a butcher.  I was knocked down and away like a leaf battered by the wind but Martialla skidded up behind him and conjured a glob of motel metal right in the grill of his helmet.  The screams that echoed out of that metal cage will haunt me for some time.  I’ll have to remember that one for when I get my hands on the Duke.  In his pain-maddened panic the Axeman tore his helmet off and Martialla put a dagger into the back of his skull.  And that was the end of that fellow.  For good measure she pulled her rapier out of the dead man’s inside thigh area – with no little effort – and impaled the lizardfolk as well.  The rest of Dulphistos’ lackeys wisely ran for their fucking lives.  My metal skin wore off and I started to gush blood out of my axe-hole but a healing draught from my Flask brought it down to acceptable levels of bleeding to death.  Martialla walked over cleaning the blood off her blade.

“Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

“Thanks for not killing me when I was possessed.”

“I’m not sure that I could.  If the two of us ever came to blows for real that would be a Hells of a fight.”

She gave me a chilling look “Thankfully we’re the best of friends that would never happen.”

“Well, I guess we better go finish this.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning let’s head back to Dulphistos house and kill him while he’s weak.”

Martialla crooked her head to the side “How is he weak exactly?”

I motioned “We, mostly you, just killed his two best goons.  He’s shown here that he’s not going to let this go, I think this is our best chance to strike.”

“Except that all his other mercs should be there.  We don’t even know these are his best goons, this lizard guy is probably just the tracker.”

“Maybe, but this other one was his personal bodyguard I would guess.  Regardless what other options tdo we have?  Wait around for him to attack us from the spirit world again?  Sidenote, I just want to make it known that he tried to possess me too and I was able to resist him.  So don’t get any ideas.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” She sighed “I guess you’re right, we better make a move.  I think it’s a bad idea but it’s the best idea we have right now.”

“That’s the spirit!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,550 gold

XP: 836,921

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, 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), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Ela’s Boots

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) 

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