Mantelderith 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After my visit to the temple yesterday I was ensnared the rest of the day in the big celebration.  The okay food and not great booze were plentiful, as were speeches.  Lots and lot and lots of speeches.  A couple of them were decent.  There was entertainment I think.  Something happened that may have been an attempt at a play.  Some people with musical instruments were doing something that had some of the same qualities as actual music that would be played by musicians.  All the people that were honored a few days ago were re-honored.  Those who were not honored were honored to be in the presence of the honor of those who were honored.  If it needs to be said it was a dull affair. 

This morning I was able to duck out on the Baroness with the excuse that I was going to services in town rather than praying in the chapel with her.  The place was packed to the gills.  I have no idea what kind of crowd they normally get, but I have to assume that it was inflated by the festival yesterday – people have a more to atone for after something like that than a usual day.  I was surprised to see Rakhaj Ivezh in attendance, not because he’s hard to miss, but I wouldn’t have expected a professional killer to be a religious sort.  The Duke had raised to a high enough position (you know, by being born) that he didn’t have to pretend to be pious so it had been years since I had attended a service.  It was actually kind of nice with the singing and stories about how you should be good and the sense of community and all that.  I can see why people get into it.  After it was over I caught Rakhaj before he disbursed with the rest of the crowd.

“Has your soul been saved yet?”

“It’s a work in progress.”

“Keep me updated on that.  In the mean time I’ve got a job.  I want to head into the forest today to clear up a little thing I have going with whatever fey creatures says they’re in charge.  Find Belzegara and tell her what we’re doing and see if she wants to come along.”

“Who’s Belzegara?

“Martialla can show you.”

“Okay, who’s Martialla?”

“Just find either of the two women who were with me out by the tomb.”

“Where would I find them?”

“Good Gods, just ask around, what kind of a hired goon are you?”

“The goon kind, not the finding people kind.”

“Just go will you?”

It was probably an hour after the service was over that I was finally able to speak with the priestess.  People kept coming up to her to shoot the breeze with her about this and that and whatever like they didn’t even know that I was waiting to talk to her.  People can be so inconsiderate sometimes.   Eventually though I was able to pry her away from her adoring congregation and get down to business. We went back to her office and she took off her fancy preaching robes to reveal her casual robes underneath.  I wonder how many layers deep it goes.

“I was good to see you in the crowd today.”

“Tell me something, why are religious things so early in the morning?”

“People need to get to work.”

“So why not have them at the end of the day?”

She smiled faintly “We have services then also.”

I made a sour face “And you expect people to go to them both?  Forgive me, but how many times do people need to hear ‘be good’?  After a while doesn’t the message just become noise?”

“It never hurts to be reminded of Adariel’s plan for humanity.  I have good news for you.  I performed divinations and consulted with my fellow sisters and brothers in the cloth and we feel that you don’t have anything to worry about.  Adariel revealed to us that the spirit you encountered has no such power as he threatened you with.  He’s not able to leave his tomb nor does he have any ability to influence things outside it’s borders.  He was just trying to frighten you.”

“Well it worked.  You ‘feel’ that he can’t hurt me?  How strongly do you feel that way?  Strong enough for a guarantee strong?”

“There are no guarantees when it comes to dealing with these creatures, there are no rules that govern the undead.  I feel confident that it’s not anything you need to worry about.  Besides which the situation is likely going to be resolved before the next full moon anyway.”

“Why?”

“As you said, this Lord Wesel isn’t truly a malevolent being, he’s the victim of powers beyond his control.  If we can help him to find peace among his ancestors that’s a worthy goal.”

“That’s awfully charitable of you.”

“Thank you for bringing the matter of our attention.  Your motives may have been selfish ones, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have an altruistic ending to the story.”

“This is the problem when dealing with unholy abomination from beyond the grave – you have to take their threats seriously because how are you supposed to know what they can or can’t do?  It’s some tricky shit.  Sorry.”

What would be funny is if the grave-monster Wesel actually could and is going to kill me and the church of Adriel was setting me up.  Wouldn’t that be hilarious?  You see because they’re reputed to be so nice and kind.  I returned to the manor to find my mostly new crew but they were nowhere to be found.  I asked around but no one seemed to be willing to talk about them, which I guess I can’t blame them for.  The Baron had never actually un-outlawed Martialla so the situation was probably confusing to them – why was this outlaw hanging around?  And they were probably already pretty confused by the Kostelos taking over the place for a while.  Figuring that they had gone into town, I went back to look for them there but when I eventually did find someone that had seen them they said that they were headed back to the manor.  And by the time I got back to the manor the gate-guard said that they had been there for lunch and then left again. 

Not wanting to continue this theater-level comedy of errors, I decided to take a nap.  Now that I have my amulet back and am not being assaulted in my sleep every night (figuratively speaking, well not figuratively, literally but in my dreams?) I have a lot of sleep to catch up on.  A few hours later when I woke up my three wayward hirelings, well two hirelings and one associate, where in the next room carrying on and raising a ruckus.  I went next door where the three of them appeared to be in the process of moving in.  When she saw me Martialla smiled broadly.

“Check it out, I got them to give us our own room, now I won’t have to sleep at the end of your bed anymore.”

“How did you manage that?”

“I told them it would be easier to keep an eye on us if we were all together.”

“Smart.  So who gets the bed?”

They all turned to look at each other for a moment before Martialla turned back to me“We’ll work it out.”

“Where have you been?  I wanted to go into the forest and kill some faeries.”

“We were doing what you told us, finding out about the necklace.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“What did you find out?”

“We found an old dude who took us to the temple, not the one you were at this morning but the old one where they keep the records.  We fold some old records written by some old priests in a bunch of old documents.”

“Stop saying old, I get it.”

“You’re pretty grouchy for someone who just got up from a nap.  Before the Wesel family ruled these lands it was in the hands of a family by the name of Sateur and these Satuer people are the ones that started the logging in the Iron Timber.”

“Is this going somewhere?”

“Yes, quit interrupting.  When the loggers started doing their thing the creatures of the wood started killing them – they don’t like it when people chop down their trees.  So then knights started coming to kill the fey folk and it turned into a real bloodbath.  Or so the story goes.  One of the Sateur lords back in the day negotiated a deal where only a certain amount of trees would be felled and in return the faerie monsters wouldn’t kill them as much – just reduce the killing back to the normal amount.  Part of this deal was that his wife, and the wife of all the lords of the land hence force throughout time would wear this necklace – so the fey could find her in the event of the Sateur breaking the deal.”

“So Lord Sateur makes the deal and Lady Sateur is the hostage, sounds pretty typical.”

“Doesn’t it though?  Anyway, that’s what you have around your neck.”

“So how do I get it off?”

She shrugged “There wasn’t anything about that in the old records.  They did have the name of the creature or being or whatever made the necklace, I wrote it down because I have no idea how to pronounce it.”

She reached into her pocket for a folded piece of parchment.

“Let me guess, Reuithfatfengins?”

“Sounds right, how did you know that?”

I sighed “Lucky guess.”

“The good news is that it probably doesn’t matter, looks like you’ve going to get your chance to work your magic tomorrow night anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

She handed me another slip of paper.  It was a note from the Baron explaining that for my very small tiny minuscule part in rescuing him I was to receive a reward.  A reward that I would get in his bedchamber tomorrow night.  At midnight.  While the Baroness was at her prayers in the chapel.  He had some particular instructions I who I should prepare myself to collect this reward.  I crumpled it up and tossed into the merrily blazing fireplace. 

“Well I guess I have a date.  He’s going to have to sleep with his wife one of these days if he’s going to sire an heir.”

“Give the guy a break, he’s been faithful for almost half a week.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

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 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Today is the day of the big celebration.  And what is the Baron celebrating?  It’s unclear exactly, but somehow the Baron has done something very noteworthy by being entranced by an old barbarian woman and then being set free of that entrancement through no actions of his own.  I suppose taking credit for what other people have done is kind of his job so it’s probably fine.  In this case I don’t begrudge them a little festival because really what it is comes down to is that it’s a celebration of surviving.  It doesn’t matter much that the Baron didn’t do anything, the fact remains that the crisis is over.  Why not have a drink and kick back and relax?  It’s a cruel world out there, no reason not to take your victories when you can. 

For a jubilee thrown together in three days in a backwoods shithole the festivities today weren’t half bad.  They were all bad!  Classic.  While hilarious that’s not entirely true, the preparations at the Manor itself are pathetic but things are actually pretty festive in Alleene – in a low down countrified kind of way.  A day off work is all most people really need to get excited.  I got up early to head into town and there were plenty of people who were already having themselves a good old time.  The place was festooned with strings of flower garlands (where did all the flowers come from?) and ribbons and the various other accoutrements of gaiety.  Amidst these joyful decorations everyone was chatting and drinking and eating in the spirit of good cheer.  Someone had constructed a castle out of hay bales for the kids to play on and get all scratched up and itchy and there were tents and booths set up for games and shows and whatnot.  Given the quick turnaround it was actually kind of impressive. 

Aleene has no temple of Odobenine, their sole religious installation is dedicated to Adariel.  I was little worried about this because the Odobeninists will do anything as long as you’re willing to pay for it.  Well almost anything.  No, anything.  Adarielianians are a little trickier to deal with.  All religious groups have convictions and codes of conduct and such, but the difference is they actually follow theirs (mostly).  I often wonder how that works with “adventuring” priestesses like those two that were with Bonder (before I killed him).  How are you able to reconcile being a kindly healer and caretaker of the weak and needed with the murderous selfishness of adventuring?  Maybe they weren’t really Adarielists, that’s probably just what they tell people.  That would be typical of adventurers, liars and killers they are, all of them.  I know what you’re thinking, it’s different when I do it – I have a good cause.

The temple had set up an outdoor kitchen or sorts along with a dozen or so long tables and was serving a free breakfast to whoever turned up.  The head priestess is some Juost relative (or course) but the underpriest or whatever you call the second in command of a church, looked to be half Kostelos.  With all the troubles recently on account of Kartak and the Sky Thunders I figured she would be keeping out of sight, but on one seemed to care, in fact she seemed to be rather beloved based on the people that kept coming up to talk to her excitedly.  I suppose the common folk in Alleene probably didn’t even really realize what was going on at the Manor.  When you’re at the bottom of the pyramid it doesn’t matter much who’s at the top.  Those two were watching on approvingly as their smiling charges dished up a hearty slop to the good people of Alleene.  They were also chatting with a tall powerfully built woman and a Shireling who, although they were both decked out in Adariel vestments, had the hint of fighting types about that.  Maybe a knight and her squire come to visit?  Knights are technically supposed to be religious folk, it’s just unusual when you see one that actually is.

I approached the head priestess, she was an homely woman with a narrow face and an overly tight curls in her hair.  A good loose curl can look quite fetching but then they’re all scrunched up like that it looks austere.  I apologized for interrupting her on this day of celebration but explained that it was a matter of urgency.  The maybe knight gave me a somewhat suspicious look but the priestess invited me to speak to her in private without a second thought.  She led me into the temple and through to her offices where she listened intently as I explained my predicament with the undead Wesel and how in less than three weeks my life would be forfeit if I wasn’t able to bring this off.  Once I was done she considered this for a moment and then nodded.

“It can be done.”

I was mildly shocked “It can?”

“Through the power Adariel grants us many things are possible.”

“Many?  Not all?”

She smiled slightly “No, not all.  Resurrection magic is very difficult, and it can be dangerous to the one performing the ritual, but it’s certainly something that can be done.  I lack the power to do it but I know of others in the church that can.”

“That’s great, last time I brought someone back from the dead it was a real pain in the ass.  Uh, sorry, I mean it was a real pain.”

She raised an eyebrow slightly “You’ve done this before?”

“Yes, once.  Someone died when they were in my service, it wasn’t really my fault, but at the time I felt like I owed that to her.  If we’re being honest I’m not sure it really worked out.  She’s alive, but she hates me now.  I have to imagine dying and coming back to life is a pretty traumatic experience, she’s having trouble adjusting..”

“If it makes you feel better you can’t bring someone back against their will, the spirit has to be willing, otherwise the spell fails.  She is in pain now, but she chose to return, and she may find peace again through Adariel’s good grace.  I pray that it will be so.”

“I guess being alive to hate my guts is better than the alternative.”

“Just so.  The question that we must ask is this – it can be done, but should it?  Raising the dead is nothing to be taken lightly.  Many die that deserve to live, is there a reason that our old Lord Wesel should be given a second chance?”

“It would save my life.”

“And?”

“Excuse me?  I thought all life was precious to you people.”

“And so it is.  I don’t mean to sound indifferent but you entered into this bargain freely, if you’re just trying to save your own life I don’t know if the church is going to be all that interested in helping you avid the consequences.  There are many that need aid, and we do our best to help them, but there’s only so much that can be done.  This sort of undertaking is a substantial use of resources.  It needs to be considered carefully.”

“That’s fair.  If you’re looking for justification, you’re right, my motivating is staying alive.  But I think that there’s a compelling case for Lord Wesel.  He didn’t ask to come back as an undead guardian – it happened when people came to disturb his mortal remains and those of his family.  All he wants is to return to the communion of souls, to rest with his ancestors once more.  He’s innocent in all of this, he deserves a chance to rest peacefully doesn’t he?  Not to mention you’d be ridding the world of a dangerous undead thing.”

“Is he so innocent if he’s going to kill you?”

“I don’t hold it against him, being an undead monster probably makes you a little crabby.”

“And what about you?  Is your life worth saving?”

“Isn’t all life worth saving?  I could list off all the great deeds I’ve done and the people I’ve helped, I could list off some real shitty stuff I’ve done as well – sorry – some things that might curl your nips.  But none of that matters in Adariel’s eyes does it?  We’re all her children, none of us favored above the others – from the cruelest blackguard to the kindest saint she had love for us all.”

She smiled “Well said.  Do you believe those words?”

“If you’re asking me if I’m one of the faithful, no I am not, but I believe in the spirit of those words.  Baron, Duke, high priestess, cobbler, cooper, candlestick maker, liar, killer, heretic – we’re all just people.  Some are better, some are worse, but we all stand shoulder to shoulder you know?”

She regarded me for a moment “I get the sense that you’ve lived an interesting life.  And I mean no offense, but you don’t look like the kind we sometimes get making these kind of requests that come from leading an interesting life.”

“You mean like your friend with the sword outside?” She nodded “I just dress better is all.”

“If what you’re saying is true we might be able to help.  I’ll look into your story and decide on the best course of action.”

“When might that be, kind of a tight schedule here you know, what with the impending death and all.”

“Of course, I’ll see what I can find out tonight, meet with me tomorrow after services and I’ll make sure that I keep you in the loop.”

“Sounds good, and when are services?”

She gave me a judgey look, but seriously did she think I was the kind of person who would regularly attend services?  I’ve been wracking my brain but I don’t really have any other ideas to bring Wesel back other than begging the church for help.  That doesn’t sit well with me for a variety of reasons, foremost among them – what if they can’t or won’t do anything?  I need other options.  As I was leaving the priestess’s office I saw the Shireling was leaning against the wall waiting for me.  Even in holy vestments he looked like a mean little piece of work.  I think it was his eyebrows, they made him look like he had a perpetual scowl.  The two blades he had at his sides didn’t help.  He fell in beside me as I walked out.

“There’s another option, Miss Fancypants and I could just destroy this undead menace.”

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that eavesdropping is impolite?”

“All the time.”

“He can’t be destroyed, he’ll just come back.”

“Then there’s no harm in us heading in there and doing a little smiting is there?”

I stopped to turn and face him “I would rather you didn’t do that.  I don’t want anyone messing around with this particular unquiet spirit – not unless I have no other options.  I don’t want anyone making things worse accidentally.  Or on purpose.”

“A lot of people would rather a lot of things didn’t happen, what does that got to do with me?”

“Okay, let me put it a different way – mess around in there and I’ll ruin your fucking life.”

He chuckled and held his hands up “Okay, okay, I won’t tell her ladyship about the undead creature laying curses on people – there’s no way you’d be able to stop her.  She’s like a dog with a bone once she gets on the trail of the undead.  She hates ‘em she does.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“Necromancers.”

“Fair.”

“When the full moon is closer if you haven’t gotten this thing figured look me up and Long Tall Sally and I will go in there and do things the hard way with this undead bastard.”

“Why do you care?”

“Tombs of rich people usually have some expensive stuff in them.”

“What kind of Adarielian are you?”

“Hey sweetheart, holy crusades ain’t cheap.   And these are tough times, the faithful don’t donate like they used to, I’m just doing my part to help fill the coffers of the holy mother during these trying days.”

“Adariel helps those who help themselves right?”

He tapped his nose “Now you’re getting it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

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 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

Emerging from the Wesel family crypt (or whatever) with magic stick in hand I saw that the sun was starting to go down – I had been in there for hours.  Many annoying hours.  I really don’t know how the tomb raiders and grave robbers do it – there’s nothing interesting about crawling around a freezing cold burial mound looking for stuff.  Although I guess when you get down to it it’s a better job than a lot of others.  Waiting for me was Hellerhad who was looking less like a wizard  all the time on account of me  taking all his wizard stuff from him.  I should probably figure out what it does, he claims not to be able to do magic anymore but it was doing something magical for sure – most likely he just has items that can do the magic for him.  Even though he’s literally a million times my size he wasn’t alone, he was standing a safe distance behind some hired goons.  I suppose that’s a compliment of sorts.

Goon number one was massively obese and just massive generally.  He was a few inches shorter than Hellerhad but was twice as wide.  He was dressed rather flamboyantly for such a huge fellow – a gut-plate seemed to be his only real armor other than shin-guards, the rest was just fancy silk and swooshy sashes.  His colossal frame was covered with scars and his hair was neatly piled up in a coil on top of his head.  The only thing that didn’t look elaborate about him was the weighty battle axe he gripped in one hand – it was definitely more of functional chic than anything else he had.  The second goon was a forester of some kind decked out in grey hunting leather that may have been armor.  It’s hard to tell with that kind of stuff.  The final goon was an honest to goodness elf, not one of these halvsies you usually run into.  He looked terrible for an elf.  They’re a comely people you know, but this fellow was gaunt and his face was lined like an old man – his hair had even fallen out and I’ve never known an elf that’s lost their hair.  I don’t know if that means he’s old even for an elf or if some pestilence is upon him but I would wager the latter.

“Evening sir wizard.  How did you recruit these contract killers so quickly?  And what exactly did you contract them with?  I know you don’t have any money since I took it all.  These kind of quality cut-throats don’t come cheap.”

“After our last meeting I knew that I would run into you again so sought them out and I had them on retainer.  When you came back I summoned them, I knew that you would be causing me some kind of trouble no matter if you were in chains.”

“You’re smarter than you look.”

“I’d pretty much have to be would I?

“Isn’t that my line?” I gestured to the man-mountain “I know you, I met you in Heathgrove.”

He squinted at me for a moment “Oh yeah, how’s the soul trading business going?”

“That was just a one-time deal, I got myself in a tight spot and I had to do some dancing to get out.”

He grinned “Given the current situation it seems like getting into tight spots is a habit for you.”

“There’s a double entendre in there somewhere but I can’t lay my finger on it at the moment, I’ll let you know if it comes to me later.  How did the tournament turn out for you?  I got distracted by personal business and missed the finals.”

“I’m alive, I call that a good engagement in the pit-fighting world.”

Hellerhad scowled “Enough of this talk!  Hand over the Wesel Staff and you won’t be harmed.”

I smirked “If you wanted me to marry you so badly you could have just asked me Hellerhad, there’s no reason to go through all of this.  I know it can be scary to put yourself out there in matters of the heart, but it truly is a nothing ventured nothing gained scenario.”

He spat sourly “That bit of idiocy was all the Baron’s doing, I’d sooner share a bed with a viper that you woman!”

“What exactly did I do to you that was so awful?  I’ve done a lot of bad shit to a lot of people, and I can understand them coming after me – but you?   All I did was ask for your help.  What was so terrible about that?  Why do I deserve this treatment from you?”

“You ruined everything!  I was out!  And then you came along . . .” He took a moment to gather himself and catch his breath “It doesn’t matter now.  All that matters is that staying by the Baron’s side is my only choice now.  Give me the staff or I’ll have these men take it from you.  I don’t want you to be hurt, really I don’t, just hand over the staff and let’s make the best of this situation.  Maybe we can help each other.  Once we’re married and I have the Baron’s ear I’m sure he’d take that necklace off you just if I asked him to.”

“You think so?  Even without your magic you think that the Baron will rely on you like that?”

He sneered “The Baron is a fool, he’ll rely on me like a dog relies on its master for food.   He’ll be begging at my hand like a whipped cur.  The man can’t do anything for himself.  Without counselors he’s completely helpless and I’m the only one he has left.  He won’t even notice that I’m no longer a spellcaster.”

“It’s about time, I was starting to wonder if you weren’t here.”

This I said as the Baron and a half dozen of his men appeared out of nowhere beside Martialla and Belzegara, who had been cloaking them with their magic and whatever it is Belzegara calls what she does with her “tricks” (which are totally not magic).  Their task had been to trail Hellerhad all unobtrusive like and if it seemed like he was going to try and jump me after I came out of the tomb to do just what they did – sneak the Baron in invisibly so he could witness the event.  Hellerhad taking shit about the Baron behind his back and admitting that he couldn’t do any magic was just a bonus. 

The Baron, predictably, was not pleased.  Once we were all back at the Manor he was dreaming up all kinds of cruel punishments for Hellerhad but I convinced him to go with banishment just like we had agreed to before.  Although he said that Hellerhad would be banished not just from the Barony but from the whole Kingdom.  I’m not sure he can actually do that, but whatever.  Since apparently I had already unintentionally ruined his life and now had taken all his stuff and gotten him exiled that seems like sufficient revenge.  I really am becoming a soft touch in my old age.  Not old age, young age, but you know what I mean.  I guess I’m maturing as a person.  The hired goons were run off, but before they were given the boot I caught up with gladiator of Heathgrove in the courtyard.

“Do you walk everywhere?  Surely there’s no horse that can hold you.”

“I used to have an elephant to ride from place to place.”

“Really?”

“No, but it sounded good.”

“Last time I saw you you were being flocked by attendants and servants and moderate quality male prostitutes – have you maybe fallen on some hardish times?”

He grimaced slightly “You’re not off your mark.  The bloodsport business has been a little slow lately.  And truth be told I’m not the fighter I once was.  I had plans to win the tournament in Heathgrove and parlay that into another contest that would have given me the money that would have allowed me to retire.” He sighed “It didn’t work out.  I always told myself I wouldn’t be one of those fighters who hangs on too long and ends up dead without ever having known a peaceful day.  Turns out those poor bastards don’t have much of a choice, it’s not our kind have any other marketable skills.”

“You should have learned a trade.”

“I did, but the killing trade isn’t one with a good pension.  I thought that beating up a woman and taking a magic staff would be an easy gig.  A way to get myself back on my feet – financially speaking”

“Depends on the woman obviously.  What did Hellerhad promise you for this job?”

“He said that once he had the Baron’s ear we’d be handsomely rewarded.”

“And you went for that?”

He shrugged “Seemed like it was worth trying.”

“Well I hate to see a good man get the shaft like that, would you accept it if I gave you some funds to help you through these rough times?”

“Am I good man?”

“Good enough.”

He clucked his tongue “I can’t really say no but I don’t feel good about accepting money for nothing.”

“Really?  That’s my favorite way to get money.  If it would make you feel better hang around for a couple days, I may have need of your talents for something else I’ve got working.”

“Stay at the Manor?”

“Yeah, it will be fine for a while – there’s going to be a feast tomorrow. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

He snorted “Is that a comment on my weight?”

“Everyone enjoys a feast, but also yeah, kinda.  What’s your name anyway, never did catch in in Heathgrove.”

“People call me Rakhaj Ivezh”

“Why do people call you corpsemaker in Kostelos?  I mean I get the corpse part but you don’t look Kostelos to me.”

He smiled faintly “Oh, it’s an old story, I’ll maybe tell you it some day.

After getting the big man squared away I had myself a nightcap with Martialla and Belzegara and a bottle of Black Pony Scotch.  The liquor situation here at the Manor is really in bad shape.  Those Kostelos drank most of the good stuff and left nothing but fermented milk behind.  I hope The Baron gets someone on that duty soon.  Who does that?  Is there a like a wine steward for other kinds of booze?  Or does that fall under the authority of the head cook?  There’s so much about running a noble estate that I don’t know. For helping with Hellerhad I paid Belzegara the money she would have made from Martialla’s bounty and gave her the same deal as the Rakhaj – hang around for a bit and I might have some work for you.  Once she took her leave I explained to Martialla why that was.  She said that the next full moon was Macendamandel third.  Assuming she knows what she’s talking about that means I have eighteen days to bring whichever Wesel that was back from the dead.

“Since it took me months and months to bring Hardra back I feel like I’m a tiny bit of trouble here.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t concentrating on it the entire time – it was more like a hobby.  Plus now you know how to do it, that’s the hard part, figuring out out the formula.  I’m sure now that you’re an expert the second time will go much quicker.  More quickly I mean.”

“Sure, should be easy to find a demon I can make a deal with right?  They’re just hanging from the trees.”

“Does it have to be a demon to bring someone back do you think?  Maybe you could try an angel.”

“I’m pretty sure I could find a million demons before I found any sign of a single angel.”

“Pessimist.”

“Prove me wrong Martialla, prove me wrong.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

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 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 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I grant you that my life at the Duke’s court was not exactly like the Baroness’s life here, but even so it’s becoming more and more inexplicable to me how anyone (well any woman I mean) with any kind of a functioning mental capacity can stomach this life without jumping off the highest wall they can find.  Morning prayers. Getting dressed and preparing for the day.  Discussing the recent betrothals, marriages, poetry, and music over breakfast.  Teaching.  Mid-morning prayers.  Lunch.  Supervising the servants.  Embroidery and dance practice.  Evening prayers.  Supper in the main hall.  Day over.  Process repeat.  Over and over and over until death.  And the worst part is that most people (women I mean) would kill for a chance to live like this.  Just so they wouldn’t have to worry about food or getting sick anymore.  The world really is a disgusting place.   Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers. 

Before the BIG ceremony the day after tomorrow there was a smaller ceremony today for the people who actually did the killing and dying to bring the Baron back to his throne.  I mean he was technically always on the throne but you know what I mean.  Martialla and I were not included among the honoraries of course since all we did was everything.  Mord Eli Ciraanova, bookmaker, fight arranger, and (semi)organized crime member was rechristened Sir Mord Eli Ciraanova knight of the realm.  No one seemed to be more surprised about this fact than him.  His new finery sat ill on his frame and he had a look of a man whose head is placed in a guillotine but is facing an open window with a nude woman inside – terrified but optimistic.  This despite the fact that he wasn’t even present for the fighting.  I guess it’s logistically the only way the Baron can make use of Mord’s dick-kickers and eyeball-gougers.  People like that can’t take orders from the Baron directly, nor would any of them be elevated to knighthood.  The Northman with the bird tattoos also received some kind of acknowledgment but I don’t know what.  Whatever the noble equivalent of a “good job” is.  I don’t keep up on these things. 

Only slightly less fraudulently Parfinis and Betrei were made knights as well.  I’m confident that they did no fighting either, but at least they were in the manor while it was happening – hiding in a closest is more than some knights have ever done.  I heard through the grapevine that Jesslin actually did protect some of kitchen staff with her magic, receiving a wound for her troubles, but there was no mention of that of course.  Unlike Mord, my good cousins (or whatever they are) were in hog heaven to be receiving this honor and knew exactly which leg to dip and how high they could raise their eyes and all that courtly bullshit.  Along with them another six newly minted knights were turned out as well as a dozen other squires and honor holders and whatever else – some of them actual fighting men.  I think a butler was posthumously made a baronet (or maybe a paralictor) for saving the Baroness’s petticoat.  This meant that his family was immediately in arrears on their patronage and thrown in debtor’s prison.  Just kidding, that won’t happen for a couple months.

Hellerhad was nowhere to be seen during this very long and very hot service but he did turn up at the feast that came afterwards, sitting at the Baron’s side and laughing like a jackass when he wasn’t giving me dirty looks.   The feast itself was only mildly less tedious than the ceremony but at least the food was good and the drink was, if not good, at least copious.

Martialla was adjusting her dress uncomfortably “Remind me never to get knighted, that thing went on forever.  How many vows are there to swear?”

“Oh, they make you swear and swear they do, the idea is that there are so many vows you can’t help but break one – that way they can screw you over whenever they feel like it.  Like most game it’s rigged, but it’s the only game in town so what can you do?  The good news is that women can’t be knighted, they’re too weak and emotional to save the Kingdom.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

“Indeed.”

“So what’s going on exactly?  We saved the Baron and now . . .?”

“I figure the big celebration day after tomorrow is the good time to ask him to take this necklace off as a show of trust.”

“Which you will immediately betray?”

“Which I will immediately betray, why else work so hard to get someone to trust you?  Then we head back to Graltontown, take care of Beltian and a few other loose ends, and then on to the Duke himself.”

“About time.”

“Tell me about it.”

“What if the Baron doesn’t go for it?”

“I think I’ve proven my loyalty at this point, I doubt he’ll refuse me, but if he does we’ll just have to figure something else out won’t we?  Maybe we can learn something about this necklace and how works, I feel like some monster or other told it was a fey charm.  If I go into the woods there’s probably more mermaid vampires – maybe I can ask one of them.  I was attacked by a mermaid vampire last time I was here you know.”

“No, it’s certainly not something you mention all the time.  Also you said it was a satyr, keep your lies straight.”

“Maybe it was a faun, or a korred, or a baccae, or one of the dozen other fey creatures with goat legs.  Why do fairies like goats so much?”

“Goat is delicious, they probably eat the top half and then not wanting to be wasteful attach the bottom part to themselves.  Then they use the horns to make their flutes.”

“That’s probably it.  Do you think minotaurs and satyrs get along?” 

“I suppose so, they both like getting drunk, that’s usually all it takes for people to get along.  Or . . . not people, but . . . things like that.  Peoplish monsters.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

And we did.  I’ve you’ve never been to a country nobleman’s feast before, which you haven’t, the farther away from the main table you are the less stuffy things are.  Things are reversed with urban sophisticates like the Duke, but out here where nobles take their uptightness serious the only chance of fun is to be as far away from the host as possible.  So there’s a little bit of a silver lining to being snubbed despite your contributions.  As the festivities carried on, down at my table a couple fellows, who no doubt though themselves very “naughty” started up with a little gambling.  Copperante dice bullshit at first, but someone turned up with a deck of cards and soon afterwards a more interested fellow turned up with another deck of cards – you know the kind I mean – and not long after that we were playing Gin and Maidens in earnest. 

Normally in this kind of setting I would refrain from playing – what proper lady would gamble at all, not to mention even playing a game with adult themes and alcohol – and if I did play I would make sure not to win too much.  But for some reason this time I did neither of those things.  Probably the booze was part of it, but I can’t really explain why – maybe I was just tired of restraining myself.  After I had cleaned out all the grooms and butlers and valets and whatnot word had spread and men were coming out of the woodwork to see this fancy lady who was taking everyone’s coin in this lewd game of lewdness.  As the night wore on and I defeated all challengers those who thought themselves seasoned gamblers started to turn up to try and take me down.  There were a couple who gave me some trouble, but the nice thing about being a woman is that no one is going to accuse you of cheating no matter how many hands in a row you win. 

As the night wore on and the feast was losing steam the gambling was still going strong.  I found myself sitting across from Hellerhad.  He was a good player but not a great one.  Like a lot of smart people he mistakes intelligence as a substitute for skill – dummies aren’t going to get far but there’s no substitute for experience.  After about twenty minutes he started using his magic to cheat – subtly, but not subtly enough for me to miss it.   That increased the degree of difficulty so that it was another hour before I had all his money.  For a country butcher he sure had a lot of money.  Maybe there’s a spell that creates gold.  That would be pretty bad for the economy though so maybe it’s just a spell that finds gold – which is fine?

There’s a lot of “wise” sayings about gambling (and everything else) but one that’s actually pretty smart is don’t bet anything you’re not willing to lose.  No matter how sure you are, never put up anything that you aren’t willing to see go away.  Once Hellerhad pulled a ring off his finger and I saw the look in his eye when I swept it up as winnings I knew that I had him in a tough spot.  I could almost see the thoughts running through his mind “I’ll just keep playing until I get the ring back”.  It’s interesting how stupid smart people are sometimes.  Once I had all his items of value I wondered idly if he was going to incinerate me with a spell, but he just sat there looking like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.  You see that look a lot on people who just gambled away all their money – it’s like they blacked out or something.

I turned to say something to Martialla and realized that I could see right through her.  Martialla wasn’t sitting next to me, there was a Martialla illusion there instead.  I hadn’t noticed it before because I was just seeing her out of my periphery.  My first thought was that she had conjured an illusion of herself so that she could sneak away without anyone noticing.  No one would care if she left, but she’s a commoner, she doesn’t know how these things work.  I quickly rejected that idea though, because she would have no reason to sneak away from the drinking and gambling. 

I nodded my head at the illusory Martialla “Hey, butcher, can you track who did this?”

He looked up slowly “What?”

“This illusion of my friend, you’re a great and powerful mage right?  Can you do your thing and tell me what’s going on here?” 

He seemed disinterested until I told him that I’d give him his ring back if he helped me, that sobered him up – not that he was drunk but it snapped him out of his depression, you know what I mean.  He stared at the illusion for a moment and then told me he “had it” and started walking.  I followed him out of the great hall and down the stairs.  As we left the manor house I snapped my fingers at two guards idling outside the door.

“You two, come with us.”

After a moment of surprise they did as they were bid.  Hellerhad led us to the stables where several Juost Manor servants were struggling to load a statue into the back of a wagon under the supervision of a woman who would have been attractive if not for her hideous nose ring and the fact that she was dressed like a man – stupid feathered hat and everything. The statue was the spitting image of Martialla – I’ve never seen such a realistic statue before.  Except of course you know that time where I found all those people that been turned to stone by evil dwarfs. 

Nosering glanced at us and waved her hand “We don’t need any more help, we’ve just about got things wrapped up here.”

I looked at the Juost retainers “Why are you helping this woman?”

They looked back and forth uncertainly between the two of us, and then over at Hellerhad who had nothing to say.

I turned back to nosering “Okay, how about you tell me yourself what’s going on.”

She looked me over “Oh, it’s you.  Would you believe that I’m picking up the statue I had made to look exactly like your friend?

“I’ll believe anything anyone wants for the right amount of money, but somehow I doubt you have the funds to pull that off.”

“I might if you let me drive out of here.” I shook my head and she sighed “Your friend is a notorious outlaw, I was going to collect the bounty on her.  Another few minutes and I would have been free and clear.”

“Somehow you turned her to stone and replaced her with an illusion without anyone noticing?  That’s very impressive.”

“You were pretty engrossed with your gambling, I had some help clouding the minds of everyone else present.  You’re a tough nut to crack mentally, did you know that?”

I pointed at Hellerhand “But you were able to hoodwink the mighty mage?”

She half laughed “He’s not a wizard.”

I turned to him “You aren’t?”

He crossed his arms “I told you when I first met you that I don’t do magic anymore.”

“What about all that wizard shit I took off you?”

“It’s complicated.”

Nosering clasped her hands together “Shall I go then?  Let you two talk this over alone?”

“No, get her down from there.  If this is a legal bounty why all the subterfuge – why didn’t you just tell the Baron he had a criminal in his midst?”

“The Baron and I don’t really get along, plus even if we did he’d probably try to take the bounty for himself.”

“True.  Can you turn her back?”

“That depends.”

“No it doesn’t.  I’ll take that to mean that you  can, so do it right now or I’ll have my not-wizard friend strangle you like a chicken.  Even if he doesn’t have magic look at the size of him.”

She eyed Hellerhad “How could I not?  I’ll unpetrify your friend.  Then what?”

“Clearly you’re a resourceful woman, maybe if you help me out with something the Baron doesn’t need to know about this.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Mantelderith 12 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After chopping down the door (it chopped down if you destroy it?) to the chamber where the Baroness was being held prisoner I realized that it probably would have been safer to leave her in there until the fighting was over.  After all no one should be trying to kill her specifically, and I would judge that door was pretty impregnable if you don’t have a magic dwarf axe.  Oh well, what can I say, I like making an entrance.  Since that horse was out of the barn (so to speak) we escorted her up to one of the parapets of stately Juost Manor.  Is it still a parapet if it’s not on a castle?  What is it, a turret?  You know what I mean, one of the high parts of the manor.  Crossing through the upper hallways we had to kill a couple of the Baron’s men – why they didn’t obey the commands of their Baroness and stand down I don’t know.  They were probably just confused and frightened.  Ironically (?) the only Kostelos we saw, who would be reckoned as our actual enemy turned and ran as soon as he saw us.  Not sure how he knew who we were, I guess word gets round.

The Baroness explained that once her husband came back with his barbaric new friends and started banging a geriatric death shaman she just resolved to keeping her head down and prayed extra hard to Adariel to save her.  After a while though the Kostelos became increasingly paranoid and suspicious that she was working against them so she was locked away until the Baron could be mind-twisted enough to execute his lawful and true ladywife.  She didn’t think it would have been much longer since just the other day he came to visit her alone and gave her a long and confusing “goodbye” speech.  She seemed to think that the timing of our rescue had something to do with that – I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was purely a coincidence.  Actually that’s not true, I had plenty of heart to tell her, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I didn’t resist from chapping her hide about expecting prayers to do anything though.

She smiled “You’re here aren’t you?”

I rolled my eyes “Don’t give me that mysterious ways bullshit.  My being here is not part of some divine plan.”

She looked down her nose at me, which is tough when you’re looking up at someone who’s taller than you “I see your time away hasn’t improved you manners.”

“My manners are fucking impeccable when I went them to be.”

The good Baroness seemed rather anxious about her household being torn apart by chaotic violence, and the potential for her own death probably didn’t help so I asked Martialla to put her to sleep with her magic.  Martialla said that it would only last for a couple minutes but the Baroness stayed asleep even laying on the hard floor for hours.  I guess after the magic wore off she was asleep for real.  Not sure how that works.  What’s the difference between magic sleep and sleep sleep?  I’m sure no one knows.  No one asks questions about magic, not even the people doing the magic, it’s exasperating.  From our high position we had a good view, not of the fighting which was below us, but of the countryside.  We watched the sun rise – which normally I don’t care for but after being stuck in a lightless tomb for a while it stirred a little something inside me. 

“It is beautiful country out here isn’t?  If you like that sort of thing.”

“That it is.”

“What’s today’s date?”

“The twelfth I think.”

“Huh, it’s my birthday.  If I remember correctly last year on my birthday is when I ran into the Hurmont family.  I think that was the first time I got cursed and that time it was by a god no less.  I mean Kratlen, but still a god.  And I believe that was the first time I ran into a secret cult of murderers trying to kill me.  It was definitely the first time I threatened the life of a child.”

“Sounds like quite a day.  What were you doing the year before that?”

“Nothing probably, my birthdate wasn’t anything anyone cared about at court.  The Duke’s birthday though – that was really something.  I bet you could found a colony with the money spent just on the appetizers.”

“You could?”

“Maybe not be but someone could.  I wouldn’t count civil administration as one of my skills.  I’ve heard that deciding on the proper location for a latrine is harder than you think.  Do we need to talk about the stabbing or anything else that happened on the way here?”

Martialla shook her head after a moment “No, I’m good if you are.  That was unpleasant, let’s not do anything like that again.”

“Seemed like you were enjoying it.”

“I thought I might get a little kick out of it, at least at first, but I didn’t.  At all.  Turns out that pretending to betray your friend and treating them like a hated enemy isn’t much fun at all.”

“If you love me so much why don’t you marry me?”

“Maybe I will.”

An hour after sunrise or so we saw a large body of men (and some women maybe) fleeing the grounds.  No one was chasing them that I saw, but they were certainly in a hurry.  It’s hard to say for sure but I think they were the Satander exiles.  I asked Martialla how those dirty foreign bastards got involved in all of this but she didn’t have much information other than that Zedkath had made a deal with them to let them through the gap he was supposed to be guarding.  What that had to do with Kartak or the Sky Thunder tribe or the Kostelos in general she didn’t know.  Clearly though it didn’t work the way they wanted since they were bugging out of the manor with extreme prejudice. 

“I suppose it doesn’t really matter what was going on, probably just another plot against the Kingdom that I’ve thwarted.  It really isn’t fair that I’m an enemy of the Crown given the regularity with which I save the entire nation from certain disaster with nothing more than pluck and determination.  In the stories when the brave heroes save the Kingdom there’s a big ceremony and the King gives them medals – or at least the human members of the party get medals.  The male humans anyway.  I mean there’s only so many meals to go around.  But what do I get?”

“Maybe if you tell the Queen about all the times you’ve saved the realm from our enemies she’ll kill the Duke for you.”

“That would be no good, I have to do it myself.  Speaking of, what do you think happened to Kartak?  You think that shaggy beast got him?  I’m worried that I’m going to have to bring him back to life so that I can kill him myself.  Which, as you know, is a whole can of worms.  Resurrection is a tricky business, it’s a worm on a worm it is.”

“I bet he escaped.  I bet he’s on his way here right now and you can grab him when he shows up.”

“That would be nice.”

“Back to the other thing though, maybe if they capture Zedkath he’ll explain what the plan was and how the Satanders fit into it.”

“He’s here?  I wish you would have told me that.”

“Why?”

“I would have tried to capture him.”

“You think the Duke would care enough about his cousin that he would make himself vulnerable by leaving Indlecastle to come get him?”

“Probably not, but there’s no harm in trying.”

“Isn’t there?  Right now the Duke thinks you’re dead, if he thinks about you at all, if make a move on him and it doesn’t work out that’s probably going to be it.  Once he knows that you’re alive and a credible threat he’s probably going to make sure you’re dead.  I think you’re only going to get one chance at this, I don’t know if this is a situation where you want to just try things and see if they work.  I think you want to make your move only once you’re sure.”

“I suppose you’re right about that, but having the Duke’s cousin under your thumb couldn’t hurt – as the old saying goes it’s better to have the Duke’s cousin as a prisoner and not need him than need the Duke’s cousin as a prisoner and not have him.”

“Wise words.  Does the Duke have any siblings?  Maybe they’d make better hostages than cousins.”

“A couple sisters that got married off as consolation prizes to some other nobles, all his brothers ended up dead one way or the other – funny how that happens with rich people.  I can’t think of a single solitary soul that he cares about even a little besides himself.”

“A real humanitarian huh?  Sounds like the fighting is dying down, should we go down?”

“Nah, let’s let them find us whenever they wander up here – you know how men get when women are acting with too much independence.  Can’t have the Baron thinking that we saved his fiefdom after all.  This is a fiefdom right?”

“What if it’s not the Baron’s men?  What if the Kostelos are the ones that win out and find us?”

“Obviously we’ll surrender and beg for mercy.” I took a deep breath “Not a bad day is it?  Not a bad day at all.”

“The only thing that could make it better is a drink.”

“You still got that bottle of Oldlaw?” She shook her head and I pulled out my Flask “Oh well, I suppose this will have to do.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe 

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)

You spend a few days in utter darkness and your mind starts to play tricks on you.  I’ve heard that sensory deprivation can cause you to hallucinate and that must be true unless a highly localized version of the Northern Lights was happening by me.  I suppose your brain gets bored with not having anything to see and just starts making things up.  Beyond dreams and lights though despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m in an old storeroom I started to convince myself that the room had no door.  That they sealed me in here somehow, with magic, or just normally with bricks like nobles too sometimes when they’re bored with their mistresses.  I’ve worked all around the walls several times and I only felt stone – nothing that felt like a door.  It would explain why no one has come to taunt me or throw food at me or anything since I’ve been here. 

But like I said, it was just my mind playing tricks, which was made apparent when the door opened today.  The very small amount of light that came in through the doorway was enough to sting my eyes like flying grit and start them to watering.  Once I was able to stand looking I saw Martialla coming in holding a candle and a pitcher, maneuvering the door with her hip – she’s more graceful than I give her credit for.  Sometimes. She handed me the pitcher and I took a drink (sadly of water) as she unslung a pack from over her shoulder and brought out some bread and cheese.

Martialla shielded the candlelight with her body “I figured you’d need to regain your strength.”

“I’m fine actually, I had a dinner date just the other night.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later.  Have you made contact with Mord?”

“Would I be here if I hadn’t?”

“Don’t get touchy, I was just asking.”

“I think I’m entitled to get a little touchy since you fucking stabbed me.”

“I knew you wouldn’t die.  And we could go tit for tat on that, all the shit you pulled on me.”

“You said that it had to look real!  You said that they could be watching us at any time so . . .”

“I know what I said, I wasn’t the one complaining, I was just titting at your tat.  I won’t insult you by asking if you’ve identified the targets but can you at least tell me who they are?”

“The old lady is the main one we need to deal with, there’s a couple other women too – as long as we catch them by surprise it shouldn’t be a problem.  One of them is a real hardcase though, we need to be careful with that one.”

“Aren’t we always careful?”

“No.”

I took my gear out of the satchel and stripped off the peasant rag I was wearing to start getting dressed “You kept my clothes in the same bag as the cheese?  And you just wadded it into a ball?  You’re lucky this magically repels wrinkles otherwise you’d be in a lot of trouble with me right now.”

“What are you going to do?  Stab me again?”

“Good Gods are you going to keep bringing that up forever?  You kicked the shit out of me like ten times!”

She crossed her arms “I feel like an apology is in order.”

“I’m sorry I stabbed you.”

Her eyes widened slightly “That almost sounded like you meant it.”

“I do mean it, why would I want to stab you?  It was just for show, and I’m sorry.  I’d do it again in the same circumstances but that doesn’t mean I’m not sorry about having to do it.  I had to sell the story you know?”

“I just hope someone was watching.”

“So what’s the deal?  Why are these Kostelos taking orders from women now?”

“I don’t know really, something Kartak brought with him changed things for them – after he slaughtered their old shaman anyway.  Brutally slaughtered that is.  Apparently he brought about some kind of religious sea change that favored women.”

“And marginalized himself?”

“I’m just telling you what I know.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

“Do they say that?

“They’re going to start.”

Once I was dressed in my clothes I felt a thousand times more calm and confident.  I’m sure I still looked like a scarecrow and smelled like a dockworker after a hard day’s work but even so I felt much better.  There’s just something about being properly dressed you know?  Also it was just nice to have boots on – my feet are going to need a lot of attention once this is all over.  I looked at Martialla as I slipped the Whiterock ring back on my finger.

“What do you think happened while I wasn’t wearing this?”

She shook her head slowly “Nothing I hope.  I agonized over that, I thought maybe I could slip it to you and no one would notice, but you said . . .”

“Yeah, I know what I said.  Why are you carrying a candle instead of using your magic?”

“Seemed a little too conspicuous.”

I didn’t understand her reasoning there but I let it lie.  She’s not pretending to be anyone other than she is, and they all know she’s magic so what’s the point?  I assume it made sense in her mind.  Martialla took on the appearance of the one of the Juost manor maids so I could copy it and then we were off.  The room I was being held in was indeed a tower, but I think from the outside it looks round and I know the room was square – I’ll have to check from the grounds when this is all over.  We went down a short staircase and across the upper halls to the master bedroom where the old Kostelos woman who’s causing all the problems had installed herself.  As we left the room where I was imprisoned I saw a guard sitting on the floor sobbing uncontrollable and covering his face in horrified sadness.

“What’s with him?”

“I learned a new spell.”

I shook my head “Magic is awful.”

When we walked into the room I had a flashback to the keep outside of Hillside.  Or was it Tall Elk?  Anyway, you know the one I mean.  The room had the same kind of stink infusing it and there were similar looking markings painted on the walls.  And while I am no expert, these seemed to be less of patterns to ward off evil spirits  so much as patterns to invite the evil spirits in to have a good old time.  One of them specifically I know is the reverse of a sigil that’s supposed to ward off death.  So draw your own conclusion there.  The Kostelos are not a large people generally and the women was shrunken with age, looking even more so in the comprehensively soiled former grandeur of the Baron’s massive bed.  Martialla grabbed her legs and I put a pillow over her face and in a couple minutes her days of evil doing were over.

Now you may not think that murdering an old woman in her sleep is not particularly heroic but you’d be wrong.  If an orc comes charging at you and you stand your ground and hit with a club that takes guts sure, but fighting against someone attacking you is one thing.  That’s an immediate reaction to something right in front of you.  But the cold blooded murder of a defenseless old-timer?  That takes some real courage.  And I’m not saying that murders are courageous, they’re mostly cowards, which is just the point I’m trying to make – I’m a normal person and I did this anyway because it needed to be done.  This weak old woman brought down ruin on thousands of people, she had to go – and I had the willpower to do it.  That’s a hero.

Not to mention what I had to go through to get the chance.  And what Martialla had to go through.  I wonder if she had sex with the Duke’s cousin.  I’ll have to ask her later.  As we headed for another part of the manor we heard fighting outside – Mord’s crew must be doing their part to keep attention down in the courtyard.  They’re a little early, but what can you do?  Timing is hard.  When we got to the next room the woman inside was out of bed and throwing on some kind of primitive animal-skin armor (looked like an armadillo but that can’t be right) and had an axe lying close at hand.  She wasn’t old, but she was ugly.  I don’t know if she was deformed or possessed or had a curse on her or what, but she didn’t look precisely human.  Her eyes were kind of oblong and set at an angle – like they were sloping down towards her nose.  It was unsettling.  And that nose itself was upturned like that of a bat.  Her hands seemed to be fifty percent too large as well.  I didn’t care for her whole vibe.

She snarled at Martialla “What’s going on down there?!”

Martialla affected a tone of fear “The peasants are revolting!”

I couldn’t help myself “Of course, but she asked what’s going on outside.”

They both turned to look at me, confused, and then Martialla extended her hand with the magical words of magic and assailed her with a line of fire.  This didn’t bother Batnose too much as she countered with some magic of her own and deflected the attack – sending up a huge wall of flame between us that bisected the room.  And set the bed on fire.  It was just a perfect plane of fire hanging in the air – I never saw anything like it.

“Huh, will you look at that.”

Martialla cast another spell to protect us from the fire and we dove through – which was quite exhilarating.  If you ever get the chance to walk jump through a giant wall of fire you definitely should.  I don’t know why we jumped instead of just walking, it just seemed more apt.  Batnose was waiting for us and blasted us with another pillar of fire which burned the Hells out of us even through Martialla’s protection.  She claimed later on that it wasn’t real fire, that it was divine energy that looked like fire but I think Batnose just had a better spell and it overwhelmed Martialla’s.  Martialla is always making excuses for her mediocre magical powers.  Batnose expanded in size to where she had to duck to avoid hitting the ceiling and then lay about with her axe but there’s the thing – she was big but she didn’t seem that strong.  She was four times my size but I was still able to pin her down with my Walking Stick while Martialla heroically stabbed her in the ribs until she died. 

It’s really nice to have my Walking Stick back in my hands.  More than anything else I felt naked without that.  There’s something about the heft of holding an item that you can really whack someone on the noggin with that makes me feel assured.  It’s like you can point your stick at the entire world any say “You, you’re in my way!”  I can see why rich people like it so much.  Well that and for beating poor people so badly that they go blind.  We stepped back through the fire just as another woman was coming in the door. She was wearing full armor, even the helmet, but you could tell that under all that metal she was a muscular slab of humanity.  She’s have to be to move so easily with all that weight – I tried a chain shirt on once and it nearly brought me to my knees, she had on plate mail and it didn’t seem to bother her in the least.  She had long ornately plaited blonde hair that hung down to her waist – that part looked like what opera people think that warriors look like.  We looked at each other at the same time and then Martialla and I hopped back through the flame wall.

“I assume that’s the dangerous one?”

“Yeah.”

“The one we need to take by surprise?”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t we go after her first?”

“I was just going by the rooms that were closest.”

“Okay, so we climb out the window and . . .”

That’s when the opera warrior came charging through the flames – she had no protection, she just didn’t care about running through a wall of fire.  She smashed Martialla into the wall with her shield and she was swinging a hammer at my head.  You know a warhammer, not like a hammer for carpentry.  I managed to get my Walking Stick up to block it – and by block I mean get in the way sort of.  You have your friend swing a sledgehammer at you and you try to block it with broomstick and see how that works out.  The good news is the hammer didn’t hit me in the head.  The bad news is that the Walking Stick was driven back into my head with enough force to knock me on my ass.  The even worse news is that the Walking Stick broke into three pieces.  I just got it back!

Scrambling to my feet as opera warrior hammered Martialla I grabbed a flaming blanket off the bed and tossed it over her head.  I tried to grab and hold her as well, but she shoved me off with one elbow like I was a silk ribbon trying to hold back a rampaging rhino.  At least Martialla was able to get in a few stabs while she was blinded by the blanket of fire.  At least I think she was able to, as an observer it’s hard to tell with all that armor if the strikes are getting home of just glancing off.  With no other bright ideas I double-fisted my Flask and my Tankard and then pulled out the axe I took off Greysmith.  Not being an AXEpert (come on that’s funny!) I don’t think I struck a single telling blow, but I did slice her shield in half – this thing is ungodly sharp!  And more importantly I distracted her enough for Martialla to stab her in that area between where the back of the breastplate (is the back of a breastplate still called a breastplate or is it a backplate?) and the armor that covers your ass.  Does ass armor have a name?  It must right?  That was that, and neither of us got our brains dashed out by a hammer in the process – but it was a close thing.

Martialla looked at me grimly “One more stop.”

I grimaced “I think I liked being a prisoner better.”

At this point servants and various other people were running in every direction not knowing what to do – which I understandable when there’s a fire in the building and you’re under attack by unknown partiers.  It’s not like they were under siege or anything, they went to bed thinking this was going to be a normal night.  Martialla and I made our way to a solid door that was locked up tight, but this dwarf-axe made short work of it.  One the other side, in a small bedroom clutching a book to her chest and looking scared out of her wits stood Baroness Juost.  I’m not sure what surprised her more, seeing her axe-wielding maid on the other side of the door or when I returned to my normal appearance.

She gasped “Cousin?”

“Are we still doing that?”

“I never expected to see you again.”

“Well you know what they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.”

She frowned “Do they say that?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe 

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

Mantelderith 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

They say that stories are the best way to help people learn lessons, which is and isn’t true.  Telling people what to do rarely works because they don’t pay attention, cloaking your message in the guise of a story sort of works better because people will pay more attention – depending on how good you are at telling stories.  But the problem is that while people will listen to a story they don’t realize that stories are warnings.  I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves because we send mixed messages – we tell a story about a kid going into the woods and being eaten by goat-monsters and then we say that there are no monsters lurking in the dark.  Which is a lie.  Everyone knows there are monsters and the darkness is where they hide.  The monster monsters anyway, the human monsters are right out in the light for everyone to see – it’s just that it’s polite to pretend that you don’t see them. 

The city is dangerous of course, possible even more dangerous than being out here, but the difference is that those dangers are known.  Knowing about the dangers in the city doesn’t mean that you can always avoid them – three men with sackcloth hoods on their head bust down your door in the middle of the night intent on hacking you to bits that’s probably what’s going to happen.  But it’s the devil you know you know?  Things out here seem more dangerous, and maybe they really are anyway, because you don’t know what you’re dealing with.  In the city the users and the corrupters and the destroyers are all well-known commodities, you watch out for them as best you can, but out here who even knows what’s going on?  Some wrinkled little man with fingernails two feet long whose invisible when you look directly at him toting a bag full of human hearts – what the fuck are you supposed to do with that?

Since nothing much happened today, just uneventful travel, I thought that I’d share a few of the tidbits that I’ve picked up over the last year.  The first one isn’t really helpful advice, more of an item of interest.  You know when a town is being plagued by the unquiet spirit of a local woman who was hanged for sport by Kralten cultists?  And the townfolk don’t like this so what they do is they grab another young woman and dress her up in fancy clothing and then banish her from the town?  They’re actually not sacrificing her to the spirit – what it is really is a simple ritual that symbolically banishes the spirit from the town.  I don’t know how it works, but it does.  The fact that the ghost massacres the banished woman is incidental.  If the woman could get away from the spirit without being killed everything would still be fine.  You know, relatively speaking.  Actually I guess there is some advice here –  if you’re the woman who’s been selected for this honor try to figure out to a way to outrun a ghost.  And if you do figure it out let me know, because I am not a runner but it would be really helpful if I could run away from things better.  Simply running away is more effective than you think, if you have the wind for it.

Are you familiar with ghouls?  I am.  Here’s the interesting thing about ghouls, while scary they’re actually not that dangerous.  Think of them like stray dogs, and not just because they creep about belly to the ground like hounds.  No one wants to get bitten by a stray dog, but as long as you keep your wits about you they’re not terrible deadly.  In a warrior against dog battle the dog is going to lose every time.  Ghouls are like that.  They’re scavengers, not fighters, they don’t want to tangle with anyone that can fight back they just want to eat dead bodies.  Don’t get in their way and they’ll leave you alone.  Probably.   

What sets people off about ghouls is that they used to be someone they know.  I’m no expert on these things, but ghouls seem to be somewhere between alive and undead.  When you see the old gaffer from the general store skulking about with his fish-belly white skin hanging off his bones like a robe you hesitate because your mind at first thinks that it is the old gaffer and he’s sick and needs help.  But that’s not what it is anymore.  And the other issue is that ghouls are kind of pathetic, when you wail on them they mewl and flop about like wounded animals.  It’s an awful sight, but you have to learn not to worry about it.  Seeing the mindless inhuman hate in the eyes of a ghoul will cure you of that impulse but if a ghoul is that close to you things have gone wrong already.  The point is don’t be a ninny, just exterminate them like the vermin they are.  

When you’re facing off with a creature of some kind – a chimera or a manticore or a kulwata or a numblit – there’s no harm in trying to talk to it.  A surprising number of them are capable of speech and generally they’re rather stupid.  It’s not too hard to trick them into bothering someone else.  But you have to keep in mind that they are stupid so don’t get too elaborate with your speech – the simplest tricks are the best, anything too complicated they won’t understand.  A simple “there’s more food in that village over there” generally works fine, something along those lines.  Flattery usually goes a long way with these types – they’re strong and kill whatever they come across so they don’t realize that humans are in the process of making them extinct.  Their eventual doom is something they don’t have the smarts to key in on.  They think they’re the best thing in the world and you should encourage that thought process if you want to live – no one likes being shown up by their supposed inferiors.

This may seem counterintuitive but for the more humanoid menaces like bugbears and orcs and yetis generally you’re better off just going for the kill and not wasting time trying to talk.  Obviously if you have no other choice go for diplomacy, but the difference is these things, while still generally pretty dumb, are smart enough to know that humans are taking over everything and they’re not happy about it.  They’re pretty much out for blood from the get-go so there’s nothing much to chat about.  In terms of intelligence the flesh-eating cattle of Akerbeltz are one step above a dog, it’s desires are simple so it can be easily mislead with offers that appeal to those desires, bugbears and thouls are the next step above that – not as smart as people but smart enough to have more complicated desires.  Like killing all humans.  That doesn’t leave you with a lot of room for negotiation. 

If for some reason you need to speak with them do it from a position of power.  Their societies are kind of like being in prison, there’s a clear pecking order based on the ability to inflict and endure violence.  If you have to bargain with them do so in force and kill a couple of their weaker members to show them you mean business.  But keep in mind that no matter what they have not accepted you, they are never truly cowed.  They will always be looking for a weakness they can exploit.  It’s like the old fable of having a tatzyltiger by the forelock – you can’t ever let go unless you want it to rip your face off.  Which I hope that you don’t.  If you do want your face ripped off please feel free to stay far away from me at all times.  Thanks.

I’d like to call special attention to the category of animal-like things with humanistic intelligence – your worgs and your demon bears and your devil swine and the like.  In my experience these creatures tend to be as smart as people, not smart people just normal people, but people nevertheless.  What this means is that when you’re talking with them you tend to treat them like people – I’ve fallen for this trap myself.  This is a very bad idea.  A giant wolf that can talk just like a “normal” person is nothing like a normal person.  They don’t reason like a person, they don’t have anything in common with a person.  They are wild things.  Never assume you know exactly where they’re coming from or what they want – I almost died doing that very thing.  Think about like this.  We tend to think of dogs and cats both as domesticated but they aren’t are they? 

Dogs?  They’re on our side.  We got them.  They’re our buddies.  Even the mean ones are mean for a reason – conceptually they don’t see humans as anything other than potential friends.  A faithful dog will die for you without a second thought.  You look in the eyes of a dog and you see love or fear or hurt or anger – it’s all right there.  Cats on the other hand?  Next time you see a fat lazy housecat rip a mouse in half and then sit there purring and looking content stare into its eyes.  What do you see there?  Nothing.  They’re not “in” like dogs are, they’re still “other”.  It’s easy to forget that because they live among us and they do cute things like bat at strings and rub on our legs and are little and helpless.  But they’re just looking out for themselves, they serve no master.  The talking animal section of beast are like that – they seem familiar because of their manner but are alien.  Don’t be fooled.

Speaking of being fooled, at first I thought I wouldn’t say anything about the fae folk because they seem to be so varied as to defy any kind of stratagem but there are a few things I can approximate.  First of all the ones that build their homes out of flesh and bones are feared far and wide, but when they don’t need building materials they’re actually fine.  In my experience unless they need to fix the roof or shore up a wall they’re perfectly harmless.  They just don’t see anything wrong with killing people to make their houses.  Which I think is a good example of the deal with faeries overall – our concepts of good and evil and morality are foreign to them, not just foreign but incomprehensible. 

Do you feel bad about cutting down a tree to make a table?  No, it’s just a resource. Or maybe you do, but you know what I mean.  That’s what the fey folk are like with us.  Think about that whenever you have to deal with them.  Even the “benign” ones that make shoes for you or milk your cows or whatever the Hells they do – what they’re doing is perfectly insane.  Hiding in someone’s house and cleaning up after they go to bed makes exactly as much sense as dipping your cap in blood to make it red – it’s all nonsense from our point of view.  It’s good to keep in mind that there are no “good” fey and no “bad” fey, there’s fey that steal eyeballs and there’s fey that make horseshoes – and they’re both equally mad.

Now let’s talk about bandits for a moment.  I know what you’re thinking “Ela, I thought you were telling us about monsters not about human threats” but here’s what I’ve started to wonder.  Are bandits human?  I’m sure some bandits are humans, but I think that maybe bandits are a unique race of beings that reproduce through having big piles of stolen goods.  They look like humans and act like them in many ways, but their lifestyle revolves around attacking caravans and stealing stuff so they can put it in a big pile and somehow generate more bandits.  It’s some method like when you take part of a plant and put it somewhere else and then you have two plants, but there has to be a massive amount to stolen boxes to make it happen.  It’s the only thing that explains why there are so many bandits if you ask me.  I need to make friends with a chirurgeon so the next time I run into some bandits and kill them I can have him slice them open and see what the deal is.  I bet I only need to do that twice before I find one that’s got a whole bunch of different stuff inside it from a human.  All I’m saying is that you rarely ever see female bandits, so where do they come from if not spontaneous generation on a pile of loot?

And hags?  Fuck ‘em.  Kill them if you can.  Run away if you can’t.  If you can’t do either spit right in their face and tell them Ela says she’ll see them in the Hells.  You’re going to be tortured to death or turned into a pig-monster mind slave either way.  May was well go out with a little dignity. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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