It’s no different when you’re leaving home

After making sure the five men we just murdered were well and truly murdered, Martialla first collected up their weapons, stacking them carefully in a little pile.  After doing that she searched them more thoroughly, pulling a couple ceramic canteen-type things and various other odds and ends off their dead bodies.  After doing that she took a look at their strange vehicles before she turned to poking around in their wagon full of trash.  At that moment I was struck by how much it reminded me of a childhood memory.  

Each spring back home they’d have a scrub day where everyone could put out whatever you wanted for the trash collectors, expect paint cans, you can never get rid of paint cans.  Old TVs and mattresses were common choices but there was all kinds of stuff you’d see out at the curb.  Whenever the scrub day would come around so would the junk collectors who would drive around in big pickup trucks hauling big trailers looking for trash worth collecting.  My dad generally never got mad, he was a mild guy, but he used to lose his mind whenever the “pickers” were out there blocking the road while they mulled over how many broken lawn chairs they wanted to pull off the curb.   

I was still sitting where I fell.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t move, there just didn’t seem to be much point.  I dropped the gun out of my hand because guns are heavy and it was dry anyway.  Martialla will probably be disappointed in me for that.  Seven shots and I only killed one person?  Very wasteful.  I watched her for a moment, picking through the trash, and at one moment she leaned so far forward that her shirt and little FBI prop jacket rode up to her mid-back.  I always thought she was kind of gangly and stick-like but now she looks strong to me.  It would be wrong to say that she seems like she’s in her element here because this is no one’s element but she seems more confident, more in control.  I think she would have done well in prison.  

At one point she turned and said something to me but my ears were still ringing so it just sounded like “merfer-merfer-merfer” and then she climbed into the wagon to get a better look at something.  I suppose she was telling me to keep a watch in case there were more of them around.  That would be smart.  It’s the kind of thing she would have said.  By the time she climbed out of the junk wagon and crouched down by the pile of weapons to start examining them, I could hear pretty well out of one ear.

“Do you think warriors in olden times got PTSD and just no one cared back then?”

Martialla was examining a boxy rifle looking thing “Uh . . . maybe.  Probably it depends on the culture you’re talking about.  From what I’ve read Samurai sound like they were pretty emo.  They wrote poems about death and worried about what would happen to them after they died, things like that.  I read somewhere that’s why when Christian missionaries started showing up in Japan, the Samurai were the only ones who liked them.  Being enamored with a redemptive religion seems like they had some remorse.  On the other hand the Cossacks don’t seem like they give a shit about slaughtering entire races.  So . . . you know.”

“You know what Doctor Katz would say to me?”

Her head jerked up “What? Why would you bring that up?”

I frowned slightly “Why wouldn’t I?  Killing someone seems like the type of thing you’d mention to your therapist.”

She shook her head slowly “It’s just . . . I . . . Kurt loved that show is all.  I hated it but he watched it all the time anyway.  It’s weird that you’d bring it up now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about my therapist Doctor Katz.”

She made an ugly confused face “You mean that you actually had a therapist named Doctor Katz?  That was a show on Comedy Central.  It had that stupid animation where it was all blurry.  Sara Silverman was on it.  I think Tom Snyder created it or was a producer maybe.”

“That smarmy old fuck from the Late Late Show made a cartoon about my therapist?”

“No . . . look, forget it, you were saying?”

I threw my hands up “I don’t even fucking remember what I was saying!  The gist is this though, how are you okay with this?  Do you have some deeply rooted personality flaws that make it so you can kill someone and be unphased by it?  I’m freaking out over here.”

She looked at me for a minute “You seem fine.”

I slammed a fist into the ground “I’m not fine!  Well, actually, I am kind of fine, I’m just trying to wrap my head around this.  Self-defense is self-defense but it’s still killing someone.  Were you a hitman when you worked for the government?  Have you already made your philosophical peace with murder?  Is that why you’re so calm right now?”

“I was basically a secretary Ela, you know that.  Didn’t you bash cows in the skull with a sledgehammer or yank the heads off chickens on the farm?  I’m surprised you’re so squeamish.”

“I grew up on a farm, I didn’t work in a slaughterhouse!”

Martialla stopped fiddling with the weapons for a moment and thought for a while before answering “Okay, I can see that you’re upset here, I want to help you, but I don’t know what to say.  This is how it is now.  What did your yoga instructor always say?  You don’t get frustrated by things or angry about them, you just notice them and put them in your mind.  Maybe in three months I’ll have a total breakdown, but this is the world.  You may be struggling with it but at least you’re able to pull the trigger.  I don’t know that everyone would be.  You can handle it.  I mean if you were surfing and a shark came at you and you bashed its head in with your board would you feel sorry for it?”

“No, but that’s different, it’s an animal.”

She turned back to examining the weapons “Exactly, animals don’t know what they’re doing so they don’t really have it coming – people do.  So killing them should be easier if anything.”

Drift down into the new dark light without any reservations

I’m not sure how long we traveled for exactly.  Seems like a couple of days to me but it easily could be more.  Or less.  I wouldn’t be completely shocked if someone (who would that be?) told me it was just two days and one night.  Martialla and I took turns sleeping, you know, because we had stuff and didn’t want to be murdered and/or robbed by the people we were escorting.  Which meant that really neither one of us slept much at all.  It’s hard to get some decent shut-eye when you’re worried about being surrounded by a horde of potential murderers.  

My hand/forearm on the side where I hurt my wrist has gotten crazy swollen and so tender that I almost scream when a stiff wind touches it.  Now it’s completely numb.  That’s a great sign for my continued health right?  My hand still works but it’s like trying to operate the radio in your car with thick winter gloves on.  Or it’s like trying to dial the phone by controlling a marionette, which I have done.  

The horse people and their friends didn’t try and kill us or take our stuff while we slept, but they should have.  That’s the fucked up thing that I realized.  They absolutely should have bum rushed as soon as they saw us, taken our car and all our food and water and weapons and tools.  Their forbearance in this situation makes no logical sense.  This is the state of nature, there’s no reward for moral behavior.  If a lion has a chance to eat a baby hippo and it doesn’t do it, the momma hippo isn’t going to bring the lion something to eat later to make up for it.  You just missed out on a meal.  

When the chips are down it’s dog eat dog right?  We’re not part of these people’s clan or tribe or moiety or whatever they have going on, not robbing us blind doesn’t do them any good because we’re not them.  Whereas ripping us off, on the other hand, would help them significantly.  And if they did steal our stuff, it would behoove them to kill us dead to make sure that we didn’t come back for revenge.  

It makes me wonder how society ever even happened.  The first caveman that was smart (or whatever) enough to consider being nice to another caveman was dealing with an immoral monster who would use that to their advantage right?  So how did it ever catch on enough to become a thing?  The concept that we’ll all be better off overall if we don’t constantly crack each other’s skulls open is pretty esoteric when you’re coming from a wilderness survival situation isn’t it?  How did it happen?  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy they didn’t murder us as soon as they could, but it’s puzzling.  

We did see a couple scouts for the Invincible in the distance sitting on their scrap cycles and watching us.  So maybe having us as escorts did the horse people some good.  Maybe if we weren’t there, they would have attacked the survivors.  Dunno.  

One of the wrinkly leaders told us that only the Invincible that make a kill while “mounted” on their machine get to put the fist symbol on it.  The stripes and dots and other paints on their vehicles all mean other things, various kinds of killing and maiming and stealing.  The red paint is reserved only for the bumpy-headed ones, who are the elite, and the other colors are for associates and mutants and whatnot.  It was way more detail than I could remember even if I wanted to.  I suppose it pays to learn everything you can about your enemies.  

They told me that Duke Eagle “the Vain” is so called because he has a mirror.  Seems like a pretty low bar for vanity, I wonder what they’d call me if they knew me better.  

I wouldn’t say that I was excited when we spotted Bosstown, but I felt something approaching the human emotion of excitement.  From afar it looked like an actual town sort of, a shitty one, but better than anything we had seen so far.  There was a tic-tac-toe pattern of muddy (and other stuff than mud I found out) paths that you could call streets if you wanted to be nice, and clustered around them were a couple hundred buildings.  Most of them were made from brown-grey mud bricks but here and there we saw shacks rigged up out of a patchwork junk that you might find in a construction dumpster.  Not sure if those were the good ones or the bad ones.  

I do know that the worst ones have to be the tents and dugouts in the mudflats around “town”.  For miles around in all directions there’s just mud.  To the north the mud gets mottled grey and to the south it turns more rust colored but it’s all a vast field of mud.  Why would you make a town in a mudpile?  The mud is why the town is here.  They’re mud farmers or gatherers or whatever you want to call picking up mud as a career.  This mud is the “good kind” that you can turn into stuff.  The mudders gather up the good mud and bring it to town where the townsfolk turn it into things that they trade with other settlements

That’s why the survivors of the convoy came here, because anyone can come here and be a mudder.  They always need more mudders.  As long as you bring in the mud you get food, enough to stay alive to get more mud.  They’re not technically slaves, not that technicalities matter anymore, but unless you “strike it rich” and dig some old tech out of the mud there’s no way out.  Other than working yourself to death or disappearing in the mud one day.  

I know I’ve said this like three times before, but seeing that giant mudhole and all the ghastly looking people slogging through it, that’s when it really hit me that my world is gone.  I keep thinking that the scales have fallen away from my eyes (that’s an expression right?) but then I see something even more mournful.  

As the survivors of the battle dispersed (seemingly instinctually) into the mud fields, the wrinkly elders came to thank us profusely.  It made me a little sick to my stomach.  A couple days ago they were driving to a place to do a big trade deal and then go home and now they’re here, probably to toil until death, and they’re thanking us?  It was a bit much.  

December 16, 1973 – It’s let’s make a deal with your host Monty Haul!

Alcazar needs a couple days to get his ducks in a row, so the plan was to to take care of that other thing first.  But you know what they say about plans.  Cuo told me that her pimp weighs over four hundred pounds and has trouble getting around on his own.  Why is that important?  Because of his size, he has to have his suits custom made.  Why is that important?  There are a lot of places that custom tailor suits but there aren’t many that make them that big, in fact there’s only one – and it happens to be the place that Blue gets his clothes made.  Small world huh?  How can he afford custom suits, that’s my question.  I think he’s holding out on me.

Blue is very sensitive about his threads.  He doesn’t need them obviously, and they get ripped all to shit every time we get in a fight, but they’re important to him.  I think it helps him to feel like he’s still human.  He puts up a brave front, being a soldier and all, that’s kind of his thing, but I think what those alien fuckers did to him really made him depressed.  Sealed inside all that armor.  Not feeling anything, ever.  He has to feel so cut off from the world.  It must be terrible for him.  Especially since everyone looks at him and just sees a big dumb thug.  It’s a wonder he’s not a total psycho. 

A guy named Sayuri (which I was told is a girl’s name so maybe I heard it wrong) that used to make clothes for sumōtori has a little shop north of downtown where there’s a small Japanese community.  Which is surprising given the general feelings around here about the Empire of Japan.  We went to see him and he was only too happy to tell us where Kalenkor (that’s the pimp) lives.  So if you’re depending on tailor-client confidentially, you shouldn’t.  Maybe he gets a pass though, it was pretty clear that Sayuri thinks that Kalenkor is human garbage.  Doesn’t stop him from taking his money of course, but he probably overcharged him which is as good as most people can do to the bad people.

Why couldn’t Cuo tell us where he lives?  Because she doesn’t know, she only knows where he hangs out when he’s working the streets – at which times he’s accompanied by his bodyguard, who’s rumored to be a NBH (why would a super person be working for a street pimp?) and a retinue of other sycophantic lackeys.  The idea was that by attacking him in his home, he would actually be less well defended.  Not sure if that makes sense or not but it was the plan.

Our assault was derailed though, on our way we were intercepted by News Dan and his New Dan News Van.  That monstrosity roared up on us like a meteoric meteorite.  For a nine ton pile of scrap iron, it stops pretty well.  Seconds later I was being assaulted by Hunter asking me if I had rescued Maggie yet and Dan was talking at me so fast Xu didn’t have time to translate.  Eventually I was able to fend off Hunter, and Dan slowed down enough that we could talk (through Xu).  New Dan told us that we shouldn’t mess with Kalenkor because he’s under the protection of the Paper Boys.

“Are you kidding me?  What kind of gang is named the paper boys?  Do they ride around on bikes?

Blue flicked his tongue thoughtfully “It’s probably reference to paper as slang for money, they’re boys that get paper.”

Xu, not translating, replied “That’s halfway right, it’s referring to the paper money that is burned at funerals to give the departed currency for the afterlife – it’s their way of saying they’re killers.”

Martialla made a fishy gulping noise of surprise “Really?  I thought that was a Chinese custom, I didn’t know they did that at funerals here.”

Blue looked at her “How many funerals have you been to in Madripoor?”

I waved my hands annoyedly “Who cares?  Why is it Dan’s business which gang we cross today?  You can’t do anything around here without crossing some gang or other.”

Xu explained that the Paper Boys help Dan out by feeding him information, so he’s not keen on them getting into a fracas with us.  He said that he doesn’t want part of his “truth network” disrupted, but I bet they deliver his stupid papers just like real paper boys and that’s why they’re called that. 

I explained to Dan (via Xu) what we were trying to do and he acted like we were wasting our time.  I wish we had a common language so I could verbally abuse him directly, yelling at Xu as an intermediary doesn’t feel good. Plus it dilutes the message.  Dan said that he could call in some favors and negotiate on our behalf and get Cuo released from Kalenkor’s control if it meant that conflict could be avoided.

“What about all his other girls?”

Martialla shook her head “Jesus, Ela, this offer is the best case scenario – everything gets resolved without any risk to us, why can’t you just accept a rare piece of good luck?”

I gestured at Xu “You’re a woman, how do you feel about this?”

She thought about it for a while “It doesn’t feel great, but if you’re going to try and rescue every hooker in Madripoor, you should probably clear your calendar for the next several years.  And get your affairs in order, buy a tombstone and so forth.”

Martialla grabbed my arm angrily “You’ve been here for months now, how do you not get this?  This is Madripoor!  People who are good have their intentions taken advantage of and end up dead. People who are evil are killed to prevent them from becoming as dangerous as they could in a position of power.  If you’re dumb, you’re dead. Careless, you’re dead. If you want to survive, you’ll need to live in a comfortable moral gray.  That, and actually be smart!”

I ripped my arm out of her grasp “Don’t fucking touch me.  Shut up Martialla.  Just shut up.”

September 20, 1973 – Revenge, and a shipwreck

So now what?  I’m in a foreign land (where they don’t seem to like my music) with no money, and as far as anyone back home knows I’m dead.  I tried to think of someone I could call for help, assuming I could figure out how to make an international call, but I came up empty.  My parents and I aren’t close, my friends are mostly pretty casual acquaintances or broke.  Most of them are both.  I have a manager I haven’t heard from in months, and that was before I was blown up and kidnapped and lost several months of my memory.  He wouldn’t be terribly interested in anything that would cost him money anyway.  My ex could probably afford to bring me back, but I don’t know if he would.  Or where he lives currently.  

I assume the easiest route back to the CS from here would be through Panama.  And then somehow convince the police or someone that I’m me.  Fingerprints?  I’ve been arrested so I would have fingerprints on file right?  But that was in the CS, not the US.  Do they share information?  Is getting home what I even want?  Eventually, yes.  But someone by the name of Duke Eaglevane tried to blow me up.  Did blow me up.  I’d be dead now if not for . . . whoever did . . . uh, whatever they did to me.  I never thought of myself as vindictive or vengeful, but that’s a much easier attitude to have before someone murders you.  

I asked where Duke Eaglevane was and Alcazar laughed.  He’s the most wanted man in the world.  Several countries are offering millions of dollars to anyone who can give information on where he might be.  Not even for his capture, just for information.  When he asked me why I wanted to know, I told him I was thinking about killing Duke Eaglevane.  He didn’t laugh at all.  He looked at me like I said that I was thinking about swallowing molten lava.  He was pretty harsh in expressing his view that a singer from the “softest” country in the world with no training, no resources, and no support should not attempt to hunt down the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist.  Correction, the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist who may possibly be immortal.  

I barely know the guy, where does he get off talking to me like he’s my father?  I couldn’t get too mad at him though because he loaned me some money to get a place to stay and got me a job down at the docks with a French shipping company unloading ships.  The manager, who was skinnier than me, didn’t bat an eye when I picked up a crate that had to weigh a couple hundred pounds.  I guess Madripoor does have its fair share of weirdos.  

I foolishly thought that since it was a French company, most of the other workers would speak French, but they didn’t, even though it seems like some of the locals do.  The one guy there who spoke Spanish told me they were Vietnamese, but don’t they speak French there too?  I should have paid more attention in model UN.  So I can’t understand whatever horrible things my co-workers are saying about me.  Which is probably for the best.  Out of the many paths I thought my life might take, I would not have put lugging boxes on that list in ten thousand years.

While I was working one day, I heard a horrendous noise and looked out in the harbor to see that two ships had collided.  Actually it looked like one ship had sliced another in half.  Everyone came to gawk as the one ship listed badly with a half-ship stuck in its side while the other half sank like a rock.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that what I was seeing in the water were people.  My Spanish speaking “friend” Omar happened to be nearby and I asked him what I should do.  He thought about it for a moment, looked around and then shrugged.   

(translated from Spanish) 

“I don’t see anything you can do.”

“I have super strength.  I must be able to do something.”

He squinted out at the water “Like what?”

“I don’t know, hold up the ship until everyone gets off?”

“How would you do that?  There would be nothing to support you.”

“Maybe I could rip the side open in case anyone is trapped inside.”

He looked at me appraisingly “Could you?”

“I could try.  I mean I have to do something don’t I?”  At that moment the bossman, not the skinny guy who hired me, a big bald bastard with a mess of tattoos on his arms, came over and bellowed something not in English, French or Spanish.  “What did he say?”

“Boss says back to work.”

I gestured “But what about the people in the water?”

Omar and the boss exchanged a few words, Omar gesturing at a small boat nearby, and then he turned back to me with another shrug “Boss says back to work.”

Montalan 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 4

I’ll hand it to Dross, Tarver, and their unknown blonde pal in this sense.  They were clearly expecting an easy outing to kidnap some dizzy dames to take back to their sex dungeon.  But upon encountering resistance – namely me shooting Dross in the ribs – they didn’t fold up their tent and bail, they raised up on their hind legs to fight.  I’m not sure if that kind of courage is to be admired but it’s not what I expect from spellcasters so it’s something.  Although, they are just apprentices, maybe they don’t teach you the appropriate level of wizardly cowardice until to graduate to being a full . . . whatever, non-apprentice?  While the apprentices three were still shocked by our resistance to their opening salvo Martialla cast a spell of her own but I saw no visual indication of it doing anything. Dross was the first to recover and he reacted by pulling out a canvas bag and setting it on the ground, which seemed very strange until I saw two shambling corpses climbing out of it.

Activating my Amulet for metal skin I charged forward with my Crossbow Blade, bypassing the dead things as they staggered out of their bag and stabbing down into the collarbone of a startled Dross as he was still halfway crouching from setting the bag down.  This seemed to be an even more startling turn of events for Tarver who turned invisible with a yelp of surprise.  Martialla cast another spell of her own which again didn’t seem to do anything but it must have interfered with Blondie’s spell because he did some frantic hand waving and eldritch word yelling and then looked confused and afraid when nothing happened.  The two dead bodies walking started muscling in on me and in the melee I grabbed for Dross’s beard to steady myself and it came off in my hands!  That fucking forked monstrosity was a false beard!  What sort of lunatic wears a false beard?!  Especially one like that?!  I suppose in the wizard community it’s possible there’s a lot of peer pressure and beard shaming.

Dross rolled/fell/staggered backwards clutching at his wounds as his two zombies grappled with me but he had enough fortitude to call upon his magic and conjure up a wide pit beneath my feet.  If his dead minions didn’t have a hold of me I probably could have jumped out of the way but as it was all three of us tumbled a good twenty feet down – although my metal skin mostly absorbed the impact on me (don’t ask me how) it didn’t do any favors to the zombie that I landed on, which exploded like a ripe melon.  A ripe melon full of rotting meat.  I grabbed the other zombie by the hair/scalp/skull and bashed it to redeath against the wall of the shaft and then made to scamper up the wall before remembering that I left my Slippers with Vetovia.  Grumbling, I took out my Badge and transformed it into a rope and grapping hook.  I hurled the hook up and over the edge of the pit lip hoping to catch something and was surprised when I heard someone cry out and then a muffled thud as I put my enhanced weight on the rope.  Pulling harder I saw Blondie come failing into my line of sight and then falling over the side with the hook around his leg.  He clutched desperately at the edge but with my metallic transformation I have to weigh more than three hundred pounds and his arms quickly gave out – sending him plummeting basically on top of me. 

You know what wizards aren’t good at?  Fist fights with a metal woman at the bottom of a pit.  Terrified, Blondie was trying to weave his magic but it turns out that’s pretty hard when someone is on top of you slamming a metal fist into your mouth.  I stopped punching when he stopped moving.  Listening carefully I didn’t hear the sounds of anything much going on up above.  After a moment I saw Martialla’s head poke over the edge.

“Are you done fooling around down there?  I’ve won the battle up here so it’s safe to come up now.”

“Help me with this hook.”

“If I had a gold coin for every time I heard that.”

“What?”

“It’s a joke.”

“Are you sure?”

Martialla affixed the grappling hook to something but even so I had a pretty difficult time trying to get up.  I mean have you ever tried to climb a free standing rope against a wall?  It’s fucking hard.  You try climbing out of a twenty five foot pit and then come talk to me.  In the end I had to swallow my pride and ask Martialla to get me out.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Can’t you magic me out?”

“You’re too heavy for that.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Have you ever seen me ‘magic’ anything bigger than an apple?”

“Fine, wake up Aubesh and then you guys can haul me out of here with the rope.”

“Ugh, that sounds like a pain.  How about this, I can climb down there and . . .”

At that moment the pit disappeared and suddenly I, along with the two zombie bodies and Blondie, were standing on the street with Martialla.  The magic must have worn off.  It was so abrupt that I almost lost my balance and fell over for no real reason.  About that same time Aubesh was coming around from her slumber.

“ . . . or not.”

Aubesh groggily looked around “What happened?”

“Things took a bit of a turn.  The good news is that you get to learn how to dispose of a body.”

Martialla was knelt down to examine Blondie “Good Gods Ela, did you have to cave his whole face in?  What did you hit him with, an anvil?”

Aubesh looked over and then whipped her head back the other way to start vomiting noisily.  That’s probably just the after effects of the magic though.  Turns out there is one good thing about Preen, it’s really easy to take care of bodies on account of all the channels and waterways.  We hucked them into the mud and they started to disappear instantly.  Not to mention some kind of slimy eel-snake-fish things came swim-crawling out of the muck to start nibbling on them before they were even submerged.

“Remind me not to fall in these canals.”

Aubesh was pretty shaken “What do we do now?”

“Let’s go back inside, a triple shot of rum with some lime juice should calm your nerves.”

“You just killed three people!”

“Yeah, so?”

We went back into the Red Hearts and found our way to a table where a few of the Red Heart Specials – raspberry and cherry rum punch – failed to do much for the shell shocked Aubesh but they were doing me a world of good.  When I was on my sixth one Martialla had to be her usual wet blanket self.

“Gods almighty Ela, slow down, are you trying to get completely wasted?”

“I think I sprained my ankle when I fell in that damn hole.”

“Maybe you should pour the rum directly on your foot then.”

“Maybe I will.”

Aubesh was shaking her head slowly “It doesn’t seem real.  We were just here talking to that man . . . and now he’s gone?  He’s just gone  . . . ?  I don’t . . . it doesn’t . . . . how can you do that?”

I shrugged “It was self-defense.  They attacked us.  What do you think would have happened to you if we didn’t do anything?  Do you think you would have woken up anyplace nice?”

She looked at me intensely, her eyes shining “How can you say it was self-defense when you were talking about kidnapping and killing him?”

“The only reason we were going to do that is because his master is holding a woman against her will.  You think they were blameless in that?  They’re surely helping him and if not at the least they knew about it and did nothing.”

“So what are you saying?  That they deserved to die?”

“I’m saying grow up.”

Aubesh looked utterly disgusted “How can you say that?  How can you live with yourself?”

“I just take it one day at a time.  The matter before us now is what should our next move be.  The problem is we don’t know if Tarver contacted Dulphistos, otherwise maybe we could pretend that they were still alive and that we wanted to work out some kind of trade.”

Martialla pursed her lips “Maybe we could pass ourselves off as a third party of some kind that knows what happened to them.  What was that lady group you dealt with here last time?”

“The Gallows Girls.”

“Right, maybe we pass ourselves off as them and say we know what happened to Tarver and Dross and work it from that angle.”

“Maybe, but we’ll have to make sure they’re even still around – I don’t like the chances of an all-female gang surviving the kind of underworld war that apparently happened when Razmiran skipped town.”

Aubesh’s voice was flat and dull “What about Generous?”

“What about him?  You think we can involve him in this?”

She shook her head sharply “No, I’m supposed to go see him soon, what are you going to do about him?”

I finished the last of my drink and called for another “We’ll worry about that later.  Tonight didn’t go exactly as planned.”

She shook her head more slowly “I can’t not show up, you said that you’d deal with him, that’s the only reason I came.”

“Well you’ll just have to meet with him tonight, later we can . . .”

She clutched at the table like she was afraid of falling “No!  No, I can’t see him!  I can’t face him now.  He’ll know.”

I frowned “Know what?”

She took a big swallow from her drink “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . . I can’t.”

Martialla reached across the table to take her trembling hand and looked me in the eye“You did say that she wouldn’t have to see him again.”

“Fine, so don’t go, stay with us tonight.  He won’t . . .”

Her voice had turned wretched “No, he’ll be looking for me.  If I don’t show up . . . . you don’t know what he does to people.”

“Look, there’s no way that . . .”

“You promised me.  You have to kill him tonight.”

“Oh sure, ten seconds ago you were whining about it and now you want me to kill someone?  Those are some flexible morals you have there girly.”

Martialla frowned “Come on Ela, lay off her.”

Aubesh looked me in the eye fiercely “What does it matter after what you’ve already done?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She looked slightly afraid of her own words “You’re a killer.  What do you have to lose by killing?”

I snorted and picked up my new drink as it arrived “That’s not what I am, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Martialla took Aubesh to a room at a nearby inn across the bridge and somehow I found myself taking on Aubesh’s appearance and walking into Gentlemen Jack’s.  There was an open kitchen in which a little older fellow was bustling around, and in the front sitting at a table was the man himself.  Generous as I now know he’s called was wearing the same lubricious get-up although it appeared to be newly made – which means that he got that same horrible outfit tailored again in finer detail.  He was paler than I remembered but somehow looked healthier in a way I can’t quite define.  Leaning on the chair next to him was a swagger stick with a serpent’s head on the end, I’m not sure why but I knew that it must be magical.  The two promised goons lounged by the door, forcing you to walk between them to hand over your money to Generous – they too looked like a cut above the gutter scum that he had at his beck and call previously.  Sitting at the next table over with several small sacks of coins was a short wavy-haired man with spectacles and a ledger on the table in front of him.  When I walked in a giant shark-grin split Generous’s face and he held his arms out wide.

“Lily, my favorite, I was starting to wonder if you weren’t going to show up” he gestured with his stick at one of the goons “Beetle here said that he thought you had run off.  You wouldn’t do that do me would you Lily?”

I sat across from him demurely “Of course not, what would I do without you?  You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

His grin turned even more predatory “You wouldn’t last long without my protection and that’s a fact.  Now what do you have for me tonight sweetheart?”

I reached into my pockets and started dumping out handfuls of gold coins into the table, dozens upon dozens of them clattering onto the table, some of them spinning and others rolling onto the floor.  Generous’s smile disappeared, replaced by a combination of unbridled greed and a fair amount of trepidation.

He rubbed his stick nervously “Where did you get all this?”

“It wasn’t easy, well it was in a way but it wasn’t you know?  What I did is I decided that I would have a sale – I told everyone that today only my price was just a silver.  I had ‘em lined up around the block to have a go at me.  I must have fucked more than a thousand men today.  It was a heck of a promotion if I do say so myself.”

He slid his chair away from the table “Who are you?”

I laughed and returned to my normal speaking voice “Isn’t this what you want?  It looks like you’ve really moved up in the world since the last time I saw you, no more hustling at bridges for you eh?  Generous they call you?  That’s cute.”

He regained a bit of his composure “Things always work out for me, I know which horse to back.  Why are you here?”

I sighed and looked around the room “Oh, when I came to town I thought about looking you up, I have to admit I’m a bit sore about our last meeting.  I decided against it, no reason to go looking for trouble right?” I gestured broadly “But here I am.  I guess I just can’t help myself.”

“You’ll have plenty of trouble if you mess with me.  What happened to Lily?”

“I decided to help you out.  I could tell that she was a thorn in your side.”

“She would have come around eventually.  They always do.”

“Maybe, but an important man such as yourself?  You don’t have time for that kind of headache.  So I took care of her for you.” I gestured at the money I had spilled out “Consider this repayment for the loss of her services.”

“You presume quite a lot.” He gazed at me for a moment “You’re different.  I remember you.  But you’ve changed.”

“Oh well, you know what they say, change is a part of life.  It’s the one constant in the human experience.  Or something.” I stood up and nipped the edge of one of the fallen coins with the tip of my boot – flipping it into the air and catching it to place it on the table “I’m going to be in town for a couple of days.  It would be best if we didn’t bump into each other wouldn’t you agree?”

His words were emphatic but hollow “This is my town, I go where I want.”

“Of course you do dear, of course you do.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 53,663 gold

XP: 805,311

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Amulet of Dreams, Ela’s Traveling Outfit, 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), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

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) 

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 5

After night fell there was an initial lull in the activity out in the streets but unlike last night night it was only temporary.  An hour or two after sunset it seemed like all Hells broke loose.  I heard the sounds of fighting and shouting carrying through the darkness from all around.  I’d see a man with a lantern run across one way, then another group with torches heading back the other way, and that doesn’t even consider all the people skulking around without a light source.  At one point when my eyes had adjusted and the moonlight was strong I swear that I saw an orc slouching down an alleyway.  This frightened me more than anything I had seen so far.  Things are really getting out of control if humanoids are creeping into the city unabated.  Although the more likely and awful notion is that someone is bringing them in intentionally to shift the power of whatever is goingon.  The rugmaker’s ornate chest had been tossed down the stairs as an obstacle but I made sure to secure the flayleaf before that happened.  Just the thing to help calm the nerves on a long night’s watch.  I shielded the tiny flame from the tindertwig as I lit up but it must have been visible because I heard Corune’s coming from the bed.

“Is there a vice you don’t have?”

“Actually until recently I didn’t have any vices and now I only have one.”

“Self-delusion?’

“Is that a vice?  I’d consider that more of a character flaw.  You should be sleeping.  You need your rest after the day you had.”

“And you don’t?

“Nope.  As they say no rest for the wicked and according to you I’m the wickedest around.”

“I’m having a little trouble falling to sleep considering where I am and what’s going on.”

“I’m keeping watch.”

“That’s what’s keeping me up.”

“You don’t trust me to spot trouble?”

“I don’t trust you not to cut my throat while I’m sleeping.”

“Don’t flatter yourself Princess.  You think I would need to take you unawares or do you think I could handle you in a fair fight?”

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Bullshit, I’m sure you’ve thought a lot about it.  I suppose it doesn’t matter, I would never fight fair anyway.  You know what’s interesting?  Our backgrounds are  very similar.  I was taken from my family at a young age and I was trained to serve someone, I wasn’t a literal slave but I had no say in what I was doing.  Then I was given to someone as a companion.  And yet you turned out like you did and I turned out like I did.  I suppose the difference is the church of Vultur got their hooks in you and brainwashed you when you were young.  If that hadn’t happened you’d probably be just like me.  Only less charming and attractive.”

“The difference is that I have a moral compass and you are a sociopath.”

“Do you though?  If your so-called morality comes from an external source, from the church or from Vultur himself or whatever, is that really morality?  Or is it just slavish devotion to whatever comes down from on high?  At what point are you doing awful things because you’re ‘just following orders’?  If Vultur sent an angel, or whatever he has that tells people to do things, to tell you that you had to kill someone because they were going to commit a horrible crime – but hadn’t done anything yet – what would your reaction be to that?”

“I’m not interested in hypotheticals.”

“Go to sleep then.”

“I would if you’d stop talking.”

“You’re the one who started talking to me!”

I don’t know if she fell asleep but she stopped talking at least.  I knew that rescuing her would be a bad idea but I didn’t realize how annoying it would be.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear that everyone I come across makes it their personal mission to irritate me.  I’ve often been critical of people on watch or guard duty or whatever you want to call it and how easily they’re distracted or fooled.  But I’m starting to understand it now.  Even in the face of potential violent horrifying death at any moment there’s only so long you can stay on alert.  Once the fear and heart-pumping anxiety fade away all you’re left with is boredom, your mind starts to wander.  You stare at the same thing for enough hours and you stop seeing it, which is the opposite of what you want when you’re supposed to watching for trouble.  When there’s an ambush or a night-time massacre or something it’s often blamed on a guard falling asleep, but I would bet that half the time they’re there awake and just not noticing someone walking right up on them until it’s too late.  It’s a wonder there’s anyone left alive at all really.

In the dead of night I heard the hammering of hooves on the cobblestones coming from the south.  It was an overcast night but there was enough light for me to see a moment later three figures come running into view like scared rabbits.  At first I thought two of them might be children , especially because they were holding the hands of the “normal” sized figure but after a second I realized they were Halflings.  As soon as they came into view a horseman came pounding up behind them wearing full plate and wielding one of those double-ended spears you see cavalry types with sometimes.  As soon as they were all within view the horseman struck, skewering the figure in the middle and sending the two smallfolk tumbling to the ground to the right and left.  The tip of the spear seemed to pass through the body without resistance, like a stick through water, and hit the stone underfoot with a clap like an ironsmith hammering an anvil.

I could hear the choking sound coming from the impaled victim, dangling on the long spear like a spiked fish being drug out of a pond.  Both Halflings, rather than running, lay on the ground looking stunned.  They continued to do so even while the horseman struggled to kick the dying person off their weapon.  I fired at the armored man, the bolt deflecting off his heavy plate like I had thrown a toothpick at a stone wall.  The “ping” noise of the strike seemed to finally snap the two smallfolk out of their reverie and they scrambled to their feet to run.  I know they’re under stress but why didn’t they split up?  Instead they first ran to each other, giving their pursuer the chance to follow them both.  Why do people do that?  When one person is behind you sticking together only makes sense if you’re going to turn and fight, not if you’re going to run.  Use your heads people.

The horseman finally got his weapon free and made to pursue, but I hurled the thunderstone that I had taken off one of the attackers right at the feet of his mount.  Even the best trained warhorse is going to react to that and this steed as no exception, rearing up and making the rider struggle both to hang on and to control his animal.  Aggravatingly though at this the two Shirelings stopped and looked around as if they were trying to figure out what happened.  I wanted to scream at them to keep running but I didn’t want to give away my position.  As the horseman was getting back under control I cracked one of my sunrods, shielding it in my hand, and tossed it into the alleyway across the street.  The horseman wheeled towards the light but only for a second, dismissing it as the distraction that it was quickly enough. He turned back to his prey still frozen in the middle of the street and cursing under my breath I fired at him a few more times with my crossbow, my shots bouncing off his armor uselessly.

The good news (?) is that he turned to face my side of the street and although I ducked down in the window for cover he spotted me quickly.  It was at this point that I realized that with the height of his charger and with the reach of his weapon he could probably attack me even up here.  As he turned to do just that I employed the shitty but time honored tradition used when facing cavalry – I shot his horse.  It’s a real dick move, the horse didn’t do anything wrong, it can’t, it’s a horse, but it’s a sad fact of life that sometimes you have to do it.  It was too well trained to react with much more than a whinny, but I was hoping the poison would slow it down some.  He came trotting forward at a good clip and stabbed not through the window but through the wall beneath it, narrowly missing me as I dodged backwards – and by dodged I mean fell ass over teakettle. 

In doing so my knee pain went from a tolerable throbbing to a blindly intensity and I hit the floor.  Nevertheless, being the big hero that I am I lunged back forward to grab at the part of the spear that was sticking through what I now saw were shockingly thin boards of the wall facing the street.  All that bought me was some scuffed knuckles as the man outside easily yanked it backwards, slamming my hand into the wall and out of my grip.  Corune rolled out of bed looking around wildly and whispering intensely.

“What’s going on?”

“I have no idea!”

I heard the voice of the horseman from below, echoing strangely inside of his greathelm “This is none of your concern.”

“I couldn’t agree more, sorry to have disturbed you, I thought you were someone else.”

The spear came stabbing in at an angle through the floor and even though it wasn’t really that close to me I couldn’t help by yelp in surprise and scramble further back, almost falling through the hole in the floor behind me.

“Shit!  Those two Halflings are probably getting away right now, why are you wasting time with me?”

“They’re already gone, because of you.  I’ll pick them up again without too much trouble though, they can’t hide from me.  But you need to pay.”

“How much?”

“Your life.”

“That’s a little steep, how about a nice rug?”

I gestured with my head for Corune to cover me as I used my ability to throw my voice to keep bargaining/begging for mercy in the room while I kicked the rope through the hole and climbed/slid/fell down to the first floor.  I did my best to land with my weight on my left leg but still the explosion of pain when I hit the ground made me bite my tongue to keep from crying out.  Limping forward intently, I saw the horseman through a hole in the wall head tilted up taking to “me” and I hurled a looted javelin at his neck as hard as I could.  Instead of plunging into his neck it deflected off that weird little round thing knights have on their armor sometimes, it’s called a gewgaw or a guisare or something like that – anyway I guess this is why they have them.  The deflected javelin did knock his helm askew though and while he was trying to right it – not easy with reins in one hand and a people-stabber in the other – I shot his horse a few more times, pumping in more poison.   I then jumped back on the rope and struggled my way up, Corune reaching down to haul me in the last bit.

I heard the man outside cursing as his mount labored and founded under him.  I crawled over to peep out the window and saw the poor horse frothing at the mouth, its legs giving out underneath it.  The man dismounted and after cursing and kicking at the horse for a while did the merciful thing and put it out of its miser with a stab through the skull. He stood by the dead animal seething with rage.

“Whoever you are I’m going to find you and I’m going to kill you.”

“That’s a pretty pedestrian threat, you could have at least said you were going to skin me alive or something like that.  Get creative with it.  People try to kill me all the time, it’s kind of lost its luster.”

 “Do you know who I am?!  I . . .”

I sat up and chucked a looted throwing axe at him as hard as I could – I’ve definitely done more throwing things as hard I could the last two days than I have in my life before now.  It didn’t penetrate his platemail but it did hit with enough impact to knock him flat.  I stood tall, reloading and shooting with my crossbow as fast as I could while he turtled.  Eventually he rolled to his side and clattered to his feet awkwardly running into the same alley as the sunrod to take cover.  All of my bolts banged off his armor but I was hoping that one might at least scrape against some flesh to poison him.  I stepped out of the window as he produced a longbow and fired back.   

“Good Gods how can you even draw back in that metal lobster suit?”

He declined to explain but I could see Corune looking at me in the darkness “What do we do now?”

“You want to go down there and flank him while I keep him busy?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

For a few minutes I was trying to think of something while occasionally trading shots with the armored bowman and I had pretty well decided to just ignore the situation since there was no way for him to get up when I heard an urgent “psst” noise coming from downstairs.  I dropped down and belly-crawled to the hole where I saw the round frightened faces of the two Halflings looking at me.  I saw now that it was a man and a woman.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!  Get the fuck out of here!”

“Let us up!”

“I feel like I’ve done plenty here, you should be running right now.”

“Running to where?  There’s nowhere to run, let us up.”

As I was about to say something else Corune dropped the rope down to them and they scooted themselves up with enviable nimbleness, it I’m sure it helps that they’re so diminutive. Once they were in and Corune was hauling the rope back up I fell heavily into the corner and took a pull off my Flask.

“Welcome to the party.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold, 2000 silver

XP: 554,101

Rations – 5 days

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, 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, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet, Ring of Disguise, 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