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?” 

Montagem 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 4

Certain religious types spend a great deal of their time trying to catalog all the different demons.  Maybe because they think it will help people avoid those demons but probably because they’d rather sit and write in a book than actually help anyone – charity and compassion are a lot of work.  Trust me I know where from I speak on that.  Gastronok the demon that makes people sick.  Dozzeth the demon of people who sneeze without covering their mouth.  Arrrrlizz the demon that makes pine trees get sick and lose their needles.  Sarthronothronoth the confuser of migrating birds.  Drolgalos the demon that makes you grab a lady’s thigh under the table.  Stiffrenillious the demon who makes you want to put your hand into a fire.  Sharbinith the demon who wants you to cut yourself.  Urzorich the demon of suicide by hanging.  Jag’than the demon that encourages people to flick their boogers.  The defiler of graveyards, the urge to jump off bridges, the desire to fart in someone’s hat, etc. 

You have to assume that most of them are made up right?  The priest that writes these who’s who books of demons, maybe they start off with a possession in Briartown where Snaxiskics the lord of blue flies took over the body of a young girl but after the first few they’re probably just freestyling right?  How would a priest even know about Phimsham the demon of inaccurate cartography?  Doesn’t seem like the kind of demon that would be involved in the kind of world ending plots that attract people’s attention.  My point is this, there’s probably a book somewhere that names and gives vital statistics on a demon for poorly made beds, and a demon for being woken up early, and a demon for crusty morning eyes, and a demon for harsh sunlight when you first open your eyes in the morning but I bet it’s made up.  I bet there are no such demons.  OR IS THAT THEIR GREATEST TRICK ?!?!?

Although to be fair I woke up mostly because I was hungry.  Isn’t that weird how that can happen?  You can’t feel hungry while you’re asleep, you can’t feel anything, but somehow it wakes you up?  Explain that.  Demon? As I tried to failed (failed to try really if we’re being honest) to get up I realized Martialla was sitting in the corner.

“Were you watching me sleep?”

“No, I was gazing at you while you rested.”

“Oh, well that’s not weird then.  I assume you were standing by invisibility to help me this morning in case things went south?”

“Of course, that’s the great thing about invisibility, you can assume whatever you want and it can be true.”  She paused for a moment before continuing soberly “You know your luck is going to run out one of these days if you keep doing that.”

I snorted “What luck would that be?”

“I’m serious.  It doesn’t matter how sneaky you are, eventually you’re going to run into someone who can’t be snuck.”

“Good thing you’ll be lurking about invisibly to get me out of hot water.  I assume you’re the one that roasted one of the belt buckle brigade.”

She nodded “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“I’m sure it was.  You look around here?  Did Nilda leave anything good behind?”

“I found a folding bow that is actually really well made – normally those trick bows are garbage.  I think anyway, I don’t really know anything about bows.  That was it though, I think she was packed to leave at any time.”

“Smart girl.

“I did find a coded list that I think was people she was going to kill before you came along and solved her money problems.  If you ever want to finish that up.”

“In a way you have to admire a woman who resolves her money problems with contract killing rather than hooking, it seems commendable – but realistically shouldn’t be the opposite?  Making people feel good has to be morally superior to killing right?”

“Depends on the person.  Besides, no one pays you twenty five THOUSDAND gold for sex.”

“Depends on the person.”

She hooked her thumb towards the door of Nilda’s cottage “That guy who said you saved his life is out front, he’s been waiting to talk to you.”

“All this time?  Stalker.”

“Exactly, that’s why I was guarding you.”

“Sure.” I gestured imperiously “Send him in.”

Martialla nodded like the dutiful servant she isn’t and went to the door to escort in the tall fellow with the hammer belt.  He had acquired a hat somewhere, I think for the sole purpose of taking it off as he came in as a sign of respect.  I bet there’s a book that claims there’s a demon that makes people not take their hats off indoors.

“Sorry to keep you waiting my good man, what can I do for you?”

He wanted to thank me, which you know, whatever, and he wanted to tell me his tale – which wasn’t terribly interesting but I thought that it would have been rude to say so.  He had been indentured to one of the Duke’s military pals for seven years to do “lawful and reasonable works and labors” which covers quite a bit of ground.  One problem was that after the seven years was up they told him he had to work for them for another three years because of a clause in the contract about the condition of his boots.  When he complained to the authorities they gave him six months of hard labor for lying under oath.  Another problem was that the good Captain’s wife was something of an amateur loanshark and liked to send him out on collection jobs – and by collect I mean to rough people up.  Once she realized he was pretty good at that she started organizing “events” where he would fight other indentures or servants.  Also she started demanding sexual favors from him.  And when her husband found out she said she was raped.  There’s another five years on the tab there.  This is all in addition to the beatings and general humiliation.  Rich people do love their humiliations. 

“That must have been Sicar Gaudkroger, I remember hearing something about her little fight nights.  What a stone cold bitch.  I should probably kill her.”

Even though he was a strong man who’s clearly been in many battles and she’s hundreds of miles away he actually looked frightened at the mention of her name “I’m not sure she can be killed.” He trailed off, lost in thought for a moment “I was pretty shocked when I saw you last night, or this morning, whichever it was.  I feel like I have to do something to repay you.  You gave me my life back.”

“Well, and no offense, I’m not sure that skulking around in the woods ripping people off is that great of a life.”

“It’s a paradise compared to what I had before.  Now I’m free.”

“I understand that, sort of.  You saved me from your friends so I think we’re even.  Can you cook?’

He was clearly puzzled “Uh . . . what?”

I threw back the covers of the bed and stood up stiffly on my bad hip “I’m fucking famished, pardon my language.” I gestured to the kitchen “If saving me isn’t good how about this – if you can whip me up an egg dish all debts are paid.  I can’t cook for shit, pardon my language, and this one” I pointed at Martialla “is even worse.”

Martialla scowled “That’s not true at all, I can make food . . . of a sort.”

“Yes, well I admit that some of the things you’ve made have had some of the same qualities as food.”

Irori (as I learned his name was) glanced at the kitchen and then back to me “Uh . . . . what?”

I clapped him on the back “Don’t worry about it buddy, glad to do it, all part of the job, just passing through, think nothing of it, don’t mention it, etcetera and so forth.  I don’t mean to diminish the importance of your rescue or anything like that but let’s not make a big thing of it okay?  There’s no rewards for being a decent human being.”

Martialla grinned “She’s a humble heroine she is.”

“Shut up you.  I really am hungry if you can cook at all and there’s any food in here.  But there is something you can help me out with.  Because of certain events I put you and your friends on my list, and I don’t take people off my list – not ever, it sets a bad precedent.  But I don’t want to take you all out now that I know more of the story, so I think I need to amend the list a little.  Who was the guy doing the whipping?”

Irori pursed his lips “He’s the one what was barbecued last night.  Never cared for him myself.”

“Hmm, what about the guys that were doing the holding down for the whipping?  Keep in mind this isn’t a death list exactly, but something needs to happen to them.”

“Victor, Beharri, and Cebuano – they’re not the best, but they’re not the worst either.  I mean we are criminals, there’s no angels amongst our ranks.”

“Everyone’s a criminal in some way I’m sure.  Well, they’re going to have to go on the list, but the rest of you are off the hook.  And there’s nothing that says I have to cross them off the list right away.  I can save them for last.”

Martialla was rummaging around in the kitchen area “After a long draught you’ve really bulked up the list lately, you may not ever get to them the way things are going.”

“Time is the enemy of us all.  Seriously like a fried ham and cheese sandwich would be great, or a kabob, anything really.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 9,605 gold

XP: 923,451

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace

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

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

Myam 11 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Crawling out of the belly of a gluttony (sloth?) demon really took the wind out of Corune’s sails so we traveled no farther yesterday.  I mean I’m the one that killed the demon and I’m fine, but I won’t bring that up.  I dragged/carried/helped her limp off the road and made camp – by which I mean I sat down in the dirt and start drinking from my Flask.  With Corune passed out there wasn’t much for me to do other than catalog the loot that had been hauled out of the demon’s gullet.  The only thing I learned really is that either the aforementioned demon really liked onyx or alternately that maybe onyx is currency in the Hells.  Is there currency on the pits of the damned?  Is there an economy?  Do demons need to eat and sleep and weed their gardens?  For as much religion as people like to shovel around I don’t know much about the Thirteen Hells at all.  The religious types really focus on the eternal torment aspect of the Hells but what goes on there?  Do demons have communities and book clubs and jobs and taxes to pay?  I guess their job is to tempt mortals, or maybe to punish them, it’s unclear. 

Why do demons even exist?  Did the Gods make them?  If so that seems like a real dick move.  If they didn’t where did they come from?  I’ve dealt with a couple demons now and they’re a curious lot.  We’re told that demons are evil desires and thoughts made flesh, beings that feel no kindness, no empathy, no mercy.  Creatures with the singular goal of our destruction, body and soul.  Which is scary, sure, but people have a tendency to overestimate the abilities of things that scare them.  Demons are powerful, some of them anyway, but don’t confuse power with invincibility.  As far as I can tell they’re actually riddled with flaws that can be exploited.  I may write a book about it some day, How to Deal with Demons the Ela Way, that seems like something that people would be interested in, and therefore pay money for. 

One weakness they have, some of them anyway, is that they want to be here.  Makes sense, the Hells are designed specifically to be a drag – who would want to hang out there when you can come here and have food and drink and drugs and pretty baubles and lots of people with entrails to rip out?  So right off the bat they want something even more than they want to kill you – they want to stick around.  Why do you think summoned demons kill their masters so often?  They want to get rid of the person that can send them back.  This place is a vacation for them, they don’t want to go back to their boring maybe jobs tormenting souls.  They want to live and laugh and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  So keep that in mind, they have a motivation, and that is a vulnerability.

Another thing is that for all their power many of them seem to be quite stupid.  It stands to reason I suppose, an eighteen foot tall buffalo-demon is made to wreck shit, not to be clever or crafty.  I would liken them, some of them, to a baboon with a lit torch in a straw-house.  Dangerous?  Oh buddy, yeah.  But do they even know what they’re doing?  Maybe not.  Fighting a demon should be your last resort – just keep talking.  And how do you engage them?  It’s pretty simple actually, because they’re not that bright – an appeal to ego or greed does quite a long way.  In addition to torch wielding baboons I would equate them to teenage boys – full of anger and rage and violence but not that hard to manipulate when it comes right down to it.  Flattery goes a long way.

And here’s the other thing, even the ones that aren’t dumb are lazy – and many are both.  Why would they do anything themselves when they can get a moronic cultist to do it?  Or bully a smaller demon into doing it.  Julista of the Thousands Blades would annihilate me if she ever got around to it, but even though she has all eternity she can’t find the time.  So she tells Gurgolock the Ripper of Buttholes to do it, but he’s lazy as well and he tells Achivious the Lord of Kitten Eating to do it and so on and so on until you’re dealing with a demon-snake tricking a bored housewife into trying to kill you with a poison apple.  Which is something that you can deal with.  Or if you can’t then demons are the least of your problems.  I could go on but I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll have to buy the book if you want to know my eight secret steps to defeating demons.  And the ninth secret steps that those fat cats in the church don’t want you to know.  Also I’ll probably never get around to writing it, that sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden.

Left with nothing else much to do I ended up drinking a lot more than I thought and kind of passed out last night, and then not walking up until well past sunrise today even though I was laying on the cold, hard, dirty ground instead of a nice bed.  Corune still wasn’t feeling up to staggering down the road so we just spent the day sitting there not doing a nothing.  Normally I’d give her a hard time about this but she looked like an exhumed corpse so instead I lifted her spirits with my many humorous anecdotes of the old days at court.

“So obviously as it turns out that it wasn’t the soap that was causing the itching and I had the maid beaten half to death for no reason.  You know it’s funny the upper class people prefer their ladies to be smooth and hairless but amongst the lower class a woman without a thick bush is reckoned to be filthy with diseases that made it fall out.  Hence the expression ‘burnt-ass whore’.”

“That story was disgusting and inappropriate.”

“You said you didn’t want to hear any more depressing stories.”

“Are those the only two choices?”

“Yeah, what world do you live in?”

She shook her head tiredly “Do you have anything to eat?”

“No, do you want some more rice wine?”

She put her hand to her temple “No, I’m already feeling woozy.  I think I would really feel better if I had something to eat.  Can’t you shoot something with your crossbow?”

“Probably not, hunting isn’t really in my skill set.  And even if I did I wouldn’t have much of an idea how to make it edible even if we had a fire, which we do not.  Aren’t you an old campaigner out on the trails after justice?  Riding here and there and everywhere after the bad guys.  Don’t you know how to do that stuff?”

“Not really.”

“Well then why are you biting my ass about it?  It’s interesting that you mention that because I’ve been thinking lately, you can always kind of tell someone who grew up with money.  It’s a way they walk, you can see it in the stride, it’s something that just tells you that they’ve never really been hungry.  Not like you and I have been.  When you’re a kid and you worry legitimately that you might not survive because your parents can’t hack it, that does something to you, it changes you.  You walk in a different way.  No matter how good someone is at disguising themselves or impersonation of someone else there’s a difference between someone who always had what they needed and the rest of the world.”

“I saw you in disguise and never knew you grew up poor.”

“That’s because I’m the best.”

“Of course maybe you lied about being poor, you are an awful liar.”

“I’m a fantastic liar actually.  The funny thing about that though is that you can’t ask anyone to vouch for me because I’ve deceived them.  When you’re a great liar no one knows – it’s like being great at keeping secrets, it’s impossible to prove.  I don’t know why you get so bent out of shape about lying anyway.  Lying is what gives people hope.”

“Spare me this again please.”

“No, I’m serious.  People are told that if they’re good and righteous and they stand up for themselves that things will turn out alright.  But they won’t.  Being right doesn’t stop you from being straight up murdered by someone who’s wrong and happens to be big and strong and is wearing thick armor and has a sword.  People are told that one man with a stick defending his home is worth ten knights on horseback and its utter shit.  But you need to tell people that to make them not kill themselves.  If you told them the truth, that you’re weak and a strong person can fuck you up whenever they want people would lose their minds.  It’s like that crap about standing up to a bully, the reason they’re a bully is because they’re faster and tougher and get in fights all the time.  The fact that you’re scrappy and full of courage doesn’t prevent you from getting your ass kicked and your face smashed into the mud.”

She closed her eyes, looking pained “Why do you have to do this?  Why do you have to torment me with your pessimistic views?

“Torment?  I take offense to that, don’t be so dramatic.  What else are we supposed to do?  I’m just making conversation I’m not tormenting you”

“You belittle my beliefs constantly, what else would you call that?”

“Your beliefs are dumb.  Besides what do you care what I think about it?  If you’re so strong in your faith it shouldn’t matter what I say or think.”

“It doesn’t.  It’s just irritating.  Everything is a joke to you.”

“It’s a laugh to keep from crying scenario, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to hinder your healing with my bad attitude.  Hey, so if I shot a giant grasshopper do you think you could just bite into it and be fine?  I mean you can toss a regular grasshopper in your mouth without it making you sick so are the big ones safe to eat without preparation?”

“I have no idea.”

“One time I was out with the Duke and his court boar hunting, well in theory it was boar hunting mostly we were all getting drunk and frolicking out in the woods – you know the kind of frolicking that I mean.  Anyway, this beast turned up that looked like a combination of a great bear, a porcupine, and like an armadillo or something which a big spikey tail.  It killed all the horses and a dozen grooms and whatnot before it wandered off.”

“Why are you telling me this?!”

“Well if you weren’t always interrupting me I would have gotten to the part where I ate a locust, which is a lot like a grasshopper.”

“Seriously do you have any stories that aren’t horrible?!”

“Well I don’t hear any big amount of uplifting tales coming from your mouth!  It’s like prying open a virgin’s legs to get you to say two words!”

“I don’t feel well!  I almost died!”

“I almost die all the time and I don’t whine about it!” We both fell into a surly silence for a while “I rode a pegasus once.”

“What?”

“I rode a pegasus once out by the Scarlands.  That’s a happy story.”

“Oh.  How was it?”

“It was great.”

“So what’s the story, why were you out there?”

“Uh . . . . so you don’t want me to lie to you and you don’t want the story to be awful?  You’re really kind of tying my hands here.”

She sighed wearily “Forget it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Altar of Adariel,  Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror,  darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword

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 

Myam 6 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I’ve often wondered why someone would worship a demon or demons.  Seems like if you want to worship an asshole divine being and do bad shit there’s better options in the form of evil gods.  As I understand it Kralten and Enumu and deities of that ilk have something to offer in the afterlife.  Do enough malevolence here in the world on their behalf and after you die you get to go to their version of heaven.  I’m no theologian but if you’re a demoniac your ultimate reward is still burning in the fiery pits of the Thirteen Hells when you cash in is my understanding.  That doesn’t seem like a good deal to me.  So are demon-worshippers exclusively the insane alienate nihilists who don’t even care about their own fate?  Doesn’t seem to be the case based on the one’s I’ve met.  Are they all deluded fools who are trading an eternity of pain and suffering for a modicum of temporal power?  Maybe. 

I’d like to gets some good information on their motivations but for some strange reason you don’t often find a demon worshipper who’s willing to have a frank and honest discussion about their beliefs – partially because those beliefs result in them being burned in the stake but partially because they’re trying to eat your toes in the name of Sithvogamu’Herlenshib the Demon Lord of Bloody Feet or some other damn thing.  I suppose I may be assigning too much logic to people’s thinking processes, most demon kissers people do it for the same reasons people do anything – they didn’t really think about it, it was a thing to do so they did it. 

I bring this up because Essa’s response to my night-time intrusion was to shriek like a bat being swallowed by a flying toad.

“Shree blyushed amukh ta garve bardh orchid!  Orchid oblist knamesh kul carven kurn theabse!”

That’s the Dark Speech if you’re not familiar.  Does orchid mean the same thing in the Dark Tongue as it doesn’t in the King’s language?  Seems unlikely, why would she be shouting about flowers when assailed in her bed under the cover of darkness?  But even if it’s a different meaning it’s weird that it would even exist in both languages as a word right?  I couldn’t see her face too well because of the darkness but I could see enough to know that it was twisted with hate like these demon-types get as she was shouting.  They must teach you that in demon school, I don’t know how they get their faces to do that – they like literally twisted as if their faces were made of wax.  It’s pretty scary I grant you that, if you’re the kind of person that’s scared by facial expressions. 

At the sound of her screaming the two sides of the tent flew up as if by signal and four men rushed in with slim blades and attacked my companions.  The nameless lookalikes displayed pretty impressive reflexes but in this situation it was more along the lines of avoiding an instant death strike than avoiding the blows altogether, they got stabbed pretty good is my point.  I’m not sure if she doesn’t care about dying or if she’s smart enough to realize that if I’m asking questions I need her alive, but either way Essa didn’t seem concerned about the knife I had against her and started chanting – not crazy cult chanting but casting a spell chanting.   I the dropped the knife and shoved some blanket in her mouth, leaning on her face with my elbow to stop her from finishing the mystical words that would turn our blood into molten lava or whatever these damn magic types do. 

The four men were clearly well versed in working together and they were flanking and striking my bodyguards despite their acrobatic defenses.  Sometimes I wonder why these sorts spend years working on martial arts forgoing all the pleasures of life when you can just pick up sword and put on a breastplate, it seems to be about as good if not better.  I suppose the idea is to catch people off guard but I’ve never seen one of these high-kicking loud shouting empty hand people really blow anyone away with their fancy moves.  Doing my best to keep the struggling Essa pressed underneath me I turned my cane into snake-form and threw it at one of the swordsmen on the right, it landed close enough that he was bitten on the ankle by the snake-cane which has to suck based on the way he yelped.  I managed to wrestle my crossbow out and holding it one handed and kind of balancing it against my hip as Essa writhed beneath me (not like that perv) I shot at one of the swordsmen on the left.

The good news is that even in that awkward position I managed to score a hit, the bad news is that who I hit wasn’t my enemy.  That’s downside to having a magically poisoning crossbow, makes friendly fire a real bitch.  Since we were in the middle of a military camp, sort of, I also employed another tactic – screaming “they’re killing us, they’re killing us” – but if I’ve learned anything it’s that if help arrives it’s always after things are over.  These violent life or death struggles happen a lot more quickly than you’d think – usually you’re either dead or you’ve already won before your back-up has their pants on. 

There’s no way I can reload a crossbow one-handed so while I was trying to figure out what to do next Essa squirmed out from underneath me and managed to get her arm around my neck.  I pried her arm off (it’s nice to be stronger than someone for once) and the two us were grappling on the bed, thrashing around like two blackbirds being baked into a pie.  I managed to get the upper hand by grabbing a handful of her hair (very dry, she must wash it with something too astringent) pulling her head back and biting her on the chin.  I heard something crack, not sure if it was one of my teeth or her jawbone, could be both – but then next thing I knew one of the swordsmen was yanking me off her and stabbing me through the calf with his blade.  Essa came up and even in her darkness I could see that her face was a bloody disaster, which didn’t seem to inconvenience her overly much.  She spat some magic words and I felt something burning on my chest like acid.  Probably acid.

It was at this point that the desperation set it.  This is not how I thought my night was going to go.  The next thing I knew though, I felt a surge of magic energy from my Boots and suddenly everything was different.  At first I thought that I was floating in the air and that someone had put a sack over my head but after a moment I realized that the “sack” was the tent and I wasn’t floating, I was just tall.  Really tall.  I ripped the tent away and I noticed in order that I appeared to be bout sixteen feet tall, I could see pretty well in the darkness, and my skin was blue.  Did you know that snow giants can see in the dark?  I didn’t.  Oh, and also there’s boots that turn you into one of them.  This is apparently an astounding enough turn of events that even demonic lunatics stop to gawk at it.  One of my bodyguards was down (probably on account of me shooting her with a poisoned bolt) but the other one was the first to recover – knocking her opponent out (or maybe killing him, what am I a healer?) with a spinning kick to the head.  Remind me never to let anyone do that to me.

I picked up the man who had stabbed me, not like a child, more like one of those human-shaped cookies people make sometimes, and hurled him into the night end over end and saw him hit the ground and tumble like a drunk falling down the stairs.  Seeing that the tide had turned Essa made to run but I grabbed her and lifted her into the air like a kitten by the scruff of the neck.  Have you ever wondered why giants always let out such booming laughs after they grab someone?  I can tell you why, it’s very satisfying.  I’ve never heard my voice so deep before, I’ll have to keep these Boots in mind if I ever want to sing a true operatic contralto.  I’ve always wanted to try out The Maiden of Death but it’s not in my register.  The last swordsman tried gamely to attack me but the remaining bodyguard swept his legs out from under him and as he hit the ground I stomped on his head and chest, crushing him like a roach.  I know a few men who would have paid good money to see that.

Like clockwork, with the fight over, at this point soldiers and various other people came running up.  As you can imagine they were very alarmed by the presence of an ice giant in their midst and were preparing to attack me with long spears when I boomed out my massive voice at them.

“Be thou not afraid, it is I, Ela transformed into a giant by the will of Adariel to uncover a horrible witch in your midst” I gave Essa a good shake and boomed out another colossal laugh as grown men, soldiers and warriors, cowered in fear before me.

The boots didn’t react to my command to “un-giant” me but fortunately the effect was temporary and I shrunk back down to size before too long.  I gave my fallen bodyguard a healing blast from the Flask as more and more confused soldiers turned up.  My good pal the Master Sergeant Costell Monague showed up as the first authority figured on the scene but thankfully he was quickly displaced by an as of yet unseen Baron, at least I assumed he was a Baron based on the extravagant jacket he had thrown on over silk nightclothes and his easy assumption of power.

“What the blazes is going on here?”

 I curtsied neatly “My Lord I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.  I was at my evening prayers when all of a sudden I was stunned by the appearance of one of Adariel’s angelic hosts appearing before me in my tent!  The vision before me told me that within this very camp there was a foul cancer, an attainted demonhost!” I pointed to Essa who was now being held by the arms in the grasp of two soldiers “The angel told me that I needed to do something about this horrible evil before it was too late.  Well, I was just beside myself, I had no idea what to do.  I’m no warrior, no priest, no exorcist, no inquisitor, just a godly woman observing the word of Adariel.  I said to my brave and loyal guards that we needed to tell someone about this but we didn’t know who to tell!  Knowing that there was no time to waste, I made my way this tent, guided by Adariel’s hand towards the source of the corruption.  I found this woman malingering in her tent with an ill look.  And I asked of her ‘Are you standing in the light of the blessed mother or have you strayed into the shadow?’ and her response was to snarl at me in the Forbidden Tongue like a lipless monster! 

All of a sudden her four accomplices appeared out of nowhere to assail my valiant and devoted protectors, attacking them from behind like the abhorrent cowards they are.  Left alone with the demon-witch she revealed a forked tongue and her eyes became that of a mantis and she said ‘I’ll suck your soul!’ in a voice from the pits of the Hells themselves!  I was sure I was going to die, for my stalwart and faithful guardians were being overwhelmed by the dirty fighting techniques of the witch’s familiars, but then, all of a sudden I felt the holy power of Adariel flowing through me!  And I was transformed into a mighty giant!  I heard the soft words of Adariel in my ears saying ‘Evil has no power in my sight, I am the mother of all peace and the creator of all mercy, but you must use my power now to strike down those who cannot be redeemed to save the innocent.  You are my vessel and my chosen one, strike now and save all those around you.’  Now, I am a simple woman, violence is foreign to me, but I was filled with the bravery of the Goddess Herself and her hand guided me to lay low these terrible villains  and deliver this awful witch unto you for Judgement.”

For a long time no one spoke, most people standing in awe, but finally one voice came from the crowd.

“Why would Adariel turn you into a frost giant?  That doesn’t make much sense.”

I heard someone smack the speaker upside the head and mutter something about blasphemy.

“Stay your hand good sir!  Adariel welcomes the questioners and the seekers, she is the Goddess of Knowledge and Wisdom, she doesn’t ask us to follow her blindly, she asks that we challenge and learn.  I do not know why Adraiel chose this form, for the way of the Gods of good are as ever a mystery to us.  I can only thank Her for the miracle that has transpired here tonight.  Will you join me brothers and sisters?  Let us kneel in thanks before the Great Lady, the True Lady, the Only Lady, and join hands and speak the prayer of Adariel’s protection and blessing against the dark night and the terrors that it hides, for her Light shall reveal all!  In her sight there is no shadow for evil to lurk in and we are all safe under her benevolent gaze!”

A good forty-five minutes later I was up at the farmhouse back in the little planning room with the Master Sergeant, the new Baron, Baron Berlixwhouse, Baron Redmynd, and some other people I didn’t know – presumably more Barons or their minions.  The new Baron who had spoken before, who I now saw to be a balding man with an impressive beard, addressed me again.

“What really went on out there?”

“Well you see, what had happened was . . .”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 566,901

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds

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