The Dream Police

That song is by Cheap Trick, I never would have remembered that.

I’ve updated the character sheet and made some site changes if anyone is interested. I remember in the D&D Ela phase people asked me for a character sheet ALL the time (because it was so popular you see) and then when I finally put one up I don’t think anyone ever looked at it.

I’ll probably start posting some stuff for Ela story #3 this week.

Here’s some stuff that was left on my comic book Ela idea pad when she died –

Liberator pistol, not sure what I wanted to do here other than I found out about it and thought it was neat

Shark people, I forgot exactly what the idea was here, I think Martialla was going to hate them but they were actually allies

Malibu Al – a shady used car salesman guy from back home who was in Madripoor running from trouble back in the states

Red Viper – A retired supervillianess who robbed banks for the commies, to bring down capitalism you see, I think I stole this idea from Icons

Australia’s first combat cyborg – I’m not sure why I started picking on Australia, but I was going to continue with that

The shapeshifter guy was going to turn up again, somehow?

Saving Maggie was going to involve a Bullseye rip-off called Pinpoint, two people who are really good at throwing shit fighting? Thrilling!

Ela narration about how much she misses sugar, basically the same thing as I did with Coke. Why do it again? Shrug.

Ela bumps into a supervillian during some kind of wild melee and it turns out to be her estranged sister! Why is she a supervillian now? And how did she get powers? We’ll never know now I guess.

When Ela and friends stormed the prison where the Duke was supposed to be they were going to kill him and then find out he was a clone and the real Duke was alive and well! Comic books!

Some people really hate when other people talk about dreams. It’s generally not the best conversation fodder I admit. One of my friends loves talking about dreams the most, and my other friend hates it the most – what a hilariously mismatched pair!

The other night I had a dream that I was talking to an old lady who was a covid researcher. We were talking about covid research and then out of nowhere she tried to stab me in the groin with a syringe. I moved and she hit me in the thigh. The police came and it was a whole thing.

The next night I had a dream that she was standing in my driveway with her syringe waiting to stab me so I called the police. They showed up but she put on a “I’m just a confused old lady act” and the police left. She was still out there saying she was going to get me and air-stabbing with her syringe.

I figured if she showed up in my dreams again that she most likely had to be some kind of Freddie Kruger style dream infiltrator.

Thinking more about it I think she might be the ghost of the old lady that haunts my attic. I guess she has dream powers now? Which is nice for her.

Hot Ela on Ela action outside of time and space

She was stunning.  Statuesque I’d call her.  Or I would if I was the kind of person that would call someone that.  I’ve heard that term before, but never had I seen anyone I felt deserved the moniker until I saw her.  We were exactly eye to eye, but somehow she seemed a few inches taller than me.  She looked a lot like me.  A LOT like me.  It wasn’t exactly like looking in a mirror because there were differences.  Minor differences, but they were there.  Her skin was nearly flawless but I could see one tiny white line from the corner of her mouth, it was artfully hidden with make-up, I doubt anyone who wasn’t examining what was almost their own face would notice it.  Her eyes were really something.  They weren’t cold exactly, they certainly weren’t friendly, they were hard – like diamonds.  Never seen eyes like that.

Her clothing was odd to my eye, it was sort of what I think of from Robin Hood or movies like that with swords and stuff, but it wasn’t exactly that.  They weren’t fancy clothes but they were extremely well made, some material I’m not even familiar with.  It looked like what a queen would wear when she wasn’t dressed like a queen if that makes sense.  Like a queen going out for a ride maybe.  In particular she had longcoat of white and silver trimmed with black that was gorgeous.  I have no idea what I would do with something like that but I kind of wanted it.   

She had a cane or a walking stick made of a fine dark wood that was topped with an ivory cobra-head.  The detail was insane.  It looked like an actual cobra had been petrified and its head sliced off for the top of the cane.  She didn’t hold it like a person that needed a cane, she held it like a staff of office, or like a pharaoh with that little crook thing you see on Egypt stuff.  Or maybe she held it like a weapon.  Point is she didn’t have it because she had a limp, she certainly didn’t need a cane.

The snake tattoo on the back of my hand, a souvenir from a night of drinking with sailors on leave, was tingling in a strange way.  It was like pins and needles all across the back of my hand. The tattoo itself looked sharper and more realistic – like an actual snake might jump off my hand.  It seemed like it could start moving at any moment and it kind of freaked me out. 

She was examining me just as I was her and I got the sense that she wasn’t impressed, suddenly I felt self-conscious of my shabby clothing.  Her voice was rich and resonate, she’d make a wonderful singer if she was so inclined.  

She smiled almost imperceptivity “Blood stains?  I had the same problem in the beginning.  You need to get yourself a magically self-cleaning and self-repairing wardrobe, after I was able to do that it made my life much easier.” 

“Is magic a thing?” 

“Sometimes.”  Even though we were nowhere that I could tell, she looked around “Your world does seem very dull though, perhaps there is no magic for you.  That’s a pity my dear, magic is awful and common but I’ve found that it can do many helpful things.  If you can afford it.” 

I was at a loss of what to say “Nice coat.” 

She looked at her sleeve “Isn’t it just?  I took it off the body of one of those horrible Vulcari people.  It was already enchanted but I took it to a craftmage in Barrinton and had more magic imbued in it.  It’s saved my life several times, and it looks very fetching if I do say so myself.”  She looked at me curiously “Do you have Vulcar here?” 

“Uh, I don’t know what that is.  Did you say you killed someone?” 

Her smiled widened.  People talk about shark smiles.  It wasn’t that.  Not exactly.  It was something predatory, but nothing so obvious as a shark.  It was the smile that comes before poison is fed with a spoon.  It was the smile before the pillow goes over your face to smother you.  I could see how most people would love for that smile to be directed at them, it was radiant, men especially would turn to butter under it – but it made me shiver.  I’ve never seen a smile like that before and I hope I never do again.  It wasn’t cold, it was otherworldly. 

“Well aren’t you a peach?  Are you truly as innocent as all that?  Maybe you’re who I would have been if I stayed on the farm.” She laughed.  “Yes, I’ve killed people.  Many times.  Revenge is a dirty business, my dear.  You’re going to have to get your hands bloody if you want to get Duke Eaglevane.” 

“This is quite an odd dream.” 

Her smiled turned wry “You don’t know the half of it.  I was plagued by nightmares for months sent by a wicked creature from beyond the stars that laid a curse on me.  This is a walk in the park by comparison to what I went through on a nightly basis, I assure you.  Although, I suppose without that particular magical infection I wouldn’t be here now.  Koma played a part as well but without that seed . . . I wonder.” 

“Uh . . . what?” 

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it dear.  I’d love to stay and chat with you about the well of many worlds or other more interesting topics, but unfortunately I don’t have much time here so it’s best we get to business.  I’ve come to warn you not to make the same mistake that I did.  When I woke up in that pigsty Graltontown, I thought that I would head straight for the Duke and destroy him.  But I kept getting distracted by this and that and every other little thing.  Two years I spent running here and there and getting into one jackpot after the other and I got no closer to my revenge.  Sure, it was mostly Martialla’s fault, but still . . .” 

“Wait, Martialla?  You know her?  What is this?” 

Her face barely changed but I could tell it turned cold, a shiver went up my spine “I’m trying to tell you, don’t interrupt me, it’s unspeakably rude.  Don’t follow in my path.  Whatever you’re doing right now that seems important, stop doing it, go wherever the Duke is and kill him.  Don’t worry about anything else.  Don’t go down the same path that I did.  You must succeed where I failed.” 

“I don’t understand.  This isn’t real right?” 

She smirked “Have you ever had a dream where you asked if the dream was a dream?  Don’t get tangled in the details, just take my advice.  No detours, no side treks, no distractions, just go straight for the Duke.  Unless you want to end up like me.” 

“And how did you end up?  You look pretty spiffy to me.” 

Her mouth tightened “Dead.  Dead is how I ended up.  If you jump into every situation that comes your way, eventually you run out of luck.  I was so stupid, I see that now.  I started with nothing and I got money and power, and I never made my move.  I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” 

“I’ve never understood that expression.” 

“Well say you have some trees . . . actually no, forget about it, there’s no time for lessons.  Heed my warning, learn from my mistake.  Don’t get yourself killed in some random ditch like I did, grab a horse right now and head for the Duke.” 

“A horse?  Why would I grab a horse?” 

She rolled her eyes “Or whatever you have here, just get there as fast as you can is what I meant.” 

“O . . . kay.  So, uh, what’s the afterlife like?” 

“Where you are?  I have no idea.  Where I am?  Never-ending torment.  Well, mostly never-ending, I’m not being tormented right this second so it did end once at least.  Which is nice for me.”   

“Oh. You’re in Hell?  So you were pretty bad huh?” 

She smiled pleasantly “Sweetie, I was the absolute worst.” 

Macendamandel 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

In retrospect pissing off a timeless incorporeal sorcereress that can attack me in my dreams any time I fall asleep was not the wisest course of action.  All I can say in my defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I don’t know for sure that she can kill me in a dream but all the evidence I have suggests that she can.  I really need to figure out something in regards to that because staying awake all the time and or dosing myself with brain damaging narcotics regularly are not long term solutions.  In novels I hate more than anything when they have chapters that are dreams or the characters are doing stuff in dreams – maybe this is some kind of cosmically ironic revenge for hating all those authors that do that.  Do you think the characters in the books know that they’re being written?  And if so how do they their feel about their authors?  I know if my life was a story the person writing it would be top on my list for people that need to die in agony.

But on to more immediate concerns than death by madness from enforced sleep deprivation or terrible dreamtime slaughter.  Once night fell the scute (still not sure that’s what this boat is called) kept on slowly drifting downriver but the crew didn’t drop anchor or move to the shore – a few people stayed up to make sure that the boat didn’t run aground or get tangled in anything but they kept moving.  And I stayed awake with them even though I was more tired than a choirboy at a whorehouse.  Remember that magic ring I had before that made it so I never needed to sleep?  I wonder now if that’s what made so that to this dream woman can get to me.  Maybe it messed up my dream energy or something. 

Once we were into the deeps of the Lodge Forest, but before the sun was up, I produced a rope and grappling hook from my secret storage and tossed it into a cluster of bushes on the north shore.  I gave it a tug to make sure it would hold fast, but it seemed like only a second before I was being pulled by the movement of the boat anyway.  Seems like we’re moving very slowly, but I guess fifty feet isn’t that long of a rope.  Since it was as good as it was going to get in the half of second I had to think about it I slipped overboard into the water.  I was shocked by how cold it was.  The night was pleasantly neither warm nor cold but that water felt like it was a good twenty degrees colder than the air.  Explain that.  I stifled an involuntary gasp and started pulling my way to the shore with the rope – and it’s a good thing too because that current was a lot stronger than I anticipated. 

Dragging myself to shore was the easy part, pulling myself up onto the bank was a good bit harder.  In the darkness I hadn’t realized how steep it was and my sodden clothing felt like it weighed fifty pounds.  I had just about resolved to let out some of the rope and try father downstream when I finally managed to climb up the muddy bank and into the bushes – displacing some frantic animal that dashed off into the night.  I lay there to catch my breath for a moment and then striped off my wet clothes, wrapping myself in a cloak from my secret pocket and wringing them out before hanging them over my arms to hopefully dry as I moved about. 

If I know where I am (doubtful) and remember the geography of this area (dubious) if I head straight east (which is unlikely) I should emerge from the woods to find the road to Ardint or Tybhurst which I can follow on to Three Rivers.   I wasn’t sure how much of an effort Lady Missplitter and her pipehead minion were going to make to chase after me so I figured I should move as fast as possible while I had a lead on them.  Which wasn’t very fast honestly.

 In town I have a knack for moving around quickly – cobblestone, broken pavement, dense crowds, slanted roofs, rain-slicked stones – these things hardly slow me down.  In an urban environment I move like smoke.  But whenever I’m in a benighted (I’m not exactly sure what that means but it sounds correct in this context) place like this I trip over every tree root, I put my foot in every hole, and it seems like every plant in the universe is sticking to my legs or hitting me in the face.  Augrim told me once that the key to moving through the forest at night is using your peripheral vision.  I’ll put this in the running for most useless advice against such gems are “think about people who have to worse than you” and “just don’t give up”.

After an hour or so of stumbling and falling through the woods I decided sunrise would be coming soon anyway so it would be best to stay put until it was light out.  I leaned against a tree because I didn’t dare sit down – I was sure that I would be asleep as soon as my shapely ass touched the ground.  I beat my clothes against a tree and then hung them on some branches, switching out cloaks for a new dryer one.  I still almost feel asleep even just leaning against a tree.  To keep myself engaged I started studing closely whatever I could see in the dim light of pre-dawn.  Never before had leaves and sticks seemed so interesting.  What really woke me up is seeing a fire though.  A friendly band of Kostelos tribespeople is just what I needed. 

I pulled on my damp clothing and proceeded with all stealth towards the firelight – just in case.  As I got closer though I saw the red uniform of a Vieland soldier.  I thought for a moment that it might be a Kostelos warrior wearing the jacket of a Vielander killed in battle but I crept a little closer and saw that was not the case.  There was one Kostelos sitting up by the fire, an older man with a shaved head and dark tattoos across his scalp and face, but the rest of the men slumbering and sitting about were all Vielander army.  Incongruously my first thought was disapproval for their lax discipline – lighting a fire behind enemy lines?  Good way to get yourself killed.

Then a much more troubling thought bubbled to the surface – what if they weren’t behind enemy lines?  Surely the front line couldn’t have advanced this far north could it?  Where the border with Vieland is in the woods was never well known, but surely they couldn’t just be lost could they?  Maybe they’re advance scouts of some kind but scouts would be smart enough not to lite a beacon right?  Although now that I think about it I never heard anything about the Kingdom patrolling the woods.  Maybe they’re not concerned because there’s no one looking for them.  What the Hells are they doing here?

My plan was to wait for one of them to wander off to take a leak, take him by surprise, slit his throat and take his clothes and boots.  Most importantly the boots, say what you will about Vieland but they know their way around . . . whatever tools a cobbler uses.  The first part of the plan worked great – one of the soldiers totally went to take a piss.  It was everything after that that failed.  I don’t claim to be the best cutthroat in the world but I’ve got a pretty good technique I think.  It didn’t do me any good this time though, as soon as I came up behind him and grabbed for him he had a hold of my wrist and was flipping me over his shoulder. 

My only saving grace was that he was clearly expecting a heavier attacker and put too much “oomph” into the flip maneuver, which caused him to stumble forward off balance as well.  This allowed me to get my legs around his head (not like that) and latch onto his one arm with my body.  We fell to the ground clumsily locked together.  He tried to go for his dagger with his left hand but we were pressed together body to body too closely for that and he resorted to some awkward punches.  His angle was all wrong through and there wasn’t much force behind them.  I figured I had a pretty good stranglehold on him with my legs but once he gave up on punching he pulled my legs apart (not like that) without too much effort.  He managed to call for help shortly before I pulled his dagger out his belt and stuck him through the roof of the mouth with it – I don’t know a ton about skulls but I don’t think there’s anything protecting your brain from below.  He certainly went down fast enough to make me think his brains had been splattered.

I scrambled away from the body and quickly took on the appearance of a Kostelos woman, screaming as a couple soldiers ran into sight.  I started babbling at them in Kostelos and pointing into the forest.  None of them seemed to understand but tattoo-head was there soon enough to translate, a strange weapon that was a combination of a buckler and a short blade strapped to his arm.  I told them that I had been running from Uncle Pongracz and came across the soldier, who struggled with the old man of the woods and ended up dead before he ran off.  Uncle Pongracz is a boogeyman of Kostelos legend – an outcast whose solitude drove him mad and turned him into some kind of immortal trickster being that carries people away for unknown reasons.  But probably not any reasons that would bode you good. 

Tattoos didn’t quite believe me but he didn’t not believe me either – the soldiers on the other hand thought the entire thing was superstitious nonsense.  I always find it odd when people dismiss tales of monsters and undead creatures as silliness since there are in fact all sorts of real monsters all over the place.  Why would you believe in manticores and chimeras but draw the line at hodags and skinstealers?  It makes no sense.  Why is one monster more “real” than the next?  I suppose most people haven’t been exposed to as many abominations as I have but still, I mean dragons – everyone knows there are dragons.  So open your minds a bit huh?

The soldiers agreed that clearly I couldn’t have taken away Witter’s own knife and killed him with it being a weak and powerless woman,  but they weren’t about to believe that Uncle Pongracz did it either.  They questioned me further with the tattooed man translating but I stuck to my story, much to their frustration.  One soldier suggested that I was a spy, which was roundly mocked – who would trust a Kostelos spy?  And a woman to boot?  Another suggested that regardless they couldn’t let me go to tell anyone they were there but a compatriot of his pointed out that there was no one I could tell that mattered.  In the end the general agreement was that I was just a crazy outcast – not unlike Uncle Pongracz ironically. 

A sergeanty looking fellow asked Vulture Claw (which is the name of the Kostelos apparently) what they should do with me.  His first suggestion was that they kill me, irrespective of whoever I was it was the safest way to go.  They balked at the idea of killing an innocent woman in cold blood – which is quite noble for soldiers (maybe) behind enemy lines.  Clearly the Kingdom propaganda about the rapacious violence of Vielanders isn’t quite accurate.  Vulture Claw suggested in the alternative that I be taken as a slave and given to his son as a wife.  They didn’t care for that idea.  He finally said that they might as just let me go then.  The Vielanders didn’t like that idea either. 

(translated from Kostelos) “Why are you helping these chiftik?”

He gave me a sideways look “The Kingdomers have killed my people, why should I not help their enemies?”

“You think these will treat us any different?”

“I won’t live to see the day their wars end, I no longer care, I seek only the blood of the Kingdomers.”

“What about the rest of us?”

“Our people are doomed, the only seek vengeance now against the tribe-killers, anyone who does otherwise is a fool.  Silence your wagging tongue now woman.”

The final decision was that they would take me with them.  I hope that it’s someplace close since my disguise ability only lasts for a couple of hours.  Although maybe that depends what waits me wherever they’re taking me – perhaps I shouldn’t be so eager to get there huh?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter

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