I can go back where I came from but I ain’t ever going home

I asked Martialla what she did to fix the car and she told me that there was a rock jammed between some thing and some other thing that was pinching a hose.  All she did was pull the rock out.  Though it looks like a muscle car, the vegetable man’s machine is more like a dune buggy, there’s no back seat or trunk or any place for cargo.  Ergo we were trying to figure out how much junk we could pack in the front and still have room for me and Martialla in the passenger seat.  Please note, that seat seems to be sized for a large baby.  While we were playing junk Tetris in our minds, Redlight (as we found out his name was) came across the stinking leaking fuel tank in the middle of the truck-fort.  

His look wasn’t quite as ecstatic as during the car repair voyeurism but he was clearly in hog heaven.  The acrid stench and the skeletonized bodies didn’t bother him in the least, he walked right into the stink zone.  I was halfway expecting him to put his mouth up to the hole and start suckling the acid-poison slowly spilling out.  Instead he grabbed a tool that looked like a hedge trimmer with a wrench on the end instead of blades and pinched the hole closed.  More closed anyway.  For reasons unknown, this process made the chemical nostril attack fifteen times worse and Martialla and I both fled the area, doubling over and retching.  My eyes stung so badly it felt like they were sealed shut for a minute, like when you wake when you have pink eye and your eyelids are crust-glued together.  

On my knees trying to twist my nose closed with my non-broken hand, I looked over at Martialla “Did you ever think we should have just hopped back into those tubes for a while?  Let them sort all this shit out and try again?”

She spat up something that looked like pink toothpaste mixed with mauve chunky peanut butter “It’s a little late for that, those potato head people probably stripped the place.”

We were highly dubious that his muscle car dune buggy could haul the tanker but Redlight (when I asked him why he was called that he said “because it’s my name”) insisted that we help him hook it up.  To his credit, it worked.  This little machine was able to move that bulk out of the “fortress” without much trouble other than the tanker itself groaning and creaking.  Even then we assumed that it wouldn’t work cross county, a flat paved parking lot is one thing but dragging several tons behind you overland?  No way.  

Way.  What followed were the most uncomfortable thirty-three minutes of my life (so far).  And when I say that, realize that I had dinner with Kevin James once.  Since Martialla would crush me if she was on top (phrasing), I was sitting in her lap with a box of tools and parts that I estimate to have weighed somewhere about eighty billion pounds.  Add to that my tender hindparts, a broken wrist, and general aches and pains plus the fun of wondering if the six thousand gallons of cyanide-arsenic behind us was going to explode, and you have a heck of a ride.  Every bump felt like the boys at Guantanamo Bay were working me over.  And there were lots of bumps because the machine didn’t seem to have shock absorbers so much as shock enhancers.  

Rattle-shambling across the bush was unbearable but when we reached the road, the ride became merely intolerable.  And the road was a real road, not an overgrown garden full of weed-ball-stumps and clothes-tearing thorns.  I think it was part of the Golden Chain Highway.  It wasn’t in good shape by modern standards, which I guess are past standards now, but it was a road.

Martialla peppered our new friend with questions about why and how cars exist but he had no answers.  None that made any sense to us anyway.  I’m eighty percent sure that I saw a dead kangaroo by the side of the road.  This prompted me to ask what he ate and he reached behind his seat, forcing me to grab the wheel so we didn’t veer off the road, crash, and die.  He pulled out a ceramic thing that looked like an ashtray with a lid.   Inside was a kind of dirty brown mixture or what looked like tobacco juice, dead squid soaked in toilet water, and Dinty Moore beef stew.  It smell liked barbecued dog hair but he slurped it down like it was a delicious milkshake.  He assured us we could get all the food like that we want at AD.  Goodie gumdrops. 

Other fun things I saw along the “roadside” include a cluster of what looked like termite mounds, those big ones you see on the nature shows in Australia (or Africa?  South America?) but I saw a little furry head poking out of what totally looked like a terrace/balcony thing.  I didn’t get a good look but maybe it was something like a raccoon-weasel-badger.  I saw a little canyon type area that had I-beams perched and wedged into it to hold it up.  How could someone even do that?  And even if they could, why would they want to do that? 

Martialla had her arms around me like we were taking a damn wedding photo, so I couldn’t look her in the face.  That would have been too close to us kissing.  Ergo her hot sticky breath was right in my ear.

“So when we get there, wherever there is, what prevents them, whoever they are, from stealing our goods instead of trading with us for them?”

I wriggled uncomfortably “Why are you so bony?  I feel like I’m in an iron maiden here.”

“No such thing.”


“There was never any such torture device as an iron maiden, a German dude made that up in the eighteen hundreds to make people of previous generations seem primitive and stupid, it’s just that bullshit about people thinking the world was flat, it’s propaganda.”

“I saw an iron maiden at the museum in San Diego.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t real.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?!  Are you saying I was looking at a hologram?!”

“No, I’m saying that what you saw was made later . . .” she sighs “. . . forget it.  Anyway, what I was saying before, since we’re in Mad Max times now, what guarantee do we have that we can trade with these people rather than them going all Lord Humongous on us?”

“We may have to shoot a couple of them first, show them that we’re not to be trifled with, before we can open up commerce talk.”

“I believe those were Commodore Matthew C Perry’s exact words in Tokyo Bay.”

I sighed “Don’t be a nerd Martialla, you’re the only person left in the world I have to talk to, I don’t want to be trapped forever with a nerd.  I don’t want a repeat of that time I made the mistake of doing an appearance at Comic-Con.”

Montalan 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The plan today was to turn north and cut through the woods but we had hardly started moving and were still in the outskirts of the Irontimber (I think they call that the periphery) when some riders came thundering down on us from the northeast.  Actually it some something of a duel stage thunder – first came three shirefolk in something of a mini-thunder and then following them came four “normal” sized folk.  How did the shirelings get there first with their little ponies you wonder?  They were unencumbered while the trailing group was clad in heavy armor and had barding on their mounts, or three of them did anyway, I guess the fourth guy just wanted to stick with his pals.  The Halflings swung wide to flank us while the second group finished up their thundering.  Had the small folk not been there with their swift mounts we probably could have made a run for the trees – as impressive as it looks to come galloping up like that it’s also a good way to blow up your mount.  Carrying all that weight even most warhorses only have one charge in them in a short space of time.  The three in armor looked like some fairy tale trio – armor, armorer, and armorest – as one of them was in chainmail, the next in a breastplate, and the third in full plate.  This last one was either a lady or a strange fellow who likes putting boobtruberances on his plate.  Breastplate was a handsome fellow with short dark hair and a neat beard, chainmail was a sour faced pug-faced fellow, and platemail didn’t raise her visor so who knows what was going on under there.

“Let me guess, stop in the name of the law?”

Breastplate grinned “Not as such madam.  But we’ll be taking you to the law soon enough so you may as well drop the disguise.”

“Actually I’m not disguised right now, this is the real me.  I don’t do that as much as I used it.  It was getting confusing to keep track of all my different personas.  It’s very embarrassing to run into someone and not remember who you were when you met them.”

“Just as witty as the last time we met, only this time you shall not escape me madam.  Dunstan!  The lantern!”

He gestured dramatically and the sourpuss brought forth a small lantern that was hooked to his belt.  It looked too trifling be very effective at shedding light, it couldn’t hold much oil, but I quickly realized it wasn’t meant to function normally because it was magic.  At a word (which I didn’t catch) a bright beam of light burst forth from the lantern like it was focused through a lens and old sour-face turned the beam onto me.  Breastplate was about to make some witty remark but it died on his lips and his face fell.

“What?  What’s supposed to be happening?”

Breastplate looked back and forth between the lantern and me several times “It’s supposed to reveal your true self.”

“It’s working just fine.  This is me at my realist honey-pie.”

Breastplate glanced at the theoretical woman in full plate who still had her visor down “This is where she said she’d be right?” The greathelm dipped slightly in as much of a nod as you can do in that get-up.  “Well my dear it seems we have a slight case of mistaken identity.  My apologies for that, but we have very reliable information on where our quarry is going to be and she has a knack of effecting appearances other than her own.  I would say that introductions are in order.  I am Sir Talmai Highbridge and I . . .”

I snapped my fingers “That’s it, I knew that I recognized you.   Highbridge.  You’re that street-rat that conned his way into a squirehood.  So you’re a full knight now.  Good for you.”

His confident expression slipped slightly and his other fellow’s face turned even sourer “I assure you madam that I am an anointed knight in full faith and service to the crown.”

“I never said you weren’t.  I just know that with your smiles and easy charm you went from being a footpad to a squire in Duke Eaglevane’s court and I know that your squiring mostly involved setting up confidence games and then framing someone else when they went south.  You must really be a smooth-talker if you ended up a knight instead of being hung.”

The tinny sound of a woman’s voice came from the armored hulk “What is she talking about Highbridge?”

“Nothing, I assure you, just some scurrilous rumors started by envious wash-outs.  And who are you that you bandy about this gossip so freely?  Where did you hear this treasonous chatter?”

“At court of course.” I extended my Whiterock signet ring “I’m Juliette Whiterock and I didn’t hear anything, I saw you pulling your little schemes with my own eyes from time to time.  I’m not judging, I thought it amusing.  A common piece of gutter trash talking his way up the ladder and robbing everyone blind while they were doing it?  I found that to be great fun.”

You could see his mind working furiously, trying to recall me, as sourpuss growled “Shut up with that slander!”

“You forget yourself sir, I am a lady of gentle birth.  If you speak to me thusly again I’ll see you punished for it.”

He was about to retort but Highbridge cut him off with a sharp chopping motion of his hand “Please forgive my companion, he’s very loyal to me and it causes him distress to hear my name dragged through the mud.  He usually has better manners.”

“Somehow I doubt that.  What’s your deal Iron Maiden?  Sounds like you weren’t aware of your friend’s colorful past.”

Highbridge started to say something but the armored lady held her hand out imperiously and he stopped like a scalded dog.  She did nothing for a long moment and then finally her echoing voice came spilling out the greathelm again.

“Junior, what do you think?”

One of the Halflings from across the way answered, a sharp-faced fellow with a pointy nose and thick sideburns “I never trusted that oily bastard, but we’re already out here and the oracle said that she would be here and she’s never been wrong so far.  I say we just finish the job and worry about it later.”

Highbridge and sourpuss both glared at the little men on the other side of us but they seemed utterly unconcerned by the scorn of the knight and his man-at-arms.  After another moment greathelm spoke again.

“You and your servant may go.”

“Who is it that you’re after?”

“That is none of your concern.”

“It might be.  Autane is a tracker and we’re on the trail of a wanted criminal.  If we’re after the same person I’ll certainly defer to you but maybe we can help each other.”

“We need no help, the oracle is never wrong.”

Highbridge spoke up, clearly just to spite his companion “We’re after a former retainer of the Juost family that murdered one of their household and has turned brigand.  She has a most unnatural relationship with the bugbears around here.  If I spoke to you the details you’d faint dead away in shock.”

“You’re after Martialla.”

He nodded “The very same.  She gave us the slip a few weeks ago, it was a Hells of a fight, she killed some of my men.” He titled his head towards the armored woman “Some of hers too.  She’s a dangerous outlaw, the real genuine article not some tavern tale.  It’s a good thing we ran into you, if you found her alone she’d snatch the life out of you before you could say word one.”

The armored maiden spoke again “Quiet!  Lady Whiterock you need to be on your way, if our target sees us here talking to you . . .”

“Wouldn’t your oracle have anticipated that?  If she told you to come here aren’t you supposed to be talking to me now?”

“That’s not how it works.”

“How does it work?  I mean if Martialla was going to see you and then not show up then the oracle never would have had a vision of her being here right?  But then if you were here because of that vision then she would have had a vision of here being here?  Seems like an impossibility both ways.”

Junior nodded “I’ve wondered mightily about that myself.  Why did the oracle tell us to try and get her last time, shouldn’t she have known that we’d fail and some of us would get killed?”

“It doesn’t work like that!  Everyone be quiet!”

I held up hand up “Look, we can help each other, there’s no reason . . .”

“We don’t need any help!”

Highbridge smiled smugly “You need my help.”

Her angry voice seemed to be rattling around inside her helmet “The only reason you’re here is because the oracle . . .”

Highbridge sneered “Bah, I am sick of that disfigured witch.  Sounds like Juliette here was able to find our girl just fine by normal tracking.  She didn’t need any know-it-all freak to tell her where someone might be in the future.”

“There’s no might about it, she wasn’t wrong before and she’s not wrong now!”

Highbridge pointed at me “Except that she is because this isn’t Martialla.”

The armored lady was going to speak again, but I talked over her “Well I’m going to follow my tracker into the forest to apprehend this fugitive.  If you want to come with me I would appreciate the help but I don’t know anything about any oracle so I’m just going to do my duty to the Juosts.”

The armored lady’s hand went to the spear stowed on her saddle “No, you’ll scare her off.  You go back the way you came, the oracle . . .”

Highbridge spat “That’s what I think of your precious oracle.  Lady Whiterock, we’re with you, please lead the way.”

“Going into the forest was not the plan!”

Highbridge winked at her as he moved his mount forward “I have a new plan.”

I was waiting for the armored woman to signal her Halflings to attack but she stood still as a statue as we left her there, although even through the armor you could tell that she was fuming.  Autane clearly had no clue what was going on but was smart enough to just lead on into the trees.  Not too long after we got into the forest proper I saw Martialla in one of her half-elf disguises coming towards us.

“Oh good Ellion, you found us.  Sir Highbridge, this is another one of my trackers that I sent on ahead.  Ellion these fellows are after that dastardly murderess Martialla as well, this one here has a magic lantern that will cut through her illusions.  Isn’t that grand?”

Martialla ducked her false-face obsequiously “As you say my lady.  I’ve found where the banditess has holed up, it’s not far from here.”

“Wonderful!  Sir Highbridge, would you mind going on ahead with your manservant?  If I don’t have to I’ve rather not try to wrangle with such a dangerous woman.”

He grinned “Of course I don’t mind, you leave the rough stuff to Dunston and me.  I’m just glad that I won’t have to share the reward with that stuck up bitch we left back there.  I’d much rather split the money with me.”

“Oh, as a Juost retainer I can’t collect any reward, but once you have the money I bet we can come up with some fun ways to spend a bit of it together.”

The look of greed and lust on his face was classic.  I have to hand it to him in this respect, false knight or no he and his sourfaced friend were able to not only survive the bugbear ambush but they turned things around and managed to slay the half-dozen furry monster-men that jumped them.  They were badly wounded though, which made it pretty easy for my crossbow and Martialla’s magic to make short work of them.  Autane clearly had given up trying to figure out what was going on and just started to set up camp as Martialla and I picked over what Sir Highbridge and Dunston had on them.  They both had very fine rapiers, which of course are not proper weapons for a knight at all.

“These are the guys that you were so afraid of?  They didn’t seem like much.”

“They’re a lot scarier when they haven’t just fought bugbears, and aren’t being ambushed twice.  Plus there’s a woman as well, she’s the heavy hitter.”

“I met her, strange woman.  Sounds like they have some magic person divining where you’re going to be.  I guess the timing was a little off today.  Between that and the fact that they can’t find out in the forest makes me think they aren’t very good at their job.”

“Have you every scryed on anyone?  Magic ain’t an exact science.  Even if you can see someone you need landmarks to know where they are.  What is she supposed to tell them?  I see our target by some trees?  How does that help them find me in a forest?  This oracle must have seen me meeting you at the edge of the forest.”

“I’ve missed your magic apologist agenda.  Do you know what happened to Hardra?  I met some people that seemed to have formed a religious order around her resurrection.”

“Whatever you did actually worked?!”

“Apparently so, but they were cagey about the details.  I’m guessing it didn’t go smooth.”

“Does anything for you?”


Funds: 23,045 platinum, 28,643 gold

XP: 759,111

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, tooth-sword, Cape of the Mountebank, Sandals of Sprinting, +1 Agile Rapier   

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 (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara

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