January 10, 1974 – Madripoor Bloodsport Death Tournament Charity Pro-Am for the Cure

Now that Martialla’s dumb niece has been rescued, it’s on to the next order of business – winning the Madripoor annual super being super fight to the super death for charity.  As I’m sure you remember, the deal with the Shadow Lords is that we win the tournament and they give us Maggie.  I know the Wildman is in the thing.  Mr. X of course.  The Challenger probably would have been a contender if I hadn’t shattered his shinbones like walnut shells.  I’m pretty sure there is a guy called the Contender that’s here for it.  I should probably find out who all is in this thing. 

If we’re being honest, and I feel that we are, I wasn’t thinking about it much because I was expecting that Blue would do it.  Unfortunately he said that he can’t win the thing.  He said that he could probably survive a match but he didn’t think he could win.  In particular, he said that he would never be able to defeat Mr. X, who’s always in the finals since the whole thing is just kind of his private vanity project.  Blue didn’t think he could even make it out of the first round. 

Martialla agreed with him. As they tell it, his gimmick is that he reads your mind while you fight so he knows what you’re going to do and can avoid or block all your attacks.  I guess that’s why I was able to catch him with his pants down, so to speak, because of my brain thing. 

Speaking of pants being down, since Blue was out of the running I decided that it was time to pay a visit to the Star-Spangled Man with the Can (of beer).  He’s a super soldier (of sorts) and I think he has the same thing like me where he’s in constant pain from headaches so maybe that means he’s immune to mind stuff too.  If he’s still pissed about me sticking him with the bill at that restaurant, I’ll just sleep with him again and smooth that all over.  I’m wearing deodorant now so if he thought I was something before?  Wee-ow!  Buckle up buddy!

Regardless, I’m sure he’ll be super pumped to get into a deathmatch tournament for me.

The door to Frank’s (or was it Fred? Philip?) small mental hospital-esque apartment was ajar, so I walked in.  When I saw him spread eagle fully nude on his bed my first thought was “how did he know I was coming?”  When I saw that there was a second pair of legs underneath his, my next thought was “Whoa, what kind of sex position is that?  Seems very awkward.”  When I noticed that there was an arm around his throat and his face was a deep scary purple, I still wasn’t entirely convinced that it wasn’t a sex thing until a woman’s face popped out from behind his head and locked eyes with me.   

Her voice was that of a waitress who’s got a few too many people seated in her area, mildly harried but dealing with it “I’ll be with you in a minute honey.” 

It was at that point that I realized I had walked in not on some gross rough-type sex but rather a murder attempt.  I jumped on the pile (not like that) and grabbed her arm.  I was able to pull it off him, but it wasn’t easy.  It was like getting a rusty well pump going out on the farm.  She was strong.  Not as strong as me, but stronger than any normal person should be.  Strong enough that she was able to break my grasp and slither out from under Felix (Steve?  Eddy?) without too much trouble.  I scrambled off the bed and got some distance myself. 

She was a strawberry blonde and she was barely over five feet tall, which was exacerbated by the kind of fighting crouch she was in – I felt like I was towering over her.  I see boxers doing that sometimes too.  Why is getting low like that a good idea?  Don’t you want the high ground?  Squatting down like that seems like a good way to get blasted in the face.  Maybe it’s harder to get knocked over that way?  She was dressed like a real square.  She looked like she should have been working in accounts payable at the phone company rather than attempted murdering a former super-soldier.  I suppose that’s smart.  If you’re going to be an assassin, it probably makes a lot more sense to be inconspicuous than to wear a black leather suit with a target icon on the forehead. 

She straightened up when she saw that I wasn’t mirroring her with a fighting stance “That’s a hell of a grip you have there, you must be Ela.  What a happy coincidence, I was going to come find you next.” 

I raised an eyebrow “And you are?” 

She grinned “I’m the new model” she pointed at Flynn’s (Greg?  Michael?) unconscious form laying limply on the bed “That’s your model T over there, I don’t know what the hell you are, some concept car that never made it to the production line because of massive design flaws” She ran her hands over her own body like a loon “And then there’s me, the brand-new top of the line fully loaded Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.” 

“Give me a second, I’m sure I can come up with some witty response about loads or you being full of something.” 

She laughed “Oh I like you, we could have had some fun back home, I bet.  Head out for a few drinks, drive the guys crazy, have a good old time – I’ll try not to mess up your face, not that it will matter for long anyway.” 

Fred-Frank’s apartment was bare, very Spartan, but there was some kind of stupid martial arts weapon on the wall – it was like a spear but there were a bunch of other stupid blades and little cords on it and shit.  I hurled that at Shorty, she ducked, but that was just a distraction anyway.  While she was going low under the spear-thing I kicked a footlocker at her that smacked her across the shins.  She didn’t fall but she stumbled enough that I got a hold of her and hurled her face-first into the sink, which shattered like it had been hit with a wrecking ball.  She pushed herself off the wall and back to her feet calmly – she wasn’t even cut from all the broken porcelain, my attack looked to be about as effective as a soap opera slap. 

She started kind of bounce-dancing on the balls of her feet “Oh yeah, I like you, I like you a lot.” 

A wise man – well no, not a wise man just a man – said once “If you haven’t been close to supermen, you don’t understand what it’s like to fight them. Even when you’ve got powers yourself, the predominant feeling is shock. The forces are out of human scale, and your nervous system doesn’t know how to deal with it. It’s like being in a car accident, over and over again.”  He said something like that anyway.  Aside from being sexist, superPEOPLE thank you, it’s completely accurate.

I really need to learn how to fight.  I feel like they covered this in Superman once.  He’s just a dumb dirty farmboy from Kansas, he actually doesn’t know anything about fisticuffs.  He’s just so strong that normally it doesn’t matter.  I feel like he ran into someone as strong as him and got beat down and Wonder Woman had to save his butt because she’s actually a trained warrior.  I wonder who beat up Superman.  Probably Anti-Superman or a Super-Ape or something stupid like that.  Comic book writers are morons.   

December 24, 1973 – Float like a Hot Rock & Alternative artist sting like an Adult Contemporary Artist

Blue looked down at me like a disapproving father, but you know, a lizard “So let’s recap what we accomplished.  We interviewed fifty people and what did we come away with?  Zero people to help us and you’re going to get your ass kicked in front of a big crowd of people?”

I mumbled defensively “It wasn’t fifty people, it wasn’t even half that many.”

Martialla finished taping up my hands and clapped me on the back “Don’t forget about the money.  Ela’s gotten beaten up for a lot less than fifty thousand dollars before!”

I looked around at the crowd “Where did all these people come from?  How did so many people hear about this?”

Martialla laughed “You’re kidding right?  Super-powered bloodsports are a third of Madripoor’s gross domestic product, and chick fights are super rare.  I’m sure someone was taking bets on this as soon as the words were out of your mouth that you were game.”

“Is anyone betting on me?”

Martialla laughed again “Ela, the odds against you are an unprecedented one thousand to zero, which means a bet of zero dollars on you pays out a thousand if you win, still very few takers.” She laughed a third time, uproariously “It’s just not a smart bet!”

Blue started rubbing my shoulders as Martialla walked away “Don’t listen to her, just remember what I told you, no strikes are allowed to the groin or joints of the legs, and no elbows to the head.  What you want to do is clinch but you need to stay active.”

“You didn’t tell me any of these things!

“I did tell you, last night, you don’t always listen Ela.”

“Shut up, I do too listen!  Jesus Christ, is that Mr. X over there in the audience?  What the hell is he doing here?  You think he’s going to try and kill me?!”

Blue looked over at the humorless psychic sociopath and then shook his head slowly “I don’t think so, interfering in a fight like this is one of the few true taboos in Madripoor, I don’t think even he would do that.  Still, might be a good idea to keep your head down.” He glanced around “Keep an eye out for snipers.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

It was about three seconds into the fight when I realized that I was woefully overmatched.  Or outclassed.  Do those mean the same thing?  She may look like a sex toy turned into a human form through Pinocchio magic, but she was both trained and experienced at fighting – and as you may remember, I’m neither of those things. 

Here’s the thing.  She was a better fighter than me, fine, I’ll accept that.  I would have been willing to take a few lumps and that’s that.  Beating me up doesn’t make her right.  But just smacking me around wasn’t enough for her.  She had to humiliate me.  She was dancing around and toying with me.  And I could have even taken that with good grace.  I mean that’s why people love Muhammad Ali, he’s a great fighter and he knows it and he taunts his opponents like a real asshole.  People love that shit. 

I can handle that.  She wants to make a big show out of beating me up, fine.  That’s life.  One thing Martialla was right about is I’ve gotten hurt worse for a lot less.  But then she knocks me down and I’m a little out of it and when I realize what’s happening, she has her foot on the back of my neck and she’s waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.  Everyone was having a good laugh at her antics.  And then she spit on me.

No.

You’re not going to do that and get away with it.  There’s a bully inside everyone that just loves it when someone else is being embarrassed.  It’s a sick little part of the human soul.  I wasn’t going to be the object of everyone else’s good time.  I got a hold of her around the ankle and I flicked my wrist like I was throwing a Frisbee.  I had zero leverage, you know because of the position she put me in, but it didn’t matter.  I’m very strong. 

I heard some cracking.  I heard her halfway scream – it was like she started to scream but then passed out before she could let it loose.  Like she drew in all the air for a scream and then it just dribbled back out because she was unconscious.  When I stood up she was on the ground and her one leg was like a kinked up garden hose that you drag out of the shed after winter.  I didn’t know a human leg could look like that.  I bet if she hadn’t been wearing her magic hooker suit, I would have ripped her leg off.  I saw what I assume was bone poking into the side of the material. 

A moment before, the crowd was howling and screaming and having a good old time.  Now they were dead silent.  I feel like I could hear people’s hearts beating, it was so silent.  I got a cigarette out of my pocket and stuck it in my bloody lips.  I lit up, I took a long drag, and looked over at the referee. 

“So did I win?  Is this like a TKO?  Can I get an official ruling?”  I crouched a little and grabbed my aching ribs “I should have got the money up front.  I bet she’s going to weltch.  Welsh?  Do you weltch on a debt or welsh?”

December 11, 1973 – Drydock doesn’t sound great either when you think about it

“What is this place?”  

Blue continued with his “visual scans” which is what normal people call looking around “It’s a drydock.”

I pointed “But there’s water right there.”

“A drydock is where you take a ship out of the water to work on it, you still need a channel of water to get the ship to the place, how else are you going to move a ship?  A wetdock is where the ship is still in the water while you do maintenance.”  

“Wetdock, I hate that word.  Sounds gross.  Where is everyone?”

“It’s shut down right now because the workers are on strike.”

“Workers have rights in Madripoor?”

“No, that’s why they’re on strike.  Well that’s not exactly true, some of them do.  Or at least they try to have them.  I know for a fact that there’s a union of exotic entertainers.”

I shook my head “Of course there is.” I looked around for the fiftieth time “Why did you choose this place?”

“This way Martialla can be lurking in the water.  She’s our ace in the hole.”

“She’s an acehole alright.”

I tensed up when a man came walking into the place wearing a ridiculous duster and a cowboy hat – what year does he think this is – but Blue met him with a handshake and they exchanged words in some language I didn’t understand.  Mr. Longcoat looked at me with mild curiosity and then took up a position at me side across from Blue.  

“Who’s this guy?”  

“This is that bulletproof man I was telling you about.”

“I thought he only did stuff like this for money.”

“He does.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out guilty “We have a little money.”

I gave him a sidelong look “Why is he dressed like that?  Is he a cowboy?”

“He’s from down south, I guess they dress like that down there.”

I turned to out new friend “¿Dónde está tu caballo vaquero?”

He look at me uncomprehendingly and then said something to Blue again, who turned to me “He doesn’t speak Spanish.”  

“I thought you said . . .”

My train of thought was interrupted when three more fellows sauntered into the place – they weren’t dressed like cowboys but they walked like they were.  I didn’t notice it at first, but I’ve come to realize that there’s definitely a preference for long hair amongst the criminals of Madripoor – the local ones anyway.  I think it’s a status symbol some kind.  One guy had a double pistol holster rig thing set up inside his suitcoat, it’s rare to see a bad guy with a holster – they seem to like the gun in the pants method.  I guess this guy didn’t want to shoot his dick off.  One of his friends had a shotgun and the other guy had a god damned sword.  A sword!  Who does that?  What they didn’t have with them was Maggie.

I noticed that shotgun was smoking an Embassy Gold “Hey, can I have one of those?”

Holsters responded in English “He doesn’t speak French.”

“Would you mind asking him if I can bum a smoke?” He stared at me, stone-faced “Okay, straight to business then, I don’t see Maggie so is she around the corner in a van or something?  How is this going to work?” 

He sneered “How it works is you give us the formula and once we know it works we release our prisoner.”

Blue glared down at him “That wasn’t what we agreed on.”

I sighed and grabbed holsters by the front of his suit and tossed him into the water.  The cowboy stepped in front of me as shotgun tried to give me both barrels – and as promised the cowboy proved to  indeed be bulletproof.  The wandering swordsman came forward with a vicious slash that Blue caught on his forearm, drawing a tiny line of blood across his scales, and then hammered the attacker to the ground with a fist – which drew all kinds of blood.  I stepped around the cowboy and hurled the now discarded shotgun at the rapidly fleeing third man – clocking him in the back of the head and sending him hurtling ass over teakettle.  A moment later Martialla dragged the leader out of the water and across the floor by us.  It looked like something had taken a bite out of his face.

“What happened?”

She waved vaguely “Barnacle, they’re really sharp.”

“Ouch.” I knelt down by the sopping went man “Do we have to do the whole thing where we threaten you and then you say you’ll never talk and then we break your foot and you say if you tell us you’ll die and then we say if you don’t tell us you’re going to die or can we skip all that?”

A new voice responded “I think we can skip that.” 

I turned to see my old friend Mr. Smiles walking towards us.  Instead of a tan leisure suit he was wearing some kind of cornflower blue number that I think was a Kareeba suit, wasn’t quite like anything I had seen before.  

“Long time no see, you never call, you never write.  Makes a girl feel unappreciated.”

He smiled his punchable smile “We were always nearby, I’m sure you could feel us watching over you.”

“That must be why things always go so well for me.  So what?  These dorks were just your stalking horse and the Shadow Lords actually have Maggie?  Is that the game?”

He nodded “An oversimplification but correct for this negotiation.”

“What are we negotiating?  Haven’t you guys given up on me by now?  I can’t be worth all this trouble to you.”

“Indeed you are not.  It seems we were sold a bill of sale for goods that didn’t live up to what we were promised.  You’re very strong but there’s no chance if you winning the tournament.”

“Jesus, that’s what this has all been about?  That fucking tournament?  Why do you care so much about it?”

“That doesn’t concern you.  The fact is that we paid for a champion and you’re what we got.  You owe us someone capable of winning.  Give us someone who can do that and we shall return Margaret to you.”

“Why didn’t you give me that choice with Elvis?  Why did you have to kill him?”  

“He was warned.  He chose his fate.”

The most creatively named villain since Paste Pot Pete – Mr. X!

The publically accepted history of “superbeings” dictates that the first non-baseline humans were the results of experiments conducted in the early 1900s.  The man codenamed Majestic, deployed in the Great War, is considered by many to be the first superhuman.  This is incorrect on two counts, first count being that Majestic is not human, and the second count being there is evidence of naturally born superbeings since at least the 1500s and there is no reason to believe that they have not existed since the dawn of humans. 

Exact estimates vary, but the distribution of the biologic profile that allows for the potential of NBH enhancement by scientific methods is believed to be approximately one person in every eight million.  The subject of natural NBHs has not been widely studied yet but it is unequivocal that they are far more rare, possibly in the range of one in a hundred million or more.   

Armend Lusha, the mysterious Mr. X of the infamous Madripoor fighting tournament, is one of these uncommon naturally occurring NBHs.  Born in Tirana in 1940 to a wealthy family, Armend’s parents were killed by Black Cross anarchists during the riots in 1948.  Armand was shuttled from Budapest to Vienna to Madrid where he gained international fame of a sort when he was featured in a Life magazine article as “the world’s richest refugee”. 

Shortly after this publicity, Armend was adopted and brought to the US where his new parents renamed him Drexler Walsh.  In doing so, the Walsh family took control of the remaining assets of the Lushas, most importantly tobacco, oil, and mining concerns — increasing their already substantial holdings in shipping and real estate.  This made the Walsh family a major player in European markets overnight.

Their interest in raising Armend was significantly overshadowed by their interest in acquiring the resources and contacts that made up his inheritance.   

When Armend began killing his pets, it’s questionable if his adopted parents even knew. If they were informed, they certainly couldn’t be bothered to care.  Armend’s telepathic abilities had awakened during the murder of his biological parents, connecting him to them at the moment of their death. Through his psychic connection, he experienced the sensation of dying.

By his own admission, Armend has been obsessed with death since that moment.  Finding animals to be a poor substitute for the “real thing,” Armend committed several murders in his youth, intent on recreating the exhilaration of telepathically connecting with another person at the instant of their death. He pushed a maid down the stairs.  He poisoned a nanny.  He caused a family friend to be run over by a car. 

Armend is an addict and his drug of choice is murder.  On his 18th birthday, he killed his adoptive parents and over the next several years, one by one murdered his adoptive brothers and sisters as well.  Taking control of his family’s considerable wealth, he turned his attentions to funding and participating in violent anti-anarchist groups and government actions against anarchists.  Whether he truly desired any manner of revenge for the death of his biological parents or if this was merely a smokescreen to indulge his dark desires is unknown.   

Armend was in Italy “hunting” with a group of anti-anarchist soldiers of fortune when they were ambushed by the quarry they had been seeking in the mountains.   In contrast to his previous murders, which he had executed with no physical risk to himself, Armend found himself in a life or death struggle with a knife wielding assailant.   Armend was the victor and ended his attacker by strangulation.

The thrill of killing an opponent in hand-to-hand combat provided Armend with a feeling of euphoria that eclipsed anything he had felt to date.  Abandoning his “childish” methods of murder free of personal danger, Armend used his fortune to travel the world and study with the best fighters he could hire.  After learning all he could from them, Armend would kill them.  Maintaining a public image of a philanthropic sportsman with an interest in cultural studies, Armend circled the globe fighting and killing martial artists and streetfighters and brawlers of all sorts.

He gathered an inner circle of followers that he calls his “new murder avant-garde” including at least one other NBH.  Armend’s goal is to be the greatest melee fighter the world has ever seen which, of course, means killing all of the world’s best fighters.  Finding the secrecy of his efforts annoying, Armend traveled to the only place that would indulge this blatant bloodlust, Madripoor, where if you have enough money, anything can be yours.  With the help and backing of several local businessmen and criminal groups, Armend held the first Madripoor bloodsport in 1968.  Although not exclusively for NBHs, the participants typically are, since a normal human usually is no match for the elite of the enhanced killer world.   

For those who know of it, the tournament is often misunderstood to be a mandatory fight to the death.  While deaths are common (Armend has killed everyone he’s faced in the first four tournaments, for instance) it isn’t strictly necessary to be the victor.   

Montagem 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I won’t lie to you folks, I would never lie to you, when I got up early this morning (nothing’s wrong I just slept something like fifteen hours yesterday off and on) I was thinking about going out to the woods with the belt buckle people and using my wiles to find out Victor, Beharri, and Cebuano’s sad stories.  Why?  So that I could figure out whom they had run away from so that I could potentially engineer their falling back into the bondage of their former masters.  I know that right now you’re gasping and covering your mouth like a virgin being presented with a naked man (but are also a little curious) and saying “But Ela, your hatred of enforced bondage is your one redeeming quality.  You’ve done many foul things but you would never get involved in taking away someone’s freedom – it’s the thing that keeps you from being a complete monster.”

First of all I have many redeeming qualities.  I am full-on, balls to the walls pretty.  I have so much charisma that you could take my left over charisma and make a second lady who was still pretty Gods damned charismatic from it – a smooth talking charmer she’d be.  But that’s obvious, let’s take a look at some of my less salient fantastic qualities.  I’m ambitious.  You may argue that ambition is not a good quality and that I lacked ambition until disaster forced me to change, but you cannot deny that I am the one out here struggling to make things better.  To quote the poetess Aprita “While you’re safe in your home I’m out here risking my gnome”.  You know what she meant by gnome.  She was an odd one was Aprita, even for a poetess. 

I’m brave.  I know that I’m probably going to lose.  The odds are in the Duke’s favor, but have I ever for a moment thought about giving up?  Well sure, maybe a moment here or there but I didn’t give up is the point.  What you folks need to remember is that I’m pretty much going up against the entire Kingdom, and yet I fight on like the hero that I am because my next virtue is determination. I keep on on trying despite being stomped into the ground a million times.  I still get up and keep going after my goals regardless of the constant beatings and that’s something everyone admires. 

But one of my greatest virtues is humility. I’m just a down to earth, personable, modest country gal. I acknowledge my own fallibility. I am not be enraged by insults. I am not concerned with making a spectacle gloating.  I’m diligent, caring, gracious, honest, honorable, loyal, patient, resourceful, responsible, selfless, and above all humble.  It’s worth mentioning twice.  The point is that I have many redeeming qualities.  But the point is beside the point in this case, because the real point is that those three fellows are bad, ergo anything you do to them is good.  Think about whom the most respected person in a village is – the executioner.  Why?  Because they murder bad people – while they’re helpless and can’t fight back in any way.  Normally that’s not cool but if you do it to someone bad then it’s the best thing possible.  It’s like that.

Anyway, I was too lazy to actually do it anyway so get off my back.  A healer from the village came to look at my leg/hip but they were clearly just a backwoods idiot because all they did was smear some herbs on me – I’m pretty sure what that accomplished was make my hip savory.  A hit of healing drink from the Flask helped somewhat but our original plan to ride to Aleene was quickly abandoned – the jarring was too painful.  So we were walking once again.  Martialla suggested, reasonably some would argue, that it made more sense to wait until my leg was mended and then ride – this would be both easier and faster perhaps.  But I wanted to get out of this nothing town and get on the way to the next nothing town.  After a few hours of gritting my teeth and sweating through my clothing walking the road to Obsis I was starting to think that I made a mistake but what was I going to do?  Tell Martialla that I was wrong? 

Martialla was looking at me with concern/amusement “How are you doing over there?”

“Great, never better.”

“Since you’ve been starting down at the road a lot, I assume because of how good you feel, I’d like to direct your attention to that.” She pointed.

“What the fuck is that?  A fair?”

“Certainty looks like it.”

“Why is there a fair in the middle of the road?”

“Well it’s not in the middle of the road, it’s off the road a ways.”

“Yes, thank you, that’s the important point.”

“You want to check it out?”

“Of course I want to check it out, maybe there’s a healer who can rub more spices on my leg.”

As we got closer we saw that it wasn’t really a fair in the usual sense.  There were a few wagons and a bunch of tents but there wasn’t much in the way of “attractions”.  There were a few merchants trying to make the best of it, but the purpose of the gathering wasn’t clear.  At least not until I saw a very fine extra-large carriage with platinum and ivory filigree.   I smiled at the sight.

“Finally some good news, this isn’t a fair it’s a fighting . . . whatever, show?  Exhibition?  The point is there has to be some kind of actual healer around here – they infest these places like ticks.”

“How do you know this is a fighting deal?”

I chuckled as we walked up to the elaborate carriage and I knocked on the door “You’ll see, this is an old friend of mine.”

Martialla raised an eyebrow “You have friends?”

The door to the carriage flew up, nearly smashing me in the face.  As I jumped back a barrel-chested fellow in an ugly red and yellow tunic hung in the doorway – he was grasping to the doorjamb like a mountaineer but still seemed about to fall at any moment.  He had a sweaty soft face and one of those smiles that makes you want to punch someone right off the bat. 

“Who the Hells are you?”

He frowned, this eyebrows touching like kissing swans “You knocked on my door, who the Hells are you?!”

“I’m looking for Rilfus or Trixa.”

He shook his head and made to slam the door “Never heard of them.”

I grabbed the door “Wait, where did you get this carriage?”

He shoved at my fingers “Piss off lady!”

I stepped back “Martialla, do your thing.”

She sighed “Remember when you used to actually talk people into being well disposed towards you?”

“You’re the one that learned magic, don’t blame me.”

“I know you said that just to annoy me, I’m not taking the bait.”

Once Martialla had hit him with her friendship charm to remind me what good friends we were he was more than happy to invite us in.  It was the same carriage, being the size of a small house on the inside via MAGIC, but its new owner had made a right mess of the place.  The bedroom used to be a small but well-appointed but was now just a cot beside stacks of crates.  And I know what you’re thinking – wasn’t there a storage area anyway?  Yes, it was packed with shoddy merchandise mostly loose or held together with twine.  The office was a mountain of discarded food and empty wine bottles.

“I love what you’ve done with the place.”

He laughed like a lunatic “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to have the maid come around.”

He laughed so hard at that “joke” that he started foaming at the mouth a little and got out of breath.  Once he was done almost having a heart attack he introduced himself as Mord Eli Ciraanova – owner, operator, and “fight master” of the “Touranment” of Dreams as he called it.

“Tournament.”

“What?”

“Tournament.  You said touranment.”

“Huh?”

After that diversion we got back on track.  He restated that he had never heard of Rilfus or Trixa, that the carriage was given to him by someone called Psyhundt.

“Gold chains?  Hairy chest?  Doesn’t wear a shirt?  Has a couple hookers as bodyguards.”

He grinned “That’s the one.  But those aren’t hookers, those women are gladiators from some other country.  They fight giant eels in a big arena full of water.”

“I’m sure.  Why are you having your event out here?  I don’t mean to tell you your business but where are the customers supposed to come from?”

He literally growled like a mongrel dog “We’re supposed to run in Obsis, they have an event there every year for the King’s birthday, but they wouldn’t let us.  That place has been taken over by some religious nuts and they said that celebrating violence wasn’t in keeping with the faith.”

“Which faith?”

“THE faith, Adariel.  I don’t know what they’re so upset about, at the beginning of the show we have some broads come out and do a dedication fan dance to Adariel.  What more could they want?”

“Well you know how unreasonable religious types can be, who knows what sets them off.  Taking over a town doesn’t sound like Adarielites though.”

He took a drink of something green and unsavory looking “Uh, this is some new cult.  A schoolmarm or a maid or something up in Aleene came back from the dead so they’ve got their underclothing all in an uproar about it.”

“The Order of Saint Hardra the Returned?”

He snapped his fingers “That’s the one.  Their leader, called himself a Herald, you should have heard the way he talked to me.  Some people have no respect.  Since they kicked us out I figured I’d recoup what money I could and just hold the event here.” His face fell for a moment “I’m worried about what the boss is going to say.  I’m going to lose a lot of money anyway.”

“Why didn’t you just continue all the way down to Preen and do your thing there?”

“There’s like ten different gangs that fight over Preen, I’d be torn apart if I went there to do business – or get ripped off so badly I’d end up owing.  Since people were going to Obsis for the fights I figured the best thing to do was to stay close.”

“Huh, that’s actually pretty smart.  You’re not as stupid as you look.”

He beamed an ear-to-ear smile “Thank you.”

Martialla, being more interested in warlike endeavors went to watch the contestants hammer each other with broken glass or gouge into each other’s flesh with rusty hooks or whatever kind of bloodsport was going on while I went to see the healer.  In my experience healers are usually two types – stick up the butt religious freaks or real weirdos that collect jars of blood and shit like that.  Arvan was neither.  His red and blue tent was tidy, no bloody rags and hacked off limbs laying around, and he was utterly professional.  I explained my injury, he examined me (without looking at anything he didn’t need to) I paid him some money and he did some magic and fixed my hip.  That was it.  He was just a competent healer doing a job for money.  It’s a sad commentary that this is so unusual. 

Afterwards I strolled around the small area of merchant tents and wagons to peruse the wares.  There was actually a decent selection of items for a gathering of this size, but there was nothing that interested me.  Surprisingly it would have been a pretty lucrative score for a robbery.  After “window” shopping for a couple hours I joined Martialla and Mord at the fighting ring for the main event – some massive fellow from up north against some kind of tribal with feathers tattooed on his arms.  Seemed like the big guy was going to crush the birdman, but it was a Hells of a fight – if you’re into that sort of thing.  It’s some kind of bare-knuckle fighting deal, there didn’t seem to be a lot of rules, but I got the impression that most of the fights had been pretty tame – as soon as someone was in trouble they’d yield.

This fight wasn’t like that.  Both men seemed to be out for blood.  Not sure it it’s a personal thing or some kind of prejudice I’m not aware of, but they were tearing into each other like rabid wolverines.  I would have thought that the big guy would break the birdman in half, but he was tougher than he looked and vicious – I suppose I should know better by now not to judge how dangerous people are by how they appear.  Still in the end the big guy got the upper hand but the birdman refused to relent and in the end Mord’s goons rushed in to separate them before someone died.  The crowd, which had been in frenzy, was quickly turned into a booing mass of angry people.  Nobody likes a draw.  It seemed like things might turn ugly, but a few of the early competitors came out to reinforce the guards and the crowed decided they’d rather not have their eyeballs pulled out of their dicks stomped by professionals.

“I’ve been thinking about your predicament Mord, and I might be able to help you – as old friends do for each other.  Do all these fighters work for you or do they just come and go?”

“They’re all under contract for a number of fights, if they don’t die.”

“Perfect, how would you like to rent them out to me?”

“For what?”

“To rescue Baron Juost.  I think I can make it worth your while – enough that you won’t need to worry about the bossman breathing down your neck.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 9,005 gold

XP: 923,451

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 Extraordinary Walking Stick, 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 

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