Montresor 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As you may recall I’ve had some pretty bad luck with the Lodge Forest.  Nearly being eaten by a wolf-monster is about the best thing that’s happened to me there.  My experience with the Skin-Taker Kostelos tribe is still number one on my list of worst experiences (that used to be a much smaller list).  I remember when I first came into these woods with Felix, and then later with Augrim – I was scared just to be in a forest like an ignorant peasant.  Those were the early days when my fears were simple – the world has taught me better now.  There’s so much more to be afraid of than you can ever imagine.  

That was before the war had come to the Lodge Woods.  The good news is that it seems like all the worgs are in Graltontown terrorizing the populace as part of the new police state they’ve got going there so we’re unlikely to encounter any out here.  I also assume that the warlike Kostelos bands (if not all of them) have either been killed in the fighting already or have gone to ground, so hopefully we won’t run into any of them either.  

That’s the good news.  The bad news is the bodies.  Some on the ground half-eaten by coyotes and crows and whatever is around, but mostly in the trees.  Some with bound hands and nooses around their necks like they were being hung in the market square.  Some sprawled and hanging recklessly by whatever limb could hold a rope – their bodies showing the wounds that killed them before they were set to dangling.  I saw Vielanders.  I saw Ulpinese.  I saw Kingdomers.  I saw Kostelos tribespeople.  I saw civilians of all stripes.  Most inexplicable of all I saw a group of Adarielite priestesses all strung up together.  They had the red and white stripes on the sleeves of their blue robes indicating that they’re battlefield healers.  

Adariel is worshipped in Vieland and Ulpine was well as the Kingdom.  Adarielites offer aid and healing to anyone who needs it.  They aren’t even dicks about it.  The church of Adariel is one of the few extra-kingdom organizations that is welcomed and accepted everywhere.  Even the Northmen don’t bother them much.  Why would anyone do this to them?  That’s like poisoning a well that you drink out of every day because you hate your neighbors.  Did the Vielanders kill them because they were helping the Kingdom forces?  Did “our” side kill them because they were offering aid to the enemy?  Without realizing it I had stopped to stare at the bodies – those blue robes hanging in the air looked like ghosts – causing Bolbec to bump into me.

“Where do they get al l rope?”

“What my lady?” He looked up at the bodies as if he hadn’t noticed “Oh, I couldn’t say my lady.”

One of the other guards, I think I heard someone say his name was Cavnas but that can’t be right, chimed in “Quartermaster always has rope My Lady, whoever is in charge of sending supplies always sends rope, endless coils of the stuff.  I don’t know what they think we’re going to do with it.  By the end of the campaign you’re wearing rags and a dead man’s boots, eating horsemeat but there’s always lots of rope.”

I gestured “Why?  Why do this?”

He shrugged “Its war My Lady.”

Finchley glared at his companion “Don’t call her that, she’s no more a lady than I am . . .”

“A soldier?” I finished for him.

He made a move towards me and Bolbec got in this way.

“You want to hit me Finchley?  Go for it, I’d like to see how that turns out.”

Cavnas snickered as Finchley stalked away.  It’s good to see that they know what he is as well as I do, better probably since they have to work with him.  The fourth member of our troupe doesn’t say much, doesn’t seem to do much either.  I’ve heard soldiers talking about these types – empty uniforms – they’re there but they’re not there.  There seems to be a surprisingly little amount of rancor towards them – as long as they’re not your commanding office no one seems to care about them.  

It’s hard to tell the time of day in the darkness of the tall trees, but it had to be afternoon when we came across a group in the process of decorating the trees with their grisly trophies.  It’s hard to say who they even were – they had on a mish-mash of pieces from different uniforms and armor.  One of them had the pussified sword of a Kingdom officer, another had the stupid swagger stick of a Vieland noble, still another looked like a Satander and they aren’t even involved in this conflict last I knew.  When we spotted them the Duke’s Guards all took cover, quickly getting off the road and into the trees before they could spot us back.

I did not do that.  I kept walking.  The first of them to spy me was a bearded fellow who had a furrow down his head where no hair would grow – looked like someone had hacked off part of his scalp in the past.  The looked vaguely like a Northman but his accent betrayed that he was a southerner putting on airs of being a Northman.  Why anyone would want to do that I don’t know.  He grinned as he saw me coming.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

They always say that same thing.  It’s like they teach you that in some secret school.  Introduction to Menacing.  Make sure you terrorize your prey first before abusing them.  When he came towards me I surprised him by producing a short blade out of “nowhere”.  I surprised him even more by stabbing him through the knee – from the side you see, it’s very hard to stab through a kneecap.  At least it is for me.  If you’re stronger or have better technique with a blade maybe there’s a trick to it.  I crushed his windpipe with the hilt of a dagger to stop his bellowing and I twisted his head around so he was facing his friends.  They were pretty startled as well.  I wanted them to see when I started cutting parts of his face off.  

It was slippery work, if not for the gloves Bolbec had given me I would have sliced into my own fingers any number of times.  I’ll have to thank him for being so thoughtful later.  Most of his friends ran but you have to think about it from their point of view – one moment they’re laughing and drinking and rigging up ropes to people they raped and killed (not necessarily in that order) and then without warning their friend is getting his face hacked off.  That sort of mood whiplash can really throw you for a loop.  Don’t judge them too harshly for their cowardice, I’m sure they were just startled is all.   Plus they probably thought I was a witch of the woods or a fey creaturel.

To their credit two of his pals didn’t run away, they ran to save him instead.  One of them was a small fellow, people would have described him as “weaselly” or “rat-like” but that’s because people are lazy and apply that label to any short slender fellow.  I would say he looked more like an acrobat, very supple and smooth as he ran.  He grabbed up a two-handed battleax that looked about as big as him and came blustering forward like a berserker.  His buddy was a little more cautious.  He wasn’t a big fellow but he was broad and solid – I’d say he looked like a tree stump come to life.  He looked sturdy, like he could take a wallop and stand up to it pretty good.  He had a sap in one hand, which seems like a very curious weapon for an actual fight, and in his other paw he had what I thought at first was a dagger but I realized that it was a full blade made for a small person like a gnome.

I had no plan, I just wanted to hurt someone.  Because of what I saw that day for sure, but also because of my anger over my own personal setbacks.  I’ve come to accept these little lapses of my self-discipline.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to banish these occasional bouts reckless behavior that come on whenever I’ve been badly beaten (metaphorically, well, and literally too sometimes) but I’ve realized that this is just who I am.  The idea that I would never lose control and always keep my cool was based on my old life.  Nothing bad enough happened then to make me bubble over.  Now things are different.  I need to accept that and adjust.  Being level-headed all the time out here, in the blood and mud and madness of the world, it’s simply not feasible.  I just have to mitigate the worst of the risks I take in times like these.

As the two men came at me I reached for the crossbow I no longer had.  That was a wake-up caw of the morning rooster, reaching for something and having it not be there reminded me where I was and what I was doing.  I threw my dagger at the little guy and shoved the faceless bloody man at the wide guy and dashed away.  I probably would have died then but the Duke’s guards had rallied and charged forward at that same moment.  It would have been a pretty good tactic if we had done it on purpose.  Military people call that envelopment or something like that.    Once the fighting was over I was trying to wipe the blood off my gloves on a tree and not having much success.  Bolbec was starting at me like I was a raging wildfire coming his way.  Cavnas just looked confused.

“What were you doing?”

“Oh shit, they weren’t on our side were they?”

His confusion deepened “What?  No, they . . . why didn’t you hide?”

“We’re at war aren’t we?  Isn’t our mission to kill the enemy?”

Finchley laughed like that was a great joke.  I finally gave up on the tree and started wiping my gloves on the pants of a man hanging from a nearby tree.

“I don’t know about you fellows but I don’t relish sleeping out here and being exposed at night.  With all this fighting and turmoil there’s probably ghouls or fey bats or shadow hounds riled up stalking through the darkness looking for victims.  I know a guy who has a cottage not far from here, let’s drop in and see how he’s doing.  If he’s still alive in all this great, if not, hey, free cottage right?”

Montalan 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

One year ago today I woke up in a dirty alley (as opposed to a clean alley) in Graltontown.  It took me a long time to wake up fully.  For a good while my body was limp like a shirt on a clothes line.  My mind was foggy worse than any hangover in the recorded history of the universe.  At first I had no clue where I was or what was going on.  It certainly didn’t cross my mind initially that I wasn’t in Paladore anymore, let alone that I was in an armpit like Graltontown.  But I started to catch on to what had happened.  For obvious reasons the Duke’s wife and I weren’t the best of friends, but as long as we ignored one another everything was fine.  Out of sight out of mind right?  Their marriage wasn’t a love match by any stretch so why not allow the Duke his whims?  Within reason of course.  But something had happened that pushed that boundary too far.  In retrospect he Duke had been more shameless than usual in parading around with me on his arm in the months preceding my exile.  Maybe he was trying to upset her, maybe he was just getting careless, maybe it was one of any number of other reasons.  Regardless of why, he went too far and his ladywife complained enough that he felt he had to get rid of me.

He could have sent me off to one his other holdings.  He could have given me to one of his cronies.  He could have just said “hit the road kid”.  He could have killed me.  He could have cast me out into the streets of Paladore.  He could have set me up with a nice retirement.  He could have done many things.  But what he did do was drug me and toss me away like garbage.  Was this supposed to be a mercy?  He couldn’t bring himself to kill me?  Or was it a cruel joke?  One final laugh at the expense of good old Ela?  Either way he had to have assumed that I would die shortly after being abandoned.  Or at worse that I would end up a corner girl and be dead within a few years either from too much pipeweed, suicide, or some other nasty end.  So if it was kindness that stayed his hand it was a curious kind of kindness indeed – but I know better than anyone that the righteous Duke isn’t much of one for kindness. 

I can admit now that along with the anger I felt, and there was a lot of anger, I also initially felt despair.  My immediate thought, that the Duke was going to pay and pay dearly, no matter what by any means needed, was bravado.  At first.  It was the crying of a child who has been denied what they were promised – sound and fury only.  But it didn’t take long for it to become very real.  Without a doubt it’s the most genuine and true feeling that I have ever had.  At that moment I could have turned away very easily.  In fact most of who I am was screaming for me to do that – turn away, look away, don’t seek out what is likely to be your own destruction.  Run, run far away and never look back.  There’s a large part of me that begged me to do that.  And I could have done it, I could have listened to that voice.  And everything would have been fine.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I had to follow this path, that I had no choice.  I take responsibility for myself and what I am doing.  I know who I am and what I am doing. 

There’s no such thing as redemption, no such thing as second chances.  I’ve already been where we go when we die.  We’re shadows dressed in costumes of skin and bone.  Nothing you can see is going to last for long.  I don’t believe in destiny or fate or karma or whatever you want to call it – our lives are not written in the stars, we’re not stones thrown at our birth traveling to a destination with no altering the flight.  But despite all that, when I woke up in that alley, my path became horrifying clear.  And nothing, nothing, will stop me until I face him.  Nothing.  I will drown this world in blood if I have to.  I will tear down civilization itself if I have to.  I’ve said this before, when I say that I will do anything to have my revenge I mean anything.  Nothing that I can ever do to the Duke will be bad enough to satisfy me.  But I’m going to give it my best shot.  I mean someday I will when I stop being distracted by whatever I’m doing now.

Turns out that Aubesh doesn’t know any of Generous’ other girls, for some reason she’s not tight with his crew, so there wasn’t much to do today other than wait for the appointed time they would check in a Gentlemen Jack’s.  It gave me time to reflect on the last year and all the awful things that I saw and did.  I got really good at mundane disguises.  And guys, I mean really good.  It took time but the end result was flawless.  I could disguise myself as a specific person, as a different gender, as someone much older – you name it, I could do it and look perfect.  Then I learned how to do it instantaneously with magic and that skill became completely useless and all that time I spent learning it was a massive waste.  Which is magic in a nutshell.  I learned how to shoot a crossbow pretty well, and then shot a bunch of people, most of whom died.  But they were all bad so it’s fine.  I spoke to several worgs and only one of them tried to eat me.  That’s pretty good.  I rode a pegasus which was fucking amazing.  I started cursing.  I got sick and very nearly died.  Twice.  I made my first friend.  I made probably a million enemies, conservatively estimating.  I got lost many times.  Turned into a cat.  Was cursed several times.  Got super rich.  Some kind of old lady vampire put me in a cage and I was almost killed by her demon dog.  Thinking back on it it was really quite a year.  I wouldn’t recommend drugging yourself and having someone toss you in the street somewhere far away with nothing but the clothes on your back but it’s certainly a way to shake things up in your life.

Once I got bored of intimate self-reflection I went over to Martialla’s room to kill time, maybe play some cards or just chat but she was banging some guy (where does she find the time to meet anyone?) so I went to a stable and rented a horse for an afternoon ride.  Petro was a fine looking steed but he was a too ornery and finicky for my taste.  If there’s one thing I don’t care for it’s a horse that has its own ideas.  Still it was nice to go for a ride, seems like ages since I’ve been able to do that.  Once I got back Martialla was done with her dalliance and we had a long luxurious dinner since we had to nowhere to be until late.  Once it was appropriately late we staked out Gentlemen Jack’s and waiting for Generous’ ladies to show up.  The first one we tried to grab actually wasn’t a prostitute at all.  Boy was there egg on our faces.  In our defense though you should have seen the way she was dressed.  There were no mistakes the second time though, Martialla used her magic to put our target to sleep and then I assumed her appearance to go in and pass along her hard earned coin to Generous – and to pass on the information that one of “my” tricks was a Black Sheep who was bragging about taking out Dulphistos’s apprentices.  This almost turned ugly because Generous had forbade his crew from fraternizing with the Black Sheep, but I figured out that was just for appearances, the G man making it known that he’s a bad scary man but also being glad for the intel.

We let the next couple pass by unmolested and then repeated the process with the fifth girl to come by (sixth if you count the one we accosted by mistake).  Generous was nice enough to ask if “I” had heard anything about the Black Sheep and Dulphistos’s apprentices so I let him draw it out of me and feel like he was a genius.  After that we carted our two new friends to Adelis’ for safekeeping and then made our way back to the Song and Dance.  I can see now why serial killers are always targeting prostitutes – it’s so easy.  I mean that and the whole sociopathic sadistic sexual thing.  After a hard night of kidnapping and lying Martialla and I took to the veranda with some dwarfen fire ale to enjoy the moonlight.  Not normally my kind of drink but I’ve found that oddly the beverage intended to get you all riled up has a calming effect on me and acts as a sleep aid.  Maybe it works differently on different species. 

I offered my glass up to Martialla “Here’s to a job well done.”

She touched her glass to mine “I’ll drink to that I guess.”

“Clearly this isn’t what I expected to be doing with my life, how about you my old friend?  What did you think you’d be doing?”

“You’re asking about my life?  Are you confused?  Did you forget that I’m not you?  I can’t see any other reason that you’d be interested.”

“Hilarious.”

I could see her grin in the gloom “No, I didn’t expect to be snatching whores off the street at all, not even for a good cause.  Well not a good cause maybe, but a neutral one at least.  I figured I’d just eke out a life moving from town to town like everyone else.  When my niece was killed the entire trajectory of my life changed radically.”

“Were you two close?”

“No, which sounds strange maybe.  That I’d set off on a two year quest for revenge on account of a relative that I didn’t know well, but my sister deserved better.  We were close once and her daughter dying broke her.  Seeing that nearly broke me.  In a sick way it’s made my life much better, following you and taking up your scraps has earned me more money than I ever could imagine.  And my power with my magic has grown to be more than I ever thought it could.  Who would have guessed that the key to becoming a mighty sorcereress was killing?”

“I would have.  You know, I do owe you quite a bit of money, all joking aside.  Not that you shouldn’t have your vengeance as well, but she could be brought back.  Before I wouldn’t have believed it, but now . . . now I know that it can happen.”

Martialla was quiet for a while “The thought has crossed my mind.  You hold onto the money for now.  Once the whoreson who killed her is well and truly fucked then we’ll talk.”

“Now that sounds like a plan.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 53,601 gold

XP: 795,911

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

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  

Montalan 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

After the fighting was over two of the more optimistic imposter lawdogs searched a couple of the orc bodies but they gave up soon enough, probably after getting their fingers bitten a couple times by whatever kind of orcish louse they carried with them in life.  That’s the final insult of being ambushed by orcs, they’re so nasty and brutish that they don’t even have anything worth looting – unless you’re looking to start a tooth collection or enjoy rotting meat.  Meanwhile the bandits now toothless leader (well not toothless but less toothed for sure) was eyeballing me as if trying to decide if they should still try to rob us.  I took another long drink from my Flask and then waved Rova’s rapier in his general direction.

“Go on, try me.  I would love it.”

He glanced at my three allies before turning back to me “I don’t think you would.”

“True enough, but that wouldn’t stop me from slaughtering you like . . . like . . . what’s something you slaughter?   A goat?  Chickens?  Anyway, you get the point.”

He pursed his lips “I suppose I do at that.”

“Also, I say this unto to you so harken up, give up your wicked ways.  Set aside your worldly desires and live decent and honest lives in this Kingdom.  Because you suck at being a brigand.”

“Actually being a brigand was working out great until I ran into you.”

I snorted “I’ve heard some variation of that so many times it’s started to lose all meaning.”

He gave me a curious look and then had and his men gathered up the surviving horses and left.  The orcs had killed both of our mounts and one of theirs was well.  There’s a lot of good reasons to hate orcs, but the one that I’d pick as my favorite is the gleeful way in which they go out of their way to attack and kill our fine hoofed friends.  The religious types will tell you that in the long ago far away whatever vile god spawned the orcish race killed some nature god as part of a godly power play.  Some manner of horse demigod that was pals with the nature god didn’t care for this and kicked the orc-god right in his face, knocking out one of his god-eyes.  Ever since then the one eyed jerk god or orcs has commanded that all his worldly minions to attack our loyal and helpful hoofed friends.  Seems like the kind of thing religious people would make up so I don’t know if it’s true but it’s as good of an explanation as any.

Rova came to stand over me “Shouldn’t get moving?  There may be more of them around.”

“I just need a minute you know?”

I passed her back her rapier and took another long drink from my Flask as she walked away.  I laid back and looked up at the sky for a few minutes.  It looks so peaceful up there.  Just fluffy white clouds and happy little birds and nothing but blue sky as far as the eye can see.  But I’m sure there’s some kind of monsters in those clouds.  And the birds are like some kind of shapeshifting terror that eats human grief.  Or some other Gods damn thing.  Maybe there’s castle in the clouds were giants live and the giants mount up on massive floating sky squids and go to war with each other over possession of magic harps that play themselves and white hens that are actually witches that give you good luck and endless sacks of giant potatoes and human women that they enslave and force to dance for their amusement.  And when the giants stab at each other and tear one another’s flesh apart with their sky tridents and scimitars the blood falls to earth and anywhere the blood hit trolls spring up out of the ground to hunt humans for food.  But it looks peaceful enough.

“Does anyone know if there are giants in the clouds?”

I heard Pragma’s scratchy voice “Yes.  They’re called cloud giants even.”

“Are they nice?”

“Uh, the only thing I know about personally is a cloud giant coming down here to kidnap a renowned chef and take them back to their cloud fortress.  It’s said that they’re really into gourmet cooking.”

“How does a cloud support a fortress?”

No one had an answer for that.  I continued lying in the road for a few more minutes and then with a long sigh I levered myself up and waved us forward.  With our horses murdered we were left to walk the road under our own power and our progress was even slower than before on account of Rova and Pragma being in bad shape.  Autane had gathered up the saddlebags from the horses with all our gear and tossed them over his shoulders and I could tell that he was struggling under the extra weight.  I probably should have told him that he could just toss all that stuff into one my magic bags but I didn’t.  We probably didn’t make it another five miles before Autane called a halt and started setting up camp.  Later while Pragma was in the Pavilion sleeping and Autane was cooking up some manner of plains grouse that he had throttled I noticed Rova looking at me thoughtfully from across the fire.  I smiled and gave her a little salute with my Flask.

“You don’t remember me drinking this much huh?  Trust me, I did, it’s just back then I did a lot of my drinking in private.”

She responded with a faint smile of her own “No, I just never thought I’d see you again.”

“I wager you never thought about me at all, but I know what you mean.  Quite a reunion wouldn’t you say?”

She nodded and then after a long moment of silence spoke again somewhat tentatively “I didn’t know you well back then but I can see that you’re very much changed.”

“The same goes for you.”

She shook her head “No, I am what I was before, I haven’t changed at all – this is the real me.” She was quiet for another moment “But you’re different.”

I shrugged “Maybe.  As you said you didn’t really know me.”

“The future tells us what the past was about. You make the past mean different things by the way you use the time that comes after.”

“What?”

“There’s something brewing inside you Ela, some kind of metamorphosis is taking place – something happens, something is taken away from you or someone gets sick, something happens, and then you’re something else.  You were one thing, and then it changes.”

I halfway laughed “Are you off your stump Rova?  Autane see if you can find some water, I think Rova’s drunk.  No more rice wine for you.”

“It was strange to see you again, but its stranger still to see that you’re not the person you were when I knew you.  What is it that you’re after Ela?”  I said nothing but somehow she divined it “The Duke?  You should let that go Ela.  Don’t let that past dictate your future.  You’re free now, just enjoy that, yu can anything you want now.  Don’t drudge up the bad old days.  Don’t delve into that unhappy time.”

“Are you trying to tell me that if you ran across Eccleshall Branting you wouldn’t kill him where he stood?”

“I wouldn’t.  He doesn’t mean anything to me now.  I won’t lie, there was a time when I gripped that anger tightly, but I’ve learned how to open that hand and let the anger float away.  As long as Pragma and I are together that’s all that matters.  And all the things that happened in the past led me to him so I can’t hate them too much as awful as they were at the time.  I see you rolling your eyes, and I know that it sounds hackneyed but it’s true.  I’m not sure I believed in love before, I certainly had never seen it.  But that’s something else really.  Ela, anger is like drinking salt water for thirst, it only increases the thirst.”

“Give me a break.  What platitude are you going to toss out next?  A good man’s anger lasts an instant, an average man’s for two hours, a evil man’s a day and night, a great idiot’s until death? Or what about this old chestnut – an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind?”

“See you are changed, I don’t remember you having this sharp of a tongue, you always talked so sweetly in those days.”

“I no longer have to varnish my opinion.  I agree that I am different, what was I back then?  A cringing nothing, depending on others for everything.  Holding onto anger has changed me, I’ll grant you that.  It’s made me stronger.  It’s tempered me into something better.”

“More dangerous perhaps, but don’t mistake that for an improvement.”

“You’re right, you haven’t changed, you’re still a stick in the mud.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 739,911

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, 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

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, locked chest (2)

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

Myam 12 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

After the sun went down the temperature dropped significantly more than usual for sunset.  It wasn’t freezing cold by any means but it was not comfortable by any stretch.  Despite the day of rest Corune didn’t seem to be getting any better, if anything she seemed weaker.  Having nothing to eat probably didn’t help.  I’m no healer but even setting that aside it seemed like there was something else going on – some kind of malaise seemed to have settled over her.  It was like all the vitality had been drained from her.  As the day wore on she seemed more and more listless to the point where she barely responded to my insults anymore.  Once night and the cold set in she started shivering so badly she couldn’t fall asleep.  So of course a few hours later it started drizzling.  Somehow that made things even more miserable that a true driving rain.    

Things were getting pretty grim around the old “campsite” so I thought about trying to get a fire going.  Sunrods normally don’t seem to produce any heat but they’re creating light with some kind of alchemical goo inside so I thought it was worth a try.  Since Corune hadn’t really moved I rolled her over and cut some strips off the back of the trademark blue greatcoat of her dumb order assuming correctly that it would be mostly dry.  I stuck that in my Haversack and gathered the driest wood I could find before dumping out the whole mess and breaking a sunrod over it.  Or trying to anyway, the thing was pretty damn hard to break.  I had to cut it halfway through with my dagger before I was able to finally snap it and pour out the stuff inside – which was mostly powder.  I was expecting liquid for some reason.  It created a few sparks and I saw a tiny flicker of flame, which was encouragement enough to take out the last sunrod and do the same thing.  This got a nice little fire burning and I dragged Corune next to it, covering her with a cloak from my secret pocket even though I knew it would only last a couple of hours.  Maybe that would be enough to get her warm.

About ten minutes later the alchemical goo fizzled and popped and the fire went out.  Out of all the things I’ve seen lately it was one of the more depressing sights to cross my eyes.  I tried to sleep but between the cold and the rain and Corune’s wordless moaning there was no chance.  I was starting to consider kicking her until she shut up when I noticed a tiny glimmer of light in the distance.  Rather than getting up immediately I stared at it spitefully for a long time, I couldn’t tell you why exactly.  You know that feeling when there’s something you should do that you know is going to make things better but for some reason you resent having to do it so you just sulk and get madder and madder?  Yeah.

When I finally did get up and haul myself towards the light the first thing I saw was a wheelbarrow that looked like it was hundreds of years old and all that was holding it together was hope and good intentions.  Even so it was piled high with ramshackle goods and items – junk really.  Amongst the treasures I saw half a broken bedframe, a dozen soiled wigs, pieces of rugs, part of a blanket, the basket of a catapult, some hunks of rotting cheese, a spinning wheel without wheel, loose nails, a cage missing two sides – that kind of stuff.  I would have said this was the cart of a rag and bone man but most of this stuff even a ragman would turn his nose up at.  Coming around the garbage-barrow I found a merrily burning campfire with three shifty older codgers sitting around it.  They were startled by my appearance due to their semi-inebriation and their advanced age although I couldn’t tell you in what proportion. 

They jumped up, well not jumped but creaked, and brandished a variety of “weapons” at me.  One had a chair leg sharpened to a point, another had a hayfork with only one tine left – so a spear maybe – and the third had a broken bottle with cloth wrapped around the neck to make a hilt.  Which means he carries it around like that, which means he’s insane.  I tried to reason with them, I really did, but they were cursing at me and shouting and yelling for me to lay down my weapons – I had no weapons at the time mind you.  I admit that in short order I lost my temper.  My grandmother always told me that if you lose your temper you’ve lost – that you have to stay in control if you want to survive, you can’t let your emotions overrule you reason.  Normally I’m great at that. 

I have every reason to be angry, but you have to hold back that anger.   Because there are consequences to expressing your anger, and because I have an image to maintain, and for a thousand other reasons.  Eventually though, there will be a last straw.  Actually no, I won’t like the straw and the donkey’s back metaphor because that implies that it’s an incremental process and it’s inevitable when neither of those are true.  When it happens it comes out of nowhere and it’s just one thing that makes it happen.  It’s not an accumulation of slights, it’s not that I’ve had all I can stand and I can’t stand no more – it’s like hitting your funny bone, it’s just the wrong touch at the right time in the right place. Do I regret killing those geezers?  Yes, I do.  But honestly, not very much.  Not because it wasn’t wrong, but because it didn’t really matter.

After they were dead I grabbed a stout burning branch out of their fire and carried it back towards Corune but halfway there the fire went out and I hurled the then smoldering stick into the darkness and screamed for a little while.  I was still pretty angry.  Once I calmed down I went back to their camp and dumped all the crap out of their wheelbarrow and used that to convey Corune over the fire instead.  Have you ever tried to carry a person on a wheelbarrow in the dark over rough terrain?  It’s maddening.  It took me almost two hours to travel maybe three hundred yards.  My arms ached so badly I just left Corune in the wheelbarrow by the fire and tossed some of the rug scraps and paper-thin blankets from their pile on her.  I never did manage to fall asleep.  I was too jittery and worked up.

Sometime before dawn I decided to leave.  Why was I even there in the first place?  So of course as soon as I started to walk away Corune miraculously is finally able to stand up and asks me where I’m going.  I could have lied to her, I could have lied to her so easily, told her I was going for help, told her I was just going to take a piss, told her a hundred other things.  And she would have believed me because that’s what I do.  But I didn’t, I told her I was going back to Beresford.  She asked if I was going to leave her there and I told her that I was.  Her voice was frail and frightened.

“I’ll die if you leave me here.”

“Yeah.  Probably.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Yeah.”

She looked like she was holding back tears, not for herself – but for me!

“What happened to you?  What made you this way?”

“That would be very convenient wouldn’t it?  I had a hard childhood or I was mistreated in some way or somehow traumatized and that’s why I ‘act out’.  I find that offensive.  I do what I choose to do because I choose to do it.  I’m not a victim, I don’t replay old horrible shit that happened to me and act on it.  I move on, I get on with my life because I am a Gods damned adult.  One of the few I seem to come across.”

“I need your help.”

“So what?  Nobody ever helped me do a damn thing, I had to do it all myself.  Where would I be if I sat around waiting for someone to help me out?  I’d be dead is where I would be.  Waiting for someone else to save the day is a long wait for a horse that doesn’t show up.  You want to live you need to fight.  Get up and walk to town.  The real question isn’t why won’t I help you now, it’s why did I ever help you?  You were taking me to be tortured to death!  I should have shot you the first moment I saw you.”

“You don’t know what they were going to do.”

“What the FUCK do you think they were going to do?  Have me to dinner?  Serve tea and raspberry tarts?  If they weren’t going to kill me they were going to make me wish I was dead.”

“If you had killed me then you’d be dead too, I saved your life.”

“I would have been fine either way, I would have figured a way out.”

She laughed a laugh so bitter it was hard to even tell it was a laugh “Your ego is astounding.  Until just now I haven’t been able to figure out what’s wrong with you, I couldn’t tell if it was anger, fear, or hatred.  But it’s all three together – pride.  You become angry at anyone who attacks your self-image of perfection, you fear the judgement of others, and you cultivate hate of those who force you to see the unpleasant truths about yourself.  It’s not enough for you to deny the truth when I point it out, you have to silence the source of your frustration with your insults and slander.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me!  You’re the narcissist for thinking that you know better!”

“Tell me this one thing, why do you want revenge on the Duke so badly?”

“He ruined my life.  He tried to kill me but he didn’t even have the balls to do it right, he just left me to die.  You talk about morality, I am morally bound to ruin the Duke for what he did to me.  You claim to love justice so much, what about my justice?  Why aren’t you on my side?  I’m left to administer justice myself because no one else is going to do it.  I’m the one who was wronged.”

“And that’s what it is, not that the Duke did something wrong, but that he had the audacity to damage the foundation of your fragile self-worth.  It’s not that he ruined your life it’s that he beat you – that’s all you care about.”

“You don’t know me, you don’t know anything.  And you have a very strange way of asking for help, if you want me to keep you alive another lecture doesn’t seem like a great way to go.”

“Without me you’re not going to get your possessions back.”

I smiled “And there it is.  You abandon the high ground pretty quickly when your ass is on the line.  Your God, your code, your precious laws it’s a bad joke.  So it’s not about right or wrong huh?  It’s a simple you scratch my back and I scratch yours?  Finally, now we’re getting somewhere.”

“I didn’t abandon anything, I just know who I’m talking to – you’re empty Ela, appeals to a higher purpose are pointless.”

“And yet you keep making them.  What’s that say about you I wonder?  You already told me where my stuff is, I’m sure I can get it back without you.  So that argument doesn’t hold a lot of water.  What else you got?  What else will you bargain with?  What can you offer me to make me save your life?  Money?  Jewels?  Eternal life in Vultur’s heavenly kingdom?  What have you got for me sister?  I’m entertaining all offers.  How badly do you want to live?”

“Not badly enough to listen to you for another second.”

With that she shuffled back and lay down by the fire. 

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

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

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

Mathanaya 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

It was late in the afternoon by the time Martialla and I were able to head out into the woods for the lady werewolf showdown.  Martialla suggested that was the sort of thing that should wait for the light of  day, but I didn’t want to spend any more time in this no horse town so off we went. Yet again marching into the wilderness to face an unknown and possibly deadly threat.  Is there such a thing as time magic?  If there is I feel like I’ve been influenced by some spell to do the same things over and over again.  I tell you this now, when I settle up with Duke Eaglevane and I’m living a life of luxury I am never going to set foot outside of a city again.  Not ever.  If the city is on fire I’ll burn with it.   

“Can I renew my objection to heading out to meet a werewolf as night is coming on?”

“You may not.  Besides, there’s no such thing as werewolves.”

“What do you think we’re going to find out there then?”

“A hairy broad that likes slaughtering livestock.”

“And what if she is a werewolf?  What’s the plan in that event, unlikely though it may be?”

“Uh-no, I’ll come up with something.”

“How comforting.”

“You’re the magic expert, shouldn’t you know how to curse werewolfism?”

“I’ve heard that removal of the spleen can cure an afflicted wolfperson, the side effect is that they die but the good news is they aren’t damned to the Hells for being a sinful monster.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Surprisingly perhaps we were able to follow Drake’s directions to the letter and as the sun was going down we came across the luxury accommodations that he had secured for this sister – something akin to a trapper’s supply shack that may have been a whole six feet wide.  Martialla and I had come under the cloak of invisibility – metaphorically speaking, I mean we were invisible but you know what I’m saying, there was no literal cloak.  If you know where I can get a cloak of invisibility let me know because that would be really handy.  There was a fellow back at court that had one of those but all he used it for was wandering about the palace naked and molesting himself near the kitchen staff. The point is we came across the twin sister unawares chopping down a tree.  I would have never pegged them as twins because this one looked a good ten years younger – although Drake’s premature greying around the edges probably had a lot to with that.  She was wearing a simple red peasant shift that clashed horribly with her scarlet locks and a leather apron type thing over that.  She was wielding the axe with an expert hand and attacking the tree like it had stolen her virtue.

I became visible as we came up on her “Have you ever considered selling your hair to a wigmaker?  I think I’d look fine as a redhead.”

Startled, she spun around with her axe held menacingly “Who are you?!”

“Your brother sent us.  I’m surprised you weren’t able to sniff us out, or can you only do that when you’re in wolf form?”

She shook her head “He wouldn’t do that, he’d never send anyone out here!”

“Well he’s in a bit of a pickle.  The townfolk are about to burn him alive because you’ve been killing their aquatic monster rats.”

She growled, and I mean really growled – not like a human growls – and snapped the shaft of the axe like a stout twig. 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa there, hold on – don’t go wolfing out on us right this second, we need to talk.”

She turned her head up to the skies and screamed, a guttural primordial scream that made the tiny hairs on my shivering scalp stand up on end.  She slammed into the tree she had been hacking at like she was trying to tackle it and started hammering it with punches – splitting her knuckles open to the bone and sending blood flying with each hit.  After more than a minute she fell into a sitting position, exhausted and bloody handed.

“That was . . . something.”

“It’s not the moon, in the stories they say it’s the moon.  It’s not the moon.  It’s anger, or sadness sometimes.  It can happen even if you get really happy – not that that’s happened in a long while.  It’s a beast inside of you, waiting until you’re weak or just tired, and then it grabs you and it takes over.  You have to hold it back all the time – it’s like you’re trying to hold shut a trap door above you, but the weight pressing down never gets tired, it never lets up – but you do.  Eventually you can’t hold the weight anymore and it pushes you down, and it gets on top of you, and it gets inside you.  You’re never safe because it’s always with you. Always.”

“Well we’re here to help you.”

She looked utterly forlorn as she met my gaze “How?”

“We’ll figure something out.  But right now we need to help your brother.  Let’s get back to town, tell them that you’ve been killing the rats not because you’re a werewolf – that would be crazy – but because you’re selling the pelts or meat or whatever to poachers.  I’ll buy them off, you and your brother will get kicked out of town and then we can find a cure.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Honestly I have no idea.  There’s something inside me too, it’s different though.  I feel like I’m a dog chasing its tail sometimes – I just do things.”

“Maybe you’re just a good person.”

Martialla snickered at that and I shot her a dirty look.  The three of us started walking back to Long Avon. 

“So, when you do your wolf thing are you a red furred wolf?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So what happens to your human hair?  Where does it go?  And how does it come back?”

“I have no idea.”

“That’s disappointing, I thought we might be onto something there.  Some kind of magical dimension of hair.  What happens to your tits when you turn?  Do they disappear or do you get more of them or what?”

“I’d really rather not talk about it.”

“Sure, sure, I mean it’s probably the only interesting thing you have to talk about but I get it.  So, you were really going to town on that tree back there.  Looks like you’ve cut down a lot of trees around here.”

“Physical activity helps me stay under control.  Plus before I got bitten I worked for the lumber consortium.”

“Of Three Rivers?”

“Is there any other?”

“I stand corrected, I’m very interested in that.  Tell me everything, in particular focus on any potential embarrassing or ruinous secrets you might know about them – anything that you would consider blackmail fodder.”

“I was just a woodcutter, I don’t know about anything like that.”

“We’ll see, just tell me everything you know, leave nothing out.”   

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .012%

Curses – Marksman’s Malady

Funds: 900 platinum, 4251 gold

XP: 243,161

Inventory:  Pathfinder’s Gear (white) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Holy Symbol of Kozilek, Ruby (2), Black Marketers’ Bag, 879 Garnets, bolt of silk, Pirate’s Eyepatch, dress (fancy, revealing) 2, dress (fancy) 6

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