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?” 

Mantelderith 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

I don’t know a lot about magic and I already know more than I ever wanted to.  If there’s one thing we can agree on it’s that magic is for losers.  That being said here’s what I do know.  You say some special words and you move your hands in a special way and you think real hard and then someone across the room (or even farther away) dies.  That’s magic in a nutshell.  Given that how the Hells did anyone ever figure it out?  So there’s this energy in the universe that’s invisible and intangible and in no way detectible unless you already how to use it.  And this energy can be used to affect things in a way that is also undetectable.  And you manipulate this energy by speaking words that no one speaks and moving your hands in ways that are unnatural and wishing real hard.  This is impossible for anyone to come up with on first principal.  So how did it happen?  How did something impossible to learn without someone else already knowing it and teaching you become one of the fundamental pillars of our society?

Elfs claims that they knew magic and taught it to humans.  I call bullshit on that because elfs claim they did everything first and taught it to humans.  If you ask me the defining characteristic of elfs is cultural narcissism.  Elfs tend to be taciturn (at least around the ‘lesser’ races) but once you get them talking all they have to say is about how great everything used to be before humans and dwarfs and reptilians screwed everything up.  Their magic was more potent, the threats the faced were more dire, their food more tasty, their art more beautiful, their sex more spiritual and fulfilling, etc.  They did everything first and they did it better.   I don’t believe it, but if it is true that elfs knew magic and taught it to the other races that has to be by a huge margin the worst idea they ever had.  That’s like teaching chimps how to use crossbows – you’re for sure going to get hurt out of the deal in more proportion to any benefit that you could reap.  Why would elfs teach the most destructive and awful plague on this land a skill that’s main use seems to be setting shit on fire and killing people?  Explain that next time you’re in masturbatory reverie about the old days elfs.

Regardless that notion obviously doesn’t explain anything anyway because how did the elfs know magic to teach it to anyone else?  I reject outright any notion that they somehow figured it out from scratch.  I suppose the most likely culprit is that a demon brought the knowledge of magic into the world.  The Gods created everything so they surely knew about magic and how it worked, and demons are like their unruly children or something (theology isn’t my strong point) so they must know about it too.  Probably what happened is some wily demon took on the form of a comely elf maiden with big melons (which is not a good way to disguise yourself as an elf maiden but you know how demons are, they can’t help themselves) and sneakily and subtly nudged the first elf magicians into figuring out how it all worked.  And over time the horrors of magic were unleashed on the world.  It’s the only theory that makes sense if you ask me.  Which you are.

The first known account of a human doing magic is close to six thousand years old.  As they say it a woman named Eireyene appeared in the “court” of an old warlord and is said to have decapitated a bird and then put the head back on and brought the bird back to life.   It’s also claimed that she made a small pebble disappear into a cup.  I’m no magic expert but one of those things seems way more impressive than the other.  The problem is that there’s magic and then there’s sleight of hand – did she really do anything or was she just a con artist with some quick fingers?  I can do some much more impressive tricks just with fast hands and some fancy patter than any apprentice wizard with “real” magic can.  I would imagine that at first wizards were all show, but slowly over time they learned how to do the real thing.  There were would have been an interesting bit in the middle of that evolution where wizards did know some real magic but were primary doing shit like pulling rabbits out of their hats.   What a life huh?

All of that isn’t terrible helpful to think about though when a wizard appears out of nowhere to kill you by draining the heat from your internal organs.  Martialla and I were heading towards the fort and we saw that the dwarf was kind enough to be coming out to meet us.  This is what’s known as a distraction.  I’ve developed a very keen sense of danger, it’s pretty difficult to catch me off guard, but there’s not much you can do when an invisible wizard who was standing stock still is waiting to blast you.  Unless maybe you have a good sense of smell.  The fellow who appeared on our flank was short and had a red pointy mustache that was wider than his head.  Was it magic that held the mustache out like that or wax?  Or magic wax?  We may never know.  He was wearing a green tunic but to make sure you knew that he was a wizard he had goggles and a staff as well, not to mention a bat hanging off his shoulder.  Fucking big one too.

When he cast his spell Martialla leaped out of the way like a jackrabbit – she has a real knack for avoiding deadly spells.  I on the other hand was completely flatfooted, I’m pretty sure I would have died right then if not for my Greatcoat.  All that would have been left of old Ela is a freeze-dried corpse.  Maybe I could have become a mummy with my body that well preserved.  But instead some normally invisible sigils on the fabric flared to life and the magic parted around me like water around a boulder.  I said a silent prayer to Kozilek thanking him for giving me the wisdom to purchase such a fashionable garment.  I think they were expecting to take us both out with that massive first strike – instead Martialla retaliated with a blast of flame herself – although the fellow with the yard-long mustache didn’t seem to be hurt by it at all and she missed the dwarf in front of us altogether.  It wasn’t a great endorsement for the combat effectiveness of magic.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the dwarf hurled a volley of glowing green magic energy at me which was absorbed harmlessly by my Brooch.  Oh for three on the magic attacks so far.  Wishing that I had a crossbow or any decent weapon I retrieved a rapier from my secret pocket and moved up (advanced I think they call it in military terms) on Mustache.  Martialla conjured and flung a molten orb at him but it also seemed to do nothing – for a wizard fight there was a whole lot of nothing going on.  With a curse she gave up on sorcery and drew her rapier.  Some wizards learn spells that conjure creatures to fight for them and shield them, some learn spells that protect them like armor, this guy must have focused on murder spells only – which is fine as long as your murder spells do their thing.  Martialla and I pincered this guy and carved him up like a holiday ham.  The dwarf was shooting fire at us and the bat was flying around annoyingly, but it didn’t amount to much.  In about ten seconds we had punctured Mustache fifty times it seemed and that was the end of him. 

We turned to the dwarf and he did something I’ve never seen a wizard do – he ran.  With his feet.  He didn’t snap his fingers and disappear, he didn’t jump on a flying carpet, he didn’t summon a giant eagle to ride on, he didn’t fly off impossibly, he just kicked up his feet and ran.  Martialla and I exchanged a glance.

“Huh, will you look at that.  Now I really wish I had a crossbow.”

“I don’t think this guy is nearly as good a wizard as the other fellow.”

She was proven correct as she sent out a tendril of fire that burned him alive.  Or rather burned him to death.  Do those mean the same thing?  He was turned from life to death by being burned – lets’ say that. 

“Who was that other guy?  Where did he come from?”

Martialla peering at him “I think that’s the wizard that was attacking the caravan – he must have been surveilling us and that led him to this other guy and they hit off and decided to kill us together.”

“Sure, it’s a tale as old as time.  Where the fuck are the half-elfs?  They’re supposed to deal with this guy.”

“I think they’re busy.”

Martialla pointed away from the town (such as it was) to where the caravan had set up for the night – and where the four brave heroes were currently in the process of fighting off a rampaging horde of goblins.

I clapped my hands together “I told you, I fucking told you it was going to be goblins!”

“That’s is a LOT of goblins.”

“Eh, they’ll be fine, they’re only goblins.  Let’s go see what this donkey-faced son of a bitch was up to.”

We headed into the fort – which was really more of a medium sized watch tower than a fort in my book, and as I said it wasn’t in the best shape.  But as they say, any fort in a storm.  There was a “great” hall and beyond that a storage room that had been converted into an evil lair of evilness.  There was a summoning circle chalked on the floor, candles, incense, runes on the walls – the whole nine.  There was a book of magic looking nonsense propped open in the corner – I guess that’s why it was taking so long, the first time you summon a being from the depths of the Hells you probably want to make sure you do it right.

“Well this is disappointing, I was hoping for something new and interesting.”

Martialla scuffed out part of the circle with her boot “Wizards are nothing if not predictable.  Looks like he was trying to summon a hellhound.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  All this trouble just for a Gods damned hellhound?  Not even a proper demon?  He was going to sacrifice a human life so summon a mean dog?  I can get you a beast of fighting dog fifty gold.”

“You’ve gotten pretty jaded about deadly monsters, a hellhound is a little but more than a mean dog.  The village of Foraleese was destroyed by a single hellhound.  Longshoeu was very nearly destroyed by a pack of hellhounds as well.”

“Any village that can be wiped out by a wolf with firebreath deserves to be wiped out anyway.”

“I think you’re being unfair but I don’t see any reason to argue this with you.”

“All I’m saying is that if you’re going to go through the trouble of human sacrifice it should be for something worthwhile.”

“I think you’ve lost some respective.  I mean didn’t you convince a guy to sell his soul for a sword that was barely even magic?

I sighed “I never should have told you that, you always throw that soul selling stuff back in my face.  I was in a tight spot, what was I supposed to do?”

“Not condemn innocent souls to eternal damnation to save your own skin?”

I frowned “Innocent?  Innocent of what?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Behind the curtain: If the spell resistance of the Greatcoat hadn’t worked the Cone of Cold would have killed Ela.  Just for fun I rolled the dice to see what would have happened and she failed the save too lethal damage and then failed the stabilization rolls as well.  I’ve been pretty faithful to the die rolls, but now that I’m a year and a half into this narrative/solo-play/whatever I’m a little more invested.  I wonder what I would do if Ela dies.  The easy answer is that Martialla could have someone cast Raise Dead on her, but that’s too cheap.  I’ve considered a lot of options, I think what I would do is start a new story with Ela in a new setting – pulp adventure maybe?  Or maybe I could just sell the domain name to one of the many English Language Arts groups out there.  If I cared about/thought about anyone ever googling my site I definitely would have given Ela a different name.  There aren’t a lot of good lady names that start with an E though.  Eleanor the Expert?  Erica the Expert?  Elizabeth the Expert?  Emily the Expert?  Doesn’t sound quite right.

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,190,751

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, 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