Mantelderith 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Despite my words to Martialla I did try sleeping without my defensive dream-cancelling jewelry last night to see what would happen.  I figured that if things got bad enough I could just wake up and put it back on – that’s how sleep and dreams work right?  These are the results from that experiment.  I experienced (hey, that’s where the word experiment must come from!) the usual nightmares I have when not warded against dream penetration.  In the dream I remember best I was approached by a sweet little girl who was looking for her mommy and when I took her hand to help her she transformed in the most horrifying way possible into a gigantic grotesquely fat bulbous flesh mound with more than twenty arms dragging it along and eight eyes without lids on the bottom – so they’re getting scraped over the ground like you do with eyeballs.  If you were so inclined you could that that it looked like what result would be if an angler fish and a jellyfish made sweet love and then had a baby (a jellyangler if you will) that they then threw acid on for some reason.  We won’t go into what it did to me.   

But everyone else had nightmares too – so I think we can dismiss the idea that what was happening was the bad dream death rays bouncing off me and splitting like light in a prism to infect everyone else.  So what’s the next hypothesis?  Fuck if I know.  Nothing good I’m sure.  Although that would be quite the twist if horrible night terrors were a portent of something great on the horizon.  Makes about as much sense as anything – which is to say none.  None sense.  Or Nonsense if you will.  The good news is that Melusine is still alive.  That’s really more like neutral news (or newstral if you will) but if you really like weird fey fish girls it’s good news to you.  My first evidence that something was wrong is when I went to drink from my Flask this morning and out dropped a thing that looked kind of kind of like a the top half of a seal smash to the bottom of a carp.  Other people claimed that to them it looked like a monkey and a carp but they’re crazy – it was more human looking up top than a seal normally is (unless you count seawolves weirdly) but if that’s what people think a monkey looks like then I’m the Queen of the moon.  It came spilling out with a bunch of water (not wine) and was about two feet long.  It wiped at its little ugly face with a webbed claw and looked up at me.

“Hello.”

“Uh, hi.  What are you doing in my magic Flask of limitless booze?”

“Is that what that was?” It perched up on its flippers/monkey arms and looked around “Where am I now?”

“Uh . . . . on the road to Cathars.”

“I have no idea what that means.  There’s now water around here so I hate it.  Send me back.”

I pointed the Flask at him but nothing happened “I guess I don’t know how.”

It bared grotesque little fangs “Send me back or I’ll bite you!”

“I’m not too worried about that, I think I could just stomp on you.”

It looked at me and screwed up its disgusting face in disgust “What are those?  Legs?  Gross, you’re gross.  What kind of beast are you?”

Before things could escalate further (I totally would have won, I have yet to meet the monkey-seal-carp that I can’t best in a fair fight) Melusine herself slorped out of the Flask and glomped into the dirt like a sack of afterbirth.  She grabbed the wriggling little beast with her frog web hand tossed him back into the Flask my some means unknown.  Possibly magic. 

“I thought you were dead.”

She bobbed her fishy head in a weird way that I assume is the equivalent of shaking side to side for a person “No, just exploring, that place you put me is great, it goes on forever.  I was able to find my way back to my pond.”

“How?  It’s just a flask that makes booze.  Although I guess an infinite amount of booze is pretty crazy magical when you think about it.”

“It’s not infinite, whoever told you that is lying – if you left it on all the time it would run out after a couple thousand generations.”

“What a rip off.”

“I just came to say bye and to tell you thanks.”

“And bestow a magical gift upon me?”

She looked at me for a moment “Um . . . nah.”

“I guess a good deed is its own reward.”

“No, it’s not really, but whatever helps you sleep at night.  Anyway, have a good life and death while I continue existing immortally forever.”

“You don’t have to rub it in.”

As she disappeared into the Flask I could hear her voice becoming very remote and hard to hear “Sorry the thing isn’t going to work anymore.”

“What what?!”

I tried the Flask, but she was right, it doesn’t make (effectively) unlimited amounts of rice wine anymore.  Or small amounts of magical potions.  Or even water.  It doesn’t do anything.  Well, I guess it holds liquids like any flask but it’s no longer magic.  This is some supreme bullshit right here.  I loved that Flask.  For sure more than anything I’ve ever had or any person I’ve met.  It was the best thing I ever got.  I’d rather all the nixies in the world died than for me to lose it.  All the other fey creatures too.  I don’t know why elfs and forest gnomes think they’re so cool.  Most of them are pretty fucked up and the one’s that aren’t are super annoying.  As we traveled today I was reduced to making the rounds amongst the caravaneers to rustle up some low qualities booze.  When I got back to the cart Martialla and I have been perching on like stately gargoyles I was pretty mad – when I saw that she had scrounged up a bottle of coconut honey elf wine I was madder than I’ve ever been.

“How did you get that?!”

Martialla grinned as she climbed onto our box pile “People like me better than you.”

“Improbable!”

“Yet true.  Don’t worry, I’ll share.” 

“How could this happen, I’m both more charming and more attractive than you.”

“Again true, but even when you’re trying to be down-home country-spun there’s still a bit of an upstairs downstairs sentiment about you, something with the eyes – people find that off-putting.  It’s like you think you’re better than them.”

“I am!  But I’m good at hiding it.  Very good.”

“Clearly not as good as you think you are.  Tell me something Ela, how would you describe yourself?”

“Shapely, with a saucy hint of deviltry lurking in the sparking eyes.  Add in an impertinent cast of the luscious lips and you’re really got something to write home about.”

She snorted “Shapely?  What shape is that, a skeleton?  Men like a little something they can grab onto you know – women maybe too, it’s harder for me to say what they like.  You’re like a scarecrow without enough straw in it.”

“What?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

She shook her head “No, you’re all out of proportion.  Spindly, that’s what you are.”

“Spindly!?!?! The last person who said something like that to me got stabbed to death!”

She glanced around “Say it a little louder will you?  I don’t think everyone in the caravan heard.”

“Who are you to talk anyway?!”

“Hey, I know I’m not winning any beauty prizes unless all the judges like broad shoulders and a strong chin.  Look, don’t get me wrong, you’re obviously pretty in the face, I’m just saying you could use some more meat on those bones.”

I snorted “I’ll take that under advisement.”

She peered at me closely “I don’t think you will.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: 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

Date unknown – Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I assume it’s still eight eighty-eight, I don’t know how long I’ve been down here but I don’t think it’s been six months.  Pretty sure.  Also I say down here but I don’t really know that I’m “down” anywhere, it’s probably more likely that I’m “up” in a tower or something.  I didn’t really get to know the layout Juost Manor that well, I wasn’t really here that long.  But they don’t really have a dungeon, I think I would noticed that.  Also no one really has a dungeon – those big holes in the bottom floor with the trapdoors?  Those are for storing ice.  I wonder what lunatic first started spreading the rumor that they keep people in those.  Any person that actually had a dungeon in their castle would have to be wildly insane, fabulously wealthy, and a good architect to boot because who the Hells is going to design something that impractical for you?  Don’t get me wrong, torture chambers are real, but any chamber is a torture chamber if you torture someone in it.  It’s just a place you store your pokers and gougers really.

Where I am is dark, and the floor and walls and stone, so maybe it is a secret dungeon.  The ceiling is high enough that I can’t touch it.  On the other hand it’s perfectly dry and I’m given to understand that dungeons are damp.  Nor is there any moldy straw on the floor or the scuttling of rats which I’m given to understand are necessities for a dungeon.  Also there’s no sadistic yet easily tricked guards to tell me that escape is impossible and then get clobbered while I’m escaping the next day.  It’s probably just a storeroom they cleared out.  Or maybe it was already empty but it seems very much like a storeroom.  It’s certainly dark, they nailed that part.  There’s something very melancholy about realizing that your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and there’s simply nothing to see.  Unless you’re in a cave it’s pretty hard to emulate total darkness but they managed it.  Kudos to them on that.

Sadly I don’t even have a great story on how I got here.  I didn’t ride into Juost Manor full of righteous indignation, there was no verbal confrontation with the Baron where I told him his mind was overthrown, no cruelly smiling Kostelos witches, no shameful weeping from my betrayer with my cousins begging for my release from the sidelines.  What happened is once we got within sight of Alleene we halted for a moment and Martialla took off my shackles.  Despite her earlier words when this started she did apologize for stabbing me in the back and explained unhappily that she had to do what was best for her and since I was doomed to failure anyway she made the decision to switch sides.  She even claimed that she regretted it now, but there was no turning back.  She didn’t ask for understanding or for my forgiveness of her actions, she just wanted to share one last drink with me.  She didn’t expect that we’d ever have the chance again, regardless of what happened.  She took out a bottle of Oldlaw whiskey and we toasted to friendship as we locked eyes and both understood if we ever met again it would be with knives in hand.

A few minutes later I started to feel groggy.  I don’t know how she did it, but she poisoned me, I guess she probably put poison in my cup before she poured.  That fucking bitch got me twice.  That almost bothers me more than being stuck in this lightless hole.  Fool me once, etcetera.  People unfamiliar with human nature wonder how known bounders and scoundrels keep conning people – with their reputations how can anyone believe them?  As this example shows it’s easier than you think.  You come at people sideways, you come at them when they’re at their lowest, you take advantage of the fact that even the most cynical people want to believe deep down inside.  And it doesn’t hurt when what you’re doing is complete overkill.  She already had me chains, why would I be expecting poison? 

I don’t know what she got me with, I was never unconscious I don’t think, but my brain was fuzzy for a good while, I was seeing stuff with my eyes but the image wasn’t making it home you know?  I just remember a few flashes of the manor and then by the time I regained my wits I was in here.  It’s a smallish room but it’s not nightmarishly small like you might expect – it’s probably fifteen feet by twelve feet.  I’ve paced it out several times.  I think I’ve been down here for a couple of days.  I’m hungry and more than that I’m thirsty but I don’t feel like I’m dying yet.  I can’t really go off sleep because my sleep schedule is all messed up before.  Normally when it’s this dark sometimes it can be hard to even tell if you’re awake or asleep, but lucky me I always know when I’m asleep on account of the nightmare creatures that attack me every night.  That happened three or four times but I wouldn’t assume that means I’ve been here three or four days necessarily.  Like I said my sleep routine is all messed up.

After that third or fourth time though my imperious looking friend was back.  Instead of being stripped naked and beaten over the head with a wine bottle by the King himself (who’s dead you know but ‘they’ keep putting him in my dreams, I wonder what that means – I never even met the guy) I dreamed that I was in thein the middle of a massage given by someone who really knows what they’re doing.  That was actually kind of a nice transition – from the darkness of the prison room, whatever it is, to the closed eye experience of massage.  How can you have your eyes closed in a dream?  Fuck if I know.  I wondered if I was not dreaming at all, if it was just my mind finally playing a GOOD trick on me, but when I opened my eyes there was light.  I was in the salon/lounge/pleasure den/whatever of the authoritative woman. 

This time she was dressed in transparent silks and wherefore was showing pretty much everything.  I saw that she had tattoos over each breast and across the belly.  You know how I feel about that.  But she was smoking croff, which I’m sure you know is a mixture of vayav, flayleaf, and roasted beans of caladock.  It’s very hard to get the mixture exactly right, which is why croff is so rare and expensive but in the dream is was perfect.  I know because after the massage I went over and smoked some with her as well.  This time there was no gaggle of noblewomen clustering about, just inconspicuous servants bringing us excellent wine and fresh fruit.  After getting nice and relaxed, you know the way I mean, I helped myself to some ripe sensational granee fruit.

“Can you have your dream people bring me something more substantial?  Like a nice crispy duck?  Not fatty duck you know, but the juicy good stuff.  I wear clothes that cover everything up so I don’t have to eat only fruit.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I’m dreaming I still feel like I have to go to the privy.  Weird huh?  I suppose if I went to the facilities here I would just be shitting myself in real life huh?”

Her voice was dreamy (pun) like she had been smoking for a while before I got there, you know, before the dream started because that makes sense “Did you do what I asked?”

I finished off a glass of wine and poured myself some more “I did.”

Her eyes flared slightly “I’d know if you did.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

Her eyes started to clear from the drug-fog and harden “Your ingratitude surprises me.”

I laughed briefly “I say the same thing all the time.  I’m always saving people from monsters and then they’re jerks about it.  I guess I’m a hypocrite huh?  Although what exactly did you do for me?”

“I protected you from the dreads presences that feed on your sleeping mind, as I’m doing now.”

“I just thought the night hag had other things going on that night.  So what are you then, some kind of sweet dreams faerie?  If you’re a dream though what does it matter if I don’t repay your help?  I mean you’re not real right?  It’s kind of confusing, I know that dreams aren’t real – but they are a real thing that happens?  What does it all mean?”

Some women look good even when they’re angry, some look even better – she wasn’t either of them “I explained this all last time.  Do I need to go over it again?”

I held my hands up “No, no, not at all, I . . .”

She gestured grandly “Thousands of years ago, I ruled over this land and all the people within it.  This was a time of splendor and majesty and I was at the center of it all.  For you see . . .”

“Thousands of years ago?  Last time you said I it  was. . .”

“THOUSANDS of years ago a warlike race of elves from . . .”

Just like that she was off the races again.  I tried to pay attention to her this time, I really did, but she went on forever and it was boring.  After a few minutes I started pacing around the room and toying with different things she had lying around.  I wasn’t sure that I believed this wasn’t a dream-dream and was instead a dream communication of some kind until she droned on for over an hour – no real dream is ever that tedious.  She kept saying that she wanted to give me a gift without getting into any details. Nor was it ever made clear what she wanted from me or what I supposed to do.  At least as far as I can tell, after the first few minutes I was only halfway listening. 

“Well dream princess lady, I tell you, it would be nice to have someone on my side for once.  I never thought that I’d think that, but despite the way it ended I really did like having a partner – not you know like a tongue kissing partner but a partner partner.  She was always worried about people thinking we were together.  I don’t know why, nobody cares about that.  Maybe she was secretly into me and it was some kind of overcompensation, I don’t know.  She certainly fucked plenty of dudes whenever she had the chance, but I’ve heard that what really matters is who you fall in love with.  Like if you’re a guy you can go to town on many another guy, but if you don’t feel anything – you know, inside – then . . .”

“What are you talking about?!”

“Just making conversation. 

For a moment her mouth twisted into a weird smirk, although maybe smirk isn’t the right word – it’s the face you make when you see someone who’s been talked up a lot and they’re not that impressive.

“You are a frustrating person to speak to.  I’m offering you the partnership you seek if you would be attentive enough to listen.”

I shrugged “It’s just a dream, nothing here matters.  I appreciate you keeping the nightmares away.  Can you do that every night?” She shook her head “Well then, what’s the point?”

“Your ally has abandoned you.  I am offering you a more powerful alliance.”

“Are you though?  What can you do for me?  You’ve been pretty vague what I get out of this deal”

“I shall place my mark upon you.”

“That doesn’t sound very helpful.”

Her eyes flashed with anger again “You do not understand, I . . .”

“You’re right, I don’t understand.  Is this really more than a dream?  If so what kind of magic bullshit is going on?  I don’t know about any of this kind of stuff.  Why would I make a bargain with you?  I don’t know who you are or what you want.”

“I’ve told you twice already!”

I snorted “You gave me a bunch of horseshit history lessons.  That doesn’t tell me anything.  What are you?  A dream ghost?  A demigod?  A demon?  What do you want?”

“Revenge!”

I smiled “Now that I understand.”

“You must give up your meaningless futile quest and do my bidding, my revenge is against powers greater than . . .”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.  I will never give up on taking revenge on the Duke, never.  Not as long as I draw breath – and maybe not even after I stop.  If you can help me with that, great, then we have something to talk about.  But I’m not going to give up on it to help you out, that makes zero sense.”

“You would be the most favored of my minions, once . . .”

“Pass.”

Her face turned grim “As you see my powers over your dreams are even more potent than those of your enemies, if you spurn me . . .”

I grinned “Ah, so now we come down to it.  The threats.  I guess the foreplay is pretty much over huh?  Time to get down to business.  You think you can cook up worse nightmares than when I’ve been experiencing?  Give it a shot lady.  You think you can make my life any worse?  You gave up pretty quickly on the ‘let me help you’ tactic, makes me wonder what exactly you could have ever done for me.”

I could tell that her initial reaction was to lash out with anger, but she mastered herself quickly and I found that she was beside me with a reassuring hand on mine – I wanted to pull away but found that I was only able to move as the dream wanted me to.  I could feel the dream trying to press comfort from her touch on my mind, but it didn’t take.

She purred in my ear sordidly “I didn’t mean to be cross with you, it’s just I’ve waiting for so long.  People like you are very exceptional and special.  I want to be your friend and sometimes friends have to tell each other truths they don’t want to hear.  You have fought a good fight and you have tried your best to get your revenge, but you have failed.  The fight is over.  They have you now, if you continue this fight they will break you – your life continues only in my service.  There’s nothing odious about being in my command I assure you, quite the opposite.  Look around you, this doesn’t have to just be a dream.  You will become wealthy and powerful and you will serve only me, all others will be beneath you.  The race is run and you have not made the finish line.  Now you must do what is best to carry on.”

“No, I’m in a tight spot for sure but I’m not done, not my any means.  Lost the fight?  I haven’t even started yet.”

“When will you give up?”

“Like I said, as long as I live I will fight.”

“Are you living now?  Consider that.  You walk the roads and you fight monsters, and what becomes of it?  Is that a life worth living?  You are poor and powerless and the plaything of anything that comes your way.  You have been battered and ruined.  The only joy you will ever know again comes through me.”

“You got it all wrong dream queen.  I don’t fight monsters, I kill them.”  

When I woke up, if indeed that’s what even happened, I could still smell the fruit, incense, and narcotic smoke of the pleasure den.  My muscles still felt relaxed and languid from the massage.  But most convincingly of all, I was full, and I was no longer thirsty.  The food and wine was really in my belly.  So it’s not JUST a dream and she probably can hurt me in the dream world, maybe even kill me.  Well fuck, that’s a problem.

“I should have taken a shit while I was there.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,025,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Martialla has really gone off the deep end.  I know that she’s worried about me outsmarting her and escaping but she’s giving me too much credit.  I generally only have two workable strategies – taking someone by surprise or charming them, neither of which is viable against her in my current predicament.  She already took all my stuff, and although I hate to say it I am reliant on my stuff, without it I’m not all that effective so that’s kind of the endgame right there.  It stings to admit that but it doesn’t make it any less true.  The point is that her paranoia about the sudden appearance of my distant relatives is wildly illogical, and as you all know I told her as much.  There wasn’t much else that I could do so as she was glaring at the three of them and they were fearfully eyeballing her back I slid off the kitchen table where I had been so rudely deposited and crossed the room where I laid down on the murderer’s bed.  Proving my point Martialla’s eyes were full of panic as if this was some master stroke of genius.

“What are you doing?!”

I pulled the murderer’s pillow to my head and rolled onto my side “Seems like you two are going to be staring daggers at each other for a while so I’m taking advantage of the bed while I have access to it.  Wake me up when you figure out what you’re going to do.”

The unfortunate thing is without my amulet I’m haunted by hag-fired nightmares every night.  This means that no matter how tired I am, and trust me I’m plenty tired, there always a sense of dread when I have a chance to catch some sleep because I know what’s coming.  It’s like if every time you sat down to eat someone unavoidable and unerringly kicked you in the ribs on both sides and then in the kneecaps.  You’ve got to eat right?  So there’s nothing for it, other than to cultivate a sense of trepidation about a basic human thing that you need to do live and was once something that you found joy in.  They say that you can’t die because of what happens in a dream, which is probably not true because I’m sure there’s some magic dream-killing spell because magic ruins everything, but I’m certain that a long enough period of time without restful sleep will kill you.  If only because you might nod off and fall and crack your skull.  Isn’t it stupid to think that just falling down can kill you?  The human body is a crappy design and I’ll tell the Gods that myself if you want.

This batch of nightmares started off a little different, usually they’re the “archetypal” stuff of being chased and attacked and maimed and mutilated, but last night things took a more cerebral path.  Makes you wonder how these dream attacks work – does the nightmare hag actually craft these narratives herself or does she just send the magic out and the magic somehow “knows” what’s scary and does the work itself?  Once again magic questions for which there appear to be no answers.  In the dream I was put in charge of distributing food throughout a massive city – not real city that I could tell, just a dream construct of a bunch of cities I’ve been to or read about or imagined.  The person that ran the place before me had detailed records of all the food coming in and out and all the people they had saved.  Of course, this was all bullshit and they hadn’t done any of it, but I knew that if I said anything about it I would be executed by the King, he was still alive in the dream you see.  And not just me but all the staff of the place would be killed as well.  And of course said staff was populated by various people with sad backstories and children that counted on them and so forth that needed me to protect them. 

So in the dream I continued the lie and did everything I could to buy and steal food to fill their quota so that at least more people would be getting fed than before. The King’s minions were so delighted by all the people that were seen in the streets hale and healthy (not really but they weren’t dead) that I was praised and hailed as a miracle worker and I was given a medal and everyone was kissing my ass and I was known as an angel who’s feeding the masses.  So of course the quota was increased and the lies had to become bigger and we had to buy and steal more from elsewhere, and the staff under me became bitter and jaded and evil since they spent most of their time taking food from people that needed it to give some of that food to other people that needed but mostly to avoid being hung.  This led to more accolades which led to more demands which resulted in more lies and more theft and eventually outright violence, and of course in the end cannibalism – killing the poor and feeding them secretly to other poor people.  This cycle repeated until eventually the whole scam became too big to conceal on account of the streets were full of people dead from starvation who rose up as undead famine monsters to hunt the living.

At that point things returned to normal, “just” the humdrum horror of being ripped apart and eaten alive by unliving beasts from beyond the grave.  But then things took another turn that was even more unexpected.  While I was in the middle of being held down and devoured by ghouls suddenly everything stopped and then the nightmare city and its carnivorous inhabitants disappeared.  In its place was a parlor/salon/decadent room of decadence.  The air was sweet, literally with lemon oil, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot and figuratively with soft melodies being played from behind silken screens so you didn’t have to look at the musicians and ruin the effect.  In the middle of the room a marble fountain of unspeakably suggestive statues bubbled with cool water underneath a delicate wooden lattice.  An imperious looking woman with skin as pale as ivory and eyes the color of bright silver sat on a luxurious chair smoking something that gave off a fruity narcotic scent while being fanned by eunuchs.  How do I know these were eunuchs?  Trust me, I know the eunuchs when I see them.

I sighed and reclined on one of the many overstuffed couches scattered about “I assume this is just the part of the nightmare where you make things seem normal and nice before the monster jumps out and bites my head off.” I plucked a plum from a nearby bowl “But I’ll take it.”

The woman’s voice was silky and seductive “You will have no more nightmares tonight, I’ve blocked the creature that was attacking you.”

“I’m sure.  I don’t mean to criticize but this plum is just very delicious.  If you’re going to go through the trouble of making a dream plum why not make is the greatest plum in the universe?  That way when the plum turns into a cricket in my mouth it will be even more revolting.”

“I told you there will be no more of that, you’re safe here with me.”

I lay back further on the coach “Yeah, yeah, thanks.  Is it possible to fall asleep in a dream?  I feel like I’m about to do that.”

A tiny bit of irritation crept into her smooth voice “I’m doing you a favor by preventing your nightmares, as a courtesy you should listen to my proposal.”

“I can listen with my eyes closed, go ahead.”

“Five hundred and seventy years ago by the way that your people reckon time I ruled over this land as Empress, at my wish simple peasants could rise to riches and power, businesses could thrive or crumble, and people would live or die – all as I desired.  But that all came to an end when . . .”

She went on for quite a while about Gods and curses and disasters and death and spirits and stuff like that.  I think I really did fall asleep which doesn’t even make sense, how can you fall asleep inside a dream?  And can the dream that you’re dream have its on dream inside that dream?  Asleep inside a dream or not I wasn’t really paying attention, I think she wanted me to find her tomb or her bones or something.  She probably wants me to bring her back to life like I did with Harda.  Now that the word is out about that all kinds of dead people are probably going to turn up at my door like beggars wanting me to do the same for them.  No good deed right?  All I know is that when I woke up it was the next day after dawn – I must have slept for more than fifteen hours.  And I felt fantastic, I felt refreshed, the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.  I saw Jesslin and her brothers sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, Martialla was nowhere to be seen. 

I stretched and made a wordless noise of satisfaction “Did you guys actually do it?  Did you off Martialla to rescue me?  I can’t remember the last time she wasn’t hovering over me ready to impale me.”

Lady lips looked over at me “She’s outside.  We told her we’d keep an eye on you.”

I chuckled “And she went for that?  Great.” I threw me legs over the side of the bed and clapped my hands together “Let’s get moving then before she gets back.”

Jesslin shook her head “We’re going to help you get to Juost Manor.”

“Why would you do that?  Isn’t blood thicker than water?”

“You said yesterday that you weren’t trying to evade your responsibilities anymore, that you wanted to go.  After you fell asleep we talked with Martialla and we agreed to help you get to Baron Juost, once you’re there we’ll speak on your behalf.  When you were made his ward you didn’t know about us – maybe we can convince him that you’d be better off with family.”

“Well how kind of you, and what, in return Martialla said that the Baron would help you with their inheritance problem?”

Baldy grinned but Jesslin scowled at him before he could say anything “We’re just trying to work things out what’s best for everyone like you said we should.”

I walked over and sat down at the table, clapping Lips on the back and “accidentally” whacking him with the chains of my manacles “Well done, welcome aboard and all that, nice to have family around, etcetera.  What’s this we have here for breakfast?  Looks like a bowl of weeds, where’s the meat?”

Martialla strode in looking quite refreshed herself, she clearly had bathed and prettied herself up some “We weren’t sure about the meat, we figured it was best to avoid it.”

“Gone bad huh?”

“Or was bad to begin with.”

Jesslin responded to my questioning look “We weren’t sure about it’s . . . origin.” She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“What?  You think it came from the people he killed?  So what?  I don’t care, where is it?  I’ll fry some up for myself.”

All four of them gasped, Martialla even stopped in her tracks, almost dropping her rucksack.

I snorted “Oh, don’t give me that, they’re already dead.  No reason to let food go to waste.”

Martialla looked ashen, after all we’ve seen and done somehow this was too much for her “You cannot be serious.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is, I’ve never understood why people are so squeamish about this topic.  Killing people is wrong, usually anyway, but once they’re dead why not eat them?  It’s just flesh, what’s the difference.”

Baldy was outraged “The difference is it’s a person!”

“It was a person, once they the spirit has fled the body is just garbage.  What do you think happens to people once they’re buried?  Why is being eaten by worms and beetle grubs better than providing nourishment to your friends and loved ones?”

Martialla was shaking her head “You are fucking vile.”

“Don’t judge me you prudes, you’re the ones who have hang ups not me.  We eat animals all the time, and as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise we’re no better than any other filthy animal.  I’ve definitely met people stupider than some chickens.  Plus you don’t even know that it is human meat, it’s probably just deer jerky or something like that.  And if you don’t know who cares?”

Jesslin looked over at her brothers “I told you there was something wrong with that side of family.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I read a book once that claimed there are a group of people who practice transcendental sleeping.  People in some unspecified far away non-verifiable place, you know, where all the interesting things happen.  The idea of transcendental sleeping is that by learning how to sleep the right way eventually you can become untethered from your physical body and exist in the realm of dreams as a spirit of some kind.  If you get really good at it you can achieve a form of immortality because your dream-spirit exists forever and whenever you want to visit the world you can reform your body.  There’s tales of these immortal sleepers going into caves so sleep and what people think happen is they just lay in there for eighty years or whoever long and then wake up.  But what actually happens is their body dies and they just recreate it later when it’s time to wake up.  I mean it’s so obvious people.   

Of course nothing can be all roses and rainbows so in the dream world there’s some kind of nightmare realm that doesn’t like these sleeping immortals messing with their evil plans so there’s a whole battle going on there – and of course this nightmare realm has mortal agents in the real world as well, a cult of dream worshipping fanatics who will stop at nothing to blah blah blah whatever.  I assume somewhere in this mix there’s a dream god on one side or another.  Anyway I don’t believe this for a variety of reasons, one being that allegedly a key component of making this dream transformation is engaging in sexual acts without achieving climax – and if that was the case most of the women in the world would be halfway where am I right?  But I wish that it was true because I would study this technique and sleep for a good thirty years.  Seems very restful.  Plus then the Duke would be older and easier to wail on.  The risk of course would be that someone else would kill him in the meantime, or he would just die of syphilis – and that’s no good because I’m the one that has to do him in.  I worry about that a lot, he has many enemies and many unhealthy habits, not to mention random chance.  If he dies before I can kill him I really don’t know what I’ll do. 

It’s a little easier to sleep in manacles than staked to the ground but it was oppressively hot last night and there were mosquitoes and other bloodsucking monsters attacking me relentlessly – for some reason they were going after the ass more than anything.  My left cheek looks like it has porridge pox.  Between that and my aching shoulder it was another sleepless night for old Ela.  When I woke up, or rather stopped trying to fool myself that I was asleep, I heard Kartak and Martialla arguing about me again.  She was upset because he was suggesting that they not travel today so I would have some time to recover.  Martialla was screeching about how we should have made the road by today and instead we haven’t even crossed the river yet.  I never realized how shrill her voice can be until now.  She reiterated her opinion that I was faking my injury to intentionally slow our progress.  Kartak lost his temper pretty quickly and it seemed like they were on the verge of fighting.  She’s too smart for that, but it would be helpful if she slipped up and Kartak and his men slaughtered her like a goat.  Without her nagging them all the time about how I’m going to turn them against one another it would be easier to turn them against one another.

The best case scenario would be for Martialla to lose her temper, kill Kartak, and then be forced to flee by his men – leaving one of these other yahoos in charge.  That would make things very easy for me, the only problem is that Kartak is on my list so if Martialla killed him that would ruin everything.  So while it would be convenient it would cause problems later on.  Martialla must have won the argument because they did sit me on a horse and we set off at a sedate pace, but after an hour of me pretending to pretend that I wasn’t in pain and whimpering with every jolt of the saddle Kartak called a halt and sent a couple of his men to find a wagon for me to ride in.  Two of the Baron’s men helped me dismount and set up a camp chair for me to sit on while everyone else milled around waiting. Martialla stayed nearby and scowled away anyone who tried to come within six feet of me.

“You’re going about this all wrong you know.” Martialla’s only response was a disgusted noise “You shouldn’t be butting heads with Kartak and screaming like a harridan all the time.  What you should be doing is damage control.  You helped them catch me but nobody likes a traitor Martialla.  It’s a real conundrum, as the ruling authority you want people to turn in your enemies, but if someone is willing to turn on their closest friend they prove themselves to be untrustworthy so what are you do with them?  It’s surprising that more turncoats don’t figure that out.  They seem to be shocked when the people they betray their friends or family to treat them like crap.”

“Shut up Ela.”

“So you already had a lot of ground to make up and you’re not doing a very good job of it – you’re just digging yourself deeper.  The Kostelos are an even more patriarchal society than ours – I’m surprised one of Kartak’s men hasn’t tried to put you in your place yet, or tried to take him out for letting you.  Even for ‘civilized’ Kostelos they’re showing an amazing amount of forbearance.  You know what the Kostelos think about us?  They see Kingdom men as dog’s running to follow their women’s commands.  It’s pretty funny that they think we tell men what to do, but it’s an indication of how male dominated their society is.  Not only are you alienating Kartak but you’re making him look bad in front of his men.”

“I said shut up.”

“But really what’s more worrisome for you is that you’re making me the victim in the eyes of the Baron’s men.  You weren’t there the first time I was there, I was playing the dutiful noble woman, they don’t see me as a threat no matter what you say, they see me a helpless woman who needs their manly protection – they don’t like what’s happening here at all.  Not only are you building their sympathy for me, but you’re also creating a divide between them and the Kostelos.  I doubt they’re happy about taking orders from Kartak anyway and now you’re giving them me and my mistreatment to rally around.  If you keep it up I wouldn’t be surprised if they try some kind of coup all on their own.  You’re setting yourself up to look like the brute while I’m a broken little bird.  A fragile delicate little thing that garners all kinds of compassion – but you know, the masculine kind of compassion where they want to fuck me.”

“I said shut up!”

“The real question mark in all of this is the Satander exiles though.  I have no idea what their part of this is, or what their reaction would be if the Kostelos and the Baron’s man started fighting.  What . . .”

Martialla came over and with a shove and a kick to the chair sent me sprawling to the ground.  As I hit the ground with a cry I grabbed at my bad shoulder.  Almost immediately a couple of the Baron’s men and one of the Kostelos ran over and got embroiled with Martialla in a shouting match.  She wanted to gag me again and restrain me as well, they accused her to being a cruel and heartless she-bitch.  I couldn’t help but smile as I saw them wrangling.  Well, that’s not true, I could have very easily not smiled – but I wanted Martialla to see it.  Kartak came to get into another loud discussion with Martialla, but she angrily walked away – which is probably just as bad.  Turning your back on a man like that?  Very disrespectful.  If she was smart she would have let him rip her apart verbally in front of everyone to start rebuilding that relationship.  Martialla has a lot of good qualities but her ego is a real issue.

A couple of hours later the Kostelos came back with a wagon.  There was no blood on it so hopefully they just took it via threats rather than murdering whoever had it before.  In the back of the wagon were some sacks of apples and some jugs of moonshine which really improved the morale around the camp.  However Kartak decided that at that point they might as well just stay put for the rest of the day anyway – I’m pretty sure just to piss off Martialla.  He probably wanted to give her a chance to blow up at him again so they he could smack her down and reestablish his authority.  She didn’t take the bait though.  Once Kartak made it clear that they weren’t going any farther she dramatically left the camp, which only served to make things worse.  She really doesn’t understand how people work. 

It wasn’t until after nightfall that things really got interesting though.  Martialla had returned to chain my good arm to a small tree before disappearing again so once again I was wide awake.  Which allowed me to see two of the men on watch duty get shot down from the darkness.  That’s the problem with being on guard duty if you ask me, you’re lit up so that anyone out there can see you but there’s not enough light so that you can see them.  It’s a real pickle.  Once the guards were down a woman and two men slunk out of the darkness towards the wagon.  That must be a really important wagon.  They were trying to steal it but there were more than two people on guard duty so they didn’t get very far.  In short order the whole camp was alerted and they were swarmed.  Martialla appeared out of nowhere (literally, she must have been skulking around invisible) and had her sword on me like I was going to try something as the thieves were subdued.   

One of the men was killed in the fighting and the other was so badly wounded he was going to die anyway, but the woman was intact enough that they got to decapitate her for attacking them.  I wonder what that was all about.  Killing two men for a wagon, I could maybe see that, but they had to know that coming into a camp of this many people was more or less a suicide charge.  Seems like a lot to risk just for a wagon.  Although, based on what I know about the Skin-Takers she got off very easy with merely losing her head – I wonder what would have happened if the Kingdomers and the Satander hadn’t been around.  Or maybe they really have changed.  I guess Kartak is the only Skin-Taker anyway, maybe the Sky Thunder tribe isn’t as reprehensible.  But I doubt it.

Martialla looked at me coldly “Another day lost and two men dead.  You won’t get away with it Ela.  You won’t win this time.”

“Have some respect Martialla, five people just lost their lives, this isn’t some game to win or lose.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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