Okay so I’m not exactly Audrey Hepburn – How to steal a thousand

In the early days, I mentioned that I had never hurt anyone before with one exception.  I wasn’t trying to be mysterious and intriguing, I just wasn’t sure it was something I would talk about.  But it’s time to talk about it.  You can’t say you robbed banks and then just let that lay there.  Ela is no tease, ya dig?   

As you know, when I was a teenager I wandered away from my parents’ house for a summer that turned into two years.  And when I came back, it was clear that no one was happy with me being there so I split again.  I had this “kind of” boyfriend at the time that I was hanging around with.  I spent a couple months driving cross country in his VW van going to concerts with a bunch of his pals.  One night we’re sitting around the campfire and I asked how they live like this without jobs.  And he tells me he does have a job, he tells me that he and his pals do stick ups.  At the time I thought he was trying to impress me, but looking back on it now I think he was tired of me and thought that telling me that would scare me off.  Which is kind of stupid because if it had worked, then what’s to stop me from going to the cops? 

For a while, I traveled around with him and his buddies in the Denver area because it turns out that that little slip of Canada between Arkansas, Pecos, and Taiping is a where you want to be when you’re into armed robbery.  Dip across the border, steal some shit, and then pop back to Canada and hide out in the hills. A lot of their jobs were in Taiping, partially because they were racist assholes and partially because there’s a lot of border towns there.  I’m not sure why exactly.  It’s probably because they want to keep the white people on this side of the Rockies.   

The guy I was with, I’ll call him Chris, was technically the leader but there was this other guy I’ll call Ernie.  Ernie was an ex-military guy and he was the one that did all the planning.  He was pretty weird.  I thought it was because he had been in the fighting in Africa, but Chris said he was always like that, even when they were kids.  As long as they were flush with cash, everything was fine.  When they weren’t, Ernie’s partner Bert was always stirring up shit about how Ernie should be the one calling the shots.  Bert wasn’t pumped about me tagging along with them either.  He thought I was too conspicuous. 

I was young and stupid and thought it was cool to be hanging around with “outlaws”.  In my defense, at that time the area around Denver was like the wild west – what we were doing didn’t even seem illegal, not really.  No one seemed to care.  They’d pull a job and we’d party our way from town to town.  Lots of good music festivals out there.  Things took a turn when one of the crew got drunk and fell off a bridge and broke his neck.  They had a job coming up in a little town in Pecos and they were a man short.  Chris said it would be fine without him, Ernie said they had to scrub the job.  I did something really stupid and volunteered to take the place of the dead man.  No one really liked that idea except Ernie, and no one was going to cross Ernie. 

So I robbed a bank.  By which I mean I sat in the back of a van with a gun and waited.  Even though I didn’t really do anything, it was terrifying.  I barely even knew how to shoot a gun.  At that point I didn’t know if I could shoot someone.  That question would be answered shortly.  After that, Chris got distant and weird, but for some reason Ernie really had taken a shine to me, I guess because I had “proven” myself.  In whatever case, Bert did not care for it.   

After the second job I did, I decided I should pursue a career in music instead of armed robbery, but I wasn’t sure how to go about making that jump.  A third job came and went while I was still trying to figure it out.  Bert was getting more vocal about his displeasure in me being there.  That last time, I went into the bank with them and his opinion was that having a woman would make them too easy to identify.  Which is probably a fair point.  Bunch of dudes wearing masks?  Could be anybody.  Get a woman in the mix and things get easier to iron out for anyone looking into it.

At this point I was spending more time with another guy in the crew than Chris, and one night we’re laying in our sleeping bag and Bert rolls up on us.  He’s got a gun.  There’s a lot of shouting and cursing and Not Chris slinks away into the night, but Chris turns up.  Not sure what sense of loyalty he still had to me.  Things escalate and Bert shoots Chris like in the hip or upper thigh on the side.  I had this little revolver that I had started carrying and I shot Bert.  He had his arm bent and the bullet went through his forearm and into his bicep.   Ernie shows up and grabs my gun and takes off in the car with both Chris and Bert bleeding all over the place.  He said he was taking them to a doctor, but I wonder now if he killed them. 

At this point, I’m there at the campsite with the only guy left and his lady of the night.  He grabs up all the cash the crew had, gives us each a hundred-dollar bill and says “see you in the funny papers” and splits.  A few hours later, I’m sitting in a diner with Roci, the aforementioned prostitute, and her pimp Ringo.  He was such a stoner doofus I didn’t even realize he was trying to turn me out. He had to be the worst pimp in the world.  But he did introduce me to the booker at a club that got me my first gig as a singer. 

Sometimes when I think about that time of my life, it doesn’t seem real.  How could I have robbed a bank?  Seems impossible.  I wonder sometimes if it was all a dream.  But it happened.  I was drunk or high a lot of the time, so I may have some details mixed up but it happened.  Looking back on it, it’s a miracle that I came out of that situation alive.  A nineteen-year-old girl mixed up with armed robbers?  That’s not a story that’s going to have a happy ending most of the time.   

So anyway, that’s the story.  I robbed banks.  And I shot a guy once.  And that’s the time that I hurt someone.  You know, before.  When things were “normal”.  If I hadn’t been punch drunk at the time, I wouldn’t have said anything about it to Martialla.  But since I did, I figure it deserved an explanation. 

I got kicked out of model UN for this – The Coalition States of America

After the Rebellion of 1768 successfully prevented the transfer of the French Louisiana Territory to Spain, New France was fragmented between the settlers of the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes Acadians who wanted stronger support from France to resist the British colonies, and the rebels to the south who had lost faith in the continental government.  

When the Treaty of Versailles in 1781 gave all former British claims in New France below the Great Lakes to the newly formed United States, the Upper Louisiana/Illinois Country contingent of New France was pushed into alignment with the southern rebels.   In 1783, the bulk of New France south of the Great Lakes declared their independence from France and formed a new nation called Illinois.  When British forces captured Louisbourg, allowing them to blockade the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, the remainder of the colony of New France threw in their lot with the nascent government of Illinois. 

Facing increasing pressure from Britain in the north and the specter of France capturing New Orleans in the south, the government of Illinois collapsed within two years.  It was replaced by two even shorter-lived governments.  The Native American confederacies that made up more than half of the population of the new nation were the only thing keeping it even slightly viable, but also presented the largest hurdle to coordinated action.  The area was effectively ungoverned until 1791 when the Coalition States were formed at the Saint Louis Convention. 

The Coalition States were strengthened by waves of new settlers in the following years, including many veterans of the US War of Independence who were upset by the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, feeling betrayed by the country that they had fought to create and seeking a new start farther west.  The Coalition States tried to assert authority over the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi Rivers but were largely ineffective, losing New Orleans back to France while Britain maintained control of the river way to the Great Lakes.  The discovery of gold in the Dakotas was the only thing keeping the Coalition States from total collapse throughout the early 1800s.   

The fortunes of the CS turned around with the formation of the Arkansas Republic in 1815.  The United States focused on bringing their “wayward son” back into the fold, and New Orleans (at this time a free city) asked to be annexed into the CS in 1824 after the easternmost chiefdom of the Arkansas Republic destroyed the homes of the Creole leadership and smashed the Louisiana militia.  The Texas Revolution in 1836 provided the CS with a trading partner and protection from Spanish conquest from the south. 

With control over the mouth of the Mississippi and the two Republics as buffers against more powerful nations, the Coalition States were able to take their first significant action as a regional power, defeating British Canadian forces in several engagements to claim possession of the Great Lakes in the 1830s.  The CS was able to establish peaceful relations with Britain and the US, but tensions remained high with the Arkansas Republic throughout the latter half of the 1800s.  New Orleans would be lost to the Republic during fighting in the 1860s and the bulk of CS territory below the Arkansas River would be ceded to the Arkansas Republic in 1872, at which point hostilities were largely over. 

After dedicating significant resources to building up railroad infrastructure, the CS experienced significant growth at the turn of the century, becoming a trading hub for the North American nations.  In the early 1900s while the US indulged itself in military adventurism, the CS took pride (too much many would say) in building “strength through peace”.   

The CS, long considered internationally to be a minor power existing at the indulgence of the US, is starting to move out of the shadow of their more flamboyant neighbor.  While the US is experiencing economic crisis, civil unrest, and violence, the CS is enjoying an economic, scientific, and cultural boom time as they take their first steps towards being a true world power. 

Ten states make up the Coalition.   

Beauharnois 

Illinois 

Ishpeming 

Kanadario 

Louisiana 

Manistique  

Michilimackinac 

Minnesota 

Missouri 

Saint Pierre 

President: Joseph Edelman 

Total area: 233,089 sq mi (603,700 sq km) 

Population (1964 est.): 44,291,413 (growth rate: –0.6%); birth rate: 9.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.1/1000; life expectancy: 69.14; density per sq mi: 191 

Capital (1964 est.): Chicago 3,275,000 (metro. area), 2,847,000 (city proper) 

Other large cities: Toronto 2,703,018; Saint Louis, 1,441,622; Detroit, 1,001,962; Saint Paul, 962,024; 

Monetary unit: Coalition States Dollar  

National name: The Coalition States of America 

Official Languages: None at the national level  

Literacy rate: 99.7% (1964 est.) 

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (1964 est.): $333.7 billion; per capita $7,400. Real growth rate: 0.4%. Inflation: 0.7%. Unemployment: 8% officially registered; large number of unregistered or underemployed workers; International Labor Organization est.: 7%. Arable land: 53.85%. Agriculture:  wheat, corn, other grains, fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; Labor force: 22.17 million (1964 est.); industry 18.5%, agriculture 15%, services 65.7% (1961). Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing. Natural resources: iron ore, coal, manganese, oil, natural gas, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber, arable land. Exports: $71.14 billion (1964 est.): ferrous and nonferrous metals, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals, machinery and transport equipment, food products. Imports: $87.21 billion (1964 est.): energy, machinery and equipment, chemicals. Major trading partners: United States, Canada, Arkansas Republic, Pecos Republic, Mexico, Great Britain, Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping (1970). 

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 12.182 million (1970); Radio broadcast stations: AM 134, FM 289, shortwave 4 (1967). Radios: 45.05 million (1967). Television broadcast stations: at least 33 (plus 21 repeater stations that relay broadcasts from the US) (1967). Televisions: 18.05 million (1967).  

Transportation: Railways: total: 13,433 miles (21,619 km). Highways: 105,442 miles (169,694 km) Waterways: 1038 miles (1,672 km).  

The Lords in Shadow

The Shadow Lords have their origin in the 1937 invasion of China by the Empire of Japan.  The Japanese Imperial Army brought coastal China under their control and they were followed by the yakuza as closely as lightening after a storm.  All the local criminal groups either fled or were killed.   

One of the survivors of this purge was a member of the Green Gang called Fat Yuan.  Rumors say that he was half Japanese, the son of a powerful oyabun and his Chinese mistress.   As the story goes, he was able to survive and escape the extermination of the Green Gang due to his superhuman abilities and inside information about the activities of those that sought his death.   

Fat Yuan fled south before the oncoming Imperial tide and began studying at the monastery of Four Winds outside of Vientiane.  When Fat Yuan and his followers stole the mystical shadowknives protected by the masters of the Four Winds, it instigated bloody infighting that saw the destruction of the Four Winds sect and the deaths of the teachers Howling Over Thunder and Crimson Mask.   

Lacking the resources to challenge the Yakuza directly, Fat Yuan and his followers traveled the Indonesian Archipelago, Polynesia, and Australia each recruiting their own followers – creating many small gangs that would eventually coalesce into the Shadow Lords.  Their ranks were swelled by other Chinese gangsters who had survived the purge, but included a diverse cross section of criminals from across the region.  This loose collection of criminal enterprises began to establish their own small spheres of influence in the Madripoor underworld. 

The Shadow Lords are essentially cults of personality formed around a specific individual.  As such, they usually disintegrate if that leader is killed or removed from power.  Experienced members will break off from their parent gangs to establish their own independent outfits with the approval of their former leader.  The Shadow Lords are not overseen by a central authority like the Mafia or similar groups.

Despite this lack of top down leadership, conflict between Shadow Lords is rare, unlike the mob wars between Yakuza clans, Mafia families, or Triads. 

In contrast to those other organized crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are small, consisting of fewer than thirty sworn members.  Those members control front gangs, larger networks of criminal associations on the street. Due to the necessity of protecting themselves from larger rivals, the members never inform the operatives on the street that they are actually in the employment of the Shadow Lords.  

When a group becomes too big and attracts the attention of their enemies, it fragments into two or three smaller groups.  By splitting up and recruiting, they evolve and change their face and shape, keeping a low profile.   

In essence, the Shadow Lords are a confederacy of criminal outfits that share the same goals.  Each leader has their own culture, their own separate hierarchy, and what motivates them may be different, but they all help each other survive while they strike at the Yakuza.  Due to their single-minded obsession with hurting the Yakuza, the Shadow Lords have not grown as fast as they could. 

The Shadow Lords use every resource possible and are willing to take greater risks than rival syndicates.  Compared to the larger crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are far more likely to cooperate with outsiders.  Besides their comfort with magical artifacts, this manifests by the Shadow Lords being one of the few organized crime groups that actively recruits “superhumans”, which are not welcome in more traditional enterprises.   

How to talk to your kids about super-soldiers and death

The Coalition States of America “super-soldier” project is renowned to be the most successful in the world.  Many people would be surprised to learn that the project (secretly dubbed “Godlike”) has only produced three viable outcomes.  At the cost of dozens of non-operable results (“zeroes” as they are deemed by the research team) and hundreds of deaths.  Even more surprising is that, despite that fact, it is the most successful program of its kind.  

The common belief is that people with the gene that allows for chemical manipulation to exceed human baselines are one in a million.  The truth is that they’re even rarer than that.  The chances of someone having the necessary gene already being in the CSA military were exceedingly small.  When Private First Class Amy Albright tested positive, the results were initially kept under wraps due to the high number of project failures.  After she emerged from the program a complete success, she became a media darling.  

A wholesome blonde girl-next-door type who had volunteered to serve her country that could fly at supersonic speeds and rip apart a tank with her bare hands?  It was a public relations windfall beyond the wildest dreams of the military spin doctors.  Her smiling face on 60 Minutes and the evening news did much to mitigate the (true) accusations of forced conscriptions and deadly consequences of the program.  

She went from being the face of a public relations campaign to a true national hero following the release of the 1970 documentary “Angel” showing footage of her in action during the Argentine Conflict.  The opening scene of a brutal looking staff sergeant explaining in no uncertain terms to his men that Angel One is a soldier and not “some mark in a pick-up bar” and will be treated as such in his unit unless they want a boot up their ass has become as iconic as the live footage of her turning the tide at Cordoba and saving the lives of thousands of CSA soldiers.  

It is because of this movie that she is known mostly to the public by her callsign used during that conflict – “Angel” or “Angel One” rather than her focus group-chosen public persona “Iron Heart”.  Angel One was reported KIA on March 4th, 1973, the details of which have not yet been released to the public.  It is widely assumed that a new chemical weapon provided to Ñancahuazú Guerrilla fighters by German communists is responsible for her death.  A sound clip of a CSA officer reporting “Angel One is down”, voice cracking with emotion, has become iconic.

September 13th, 1973 – Duke Eaglevane

I stood looking out the window of Pinetree Exports, also known as Alcazar’s office, which despite its small size and generally messiness would have been a much nicer place to stay than his apartment.  I was watching the steady flow of pedestrian traffic down on the street as he looked for my file in his stacks of papers.

(translated from Spanish)

“What is the deal with this place?”

“You’ll have to be more specific, Madripoor has many ‘deals’ at any given time.”

I pointed down at the street “There’s a dude wearing like a space helmet.  And the other day I saw a woman riding a bike whose skin was yellow, like banana yellow.  I’m pretty sure I saw a guy jump into a second story window too.”

“That was probably Bayu, he jumps all over the city.  Usually into the windows of married ladies.” 

I turned and gave him a look “Hey can you do me a favor and be a little more nonchalant about impossible things people can do around here?”

He stared at me for a moment “Sorry, I guess I’ve gotten used to it.  The ‘deal’ is that Madripoor, for this reason or that, has more than its fair share of NBHs – that’s non baseline humans – like you.  And not for nothing, there may also be an alien or two in residence as well.  The military usually finds aliens and shoots them in the head as soon as they crash-land but a few slip through the net.” 

“Oh sure, aliens exist and are on earth and that’s normal.  How about you give me a little build up to these shocking revelations?  Are your CIA buddies the ones that kill the poor little green bastards as they stumble out of their wrecked saucers looking for their triple A cards?”

He snorted “If I was in the CIA it would have been much easier for me to get this.” 

He waved a stained folder at me that had budget written on the tab, then crossed out and written 1968 redeposit which was itself crossed out and replaced with something I couldn’t read.  I sat down across the desk from him, he handed me the folder and helped himself to a cup of coffee while I thumbed through the papers inside.

“So I’m dead huh?  That’s very dispiriting.”

He nodded with a grin “I know, it’s a real shame you were cut down in your prime like that.”

“Who’s Duke Eaglevane and why did he blow me up?”

He raised an eyebrow “Don’t you read the newspaper?”

“Just the box score of the Tropics game and my horoscope.”

“Duke Eaglevane is someone who a man that was actually in the CIA would call a ‘bad guy’.  He’s a super terrorist, or supervillain if you want to be theatrical.   He’s maybe hundreds of years old and when he’s not killing German communists, he spends his time running the largest criminal organization in the world.  An organization that does things like blow up pretty singers in the heart of the Coalition.” 

“Why would he blow me up, what did I ever do to him?”

“I would imagine that you are what people who blow buildings up call ‘collateral damage’, I wouldn’t take it personally.”

“Of course not, it’s just my life.” I shuffled through some more papers “So I was blown to bits and then the government scooped up the pieces and put them back together?  Like the Six Million Dollar man?  That was nice of them.  And then these Shadow Lords stole me?  I would have expected the Coalition Super Soldier Division to have better security.”

“If I was with the CIA I could answer that for you, but since I’m just a humble businessman, all I can give you is guesses.  I don’t think it was the Coalition, from what I gather a private organization did the Humpty Dumpty job on you.  Maybe they sold you to the Shadow Lords, maybe you were stolen, maybe they were funding the whole operation, I don’t know.  But it wasn’t the super soldier program, that medical report says you’re negative, this was something lower key.  Just saving your life and giving you some ‘minor’ super powers.  You’re stronger than you have any right to be but I’m pretty sure Angel would rip you apart, if she wasn’t dead.”

“Being dead does increase the degree of difficulty.” I flapped the folder at him “How did you gather all this, non-CIA man?”

“I have a lot of friends, I keep my ear to the ground. Information is critical in my line of work, other vague answers are available at request.”

I read from one of the pages ‘Due to the stimulation of neurological, chemical, and glandular activity, subject will suffer from chronic headaches and will need to consume fifteen to twenty thousand calories a day to avoid rapid weight loss and death.’ “Well that’s just great.  I thought my head hurt because I wasn’t smoking enough.”

“You may as well smoke up, on the next page they anticipate that with your increased metabolism and all the damage it’s doing to your systems, you’re going to die of organ failure in another five to seven years.  Live fast and die young, etcetera.”

I tossed the file on the desk “This day just keeps getting better and better.  So who did the Shadow Lords want me to fight so badly that they went through all this trouble?”

“Other gangs probably.  Or maybe they were going to rent you out as a mercenary, there’s always fighting on the mainland.  Or maybe they wanted you for the tournament.  Madripoor is the proud home of the only super powered death sport in the world.”

“That sounds pretty illegal.”

“Even though you’ve only been with us a couple of days, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that legality is a flexible concept around here, especially for people with money.  And the psycho that does the annual tournament has gobs of it.”

“Lovely.  This is all good information but how is the project of getting me home coming along?”

He leaned back and steepled his fingers for a moment “Not great.  Since you’re legally dead, that complicates things.  And being an NBH complicates things even more.  It means that you have to register with all kinds of groups with three letter names.  Smuggling you into the States would be super illegal.  People are going to be very interested in you, Ela.  It’s a good thing that I’m not with the CIA because if I was, you’d probably be knocking over some east African dictatorship right now.”

“I feel like you’re saying you’re not going to help me without saying it.”    

He held his hands out “I ship matchbooks and crummy electronics, what do you expect that I could do for you?  I don’t know anything about sneaking people through multiple countries illegally.  You’re too hot for me to handle.”

“That would be a good name for a song.”  

“I think Otis Redding already did that one.”

Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

This collar tries to murder me if I attempt to take it off.  That makes sense.  Simple enough.  If I undo the thing the magic happens.  But it also tries to murder me if I ask someone else how to get it off.  This is where things get weird.  How does it know?  And what is “it” in this context?  I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that magic is an entity of some kind capable of thought and decision making.  I’ve never even really heard anyone claim that there’s a God that’s in charge of it.  So how does it work?  How?  You summon fire and you burn someone alive, I get that, that’s pretty straightforward.  But once magic has conditions what are we talking about anymore?  If you curse someone to have donkey lips and a monkey tail until they make a princess fall in love with them who’s keeping track of that?  Who or what decides when someone is in love?  Or who’s a princess?  Is the magic fully versed in geology?  No one has any clue how these things work.  Why does this not bother anyone else?

“Ela you’ve talked about this many times, give it a rest.”

I will not.  There has to be an explanation for this.  If I sit down for lunch I’m not technically “making progress” towards the North, but the collar doesn’t murder me.  Does it know that I need food to keep going so eating counts as progress?  If I have a long lunch will it strangle me a little to get me going?  Is there a time limit for lunch?  If I head due east or west will it kill me?  If I take one single solitary step to the south does it kill me?  How does “it” even know what south is?  That’s just something we made up.  Magic is supposed to be an elemental force of nature – animals don’t know directions, mountains don’t know directions, gravity doesn’t know directions, but somehow magic does?  How can it “know” anything?!  What is it?!  What?!I can’t let this go because as rare and “wonderful” as magic is it’s more a part of the Kingdom than I ever realized.  A mule farmer up in the Beregon Valley might not think that magic effects his life but it does.  Look at Chenmost, those people probably never thought about magic, didn’t make them any less dead when the place fucking blew up as a result of magic shenanigans.  Magic is an integral part of our lives, even if we don’t know it, and yet somehow no one seems to know anything about it or how it works.  

What are wizards doing out there and why are we as a people allowing them to do it?  I’m the last one to call for government intervention in just about anything, but shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people who are meddling with the fundamental building blocks of the universe?  Some of the really remote county oafs would gladly kill all the magic people in the world on account of their backwards and violent ways.  I could almost get on board with that if not for the fact that magic can make life so much more comfortable.  And bring me booze.  

Anyway, enough about magic.  We set out on the road to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan seeing as the area to the north is under enemy control.  Last I heard Gevudan had been captured by the enemy as well but no one seemed to be concerned about that.  The northern road was full of people.  People heading in both directions, which is a good indication that no one knows what’s going on.  The people whose villages had been wrecked along the Compass River were fleeing to Graltontown – the people in Graltowntown were fleeing north to get away from the front lines.  I’ve often wondered if someone was fleeing and they see someone else fleeing the other way if they would continue fleeing in the same direction or reverse course.  Looks like most people are content to trust their own judgement.   There was no one else on the south road.  At all. 

The “we” in this case was myself and four Ducal guards sent along as my shepherds.  Just in case the magic murder collar didn’t make enough of an impression.  The Duke’s personal guard is in theory a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Eaglevane family.  The reality is that these days the guard is a largely ceremonial force that varies widely in quality.  The captain of the Ducal Guard for instance I don’t think has ever trained for battle, let alone been in one, he was give his position because one time he loaned one of the King’s friends his horse.  There are couple real hardcases in the Ducal Guard but they’re generally there because they made poor life decisions.

The Ducal Guard was formed in secret by Duke Anton Eaglevane in 812 from forces loyal to him in the neighboring county.  This is what is known as “treason” but given all the other treason that was about to happen people tend to forget about that.  Four regiments of the Ducal Guard were raised and based on this show of force Duke Anton gained the loyalty of several Eaglevane fighting forces as well as negotiating a contract with the infamous mercenary lord Eustace Lobar the Wolf Monk.   Anton declared himself Archduke, launching a civil war against his brother (the current Duke’s grandfather) Morton.  The fighting prowess of the Ducal Guard was so renowned that it became common to drunken louts in the taverns to debate if they would a match for the King’s Own – which is of course a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Crown.  Seventy-six years later the Ducal Guards mostly stand around and sometimes fetch things like stools.  I have my doubts about their current efficacy as a military force in the field but they look damn good in a parade.  

I don’t know how many guards the Duke has now, but it must be a lot less than four regiments because I know two of the ones sent to escort me.  Cottom Finchley is what people generally think of when they conjure up the image of a dashing cavalryman – long, athletic, rangy, handsome in that foppish way some women like.  I prefer men who spend less time on their hair than I do personally but to each their own.  Finchely has one of them faces that are so striking that people often overlook the eyes – those cold snake eyes tell the real story.  The man is a monster.  At court he loved to play a little game with people where he’d have them arrested on false charges and then come in to “save” them only to have them be captured again when he betrayed them.  The Duke’s court has its fair share of utter shitheads and he’s one of the top ones.  For some reason he always smells like honey.  

The other fellow I know, Bolbec Forthwind, is much less striking but on the other hand he’s not a piece of human waste either so it balances out somewhat.  If he wasn’t short and closing on fifty he’d be a decent looking fellow.  Although you can’t do much about that round peasant face of his.  I told him once he would look better if he stopped painting his hair with that awful dye he uses but it doesn’t look like he listened to me – his head still glistens like an oil slick.   Finchley is younger, bigger, quicker, and meaner but if they ever came to blows I would wager that Bolbec would beat his balls off.  Some people are just fighters you know?  You can tell.

Around the time we reached Narhold we noticed vast plumes of smoke to the north.  I speculated that it was Three Rivers, you may remember that as the city we’re heading for, being burned to the ground but Finchley laughed at this idea.  Although he offered no alternative opinion on what else could be causing enough smoke that there was an early sunset.  I’ve never been to Narhold before, the only thing I know about is it that Martialla killed one of the men who killed her niece here.  His name was Bass or Flounder or some stupid fish name.  What I’ve heard about Narhold is that this is good fertile land but on account of being right next to an enemy nation no one wants to live here.  Rumor has it that it was founded by Vieland criminals who fled across the border to avoid justice in their homeland.  Consequently it’s populated mostly by outcast and criminals of various sorts, willing to make a hard life among the dangers of the region.  It’s also whispered that Nahold regularly bribes officials in Vieland with food, gold, and slaves – which is treason you know.

Once we were firmly installed in one of the rat-infested hostels in this crap border town that Bolbec Forthwind told me that he was going to set me free. 

Montresor 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Remember when I was first “exiled” to Juost Manor and they yoked me with that ugly silver necklace?  Of course you do, I talked about it a lot.  “They” could use it to track me down somehow, as evidenced that first night when I escaped and they immediately caught me and brought me back.  With extreme prejudice.  Looking back on it now I realize that the impact of those events had more psychological effect on me than the actual magic of the necklace was useful to them.  Because of that experience the first night the notion got in my head that I couldn’t get away from them until I got rid of that necklace.  But it wasn’t true really.  Once the Baron was off fighting his war, and then later was the willing sexual pawn of a wizened old crone, the things got pretty chaotic.  The Baroness herself sent me off on many a wild goose chase.  I could have wandered off at any time and it’s unlikely much would have been done about it.  I’m sure she would have sent someone after me, but I could have dealt with it.  It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect that I put so much importance on that trinket.

They’ve upped their game this time.  I could kid myself and say what they fitted me with this time is a choker, but let’s call it what it is – a slave collar.  A very nice slave collar made of silver and gold, nice enough you would think that it’s jewelry of some kind, but a slave collar nonetheless.  They demonstrated to me that if I try to remove the collar before I get to the North – directly or by encouraging others to do so for me – it tightens and chokes me until I fall unconscious.  Have you ever been choked unconscious?  I don’t recommend it.  Why some people find that enjoyable I can’t fathom.  They also enjoyed showing me that they could make it strangle me whenever they felt like making it do so.  Yesterday they seemed merciful and stupid, today they were leaning heavily on the cruel post in the fence.  They explained that any day I didn’t make progress towards the North the necklace would also make me get very sick, and progressively so until I died after a few days.  No demonstration but I believe them.

Once the strangulation portion of the evening was concluded the Duchess said to me “All you have left is memories and if you cross me again I’ll take those away from you as well.”  I don’t know what she meant but that was a pretty cool thing to say.  I admit that even more than Elth I misjudged the Duchess.  All this time I’ve laid (lain?) all the blame for my current predicament on the Duke, but clearly she was more involved in this than I anticipated.  I honestly didn’t think she had it in her.  She always seemed like a timid powerless woman.  I had a hard time imagining her doing so much as speaking sharply to one of her maids, let alone putting together some manner of black bag squad to drug and kidnap me.  I suppose I should give me some credit for that. Not much, but some.

Of course if the trio holding my fate in their hands was truly cruel they would have just slapped me with the collar and then tossed me out on the street to make my way north on my own as best that I could – that would have been something.  It’s what I would have done were I am.  Well no, if I was them I would have killed me on account of I am far too dangerous to be left alive, but if I was going for this whole exile thing that’s how I would have done it.   But even in their spiteful vindictiveness they were rather civilized about it. 

They booked me passage on a ship heading north.  And I mean way north.  The Umberlee River is the big swinging dick of rivers as far as most of the Kingdom is concerned.  If you follow The Umberlee north you come to the Scale River, which is still a pretty big deal as far as rivers go.  But if you follow that north you come to the so-called River of the Sun (if it can so be called) which is THE river.  Any river that’s any river has . . . you know whatever.  That metaphor got away from me there.  Our primitive stupid ancestors called it the River of the Sun because they thought one of their stupid primitive river gods piloted the sun up and down it each day on canoe while fighting off hippos and river walruses and Bokrug The Great Water Lizard with a long stick or something.  Our ancestors were so stupid.  The sun doesn’t travel north and south, how did that ever make sense to their puny primeval brains? 

Anyway, I guess it was called the River of the Sun for so long no one bothered to change it even though it’s a pretty bad name.  Point is the River of the Sun empties into the Sea of Shatai and right across that august body of water is “the North” which is another stupid name.  People can’t even be bothered to call it the Northlands or something slightly less silly, they have to say “the North”.  It’s childish is what it is.  So this riverboat is taking me all the way across the continent to Etherasawn where I can catch a ride to my new exile home.  Although last I heard Etherasawn was in the hands of the dirty Vielanders so I guess we’ll see how that goes. 

Unless of course I can figure out a way to get this collar off and escape before we get there.  Which I probably will.  I’m pretty slippery you know. 

Since the Compass river is now in the hands of the enemy I will be transported to Three Rivers overland by a contingent of the Duke’s guards to embark on this grand journey.  Which I think we can all agree is a pretty good use of manpower during a time of war.  Given my history with the Lodge Woods and with Three Rivers itself I wonder if I’m even going to make it to the boat (ship?).  Imagine that you’re a guard whose job it is to get someone on a ship (boat?) taking them into exile– how hard are you going to fight to make that happen if you’re attacked by Kostelos savages that want to kill your ward?  Or if the legal authority of a city wants to execute them?  Do you really care that much about making sure an exile is exiled or are you glad to just get them off your hands? 

Not to mention that by the time we get there Three Rivers may also be in enemy hands.  I would imagine the Ulpine fleet is on their way there right now.  I’m not militarian by any means , but my understanding is that the main defenses of the county were Castle Leastwhal, the Three Keeps, and Fort Obrinth – since the Ulpine fleet is already here that means they’ve been crushed.  What defenses are there to keep them out of Three Rivers?  A bunch of lumberjacks on floating logs with really big axes? 

It’s going to be an interesting journey. 

Macendamandel 21 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Lunch with cousin May stretched out into the afternoon and before you know it the two of us were sitting on the stern (that’s part of a boat right) trading tales of her social climbing and my . . . whatever you call it that I’m doing.  A good time was had by all.  With all the whimsicality of the idle rich she invited me to stay and I saw no reason to refuse her.  We drank to the ill-health of our enemies and continued our nattering until sunset.  It was a particularly picturesque sunset, probably because of all the miniscule wood particles in the air from Three Rivers.  I’ve heard that just the right amount of air pollution is what you need to have a really nice sunset. 

Driven below decks by the emergence of the night’s biting insects I was treated to a somewhat less extravagant meal than lunch had been which was saved by the appearance of the good wine.  There was a part of me that wondered if my dear cousin was suckering me in to betray me to the consortium but a much larger part of me that didn’t care if she was.  I don’t meant to be dramatic but the wound from Martialla leaving was still fresh and if there’s better ways to stitch those wounds than getting drunk I don’t know what they are.  Cousin May could still drink like the farm girl she was but she was still no match for me, she retired to her state room hours before I decided that I had had enough. 

The room I was given was basically a fancy closet, but what do you expect on rivercraft?  No matter how rich you are there’s only so much space you have to work with inside a boat.  Unless you get magic involved and I guess she either isn’t that rich that she can afford it or is that conservative not to do it.  I feel into a deep and dreamless sleep in the closet.  I can’t imagine that it’s because of the booze, it couldn’t be that simple, maybe she is rich enough that the boat has some kind of protective wards.  I was just happy to get some good hours of sleep for once. 

In the morning she had some new clothing for me, not anything she’d wear now, clearly some clothes from the trunks of her servants – I’m sure she was delighted by that.  She made sure to load me down with food and supplies.  She was quite enjoying lording her success over me and I wasn’t embittered in the least by it.  After all if you can’t count on family you can you count on?  No one.  Which you can’t.  She was kind enough to confirm that it was the Umberlee River we were on and she dropped me off on the west side so I could make my way further west to the Pipestone.  She wished me well and we were off our separate ways – she floating downriver and me heading upriver, although not on the same river as we just established.

The Pipestone is so named because there is (or was) an abundance of a kind of mudstone in the area that the natives use (or used) to carve pipes and other trinkets out of seeing as it is a fine-grained and easily worked stone that even their primitive methods could handle.  As I understand it the Pipestone was once (maybe still is) considered a sacred land by the Kostelos and several differing tribes went to war to control it – as one does when something is sacred.  Allegedly all the Kostelos have been cleared out of the area south of Gib’s Tor but with my luck I’ll stumble across some stragglers looking to even the score.  I believe a tor is a rock formation of some sort but who Gib might be and why he or she decided to lay claim to a rock formation I have no idea.  I suppose I’ll find out when I get there, assuming that I’m not killed by savages before I get there.

If there’s anything good about walking alone in the wilderness (there’s not) it’s that it gives you time to think.  Thought such as, what was the point of chasing the Kostelos away from here if no one was going to live here?  I frequently came across the remains of what used to be logging camps, small towns even, all abandoned now that the timber trade has moved south.  Seems like we could have just come to an agreement with the natives “hey we’re going to spend a couple decades cutting down your scared woods but then you can have the land back okay?”  All they had to do was give up with primitive stupid religion and they wouldn’t have been driven away.  Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. 

It was a little eerie seeing all those deserted communities but I’ve certainly seen worse.  At least this desolation was just the march of progress rather than the result of war or plague or something like that.  Still it all seems rather wasteful.  If people living in the slums of Paladore knew there were whole little towns sitting out here idle I wonder what they would do.  Would they come?  Can you just claim a town once everyone leaves?  If I convinced people to settle and populate all these places did I just make myself a Baron or a Lord of some sort?  Is that how new counties are formed?  Not by an edict from the Crown but simply by taken action?  Could be, I’ve often said that one of the main things I’ve learned from my exile that no one is really in charge, you can get away with quite a lot just my having the balls to do it.

I suppose it’s like that old story about the circus elephant that’s held in place by a tiny stake – a manner of learned helplessness.  They could get away but they never try because they don’t think about it.  I suppose that’s what society is in a way, just a veil pulled over people’s eyes to keep them from trying too much.  After all we can’t have everyone trying to live a good life and we now?  That would be bloody anarchy.  It’s important to make sure that the blood is spilled only when and where the government says.  More or less.

I walked all day and didn’t see another soul, nor any traffic on the river.  My understanding is that of the three rivers the Pipestone is the one that doesn’t have a lot to contribute to decent society.  The Umberlee is an main artery of trade, the Visgoth will pick up more once the war is over, but there’s still plenty of traffic that way – the Pipestone is the old maid of the three watery sisters though, her virtue given away and used up long ago.  I didn’t see much in the way of animals either other than beetles, which I guess is what you get when you cut down a forest.  Still though it seems like by now some other kind of ecosystem should have developed – come on nature get off your ass and repopulate this new desert we made.

Late in the afternoon I came across a riverside shrine to Strider.  I always think of Strider as the God of roads, but I suppose he oversees river travel as well, although I’ve never seen such a shrine before.  Maybe there’s some other river God that usually handles river stuff, I don’t know exactly how the Gods decide who’s in charge of what.  Seems like there should be a lot of Gods fighting over the interest of revelry and getting wasted but instead as far as I know there isn’t a single one.  What kind of management structure is that?  Maybe there is and I just haven’t heard of them – there are so many Gods who can keep track of them all?  And most of them are real duds let me tell you.

I figured that was as good a place as any to bed down for the night, and by bed down I mean sit down and have some of the food my cousin packed with me.  Even with all the travel that I’ve done I’ve never really gotten the hang of making a camp.  I suppose a more rangery type would have a hammock set up and a fire merrily blazing and be snatching fish out of the river and digging a latrine and all sorts of things.  I just leaned against the pipestone carving of a boot or whatever the lump dedicated to Strider was supposed to be and enjoyed a box of sweets from my dear cousin.  They won’t keep long anyway so there’s no reason not to polish them off, and if you ask me there’s little that compliments wine better than sugar.  Since I was there anyway I figured a prayer wouldn’t hurt anything.

“Dear Strider, how are you?  I am fine.  I apologize for not praying to you more often but I don’t really believe in you.  I mean I know you’re real because your priests can do magic, I meant that I don’t believe in you in the sense of I don’t trust in you or care what you deal is.  I’m praying to you today because I would like to apologize for killing some of your priests.  Just two I think, but I don’t really remember so it may be more.  Not that they didn’t have it coming but I could have been nicer about it.  I realize now that there’s no reason to torment people before you croak them, it’s best just to kill them and be on about your business.  So that’s my bad.

But I wanted to ask you something as well.  If you’re so into travel and exploration and people moving all around for the pure joy of it shouldn’t you be doing more to make it safe for them to do it?  Seems like you can’t walk five miles in any direction without being ambushed by bandits or attacked by monsters or set upon by a rape gang or slavers or some other damn thing.  Shouldn’t you be doing something about that?  Just the other day I ran into some Vultur people who are going to patrol the roads – seems like the kind of thing that your people should be doing. 

I don’t want to tell you your job but it seems a little embarrassing to me that another God is taking up your slack.  Instead of be trail-worn wanderers with dusty backpacks and battered hats shouldn’t your followers be hunting down monsters and killing bandits and so forth?  Again, I don’t want to tell you how to run your religion, but it seems to me that people might be more willing to travel if there wasn’t a one hundred percent chance of them being murdered when they leave the city.”

“That was some prayer.”

The voice came from a lanky woman with deeply tanned skin, dark hair is tied in a tight braid with the sides of her head shaved to the scalp.  She wore a shabby work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and those leather braces that workmen have sometimes along with coarse trousers tucked into well-used boots.  She had a hatchet dangling on each hip as well.

“You step lightly friend, it’s pretty hard to sneak up on me.”

“You were clearly deep into your religious observations, probably your awareness as impaired by your piety.”

“Probably.  Are you going to kill me?”

She smiled slightly “Something tells me that wouldn’t work out if I wanted to try, but no, I’m not one of the bandits you mention – I’m one of the people that you think should be doing something about those bandits.”

“You’re a Striderian?  Wow, who knew that prayer worked so quickly?  Is maintaining thi rocks a full time job or what do you do all the time?  Travel I suppose, seeing as how that’s your divine mandate.”

She sat on the ground across from me “Not as much as you might think, I mostly just hang around here.  I’m from the city, I’m still getting a handle on this thing where you have to catch and cook your own food.”

“I was just wondering if that happened, this is really some kind of divine intervention.”

“People typically find the hand of the divine anywhere if they look hard enough.”

“That’s a surprisingly coherent statement for a priestess.”

“Well I’m new to that too, I’m sure over time I’ll become a true fanatic.  I couldn’t help but overhear in your prayer that you killed some priests of Strider, so I turn the question back to you – are you going to kill me?”

I shook my head “I don’t think so, you seem like a decent enough sort at least on first impression, I’d keep an eye on me regardless though, I’m very dangerous.  See, I have a scar and everything.”

“Very tough looking.”

“Do you want to escort me safely to Gib’s Tor?  You know, because of your God and all?”

“Where’s that?”

I laughed shortly “Aren’t you the one who worships the travel God?”

“I told you I’m new to it, until a few months ago I never set foot outside of Three Rivers, and I was never much of one for geography.”

“Seems like you have no choice but to come with me then, isn’t visiting new places what your religion is all about?”

“Something like that.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Mantelderith 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

“Do you mind?”

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

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

“Anything good?”

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

Martialla feigned surprise “You don’t say.”

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

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

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

“And dwarf generations are long.”

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

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

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

“Your grandmother had a lot of sayings.”

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

“And how is it?”

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

“Or worse than kick.”

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

“Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What good fortune.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How?  I’m still not sure myself.”

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

“You were a pirate?!”

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Very odd as I understand it.”

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

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

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

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

I frowned “Swardish?  What is that?”

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,190,751

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

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

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