Myam 11 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Crawling out of the belly of a gluttony (sloth?) demon really took the wind out of Corune’s sails so we traveled no farther yesterday.  I mean I’m the one that killed the demon and I’m fine, but I won’t bring that up.  I dragged/carried/helped her limp off the road and made camp – by which I mean I sat down in the dirt and start drinking from my Flask.  With Corune passed out there wasn’t much for me to do other than catalog the loot that had been hauled out of the demon’s gullet.  The only thing I learned really is that either the aforementioned demon really liked onyx or alternately that maybe onyx is currency in the Hells.  Is there currency on the pits of the damned?  Is there an economy?  Do demons need to eat and sleep and weed their gardens?  For as much religion as people like to shovel around I don’t know much about the Thirteen Hells at all.  The religious types really focus on the eternal torment aspect of the Hells but what goes on there?  Do demons have communities and book clubs and jobs and taxes to pay?  I guess their job is to tempt mortals, or maybe to punish them, it’s unclear. 

Why do demons even exist?  Did the Gods make them?  If so that seems like a real dick move.  If they didn’t where did they come from?  I’ve dealt with a couple demons now and they’re a curious lot.  We’re told that demons are evil desires and thoughts made flesh, beings that feel no kindness, no empathy, no mercy.  Creatures with the singular goal of our destruction, body and soul.  Which is scary, sure, but people have a tendency to overestimate the abilities of things that scare them.  Demons are powerful, some of them anyway, but don’t confuse power with invincibility.  As far as I can tell they’re actually riddled with flaws that can be exploited.  I may write a book about it some day, How to Deal with Demons the Ela Way, that seems like something that people would be interested in, and therefore pay money for. 

One weakness they have, some of them anyway, is that they want to be here.  Makes sense, the Hells are designed specifically to be a drag – who would want to hang out there when you can come here and have food and drink and drugs and pretty baubles and lots of people with entrails to rip out?  So right off the bat they want something even more than they want to kill you – they want to stick around.  Why do you think summoned demons kill their masters so often?  They want to get rid of the person that can send them back.  This place is a vacation for them, they don’t want to go back to their boring maybe jobs tormenting souls.  They want to live and laugh and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  So keep that in mind, they have a motivation, and that is a vulnerability.

Another thing is that for all their power many of them seem to be quite stupid.  It stands to reason I suppose, an eighteen foot tall buffalo-demon is made to wreck shit, not to be clever or crafty.  I would liken them, some of them, to a baboon with a lit torch in a straw-house.  Dangerous?  Oh buddy, yeah.  But do they even know what they’re doing?  Maybe not.  Fighting a demon should be your last resort – just keep talking.  And how do you engage them?  It’s pretty simple actually, because they’re not that bright – an appeal to ego or greed does quite a long way.  In addition to torch wielding baboons I would equate them to teenage boys – full of anger and rage and violence but not that hard to manipulate when it comes right down to it.  Flattery goes a long way.

And here’s the other thing, even the ones that aren’t dumb are lazy – and many are both.  Why would they do anything themselves when they can get a moronic cultist to do it?  Or bully a smaller demon into doing it.  Julista of the Thousands Blades would annihilate me if she ever got around to it, but even though she has all eternity she can’t find the time.  So she tells Gurgolock the Ripper of Buttholes to do it, but he’s lazy as well and he tells Achivious the Lord of Kitten Eating to do it and so on and so on until you’re dealing with a demon-snake tricking a bored housewife into trying to kill you with a poison apple.  Which is something that you can deal with.  Or if you can’t then demons are the least of your problems.  I could go on but I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll have to buy the book if you want to know my eight secret steps to defeating demons.  And the ninth secret steps that those fat cats in the church don’t want you to know.  Also I’ll probably never get around to writing it, that sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden.

Left with nothing else much to do I ended up drinking a lot more than I thought and kind of passed out last night, and then not walking up until well past sunrise today even though I was laying on the cold, hard, dirty ground instead of a nice bed.  Corune still wasn’t feeling up to staggering down the road so we just spent the day sitting there not doing a nothing.  Normally I’d give her a hard time about this but she looked like an exhumed corpse so instead I lifted her spirits with my many humorous anecdotes of the old days at court.

“So obviously as it turns out that it wasn’t the soap that was causing the itching and I had the maid beaten half to death for no reason.  You know it’s funny the upper class people prefer their ladies to be smooth and hairless but amongst the lower class a woman without a thick bush is reckoned to be filthy with diseases that made it fall out.  Hence the expression ‘burnt-ass whore’.”

“That story was disgusting and inappropriate.”

“You said you didn’t want to hear any more depressing stories.”

“Are those the only two choices?”

“Yeah, what world do you live in?”

She shook her head tiredly “Do you have anything to eat?”

“No, do you want some more rice wine?”

She put her hand to her temple “No, I’m already feeling woozy.  I think I would really feel better if I had something to eat.  Can’t you shoot something with your crossbow?”

“Probably not, hunting isn’t really in my skill set.  And even if I did I wouldn’t have much of an idea how to make it edible even if we had a fire, which we do not.  Aren’t you an old campaigner out on the trails after justice?  Riding here and there and everywhere after the bad guys.  Don’t you know how to do that stuff?”

“Not really.”

“Well then why are you biting my ass about it?  It’s interesting that you mention that because I’ve been thinking lately, you can always kind of tell someone who grew up with money.  It’s a way they walk, you can see it in the stride, it’s something that just tells you that they’ve never really been hungry.  Not like you and I have been.  When you’re a kid and you worry legitimately that you might not survive because your parents can’t hack it, that does something to you, it changes you.  You walk in a different way.  No matter how good someone is at disguising themselves or impersonation of someone else there’s a difference between someone who always had what they needed and the rest of the world.”

“I saw you in disguise and never knew you grew up poor.”

“That’s because I’m the best.”

“Of course maybe you lied about being poor, you are an awful liar.”

“I’m a fantastic liar actually.  The funny thing about that though is that you can’t ask anyone to vouch for me because I’ve deceived them.  When you’re a great liar no one knows – it’s like being great at keeping secrets, it’s impossible to prove.  I don’t know why you get so bent out of shape about lying anyway.  Lying is what gives people hope.”

“Spare me this again please.”

“No, I’m serious.  People are told that if they’re good and righteous and they stand up for themselves that things will turn out alright.  But they won’t.  Being right doesn’t stop you from being straight up murdered by someone who’s wrong and happens to be big and strong and is wearing thick armor and has a sword.  People are told that one man with a stick defending his home is worth ten knights on horseback and its utter shit.  But you need to tell people that to make them not kill themselves.  If you told them the truth, that you’re weak and a strong person can fuck you up whenever they want people would lose their minds.  It’s like that crap about standing up to a bully, the reason they’re a bully is because they’re faster and tougher and get in fights all the time.  The fact that you’re scrappy and full of courage doesn’t prevent you from getting your ass kicked and your face smashed into the mud.”

She closed her eyes, looking pained “Why do you have to do this?  Why do you have to torment me with your pessimistic views?

“Torment?  I take offense to that, don’t be so dramatic.  What else are we supposed to do?  I’m just making conversation I’m not tormenting you”

“You belittle my beliefs constantly, what else would you call that?”

“Your beliefs are dumb.  Besides what do you care what I think about it?  If you’re so strong in your faith it shouldn’t matter what I say or think.”

“It doesn’t.  It’s just irritating.  Everything is a joke to you.”

“It’s a laugh to keep from crying scenario, but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to hinder your healing with my bad attitude.  Hey, so if I shot a giant grasshopper do you think you could just bite into it and be fine?  I mean you can toss a regular grasshopper in your mouth without it making you sick so are the big ones safe to eat without preparation?”

“I have no idea.”

“One time I was out with the Duke and his court boar hunting, well in theory it was boar hunting mostly we were all getting drunk and frolicking out in the woods – you know the kind of frolicking that I mean.  Anyway, this beast turned up that looked like a combination of a great bear, a porcupine, and like an armadillo or something which a big spikey tail.  It killed all the horses and a dozen grooms and whatnot before it wandered off.”

“Why are you telling me this?!”

“Well if you weren’t always interrupting me I would have gotten to the part where I ate a locust, which is a lot like a grasshopper.”

“Seriously do you have any stories that aren’t horrible?!”

“Well I don’t hear any big amount of uplifting tales coming from your mouth!  It’s like prying open a virgin’s legs to get you to say two words!”

“I don’t feel well!  I almost died!”

“I almost die all the time and I don’t whine about it!” We both fell into a surly silence for a while “I rode a pegasus once.”

“What?”

“I rode a pegasus once out by the Scarlands.  That’s a happy story.”

“Oh.  How was it?”

“It was great.”

“So what’s the story, why were you out there?”

“Uh . . . . so you don’t want me to lie to you and you don’t want the story to be awful?  You’re really kind of tying my hands here.”

She sighed wearily “Forget it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Altar of Adariel,  Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror,  darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword

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 

Myam 7 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

I clapped the traumatized houseguard on the shoulder in the companionable way I’ve seen soldiers do before as I headed back into the sitting room – which was comprehensively smashed from the wrestling match with the demon-lion.  Four of my bodyguards were in there looking mildly confused but wary and alert, along with a couple more houseguards who were just stunned.  I called the rest of my crew in and then asked the Van Saar retainers if they could give us a moment.  They shuffled out, probably without even thinking about it.  It’s an odd thing, when people are in shock they’ll usually do whatever you ask them to do.  It’s like their brains turn off except the part that follows orders. 

“Gather around ladies, take a knee.  You did some good work out here tonight, truth be told I would have liked if you showed up a little faster once the screaming started, but when you showed up you didn’t hesitate.  You jumped into battle and you fought your hearts out.  You grew up tonight ladies, you grew up.  Whatever you were before you’re something else now.  And this gets us one step closer to the goal.  To get where we’re going you can’t take any days off and you didn’t take today off, you brought everything you had.  No matter what anyone says, you won here tonight and you did in the trenches, by doing the dirty work, the hard work, the stuff that no one else wants to do.  I can lead you, I can show you the way, but I can’t make you a warrior – that’s something you decide for yourself.  And you did it here, tonight.”

One of the seven nearly identical faces looking up at me quizzically spoke up “What the fuck are you talking about?”

I shrugged “I don’t know I was just trying something.  The watch should be here pretty soon, until then I’ll be looting.”

“Looting?”

“It’s like stealing, only different somehow.  I guess looting is what you do when someone’s dead.  Yeah, that makes sense, you steal from someone who’s alive, you loot from the dead.  Or wait, is that graverobbing?  No, okay, what it is if they’re alive that’s theft, if they’re dead but unburied that’s looting, if they’re dead and in the ground and you have to dig them up that’s graverobbing.  But they also call it looting when you take stuff during a riot, so . . . not sure on that one.  It’s tricky. 

“What are you talking about!?”

“Just tell me when the watch get here.”

There wasn’t much coin on hand, rich people are notoriously poor, but I found some good stuff.  The find of the century though was a breathtaking original Saryah Phidaner gown, an original not a reproduction!  Black and ecru lace with light blue silk trim and iridescent elf-stones.  When I first saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes, I figured it had to be a really, really, really good knock off.  But I examined it closely and it’s not.  It’s the real deal.  I’ll have to wash the succubus-stink off it of course but I’ll be careful doing it, very, very careful.  You know it’s funny, if I were to, say let several people die to save this dress people would say that I’m a monster.  But this dress is a one of a kind work of art, there will never be another like it.  On the other hand there are lots of people and most of them are ugly.  So which is truly more valuable?  No one likes to take the long view.  Holding the dress like an excited child I ran excitedly back to the front foyer where my bodyguards were gathered.

“You guys, you’re never going to guess what I found!”

The city watch had arrived and their commander – a goat-faced looking fellow with wild eyes – was the one who answered.

“What have you got there?”

“Nothing much, just a cheap dress that Crawdore said that I could have before a demon murdered him.  I’ll glad you’re here, this is what happened . . .”

In the old days there was a lot of lying.  I lied to the Duke of course about how interesting and virile and great he was.  I lied indirectly to her wife and her “court” about being with the Duke.  I lied about my extracurricular activities.  I lied to block the schemes of others and advance my own.  Sometimes I lied for no reason at all, I lied when the truth would have served me better.  I couldn’t tell you why other than life among the idle right, but not truly one of them, is an odd existence.  But one thing I didn’t do was lie to the authorities, the Duke was the authority.  Now I do it so often it almost happens by rote.  So that’s one thing that’s different.

There are a few keys to it.  One is not over explaining.  When you have all the answers that is suspicious because the more airtight your story is the more it sounds fake.  Real life is rarely that orderly.  Everything being tied up in a nice little bow at the end of the day is something that only happens in mystery novels.  In the real world there are loose ends all over the place.  Another good practice is to let them catch you in some minor deception, makes them feel better.  Be wrong about a few things, “remember” the time an hour off because of some specific thing that isn’t quite right, say something was green when it was blue, things of that nature.  Because anyone who deals with these things knows that eyewitness accounts are eighty percent reliable at best.  And I mean at best.  Unless you’re a trained observer you’re going to get a lot of the details wrong. 

Another key is to talk a lot, not over explain as I said, but talk a lot.  Most people are nervous or excited or both when they’re talking to the law and that makes them a blatherskite, explaining their theories about people’s motivations and going down conversational side-streets that go nowhere and so forth.  Give them one piece of useful information and then five random thoughts, stories, and jokes – but act like you think you’ve giving them gold.

The point is soon enough the city watch was satisfied with my tale, some of which was true, and they were on their way.  I gathered all the Van Saar servants and houseguards in the front courtyard and thanked them for their service, telling them how lucky they were to have survived the dark events of that night and then telling them that their services were no longer needed – goodbye and good luck.  A few of them seemed like they didn’t want to accept this, seeing as how it was in no way acceptable, but the bulk of them just took it.  Either way what were they going to do?  They gathered their things, no doubt doing a little looting of their own, and then faded away into the night.  My bodyguards seemed eager to get back to the camp.

“Oh no, not yet, the night is still young.  We have a lot to do still.”

I spent maybe an hour looking through Van Saar’s house hoping to find a letter he wrote about killing the mayor’s brother, but no such luck.  I hate when my enemies aren’t morons.  I probably should have kept looking but that was boring so instead we headed to luxurious third-story shack of Old Scatch.  I sent a couple of the girls up to drag him down but they reported that his hovel was empty, empty of people anyhow, it was full of all sorts of other vermin.  Before I could formulate a new plan light spilled out of the second story window and the bald head of the bird-keeper emerged.  He helpfully explained to me that the theater troupe was at the Macourek.  Since the rioting at had started they had been running four shows a day, including a midnight “event” – an original production about a city being torn apart featuring lovers striving to get to one another, an evil moneylender, and enough staged violence and brief nudity to really bring the people in.  He claimed they were packing the place for every show.

We got to the theater maybe an hour before midnight, and no lie, there were people lined up outside waiting.  I suppose in a time of crisis people want something to distract them, even if it is the mumbled shenanigans of a group of hacks, has-beens and never-wases.  We made our way through the crowd to the doors where the tall grey-haired undertaker looking man (I never did figure out what he does here) was enjoying keeping people out until showtime with all the spiteful officiousness of a man with a tiny degree of power.  I talked to him convivially for a moment and then told him I was here with the new chorus-girls.  I was prepared to smooth-talk but he acted like they were expected and let us right in – I love it when people act like they knew about something that’s completely bullshit.  It’s one of my favorite things. We made our way to the stage and I took a seat in the front row, gesturing to the right.

“Ladies, through there you’ll find the dressing rooms, grab whoever’s back there and bring them out for me will you.”

One of the cadre, I’ll call her #3 frowned “This doesn’t really seem like . . .” I took out a double handful of gold and tossed it out on the floor “. . . right away ma’am.”

They jogged off and one by one came back with the Macourek Theater Company, also known as the Dreamers, pulling them out and onto the stage confused and in various states of being costumed and make-uped.  It was mildly amusing.  When they saw me they were quick to want to chat but I waited until the entire company was there with my bodyguards fencing them in.

“Good evening friends, it’s good to see you doing so well.  I saw the crowd out there, it’s really something, well done.  The bad news is that your patron Crawdore Van Saar is dead, as is his companion Lypara.  Now, I had very well intentioned plans of infiltrating your little group and ferreting out what happened but I got distracted by the violent uprising in the city, you know how that is.  I never have the time to do things properly it seems, but I don’t want to waste your time with my bellyaching, you have a show to put on.  I’m here because I know that some of you were involved with Lypara bringing drugs into the city, and I know that the mayor’s brother was instigating that and then disappeared, what I don’t know is what happened.  So you’re going to tell me.  I’m guessing that most of have no clue, but someone among you does, so just tell me now before things turn ugly.”

They all started talking at once of course and I had to cut them off.

“One at a time people.  And here’s a ground rule, if all you have to say is that you don’t know anything you don’t have anything to say.” I pointed to a thin fellow with a riotous mop of hair and a waxed mustache that I believe they called Hound “You first.”

He came forward and bowed nervously “I assure you madam, I know nothing about any . . .”

He yelped and ducked as I threw the dagger I had taken from Van Saar’s house at him, which curved around through the air and flew back into my hand.

“Neat.  I get that you’re artistic people so allow me to go over the rule again – I don’t want to hear anything other than the information I’m looking for, if you have nothing to say you have nothing to say.  Is that clear?” I pointed the knife at Wexley “You had a lot to say that night we were cavorting and carousing, do you have anything to say now?”

He took a hesitant step forward “Well . . . that is to say . . . . I don’t exactly . . .”

With a sigh I hurled the dagger, hitting him in the stomach – which then pulled itself free with a splash of bright blood on the boards of the stage and sailed neatly back to my hand.  He fell to his hands and knees gasping.   

“Okay folks, here’s the deal, I know that most of you are probably just mingy artistic types who are having fun and taking drugs and living it up but at least one of you is not.  Now, I don’t expect that person to come forward, why would they, but some of you have to know who’s pulling the strings on the drug smuggling operation.  Just point her or him out, because I really do not want to spend the night torturing you sensitive creative sorts.  So don’t make me okay?”

Several of them turned and pointed at a tall flat-faced fellow with stringy blonde hair falling around his face and one of those ridiculous tiny beard-patches on his chin. I walked up onto the stage and gave Wexley a healing draught from my Flask, watching his astonishment as his wound healed before it his eyes.

“Sorry about that Wex but you should be good to go for tonight’s performance.  Unfortunately your friend here is going to have to miss the show tonight.  I hope you have an understudy.”

We took patch-chin into one of the many strange superfluous rooms in the theater.  They called him Fat Tom even though he wasn’t fat at all, I’m sure there’s some hilarious story behind that.  He lied at first, and second, and third.  Once I got tired of tripping him up I asked my bodyguards which among them didn’t mind inflicting pain on a defenseless man.  One of them stepped up and kneed the man in the stomach – and I mean hard.  I think I heard something break inside him.

“Good Gods woman, nice initiative, but dial it back.  You have to start small and then escalate.”

Once he was done gasping for air Fat Tom told me that a merchant named Gridley was the one who brought in the drugs and he suspected that he was the one who killed the mayor’s brother when his cover was blown.  He said that Gridley was completely enamored with Lypara and did whatever she wanted.  When I asked him where I could find Gridley he said that his home and his business were all in the part of the city where the rioting was and that no one had seen him since they started. 

“Thank you for your eventual candor Not Fat Tom, and look we’re wrapped up as the show is just starting – maybe you can make it on stage for the second act.”

One of the seven guards said that Gridley was in the camp, which is convenient, it would have really caused me a problem if he had been killed in the rioting.   We made our way out of the city on the east side and back to the camp where Baron Elvyra’s men were quick to hustle us into a barn in the farm complex where the man himself was waiting.

“It’s done, I killed the demoness.”

“You can’t actually kill a demon, they just reform in the Hells.”

“Well whatever, I shot her a bunch and she went away.  There’s a merchant in the camp called Gridley, he’s one of hers – not sure if he’s a cultist or just a minion or a dupe or what but you can ask him.  And while you’re at it can you ask him what happened to the mayor’s brother?”

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“Just ask as a favor to me will you?  Now, if there’s nothing else I’m going to bed, it’s been quite a night.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 570,101

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, +1 Returning Dagger, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck

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 

Myam 2 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 4

There was a part of me that didn’t want to get up.  A part that told me to stay there, close my eyes and let go, let whatever was going to happen next happen and just accept it.  Put my fate in the hands of the Gods.  No more struggle.  No more strife.  Let things unfold and assent to the results.  But you don’t listen to that part of yourself.  You block out the seductive voice in your mind that says that it cannot be done, that you’ve done enough, that it’s time to rest.  Because there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven, and that is giving up.  I’ve done a lot of things people would consider damning but the only thing I could ever do that would disappoint me is stopping.  There is no line between perseverance and insanity, don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is.  Life is a meaningless struggle, and that’s fine, you do it anyway.  If you’re going to do something you do it.  The end.  So I counted to four and then I hauled myself to my feet and went over to see what the dead man had on him.   As I grabbed him by a handful of clothing to flip him over I looked at Corune.

“You’re a legal expert, in a time of civil unrest isn’t there some manner of suspension of law when it comes to doing what you have to in order to survive?  Or is this still theft and you’re going to arrest me and confine me to the closet?”

She looked dazed “There is no closet.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, somewhat deliriously “Good point.” I gestured to Aska “Is she alright?”

She looked after at the unconscious form next to her without really seeming to see her “I don’t know.”

“Can’t you use magic to heal her?”

She shook her head slowly “No.”

“You dedicate yourself to your stupid law God and he doesn’t even give you magic?  Seriously, what are you doing with your life?”

This seemed to bring her into focus a little “Can you say two sentences without insulting my faith?”

“I’m sure that I could but what’s my motivation?  Face it honey you lost the God lottery when you got saddled with Vultur.”

Aside from his weird sword/tool the deadman had hit of Zerk and Scour on him, which explains a lot, there aren’t many men that can take a crossbow to the face and not even blink with a chemical enhancement.   He had a few other odds and end on him but most critically of all he had a coil of rope.  If you had told me that someday I would be over the moon about getting my hands on a length of rope I would have thought you were off your rocker.  I dumped about a gallon of sake on Aska but it didn’t wake her up so I put Corune to knotting the rope while I stood watch out the window.  At one point a dozen knights rode by and I called out to them but they weren’t interested in distressed damsels today.  I thought about using my Beastspeech to call out to one of their horses just to see what they would do but ultimately decided that was a terrible idea.  Knights have a terrible sense of humor, I think it’s part of their vows.

Corune did a piss poor job with the rope but honestly I can’t say that I would have done any better so I didn’t chastise her.  There was an exposed wall-beam that seems sturdy so we attached the rope to that and I floundered my way down through the hole to loot the rest of the bodies.  There’s no reason to expect them to have any food on them but I was still disappointed when I found none.  After gathering weapons and tossing them up to Corune I started handing up broken furniture and other wreckage that she threw into the stairwell to help block it off.  After that I tried to hack through what was left of the loom to remove that as a way to climb in but it was ineffective.  The bits that were left were thicker than my waist, even with an ax it would have taken hours to take it apart.  I had found a bag of caltrops on one of the raiders and Corune had the idea to hammer them into the main part of the loom under the hole that I had been climbing on, which I have to admit was a canny notion.  Once I was done she tossed the rope out the window.  I thought it would be easier to climb up against the wall but it wasn’t, still I managed to drag myself up, soaked through with sweat by the time I made it up. Not only that but in the melee I must have twisted the wrong way because my knee was throbbing something awful.  I couple long pulls from the Flask helped tamp down the pain.

Corune looked at me coolly “Don’t you think you should cool it with that?”

“No, but I do think you should shut about it.  Last time I checked booze isn’t illegal even when society isn’t falling apart.”

“It should be.”

“That sounds dangerously like an independent thought.  Is that allowed in your order?  The law is the law isn’t it?  And you enforce it, unquestioningly, unthinkingly, un . . . some other un-word that fits there.  Unabashedly?  No, that doesn’t sound right. ”

“You don’t know anything about my order.”

“So tell me.  Give me a crash course.  We’ve got nothing but time.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Good chat, very informative.  No fooling, how did you end up with this as your life?”

“I am immune to your mockery.”

“I’m not mocking you just now, I’m honestly curious.  Someone becomes a blacksmith or a cooper or a crier or what have you that makes sense.  But I’d like to know what led to you dedicating your life to Vultur.  I really am sincerely interested, and we really don’t have anything else to do.  You in particular are mystery because you’re a Corune!  How did a member of one of the most powerful noble houses in the Kingdom end up as a glorified bounty hunter?  No offense.  Tell me your story.”

“We should be keeping watch.”

“I can listen and watch at the same time.”

“Writha Corune is not the name I was born with.  My mother was Ulpine but my father was Modenese.  When my mother died I my father took me to live with his people – are you familiar with the Modenese?  They’re savages that live along the southern coast.   After a Modenese tribe loses a battle with another tribe, its common, even expected for the surrendering tribe to be sold into slavery, with the buyer being a mark of respect or disrespect to the defeated foes.  When a Modenese chieftain despises their conquered foes, they sell them to the city-folk, the Ulpine.  I was sold to a slaver who then sold me to a family in Caracalla.  I was treated . . . harshly by them.  The Church of Vultur took me away from them when I was fourteen and trained me as an acolyte.   I was an attendant to a diplomat that traveled to Indlecastle often as part of his duties, when the war broke out – not this one but the last one – Rilga Corune took me into her household.  I married her son Lacobian for . . . reasons that I won’t go into, but it is a marriage in name only, my dedication is to the church and to Vultur.”

“And the family you married into doesn’t care that you’re running around the Kingdom . . . doing whatever it is that you do?”

“It’s better if I’m not there.  I’m sure they probably don’t tell people exactly what I’m doing.”

“If you want to keep that a secret you probably shouldn’t go around telling people your name is Writha Corune, that’s bound to attract attention.”

“It’s my name.  Lying doesn’t come as easily as everyone as it does to you.”

“Oh Gods, get over yourself.”

“You probably think that your lies aren’t damaging but they are.  Society is based on trust and the more you lie the more you erode that trust.  The ability to make free and informed decisions is the cornerstone of moral conduct and if you actively and intentional deceive people you’re taking away their ability to act with freedom.  Lying is a bad act and when you regularly indulge in bad acts you’re corrupting yourself, you make yourself more comfortable with doing other bad things.  Lie enough and stealing doesn’t seem so bad, steal enough and maybe murder is on the table.  Communication is a gift from the Gods, given to us so that we can share our thoughts, so do otherwise . . .”

“Alright enough.  You can’t tell me that lying about your name is going to cause the collapse of society.  What it’s going to do is make your life safer, and help the people that took you in and cared for you when you needed it.  What you’re doing by refusing to just say one thing instead of another isn’t being righteous or devout it’s selfish and stupid.”

“Just because something is expedient doesn’t make it right, if you always take the easy path . . .”

“Don’t waste your breath with that high-minded slippery slope bullshit.  I would wager that my lies have done more good, saved more people than you have riding around shooting poor people with your crossbow with your little friends in blue coats.”

“Now you’re just trying to upset me, and I don’t know why because we’re in this together now.  If you don’t like something, if you don’t understand something you make light of, you respond with insults.  It’s childish.”

“You and your gang of mercenaries would have taken me to Three Rivers to be tortured to death by another gang of rich assholes who paid you to bring me to them, I think I’m entitled to be a little pissed off about that.”

“We had a legal and binding contract to . . .”

“Fuck your contract!  I can write up a contract for you to burn to death right now, that doesn’t make it right!”

“Quit interrupting me!  Your lies have never done anyone any good other than yourself.  What it has done is encourage other people to lie, weakened social cohesion, and yes, if eventually no one can believe anything anyone says then society does collapse!  You walk through life doing whatever you want because people like me are there to fix the damage that you do.  If everyone acted like you we’d still be living in caves!  You are the problem, you are the cancer.  There must be order for the world to exist.”

“And because of your order I have to die.  For what?  What crime did I commit?  That contract of yours that so precious to you, what was it exactly?  What possible law gives a solicitor the right to kidnap me?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

I laughed bitterly “Any time I bring up something you don’t want to talk about you fall back to that, and I’m the one that’s childish?  When you dragged me in chains to Glilcus and Stolo what did you think they were going to do to me?  Nothing fucking legal I can guarantee you that.”

“You have to keep your word, that’s the one thing you do in life above all others, otherwise what is it all for?  You abuse people and you hurt people and you don’t care.  It’s a game to you.  Life is sacred but you treat it like a joke and I think on some level you know what and you hate yourself for it.  If you had a decent bone in your body you’d take it out on yourself instead of everyone else.  But you don’t.  You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.  And I’ve met the worst humanity has to offer.  I brought in a pimp once who had traumatized his women so badly, controlled them so methodically, abused them so absolutely, that they killed themselves rather than be without him.  I would let him and people like him go a hundred times over if I could bring you in instead.”

“But at the core what’s really going on is that you’re jealous because I’m prettier than you right?”

“I knew there was no reason to talk to you.”

“In all honesty I’m sorry about your hair.  I’ve gotten my ass kicked several times now and it sucks, but bruises fade and wounds heals and the pain goes away.  That hair though was magnificent and that is a real loss.  I know that your whole deal is putting on this stick up the butt façade but with hair like that there has to be some part of you that desires to have one little thing that’s outside of the norm, something that makes people look at you admiringly, something that makes you feel good.  Just for yourself.”

“The only thing that matters is looking presentable.  Excessive pride in one’s appearance is counter-productive to the mission.”

“I see, it’s okay to lie but only to yourself.” For a long while neither of us said anything.  Eventually I jabbed my chin in the direction of Aska’s still unmoving form. “Is she going to wake up?”

“I don’t know. . . . . probably not.  What happened to her?”

“She got knocked around during the fight pretty bad.”

“She would have already been dead if it wasn’t for you.  So would I.  I have to admit this much, you’re quite the killer.”

“That almost sounded like a compliment.”

The sun was starting to dip when the next group came around.  They would have been a hard-looking bunch in normal times but for a time of lawless riot they were just normal looking.  They did have a hook though, they were carrying ladders.  Actually it looked they had taken a single siege ladder, those things are huge you know, and cut it into three smaller sections – much better for assaulting a two story building instead of a thirty foot curtain wall around a fortress.  I was sitting in the window with my crossbow as they rolled up.  Like all these little bands of brute-brothers they had a leader who did all the talking.  I wonder how they decide who the leader is.  Is there a vote?  Does someone just call it?  Or is it the guy with the most memorable appearance?  This one was a thick-set fellow whose arms, legs, and head all seemed to be the same circumference – which is a lot weirder than it sounds.  He was shirtless but was wearing some kind of studded leather vest.  I often mock women for their sexy armor choices but this is probably the least effective protection I’ve ever seen.  I guess it protects you from attacks coming from the rear or targeted at your nipples.

“Sorry boys, we’ve already been hit a bunch of times today, we’re all tapped out – we got nothing for you.”

“You’re up there, that’s enough for me.”

“Not interested.” Corune came to stand behind me with her crossbow visible as well “Neither is my friend.”

“How many people you got up there?”

“Well let’s see, beside the two us there’s, the rest of our crossbow regiment – it’s a new thing they were testing out, all female army units.  What’s the world coming to right?  But with the war on and all you know.  Plus Sir Anders the Decapitator, Sir Jellic the Mutilator, Sir Hellionch the Destroyer, the Impalement Brothers, the Butcher, the Blade, the Bunnykiller, a couple dozen other knights, a few war wizards, a pack of werewolfs, and the entire Skulltaker orc clan.  Oh, and a few adventuring parties – the Order of this and the Fellowship of that, you know how they like to give themselves fancy names.  One of them even has a dark elf!  Can you imagine?”

“Okay, okay, stupid question.”

“All you need to know is that there’s one window and two of us with crossbows right here – that should be plenty for you to scoot along to the next house.”

“You sure you know how to use that thing sweetie?”

“If you look around down there you’ll find a couple corpses that show that I do.  I’ve developed my own system where I aim for the uvula, even if you miss by a couple inches you’re still doing pretty well.”

“Maybe you can shoot, how many bolts can you have left though?”

“Good point.” I started pulling bolts out of my Quiver and tossing them over my shoulder “Here’s one, here’s another, there’s another one, oh look, here’s one, oh man here’s a whole handful of them, and a fistful, and another, does this this ever run dry?  It’s like one of them magic tricks with the scarfs.”

“Maybe we’ll check back in a few days when you’re running a little lower.”

“You do that, and have yourself a good night and you be safe out there boys.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold, 2000 silver

XP: 551,901

Rations – 5 days

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (3) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise, javelin, thunderstone, throwing axe, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, zerk (3), scour (3), knotted rope, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper)   

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