Muthuselan 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

For some strange reason being kidnapped by bizarre hybrid fey beasts really had Stinty on edge – we walked in the dark through the forest for hours before he realized that I was following him and he was just walking without pay attention to where we were going.  Once we got started back in the right direction the sun was coming up by the time we got back to the campsite.  And then I had to spend a good hour talking him down – he was so jittery it seemed like he was going to fly apart.  I have a lot of tools in my bag of tricks, but the one that I dislike using the most is gently reassuring someone that everything is going to be okay.  It’s not hard, staying calm yourself is the lion’s share of calming someone else down.  Speak in short simple sentences, give them a lot of (undeserved) praise, ask them what they need, say things like “You can do this”, “stay with me”, “what you are feeling is frightening, but it is not dangerous” – crap like that.  So it[‘s easy but it sucks because it takes time and all you want to do is to tell the person to get the fuck over it and be an adult.  But that’s counterproductive. 

Once Stinty was “okay” I was going to lay down for some sleep, but instead it was time to head to the secondary location. This annoyed me because if he had been thinking we would have just gone straight there and then I would be asleep right now but I couldn’t say anything because they could get him all riled up again.  So instead of sweet, sweet sleep we were stomping through the forest again – it was good four hours before we got to the second campsite where Stella was waiting for us.  The relief on her face was obvious as we slogged towards her.

“Thank Gods, I was starting to think something had happened to you two.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see you until tonight.”

She blinked in surprise “I thought you were going to be here last night.”

“Well whatever, sounds like we had a miscommunication there.  Tell Stinty the plan, I’m going to sleep – we had a rough night.”

“What?  No, we need to go now – everything’s ready in town, we’re going to be late as it is.”

“Late for what?  If you have the decoy why do you even need us at all?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to stay out here while the broad with the mismatched eyes kills the guy?”

“You said that you wanted to be there, that you wanted to be part of it!”

“Oh right, I did say that.  Ugh . . . . . fuck.  Let’s go then I guess.  Did you at least bring horses?”

Stella gestured “Look around, do you see any trails here?  It wouldn’t be much of a hideout if there was a road for horses.”

I yawned, mouth gaping open like a commoner “Don’t be reasonable with me.”

And so sleepless, we set off again – with Stella herding us along at what seemed like an unreasonable pace.  What’s the rush?  Is the assassin going to leave down before he tries to kill me?  She kept going on and on about how important timing was but that makes no sense – the killer is waiting on us, it doesn’t matter when I show up.  If I hadn’t been so tired I would have eviscerated her argument’s ass off but I was so I didn’t.  I don’t know how Stinty was able to keep up better than me with his little legs but he did, which only served to irritate me further.  It was late afternoon when we moseyed into Beresford.  It seems like I’ve been here forever.  Why did I even come to this stinking burg anyway?  What am I doing here?  I was so caught up in my negative thoughts that I realized Stella had been talking for a while.

“ . . . and then what we’re going to do” she stopped in mid-sentence on account of the arrow that slammed into her chest. He stared down at it, and touched it with her hand as if trying to make sure it was real.  “I . . . I’ve been shot.”

I knocked her to the ground as another arrow flew by and then scrambled into an alley to get out of the line of fire.  I saw no sign of Stinty, he must already be in hiding, but what I did see is an archer on a rooftop, looked like a woman with one foot up on the eave as she drew back an very impressive looking longbow.  I grabbed my dagger and watched helplessly as Stella was trying to crawl for cover and the archer coolly shot her in the back several more times.  Stella stopped moving and it looked like the archer was going to continue shooting at her fallen body so I dashed across the street to draw her aim, if only for a second.  I dove behind a trough but it I was trying to hide behind it the short way and they didn’t work very well – I was hit in the leg and gazed on the scalp.  I heard Stinty shout “make yourself fucking small!” and then saw a stick of some kind trailing big plumes of smoke come flying end over end and land on the roof where the archer had taken up their position.

Stinty ran out of wherever he had been hiding and under the cover of smoke, I helped him drag Stella’s limp form into the alley.  He was about to say something when I saw a disruption in the swirling smoke along the roof of the adjacent building and suddenly there was an arrow protruding from his shoulder – or at least the vanes were – the rest of the arrow was buried in his body.  I’ve never seen an arrow go so deeply into someone.  Stinty fell sideways, slamming his head on the ground with a sickening thud as above the archer’s invisibility dissipated and she took aim at me. I threw my dagger at her, not even coming close, and then flared my cloak out to try and conceal myself as I ran for all the good it would do.  But the shot never came.  Suddenly the archer was hit by a crossbow bolt – right through the eye.  She stood for a moment and then pitched over the side, bouncing off the opposite wall with her legs and landing in a heap. 

I looked and saw Sergeyevna Kostornaia and three men standing on a roof a several blocks away.  She was holding her crossbow upright and had a smug smile on her face as her cronies patted her on the back and told her how great she was.  I headed their way.

“That was your fucking plan?!  What happened to the decoy?  What happened to controlling the situation?  Why were your men up there with you instead of down here?!  What the fuck were you doing?!”

It looked she was about to say something when all of a sudden she was pin cushioned with arrows across the upper chest and neck.  With looks of horror her men tried to hold her up and tend to her, but they were being pelted with arrows as well and looked panicked – except for one man wearing a bearskin of some kind who roared with anger and started leaping across from rooftop to rooftop.  Before I could process this turn of events a masked man in black robes appeared on a rooftop between me and the building Kostornaia was on with a nasty looking crossbow – shooting me directly in the sternum with enough force to knock me backwards and off my feet.  I crawled back into the alley as he reloaded, taking cover behind the lifeless form of the first assassin.  The rooftop crowssbowman sent a few shots into the back of the first assassin and then gave up to move to a better firing position.  I quickly rifled through the first assassin’s bag and found a potion which I drank blindly – and I found myself turning invisible.  I grabbed an arrow from her quiver and ran, having no idea how long I was going to be unseen. 

As the crossbowman moved around the edge of another building scanning for me I found a horse tied up, saddled and ready to go.  I mounted up and then stood up on the saddle, using the horse to leap and catch the edge of the roof – I’m not ashamed to admit it was a real struggle to pull myself up.  Still invisible I came up behind the crossbowman as he scanned the streets below and jammed the arrow into his neck – it must have been enchanted because his neck exploded like it had been hit by a ballista, showering me with gore.  Falling down in surprise, I narrowly missed being skewered by a barrage of arrows.  Sliding to the edge of the building for cover I saw the original assassin who started this whole mess turning invisible – still partially blurry as he jumped to an adjacent roof.

“Why is everyone else in the world so much better at jumping and climbing than me?” I said to no one. “And where is the fucking city watch?!  Why don’t they ever show up when I need them?”

I slithered careful to the body of assassin #2 and drank whatever potions he had – which healed my wounds but really I was hoping for more invisibility.  I dragged his heavy awkward looking crossbow into my hands and then activated my scrivener’s desk, hiding behind it and grabbing the vials of ink.  I heard a voice shouting from some distance away.

“Is that a writing desk?”

“Yeah.”

“Well how odd.”

“Any chance I could bribe you?”

“Sure, come out in the open and we’ll talk about it.”

Assuming that the assassin was moving into position to fire at me enfilade (maybe, I’m not one hundred percent sure what that word means) I draped my cloak on the desk to hopefully make it look like I was hiding under there.  I doubt it would have worked at all if not for the fact that I kept talking and threw up voice to make it sound like it was coming from under the desk as I crab-crawled into cover between it and the low wall of the roof.  A barrage of arrows shredded the cloak and slammed into the desk and I spied the archer on the very next building in the process of turning invisible again – I dashed up and hurled two pots of ink at him.  My aim wasn’t great, but enough spattered on him that I could tell where he was.  He fired another volley of arrows as I dove behind the other side of the desk.

“Very clever.  If all your friend weren’t dead already you’d probably have the advantage now.”

“How many arrows do you carry around?  Haven’t you shot like a hundred by now?  When are you going to run out?”

“Never.  I have a magic quiver that never runs out.”

“I used to have a crossbow like that.”

“What happened to it?”

“The watch took it.”

“Fucking watch.”

I threw my voice so it was coming from directly behind him “Tell me about it.”

At the sound of a voice behind him the archer spun around and fired at nothing and I popped up from behind the desk and shot him in the back before dropping back down.  I couldn’t see him well on account of he was just an ink-spattered outline but it didn’t seem like that one shot bothered him too much.

“Nice.  How do you do that with your voice?”

“I’m a mermaid that drank a potion to turn into a human.”

“To pursue your true love?”

“To pursue revenge on the pelican that ate my family.”

“What’s your next trick?”

“Trying to figure out how to reload this fucking crossbow.  What the Hells is this thing?  There’s like levers on here and shit.  I thought the whole idea of a crossbow was that it was supposed to be simple to use, unlike a longbow.”

“Well you know how people are, they only thing they like more than simplifying something is making it more complicate.”

“Do you normally talk this much when you’re trying to kill someone?”

“No, but this hasn’t been a normal job.  When that desk appeared I had to know who you were.  You’re a tough nut to crack, but I think you’re about out of time.”

“Eventually the watch has to show up right?”

“Not this time I’m afraid.”

He was right, I was pretty much out of tricks.  One thought kept going through my mind, if only I could turn invisible again – and then all of a sudden I was.  Turns out that wedding coat they gave me was more than just stylish, it had some magic in it as well.  I carefully walked to the edge of the building expecting to be shot down like a dog, but I saw the ink-outline moving methodically back and forth as if scanning for an opening.  I made a terrifying jump to a very close building and pulled a short blade out of my secret pocket.  From that building I made it to where the archer was and approaching with maximum caution, I came up from behind and slashed him across the back of the neck – then giving him a shove.  I have no doubt without having taken a vicious blow to the back of the neck he would have agilely flipped to the ground and landed like a cat, but as is, he tumbled headlong into the ground with a hideous crack.  I pulled a rope and hook from my pocket and awkwardly slid down the side of the building where I stabbed him a half dozen more times to be sure.   It was at this point that I saw a few city watchmen peeking around as if checking to see if the coast was clear.

“Good response time guys!  Real bang-up work!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind

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  

Muthuselan 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I wasn’t a good rider initially.  Even though I liked horses when I first started learning to ride I was kind of afraid to get close to them – they’re bigger than you think.  And those hooves, one of those comes down on your foot and you’re going to be laid up for a while.  Horses, domesticated horses at least, can be pretty finicky.  They can pick up on your good and if you’re afraid it makes them skittish.  I also found out later that the horse they gave me to learn to ride was naturally nervous anyway – not a good choice for a beginner.  This was done on purpose, as everything at court is, but that’s a story for another day.  The point is that I got thrown a few times and just generally banged up when I was first learning to ride.  But that allowed me to learn another lesson, an even more important lesson.  Never let them see you hurt. 

Who is them?  Everyone.  People talk about sharks being able to smell blood in the water from miles away – they have nothing on humans.  Show any weakness and they’ll be on you faster than you can blink.  You get thrown from your horse and bust your ass?  You get up, smile, and walk back over as if you’re complexly fine.  “Took a little tumble there” you say lightly.  I’m not saying that I’m king badass of the world, by no means, what I’m saying is that I’ve known for a long time how to act like everything is fine even when it’s not – at all.  That’s how when I disguised myself as a person who was not bleeding to death I was able to walk down the street perfectly calm and normally even though I was honestly wondering if I was going to lay down and die right there at that second.

At my suggestion Stella kicked a hole in the wall of the bakery into the adjoining business – it looked to be some kind of store that makes spectacles, it was hard to tell exactly on account of the blood loss and wooziness.  There was no one there, they’re going to in for quite a surprise when they come to open up.  Emerging from next building over isn’t the best way to throw our invisible assassin off the scent but it was the best we could do – between that and my appearance I was able to walk out without being immediately shot down like a dog.  Stella turned herself invisible and went head to make arrangements.  It was only a few blocks but it was easily the longest walk of my life.  I was so unsteady on my feet I was surprised I didn’t fall over with every step.  It felt like I was stepping on loose rocks.  But I made it to a large timber and brick building named Stinty’s, which is stupid name for an inn.  A Halfling standing on “battlement” of sorts behind the bar, perhaps the titular Stinty himself, gestured for me to go upstairs and flashed me three fingers. He did it with his thumb and forefinger together as if saying everything was “okay”, which it was not.

I used the railing on the stairs to haul myself up and staggered into room number three, the door shutting and locking behind me.  I collapsed onto the bed, thoroughly soiling the sheets with blood, as Stella’s invisibility dissipated and I saw her standing by the door.

“You’re tougher than you look.”

My voice sounded weird in my own ears “I’d pretty much have to be.”

“I need to go get some things to fix you up.  Are you going to be okay here on your own?”

“No, but what choice do we have?”

“You need to sit up in case you pass out, otherwise blood could settle in your lungs and you’ll drown.”

“I don’t think I can.”

Stella helped me roll over and then dragged me into a sitting position, stuffing pillows behind me as best she could.  I was left tottering there on the bed as she slipped out and somehow managed to lock the door behind her from the other side.  This broad clearly has more going on than I thought.  I never really lost consciousness but I wasn’t exactly with it either – it was a strange twilight zone that I hope to never experience again.  My vision was swimming but my ears were working just fine.  Some undetermined amount of time later I could clearly hear someone downstairs asking if “two women” had just come in “one that could be wounded” along with a pretty fair description of yours truly.  I forced myself to my feet , somehow made my way to the door, and after what seemed like hours of fumbling with unstead hands I was able to get the door unlatched. 

I lurched out onto the stairwell, remembering to disguise myself as a tall man with a yellow ascot at the last moment, where I saw a nondescript looking fellow talking to Stinty.  I also saw what I thought I saw on the way in – a narrow faced fellow with dark hair wearing chainmail with a massive sword set leaning on the chair beside him.  He was drinking a mug of something and looking dour.  I looked at him and pointed at the man talking to Stinty.

“I’ll give you a thousand gold if you kill that man right now.”

For emphasis I tossed a handful of coins onto the stairs with a metallic ping as they hit the ground and variously rolled and ricocheted about.  Narrow Face didn’t hesitate for a second, he was out of his chair and swinging his sword before one of the coins stopped spinning.  The other man ducked out of the way and produced a now familiar thin blade which he plunged into the other man, his strike being deflected by the mail.  Narrow Face swung wildly with his two-handed sword again but again the other man dodged the huge swing and jabbed at his opponent, who now would be on the ground bleeding to death if he wasn’t protecting his vitals with links of metal.  There’s a lesson I could learn.  Stinty hurled some weird little star-shaped throwing knife at the guy from behind, but even unwares he was able to partially duck out of the way – although his wig was knocked off and a lot of blood and skin with it.  This allowed my new best friend to finally catch him with one of his big swings, slicing him badly across the chest.  Still though, he managed to dart out the door without any trouble. 

“Thanks for the hand guys.”

I shoveled most of the gold out of my purse in their general direction, then grabbing the railing to keep from falling over. 

“Now he knows where I am . . .”

I felt a swoon coming on but I was able to fight it off.  Stinty said something to Narrow Face and he carefully stowed away his weapon before coming up the stairs.  He looked at me gravely.

“Do I have permission to touch your body?  It’s not sexual. Not that you’re not an attractive woman. You’re actually a very attractive woman but I’m just trying to help you right now.  If you feel uncomfortable I can . . .”

“Touch away buddy.”

He lifted me into his arms without an effort and carried me back down the stairs and around sharply to the left where Stinty was holding open a concealed door that went into a short staircase down under the staircase – which was an odd sight.  He carried me down to a small room that had little more than a too short bed and a wash basin.  He set me down on the bed gently and then turned to leave.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be safe down here.”

“Will I?”

“Safer.”

This killer gets high marks on disguise and persistence but he totally fails at vocal alteration – I could tell it was him up above pretending to be a city watchman talking to Stinty and the other man – whose name is Archum apparently – they told him that after the fracas I had left in the company of three men armed to the teeth and bearing a symbol of an green eye pierced through with a long needle.  This Stinty isn’t a half-bad liar, and I know from liars.  I don’t know if the assassin bought it, but he left either way and felt myself fading.  I actually did feel like there was fluid in my lungs so being worried about downing like Stella said I crawled into a sitting position on the floor with my upper body draped across the bed.  Even in that awkward crouch I fell asleep almost instantly, or passed out, six of one, etc.

Some time later Stella roused me and fed me healing potions until was completely fine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will never get used to that.  One moment you’re on death’s door, the next you’re not even injured.  It’s more than your body can reconcile.  I took one last long drink out of the weird squat little canteenish bottle and tossed it on the floor with the others.

“Why can’t someone make a potion that doesn’t taste vile?”

“It’s harder than you think.”

“Obviously.  Well, I think I know what boon I need from your employer – whoever this talented fellow is I need him taken care of if I want to keep being alive.  Which I do.  A lot.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk

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 

Muthuselan 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I wonder what most people would do to receive their heart’s desire.  What would they risk?  Their lives?  Their souls?  Their sanity?  Certainly any of those things in someone else.  I wonder how many people would be disappointed after they got it.  I suppose that’s how the old fairy stories go, getting what you want always seems to end up ruining everything.  The lesson they’re trying to teach is give up your dreams and accept your fate because those stories, like most stories, are propaganda to keep people living their miserable lives without jumping off a cliff, or even worse, thinking they deserve better.  You can’t have a pyramid with a base and it’s best for the base not to really think about how crummy it is to be a base. 

Wishes usually backfire in stories too and they tell you that the lesson where is that you can’t get anything without working for it, but this too is bullshit because plenty of rich assholes did nothing to get their riches other than be born – and while I’m no midwife so I don’t know for sure, I think that the child does very little of the work in your average birth.  Midwife, that’s a weird word.  Sounds like something you’d say if you walked in on someone – “I should have knocked, the sight of Olgus midwife is going to haunt me for a while.”  This line of thought was disrupted by Stella coming down the stairs.

“Is someone down here?  I thought I heard voices.”

I looked around but Tom had disappeared mysteriously, or is it mysterious if that’s what I expected to happen?  Anyway, he was gone.

“Not anymore, but I have a mission.  A mission to save the world.”

“The world?”

“Well maybe not the whole world but part of it, or at least some cats.”

“Is this something I can help with?”

“Can you shrink yourself?”

“No.”

“Then no.  You just work on getting me back to my human form.  Did I see Cladarielle going upstairs last night?”

“Yeah, she stayed here, I guess after being kidnapped she wasn’t in the mood to spend the night in her house alone.  Plus she was a little drunk.  I can’t say as I blame her, there’s nothing better than a couple drinks after a harrowing ordeal.”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

Since the fate of all catkind, or at least a couple cats, was on the line I decided there was no time to waste.  I woke up Cladarielle and asked her if she knew of a good potioninist in town.  She did and so next I went to the room of Neddly, the nervous Halfling.  He was already up, watching the sun rise through the window while sitting in some kind of odd split-legged crouch.  It was then I realized that despite being an adventurer I never saw him wearing armor or carrying a weapon.

“Oh no.”

He looked over his shoulder at me “What?”

“Tell you’re a mage of some kind.”

“No, the arcane arts aren’t among those that I’ve mastered.  I was born into the service of a wealthy family, but from an early age I could feel that a special sort of power lay within me, and sought out those who could help me call it forth and master it.  My mentor taught me the way of the warrior, fighting with the open hand style, but more importantly he opened my mind to the possibilities that lay all around me.  Life is more than the matter we can see, life is spiritual journey, one that . . .”

“Ugh.  Do you know any other smallfolk around here who are fighters?  A gnome with a crossbow or something?”

“I’m sure you mean no offense, I am a fighter, my hands can split stones and . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you can leap to the heavens and run up walls other shit like that.  You’ll have to do, come on, I need your help.”

Riding in the backpack of my new tiny martial artist friend Cladarielle took us across town to Tynara’s Perfumery, Cosmetics & Personal Hygiene.  When I asked about it Cladarielle insisted that Tynara was a potion maker of skill as well but the demand for potions being what it is that wasn’t her main business.  I’ve use scents only with a light touch and even in my normal body find places like this a little overwhelming to the senses.  To a cat nose it was quite cloying.  I had a bit of a hard time concentrating but there really wasn’t any need for me to do anything, Neddly and Cladarielle were able to procure a potion of shrinking for a shockingly reasonable price.  Now that I have some experience with buying magic goods I realize how strange the whole thing is – stuff you’d think would be cheap costs a fortune and other things that seem like they would take a lot of magic are relatively inexpensive.  The magic economy is an odd beast.

Thusly armed we were off to the old church of Adariel that Tom had mentioned as the sight of the cat necromancer’s evil lair.  And by old I mean old old.  The church predates the city, having been built over a century ago as a roadside shrine.  A community sprung up around it which turned into a city and these days it’s no longer a functioning place of worship – just an old building they keep around for the sake of nostalgia.  We searched around for a bit and found a hole in the foundation where there were a plethora of cat and rat tracks going in and out.

“I guess this is it.  Ned, if you would, its potion time.”

“Please call me Neddly.”

“Just drink the thing will you.”

The wee fighting monk drank the potion and contracted into an even wee-er fighting monk.  It was more shrinkage than I expected really, I don’t know if he was even six inches high.  I was expecting something more along the lines of a good sized ragdoll not a writing quill.  As I’ve said many times magic is crazy.  Before we went in Cladarielle cast some spells on us, wards against evil or something, at least she said she did – for all I know she could have been faking the whole thing.  With that we entered into the dire tunnel of the zombie rats.  Well not tunnel, it was more like a crack running along the foundation of the building, but you know what I mean.

Do you know what the funny thing is about a tiny Halfling karate kicking zombie rats is?  Everything.  The funniest thing is how deadly serious it is – we literally could die here.  After Neddly smashed his way through a dozen or so rotting rat-beasts we came into an area that maybe used to be a tomb under the church?  It was hard to tell, it seemed basically the size of a corridor but it had clearly been something at one point.  Regardless of what it had been, it was now home to a series of thick glass globes strung together with thin copper wire glowing with a putrid energy.  They looked similar to the vials that I took out of the forest observatory of the homicidal wizard.  I looked to Neddly.

“How the heck did a cat do this?”

We would find out in the next “room”.  The copper wire lead through a small (well not for a cat) hole and into another similar sized depression that had the same globes being strung together, only here we saw what was stringing them together – animated hands crawling about like deformed spiders.  Where did a cat find so many severed hands?  That’s a question for the ages if ever there was one.  It makes a lot more sense for a cat necromancer than a human one though because the cat literally needs a hand.  The other thing about this “room” was that it was freezing cold – I could see my cat breath and there were icicles forming on the seams of the foundation above.

If you thought a tiny Halfling monk fighting a bunch of rat-zombies was odd you haven’t seen that same monk fighting a swarm of hands.  Life is undesirably weird at times and this is one of those times.  Neddly looked like he was having some issues with the hands so I tried to help out, but here’s the thing, scratching with your claws doesn’t do much – you have to bite to do real damage and the thing you’re biting into is frozen rotting flesh.  No thank you.  He was able to win out in the end.  Following the wire we jumped down into what clearly was a tomb that looked to be where the zombies were made – or maybe it was just where he stores the dead rats.  The point is there was a pile of dead rats and some empty glass globe waiting to be filled with . . . whatever goes in them. 

Heading into the adjacent tomb though is where things got weird.  The room was dominated by a large contraction that looked for all the world like some kind of nightmare octopus made of glass and copper and wires.  The “body” was a huge glass sphere filled with some kind of bubbling viscous black sludge that had streaks of glowing yellow in it.  The articlulated copper “arms” spiraled out, each ending in a mass of the copper wire and a larger glass globe where the energy from the other globes seemed to be converted to drips of vile liquid.  As if that wasn’t grotesque enough if you looked carefully you could see small figures moving around inside the liquid in the central reservoir.  I couldn’t make out what they looked like, which is probably a good thing. 

“What the shit?”

Neddly looked closely at the monstrous apparatus.  “We need to be very careful with this, who knows that kind of . . .”

That’s when the thing started to move of its own volition and I blasted it with a bolt of lightning.  People may question that decision, but I stand by it – they weren’t there, they don’t know what it was like.  Besides which the church wasn’t even being used anymore and no one got hurt when it blew up.  No one important anyway.  And yes, maybe some of the surrounding buildings were infected with necromantic sludge but that was going to happen anyway!  No one ever looks at the big picture when you blow up a church. 

After outrunning the fireball, well not fireball but ball of green weird arcane death, through the “tunnels” we managed to scream for Cladarielle to run for safety around a corner like we were doing.  The blast was earthshaking – literally.  But strangely it was mostly quiet.  I was expecting my cat ears to be ringing like the dickens, but it was nothing like a normal explosion.  If it wasn’t for the flying debris and the feeling of the earth lurching under our feet you wouldn’t have known that a church blew up at all.  As Cladarielle got to her feet and was brushing wreckage out of her hair she turned to me.

“How did it go?”

“Well . . .”

At that moment there was another shower of debris as the rubble pile flew upwards.  This wasn’t a secondary explosion however, it was the emergence of a . . . thing.  I realize that in order to be a necromancer you probably have to be pretty fucked up to begin with, but seriously , why on earth would anyone make a thing that consists of hundreds, thousands maybe, of dead rats smashed together into a vaguely humanoid form that’s over ten feet tall?  Arms and legs?  Maybe I could see that.  But why, WHY, would you make a “head” out of a bunch of dead rats?  I guess so it can roar, which did as it came stomping out of the wreckage.  Which just raises further questions – who do you roar with a mouth made up of dead rats?  And why? 

I have no doubt that his rat hulk could have easily stomped Neddly and I to death and then rampaged through the city, but Cladarielle was there and she was able to hammer it to bits fairly easily with her magic.  Her husband must really be something if she can do that but he’s the one that get all the credit from their old days of fighting menaces to the city.  During that exciting battle, there was another one on a much smaller scale – I spotted a mangy white and black cat trying to slink away and when I pointed it out to Neddly he ran over and wrestled it to submission.  Seeing a tiny Halfling wrestling with a profanely cursing cat was the least insane of the many things I saw today.  Once the battle was over Neddly brought him over to us by the scruff of the neck.

“Grivodon I presume?”

“You may have destroyed my work but you’ll never stop me!  I’ll return stronger than ever!”

“I’ll take that as yes.  Cladarielle, go ahead.”

She frowned slightly “Go ahead what?”

“Kill him.”

“What?  I can’t . . . can’t kill a cat!”

“He’s not a cat, he’s a dark wizard in the body of a cat.  What are you going to do?  Turn him over to the guard?  Build a little kitty prison for him?  Just throttle him and get it over with.”

She looked on helplessly “I can’t hurt him, he’s just a harmless little furball.”

“He’s not harmless, he’s a wicked master of the vile arts.  He just blew up a church.  What about you Ned, don’t just hold him, beat him to death will you?”

Nedlly shook his head as well “I can’t do it.”

“You two are babies.  This man is a murderer and he needs to be put down.  Well it shouldn’t be hard to find someone around here that’ll kill a cat, there are people that get off on that shit.  I can probably throw a stone and hit one.”

Cladarielle and Neddly looked like they were going to protest, but at that moment Tom came from around a corner and said that he would handle Grivodon. 

“That’s fine by me, as long as you recognize that I held up my side of the deal.”

“That you did.” He glanced at the smoking crater and the gathering crowd of on-lookers. “You could learn a thing or two about subtly though.  Have you decided what gift you want in return for this great deed of yours?”

“I have.  When I get turned back into a person, and I will you mark my words on that, I want to retain a little bit of my catness.  I don’t know what exactly, a little sneakiness, a little luck, a little something.  Some nimbleness, some speed, some grace, just something to remind me of this time in a good way.”

He smiled and nodded “That sounds like just the thing.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  NA 

Funds: None

XP: 413,051

Inventory:  Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm)

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 

Behind the Curtain – As I mentioned yesterday this idea was stolen/borrowed from Cats & Catacombs by Steamforged Press.  Also I realized that I missed out on taking a feat for Ela at some point.  Rectifying that I took Extra Rogue talent yet again and Glib Façade for the talent. 

Muthuselan 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

After our visit from the smuggler last night my fellow inn-dwellers became very distressed.  Makes no sense to me, there weren’t even any threats of terrible violence.  I didn’t expect a gravedigger and three former streetwalkers to be so skittish.  The point is they were no fun after that, they just drank moodily for a while without saying anything and then went to bed.  I assured them that if anyone tried to come in during the night I would able to hear them with my keen feline ears but in all honestly I was pretty soundly asleep most of the night.  But no one got killed so it worked right?

Before the sun was even up I did hear someone knocking softly on the door.  I threw my voice to whoever this early riser was.

“Sorry, we’re closed.”

“I’m looking for a detective.”

“This is an inn, there’s no detectives here.  Is that right?  There are no detectives here I mean.”

“Can you let me in so we can talk?”

“We are talking.  And no I can’t, not just because we’re closed but also because I can’t reach the doorknob and I don’t have hands.”

“You must be the one I’m looking for then.”

“Pardon?”

“I was told there was a cat detective here that solved a murder.  I need your help.”

“Seriously?  You want to hire me? I can’t even open doors.  Also that just happened, word really gets around, it is pretty interesting I suppose.”

“Even without being able to open doors you solved a case, I need you to do it again.  A rare book seller was found dead in his bathtub and I can’t figure out what happened, the door was locked so no one could have gotten in to kill him.”

“The person locked the door afterwards, or the water was poisoned somehow, or magic, or a thousand other things.  I did solve one murder, sort of, but I’m not a detective.”

“I can give you five hundred gold.”

I sighed “Fine, hold on a second.”

I went upstairs into Bru’s room.  Why her room?  She was the only one whose door was open enough for me to push in.  Let that be a lesson I guess?  I jumped on the bed and pawed at her but she didn’t seem like she wanted to get up.

“Hey, hey, come downstairs and open the door for me.”

She rolled over sleepily “Why should I?”

“Because if you don’t I’ll scratch that pretty face of yours up real good.”

For the record she doesn’t have a pretty face, it’s just okay.  When she opened the door standing on the other side was a handsome fellow with wavy dark hair and a slightly shaggy goatee – he would have been somewhat more handsome if he hadn’t been dressed foppishly but what can you do.  He bowed slightly to Bru who was clearly smitten.

“Good morning ma’am, sorry to disturb you.”

She smiled shyly and all but fanned herself with her hand “It’s no trouble at all.”

“Calm down woman, thanks for opening the door, now beat it – we have business to discuss.”

His name, he claimed, as Ulin Scrua but if that isn’t a fake name I don’t know what is.  He said that he was a frequent patron of the dead bookseller Cweat Holloh and had become worried when Cweat didn’t show up for a meeting where he was going to buy some old book he droned on about for a while.  He went to Cweat’s house and upon finding the door locked and getting no response he broke it down – or so he said, he didn’t look study enough to kick down a door to me – where he found him dead in the tub.

“And so you came looking for a talking cat?  How does that make sense?  Why didn’t you report this murder to the watch?  That seems like the logical thing to do.”

“Well . . . Cweat was a seller of rare books . . . but he also made forgeries sometimes.”

“If he’s dead what does it matter?  He doesn’t have a reputation to maintain.”

“Well . . . I may have been involved . . . somewhat . . . as well.”

“Don’t you make books by copying them?  How is a forgery of a book different from the real thing?”

“Oh, there’s a number of reasons they’re very different.  You see . . .”

“Forget I asked.  Alright let’s go check out this dead guy.  He’s probably all bloated and gross from being in the water all this time.  Five hundred isn’t even enough really.”

“It’s all I have.”

“You’re spending all the money you have to hire a cat to solve the murder of a guy you don’t even really know?”

“Well when you say it like that it sounds weird.”

This early in the morning there weren’t a lot of people out on the streets which made me feel a lot better about walking around – I’m still convinced that I’m going to get stepped on out here.  What a moronic way to die.  There were a few people out and about though – specifically one who I saw come around a corner and point a crossbow at Scrua.  He was yammering on about some book and didn’t notice – I jumped up and dug my claws into his backside.

“Get down you idiot!”

He sort of lurched and ducked involuntarily and the crossbow bolt missed him by the hairs of his chinny chin chin.  The assailant reloaded his crossbow and Scrua was smart enough to duck behind a marble planter for cover.  The man with the crossbow had a green cloth over his face and an odd white tunic with lace up sleeves.  He started walking closer cautiously with his crossbow at the ready. 

“Poke your head up and then instantly drop back down – see if you can get him to fire and waste the shot then you can attack while he reloads.”

Scrua’s eyes went wide “What?!”

“Is that a real sword on your hip or some fancy pants bullshit?”

He looked at the hilt like it was a venomous snake “What?  This?  Yes . . . I mean it’s a real sword.  I’ve never used it, it’s just part of the outfit . . .”

“Wonderful.  Take it out, make sure you don’t poke yourself in the eye.  I’m going to distract the guy, when his back is turned you run out and stab him in the back.”

“Wh-what?  Like you want me to kill him?  Couldn’t I just hit him with the flat?”

“You can try I guess, it’s a court blade so the edge probably isn’t very sharp anyway, but it’s pretty hard to club someone with the wide part of the sword and I don’t think you had much chance of success anyway.”

I threw my voice behind the advancing assassin and he spun around, giving Scrua the chance to spring into action and attack from the rear.  Which he did, he hit the man in the back with the flat of the sword – he didn’t even go for the head – it sounded like giving someone a sharp slap with a leather glove and probably hurt about as much as well.  The man with the green mask swung back around and kicked Scrau so hard in the groin that he flew back half a foot and his legs went flying out from under him just form the force.  I hope he already has children or doesn’t want them.

The thug dropped the crossbow, which for the record really bugs me – take better care of your crossbow buddy, have a little pride – and took an ugly mace from his belt.  You may be thinking “aren’t all maces ugly” but no, they’re not, I’ve seen some maces in my day that were akin to works of art.  I scampered around behind him to the discarded crossbow as he made ready to cave in Scrua’s head.  I managed to nudge the crossbow into position and hit the trigger with my nose.  Amazingly it was a hit – going through Mr. Green’s knee from behind and poking out the front.  It was somewhat nauseating to see. Both men were down and in extreme pain, but the killer pulled out a knife and started crawling towards Scrua – this is one determined murderer.  I ran back over to Scrua.

“I know you just took a hard one to the bags but you need to rally right now man because you’re about to get stabbed.”

Scrua’s groping hand managed to find his slim blade and with a great effort he managed to poke it towards the slowly crawling assassin.  His second poke hit the man in the cheek and glanced off to slice off part of his ear.  His third poke went through the back of the man’s hand and caused him to drop his dagger.  I threw my voice in his direction again.

“Who hired you?”

“Where are you?”

“I’m invisible.  I’m standing over you right now with a vial of acid – if you don’t tell me what I want to know I’m going to empty the whole thing on you.”

“Velya, Velya hired me, don’t burn me!”

“Well there you go Scrua, Velya killed your business associate.”

“How do you know that?”

“She probably hired this guy to stake out the house and see if anyone came snooping around and if they did to take them out too.  Is there another reason Veyla would want you dead?”

“I don’t even know who that is.  Oh, I think I’m going to be sick.”

And he was.  Its odd how being in extreme pain can make you feel nauseated.  I’m not sure how that makes any sense.  What does that help?  The human body has some real issues.  I sat and watched while the hired killer slowly crawled away and Scrua slowly managed to get to his feet.  Even then it was a good fifteen minutes before he could walk.   

“We can still go to the crime scene if you want but Velya did it so I don’t see the point.”

“Who’s Veyla?”

“I don’t know.  How about we go back to the inn and you can pay me my money and we can talk about that?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  NA 

Funds: 300 gold (held in trust)

XP: 348,051

Inventory:  Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm)

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

Mede 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I didn’t think there was anything that could make me contemplate giving up my quest for revenge but I was wrong.  I was giving some serious consideration to living out my days as a talking cat in a noble household.  It’s a pretty sweet gig.  Hacking up a furball put an end to that train of thought.  After eating a nice piece of bacon that was just sitting unprotected on a table in the kitchen and peeing on an antique rug in the drawing room I jumped into bed with the Lord and his wife and started walking around on them.  They didn’t seem to be getting the hint so I knocked over a pitcher of wine, spilling it mostly on the bed.  That got their attention.  I climbed up the drapes and onto the canopy of the bed until Lord Oeracea was through cursing and then looked down over the edge at him. 

“As much fun as this is I think I’m ready to go back to being a human now.  What’s the status on that project?”

“I don’t know what there is to be done about it.  With the high priest dead there’s no one with the magic in town who can dispel the magic.”

“Maybe there is, the woman who turned me into a cat presumable can turn me back as well.”

“If we knew where she was she’s already be in custody.”

“Indeed, that’s why we need to trap her like a tasty rat.  I’m not sure if those people were coming to kill me or capture me, turning someone into a cat could go either way really, but they wanted me for some reason.  So you let it leak that I’ve been un-catified and am being held here and then we wait for the assassins and/or kidnappers to make their move and then we grab them.”

“Leak it to whom?”

“Whoever knew that I was being held in the tower.  Someone had to have informed them in the first place.  Have the next ranking priest come to the house – there’s no reason to think that they know the high priest was the only one who could help me – and then have some illusionist appear to be me and wander around in the gardens a couple times and let’s see what happens.”

“They must have killed the high priests because they knew he was the only one that could help you though.”

“You don’t know that for a fact.  You don’t even know that they killed him.  There’s no reason not to try right?  If they don’t take the bait what have we lost?”

“Who’s going to apprehend them if they do show up?

“Those Vultur people claim to be all about law and order, let’s see it.”

I was snoozing on and off the rest of the day while the Lord and the guard and the Vulturians discussed the plan – humans can be so tedious.  In the end they decided to do as I said, I don’t understand why people can’t just obey my wishes from the get go, that’s what’s going to happen in the end so why not just skip to the punchline?  I’ll never understand people’s motivations.  I think the second in command priest, who I guess is the new high priest now, visited at some point while I was sleeping in a windowsill.  Later that night was I was exploring I found a bored looking half-elf woman sitting alone in one of the spare rooms leafing through a book.  She was pretty enough, for a human.  I jumped up onto the table where she was reading and regarded her with catlike curiosity.

“You must be the ringer.”

“And you must be the talking cat.”

“I think my deduction was a little more challenging.  So you’re an illusionist then huh?”

“Enchantress, but I’ll get the job done.”

“I’m sure you will.  Tell me, why is an illusionist an illusionist no matter their sex but a man is an enchanter while you’re an enchantress?  Why aren’t you both enchantists?”

She sounded disinterested “I’m sure I don’t know.”

“That’s the only school of magic where there’s a difference, did you know that?  Abjurer, Conjurer, Necromancer, Diviner, Evoker, Transmuter, there’s no evokresses or divinesses.  Why do you suppose that is?  Probably because when it comes to messing this people’s minds they want to be clear – after all if an enchanter made you do something that has certain connotations right?   Did they really enchant you or did you want to do it?  That needs to be clearly delineated from when a sexy lady enchantress controls your mind otherwise people might get the wrong idea.”

“I can’t say as I ever thought about it.”

“What’s wrong with your tits?”

Excuse me?”

“I smell something weird coming from your chest area.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but that’s where I keep my familiar.”

“Why?”

“He’s cold-blooded, that help keep him warm.”

“Sure, that’s not weird at all.”

“Look lady, I . . .”

“Hey shut up Snake Tits, I hear someone coming.  Do your thing.”

“They can’t already know . . .”

I jumped off the table and hid under the bed “Just do it!”

With a world-weary sigh she cast her spell and was cloaked in an illusion that didn’t look exactly like me (well me when I’m not a cat) but was close enough.  Given that she was going on just a verbal description I’ll give her credit for getting as close as she did.  In case you were wondering I tried to use my disguise powers but I was only able to make myself look like different cats or other small animals.  Magic is crazy. I was about to come out from under the bed because it was just two of Lord Oeracea’s servants that came in but when the imposter-me turned to say something to them one of them pointed at her and said some magic words and she instantly passed out – the other “servant” catching her before she fell out of her chair.    

I threw my voice to the bluecoats and guardsmen I knew to be waiting down the hall. 

“It’s going down, they’re in the room now disguised as servants.”

“Servant” #1 watched the door while “servant” #2 bundled up the imposter and started to unfurl a rope out the window.  A moment later the four Vulturians came into the room with crossbows at the ready, backed up by two of Lord Oeracea’s personal guard and two watchmen.  The “servant” on watch spoke some more magic words and one of the guards turned and buried his spear into the belly of his counterpart.  The second “servant” produced two axes and charged into the group, after that it was pandemonium.  Fighting eight on two didn’t seem to bother these kidnappers in the least. 

With nothing else to contribute to the cause I stayed low and slunk out from under the bed to the unconscious enchantress and tried to wake her up with a friendly claw-swipe to the face.  Which prompted her boob-snake to strike out at me but I was able to cat-jump back away from its fangs.

“Oh sure, that you get upset, where were you when your mistress was being put to sleep and hauled away?”

She did come around, groggy, sitting up and looking blankly at the raging combat.

“The two dressed as servants, get them!”

She cast a spell but all it did was transport her and her dumb snake away from the action.  Dirty bitch.  I saw another cat dash into hiding under the bed – the spellcaster must have struck again – although this one was a dingy orange and grey, I guess you make as attractive of a cat as you make a person.  Things didn’t look good for the home team.  Both guards were down, as were two of the Vulturians and one of the watchmen – the “servants” looked banged up but they were both still up and swinging, although it looked like the one was out of spells.  I had no idea if this was going to work, but I decided to give it a try.  Leaping onto the table I tried to summon the magic of my Storm tattoo, and surprisingly I was able to do to so – I don’t know if that means there’s a tiny tattoo under all this fur or what, as I said before magic is crazy. 

I unleashed the bolt of arcane lightening and smashed both infiltrators to the ground.  That must have really been something to see – a little black kitty summoning up a deadly stroke of electricity from a tiny paw.  This is quite a world we live in.  It looked like maybe neither of them was going to ever get up again, but one of the bluecoats cast a healing spell and prevented the enemy spellcaster from expiring on the spot.  The other fellow wasn’t so lucky – a goodly amount of the flesh on his right side had been melted off.  I saw stuff inside him that you’re not supposed to be able to see. I don’t know if there’s any healing spell for that.  

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  NA 

Funds: None

XP: 348,051

Inventory:  Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm)

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

Mede 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

The terrifying woodland fastness of the mad wizard was pretty unimpressive.  It looked like a palisade and a log cabin had made sloppy love in the back room of a low class tavern and nine months later given birth to this rickety sprawling eyesore.  Seeing it did make me feel better, given my continual perplexity at finding expertly-crafted buildings in the middle of nowhere.  Strangely there was a jaunty flag flying on the front-part of the pile of wood, looked like the personal banner of some lord or other.  Even more strangely though was the circle of standing stones that stood not far away.  Once we were in sight I shot our loyal guide Steel-Bite in the back of his wolf-head, killing him.  I gestured at the stones. 

“How do they make those things?  Those rocks have to weigh a ton.”

Arien the Explorer had an answer “They find a giant and ensorcell them to do the heavy lifting.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, there used to be a whole empire based on magic giant slaves.  They even bred new kinds of giants they were mind-slaves from birth.”

“Gross, add giant-breeder to the list of jobs I’ve rather avoid.  Was that the Old Empire?”

“No, this was thousands of years before that.”

“Gees, how many empires were there?  If it wasn’t boring I’d have you give me a quick history lesson before we part ways but it is so I won’t.”  I turned to Martialla “Can you magically compel giants?”

“I’ve never tried, but I mean, probably right?”

Strongarm unlimbered his Warhammer and started swinging his arms around in some kind of stretching exercise but I think it was mostly for show. Some men are like that, they need everyone to pay attention before they go into a fight. 

“So what’s the plan?”

“I’ll climb up a tree and if I see anyone I’ll shoot them.  If they come out to try and get me you guys get them instead.”

“I like it, nice and simple.”

Arien frowned “Shouldn’t we try to talk to them?”

“I used to think that, but I’ve learned it’s better to just make with the killing, that’s what’s going to happen in the end anyway – why beat around the brush?”

“Isn’t the expression ‘beat around the bush’?”

“What does that mean?  Why would anyone beat around a bush?”

“What does beat around the brush mean?!”

Martialla interjected “Didn’t the deer say there were ‘nice people’ in there too?  I assume you don’t want to shoot them do you?”

I sighed “Fine, you guys hide, I’ll go up and talk to them and when they inevitably try to do something perverted to me then can we kill them?”

Strongarm’s back cracked as he stretched “I liked the first plan better.”

“Me too.”

My companions hid, magically or otherwise, and I took on the appearance of a woodcutter and approached the compound. Knocking seemed pointless so I shouted ‘ahoy’, because that seems like something that a woodcutter might shout.  After a few minutes a head popped up over the pointy things on the wall – I’m sure those have a name.  He was a wide-faced but pleasant looking fellow going grey around the temples of his dark hair.

“Well met stranger, what brings you to our homestead?”

“I was part of a convoy heading to a new logging site to the north, I stopped to take a piss and then next thing I know everyone else is gone.  I must have gotten turned around trying to catch up with them.  I was hoping that I could impose upon you for some water and maybe some directions.”

“Of course, we don’t get a lot of visitors out here, it’s nice to have someone to talk with.”

If there were gates, it’s hard to tell with this poor of construction, they didn’t open – instead he threw a rope over the wall and climbed down only somewhat awkwardly.  His dress was appropriate to a woodland fort but it was high quality stuff, although in need of some repairs.  He offered me a skin of tepid and not great tasting water and we talked for a bit about logging and directions and such before getting to the good stuff.

“Thank you ever so much good sir.  May I ask, whose flag is that I see flying there?”

He smiled proudly “Why mine of course.  That’s the House Oeracea coat of arms, and I am none other than Lord Oeracea.”

I bowed deeply “Of the Beresford Oeraceas?  My humble pardons Lord, I never would have adopted such a familiar tone with you had I known who you were!”

His smile turned into that indulgent look rich people get when they allow poor people common courtesy “Think nothing of it my good man, out here in the wild there’s no reason to stand on ceremony now is there?”

I bowed some more “Certainly not My Lord, certainly not.  If I may be so bold as to ask, what are you doing out here?  This structure doesn’t look nearly as grand as your holdings in Beresford must be.”

A look of mild confusion crossed his face and he looked back at the crude wooden ramparts for a moment.  “You know, now that you mention it I’m actually not sure . . .”

Before I could say anything else another head popped up over the wall – a pale man with no nose whose skin was blotchy and whose hair was thin and unhealthy looking. His voice though was a strong as his appearance was feeble.

“What are you doing down there?!  Who are you talking to?!”

 I stepped forward “I was just asking for directions and a little aid, you see . . .”

“Who are you?!”

“Porchard good sir, I am but a simple woodsman and . . .”

The man on the wall spoke some arcane words and with a gesture I felt all the air driven out of me, and my gasps could draw no more in.  I’ve had the misfortune to be choked a time or two, one time almost to death, but that takes a long time all things considered.  Whatever magic this was acted instantly, I collapsed and darkness washed over me mere seconds later.  I imagine this is what it must feel like to be dragged underground by a land serpent.  The next thing I knew I was laying in the dirt and Arien was hovering above me coming in for a smooch, what a debauched freak.  I pushed him away feebly.

“Is that what you’re into?”

“It’s called the kiss of life, your lungs stopped working so I was blowing air into you to keep you alive.”

“Sure thing pal.”

I tried to get up but was overcome with a dizzy spell and then shortly thereafter a bout of dry heaves.  Arien helped me to my feet and pounded me on my back which was more annoying than helpful.  Eventually I managed to croak.

“What happened?”

“Your friend and Togra chased that nasty fellow who attacked you off the wall.  That guy you were talking to was under some manner of magic compulsion that Martialla was able to break and then he showed them a back entrance into the fort.  They’re in there now.”

“What are you doing out here then?”

“I had to look after you.”

I snorted “Is that what you call what you were doing?”

“It was the kiss of life!”

“Whatever you say.”

I had no time to look around for hidden back entrances so I squirrel-scampered over the wall and into the compound, such as it was.  There were only a few buildings but the overall construction made into a kind of maze small though it was.  Thankfully Martialla and Togra weren’t hard to find, just follow the sound of combat.  Several men in purple and red robes (very handsome) were dead on the ground and several more appeared to have been reanimated as very fresh zombies – which Togra was battling without too much success.  A warhammer isn’t the best weapon for dealing with the walking dead, it makes me sad that I know that.  Up on a low wooden wall was Blotchy-Face, who I could see was now dressed in some kind of heavy leather get up, in addition to looking awful it has to be hot as balls.  He was mostly just cackling and watching his undead minions in action.  Martialla, must have been enchanted somehow because she was just standing there doing nothing.

Calling on the power of my new tattoo I blindsided Mr. Leather with a massive bolt of lightning that, if we’re being honest, was so potent that it caught me a little off guard as well.  He was fried nearly to a crisp but managed to stay on his feet, although the stench of his boiling flesh was horrid.  He retaliated by summoning a skeletal hand that groped after me and started draining my life force but I managed to sprint away from it long enough to use my Walking Stick to cause the wall he was capering on to collapse.  He took a bad spill and I pounced on him, pushing the Walking Stick against his throat and down with all my (magically enhanced) strength. 

“See how it feels asshole?”

I don’t know why I said that, I hate in novels when the hero says something “witty” as they murder the villain.  What’s the point of sassing someone who’s going to be dead in ten seconds?  Best case scenario they die and you got be a big shot for ten seconds except the only person who heard it is dead, worst case scenario they don’t die and then they throw it back in your face.  What a waste of energy.  But I suppose I can be forgiven the occasional lapse.

As I mentioned it takes a long time to strangle someone, so when I looked up I halfway expected Strongarm to be zombie food, but instead Oeracea and some other man were there with him taking out the last of the zombies.  The other fellow was dressed in rags and covered in bruises and cuts, but he cut the dashing figure nevertheless.  White hair makes some people look old, others look distinguished, and a very few look striking – he was in the last category.  For a man in his middle age who had clearly been mistreated he still had the flexible and muscular body of a dancer.  After he sliced through the last zombie with his stolen blade I looked him full on in his piercing grey eyes.

“I’m not sure who’s rescuing who here.”

He greeted me with a smile and a courtly bow “I’ve never been rescued by a beautiful woman before, I have to say I rather like the experience.”

Arien turned up as the three others went through the fort to slaughter any of the robed folks who were skulking about.  We examined Martialla, she didn’t appear to have any wounds, and it seemed like she recognized me, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t speak and did little beside allow herself to be taken by the hand and lead around.  I don’t know if it was her intellect or her will that had been sapped but she didn’t seem to be able to do anything other than follow simple directions.

“Have you seen anything like this in your travels?”

“I’m afraid that I have.  It’s an awful spell that crushes the spirit of the victim.”

“Does it wear off?”

“No, only powerful healing magic can undo this effect.”

“Of course, just wonderful.”

Oeracea’s memory was foggy on what exactly was going on and all the handsome prisoner, Bywan Staelish, could say was that he had been seized from Beresford and brought here to be tortured.  I suppose in the end it scarcely matters what this lunatic was up to.  With the number of people out there in the world kidnapping and sacrificing it’s hard to understand how there’s anyone left alive.  I guess I shouldn’t complain next time I see some bedraggled parents dragging eight kids down the street, that’s the only thing keeping the species alive.  Although sometimes I wonder why that’s a good thing.

Our two rescued friends accompanied us back to Bixton and the wagons.  In the end it turned out to be easier to just carry Martialla than it was to lead her as she kept stumbling and falling.  I can’t say exactly why but it sent a cold shiver up my spine to see her manhandled like that, staring blankly like she wasn’t even a living thing.  I think part of it was just how casual they were about it – just carrying a woman with her mind destroyed here, no big thing.  Men are like that you know.      

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .09% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,604 gold

XP: 335,251

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, +1 Human Bane Dagger, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Ela’s Walking Stick (Rod of Ruin/Agile Alpenstock) Bag of Concealment, Bag of Holding, Black Marketers’ Bag, Handy Haversack, white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Knave’s Robes +4, Nymph’s Favor

Pocketed Scarf, wrist sheath, assortment of Fake Signet Rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), 842 garnets, severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, receipt, tax collector’s badge, Gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, 5 gold trade bars, 3 diamond in amber coins, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8) 

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

Mede 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I thought that traveling with a teenager would be agonizing.  I thought that traveling with a heartsick teenager would be unbearable.  If you had asked me yesterday to lay wagers on me wanting to bash the little twerp’s skull in by now you would have made a nice profit (which I would have stolen back).  In defiance of these expectations Bixton Lodvocka isn’t a bad sort.  I suppose when they send you to be a squire the whole idea is that they beat the insolence and moodiness out of you.  I could tell that he wanted to fall into the old routine of squiring for us, but since we don’t have horses, our camp magically sets up and breaks down in ten seconds, and I don’t eat there wasn’t much for him to do.  About all the squiring he could manage is to insist on going first as we beat out way through the underbrush.  I hate traveling like this, why haven’t we cut down all these forests yet and replaced them with good wholesome cities with their streets full of garbage?  It’s criminal. 

“Is there magic that can create roads wherever you want to travel?”

“Probably, but why would you bother when you can fly or teleport?”

“You can’t do either of those things!”

“Neither can you so get off my back.”

“Why don’t you learn some more useful spells?”

“I don’t learn any spells, they just sort of show up.  One day you’re minding your own business and a new spell is there.  Kind of like a venereal disease, you didn’t ask for it but there it is – where did it come from?  Impossible to say.”

I was about to say something else when a shaggy looking fellow with wild eyes who appeared to be wearing blue harem pants stepped out from behind a tree about twenty yards ahead of us.  This was pretty noteworthy in and of itself, but they really caught the eye is when he raised a crossbow and prepared to fire.  I kicked the kid in the back of the legs to send him tumbling down which meant that I nearly got hit instead.  What kind of instinct was that?  There was something between me and the bolt and my reaction was to move that thing out of the way?  Something’s gone wrong in my brain.  Bixton crawled into a thornbush while I jumped behind a tree.  Martialla had disappeared, either magic style or maybe just mundane skulking.

“What the Hells are you shooting at us for fancy pants?”

The voice returning was a little nasally and toneless “Who goes there?!”

“Perippolytia, queen of the nymphs and ruler of this forest.”

“What?”

“It’s traditional for the gentleman to introduce himself before asking a lady for her name.  Who are you?  You don’t look like a bandit.”

“I’m not a bandit!”

“Prove it, introduce yourself.”

“How does that prove that I’m not a bandit?”

“Because of the formality, bandits are notoriously informal.”

“What are you even talking about?!”

“Martialla are you ready?”

I heard her voice coming from back behind the crossbowman in the blue puffy pants. “No, there three more dudes back here.”

I heard panic in Blue Pant’s voice “Who’s that?!”

“That’s my pixie minion, Endoria the spirit of the forest.  Do the other three look dangerous?”

“Not really, they look like elegant lads.”

I could hear Blue Pants crashing around “Where’s that voice coming from?!”

“Alright buddy, I’m going to come out from behind this tree okay?  Don’t shoot at me.  If you shoot at me I’m going to have to shoot back at you and I’m much better at it.  Plus my invisible monster will eat your dick.”

“Grrr!”

After a short non-tense stand-off we all came together to talk.  These four were scholars who had come out here to study some plant or other but their pack animals had been killed been what they called “wild women”.  Their bodyguards and guides had also been killed but they barely mentioned that.  In a way I can’t blame them, they were clearly famished and were in no way equipped to be surviving on their own – which I can relate to very well from my early days.  Based on their descriptions of the women that attacked them they must be Kostelos, and ergo they must be renegades because there’s no Kostolos tribes this far northeast.  Renegades usually come in two kinds – those who turn their back on their traditions and their way of life to enjoy the perks and racism of modern society, and those who are so violently insane that they get exiled from their tribes.  And trust me on this, it takes a LOT of insane violence to get exiled from your tribe.  The fellow in the odd blue pants said his name was Murdane and was desperate for us to lead them to safety.

“Sure thing, which way is it to safety?”

“Don’t you know?”

“Don’t you know?

“How can you not know the way out of here?!”

“Look asshole you don’t know either so why are you breaking my balls?”

He grabbed at my arm frantically “Please, please, help us!”

I jerked away from his grasp “Don’t paw at me!  We don’t have much in the way of supplies so there’s nothing we can do for you.”

Bixton looked on earnestly “It’s the duty of every knight to render aid and . . .”

I silenced him with a glance “I’m not a knight, and neither are you.  We have enough problems without these charity cases slowing us down.”

Martialla piped up “Are we really going to leave these sad sacks to die?”

“You too?!”

And with that three became seven.  At least this gave the kid someone to look after – and this quartet needed a lot of looking after.  We continued wandering southward, maybe.  We were definitely wandering anyway.  I asked Murdane and his friends if they had any details on how they got here but they were useless. 

“How exactly does one making a living as a scholar?  This plant you’re studying is it like a medicine or a drug or something and you’re going to sell it?”

Murdane was shocked to his very core “What an outrageous suggestion!  The pursuit of knowledge is the noblest endeavor that a man can embark on, and it stands apart from crass concerns of commerce!  Give me learning madam and you may keep your black bread.”

“That’s an interesting comment given your current predicament.  I don’t think you can pay for things with knowledge, how did you afford pack animals and bodyguards to be killed if you don’t make any money?”

“Lord Wesel funds our endeavors.”

“So you’re a beggar essentially?  You’re right that’s much more dignified.  More importantly you know where Lord Wesel is?”

“Of course I know where he is!  He’s our patron!”

“Are you always this loud?”

“Ahem, sorry, all those years of teaching at university – you really have to shout to keep the back rows from falling asleep.”

“Of course.”

Late in the afternoon we came upon a spider web that encased several trees in their entirety – and sitting on one of those trees was a spider the size of an ogre.  Here’s something that I never wanted to learn but now know, giant spiders, while terrifying in appearance actually aren’t that dangerous all things considered.  Unless you’re caught in their web they’re not very effective fighters – an actual ogre would have been much more threatening.  The point is that I shot the massive spider right through its massive spider head and it plummeted to the forest floor like a massive sack of wet leaves.  Martialla and the kid stabbed it a few times as well because it was still moving but I think those were just death twitches. 

Deciding to call it a stop for the day Bixton sprang into action squire-style and harvested the edible bits off the spider and started frying them up for dinner.  I’ve never seen a more conflicted set of faces than I did that afternoon.  Murdane and his fellow scholars were SO hungry but also they had NO intention of gnawing on roasted spider legs.  They were in quite a pickle.  In the end of course they tucked into those fried spider-bits like they were prime steak because as anyone who’s been to a brothel knows if you get hungry enough you end up doing all sorts of things you never thought that you would do. I was just about to make a comment about them being careful not to overeat when they suddenly threw down their hairy spider-pieces and ran for their lives.  I looked back and saw why, the “wild women” were coming.

First of all only one of them was a woman, but since Kostelos men favor long hair and are beardless I guess maybe I can forgive that mistake, fog of battle and all that.  But that one was quite the woman indeed.  I rarely have to look up to another woman but I would have been hard-pressed to come up on her shoulder.  Kostelos women are a rough bunch but she had the kind of muscularity that I’ve never seen on a woman – outside of a statue.  She was wearing no fewer than three blood-splattered soldier’s jackets along with some manner of animal pelt and nothing much else.   Her hair was a tangled mat of course, but her feet are what I found most disturbing – running around barefoot in a forest must really do a number.  It would be an exaggeration to say that they looked more like hooves than feet but you wouldn’t be entirely wrong either.  Where the dirt began and the blood ended I couldn’t tell you, but they were both making very good friends with calluses and scar tissue.  The thing she was holding looked like a stick with a bunch of antlers tied to it, which I’m not sure is a real weapon but she was sure grasping it like one.

Her three followers, she was clearly in charge, all had birthmarks on their faces – which is considered to be an ill omen among some Kostelos tribes.  Their tribes must be among those I have to assume because well, here they are.  Other than that they looked like pretty standard savages besides the fact that they all had similar scars around their mouths – it looked kind of like they had given themselves little goatees with a knife.  I addressed them in Kostelos.

“Welcome friends, would you like to share the comfort of our fire?”

The woman shook her antler-stick in a provocative manner “BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!”

“I guess not.  Martialla get the kid out of here and keep him under wraps.”

“Are you insane?  You’re going to fight them?  Alone?”

“What else am I supposed to do?  Run?”

“Yes!”

“I don’t run Martialla.”

“Yes you do, you run away all the time!”

“Well not this time, go on, get out of here!  Shoo!”

Martialla grabbed Bixton and ran off, leaving me to open things up by using my Walking Stick to weaken a tree and push it over on the marauders.  Pretty good opening move huh?  Unfortunately the three men skittered out of the way, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the woman dropped her antler-stick and caught the tree.  Are you paying attention?  She caught the tree.  It was so impressive that I almost neglected to shoot her while she was roaring in anger triumph.  Almost.  Getting shot in the chest made the tree drop a little lower but as I shot her again she threw it aside like a lord tossing an empty wine bottle.   They came after me and I squirrel-scampered up a tree, shooting down at them until Tree-Tosser found a rock that should be tossed out of a catapult and threw it towards me with remarkable accuracy, although she still missed. I lion-leaped down and slashed one of the fellows across the face – adding some more scars and ruining whatever effect he was going for.

They charged at me again and I scrambled up another tree – and so it went.  Staying mobile and using the advantage of height I (and their lack of ranged weapons) picked off the three men, all the while the woman was roaring insults at me in Kostelos about being a coward and a dastard for not fighting her face to face. I suppose that’s the drawback to being a frenzied berserker, even when you’re not able to effectively fight back you still run around like a maniac giving it a go.  She tried to climb up after me a few times, and she was a ridiculously fast climber, but still it doesn’t matter when I can just jump to another tree.  In the end after I shot her more than a dozen times she did eventually try to run away , but I shot her in the back several more times and she tumbled to the dirt. Although when I went up to check out her corpse it turned out she was actually still alive.

“You must have lived an interesting life.”

It was a real struggle but she managed to spit out a curse in her native tongue.

“See you around.”   

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .084% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,604 gold

XP: 328,851

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, +1 Human Bane Dagger, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Ela’s Walking Stick (Rod of Ruin/Agile Alpenstock) Bag of Concealment, Bag of Holding, Black Marketers’ Bag, Handy Haversack, white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Knave’s Robes +4, Nymph’s Favor

Pocketed Scarf, wrist sheath, assortment of Fake Signet Rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), 842 garnets, severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, receipt, tax collector’s badge, Gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, 5 gold trade bars, 3 diamond in amber coins, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8)  

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