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

Montagem 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Last night the taciturn old man (why is it that old men only come in two models – bigmouth and laconic?  Is there something about speaking a normal volume that isn’t conducive to longevity?) lead us deeper into the woods where his living cabin was – on account of we had blown up his distilling cabin (for which I reimbursed him handsomely so get off my back).  There were ten of us packed into a one room shanty that was, estimating generously, possibly sixty square feet.  After a couple hours I gave up trying to sleep in that dogpile and went outside to smoke the old man’s leaf and drink while simultaneously feeding a variety of blood sucking insects and reflecting on the bright vista of my life.  Being a hero sucks.  The pay is lousy and the people you have to deal with are a total snoozefest.  I’m not sure when or how I started feeling compelled to go out of my way to help everyone but it’s really inconvenient.  I need to do some seriously soul searching and remember how to be selfish.

About an hour before sunrise I saw a unicorn.  I’m sure you don’t believe that because I was there and I hardly believe it.  Had you asked me before I would have said that unicorns are no big deal – it’s just a horse with a horn on its head, which is kind of stupid when you think about it.  But once you’ve seen a unicorm for yourself you can’t think that anymore.  It’s not just a horse with a horn on its head, it’s something magical.  And I know what sounds weird because I see magical shit all the time, but I mean magical in the sense of like wonderful.  It had an aura of dignity and hope about it about it that was only slightly marred by the fact that it was splattered with blood and had one of those hideous goblin dogs impaled on its horn.  I had a fantasy about pulling the dead monster dog off its horn and petting it tenderly (the unicorn not the dead dog) as it bestowed it’s blessing of grace and courage upon me, but it dashed off before I could even move. 

There’s a lot of tales about unicorns, one is that they only appear to virgins – so obviously that one is not true am I right people?  Another is that unicorns are a manifestation of Adariel’s joy and compassion, which ordinarily I wouldn’t put much stock in BUT I just smashed up a heretical Adarielite cult and then I see a unicorn?  I mean maybe.  On the other hand it doesn’t make a ton of sense to send a manifestation of joy and compassion to appear commemorating a victorious slaughter of heretics but maybe Adariel doesn’t have any warlike manifestations, being a God of niceness and harmony and clean clothes and fresh baked bread.  Although she’s supposed to be a protector so shouldn’t she have some murder angels on staff?  Then again shepherds protect sheep and they’re all pansies.  Next time I meet a religious scholar I’ll have to ask.

Ronom (Tamarin’s mother) wasn’t excited about being stuck with the five other girls we rescued but since we saved her daughter from a grim fate it was the least she could do.  She told us that the founders of the Sacred Order of Hardra had stuck their beloved living saint in in Brorrstone Asylum which is north along the river.  I guess they like to be near the water so they can dunk the crazies when they get out of line – near drowning is a pretty widely accepted cure for all kinds of mental disorders I’m given to understand.  Before we left in the morning the girls all came to thank us and try and hug us and all tiresome stuff – I mean get over it, we rescued you from a crazy cult but that was yesterday.  One of them said she wanted to be just like me.  Good fucking luck with that. 

“Before we go Ronom what’s the big secret about Hardra?  You said she had some kind of problem that ultimately made them toss her in the nuthouse.”

“Her behavior was erratic after she came back from the dead.  She was highly . . . . sexual.”

A couple of the girls tittered at this remark “That’s it?  She was like that before.”

“I don’t know about that, but as I heard it didn’t seem like she could control her . . . urges .  There were some . . . incidents.”

“Well that’s nice and vague.  Good luck, safe travels, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to try and find me.”

Martialla and I set out heading north through the woods we thought, but when we reached the river it became clear that we were heading more eastward – although his turned out to be a good thing since as we traveled along the river we saw some of the fake Adarielists lying in wait where we would have been had we went the way we meant to go.  I wonder how often that happens.  It’s got to be hard to ambush someone who gets lost all the time – I should probably claim that I do it on purpose.  There wasn’t much in the way of traffic on the river – probably because Renwick is mostly ruined (I think this river goes to Renwick).  We saw a couple boats heading south which does us no good and the single small craft we saw going north merely responded to our hails by waving  at us like idiots and continuing on their way. 

With nothing else to do we walked.  I estimate that since my exile from Paladore I’ve probably walked more than three thousand miles (I don’t claim it’s a good estimate mind you).  I don’t even really understand what that means.  How wide is the Kingdom?  How tall is it?  How big is the continent or the world?  It’s not a scale you think about.  How far away is the moon?  Have I walked to the moon?  And almost all of those three thousand miles have been in the same Gods forsaken rural county.  I should be the foremost expert in Cymrile County geography by now given the amount of miles that I’ve traveled but I don’t think I’ve seen even most of it.  All that walking and where has it gotten me? 

If there’s one good thing about walking (which there isn’t) it’s that it gives you time to think.  One thing that came to mind was the first time I really got hurt.  And I mean really got hurt.  It was in Heathgrove (or was it Malgareth?  Whichever one is a shithole, well, MORE of a shithole) when that Hurk woman beat the Hells out of me – you remember, while by BODYGUARDS stood there and did nothing.  Prior to that, in my old life I had fallen off a horse a couple times, which was as much as I had ever been injured.  And after my exile but before Heathgrove I had gotten knocked around a bit, been injured in combat, but it was all relatively minor.  That was the first time in my life that I had experienced true hope to die stick a needle in your eye pain.  My face felt like it was so swollen it was going to fall off my head.  My ribs ached like some demonic maid had cinched me into a spiked corset – each breath was an adventure in torture.  But my hip was the worst of all.  I still don’t think it’s healed properly even with all the magic “care” that’s been magicked into me.  I mean how does magic healing even work?  Does it move bones back into place?  No one knows.

There are things that by necessity change your perspective.  Waking up in a dirty alley as homeless woman with no job skills when the day before you were the kept woman of one of the ten most powerful men in the Kingdom is one of those experiences.  But even more profound for me was that experience in Heathgrove.  I remember lying in that crappy bed in that filthy house sweating through the mattress and internally screaming – how I didn’t get addicted to Heathensnuff or opium at that point I don’t know.  And I remember thinking to myself “I will never give up”.  I thought to myself if this is the worst the world can throw at me there’s nothing that’s going to stop me – aside from death of course.  I’m not saying that’s the best shot that could be thrown at me, I know it can be worse, but it was a good shot and I took it. 

Think about how many people want to be fighters and bad men and tough bastards and they train and do whatever and the first time they get fucked up, assuming they survive, they throw down their weapons and change their minds.  They didn’t want to be rough and tough warriors after all.  They just want to be the same as everyone else, living a boring stupid life that no one even cares about.  They want a job they hate and a wife they resent and some kids they neglect and they never want anyone to hurt them again.  And there’s no reason they shouldn’t want that, it’s a very reasonable reaction, some would say it’s the only logical reaction.

I just know that lying in that bed out of my mind with pain I never once thought about quitting – and I knew then that I never would.  In a way I almost felt sorry for the old Duke – because he was done for the moment he threw me out of his court.  At that moment I realized that his downfall was inevitable.  I am inevitable. 

We followed the river until it was starting to get dark, at which point Martialla looked at me expectedly.

“What?”

She gestured “What do you mean what?  Make with the magic pavilion.”

“What?!  That’s been gone for more than a week.  If I still had it why wouldn’t I have been using it?”

“I just thought you were being a bitch for some reason.”

“Why would I do that?”

She shrugged “Who knows what’s ever going to set you off?  You’re mercurial you are.  Touchy even.”

“That is a false accusation!”

“I mean you’re yelling at me right now.”

“That . . . . you . . .” I sighed “Are you telling me that we don’t have a tent?”

“I don’t have one, who knows what all you have hidden away in your secret holes.”

“Why do you always say it like that?  Why don’t you say pockets or storage or even sacks?”

“Because that doesn’t annoy you.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 949,051

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 Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace

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 

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 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

Martialla and I took on the appearance of our friends in the black robes.  It’s harder to disguise yourself as someone who’s showing a lot of skin than you’d think.  Part of it might be because it’s not something either of us has done much, but there’s more to it than that.  The key to crafting a good illusion is the ability to conjure an image in your mind’s eye and then project that image.  Think about a wolf.  You know what a wolf looks like – fur, legs, some teeth, etc. but try to put a precise image in your mind.  And I mean precise.  How long is the tail?  How far apart at the eyes?  What color are the eyes?  Where are they placed on the face?  How shaggy is the fur around where the legs meet the body?  Are the front legs and the back legs the same length?  How does that weird little crook in the legs work?  How many teeth are there, where are they placed, what color are they, what color are the gums around it, how does the tongue look?  And so on.  You’d know a wolf when you saw it, you could tell someone what a wolf would look like and they’d know what you meant, but unless you’re an artist that spends time drawing wolves you can’t really imagine what it looks like – not really.

What you have in your mind is kind of a blob that’s more or less (mostly less) what a wolf looks like.  Try to cover yourself with that image and no one’s going to buy it.  And that’s why it’s easier to create an image of someone wearing a lot of cloths.  A black robe?  That’s pretty uniform, there may be a rip here or a darker spot here or a ragged hem there, but even if you don’t put those things in looks fine.  The human body?  It’s a mess.  It can be a wonderful mess, but it’s a mess.  We’re not nearly as symmetrical as we think.  There’s little bumps and blemishes and moles and marks and all sorts of thing.  One elbow is rougher looking than the other.  One breast is a little larger.  One finger is missing a little piece of skin.  One earlobe is a little stretched out.  If you don’t take that into account it’s a lot more noticeable than you’d think.  It looks fake.  It’s like how the face of a bat seems more hideous than the face of a snake – the snake is so different it doesn’t really bother you so much, but the face of the bat is somewhat proportional to the human face; and thus we obtain a scale of hideousness.  A bat-face doesn’t look like a person but its close enough to what a human looks like generally that it become awful.

Trust me on this, I have a bit of experience, if you don’t think about what a person really looks like you end up with some weird bland statue-person that people don’t like.  AT ALL.  The point is that it took us a little bit longer than usual to disguise ourselves – Martialla with her magic me with pure awesomeness – but we got the job done.  It’s actually really helpful to have someone else there to look at while you’re doing it – it’s like a mirror that gives you feedback and helpful tips.  I have to say, I was never really on board with this “friendship” thing – seemed like a hassle coupled with a burden – but I’m starting to come around on it.  Maybe it’s not so bad after all.

Martialla looked over at me as we walked towards the temple “Do you ever think that this is why we’re here?”

“What?”

“Has it ever occurred to you that all we went through before, the tough times, the pain, the suffering – that was all to mold us into the people that we are now so we could do things like this?  They say the best metal requires the hottest fire.  We’re going to save a young woman from the clutches of a wicked cult.  For like the fifth or sixth time.  Maybe this is like our purpose in life, maybe this is why the Gods put us here.  Has that thought ever crossed your mind?  All joking aside we are kind of heroes aren’t we?”

“Martialla you’re my closest and dearest friend so I don’t want you to take this the wrong way – sometimes you are dumber than a box of dicks.”

“Where would one get a box of dicks?”

“Most port towns you could get a box of dicks.  They import the dicks of exotic creatures to make into soup for old men in the hopes that it will make their dicks work again.  It’s a lucrative trade.  You could do worse than investing in the dick importing business.”

“I suppose that makes a little more sense than eating powdered antlers.”

“I just hope we have the best minds of our generation working on it – nothing makes me sadder than the thought that doddering old gasbag can’t get his dick hard.”

“Not even drowning foals?”

“Maybe, but there would have to be a lot of them.”

We went to the temple that used to be a dance hall first – which from the outside wasn’t much changed other than the addition of two statues of Adariel.  Although now that I was looking for it I saw that these statues definitely made the holy mother look more bashful and compliant than usual – it’s a subtle distinction for a god dedicated to humility and peace but it was there.  I think.  Maybe it was just my imagination.  The main room had been turned into some manner of training facility – lifting rocks and moving rocks and other stuff with rocks.  Classic cult move – exhaust people and they’re easier to brainwash, plus it makes them stronger for when the enemies of your faith come to get you, plus you can use the threat of more training as part of the brainwashing.  It’s great stuff.

There were some crappy tapestries along one wall and through that doorway was an office of sorts with a nice darkwood desk – seems like even running a cult you can’t escape from paperwork.  I suppose you need to keep track of all the possessions people give up to you.  A couple of blue and white robe types came to confront us but once they saw our black robes and rippling physiques they scurried away like frightened groundpigs.  The next room we looked in had a couple weapon racks filled with brand new and kind of crappy looking swords and a large steel shield with Adariel’s symbol on it hanging prominently on the wall.  While we were poking around in there another black robe with a wild mane of dark hair came in.

“What happened?  Where’s Gannick?”

“Some big fella with curly hair kicked the shit out of him.”

His eyes went wide “What?  I thought it was two women!”

I shrugged “They had a friend.”

“What are you doing in here?”

“Looking for a punch dagger.  I thought I saw one in here the other day, I was going to get it and stab that big guy in the liver.” I made a jabbing motion “Like this!  Not so big are you now!”

His face wrinkled with disdain “Bullshit you are!  You two cowards left Gannick to get his ass kicked by some outsider and ran away to hide!  You spineless idiots, why didn’t you raise the alarm?”

I sniveled annoyingly “We were going to take care of it ourselves.”

He shook his head disgustedly “You two are going to wish you got beatdown by this ‘big guy’ of yours when I’m done with you.  Stay the fuck here, I’m going to deal with this!  If you are not here when I get back you are dead you hear me?”

I nodded quickly with just the right mixture of chickenshit defiance and cowardly cowardice.  He sneered and started stomping through the complex gathering up a posse.  A few minutes later a dozen armed men rampaged out into the streets.

I looked over at Martialla “That was easy.”

Looking around we found a barracks with a dozen bunk beds that were empty and a couple other rooms of indeterminate origin until we came to a locked door.  Martialla worked on it for a while with her picks but the lock was too much for her.  I touched the door with my Walking Stick and it cracked and collapsed into broken planks.

I smiled at her “Where’s your magic now?”

“That’s an odd thing to be smug about when using a magic staff.”

“You wish it was magic, I have just mastered the art of internal energy.  You don’t have to break the object’s physical form, you merely need to disrupt its energy with the lightest of taps – like when the wizened old monk touches someone on the chest and then two years later their heart explodes.  The forbidden technique.”

“Where do you come up with this stuff?”

I chuckled and we passed through into a narrow area with three cells on each side – each contained a simple straw mat and nothing much else.  Nothing much besides the women I mean.  It’s another cult classic – lock ‘em up, starve ‘em for a while and they tend to get with the program.  I couldn’t help but wonder, once they have all six cells occupied and they see another woman that want to kidnap what do they do?  Do they wait or does one of the six get turned loose?

“Which one of you is Tamarin?  We’re going to let you all out, just asking.”

Martialla was able to defeat all these locks and it gave me time to run through the annoying conversation with the rescuees that we weren’t really the people we looked like – I feel like using my normal voice should have been a giveaway – and this wasn’t a trick.  One of the women was drugged out of her gourd so I instructed the others to carry her.  As we were heading back out into the main room a couple of the blue and white robes where standing around holding weapons uncertainly.  One of them screwed up the courage to ask us what we were doing.

I growled “There’s adventurers in town causing trouble, I looks like they’re on their way here so we’re moving the women to the other temple.  Be ready to sell your lives as dearly as possible.  They have a dwarf with them I saw cut three men in half with his dwarf ax in six seconds.  These are bad men but remember that Adariel’s glory awaits you in the afterlife.”

They were appropriately scared witless, so much so that when I asked for someone to help carry the drugged woman they all jumped at the choice.  I wonder if the irony of that occurred to the one I picked later when he realized that we weren’t heading for the other temple and Martialla slit his throat.  There’s a fun lesson there, if you run away from your problems make sure you’re running the right way.  Once we got to the taphouse where Tamarin’s mother first organized this raid we took stock.

“Alright Tamarin, we can’t stay here long, your mother hired us to rescue you but when the black robes came for us she disappeared – where would she be hiding out?”

“There’s a place out in the woods, I can show you.”

“Great, let’s go.”

One of the other women stepped forward timidly “What about us?”

“What about you, go back to your families.”

“They’re the ones who handed us over to the priests.”

“Really?” I looked around at four nodding heads “Well shit.  Okay, here’s what we’ll do, whichever way you’re going to get out of town I’ll go the other way and stir up some commotion.  You all go with Martialla and find Tamarin’s mother.  I’ll sneak out of town and join you later.”

Martialla frowned “How?  You get lost all the time.”

“I’ll figure it out.”

I took on the appearance of a hard-bitten tough as nails older fella with curly blonde hair and went outside to wallop the first robe-type I saw walking around – making my walking stick look like a morning star.  Or a mace.  Whichever one has spikes.  I shouted in the general direction of anyone nearby.

“I’m right here you cowardly sons of bitches!  I’ll crush every man in this village for what you did to my daughter you miserable weaklings!

Not very subtle, but there are times when being subtle doesn’t do you any good.  The black robes and their mob of lackeys showed up quickly and I ran for it, it makes things a lot easier when you can take on the form of a frightened villager as soon as you’re around the corner, pointing and weeping “He went that way!”

I repeated this performance a couple times and then headed south out of town towards the only wooded area that I saw.  I wandered around for a while as the sun was setting, until Tamarin found me and led me to a small tumbledown cabin where an old man was sitting on the porch wearing a uniform I didn’t recognize, smoking some leaf and holding a crossbow.  He nodded at Tamarin as she led me into what was not so much a cabin as a distillery, although there was a bed and a shelf with some food on it.   Martialla was checking on the drugged one in the bed with the other four sat on the floor looking scarcely less terrified than they did in their temple-cells.

I found a glass helped myself to the contents of one of the receiving flasks “Cheer up girls, you’ve just been rescued.” I raised the glass “Here’s to heroism.” I took a drink and sputtered immediately “Good gods that’s strong.”

Martialla came over and took the glass from me and sniffed it “That’s probably because it’s orange flower water.”

“Gross.  How long do you think before they find us?”

“A couple hours.”

“Good, I have time for a nap then.”

“Why have you been sleeping so much lately?  Are you pregnant?”

“I will come at you like a sugar addicted coyote.”

A properly designed and maintained still is pretty unlikely to ever explode, and the old timer that set this rig up (to make floral waters rather than booze for some reason) clearly knew what he was doing.  But if you use magic fire to heat up the still far beyond it’s normal point, after capping the mechanism so the gas can’t release, and then you puncture the drum from a safe distance with an old man’s crossbow you can completely annihilate a shack and the half dozen religious fanatics that went into it.  Half of the guys outside will survive and just be horribly injured, so you have to kill them yourself but it’s easy on account of how horribly injured they are.  I handed the crossbow back to the old man as Martialla went about the grim business of slaughtering the wounded.

“What kind of uniform is that?”

“King’s Own, 7th regiment, the Sainted Sinners they called us.”

“How long ago was that?

“A good seventy years has to be now.”

“Man alive, how old are you?”

“Oh, I suppose I have to be over a hundred by now.”

“Wow, don’t get me wrong you look like crap overall but for how old you are you look great.  What’s your secret?”

“Hate.  The world disgusts me. People are treacherous, crude, and cruel.  And the natural world is no better. I’ve traveled all around the world and when you’ve seen it all there’s really nothing left to feel but loathing.  Hate keeps me young.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 949,051

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 Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace

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 

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 9 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Even though the terrain is not similar looking walking towards Preen today made me think of walking along the Compass river after I killed Erist and how awful it was to be alone.  It made me realized how comfortable I’ve become traveling with Martialla.  It’s nice not to travel by yourself AND also not be worried about your traveling companions wanting to hurt you in some way.  I’ve never say this to her face of course but Martialla is the perfect traveling companion.  She doesn’t talk so much so that she’s annoying but she talks enough to help the time pass – and more importantly what she has to say is rarely tedious.  And even more importantly she lets me dominate the conversation, which only makes sense because I have a lot of great things to say.  She decently suspicious of being attacked so she has eyes up but she’s not all twitchy about it like real paranoid types.  She always (usually) has provisions, which are disgusting but that’s not really her fault.  She knows enough woodcraft that we don’t die (right away) but she’s also not one of those gross woodsy types.  She’s quick with a joke, she doesn’t mind backing me up, she’s sharp on the uptake, and she doesn’t mind stabbing someone in the back. 

Maybe she’s not literally the perfect traveling companion because she can’t navigate for shit, she can’t sing at all, and she’s full of magic, but it’s a sliding scale.  Once we spotted the river we realized that we were slightly off course and were somewhat north of Preen, but for us that’s not bad when it comes to overland travel.  Instead of turning south we saw a bridge slightly to the north so we headed for that.  This turned out not be a great idea.  The bridge itself was pretty normal and bridge-like, but as we got closer we saw that on either side of the bridge there were small camps.  Camps full of people with weapons and armor.  There were at least a dozen men on our side in awful pink and green livery with insignia that looked like a merchant’s scales that only had one bowl, or whatever those things are on a scale.  I bet they have a name.  As we approached the soldiers watched us with interest.  I suppose we should have disguised ourselves first.  Oh well.

I addressed a fellow with one of those cooking-pot type helmets that had a sergeanty feel to him “What the Hells is this?”

Even though I was showing nothing he stared unabashedly at me like he hadn’t seen a woman in years “No one crosses by order of Baron Saltwheel!”

I looked at Martialla “Saltwheel?  Isn’t that the idiot Sir Krajeo said he was serving under until he got distracted by a butterfly?” Pot-head growled. “What?  Are you and Baron Saltwheel close personal friends?

Little flecks of spit flew out of his mouth “Baron Saltwheel is a great man!”

“What has he ever done that’s so great?”

One of the men behind him grinned “You should see his wife.”

Pot-head shot him a furious look but had no other commendations for his beloved Baron.

Martialla frowned slightly “I thought Krajeo said that Saltwheel was a Lord.  Did he get promoted?”

“A Baron is lower rank than a Lord.” Pot-head growled again “What?  That’s just a fact buddy.  Sir Krajeo must have been using Lord in the honorific sense, in the way that all nobles are lords.”

“Well that’s just confusing.”

I shook my head “How many freaking Barons are there in this county?  Every six miles we seem to be tripping over some Baron or other.”

“We did just see the disintegration of an entire alliance of barons.  Probably some of the landless ones decided to stick around and grab what land they could since no one seems to be in charge of anything here.”

“Is there anything worse than landless nobles?”

Pot-head started shouting again “Baron Saltwheel is not . . .”

“How much?”

He stopped in confusion “What?”

“How much of a bribe to you need to let us across?” I could tell that one of the men behind was about to say something lascivious so I pointed my Walking Stick at him. “No.  Do not.” I turned back to pot-head. “Look, we could just wait until night and sneak past you, but I’m not in the mood to cool my heels for hours waiting until night falls.  Just tell me how much of a bribe you want.  If you’re here on this shit duty you can’t be getting paid much.  Just name a price and let’s all get on with our day.”

For a moment it looked like he was going to feign umbrage, but he quickly changed his tune “One gold a man.”

“How many men are here?”

He licked his lips quickly “Twenty.”

“That’s a lie but I don’t care.  Twenty gold it is.”

 I handed over the money and he was positively giddy that had had gotten one over on me.  He practically started capering right before me.  He ordered his men to clear out of the way and they actually cheered when we stepped onto the bridge.  As we crossed we saw pot-head and all his men watching us with gleeful anticipation.

Martialla glanced back “What’s that about?”

I sighed “I suppose we’re going to find out.”

And find out we did in about ten seconds.  At the other end of the bridge there was a larger camp and from it came two men under arms in purple and green livery with a three-headed fish sigil accompanied by two dirty adventurers.  How did I know they were adventurers?  I’m wise to their act.  One of them had a fucking whip with a hook on the end for the Gods sake, no self-respecting person would have a weapon like that.  Plus they were wearing studded leather which is not armor so much as the uniform of the wandering sellsword.  The other one was a female half-orc and I’ve not encountered the military force that would allow a recruit like that.  Even for a half-orc she was weird looking, her skin wasn’t grey or green or even bluish – it was the color of a bruised peach.  One of the soldiers held their hand out imperiously.

“Stop!  No one is to cross the bridge by the order of Baron Harmenkar!”

At this proclamation back on the other side of the river pot-head and all his men started laughing riotously.  Some of them were laughing so hard they had tears rolling down their faces.  The one who mentioned Baron Saltwheel’s hot wife cupped his hands to shout as us.

“You want off the bridge on this side its ten gold a man!”

This witticism kicked off another round of laughter, one man laughing so hard that he fell over.

Gritting my teeth I turned back to the purple and pink fish-man “How much to pass?”

The other solider looked back nervously at the half-orc while his buddy answered sadly “Baron Harmenkar has decreed that none shall cross the bridge.  So no one will cross the bridge.”

“Surely we can come to some kind of . . .”

The half-orc grunted and hefted her stupid weapon “He said no one’s gonna pass, so they aint gonna.”

“Is that a stick with axe-heads on both ends?  That cannot be a practical weapon.  There’s no way anyone would wield something like that.”

She grinned, showing off several broken teeth “Come on over and find out for yourself you prissy little bitch.”

“Little?”

Martialla snorted “That’s what bothered you?”

The guy with the whip held up a conciliatory hand “Don’t mind Afra she hasn’t had her day whiskey yet so she’s a little testy.”

Martialla snorted again “Sounds like someone else I know.”

I glared at her “Shut up you.”

Mr. Whip continued “We’re been hired by Baron Harmenkar to help his men make sure that no one crosses and that’s what we’re going to do.  It’s nothing personal.” He glanced at his half-orc friend “There’s no need to be unpleasant.”

On queue one of the unpleasant fellows on the other side of the river shouted a comment about me “getting it from both ends” and there was much raucous laughter again.

I smiled gaily “Of course there’s no need for unpleasantness, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I came across just to talk to whoever is in charge here.  If we can’t work something out cordially my friend and I will be happy to return to the bridge.”

The two other members of the party (because adventurers always come in fours by metaphysical law) where a shaven head fellow with a greatsword on his back and a burly mastiff at his side and an odd looking gnome with vibrant red hair and a great busy beard.   Baron Saltwheel and Baron Harmenkar both were claiming the bridge for the purpose of extracting tolls but they weren’t ready to shed any blood over it yet so for now they had both ordered their men to stop anyone from crossing while they “figure it out”.  It was actually fairly easy to convince Mossus, the fellow with the big sword, that there was no harm in letting us pass since there was another bridge a few miles to the south.  I sounded them out about leaving this stupid job and coming with us to Aleene to do some proper adventuring instead of waiting around a bridge but he didn’t seem interested.  What’s the world coming to when adventurers would rather guard a bridge from no one than try to save a nobleman?  You really can’t count on them for anything.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,525 gold

XP: 884,921

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Ela’s Boots

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), assorted hag pieces 

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

Montagem 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The entire village turned out to watch the conquering heroes depart – which was easier since a bunch of them had been killed by the bloodlust (literally) of a very old woman and her daughter.  Baron Ridley and what was left of his men (and women) were headed north along the tree line to visit the village that Auraluna had killed, I guess to bear witness to its destruction?  Hard to say why exactly.  Life as landless nobleman monster hunter is pretty inexplicable across the board.  There was a little bit of that “it has been an honor” bullshit but not enough to be annoying.  I suppose it’s as good a way to say goodbye as any.  Once the Baron and I had said our farewells and Martialla did the same with Kendrick they made their out of the village with no ballyhoo and then all the villagers went back to work.  I’m sure that’s some kind of symbolism or lesson or something.  We went to join Ismail where he was waiting a little ways out of the village.

“Do you want to come with us to Alleene and help us save Baron Juost.”

“No.”

“No?  That’s it?  Just no?  You don’t want to know who we’re saving him from or what the situation is?  Usually people have all kinds of questions when I make a boldly provocative statement like that out of nowhere.  You don’t want to know anything?”

“No.”

“We didn’t go to Cauldron so aren’t you still on the hook for the debt or whatever you have with Premum Anypoint which he transferred to me?”

“I owed you one fight.  I fought yesterday.”

“I feel like that that was more along the lines of self-defense.  Really all you did is fight back against people, and things I suppose, that were trying to kill you.  That wasn’t like the scheduled deal that you were supposed to do.  What I’m saying is that was more of a free time type fight than a work thing.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.  I could have escaped without being hurt.  I fought them because I knew you wanted me to.”

“Did I though?”

“Yes.”

“Okay fair enough, I did want you to fight them, I’ll grant you that, but that’s like half credit right?” He shook his head “Okay, okay, but you’re a mercenary or an assassin or something right?  I can pay you.  Between you me and the ants on the ground I’m loaded.”

“That’s not how this works.”

I scowled “What is this?  Some kind of warrior’s honor code bullshit?”

“There’s nothing honorable about killing people for money.”

“Sometimes there is.”

This elicited a slight smile.  After packing up his meager possessions he turned and squared his shoulders to mine.

“It was nice to meet you Ela.  I wish you well in your travels.  Would you mind if we shook hands?”

I extended my hand and we shook “If I start worshipping a butterfly will I be able to fly?  Is there a kind of bug that can make me a better singer?  Some kind of chirping beetle?  Can I learn to disguise myself as a leaf?”

I saw him walk to Martialla, say a few words and then shake her hand as well before walking off with his sack over this shoulder. 

Martialla watched him disappear into the distance “Now there’s an odd duck.”

“Gee you think?”

“Don’t be a crab Ela.”

“I have to go with my strengths.

I’ve crossed Auraluna Domiel off my list, saved a village (some of it anyway) and gathered up the disgusting ritual components that Vetovia needs to rescue her friend from a fate worse than death.  And it feels like just another day putting one foot in front of the other.  After all that and we’re just walking back to Preen and you have to wonder what it all means don’t you?  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been almost been killed, I’ve probably forgotten some of them.  My old life was all rules and order and guards and safety.  Now I live without any of that.  To live or die as I can, on my own.  Some people would say that’s truly living.  Life on the razor’s edge.  I wouldn’t count myself as one of those people.  I don’t want to go back, not to what I was, but safety?  A good bed?  Good food?  I’ll sign up for that right now.  Well not right now, but once the Duke is demolished, you know what I mean.  Excitement?  Adventure?  People forget to tell you how boring those things are.  I’ve killed one measly dragon and I’ve probably walked three thousand miles.  They never talk about how much walking there is in the old tales of heroes and high adventure.  Well except for the Tale of Tuuvo Fatfeet and the Very Long Walk.  Which is better than you think.

After a few hours of adventurous walking Martialla looked over at me “I’m glad that I met you.”

“Met?  Didn’t you hunt me down like a dog to ask for my help in a revenge murder?”

“Yeah, isn’t that what people mean by met?  Seriously though, I know how you hate sincerity but I am glad that I met you.  Most people never know what they are, which is good probably because when they come under the hammer they break.  When they come under pressure they can’t hold their shape.  You though.  As you’re so fond of saying you’re no warrior.  You’re a creature of cleverness and money and comfort.  But the quality of your metal has been revealed by the hammer.  You’ve been made strong by the forge.  I watch you and I wish that in some ways I was more like you.  Roll your eyes all you want Ela, I’m immune to your mockery.”

“So I’m a piece of metal huh?”

“Yes Ela, that’s the takeaway from what I just said, I think you’re a piece of metal.”

“Don’t go getting all mushy on me Martialla, any moment now we’re going to be ambushed by wyvern-orcs riding giant spinehawks or we’re going to fall into an enchanted underground realm where human livers are currency or we’re going to be attacked by a woodlouse the size of an elephant that shoots wolves out of its ass and I need you ready for action.”

“I’m always ready for action Ela, you know that.  What, no snide comment about my promiscuity?  I set you up for that one.”

“What can I say, the boredom of travel makes me introspective.”

“And what has your soul-searching revealed?”

“After I’ve destroyed the Duke, killed everyone who ever liked him and ruined everything he ever did I think what would really make me happy is being vastly wealthy and having a lot of stuff.  Like an insane amount of stuff.  So much stuff that I could never enjoy it all.  I’m talking about owning property that I forget about because I have so much of it.  I’m talking about having a level of stuff that makes other people want to die because I have so much.  Not because I care about their reaction, that’s just a measure of how much stuff I want.”

“So basically all the stuff in the world?”

“No, that’s too much, but most it.  I’ve also come to recognize my exile as the blessing in disguise that it is.  I wasn’t doing anything to improve my situation and I probably never would have.  I had resigned myself, without even knowing it, to living a life where I was wholly dependent on the good graces or someone else.  I was nothing and nobody.  I still wish that it hadn’t happened but what I wish even more is that I could go to my old life back knowing what I know now.  I could have done so much more.  I’m disappointed in myself that it took this catastrophe to make me realize that.  I wish that I could have realized I was wasting my life without such a drastic event.”

“Nothing happens unless you make it happen, it’s a hard lesson to learn.”

“Nothing good you mean, all manner of bad things happen to you without any participation on your part.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 47,545 gold

XP: 884,921

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, Ela’s Boots

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), assorted hag pieces 

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  

Montalan 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hilarious.”

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

“Were you two close?”

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

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

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

“Now that sounds like a plan.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 53,601 gold

XP: 795,911

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

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

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

Montalan 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Even though I had gone through all the trouble of letting my Pavilion magically erect itself I ended up falling asleep on the low couchlike thing we had dragged out of the farmhouse.  Not that it was exceptionally comfortable in the consideration of all things, but it was enough like a bed that sleep snuck up on me like a serpent on a baby bird.  This meant my Censor wasn’t in operation, which meant that I was plagued by ill dreams of annihilation and horror, which meant that I slept fitfully at best.  I woke up with a stiff back to form a tight friendship with an aching shoulder and a stinging knee.  Martialla’s remark the other day about me being too young for these kind of wake up pains hit the mark a little too closely.  I’m not made for all this chasing about the countryside and roughing it – I should be treated more like a treasured piece of art, cared lovingly and admired by all, protected from ill-treatment by devoted hands.  Waking up I was disgusted to see that dew dampened my clothing uncomfortably and mildly surprised to see that Jasmi was already gathering herself to leave.

“Gone so soon?”

She tapped her walking stick on the ground as is testing its soundness “I’ve given you your warning, not much else to do here for me.”

“You have enough magic to know where I’m going to be and what’s going to happen why did you come here at all?  Why couldn’t you use that magic to project your words into my mind?  Or visit me in a dream?  People do that to me all the time and it’s never nice.”

She shrugged “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Why is magic so stupid?”

To my surprise she answered “I’m no great magician so take this for what you will, it’s merely the opinion of an old woman, but it seems to me that magic is a force or energy like water.  Try to cup water in your hand and how much can you get?  Very little.  Learn to make a bucket and you can scoop up more.  Turn those buckets into a tub and so on.  But if you really want to move a lot of water what do you need to do?  Dig a trench.  Bigger and bigger for more and more water.  But no matter how much you want to you can’t move an ocean.  So you get a ship and you sail on the water, and that water works for you as long as you stick to your rules, but also it’s dangerous to you – very much so.  A storm, a hidden reef, a hurricane, a massive sea-beast, whatever you like – and you’re dead.  And magic is water that you can’t even see, only sense a bit.  So you’re manipulating it blind, and some get very good at doing that but they’re still groping in the dark.  I don’t think we’re meant to be doing magic at all.  I think magic is for others, I think like a dog picking at scraps we don’t even know what we’re doing or where it’s coming from – we’re just down here like salivating dogs waiting for the next drop.  We’re on the edge of something, taking tiny bits here and there, but it was never meant for us.”

“Others like the Gods?”

“Maybe some of it but on whole I don’t think so.  Older things, things of power to dwarf the Gods even as they dwarf us.”

“Sounds like heresy.  Or apostasy maybe, I always get those confused.”

“One of the benefits of old age, you stop caring about what people think.  Mostly because they stop caring what you say.”

Martialla emerged from Pavilion looking desirably rested as the old woman clumped off into the early morning fog.

“Did she have any final prognostications for us?”

“What’s your sign?”

“Ragabash Thurgau.”

“She said that you’ll try with all your might to save your poor little life, but there’s nothing any mortal can do when Beast of War announces your doom.”

“Well that’s certainly dire, I’ll be on the lookout for that.  Do you want to dive back into the woods or skirt the forest north?”

“Neither, let’s head for Preen.  I’m tired of this countrified bullshit.  It’s a sad day when I’m looking forward the dubious comforts of a garbage town like Preen but that’s where we’re at.”

“What about Razmiran?”

“You mean the murderous crimeboss overlord of Preen that we ripped off?”

“Yeah, that Razmiran.”

“Maybe the orcs killed him.  Maybe his own men turned on him once they realized he was broke.  Or maybe he’ll be there waiting for us.”

“And if he is?”

“If he wants to cause trouble then they’ll be trouble.”

“And what happens when you finally run into trouble that you can’t flim-flam your way out of?”

“I’ll die probably.”

“Can you try not to take me with you when that happens?”

“Sure, but as you’ve pointed out several times people that come to kill me usually end up trying to kill you as well.  It might help if you teamed up with them instead of trying to save me from them.  Get on the winning side for once, jump on the bandwagon.”

“Sure, but what fun would that be?”

“True.”

We headed straight south (probably) towards Preen (maybe) rather than following the river figuring that whatever orcs or military jerks left roaming around the area would be by the river.  Why did we figure that?  Not sure really, but we did.  After only a couple hours of walking we started to see intact homesteads and shortly thereafter we started to see people out working in the fields so clearly things hadn’t gotten too out of control.  The only excitement of the day was some moron farmer shooting at us with a hunting bow because he thought we were thieves or deserters or something.  I don’t know what the Hells he thought.  He saw us well enough to almost put a shaft into my head so he should have been able to tell that we were two innocent girls roaming the countryside and not some threatening duo of criminal murderers.  Now, if you accidentally shot at someone, even someone normal and not someone wonderful like me, you’d be apologetic wouldn’t you?  Of course you would, because you’re good people.  Common, but good.

This guy however was a real asshole.  We got into a bit of a shouting match because instead of apologizing and inviting us to dinner saying “it’s the last I can do ma’am” bashfully he blamed us for being in his field.  As if walking in a field is a perfectly normal justification for murder.  I was tempted to do so for real but I settled for merely eviscerating him verbally.  Don’t let Martialla tell you otherwise, he DID run off crying when I was done laying into him.  Martialla glanced at me as we continued on from that jerk’s plot of land – which by the way looked terrible, his fences were a mess and his rows were a disaster.  

“I’m impressed.  Not only did you not kill him you don’t seem to be plotting his downfall either.”

“What kind of a person would I be if I killed everyone who yelled at me?”

“The kind of person you were when I met you.”

“That’s unfair.”

“Only a little.”

“Perhaps.  I’ve learned a lot of things since getting hurled from the Duke’s court like an unwanted child from a clifftop, most of them appalling.  But one useful thing, I won’t say good, that I’ve come to understand is that you can’t take revenge on everyone who deserves it.  There’s not enough time in the day you know?  Let the little revenges take care of themselves.  That guy probably makes his own life miserable enough that I don’t need to bother.”

“You think so?”

“No, I think most assholes are happy as clams, but it helps to pretend.”

“Why are clams so happy in theory?”

“Well they have no eyes, nor ears, nor any senses of any kind.  They have no idea what’s going on.  Given that what could possible make them unhappy?  If an otter cracks them open and eats them they don’t even know about it so how could they care?  Even about their own deaths?”

“Is that happiness?”

“I guess.”

“That’s disappointing.”

“Tell me about it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 52,143 gold

XP: 789,511

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, Cape of the Mountebank, Sandals of Sprinting, +1 Agile Rapier  

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, lots of luxury goods, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three) 

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

Montalan 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Here’s the problem with my magic tent.  It has many good features, it erects itself instantly, it’s three times bigger inside than it looks from the outside, I can control the ambient light and temperature inside, no one outside can hear the people inside, it can withstand storms and high winds and earthquakes (probably) – these are all good things.  But at the end of the day for all its vaunted it’s still a tent.  There’s nothing inside except some curtains to mark of three different “rooms”.  So when it comes down to it I’m still just lying on the ground like a damn dirty vagabond.  What I need is some kind of fully stocked magical house that I can call up wherever I want at my command.  I was thinking about this when I heard Martialla’s strident voice stridently stridenting over the pitter-patter of rain hitting the tent roof.

“Are we going to do any traveling today?  The sun’s been up for over an hour.”

I sighed wistfully “I remember when I used to never know when the sun came up.  I didn’t need to know.  Why would I?  They only time I ever saw the sunrise was when I was still up from the night before.  I miss that as much as anything.”

“Is that a yes we’re going to be moving soon or what?”

If I had a blanket I would have pulled it up over my head “No.  It’s raining and my back hurts.  I slept funny and now it’s all stiff and wonky.  Like in the middle you know?  That’s the worst.  Not lower back like some people say.”

“Aren’t you a little young for that?  Waking up with aching joints because you slept wrong is an old person issue.”

“That’s if you’re sleeping in a BED Martialla.  Sleeping on the ground like a dumb animal is a perfectly fine reason for a gentle lady in the full bloom of youthful health to feel sore.  I’m a delicate flower you know.”

“I saw you get stabbed through the gut with a spear one time and you didn’t even fall down.”

“Yeah but I complained about it a lot.  Also proper ladies don’t have guts.”

“How does that apply to you?” 

“I’ll ignore that remark.  I tell you Martialla once all of this is over and I’m in a proper bed in proper bedroom again waited on hand and foot by servants I’m going to stay in that bed for a month.  And I mean that literally, that is not exaggeration.  A month Martialla, a month.”

“Once all what is over?”

“Getting revenge!  On the Duke!  The whole thing I’m doing!”

“Duke Eaglevane?  Are you still on about that?”

“Am I . . . you . . . shut up!  Don’t try to get me all riled up.”

“So we’re just going to sit in this tent all day?  You seem to be able to survive purely on booze and bitter feelings but I’m hungry!  I want to get the Hells out of this Gods damned forest and get some food!  In a place that sells food.  Civilization, come on, you love being in cities.”

I admit I sounded a tad bit petulant “No, I don’t want to travel today.  There aren’t any good cities around here anyway.  I need to rest.”  I saw her hand come through the tent separation flap and grasp the edge in preparation for flinging in it back. “Don’t you come through that flap, I’m totally naked in here.”

She paused for a moment before speaking “You’re bluffing.”

“Maybe I am, but ask yourself.  Are you willing to risk it?  Here’s a question in magical theory to keep you occupied.  Let’s say I’m fully clothed but I use my Ring to create an illusion of nudity that looks exactly like I look when I’m actually nude.  Is there really any difference between that and being nude?”

“Yes because you have clothes on, also who cares?  Magical theory is for nerds.  I’m a sorcerer not a wizard.”

“You say that like those are different things.”

“They are.  How about you get dressed and I come in there and kick you in the back real hard a couple of times.  Maybe one of those kicks will realign your spine and then we can get moving.”

“I appreciate that offer, it’s very kind of you, but that doesn’t do anything about the rain does it?   Here’s another for you, if I used my Ring to cloak myself in the illusion of wearing clothing right now while fully nude how is that any different from wearing actual clothing?”

“You’d freeze your tits off for one.  I don’t want to just sit here all day, I’m in no mood for your shenanigans.”

“Shenanigans?  Shenanigans?!  I take offense to that madam.  Never once have I shenaniganed.  We’re not just going to sit here doing nothing, we’re planning.  Planning is very important.  You see I’ve been thinking friend Martialla, if that oracle can see in advance when you come out of the trees then as soon as we get to Alleene they’ll be waiting for us.  We killed those other bounty hunters but you made it sound like the woman in the armor is the one we need to worry about.”

“She is, she very nearly killed me.”

“So what’s her deal?  She never takes off her armor is that her gimmick?”

“I’ve never seen her without it, but then I only saw her the one time and she was trying to kill me.  And when going out to kill someone is generally when you want to be wearing armor.”

“Well I was talking to her and she didn’t even lift the face-hole thing in her helmet.  Very rude it was.  So if she’s going to be waiting for us what do we do?  Don’t you have a spell that makes metal red hot?  That would send her a flume real quick.”

“No.”

“Are you sure?  I could swear that I remember some kind of magic you did that heated up a ring or something.”

“I’m sure I know what spells I know Ela.  You’re thinking of when those hags in the Blackroot did that to me!  I almost lost my damn finger and I did lose a ring of protection.  Probably the huge ugly scar on my hand reminded you of it.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right.  That was quite a melee wasn’t it?”

“You bet your firm ass it was.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been more afraid for my life than I was during that fight.  More afraid?  Yes, I was more afraid when you dragged me right up to that dragon like that was a thing to do.  But that there, in the Blackroot, that was the time I was most afraid for my life.”

“Yeah . . . . I thought we were going to die.  But we didn’t.”

“But we didn’t.”

“Do you think it was like that for the people I’ve killed?  Were they terrified?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Ela nobody ever sees you coming.  One moment they’re talking to a pretty girl and the next they’re on the ground and they’re dying and they can’t figure out why.”    

“Huh, so I guess that’s something.  Anyway, I think what we need to do is to take out the oracle.”

“And how would we do that?  If she can see what we’re going to do before we do it then if we make a plan to try and take her out she’ll know about it and counter it.  Plus we have no idea who she even is.  She could be a hundred miles away and communicating to her bounty hunters with oracle powers.”

“Can she do that?”

“How would I know, I’m a sorcerer not an oracle!”

“Are those different too?  Why are there so many different kinds of magic people?  And why did you choose to be the worst one?”

“I didn’t choose anything because I am a Gods damned sorcerer!”

“Gees, yell about it why don’t you?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 52,143 gold

XP: 759,111

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, tooth-sword, Cape of the Mountebank, Sandals of Sprinting, +1 Agile Rapier   

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, lots of luxury goods  

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