Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

This replacement Martialla isn’t working out well at all.  Lashmi doesn’t talk much and when she does she never has anything remotely interesting to say.  I expected her to at least have some entertaining and grotesque and gruesome stories from her old days working the streets but she never talks about it.  It’s like she wants to forget being a sex worker or something.  I told her she should make a list of all the clients she had that were particularly unpleasant and then enact some form of petty, or not so petty revenge, on them but she wasn’t the least bit interested.  What’s even worse though than her taciturnicty is that she doesn’t seem to realize how great all the stuff I’m saying is – and trust me what I’m saying is pure gold. 

Here’s a good example of why she probably isn’t going to pan out as my new sidekick.  Once I determined that we were dealing with a vampire I had the priestess superior roust all the nuns and herd them outside to see if any of them would burst into flames and die.  They even wheeled Sister Agata out still strapped to her infirmary bed.  None of them did burst into flames, but it’s an overcast day so maybe a vampire is among them, best to keep an eye on them anyway.  I asked if anyone was missing and sure as shit they eventually figured out (took forever, I expected nuns to be more organized) that Sister Loke was not in the gathering.  For some reason they all thought this meant she had been killed by the vampire rather than that was the vampire.  People are strange. 

At this point is Lashmi suggested that we search the abbey, which is foolishness because clearly we need to search the crypts – where else is a vampire going to be hiding?  Martialla would have never suggested anything so stupid.  The priestess superior insisted that we would not be allowed into the catacombs under any circumstances while she continued to insist just as strenuously that there is no such thing as vampires.  I hate the part of the book where the protagonist is trying to convince everyone that they’re dealing with a vampire (or whatever) and everyone else insists on denying it even though all the evidence is in front of them.  Seemed unrealistic to me, but here I am.  I’m not even sure Lashmi believes there really is a vampire.  Martialla would be sharpening stakes right now.  She’d probably already have some pre-sharpened stakes in her bag.   

“Fine then, we won’t disturb the dead yet, but I reserve the right to disturbing the dead at a later time if need be.  Where do the secret passages go?  That’s maybe where the vampire is hiding if they aren’t in the crypts, which they are.”

The old priestess scowled “What secret passages?”

“There are always secret passages, you’re in charge you must know where they are.”

I looked to Lashmi for support but she stood like blank-faced like she knew nothing about secret passageway or that I’m always right about these things.  Martialla would have backed me up.

“Why would a religious order need secret passageways?”

“I don’t know, for secret lesbian love affairs, or to hide from the enemies of your seemingly ill-defined and amorphous faith, or from the old days when this was a fort – how should I know what you do with them?  I just know that they’re there.”

The old priestess got herself all ready to huff and puff about it, but another priestess (or nun or novice or whatever) a pink cheeked gal with massive smile-lines and a thick neck came forward to say that there were in fact two secret passageways.  I don’t know if the old broad was lying about it or if she just didn’t know – I couldn’t get a good read on it and I’m great at reading people.  This whole group of nuns is weird as Hells, even for nuns.  Cheeky Thick Neck led us to a tiny storage closet where you pushed on a panel to have a wall slide away and reveal a staircase.  I was in the middle of smiling smugly and about to annihilate the good superior with a brutal comment about how I was right when a form lunging out of darkness knocked me to the ground.

“Oh shit!”

That’s apparently what I say when I’m tackled to the ground by a blood-drinking nun (or novice or whatever).  I didn’t get a good look at her when she was hurling herself at me, but she looked small – like barely five feet maybe – but she was strong.  Not strong as a bull, more like something that’s good at wrestling.  Something that can use it’s forelimbs to grapple you.  Like a bear.  But not as strong as a bear.  She was as strong as a small bear.  Not a baby bear, but like a sub-adult bear.   Unlike a sub-adult bear though she was hissing like a bat and biting at me like a rabid wombat.  She wanted my blood bad.  I was able to hold her biting face away from my very fetching neck and was surely just about to make my move to turn things in my favor when Lashmi splattered the vampire nun’s head-goo all over my face with her hand ax.  That much at least was very similar to something Martialla would have done.

I heaved the corpse off me and spat out some eyeball jelly “Thanks.” I clambered to my feet and looked down at the now mostly headless corpse “Huh, I thought they turned into mist or something when you killed them.”

The old priestess and Cheeky were horrified “Sister Reesblout!”

“I thought you said Sister Loke was the one that was missing.”

They looked at each other “Sister Reesblout must have been missing too.  I don’t remember seeing her.”

“What kind of operation are you running here?  Don’t you even know who’s on the roster?”

Lashmi crouched down to look at the ax-hole “So was she a vampire or what did I just kill?”

I grabbed a mop sitting nearby and used it to soak up some of the nun-sludge on me “Of course she was a vampire, did you see the way she lunged at my carotid?”

All the color had drained from Cheeky’s face “Maybe she was hiding in there from the vampire and just got startled.”

Oldy was resolute “There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“She was a vampire Gods damn it!  You don’t try to bite someone’s neck because you’re scared!”

Lashmi and I went down the stairs which led to a very short tunnel that came to another staircase that led up and through another panel into a hallway by the dormitories.  I feel like Cheeky could have told us that it didn’t really lead anywhere.  I turned to Lashmi as we walked back around to the supply closet.

“You know in Morinly some vampires took over a bordello and were killing the people that visited it.  What I don’t understand is how they got away with it for so long.  Didn’t anyone notice that all the whoremongers were disappearing?” I wait a moment for a response “Do you have any thoughts on that?”

“Huh?  Uh, no, I guess not.”

“You don’t think that’s strange?  How do you think they were getting away with it?  A whole nest of vampires had to be killing a lot of people don’t you think?  Granted a lot of them were probably people that no one would miss but plenty of married men go to brothels, I think at least some of the wives would wonder why their husbands never came home.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”

“Good Gods woman, I’m trying to make conversation here, give me something.”

She didn’t.  We met back up with the two nuns and Cheeky led us into the head priestesses own office, much to her surprise and shock.  Pushing back the desk and pulling out the rug there was a trapdoor underneath.  We were greeted by a blast of cold air when the trapdoor was thrown up.

I look at the old priestess “You ever notice any vampires or giant rats crawling out of here when you were working?”

Lashmi cast a suspicious eye at Cheeky “How do you know about this?”

“There’s a map in the library.” After a beat “I’m the librarian.”

I leaned over the hole slightly “There’s a light down there, do vampires need light to see? Seem like they shouldn’t.  Well, let’s go kill the damn thing, I suppose the rats will still be here but maybe without the vampire around they’ll wander off.”

Lashmi looked around nervously “Doesn’t it seem strange that we haven’t seen any rats?”

I pointed “They’re probably all down there.  Or out in the courtyard killing all the nuns.”  I put my hand to my ear “I don’t hear any screaming though, I feel like if you were a nun being eaten by giant rats you’d scream a lot.” I drew a rapier from my secret pocket “Anyway, let’s hit it New Martialla.”

“What?”

“Just go.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a large round room with a small pillar or pedestal in the middle.  On the pedestal pillar was a wildly incongruous little pillow that had a deep indentation in it as if something had been sitting on it for years and years.  Standing nearby in a bloody white nightshirt was a raven-haired young woman who was ghostly pale and clutching a skull to her chest like it was a newborn babe. 

“Well this is unsettling.  You would be Sister Loke them I presume?”

She smiled, overly large fangs glimmering in the lantern light, speaking in hushed towns like we were trading secrets at the opera “You want it don’t you?  You came for it didn’t you?  Well you can’t have it!”

“Uh no, I’m good on skulls, we just . . .”

Her fangs, already appearing too large to even shut her mouth lengthened and her eyes seems to shift shapes “YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!”

I was ready for the lunge this time and shoved Lashmi in the way.  Maybe you think that’s a dick move, but she’s a priestess alright, why wasn’t she confronting the vampire with her holy symbol?  What is the holy symbol of Strider anyway?  I feel like it’s a boot and a walking stick maybe.  Sometime dumb like that.  Sister Loke and Lashmi went down in a heap and I carefully stabbed Loke through the kidney.  She screamed and flailed around a lot and what seemed like eighteen gallons of blood came out of her but she died all the same.  The skull clattered out of her hands and rattled to a stop as if was looking at me – jawless but with two large fangs on the top row of teeth.

“Huh, I though vampires were supposed to be harder to kill.  What keeps the teeth in a skull after the body is dead anyway?  Shouldn’t that root rot away?  It’s not bone is it, it’s like whatever your gums are made of?”

Lashmi finally managed to yank one of her hatchets free and seemed to be brandishing it at me “What the fuck was that?!”

“A vampire obviously, maybe they’re weak at first and they get stronger over time.”

“NO!  You fucking pushed me into her!”

“Yeah, I needed a distraction so I could backstab her.  Calm down, Martialla and I used to do it all the time.”

“Who the fuck is Martialla?!”

I guess we’re not going to be friends at all since she left in a huff when I asked her to help me drag the body up the stairs for verification that it was Sister Loke.  Have you ever tried to drag a dead body UP a staircase by yourself?  Try it sometime and then tell me it’s not next to impossible.  The old priestess confirmed that it was indeed poor Sister Loke and then after much badgering did a role call to make sure no one else was missing.  I guess it was just the two vampires then.  Or whatever they were.  I never did see any rats.  I wonder what that’s about.  Maybe the Pied Piper of Illmarsh lured them away. 

When I asked for a little something for the effort the good sisters invoked the whole vow of poverty thing, which doesn’t make a ton of sense since this place itself has to be worth a fortune.  Cheeky did show me to yet another secret room though, where the gear of an old hero who had died in their care was hidden away. Seems like the kind of stuff that would have been helpful to get my hands on before fighting a horde (two is a small horde) of vampires.  When I asked why they had a vampire skull sitting on a pillow in a special hidden room they all but gave me the bum’s rush.  They didn’t even invite me to stay the night or feed me.  That’s gratitude for you.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Martialla’s rebuke stung more than I would have imagined.  I’ll grant you that trying to sleep under a wagon in the rain when you have a headfull of messed up dream stuff going on isn’t going to work out well regardless, but her hard words kept my up as well.  I still think she’s being unreasonable, there’s nothing I could have done, and I’m here now right?  It can’t be easy being my friend but I always thought I would be there if she needed me.  And I wasn’t.  Maybe it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t really my fault.  Maybe she has a right to be a little unreasonable. 

My grandmother always aid that vanity and recklessness were the worst sins, even more than ignorance and she hated ignorance.  I’m guilty of both on a regular basis.  Despite my grandmother’s wisdom, vanity I can live with, but as I’ve said several times before I recognize that I have become hasty and careless but I can’t seem to do anything about it.  I keep doing the same things.  Two years ago my problem was that I thought too much before I would act, I wanted to be sure and you can never be totally sure.  Now I have the opposite problem.  I’m like a loaded crossbow – and little bump and suddenly someone is bleeding and crying on the ground.  I don’t know what to do about it.

I think about my grandmother often, but I don’t think about my parents.  And not because I’m trying not to think about them, I just don’t remember them much.  Some of the other kids at court would cry themselves to sleep at night because they missed their parents.  It never really concerned me to miss them, I had too many other things to worry about.  I don’t remember my mother at all, just a fleeting image of a reddish dress.  I remember my father a little more, I remember his hands – they seemed gigantic and they were rough and work-worn.  I remember that he was always worried and usually looked a little sad but he would always smile at me and tell me how pretty I was and what a hard worker I was. 

Laying in the mud under that Gods forsaken Ples Del’mer wagon slung so low to the ground I felt like I was in a coffin I wondered what my parents would think of me now.  Their little girl with her hands stained red with blood.  I wonder if that would bother them more or less than me being the Duke’s playtoy.  I had never stopped to think before what they might have felt when the Duke said that I was to go and live at court.  Were they crushed?  We they happy to get rid of another mouth to feed?  I know that my grandmother never sent them any word about me, she said it was a mercy to keep them in the dark, did they forget about me after a few years?  Did they agonize over my fate until the very end? 

I can’t imagine what meeting them now would even be like.  I feel like we’re not even the same species anymore.  What possible good could come from us seeing each other now?  A tearful hugging reunion and then I help them plow fields and marry some meaty corn-fed tub of guts and muscles?  No.  They come to live in the city with me and my riches?  That would be like putting trousers on a duck – it just doesn’t fit.  I don’t pine for my parents, I don’t feel alone for having lost them, but that night I wondered what they would make of the woman I am now.  And what would I think about them?

Before dawn I talked to the Ples Del’mer chief, a bony woman of indeterminate age who stood straight as an iron rod.  She told me they weren’t interested in hiding a fugitive any longer than necessary.  I passed her some gold and told her that if she showed me the way into the city and back I would get Martialla out of their hair.  She whistled up a teenage girl as bony as she was – with the addition of being boyish and gawky was well.  She twitched like her skin didn’t quite fit her.  But she was quiet and sure as she led me through the forest paths far away from the work crews back to Three Rivers.   I told her that I would be back after nightfall and she nodded and darted away like a fawn. 

When I entered the city I had no intention other than getting some magic healing aids for Martialla.  But as I was walking I saw the (or at least as branch of) the Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo.  It was a very pleasant looking slim three story building made all of very solid brick.  Being a lumber town almost everything in Three Rivers is made of wood, which made it look even more extravagant.  There were three doors on the bottom level and three windows on the second and floor about the same size.  It gave the impression that there was no front wall at all.  On a whim I walked through the middle door.  There was a small desk there with a small blonde woman sitting at it reading a book – the Marked Token.  A pretty good mystery, but I don’t like books where everything revealed at the end is new information, I like clues that give me a chance to figure it out. 

Oddly she was wearing a soldier’s cap, maybe a symbol of affection from a lover at the front?  She looked up from her book when I came in and so our eyes were locked when I shot her in the chest.  The force of the bolt send her tumbling backwards over her chair, although I think she had been leaning back slightly too.  I could hear her moaning and gurgling as I reloaded my crossbow.  A man dressed in a dark suit like an undertaken poked his head in to see what the noise was and I shot at him too, but he dodged back around the corner with a frightened shout.  I turned invisible and walked a few blocks away. 

I have no idea who she was, she never did anything to me herself, but Glilcus and Stolo are my enemies and she worked for Glilcus and Stolo so she was my enemy too.  And killing your enemies is what you do right?  It’s natural and proper to kill your enemies isn’t it?  Who could argue with that?  Pacifists?  As a wise man said pacifism is nothing to hide behind.  A few streets and a couple bridges later I saw a tonic salesman set up with a cart outside of the free market.  That’s illegal, a merchant isn’t allowed to operate outside the free market and he’s probably doing it because he doesn’t have a permit.  I took care of that by running him through from behind with a rapier while he was putting the moves on three giggling women.  They wailed like banshees when I cut this throat just to make sure.  I ransacked his cart and found that conveniently he had his real wares hidden in a compartment under his bottles of snake oil.  I couple consortium goons ran towards me as I picked up his satchel but I turned invisible and walked away across another bridge and to another section of the city.

Going down into the lower city I found another one of Peronell Missplitter’s little shops with two guards outside.  I took cover down the street a few shops and started sniping at them with my crossbow.  They couldn’t seem to locate me and after taking a couple hits one of them fell to the ground and his buddy dragged him inside yelling for help.  I don’t know what the shop I was hiding in front of was other than cramped, poorly lit and gaudily decorated.  An incredibly skinny man with a wild mop of wheat-blonde hair came out the front door to scream at me.  I bashed him in the face with the butt of my crossbow and he went down in a fountain of blood.  I considered shooting him as well, much to his dismay, after all I’m at war with the consortium and Three Rivers is the consortium for all intents so therefore anyone in Three Rivers is my enemy right? 

I didn’t do it, but if I had it would have been a morally good act in service of justice.  If justice can be achieved without violence, it ought to be. If war must be fought, however, anything you do to the enemy is fine.  Shooting that innocent man in the face would have been a morally good act in service of justice.  By accepting my actions morally, I can still find respect for myself.  And who deserves respect more than me?  I went across and back up to the topside of the city, intent on making my way out, but I saw a group of consortium goons hassling some protestors so why not take a few potshots?  The why not turned out to be because they almost caught me, but I managed to get away in the end.  I’m very good at getting away with things. 

Potshot is a weird term.  It’s usually employed as an insult, taking a shot at someone who doesn’t deserve it but as I understand it the idea is that a potshot is a shot for the sake of getting an animal for the cooking pot rather than shooting just for the fun of it.  So the usage really makes no sense.  I apologize for my poor choice of words, even if I was just following societal conventions. 

Once I was clear of the city I went back to the spot where the Ples Del’mer girl had led me but it was well before dark so she wasn’t there.  Although it turns out that she was never coming back anyway.  I managed to retrace the steps on my own (small miracle right) but those dirty Ples Del’mer bastards had pulled up stakes and carried on, leaving Martialla to lie in the dirt like a wounded animal.  Which I guess she was since she was wounded and humans are animals.  People tend to forget that.  She looked unconsciously or maybe dead, but when she heard me approaching her head popped up.  I picked up her cursing softly to herself.  The effort of raising her voice clearly was tiring in and of itself but she managed.

“Go away Ela!”

I kept walking towards her “Don’t be stupid.  Be pissed at me if you want but I have healing potions for you, it makes no sense to turn me away.”

She held her hand up and I saw the magical energy starting to gather in her palm – and also sweat starting pouring down her ashen face immediately from the effort “Stay away from me Ela, I mean it!

I sighed “Look if you hate me now fine, but there’s no point in laying here to die – let me help you and then you can go back to hating me hale and healthy.”

Her hand was shaking like that of an old man “I’m serious Ela, if you take another step towards me I’ll burn you.”

I gestured casually “Go ahead, take your shot, maybe it will make you feel better.  Work out some of your anger.”

She didn’t say anything so I continued towards her and I hadn’t taken three steps before a searing beam of fire erupted from her hand.  It forked like lighting, one of the branches missed badly, but the other sliced me across the ribs.  Explain that will you?  How can fire cut you?  But that’s what it felt like.  Magic is crazy.  There was enough impact to spin me around and knock me to my hands and knees – where my eyes started stinging from the dark smoke coming from my own singed fleshed.  I realized after a moment that my short was on fire and I desperately beat it out.  I’ve seen Martialla do that to other people many times, now I know what it feels like.  Bad. I had dropped the potion case so I pulled it over by the strap and started riffling through it.

“If this was a novel I’d crawl over to you to give you a potion before I drank one myself, as some kind of ill-conceived apology.”  I popped the cap and downed the potion like it was fine spirits.  “Wouldn’t that be silly?”

I crouched and no further arcane artillery fire was incoming so I felt like that was a good sign.  When I walked over I saw that she had passed out from the exertion of casting her spell.  I like to think that she wouldn’t have attacked me again either way.  I poured one potion down her throat, which healed her enough to start struggling against me.  Half the second potion was wasted as I tried to force her to drink it as well before scooting away in exasperation and then hurling the third potion at her.

“Fine, here, drink it your Gods damned self.”

She muttered something about it probably being poison by drank it anyway.  It didn’t make her hair grow back, but she ripped the bandages off her head and the splints off her legs and crammed her stupid hat on her head so she must have been mostly fine.

She glared at me as she got to her feet “This doesn’t change anything.”

“I know that.”

She stared at me for a long while “It isn’t easy for me either you know.”  I didn’t know and was about to say so when she continued “You like to talk about how bad you had it growing up in the lap of luxury but I had it way worse than you.  I was on my own.” She gestured expansively “Out there.  I had my sister to worry about and keep safe.  You think your life is such a fucking tragedy because you had a bed to sleep in every night and all the food you wanted and stables and tutors?  I’ve been working since I was a fucking child!  Who was looking out for me?  Fucking nobody!  You complain all the time about how you can’t trust anyone, you think it’s easy for me to trust anyone?”

“I never thought about it.”

“Exactly.  Ex-fucking-actly.  You’re selfish, and you’re cruel, and you treat me like a servant.  What kind of friendship is that?”

“The only one I’ve ever had.”

She took a breath like she was steeling herself before plunging into cold water “I think we’ve reached the end of the trail Ela.  I can’t afford to be your friend anymore.  I think it’s best that we go our separate ways.”

The words came a lot easier than I expected “Please don’t leave me.  I know I’m a bad friend, I wish I could say that I’ll change but I don’t know if I will, or if I can.  I don’t deserve your loyalty, but I’m asking for it anyway.  Don’t leave me alone.”

After what seemed like an eternity she spoke “Let’s go to Graltontown, do what you said you’d help me do when the first met.  Show me that my concerns matter to you at all.  Then we’ll just see what happens after that.”

I shook my head “I can’t.  I have to go to Gib’s Tor.”

“What will happen if you don’t?”

“I’ll die.”  She sighed again wearily “Are we going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, it’s hard to see how we could be.”  She frowned “Why is there blood all over your clothing?”

“I think there’s something wrong with me Martialla.”

I couldn’t tell if her laughter was bitter or not.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, ruined nobles traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Macendamandel 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I trotted my steed into Three Rivers a couple hours before dawn.  For a brutal commercially sponsored dictatorship security is surprisingly lax in the city.  I suppose you don’t worry about tax revenue when you control everything and there’s nothing being imported outside of your own little monopoly.  I dismounted, leading my fine stolen steed into the lower city and asking the first person I saw (there were a lot of people working already even before sunup) where the local chapterhouse of the messenger service was located – the idea being that I had found the grand equine wandering in the woods and wanted to return it to the proper authorities.  The fellow I asked had one of those beards without the mustache part and his eyes were wide and unfocused.  He told me that there was no royal messenger house there which I didn’t believe because I’m ninety-nine percent sure that’s illegal – every community with more than a thousand residents on a royal highway is required to at least have a swing station.  But several other people told me the same thing so it must be true.  Maybe I can take down the Consortium with that legal issue.

Eventually I just found a stable and turned the horse over to the stablemaster to let him figure it out.  I was sad to hand him over, he was a fine steed and I would have liked to keep him, but aside from the fact that I was technically committing treason by riding him I’ve found that my lifestyle doesn’t support me having anything that I can’t carry on my person – including things that could carry my person on them.  I made for the safehouse but at the first leg of the journey I was intercepted by one of the street performers that had been feeding us information – a preposterously flexible woman with jug ears and lank dirty brown hair named Eaevn.  She told me that the safehouse was no longer safe, Hessenmeel had been captured and executed.  Milani and Damrow had taken over the reins of the group but they had shifted things more from rebellion mode to non-violent protest mode. 

“What about Martialla?”

Her face was blank “Who’s that?”

“Tallish, dirty blond hair, pancake face, stupid hat – she was recruiting with Hessenmeel.”

She shrugged “If there were any other leaders they must have been captured and killed as well.  Milani and that out of towner are the only ones left that I know about.”

I sighed, this is what happens when I’m out of it for a minute – everything falls apart.  I would be lying though if underneath my exasperation there wasn’t a rich seam of fear as well.  When Martialla hadn’t shown up at the safehouse the night I was captured I didn’t think for a moment that anything had happened to her – we’re not joined at the hip and she can take care of herself.  But the casual way Eaevn declared that she must be dead made me go cold all over. 

There was a part of me that was angry for being worried about someone else, that said this is what happens when you form attachments of any kind.  And for a long time I would have given that voice its head.  But you know what?  Martialla is my friend, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about, that’s not a weakness.  I realize that now.  My grandmother always told me that the strong are strongest alone, but as wise as she was her words in that case undermined her own argument – because she was sharing them with me.  We weren’t alone, we had each other, and we were both better off for it.  I was alone for a long time, so much so that the idea of every trusting or depending or caring about anyone else was repugnant to me.  I was a survivor and I valued that over everything else – I didn’t need anyone else.  I didn’t want anyone else.

And that’s still true that I don’t need anyone else, but by the same token I don’t need delicious wine.  I don’t need good food and a soft bed and a stable full of fabulous horses.  I don’t need for my enemies to be destroyed.  But life is so much better with those things.  And my life is better with Martialla as my friend as well.  I would have avoided becoming her friend had I know it was happening. In order to make a connection with someone you have to show your ass – and being vulnerable it something that I would never voluntarily do.  She showed up and we were going along and then one day we were just friends.  And I’m glad that it happened, because even though it opens up the possibility of something like this – her being taken away, it’s worth it. 

I hit the streets and started doing some legwork like in the old days, gathering information to see what had happened to Martialla.  Enough people said that she had been captured by the consortium that I decided that it was probably true.  Unlike with Hessenmeel there had been no public execution for her, people assumed that she had been killed in private.  But no one had seen her die.  I wasn’t going to believe that she had been snuffed out by the consortium until I saw a body.  That’s hard information to come by though, unless someone was actually there – assuming that it happened at all.  I was contemplating some kind of ill-advised covert action against one of the Consortium bigwigs when I was approached by a stern looking man with grey hair wearing an overgenerous forest green mantle.  I recognized him as one of Hessenmeel’s merchant contacts.

He told me that Martialla had indeed been captured by the consortium, but that some of the group of Hessenmeel’s followers that she had helped escape had staged a reciprocal rescue operation.  Sounds like it turned in a bloody mess but she was spirited away successfully.  Speaking with a chain of the surviving rescuers, who were more than a little bitter about the experience, they told me that she had been hidden out of the city with a band of Ples Del’mer travelers/wildcat lumberjacks/itinerants.  Which doesn’t seem like a very safe haven to me, but since they were already feeling salty about the rescue mission I didn’t break bad with them about it.  Plus they probably weren’t spoiled for choices in people willing to hide a condemned fugitive.    

From there I was eventually able to make contact with some shady operators who put me in touch with some smugglers who were able to convey me to the Ples Del’mer camp away from the city several hours after sunset.  By this point I was exhausted, which seems to be my normal state of being these days.  I’ve promised myself before that once this is all over the Duke is dead and gone I’m going to sleep for several weeks straight and never get up early or stay up late again.  I reaffirmed that promise to myself as I crouched in some bushes with the smugglers made dumb bird calls to the hidden camp of the wandering people. 

What no one told me is that Martialla had been badly injured – either during her capture, during her imprisonment, or during the escape.  Or possibly all three.  I was trundled to a covered wagon back in the brush where a single candle was lit and jealously shielded to reveal Martialla’s waxy and pale face.  Her legs were both bound with splits and she had bandages all about the head as well – based on the amount of missing hair it looked like a piece of her scalp had been ripped off.  My relief at seeing her alive was squashed instantly by her condition – I’ve seen her wounded in battle many times but never before had she looked as fragile and weak as in that moment.  Her face was slick with sweat and her breathing was labored.

“Good Gods you look like shit.”

Her eyes fluttered open and after a moment she woke “You look fine . . . . as always.”

She had an accusatory tone that I had never heard in her voice before, gone was our customary lighthearted mockery.  I wasn’t sure what to say but she had no issue coming up with something to say.

“Where the fuck were you?”

“I was captured too.  I just managed to get back to town.”

 She frowned “What do you mean?  Why were you out of town?”

“A man named Peronell Missplitter grabbed me and sent me downriver, he works for Pyshundt and . . .”

She clenched her fists so hard I thought she might break her own fingers “Who the FUCK is Psyhundt?  Another Gods damned person on your Gods damned fucking list?  So while Hessenmeel was getting fucking drawn and quartered and I was getting my legs FUCKING SMASHED you were fucking around with your fucking list?!”

“No, no, nothing like that.  Peronell grabbed me because he knew I was wanted by the Consortium, it just so happened . . .”

She was frothing at the mouth slightly as she shouted “Where the fuck were you Ela?  Where were you?  You LEFT me!  You LEFT me!”

“I was only gone for four days, I got back as soon as I could, I got pinched too!  What the Hells was I supposed to do?”

She nodded sarcastically “That’s what I’ve been wondering too.  I’ve been wondering what you could have done.  Seems like every time you’re in trouble I come to save your skinny ass but gee, come to think of it every time I’m fucked you’re nowhere around are you?”

“That’s not quite true, you know that . . .”

“Shut up!  Shut UP.  I am sick of your lies.  Lies, lies, lies!  All you do is lie!  Do you even know what the truth is anymore?  Could you even recognize if it slapped you in your ugly scarred face?”

“I don’t lie to you Martialla, I mean . . . not anymore I don’t.”

She snorted “Well, what a fucking comfort that is.  Thanks for remembering that I’m alive and coming to check on me.  As you can see I’m fucked up so I’m no use to you anymore.  I guess this is goodbye then right?  Good luck burning the whole world down because things didn’t go your way.  Things didn’t go exactly the fucking way you wanted them to so clearly that justifies killing hundreds of people.  Thousand even.”

“I had my own problems Martialla, I came back as soon as I could.  You’re an adult and you are more than capable of handling yourself, it’s not my job to babysit you.  You want to be mad at me that’s fine, let me have it, shout your lungs out, but you’re being unfair.  This is a bad beat and it sucks, it happens. You’re going to have to deal with it, if you want to be pissed at me for a while go right ahead.  You’ll get over it.  I’ll be back tomorrow with something to heal you.”

“Sure, because we’re such close friends.”

“That’s right.”

She closed her eyes “You don’t know what friendship is Ela, you’re dead inside.  Blow out that candle and go away.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6937 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Ring of Invisibility

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

Montagem 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I don’t know if Hardra is really going to find Tudos, but I do know that she isn’t interested in coming with me.  I also know that if she goes off by herself she would be murdered or raped or murder raped immediately.  And there was a part of me that thought “good, let that ungrateful bitch get what’s coming to her” but it would silly to let that happen after all the work I went to her bring her back to life.  There’s no reason to let her ingratitude undo all my hard work.  I went to speak to Captain Winters (it really is him, although he’s not a captain anymore) he came back from the front lines and was all messed up in the head because of all the horrors and severed limbs and the eating of rats and all that so his family had sent him here to recover.  Once he was “better” they pulled some strings to get him out of the army and he decided to stay and work here to help other soldiers returning from the war.  Good intentions but most soldiers don’t get sent to a fancy asylum so his mission didn’t amount to much.  It wasn’t too hard to convince him to abandon his post and accompany Hardra wherever she may be going.

With that done Martialla and I headed out after having lunch with the asylum staff, which was surprisingly not terrible – once again I couldn’t help but think that I’ve stayed at inns that were worse that his institution for the mentally insane.  The nice folks at the loony bin told us that if we headed northwest we should find a bridge that would take us over the river and to the road heading east out of Alleene.  Once again I walk to face my destiny, or you know, whatever. 

“Martialla, in the unlikely event I ever get killed and you’re still alive I want you to promise me something.”

She held up a hand “I’m way ahead of you, no problem, I wouldn’t thinking of trying to bring you back.  I know that you would never want to be a broken thing like Hardra.”

“What?!  No, the exact opposite.  If I die I want you to do everything in your power to bring me back.  And I mean everything.  Under no circumstances should you let me rest in peace.  Make it your live goal to bring me back.  You do whatever you have to, my mission here is too important.  Even if it means you need to sacrifice your own life to bring me back.”

“That last part seems like a bit much to ask.”

“Don’t worry, once I’m alive again then I’ll bring you back – it’s the perfect scam.  Whoever’s in charge of all this death stuff is a real chump.” 

After we traveled for a couple hours I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large body of horsemen coming our way from up ahead.  Charging at us you might say.  When I turned to say something to Martialla she had her sword in her hand and it took me a moment to realize that she was not ready to defend us she ready to gut me.  I have my good points but it turns out that I am the stupidest woman in the world.  I should know better by now than to put any amount of trust in anyone ever.  Martialla had the point of her sword inches away from my stomach and I could see her off hand sparking with arcane energy.

“Don’t try anything Ela, I don’t want to have to hurt you.  But I will if you make me.”

“When?  This can’t have been the plan from the beginning.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, but I’d like to know.” 

“When you disappeared.  When I was running errands for the Baron.  I really hit it off with the Duke’s cousin, we came to an arrangement.”

I nodded “Nice work, I never suspected, never thought you were acting strangely.  Are you at least going to say you’re sorry that it came to this?”

“What would be the point?”

The horsemen surrounded us and I saw that it was a mixture of the Baron’s guards, Kostelos barbarians, and some other folk who I didn’t recognize.  At the head of the war party was a strapping young Kostelos warrior dressed in what I’ve come to think of as renegade Kostelos chic –eighty percent normal decent Kingdom clothing but with enough barbarian bells and whistles to stand out. 

“This won’t work.  You know that right?  I’ll escape.  And then I’ll kill you Martialla.”

“You never did lack for confidence.  But no, you won’t.  I doubt you’re capable of being honest enough with yourself to realize it, but if you look back over everything that’s happened with a critical eye you should recognize that you’ve accomplished nothing without me.  Without me to fight your battles for you, without me holding your hand, without me being your human capital, without my magic what are you?  You’re nothing.”

“You seem a little resentful there old buddy, this is more than a little personal isn’t it?”

“No I did this because it was the right move for me, betraying you is just a bonus.  I did get tired of your upstairs downstairs bullshit.  You aren’t even a real noble – you’re literal a prostitute.  You are not better than me Ela, you are a whore, absolutely the lowest rung on the social ladder.”

“You won’t suffer Martialla, I’ll just kill you – I owe you that much.”

She snorted “Aren’t you the only who’s always saying that people shouldn’t make speeches in situations like this?  Besides, you’ll never lay a hand on me.  You’re nothing without me backing you up.”

At this point the surrounding was complete and I turned to the lead Kostelos “I assume you’re Kartak.”

He nodded “And you’re the illustrious Ela.  Tales of your beauty were not exaggerated at all.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to disrobe now.”

“Vavhaav iukn’av goaumn avo appresh conceven.”

He chuckled “Your accent is terrible.  I assure you madam, this is nothing prurient, your friend has warned us all about your many bags of tricks.  If you feel more comfortable we’ll all turn our backs and Martialla can make sure you change into these.” He tossed a simple pleasant dress to the ground – it looked like a burlap sack.

“Prurient huh?  You’re really diving into this sophistication thing with both feet aren’t you?  I remember back when I was a guest of your tribe it was all ‘cut your tits off” this and “burn your eyes out” that and various discussions about what kind of sharpened sticks would be shoved up my asshole.  And now you’re throwing around fancy works like prurient.”

“Yes, the savagery of our past has made us strong, now it’s time for civilization to make us wise was well.”

“That’s quite combination for sure.  Those threats were before I had them all killed of course.  You remember that don’t you?  When I killed your tribe?  I assume your parents were in there, among the people I killed I mean, and whatever other family you had.  Too bad they didn’t make it to the civilization stage huh?  I bet they would have liked that.”

He smiled “If you’d like we can erect a tent for your privacy.  Martialla will have to go in with you of course, but that way decency will be maintained.”

I looked him dead in the eye as I reached for the buttons on my shirt.  I took off all my clothing, folding it nicely in a little pile and stood naked as a jaybird in the middle of a circle of men with swords and spears and horses.  I took a deep breath and stretched, feeling a nice pop in my upper back.

“Aaah, feels good.  I love the sensation of the wind on my skin.”

He pointed at the dress “Put that on.”

I made a face “That rag?  I’d rather . . .”

Martialla interrupted “Just put it on Ela, there’s no need for your usual theatricality.”

I started to say something and she smashed me in the side of the head with the hilt of her rapier.  I tell you this much, Martialla really knows where to hit someone.  I was instantly wobbly legged – she must have done something to my inner ear because I could not regain my balance.  I felt like I was on the hold of a ship.  Or is it the deck of a ship?  The ground felt like it was rolling was the point, even though it probably wasn’t. It’s hard to do much without your equilibrium – it doesn’t matter how heroically defiant you are, biology is biology.  It was so disorienting that I almost fell on my face trying to put on the potato sack dress they gave me.  I could hear some of the men chuckling about it.  I suppose it was pretty funny.  In the end Martialla made a disgusted noise and helped me pull it over my head. 

I very much wanted to lash out at her at that moment, but it would have been pointless.  You have to wait for your moment.  There’s no use in struggling against the net when they have you wrapped up tight – it’s painful, but you just have to wait.  Sadly I’ve been through this drill a couple times now.  Martialla thinks that I’m not going to escape?  That’s what they always think.  And look where that got them. 

They didn’t bind me, which normally I would appreciate because it sucks being lashed to a saddlehorn or thrown over the back of a horse like saddlebags – but I was so dizzy that I was having a hard time even staying mounted even though I’m an expert rider.  It wasn’t a tough pace they were setting but I was struggling nonetheless.  After the third time I almost fell out of the saddle I spoke up.

“Pardon me Mr. Kartak, but I’m having a minor difficulty here.  Would it be possible for me to double up with someone?”

Before he could answer Martialla intervened “No, don’t let her near anyone.”

Kartak seemed amused by the whole thing “What possible harm could it do for her to ride with someone?”

Martialla’s eyes bored into mine “Maybe you should ask Lord Gatz about that.  You remember him right?”

Kartak winced and adjusted himself – you know the way I mean.

“I assume the Baron or whoever’s pulling his strings wants me alive for some reason.  If I fall off my horse and break my bloody neck that’s going to put a crimp in whatever plans they have.”

“You can’t talk your way out of this Ela.  If you fall off you fall off.”

I was able to stay in the saddle mostly by just leaning forward and keeping my eyes focused on the back of my mount’s neck.  Let the horse do the work right?  Even in my hunched over state I tried to talk to people – get a little something going, starting sussing things out, maybe lay some groundwork for something in the future – but no one would talk to me.  I’m sure they had all been “warned” not to speak with me, like I was going to magically entrance them or something.  Like I could hypnotize them or captivate them just with the sound of my voice.  Martialla should know better, being a good liar isn’t some mystic power that lets you control people.  Sure, I have the sweetest voice anyone’s ever heard but that’s not magic.  Since no one would talk to me I just talked.  You can still plant some seeds just by having people listen – and it’s hard to not listen you know? After a while Martialla rode close and gave me a hard poke.

“Be quiet Ela or I’ll gag you.”

“Speaking of gagging, I have a funny story about Sir Quercus and his mistress.”

“I’m not joking Ela.”

Kartak’s tone was light “Oh, let her prattle on if she wants, it’s harmless.”

She looked at him imploringly “Probably My Lord, but why risk it?  She’s more dangerous than you know.”

I snickered “My Lord?  I never took you for an asslicker Martialla.”

A couple of the men laughed at this and her face turned to stone “I’m getting a gag.”

“Wait, wait, I won’t say anything, what if I just sing?”

Martialla may be good at whacking people on the side of the head, but she sucks at gagging – not that she was gagging, I mean putting a gag on someone, you know what I mean.  Putting a strip of cloth around and in someone’s mouth doesn’t do anything.  You have to wad something up, shove that in their mouth and then put the cloth over that to keep them from spitting it out.  It’s like she’s never gagged anyone before, she made a total mess of it – but I decided to keep quiet anyway.

I won’t lie, when they started to make camp for the day I had a spike of fear running through me.  I remember the Skin-Takers and their methods of amusing themselves.  But they really are making a show of being civilized because they didn’t erect any kind of torture platform or molest me in any way.  They did stake me to the ground like a dog, but I suppose that’s to be expected.  Martialla was the lucky one who brought me up plate of brown slop and chipped cup of water.  After she took off the useless gag she put on me she stood behind me with her sword out ready to strike.

“Good gods, you’re the one who was saying how powerless I was without you, lighten up.”

“Just eat Ela.”

“There’s no fork.”

“Use your hands.”

I shoveled some slop into my mouth “You know, this is actually better than some of the shit you brought me to eat in the past.  You really are the worst at foraging.  It took me a while, but I figured out that the other people in this little band of brothers have to be Satander exiles right?  Which is interesting.  Your new boyfriend, what’s his name again?  Zeke?  He was the commander of the pass that’s supposed to keep them on the other side of the mountains, and then you two hook up and now here they are mixed up with the Kostelos somehow.  He must have let them through the pass, but why?  What could Satander exiles and the Kostelos tribes be working together for?  It’s all very exciting.  Anything you want to share with me on that old pal?  Any thoughts?  How about you give me the inside skinny, for old times’ sake?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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