November 23, 1973 – Total multiversal war!!!!!!

I haven’t met many Spanish speakers in Madripoor, but enough that it seemed a little odd.  Dan (that’s the news guy) explained (by way of pointy hair translator) that Madripoor is a place where communists like to hang out, so there’s a decent contingent of Germans and South Americans in the mix.  Although, with that having been said, my hostess is from the Caribbean states rather than south of the equator.   

Said hostess looks like she’s ancient but I swear she said something that made me think she’s “only” in her fifties.  If she is (in her fifties) she’s had one hell of a hard life to end up looking like that.  I guess raising four sons by yourself could do that to you, before you even get what seems to be a variable number of grandkids in the mix.  I swear as soon as I felt like I had them all identified, a couple more kids would run through the place.  Camila and her boys took over an old hotel from its previous drug dealer owners (by shooting them) and converted half the place into greenhouses for a variety of exotic intoxicants they grow and sell (they are manufacturers not dealers), a quarter into living spaces for them, and a quarter into “safehouses” for people like me.  People with broken limbs and enemies.   

A couple different doctors came to see me while I was laid up at Camila’s.  One was clearly drunk enough that he had trouble standing up.  One I’m pretty sure is more versed in the care and maintenance of sex workers than tending to fractures.  And one of them I’m convinced was a veterinarian.  Luckily (for me), a broken arm and a sprained ankle are pretty basic medical scenarios.  I don’t know how long those things should take to heal normally but I was basically fine after three weeks.  Which seems quick.  Not fast enough to be all that useful, but maybe a minor super power?  Hard to say.  My life before didn’t involve a lot of injuries so I can’t compare. 

A bomb went off outside the “safehouse” at one point, followed by gunfire, and I’m pretty sure a flying guy, but Camila assured me that it wasn’t someone trying to kill me, it was related to something else.  Which was not reassuring in the slightest, on account of bombs being notoriously indiscriminate about who they kill.  Camila was harping at me the entire time about the amount of food I was consuming.  What did she want from me?  You need proper nutrition to heal.  And my proper nutrition is a lot.

In return for my story about the fight (such as it was) with Mr. X, Dan and his spiny-haired gal Friday found Blue and Martialla for me.  While I was out front with the Red Rocket, those two knuckleheads claimed they were chasing after the Shadow Lord assassin and the next thing they know, they’re on Callisto, Jupiter’s moon, where an “alien with a big head” force them to fight against other “champions” from around the galaxy to determine the ultimate fate of good and evil in the universe.  They didn’t think it was very funny when I asked which side they were on.  The whole story is bullshit anyway.  I’m sure they just got lost or something.  Probably Martialla got her head trapped in a fisherman’s net and had to marry him by the laws of the sea.   

They claimed once they had saved the universe by defeating a variety of colorful aliens and super people (many others were killed, they claim) in a flash they were back where they had disappeared from and it was several days later.  They said they were “searching high and low” for me when Dan found them.  I’m sure they were just lazing about. 

I can tell this moon battle thing is going to be annoying.  I just know they’re going to keep bringing it up like a stupid inside joke.  So you traveled to outerspace and battled the omniversal forces of evil for the fate of all life that exists and ever will exist.  I charted three times and you don’t hear me winging on about it.  I tell you, those two get on my last nerve.

When I asked them about Elvis, they looked confused.  They said he was dead.  I told them when I went back into the clinic, nobody was there so I assumed he went with them.  They said that LBK was with them but Elvis had already been killed by the assassin, which is why they were chasing him.  Or her.  Or it.  They claimed the assassin was a shapeshifter.   

They didn’t know what could have happened to the body.  Up until that point, I hadn’t really considered that Elvis might be dead.  As soon as I found out, I had Blue help me hobble to his grandmother’s house to ask if she had seen him.  When she said that she hadn’t, I told her what happened.  She was pretty blasé about it.  She said that she was sure he was fine.  She said that Elvis was always getting into one scrape or another and he might disappear for a few days but he always turned up.  I tried to impress upon her that was unlikely to be the case this time, that he was most likely gone, but she said that without a body she wasn’t going to worry about it.  It was a little surreal. 

So we’re basically back to square zero, only now we don’t have a robot-suit to sell for millions.  Our lack of forward momentum is starting to put me off my feed (not really – I’m eating more than ever – it’s an expression you see).  On top of that, Camila presented me with a large bill for services rendered.  I thought it was more of a charity type thing.  It was not.  The “good” news is that she’s willing to let us work it off.   

Things are going great.   

I want to say that what’s happening to me is not fair, but my grandma told me that only children complain about fairness.  She said (about fairness) “Death is the only thing that’s fair. Everybody dies, and everybody stays dead the same amount of time, forever.”

The most creatively named villain since Paste Pot Pete – Mr. X!

The publically accepted history of “superbeings” dictates that the first non-baseline humans were the results of experiments conducted in the early 1900s.  The man codenamed Majestic, deployed in the Great War, is considered by many to be the first superhuman.  This is incorrect on two counts, first count being that Majestic is not human, and the second count being there is evidence of naturally born superbeings since at least the 1500s and there is no reason to believe that they have not existed since the dawn of humans. 

Exact estimates vary, but the distribution of the biologic profile that allows for the potential of NBH enhancement by scientific methods is believed to be approximately one person in every eight million.  The subject of natural NBHs has not been widely studied yet but it is unequivocal that they are far more rare, possibly in the range of one in a hundred million or more.   

Armend Lusha, the mysterious Mr. X of the infamous Madripoor fighting tournament, is one of these uncommon naturally occurring NBHs.  Born in Tirana in 1940 to a wealthy family, Armend’s parents were killed by Black Cross anarchists during the riots in 1948.  Armand was shuttled from Budapest to Vienna to Madrid where he gained international fame of a sort when he was featured in a Life magazine article as “the world’s richest refugee”. 

Shortly after this publicity, Armend was adopted and brought to the US where his new parents renamed him Drexler Walsh.  In doing so, the Walsh family took control of the remaining assets of the Lushas, most importantly tobacco, oil, and mining concerns — increasing their already substantial holdings in shipping and real estate.  This made the Walsh family a major player in European markets overnight.

Their interest in raising Armend was significantly overshadowed by their interest in acquiring the resources and contacts that made up his inheritance.   

When Armend began killing his pets, it’s questionable if his adopted parents even knew. If they were informed, they certainly couldn’t be bothered to care.  Armend’s telepathic abilities had awakened during the murder of his biological parents, connecting him to them at the moment of their death. Through his psychic connection, he experienced the sensation of dying.

By his own admission, Armend has been obsessed with death since that moment.  Finding animals to be a poor substitute for the “real thing,” Armend committed several murders in his youth, intent on recreating the exhilaration of telepathically connecting with another person at the instant of their death. He pushed a maid down the stairs.  He poisoned a nanny.  He caused a family friend to be run over by a car. 

Armend is an addict and his drug of choice is murder.  On his 18th birthday, he killed his adoptive parents and over the next several years, one by one murdered his adoptive brothers and sisters as well.  Taking control of his family’s considerable wealth, he turned his attentions to funding and participating in violent anti-anarchist groups and government actions against anarchists.  Whether he truly desired any manner of revenge for the death of his biological parents or if this was merely a smokescreen to indulge his dark desires is unknown.   

Armend was in Italy “hunting” with a group of anti-anarchist soldiers of fortune when they were ambushed by the quarry they had been seeking in the mountains.   In contrast to his previous murders, which he had executed with no physical risk to himself, Armend found himself in a life or death struggle with a knife wielding assailant.   Armend was the victor and ended his attacker by strangulation.

The thrill of killing an opponent in hand-to-hand combat provided Armend with a feeling of euphoria that eclipsed anything he had felt to date.  Abandoning his “childish” methods of murder free of personal danger, Armend used his fortune to travel the world and study with the best fighters he could hire.  After learning all he could from them, Armend would kill them.  Maintaining a public image of a philanthropic sportsman with an interest in cultural studies, Armend circled the globe fighting and killing martial artists and streetfighters and brawlers of all sorts.

He gathered an inner circle of followers that he calls his “new murder avant-garde” including at least one other NBH.  Armend’s goal is to be the greatest melee fighter the world has ever seen which, of course, means killing all of the world’s best fighters.  Finding the secrecy of his efforts annoying, Armend traveled to the only place that would indulge this blatant bloodlust, Madripoor, where if you have enough money, anything can be yours.  With the help and backing of several local businessmen and criminal groups, Armend held the first Madripoor bloodsport in 1968.  Although not exclusively for NBHs, the participants typically are, since a normal human usually is no match for the elite of the enhanced killer world.   

For those who know of it, the tournament is often misunderstood to be a mandatory fight to the death.  While deaths are common (Armend has killed everyone he’s faced in the first four tournaments, for instance) it isn’t strictly necessary to be the victor.   

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.

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?” 

Macendamandel 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As rampant as crime is, and just ask anyone its very rampant, most communities don’t have a place to lock anyone up.  Makes sense, why go through the trouble and expense of building something that isn’t going to be used most of the time?  Why give dirty criminals free room and aboard?  Generally when a perpetrator is caught they just get their ass kicked and they’re turned loose or they’re hung and that’s the end of it.  When an area does have a “jail” it tends to come in two forms.  The first and far rarer is like the Tower of Woe/Midnight in Beresford –  a very expensive deal that’s intended to keep people who are too important to kill but can’t be allowed to run around free.  Princesses of foreign enemies and popular rebellious Earls and the families of political opponents and people like that.  Usually they aren’t even criminals, just victims of circumstance, and there aren’t many of them.  The second kind of place is when they take an abandoned flophouse or warehouse and slap some bars in it where you throw people in there to live in their own filth.  It’s very expensive to imprison a large number of people so it’s important to cut as many corners as you can.  The prison in Cathars I was briefly in is a real anomaly – someone put a lot of effort and resources into building a secure and humane place to lock people up there.

After my conversation with Farvin Mitzegarld (what the Hells kind of name is that anyway?) I was taken to a holding facility more towards but not fully below the squalid death prison side of the spectrum.  It looked like a store room of some kind that had been portioned out into closet-sized cells (I’ve actually seen many closest that were much larger) that were just free standing bars, no walls oy anything.  I don’t know if that was a deliberate thing to deny you your privacy/dignity or it was just easier to build.  Each one contained a pile of straw with cloth kind of in the shape of a mattress and a stool and that was pretty much it.  I would have loved to have fallen on that mattress lump, even vermin infested as I assume it is, desperately tired as I, was but thanks to the everwake in my veins I knew there would be no sleep forthcoming.  Instead I paced ceaseless around my cell like a jungle cat trapped in a pit.

Everwake was never intended to be used as a torture tool and as far as I know it never has been used that way, but I’m starting to realize how effective it could be in that capacity.  I’d do or say quite a lot at this point just to be given a chance to sleep.  Maybe that doesn’t work because there’s no counter-measure that turns it off.  Of course the fun part is when the serum wears off (and I can feel it starting to do just that finally) and I fall into a deep sleep I’ll probably be killed.  I can’t imagine that my dream visitor is very pleased about what I did and I have no idea if Timora has been able to come up with any counter-measures.  Maybe it’s just what happens when you’ve been forced awake by drugs for ninty-six hours straight but I was coming down with a real bad case of “I’m so fucked” syndrome.  Which is not helpful, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to think about anything else other than how bad things were. 

At first I was alone in there, I know that, but at some point during the night they must have brought someone else in because in the early hours I saw a sleeping lump in one of the other cells.  It disturbed me that somehow I missed them bringing in another prisoner while I was doing my closet-waltz, sure it was dark in there, but that just means they had to have a light when they did it which makes me not noticing even more disturbing.  Once morning had broken and enough sunlight filtered in to see I resolved to study the lump-form of my new compatriot but before I could the guards brought in other prisoner.  He was wearing an odd red garment that almost looked like a dress (it wasn’t) with a leather jerkin over it and he had a lean wolfish face – not the mean kind though, the somewhat handsome kind.  He looked exactly like the kind of lumberman that you’d fine in a place like Three Rivers being tossed in jail for being drunk on the job, aside from the fact that his hands were smooth and his eyes were clear.  He said something to the jailors that I didn’t catch and they sneered at him.  Once they were gone our eyes locked across the non-crowded incarceration facility.

He raised an eyebrow “I’ve never seen a lady in a prison cell before.”

“And I have the distinct impression that you’ve had a lot of chances to see the inside of a prison cell.”

He smirked “I had a feeling I was going to like you.  What are you in for?”

“I assassinated the King a while back, I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it, it was all anyone could talk about for a while there.”

“I heard it was dyspepsia that got him.”

“Well of course that’s what they would say, they can’t have people knowing that a mere woman killed the divinely mandated leader of the only just and moral nation in the world.  That would be bad for morale.”

“It certainly would at all.  How did you kill him?”

“Simple really, I disguised myself as a game hen that was going to be served to him at a reception for the Swardish ambassador, when he went to take a bite I kicked the fork back at his mouth and bifurcated his uvula.  Which as you know is fatal of people of royal blood.  Something with the breeding you know, that’s their weak spot.”

“Of course.  Why did you do it?”

“Oh, you know, I was at the pub with the lads having some drinks and one of them told me I couldn’t assassinate the ruler of the world, the only part of world that matters anyway, and that got my hackles up.  I have one of them complexes where I just have to prove people wrong.”

“In that case I don’t think you can break me out of here.”

I looked around “It’s funny you should mention that because I’ve been wondering for a while now if I should escape or not.  I have powerful friends that may be working to get me out here, in which case it would be very embarrassing for them were I to escape in the meantime.  But I don’t want to wait until it’s too late in case they can’t come through.  Communication, that’s always the problem.   Who knows what and when do they know it?  It’s a real issue.”

 He nodded sagely “That’s why I work alone.”

“That and other reasons I wager.”

He put his hand to his chest “You wound me.  Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m in for?  You wouldn’t want to break out of prison with a murderer or worse, a tax cheat, would you?”

I snorted “I know what you’re in for, I can tell a conman when I see one and . . .” I pointed at him.

“I’ll have you know that I’m here for transporting a barrel of herring over the Visgoth with an improper bill of lading.”

“Sure, we’ve all been there.”

We were interrupted in our bantering by a visit from another one of the judges present at the Newberry trial – the ugly Halfling strode in smoking a huge human sized cigar that looked massive next to his tiny head.  I know that “the ugly Halfling” isn’t very descriptive but there isn’t much else to say, he was just an ugly Shireling.  When it comes to ranking the comeliness of the various races (don’t pretend you don’t do it) no one puts Halflings at the top but they’ve never at the bottom.  Overall they’re just a pleasantly unremarkable bland looking people.  So when you see one that’s ugly as a mule’s teat it’s startling.  He sauntered over in a cloud of smoke and tossed a hat that hit the bars and flopped to the ground sadly.  Whatever drama was meant to be conveyed by that gesture was completely lost on me.

“Good to see you again mistyer whatever your name is, I’m surprised to see you – I don’t remember you saying a word at the trial yet here you are to wish me well.”

His voice was shockingly deep “Yer friend’s dead.”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“My men killed her before she could get your message out, no one’s going to save you.”

I reached through the bars and picked up what looked like Martialla’s battered naval cap “The touch of blood on the brim here is a nice detail but even if she was dead, which I doubt, the lawyer was the one who was going to contact the Duke for me anyway.”

He grinned, showing yellow smoke-stained teeth “That swindler that came to visit you in prison?  Who do you think send him?  We followed him right to your girl and he kept her busy while we cut her fucking head off.  You wanna see it?  I can have it delivered.”

“That would be more convincing than a hat.”

He look at me for a moment, clearly disappointed, and then blew out a massive cloud of noxious cheap tobacco smoke “You don’t scare easy to you?”

“There’s not too much that hasn’t already been done to me, intimidation is like a bar of soap – the more you use it the less there is left to use the next time.”

“We’ll find something to make you squeal.”

“I would make a remark about how a close look at your face could do the trick but I won’t sink to that level of childishness.  But thanks for coming to tell me that my friend is dead.”

He stood there for a long moment, I’m pretty sure he was trying to think of a comeback, but eventually he clomped off in a cloud of smoke.  Once he was gone I examined the hat closely, if it’s not Martialla’s they did an obsessively good job of faking it.  It’s possible that they stole it just for this ruse, but it’s hard to see why they would bother to do that.  Even though I couldn’t sleep I still lay down in my cell and put my feet up on the bars, covering my face with what was probably Martialla’s hat to rest for a moment.  I heard the wolfy conman calling over to me.

“That sounded dire.”

“The Consortium and I go back a ways, there’s some bad blood there.  I’ve made a vow to destroy them and that hurt their feelings.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

I gestured at our surroundings “Everything’s going perfectly to plan.”

I heard another voice, a woman’s voice, coming from the direction of the only other occupied cell “Would you two shut up?  I’m trying to sleep over here.”

“You better be nice to me or I won’t set you free when I break out of this joint.”

“If you don’t take me with you I’ll scream for the guards.”

I heard Wolfy rejoin “She’s got you there.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

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

Macendamandel 6 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Do you know how many people each year die because they’re gagged (proper gagged) and they throw up and then asphyxiate on the vomitus?  Me neither, what kind of lunatic would know such a thing?  What I do know is that I almost became one of them today.  Even before I nearly died I have very little to recommend about traveling at a high rate of speed while bound at the hands, blindfolded, and gagged.  It’s not great even when you’re lying still (as I unfortunately am well aware) but it’s particularly troublesome when you’re bouncing around on the back of a horse.  The drugs swirling around inside me probably didn’t help either.  After some number of hours being tossed around as we galloped (well, not really, horses can’t actually gallop for that long but you know what I mean) towards Three Rivers I felt that hot sweaty flush come over me that is the precursor to puking your guts out.  I tried to alert my captor to this fact by grabbing at his arm and generally freaking out but he failed to get the message.

Have you ever explosively vomited while your mouth was blocked by a gag or otherwise sealed up in some fashion?  And this was a real gag, not that bullshit where they tie a strip of cloth over your mouth like that does anything.  It’s one of the more horrifying experiences of my life so far.  Sadly that list of horrible things I’ve experienced keeps getting longer and longer.  It’s basically like instantaneous drowning.  The sensation of drowning is bad enough on it’s own, but usually you have a period of running out of breath first to prepare yourself.   This was instant “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit I’m dying!”  As I was suffocating on the contents of my own stomach I thought that based on all the things I’ve survived that this was a colossally stupid and mundane way to die.  I survived a dragon encounter more than once and now I’m going to puke drown like some fat old alcoholic wretch lying in the gutter?  The fact that I’ve had this thought more than once is a good indication of how great things are going for my life right now.

But there may also be a nugget of wisdom to be extracted from it – it’s the invisible dangers that you never think about that can lay you low.  A man with a knife coming to stab you?  That’s an easy danger to bring to the forefront of your mind.  On the other hand it’s hard to be vigilant about horseshoe maintenance all the time and then WHAM you get a horse with a bad shoe and your mount shies at the wrong time and you’re on the ground with a bloody broken neck.  They say it’s the little things in life and they’re right – it’s the little things that will kill you.  You have to be on your guard all the time if you want to make it through.  Which sounds exhausting, but there’s nothing for it.  If you want to live.  Which I do.  A lot.

Fortunately (I guess?) once I started dying the man was holding me on the horse realized something was wrong and pulled to a stop.  I don’t know if he threw me to the ground in a panic or if he just dropped me or what, but I definitely hit the ground hard and felt something crack in my shoulder.  No, not crack, it was more like the sound when you crush the shell of a walnut.  I guess that’s a crack.  The point is it was more of a crushing than a clean crack.  The good news is that the blinding pain of busting my shoulder distracted me from all the dying I was doing.  Never let it be said that I don’t look for a positive spin on things.

The next thing that happened was the blinding I experienced when the blindfold was ripped off – I would have gone for the gag first myself, but what do I know?  The gag was pulled off second and then someone push their dirty fingers into my mouth to try and clear things out.  I bit down on them as hard as I could mostly out of reflex/convulsing but also because get your damn fingers out of my mouth.  Next thing I felt was someone put their mouth over my mouth and nose and sucking with the power of a dozen back alley whores pull the vomit out of my airway.  You’re probably thinking that is a turn of phrase you never want to hear again – well I’m the one it happened to!  It saved my life for sure, but that doesn’t make it any less revolting.  Once I was done dry heaving, gasping, and writhing in pain in the dirt I did a goodly amount of screaming and cursing at the men standing around me.  Even though they were out of reach I kicked at them pointless as well.  I can only think of a few moments when I was more angry than I was at that instant.  I realize that this may come off as something hypocritical since I often complain about the lack of gratitude when I save someone, but since these people almost killed me in the first place I think this is different.  Once I had exhausted myself they tried to pull me to my feet and I involuntarily made a very pathetic mewling noise.

“You broke my fucking shoulder you fucking fuck!”  I tried to stop myself from sobbing and failed “Please, please, for the love of the Gods or whatever you find holy and good in this world do not blindfold and gag me again.  I can’t do any magic, I can’t do anything, please just don’t!”

I’m not sure I ever cut a more pathetic picture that I did just then.  Even back in Graltontown when I was sick almost to death and hiding in a tomb laying on the cold stone freezing and thinking that I wasn’t going to see the morning I don’t think I was as low as I was sitting in the middle of the road covered with vomit with a shattered shoulder crying my eyes out.  One of the men came over with a phial in his hand and offered it to me.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.”

He jabbed it at me “Drink it, it will fix your shoulder.”

I started laugh-crying and blowing big gobs of snot and other grossness out of my nose instead.  I couldn’t help myself. 

“You’re trying to kill me.  Just do it, cut my head off, don’t torture me like this.  Don’t drug me and blindfold me and kill me like this.  I don’t deserve this, no one deserves anything like this.  I haven’t done anything to deserve this!”

He sighed, a sigh of a man who just wants to be done with his work. “This engagement hasn’t gone as planned for any of us.  Just drink this, it will heal you and then we can get you to Three Rivers as soon as possible.”

I laughed again “Where I’ll be executed?  I may not want to get there as badly as you lot.”

He gestured to his men “Hold her down.”

I did sort of a spring-hop-stand up and dash forward move and slammed the crown of my head into his groin.  This would have been a great idea if he hadn’t been wearing armor.  I think they call it a codpiece.  I don’t know why, it should be called a groinpiece.  What the Hells does a fish have to do with anything?  Slamming your head as hard as possible into a fluted piece of metal is not ordinarily a great thing to do, but at this point I was beyond feeling the pain.  No that’s not right, I felt plenty of pain, I was beyond caring about pain.  The headbutt to the metal groin armor did no damage, but it did knock him off balance and it certainly surprised him.  With a feral snarl I jumped on him, dragging us both to the ground as I got my bound hands around his throat.  I had the heels of my hands underneath his chin and I pulled back as hard as I could.  I never wanted anything more than I wanted to kill that man in that moment.  It was maybe a whole three seconds before the others pulled me off as easily as undoing a button.  There was barely even a red mark on his neck.

He locked eyes with me and help up the phial “This will help you, you want to drink it, drink it.  You don’t want to fine, but we’re moving on, if you want to ride in agony that’s your decision.”

Now that I could see them and had half a second where I wasn’t blind and dying, I saw that there was only one of the original crew from the coach in this little fellowship.  The fellow who was doing the talking was a broad muscular man with a shaved head and the standard cold look of a true mercenary.  One of the men holding me, the one that I think I was riding with, had to be a good six inches taller than me and would have looked very intimidating if not for his silly blonde mustache and his ringed balding head.  The third newcomer, who had a large sword drawn and ready to go, was another physical specimen who’s gaunt face and grey hair on the sides did nothing to make him look appealing. 

“I’ll drink it, just unbind my hands, I can’t hurt anyone, I can’t do anything.”

“You just tried to strangle me.”

“And it didn’t amount to much did it?  I lost control of my emotions for a moment, it won’t happen again.  I won’t cause you any trouble.”

“Any more trouble you mean.”

“I haven’t done shit aside from almost die!”

He gestured “Unbind her hands.”

The gaunt swordsman frowned “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

Shaved head grunted “Probably not, but this whole thing is already a disaster.”

That bothered me more than anything.  Okay, not more than almost dying, but it still bothered me.  I was the one being dragged to my death and he’s acting like he’s the one who was inconvenienced by the whole thing.  That really put some corn in my muffin.  Probably everyone in every job grumbles about it when things aren’t going well, but have a little perspective asshole – I’m the one who has the right to complain.  I did end up drinking the offer elixir and it really was a healing concoction of some kind – my shoulder still hurt put I could feel it sliding back into place and the worst of the pain was spared.  They all kept a close eye on me but I was allowed to ride on my own after that – they had several spare mounts.  In other circumstances I would have enjoyed the ride because they were truly top quality horses that had been bred for stamina and a smooth gait, but for SOME reason I couldn’t enjoy it. 

With the everwake serum poking at my insides like a stream of angry hornets I couldn’t really enjoy anything.  When we stopped the food they gave me tasted bitter and vinegary to the point where I couldn’t even eat it.  Not to mention that the drug keeps you from sleep but it doesn’t make you not tired – if anything I felt more fatigued than usual.  It was an awful feeling, like I was hung from an iron bar by my armpits – no way to fall but being held up wasn’t great either.  The halt was mostly for the horses as far as I could tell, to give them a rest and to give them a chance to eat – the Lodestoners kept me under heavy guard the whole night, only one of them sleeping at a time and for only a few hours.  They must be taking something themselves but I didn’t see what it was. 

Despite their constant vigilance and overall competence as I sat there against a tree stump in the darkness unable to sleep and with a sour feeling in my stomach I thought about trying to escape.  There’s no guarantee that Duke Lodvocka will even get my message or do anything about if he does.  Or that if he does it will happen in time – we’ve travelled a shocking distance every quickly, we’ll probably be in Three Rivers tomorrow.  Counting on the Duke to save me doesn’t sit well.  Not to mention which the Lumber people might just kill me anyway despite what he wants.  The problem is that if I try to escape and fail that means it will probably be impossible for the Duke to do much – authorities don’t like it when you escape from them, even when you’re innocent.  Which is a cruel joke, seems like if you were wrongfully imprisoned escaping should be fine.  But it’s not.

Plus if I did get away I’d be giving up all the stuff they took from me, and I had some great stuff. I should know better, that’s the trap of having a lot of great stuff – as much as it can help you it can also be an anchor around your leg.  Stuff should be expendable, you shouldn’t get attached to it.  But I had SO much money, it’s foolish to throw that away right?  It’s a real pickle.  Throughout the night there were several points where I was a half a second away from making my move but I always snuffed out that impulse the last moment.  The chances were too bad and the risks too great.  I’ll have to see what awaits me in Three Rivers.  I’ve gotten out of tighter jams than this.  I can’t think of one at the moment, but I’m sure that I have. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

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

Mathanaya 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

In the wake of the battle we made a disturbing discovery, all the pig-people that had been killed reverted to normal human forms once the hags were dead.  They must have been more of the cursed victim type of minions than the willing participant kind.  This in no way dissuaded Anflite and Filtan from scavenging anything of value from their corpses, which you kind of have to admire.  Kind of.  The twins were alternating consoling one another about their near siblingicide while I lay against a tree recovering – and by recovering I mean mostly bleeding and scratching myself raw.  Martialla, looking a bit singed and banged up but mostly fine, came and stood before me appraisingly.

“You look like you got raked against a threshing board.”

“Maybe I was, there was a lot going on, I don’t remember it all.”

She glanced over at the half-orc sisters “Those two are a cool piece of business huh?”

“I think we would have died without them.”

“Nice hire.  You have an eye for talent.”

“I’d like to have an eye for champagne.  I haven’t had a Jack Frosty in forever.  Half a dozen of those would really hit the spot right about now.”

“Is that the blue one?  We always called that a Killer Frost or an Ice Queen.”

“That’s because you’re a peasant.”

 “Jack Frosty sounds much more low class than Killer Frost.”

“Hmm, it really does.  Give me a hand up, time to press on.”

“Are you sure you’re healthy enough for that sort of thing?”

“No, but since when does that matter?”

“I’ve got a bit of flayleaf if you want to smoke that before we go.”

“Now we’re talking.”

As we continued on our way we came upon a structure of sorts that was fashioned out of several trees bent at unusual angles with the branches woven together to form a round pyramid like skeleton over which was a covering of hides – many of which I’m pretty sure belonged to people formerly.  Say this about hags, they stay on brand with their dreadfulness.  There were several confused former pig-people milling about this treehouse/wigwam, they came at us in a rush babbling about how they had fallen under the hag’ spells and their tales of woe, but we told them there would be plenty of time for that later.   They didn’t know much about the third sister, it seems as if their time as swine monsters was remembered like a dream – fragmented and nightmarish. 

“Well, the story is that the dryad was able to survive because her lifeforce was tied to a cauldron, so lets’ look for a cauldron.”

The tree edifice had three full floors along with numerous little cubby holes and twisted storage shafts – some of which had fun hand-chopping mechanisms.  Good thing I’ve known for a long time to keep my hands out of holes.  In addition to the bric-a-brac you might expect to find in a hag’s lair – bones, polished skulls, piles of entails, clay pots full of teeth, little wicker dolls with human hair – there were some more inexplicable items.  A gorgeous and almost life-sized painting for a red-haired lady archer, a row of toffee apples (surely safe to eat right?) three lyres of high quality, and a six foot square block of ice that was not melting in the slightest and was clear as the highest quality glass.  On the uppermost level we did find a massive cauldron that had the temerity to form an angry metal face and charge at us with “teeth” of cast iron.  Anflite and Filtan quickly figured out that attacking a massive hunk of metal with axes was folly but they had a pretty easy time turning it over – leaving its tiny cauldron legs waving in the air frantically like an upturned turtle.

I was about to say something when suddenly the entire tree structure rolled nauseatingly and one wall was ripped away by a terrific force.  That force was a twisted many-branched leafless tree walking about on twisted dark roots that looked dead and cracked .  The center of its trunk presented a long, deep scar that could look vaguely like a sideways mouth if you looked hard enough.  It could also look like something else.  Floating in the air besides the harsh looking tree was a woman reeking of rot and mold, skin the color of dead wood, hair tangled with beetles and decaying matter, her appearance made all the more awful by the hints and whispers of her former beauty – her face, now cruel and pitiless was as a smooth and lovely as only that of the fey folk can be.  Her voice was cold and severe – seeming to come from many places at once.

“Why have you come here?”

“To ask you for a boon.”

“Why should I grant you anything pettifogger?”

“I’ve set you free from the hags.”

“Condemned me to death you mean.”

“I think you died a long time ago.  Look what you’ve become.  Take your chances when you have them, but when the time comes, let go. Nothing lasts forever.  Look at you now, do you laugh, do you sing, do you dance?”

“I make people die.”

“Is that what you want?”

She didn’t answer for a long moment “It’s too bad that you killed my sisters, together we had the power to bring back your friend.”

“You know about that?”

“I know many things, the earth speaks to me still.”

“Opportunity wasted I suppose, but they didn’t seem like the helpful type anyway.  What about you?  Is there any goodness left in you?  Will you help break the curse on my friend here?  All it takes is a kiss.  You remember a kiss?  You feel something melt inside you but something become stronger as well.  Part of you that was asleep comes awake, but it feels like it was always awake.  Everything is transformed to something else, everything is magical – everything makes sense and nothing makes sense.  It’s one of the best things in the world and the greatest part about it is that anyone can do it.  It’s not just for kings and princesses and knights, not reserved for the brave or the mighty or the just – it’s for everyone.”

“I will grant you your boon for a price.”

“Name it.”

“Your life.”

“Pass.  Counterproposal, do it for free.  To remember how it feels.  You were once a being of joy and light and living things, before you return to the earth remember what it was like.  Remember who you are.  Don’t pass on to the next life as you are now – a bitter thing full of spite.  Don’t go into darkness, go to a far green land.”

It was again a long moment before she answered “Bring her to me quickly before I change my mind.”

Lathal came forward to the edge of the now wall-less side of the room and the twisted form of the dryad floated down as light as a leaf to stand before her.  The simple woodcutter looked wildly apprehensive, as well she might standing before the fey monster – but the dryad reached out with her wickedly clawed hands and slipped them gently around the larger woman’s waist.  Their lips brushed against one another gently, a little prelude, and then they kissed tenderly.  It was as odd a pair as you’re ever likely to see kiss but there was something sweet about it.  You know, for a murderous werewolf and a mostly dead wood spirit.  I could swear that the “mouth” of the spikey tree twisted in anger as they continued to kiss more deeply.

 After a moment the dryad, her flesh already growing darker and starting to split, stepped back into the “arms” of her tree and it lumbered away, cradling her like a babe.  Drake rushed forward to his sister.

“Do you feel any different?

“I don’t feel it inside me anymore, but how can I be sure?”

I spun her around and slapped her hard across the face.  “Did that make you mad?”

“Yes!”

“Do you feel like turning into a wolf monsters and ripping my head off?”

“I don’t think so.”

Just to be sure I stomped on her foot and punched her in the boob – at which point we startled scuffling and had to be pulled apart.  For a moment she got me in a headlock and really hurt my jaw.  She should be more careful.   

“I think we can call that a cure.”

Drake looked at me, his eyes wet with tears of delight “How can we ever thank you?”

“You can’t, but its fine.  All in a day’s such and such and so on.  Now help me clear out this place before Anflite and Filtan grab everything good.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .024%

Curses – Marksman’s Malady, Unnerve Beasts, Melancholy 

Funds: 8,676 gold

XP: 261,961

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Ring of Protection +2, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Black Marketers’ Bag, 852 Garnets, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Blue Dragoncloth Dress, severed hag head (2) Cauldron of Flying, Ring of Urban Grace, Gloves of Swimming and Climbing, +2 Chain Shirt, +1 Longsword, gold necklace with jade pendant, Feather Token (tree) 2, white squirrel fur slippers, +2 Fey Bane Bastard Sword, +1 Human Bane Dagger, +1 Spell Storing Longspear, Hand of the Mage

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