October 22, 1973 (STILL) – We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out

Thao (that’s the woman who came to warn us, who actually is Elvis’s cousin) didn’t know where Elvis was.  No one ever seems to know where he is.  I wonder if his reputation for wandering the neighborhood like an itinerant monk fixing people’s clogged sinks and babysitting and helping them pirate electricity is just a cover and really he’s doing something nefarious.  Madripoor seems like that kind of place.  I read a book about Port Royal once called The Wickedest City in the World.  It was about how the place was run by pirates.  I remembering thinking – this can’t all be true, you can’t have a city where everyone is on the hustle.  You need most people to be squares, otherwise who’s going to collect the garbage and clean toilets and other things no criminal wants to do?

But here we are.  I realize now that notion was narrow-minded.  In the Coalition, surrounded by roads and parks and Dairy Queens and drive-in movies and nude hot tubbing it’s easy to think that the world is a safe place, a tame place.  It isn’t.  

Thao didn’t know where Elvis was, but she knew where he was going to be later, washing dishes at a noodle house called Le Petit Point d’Arret Parlant.  Which is a pretty weird name.  I wanted to go looking for him, but Blue and Martialla said that roaming the streets like Hensel and Gretel (I always forget that birds came and ate their trail of crumbs, I wonder why that expression caught on since it didn’t work in the fable) would do no good, and in any case the Shadow Lords weren’t likely to kill him until later.  Thao didn’t even support me, she agreed that “probably” nothing was going to happen to her cousin until that night.

I kind of checked out while they continued talking about the best way to sell the Burlington Industries murder suit to maximize profits and minimize risk.  LBK doesn’t speak French, and even though they’re Canadian, Blue and Martialla don’t have real strong English (how does that make sense?) and the Tower of Babel stuff was getting old, so I chain smoked crappy cigarettes and drank crummy Chinese beer that seems to come in a “can” made of paper instead of paying much attention to what they were saying.

My grandmother would be very disappointed in me being sullen and withdrawn just because things aren’t going my way.  I loved her dearly but she was a hard woman.  It would have been nice if I had another grandmother who was more the nurturing sort to balance things out.  I’m the leader of this group (obviously) so I should always be doing most of the talking, but I found myself sinking further back into my chair and wondering how the Tropics are doing this year.  I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  

I haven’t even been in Madripoor for two months but it feels like I’ve been here forever.  And I don’t see any chance of getting out any time soon.  There’s no way we’re getting that money, I just know we won’t.  Something will happen.  When we try to sell this stupid robot suit, Mr. X or Superkill Shadow Lord or someone else I’ve pissed off is going to attack us.  And then some other supervillain asshole crimeboss is going to show up while we’re fighting them and steal the suit.  And then use it to give me tinnitus or an itchy rash on my thighs or some other damn thing to annoy me all day every day.  I started wallowing in self-pity and it’s challenging to pull out of a good wallow.  

While I was wallowing, I had a thought.  That Stars and Stripes jerk who showed up during the fight – who was he and what was he doing there?  Blue told me that a group called the New Founding Fathers are the ones that supered me up – a dude with an America flag chest seems like the sort that would be associated with a group like that.  Maybe this is some kind of field test of my powers and he’s been watching me this whole time.  Maybe the whole thing is a set-up.  I started peering suspiciously over my beer at everyone and wondering who else might be in on it.  I need some weed to calm my nerves.  Of course, they probably don’t even smoke weed in Madripoor, they probably smoke something like weed that’s made from sea urchin venom or some bullshit that gets you high but also causes violent cramping.  Stupid Madripoor.

Eventually it was time to go save Elvis so I had to pull myself out of my funk.  Martialla found some clothes that she put on OVER her wetsuit like a lunatic.  I think that thing is melded to her sick fish-flesh, she never takes it off.  How does she pee?  And she wasn’t even getting dressed to try and blend in, she just wanted someplace to hide her guns.  Blue didn’t even bother, he had an AK (or whatever) in his hand – which is actually fine in Madripoor.  How does he even pull the trigger with his giant lizard fingers?  He must use the claw.  Which seems fiddle.  LBK didn’t need any guns of course, since his hands are registered as deadly weapons with the deadly weapon registration bureau.  

I let Blue and Martialla go first (“taking point” as they called it) and I drifted back with LBK so I could feel normal for a minute.  Just a foreign lady and her friend out for a stroll.  I asked him how he came to speak English and he said that he went to a British School in Manilla before it was taken over by Japan.  We chit-chatted amiably for a while and then he confided in me that he got his powers from a mystical jungle rooster that was fifteen feet high.  So much for normal.

When we got to the noodle house, the woman in a red Cheongsam that was running the place acted like asking to speak to a dishwasher was stranger than the fact that we were there at all.  A giant blue lizard with a machine gun and a fish-woman walk into your restaurant and what fazes you is that they want to talk to the help?  She told us that we couldn’t talk to Elvis just then on account of he was washing dishes but she’d send him out on his break.  

I was only too happy to take a seat and start shoveling mie goreng into my maw and hammering bintang beer.  Blue and Martialla are used to it but LBK watched with fascination/horror.  The fact that my super-metabolism seemingly makes it impossible for me to get drunk really makes me try that much harder to get drunk.  I think I had four dozen beers that night.  I didn’t even get a buzz.

Fun fact, even though he’s huge, Blue hardly eats anything.  I guess lizards need far less food than mammals.  I don’t even know what Martialla eats, she probably sucks slime off the bottoms of ships or something like a catfish.  When my twentieth plate of noodles arrived, Blue gave me a concerned look (I think, lizard facial expressions are tough to decipher even for someone as emotionally keyed in as me).

“How are we going to pay for all of this?”

I ducked my head at LBK and talked around a mouthful of noodles “The new guy pays, it’s like an initiation.”

Lim seemed like he was going to say something but just then Elvis came over to our table.  He looked clean for once and grinned at the sight of me.  I never noticed before that he’s actually pretty handsome.  Or maybe that was the forty-eight beers talking.  

He wiped his hands on a towel and then threw it over his shoulder “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

I managed to stop eating for a second “We’re here to rescue you.”

He smiled slightly “From washing dishes?”

I shook my head “No, this is serious, the Shadow Lords say they’re coming for you tonight.”

He nodded “Yeah, I heard about that.  Ela, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, there’s always someone gunning for me.  I’ve learned the appropriate response is just to live my life.  I live the way I like and I’ll die the way I’ll die.  I get threatened all the time.”

“I think they mean it this time.”

He looked over at the other people at the table “So you came to defend me?  I barely know you, these other people I don’t know at all.”  

I gestured “These are my friends.” I pointed at LBK “Except him, he just glommed onto us like a slug.”

LBK threw his hands up “You told me to come!”  

“Nobody told you to follow fish-lips back to our secret lair from the robbery.”

“Secret lair?  It’s a bar in touristville!”

Elvis smiled “And you all came out to risk your lives for me?  I’m touched, truly.  But it’s not necessary.  However, if you want to protect me at a few bars after I get off work, that sounds great.  In fact, I was hoping I would see you, I’ve been working on a little surprise for you.”

Macendamandel 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Yesterday’s swimming and beast-drowning reminded me of one of my grandmother’s favorite bits of wisdom – you can’t swim for someone else.  You can carry them for a little while but if they can’t swim on their own and you try to hand oto them all that happens is you both end up drowning.  I carried Martialla for a little while when we first met, but she could definitely swim on her own after that.  So why did she stick around?  If we had gone after Beltian Kruin right away she would have needed my help but not now.  After all the shit we went through now she’s fully capable of melting that skinny pigfucker to slag without even breaking a sweat.  While I’ve been slogging up this damn river she may have done it already.  He could be dead, which would cause a problem with my list.  But she stayed around because it’s always more fun to execute a degenerated piece of shit with your best buddy. 

I’m mildly disgusted with myself for mooning over her like a jilted lover but this isn’t anything I’ve experienced before.  I never had a friend so I never lost a friend.  I don’t know how to do it.  In my weakest of moments I think that maybe she’s just mad at me right now and we’ll cross paths again some day and then we’ll be friend again.  That feeling makes me more than mildly disgusted with myself because that’s like a child mewling for their parents to fix everything for them.  I did what I did and what happened happened, there’s no sense in being moody and emotional about it.  And yet, here I am doing just that.  Perhaps I haven’t hardened myself as much as I think.  I should work on that.

Another thing I need to work on is picking up the Gods damned pace getting to Gib’s Tor.  When I was sleeping last night I could tell that whatever dream shenanigans are going on my side is starting to lose their grip.  By my side of course I mean the horrible nightmare creature that wants to prolong my suffering instead of killing me now.  You know that.  I’ve only been headed upriver a few days now but it seems like forever.  I get this sentiment whenever I have to walk a long ways in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Why couldn’t the ancient empress had the good graces to die and have put her mortal remains in a more convenient location for me?   Just once I would like to be sent scaring off after some wild goose that happens to but just across town.  Just once.

Of course since I wanted to move quickly today it started raining.  Hard enough that I found some scabby hackberry trees to sit under and feel sorry for myself instead of forging ahead.  I wish I had some booze because nothing goes better with self-pity than alcohol.  I can’t even remember the last time I had a drink.  Now there’s a revolting development. So instead I enjoyed the lovely view of the new terrain that pops up after you cut down a forest.  Obnoxious little nettle bushes, heath, poppies, and other ugly crap like that.  There’s some kind of rule in nature that the tough hardy plants and animals are all unpleasant looking, makes you wonder how the fragile beautiful stuff makes it through.  Luckily for me I’m both tough and dazzlingly lovely.  Lucky for you too. 

The brown prickly landscape wasn’t improved at all by the rain turning everything to mud.  As the rain kept falling I saw hundreds of locust looking things crawling out of the wet earth to start scampering around.  Truly nature is a disgusting miracle.  As I sat there getting wetter, madder, and thirstier I realized that I was staring at something in the mud.  It was too straight to be anything natural but it was buried enough that I couldn’t tell exactly what it was.  I glared at it for a good hour before I decided to get even more soaked my leaving the dubious comfort of my gnarly trees to see what it was.  I feel like I have spent entirely too much time lately in wet clothing.  Maybe that’s to be expected while traveling along a river but it’s still putting me in a dour mood.

What I dug out of what was more of a slimy pile of rotten debris than mud was the remains of a fan – with the silk gone leaving just the wooden handle/case with a couple metal spines jutting out of it.  It almost looked like a weapon, something you’d snap open to stab someone in the face with.  That’s not a bad idea, whenever I get somewhere civilized again I should have a thing like this made that appears to be a collapsed fan but is actually a knife.  I’m surprised there’s not already something like that.  Although I suppose the makers of tricky hidden murder tools don’t usually craft them with women in mind.  Which is a real shame because women’s apparel has so many places to hide killing tools.  You could work a short blade into a corset easily enough.  For that matter if you made a magic corset that could fly onto a man that would probably kill them on the spot.  They’re fragile you know.

I saw a scrap of cloth in the mud that I thought might be part of the fan, I don’t know why I grabbed it because it’s not like it could be fixed, but I did.  It was not part of the fan, what it was was the sleeve of a dress – I know this on account of the hand that slurked out of the gunk when I pulled on the material.  At this juncture I’ve probably seen more dead bodies than a veteran soldier mustering out of the service after twenty years.  I have absolutely made more dead bodies than even the most bloodthirsty of army grunts.  I knew a fellow in Paladore that had fought in three major battles and had gone up the ladder in five sieges and he thought that he had probably killed thirty men.  I passed that mark in my first six months of exile I’d wager.  My point is that I’m not the kind to be rattled by a corpse.

Maybe it was just my mood, or maybe it was finding someone dead in all this slop, but for some reason this one really caught a hold of my insides and gave them a good squeeze.  I didn’t jump or scream or run away or anything, it just made me depressed.  I went back to my not-very-dry tree stand and sat down and just stared at that hand from across the way.  Here was a woman that had a life.  Hopes?  Maybe.  Dreams.  Maybe.  Fears and anxieties?  For certain.  Pain and hardship?  Definitely.  But maybe some good times too.  Someone had raised her up and kept her alive and put a lot of effort into making her a person and what became of it?  This definitely isn’t a grave – they don’t bury people face down in three inches of dirt – so probably someone killed her.  Or she just fell down because she was too tired or too hungry or too sad to go any further.  And that was it.  All that time and effort and resources come to nothing.

It’s almost enough to make you reconsider a life dedicated to revenge.  To give up your dreams of carnage and just resolve to live a life worth living – a life where you grab whatever happiness you can and let the past be the past.  Let go of your anger and become free to pursue whatever you want to do with your life.  Make things better if you want.  Help people if you want.  Be selfish and drunk if you want.  Do whatever you want to do.  Almost.

The longer I stared at that hand sticking up out of the ground the more it annoyed me.  I mean she didn’t even have a ring for me to loot.  Is that inconsiderate or what?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,199,351

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  I think that’s supposed to mean that things have gone from bad to worse.  But how else are you going to get out of a frying pan but for jumping into the flames?  Being in a fire sucks (sadly I know that for a fact) but you’re one step closer to getting out of the whole mess.  Things don’t have to get worse before they get better, but they usually do.  I bring this up because as I was traveling today an animal slash monster slash beast slash whatever came charging out of the brush at me.  Not sniffing around, not giving me a look, not growling or snorting, full on murder running at me. 

Even when a human runs at you with a weapon ready to kill you in a way it’s not fully intimidating because people aren’t very graceful runners, especially when they have an ax in their hand as well.  It takes a damn good bit of coordination to actually charge at someone with a weapon and hit them.  You ever see a group of untrained soldiers try it for the first time?  Fully half of them go down faster than etcetera etcetera etcetera crass sexual comment here.

But when a dangerous animal (or whatever) runs at you it’s pretty terrifying because they’re great at running and killing things while running.  That’s their whole deal.  I’ve seen dogs loosed at people, I’ve done it myself a time or two, it’s obscene how strong and fast they are.  The thing that came me was doggish but with strong overtones of boar and weasel as well as deer-ears just to round things out.  It was lanky and somewhat ill-formed looking to the eye like a greyhound or a cheetah but guess what greyhounds and cheetahs have in common.  They’re fucking fast.  Cheetahs are much faster though, I’ve seen the evidence.  I had a split second to react and what reaction was was to jump in the river. 

You maybe be thinking “Ela, that doesn’t seem like a good idea for several reasons – it can probably swim too and you’re not a good swimmer.  Plus just yesterday you saw a giant fish-monster in that very river.”  Too true, too true.  But what you have to figure is that if I lose half my speed in the water and the boar-dog-weasel does as well it’s losing a lot more than I am.  If you have a thousand men and your enemy has ten thousand and you have an attack that will cost you both half your men you definitely should do it.  But you’re still outnumbered ten to one you say?  Sure, but you’re only outnumbered by forty-five hundred instead of nine thousand.  This is the kind of math you have to think about when you’re always on the short end of the stick like I am.  It’s amazing that I always manage to triumph given the odds against me every step of the way.

As for potential river monsters, well better the devil you don’t know.  That’s the expression right?  That long strange body that was so great at running was less great at swimming.  It was still gaining on me in the river, but it was at a much slower rate.  I was right is what I’m saying.  As it closed in I realized another good reason to be in the water – I, as a human being (a glorious example of one but still just a human woman) have hands.  It was surprisingly easy to turn and push the beast’s head under water as it came at me.  It thrashed around some, but it was rather simple to down it – I’ll have to remember that for future encounters.  One of the advantages of being a biped.  Thanks primitive humans who decided to stand upright, if you weren’t already dead already I’d really owe you one. 

The bad news, because per the laws of reality nothing can ever be an unmitigated success for me, is that during the drowning time I was swept a goodly ways down river.  It was probably more than a mile.  I’ve said it before but you always underestimate how strong the current in a river could be.  It took me maybe another half a mile of being swept to paddle to land.  When I managed to pull myself up onto shore I saw that I wasn’t alone.  Standing on the riverbank was woman with a sun-burned face despite her broad black hat wearing strange puffy pants and a ragged white shirt that looked several sizes too big for her.  Or maybe she just lost a lot of weight recently – in the upper body.  Framing her peeling face was long dark hair that looked to be both tangled and in need of a good washing.  She seemed decidedly uncurious about a woman climbing out of the river.

I nodded at her “Thanks for helping me out there.  I really appreciate it.”

“Is that a cape?”

“It’s a cloak, for hunting vampires.  Vampire are the ones that wear capes, the people that hunt them wear cloaks.  Vampires hold their capes out like wings to turn into bats, vampire hunters wear cloaks so they can wrap them around themselves and turn into shaggy mountain dogs.”

“Is that a true story?”

“It’s certainly true that it’s a story.  What brings you out this way?  You don’t look like a Kostelos horsewoman.  Did you try to commit suicide and then get swept upriver to become a priestess to a minor God?  Or are you from the convent?  Or are you from the military ship?  For a land that’s supposed to be empty I seem to be running into a lot of people.”

“Neva Firare.”

“What’s that?  That doesn’t tell me anything.”

“That me, that’s my name.”

“Huh.  Sounds like an Ulpine name.” She nodded “Are you Ulpinese?” She nodded again “Oh.  I feel like we should battle then or something since our countries are at war.  Although we’re both civilians so I’m not sure what the protocol is.”

She looked around “Am I in the Kingdom now?”

“You sure are.  At least I think that you are, I haven’t seen a map recently, but I heard that we won a big victory that knocked you dirty reject barbarians out of the war so it seems unlikely that you would have seized territory this far north.”

She continued to peer at landmarks “I was told that we were winning the war.”

“That’s propaganda for you, I can assure you that you’re not though.  My government tells me the truth.”

“That’s disconcerting.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for my husband.  What were you doing in the river?”

“Drowning a deadly beast.  In addition to being a vampire hunter I’m also a general slayer of monsters.  And a spycatcher, but don’t worry I only catch Vieland spies.  Frankly I was told that the Ulpine were too stupid and primitive to have an espionage arm.  No offense.”

“None taken.”

“You’re not a spy are you?”

“Not that I know of.  Was the beast you killed something like a wolf?  I was just at a village where they were saying everyone was being killed by a canine beast that was something like a wolf.  Only longer.  And immune to arrows they said.”

“It was something like a wolf.  Good thing I drowned it instead of trying to shoot it eh?  You think they would pony up a reward of some kind for killing it?  A reward worth finding and dragging the carcass out of the water?”

She shrugged “It didn’t seem like they had much to give anyone, even themselves.  There’s not a lot out here for them to have to give.  Makes you wonder why we’re even fighting over this land.”

“That’s just how nations pass the time, it’s like knitting for people, or getting drunk – it’s a hobby.  I mean what else are they going to do?  Public works projects?  So what’s the story with your husband?  Is he a soldier?”

She shook her head “No, but they sent him to fight anyway.  I got letters for the first few months, then after the Battle of Gevudan I didn’t hear from him anymore.  I thought he was killed or captured or maybe just lost.  I don’t know what I thought, I just want to find him.”

“Gevudan?  There’s been no battle there, also that’s a ways to the south.  How long ago did the letters stop coming?”

“How long has the war being going on now?”

“Difficult to say exactly when the previous war ended and this one got spun up but I’d say at least three years now.  Give or take.”

“Probably about two years then.”

“And you’ve been wandering around the border all this time?!”

“It’s been . . . . . difficult.”

“I would fucking imagine!”

I was thinking how mad she must be when I realized that I didn’t have to imagine, I had been wandering around for almost two years myself.  And even though her husband is one hundred percent likely dead her quest is probably less of a longshot than mine is.  It’s an odd feeling when you’re about to judge someone very harshly and then realize that their behavior is the same as yours almost exactly.   Self-awareness, it’s a sneaky bitch.

“Well, good luck finding your husband I guess.  You must really love him huh?”

“Actually he’s an asshole, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Good Gods woman, that is about the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,199,351

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Mede 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

How often do you do things without understanding your own motivation?  I assume not often, otherwise you’d be crazy I suppose and I don’t talk to crazies.  Last night I had one of those moments.  I decided to spend the night downstairs – you know, in the creepy hidden basement with human-sized cages in them.  Sophoniba wasn’t strong enough to haul them up the stairs and in any case they wouldn’t even fit through the trap door – which begs the question how did they get down here in the first place?  Did the guy bring them down first and then build the cabin over it later? 

People doing horrible things is bad enough but the amount of planning and foresight that goes into some of those things is truly disturbing to ponder.  As I said I don’t know why exactly I did this but I laid down in one of the cages and tried to imagine what it must have been like for those victims.  Which wasn’t hard since I had been in a cage in a basement waiting to potentially be eaten not that long ago.  It’s quite the miracle that I’m still alive.  I wonder which God loves me or hates Duke Eaglevane that much.

Ironically the only God I can think of that would support my roaring rampage of revenge is Kralten and I doubt the Lord of Hate has that kind of sense of humor.  Sophoniba applied some magic healing to Martialla to supplement her poultice and after a hearty breakfast of radish mush we were ready to go.  Sophoniba told us that if we headed southeast through the woods we should come across the Scale River and there would likely be a barge or something we might be able to hop on rather than slogging the whole way on foot.  As we were about to leave the cabin in the woods I had a few final words for the wise woman.

“I’m not used to people helping me without an agenda, I feel somewhat off balance.”

“Shay helped you without expecting anything in return too.  I think if you look through the world with less cynical eyes you’ll find that it happens more often than you realize.”

“Aren’t you the one who moved into an isolated cabin in the woods because you’re sick of the world and everything in it?”

“Yes, however I’m pretty sure that out of the two of us I’m the one what has more hope for the future.”

That seems like an unfair conclusion to me.  I have plenty of hope for the future – otherwise why would I be doing this?  After I ruin the lives of thirty to forty people everything should be great for me.  I have a hard time imagining a more optimistic outlook on life than that.  They say that having a goal to work towards really helps you keep a positive attitude and they’re certainly right.

As we made our way through the woods we saw a stag beetle as big a horse crashing through the underbrush.  How do things like that even exist?  Is there enough rotting wood to support one of those things let alone enough to support an entire species?  Don’t even get me started on chimeras – you have to find enough grass for a giant goat, enough meat for a giant lion, and enough virgins for a dragon?  Impossible.

It was late in the day when a little sparrow flew up to us and started talking.  No preamble, no warning, just flew up and started talking like that was a normal thing.  Since I can talk to animals anyway I had no issue with this but Martialla was a little stunned – which is odd in my opinion since she’s a sorcerer.  When you can make illusions and mess with people’s heads why would you be taken aback by a simple talking animal?  You just never know how people are going to react to things do you?  The bird settled on a tree branch at about eye level to address us – it’s voice tiny and piping but quite audible.

“Good afternoon ladies, might I trouble you for a moment of your time?”

“Why of course, what can we do for you?”

 “I was on my way to see Sophoniba to ask her for aid on behalf of a friend of mine but you two ladies look like highly capable individuals so maybe you can help.  How would you feel about rescuing a fair maiden from the clutches of an evil wizard?”

“I do hate wizards and am at least somewhat favorably inclined towards maidens as a default position, what’s the situation?  What kind of clutches are we talking about?”

Have you ever seen a bird look uncomfortable?  I have now.  “I shouldn’t care to say, it’s not proper behavior.”

“Oi, one of those huh?  What do you think Martialla are you up for killing a perv?

She blinked “Is that bird talking?”

“Alright, let’s go.”

Our new bird friend led us to a rocky ridge of sorts that we had quite a time traversing. My Slippers helped a bit but it turns out that they don’t have a lot of juice in them, and Martialla had no aid at all – neither one of us being overly great at climbing it made for a harrowing afternoon.  This was made all the worse when we got up on the ridge and saw that to the south there was a very easy path up to the top.  I suppose you can’t blame a bird for not knowing the best path for walkers.  After making it up we took a moment to rest and I asked the bird if the wizard had minions but it didn’t seem to know what I was getting and trying to explain quickly got frustrating so I gave up on that – we’ll find out soon enough.

The home of the alleged adductor wizard was a round observatory type structure that looked wildly out of place in the middle of the woods.  As always when comforted with this kind of thing I wonder how it got built – can you just magic up a whole building?  Doesn’t seem like you can.  But how are you going to get a team of carpenters out here in the middle of nowhere?  I guess if you’re the kind of wizard that kidnaps maidens you can kidnap carpenters too.  Funny, I never hear about anyone going to rescue a middle aged carpenter though.  Not like ‘haha’ funny but you know what I mean.

Martialla turned invisible and I knocked on the door which was opened immediately, like the buy behind it had been standing there waiting for someone to knock.  He was kind of a squirrely looking fellow, even for a wizard, but his blue robe was extravagant as you like – and I mean real class not the gaudy crap with dumb symbols on it that your arcane types normally go for.  Over his shoulder I saw there was just one large central room kind of divided into four sections by bookshelves – there was a massive telescope in one, and in another were several women strapped to bizarre copper machines.

“Wow, you’re not even trying to hide what you’re doing are you?”

He looked around suspiciously as if expecting someone else “Who are you?  What do you want?!”

I flashed my tax collector’s badge “Bollina Simmas sir, this is official Kingdom business.  Are you aware of the tax on kidnapping maidens in this jurisdiction?  I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you aren’t because otherwise that would mean that you were intentionally withholding funds from the Queen and you would never do that would you sir?”

“No, I . . . can I see that badge?”

“Of course sir.”

I handed it over and he peered at it intently, turning it over and over before eventually giving me a sly look and then casting a spell on it – whatever happened it made his face fall and he mumbled something I couldn’t make out as he handed it back.

“Taxes huh?  Yes, well, I suppose we must all pay our fair share.  Do come in please.  I’m not mad at you personally but this is exactly the kind of thing that made me move out of the city in the first place.  Always there some regulation or other that you’re in violation of, only certain kinds of magic allowed here and there and zoning issues and paperwork.  I thought that I had gotten away from all that out here, but I guess not.”

“No sir, the Queen has agents everywhere.  I am curious how you managed to build this structure all the way out here.”

“It’s simple really . . .”

I never got to find out what was so simple about it because that’s when Martialla’s rapier burst out of the man’s chest.  The weird thing about it was that it didn’t go through the front of his robe – the robe popped out like he was pointing at me with a massive nipple.  As her invisibility faded Martialla slashed his throat for good measure – and I mean deep.  With that cut you could probably have pulled the guy’s head off if you worked hard enough on it.  He dropped to the ground into a quickly expanding pool of his own blood.  It just goes to show you that hokey religions and mystical nonsense don’t mean much when you have a dagger at your throat.  I wonder if you ever can get magic enough that a good old fashioned backstabbing doesn’t bother you.  I glanced at Martialla.

“Well, that was easy.”

The hard part was what came next.  The bird started frantically flying around and chirping by one of the women, I don’t suppose I can blame it for forgetting it can talk – it was pretty grim over there.  The contraptions looked vaguely like a spinning wheel with little black circles standing out in stark contrast to the shiny copper.  There’s no motivation in the world that could have induced me to touch those black circles but to the eye they looked like they were some kind of thick oil suspended inexplicably.  In addition to the myriad of straps designed to keep the victims in place there was a brass nozzle of sorts that went in the mouth, right next to this part was a small vial about the size of a small vase.  The woman the bird was fluttering around was still alive, the others weren’t so lucky – or maybe they were the lucky ones.  They were discolored a sickening shade of gray and they seemed to have shrunk about twenty percent – their hair and nails here completely gone and their lips, eyelids, and ears were barely more than hints of what was.  By each of the dead women the glass tube was filled with a greenish gas that spiraled around of its own volition.  Life energy?  Essence?  Souls?  Who the Hells knows?

“This is pretty fucked up right here.”

“Do you ever wonder why we bother, why we don’t just put an end to this sad joke we call life?  If this is what’s going on in the world what is even the point?”

“It’s a funny old world for sure. We rarely think about the point except in those situations when we question if there is one. Is there a point? What is the point of getting up in the morning? What is the point of a moth bursting from its chrysalis and fluttering off to find a bat to mate with? What is the point of going to eating, of working, of killing you enemies, of being kind, of asking for wine instead of whiskey of riding a horse through a grassy meadow, of training a dog to hunt down criminals? 

We have no objective, irrefutable, immutable point that drives us all except, perhaps, the point of keeping our worlds in the states we are satisfied with. Anything that lives, in order to continue living, must do this. The business of keeping experiences constant in the context of changing environments is a process of control. There is no creature that is separate from the process that does the controlling. The creature itself is a control process.

So the point is control, and the point of control is to continue controlling by keeping any difference between the standard and the experience as small as can be.  If making lots of gold has a point to you then you’ll follow that point. If there’s a point to you in growing orchids then there’s a point. For different people at different times there’s a point to: putting your name down on the roster march off to war for the Kingdom; or making the world a better place; or restoring your damaged reputation; or tatting a lace handkerchief edge.

Points are highly individualized. You can’t give a point to another person or tell them what their point should be, but sometimes people can establish points based on what they’ve learned from others. And there is no inherent pointiness in anything or anyone. The point exists in the mind of the controller. It is the restorer who creates and experiences the point. 

Those people who are not bothered by the point of it all will just keep on going, controlling whatever is in their mind to control. Some people, however, occasionally lose sight of their point, or forget what it was, or wonder if they ever had one anyway. At times, these points will pull you in different directions, leaving you feeling stretched, or stuck, or defeated.”

“What a load of crap.”

“It sounded good though.”

We had a hell of a time getting the one survivor extracted from the machine, it was clearly not designed with any thought of anyone ever being taken out.  A bird hysterically trying flying around our heads didn’t help either.  In the end we had to try and cut her out which was tricky because of how tight the straps were, even then had a Hells of a time.  Once we had her free we sent the bird to fetch Sophoniba, Martialla and I aren’t any kind of healers and this woman had some seriously wrong things happen to her.  Thankfully she was unconscious.  Martialla and I were putting around the building looking at the assorted wizard jumble and trying to ignore the dead women when I saw a massive humanoid with emerald scales and a bizarre rhino-like horn come through the doorway.  It looked like a dragon in human shape but I’ve never heard of such a thing.

“Hello?”

The beast saw the wizard dead on the floor and roared in a pale imitation of a true dragon but it was still plenty to scare the shit out of me, not to mention leave me half deaf.  It charged with grasping claws and snapping jaws and I dodged around a bookcase, swiping at him with my Lion claws – it had about as much effect as a house cat swatting at bear.  As it slashed at me I was able to knock the bookshelf over on it which slowed it down long enough for Martialla to try and put it to sleep with her magic – which had no effect.  Have I mentioned lately how much I hate magic?  The dragon creature hurled the bookcase into me, knocking me back into the wall and down to the ground both dizzy and breathless.  As it came forward I threw a sheaf of papers into its path, blinding it for just long enough for Martialla to dart in with a stab from her rapier. 

In the chaos of Martialla and I used my Walking Stick to weaken some manner of large iron orrery and was able brace myself against the wall and push it with my legs until it collapsed over and smashed into the dragonman.  He was pinned for a moment and Martialla stabbed at him mercilessly but he still managed to drag the ironworks off of him and toss them aside, getting back to his feet.  Martialla turned invisible but he could sense her somehow and slashed her with his claws.  I tried to entangle him with my Scarf but he ripped it to shreds without any trouble.  With little else left to do I attack with claw and Walking Stick, and for my trouble he clamped his jaws down on my upper arm.  The pain was excruciating and I immediately felt all the energy drain out of me, it was so intense that I felt paralyzed for a moment.  But that gave Martialla a chance to stab him in the lower back and he instantly went down like a marionette with cut strings – she must have severed his spine. She helped pull me out from underneath his corpse and back to my feet.  I looked around at the insanity.

“What the fuck was going on here?

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .078% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,829 gold

XP: 316,251

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, +1 Human Bane Dagger, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Ela’s Walking Stick (Rod of Ruin/Agile Alpenstock) Bag of Concealment, Bag of Holding, Black Marketers’ Bag, Handy Haversack, white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Knave’s Robes +4

Pocketed Scarf, wrist sheath, assortment of Fake Signet Rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), 842 garnets, severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, receipt, tax collector’s badge, Gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, 5 gold trade bars, 3 diamond in amber coins, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant

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

Behind the curtain: Ela hit 13th level, taking another level of Rogue (Phantom Thief).  She took Extra Rogue Talent as her feat and Hard Minded as that talent.  There’s a lot of debate about if Extra Rogue Talents allows you to take an Advanced Rogue Talent or not, I would say that it probably doesn’t as written but I would allow it my game so I’m going with it. For those of you keeping track. 

Mathanaya 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Patterns rule our lives.  There’s a pattern to what we do, what we eat, where we go, what we say.  People with mental problems don’t have a pattern, or rather they probably do but it’s one that we can’t understand, and that’s why people are so frightened of them.  As long as there’s a routine, a design, people can adjust to anything – no matter how horrible.  But break that pattern and they tend to go off the deep end.  And that’s all fine as long as you’re living the pattern and not thinking about it.  When you think about it that’s when things start to get weird.

Here I am again slogging through a wet forest, slipping in mud, get tangled in branches, and my ears.  They are so cold.  I now retroactively hate any man I’ve met with a shaved head – why would anyone do this to themselves?   I thought fingers and toes were the worst but no, it’s the ears.  Fucking bald fucks, I hate them all.  And what’s at the end of this journey?  A warm bed?  A roaring fire?  Fine liquor?  A hot meal?  Sparkling conversation?  Contentment?  Happiness? Justification? No.  None of that.  Violence.  And blood.  Sometimes I wonder if there is nothing else, if all the rest of it is pretend, if we’re just monkeys playing dress up fantasizing we’re anything other than backbiting animals. 

I think the problem is that I haven’t been drinking enough lately.  I feel like it’s been weeks since I had a drink.  I’m starting to daydream about it.  I was just about to talk to a wine-seller when Martialla distracted me with all her talk about slavery.  If it wasn’t for her I could be taking a sip of Dreamcaster Red right now to warm me up.  What is her deal anyway?  Why has she attached herself to me like a barnacle?  What’s her angle?  What does she want from me?  Is she the world’s most misguided social climber?  I’m going nowhere.  She has to be dumb as Hells not to realize that.  Wine denying whore.  I started starring at the back of her head as we stumbled up a leaf-covered hillside and imagining driving my dagger into it. 

And this so-called tracker, what’s his story?  Leading two women out into the woods like this.  He’s probably some kind of reprobate.  A smuggler and a poacher for sure – why else would be out here in this Hellscape?  And that’s just for starters.  He probably brings his victims out here for whatever kind of sexual perversions he inflicts on the wretches before he tortures them to death.  I’ll have to keep my eye on him, wait for him to make his move, because Gods forbid that I do anything about it before he tries to cut my tits off.  Because then I’m just an overacting emotional woman. 

Sometimes I hate being a woman.  Everything I do scrutinized, everything I say questioned – when I can manage to get a word in edgewise.  I can’t decide which is worse, they eye-raping I used to get constantly before my hair got burned off or the looks of derision and disgust that I get now.  I might as well be a three headed orc the way they look at me now.  Filthy animals, always watching me, judging me, waiting to pounce on anything I say or do. 

What’s the point of this?  What’s the point of anything?

“Are you okay?”

It took me a moment to realize that Martialla had turned back and asked me something – she looked concerned.  I grunted a response.

“You look like you’re freezing.  Your lips are blue.”

“That’s the fashion these days.”

Martialla looked at the tracker “Maybe we should stop and take a little rest.  Build up a fire maybe, warm ourselves up a bit.”

I wanted to bark at her that we had no time for dawdling, that we needed to keep pushing forward, but the words wouldn’t come.  I just stood there until Martialla took me by the hand and lead me over a dry spot where the tracker had a fire going in about thirty seconds flat.  I stared at the flames with envy.

“Remember that time we tried to get a fire going for hours and never could?”

“I do, we’re not really the outdoors type.”

“You can say that again.”

“I know that you don’t need to sleep but maybe it wouldn’t hurt if you laid down for a while and got some rest.”

I snorted “You want me to put my head in your lap like a damn baby?  Are you going to stroke my hair and sing songs to me?’

“If you want.”

I waved her off angrily but the next thing I knew I was waking up on Martialla’s bedroll by a small by merrily burning fire.  I did feel better than I had trudging about that morning until I realized that Martialla and the tracker were gone.  This was their plan all along!  Abandon me here to die.  Just like the Duke’s wife did in Graltontown.  Only this time it’s probably going to work.  That was the Duke’s wife’s mistake – leaving me in a city, if you can even call Graltontown that – I know how to operate in a city.  You can’t take me down in a city.  But these two did it right.  Take me out in the middle of the wilderness where my skills are useless and leave me to get eaten by a man-bear or just starve to death.  Sneaky fuckers.  I almost admire them. 

I was plotting my revenge when Martialla and the tracker came back holding some weird orange colored roots.  I told them we should get going but Martialla said that a few more minutes couldn’t hurt.  The tracker set up a pot over the fire which he filled with water and brought to a boil with the roots in it along with some other stuff they tossed in.  As they were stirring the mixture I’m pretty sure Martialla did some magic – for that matter I think the tracker did too!  Is everyone magic but me?  Martialla poured some of the now reddish liquid into a tin cup and handed it to me. 

“Jopha says that this should make you feel better.”

Apparently that’s the trackers name.  Jopha.  What kind of name is that?  Probably that’s not even his real name.  I grumbled, but I did take the probably poisoned beverage and took a sip.  It was slightly bitter but it didn’t have much taste at all.  It did make me feel good though.  It wasn’t like warmness went through my body, it was more like everything unclenched – like my muscles had all been held in tension for a long time and I wasn’t able to relax until just now.  It’s hard to describe exactly, I just felt better.  Jopha wandered off again and Martialla leaned against a tree across the fire from me.

“You hide it well but you’re pretty frayed right now aren’t you?  You should stop to smell the daisies once in a while.”

“Isn’t the expression smell the roses?”

“I never cared for roses.  I don’t know your whole story, but I know more of it than anyone else – you’ve been through a lot.  A lot a lot.  Have you ever thought about taking a break from this revenge business?”

“I would if some catastrophe didn’t befall me every five minutes.”

“Would you?”

“No.  I can’t.  My position doesn’t get stronger, it get weaker.  And my enemies aren’t standing still, they’re out there making themselves tougher, harder for me to get at.  It’s a race, one that I started way behind and every second I don’t try to catch up is a second that I get even farther behind.  And I was already impossibly far behind to begin with.”

“That sounds like a hard course to travel.  Have you heard that living well is the best revenge?”

“Of course, that’s why the third act of every opera is about someone living well.” 

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0075%

Funds: 900 platinum, 4251 gold

XP: 234,561

Inventory:  Pathfinder’s Gear (white) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Gem of Brightness, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Holy Symbol of Kozilek, Ruby (2), Black Marketers’ Bag, 879 Garnets

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, Gibson attackers