Macendamandel 4 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I was brought nothing to eat but I don’t feel hungry – they must have this place magicked up the wazoo.  The question is does said magic actually nourish you or just suppress your hunger?  If you stay here long enough do you die of starvation without ever feeling it?  It’s a smart move, if you never interact with the guards you don’t have a chance to pull any kind of shenanigans on them.  With them?  On them.  After my alleged lawyer departed – or at least stopped speaking, he was probably still watching me on the crystal ball or whatever hoping I would get nude – I was left with nothing to do but wait.  I leafed through the religious materials briefly – mostly the usual Adariel platitudes about forgiveness and salvation but there was also a small book that seemed to be subtle literature for a death cult of some kind.  I wonder how that got in here.  I’ve always wondered why they take such pains to try and prevent criminals from killing themselves, seems like it would save everyone a lot of trouble.  If you ask me a firmly secured noose should be installed in every cell.  I guess they don’t want to rob the people of the pageantry of a spectacular public execution.  The poor people need something to cheer them up.

As has become my tradition when incarcerated I took stock of things.  On the surface it doesn’t seem like I’ve made much progress, but getting out from under the thumb of the Juosts is significant – that was really holding me back.  And I was planning on going to Three Rivers anyway so no big deal right?  I would have liked to arrive less conspicuously, that would make overthrowing the cartel that controls the place easier, but we all have to make due right?  I need to get back in the habit to disguising myself more, I’ve been walking around as myself too much lately.  Keeping track of a bunch of different identities is annoying, but if overthrowing oppressive trade unions and brutally murdering Dukes was easy everyone would do it.  There’s only so much stock taking you can stock take though and eventually I went to sleep with a wadded up prison dress for a pillow and another for a blanket.  The magical lighting dimmed, which was nice, I wonder if that syncs up with the sunset or if it’s just on a time trigger of some sort.  I wonder how much gold went into building this prison and how many people could have been saved with that money.  Probably a lot.

I slept like the dead and in the morning the wall opened back up for a succession of expert armed people and magic types to transport me from the cell to a fortified courtyard outside were a coach was waiting – these people really aren’t messing around.  You’re not going to escape from here without a goodly amount of effort.  I recognized the coach instantly – it wasn’t the exact same one but it was clearly of similar make, looks like my old friends at Lodestone Security are going to be conveying me to my show trial.  There was a whole lot of paperwork and general standing around where nothing seemed to be happening for the transfer of one solitary woman so it gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the tricky fellows from Lodestone.  There were five men standing around not in guard uniforms so I took them for the Lodestone crew – I didn’t recognize any of them but I only got a good look at two of them in our first encounter.  The two that kicked dirt in my face and called me a whore.  I chose a strapping blonde fellow with a tiny triangle of a beard who I think was the driver.

“Lodestone Security eh?”

He nodded shortly “Yes ma’am, how did you know?”

“I had some dealings with your outfit in Charterton, I recognize the modifications to your rig here.”

“You have a very good eye ma’am, we pride ourselves on being able to pass.”

“I assure you that it’s only because I know what to look for based on prior experience.  Everything went swimmingly with you chaps before, it’s quite an operation you run.  I’m glad to have you lads on my side.”

He raised an eyebrow marginally “Is that so?”

I smiled warmly “Oh yes.” I leaned in a whispered slightly “I’m not actually a prisoner, this is all a ruse you see.  I’m actually helping negotiate with the Consortium, I’m an envoy you see.  My employers figured this would be the safest way of getting me around – what with those Black Widow people causing mischief.”

He smiled faintly “Seems to be that if you were on a secret mission like that you wouldn’t mention it.”

I laughed prettily “Just so my boy, just so, however knowing Lodestone the way I do I know that I can trust you with my little secret.” I touched his hand and dropped him a sassy wink “You know how to keep a secret right?”

His smile got imperceptible wider, it wasn’t much but it’s a start – establishing rapport isn’t always as easy as I make it seem you know.  While we were waiting for whatever we were waiting for I was able to establish that Lodestone is based out of Cathars and have four such elaborate carriages in their “fleet” with two more under construction.  They’ve got a rota of close to a hundred “transportation specialists” working on various jobs at any given time.  Sounds like business is booming for them.  Also sounds like a much bigger operation that I had thought – taking them down is going to be more involved than blowing up a single coach and murdering a couple people.  But as some war criminal said, our enemies make us who we are more than anyone else in our lives.  I suppose that’s why I’m so great – I have the most deadly enemies. 

Eventually it was time to go after a lot of grandiloquent talk between the guards and the Lodestone people with “thees” and “thous” making it clear that the legal bailment had been created or discharged or whatever.  One of the other Lodestoners came towards me with shackles and I gave the maybe driver my most harmless and frightened look, with just a hint of “hey sailor” and asked if that was absolutely necessary.  He was unmoved.

“Sorry ma’am, its policy.”

He didn’t seem sorry in the least.  What a cad.  When they put the shackles on me I quickly discovered that it was worse than I thought.  The moment they turned the key on the central lock I felt a cold alien presence in my mind.  It was like a tiny little worm crawling up my back just out of reach, a worm of ice and anxiety.  I don’t mean to brag, but after the many mental assaults I’ve weathered over the past year and a half I’ve gotten pretty damn good at fighting them off.  There’s a trick to it but it’s hard to explain – it’s one of those things you have to learn for yourself.  You can tell someone how to swim – but it doesn’t mean much until they get in the water.  Kick your legs and move your arms?  That’s how you swim, that’s also how you flail around when you drown.  There’s no substitute for experience.  But despite that whatever these shackles were doing was something that you couldn’t fight off.  The force was weak, or at least it seemed so at first, but it was constant – kind of like being pressed, the pressure never lets up. 

I would equate it to a trial amongst certain Kostelos tribes.  Being the primitive savages that they are, sometimes to settle a dispute where they have a “trial” where the differing parties each hold out a basket full of rocks at arm’s length.  It only weighs ten pounds or so, but you can’t hold it forever even if it seems easy at first.  You have a limited amount of strength, gravity does not.  The magic of the shackles was like that – at first it was easy to shunt it to the side with sheer willpower.  But as the minutes and then hours went by its like holding up that basket – your arms start to shake.  You get worn down, the attack stays the same as you get weaker.  Then you start resorting to tricks – talking to yourself, breathing techniques, summoning up strong memories to help you focus – but eventually that runs out as well.  Your defiant thoughts grow silent and the tendrils of the enchantment start creeping in.

At first there was confusion, my vision seemed to swim, and then everything “clicked” into place.  I didn’t want to escape.  Why would I?  Escape would be improper.  I wanted to do whatever my captors told me to do, they knew what was right and safe for me.  And there was fear, fear that not doing what they told me was wrong.  Fear that thoughts of escape were unnatural.  You can say what you want about the things I’ve done (and will continue to do) that you think evil, but this to me is what evil really is.  In my book there’s no greater violation than bending someone’s thoughts to your will.  And you might be thinking “but you hang out with someone who does it” and I say to you – well it’s different when it happens to someone else.  They deserve it.  Probably.  Because they’re bad people.  Most likely. 

In this compliant mind-destroying haze I was loaded into the coach and happily went along my way to my doom in Three Rivers.  You’d think the bastards that made this would at least make the effect be pleasant, like being high on qat or some similar substance letting the day just drift by in an agreeable fog, but it was nothing like that.  It was more like an out of body experience – you see yourself sitting there smiling and doing nothing while “you” are screaming for yourself to move.  Honestly it’s one of the cruelest things that’s been done to me.  I’m going to find whoever made these things and I am going to do something to them.  Something bad.  Real bad. 

But wait, because the day managed to get even worse!  If there’s one thing I know it’s that things can always get worse.  At some point the door to the carriage opened and one of the Lodestoners poked their head in to tell me to go to sleep.  And I did so, sighing contentedly to be following orders.  It seemed like I had barely gotten to sleep when the dream attack began.  I was laying naked on a stone slab surrounded by grey-skinned women that had a second gaping tooth maw on their throat.  It looked they were walking around with slit throats until those horrible mouths opened.  One hand looked normal and the second hand appeared to be a legless spider – with two large vicious curved fangs functioning as “fingers”.  Their upper human mouths didn’t move but a bizarre chirping and clicking emitted from their lower slash-mouth filled with shark-like teeth.  For a moment they just stood looming over my but soon enough they started using their spider-hands to pinch and stab at my most sensitive areas.

I don’t know how this dream shit all works or what it means – I’ve told you before that when these attacks happen that it feels real.  I don’t know if it is real somehow or if your mind experiences it as if it’s real but nothing can actually happen to you or what, but the pain I felt that night was very convincing.  I screamed and thrashed and kicked at the vile women but they clamped down on me with merciless strength and held me still on the hard stone.  I heard a commanding voice tell them to stop.

“That’s enough for the moment ladies.”

I craned my neck and was able to see my visitor – the imperious looking woman with the ivory skin and the bright silver eyes.  For once she wasn’t reclining and smoking and luxuriating, she looked angry.  And I could feel her anger like a low note in the pit of my stomach.  Somehow beholding her angry look was worse than the vile creatures attacking me at her command.

She pursed her perfect lips “You’ve been hiding from me, that doesn’t make me happy.  I wanted us to be friends.”

“I wasn’t hiding from you Your Imperial Majesty, there’s a creature that haunts my dreams and wishes me ill – she’s the one that I was hiding from.”

“I’m aware of that creature, I told you that her power was nothing compared to mine – I could crush her with a thought.  Why didn’t you ask for my help?  Why did you hide?”

“I was confused, dreams are bewildering to me, I have a hard time understanding what’s real and what isn’t.  My mind isn’t strong like yours.  But I understand now, I want us to be friends.  I want your help.”

“Yes well, given the circumstances that doesn’t mean much now does it?  You’re like a thief that is repentant after they get caught.  You’re lucky that I am merciful and we can still be friends.”

“Yes very lucky Your Imperial Majesty.  Could you see it in your heart to have your servants release me so we can talk?”

She continue as if she hadn’t heard me “You must be punished however for hiding from me, for refusing me, it’s only fair – if the thief’s hand is not cut off what is their motivation to learn?  What would make you remember this lesson best?  Taking your youth?  Your beauty?  Your voice?”

“If I may be so bold Your Imperial Majesty, rather than just punish me why not also reward yourself?  As I understand it you’ve long been denied the pleasures of the flesh, why not take my body for your own?  To feel the air on your skin, to taste real food, to live again – that must be something that you would enjoy.  In the meantime you can leave me here in whatever format you choose to reflect upon my failures and how I can better serve you going forward.”

“An interesting proposition.  You were vehemently opposed to this transference before, one must wonder what has changed.”

“I’ve realized the errors of my way Mistress, I wish only to serve you now, if inhibiting my imperfect vessel for a few hours will please you that is what you should have.”

“So it shall be.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

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, maker of the manacles

Mantelderith 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Despite my words to Martialla I did try sleeping without my defensive dream-cancelling jewelry last night to see what would happen.  I figured that if things got bad enough I could just wake up and put it back on – that’s how sleep and dreams work right?  These are the results from that experiment.  I experienced (hey, that’s where the word experiment must come from!) the usual nightmares I have when not warded against dream penetration.  In the dream I remember best I was approached by a sweet little girl who was looking for her mommy and when I took her hand to help her she transformed in the most horrifying way possible into a gigantic grotesquely fat bulbous flesh mound with more than twenty arms dragging it along and eight eyes without lids on the bottom – so they’re getting scraped over the ground like you do with eyeballs.  If you were so inclined you could that that it looked like what result would be if an angler fish and a jellyfish made sweet love and then had a baby (a jellyangler if you will) that they then threw acid on for some reason.  We won’t go into what it did to me.   

But everyone else had nightmares too – so I think we can dismiss the idea that what was happening was the bad dream death rays bouncing off me and splitting like light in a prism to infect everyone else.  So what’s the next hypothesis?  Fuck if I know.  Nothing good I’m sure.  Although that would be quite the twist if horrible night terrors were a portent of something great on the horizon.  Makes about as much sense as anything – which is to say none.  None sense.  Or Nonsense if you will.  The good news is that Melusine is still alive.  That’s really more like neutral news (or newstral if you will) but if you really like weird fey fish girls it’s good news to you.  My first evidence that something was wrong is when I went to drink from my Flask this morning and out dropped a thing that looked kind of kind of like a the top half of a seal smash to the bottom of a carp.  Other people claimed that to them it looked like a monkey and a carp but they’re crazy – it was more human looking up top than a seal normally is (unless you count seawolves weirdly) but if that’s what people think a monkey looks like then I’m the Queen of the moon.  It came spilling out with a bunch of water (not wine) and was about two feet long.  It wiped at its little ugly face with a webbed claw and looked up at me.

“Hello.”

“Uh, hi.  What are you doing in my magic Flask of limitless booze?”

“Is that what that was?” It perched up on its flippers/monkey arms and looked around “Where am I now?”

“Uh . . . . on the road to Cathars.”

“I have no idea what that means.  There’s now water around here so I hate it.  Send me back.”

I pointed the Flask at him but nothing happened “I guess I don’t know how.”

It bared grotesque little fangs “Send me back or I’ll bite you!”

“I’m not too worried about that, I think I could just stomp on you.”

It looked at me and screwed up its disgusting face in disgust “What are those?  Legs?  Gross, you’re gross.  What kind of beast are you?”

Before things could escalate further (I totally would have won, I have yet to meet the monkey-seal-carp that I can’t best in a fair fight) Melusine herself slorped out of the Flask and glomped into the dirt like a sack of afterbirth.  She grabbed the wriggling little beast with her frog web hand tossed him back into the Flask my some means unknown.  Possibly magic. 

“I thought you were dead.”

She bobbed her fishy head in a weird way that I assume is the equivalent of shaking side to side for a person “No, just exploring, that place you put me is great, it goes on forever.  I was able to find my way back to my pond.”

“How?  It’s just a flask that makes booze.  Although I guess an infinite amount of booze is pretty crazy magical when you think about it.”

“It’s not infinite, whoever told you that is lying – if you left it on all the time it would run out after a couple thousand generations.”

“What a rip off.”

“I just came to say bye and to tell you thanks.”

“And bestow a magical gift upon me?”

She looked at me for a moment “Um . . . nah.”

“I guess a good deed is its own reward.”

“No, it’s not really, but whatever helps you sleep at night.  Anyway, have a good life and death while I continue existing immortally forever.”

“You don’t have to rub it in.”

As she disappeared into the Flask I could hear her voice becoming very remote and hard to hear “Sorry the thing isn’t going to work anymore.”

“What what?!”

I tried the Flask, but she was right, it doesn’t make (effectively) unlimited amounts of rice wine anymore.  Or small amounts of magical potions.  Or even water.  It doesn’t do anything.  Well, I guess it holds liquids like any flask but it’s no longer magic.  This is some supreme bullshit right here.  I loved that Flask.  For sure more than anything I’ve ever had or any person I’ve met.  It was the best thing I ever got.  I’d rather all the nixies in the world died than for me to lose it.  All the other fey creatures too.  I don’t know why elfs and forest gnomes think they’re so cool.  Most of them are pretty fucked up and the one’s that aren’t are super annoying.  As we traveled today I was reduced to making the rounds amongst the caravaneers to rustle up some low qualities booze.  When I got back to the cart Martialla and I have been perching on like stately gargoyles I was pretty mad – when I saw that she had scrounged up a bottle of coconut honey elf wine I was madder than I’ve ever been.

“How did you get that?!”

Martialla grinned as she climbed onto our box pile “People like me better than you.”

“Improbable!”

“Yet true.  Don’t worry, I’ll share.” 

“How could this happen, I’m both more charming and more attractive than you.”

“Again true, but even when you’re trying to be down-home country-spun there’s still a bit of an upstairs downstairs sentiment about you, something with the eyes – people find that off-putting.  It’s like you think you’re better than them.”

“I am!  But I’m good at hiding it.  Very good.”

“Clearly not as good as you think you are.  Tell me something Ela, how would you describe yourself?”

“Shapely, with a saucy hint of deviltry lurking in the sparking eyes.  Add in an impertinent cast of the luscious lips and you’re really got something to write home about.”

She snorted “Shapely?  What shape is that, a skeleton?  Men like a little something they can grab onto you know – women maybe too, it’s harder for me to say what they like.  You’re like a scarecrow without enough straw in it.”

“What?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

She shook her head “No, you’re all out of proportion.  Spindly, that’s what you are.”

“Spindly!?!?! The last person who said something like that to me got stabbed to death!”

She glanced around “Say it a little louder will you?  I don’t think everyone in the caravan heard.”

“Who are you to talk anyway?!”

“Hey, I know I’m not winning any beauty prizes unless all the judges like broad shoulders and a strong chin.  Look, don’t get me wrong, you’re obviously pretty in the face, I’m just saying you could use some more meat on those bones.”

I snorted “I’ll take that under advisement.”

She peered at me closely “I don’t think you will.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: 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, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

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

Mantelderith 24 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

When I got up this morning I checked my Flask to see how the nixie (and the Flask) was doing but there was no response from her.  I dumped out a gallon of rice wine to see if she would appear, but there was nothing.  So I guess she’s dead or gone or something.  Apparently putting magic being into a magic bottomless flask of wine was not the best idea.   I’ll shoulder most of the blame on this one.  But look on the bright side, if I hadn’t come along she would have died several days ago – when you’re facing your last moments you want every second you know?  So I did a good thing. 

Today our caravan ran smack into another caravan – one of those Shireling ones you always hear about.  Although I guess if they travel around all the time they’re not from the Eight Shires and aren’t really Shirelings.  You know what I mean, they were little people.  But you know not like humans who are short, I mean they to look mostly like very short humans, but you know what I mean.  I was told one time that the reason that the Eight Shires is such a nice place is that every so often they take a whole family (and Shireling families are big) and kick them out so that they can avoid over population.  Of those not-quite-exiles some of them come into human lands to settle and mostly get treated like crap.  Others decided instead to wander eternally in nomadic caravans like this one.  It seems like an easy choice but you have to factor in how many of these caravans you don’t see because they’ve been swallowed by trolls.

Arbeven must be on a secret Halfling migratory pattern since this is the second time I’ve seen one in this area, but it was definitely not the same one.  The one that I sold a ring to lo those many months ago was a relatively small affair populated with lean hardnosed smallfolk that you kept your eye on.  This had more of a small village on wheels vibe.  Most of the wagons were pulled by robust Shire ponies but the lead wagon was instead being dragged forward by two animals that looked like hornless rhinos – not like their horns were cut off, just that they didn’t have them.  They kind of had beaky mouths too – not like bird beaks but like a turtle you know?  I never before saw whatever they were.  How do you find and tame something like that?  That wagon the not-rhinos was pulling was massive as far as wagons go, not as massive as that ridiculous merchant “land-ship” that I was once, but it looked like a Halfling hole had been dragged out of the ground and mounted on a frame. 

The Hücresel Merchant Company (all both of them) were more than happy to stop and swap at this serendipitous meeting.  It was a long enough delay for Halfling children to turn out by the wagonload running about and riding on their burly hound and playing some manner of stick-game similar to lacrosse only it seemed that you could just throw the ball as well.   Looked very much like the kind of thing that would result in human children losing an eye or two but they seemed pretty adept.  The master of the caravan, Mr. Big Jobo Hairyfoot (if I have one complaint about the Shirefolk it’s their heavy dependence on foot or feet in their surnames) was more than happy to show me to their heavily guarded (relatively speaking) premium goods. 

Jobo, who true to his name was well over four feet tall, showed me a few trinkets and charms that I had little interest in but then he showed me a long duster style overcoat that was a real find.  It was a double-breasted number with wide lapels (but not too wide) and both a storm flap and buckling straps around the wrists.  This is important to keep water from running down your forearm when you raise your arm in the rain – I HATE that.  If you’re going to make a waterproof coat you better have it seal up so water doesn’t get INSIDE of it Gods damn it!  The lining was fine piece of seamstressing and it fit me like a dream – coming down to just above the ankle, which is long enough to keep you dry but not so long that you’re getting tangled up.  I have a hard time finding lady’s coats like this that reach beyond the knee on account of I’m so tall and magnificent.  Sometimes I have to resort to a man’s coat which swallows me up like a troll eating a Halfling, but this was clearly made for a fine lady such as myself.  The horn buttons were just the icing on the cake.  It cost a fortune because it is all kinds of magic, but it was worthy it just for the style alone.  I look great in this thing.

Speaking of cake and icing, the best thing about doing business with a Halfling caravan is they invite you to lunch.  And they know how to eat well on the hoof, so to speak.  Instead of the beans and refried mush I’ve been treated to by the “cook” Hücresel Merchant Company (who’s a nice enough fellow despite being terrible at his job) Jobo invited me to his table to enjoy stuffed pork loin, poached guinea fowl, oysters and liver, wild truffle and bleu cheese salad, and a fluffy buttercream cake that had such a preponderance of icing that it made your teeth hurt just looking at it.  I have as much of a sweet tooth as the next gal, but it was a bit much for me.  I was able to manage with just some chocolate pudding pie and strawberry mousse.  It wasn’t easy but that’s why I’m renowned as being so heroic – I manage under such challenging conditions.

Once business (and lunch) was concluded the Halflings were packed up and back on the road with marvelous alacrity.  The children and dogs disappeared back into the wagons with admirable discipline and the whole caravan was underway within a matter of minutes.  I noticed then that a couple of the out-riders (or whatever you call them when they’re on foot and not riding) were humans.  I certainly didn’t notice them when it was time for happy faces and the brisk back and forth of trading.  They must be the real heavies with sordid pasts who wander the land with these folk to avoid their troubles.  There should be a series of books about that, its fertile ground for melodrama.  It took quite a bit longer for the Hücresel Merchant Company to get going even though they had a third as many wagons and one tenth as many people (although they were bigger of course).  Although I will say in their defense that everyone was stuffed to the gills with rich Halfling cuisine so they were a little sluggish.  Once again Martialla and I were perched on our boxes watching as the teamsters and drovers struggled to get things moving.

“All I’m saying is that they mostly sell to humans right?  You’d think they’d have one crossbow the right size for me.”

“I find it odd that they had crossbows at all, I’ve never known a Shireling to use one, their big thing seems to be slings.”

“Slings?  Who can you hurt with a sling?  No wonder the trolls get them all the time.”

“Have you ever been hit with a sling?”

“Of course not.”

“Well I have and it hurts.”

“But you’re still alive huh?  Ergo my point is proven.”

“You’ve been shot with a crossbow a bunch of times and you’re still alive.”

“I’ve been shot buy ever Gods damned thing under the sun it seems like.  And I am still alive but that’s not a commentary on the effectiveness of the weapons that’s a testament to my legendary fortitude.”

“I thought that was about how much you could drink and not get drunk.”

“That too.  My point is that I’m tougher than . . . something that is very tough.”

“Good one.  Tell you what, I’ll get a sling and you let me nail you between the eyes and then you tell me how you feel.”

“Do you think you could make that shot?  Slings don’t seem like very accurate weapons to me and I’m guessing you’ve never used one – I doubt you could hit me in the head at all, let alone between the eyes.  I would bet heavily against that happening.”

“I might take that bet.  How have you dreams been lately.”

I patted my Necklace fondly “Just fine since I got this baby back.”

“How do you tell the difference between a normal nightmare and when you’re being dream attacked by a hag?”

“I’d say the easiest thing to identify is that you wake up feeling like you got tramped by an angry mob and instead of feeling rested you feel even more tired – and like you might die at any moment from sheer exhaustion.  Beyond that the dreams themselves are remarkably vivid and awful.  There’s really no mistaking them for the real thing.”

“Hmm, I’m starting to wonder if some of the dream horror coming your way is being deflected onto people around you.  I’ve had some pretty bad dreams the last few nights and I’ve heard other people complaining about the same.”

“That’s a shame.”

“That’s all you got?”

I shrugged “What else do you want from me?  I’m no dreamweaver.  There’s probably a god of dreams right?  Find one of his or her priests and maybe they can help.”

“How about you just take the necklace off tonight?”

“Why on earth would I do that?”

“If you sleep without it and no one else has nightmares tonight then we’ll know that’s what’s happening.”

“And then what?  What good does that information do?”

“Well, if the hag nightmare attacks are ricocheting off your shield onto everyone else don’t you want to do something about it?”

“Something like that?  What can I do?  I did my part, I protected myself, am I responsible for everyone else’s dreams now?”

“Maybe you could force the nightmare hag into some kind of final confrontation in the dreamworld and defeat her.”

“How?  She’s the one with dream powers, I can’t do anything.  That makes no sense, why would you want to confront a monster on their home grounds?  If anything what we’d want to do is to confront them in the real world were presumably they have no power.  Or at least less power.  How am I supposed to defeat something in a dream?”

“With the power of imagination?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“I’ll think about it, maybe there’s something we can do.  I think there are some drugs you can take that are supposed to help you with lucid dreaming.”

“I know dreamer’s star tea is supposed to give you pleasant dreams but I’ve never heard of it letting you control your dreams.” 

“I was thinking of Gold pesh maybe or one of those other kinds.”

“Isn’t pesh terribly addictive and horrible for you?”

“What do you care, you smoke flayleaf all the time!”

“Not ALL the time, only when it’s available, it’s not like I seek it out.  Most of the time I don’t I mean.  And flayleaf is barely even bad for you, the Duke’s physician told me so once.  It’s basically like medicine really.  Calms the nerves.”

“So that’s why you’re so leveled headed.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 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, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat

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 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Martialla has really gone off the deep end.  I know that she’s worried about me outsmarting her and escaping but she’s giving me too much credit.  I generally only have two workable strategies – taking someone by surprise or charming them, neither of which is viable against her in my current predicament.  She already took all my stuff, and although I hate to say it I am reliant on my stuff, without it I’m not all that effective so that’s kind of the endgame right there.  It stings to admit that but it doesn’t make it any less true.  The point is that her paranoia about the sudden appearance of my distant relatives is wildly illogical, and as you all know I told her as much.  There wasn’t much else that I could do so as she was glaring at the three of them and they were fearfully eyeballing her back I slid off the kitchen table where I had been so rudely deposited and crossed the room where I laid down on the murderer’s bed.  Proving my point Martialla’s eyes were full of panic as if this was some master stroke of genius.

“What are you doing?!”

I pulled the murderer’s pillow to my head and rolled onto my side “Seems like you two are going to be staring daggers at each other for a while so I’m taking advantage of the bed while I have access to it.  Wake me up when you figure out what you’re going to do.”

The unfortunate thing is without my amulet I’m haunted by hag-fired nightmares every night.  This means that no matter how tired I am, and trust me I’m plenty tired, there always a sense of dread when I have a chance to catch some sleep because I know what’s coming.  It’s like if every time you sat down to eat someone unavoidable and unerringly kicked you in the ribs on both sides and then in the kneecaps.  You’ve got to eat right?  So there’s nothing for it, other than to cultivate a sense of trepidation about a basic human thing that you need to do live and was once something that you found joy in.  They say that you can’t die because of what happens in a dream, which is probably not true because I’m sure there’s some magic dream-killing spell because magic ruins everything, but I’m certain that a long enough period of time without restful sleep will kill you.  If only because you might nod off and fall and crack your skull.  Isn’t it stupid to think that just falling down can kill you?  The human body is a crappy design and I’ll tell the Gods that myself if you want.

This batch of nightmares started off a little different, usually they’re the “archetypal” stuff of being chased and attacked and maimed and mutilated, but last night things took a more cerebral path.  Makes you wonder how these dream attacks work – does the nightmare hag actually craft these narratives herself or does she just send the magic out and the magic somehow “knows” what’s scary and does the work itself?  Once again magic questions for which there appear to be no answers.  In the dream I was put in charge of distributing food throughout a massive city – not real city that I could tell, just a dream construct of a bunch of cities I’ve been to or read about or imagined.  The person that ran the place before me had detailed records of all the food coming in and out and all the people they had saved.  Of course, this was all bullshit and they hadn’t done any of it, but I knew that if I said anything about it I would be executed by the King, he was still alive in the dream you see.  And not just me but all the staff of the place would be killed as well.  And of course said staff was populated by various people with sad backstories and children that counted on them and so forth that needed me to protect them. 

So in the dream I continued the lie and did everything I could to buy and steal food to fill their quota so that at least more people would be getting fed than before. The King’s minions were so delighted by all the people that were seen in the streets hale and healthy (not really but they weren’t dead) that I was praised and hailed as a miracle worker and I was given a medal and everyone was kissing my ass and I was known as an angel who’s feeding the masses.  So of course the quota was increased and the lies had to become bigger and we had to buy and steal more from elsewhere, and the staff under me became bitter and jaded and evil since they spent most of their time taking food from people that needed it to give some of that food to other people that needed but mostly to avoid being hung.  This led to more accolades which led to more demands which resulted in more lies and more theft and eventually outright violence, and of course in the end cannibalism – killing the poor and feeding them secretly to other poor people.  This cycle repeated until eventually the whole scam became too big to conceal on account of the streets were full of people dead from starvation who rose up as undead famine monsters to hunt the living.

At that point things returned to normal, “just” the humdrum horror of being ripped apart and eaten alive by unliving beasts from beyond the grave.  But then things took another turn that was even more unexpected.  While I was in the middle of being held down and devoured by ghouls suddenly everything stopped and then the nightmare city and its carnivorous inhabitants disappeared.  In its place was a parlor/salon/decadent room of decadence.  The air was sweet, literally with lemon oil, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot and figuratively with soft melodies being played from behind silken screens so you didn’t have to look at the musicians and ruin the effect.  In the middle of the room a marble fountain of unspeakably suggestive statues bubbled with cool water underneath a delicate wooden lattice.  An imperious looking woman with skin as pale as ivory and eyes the color of bright silver sat on a luxurious chair smoking something that gave off a fruity narcotic scent while being fanned by eunuchs.  How do I know these were eunuchs?  Trust me, I know the eunuchs when I see them.

I sighed and reclined on one of the many overstuffed couches scattered about “I assume this is just the part of the nightmare where you make things seem normal and nice before the monster jumps out and bites my head off.” I plucked a plum from a nearby bowl “But I’ll take it.”

The woman’s voice was silky and seductive “You will have no more nightmares tonight, I’ve blocked the creature that was attacking you.”

“I’m sure.  I don’t mean to criticize but this plum is just very delicious.  If you’re going to go through the trouble of making a dream plum why not make is the greatest plum in the universe?  That way when the plum turns into a cricket in my mouth it will be even more revolting.”

“I told you there will be no more of that, you’re safe here with me.”

I lay back further on the coach “Yeah, yeah, thanks.  Is it possible to fall asleep in a dream?  I feel like I’m about to do that.”

A tiny bit of irritation crept into her smooth voice “I’m doing you a favor by preventing your nightmares, as a courtesy you should listen to my proposal.”

“I can listen with my eyes closed, go ahead.”

“Five hundred and seventy years ago by the way that your people reckon time I ruled over this land as Empress, at my wish simple peasants could rise to riches and power, businesses could thrive or crumble, and people would live or die – all as I desired.  But that all came to an end when . . .”

She went on for quite a while about Gods and curses and disasters and death and spirits and stuff like that.  I think I really did fall asleep which doesn’t even make sense, how can you fall asleep inside a dream?  And can the dream that you’re dream have its on dream inside that dream?  Asleep inside a dream or not I wasn’t really paying attention, I think she wanted me to find her tomb or her bones or something.  She probably wants me to bring her back to life like I did with Harda.  Now that the word is out about that all kinds of dead people are probably going to turn up at my door like beggars wanting me to do the same for them.  No good deed right?  All I know is that when I woke up it was the next day after dawn – I must have slept for more than fifteen hours.  And I felt fantastic, I felt refreshed, the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.  I saw Jesslin and her brothers sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, Martialla was nowhere to be seen. 

I stretched and made a wordless noise of satisfaction “Did you guys actually do it?  Did you off Martialla to rescue me?  I can’t remember the last time she wasn’t hovering over me ready to impale me.”

Lady lips looked over at me “She’s outside.  We told her we’d keep an eye on you.”

I chuckled “And she went for that?  Great.” I threw me legs over the side of the bed and clapped my hands together “Let’s get moving then before she gets back.”

Jesslin shook her head “We’re going to help you get to Juost Manor.”

“Why would you do that?  Isn’t blood thicker than water?”

“You said yesterday that you weren’t trying to evade your responsibilities anymore, that you wanted to go.  After you fell asleep we talked with Martialla and we agreed to help you get to Baron Juost, once you’re there we’ll speak on your behalf.  When you were made his ward you didn’t know about us – maybe we can convince him that you’d be better off with family.”

“Well how kind of you, and what, in return Martialla said that the Baron would help you with their inheritance problem?”

Baldy grinned but Jesslin scowled at him before he could say anything “We’re just trying to work things out what’s best for everyone like you said we should.”

I walked over and sat down at the table, clapping Lips on the back and “accidentally” whacking him with the chains of my manacles “Well done, welcome aboard and all that, nice to have family around, etcetera.  What’s this we have here for breakfast?  Looks like a bowl of weeds, where’s the meat?”

Martialla strode in looking quite refreshed herself, she clearly had bathed and prettied herself up some “We weren’t sure about the meat, we figured it was best to avoid it.”

“Gone bad huh?”

“Or was bad to begin with.”

Jesslin responded to my questioning look “We weren’t sure about it’s . . . origin.” She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“What?  You think it came from the people he killed?  So what?  I don’t care, where is it?  I’ll fry some up for myself.”

All four of them gasped, Martialla even stopped in her tracks, almost dropping her rucksack.

I snorted “Oh, don’t give me that, they’re already dead.  No reason to let food go to waste.”

Martialla looked ashen, after all we’ve seen and done somehow this was too much for her “You cannot be serious.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is, I’ve never understood why people are so squeamish about this topic.  Killing people is wrong, usually anyway, but once they’re dead why not eat them?  It’s just flesh, what’s the difference.”

Baldy was outraged “The difference is it’s a person!”

“It was a person, once they the spirit has fled the body is just garbage.  What do you think happens to people once they’re buried?  Why is being eaten by worms and beetle grubs better than providing nourishment to your friends and loved ones?”

Martialla was shaking her head “You are fucking vile.”

“Don’t judge me you prudes, you’re the ones who have hang ups not me.  We eat animals all the time, and as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise we’re no better than any other filthy animal.  I’ve definitely met people stupider than some chickens.  Plus you don’t even know that it is human meat, it’s probably just deer jerky or something like that.  And if you don’t know who cares?”

Jesslin looked over at her brothers “I told you there was something wrong with that side of family.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 974,051

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