There’s a girl here and she’s almost you

Today I’m feeling like the kid at the end of Old Yeller.  If Martialla has gone rabid on me I’m going to have to put her down.  The upside is that if I do shoot her then I can say cool gritty post-apocalypse stuff like “It’s a hell of a thing having to killing your best friend”.  If I do need to take her out it’s going to be tough though because she has the nanocanister which means she’s the one with access to healing and super-strength and stuff.  Also she has most of the guns.   Another issue is that she has Paul watching her back like a faithful hound.  Since he’s a rabid monster maybe he’s Old Yeller in this situation.  Would that make Martialla the bear?  Or was it a wolf?   

The worst movie I’ve been in (so far) started out as a script for Old Yeller 2.  I’ve seen many a shitty script in my time but this one took the cake.  Nothing in it made any god damn sense to me.  Gun to my head I couldn’t tell you what the plot was.  Was it supposed to be an erotic thriller about rabies?  Maybe.  Was Cujo one of the characters?  I think so.  Whatever the movie ending up being was never finished, but I get residual checks from a company in Singapore for it.  They must have sold the footage and they used in in another movie.  Martialla gets checks for it too and hers are three times more than mine.  I don’t remember her even being in that movie.  I should ask my agent about that.   Which will be even more of a challenge than knocking off Martialla since my agent is super dead already.

I suppose for now I should just keep an eye on Martialla.  She’s been acting out ever since we came bounding out of those cryo-tubes like Frosted Chocolate Vanilla Crème Pop Tarts out of the toaster. Probably because her husband and all her family and friends besides me are super dead.  For a while I wondered if she was pregnant since she’s been acting so squirrelly, but we’ve been here long enough that she should be showing by now if that was the case.  Or maybe the nanos ate her baby.  That’s a grim thought.  Why would you even think something like that?  You are messed up.

She just needs a project to work on I think.  She’s much happier when she was something to keep her simple little mind occupied.  Martialla is like a service dog, she wants to work.  Since her embarrassing emotional outburst she’s been avoiding me, going off with Paul during the day to do whatever it is they do, and Lucien has been staying at the garbage-shack with me.  I don’t know if it’s for my protection or because he doesn’t want to be subjected to the sight of Martialla and Paul going at it or both.  Whichever it is he was standing guard at the front garbage hole while I was ripping up Martialla’s books to teach her a little bit of a lesson about respect.

“You’re not getting any less blue are you?” I observed attractively.

He glanced down at his arm glumly “No.  It’s quite garish.  I wonder what color the Russians turned their test subjects.” 

I raised an eyebrow that could use some serious thinning out “They were chemically freezing people too?” 

“Whatever we were working on it was assumed by the planners that the Russians were doing the same thing.  It’s a named doctrine but the title escapes me.  The idea is you’re smart enough to come up with something your enemy is too.” 

“If the Russians were working on it they probably only produced corpses, so whatever color corpses are.  White?  When the Soviet Union collapsed they discovered that they actually sucked at almost everything and the whole Cold War thing was kind of a shame.  Just nobody knew it at the time.  Er, sorry you wasted your life on that.” 

He frowned slightly in a Canadian way “You say that and yet we’ve seen evidence that Russia invaded the west coast.  Maybe they wanted to seem incompetent.  What happened to the Soviet nuclear arsenal?” 

I thought about it for a moment “I don’t know.  I guess they still have it?  Er, had it, you know what I mean.” 

He gave me an incredulous look “You don’t know?  How can you not know?  The threat of nuclear exchange has been the primary concern in human history since the end of the Second World War.  The disposition of the Soviet nuclear arsenal had to be what everyone was paying attention to.  It should have been in the news constantly.” 

I grimaced slightly “I don’t remember the news saying anything about it.  I mostly remember them showing people dancing on the Berlin wall.” 

He frowned “In Germany?  What does that have to do with the fall of communism in Russia?” 

“I was in junior high dude, what do you want from me?  I wasn’t paying attention to current events I had dances and Trapper Keepers to worry about.  And don’t give me that look, what were you doing when you were fourteen?” 

“Working in a sawmill.” 

I shook my head “Jesus dude, give it a rest.  How about this, if you had to guess how would you expect that the Soviet Union would collapse?” 

He seemed impressed “Good question.  First thing that pops into my head is an instigating incident in the form of another Warsaw Pact action like in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  Say Poland and Romania both try to remove their governing communist party and Russia intervenes while already engaged in Afghanistan.  Prolonged military conflict erodes the reputation of the Red Army and undermines Soviet legitimacy to the point where internal groups start pressuring for change.” 

“That sounds familiar, that’s probably what happened.  Don’t shake your head at me Blue Man Group.” 

“What’s blue man group?  Some kind of therapy for men?” 

I shook my head “No, it’s three guys who paint themselves blue and then . . . uh, do a performance of . . . of some kind.  Like they hit a tube with a hammer or something.  I think I saw a commercial where they threw jello at a guy . . . something like that.  You know, its performance art, it doesn’t make any sense.  They get up there and do crazy shit and don’t talk and people love it for some reason.  It’s like on Broadway.” 

He laughed mirthlessly “Well, I can see how the west won the Cold War now, we have the Blue Man Group.” 

“I mean don’t knock the idea, that’s how we defeated the aliens too.  When the space invaders invaded in ninety-five at first they were kicking our ass with their alien spaceships, but you see they came from a warrior culture, they had no exposure to music or art or entertainment of any kind, all they knew was military service.  The first wave of alien soldiers who put boots on the ground became infatuated by human society, and spread these ideas to their comrades when they returned to the alien home planet.  End result, the alien soldiers refused to fight and the whole planetary government fell apart because of Mariah Carey, old sitcoms, and some postcards from the Louvre.” 

“You’re making that up!”   

I think Travis Tritt was the headliner that year

My sister claims that in ‘94 at the state fair, one of the giant boars from the livestock exhibit got loose and charged her and she had to run and jump for her life.  This is obviously a lie because those poor mountains of flesh can’t even move under their own power, their owners bring them in with forklifts.  And even if they could move, I doubt they’d want to because they have fans on them in those pens and it’s hot as hell during the fair. 

She made that story up because ’94 is the year I won the talent contest singing Tears in Heaven and I was the fair queen and I took first place in the girl’s bullriding event.  She was jealous of all the attention I was getting.  As well she should have been.  What I don’t understand is why anyone entertained that fabrication.  It was so obvious what she was doing.   Maybe they felt sorry for her.

What does this have to do with anything?  Nothing really, but I was reminded of it because Martialla has been chowing down like a prize hog while she grows a new foot like a disgusting flat little lizard regrows a tail.  She says that she’s so hungry because the nanos are consuming her fat reserves, but what fat reserves is my question?  She’s all elbows and knees and sharp hips.  Her ass is so flat and square that it barely looks like a moon at all.

I can’t chap her hide about it too much though because now that I think about it, I’ve felt the same thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m hungry all the time anyway because there’s no food here that doesn’t make my stomach implode, but when I’ve been injured, I’ve been out of my mind with how much I want food.  Sugar more than anything.  They’ve been bringing Martialla raw sugar beets and she’s been biting into them like apples, with dirt and little stringy things on them and everything.  It’s gross.   

Beyond presenting her beet-apples like grapes to a queen of antiquity, they’ve been waiting on her hand and foot, these future people have.  Which is odd because they didn’t give a shit about her when she was dying.  They’re impressed by her fighting skills for sure, although based on the reports of the battle I heard, her actions were less about skill and more about insanity.  But they’re even more impressed by her not dying skills. 

Because of her resurrection, they’ve begun telling each other wistful tales of a warrior of old called Logan.  As they tell it he was the hard fightinest, hard drinkinest, hard fartinest, most ugly, ugly son of a bitch to ever cast shadow on the earth.  As they tell it, Logan could suffer even the gravest wounds and yet fight on.  As they say he was covered head to toe by scars and the bones and skin of his face were injured so many times that his head was a lumpy asymmetrical blob like a child’s clay sculpture.  They claim that he could not be killed.  When I asked them where Logan was if he couldn’t be killed, they thought about for a minute and said “probably dead ”.  Morons.   

Since my wrist never fully healed and my hip is still messed up, I decided to give myself a shot of blue nanos as well.  Seeing this, Martialla scolded me for “wasting” them even though she’s had three more injections herself to return to the world of the living.  That’s the thanks she gives me for saving her life.  She won’t even admit that’s what happened, according to her the nanos saved her life.  She’s developed a real attitude since being mortally wounded and not dying I tell you what.   

Now I tell it to you straight, I’ve smoked some weed here and there.  A little bit of coke from time to time?  Yeah, it’s Hollywood you know?  I enjoy the occasional cocktail.  But that’s about it for old Ela.  Never tried any of the “hard” stuff.  That having been said, I’d put an injection of tiny blue robots into your bloodstream up there with just about anything.  As soon as those robots rushed into my veins I felt sooooooooooo good.  For the first time in a long time nothing hurt, nothing ached, nothing was uncomfortable, it wasn’t an exhilaration or anything crass like that, it was a feeling of wholeness and contentment. 

Your perception gets warped by living after the world ends.   The unimaginable becomes humdrum, the hideous becomes tedious, the unbearable becomes routine.  You forget what it feels like just to not be in pain.  Just to be normal.  Taking that into account, that hour after I injected myself may have been the best I’ve ever felt, even before.   

After three days Martialla still looks like a walking corpse but she has two feet again (well one and a half really) which is nothing short of miraculous.  She’s a little unsteady as she walks with me through the storage sheds to survey our newly acquired fleet of gasoline powered machines but not nearly as wobbly as you’d expect considering where she was before. I figured I’d be using the word hobbling rather than walking.  She was looking over our new plane when I asked her the billion trillion gajillion dollar question. 

“So we know what the blue ones do now, what about the others?  What do you think they do?” 

She smirked at me “So you’re admitting to nanobots being a thing now?” 

I looked down my nose at her “Don’t be smug Martialla, it’s not a good color on you.” 

She chuckled “According to you no color is a good one on me.  I always thought that I looked good in blue ironically.”  She tilted her head slightly “Who’s the grungy dude giving us the eye?” 

Grungy could have meant anyone around but I knew who she was talking about, I glanced at the fellow who had been stalking me since the fight “I don’t know, but he looks normal, relatively speaking, given the givens assuming the assumptions.  I’ve been wondering if he’s another freezer case like us.” 

She sat on the edge of the plane cockpit for a minute to rest, she gets winded easily “You think there’s a lot of those around?” 

I shrugged “I wouldn’t have thought that there were any before we encountered the Indian lady and her gang of lady doctors.  Now?  All bets are off right?  If you’re correct and time marched on for a while when we were in those tubes before the world apocalypted, maybe lots of people got turned into popsicles after us.” 

“I take it you haven’t asked him?” 

I shook my head “No, I was a little busy saving your life.”   

“You never were any good at multitasking.  Although what did you actually do to save me anyway?  I feel like the nanobots did all the heavy lifting on that project and then you’re swooping in to try and take the credit.” 

I sighed “I hate you Martialla.” 

She smiled sweetly “I know Ela, I know. But it’s nice to hear you say it.”

Tom Clancy presents

It took some work to get the steamroller-crane-buggy fired up.  You see these days, cars (or whatever) don’t have keys, they have a startup sequence like an airplane (that’s a thing with planes right?).  To get these monstrosities rolling, you have to tiggle the right toggles and swatch the right switches and cobb the right knobs and so forth.  Martialla thinks that they’re designed that way intentionally to prevent theft (like the one we’re committing) but I’m sure instead this is just what happens when you have junk mobiles knocked together by post-apocalyptic screwheads one at a time instead of having thousands of the same vehicles rolling off an assembly line.

Once we finally did get the thing moving, we immediately smashed into and through and over the rusted truck corpse because maneuvering it is like trying to steer a dead hippo down a river solely with body English.  I suppose that’s why it’s got that sheepsfoot roller thing on the front.  If I were building a conveyance, I would just build it so the damn thing could turn rather than putting an apparatus on front to crush everything in the way so you wouldn’t need to turn.  But what do I know about being a junk mechanic?  Nothing, that’s what.   

It took both of us to pilot the damn thing because the controls were down so low that you couldn’t see out the front driving hole while you were working them.  We switched off being the spotter and the driver because it turns out it’s really unnerving to “drive” when you can’t see where you’re going and you need a break after a bit.  The previous owner, you know the one Martialla murdered for probably no reason, was a good foot shorter than either of us.  How the hell did he drive this trash heap with this set up?  Martialla was crouched down below manning the controls while I sat up on the hood window trying to keep us going the right way.  And also wondering which the right way was.  And also drinking more than my fair share of the water we found. And by found I mean looted.

Martialla grumbled up at me “Why would someone even build something like this?” 

“Maybe it’s for the gladiator arena.” 

She growled at my back “We’re not going to find any car battle arenas Ela, it makes no sense for them to waste resources like that.” 

I leaned back and peered at her upside down “Have you see anything here that made sense?” 

She shoved at me “Get back up there!” 

I did, immediately regretting it as my core muscles turned to lightning, lightning that was on fire “Why?  You can’t fucking turn this thing fast enough to avoid any obstacles anyway, so what difference does it make?” 

“You can at least keep us from driving into the river!  This shitbucket was obviously built for combat but the sides are completely open to enemy fire.  It’s like . . . it’s like . . . well it’s like something.” 

“Well said.”  I glanced back at her by turning my head instead of lying back so the pain was only excruciating instead of agonizing “Remember that time I was driving and I went down that hill into that rice field where the Invincible were slaughtering all those mole people?” 

She made a half snort sound “Uh, yeah, I remember that time you almost got us killed.  It was last week.” 

“Oh pish, it was at least ten days ago.  And, in all fairness to me, we almost get killed every day now, so did I really do anything wrong?  Point being, after I endangered our lives on a whim, you asked me to check in with you before I endangered our lives again.  And I agreed to that request as it seemed reasonable.  Can I ask you to extend me the same courtesy before you straight up murder people without provocation?” 

She stood up, unfolding slowly and with a lot of grimacing like an elderly woman “You want me to check with you before I shoot someone?  You know that makes no sense right?  In those situations, I have to act in the moment.  That’s insane Ela, even for you.” 

“I’m not saying that if we’re in a firefight that you have to send me a written memo before you fire back, I’m just saying that when we’re talking to someone . . .” 

She sat back down and grabbed the controls like she was pretending they were my throat “He made a move on us Ela, what did you want me to do, wait until he bashed your pretty little head in before I did something?’ 

“He was taking a piss Martialla, he had his dick in his hand, what was he going to do?  Flick pee on us?” 

“He had a weapon in his other hand Ela, you saw it!” 

“You mean that sex toy looking thing that was probably about as dangerous as a rolled-up newspaper?” 

I could hear the flint in her voice “He was a threat, Ela.” 

“Was he though?”  When she didn’t answer, I let out a little sigh “Look, all I’m saying is that in a situation like that where there’s no immediate threat of violence, a clear and present danger as it were, how about you give me a chance to talk?  Maybe we could have made a bargain with him.” 

“I’m your bodyguard, right?  Let me do my job.  You don’t have to like how it’s done, you can just be alive to bitch and moan at me about it.” 

“Which you know I will.”

She nodded “Which I know you will.” She thought for a moment “Did you get fired from Clear and Present Danger or was that me?”

I snorted “First one and then the other.” 

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

Macendamandel 12 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I spent the rest of the day yesterday slogging around Three Rivers finding and talking with the lumberjack widows.  It was slow and boring work.  One thing that I hadn’t counted on was all the bridges – they’re perfect chokepoints for the consortium thugs that happen to be looking for little old me.  I kept an eye out for anyone peering through a magic crystal or anyone who looked like a wizard or anything like that but the consortium doesn’t seem to have a lot of arcane resources to bring to bear.  Makes sense, you don’t need a lot of magical firepower to keep some blue collar slugs in line.  

My illusions should keep me safe for now – they did yesterday anyway.  I was hoping that I would encounter one of those “den mother” types who’s all up in everyone’s business and is always organizing the neighborhood so she could do the legwork for me but instead it was mostly just a lot of sad and very tired women.  The prostitutes I talked to seems much healthier and, well not happier, but less sad anyway.  That’s something to think about isn’t it?

When I returned to the safehouse (that’s too grand really, safehole maybe?) Martialla had failed utterly to recruit any criminal scum but Hessenmeel did say that a few of his trading contacts were still interested in supporting the cause – although they probably aren’t aware that the cause has changed slightly.  Martialla and Hassenmeel seemed intent on talking “strategy” deep into the night so I took my sweetdream and went to sleep.  For some reason I couldn’t remember any of the dreams I had that night, maybe because of the mind-erasing narcotic that I was taking.  The next morning it was time to start getting serious.  I sent Hessenmeel to see if more of his old gang was interesting in keeping the flame of hope alive, which he did grudgingly, while I sent Martialla to collect some seed money from our new mercantile contacts.  Meanwhile it was time for me to start finding some real money. 

Gambling and prostitution are both legal in Three Rivers, as you might expect since its main purpose is keeping a rowdy workforce docile, but it’s also one of the only places in the Kingdom where bloodsports are also perfectly permissible.  Spectator combat has a weird quasi-legality in a lot of places that make it a chancy business but here in Three Rivers it’s all fine.  Most of the action here is your run of the mill ratting, bear baiting, and brawling between two local oafs cranked up on whatever drugs they have at hand, but it sounds like occasionally they have more exotic events.  I heard specifically about a yearly affair where they brings fucking trolls in the city to tear each other to bits.  You can never underestimate people’s capacity for watch other people (or things) in pain.

But there was no need to find anything so exotic for my purposes.  I perused a couple of the lower-end pugilistic affairs and found one that was perfect.  Clearly it had started out as a pair of brothers setting up fist-fights but had grown to the point where they had a small “arena” behind a shitty restaurant and a shitty bar with some shitty wooden bleachers set up.  But they hadn’t yet realized that they had outgrown their humble beginnings and were still just taking bets ad hoc and holding onto the money themselves.  The only security they had was whatever fighter they had on the payroll that wasn’t busted up and wasn’t working at the moment. 

I hung around their little fight club until I heard they were having a “show” that night, then I went looking for an accomplice.  The lands that are all now being clear cut used to be where a couple Kostelos clans lived.  I don’t know what the difference between a Kostelos tribe and a clan is, but I know what’s left of the Kostelos around here get very uptight if you call them a tribe.   Even though the word is the same in their language.  Explain that.  Anyway, once the Kingdom started taking over all their shit some of them tried to make war against the Kingdom and some of them tried to assimilate into it.  They both failed.  I think Three Rivers most beloved hero “Whiskey” Jankin Ortun became famous mostly for being really good at killing Kostelos warriors (and women and children of course).  Most people seem to think he was one of the founders of the city but I know that’s not right.

Anyway, the civilized Kostelos are crowded into the lower part of the city on the west side of the Compass River where they live in appalling conditions and are sometimes attacked by the few remaining “wild” Kostelos in the forest looking to strike back at the people stealing their land.  There’s two kinds of people that you find on the bottom of the heap, subservient spineless weaklings and tough as nails bastards who know they’ve got the short end of the stick and want to try as best they can to beat anyone within reach with that short end.  I took on the appearance of a half Kostelos woman (which is a nice mix I realized, very nice skin tone) and headed down to the Kostelos slums to find myself the second kind.

I was expecting to get some sneers and cold shoulders because of my “southern” Kostelos accent but most of the people there couldn’t even speak it (unless they were sandbagging me).  Especially the younger people, who also barely seemed to be able to speak the King’s Tongue (should we be calling it the Queen’s tongue now?  There’s a brothel in Indlecastle called that so probably not – wouldn’t want people to get mixed up) which made me wonder, is it possible for a people to lose the skill of speech entirely over time?  There were enough bitter older people that spoke Kostelos though to direct me to exactly who I was looking for.  Coming in with one of the timber crews and heading to one of the truly deplorable “taverns” in the area was a man that looked like a small tree himself.  I’ve seen a big warrior or two in my day, but this fellow was a real brute.  He was shaven-headed, shirtless with what looked like dozens of knife scars, and built like a granite hammer.  I whistled to get his attention and shook the bottle of firewine I had procured for just such an occasion.

[Translated from Kostelos]

“Don’t waste your time with that piss, come have a drink with me.”  He smiled and came my way, reaching for me like a fat kid reaches for a sugar pie – I gave him a short stab in the hand with the dagger I had procured for just such an occasion “Uh-uh-uh, none of that just now.  Plenty of time for that later, now we talk business.”

I tossed him the bottled which he drained in three gulps and explained to him that I needed him to come with my to wail on some “civilized” types.  He smashed the bottle on the ground to lick out the remaining drops of booze and then looked at the empty shards sadly.

“Doesn’t seem fair to beat on those little men.”

“FAIR? Who cares about fair? The world isn’t fair. Truth is fair. Is it fair that you were born like this? NO! They’re not expecting somebody like you in there. They’re expected one of those pink slugs. You’re different. You’re weird. You’re a mutant. You’re a killer.”

It didn’t take much more than that to convince him.  What almost turned into an issue though is a score or so of his pals deciding to come with us – we almost got into a half a dozen fights with the fine and genteel lower class people of Three Rivers on our way to the actual fight.  By the time we got to the back alley fighting ring I felt like I was at the head of a traveling civil disturbance.  The Kostelos were drinking and shouting insults at passersby (we were passing them so maybe we were the passers?) the whole walk through the streets.  I saw a pack of consortium goons deciding if they were going to do anything about it and ultimately slinking away down another street.

We made quite an entrance when we arrived at our destination.  The big man walked in the middle of a fight in progress and smashed the two competitors heads together and threw them aside declaring that he Faetor the Fighting Man (it sounds better in Kostelos) was the strongest man in the city and that no one could best him.  Since he was speaking in Kostelos I don’t think anyone understood the words but they definitely understood what he was saying.  His pack of friends surrounded the stands and started shouting and howling and a riot very nearly broke out.  The two brothers barely managed to keep things from exploding, in large part by one of them pulling out a vicious looking curved sword and threatening to start slicing off people’s nuts.

Once order was restored (marginally) a volunteer came out of the crowd to take on Faetor and subsequently get knocked out in one punch to much cheering and jeering.  With racial pride on the line someone ran to get “Jagger” who presumable is the king badass of this particular shithill.  The brothers wanted to continue on with the rest of the fights that had planned but Faetor refused to yield the fighting floor until someone beat him and with me translating (and adding my own embellishments) continued to incite the crowd.  For a timberman he has a real flair for the dramatic.  I suppose given the chance to scream abuse at the people above you on the pyramid of getting fucked over you have a lot to draw on.

During all the commotion at some point the younger brother (or at least the smaller brother) put down the bag he was holding the money in.  I don’t know anything about running a bloodsport business, or any kind of business, but I think a pretty solid rule for any enterprise – criminal or other – is keep your eyes on the damn money.  Talk about making it easy for me, I just grabbed the bag when no one was looking and made my way out of the mob, switching my appearance and walking away.  Not exactly a criminal caper worthy of story and song, but then that’s not really want you want right?  A good crime is one where no one knows about it.  It’s strange how many people don’t seem to know that.

After that diversion I spent the rest of the day rounding up more widows for the protest march.  The good news is that word had started to spread on its own.  With the consortium on the rampage trying to find me they seemed to think this would be the perfect time to draw attention to their plight.  That makes no logical sense to me, I would think the opposite if anything, but since it serves my purposes who cares?  Back at the safehouse we were joined by Milani and Damrow, which was good since I was down to my last dose of sweetdream.  I explained to them my issue and they said they would see what they could do.  That night Hessenmeel disappeared so it was just Martialla and I in the cramped and blistering hot safehouse laying in the dark.

“When you were a little girl did you ever think this is what your life was going to be?”

“When I was a little girl I was mostly trying to keep my sister alive.”

“Quit bringing up your rough childhood, we all have problems lady.”

“Okay but I feel like you’re the one who brought it up.”

“When I was a girl, before I was sent to the Duke’s court, I wanted to be one of the King’s Messengers.  I thought it would be quite grand to ride the best horses all across the Kingdom delivering the word of the King himself.”

“Do they have women in the messenger service?”

“They do now, I met one once, and by met I mean that I found her horse after she had been killed by goblins and her body halfway eaten by a bear.”

“Your stories always have such uplifting endings.”

“What did you want to be when you were little?”

“Alive.”

“Oh gees.”

“You asked.  When I was a sea sometimes I would daydream about being a seamstress.  Make fun of my ragged wardrobe all you want now, but then I was enamored with pretty dresses.  I thought it would be a fine life making clothes for fancy ladies in their carriages.”

“Such humble dreams and look at us now.”

“We’ve come a long way baby.  I am sweating my nips off here, do you mind if I take my clothes off.”

“Yes, very much.”

“It’s dark, you can’t even see me!”

“It’s the principal of the thing.  If you take off one stitch of clothing I will knee you in the face.”

“You wish, if you tried to lay a finger on me I would destroy you Ela.”

“One of these days Martialla, one of these days.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rebellion: Rank 2 – Treasury 34 Gold, Notoriety 0, Loyalty 6, Secrecy 4, Security 2

Demagogue – Ela, Recruiters – Milani and Damrow, Sentinel – Martialla, Strategist – Hessenmeel

Teams –Peddlers, Street Performers

Active Safehouse  

Actions – Earn Gold, Recruit (Street Performers)

Funds: 688 gold

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding), Dagger

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

Macendamandel 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I don’t remember anything about the prison escape (I’m certain that I did something awesome) and I have only a few flashes of what happened once we were out on street.  I have a flash of being hustled/dragged through the streets by Martialla and my former cellmate (well not cellmate but cell-adjacent mate), at one point I remember Martialla taking on the form of a watchman (such as they are in Three Rivers) and talking to a squad of Consortium skullbusters.  Later I definitely remember Martialla roasting someone with her magic and then engaging in swordplay, fighting at the side of someone I didn’t recognize.  I feel like I was shoved through a crawlspace at some point.  What I do remember is the pleasant, fanciful dreams that I had once I was finally set down and drifted off to sleep – and by drifted off I mean sank like a rock.  I’ve never had such enjoyable dreams in all my life.

When I woke up it was dark but that’s because I was indoors somewhere without any light.  I thought that I was in a closet for a second, but realized after a moment that I was up high in some kind of coffin sized alcove.  Maybe it’s some kind of storage space of some kind?  Its intended purpose eluded me.  I had the impression that I had been asleep for quite some time but I still felt groggy – I think the only time I felt more out of it was when I first woke up in that alley in Graltontown.  I was propped up on a pile of blankets and pillows but closing my eyes and feeling the rough wood beneath me made me feel more stable.  My rustling around must have alerted someone that I was awake because I heard a voice down below.  A frantic voice.

“She’s awake!  You got to get her out of here now.”

I heard Martialla’s voice respond “Shut up.”  After a moment I heard someone climbing a ladder and opened my eyes to see her face peering at me over the edge of wherever I was in the darkness. “How do you feel?”

My mouth was so dry it took me a moment to find any words “Never better.”

“Yeah, you look it.  Our host is desperate to get you out here, the Consortium has people going house to house looking for you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Do you feel up to moving right now?’

I wanted to say yes, I almost did say yes even though it was a bald-faced lie, but I did something that I rarely do, I told the truth. “No.”

“That’s fine, if they come there though you’re going to have to disguise yourself in whatever way you do that you claim is not magic, can you do that?” I nodded. “Good, I’ll bring you something to drink.”

She did, and I was shocked to discover that it was water.  I probably have dysentery now on top of everything else.  The good thing about the distilling process is that you kill all the nasty little buggers in there along the way.  Plus it tastes delicious.  I stayed awake for a couple minutes drinking the water slowly and enjoying the feeling of being tired and knowing that I could sleep.  That’s not a sensation that you’re likely to encounter often but it’s nice.  Once the water was all gone I lay back down and instantly fell back into a deep sleep filled with dreams of dancing and rainbows and sweetness and light.  When I woke up again I was rested enough that I almost felt human again.  There was a light coming from down below so I clambered down the ladder into a surprisingly spacious building that seemed to be half apothecary, half spice shop, and half beauty products – that’s three halfs because of the building was half again the size of a “normal” shop. 

Martialla was lounging in the front window like a stray cat and standing behind the counter looking alternately like he was going to pass out, throw up, or drop dead was a pinch faced fellow with a long skinny nose wearing a stupid white hat that looked like a wimple.  It made him look far more feminine that he really was.  I don’t know if he was too preoccupied with trying not to have a heart attack to hear me or if I was just moving so slowly that I unintentionally stealthy but he about jumped out of his skin when I spoke.

“This is quite a fancy place for a timber town.”

Martialla glanced up as Mr. Wimple was clutching at his heart “Probably all the Consortium bigwigs need their ground chimera horn to make their dicks work.”

I looked over at the maybe dying maybe just panicking man “I assume this is Wolfie’s friend?” Martialla nodded “Where did Wolie himself get to?”

She smiled grimly “Are you kidding me?  You’re the most wanted person in the city, he lit out of here before we even hauled you up the ladder.  Which wasn’t easy mind you, you’re much heavier than you look.”

“Thanks.” 

“I’m surprised he did even as much as helping bring you here.  Like I said before, they’re literally searching house by house looking for you.  There’s roving mobs of lumberjacks wandering the streets hoping to drag your scrawny ass in for the reward.”

“How much?”

“Last I heard eighteen thousand gold and a piece of the company.”

“Shit.”

She nodded “Yeah.”

By this point Nosy had recovered enough to come over and grab at me “You have to leave right now!”

I shrugged him off “We’ll leave soon enough, another couple of minutes won’t make a difference.”

Martialla came over to stand opposite the counter from me “And where shall we be going exactly?  Seems to me like this would be a lovely time to leave the city.”

“Perhaps, but we’re here now, I’d prefer to finish up my business with the Consortium while we’re here rather than having to backtrack later.”

“That business being bringing them to ruin.” I nodded and Pinch-face made a distressed noise and all but ran into another room “I thought you might feel that way.  Could I convince you that we should regroup and worry about the Consortium later?  Things are pretty hot and heavy right now, maybe it would make sense to move on to other business and come back later.”

“You might be able to convince me of that but it would be hard – I don’t like leaving loose ends behind me.”

“You leave loose ends behind you all the time.”

“Yeah but I don’t like it.  We’re here now, I say let’s just take a couple days to bring down the most powerful mercantile outfit in the county before we move on.  Should be easy, I already did it once with Królewna & Bonifacja and I barely even had to try.”

Martialla reached over and counter to grab a little bag of some pearlescent powder “I think it’s a terrible idea, but I’ll back your play like I always do.”

I watched as she snorted some of the powder then pinched her nose and shook her head “Why do you always back me up?”

“I’m your friend Ela, that’s what friends are for.  You can always count on me, in good times, in bad times, for sure.  I’ll be on your side forever more, because that’s what friends are for.” She offered me some of the powder and I waved it away. “Well you’ll need this.”

She handed me another little silken baggy “What’s this?”

“Sweetdream.”

I eyes widened “That memory erasing narcotic that rapists use!” 

She frowned “It also has medicinal uses.” She poked me in the chest “For people plagued by nightmares or insomnia.”

“That’s what you gave me?! No wonder I can’t remember what happened yesterday.”

“Well that and you were delirious from sleep deprivation.  Our nervous friend didn’t have much in stock so we’re going to have to figure something else out in a couple of days.”

I looked at the bag dubiously “Isn’t this stuff horribly addictive?”

“Only psychologically.” She shook her head “You know there’s no pleasing you, I break you out of prison and save you from dream-murder and all you can do is give me dirty looks about how I did it.”

“Good thing we’re such close friends or that would bother you.”

“Yes, good thing.  Since you’re intent on staying and risking your life and mine on your quest for revenge there is a place we can go.  A safehouse of sorts.  As I was escaping you from prison I followed your drug-addled and sleep deprived idea of opening any other cells along the way.  Several of them happened to be inhabited but local malcontents.  Specifically a union organizer who was number on the consortium kill list until you showed up.”

“They should be more careful with the people they want to murder.”

“They didn’t expect someone as skilled and powerful as me to turn up working against them.  Anyway he and his people were quite pleased by my daring rescue and I implied that we were sympathetic to their cause – which is technically true in a way.  They said we could lay low with them for a while.  They claim to have spots the consortium will never find.”

“Sounds good, but we won’t be laying low, I have a plan.  Everyone here already hates the consortium they just need a spark to get them going – an inciting incident I think they call it.  And I have a good one in mind.  Lumberjacking is a dangerous profession, there have to be a good number of widows around here – we find them, convince them to march to demand some kind of death benefits or pension and then let nature take its course.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning the consortium has their goons beat up a bunch of widows in the streets and that incites a riot which leads to open revolt.”

“That’s . . . . pretty awful.”

“Well as they say revolution isn’t a tea party.  A few broads get knocked around is a small price to pay for making the world a better place.”

“That’s easy to say when you’re not the one getting kicked in the ribs.”

“It sure is.”

Martialla sighed “As your friend I have to say I worry sometimes that you don’t mind burning the world down to get your revenge.”

“I don’t, the world has it coming.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding), Sweetdream (3)

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

Mantelderith 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Yesterday after the successful murder of the annoying adventurers and the stalker wizard the town (what’s this town called again?  It had a really stupid name) decided to have a celebration in my honor.  Probably Martialla’s honor too, dubious as it is.  The caravaneers were just as happy to be free of their menace and were excited about the victorious slaughter of the goblins so they were only too happy to agree.  All the villagerfolk came out of their shanties and mudholes with their finest moonshine jugs and smoked meats clenched in their fists to mingle with the Hücresel Merchant Company (both of them) and their hirelings.  Even the half-elfs who have thusfar been universally been dour and workmanlike joined in the rowdy low-class fun.  There was much picking and singing along with wholesome activities like frog jumping and barrel races.  I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy some moonshine and some ribs, because I did, but it was a waste of time.  I don’t blame anyone for celebrating the death of wizards, but I feel like we’re only twenty miles from Cathars – probably Martialla and I should just continue on alone, we could be there tomorrow.

The worse part of the night was when Lord Yellowshirt the Cowardly came to me in a drunken miasma and sobbingly confessed that he’s not a real knight, nor the lawful lord of whatever this town is (Grumpshunshire?  Harmtonvilletown?  Something like that) saying that the whole thing was a con.  I’m not sure why he thought that I would care.  Or maybe he’s craftier than I think and that’s exactly why he was blubbering the whole thing to me – it let him unburden himself in a way that also let him continue to scam everyone because why would I bother to tell anyone?  I’m not sure I should give him that much credit though.  Regardless it was a revolting spectacle – is there anything more disgusting than when a man cries like a baby?  Yes there is, but it’s still pretty bad.

To make matters worse when we got up today these was a steady rain falling so since everyone was hungover anyway madam Hücresel said we’d stay put another day.  We might be setting a land-speed record for the slowest passage from Alleene to Cathars.  Someday storytellers will tell a rabbit and tortoise style parable about this journey.  They’ll probably leave out all the killing.  Or maybe not, there’s a lot more violent murder in children’s stories than you remember.  With nothing much to do Martialla and I were hanging around the inn with blue eyes – who’s name apparently is Zanya, which sounds like a woman’s name to me, but what do I know.  The chandelier was still hanging down in the middle of the room, there were bloodstains on the floor and most of the chairs were smashed but at least it was dry.  We tried to play cards for a while but none of us was really into it.  Zanya was futzing with something behind the bar and Martialla took to tossing the cards and then making them dance through the air with her magic.  The ring I had taken off the wizard, the good one not the one who tried to run away, gave me the ability to ready dwarfish so I decided to check out Bonder’s journal.  After a while Martialla was making a card orbit around my head and I irritable swatted it out of the air.

“Do you mind?”

She flipped another card into the air “Not at all.”

“Sorry, what I mean was, fucking stop that, I’m trying to read.”

“Anything good?”

I closed the book with a sigh “Not so far, unless you count self-important boasting as good.  Turns out that Greysmith was in the right and all the people against him were wrong.”

Martialla feigned surprise “You don’t say.”

“Shocking I know.  Also he claims to be the rightful king of some dwarf-hole or other and that’s the real reason he was exiled – not for the people he murdered.”

“Aren’t you a dwarf clan princess or something?  What was that?”

“I don’t know, I return their ancestral weapon to them so they did some long boring ceremony – I guess I had to be made an honorary dwarf otherwise it would have brought shame to their clan for a hundred generations.”

“And dwarf generations are long.”

“Exactly.  But since that magic mirror removed all those runes they put on me as part of that deal I don’t know if I get to be a dwarf anymore.  I suppose we’ll find out next time we’re underground a thousand miles away.  I’m glad to be rid of them because you don’t mar a beauty like mine but I can’t deny that those lion-powers were pretty useful.”

Martialla flung the remainder of the cards into the air and let them rain down around us “I’m bored.”

“My grandmother always said that if you’re bored that means you’re boring.”

“Your grandmother had a lot of sayings.”

“That she surely did.  She was a wise woman, she seemed like she had a bit of advice about just about everything.  Talk about a woman who got a hard hand in life and made the best of it – that was her.  I don’t like to think about what would have become of me if she hadn’t been around to tell me how the world is.”

“And how is it?”

“Hard.  You have to watch out or it will kick you right in the ass.”

“Or worse than kick.”

“Or worse than kick.  What about you?  What’s your family situation?  I know you have a sister and had a niece obviously, but where did your parents go wrong?  How did you end up like this?”

“Like what?”

“Rootless, shiftless, murderous, the comically inept bumbling sidekick of a dashing young courtesan on a journey of revenge.”

“Bumbling?  Wasn’t I the one who killed both wizards yesterday?”

“With my help sure, before that I killed the dude in this very room all my myself while you were getting cored like an apple.”

“Is that what sex is like to you?  No wonder the Duke fired you as is mistress.”

“And that’s not to mention I also defeated the warrior monk lady who could shatter stone with her very hands.  The killing art she had and I bested her nevertheless.”

“Meaning you ran away and managed to live long enough for them to be undone by pure chance.”

“That’s my fighting style.  I let my opponents defeat themselves.  It’s very advanced stuff.  I use their strength against them, like the water flows around a boulder.  I call it the way of a harmonious spirit.  I’m thinking about writing a book about this revolutionary technique that has brought me victory in one hundred battles.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, water wears down boulders over time.”

“Well I’m still workshopping it.  So what’s your story?”

“My family is from Etherasawn, this was before half of it was wrecked in the last war.  Or maybe the one before that.  Technically I think that means I was born in Vieland?  Maybe I’m not even a citizen of this grand Kingdom.”

I feigned putting a hand over my mouth “Gasp.”

“I know we went to the Protectorate when my sister and I were pretty little, I remember that because our father was eaten by a troll.  My mother didn’t seem too broken up about it though.  I think she told us specifically that we would be better off without him.”

I nodded “Ah, and that’s why you’re such a slut, you grew up with a father figure.”

“Probably that’s why I’m such a slut.  Although I mostly grew up without a mother figure as well, I don’t remember a lot of what happened when I was a kid but mostly what I do remember is me and my sister being on our own.  I remember traveling with her from town to town trying to get back to Etherasawn.  I knew that there were some religious houses that that would take kids in, but by the time we finally got there the war had happened and the place was fucked.  Silver lining, the streets were full of urchins who were banding together to steal shit and fight each other and try to stay alive.”

“What good fortune.”

“Indeed.  When I was twelve I signed on as a cabin boy on the ship Overzealous.  Boy was the first mate surprised when he tried to molest me.”

“And where was the sister while you were at sea disappointing pedophiles?”

“I got an advance on my cabin boy money and used that to get a loan to buy her an apprenticeship as a scullery maid.  Those were back in the times when a ten year old indentured servant wasn’t a big deal.”

I shook my head “Child labor laws are ruining this Kingdom.”

“Anyway by the time I was fourteen I was reckoned an ‘able seaman’ even though at that point everyone knew I was a girl.”

“How?  I’m still not sure myself.”

“Hilarious.  After that stint I signed on as a mate on the Dead Philosopher but in our third voyage we ran into trouble.  I never did get the story of what was going on there exactly.  Our ship was attacked, not even sure by who, and for some reason the captain decided to fight instead of surrendering even though we had no chance.  Someone claimed it was become they were a dragon egg in the cargo but that seems like the kind of bullshit sailors would make up.   The ship was captured and I was sold to Captain Lansquenet operating out of Lagart.”

“You were a pirate?!”

She shook her head “Ela I’ve told you that literally a dozen times and every time you act like it’s the first.  If you find it so interesting why can’t you remember it?  Anyway, after about a year I was made a full crew member and then I managed to sneak away.   Once I found my sister I saw that she was betrothed and didn’t need me to look after her anymore so I gave up my life on the high seas.”

“Why?”

“Because it sucks.  There’s a reason they have to press-gang sailors, and there’s a reason why it’s basically legal to do so – there would be no navies in the world if they had to rely on volunteers.”

“Then why do retired seamen talk about the honor of their service so glowingly?”

 “Because they’re retired.  They just like remembering when they were young.  As you told me your grandma told you, the older you get the better your life before seemed – even the awful parts.  I remember that because I actually pay attention when you talk.”

“Who could blame you?  I’m very engaging.”

“Anyway, after my sister was married I rattled around the Kingdom doing various odd jobs.”

“Very odd as I understand it.”

“Until my niece was killed and I came looking for you to help me kill her killers – the ones that you didn’t already kill anyway.”

Zanya was standing behind the bar listening raptly “That is a Hells of a story.”

I gestured at him “What about you?  What’s your deal?  You don’t seem like the rest of these yokels.”

“I’m not from around here, I’m Swardish.”

I frowned “Swardish?  What is that?”

 I half-laughed “It means I’m from Swardland.”

I looked at Martialla and she shrugged “Never heard of it.  Is that up North somewhere?”

He looked and sounded offended “Never heard of it?  Swardland is one of the Kingdom’s staunchest allies, how could you not have heard of it?”

“I’m sure the Kingdom tells all its allies that they’re the important ones – it’s like pillow talk, I wouldn’t take it personally.  Now hows about you sashay your pretty little self back into the kitchen and make us some lunch?  I’m famished after all that active listening I just did.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,190,751

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

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

Mantelderith 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 4

My first order of business after my glorious battle victory was slurping down a healing potion (thanks to my fabulous new coat!) on account of I had been slashed to ribbons with (by?) that stupid looking sword.  Like all healing potions ever brewed (concocted?) it made me feel better but its actual healing effect was maybe twenty percent of my actual physical wounds.  Kind of like a narcotic drug now that I think about it.  Whoever makes these things is a real sadistic bastard because they never work even halfway.  The current state of healing potion economics is probably some global conspiracy that has to do with a shadow dimension of pain-worshipping demons that have infiltrated all religions from the beginning of human history.  What a yawn right?  The second order to business was a little light looting, but there wasn’t much to be looted.  The fox monsterman had some kind of magicky looking bracelets on its wrists but they looked unwholesome so I didn’t touch them.  That’s the problem with cult smashing as a line of work – all their stuff is horrible tainted with the screaming souls of their victims or some shit like that. 

You ever have one of those days that feels like it’s going to go on forever?  I feel like this day is never going to end.  It’s barely even noon and already I’ve already had to deal with a murderous wizard cult.  And I’m sure when I get back to the caravan it’s going to have been taken hostage by dark elfs or hill giants or some other damn thing and it’s going to be up to me to do something about it.  I have to do everything myself.  It never ends!  When do I get one solitary moment of peace and quiet?  Never that’s when, because the whole world and everyone in it is plotting against me.  And yet, despite overwhelming odds I bravely carry on like the big damn hero that I am.  It’s quite inspiring it is – feel free to be inspired in your own life by my renowned determination and grit, I don’t mind.

Timora was insistent that we chase after the masked people that ran away.  I told her that since the jackal demon (sorry, not demon, evil spirit) was dead it didn’t matter anymore, and also that I didn’t care anyway.   She had a real bug up her ass about murderers being loose in her village though.  You just can’t reason with some people.  I think it’s something in their upbringing, they were never taught how to debate the right way and think about problems logically.  It would be sad if it wasn’t so annoying.  I guess it’s still a little funny.  Since she was so adamant about finding them I explained to her that we didn’t need to run after them with our feet like morons – since she’s the mayor she can just have everyone turn out in the town square and the three people that are wounded?  Those are the ones you’re looking for.

“They aren’t going to show up if I do that, they know I’m looking for them” she said stupidly.

“Then the people who are missing are the one’s you’re looking for.  This isn’t that big of a village, it won’t be hard to root them out.” I explained intelligently.

And it wasn’t.  We didn’t even have to look for them because we saw them trying to flee with Tarloon as hostage. They weren’t even trying to be subtle about it, trusting that the knife to the throat of the boy would see them through.  One of the ones I killed the melee (actually I think she died of her wounds later) had been a woman, as were two of these ones trying to flee.  That’s surprisingly egalitarian for a cult in my experience.  From what I’ve seen there’s usually a clear division of labor by gender in murder cults – men do the sacrificing and women are the ones being sacrificed.  That makes for a real tough pitch when it comes to recruiting women into your organization.  I suppose that’s the benefit of having a spirit monster as your cult leader – they don’t discriminate because to them all humans are verminous pawns.  There’s a lesson there for sure. 

Timora seemed to think that this hostage situation was quiet a thorny issues to resolve but the answer was simple – I walked up to them with sword in hand.  When they threatened to kill the hostage I ignored them.  Once it became apparent to them that I wasn’t interested in the fate of their hostage they turned him loose and prepared for a dramatic last stand.  I explained to them that everyone understood that the hyena creature had enchanted them and if they gave up their weapons and their wicked ways they wouldn’t face any undue punishment or retribution but rather they would receive the love and support they needed to overcome this ordeal.  It might even be true.  Timora seems like a soft touch, I’m sure she’ll try to redeem them and make them productive members of the community once more instead of hanging and burning them like she should.  Not my problem either way. The cultists were desperate for an out so they threw down their weapons/farm tools and then themselves on the mercy of the mayor-witch.  Once that was all wrapped up I found Timora in her garden gathering up the pieces of her still-animated scarecrow butler.

She looked up as I approached “I have a confession to make.”

“You aren’t going to make me a magic flask are you?”

“If you knew that why did you help?”

“Oh, I was already here so why not?  Plus I assumed would were going to give me some kind of reward for saving your entire village and everyone in it even if it wasn’t what I wanted.”

“I wouldn’t say that’s what you did exactly but you’re right, you deserve something for your efforts.  I don’t really have much that would be useful to someone who doesn’t use magic though.”

“You clearly have some kind of dream spells.  There’s this old queen – and by that I mean a female ruler not a gay dude – that’s like a dream ghost or a living dream that’s been harassing me.  Can you do something about that?  She wants me to help her reestablish her kingdom.  Or maybe she wants me to find her a body to inhabit?  Or something.  I’m not sure exactly what she wants but she keeps coming around and annoying me.”

She nodded “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Another thing I want, that hostage kid – I would ask that you take him and raise him as your own.  He needs some parental guidance, he’s heading down the wrong path and he needs the love and attention of a good woman to put him back on the right.”

She was reluctant at first to take on this monumental life-changing task, but after that initial resistance she caved in remarkable quickly in my opinion.  She didn’t break down in tears and confess that this what she always secretly wanted, but I could tell that there was something there – maybe she can’t have kids herself or just never did for some reason, but I underneath I think this was something of a godsend in her mind.  And hey, maybe she will straighten out that little asshole.  Unless he runs away at the first chance he gets, which seems likely – he wasn’t happy about being left behind.

By the time I got back to the caravan the day was pretty much spent – not the day day but the caravan day you know?  With all the animals to corral and things to buckle and strap down and firepits and latrines to dig they usually grind to a halt several hours before sundown.  Everyone was very concerned about Tarloon but I told them that he was traumatized by his kidnapping experience and that I had found a nice young couple to take him in and give him the family he always wanted.  This brought out the joyful weeping from several people – that kid must really be good at worming his way into people’s hearts.  In honor of this wonderful turn of events for their beloved Tarloon someone brought out the good booze.  Relatively speaking.  Martialla found us a couple folding camp chairs and we sat back to watch the carvaneers celebrate with a jug of their finest corn squeeze.

“What no one ever tells you is how hard cult-busting is on the old feet.  How about a foot rub?”

“It’s hard to imagine a scenario where I would rub your feet.  I’m not saying that there isn’t one, I just can’t think of it.”

“Why would you say that?  My feet are delightful.”

“They’re still feet.  I don’t love touching my own feet, why would I ever touch yours?”

“You’re the worst friend I’ve ever had.”

“Well yeah, I’m the only friend you’ve ever had, so.  So what really happened to the kid?  Did you push him down a well or did you cut his throat?  Or did you cut his throat and then push him down a well?”

“No, actually what happened is pretty close to what I said.  Plus you shouldn’t push people in wells – when they die that contaminates the entire water supply with their rotting flesh.  Think Martialla.  You need to consider the big picture.”

“My mistake.  I’ll be sure to be more careful in the future.”

“See that you do!”

That night I slept with my Necklace to see if I would be visited by the dream-empress and if so what the witch-mayor would do about it.  I was not, instead it was just the “typical” nightmare assault from beyond the mortal realm.  So I got a shitty night of sleep and accomplished nothing.  Thanks for nothing witch-mayor!  “I’ll see what I can do” my sweet ass.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,161,951  14400

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

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

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

Mantelderith 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Despite my words to Martialla I did try sleeping without my defensive dream-cancelling jewelry last night to see what would happen.  I figured that if things got bad enough I could just wake up and put it back on – that’s how sleep and dreams work right?  These are the results from that experiment.  I experienced (hey, that’s where the word experiment must come from!) the usual nightmares I have when not warded against dream penetration.  In the dream I remember best I was approached by a sweet little girl who was looking for her mommy and when I took her hand to help her she transformed in the most horrifying way possible into a gigantic grotesquely fat bulbous flesh mound with more than twenty arms dragging it along and eight eyes without lids on the bottom – so they’re getting scraped over the ground like you do with eyeballs.  If you were so inclined you could that that it looked like what result would be if an angler fish and a jellyfish made sweet love and then had a baby (a jellyangler if you will) that they then threw acid on for some reason.  We won’t go into what it did to me.   

But everyone else had nightmares too – so I think we can dismiss the idea that what was happening was the bad dream death rays bouncing off me and splitting like light in a prism to infect everyone else.  So what’s the next hypothesis?  Fuck if I know.  Nothing good I’m sure.  Although that would be quite the twist if horrible night terrors were a portent of something great on the horizon.  Makes about as much sense as anything – which is to say none.  None sense.  Or Nonsense if you will.  The good news is that Melusine is still alive.  That’s really more like neutral news (or newstral if you will) but if you really like weird fey fish girls it’s good news to you.  My first evidence that something was wrong is when I went to drink from my Flask this morning and out dropped a thing that looked kind of kind of like a the top half of a seal smash to the bottom of a carp.  Other people claimed that to them it looked like a monkey and a carp but they’re crazy – it was more human looking up top than a seal normally is (unless you count seawolves weirdly) but if that’s what people think a monkey looks like then I’m the Queen of the moon.  It came spilling out with a bunch of water (not wine) and was about two feet long.  It wiped at its little ugly face with a webbed claw and looked up at me.

“Hello.”

“Uh, hi.  What are you doing in my magic Flask of limitless booze?”

“Is that what that was?” It perched up on its flippers/monkey arms and looked around “Where am I now?”

“Uh . . . . on the road to Cathars.”

“I have no idea what that means.  There’s now water around here so I hate it.  Send me back.”

I pointed the Flask at him but nothing happened “I guess I don’t know how.”

It bared grotesque little fangs “Send me back or I’ll bite you!”

“I’m not too worried about that, I think I could just stomp on you.”

It looked at me and screwed up its disgusting face in disgust “What are those?  Legs?  Gross, you’re gross.  What kind of beast are you?”

Before things could escalate further (I totally would have won, I have yet to meet the monkey-seal-carp that I can’t best in a fair fight) Melusine herself slorped out of the Flask and glomped into the dirt like a sack of afterbirth.  She grabbed the wriggling little beast with her frog web hand tossed him back into the Flask my some means unknown.  Possibly magic. 

“I thought you were dead.”

She bobbed her fishy head in a weird way that I assume is the equivalent of shaking side to side for a person “No, just exploring, that place you put me is great, it goes on forever.  I was able to find my way back to my pond.”

“How?  It’s just a flask that makes booze.  Although I guess an infinite amount of booze is pretty crazy magical when you think about it.”

“It’s not infinite, whoever told you that is lying – if you left it on all the time it would run out after a couple thousand generations.”

“What a rip off.”

“I just came to say bye and to tell you thanks.”

“And bestow a magical gift upon me?”

She looked at me for a moment “Um . . . nah.”

“I guess a good deed is its own reward.”

“No, it’s not really, but whatever helps you sleep at night.  Anyway, have a good life and death while I continue existing immortally forever.”

“You don’t have to rub it in.”

As she disappeared into the Flask I could hear her voice becoming very remote and hard to hear “Sorry the thing isn’t going to work anymore.”

“What what?!”

I tried the Flask, but she was right, it doesn’t make (effectively) unlimited amounts of rice wine anymore.  Or small amounts of magical potions.  Or even water.  It doesn’t do anything.  Well, I guess it holds liquids like any flask but it’s no longer magic.  This is some supreme bullshit right here.  I loved that Flask.  For sure more than anything I’ve ever had or any person I’ve met.  It was the best thing I ever got.  I’d rather all the nixies in the world died than for me to lose it.  All the other fey creatures too.  I don’t know why elfs and forest gnomes think they’re so cool.  Most of them are pretty fucked up and the one’s that aren’t are super annoying.  As we traveled today I was reduced to making the rounds amongst the caravaneers to rustle up some low qualities booze.  When I got back to the cart Martialla and I have been perching on like stately gargoyles I was pretty mad – when I saw that she had scrounged up a bottle of coconut honey elf wine I was madder than I’ve ever been.

“How did you get that?!”

Martialla grinned as she climbed onto our box pile “People like me better than you.”

“Improbable!”

“Yet true.  Don’t worry, I’ll share.” 

“How could this happen, I’m both more charming and more attractive than you.”

“Again true, but even when you’re trying to be down-home country-spun there’s still a bit of an upstairs downstairs sentiment about you, something with the eyes – people find that off-putting.  It’s like you think you’re better than them.”

“I am!  But I’m good at hiding it.  Very good.”

“Clearly not as good as you think you are.  Tell me something Ela, how would you describe yourself?”

“Shapely, with a saucy hint of deviltry lurking in the sparking eyes.  Add in an impertinent cast of the luscious lips and you’re really got something to write home about.”

She snorted “Shapely?  What shape is that, a skeleton?  Men like a little something they can grab onto you know – women maybe too, it’s harder for me to say what they like.  You’re like a scarecrow without enough straw in it.”

“What?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

She shook her head “No, you’re all out of proportion.  Spindly, that’s what you are.”

“Spindly!?!?! The last person who said something like that to me got stabbed to death!”

She glanced around “Say it a little louder will you?  I don’t think everyone in the caravan heard.”

“Who are you to talk anyway?!”

“Hey, I know I’m not winning any beauty prizes unless all the judges like broad shoulders and a strong chin.  Look, don’t get me wrong, you’re obviously pretty in the face, I’m just saying you could use some more meat on those bones.”

I snorted “I’ll take that under advisement.”

She peered at me closely “I don’t think you will.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

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

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

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

Mantelderith 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There’s a very popular book that a Shireling wrote a book about various things that he learned spending eight years walking through the Kingdom – he did this on purpose for some reason.  Maybe his wife was a real bitch.  There were some tales about man (and Halfling) eating forest cats, hard drinking wild men of the hills, slavering gnolls, diseased orcish warbands and the like but for the most part it was a collection of ruminations on walking around and travel itself.  I didn’t read all of it but I found what I did read to be dreadfully dull.  Give me Courtship of the Flower Demon over a dreary travelogue any day – that’s a story that has some teeth (literally). 

Now that I’ve spent the better part of a year walking about some of the Kingdom myself I find this book even more ridiculous.  I’ve done enough walking from place to place to know that there’s nothing special or sacred about it.  The author was famous for saying that we should “treat every road as a classroom and every journey as a teacher”.  What a bunch of bullshit.  I can’t dismiss that I have learned many things on the road but they’re all horrible.  A better expression would be “treat every road as a classroom for a class you don’t want to take and every journey as a teacher who’s going to take you into the backroom and touch you inappropriately”. 

As far as I can tell (racistly perhaps) Shirefolk come in two flavors – dedicated homebodies who eat seventeen meals a day and wanderlusty rascals.  The first one makes sense, the second does not.  Especially when you consider that the main feature of travel is shitty food.  I’ve talked about trail rations before – they’re literally just edible garbage.  And that crap that people who claim to be “survivalists” scrounge up along the way is even worse.  You can’t survive on that shit (ironically?), a few days of that and you’re deader than Baron Juost – who’s the deadest dead guy I’ve ever seen.  And even on the rare occasion that someone in your party manages to hunt something edible it’s still just a half-scorched half-raw hunk of bloody gristle that you’re trying to choke down.  You can’t cook shit over a campfire.  And most of the time what they come back with isn’t even considered food.  Have you ever eaten a newt?  Or the head of a turtle?  I have and it’s awful.

Despite all that though, here I am on the road again.  There’s nothing for it.   If you want to go somehere you have to go there.   Not only that, I’m on the road to Graltontown of all places.  When Belzegara and Rakhaj heard that’s where I was heading they decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  I can’t say as that I blame them.  Graltontown isn’t any place to make a living.  I told them I would have business for them in Three Rivers along the way but they didn’t go for it so I gave them some gold for what they had done on my behalf and we parted ways on good company.  I suppose it’s for the best, we would have needed a wagon train to keep Rakhaj from withering away to nothing.  That’s not a fat joke, it’s just a fact.

I got up early this morning and put on a fine dress to attend Kartak’s hanging.  Attendance was surprisingly light.  Usually people turn out in droves for a good old fashioned public execution – and for the execution of a man who killed the local lord?  That’s usually pretty big doings.  I think people are just tired of all the turmoil around here lately, they just want things to quiet down.  Which they won’t, the Baroness is going to be up to her ass in alligators pretty soon.  I told her that she should show her face at the hanging just to reassure people that a steady hand was on the tiller (that’s the expression right?) but she disregarded my words.  I don’t think she’s adjusting to her new reality very well.  I feel a tiny bit guilty about leaving her n her own, I think she’s going to get to be trouble, but as I told her – I have my own issues to worry about.

Aside from me there were just a handful of looky-loos and cluster of members from a local Kostelos hate group of some kind.  Their forced joviality was really grinding on me.  If the Baroness was smart she’d snuggle up to them.  Given what happened this is a good time to cash in on Kostelos bashing as  way to unify people but I doubt she would even if she didn’t have moral objections to accepting help from racist assholes.  She’s an odd one is the Baroness.  After Kartak was hung until dead he was slated for a pauper’s grave but I instructed his remains to be burned instead.  I already have at least one undead creature seeking revenge on my from beyond the grave (and probably several more that I don’t know about), I wasn’t going to take any chances. 

Martialla and I arranged to travel with the Hücresel Merchant Company, which as far as I can tell the entire “company” consists of a solitary woman and her daughter.  For some strange reason they decided that relocating from Alleene to Cathars would be a good idea right about now.  Some merchants see crisis as an opportunity, Diarmaid Hücresel is not one of these merchants.  So we wouldn’t be walking, we’d be sitting on a wagon filled with boxes of whatever these people sell – at least until the inevitable attack where they’d be killed and or carried away to be sex slaves.  If there’s a sage or wise man out there’s whose studied caravans and can tell me what percentage of them actually make it to their destination I’d legitimately be curious about that.  It must be a lot because commerce exists, but seems like I haven’t seen one yet.

Aside from a dozen or so porters and drovers and outriders the Hücresel Merchant Company had retained the services of two half-elfs that we either siblings or one of those weird couples that act like they’re siblings.  They seemed like they were unattached adventurers since as everyone knows you need four people to go on an adventure.  Usually this happens when some of the group is wiped out by demons or goblins or demon goblins and the survivors sign on for caravan duty until they can meet up with some other orphaned adventurers and merge to form a new group to immediately abandon their posts to go looking for The Three Rings of Count Modrune or some other damned thing.  Once everything was squared away the caravan lurched off down the road to Arbeven.  Sitting on a stack of boxes wasn’t terribly comfortable but it was nice to be up high where you had a good vantage point to see where the unavoidable attack would come from.  After a few minutes Martialla glanced over at me.

“The more things change huh?”

“What?”

“I’m just saying that here we are again.”

“What does that have to do with thing changing, if anything they’re the same.”

“I know, that’s the expression, the more things change the more they stay the same.”

I scowled “That doesn’t make any sense, things can’t stay the same more – their either the same or they’re not.  I don’t want you saying things that don’t make any sense and embarrassing me.”

“It’s a widely used expression!  It’s like when you get a new boss down at the docks, things technically have changed but they’re still the same because your still have to work for some asshole and work is still the world.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss right?”

“Done a lot of dockwork have you?”

“That’s not the point!  The point is . . .” She moaned and pulled out a wineskin “Forget it, you want a drink?

“I smiled, now that’s something that makes perfect sense.  Say more things like that.”

She grinned and handed me over the wineskin, but when I pulled out the stopper I heard a tiny female voice calling for help.  I frowned and looked over at Martialla.

“Is this a joke?  Is this like a trick magic wineskin?”

She shook her head “No, I just grabbed it the manor.”

I sighed “You have no idea how much I want to just put the lid back on this thing and throw it in the ditch.”

“I have some idea.”

I peered into the wineskin as if I could see in there “Who’s in my wine and what do you want?”

The tiny voice was clear but sounded drunken “Oh thank Goodness!  I thought I was a goner.  I was trapped in a wine cask by an evil wizard and somehow ended up in here!  I’m dying, I need your help!”

“Sure, you just need me to pour this all out or what?”

“No!  That would kill me.  I need you to find my pond and return me to my home!  I’m fading fast, I feel like I have only hours to live!”

“You sound like you’re wasted.”

“I am in wine.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m a nixie.”

Martialla nodded “Nixies a fey water creatures that . . .”

I waved her down irritably “Yeah, yeah, I get it magic fuckery.  Does it have to be your pond or can it be any pond?”

“Well it would be ideal if you could return me to my pond, but any body of water you find will keep me alive.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”  I put the stopper back in the wineskin “You see, this is what I’m talking about – if it’s not one thing it’s another.”

“What is?”

“You know ‘it’.  I mean that’s an expression everyone knows, unlike that thing about changing making things the same.”

“That’s not what I said, what I said that the more things change the more they stay the same and everyone knows that expression!  One thing and another isn’t an expression, it’s barely a sentence.”

“First of all that’s not what I said.  Second of all . . .”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 20,000 gold

XP: 1,147,551

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, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

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