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

Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I assume it’s still eight eighty-eight, I don’t know how long I’ve been down here but I don’t think it’s been six months.  Pretty sure.  Also I say down here but I don’t really know that I’m “down” anywhere, it’s probably more likely that I’m “up” in a tower or something.  I didn’t really get to know the layout Juost Manor that well, I wasn’t really here that long.  But they don’t really have a dungeon, I think I would noticed that.  Also no one really has a dungeon – those big holes in the bottom floor with the trapdoors?  Those are for storing ice.  I wonder what lunatic first started spreading the rumor that they keep people in those.  Any person that actually had a dungeon in their castle would have to be wildly insane, fabulously wealthy, and a good architect to boot because who the Hells is going to design something that impractical for you?  Don’t get me wrong, torture chambers are real, but any chamber is a torture chamber if you torture someone in it.  It’s just a place you store your pokers and gougers really.

Where I am is dark, and the floor and walls and stone, so maybe it is a secret dungeon.  The ceiling is high enough that I can’t touch it.  On the other hand it’s perfectly dry and I’m given to understand that dungeons are damp.  Nor is there any moldy straw on the floor or the scuttling of rats which I’m given to understand are necessities for a dungeon.  Also there’s no sadistic yet easily tricked guards to tell me that escape is impossible and then get clobbered while I’m escaping the next day.  It’s probably just a storeroom they cleared out.  Or maybe it was already empty but it seems very much like a storeroom.  It’s certainly dark, they nailed that part.  There’s something very melancholy about realizing that your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and there’s simply nothing to see.  Unless you’re in a cave it’s pretty hard to emulate total darkness but they managed it.  Kudos to them on that.

Sadly I don’t even have a great story on how I got here.  I didn’t ride into Juost Manor full of righteous indignation, there was no verbal confrontation with the Baron where I told him his mind was overthrown, no cruelly smiling Kostelos witches, no shameful weeping from my betrayer with my cousins begging for my release from the sidelines.  What happened is once we got within sight of Alleene we halted for a moment and Martialla took off my shackles.  Despite her earlier words when this started she did apologize for stabbing me in the back and explained unhappily that she had to do what was best for her and since I was doomed to failure anyway she made the decision to switch sides.  She even claimed that she regretted it now, but there was no turning back.  She didn’t ask for understanding or for my forgiveness of her actions, she just wanted to share one last drink with me.  She didn’t expect that we’d ever have the chance again, regardless of what happened.  She took out a bottle of Oldlaw whiskey and we toasted to friendship as we locked eyes and both understood if we ever met again it would be with knives in hand.

A few minutes later I started to feel groggy.  I don’t know how she did it, but she poisoned me, I guess she probably put poison in my cup before she poured.  That fucking bitch got me twice.  That almost bothers me more than being stuck in this lightless hole.  Fool me once, etcetera.  People unfamiliar with human nature wonder how known bounders and scoundrels keep conning people – with their reputations how can anyone believe them?  As this example shows it’s easier than you think.  You come at people sideways, you come at them when they’re at their lowest, you take advantage of the fact that even the most cynical people want to believe deep down inside.  And it doesn’t hurt when what you’re doing is complete overkill.  She already had me chains, why would I be expecting poison? 

I don’t know what she got me with, I was never unconscious I don’t think, but my brain was fuzzy for a good while, I was seeing stuff with my eyes but the image wasn’t making it home you know?  I just remember a few flashes of the manor and then by the time I regained my wits I was in here.  It’s a smallish room but it’s not nightmarishly small like you might expect – it’s probably fifteen feet by twelve feet.  I’ve paced it out several times.  I think I’ve been down here for a couple of days.  I’m hungry and more than that I’m thirsty but I don’t feel like I’m dying yet.  I can’t really go off sleep because my sleep schedule is all messed up before.  Normally when it’s this dark sometimes it can be hard to even tell if you’re awake or asleep, but lucky me I always know when I’m asleep on account of the nightmare creatures that attack me every night.  That happened three or four times but I wouldn’t assume that means I’ve been here three or four days necessarily.  Like I said my sleep routine is all messed up.

After that third or fourth time though my imperious looking friend was back.  Instead of being stripped naked and beaten over the head with a wine bottle by the King himself (who’s dead you know but ‘they’ keep putting him in my dreams, I wonder what that means – I never even met the guy) I dreamed that I was in thein the middle of a massage given by someone who really knows what they’re doing.  That was actually kind of a nice transition – from the darkness of the prison room, whatever it is, to the closed eye experience of massage.  How can you have your eyes closed in a dream?  Fuck if I know.  I wondered if I was not dreaming at all, if it was just my mind finally playing a GOOD trick on me, but when I opened my eyes there was light.  I was in the salon/lounge/pleasure den/whatever of the authoritative woman. 

This time she was dressed in transparent silks and wherefore was showing pretty much everything.  I saw that she had tattoos over each breast and across the belly.  You know how I feel about that.  But she was smoking croff, which I’m sure you know is a mixture of vayav, flayleaf, and roasted beans of caladock.  It’s very hard to get the mixture exactly right, which is why croff is so rare and expensive but in the dream is was perfect.  I know because after the massage I went over and smoked some with her as well.  This time there was no gaggle of noblewomen clustering about, just inconspicuous servants bringing us excellent wine and fresh fruit.  After getting nice and relaxed, you know the way I mean, I helped myself to some ripe sensational granee fruit.

“Can you have your dream people bring me something more substantial?  Like a nice crispy duck?  Not fatty duck you know, but the juicy good stuff.  I wear clothes that cover everything up so I don’t have to eat only fruit.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I’m dreaming I still feel like I have to go to the privy.  Weird huh?  I suppose if I went to the facilities here I would just be shitting myself in real life huh?”

Her voice was dreamy (pun) like she had been smoking for a while before I got there, you know, before the dream started because that makes sense “Did you do what I asked?”

I finished off a glass of wine and poured myself some more “I did.”

Her eyes flared slightly “I’d know if you did.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

Her eyes started to clear from the drug-fog and harden “Your ingratitude surprises me.”

I laughed briefly “I say the same thing all the time.  I’m always saving people from monsters and then they’re jerks about it.  I guess I’m a hypocrite huh?  Although what exactly did you do for me?”

“I protected you from the dreads presences that feed on your sleeping mind, as I’m doing now.”

“I just thought the night hag had other things going on that night.  So what are you then, some kind of sweet dreams faerie?  If you’re a dream though what does it matter if I don’t repay your help?  I mean you’re not real right?  It’s kind of confusing, I know that dreams aren’t real – but they are a real thing that happens?  What does it all mean?”

Some women look good even when they’re angry, some look even better – she wasn’t either of them “I explained this all last time.  Do I need to go over it again?”

I held my hands up “No, no, not at all, I . . .”

She gestured grandly “Thousands of years ago, I ruled over this land and all the people within it.  This was a time of splendor and majesty and I was at the center of it all.  For you see . . .”

“Thousands of years ago?  Last time you said I it  was. . .”

“THOUSANDS of years ago a warlike race of elves from . . .”

Just like that she was off the races again.  I tried to pay attention to her this time, I really did, but she went on forever and it was boring.  After a few minutes I started pacing around the room and toying with different things she had lying around.  I wasn’t sure that I believed this wasn’t a dream-dream and was instead a dream communication of some kind until she droned on for over an hour – no real dream is ever that tedious.  She kept saying that she wanted to give me a gift without getting into any details. Nor was it ever made clear what she wanted from me or what I supposed to do.  At least as far as I can tell, after the first few minutes I was only halfway listening. 

“Well dream princess lady, I tell you, it would be nice to have someone on my side for once.  I never thought that I’d think that, but despite the way it ended I really did like having a partner – not you know like a tongue kissing partner but a partner partner.  She was always worried about people thinking we were together.  I don’t know why, nobody cares about that.  Maybe she was secretly into me and it was some kind of overcompensation, I don’t know.  She certainly fucked plenty of dudes whenever she had the chance, but I’ve heard that what really matters is who you fall in love with.  Like if you’re a guy you can go to town on many another guy, but if you don’t feel anything – you know, inside – then . . .”

“What are you talking about?!”

“Just making conversation. 

For a moment her mouth twisted into a weird smirk, although maybe smirk isn’t the right word – it’s the face you make when you see someone who’s been talked up a lot and they’re not that impressive.

“You are a frustrating person to speak to.  I’m offering you the partnership you seek if you would be attentive enough to listen.”

I shrugged “It’s just a dream, nothing here matters.  I appreciate you keeping the nightmares away.  Can you do that every night?” She shook her head “Well then, what’s the point?”

“Your ally has abandoned you.  I am offering you a more powerful alliance.”

“Are you though?  What can you do for me?  You’ve been pretty vague what I get out of this deal”

“I shall place my mark upon you.”

“That doesn’t sound very helpful.”

Her eyes flashed with anger again “You do not understand, I . . .”

“You’re right, I don’t understand.  Is this really more than a dream?  If so what kind of magic bullshit is going on?  I don’t know about any of this kind of stuff.  Why would I make a bargain with you?  I don’t know who you are or what you want.”

“I’ve told you twice already!”

I snorted “You gave me a bunch of horseshit history lessons.  That doesn’t tell me anything.  What are you?  A dream ghost?  A demigod?  A demon?  What do you want?”

“Revenge!”

I smiled “Now that I understand.”

“You must give up your meaningless futile quest and do my bidding, my revenge is against powers greater than . . .”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.  I will never give up on taking revenge on the Duke, never.  Not as long as I draw breath – and maybe not even after I stop.  If you can help me with that, great, then we have something to talk about.  But I’m not going to give up on it to help you out, that makes zero sense.”

“You would be the most favored of my minions, once . . .”

“Pass.”

Her face turned grim “As you see my powers over your dreams are even more potent than those of your enemies, if you spurn me . . .”

I grinned “Ah, so now we come down to it.  The threats.  I guess the foreplay is pretty much over huh?  Time to get down to business.  You think you can cook up worse nightmares than when I’ve been experiencing?  Give it a shot lady.  You think you can make my life any worse?  You gave up pretty quickly on the ‘let me help you’ tactic, makes me wonder what exactly you could have ever done for me.”

I could tell that her initial reaction was to lash out with anger, but she mastered herself quickly and I found that she was beside me with a reassuring hand on mine – I wanted to pull away but found that I was only able to move as the dream wanted me to.  I could feel the dream trying to press comfort from her touch on my mind, but it didn’t take.

She purred in my ear sordidly “I didn’t mean to be cross with you, it’s just I’ve waiting for so long.  People like you are very exceptional and special.  I want to be your friend and sometimes friends have to tell each other truths they don’t want to hear.  You have fought a good fight and you have tried your best to get your revenge, but you have failed.  The fight is over.  They have you now, if you continue this fight they will break you – your life continues only in my service.  There’s nothing odious about being in my command I assure you, quite the opposite.  Look around you, this doesn’t have to just be a dream.  You will become wealthy and powerful and you will serve only me, all others will be beneath you.  The race is run and you have not made the finish line.  Now you must do what is best to carry on.”

“No, I’m in a tight spot for sure but I’m not done, not my any means.  Lost the fight?  I haven’t even started yet.”

“When will you give up?”

“Like I said, as long as I live I will fight.”

“Are you living now?  Consider that.  You walk the roads and you fight monsters, and what becomes of it?  Is that a life worth living?  You are poor and powerless and the plaything of anything that comes your way.  You have been battered and ruined.  The only joy you will ever know again comes through me.”

“You got it all wrong dream queen.  I don’t fight monsters, I kill them.”  

When I woke up, if indeed that’s what even happened, I could still smell the fruit, incense, and narcotic smoke of the pleasure den.  My muscles still felt relaxed and languid from the massage.  But most convincingly of all, I was full, and I was no longer thirsty.  The food and wine was really in my belly.  So it’s not JUST a dream and she probably can hurt me in the dream world, maybe even kill me.  Well fuck, that’s a problem.

“I should have taken a shit while I was there.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Look people I’m going to state this plainly so there’s no question – am I not a cannibal.  As we traveled yesterday all afternoon people were giving me funny looks and acting weird.  Even Martialla was giving me some unusual glances when she thought I wasn’t looking.  I was merely pointing out that from a logical perspective once someone is dead eating them is no different from eating anyone else.  Obviously I wasn’t actually going to do it.  Okay, I was going to do it before everyone flipped out on me, but that doesn’t make me a cannibal.  They didn’t know that it was human meat, they were just assuming that – based on nothing I might add – because they were scared.  Obviously I would never violate societal norms and cultural taboos like that because I am a non-deviant upstanding member of the community.

Betrei (sounds like betray, what kind of name is that?) and Parfinis (the bald one), which are apparently the names of the two make distant cousins had armed themselves with axes from the murder’s cottage.  Although if you ask me they don’t look like they’d be worth much in a fight.   They’re far more useful as pack mules, Martialla scavenged quite a haul of supplies from the Bloody Jake’s larder (no meat though obviously because that would be WRONG) and it’s not like she was going to carry it all herself.  Jesslin, despite her talk of spellbooks did seem perfectly capable of doing magic to summon a quick localized rain shower to gather water and emitting a spark to start a campfire – convenient but what a liar right?  The cousins weren’t exactly old hands at wilderness travel but they did show us to a trail that they claimed should take us to the road that leads to Alleene.  I suppose we’ll see.

I guess my mysterious dream benefactor was really a figment herself because last night’s dream-slate was back to regularly scheduled nightmarish torment – impalement, stabbings, being poisoned and thinking that you’re going to be okay and then not being okay, trampled by horses, mauled by bears, being tortured for information that I didn’t have, strangulation, being executed for a crime you didn’t commit, the usual.  Although this last one was a twist because the method of execution was tied to a stake and then drowned, you know like in a cove where the tide is going in or whatever happens in coves.  That at least showed some imagination rather than the usual burned at the stake.  You ever visit one of those sea-side spots where you can still see the timeworn chains on the rocks from the bad old days of “giving people to the sea” to ensure bountiful fishing?  It’s chilling. 

With nothing much else to do as you’re marching through the countryside I took a good look at the cousins.  Their clothing is definitely worse for the wear (literally) but it was fine enough in its prime.  And of course if Jesslin was sent to Indlecastle to study magic that means they’re for sure not part of the lower crust.  I don’t think they’re bigwigs of any kind, but I would mark them as prosperous commoners – that thin middle layer of people that aren’t really important but get to lord over the people on the bottom of the pyramid.  The kind of people that don’t have enough money to hire other people to wander the countryside getting captured by Bloody Jakes but do have enough money to wander the countryside getting captured by Bloody Jakes inside of having to work like a dog every day of their life until they drop dead pushing a plow in their fifties.  When they were talking about their bequest problems I assumed they fighting over nothing, but now that I’ve had a chance to scope them out better it’s probably something worth a little fuss. As we traveled today I decided to ask them about it.

“If you don’t mind my asking what kind of inheritance are we talking about?  Enough to lure you out into the savage hills clearly.”

Parfinis was on my right, having appointed himself my watcher “Actually I do mind.”

Betrei laughed “I don’t.  Our family has a couple lots of farmland that we rent out, as well as some city holdings – although our best personal home was in Renwick sadly.  We’re part owners in several mercantile endeavors.”

“And why are you the heirs rather than your parents?”

Betrei started to answer but Jesslin cut him off “Normal family squabbles, nothing that would interest you.”

“And this uncle of yours what’s his story?  Is he an asshole trying to steal your fortunes or does he have a leg to stand on?”

Jesslin interrupted Betrei once again “I’m sure the feels he’s in the right, it’s for the courts to decide, no use wagging tongues about it.”

“So you guys grew up, if not in the lap of luxury, at least on the shoulder of luxury – whereas my family were copperless dirt-farmers in the worst county in the Kingdom.  How do you suppose that all shook out?  Why the difference?”

Betrei laughed obnoxiously “Probably because our grandmother married a successful furrier while yours was a wanton.”

“Wanton?  I didn’t think anyone said that in real life, I thought that was just a word that you see in books.  Actually the only other time I remember hearing that is from my grandmother oddly enough – wanton kittens make sober cats was one of her sayings.  She had hundreds of them.”

Parfinis gave me an odd look that I couldn’t interpret “You seem to have done pretty well for a copperless dirt-farmer.”

I raised my manacled hands and plucked at my tattered dress-sack “Yeah, things are going great for me.”

Betrei looked thoughtful “Present circumstances aside you’re clearly not a farmgirl.”

“I was pretty young when I left home, I . . .”

Martialla, being the big swinging dick of the group (so to speak) was leading the way, but as I was speaking she stopped and spun to face us, looking displeased.

She gestured “Stop.”

I looked around “What is it?  Bandits?  Owlbears?”

She pointed “No, you stop, stop talking.  Don’t try gaining these people’s sympathy with stories of your sad childhood and how awful the world has been to you.  Don’t weave us a tale of what terrible wrongs were done to set you on this path.  No one wants to hear about how hard everything has been for you  and how the world has been against you from day one.  You want to talk?  Talk about the weather.  Better yet don’t talk at all.”

Betrei looked over at me “Wow, and you two used to be friends?”

“I don’t take it personally.  It’s just business.”

What the cousins had neglected to mention is that this trail leads to the village of Dawn Plains, which was a highly disagreeable thing to neglect to mention as far as Martialla was concerned.  Although being displeased seems to be her default state now.  She was much happier before she betrayed me. Just pointing that out.  Seeing a village kicked up her paranoia again, assuming that this was part of some plot against her, but clearly the cousins just didn’t think it worth mentioning – in their minds of course we would be staying in any village we could find.  Despite being terrified of Martialla they offered a compromise – they’d go into town to get some more supplies and she could stay here any watch over me.  In her suspicion though somehow Martialla talked herself into going into town and leaving the four us here – which makes no sense because if they were plotting against her to set me free this gives them the perfect chance.  What she should have done is stayed here with me and Jesslin as a hostage and sent the brothers into town.  I’ll forgive her through because she’s clearly under a lot of stress.

It was all moot anyway thought because not long after she left a man come walking up the path anyway – and older fellow with a wide face and a crazy wrinkled forehead who nonetheless had long lavish black-grey hair going strong.  I tell you, I know from a good head of hair and that’s it.  He had a fishing rod over his shoulder and a friendly smile on his face.

“Morning folks, what brings you to EEEGHHHA!!!”

That’s the noise he made when Martialla jumped out with sword in hand, we were all pretty startled by that.  I retract my previous statement – that was a pretty good plan, pretend to leave and then lurk invisibly to see if anyone is plotting against you.

He clutched his hand to his chest only semi-teasingly “Ye Gods woman, you about gave me a heart attack!”

She gestured angrily with her sword “And who might you be?!  Another conspirator?!”

He frowned, he had great eyebrows too “Conspirator?”

I scoffed “What?  Are you worried he’s going to hit you with his fishing pole?  He’s just an old man.”

His face was alive with mock outrage “Old?  I’ll have you know that I . . .”

His good humor seemed to be making Martialla angrier “Shut up all of you!”

All the shouting brought another pair of fellows out to see what all the hubbub was and before long half the village was out there (it was a small village) shooting the breeze as best they could with an increasing aggravated Martialla blustering all the while.  They clearly don’t get many visitors, which makes sense, there’s no a lot of call for traveling from nowhere to another nowhere.  Eventually Martialla gave up and stomped off.  The village people were very interested in us of course, but they were also eager to tell us their tale of woe – everyone loves sharing bad news.  The bandits mentioned by that guy Martalla murdered in cold blood (possibly justified) were all anyone had anything to say about.  Once they took over Margrain (the place to the north mentioned by that guy Martialla murdered in cold blood) and destroyed Hallkin (the place where Martialla murdered that guy in cold blood) they had moved on from banditry to setting themselves up as the local warlords, extracting “taxes” from all the surrounding communities.  The Dawners had appealed to Baron Juost for aid but their call went unanswered.  They had sent letters to Renwick (apparently their information is a bit outdated) and had even tried to hire an adventuring party to help them but nothing had worked.

After breathlessly telling us their tales of despair they invited us to stay with them, but by that point Martialla was back with her supplies and wouldn’t hear of it – insisting that we camp outside of town.  Which was pointless, because most of the villagers just came out there and speak with us.  And more importantly to bring us delicious downhome cookin’ including a huckleberry pie that I would literally murder a person in cold blood over just like Martialla did to that guy in Hallkin.  Martialla sat stewing while the rest of us enjoyed an impromptu country jamboree.  Although no one even asked me why I was shackled – why do you think that is?  It was late in the night by the time the villagers returned to their shacks and shanties, leaving Martialla and I sitting across a fire – just like old times, regarding each other across the flickering flames.  Only everything was different.

“So what’s the plan?”

For a moment it seemed like she wasn’t going to answer but eventually she spoke “Continue north until we hit the road.”

“No, I meant about the bandits.”

“Why would we do anything about that?”

“Why wouldn’t we?  These people are suffering Martialla, didn’t you heard their crude homespun lamentations?  It’s like when you see a rabbit stuck in a trap, either you let it go or you put it out of its misery.”

“Or you just keep walking because it’s not your business.”

“We have to do something, you know that we could, it probably wouldn’t even be hard – just a little trickery and shenanigans like we used to do.  Remember Martialla?  We used to be quite the team, and we could be again, if only for a while.”

“And blood, don’t forget about the blood.  And the screams of pain.  And the shit, you know when people are dying and they shit themselves.  Don’t forget about that.  You’re not in charge anymore Ela, you seem to have a hard time understanding that.  I’m not sure what will make you understand but I’m thinking about it for sure.  None of your pointless sidetracks, not anymore.  It’s not my job to wander the hills setting things right that have gone wrong, my job is to take you back to the manor.  And that’s what I’m going to do.”

“When did you become so cold?”

“Don’t pretend like you know me.  You never knew me Ela, you never took the time to know me.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does it matter?”

“No, but I’d like to know.” 

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

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

“What would be the point?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vavhaav iukn’av goaumn avo appresh conceven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pointed at the dress “Put that on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be quiet Ela or I’ll gag you.”

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

“I’m not joking Ela.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just eat Ela.”

“There’s no fork.”

“Use your hands.”

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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