Macendamandel 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I trotted my steed into Three Rivers a couple hours before dawn.  For a brutal commercially sponsored dictatorship security is surprisingly lax in the city.  I suppose you don’t worry about tax revenue when you control everything and there’s nothing being imported outside of your own little monopoly.  I dismounted, leading my fine stolen steed into the lower city and asking the first person I saw (there were a lot of people working already even before sunup) where the local chapterhouse of the messenger service was located – the idea being that I had found the grand equine wandering in the woods and wanted to return it to the proper authorities.  The fellow I asked had one of those beards without the mustache part and his eyes were wide and unfocused.  He told me that there was no royal messenger house there which I didn’t believe because I’m ninety-nine percent sure that’s illegal – every community with more than a thousand residents on a royal highway is required to at least have a swing station.  But several other people told me the same thing so it must be true.  Maybe I can take down the Consortium with that legal issue.

Eventually I just found a stable and turned the horse over to the stablemaster to let him figure it out.  I was sad to hand him over, he was a fine steed and I would have liked to keep him, but aside from the fact that I was technically committing treason by riding him I’ve found that my lifestyle doesn’t support me having anything that I can’t carry on my person – including things that could carry my person on them.  I made for the safehouse but at the first leg of the journey I was intercepted by one of the street performers that had been feeding us information – a preposterously flexible woman with jug ears and lank dirty brown hair named Eaevn.  She told me that the safehouse was no longer safe, Hessenmeel had been captured and executed.  Milani and Damrow had taken over the reins of the group but they had shifted things more from rebellion mode to non-violent protest mode. 

“What about Martialla?”

Her face was blank “Who’s that?”

“Tallish, dirty blond hair, pancake face, stupid hat – she was recruiting with Hessenmeel.”

She shrugged “If there were any other leaders they must have been captured and killed as well.  Milani and that out of towner are the only ones left that I know about.”

I sighed, this is what happens when I’m out of it for a minute – everything falls apart.  I would be lying though if underneath my exasperation there wasn’t a rich seam of fear as well.  When Martialla hadn’t shown up at the safehouse the night I was captured I didn’t think for a moment that anything had happened to her – we’re not joined at the hip and she can take care of herself.  But the casual way Eaevn declared that she must be dead made me go cold all over. 

There was a part of me that was angry for being worried about someone else, that said this is what happens when you form attachments of any kind.  And for a long time I would have given that voice its head.  But you know what?  Martialla is my friend, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about, that’s not a weakness.  I realize that now.  My grandmother always told me that the strong are strongest alone, but as wise as she was her words in that case undermined her own argument – because she was sharing them with me.  We weren’t alone, we had each other, and we were both better off for it.  I was alone for a long time, so much so that the idea of every trusting or depending or caring about anyone else was repugnant to me.  I was a survivor and I valued that over everything else – I didn’t need anyone else.  I didn’t want anyone else.

And that’s still true that I don’t need anyone else, but by the same token I don’t need delicious wine.  I don’t need good food and a soft bed and a stable full of fabulous horses.  I don’t need for my enemies to be destroyed.  But life is so much better with those things.  And my life is better with Martialla as my friend as well.  I would have avoided becoming her friend had I know it was happening. In order to make a connection with someone you have to show your ass – and being vulnerable it something that I would never voluntarily do.  She showed up and we were going along and then one day we were just friends.  And I’m glad that it happened, because even though it opens up the possibility of something like this – her being taken away, it’s worth it. 

I hit the streets and started doing some legwork like in the old days, gathering information to see what had happened to Martialla.  Enough people said that she had been captured by the consortium that I decided that it was probably true.  Unlike with Hessenmeel there had been no public execution for her, people assumed that she had been killed in private.  But no one had seen her die.  I wasn’t going to believe that she had been snuffed out by the consortium until I saw a body.  That’s hard information to come by though, unless someone was actually there – assuming that it happened at all.  I was contemplating some kind of ill-advised covert action against one of the Consortium bigwigs when I was approached by a stern looking man with grey hair wearing an overgenerous forest green mantle.  I recognized him as one of Hessenmeel’s merchant contacts.

He told me that Martialla had indeed been captured by the consortium, but that some of the group of Hessenmeel’s followers that she had helped escape had staged a reciprocal rescue operation.  Sounds like it turned in a bloody mess but she was spirited away successfully.  Speaking with a chain of the surviving rescuers, who were more than a little bitter about the experience, they told me that she had been hidden out of the city with a band of Ples Del’mer travelers/wildcat lumberjacks/itinerants.  Which doesn’t seem like a very safe haven to me, but since they were already feeling salty about the rescue mission I didn’t break bad with them about it.  Plus they probably weren’t spoiled for choices in people willing to hide a condemned fugitive.    

From there I was eventually able to make contact with some shady operators who put me in touch with some smugglers who were able to convey me to the Ples Del’mer camp away from the city several hours after sunset.  By this point I was exhausted, which seems to be my normal state of being these days.  I’ve promised myself before that once this is all over the Duke is dead and gone I’m going to sleep for several weeks straight and never get up early or stay up late again.  I reaffirmed that promise to myself as I crouched in some bushes with the smugglers made dumb bird calls to the hidden camp of the wandering people. 

What no one told me is that Martialla had been badly injured – either during her capture, during her imprisonment, or during the escape.  Or possibly all three.  I was trundled to a covered wagon back in the brush where a single candle was lit and jealously shielded to reveal Martialla’s waxy and pale face.  Her legs were both bound with splits and she had bandages all about the head as well – based on the amount of missing hair it looked like a piece of her scalp had been ripped off.  My relief at seeing her alive was squashed instantly by her condition – I’ve seen her wounded in battle many times but never before had she looked as fragile and weak as in that moment.  Her face was slick with sweat and her breathing was labored.

“Good Gods you look like shit.”

Her eyes fluttered open and after a moment she woke “You look fine . . . . as always.”

She had an accusatory tone that I had never heard in her voice before, gone was our customary lighthearted mockery.  I wasn’t sure what to say but she had no issue coming up with something to say.

“Where the fuck were you?”

“I was captured too.  I just managed to get back to town.”

 She frowned “What do you mean?  Why were you out of town?”

“A man named Peronell Missplitter grabbed me and sent me downriver, he works for Pyshundt and . . .”

She clenched her fists so hard I thought she might break her own fingers “Who the FUCK is Psyhundt?  Another Gods damned person on your Gods damned fucking list?  So while Hessenmeel was getting fucking drawn and quartered and I was getting my legs FUCKING SMASHED you were fucking around with your fucking list?!”

“No, no, nothing like that.  Peronell grabbed me because he knew I was wanted by the Consortium, it just so happened . . .”

She was frothing at the mouth slightly as she shouted “Where the fuck were you Ela?  Where were you?  You LEFT me!  You LEFT me!”

“I was only gone for four days, I got back as soon as I could, I got pinched too!  What the Hells was I supposed to do?”

She nodded sarcastically “That’s what I’ve been wondering too.  I’ve been wondering what you could have done.  Seems like every time you’re in trouble I come to save your skinny ass but gee, come to think of it every time I’m fucked you’re nowhere around are you?”

“That’s not quite true, you know that . . .”

“Shut up!  Shut UP.  I am sick of your lies.  Lies, lies, lies!  All you do is lie!  Do you even know what the truth is anymore?  Could you even recognize if it slapped you in your ugly scarred face?”

“I don’t lie to you Martialla, I mean . . . not anymore I don’t.”

She snorted “Well, what a fucking comfort that is.  Thanks for remembering that I’m alive and coming to check on me.  As you can see I’m fucked up so I’m no use to you anymore.  I guess this is goodbye then right?  Good luck burning the whole world down because things didn’t go your way.  Things didn’t go exactly the fucking way you wanted them to so clearly that justifies killing hundreds of people.  Thousand even.”

“I had my own problems Martialla, I came back as soon as I could.  You’re an adult and you are more than capable of handling yourself, it’s not my job to babysit you.  You want to be mad at me that’s fine, let me have it, shout your lungs out, but you’re being unfair.  This is a bad beat and it sucks, it happens. You’re going to have to deal with it, if you want to be pissed at me for a while go right ahead.  You’ll get over it.  I’ll be back tomorrow with something to heal you.”

“Sure, because we’re such close friends.”

“That’s right.”

She closed her eyes “You don’t know what friendship is Ela, you’re dead inside.  Blow out that candle and go away.”


Funds: 6937 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Ring of Invisibility

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

Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

You spend a few days in utter darkness and your mind starts to play tricks on you.  I’ve heard that sensory deprivation can cause you to hallucinate and that must be true unless a highly localized version of the Northern Lights was happening by me.  I suppose your brain gets bored with not having anything to see and just starts making things up.  Beyond dreams and lights though despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m in an old storeroom I started to convince myself that the room had no door.  That they sealed me in here somehow, with magic, or just normally with bricks like nobles too sometimes when they’re bored with their mistresses.  I’ve worked all around the walls several times and I only felt stone – nothing that felt like a door.  It would explain why no one has come to taunt me or throw food at me or anything since I’ve been here. 

But like I said, it was just my mind playing tricks, which was made apparent when the door opened today.  The very small amount of light that came in through the doorway was enough to sting my eyes like flying grit and start them to watering.  Once I was able to stand looking I saw Martialla coming in holding a candle and a pitcher, maneuvering the door with her hip – she’s more graceful than I give her credit for.  Sometimes. She handed me the pitcher and I took a drink (sadly of water) as she unslung a pack from over her shoulder and brought out some bread and cheese.

Martialla shielded the candlelight with her body “I figured you’d need to regain your strength.”

“I’m fine actually, I had a dinner date just the other night.”


“I’ll explain later.  Have you made contact with Mord?”

“Would I be here if I hadn’t?”

“Don’t get touchy, I was just asking.”

“I think I’m entitled to get a little touchy since you fucking stabbed me.”

“I knew you wouldn’t die.  And we could go tit for tat on that, all the shit you pulled on me.”

“You said that it had to look real!  You said that they could be watching us at any time so . . .”

“I know what I said, I wasn’t the one complaining, I was just titting at your tat.  I won’t insult you by asking if you’ve identified the targets but can you at least tell me who they are?”

“The old lady is the main one we need to deal with, there’s a couple other women too – as long as we catch them by surprise it shouldn’t be a problem.  One of them is a real hardcase though, we need to be careful with that one.”

“Aren’t we always careful?”


I took my gear out of the satchel and stripped off the peasant rag I was wearing to start getting dressed “You kept my clothes in the same bag as the cheese?  And you just wadded it into a ball?  You’re lucky this magically repels wrinkles otherwise you’d be in a lot of trouble with me right now.”

“What are you going to do?  Stab me again?”

“Good Gods are you going to keep bringing that up forever?  You kicked the shit out of me like ten times!”

She crossed her arms “I feel like an apology is in order.”

“I’m sorry I stabbed you.”

Her eyes widened slightly “That almost sounded like you meant it.”

“I do mean it, why would I want to stab you?  It was just for show, and I’m sorry.  I’d do it again in the same circumstances but that doesn’t mean I’m not sorry about having to do it.  I had to sell the story you know?”

“I just hope someone was watching.”

“So what’s the deal?  Why are these Kostelos taking orders from women now?”

“I don’t know really, something Kartak brought with him changed things for them – after he slaughtered their old shaman anyway.  Brutally slaughtered that is.  Apparently he brought about some kind of religious sea change that favored women.”

“And marginalized himself?”

“I’m just telling you what I know.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

“Do they say that?

“They’re going to start.”

Once I was dressed in my clothes I felt a thousand times more calm and confident.  I’m sure I still looked like a scarecrow and smelled like a dockworker after a hard day’s work but even so I felt much better.  There’s just something about being properly dressed you know?  Also it was just nice to have boots on – my feet are going to need a lot of attention once this is all over.  I looked at Martialla as I slipped the Whiterock ring back on my finger.

“What do you think happened while I wasn’t wearing this?”

She shook her head slowly “Nothing I hope.  I agonized over that, I thought maybe I could slip it to you and no one would notice, but you said . . .”

“Yeah, I know what I said.  Why are you carrying a candle instead of using your magic?”

“Seemed a little too conspicuous.”

I didn’t understand her reasoning there but I let it lie.  She’s not pretending to be anyone other than she is, and they all know she’s magic so what’s the point?  I assume it made sense in her mind.  Martialla took on the appearance of the one of the Juost manor maids so I could copy it and then we were off.  The room I was being held in was indeed a tower, but I think from the outside it looks round and I know the room was square – I’ll have to check from the grounds when this is all over.  We went down a short staircase and across the upper halls to the master bedroom where the old Kostelos woman who’s causing all the problems had installed herself.  As we left the room where I was imprisoned I saw a guard sitting on the floor sobbing uncontrollable and covering his face in horrified sadness.

“What’s with him?”

“I learned a new spell.”

I shook my head “Magic is awful.”

When we walked into the room I had a flashback to the keep outside of Hillside.  Or was it Tall Elk?  Anyway, you know the one I mean.  The room had the same kind of stink infusing it and there were similar looking markings painted on the walls.  And while I am no expert, these seemed to be less of patterns to ward off evil spirits  so much as patterns to invite the evil spirits in to have a good old time.  One of them specifically I know is the reverse of a sigil that’s supposed to ward off death.  So draw your own conclusion there.  The Kostelos are not a large people generally and the women was shrunken with age, looking even more so in the comprehensively soiled former grandeur of the Baron’s massive bed.  Martialla grabbed her legs and I put a pillow over her face and in a couple minutes her days of evil doing were over.

Now you may not think that murdering an old woman in her sleep is not particularly heroic but you’d be wrong.  If an orc comes charging at you and you stand your ground and hit with a club that takes guts sure, but fighting against someone attacking you is one thing.  That’s an immediate reaction to something right in front of you.  But the cold blooded murder of a defenseless old-timer?  That takes some real courage.  And I’m not saying that murders are courageous, they’re mostly cowards, which is just the point I’m trying to make – I’m a normal person and I did this anyway because it needed to be done.  This weak old woman brought down ruin on thousands of people, she had to go – and I had the willpower to do it.  That’s a hero.

Not to mention what I had to go through to get the chance.  And what Martialla had to go through.  I wonder if she had sex with the Duke’s cousin.  I’ll have to ask her later.  As we headed for another part of the manor we heard fighting outside – Mord’s crew must be doing their part to keep attention down in the courtyard.  They’re a little early, but what can you do?  Timing is hard.  When we got to the next room the woman inside was out of bed and throwing on some kind of primitive animal-skin armor (looked like an armadillo but that can’t be right) and had an axe lying close at hand.  She wasn’t old, but she was ugly.  I don’t know if she was deformed or possessed or had a curse on her or what, but she didn’t look precisely human.  Her eyes were kind of oblong and set at an angle – like they were sloping down towards her nose.  It was unsettling.  And that nose itself was upturned like that of a bat.  Her hands seemed to be fifty percent too large as well.  I didn’t care for her whole vibe.

She snarled at Martialla “What’s going on down there?!”

Martialla affected a tone of fear “The peasants are revolting!”

I couldn’t help myself “Of course, but she asked what’s going on outside.”

They both turned to look at me, confused, and then Martialla extended her hand with the magical words of magic and assailed her with a line of fire.  This didn’t bother Batnose too much as she countered with some magic of her own and deflected the attack – sending up a huge wall of flame between us that bisected the room.  And set the bed on fire.  It was just a perfect plane of fire hanging in the air – I never saw anything like it.

“Huh, will you look at that.”

Martialla cast another spell to protect us from the fire and we dove through – which was quite exhilarating.  If you ever get the chance to walk jump through a giant wall of fire you definitely should.  I don’t know why we jumped instead of just walking, it just seemed more apt.  Batnose was waiting for us and blasted us with another pillar of fire which burned the Hells out of us even through Martialla’s protection.  She claimed later on that it wasn’t real fire, that it was divine energy that looked like fire but I think Batnose just had a better spell and it overwhelmed Martialla’s.  Martialla is always making excuses for her mediocre magical powers.  Batnose expanded in size to where she had to duck to avoid hitting the ceiling and then lay about with her axe but there’s the thing – she was big but she didn’t seem that strong.  She was four times my size but I was still able to pin her down with my Walking Stick while Martialla heroically stabbed her in the ribs until she died. 

It’s really nice to have my Walking Stick back in my hands.  More than anything else I felt naked without that.  There’s something about the heft of holding an item that you can really whack someone on the noggin with that makes me feel assured.  It’s like you can point your stick at the entire world any say “You, you’re in my way!”  I can see why rich people like it so much.  Well that and for beating poor people so badly that they go blind.  We stepped back through the fire just as another woman was coming in the door. She was wearing full armor, even the helmet, but you could tell that under all that metal she was a muscular slab of humanity.  She’s have to be to move so easily with all that weight – I tried a chain shirt on once and it nearly brought me to my knees, she had on plate mail and it didn’t seem to bother her in the least.  She had long ornately plaited blonde hair that hung down to her waist – that part looked like what opera people think that warriors look like.  We looked at each other at the same time and then Martialla and I hopped back through the flame wall.

“I assume that’s the dangerous one?”


“The one we need to take by surprise?”


“Why didn’t we go after her first?”

“I was just going by the rooms that were closest.”

“Okay, so we climb out the window and . . .”

That’s when the opera warrior came charging through the flames – she had no protection, she just didn’t care about running through a wall of fire.  She smashed Martialla into the wall with her shield and she was swinging a hammer at my head.  You know a warhammer, not like a hammer for carpentry.  I managed to get my Walking Stick up to block it – and by block I mean get in the way sort of.  You have your friend swing a sledgehammer at you and you try to block it with broomstick and see how that works out.  The good news is the hammer didn’t hit me in the head.  The bad news is that the Walking Stick was driven back into my head with enough force to knock me on my ass.  The even worse news is that the Walking Stick broke into three pieces.  I just got it back!

Scrambling to my feet as opera warrior hammered Martialla I grabbed a flaming blanket off the bed and tossed it over her head.  I tried to grab and hold her as well, but she shoved me off with one elbow like I was a silk ribbon trying to hold back a rampaging rhino.  At least Martialla was able to get in a few stabs while she was blinded by the blanket of fire.  At least I think she was able to, as an observer it’s hard to tell with all that armor if the strikes are getting home of just glancing off.  With no other bright ideas I double-fisted my Flask and my Tankard and then pulled out the axe I took off Greysmith.  Not being an AXEpert (come on that’s funny!) I don’t think I struck a single telling blow, but I did slice her shield in half – this thing is ungodly sharp!  And more importantly I distracted her enough for Martialla to stab her in that area between where the back of the breastplate (is the back of a breastplate still called a breastplate or is it a backplate?) and the armor that covers your ass.  Does ass armor have a name?  It must right?  That was that, and neither of us got our brains dashed out by a hammer in the process – but it was a close thing.

Martialla looked at me grimly “One more stop.”

I grimaced “I think I liked being a prisoner better.”

At this point servants and various other people were running in every direction not knowing what to do – which I understandable when there’s a fire in the building and you’re under attack by unknown partiers.  It’s not like they were under siege or anything, they went to bed thinking this was going to be a normal night.  Martialla and I made our way to a solid door that was locked up tight, but this dwarf-axe made short work of it.  One the other side, in a small bedroom clutching a book to her chest and looking scared out of her wits stood Baroness Juost.  I’m not sure what surprised her more, seeing her axe-wielding maid on the other side of the door or when I returned to my normal appearance.

She gasped “Cousin?”

“Are we still doing that?”

“I never expected to see you again.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

She frowned “Do they say that?”


Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, 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, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe 

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

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

Montagem 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I don’t know if Hardra is really going to find Tudos, but I do know that she isn’t interested in coming with me.  I also know that if she goes off by herself she would be murdered or raped or murder raped immediately.  And there was a part of me that thought “good, let that ungrateful bitch get what’s coming to her” but it would silly to let that happen after all the work I went to her bring her back to life.  There’s no reason to let her ingratitude undo all my hard work.  I went to speak to Captain Winters (it really is him, although he’s not a captain anymore) he came back from the front lines and was all messed up in the head because of all the horrors and severed limbs and the eating of rats and all that so his family had sent him here to recover.  Once he was “better” they pulled some strings to get him out of the army and he decided to stay and work here to help other soldiers returning from the war.  Good intentions but most soldiers don’t get sent to a fancy asylum so his mission didn’t amount to much.  It wasn’t too hard to convince him to abandon his post and accompany Hardra wherever she may be going.

With that done Martialla and I headed out after having lunch with the asylum staff, which was surprisingly not terrible – once again I couldn’t help but think that I’ve stayed at inns that were worse that his institution for the mentally insane.  The nice folks at the loony bin told us that if we headed northwest we should find a bridge that would take us over the river and to the road heading east out of Alleene.  Once again I walk to face my destiny, or you know, whatever. 

“Martialla, in the unlikely event I ever get killed and you’re still alive I want you to promise me something.”

She held up a hand “I’m way ahead of you, no problem, I wouldn’t thinking of trying to bring you back.  I know that you would never want to be a broken thing like Hardra.”

“What?!  No, the exact opposite.  If I die I want you to do everything in your power to bring me back.  And I mean everything.  Under no circumstances should you let me rest in peace.  Make it your live goal to bring me back.  You do whatever you have to, my mission here is too important.  Even if it means you need to sacrifice your own life to bring me back.”

“That last part seems like a bit much to ask.”

“Don’t worry, once I’m alive again then I’ll bring you back – it’s the perfect scam.  Whoever’s in charge of all this death stuff is a real chump.” 

After we traveled for a couple hours I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large body of horsemen coming our way from up ahead.  Charging at us you might say.  When I turned to say something to Martialla she had her sword in her hand and it took me a moment to realize that she was not ready to defend us she ready to gut me.  I have my good points but it turns out that I am the stupidest woman in the world.  I should know better by now than to put any amount of trust in anyone ever.  Martialla had the point of her sword inches away from my stomach and I could see her off hand sparking with arcane energy.

“Don’t try anything Ela, I don’t want to have to hurt you.  But I will if you make me.”

“When?  This can’t have been the plan from the beginning.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, but I’d like to know.” 

“When you disappeared.  When I was running errands for the Baron.  I really hit it off with the Duke’s cousin, we came to an arrangement.”

I nodded “Nice work, I never suspected, never thought you were acting strangely.  Are you at least going to say you’re sorry that it came to this?”

“What would be the point?”

The horsemen surrounded us and I saw that it was a mixture of the Baron’s guards, Kostelos barbarians, and some other folk who I didn’t recognize.  At the head of the war party was a strapping young Kostelos warrior dressed in what I’ve come to think of as renegade Kostelos chic –eighty percent normal decent Kingdom clothing but with enough barbarian bells and whistles to stand out. 

“This won’t work.  You know that right?  I’ll escape.  And then I’ll kill you Martialla.”

“You never did lack for confidence.  But no, you won’t.  I doubt you’re capable of being honest enough with yourself to realize it, but if you look back over everything that’s happened with a critical eye you should recognize that you’ve accomplished nothing without me.  Without me to fight your battles for you, without me holding your hand, without me being your human capital, without my magic what are you?  You’re nothing.”

“You seem a little resentful there old buddy, this is more than a little personal isn’t it?”

“No I did this because it was the right move for me, betraying you is just a bonus.  I did get tired of your upstairs downstairs bullshit.  You aren’t even a real noble – you’re literal a prostitute.  You are not better than me Ela, you are a whore, absolutely the lowest rung on the social ladder.”

“You won’t suffer Martialla, I’ll just kill you – I owe you that much.”

She snorted “Aren’t you the only who’s always saying that people shouldn’t make speeches in situations like this?  Besides, you’ll never lay a hand on me.  You’re nothing without me backing you up.”

At this point the surrounding was complete and I turned to the lead Kostelos “I assume you’re Kartak.”

He nodded “And you’re the illustrious Ela.  Tales of your beauty were not exaggerated at all.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to disrobe now.”

“Vavhaav iukn’av goaumn avo appresh conceven.”

He chuckled “Your accent is terrible.  I assure you madam, this is nothing prurient, your friend has warned us all about your many bags of tricks.  If you feel more comfortable we’ll all turn our backs and Martialla can make sure you change into these.” He tossed a simple pleasant dress to the ground – it looked like a burlap sack.

“Prurient huh?  You’re really diving into this sophistication thing with both feet aren’t you?  I remember back when I was a guest of your tribe it was all ‘cut your tits off” this and “burn your eyes out” that and various discussions about what kind of sharpened sticks would be shoved up my asshole.  And now you’re throwing around fancy works like prurient.”

“Yes, the savagery of our past has made us strong, now it’s time for civilization to make us wise was well.”

“That’s quite combination for sure.  Those threats were before I had them all killed of course.  You remember that don’t you?  When I killed your tribe?  I assume your parents were in there, among the people I killed I mean, and whatever other family you had.  Too bad they didn’t make it to the civilization stage huh?  I bet they would have liked that.”

He smiled “If you’d like we can erect a tent for your privacy.  Martialla will have to go in with you of course, but that way decency will be maintained.”

I looked him dead in the eye as I reached for the buttons on my shirt.  I took off all my clothing, folding it nicely in a little pile and stood naked as a jaybird in the middle of a circle of men with swords and spears and horses.  I took a deep breath and stretched, feeling a nice pop in my upper back.

“Aaah, feels good.  I love the sensation of the wind on my skin.”

He pointed at the dress “Put that on.”

I made a face “That rag?  I’d rather . . .”

Martialla interrupted “Just put it on Ela, there’s no need for your usual theatricality.”

I started to say something and she smashed me in the side of the head with the hilt of her rapier.  I tell you this much, Martialla really knows where to hit someone.  I was instantly wobbly legged – she must have done something to my inner ear because I could not regain my balance.  I felt like I was on the hold of a ship.  Or is it the deck of a ship?  The ground felt like it was rolling was the point, even though it probably wasn’t. It’s hard to do much without your equilibrium – it doesn’t matter how heroically defiant you are, biology is biology.  It was so disorienting that I almost fell on my face trying to put on the potato sack dress they gave me.  I could hear some of the men chuckling about it.  I suppose it was pretty funny.  In the end Martialla made a disgusted noise and helped me pull it over my head. 

I very much wanted to lash out at her at that moment, but it would have been pointless.  You have to wait for your moment.  There’s no use in struggling against the net when they have you wrapped up tight – it’s painful, but you just have to wait.  Sadly I’ve been through this drill a couple times now.  Martialla thinks that I’m not going to escape?  That’s what they always think.  And look where that got them. 

They didn’t bind me, which normally I would appreciate because it sucks being lashed to a saddlehorn or thrown over the back of a horse like saddlebags – but I was so dizzy that I was having a hard time even staying mounted even though I’m an expert rider.  It wasn’t a tough pace they were setting but I was struggling nonetheless.  After the third time I almost fell out of the saddle I spoke up.

“Pardon me Mr. Kartak, but I’m having a minor difficulty here.  Would it be possible for me to double up with someone?”

Before he could answer Martialla intervened “No, don’t let her near anyone.”

Kartak seemed amused by the whole thing “What possible harm could it do for her to ride with someone?”

Martialla’s eyes bored into mine “Maybe you should ask Lord Gatz about that.  You remember him right?”

Kartak winced and adjusted himself – you know the way I mean.

“I assume the Baron or whoever’s pulling his strings wants me alive for some reason.  If I fall off my horse and break my bloody neck that’s going to put a crimp in whatever plans they have.”

“You can’t talk your way out of this Ela.  If you fall off you fall off.”

I was able to stay in the saddle mostly by just leaning forward and keeping my eyes focused on the back of my mount’s neck.  Let the horse do the work right?  Even in my hunched over state I tried to talk to people – get a little something going, starting sussing things out, maybe lay some groundwork for something in the future – but no one would talk to me.  I’m sure they had all been “warned” not to speak with me, like I was going to magically entrance them or something.  Like I could hypnotize them or captivate them just with the sound of my voice.  Martialla should know better, being a good liar isn’t some mystic power that lets you control people.  Sure, I have the sweetest voice anyone’s ever heard but that’s not magic.  Since no one would talk to me I just talked.  You can still plant some seeds just by having people listen – and it’s hard to not listen you know? After a while Martialla rode close and gave me a hard poke.

“Be quiet Ela or I’ll gag you.”

“Speaking of gagging, I have a funny story about Sir Quercus and his mistress.”

“I’m not joking Ela.”

Kartak’s tone was light “Oh, let her prattle on if she wants, it’s harmless.”

She looked at him imploringly “Probably My Lord, but why risk it?  She’s more dangerous than you know.”

I snickered “My Lord?  I never took you for an asslicker Martialla.”

A couple of the men laughed at this and her face turned to stone “I’m getting a gag.”

“Wait, wait, I won’t say anything, what if I just sing?”

Martialla may be good at whacking people on the side of the head, but she sucks at gagging – not that she was gagging, I mean putting a gag on someone, you know what I mean.  Putting a strip of cloth around and in someone’s mouth doesn’t do anything.  You have to wad something up, shove that in their mouth and then put the cloth over that to keep them from spitting it out.  It’s like she’s never gagged anyone before, she made a total mess of it – but I decided to keep quiet anyway.

I won’t lie, when they started to make camp for the day I had a spike of fear running through me.  I remember the Skin-Takers and their methods of amusing themselves.  But they really are making a show of being civilized because they didn’t erect any kind of torture platform or molest me in any way.  They did stake me to the ground like a dog, but I suppose that’s to be expected.  Martialla was the lucky one who brought me up plate of brown slop and chipped cup of water.  After she took off the useless gag she put on me she stood behind me with her sword out ready to strike.

“Good gods, you’re the one who was saying how powerless I was without you, lighten up.”

“Just eat Ela.”

“There’s no fork.”

“Use your hands.”

I shoveled some slop into my mouth “You know, this is actually better than some of the shit you brought me to eat in the past.  You really are the worst at foraging.  It took me a while, but I figured out that the other people in this little band of brothers have to be Satander exiles right?  Which is interesting.  Your new boyfriend, what’s his name again?  Zeke?  He was the commander of the pass that’s supposed to keep them on the other side of the mountains, and then you two hook up and now here they are mixed up with the Kostelos somehow.  He must have let them through the pass, but why?  What could Satander exiles and the Kostelos tribes be working together for?  It’s all very exciting.  Anything you want to share with me on that old pal?  Any thoughts?  How about you give me the inside skinny, for old times’ sake?”


Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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