Mantelderith 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank goodness for that.”

“Indeed.”

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

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

“Which you will immediately betray?”

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

“About time.”

“Tell me about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll drink to that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked up slowly “What?”

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

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

“You two, come with us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She half laughed “He’s not a wizard.”

I turned to him “You aren’t?”

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

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

“It’s complicated.”

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

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

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

“True.  Can you turn her back?”

“That depends.”

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,660 gold

XP: 1,096,451

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

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

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

Mathanaya 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As we traveled the former path of the river the farther west we got the livelier and healthier the plant life appeared.  On the way to Bowcrag we passed through some truly depressing terrain, but this was almost pleasant.  Corwyn claimed this was because of the influence of the hags and their inherent magicalness. 

“I thought hags were all about misery and spiders and grossness and big ugly warts.  Why would their influence help plants grow?”

“I’m no hagologist but hags are somehow related to the fey folk I think and they’re all about trees and grass and walnuts and shit right?”

“I thought they were mostly about tormenting people and stealing babies.”

“Well everyone needs a hobby.”

Things did turn muddier and more unpleasant as we turned north.  We followed the smoke of a small campfire and found one of Corwyn’s fellow surveyors cooking up a mess of spicy swamp crabs.  He was a scraggly looking Halfling in a red greatcoat that appeared to have been badly burned at some point.  Whoever this merchant was that was hiring these people must be really into diversity – so far in his employ we’ve encountered a Kostelos, a gnome, and a Halfling.  All men of course though, there’s a limit to how far tolerance goes.  Corwyn and this fellow, Giger, chatted for a while and he invited us to share his repast – there was no way I was going to touch swamp crabs but everyone else seemed to enjoy them.   Anflite and Filtan in particular were cramming the greenish little things in their mouths like greedy pigs. 

Shortly after this diversion we saw a carriage stuck in the mud.  The doors on the side facing us had been torn off and the whole thing was tilted slightly towards us, which was resulting in a thin stream of blood dripping off the floor into the muddy ground.  Nearby a woman in a muck and blood smeared white dress lay with her ankle snared in a bear trap.  Upon hearing us approach she looked up with a pale tear-stained face and started begging for help. The two sets of siblings were about to run forward when I stopped them with a whistle.

“Yeah, I don’t think so.  Why would a carriage be out here?  Or a bear trap for that matter?  There are no bears around here.  Plus where are the horses?  Carriages don’t get far without horses.”

The woman started sobbing and raspingly gasping about how much her leg hurt and how bad the pain was.  Anflite and Filtan looked like their hearts were breaking – I’m starting to wonder about their credentials as hired killers, seems like they should be made of tougher stuff.  They wanted to run to her aid but I commanded them to stay back.  Eventually the “carriage” disappeared, revealing itself to be merely a large roundish hammock.  The “woman” calmly stood up and walked a few paces our way.

“That’s close enough.  That was well crafted, but your choice was a little off for this terrain.  That would have worked great in more of a deep dark forest setting.  And what would have happened if we tried to help you?”

“You’ll never know will you?  Perhaps it was a morality test, to see if you would help the weak.”

“To what end?  I mean helping the weak sounds all well and good but the weak always need help you know?  It gets tiresome.  You save one person’s life and then it’s like you’re on the hook helping them for the rest of yours.  If we’re being honest I prefer to help the strong, they don’t come running back to you for more help all the time, plus their gratitude bears greater rewards.  I mean the weak, what do they have to offer really?”

“Well said.  What is it that you and your assorted band of friends are doing out here?  If I may ask.”

“We’re looking for the Tree of Woe.  Know anything about it?”

“Sounds like the kind of place best avoided.  What with the woe part.”

“You’re probably right, but going places that are best avoided seems to be my lot in life.”

The “woman” dropped the illusion, revealing a humanoid swine-type being.  Although it was pretty hairy so maybe it was more of a boar than a pig?  Although isn’t a boar just a name for a female pig?  Anyway, you get the idea – it had tusks and was grotesque. 

“I’ll tell them you’re coming.”

The swine-monster dropped to all fours and ran off in a way that looked awkward as all Hells but was very fast indeed. 

“Nothing at all unsettling about that.”

Corwyn decided at this point that we could find the rest of the way ourselves.  I tried to sell him on the thrill of coming face to face with a hag coven but for some strange reason he wasn’t into it.  He turned back for Bowcrag as we soldiered on.    Late in the afternoon we came across a half rotted river boat that was titled almost entirely on its side with the bottom (what’s the bottom of a boat called, the hull?  Or is the whole thing the hull?) sunk deep in a weedy mud bank.  I studied it for a good long while and saw no signs of it being an illusion, but you can never be sure right?  Last thing I want is to walk directly into the mouth of a giant crocodile or man eating snapper turtle.  Martialla tossed a rock at it which thumped into the decaying wood with an appropriate sound.

“If it’s an illusion it’s a good one.  You want to check it out?”

“Of course I do, what possible reason could there be for not wanting to crawl into a collapsing riverboat in hag country?  How do you think this got here?  Surely when they dammed the river everyone would have known about it ahead of time.”

Getting in turned out to be more difficult than I thought.  There was no good way to get inside so in the end I had Anflite and Filtan smash through the wood with their orc-axes.  Even then I was the only one slender enough to wriggle in.  Martialla could have probably fit as well but that would have been even more claustrophobic.  She did use her magic to make my signet ring glow with light so I could see my way around and so that any critters in here could see me coming and get the jump on me.  I’m not even sure what I was crawling through, unless this boat was made for pixies any corridor should have been much larger.   After a dozen feet or so I dropped down into a huge room that looked to have been a dancing hall or something of the like – clearly this was the pleasure barge of a noble or those that cater to them.  Seeing it sideways was a little disorientating.

Before I could look around much an apparition appeared before me – a woman in a dress that looked like it was made from the scaly hide of some monster.  It was made in as if it was a dress of the highest fashion but those scales have to be Hells on the nipples.  She would have been attractive it not for her empty eye sockets and the fact that her discolored skeleton could clearly be seen through her translucent “flesh”.  The cards of a deck floated around her like bees orbiting a flower.  Her voice was melodious in a haunting and low way.

“Fancy a game?  I’ve been waiting ages to turn the cards again.”

“It can’t be that long, this river only dried up a few years ago.”

“The Lady’s Luck sunk long before the river was drained.”

“Ah, that makes more sense now.  What’s your game?”

“High card.”

I laughed “Preposterous.  I thought you wanted a game, not a waste of time.”  Two tiny red lights appeared in her eye-holes and her ghost face twisted into a horrid parody of anger.  “High card it is.  What are we playing for?”

“Your soul.”

“I think that’s already spoken for but sure.”

“First to eight wins.  I win and your body is mine – your delightful body – we switch places and I walk out of here, you stay, bereft of form.  Powerless and alone.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Have you ever played cards with a ghost?  I have now.  The hard part is shuffling cards that have been covered with ghost syrup.  I think fancy educated types call it ectoplasm but I’m telling you that it’s exactly the same as mostly clear colored syrup – sticky and gooey in all the wrong ways.  I hit my eight high cards while she was still on three.  It was the funniest thing, every time she dealt I won about half the time, but whenever I did I always won.

“What do I get for winning?”

“I think you cheated.”

“That’s a very serious accusation, cheating at cards gets people killed.”

“I’m very much aware of that, how do you think I ended up here?”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something, isn’t that dress horribly uncomfortable?”

“It was mostly for show.  Even though you probably cheated for winning I will reward you with knowledge.  The realm of the dead holds many secrets.”

“How do I get revenge on Duke Eaglevane?”

“Who’s Duke Eaglevane?”

“Okay then.  Actually there is something that you might be able to help me out with.  A friend of mine, well not a friend, she was a pain in the ass really – a work acquaintance of mine was killed recently and I’d like to bring her back.  Resurrection you know.  Return her from the land of the dead to my world.  How might I pull something like that off?”

“Seek the seven strings.”

“What the Hells does that mean?”

But she had disappeared.  After I cleaned the ghost snot off the cards I saw that the images on them had all changed to artwork depicting a woman that looked a lot like me in various forms of distress – distress like being tortured on a rack, or crushed by rocks, or being ripped apart by devils, that sort of thing.  It’s the kind of keepsake that you can’t pass up.  Scrounging around I found the woman’s remains which I gathered up, along with her scaly dress.  Beyond that there was nothing of value and there appeared to be no other bodies either – whatever happened here I think was a little more than a simple shipwreck.  I suppose a woman with a dress like that probably had an interesting life and death.

After crawling back out and allowing Martialla to magically hose me down (Drake didn’t even leer at me but I’ll chalk that up to concern over his sister) we gave the bones of the gambling ghost a proper burial. 

“You know this is like the third or fourth ghost that I’ve put to rest?  Fun fact.”

“Should we same some words?”

“What’s there to say?  She’s dead, we’re alive.  That’s pretty much it.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .021%

Curses – Marksman’s Malady, Unnerve Beasts

Funds: 8,676 gold

XP: 243,161

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Ring of Protection +2, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Black Marketers’ Bag, 852 Garnets, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses, Blue Dragoncloth Dress    

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