Montresor 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I wasn’t expecting Grigori to come through with much of anything.  I figured that at best he’d come back with some hallucinogenic bullshit for me to drink and then if I took it he’d claim that whatever I experienced was the dream quest against the nightmare witch.  But surprisingly he came through with some actual magic.  It wasn’t a big production of any sort either – wizards usually seem to need a lot of circles drawn on the ground and runes and silver powders and mummified alligator heads and all kind of shit to do their job.  Grigori just came back into camp sometime after the moon was bright in the sky looking even more haggard than usual.  Or at least what I know as usual for him.  He asked me if I was ready, I said sure, and he made with the magic words and hand waving and next thing I knew we were there.

“There” in this case being a complex that appeared to be made out of some kind of shiny purple stone.  I’ve never seen anything like it, but I suppose that should go without saying when you’re in the mind-fortress of a dream haunting nightmare beast from beyond time and space.  The general layout was a central large circle with four smaller circles bolted on in kind of a square pattern.  If you’re ever looked at an architectural drawing of a castle it was that same layout on a smaller scale – you got the middle part and then the four towers crouching alongside.  Anyway I suppose the design doesn’t really matter so much.  

I glanced over at Grigori “Are we really here or is this a dream?”

“Uhhh, both?  We’re in the dream realm.”

I scowled “But we were actually physically here or are we asleep and this is a dream?”

“The realm of dreams is not well studied.  Where we are is a demiplane of nightmares that exists beyond the dreamlands, where dark visions overlap into a strange reality spawned by the dreams of mysterious beings . . .”

“Don’t give me that bullshit!  I’m not in the mood for wizardly vagueness about realms and dimensions and the subjective nature of reality. “

He halfway smiled “Given where we are I think you’re expecting a little too much in requesting a straight answer.  What else can I say when we’re literally inside a dream?”

“What I expect is for one fucking magic user to know what is going on one time.  You people are bending reality and you don’t have any clue what you’re even doing.”

“Back off lady, you act like we’re alone in that.  No one knows anything.  Why does the sun shine?  Why does grass grow?  No one knows.  How does a ship float on the water?  Don’t act like we’re the only ones with no answers.”

“There’s some very basic science about why a boat floats.”

He snorted “Sure, science.”

Circle one was full of cages, crow cages I think they call them, where the cage just a set of bars joined together in a tube shape slightly bigger than a person.  They’re not cages for crows you see, you put people in there and I guess the crows peck their eyes out.  Why do birds love eyes so much?  Are they delicious or are they just easy to eat with their stupid beaks?  Get a mouth already birds so you can eat something good.  It was hard to tell how many cages there were because the front dozen or so were occupied.  The occupants looked for all the world like actors, I guess I say that because their clothing looked more like a costume than actual every day clothes.  You know how actors on stage always look a little off no matter what they’re wearing?  It was like that.  They didn’t reach out or beg to be rescued, they didn’t do anything – they just stared.  Their eyes were the only thing that moved, following me around.

I gestured “What’s this about?”

Grigori peered at them “Souls maybe.”

“I always assumed that soul stealers needed souls for food or used them as currency or something, why keep them here?” Grigori shrugged “Are they real?”

“I feel like if I answer that you’re going to get mad at me again.”

“Let me guess, you were going to ask me what real means.  Should we let them out?”

“How would we do that?  There’s no doors or hinges on those cages.  I don’t see any way to open them.”

I drifted away from the cage circle with the eyes of the soul remnants or whatever they were following my steps with the lifelessness of dolls.  The next circle over was a somewhat organized and somewhat chaotic alcove filled with trinkets and accoutrements, seized from her victims I assume.  The items ranged from cheap copper jewelry with clay beads to shining swords of adamantine and mithril with jeweled hilts that could bankrupt a lesser noble family.  There were common boots and “bracelets” made of twine mixed in with rich silks and platinum serving trays.  Most of it was junk, but there was some pretty good stuff in there too.  I had absolutely no desire to touch any of it.

Moving to the right at the head of the main circle (okay it was more of an oval I guess, kind of turtle shaped maybe) there was a clear pool of water and hanging above it was a large multi-faceted reddish-purple jewel, it strangely looked like a piece of junk costume jewelry for all that it was clearly very magic and important.  When I looked in the pool there was no reflection, or myself or of the jewel.   Every now and then the jewel would rotate slightly and emit a soft pulse of light.  I swear that I could feel it like a very light touch over all the exposed skin on my body.  It was . . . odd.

“So what’s this?”

Grigori was shielding his eyes as if the sun was blazing despite the room being fairly dim “That’s the main event, that’s the source of her powers.”

“How do you know what?”

“Magic.  Do you really want to get into another discussion about that?

“I do not.  So breaking this will kill her?”

“No this will strip her of many of her abilities, without this she won’t be able to travel ethereal.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“She won’t be able to enter your dreams anymore chiefly.  Probably it means her rivals will kill her too because she’s going to lose a lot of other magic stuff but there’s no way to know for sure.”

I looked around “This seems too easy.  Shouldn’t there be traps or guards or something?”

“I guess not.  We’re dealing with a creature that is basically a sentient nightmare, I’m not sure we can evaluate its motivations or speculate on what it might think is a good idea with any degree of accuracy.”

“That’s one of the most coherent things you’ve said to date.”  I retrieved my crossbow and pointed it at the jewel, then dropping it from my shoulder “I feel like I should say something here.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like the hero says before they vanquish the deadly supernatural threat ‘see you in the Hells!’ or something like that.  Not that, but something better.”

“What would be the point in doing that?”

“I don’t know, that’s what’s bothering me, she’s not even going to know that I’m the one that got her.  Maybe I could write something on the wall.  A taunt or some sort.  Do you have a pen and some ink?”

“Once you break that she’s probably not going to be able to get back her.  How about you just smash it and we get out of here.”

I raised the crossbow back to my shoulder “You have no sense of drama.”

In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought that a crossbow bolt was going to shatter the gem, although in my defense it did look very crappy.  The bolt knocked a shard off of it and then ricochet and almost hit me in the leg.  I was mildly embarrassed by the yelp I let out as I jumped out of the way.  I was startled is all.

Grigori peeped out from behind his hand “I don’t think that worked.”

“Thanks eagle eye.  Can’t you just . . .” I made a vague magic gesture.

“That’s not a good idea.  Besides, I thought you wanted to be the one to get the revenge.”

It was too far away to hit with the baron’s Cane so in the end I threw my trunk at it.  Good thing it floats.  It took three tries to smash the thing and trying to fish the trunk out of the pool each time was a pain in the ass.  It has to rank right up there on the list of the slowest and least graceful smitings of evil in the annuals of evil smiting.  Even after it was pulverized the dust and shards hung in the air above the pool, but the light stopped.

“Is that it?  Is she defeated?”

“No defeated, but her powers have been greatly diminished like I said before.”

“Huh, that wasn’t very satisfying.”

“That’s life for you.” 

Macendamandel 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I was brought nothing to eat but I don’t feel hungry – they must have this place magicked up the wazoo.  The question is does said magic actually nourish you or just suppress your hunger?  If you stay here long enough do you die of starvation without ever feeling it?  It’s a smart move, if you never interact with the guards you don’t have a chance to pull any kind of shenanigans on them.  With them?  On them.  After my alleged lawyer departed – or at least stopped speaking, he was probably still watching me on the crystal ball or whatever hoping I would get nude – I was left with nothing to do but wait.  I leafed through the religious materials briefly – mostly the usual Adariel platitudes about forgiveness and salvation but there was also a small book that seemed to be subtle literature for a death cult of some kind.  I wonder how that got in here.  I’ve always wondered why they take such pains to try and prevent criminals from killing themselves, seems like it would save everyone a lot of trouble.  If you ask me a firmly secured noose should be installed in every cell.  I guess they don’t want to rob the people of the pageantry of a spectacular public execution.  The poor people need something to cheer them up.

As has become my tradition when incarcerated I took stock of things.  On the surface it doesn’t seem like I’ve made much progress, but getting out from under the thumb of the Juosts is significant – that was really holding me back.  And I was planning on going to Three Rivers anyway so no big deal right?  I would have liked to arrive less conspicuously, that would make overthrowing the cartel that controls the place easier, but we all have to make due right?  I need to get back in the habit to disguising myself more, I’ve been walking around as myself too much lately.  Keeping track of a bunch of different identities is annoying, but if overthrowing oppressive trade unions and brutally murdering Dukes was easy everyone would do it.  There’s only so much stock taking you can stock take though and eventually I went to sleep with a wadded up prison dress for a pillow and another for a blanket.  The magical lighting dimmed, which was nice, I wonder if that syncs up with the sunset or if it’s just on a time trigger of some sort.  I wonder how much gold went into building this prison and how many people could have been saved with that money.  Probably a lot.

I slept like the dead and in the morning the wall opened back up for a succession of expert armed people and magic types to transport me from the cell to a fortified courtyard outside were a coach was waiting – these people really aren’t messing around.  You’re not going to escape from here without a goodly amount of effort.  I recognized the coach instantly – it wasn’t the exact same one but it was clearly of similar make, looks like my old friends at Lodestone Security are going to be conveying me to my show trial.  There was a whole lot of paperwork and general standing around where nothing seemed to be happening for the transfer of one solitary woman so it gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the tricky fellows from Lodestone.  There were five men standing around not in guard uniforms so I took them for the Lodestone crew – I didn’t recognize any of them but I only got a good look at two of them in our first encounter.  The two that kicked dirt in my face and called me a whore.  I chose a strapping blonde fellow with a tiny triangle of a beard who I think was the driver.

“Lodestone Security eh?”

He nodded shortly “Yes ma’am, how did you know?”

“I had some dealings with your outfit in Charterton, I recognize the modifications to your rig here.”

“You have a very good eye ma’am, we pride ourselves on being able to pass.”

“I assure you that it’s only because I know what to look for based on prior experience.  Everything went swimmingly with you chaps before, it’s quite an operation you run.  I’m glad to have you lads on my side.”

He raised an eyebrow marginally “Is that so?”

I smiled warmly “Oh yes.” I leaned in a whispered slightly “I’m not actually a prisoner, this is all a ruse you see.  I’m actually helping negotiate with the Consortium, I’m an envoy you see.  My employers figured this would be the safest way of getting me around – what with those Black Widow people causing mischief.”

He smiled faintly “Seems to be that if you were on a secret mission like that you wouldn’t mention it.”

I laughed prettily “Just so my boy, just so, however knowing Lodestone the way I do I know that I can trust you with my little secret.” I touched his hand and dropped him a sassy wink “You know how to keep a secret right?”

His smile got imperceptible wider, it wasn’t much but it’s a start – establishing rapport isn’t always as easy as I make it seem you know.  While we were waiting for whatever we were waiting for I was able to establish that Lodestone is based out of Cathars and have four such elaborate carriages in their “fleet” with two more under construction.  They’ve got a rota of close to a hundred “transportation specialists” working on various jobs at any given time.  Sounds like business is booming for them.  Also sounds like a much bigger operation that I had thought – taking them down is going to be more involved than blowing up a single coach and murdering a couple people.  But as some war criminal said, our enemies make us who we are more than anyone else in our lives.  I suppose that’s why I’m so great – I have the most deadly enemies. 

Eventually it was time to go after a lot of grandiloquent talk between the guards and the Lodestone people with “thees” and “thous” making it clear that the legal bailment had been created or discharged or whatever.  One of the other Lodestoners came towards me with shackles and I gave the maybe driver my most harmless and frightened look, with just a hint of “hey sailor” and asked if that was absolutely necessary.  He was unmoved.

“Sorry ma’am, its policy.”

He didn’t seem sorry in the least.  What a cad.  When they put the shackles on me I quickly discovered that it was worse than I thought.  The moment they turned the key on the central lock I felt a cold alien presence in my mind.  It was like a tiny little worm crawling up my back just out of reach, a worm of ice and anxiety.  I don’t mean to brag, but after the many mental assaults I’ve weathered over the past year and a half I’ve gotten pretty damn good at fighting them off.  There’s a trick to it but it’s hard to explain – it’s one of those things you have to learn for yourself.  You can tell someone how to swim – but it doesn’t mean much until they get in the water.  Kick your legs and move your arms?  That’s how you swim, that’s also how you flail around when you drown.  There’s no substitute for experience.  But despite that whatever these shackles were doing was something that you couldn’t fight off.  The force was weak, or at least it seemed so at first, but it was constant – kind of like being pressed, the pressure never lets up. 

I would equate it to a trial amongst certain Kostelos tribes.  Being the primitive savages that they are, sometimes to settle a dispute where they have a “trial” where the differing parties each hold out a basket full of rocks at arm’s length.  It only weighs ten pounds or so, but you can’t hold it forever even if it seems easy at first.  You have a limited amount of strength, gravity does not.  The magic of the shackles was like that – at first it was easy to shunt it to the side with sheer willpower.  But as the minutes and then hours went by its like holding up that basket – your arms start to shake.  You get worn down, the attack stays the same as you get weaker.  Then you start resorting to tricks – talking to yourself, breathing techniques, summoning up strong memories to help you focus – but eventually that runs out as well.  Your defiant thoughts grow silent and the tendrils of the enchantment start creeping in.

At first there was confusion, my vision seemed to swim, and then everything “clicked” into place.  I didn’t want to escape.  Why would I?  Escape would be improper.  I wanted to do whatever my captors told me to do, they knew what was right and safe for me.  And there was fear, fear that not doing what they told me was wrong.  Fear that thoughts of escape were unnatural.  You can say what you want about the things I’ve done (and will continue to do) that you think evil, but this to me is what evil really is.  In my book there’s no greater violation than bending someone’s thoughts to your will.  And you might be thinking “but you hang out with someone who does it” and I say to you – well it’s different when it happens to someone else.  They deserve it.  Probably.  Because they’re bad people.  Most likely. 

In this compliant mind-destroying haze I was loaded into the coach and happily went along my way to my doom in Three Rivers.  You’d think the bastards that made this would at least make the effect be pleasant, like being high on qat or some similar substance letting the day just drift by in an agreeable fog, but it was nothing like that.  It was more like an out of body experience – you see yourself sitting there smiling and doing nothing while “you” are screaming for yourself to move.  Honestly it’s one of the cruelest things that’s been done to me.  I’m going to find whoever made these things and I am going to do something to them.  Something bad.  Real bad. 

But wait, because the day managed to get even worse!  If there’s one thing I know it’s that things can always get worse.  At some point the door to the carriage opened and one of the Lodestoners poked their head in to tell me to go to sleep.  And I did so, sighing contentedly to be following orders.  It seemed like I had barely gotten to sleep when the dream attack began.  I was laying naked on a stone slab surrounded by grey-skinned women that had a second gaping tooth maw on their throat.  It looked they were walking around with slit throats until those horrible mouths opened.  One hand looked normal and the second hand appeared to be a legless spider – with two large vicious curved fangs functioning as “fingers”.  Their upper human mouths didn’t move but a bizarre chirping and clicking emitted from their lower slash-mouth filled with shark-like teeth.  For a moment they just stood looming over my but soon enough they started using their spider-hands to pinch and stab at my most sensitive areas.

I don’t know how this dream shit all works or what it means – I’ve told you before that when these attacks happen that it feels real.  I don’t know if it is real somehow or if your mind experiences it as if it’s real but nothing can actually happen to you or what, but the pain I felt that night was very convincing.  I screamed and thrashed and kicked at the vile women but they clamped down on me with merciless strength and held me still on the hard stone.  I heard a commanding voice tell them to stop.

“That’s enough for the moment ladies.”

I craned my neck and was able to see my visitor – the imperious looking woman with the ivory skin and the bright silver eyes.  For once she wasn’t reclining and smoking and luxuriating, she looked angry.  And I could feel her anger like a low note in the pit of my stomach.  Somehow beholding her angry look was worse than the vile creatures attacking me at her command.

She pursed her perfect lips “You’ve been hiding from me, that doesn’t make me happy.  I wanted us to be friends.”

“I wasn’t hiding from you Your Imperial Majesty, there’s a creature that haunts my dreams and wishes me ill – she’s the one that I was hiding from.”

“I’m aware of that creature, I told you that her power was nothing compared to mine – I could crush her with a thought.  Why didn’t you ask for my help?  Why did you hide?”

“I was confused, dreams are bewildering to me, I have a hard time understanding what’s real and what isn’t.  My mind isn’t strong like yours.  But I understand now, I want us to be friends.  I want your help.”

“Yes well, given the circumstances that doesn’t mean much now does it?  You’re like a thief that is repentant after they get caught.  You’re lucky that I am merciful and we can still be friends.”

“Yes very lucky Your Imperial Majesty.  Could you see it in your heart to have your servants release me so we can talk?”

She continue as if she hadn’t heard me “You must be punished however for hiding from me, for refusing me, it’s only fair – if the thief’s hand is not cut off what is their motivation to learn?  What would make you remember this lesson best?  Taking your youth?  Your beauty?  Your voice?”

“If I may be so bold Your Imperial Majesty, rather than just punish me why not also reward yourself?  As I understand it you’ve long been denied the pleasures of the flesh, why not take my body for your own?  To feel the air on your skin, to taste real food, to live again – that must be something that you would enjoy.  In the meantime you can leave me here in whatever format you choose to reflect upon my failures and how I can better serve you going forward.”

“An interesting proposition.  You were vehemently opposed to this transference before, one must wonder what has changed.”

“I’ve realized the errors of my way Mistress, I wish only to serve you now, if inhibiting my imperfect vessel for a few hours will please you that is what you should have.”

“So it shall be.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

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

Mantelderith 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I got up this morning I checked my Flask to see how the nixie (and the Flask) was doing but there was no response from her.  I dumped out a gallon of rice wine to see if she would appear, but there was nothing.  So I guess she’s dead or gone or something.  Apparently putting magic being into a magic bottomless flask of wine was not the best idea.   I’ll shoulder most of the blame on this one.  But look on the bright side, if I hadn’t come along she would have died several days ago – when you’re facing your last moments you want every second you know?  So I did a good thing. 

Today our caravan ran smack into another caravan – one of those Shireling ones you always hear about.  Although I guess if they travel around all the time they’re not from the Eight Shires and aren’t really Shirelings.  You know what I mean, they were little people.  But you know not like humans who are short, I mean they to look mostly like very short humans, but you know what I mean.  I was told one time that the reason that the Eight Shires is such a nice place is that every so often they take a whole family (and Shireling families are big) and kick them out so that they can avoid over population.  Of those not-quite-exiles some of them come into human lands to settle and mostly get treated like crap.  Others decided instead to wander eternally in nomadic caravans like this one.  It seems like an easy choice but you have to factor in how many of these caravans you don’t see because they’ve been swallowed by trolls.

Arbeven must be on a secret Halfling migratory pattern since this is the second time I’ve seen one in this area, but it was definitely not the same one.  The one that I sold a ring to lo those many months ago was a relatively small affair populated with lean hardnosed smallfolk that you kept your eye on.  This had more of a small village on wheels vibe.  Most of the wagons were pulled by robust Shire ponies but the lead wagon was instead being dragged forward by two animals that looked like hornless rhinos – not like their horns were cut off, just that they didn’t have them.  They kind of had beaky mouths too – not like bird beaks but like a turtle you know?  I never before saw whatever they were.  How do you find and tame something like that?  That wagon the not-rhinos was pulling was massive as far as wagons go, not as massive as that ridiculous merchant “land-ship” that I was once, but it looked like a Halfling hole had been dragged out of the ground and mounted on a frame. 

The Hücresel Merchant Company (all both of them) were more than happy to stop and swap at this serendipitous meeting.  It was a long enough delay for Halfling children to turn out by the wagonload running about and riding on their burly hound and playing some manner of stick-game similar to lacrosse only it seemed that you could just throw the ball as well.   Looked very much like the kind of thing that would result in human children losing an eye or two but they seemed pretty adept.  The master of the caravan, Mr. Big Jobo Hairyfoot (if I have one complaint about the Shirefolk it’s their heavy dependence on foot or feet in their surnames) was more than happy to show me to their heavily guarded (relatively speaking) premium goods. 

Jobo, who true to his name was well over four feet tall, showed me a few trinkets and charms that I had little interest in but then he showed me a long duster style overcoat that was a real find.  It was a double-breasted number with wide lapels (but not too wide) and both a storm flap and buckling straps around the wrists.  This is important to keep water from running down your forearm when you raise your arm in the rain – I HATE that.  If you’re going to make a waterproof coat you better have it seal up so water doesn’t get INSIDE of it Gods damn it!  The lining was fine piece of seamstressing and it fit me like a dream – coming down to just above the ankle, which is long enough to keep you dry but not so long that you’re getting tangled up.  I have a hard time finding lady’s coats like this that reach beyond the knee on account of I’m so tall and magnificent.  Sometimes I have to resort to a man’s coat which swallows me up like a troll eating a Halfling, but this was clearly made for a fine lady such as myself.  The horn buttons were just the icing on the cake.  It cost a fortune because it is all kinds of magic, but it was worthy it just for the style alone.  I look great in this thing.

Speaking of cake and icing, the best thing about doing business with a Halfling caravan is they invite you to lunch.  And they know how to eat well on the hoof, so to speak.  Instead of the beans and refried mush I’ve been treated to by the “cook” Hücresel Merchant Company (who’s a nice enough fellow despite being terrible at his job) Jobo invited me to his table to enjoy stuffed pork loin, poached guinea fowl, oysters and liver, wild truffle and bleu cheese salad, and a fluffy buttercream cake that had such a preponderance of icing that it made your teeth hurt just looking at it.  I have as much of a sweet tooth as the next gal, but it was a bit much for me.  I was able to manage with just some chocolate pudding pie and strawberry mousse.  It wasn’t easy but that’s why I’m renowned as being so heroic – I manage under such challenging conditions.

Once business (and lunch) was concluded the Halflings were packed up and back on the road with marvelous alacrity.  The children and dogs disappeared back into the wagons with admirable discipline and the whole caravan was underway within a matter of minutes.  I noticed then that a couple of the out-riders (or whatever you call them when they’re on foot and not riding) were humans.  I certainly didn’t notice them when it was time for happy faces and the brisk back and forth of trading.  They must be the real heavies with sordid pasts who wander the land with these folk to avoid their troubles.  There should be a series of books about that, its fertile ground for melodrama.  It took quite a bit longer for the Hücresel Merchant Company to get going even though they had a third as many wagons and one tenth as many people (although they were bigger of course).  Although I will say in their defense that everyone was stuffed to the gills with rich Halfling cuisine so they were a little sluggish.  Once again Martialla and I were perched on our boxes watching as the teamsters and drovers struggled to get things moving.

“All I’m saying is that they mostly sell to humans right?  You’d think they’d have one crossbow the right size for me.”

“I find it odd that they had crossbows at all, I’ve never known a Shireling to use one, their big thing seems to be slings.”

“Slings?  Who can you hurt with a sling?  No wonder the trolls get them all the time.”

“Have you ever been hit with a sling?”

“Of course not.”

“Well I have and it hurts.”

“But you’re still alive huh?  Ergo my point is proven.”

“You’ve been shot with a crossbow a bunch of times and you’re still alive.”

“I’ve been shot buy ever Gods damned thing under the sun it seems like.  And I am still alive but that’s not a commentary on the effectiveness of the weapons that’s a testament to my legendary fortitude.”

“I thought that was about how much you could drink and not get drunk.”

“That too.  My point is that I’m tougher than . . . something that is very tough.”

“Good one.  Tell you what, I’ll get a sling and you let me nail you between the eyes and then you tell me how you feel.”

“Do you think you could make that shot?  Slings don’t seem like very accurate weapons to me and I’m guessing you’ve never used one – I doubt you could hit me in the head at all, let alone between the eyes.  I would bet heavily against that happening.”

“I might take that bet.  How have you dreams been lately.”

I patted my Necklace fondly “Just fine since I got this baby back.”

“How do you tell the difference between a normal nightmare and when you’re being dream attacked by a hag?”

“I’d say the easiest thing to identify is that you wake up feeling like you got tramped by an angry mob and instead of feeling rested you feel even more tired – and like you might die at any moment from sheer exhaustion.  Beyond that the dreams themselves are remarkably vivid and awful.  There’s really no mistaking them for the real thing.”

“Hmm, I’m starting to wonder if some of the dream horror coming your way is being deflected onto people around you.  I’ve had some pretty bad dreams the last few nights and I’ve heard other people complaining about the same.”

“That’s a shame.”

“That’s all you got?”

I shrugged “What else do you want from me?  I’m no dreamweaver.  There’s probably a god of dreams right?  Find one of his or her priests and maybe they can help.”

“How about you just take the necklace off tonight?”

“Why on earth would I do that?”

“If you sleep without it and no one else has nightmares tonight then we’ll know that’s what’s happening.”

“And then what?  What good does that information do?”

“Well, if the hag nightmare attacks are ricocheting off your shield onto everyone else don’t you want to do something about it?”

“Something like that?  What can I do?  I did my part, I protected myself, am I responsible for everyone else’s dreams now?”

“Maybe you could force the nightmare hag into some kind of final confrontation in the dreamworld and defeat her.”

“How?  She’s the one with dream powers, I can’t do anything.  That makes no sense, why would you want to confront a monster on their home grounds?  If anything what we’d want to do is to confront them in the real world were presumably they have no power.  Or at least less power.  How am I supposed to defeat something in a dream?”

“With the power of imagination?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“I’ll think about it, maybe there’s something we can do.  I think there are some drugs you can take that are supposed to help you with lucid dreaming.”

“I know dreamer’s star tea is supposed to give you pleasant dreams but I’ve never heard of it letting you control your dreams.” 

“I was thinking of Gold pesh maybe or one of those other kinds.”

“Isn’t pesh terribly addictive and horrible for you?”

“What do you care, you smoke flayleaf all the time!”

“Not ALL the time, only when it’s available, it’s not like I seek it out.  Most of the time I don’t I mean.  And flayleaf is barely even bad for you, the Duke’s physician told me so once.  It’s basically like medicine really.  Calms the nerves.”

“So that’s why you’re so leveled headed.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

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 Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

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, dwarf journal

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