Mantelderith 19 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The good news is that none of the blood got on the Saryah Phidaner gown that I had worn to the Baron’s chambers.  I never would have forgiven myself if that work of art had been ruined by splattering Baron blood all over it.  I have garments that magically clean themselves so there must be some way that I could have gotten it restored but I’m glad that I didn’t have to go down that path – you never know what magic is going to do.  I wouldn’t have liked to trust something so precious to something so unreliable. 

I had no idea how long I had been “out”, I wouldn’t think that it had been more than a few minutes but for all I knew I had been sitting in that chair for half an hour.  I knew that the Baroness wasn’t expected back until dawn what with the fasting and praying and the religiosity but it didn’t seem like a good idea to hang around regardless.  I wiped the blood off myself as best I could with some of the Baron’s clothing and then tossed them in the fireplace and stoked up the flames good.  I thought about putting on one of the Baroness’s dresses but then if someone found it in my room there would be questions – it’s a longshot but there’s no reason to take risks if you don’t have to.  A piece of advice if you’re ever trying to cover up a crime and you find yourself saying “Oh, no one will notice that” you need to think again.  It’s best to make sure you cover everything you can.  If you can’t you can’t, but don’t rely on the stupidity of others to do your work for you.  The stupidity of others only comes into play to ruin you not to help you.

I didn’t want to put the gown back on since I was sure there were still some spots of blood on me, so I covered myself with the illusion of maid – a fully clothed maid – and carried the garment with me like I was taking it to be laundered.  I made triple sure to wipe off my feet as best I could – there’s really nothing so damning as bloody footprints leading from the murder scene to your room.  I’ve only done it a couple times but there’s something about being nude with the illusion of clothing “on” that’s worse than just walking around naked.  I can’t explain it but it’s an unpleasant feeling.  Thankfully it’s only a short way through the halls back to my room.  This time I did pass another servant on the way, which is a problem.  I did some quick math – better to kill them or would another body/disappearance just make things more suspicious?  In the end I let them go, not sure if that was the right choice at the time but it ended up not mattering.

When I got back to my room I saw that Martialla was in my bed.  I jostled her with my foot on the way to putting the gown back in its protective Trunk.

“What the Hells are you doing here?”

“There was a disagreement over the bed in my room.  I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Based on everthing you know about me that seems like a strange thing to figure.”

She yawned as she sat up in my bed “I just fell asleep, what are you doing back so soon?  Is the Baron that fast?”

“Not exactly, that spell you have that cleans thing, does that work on blood?  Having the servants bring water up for a bath at this time of night would be pretty unusual.”

She sighed “What did you do now?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I did, but it wasn’t my fault.  You should probably go down to the kitchen for a midnight snack – establish a nice solid alibi for yourself just in case.”

Her eyes widened “Me?  Why would I need an alibi?”

“You know how it is with murder investigations, they always look at any strangers hanging around pretty closely.  Beside you are a notorious outlaw with a grudge against the Baron.  Anyway make with the blood cleaning lady, I need to go alert someone.”

“Alert them to what?”

I held up the necklace “That this magic necklace came off in the middle of the night for no reason.  There I was sound asleep and suddenly it was tangled up in my nightgown.  Whatever can it mean?”

Since so many people had been killed or disappeared lately I wasn’t even sure who to notify.  I just grabbed the first person I saw – some kind of junior apprentice footman or valet or something.  I don’t think he even know what I was talking about, why would he?  But my scared maiden in the middle of the night act is flawless.  He quickly progressed from wanting me to come back to his room for safety to worrying that something was actually very wrong.  He took me to his master and up the chair of servant command we went until we came to the newly minted captain of the Baron’s guards.  The guy you’re guarding getting killed three days after you take the job probably doesn’t bode well for future employment opportunities.  I guess mercenaries have to come from somewhere.

He was a rangy rawboned fellow with a mass of curly hair down to the shoulders.  Not what I’d expected to see as the captain of a Baronial guard but then these are lean times for the Juosts are they not?  I expected there to be an uproar after he checked on the Baron at my subtle suggestion but he kept things very quiet.  I would have found that to be very suspicious if I didn’t know that I was the murderer.  I read a mystery novel where it turns out that the narrator was the killer and didn’t know it.  It was okay, it’s an interesting idea but I wish a better writer had come up with it – it’s disappointing when a good twist is wasted like that.

I assume that Curly had plans to investigate somehow, or to call in some better people to investigate, but the next day in a stroke of good luck Kartak was nabbed skulking about the outskirts of the manor.  Talk about your bad timing.  Now if anyone was thinking logically they might wonder why a man who just murdered the Baron was riding towards the manor without a care in the world but there wasn’t a lot of logical thought just then – and I did my part to make sure any tiny flames of rational thought were extinguished before they could spread.  I feel like I have more than my fair share of bad turns, but this was really mana from the Heavens – it’s hard to imagine a more fortuitous turn of events.  For me I mean, it was rather unfortuitous for Kartak.  He managed to survive the attack of an ape-bear monster, the sole survivor no less, and fight and struggle and scratch and crawl his way back to where he expected to find his friends and allies and instead they’re all dead and he’s captured to be hung for murder.  It almost seems bed enough to be the kind of thing that would happen to me.

Although they kept me a tower in the manor when I was a prisoner here Kartak was taken to the small watch house in Alleene – where he and Zedkath occupied half of their sum total of cells.  I went to visit him a couple hours after his capture later in my finest mourning gown.

“You’re looking surprisingly intact my friend, I would have thought you’d have gotten a good thrashing when they took you into custody.  There’s hardly any bruises on you at all.”

He looked up at my through the bars – his eyes dull but with a spark of restrained anger “They weren’t gentle with me but I’ve had worse.”

“I would imagine so given where you came from.  I’m told that at some point after the destruction of your lovely tribe you ran into something that scrambled your brains and that’s why you were helping prop up this matriarchal whatever was going on.”

“Maybe I just grew as a person.  Maybe a woman killing my family and friends made me rethink my views on gender.”

“Probably not.”

“Probably not.  Did you come to gloat or to see me rant and carry in a rage?  If you stick around long enough I might lose control and start ranting and raving.”

“Neither, just making sure you were actually here – I try not to make assumptions when it comes to my deadly enemies.”

“I guess I underestimated you.” He tapped on the bars with his knuckle “And now here I am.”

“Don’t feel bad, everyone does.”

“I should have listened to that woman, the one that betrayed you, she tried to tell me how dangerous you are.”

“She never betrayed me, it was a con, she’s the one who let me out and helped me kill all your new friends.”

He was still for a moment and then sat back in the shadows “So I was fucked from the very beginning.”

“Aren’t we all.”

When I turned to leave Zedkath was standing in the other cell holding the bars and staring out at me.  He wasn’t a bad looking fellow – he was going a little soft as tends to the case with soldiers on garrison duty but nothing that wouldn’t burn off quickly enough once he was back in the field.  He reached out through the bars like he was trying to grab me but his hand was in an odd position of supplication.

“Who are you?”

“Your cousin’s mistress.  I think we met once years ago.”

His eyes were feverously calculating “Can you get me out of here?”

“Do you want to help me kill your cousin?”

He nodded “Absolutely, I hate my cousin.”

I chuckled “I didn’t even tell you which cousin.”

That evening the Baroness called me into the grand hall where the Baron used to hold court and proclaim his grand pronouncements.  Curly was there but beside her she didn’t seem to have acquired any other councilors or sycophants or hangers-on yet.  Her ladies in waiting were all dead or fled.  Same for her husband’s inner circle, aside from my cousins who had been in his service for all of a couple days and I don’t think she had even spoken to.  The House of Juost was looking pretty lean. I snapped off a quick curtsy just for old times’ sake and stood before her with hands clasped like a proper court lady.

“Good evening Baroness, you never answered me before but I assume we can dispense with the cousin fiction.”

“The King’s messenger said . . .”

“The King’s messenger is dead.  As is the King, you were quite upset by that news I recall.  You’re not going to get in any trouble if we stop pretending.”

She pursed her lips “Yes, well, be that as it may, I called you here to inquire of your intentions.”

“I have business elsewhere that is long overdue, I intend on leaving in short order.”

“Without my permission?”

I smiled “Not if you give me permission I won’t.  We can part friends if you like.  Hells, if you want we can even keep in pretending that we’re cousins.  We can write letters about what we’re up to and inquire about each other’s health.”

She stared at me for a moment and then let out a short breath “I would like for you to stay.”

“No.”

“With my husband dead . . .”

I held up my hand, her eyes flashing slightly as I interrupted her again “I get it.  You need help.  The Barony was in bad shape already and with your husband dead the sharks will be circling.  Your family must not be able to willing to help you or you wouldn’t be asking me.  You have nobody on your side and enemies all about.  I can certainly relate to that.  Saltwheel and Harmenkar were already nibbling away at your lands before – now they’re going to be drooling with anticipation.  Maybe you can play them off each other and weaken them enough that they can’t hurt you.  You want my advice?  Get remarried as soon as you can.  Find a strong lord who isn’t entirely awful and spread your legs for him.  You’re going to get fucked either way – at least you can make a choice of who does the fucking that way.  That’s your only move.  I can’t help you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Either.  Both.  The end result is the same.”

“How can you be so callous after all we’ve been through?”

I frowned “What exactly have we been through?  You mean how you enslaved me for six months?  That may not have endeared me to you as much as you seem to think it did.”

“I wouldn’t call it that, I just did as I was bade – you certainly spent a lot of time gallivanting around the countryside doing whatever you wanted for a slave.”

“That’s not how I remember it.  But it doesn’t matter.  I have my own problems.  I don’t need to add yours to my plate.”

She stared at me for a moment “Can I trust your cousins?”

“I don’t know, I barely know them.  If I had to guess I’d say they’re not entirely corrupt.  They are social climbers for sure, so you can certainly trust them to help you as long as your interests are aligned.  Jesslin is a little naïve but I think she’s mostly okay, if you play up the women supporting women angle you can probably get her on your side.  Betrei is dumb but he’s not entirely stupid, and I think he’ll mostly do whatever the other two do – you can probably count on him.  Parfinis is the one you might have to watch out for.  He’s ambitious enough to be dangerous – none of them are that ruthless but they could cause problems.  Like I said though, this is all guesswork, I barely know them.  You might want to marry Betrei – they’re commoners but they’re well to do commoners and their family has some resources.  They’d be in hog heaven to ascend to Baronhood and then you’d have them on your side, or at least the side of the Juost name.”

“What can I do to make you stay?”

“Do you want to help me kill Duke Eaglevane?” Her hand flew to her mouth with a gasp and I smiled “I’ll take that as no.  I sympathize with your problem, I honestly do, and if I didn’t have other matters to attend to I would stay and help you.”

I turned to leave but she stopped me with her voice, heavy with desperation “What if I give you Zedkath?”

I thought as I slowly turned around and eventually shook my head “Too thin.  The Duke doesn’t care about him enough to be used as bait.”

“What about a funeral?  The Royal Accusers are on their way here to bring Zedkath to the capital to stand trial for treason.  What if an accident befell him before they got here?”

“I think his body would be returned to his family, the funeral wouldn’t be held here – I doubt the Duke would leave Indlecastle even if the funeral was somewhere else.”  I could see her mind working furiously behind her eyes “Look, remember the first night I was here?  You had me dragged before you and you told me how it was going to be.  You had some iron in your spine that night.  You need to find that part of yourself and summon it up right now.  You need to be stronger than you’ve ever been before.  You have to make a decision and then see it through.  When you decide to go, or the decision is made for you, you go all the way – you don’t stop, you don’t look back, you make it work.”

“Are you saying that I don’t need your help?”

“Gods no, you desperately need my help – even with my help some man would probably march in here and take over everything – what I’m saying is that if you want to have a small chance of making it through this without something terrible happening to you what you should do is gather up whatever scraps of courage you have inside you and make your play.  Let’s not mince words, your husband was an asshole, nobody really gave a shit about him beyond his title.  You are a good person, or seem like one anyway.  Your staff here and the people of Alleene love you.  Out in the countryside things are going to shit, they might hate you, but the people here are will fight for you – you have to give them a reason to do it.  All that praying and shit that you do, that seems legit – lean on the church.  Lean on the people around here.  That’s a start.  Give them someone to believe in.”

“It’s that easy huh?”

“No, it’s not easy at all.  It’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, your cushy boring life is over, and as hard as you fight you’re probably going to fail.  But think back to when your husband first went to war and left you here.  What did you do?  Sit in your room and cry?  No, you sent me out on a bunch of dangerous errands that almost got me killed – that did get other people killed.  You were terrified but you did it anyway.  That’s what you have to do.”

She was quiet for a long moment “When will you leave?”

“Tomorrow probably, after I see Kartak dead.”

“Couldn’t you stay for a little while, just until I get my feet underneath myself?”

“What does that mean?  When will you have your feet underneath yourself?  A few days isn’t going to make a difference.  You’ve been dropped in the river with a stone around your neck – either start swimming or drown.”

She stood and smoothed out her dress “Good luck to you cousin, and safe travels.”

I ducked my head “May Adariel grant you peace and long life cousin.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

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

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

Montagem 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

As someone who’s experienced it firsthand (but now has built their mental defenses to unassailable levels so don’t even try it chump) being the victim of mindbending magic is quite disorienting.  When the spell takes a hold of your thoughts you feel like the person that cast it is your best friend – they don’t control your mind but most people are going to be accommodating to their best friend.  That has to be a real shock though when a mindbender runs into a true blue sociopath who doesn’t care about friendship, that’s probably how most of them meet their end.  They’re lurking out there like . . . like . . . something that lurks.  Like a crocodile?  Anyway, eventually the spell wears off and when you don’t feel like that person is your best friend anymore.  At first you’re just confused.  Why were you being so nice to that person who you don’t even know?  Why did you lend them money?  Why did you let them stay in your house?  Why did you let him in the castle when you were on guard duty?  If you don’t know anything about magic that’s probably as far as it goes, you write it off as a slip of the mind. Everyone does things they don’t understand sometimes. 

But if you know the potential with magic to influence people eventually you figure it out, eventually you start to catch on to what has happened.  At that point most people are probably terrified and do everything they can to avoid the person that victimized them.  You can’t blame them either, because realizing that your thoughts can be manipulated like that is very frightening.  The other option is that you get angry.  Real angry.  Anger like you can’t believe.  The kind of anger that makes your head feel like it’s going to split open if you don’t do something about it.  That’s why aside from the Duke himself Kellgale Nickoslander is the person on my list who’s going to suffer the most.  She got over on me but she didn’t even come by it honestly like a con artist with a shell game or Find the Lady, she just cast a spell.  That’s what really stings, she didn’t even have to work for it.  I can appreciate someone swindling me fair and square, but magic mind control?  That’s not something that I can forgive.

The simple kind of charm that Martialla can do isn’t even the worst of it.  People who are really good at it (I think they call themselves mesmerists, but I refuse) can sometimes modify your memory with their magic.  So they entrance you, make you do stuff, and then make you forget that you did it.  That shit is terrifying.  If it happens to you frequently enough you begin to lose touch with your own sense of self, of your own personality.  You forget what your own thoughts and desires are.  You no longer know exactly who you are.  Your mind slips away like the sands in an hourglass.  I’ve met one of these wretches and it is truly a pathetic and horrific fate.  That seems like a fitting doom for Kellgale but the problem is she wouldn’t know that had happened to her – in which case there’s no point in doing it.  Coming up with a fitting revenge is harder than you think.  I wonder if I can get in contact with whoever comes up with the fiendishly ironic tortures in the Thirteen Hells and have them help me come up with a fitting punishment for her.  It’s probably a union thing though.  Labor guilds are ruining this kingdom.   

The remaining sailors of the Black Swan are still firmly charmed (you know magically like I was just talking about) by Martialla so they were getting the ship (boat?) ready to go while Kartak paced on the other side of the river.  I have to admit, the look on his face when the craft headed upriver instead of across to deliver me to him was priceless.  I guess Martialla’s plan is head to north until the river converges with the road to Aleene?  That doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but she’s never been a great planner – that was always my job.  Kartak and his men continued to shadow us from the river bank which proves that that whole grappling hook trick was assisted by Martialla’s magic, otherwise they would have just tried it again. I’ve never wondered which is faster a ship (boat?) sailing upstream or a party of mounted men but now I know.  Kartak and his men didn’t have any trouble keeping up. It’s hard to judge exactly but I think the ship was going about as fast a slow runner. 

The speed of the Black Swan didn’t inconvenience them but Kartak and his men did run into an issue when we passed by a thick patch of woods on the bank – mostly hackberries I think.  They probably would have been well-served to go around, it’s not like they didn’t know where we were heading, but they slowed down to pick their way through the trees.  In addition to slowing them down this turned out to be a bad idea on account of they were attacked by huge hairy humanoid creature wielding a large tree branch for a club and it’s pet (friend?  Wife?) boar that was the size of a small boat itself.  The creature was vaguely apelike and for all its bulk was a stealthy son of a bitch.  It came out of nowhere and dashed one of the Satander exile’s brains out with its branch-club before you could blink.  A second later its tusky friend came charging out of the underbrush and ripped the stomach of a horse wide open.  That was one of the more gruesome sights I’ve seen lately.  I think Kartak has about half of his original force at this point, which is probably enough to take on a whatever that thing is and it’s war-pig, but they were having a real hard time gathering themselves to counter-attack in the thick of the vegetation whereas the creature seemed to be unhindered.  Something that big should have has similar problems but it moved through the brush with the grace of a dancer.  By the time the Black Swan floated out of eyesight I think half a dozen men and horses and been put to the ground.

“Whoa, what the Hells was that?”

Martilla’s mouth gaped “I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“The great monster expert is stumped?  I’m not sure which is more surprising, that or the fact that you said something other than ‘shut up Ela’.  That was a Hells of a thing to witness.”

She nodded “Yeah . . . anyway, shut up Ela.”

Since she has just seen how poor of a swimmer I was I wondered if Martialla would count on that to keep me in place, but she was too smart for that and had me chained to the deck by the ankle.  I definitely would have jumped, the odds of me drowning are pretty slim, I’m not that hopeless a swimmer but it would have taken some convincing.  It’s an odd thing when you have to do something that you don’t want to do and you balk the first few times but eventually you do it.  What’s going on inside your head?  One moment you can’t make yourself grasp the hot iron or leap from a rooftop or murder a horse to save yourself and then the next moment you do it.  What happened in the interim?  What sort of transformation took place and how did it happen? 

One moment you’re walking around in circles and muttering inspirational insults to yourself and then next moment you’re able to do it.  What happened?  How is it possible to talk yourself into doing something?  Aren’t you you always?  If you’re able to motivated yourself to do something that you’re afraid of why did you have to do it in the first place?  If it was “in” there why did you have to “find” it?  Why does imagining yourself doing something help you do it?  Why does someone telling you that you can’t do it make you more likely to be able to do it?  If the ability is already there why can’t we just access is consciously?  Why do we have to trick ourselves?  By the same token have you ever seen someone psych themselves out and fail at something they can do?  How does that happen?  There’s some weird stuff going on in our brains – I’m not sure we’re even on the same side.

A light rain fell off and on most of the day, and there was a low patchy fog hanging on parts of the river.  Heading upriver we passed a small fishing boat with two men working away.  What would have happened if I called out to them for rescue?  Assuming they cared what would they have done?  What could they have done?  Headed back to shore and tried to find a sheriff or someone like that.  And by the time they did the ship would have been long gone.  They could have provided a description but what good would that have done?  Would the memory haunt them?  Would it drive them mad?  A beautiful woman drifts by on a barge, the prisoner of an evil sorceress, she calls out for help – and you can’t do anything about it.  That seems like the kind of thing that could mess you up in the head.  Assuming they cared at all.  They may have just had a good laugh at my expense, you never know with people.

I’m not sure when is a good time to encounter river pirates, but when you’re chained to deck of the ship you’re on is definitely not a good time.  Late in the afternoon one of the sailors spotted a large tree that had fallen into the river partially blocking it.  Not blocking things so much that you couldn’t get around it, but there was already a ship caught up there.  When they spotted what looked like an official patrol boat of legitimate law enforcement people they started shouting for help saying that river pirates were around the bend of the river and coming their way.  I saw that there was a bloodhawk circling in the air above them and occasionally diving down to scatter and harass the crew of the entrapped vessel.     

You see here’s the problem with using magically influenced people to do your bidding, because the sailors actually ARE part of the river patrol and naturally they want to help people in situations just like this.  They may think that Martialla is their long lost best friend because of her spells, but they’re still themselves and they still want to do their job.  If your friend tells you not to rescue people when rescuing people is your thing you better have a damn good reason why not otherwise your friend is going to ignore you.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Martialla wasn’t able to convince her good buddies to pay no attention to the plight of the trapped river people.  I could have done it absolutely, but that goes without saying.

I at least give her credit for this much, once it became clear that her crew wasn’t going to budge Martialla got on board (pun!) with their rescue mission.  I’m sure she wanted to get done with it as soon as possible.  She chased the bloobhawk off with some magic beam (I could have killed it with a crossbow) and they got to work roping up the other ship so they could break out the oars and drag it off the watery tree obstacle.  The two crews were discussing the possibility of repairs (much to Martialla’s annoyance) when the river pirates appeared around the bend.  You know they were pirates because their keelboat was in such poor condition – it had a real makeshit piratey look to it.  You’d think that pirates might keep their shit in better shape just so that people wouldn’t know they were pirates right away but I suppose they’re probably drunk most of the time.  I know I would be if I were a pirate.  Which I am not.

The other ship they just rescued literally cut and ran, heading downriver as fast as they could while the Black Swan was left facing the wrong direction – that’s what you get for helping people out.  The pirates swung around and opened up with their crossbows, forcing everyone to dive for cover – you know except me since I was chained to the ground.  Martialla, being the clever gal that she is, was prepared to surrender – after all pirates are more interested in booty than mayhem and it’s not like she cares about this boat – but this wasn’t your ordinary pirate crew.  Because of course it wasn’t.  While the sailors were running up the white flag of cowardly but prudent surrender an adorable river otter climbed onto the Black Swan away from the action – I think I was the only one who saw it.

The delightful little furry-faced scamp dashed across the deck of the ship and then expanded, transforming into a gnarly-limbed, boney, thick-skinned green-blue crone.  Usually hags have a big knotted mess of hair for spiders and maggots to live in but this one had shorn all her hair off (or it fell off because of hag-diseases) and it’s knobby malformed skull was on full display, made all the more horrible by the water running off it like tiny rivers through the head-creases.  I only saw it for a moment before it turned invisible and the next thing I heard was Martialla’s shout of pain.  I saw the hag standing with bloody claws in the middle of the ship, her bloodhawk pet swooping down to slash at Martialla’s face. 

Hag’s like stuff as much as pirates as far as I know, but they seem to like bedlam better.  I could see the fear in Martialla’s eyes – she’s a pretty cool customer but that one time (or two or three) a hag almost killed us both shook her up pretty good, it left a mar on the inside.  Even so, she rolled to her feet and came up with her sword and dagger to fight – she’s many things, but a coward isn’t one of them.  With seven sailors as fodder I would have liked Martialla’s chances against the hag, but the bulk of the men on the pirate ship were still firing their crossbows and any target that presented itself.  And that wasn’t the worst of it. 

Two other pirates jumped across to the Black Swan, not men though.  Man-like beings with cloven hooves, muscular bodies and horned bestial heads.  Their matted hair was encrusted with blood and excrement, and served as home to a rippling mass of fat ticks and fleas.  In theory you might say they were goat-men, but goats are pretty nonthreatening and these things were monstrous.  That probably made it worse.  A lion-man you expect to be a killing machine, but a goat-man?  That’s just disturbing.  The axes they were swinging around were pretty disturbing as well – what with the blood spraying and the hunks of flesh being ripped out and so forth. 

I pulled my wire saw out of my secret pocket and started working on the chain holding me but the entire fight was over in maybe thirty seconds.  I have no idea how long it would take me to saw through a chain, if it’s even possible, but it’s certainly a lot more than thirty seconds.  Martialla was bleeding buckets of blood when she finally gave up and dove into the water to escape.  Probably not the best plan since that’s where the hag came from originally, but she wasn’t pursued.  Quickly establishing that there was nothing much of value on the patrol boat the hag ordered her men to pursue the fleeing merchant ship while she stayed on the Black Swan.  She crept over to me on all fours and sniffed me over thoroughly like a hound dog.  Her voice was smooth and consoling despite her awful appearance.

“It looks like your friends have abandoned you my pretty little flower.”

I smiled “Good thing you’re here, now I have a new friend.”

She let loose with an enthusiastic cackle.  No one can cackle like a real honest to Gods hag. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I read a book once that claimed there are a group of people who practice transcendental sleeping.  People in some unspecified far away non-verifiable place, you know, where all the interesting things happen.  The idea of transcendental sleeping is that by learning how to sleep the right way eventually you can become untethered from your physical body and exist in the realm of dreams as a spirit of some kind.  If you get really good at it you can achieve a form of immortality because your dream-spirit exists forever and whenever you want to visit the world you can reform your body.  There’s tales of these immortal sleepers going into caves so sleep and what people think happen is they just lay in there for eighty years or whoever long and then wake up.  But what actually happens is their body dies and they just recreate it later when it’s time to wake up.  I mean it’s so obvious people.   

Of course nothing can be all roses and rainbows so in the dream world there’s some kind of nightmare realm that doesn’t like these sleeping immortals messing with their evil plans so there’s a whole battle going on there – and of course this nightmare realm has mortal agents in the real world as well, a cult of dream worshipping fanatics who will stop at nothing to blah blah blah whatever.  I assume somewhere in this mix there’s a dream god on one side or another.  Anyway I don’t believe this for a variety of reasons, one being that allegedly a key component of making this dream transformation is engaging in sexual acts without achieving climax – and if that was the case most of the women in the world would be halfway where am I right?  But I wish that it was true because I would study this technique and sleep for a good thirty years.  Seems very restful.  Plus then the Duke would be older and easier to wail on.  The risk of course would be that someone else would kill him in the meantime, or he would just die of syphilis – and that’s no good because I’m the one that has to do him in.  I worry about that a lot, he has many enemies and many unhealthy habits, not to mention random chance.  If he dies before I can kill him I really don’t know what I’ll do. 

It’s a little easier to sleep in manacles than staked to the ground but it was oppressively hot last night and there were mosquitoes and other bloodsucking monsters attacking me relentlessly – for some reason they were going after the ass more than anything.  My left cheek looks like it has porridge pox.  Between that and my aching shoulder it was another sleepless night for old Ela.  When I woke up, or rather stopped trying to fool myself that I was asleep, I heard Kartak and Martialla arguing about me again.  She was upset because he was suggesting that they not travel today so I would have some time to recover.  Martialla was screeching about how we should have made the road by today and instead we haven’t even crossed the river yet.  I never realized how shrill her voice can be until now.  She reiterated her opinion that I was faking my injury to intentionally slow our progress.  Kartak lost his temper pretty quickly and it seemed like they were on the verge of fighting.  She’s too smart for that, but it would be helpful if she slipped up and Kartak and his men slaughtered her like a goat.  Without her nagging them all the time about how I’m going to turn them against one another it would be easier to turn them against one another.

The best case scenario would be for Martialla to lose her temper, kill Kartak, and then be forced to flee by his men – leaving one of these other yahoos in charge.  That would make things very easy for me, the only problem is that Kartak is on my list so if Martialla killed him that would ruin everything.  So while it would be convenient it would cause problems later on.  Martialla must have won the argument because they did sit me on a horse and we set off at a sedate pace, but after an hour of me pretending to pretend that I wasn’t in pain and whimpering with every jolt of the saddle Kartak called a halt and sent a couple of his men to find a wagon for me to ride in.  Two of the Baron’s men helped me dismount and set up a camp chair for me to sit on while everyone else milled around waiting. Martialla stayed nearby and scowled away anyone who tried to come within six feet of me.

“You’re going about this all wrong you know.” Martialla’s only response was a disgusted noise “You shouldn’t be butting heads with Kartak and screaming like a harridan all the time.  What you should be doing is damage control.  You helped them catch me but nobody likes a traitor Martialla.  It’s a real conundrum, as the ruling authority you want people to turn in your enemies, but if someone is willing to turn on their closest friend they prove themselves to be untrustworthy so what are you do with them?  It’s surprising that more turncoats don’t figure that out.  They seem to be shocked when the people they betray their friends or family to treat them like crap.”

“Shut up Ela.”

“So you already had a lot of ground to make up and you’re not doing a very good job of it – you’re just digging yourself deeper.  The Kostelos are an even more patriarchal society than ours – I’m surprised one of Kartak’s men hasn’t tried to put you in your place yet, or tried to take him out for letting you.  Even for ‘civilized’ Kostelos they’re showing an amazing amount of forbearance.  You know what the Kostelos think about us?  They see Kingdom men as dog’s running to follow their women’s commands.  It’s pretty funny that they think we tell men what to do, but it’s an indication of how male dominated their society is.  Not only are you alienating Kartak but you’re making him look bad in front of his men.”

“I said shut up.”

“But really what’s more worrisome for you is that you’re making me the victim in the eyes of the Baron’s men.  You weren’t there the first time I was there, I was playing the dutiful noble woman, they don’t see me as a threat no matter what you say, they see me a helpless woman who needs their manly protection – they don’t like what’s happening here at all.  Not only are you building their sympathy for me, but you’re also creating a divide between them and the Kostelos.  I doubt they’re happy about taking orders from Kartak anyway and now you’re giving them me and my mistreatment to rally around.  If you keep it up I wouldn’t be surprised if they try some kind of coup all on their own.  You’re setting yourself up to look like the brute while I’m a broken little bird.  A fragile delicate little thing that garners all kinds of compassion – but you know, the masculine kind of compassion where they want to fuck me.”

“I said shut up!”

“The real question mark in all of this is the Satander exiles though.  I have no idea what their part of this is, or what their reaction would be if the Kostelos and the Baron’s man started fighting.  What . . .”

Martialla came over and with a shove and a kick to the chair sent me sprawling to the ground.  As I hit the ground with a cry I grabbed at my bad shoulder.  Almost immediately a couple of the Baron’s men and one of the Kostelos ran over and got embroiled with Martialla in a shouting match.  She wanted to gag me again and restrain me as well, they accused her to being a cruel and heartless she-bitch.  I couldn’t help but smile as I saw them wrangling.  Well, that’s not true, I could have very easily not smiled – but I wanted Martialla to see it.  Kartak came to get into another loud discussion with Martialla, but she angrily walked away – which is probably just as bad.  Turning your back on a man like that?  Very disrespectful.  If she was smart she would have let him rip her apart verbally in front of everyone to start rebuilding that relationship.  Martialla has a lot of good qualities but her ego is a real issue.

A couple of hours later the Kostelos came back with a wagon.  There was no blood on it so hopefully they just took it via threats rather than murdering whoever had it before.  In the back of the wagon were some sacks of apples and some jugs of moonshine which really improved the morale around the camp.  However Kartak decided that at that point they might as well just stay put for the rest of the day anyway – I’m pretty sure just to piss off Martialla.  He probably wanted to give her a chance to blow up at him again so they he could smack her down and reestablish his authority.  She didn’t take the bait though.  Once Kartak made it clear that they weren’t going any farther she dramatically left the camp, which only served to make things worse.  She really doesn’t understand how people work. 

It wasn’t until after nightfall that things really got interesting though.  Martialla had returned to chain my good arm to a small tree before disappearing again so once again I was wide awake.  Which allowed me to see two of the men on watch duty get shot down from the darkness.  That’s the problem with being on guard duty if you ask me, you’re lit up so that anyone out there can see you but there’s not enough light so that you can see them.  It’s a real pickle.  Once the guards were down a woman and two men slunk out of the darkness towards the wagon.  That must be a really important wagon.  They were trying to steal it but there were more than two people on guard duty so they didn’t get very far.  In short order the whole camp was alerted and they were swarmed.  Martialla appeared out of nowhere (literally, she must have been skulking around invisible) and had her sword on me like I was going to try something as the thieves were subdued.   

One of the men was killed in the fighting and the other was so badly wounded he was going to die anyway, but the woman was intact enough that they got to decapitate her for attacking them.  I wonder what that was all about.  Killing two men for a wagon, I could maybe see that, but they had to know that coming into a camp of this many people was more or less a suicide charge.  Seems like a lot to risk just for a wagon.  Although, based on what I know about the Skin-Takers she got off very easy with merely losing her head – I wonder what would have happened if the Kingdomers and the Satander hadn’t been around.  Or maybe they really have changed.  I guess Kartak is the only Skin-Taker anyway, maybe the Sky Thunder tribe isn’t as reprehensible.  But I doubt it.

Martialla looked at me coldly “Another day lost and two men dead.  You won’t get away with it Ela.  You won’t win this time.”

“Have some respect Martialla, five people just lost their lives, this isn’t some game to win or lose.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 953,251

Inventory: None

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

Montagem 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

All things considered I’ve had worse nights.  Many worse nights.  Even though she was the one ripped to shreds Martialla got me back to the Song and Dance and handed me a couple bottles of Golden Fleet Vodka to keep me company while she saw to her wounds.  The arm doesn’t hurt, which is unsettling in and of itself when you think about it, so as long as I don’t look at it I’m fine – and you’re not looking at your arm after you drink until you pass out.  I woke up on the floor in the broad daylight and tried to push myself up, at which point my physical situation came flooding back instantly, all the good work the vodka did to blot it out being erased in a flash.  I almost started crying again.  But I got a hold of myself.  Bad shit happens and sitting around crying about it doesn’t help a damn thing.  I took a moment to compose myself and then rolled to a position where I could stand up with one arm.  That one little movement was a way of telling myself “see, its fine”.  I had the good graces to believe myself.  I can be very convincing you know.      

Once I was on my feet I took another couple of moments for myself.  So my arm is screwed up?  So what do we do?  We fix it and we move on.  I drank the last little bit of Golden Fleet Vodka out of one of the bottles and then got myself washed up and dressed.  It was tricky with one arm, thankfully I won’t have to get used to it though.  I summoned the staff to clean the place up, because having other people doing your bidding always makes you feel better.  After watching them sternly for a moment I went to talk to the manager about finding me some magical restorative therapy.  Now that I think about it I don’t recall seeing any temples in town, but there has to be an Odobenine presence in a place where there’s so much commerce right?  And they’re always good for some mercenary healing.  After communicating my request to the chief lackey I returned to my room and had them bring me breakfast on the balcony – double berry crepes with lemon crud and vanilla cream, grilled honey peaches, and sour cream waffles with praline apples.  It was a bit awkward eating with one hand but I won’t have to deal with that for long right?  While I was eating I Martialla returned and she took a seat across from me, helping herself to some breakfast wine.

“What have you been up to this fine morning?”

“I went back.”

“Back to the hag-hole?  That seems like a terrible idea.”

“You don’t know the half of it, a big section of the place collapsed – probably from that freeze magic the hag used.”

“Well, here you are so I guess it worked out.”

“I was being careful.  I wanted to check out if our new friend was there by coincidence or if she’s allied with Dulphistos.”

“What did you find out?”

“Nothing conclusive, although I’m not sure what that would be conclusive evidence other than a letter from Dulphistos left behind and that only happens in books.  I think it was just a coincidence.  I saw traps in other buildings and some magical sensors but they didn’t have any fucking monsters in them.  I think it was just our god damn dumb luck that we went into the one with a whistling hag in it.  If she’s not working for him I’m sure he knows she’s there but as long as it keeps people away why would he care?”

“It’s hard to say, but it probably doesn’t matter.  In a way it just helps our story that some people were lurking around his house.  Even if they are in cahoots I mean it’s not like that eyeless thing can describe us to him right?”

“Are we already to the joking about it stage on your arm?”

“No, but I’m using humor as a defense mechanism.  I asked the concierge or owner or whatever he is where the best magical healing money can buy can be found.”

“I’ve already been asking around.  Razmiran didn’t encourage of religious institutions to come here so for a town of this size there’s not much in the way of divine spellcasting.  From what I was told there are two options.  The lumber people have a healer that’s supposed to be a bigshot in town right now in case their troubleshooter gets himself a boo-boo, but I don’t know how we’d make that approach.”

“Let me guess, the other option is a crazy alchemist?”

“We don’t know that he’s crazy.” I gave her a sour look “We’ll see what Mr. Song and Dance comes back with, but I assume those two options are going to be it – Preen isn’t really a hotbed of fantastical magic commerce.”

“Is there a place that is?”

She shrugged “Probably.”

I sighed “In retrospect we undoubtedly should have anticipated that the buildings around a secretive mage’s lair would be guarded somehow.”

“True.  You know what they say about hindsight.”

“That people think it’s better but that’s only because they have information on what did happen and they’re not thinking about whatever other bad things could have happened for the things they didn’t do?”

“Uh, that’s not the expression I’m familiar with, but sure.”

“I’m going to pick up my boots today, I can ask what’s her name about healers in and around town as well.  In the meantime what’s the plan?  No reason to let all our work got to waste just because my arm is shriveled like a cock on cold winter’s night.”

“Adelis has a couple of her girls watching.”

“Isn’t that a terrible idea?”

“Not watching Dulphistos, watching Velké.  If Big D and his people make a move on Velké we’ll know about it.  There will be a delay, but we’ll know.  It makes things trickier but it’s the best I could come up with.”

“I suppose worst case scenario the mage kills the gangsters and we miss out on our chance and we have try something else.”

“This really is a lot of trouble just to help out an old acquaintance.”

“You know me Martialla, I give and I give and I give.”

After breakfast Mertialla skulked off to do more skulking and I headed to Vetovia’s shop to pick up my new boots.  They weren’t great looking aesthetically, I’ll spare you my usual complain about mages and their inability to make quality items, but they’re good enough.  And the magic actually works so that’s good, I’m always worried about magic people ripping me off because how would I know?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s the perfect scam.  Sure this ring is magic, ten thousand gold please.  Once the pleasantries were out of the way I explained the predicament with my arm and she suggested that I seek out someone by the name of Banderess Vichada, who based on our conversation must be the alchemist that Martialla mentioned.  How many arm-regrowing alchemist can there be in Preen?

But surprisingly that wasn’t all.  Vetovia knew all about the crazy gnomes and their eyeless mistress (she’s the one who explained to me those various facts I mentioned before).  I’ve often wondered where hags come from, well she told me where this one came from.  Turns out that if you’re a woman saturated with arcane power and you become consumed with bitterness, what you can do is complete a ritual that culminates in ripping out your own eyes and tongue and burning the light from your soul. This turns you into a hateful abomination dedicated to spreading misery and strangling joy wherever you go. Which seems like a bit of an overreaction if you ask me.  I mean if you’re going to gouge out someone’s eyes shouldn’t it be the person that made you so bitter?  Vetovia knew about this because the hag was (is?) her friend Vasya.  In fact the only reason she’s still in a place like Preen is because she’s trying to find a way to un-hagify her friend. 

“Wow, that’s very devoted of you.  I hope if I ever get turned into a hag I have a friend like you.  How’s the cure coming along?”

“It’s hard to say, it’s not like I can test it out.  I think I have it figured out.  I have a unicorn hair, water from a healing spring, what I don’t have is a flawless diamond into which to draw the ‘infection’ and somehow that diamond has to involve a promise faithfully kept.  But the real hard part is that I need to kill another hag and use some . . . parts from her body for the concoction.”

“That shouldn’t be so hard, there’s a whole village of hags just south of here.”

She snickered slightly “You don’t mean Cauldron do you?”

“Hey, I didn’t think it was real either, but then I fucking went there – some big blue hag with steel claws kicked the shit out of me.  It’s a real place, believe me.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m as serious as a severed hag’s head.  Plus check this shit out, I’m about to make your day.  I have a diamond I can give you that should work and I promise that I’ll help you out with this whole scenario.”

She blinked “You will?”

“A hundred percent.”

“Uh . . . why?”

“A couple reasons, one that hag is on my list so she has to go.  Two, you seem like good people.  Three I need favors, lots of favors, for some other things I got going on.  And four, I’m whimsical.”

“O. . . kay.”

“No fooling, I swear.” I took out one of my diamonds “Check this baby out.”

She squinted at my palm “It’s awfully small.”

“It’s a diamond, they aren’t that big.  The point is that it’s flawless, and I promise to give it you to help bring Vasya back from her bitter fate.  A promise that I shall faithfully keep.”

“That’s . . . insane.  We’re basically strangers.”

“Well now we’re pals.  Once I get my arm back in fighting shape and I take care of this other thing we’ll pop on down to hagtown and massacre one of those warty broads and then we’ll fix up your friend right quick.”

Once I got back to the Song and Dance there were two notes waiting for me – one from the manager telling me that I should speak to Banderess Vichada about my arm.  And the other, on very expensive stationary and wand written with impeccable penmanship (penwomanship?) was from Banderess Vichada saying that she was available to see me for high tea tomorrow at her manor.  She must be one of those supernatural figures that hears their name if you say it too many times.  Martialla turned back up later that night saying that the word on the street was that our frame job appeared to be working.  Over dinner I told her about Vetovia and Vasya.

Martialla shook her head “At this point I think you’re doing this on purpose.  For someone with a supposedly singular purpose you get sidetracked remarkable easily.” 

“My new theory is that the Gods are going to throw something at me anyway, this way I get to choose what it is.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Neither does your face!”

“I can’t argue with that.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 53,580 gold

XP: 803,511

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, Ela’s Boots

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, eyeless hag  

Montalan 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

One year ago today I woke up in a dirty alley (as opposed to a clean alley) in Graltontown.  It took me a long time to wake up fully.  For a good while my body was limp like a shirt on a clothes line.  My mind was foggy worse than any hangover in the recorded history of the universe.  At first I had no clue where I was or what was going on.  It certainly didn’t cross my mind initially that I wasn’t in Paladore anymore, let alone that I was in an armpit like Graltontown.  But I started to catch on to what had happened.  For obvious reasons the Duke’s wife and I weren’t the best of friends, but as long as we ignored one another everything was fine.  Out of sight out of mind right?  Their marriage wasn’t a love match by any stretch so why not allow the Duke his whims?  Within reason of course.  But something had happened that pushed that boundary too far.  In retrospect he Duke had been more shameless than usual in parading around with me on his arm in the months preceding my exile.  Maybe he was trying to upset her, maybe he was just getting careless, maybe it was one of any number of other reasons.  Regardless of why, he went too far and his ladywife complained enough that he felt he had to get rid of me.

He could have sent me off to one his other holdings.  He could have given me to one of his cronies.  He could have just said “hit the road kid”.  He could have killed me.  He could have cast me out into the streets of Paladore.  He could have set me up with a nice retirement.  He could have done many things.  But what he did do was drug me and toss me away like garbage.  Was this supposed to be a mercy?  He couldn’t bring himself to kill me?  Or was it a cruel joke?  One final laugh at the expense of good old Ela?  Either way he had to have assumed that I would die shortly after being abandoned.  Or at worse that I would end up a corner girl and be dead within a few years either from too much pipeweed, suicide, or some other nasty end.  So if it was kindness that stayed his hand it was a curious kind of kindness indeed – but I know better than anyone that the righteous Duke isn’t much of one for kindness. 

I can admit now that along with the anger I felt, and there was a lot of anger, I also initially felt despair.  My immediate thought, that the Duke was going to pay and pay dearly, no matter what by any means needed, was bravado.  At first.  It was the crying of a child who has been denied what they were promised – sound and fury only.  But it didn’t take long for it to become very real.  Without a doubt it’s the most genuine and true feeling that I have ever had.  At that moment I could have turned away very easily.  In fact most of who I am was screaming for me to do that – turn away, look away, don’t seek out what is likely to be your own destruction.  Run, run far away and never look back.  There’s a large part of me that begged me to do that.  And I could have done it, I could have listened to that voice.  And everything would have been fine.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I had to follow this path, that I had no choice.  I take responsibility for myself and what I am doing.  I know who I am and what I am doing. 

There’s no such thing as redemption, no such thing as second chances.  I’ve already been where we go when we die.  We’re shadows dressed in costumes of skin and bone.  Nothing you can see is going to last for long.  I don’t believe in destiny or fate or karma or whatever you want to call it – our lives are not written in the stars, we’re not stones thrown at our birth traveling to a destination with no altering the flight.  But despite all that, when I woke up in that alley, my path became horrifying clear.  And nothing, nothing, will stop me until I face him.  Nothing.  I will drown this world in blood if I have to.  I will tear down civilization itself if I have to.  I’ve said this before, when I say that I will do anything to have my revenge I mean anything.  Nothing that I can ever do to the Duke will be bad enough to satisfy me.  But I’m going to give it my best shot.  I mean someday I will when I stop being distracted by whatever I’m doing now.

Turns out that Aubesh doesn’t know any of Generous’ other girls, for some reason she’s not tight with his crew, so there wasn’t much to do today other than wait for the appointed time they would check in a Gentlemen Jack’s.  It gave me time to reflect on the last year and all the awful things that I saw and did.  I got really good at mundane disguises.  And guys, I mean really good.  It took time but the end result was flawless.  I could disguise myself as a specific person, as a different gender, as someone much older – you name it, I could do it and look perfect.  Then I learned how to do it instantaneously with magic and that skill became completely useless and all that time I spent learning it was a massive waste.  Which is magic in a nutshell.  I learned how to shoot a crossbow pretty well, and then shot a bunch of people, most of whom died.  But they were all bad so it’s fine.  I spoke to several worgs and only one of them tried to eat me.  That’s pretty good.  I rode a pegasus which was fucking amazing.  I started cursing.  I got sick and very nearly died.  Twice.  I made my first friend.  I made probably a million enemies, conservatively estimating.  I got lost many times.  Turned into a cat.  Was cursed several times.  Got super rich.  Some kind of old lady vampire put me in a cage and I was almost killed by her demon dog.  Thinking back on it it was really quite a year.  I wouldn’t recommend drugging yourself and having someone toss you in the street somewhere far away with nothing but the clothes on your back but it’s certainly a way to shake things up in your life.

Once I got bored of intimate self-reflection I went over to Martialla’s room to kill time, maybe play some cards or just chat but she was banging some guy (where does she find the time to meet anyone?) so I went to a stable and rented a horse for an afternoon ride.  Petro was a fine looking steed but he was a too ornery and finicky for my taste.  If there’s one thing I don’t care for it’s a horse that has its own ideas.  Still it was nice to go for a ride, seems like ages since I’ve been able to do that.  Once I got back Martialla was done with her dalliance and we had a long luxurious dinner since we had to nowhere to be until late.  Once it was appropriately late we staked out Gentlemen Jack’s and waiting for Generous’ ladies to show up.  The first one we tried to grab actually wasn’t a prostitute at all.  Boy was there egg on our faces.  In our defense though you should have seen the way she was dressed.  There were no mistakes the second time though, Martialla used her magic to put our target to sleep and then I assumed her appearance to go in and pass along her hard earned coin to Generous – and to pass on the information that one of “my” tricks was a Black Sheep who was bragging about taking out Dulphistos’s apprentices.  This almost turned ugly because Generous had forbade his crew from fraternizing with the Black Sheep, but I figured out that was just for appearances, the G man making it known that he’s a bad scary man but also being glad for the intel.

We let the next couple pass by unmolested and then repeated the process with the fifth girl to come by (sixth if you count the one we accosted by mistake).  Generous was nice enough to ask if “I” had heard anything about the Black Sheep and Dulphistos’s apprentices so I let him draw it out of me and feel like he was a genius.  After that we carted our two new friends to Adelis’ for safekeeping and then made our way back to the Song and Dance.  I can see now why serial killers are always targeting prostitutes – it’s so easy.  I mean that and the whole sociopathic sadistic sexual thing.  After a hard night of kidnapping and lying Martialla and I took to the veranda with some dwarfen fire ale to enjoy the moonlight.  Not normally my kind of drink but I’ve found that oddly the beverage intended to get you all riled up has a calming effect on me and acts as a sleep aid.  Maybe it works differently on different species. 

I offered my glass up to Martialla “Here’s to a job well done.”

She touched her glass to mine “I’ll drink to that I guess.”

“Clearly this isn’t what I expected to be doing with my life, how about you my old friend?  What did you think you’d be doing?”

“You’re asking about my life?  Are you confused?  Did you forget that I’m not you?  I can’t see any other reason that you’d be interested.”

“Hilarious.”

I could see her grin in the gloom “No, I didn’t expect to be snatching whores off the street at all, not even for a good cause.  Well not a good cause maybe, but a neutral one at least.  I figured I’d just eke out a life moving from town to town like everyone else.  When my niece was killed the entire trajectory of my life changed radically.”

“Were you two close?”

“No, which sounds strange maybe.  That I’d set off on a two year quest for revenge on account of a relative that I didn’t know well, but my sister deserved better.  We were close once and her daughter dying broke her.  Seeing that nearly broke me.  In a sick way it’s made my life much better, following you and taking up your scraps has earned me more money than I ever could imagine.  And my power with my magic has grown to be more than I ever thought it could.  Who would have guessed that the key to becoming a mighty sorcereress was killing?”

“I would have.  You know, I do owe you quite a bit of money, all joking aside.  Not that you shouldn’t have your vengeance as well, but she could be brought back.  Before I wouldn’t have believed it, but now . . . now I know that it can happen.”

Martialla was quiet for a while “The thought has crossed my mind.  You hold onto the money for now.  Once the whoreson who killed her is well and truly fucked then we’ll talk.”

“Now that sounds like a plan.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 28,040 platinum, 53,601 gold

XP: 795,911

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 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 

Mede 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

I don’t make use of it as much as I should, animals are largely uninteresting as conversationalists, but thanks to my Beastspeech I’ve gotten pretty blasé about talking to animals.  I sometimes forget how much it startles and amazes other people.  After a few hours on the road (well, trail) a doe came bounding out of the woods and leapt effortlessly atop one of the wagons – balancing somewhat precariously on a shifting stack of whatever they had under those tarpaulins.

“Run for your lives humans, it’s a wolf!”

The warning of the talking deer of course had the opposite effect, instead of running everyone was frozen in place staring at her when the snarling beast came vaulting after.  It wasn’t actually a wolf, it was a worg, but since the differences are so subtle I’ll give her a break on that one.  An animal being able to talk doesn’t mean that they’re smart after all.  Being confronted with a dozen people and pack animals gave the worg little pause at first, but when Togra and Bixton charged at it with weapons in hand it danced back and settled for snarling from fifteen yards away.

“Hold on, everyone calm down, let’s talk about this like rational beings.”

Remember that time I was confident about my ability to sweet-talk a worg because of past experience and then I nearly got my head bitten off?  I do.  I approached no closer than fourteen yards to treat with the massive beast, which was much more lightly colored than any worg I’ve seen so far.  It wasn’t quite a sandy brown but it was far closer to that than a more wolfy gray.

“Hello there friend, I see that you’re chasing a deer, if you’re after food we have plenty – and you don’t have to kill it or anything.”

It spoke more clearly and understandably than any other worg I’ve met to date while still being, you know, a talking beast.

“I seek no food!  I hunt on behalf of my master.”

“What’s your name and what is that of your master.”

“I am called Steel-Bite and I serve Hrólfr the Lord of The Woods and Master of All!”

“Well he certainly sounds impressive, I can see why you would submit to such a powerful master instead of being the alpha yourself.”

“Don’t try to anger me woman!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.  What does your master want with a talking deer?”

“She will die under his knife, a sacrifice to Beluiri the Burning Goat of the Woods.”

“Oi, another one of these huh?” I turned to Martialla “We have to get out of these dang magic woods.  Does he know that this isn’t a normal deer?”

“Of course, he’s the one that made her like that, what would be the point of sacrificing a dumb animal?”

“Double oi.  Well Steel-Bite, I have some good news and some bad news for you my friend, the bad news is that you can’t have this deer.  The good news is that if you take us to your master we’ll explain the whole thing so you won’t get in any trouble.”

While Martialla, Togra, and Arien the Explorer were getting ready to follow me into certain danger and possible death I talked to the deer and confirmed that she had gained sentience just this very day – what a nice welcome to the world eh?  Congratulations you’re gifted with consciousness, now here comes the weird wavy sacrificial dagger for your heart.  Since she had no name I decided to call her Hyacinth, because that seems like a good name for a deer.

“You don’t need to worry about that wolf my dear, we’re going to take care of him, I don’t know what it is a sapient deer does with their life but you’re free to go and do it – watch out for hunters though.  And other wolves.  Everything really, your position on the food chain isn’t ideal.  Before we go though can you tell me how you escaped?”

“Two kind men helped get me free and showed me where to run away.”

“What happened to them?”

“Some other men came and knocked them down with metal sticks, there was blood everywhere on the ground.”

“That sounds about right.”

I left Bixton “in charge” while we headed maybe in the direction of the woodland fortress of the mad wizard following after his worgish minion.  As we crunched through the undergrowth Martialla sidled up to me.

“A few weeks ago didn’t you swear off exactly this kind of thing?  And a few weeks before that?  And probably several other times?  It’s no skin off my knee, if things go badly I can probably turn invisible and get away.  For someone who claims not to be a warrior and often discusses the use of force as the refuge of the dim-witted you seem to run towards combat an awful lot.”

“What am I supposed to do?  Let this guy keep killing intelligent animals?”

“Yeah.  Seems like something you’d do.”

“It really does doesn’t it?”

“Would you like to hear my theory?”

“I would love to hear your theory.”

“I think there’s a part of you, a part of you deep down inside, a part that you aren’t even aware of, that wants to end all this.  You’ve built up this towering fortress of willpower and inner strength that drives you forwards no matter what, that will never give up, but underneath all that there’s a tiny little crack that wants it to be over.  And I don’t even think it comes from the ordeal of being kicked out of Duke Eaglevane’s court, I think it started before that.  I don’t know what your background is and I would never ask, but I know you were a little girl on a farm once and then somehow you ended up as the Duke’s consort.  You mention your grandmother often but never your parents.  However you got to the Duke’s court I doubt it was a happy road.  You would never kill yourself or allow yourself to be killed consciously but I think there’s a slithering little snake in your mind that whispers to you and encourages you to seek out situations like this – eventually you’re going to get yourself into trouble that you can’t get away from.”

“That’s pretty good.”

“Thanks, I thought so. 

“You may be right, I may be crazy, but there’s no way to know really.  What I can tell you is this, even if you’re right,  that I’ve lost everything, that I’ve been been dishonored and wronged beyond endurance, and now as a result of that abuse I’m somehow haring off to get myself killed it’s not that simple. Ha! Seeking out death?  What a luxury. Some of us can only dream of the sheer indulgence of surrendering to a sweet, sweet death! Unfortunately, I’ve got a to-do list as long as Earl Colinent ‘Two Swords’ cock to deal with first.”

“Did he have a long cock?”

“Yes, that’s why they called him Two Swords.  Not everyone to whom life has become a burden can kill themselves or even allow themselves to die. Sometimes there’s a task or an obligation that must be discharged before they can ever have peace. It might be some grand quest only they can complete, or it might simply be something simple but only they can do it. Sometimes you must reluctantly fight to survive even though they don’t want to. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

“Like your promise to help me kill Dirt-Tooth?”

“I was thinking more my promises to myself, but sure.  Speaking of, I know that you said that you couldn’t get Dirt-Tooth on your own when we first met, but you seem a lot more magical now, and a lot more stabby.  Do you still really need my help with that particular murder?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but what I’ve learned is it’s better to do these things with a friend.”

“Don’t get ally mushy on me lady.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .09% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,604 gold

XP: 328,851

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, +1 Human Bane Dagger, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Ela’s Walking Stick (Rod of Ruin/Agile Alpenstock) Bag of Concealment, Bag of Holding, Black Marketers’ Bag, Handy Haversack, white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Knave’s Robes +4, Nymph’s Favor

Pocketed Scarf, wrist sheath, assortment of Fake Signet Rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), 842 garnets, severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, receipt, tax collector’s badge, Gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, 5 gold trade bars, 3 diamond in amber coins, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8) 

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