Montresor 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 3

The name escapes me at the moment but there’s a book the premise of which is that some shifty alchemist comes up with a formula that can turn people invisible for long periods of time.  Wizards and such can turn people invisible obviously, but it’s only for a short time and also then you have to deal with a wizard – and who wants that?  The alchemist injects his serum into a squad (or whatever) of soldiers so they can invisibly murder the enemy.  But the serum is bad for you man.  After the first few times most of the soldiers start getting all twisted in the brainpan and eventually they go totally crazy.  There’s one guy though who’s able to keep his shit together and while all his squadmates (or whatever) go mad he keeps going on missions of invisible slaughter.  Eventually they learn that that guy is dying because even though he’s able to maintain his sanity the juice is eating away all his organs.  But he keeps doing it because otherwise it was “all for nothing”.

The book is renowned in certain circles for a couple of reasons.  One is that the author just made the book about the Kingdom – they didn’t invent a new place and make it exactly like the Kingdom like most people do, they just called it the Kingdom.  The second reason is that people of a certain ilk regard it as an ultimate expression of the pointlessness of armed conflict and of the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class while at the same time being held up by others as a perfect example of a citizen doing his duty to the bitter end and honor and glory and all that.  And thirdly some other people love this book because it allows them to argue endlessly if the main guy really was crazy because he kept going on the missions – and if that made him the craziest of all. 

At the time I first read it I thought it was fine.  It seemed to me like one of those books that people like because of the idea more than the execution of the idea.  I don’t think it’s a great book, but invisible soldiers are way cool so people pretend like it’s some monumental work of art.  Now that I’ve actually spent a decent amount of time invisible I retroactively find this work annoying because a squad of invisible people?  That doesn’t work.  You know because they’re invisible.  I had that issue all the time when Martialla and I were trying to do stuff invisibly.  Even if you attempy something as simple as “hey let’s both turn invisible and attack those people by that tree” you end up both showing up at different times or you bump into each other or some other damn thing.  A whole squad of people?  No way in Hells that works.  It would only work if you were invisible but could see other invisible people, or if you had telepathy or something maybe. 

Not only that but in the book the soldiers were invisible for days or weeks at a time and there’s a bunch of chapters were they’re having conversations with each other during those times.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I realize that the writer was talking about their body language and facial expression and so forth during the invisible conversations.  Which makes no damn sense.  I bet if I asked the author about it he’d say “oh it’s a metaphor” or some other chickenshit thing like that.  Writers are the worst. 

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

Nothing really.  I just often think about that book whenever I’m around a bunch of soldiers. 

My tattoos were glowing on account of the people coming out of the river. Lliterally walking out of the water, not like all the other people that were on boats.  They were obese fellows with grey-white eel-like skin.  You know how the flesh of an eel looks like it’s pudding or something?  It’s not like fish scales or like skin or anything proper, it looks like if you touched it your hand would sink into it.  And also like you would never want your hand to sink into whatever it was.  They appeared to have no genitals but they may have been hidden behind their pendulous flabby belly that swayed like holiday dessert in a bowl.  They for sure didn’t have ears, nor eyelids – and they really needed eyelids because they had eyeballs the size of my fist.  Actually no, not my fist seeing as how dainty and wonderful my fists are, more like the gnarly first of a bulky longshoreman.  Their necks were like a mass of skin flaps like one of those weird wrinkly dogs you see sometimes, only with skin.  Maybe those are gills of some kind?  I would wager that other people who saw them would say they were “fish-men”.  They looked nothing like fish.  They looked like abominations.

What the Hells is going on in Ulpine?  First they have horned women crewing their ships and now they have these walking nightmares working for them as well?  I feel like the Kingdom propagandists are really missing their mark.  Instead of talking about how Ulpine violated the Treay of Cole Loch by collecting taxes in the Northern Marches three times a year instead of two times a year how about we focus on how they’re monster-lovers?  You know what people don’t care about?  The taxation of noblemen in border lands.  You know what they do tend to get riled up about?  Monsters eating their faces. 

I have no idea why he did it since we were getting out of there anyway, but one of the villagers ran at the creatures as they slowly and inexorably came out of the river and impaled it with a spear.  The creature didn’t seem to care in the least.  Or maybe it cared a little big since it ripped the guy’s head off like a farmer does with chicken, but it didn’t seem to cause it any pain or damage. 

Although as it turned out we were not getting out of there.  We ran through the village only to find the bellringer and the shouter coming back our way with about a score of other people.  The fleet must have landed some men further down the river and they doubletimed it up to block the path to the north.  Not wanting to get caught between them and the eel-monsters coming out of the river I made the command decision to head north.  My reasoning was that even though the bridge to the north was their target none of the Ulpine ships had made it past the village so I figured that was our best bet.  But there were soldiers blocking that route as well.  There was no time to head back to the south, we were trapped.  We took cover in the sturdiest building in Peacevast – a stone storehouse of some kind that we kidded ourselves into thinking would be able to stand up to a magically exploding ballista bolt.

I was looking for a good opportunity to take on the form of an Ulpine soldier and slip away while the rest of the group prepared for a last stand.  I’ve never been one for last stands myself, it’s just not my style.  But the attack never came.  We huddled amongst sacks of moldy grain while the village was flattened building by building.  Every forty seconds or so another mighty boom and a building was gone.  Once our shelter was the last thing left though the artillery stopped.  Soldiers surrounded us at a safe distance but there was no charge. 

After a while a small woman (not a Halfling, she was just short) came forward out of the line of soldiers.  She had on those baggy pants sailors seem to like but over that was a rich red check patterned garment that would have looked great on me except for the fact that it would have barely come down to the middle of my back.  Her hair was ridiculously coiffed for a battlefield and she was chewing on an apple.  I wanted to shoot it out of her face just because it was such an obvious move to show how casual and unconcerned she was.  I detest that kind of playacting. 

She tossed the apple core away with calculated nonchalance, for a small woman her voice was strong and clear “Who’s in command here?”

I stayed well back but tossed my voice out to her “Master Sergeant Hala Tankelthorn at your service.”

She smiled indulgently “I wasn’t aware that the Kingdom was enlightened enough to allow women serving in the ranks of their renowned military.”

“It’s a recent change, we’ve got a queen running the place now you know so women are being afforded more opportunity.  It’s terrible, as you well know it’s woman’s duty to stay at home and be the primary care giver because the Gods created us to bear children.  And yet here I am fighting and dying like a man.  I mean I have a sword in my hand instead of a knitting needle – what is even happening?”

She shook her head sadly “What is the world coming to?”

“It’s tragic is what it is.  Hey what’s the deal with those guys that came out of the river?”

“You know of it is in wartime, alliance are made with all sorts.  Strange bedfellows and all that.”

“You get into bed with those things?”

“Figure of speech.  I’m here to talk about the terms of your surrender.”

“I’d love to hear them.”

“Surrender now or we’ll kill you.”

“Well that’s simple enough.  I give you credit for not trying to fancy things up.” 

Montalan 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 4

Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool that follows?  It’s the eternal question, one that can never be answered.  Except by me.  It’s easy to assume that the fool that follows is the more foolish because they were fooled by a fool but what that disregards is how good at fooling fools a foolish fooling fool can be.  What we can all agree on though is that the fool three times removed is blameless.  For you see what happened when the dam broke was nothing much.  The pond drained away quickly, the stream refilled its banks somewhat more slowly (if you can explain that to me please do) and that was pretty much it.  There were no sea elfs left flapping on the ground gasping for air (water?) like landed fish.  There was no underwater village revealed.  There was no nothing.  Buttons was agog that his prophesied destruction had failed to materialize. 

I looked at him curiously/annoyedingly “So . . . . what the fuck?”

He ran into the muck and looked for a moment like he was going to dive into the stream “I don’t understand it!  They built the dam so they could have a place to live.  They always came out of the water here to trade.  I don’t understand.”

“Did you ever actually see this underwater village?”

“No . . . it’s underwater . . .”

“So what exactly did you do out here?”

“I’d bring wagons of goods, stuff that you can’t make underwater, to trade them and they’d come out of the water here.  Right here!  They said they had a village under there.  They said they lived here!  I thought . . . the ogres said . . .  they were going to destroy the dam to get at the elfs!  They said they were going to kill them.”

“Clearly they were wrong.  Not surprising really, dumb as they are I can’t imagine that their plans pan out so often.  I suppose that’s a little bit of a lesson about buying into what ogres say huh?  I guess we murdered them for nothing.  I mean good riddance because they’re awful, but still you’ve wasted a good deal of my time.”

He fell to his knees in the sludge “I don’t understand it . . .”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it.  So you failed miserably, at least you tried.  Granted Martialla and I did all the actual work and you did nothing, but you got us to do it, which is even better if you ask me.”

He was about to say something when without any preamble a shiny black diving beetle the size of a mule slid out of the water nearby with some manner of water vine-netting on it, presumable for carrying cargo.  A moment later three elfs walked slowly out of the water as well to stand by their beast of burden.  I personally think that people give too much credence to elfen beauty, the men are handsome enough in a cold somber way but I find the women to leave something to be desired, being all hard angles and basically indistinguishable from the men (or is it the other way round) but elfs are reckoned to be a comely bunch and not without good reason.  Given that fact these water elfs were a very poor representation of their race.

They were pale as newly fallen snow, as I guess you might assume being removed from the sun as they are, but this was not the porcelain skin tone that some find appealing, this was a very anemic looking and unhealthsome pallor.  But what was worse is that their skin seemed both thick, like that of a buffalo perhaps, but also semi-translucent like that of a salamander.  You could see little lines of gray-green veins underneath in clear disgusting detail.  Even out of the water they glistened and after I while I realized that trains of saliva were dripping off their thin lips constantly.  Their dark hair was stringy and unkempt and somehow looked overly dry despite clinging wetly to their scalps and faces.  That may have disturbed me most of all – they didn’t even bother to brush their sopping hair away from their faces, just letting it stick there like that was fine.  Add to that large white eyes with pinkish irises and you don’t have a great look bunch.  I will credit them this, unlike normal elfs they were not shrimpy (which is amusing since they come from the sea) all three of them being close to six feet tall despite being women (I think) and looking sturdy where your standard elf is ethereal and weak in appearance.  They looked like they could take a punch.

The middle one spoke haltingly with hair draped over her face like a water ghost “You come to trade.  You have missed the appointed time.  You will receive less.”

Buttons started babbling wildly about what had happened while trying to haul himself to his feet but he was stuck in the mud pretty good and only managed to pull himself free, heaving at the effort, after losing his boots and his pants to the stream bank.  It was hard to tell if the three water elfs were even listening to him but eventually the middle one spoke so they must have gotten the message.

“There is no trade.”

Button could find no response to that so after a moment they turned to leave, their beetle slipping back into the water with nary a ripple, but I gestured for them pause.

“Hold on a second there, uh, I didn’t catch your name.” I waited a for a moment but no name was offered “Okay then.  Looks like it didn’t end up mattering, but Holloway Giswain Cumberland the Third here was trying to help you guys out, he thought those ogres were going to kill you.  I don’t think a little gratitude would in uncalled for.”

“We were in no danger.”

“Sure but those ogres killed all his men and took all the stuff he was going to trade to you.  Sounds like you have been working together for a while, why not help the guy out?  Give him a little something to get back on his feet.  You want to keep trading right?  Can’t you meet him halfway here?”

“He has nothing to give us.”

“Not now, but if you send him away empty handed maybe he can’t come back you understand?  And then no more trading at all.  It’s in your best interest to keep things going right?  If you need to consider it a loan, give him a little right now and then later he’ll hook you up.”

She flinched at that last bit, the first reaction of any kind she had shown, and I realized that was probably not the right thing to say to a fish elf.

“That’s a figure of speech, I didn’t mean anyone was going to be harmed in any way, I just meant that he would give you more later in return.  You know what a loan is right?” 

They said nothing and I turned to Martialla who just shrugged.  Elfs are also counted to be very intelligent and advanced, clearly appearance is not the only way in which their seabound cousins don’t measure up.

“Okay then, maybe you and I can trade.  I’m looking for a specific Turnbill sword.  It has some particular markings on it, if I describe them to you can you tell me if you have it?”

Buttons spoke up miserably “They don’t know what that means.”

I jerked my head and Buttons “The stuff you’ve be trading that guy, I might be interested a certain item if you have it.  Is that something that you’d be interested in?  What kinds of things do you trade?”  After a moment it seemed that no response was going to be forthcoming “Hello?  Are you listening?  Can you understand me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to trade with me?  I got all kinds of stuff, I don’t know how well it would work underwater, but some of it should be fine.  And I have some magic stuff.  Holloway told me that being here away from the ocean has broken your magic connection, maybe something I have could help you.”

I could see her one eye shining through her hair-wall “Magic?”

I unloaded some of my Bags to show her what I had, as I halfway expected she wasn’t interested in the coins or the jewels of any of the valuables I had.  Buttons explained that he traded them mostly mithril crafted items since they obviously can’t forge underwater and mithril doesn’t rust.  But she was very interested in the tooth-sword.  I laid it on the ground and all three of them came forward, slimy hair swinging pendulously and flinging gunge, to lay their hands on it reverently.  After a moment the talker stood back up while the other two, each holding onto the sword like they were lovers holding hands, disappeared into the water.

“Hey, I . . . okay, I guess.  In return for the tooth thing here’s what I’m looking for, it’s a sword kind of like that, but made of metal.  It’s a single sided blade of folded steel, engraved with kind of a flame shape up the length of the flat, you know the broad side.  The hilt is inlaid with ivory and has like this little silver wire around it and the crossguard has two silvered flowers on it.  Do you know what a rose is?  But most importantly on the pommel there’s going to be a rune or a symbol that looks like . . .”

She reached into the water and pulled out a saber made of some manner of blackish metal and held it out – like it had been floating there somehow waiting for her to pluck it from the water.

“That’s very nice, but that’s not what I’m looking for.  What I need is . . .”

She dropped the blade to the ground with a splat and turned to leave “The trade is done.”

“Hold up, hold up, I’m looking for a very specific item, can you just tell me if you have it down there?”

She didn’t turn but did answer “We have no interest in the detritus of your world, we trade whatever we find.”

“Find where?  What’s going on down there?”

I wasn’t sure she would answer but eventually she did turn “When we first came here we dug to make more space.  We broke into caves full of water.  This is where we live.  We find items of your world there sometimes.  Old things.”

“Okay, now let me ask you this. Do you like living here?  Holloway said that it was making you sick.  I’ve never met your kind before so I can’t really judge but you don’t look very vigorous to me.”

“There is nowhere else.  We are outcast.”

“Sure there is.  Your a long way from the coast here and you got made it this far so clearly you can survive on land for a while right?  Just a couple days south of here there’s a much bigger stream that leads to an actual river.  And that river leads to a lake – a big beautiful lake full of clear clean water.  It’s a thousand times bigger than this shithole.  Plus there are all kinds of other rivers, some of which lead to the ocean – you can’t be outcast from the entire ocean can you?  The ocean’s a damn big place, whoever you have problems with can’t control the entire thing can they?  If you bring me all the stuff you have to trade I’ll get you there.”

“I cannot decide.”

“What’s there to decide?  On the one hand . . .”

Buttons shook his head “She means that she’s not in charge, not that she can’t make up her mind.”

“Oh, well is there a way I can talk to whoever is in charge?  Or can . . .”

“Wait” she said before disappearing into the water quickly.

I looked to Buttons “She’s going to talk to her leaders.  She’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Why are you so glum looking my trouserless friend?”

“Aside from my business being ruined?”

“Nonsense, come out of that mud will you?  This is good news mister hairy legs, you want this saber?  It’s yours.”

He gasped “It’s priceless!”

“No, its price is about four thousand if you can find a collector, maybe half that if you can’t.  I don’t care about any of that Turnbill shit except for one specific thing.  Whatever these watery corpse looking fuckers drag up I just want to check for the sword I want, you can have the rest of it for all I care.”

He fainted dead away, face-first into the silt.  Martialla dragged him up by the back of his shirt so he wouldn’t drown. “Are you really going to give him all of it?  That’s a lot of money isn’t it?”

“I suppose to be fair I’ll just give him my half, the rest is yours by right.”

“Speaking of, don’t you still owe me a small fortune from the jewel height in Obsis?  Wasn’t I supposed to get a third of that?”

“Hmm, doesn’t sound familiar to me.”

“It’s good to know you haven’t changed that much.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 52,143 gold

XP: 789,511

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

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

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