Mantelderith 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

Just in case you weren’t sure what I was doing to do, I didn’t give Hellderhad his ring back.  You probably assumed that I was just jerking his chain – giving him hope and then snatching it away – but I wanted to confirm that.  He didn’t freeze me with a blast of magic coldness and then shatter me like a glass statue so maybe Belzegara was right about him not being a wizard.  Oh, the lady with the stupid nosering is Belzegara or at least that’s what she said her name was.  I don’t know why someone might lie about a name that awful but I don’t know why people do a lot of things.   Anyway, I’ve taken all of Hellerhad’s stuff and I’m going to get him exiled from this Barony (what are it’s boundaries exactly?  No one knows) is that enough to cross him off the list?  It doesn’t feel like it, but at this point killing him seems like that would be going too far.  Now sure, in the old days I would have murdered him but I was a lot more bloodthirsty at the beginning of this adventure.  Some people get a taste for killing, me I’m just dipping my toe in. 

As you all know I struggle sometimes coming up with an appropriate revenge for those who wrong me badly enough to be revenged upon but not badly enough to deserve horrible horrible violent murder.  What’s to be done with Hellerhad?  I should probably dig into his background more.  Whatever went on with his sweetheart and a rival wizard that caused him to give up magic would probably provide some fertile ground for revenging.  Maybe I could take her appearance and say that I want to marry him and then ditch him at the altar. 

After Belzegara rubbed some kind of magic salve on Martialla’s petrified form she slowly reverted to being not-petrified (which is her usual state of being).  Seeing it for a second time was no less disturbing than in those ruins of the old empire (the second empire?) when I heroically rescued those dumb adventurers from their stony predicament.  Have you ever see normal human shins twitching and spasming because the leg above them is still stone?  And it doesn’t matter which end you start with because a normal head on a statue body is just as appalling.  Magic is gross.   Once that was all squared away and everyone was back to their normal fleshy forms the three of us had a late night chat over some cherry cordial and blackberry polite.  It was probably supposed to be for the feast tomorrow but I won’t tell if you don’t. 

Belzegara said that she had started out a simple country girl but aspired to more out of life so she joined up with the church.  They taught her reading and writing and arithmetic and such but when it came time for her to take her vows she balked – turns out she wasn’t really into the whole religion thing.  The church of Adariel being kind and generous and benevolent and full of niceness wasn’t happy about that but they didn’t do anything – which makes it a pretty good scam.  You aren’t going to get a free education like that from the Church of Deals.  She wasn’t sure what to do next with her life but the Kingdom was nice enough to decide for her – she would serve her country was a scribe/assistant/whatever to one Colonel Eugene Furnwood.  She was terrified to be sent to the front lines during a war (the last one, not the current one – or maybe the war before that one) but the good news was that Colonel Eugene wasn’t a lead from the front kind of officer. 

Colonel Eugene believed firmly in leadership from the rear and that the task of sending men into battle was strictly the province of majors and captains.  Working as the Colonel’s aide at a safe distance from the front lines Belzegara learned that her real talents lay in the direction of scavenging and scrounging and war profiteering – after all the King’s Army has a lot of stuff and is it really fair for the soldiers to get all of it for free when other people will pay good money for it?  Once her luck ran out with that scam and she managed to deflect enough blame to merely get drummed out of the service rather than hung she tried and failed at various ventures until came up with this bounty hunter idea.  Despite having turned someone to stone and back and creating illusions she claimed not to accomplish these cromulet feats of bounty huntry with magic.

“How is that possible?”

She shrugged “I’ve just picked up a few tricks is all.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything.”

Martialla snorted “You’re one to talk, you claim you don’t have any magic either.”

“I don’t!”

“Then how are you able to disguise yourself?  And how is it that you manage to pull items out of nowhere?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I turned back to Belzegara “By any chance did you ever encounter a Colonel Tarl Ciarán?  At like a Colonel luncheon or some military soiree?”

She blinked in surprise “Yeah, I ran into him a few times in the service.”

“Do you have any dirt on him?”

“I’m pretty sure he killed his wife.”

“Hmm, anything else?”

She furrowed her brow “Murder isn’t dirty enough for you?”

“I mean something that’s going to get him in trouble.  Rich guys kill their wives all the time, it’s practically encouraged.”

“Um, then no.  Murder of the wife is the worst thing I know about him.”

“Figures.” I gestured “So how much was the bounty on old Martialla here?”

“Four thousand.”

“Gold?!  That’s outrageous.  How much is the bounty on me?

“Who are you?”

Martialla laughed and laughed and I decided that I had had enough for one night and went to bed.  My dreams last night were largely werewolf centered – you know being ripped to pieces and/or eaten alive by rampaging wolfmen (and wolfwomen).  Or just mutilated by them and threated/taunted with being ripped to pieces and or eaten alive while I lay helpless before them with shattered and bloody limbs.  It occurred to me that people don’t really understand werewolfs – the idea is that the beast is being unleashed in the human and that’s why they kill everyone they love.  But I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around.  Animals only kill for food or to protect themselves – humans are the ones that kill for laughs and fun.  The human thought of the werewolf is what causes the problems.  A wolf that could turn into a human, or a wolfwere if I can coin a term, would probably be fine.

I was dreading having to attend the Baroness again today, but thankfully I was awoken by a servant saying that the Baron requested the pleasure of my company over breakfast.  I spent a good hour getting myself all gussied up and was escorted to the Baron’s private dining chamber where he sat with a gaunt looking Hallerhad at a table with enough food for a dozen men.  He looked very pleased with himself for reasons unknown, I mean even more than usual for a Baron.  I helped myself to some Honey Nut Cake with Orange Marmalade, Strawberry and Banana Pastries with Sausage and Bacon, and some Mulled Cider while the Baron gassed on about whatever and I made the appropriate noises of response.  If you could get some kind of magic music box that could replicate my voice I bet I could record an occasional “Yes My Lord, how wonderful My Lord” and you could switch any number of noblewomen out with it  and their husbands or what have you wouldn’t even notice.  Add in a hole for them to have sex with and the whole institution of marriage might be over.  Eventually with much harrumphing and adjusting of the belt the Baron got down to business.

“I’ve given a great deal of thought to this idea of a contest, I shant call it a duel, that you have requested.  I have decided to allow it, although this is all highly irregular.  I can’t have my close advisor being at odds with . . . my wife’s cousin and her relatives.  However the terms are not even enough – banishing Hellerhad is much greater in consequence than you just having to apologize my dear.  For this contest to be a fair one the penalty must be equal on each side.”

“Just so my Lord.”

He grinned like a maniac “Therefore, if you choose to proceed, should you win Hellerhad shall be banished from my lands, but if Hellerhad is the one that prevails . . . . you shall marry him!”

He guffawed like this was some great piece of comedy.

I looked at Hellerhad who appeared nauseated “That sounds reasonable My Lord.  Well done.”

He laughed and pounded the table so hard I thought half the food was going to jump off onto the floor.  It took him a while to regain his composure.

“The original caretakers of this land before they were removed in disgrace, the Wesel family, were not renowned for their wealth but they were known for a certain ability in the mystical arts.  Before this great hall that you reside in was built they maintained a residence in the woods, it’s long gone now of course, but there is a crypt where many generations of Wesels were laid to their final rest in the sweet bosom of Adariel.  The area around this patch of land has an uncanny quality that seems to attract the  creatures of the fey realm, hence no on goes there overly much.”

“Why would they anyway My Lord?  The Wesel family is gone and forgotten, the Juosts rule this land now.”

“Quite right.  According to the records Mariscalcus Wesel, the grandfather of the last Lord Wesel to rule here, was interred in this crypt with his staff of office.  An object reputed to be imbued with certain interesting abilities that intrigue me.  When I was granted these lands that scepter should have passed to me by right, in fact it is mine by right, I merely need to take it into my possession.”

It was clear where this was going – the contest was to be a grave robbing challenge, whoever came back with the stick would be the winner but he belabored the point for several more minutes.  Graverobbing is both illegal and immoral of course, but when a Baron tells you to do its wrong not to do it.  It was also abundantly clear that the Baron expected that I would refuse this errand and give up on the whole thing and he and Hellerhad could go back to being best friends, he was both shocked and disappointed when I asked him when the contest would begin.

He pursed his lips outrageously, looking somewhat ducklike “Lady, I’m not sure you comprehend, travel through the forest to the Wesel Crypt will be perilous and fraught with peril both – to say nothing of the perils involved!  Why a mischievous pixie might tangle up your skirts!  It’s important that you understand this undertaking and the peril involved.”

He went on at length on that topic as well.  Trying to impress upon me the dangerousness of the wilderness such as getting the hem of my skirt muddied or seeing a mole or stepping on an acorn.  He really thought that he was getting over on me with this choice of contest.  He only stopped winging on about it once I was able to convey to him that while I was putting on a brave face now I would clearly quit immediately and Hellerhad would be the winner.  It was a subtle piece of chicanery but that’s why I’m the best at what I do.  Whatever that is.  

Once he was satisfied that the contest would be no contest at all he said that it would begin the day after his big feast, but I convince him to move it up to this afternoon – I said that way if I should happen to fail Hellerhad and I could be married at that same occasion.  He was quite amused by that and I’m sure that’s what convinced him.  He had a list of rules that he went over, but it’s hard to see how he thought he was going to enforce them.  It’s not like there’s a judge watching over a grave robbing competition.  Unless you count the Gods themselves.  I wonder if they care about graverobbing.  Seems like they wouldn’t.  They’re just after the delicious souls right?  Matter of fact I bet there’s a minor God OF graverobbing.  There seems to be some God for just about everything. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,660 gold

XP: 1,096,451

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales

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

Mantelderith 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It was quite a while before anyone found us.  As I said we watched the sun rise yesterday and it was dark before a couple grim faced blood-splattered soldiers came marching up the stairs to our not very secret secret hiding place.  You’d think that checking the perimeter (or whatever) would be one of the first things that you’d do once the fighting was wrapped up.  You’d also think that finding your wife would be a pretty high priority.  But the old Baron has just been freed from the malevolent depraved mind control of Kostelos witch so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – it’s probably akin to be hung-over, you’re not at your best.  Takes some time to get your wits about you and make good decisions again.

The soldiers escorted us and we escorted the Baroness to an almost genuine looking teary reunion with the good Baron – much hugging and exchanging of pretty words.  He explained sorrowfully to us all that his mind was not his own when he was betraying his sacred wedding vows.  Although I felt that message was undercut somewhat because he spent a good deal more time going into detail about how the witch turned herself into a comely young woman for these couplings.  There was no mention of any of his other violations of the wedding vows which if you ask me was a missed opportunity.  Were I the Baron I would have taken that chance to explain that the witch had been messing with my mind for years – which caused all the infidelities of the past.  I also would have elucidated that there was still a little witch magic rattling around in here that was to blame for the infidelities I had planned in the future.

Since Martialla and I had robbed the Baron of his revenge by killing the witch and the shaman and the witch-shaman (and possibly a shaman-witch) he had to settle for a mass hanging of the handful of Kostelos warriors that had been captured.  A popular thing for rich and powerful people to order in these scenarios is to leave the bodies to rot on the walls as some kind of lesson but that presents all manner of logistical problems.  Rotting corpses aren’t very handy to have hanging around (pun).  To make him feel better about not getting to execute any Kostelos women I presented him with Greysmith’s dwarf-axe saying that it had been the weapon of mightiest Kostelos warrior in the battle. 

The good news is that Zedkath had been captured.  With very little prompting he said that the goal of the Kostelos-Satander alliance was succession from our beloved Kingdom and the creation of a new kingdom dedicated to their God and their cultural whatevers.  I got the impression that Zedkath had gotten mixed up in the scheme out of boredom rather than any manner of religious ecstasy, a theory which Martialla backed up.  I guess that’s what you get when you send an ambitious young asshole warrior to guard a mountain pass instead of to the front lines where he can make a name for himself.  Although I suppose that was the point, the Duke doesn’t need any rivals. 

I explained to the Baron how I saved him and all his lands making sure to downplay everything I had done and emphasize that he had mostly broken free of the spell himself and had probably only fallen under it in the first place because of something someone else had done.  I told him how his lands had fallen into disarray and that many of his holdings have been either given away in his name or were being usurped – particularly usurped by Baron Saltwheel and Baron Harmenkar.  Since the Kostelos had done such a good job of stripping him of his loyal fighting men I suggested that Mord’s crew of warriors would help him start righting the ship – they’re not your typical baronial sworn men but these aren’t typical times and they had proven themselves effective in doing their small part to help him had they not?

After all that talking it was late and I was dispatched with Martialla to my old room – someone else had been living there clearly but the man (either a very casual soldier or a servant with a weapon) that escorted us assured us that they wouldn’t be coming back.  I wonder how many “innocent” bystanders got the shaft in this whole fiasco.  I had a weird sense of repetition being back in that room – even though it was full of someone else’s possessions.  For a weird moment it felt like I had never left.  Before I banished it I was overwhelmed with the helpless feeling of being trapped here that I had when they first demonstrated that they could track me with the necklace they’ve sealed around my neck.  But things are different now.  So many things are different now.  Things such as waking up in a bed – a nice bed.  A nice bed a place that is safe (sort of) and has good food and clean water and zero lurking rays (probably).  Case in point when I woke up Martiall was sitting by the window eating breakfast corn and having herself a morning cocktail. 

She nodded over at me as I stirred “How were the nightmares?  Soul crushing or just spirit destroying?”

“I’m not even sure it was a nightmare.  I dreamed that Auraluna Domeil’s daughter was working with a group of blood wizards to turn the Queen into a vampire with their blood ritual so they could control her with their vampire controlling amulet.”

“Ah yes, who doesn’t have one of those?”

“Exactly.  Of course I was the only one who had the cure and I needed to get it to the Queen before it was too late.”

“Where was I?”

“Absent.  I assume you sacrificed yourself to the Blood God in order to get the cure.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Why would I try to save the queen?  It’s a dream, they don’t have to make sense.  Speaking of, I promised to tell you about a new development.  The ghost or spirit or something of an ancient Emperoress has visited me a couple times and wants me to help her come back to life or something.”

“How tedious.  Also it’s Empress.”

“You mean it’s impressive.” 

“No, it’s Empress, you said Emperoress.  That’s not a word.”

“Impress who about what?”

“No, not IMpress, EMpress.”

“What?”

“Forget it.”

After breakfast the Baron gathered everyone in the town square and made a grand declaration that in three days’ time there would be a great feast in honor of his victory so everyone better get off their ass and fix up all the damage that had been done in the fighting.  That’s a pretty good example of how life works for these people.  You work like a dog all day and then suddenly out of nowhere there’s fighting and fires burning in your home.  You hide or run or do whatever and manage to survive the night – congratulations now you have to clean it all up!  Oh, and also this extra work that needs to be done right now!  And these are the privileged ones – they’re lives are much better than the farmers out in the countryside.  It’s almost enough to make you feel like those Black Bride/Widow/Whatever people are onto something.  Almost.  Remember how I accidentally created that movement?  Well not accidentally, but unintentionally. 

After that I “got” to attend to the Baroness since all her ladies in waiting had been killed or fled or killed while trying to flee.   Things were so dire that even Martialla was impressed into service as one of the Baroness’ attendants.  Martialla clomping around the Baroness’s sitting room?  That’s how bad things were.  After a couple hours on Baroness duty I managed to slip away and leave Martialla to attend to her needs by herself – which is probably the worst thing I’ve ever done to her.  And remember that I stabbed her a few days ago.  It might be the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone.  Maybe not. 

I went to see the Baron and who did I see by his side but Hellerhad.  It took me a moment to recognize him since he was dressed in fine clothing now instead of being draped in animal guts, but a man that size with that stupid of a mustache?  You don’t forget a sight like that.  What’s the world coming to when a man like that is a wizard?  He’s got to be close to seven feet high and he looks like he could pick up a manatee like a sack of grain.  Or at least a dugong. 

“Good morrow My Lord, I thought all your enemies had meet their final disposition.”

He frowned “Speak plainly woman, what can you mean?”

I lowered me head demurely “Sorry My Lord, I just assumed that Master Hellerhad being the powerful man of magic that he is could have long ago broken the witches spell that affected you rather than leaving you to struggle free triumphantly as you did.  Much hardship and loss could have been prevented if he had defended you as one should their liege lord.  Ergo I assumed he was your enemy by proxy.”

The Baron’s frown turned into a look of curiosity as he glanced at his advisor “Do you know this woman?”

He nodded “We met briefly while you were away My Lord.”

“Yes, met when I went asked for his aid in protecting the Baroness, and in helping her to manage the land in your absence.”

“And what was his response?

“Why don’t you tell the Baron what response you gave to my supplication Master Hellerhad.”

His face turned to stone and he paused before speaking “My Lord, it was purely a case of bad timing, you see . . .”

“Very bad timing I must imagine, for there was no response at all My Lord.  Master Hellerhad sent me on a fool’s errand and then fled like a thief in the night, leaving not so much as a word to me or your good wife.”

Hellerhad was halfway out of his chair before the Baron waved him back irritably.

“This is a serious accusation.  Do you deny it sir?”

Hellerhad stopped glaring at me to look kindly at the Baron “It’s not quite that simple your Lord, the situation is more complex than a woman . . .”

“How convenient.  I think it’s very simple, I came to you for help and you ran on account of your cowardly soul.”

The Baron gave me the stink eye “That’s twice you’re interrupted when it is not your place to do so.  Don’t do it again.”

I curtsied retiringly “Apologies My Lord, it’s been an eventful few days, all the excitement has made me forget myself.”

“Hmm, yes, quite so.  Well, this is a troublesome problem isn’t it?  I shall need good councilors around me in the days to come and they are sadly in short supply just now.  I was counting on Hellerhad to advise me on many matters, many matters indeed.  But as you say his absences before now is rather damning.”

Hellerhad now did stand to address the Baron “My Lord all I can say is that I am here to provide you all the wisdom I have to offer.”

“My Lord, if I may, two relations of mine have traveled here with me, I would suggest that they could provide much better counsel than this vondrook and would be happy to do so.”

The Baron was shocked by my language “Madam, you forget yourself!”

I ducked my head in apology once again “I’m sorry My Lord, but the sight of a blackguard sitting at your strong right hand quite inflames my passions.”

Hellerhad spun on me “Blackguard?!  How dare you madam?  How dare you?!”

The Baron gestured at him “Sit down my friend.  Perhaps you should remove yourself until your passions are calmed Lady.”

Another bloody curtsy “I shall My Lord, again my apologies for any upset I have caused.  Before I retire however I would like to bring up one thing.  You spoke of a boon for the small part that I played in your return to your faculties.  I would request that it be banishing this scapegrace from your court.”

“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

“How about a duel My Lord?”

He looked like a rabbit had just ridden by on the back of a giraffe “A duel?”

“Yes My Lord, a contest of some sort.  If I win Master Hellerhad is exiled.  If he wins I shall apologize and never speak ill of him again.  We’d have to figure out some fair competition of course, clearly I cannot match magic with him just as he’s no match for me physically.”

He was incredulous “What?  I could break you in half with one hand!”

“So it would have to be something where we had an equal chance – letting the Gods decide as is the intention of these things.”

The Baron’s surprised turned to deep thought “An interesting proposal.  I shall think on it.” He waved his hand airily “You may go now.  And in the future don’t turn up in my chambers unannounced.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it My Lord.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

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

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

Myam 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 2

The problem with confronting a mob is that the best way to address them is take up a position exactly where you don’t want to be if things go south.  That’s a weird expression.  The North is the place that sucks.  You should say that things “went north” when they go awry.  Anyway, with the power of my voice and my commanding presence I made my way through the crowd to the epicenter of the conflict.  Stone had been doing his best to try and cool the situation but his best wasn’t very good – I mean the guy’s a labor organizer not an orator, what do you want from him?  Being in the most dangerous spot did gave me a better look at the ringleaders of this confrontation.

I got the sense that the fellow in the old city watch uniform was the main instigator.  He had a chaotic mess of brown hair that was badly in need of a trim but it did nicely frame his lean, hard face – quite by accident I assume.  There’s a couple looks you see on the faces of people who once had a comfortable living and now are now guttertrash, the most common is a blank numbness, just not understanding to believing what happened to you.  The second most common is despair and utter hopelessness, knowing full well what’s come to pass and not being able to do anything about it.  But this fellow had the third and most rare – hatred sharpened on the twin stones of suffering and anguish.  A look of hunger that shouts out that this person is going to get it all back or die trying – or more likely make other people die trying.  Or really both probably. 

You rarely see a half-orc with facial hair but the second of the trio had big beefy sideburns that made his bald pate even more prominent.  He had a very long face for a half-orc, looked very marginally like an elf face only magnified to double the size.  He had little notches cut out of the tops of both his ears that were too similar to be battle-wounds, although what kind of adornment that is I have no idea.  The broken longsword he was waving around looked like it had once been a very fine weapon – the hilt was wrapped with some kind of exotic leather (manticore?) and was ornate enough that I wasn’t sure if it was a functional weapon or an ornamental deal.  He was backing the play of the fake watchman but the impression I got was that he didn’t really care about what was happening, he was just looking for a reason to get loud and try and intimidate people.  There are people out there that just want to pick a fight, they don’t really care with who.  Whom?  Who. 

The third member of the angry mob leadership committee looked even older once I got a good look at him.  As battered and scuffed up as his plate mail looked he himself looked even more abused by time.  He still had a goodly amount of wispy white hair but the lines on his face were so deep they were more like cracks in his flesh.  His eyes were so droopy I wasn’t even sure if they were open and his nose looked like it had been broken about a hundred times.  Based on how ancient his face was it was shocking to see him walking around at all let alone being draped in what I have to assume is sixty pounds of armor.  He must be one of those stout old guys who look like they could crumble to dust at any moment but are actually tough as an old tree stump.

I tried to address my questions to Tree Stump as he seemed the most reasonable, but Fake Guard jumped in to answer most of the time.  This mob had assembled because someone (I think we know who) was been spreading the rumor that what was being built here was temporary art installation to honor a Vieland diplomat who was going to be visited in a few weeks.  Which is a story so ludicrous that it’s absolutely going to gain some traction.  The beauty of that rumor is that the truth, that we’re building a demon-cage, is so implausible that you can’t use that to counteract the claims in question.  Instead I decided to try and go with the flow, saying that it was indeed an art installation but that it had nothing to do with dirty Vieland dogs and instead was dedicated to the new Queen.  What I hadn’t considered though is that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge, even though she’s not really, so it backfired on me a little.  But instead of changing course I doubled down, playing up the fact that it was really about the Kingdom and the people rather than the queen herself.

Over the course of a solid twenty minutes I orally sparred with the three men and I say this without a hint of overestimation – I eviscerated them.  I could see the mob around them seeming to shrink before my eyes as all the wind went out of their sails.  I belittled them and made a mockery of their retorts.  I baited them into verbal traps and they stumbled into them headlong.  I appealed to the emotions of the crowd, I plucked at their heartstrings.  I had stories and tales that framed my overall message.  My reach was total, my tower secure, my cause noble, my power pure – they were eating out of my hands by the end.  I had that mob completely talked down.  And none of it meant shit when someone hurled a rock and smashed one of Stone’s leg breakers in the face.   Half an hour of work to defuse the situation all undone in one second.  It’s an unfair reminder that violence always wins.

In a heartbeat it was a full-scale melee as the mob attacked the workers and their handful of protectors.  I turned invisible but it hardly mattered – I was right in the thick of it.  My only goal was not to get knocked down and trampled and to get the Hells out of there but I still ended up getting shoved from behind and sent flying to the ground.  I realized that being invisible maybe wasn’t a benefit since there might be a few people who wouldn’t intentionally stomp on a woman if they could help it.  I ended the effect and scrambled to my feet in the midst of the whirling fists and shouting.  There isn’t much that really frightens me, I mean really and truly frightens me at the core – but one of those things is the idea of being trampled. 

Crowds are a part of city life.  You pass through them without even thinking about it – some part of your brain guides you through without even touching anyone.  There are even times when you join a crowd voluntarily – a public hanging, a victory parade, an entertainer – you press together in a weird kind of communion with strangers that transcends the fear of being touched.  But the transition from good natured civic smooshing to suffocating pressure occurs imperceptibly – you don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late to escape.  Everything seems fine but then you feel pressure on all sides of your body.  You realize that you can’t raise your arms. You are pulled off your feet, and melded into a block of people. The crowd force squeezes the air out of your lungs, and you struggle to take another breath.

The crowd is like a living thing, but it’s one without thought.  It can’t be bargained with or bullied, you can’t talk your way around it.  It’s like a natural disaster – power being exerted without intelligence.  What can you do but hope that it doesn’t take you?  It’s all the anger and violence inside of people without any of the gates built up by morality or society or religion.  After all if two hundred people all step on a woman one time each who’s to blame?  “I just stepped on her once, I didn’t kill her – and only because someone else was pushing me.”  It’s the ultimate in deflected responsibility.  It’s the pure inverse of a victimless crime, it’s an offenderless crime.  Someone is dead and there’s no one to blame.

My initial strategy was to try and stay upright, protect my head and just go with the flow of the crowd.  But this resulted in my being pushed towards the center over and over so I adopted a new plan – take out your dagger and stab the shit out of anyone near you.  This was much more effective.  I managed to get clear of the press and catch my breath.  This whole process took maybe ninety seconds but it felt like forever and a day.  I thought that the good news was that it was just a relatively small number of people in a single clearing maybe a block wide, but then I looked down the street to the north and I saw a group of a dozen men pry a cobblestone from the ground and hurl it through the window of a shop – they went in through the shattered glass and drug a man and woman screaming out into the street where they started to beat and kick them.

I looked down the street to the west and saw a dwarf with a bloody head wound hurling a flask of alchemist’s fire into a market stall and setting it ablaze.  A riot is like a wildfire, it can spread quickly but this was something else – Lypara Emprenzo (if she’s behind this and it seems pretty likely that she is) had agents in place to fan the flames, people were waiting for this, they were ready, it was their chance to release their animal side.  I should know since I pulled the same trick in Graltontown.  Standing there, looking at danger on all sides, I couldn’t help but once again think how much going up against the bride of the Hells was like trying to defeat myself. 

I turned invisible again and waited for a moment to make a dash – ending up in an alley where I found a young woman in a maid’s dress clutching at a holy symbol of Adariel and whispering prayers as she cowered against the wall.  In the split-second after my invisibility faded but before I was deciding whether to ignore her or help her a four men came tumbling and falling into the alley as well – being driven forward by six guardsmen with big heavy shields side by side forming a wall.  They marched step by step forward, herding the four men before them like sheep. 

Trapped, one of the men turned and looked at us with wild eyes, dashing forward and yanking the praying women to the feet and holding her like a shield in front of him.  One of his fellows came at me to do the same and I stabbed him three times in the neck as the guards continued inexorable forward battering the other two men before them.  They praying woman screamed in terror as the man grabbed her by two handfuls of her dress and shoved her forward at the guards like she was a battering ram and not a ninety pound girl.  The shields of the guardsmen turned slightly to the side and through the narrow slits came the flash of spearpoints – skewering both the woman and the man holding her. They continued their slow steady movement forward, stabbing down the other two men with their spears as well and showing no sign of slowing or halting.

“What the fuck are you doing?!  Stop!”

I’m not sure if they didn’t hear me or didn’t care – they kept coming like a miniature spiked wall, a trap in some bad adventure novel.  I grabbed my Flask and activated it for a swig of magic – growing instantly to more than ten feet tall.  This even didn’t give them pause, at least until I reached over the shields and picked up one of the men like a child and hurled him back into the others, knocking them arms and legs akimbo.  With my new stature I was able to reach up the roof of the building to one side and pull myself up – but the roof immediately groaned with my increased weight.  Moving as slowly and carefully as I could I tried to crawl to and down the other side but the roof collapsed under me, sending me crashing into what I think was a textile shop of some kind – not only knocking the wind out of me but also piercing me with broken boards.  The worst part was that I was too large to get out the door so I had to stay there stuffed in like a leg in a stocking until the magic wore off.  By then the riot was in full swing.

I saw maids and servants dumping waste bins, meat trimmings, and chamber pots off the balcony of a building into the masses below who responded with a barrage of rocks and debris.  I saw two men grabbing giant bags out of a granary and ripping them open, spilling food out into the streets were people raced to fill their pockets, skirts, and whatever they could grab to fill with grain.  I saw women running screaming from a fancy building with a red tinted glass window attempting to cover their nakedness with bedsheets and mismatches pieces of clothing.  I saw a bloody and battered man sitting in the doorway of a looted building crying.  I saw a man on the roof of a building firing indiscriminately into the crowd below with a crossbow.  I saw a shirtless man with elaborate tattoos tying another man to a rope of other people already lashed together like a chain-gang.  I saw a sobbing man trying desperately to bandage the bleeding stomach of a woman in the back of a wagon.

“Well fuck.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet

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 

Mede 6 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The three remaining Heroes of the Lost Sword did not return to our camp last night.  The cult leader, who said his name was Laidin proved to be so annoying I’m having second thoughts on taking him back to town alive.  He begged, the pleaded, he promised us a fortune in cash and prizes, he tried to play on our sympathy for his rough upbringing – he never shut up is the point.  Even when Martialla threated to conjure molten metal in his mouth he kept whining.  I suppose he has nothing to lose and everything to gain – I’d do the same if I was in his position only I’d do it well.  I stayed up watching him outside the pavilion so Martialla could get some sleep and eventually he ran out of steam and fell asleep in a ball beside the fire. 

At the crack of dawn Rokia, her assignment complete, was out of there, I can’t say as that I blame her.  I gave her a very generous bonus since her work ended up being a little more complicated than we had originally discussed.  She didn’t even glance back at us as she rode away with her faithful hound running alongside the hooves of her steed.  Martialla and I were still puttering around the camp trying to decide what to do with Laidin when the Heroes returned.  Thomasina did not look happy, Stannum was indifferent, while Rikcard seemed upset by what was happening.

“Good morning friends, what’s the news?”

Thomasina dismounted and stomped up to me “I don’t know if you killed Kara or not, but if you didn’t kill her you let her die like a coward while you did nothing.”

I locked eyes with her “I’m telling you that I did no such thing.”

“And I say that you’re a liar and a no-good cowardly bitch.”

I stood up, looking down at her from a good six inch height difference “I’ll give you a chance to take that back now.  But just one.”

“Fuck you whore.”

I nodded “Madam, I challenge you to a duel.  I am mortified by your litany of slurs.  You mistake for me a fool and a bumpkin who will swallow your insults?  I am neither.  You are an unfit rival but this is a bell that can’t be unrung.  How do you respond?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s pretty simple, do you want to duel me or not?  If not shut your Gods damn mouth and walk away.”

Rikcard once again tried to be the voice of reason “Thomasina we don’t know what happened there’s no reason to . . .”

Stannum scoffed “Oh let her fill this mouthy bitch with bolts if that’s what she wants to do.  Maybe it will make her feel better about Kara being dead.” He gave me a wicked look “Besides I’d to see that.”

“You’re an unpleasant man you know that?”

Rikcard tried to talk us out of it but soon enough we were at twenty paces with our crossbows.  This may be one the dumbest things I’ve ever done.  I can’t even tell you now why I did it – taking someone on head to head?  That’s not my style.  I guess the only good thing about it that I can say is that I won.  That’s not terribly comforting though when you’ve been shot seven times.  After taking my final shot I collapsed to the ground and it halfway seemed like Stannum was going to come finish me off but Martialla faced him down and he rode off, abandoning Rikcard.  Martialla did what she could to help me, which wasn’t much.

“One of us should learn how to heal if we’re going to keep getting into scrapes like this.”

“I wouldn’t recommend getting into a scrape like that ever again – why did you just stand there?”

“She was going hit me anyway, I figured I should concentrate on offense.”

“That was one of the damnedest things I’ve ever seen.  You make some strange decisions.”

Rikcard watched Martialla’s fumbling for a while and then came over to help, not only with practical first aid but also with a magical elixir that he concocted on the spot. One thing I’m probably never going to get used to – being on death’s door one moment and then basically fine the next.  This is a strange world fighting types inhabit.

“Thank you, but why did you help me?”

“I like helping people.  When Kara and I started out together that’s what it was about.  I’m not sure when things went sideways.”  He looked me full in the face “Did you kill her?”

“I didn’t, I swear that to you before all the Gods.”

He nodded slightly “I believe you.”

“If we hurry back to town maybe you can get the payment before Stannum.  You could help a lot of people with the money if that’s what you’re into.”

Rikcard didn’t seem terribly enamored with the idea but he came with us anyway.  He turned his horse loose and we traded off doubling up on our magically boosted steeds, making it back to town in record time.  We went with Rikcard to meet up with the merchant and collect the money, but he insisted on leaving a share for Stannum for when he showed up.  After some awkward small talk we went our separate ways – Martialla and I turned Laidin over to Lady Foxglove and then headed for the stables.

“Does your honor require you to challenge anyone else or what’s the next move?”

“I guess we go back to Alleene and see if it worked?”

“Hardra?  You did it?”

“I did something, we’ll see if it was all bullshit or what.  Plus it’s been a while, I should probably check in with my dear cousin.”

Whatever Martialla was going to say was lost in the familiar shout “Stop in the name of the law!” and we were quickly surrounded by a gaggle of mail-shirted lads with blue tabards as well as a captainy looking fellow in civilian clothing.

“What can we do for you fine gentlemen?”

“You are bound by law under accusation of horse thievery!”

“You don’t have to shout, I’m right here.”

Martialla interjected “Both of us of just her?”

“Both of you!  Colonel Tarl Ciarán was quite clear on that matter! ” 

“Oi.”

Several hours later I was cooling my heels in a holding cell when I saw Stannum dragged in shouting and fighting with the guards.  They gave him a good whack to the head and then tossed him in the cell across from me.  It took him several minutes to get up and then several more minutes before he was done shouting curses at the unseen guards.

“What did they get you for?”

He was shocked at seeing me across from him “Those two priests we rescued said that we stole all the stuff from their temple! 

“No good deed huh?”

“Why are you here?”

“Violation of the treaty signed in 633 to protect the facial hair of men of quality – insulting a rich man’s mustache.  But you should have heard what he said about my hair first, I was just retaliating, there’s no justice I tell you.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .057% 

Funds: None

XP: 277,451

Inventory:  Totem Tattoo (Lion)

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