Montumazin 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

I’m going to admit something to you folks, despite living in Paladore for more than fifteen I don’t know what it is, I mean formally.  The Kingdom is made up of counties and those counties are administered by Counts and Countesses.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Cathars is the capital of Cymrile County and the Count lives there sometimes.  I know that Dukes are the next level above Counts but below the King.  What I don’t know is what they are actually in charge of.  You’d think that there would be duchies made up of counties and Dukes would be in charge of those, logically that makes sense.  But there are not enough counties for that.  Paladore is not the capital of a Duchy.  So what is Paladore then other than the place where Duke Eaglevane lives?  What is it the capital of?  Nothing?  

I think there are three Dukes that are in charge of all the counties and the other Dukes do stuff with trade or the military or something?  My education really gave me the short shrift on civics and political sciences but I know seventeen different ways to courtesy and so much about fashion and makeup.  Alsio it didn’t teach me what short shrift means.  What I do know that is back in olden times (not the Old Empire though, I don’t think, I got shafted on history too) Paladore was two separate cities that were in separate kingdoms right on the border.  When the THE Kingdom was formed they were forced together like reluctant lovers – not unlike the actual King and Queen at the time.  

It’s easy to tell that Paladore used to be two cities because on one side you have grand towering buildings, sprawling manor houses, bustling markets, and all manner of comforts and opulence.  The other side?  Not so much.  You ever see a turnip that looks fine on the top but the bottom part, which is scraggy and ugly even on a good turnip, is rotting away?  Paladore is a like that, right on the “border” there’s a big band of normal urban sprawl but it gives way to blight the farther you travel across that invisible boundary.  There’s no name for that boundary but everyone knows it’s there.  

I heap a lot of scorn on Graltontown, and justifiably so, but the truth of the matter is that the far west parts of Paladore are even worse.  Because of the scale if nothing else.  The only thing in this world that can make me think for a single moment that maybe city life isn’t the way to go is a glimpse of the crushing poverty and misery if those crumbling parts of west Paladore.  

“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”

I’m getting to it, hold your horses.  Living in the Duke’s palace I didn’t have many glimpses of that part of the city – even on the rare occasion he wanted to go “slumming” we went nowhere near the actual slums.  But when I was a child and was first brought there we passed through west Paladore and I saw something that I will never forget.  A woman, a girl really, was handing a shiv to what could have either been her younger sister or her daughter and saying this “If they see you run, if you can’t get away go for the eyes or the groin first, then the throat.”  That sums up west Paladore in a nutshell.  It’s good advice as well.  For me I changed it a little bit – first keep them talking, if that fails then run, and if that fails then you go for the groin stab.  

I’m fantastic at the talking part.  The running away part depends on where it is – in the country I’m not so good, in the city I’m great at that too.  When it comes to the stabbing I’m better than I ever thought (or wanted) to be but in the final analysis I’m just a mediocre stabber.  I’m good at catching people off-guard and getting the first strike, but if that first attack doesn’t end things or at least seriously debilitate whoever’s on the other end of the stabbing it often puts me in a spot of trouble.  

Keep them talking, avoid conflict, and if that doesn’t work run like the Hells.  And if that doesn’t work fight like the Hells – all thirteen of them.  I suppose I should add in a fourth step, one that has served me well on several occasions – if you can’t beat them beg for mercy.  Beg like you’ve never begged before.  Discard all shreds of dignity and grovel like the most pathetic harmless defeated worm that ever lived.  Offer bribes, flatter them, cry like a damn baby, do whatever you have to do to get them to be lenient.   This is all in service of the number one rule that necessitates all others – stay alive no matter the cost.  

I’ve broken a lot of rules, tons of them in fact, but that was one rule I hoped I would never be on the wrong side of.  Things started off promisingly enough, the undead wolf beast (that was clearly NOT an undead werewolf because that would be ridiculous) was willing to talk.  The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any wants or needs.  Nor did a rotting half-man half wolf waking corpse find me attractive or interesting or useful in any way that I could work with.  After an auspicious opening in a few minutes it was clear that the undead thing was losing interest in talking and gaining interest in attacking.  

I’ll give myself credit for having enough awareness to know that.  Cold comfort, but that’s all the comfort I’m likely to get from here on out.  Since we were in a small office running wasn’t really an option.  I could have backed through the door into the other smaller room and hoped there was a window I could dive out, but I was worried about the thing’s quickness – plus the stalhounds were out there, which I assumed were under the control of this thing.  So that didn’t seem like a good option.

The best bet maybe would have been to try and make it out the front door and onto Stranger.  The beast was between me and that door unfortunately.  What I should have done knowing what I know now is started maneuvering for the door when we first started talking and it was still being amiable, relatively speaking.  But I didn’t know then what I know now.  

So fighting it was.  When it became clear that it was time for violence I did manage to strike the first blow, sweeping it off its feet with this stick I found in Wolcott’s emergency stash.  It doesn’t look like much, but it must be lousy with magic because there’s no way I could have done that all on my own.  I would have liked to wallop a few folks with that, it’s too bad I didn’t get to have it for long.  Speaking of, I really miss that magic walking stick that I had made.  That thing was great.  I don’t usually get attached to things, especially magic things, but I really liked that walking stick.  It had so many things that it could do and it looked great.  It saved my bacon dozens of times.  Plus it was just fun.

But what really would have helped us those boots I used to have that let me run up walls like a squirrel up a tree.  Those were really useful.  If I could have gotten out the window and up the side to the roof now that’s an entirely different situation.  But as they say it’s a dead craftsman who blames their lack of tools.  I suppose I should have overcome my revulsion and learned to do some magic myself instead of relying on items.  I’m sure I could have done it based on the wizards I’ve met. They weren’t the brightest bunch so I bet I could have learned to be great at magic.  I just hate it so much.  I guess for all my talk I was as hamstrung by pride as anyone.  I don’t like magic so I didn’t want to learn magic.  So I didn’t.  I should be better than that, I did all kinds of things I didn’t want to do.  

So I got in the first hit, and maybe one more after that, but then it was all undead wolf-monster from thereon out.  I fought as hard as I could, I assure you of that, but it didn’t amount to much – I’m just not much of a fighter really.  As several people warned me would happen I ran into someone (something really) that was immune to my charms and tricks and was stronger and tougher than I could fight in my wildest dreams.  And as you folks well know I’ve had some wild dreams.  

Getting ripped apart by an undead wolfman was very painful, don’t think it wasn’t, but honestly I’ve had worse.  All the beatings and stabbings and acidings I’ve endured over the last two years were training for this moment I guess.  It wasn’t a painless death but any means, far from it, but it wasn’t so bad all things considered.  I’m sure many people would have wished worse upon me.

Remember that time that guy strangled me and I almost died, or maybe did die for a little while?  Sure you do, it was when I was ransacking the house of the people that the Juosts displaced.  During that strangling and almost death (or death)I had an out of body experience – I was floating outside of my body and I could see what was happening.  This time was nothing like that.  Everything just went black and that was it.  I couldn’t see anything, there was nothing to see.  I don’t think I exist anymore so how could I see anything?  So maybe that’s how you know the difference between a near death experience and death.   

The same guy showed up as that time though.  Out of the darkness the tall, jet-black skeleton with a long, bony tail, and the massive black-feathered wings of a crow.  Over its odd bird-skull face was a bronze mask that appeared to be of the face of the creature inside.  It was very, very, very slowing coming my way.   

But he wasn’t alone.   Coming from another direction was the thoughtful looking bear-like “angel” that was the size of a small house.  And from yet another direction was my old friend Poor Annie, the massive black canine looking like a tiny lapdog in comparison to the huge bear-angel.  I get the feeling that time no longer means anything, yet it still seemed like it took forever for them to get to me – all arriving at the same time.

“So” I said without body or voice “What comes next?” 

Montresor 6 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 1

Today I slept late.  When I finally got up I went to the market to do some wheeling and dealing.  I don’t know which I like better, the wheeling or the dealing!  Getting someone to pay a good price for something you’re selling feels great, but so does getting someone to sell you something for an even better price!  This is exactly what I needed.  I little rest, a little relaxing, a little commerce.  It made me feel human again.  I ditched a few magic items that were unquestionably useful for some things more fashionable.  What’s the point of being a daring globe-trotting heroine if you can’t look good while you’re doing it?  None.  None point.  I trade up my two now-redundant crossbows for one that will really knock your socks off.  Literally.  Stabbing those two goons was nice but I haven’t shot anyone in a while.  If you don’t know it’s very satisfying.

After spending all morning in the market I treated myself to a nice long soak.  Sadly there was no option for a private bath but I only had to share with one other woman who was leering at me creepily the entire time.  But let her leer I say, it’s not like she doesn’t have good reason.  I mean come on.  There’s a lot of reasons to hate being on the road, chief among them is not being allowed to feel clean.  Stepping out of that water I felt like a new woman. 

After that I should have hit the road, but I didn’t.  I walked around the city.  If there’s one good thing about my exile (there isn’t) it’s realizing that I love cities.  Pre-exile if you had asked I would have known that I would rather be in Paladore than out on the farm, but now I know that I need to be in metropolitan areas.  I don’t know which I love more, the hustle or the bustle!  Sure, I would be happier if I was in a good city instead of Cathars, but as they sat any port in a storm.  Back at court there was Lord who used to say that every time he was drinking port and then laugh like a red-faced donkey.  I wish he was in crossbow range right now. 

As I was wandering I saw the after-nuptials party of a wedding spilling out from two taverns across the street and merging into a block party of sorts.  It wasn’t a proper wedding of proper people but it wasn’t two peasants hopping into a grain sack together either.  Must be some of these new kinds of folk – unlanded wealthy merchants.  You see more and more of these sorts every day.  I’m not sure all this upward mobility is good for the Kingdom.  On the other hand what do I care about the Kingdom?  I’ve saved it from disaster at least three times and what have I gotten in return?  Nothing, that’s what.

I joined the revelry because who deserves a little more revelry than me?  Nobody that’s who.  At first I thought people were talking about the bride having fleas but eventually I realized that was her name.  Can you even imagine?  I mean okay, it was a nickname, but still what woman would allow themselves to be called Flea?  Fleanethia Rumpstan (ne Hillsfallow) apparently.  As I was drinking and chatting I noticed a fellow staring at me.  Nothing surprising there, who wouldn’t stare at me, but eventually he came over and was peering at me like a painting.

I gave the not-subtle ogler a pat on the shoulder “Sorry buddy but I’m not on the menu tonight.”

He continued staring at me, adjusting his spectacles “Pardon me ma’am, but you appear to be glowing.”

I noticed that the tattoos the Harad people put on me were glimmering brightly enough to be seen through my clothing “Oh my, how embarrassing.”

I noticed that the woman who had been staring at me in the baths was there was well – she pointed at me accusingly and shouted over the hubbub of the chattering voices “You!?”

I put a hand to my chest “Me?”

It was at this point that the bride, who had been doing some manner of salacious dance more suited to a South Seas strumpet in a ring of groomsmen, lifted off the floor and started emitting a light of her own.  Which is unusual if you’ve never been to a wedding before.  A yellow radiance started emitting from her and everywhere it fell the party guests doubled over or fell to the floor and started puking their guts out.  She looked at me, her eyes blazing with yellow light and raised her hands above her head, brushing the ceiling as she bobbed on the air like she was floating on water.

“Ya na kadishtu nilgh’ri stell’bsna Nyogtha, K’yarnak phlegethor l’ebumna syha’h n’ghft, ya hai kadishtu ep r’luh-eeh Nyogtha eeh,s’uhn-ngh athg li’hee orr’e syha’h!”

I frowned up at her “What?”

“I’ll suck your soul!”

The wedding dress blasted off her body like she was filled with smoke powder, as did a goodly amount of skin, revealing her twisted form.  He legs had fused together to form what I can only call a trunk – the trunk of a tree made of bruised flesh and bubbling with boils and buboes.  The feet at turned into a single massive claw.  The right side of her body had turned into a purplish mass of tentacles ending in snapping shark-mouths constantly spewing forth a brownish foul smelling smoke.  But what made it all the worse was that from her navel to the crown of her head on the right side she was completely whole.  One quarter of a blushing bride and three quarters of an abomination.  The yellow radiance glowed all the brighter and people fled the building empting their bowels as they ran, but the light stopped a few feet away from me – the shine from my tattoos and from her body combining to make an eerie angry red color.

She shrieked curses at me as she bobbed along in the air like a piece of scum on the surface of the ocean.  She wasn’t flying so much as she was like a floating bladder buffeted by the winds.  Her tentacles lashed out tearing wedding guests too stunned or slow to flee to bits but I was able to stay out of her reach.  I fired at her with my crossbow but my bolts went wide – when they hit the walls and ceiling they would explode with an ear-splitting thunder that would shatter the planks and boards like a giant’s club.  Two years ago I had never held a crossbow.  Now I’m a pretty good shot.  I’m no deadeye, but I don’t miss someone whose less than twenty feet away and not trying to get out of my way.  What I’m saying is that something else was bending my attacks around her.

Changing tactics I used my Fan to blow her into one of the intact corners.  Keeping her pinned there with gusts of wind I drew my sword and approached cautiously.  Keeping at the edge of her range one by one as her tentacles came for me I sliced off the mouths like knocking off the tops of cat-tails down by the creek.  Things were going well until the stupid Fan ripped itself to shreds.  The guy that sold it to me told me that might happen if I used it more than once a day but what a bunch of shit – who makes these stupid things?  She swooped at me and I called on the power of my new Stole blasting her with a quick stanza from the Wedding of Torm Ezral that turned into deadly sharp shards that deflated and send her tumbling to the floor.  Pulling herself up on one human arm and one mass of oozing tentacles she lolled a tongue at me that was half tongue and half writhing appendage.

“I’ll eat your heart!”

I thought about saying something witty like “smile you toothy bitch” but what would have been the point?   Instead I just shot her through the head, which promptly exploded, showering the room with gristle and brain.  I carefully packed my crossbow away and looked down at a cowering man lying in a combination pool of his own filth and the bride-abominations viscera.

“Nice day for a wedding.

The woman who had been staring at me, then pointing at me came crawling out from under a table. 

“It’s you!  You’re the one.”

“Look lady, I’m flattered, I mean I get it – look at this body – but you’re not my type right?

“What?  No . . . I . . . what?  That . . .  you’re the chosen one!  The one who’s come to defend us from the Great Doom.”

I found a still lit stick of flayleaf on the ground and picked it up, blowing off a bit of slime before taking a drag “Sorry lady, try selling that somewhere else, I got my own agenda.”

She grabbed at my arm but I shrugged her off. “All this is a show. And when the music stops, the rest is silence.”

I headed for the door, or at least one of the holes in the wall “Yeah well, good luck with that.”

She scrambled to block my path “That’s why you came here, you were drawn without knowing it to the corruption inside Fleanethia.”

I shrugged “I just wanted a drink.”

Her eyes burned with intensity “Tell me, do you have nightmares every night?”

I took another long pull and then flicked the butt of the flayleaf away “This Chosen one of yours is real hardass killer?” She nodded “Well then, if I’m her you should probably get out of my way huh?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 26,312 gold

XP: 1,288,351

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Satchel of Plentiful Feed, Horseshoes of Surety, Teremana (light warhorse), Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod , Singer’s Stole 

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 (631), 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, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag