Montagem 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Last night the taciturn old man (why is it that old men only come in two models – bigmouth and laconic?  Is there something about speaking a normal volume that isn’t conducive to longevity?) lead us deeper into the woods where his living cabin was – on account of we had blown up his distilling cabin (for which I reimbursed him handsomely so get off my back).  There were ten of us packed into a one room shanty that was, estimating generously, possibly sixty square feet.  After a couple hours I gave up trying to sleep in that dogpile and went outside to smoke the old man’s leaf and drink while simultaneously feeding a variety of blood sucking insects and reflecting on the bright vista of my life.  Being a hero sucks.  The pay is lousy and the people you have to deal with are a total snoozefest.  I’m not sure when or how I started feeling compelled to go out of my way to help everyone but it’s really inconvenient.  I need to do some seriously soul searching and remember how to be selfish.

About an hour before sunrise I saw a unicorn.  I’m sure you don’t believe that because I was there and I hardly believe it.  Had you asked me before I would have said that unicorns are no big deal – it’s just a horse with a horn on its head, which is kind of stupid when you think about it.  But once you’ve seen a unicorm for yourself you can’t think that anymore.  It’s not just a horse with a horn on its head, it’s something magical.  And I know what sounds weird because I see magical shit all the time, but I mean magical in the sense of like wonderful.  It had an aura of dignity and hope about it about it that was only slightly marred by the fact that it was splattered with blood and had one of those hideous goblin dogs impaled on its horn.  I had a fantasy about pulling the dead monster dog off its horn and petting it tenderly (the unicorn not the dead dog) as it bestowed it’s blessing of grace and courage upon me, but it dashed off before I could even move. 

There’s a lot of tales about unicorns, one is that they only appear to virgins – so obviously that one is not true am I right people?  Another is that unicorns are a manifestation of Adariel’s joy and compassion, which ordinarily I wouldn’t put much stock in BUT I just smashed up a heretical Adarielite cult and then I see a unicorn?  I mean maybe.  On the other hand it doesn’t make a ton of sense to send a manifestation of joy and compassion to appear commemorating a victorious slaughter of heretics but maybe Adariel doesn’t have any warlike manifestations, being a God of niceness and harmony and clean clothes and fresh baked bread.  Although she’s supposed to be a protector so shouldn’t she have some murder angels on staff?  Then again shepherds protect sheep and they’re all pansies.  Next time I meet a religious scholar I’ll have to ask.

Ronom (Tamarin’s mother) wasn’t excited about being stuck with the five other girls we rescued but since we saved her daughter from a grim fate it was the least she could do.  She told us that the founders of the Sacred Order of Hardra had stuck their beloved living saint in in Brorrstone Asylum which is north along the river.  I guess they like to be near the water so they can dunk the crazies when they get out of line – near drowning is a pretty widely accepted cure for all kinds of mental disorders I’m given to understand.  Before we left in the morning the girls all came to thank us and try and hug us and all tiresome stuff – I mean get over it, we rescued you from a crazy cult but that was yesterday.  One of them said she wanted to be just like me.  Good fucking luck with that. 

“Before we go Ronom what’s the big secret about Hardra?  You said she had some kind of problem that ultimately made them toss her in the nuthouse.”

“Her behavior was erratic after she came back from the dead.  She was highly . . . . sexual.”

A couple of the girls tittered at this remark “That’s it?  She was like that before.”

“I don’t know about that, but as I heard it didn’t seem like she could control her . . . urges .  There were some . . . incidents.”

“Well that’s nice and vague.  Good luck, safe travels, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to try and find me.”

Martialla and I set out heading north through the woods we thought, but when we reached the river it became clear that we were heading more eastward – although his turned out to be a good thing since as we traveled along the river we saw some of the fake Adarielists lying in wait where we would have been had we went the way we meant to go.  I wonder how often that happens.  It’s got to be hard to ambush someone who gets lost all the time – I should probably claim that I do it on purpose.  There wasn’t much in the way of traffic on the river – probably because Renwick is mostly ruined (I think this river goes to Renwick).  We saw a couple boats heading south which does us no good and the single small craft we saw going north merely responded to our hails by waving  at us like idiots and continuing on their way. 

With nothing else to do we walked.  I estimate that since my exile from Paladore I’ve probably walked more than three thousand miles (I don’t claim it’s a good estimate mind you).  I don’t even really understand what that means.  How wide is the Kingdom?  How tall is it?  How big is the continent or the world?  It’s not a scale you think about.  How far away is the moon?  Have I walked to the moon?  And almost all of those three thousand miles have been in the same Gods forsaken rural county.  I should be the foremost expert in Cymrile County geography by now given the amount of miles that I’ve traveled but I don’t think I’ve seen even most of it.  All that walking and where has it gotten me? 

If there’s one good thing about walking (which there isn’t) it’s that it gives you time to think.  One thing that came to mind was the first time I really got hurt.  And I mean really got hurt.  It was in Heathgrove (or was it Malgareth?  Whichever one is a shithole, well, MORE of a shithole) when that Hurk woman beat the Hells out of me – you remember, while by BODYGUARDS stood there and did nothing.  Prior to that, in my old life I had fallen off a horse a couple times, which was as much as I had ever been injured.  And after my exile but before Heathgrove I had gotten knocked around a bit, been injured in combat, but it was all relatively minor.  That was the first time in my life that I had experienced true hope to die stick a needle in your eye pain.  My face felt like it was so swollen it was going to fall off my head.  My ribs ached like some demonic maid had cinched me into a spiked corset – each breath was an adventure in torture.  But my hip was the worst of all.  I still don’t think it’s healed properly even with all the magic “care” that’s been magicked into me.  I mean how does magic healing even work?  Does it move bones back into place?  No one knows.

There are things that by necessity change your perspective.  Waking up in a dirty alley as homeless woman with no job skills when the day before you were the kept woman of one of the ten most powerful men in the Kingdom is one of those experiences.  But even more profound for me was that experience in Heathgrove.  I remember lying in that crappy bed in that filthy house sweating through the mattress and internally screaming – how I didn’t get addicted to Heathensnuff or opium at that point I don’t know.  And I remember thinking to myself “I will never give up”.  I thought to myself if this is the worst the world can throw at me there’s nothing that’s going to stop me – aside from death of course.  I’m not saying that’s the best shot that could be thrown at me, I know it can be worse, but it was a good shot and I took it. 

Think about how many people want to be fighters and bad men and tough bastards and they train and do whatever and the first time they get fucked up, assuming they survive, they throw down their weapons and change their minds.  They didn’t want to be rough and tough warriors after all.  They just want to be the same as everyone else, living a boring stupid life that no one even cares about.  They want a job they hate and a wife they resent and some kids they neglect and they never want anyone to hurt them again.  And there’s no reason they shouldn’t want that, it’s a very reasonable reaction, some would say it’s the only logical reaction.

I just know that lying in that bed out of my mind with pain I never once thought about quitting – and I knew then that I never would.  In a way I almost felt sorry for the old Duke – because he was done for the moment he threw me out of his court.  At that moment I realized that his downfall was inevitable.  I am inevitable. 

We followed the river until it was starting to get dark, at which point Martialla looked at me expectedly.

“What?”

She gestured “What do you mean what?  Make with the magic pavilion.”

“What?!  That’s been gone for more than a week.  If I still had it why wouldn’t I have been using it?”

“I just thought you were being a bitch for some reason.”

“Why would I do that?”

She shrugged “Who knows what’s ever going to set you off?  You’re mercurial you are.  Touchy even.”

“That is a false accusation!”

“I mean you’re yelling at me right now.”

“That . . . . you . . .” I sighed “Are you telling me that we don’t have a tent?”

“I don’t have one, who knows what all you have hidden away in your secret holes.”

“Why do you always say it like that?  Why don’t you say pockets or storage or even sacks?”

“Because that doesn’t annoy you.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 949,051

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 Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace

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 

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 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

The deal I struck with Mord was that after finishing up with the dumb touranment he’ll take his crew to Alleene and not cause any problems, waiting for Martialla and I to show up to start the rescue mission.  I made it very clear to him that this plan depended on him keeping his nose down and his people out of trouble, so I’m sure by the time we get there everyone will be in prison.  I know what you’re thinking “Ela, won’t you guys get there ahead of them if you’re leaving right now?”  I like how you’re able to remain optimistic like that.  It’s not overly intelligence but it’s endearing.  It’s axiomatic at this point that any traveling I do will take ten times as long as normal due to kidnappings or falling through dimensional rifts or civil unrest or what have you.  I was tempted to buy (or steal) Mord’s carriage off him since he’s ruining it with his commoness, but in the end I decided that it was too much baggage.  I do hate to see such a fine thing in his fat grubby hands though. 

Martialla and I got moving early and traveled without incident (!) arriving in Obsis late in the day.  In the four or five months since we had passed through before Obsis has undergone quite a transformation.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nothing town, but it had swelled to a nothing town of twice the size that it was before.  There are plenty of new buildings – the inn where I had been refused a room (that guy’s lucky he’s not on the list) had been expanded and turned into a church.  And the dance hall where I had actually ended up staying had also been converted into a church.  I guess so they can have services at one while they clean the other one?  Hard to say.  I’m not an expert in religion.  Adariel’s symbol was everywhere, as was what I assume is the symbol of the order itself – kind of a stylized image of Adariel’s symbol with angel wings added.  There were also a lot of paintings and murals that I think are supposed to be Hardra – although I can tell you that the real Hardra never looked so serene and wholesome – she was more waspish and mean looking.  I was examining one of these murals that seemed to be showing the styory of Hardra’s resurrection when one of the many people wearing blue and white robes came up to me.

“This isn’t right.”

The woman was startled that I beat her to the punch conversationally “Pardon me?”

I gestured “I don’t see me on here.  Adariel seems to be getting a lot of the credit but I’m the one that actually brought Hardra back to life.  I made a deal with a demon, I killed someone and that brought Hardra back – it was pretty simple in the end.”

The woman gasped “Blasphemy!”

“Hmm, I don’t think so.  I’m not sure what they call it when you violate the tenants of a religion.  Heresy?  Or is that just when you have another religion you like?  Does it matter if I’m not part of the sect in question?”

The woman hurried away frightfully as a man in a green and white robe came up almost as hurriedly.  He had a little chin-beard and one of those high on the back of the head ponytails – neither of which did his scarred and ugly face any favors.

“Holy day to you pilgrims, I see that you’re admiring some of our iconography.”

“Yeah, I was just telling that lady it’s missing some parts.  I’m not sure you people know the full story of what happened there.”

He smiled “It’s impossible for anyone to know the full story.”

“Sure.  Who’s in charge here?”

He smiled beatifically “Adariel.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes “Right, but who’s the person in charge?  I heard something about some kind of Heralds.”

This launched him into a lesson on the different levels of being a Hardraian Adarielist and the grand and glorious history of his three month old religious order.  At no point did he say anything about who was in charge though.  Not everyone in town was berobed (is that a word?) but the people that were dressed in normal clothing weren’t interested in talking – even to someone as amiable as me.  That was until I was approached by a tall (even taller than me) mannish woman with short blond hair and a jaw most men would kill to have.  Her voice was oddly high given her appearance.

“Why do you want to know who’s in charge?”

“I was friends with Hardra . . .”

Martialla snorted “What?”

“. . . I mean I knew Hardra.  I haven’t been able to find out much about what happened to her after I brought her back to life, other than that his order that seems to be mostly men in a traditionally female leaning religion was founded based on the miracle of me facilitating her demonic resurrection.  I was hoping that someone in charge could tell me where she is.”

The woman looked at my eyes searchingly for a moment before speaking “You better come with me.”

The last time we were here there was no taproom or tavern – now there was.  A low windless shack with a couple mismatched tables.  When we walked in there was no one inside.  Our guide went behind the rickety bar and helped herself to something that looked more like porridge than alcohol. 

She grimaced as she drank it down “You want to know the details or just the deal I’m offering?”

“What’s the deal?

“You get my daughter back and I’ll tell you where Hardra is.”

“Where’s your daughter?”

“They took her once they had the town firmly under their thumb.  The Heralds have an eye for the pretty ones.  And yes, she actually is pretty, she takes after her father.  I know what I look like.”

“Why did they take her?”

She gave me an incredulous look “Why do you think?”

“That doesn’t seem like something even a fringe group of Adariel people would do.”

She shook her head “I don’t know these assholes even believe the bullshit they spout or if it’s all just a con but this group would have to walk a lot of miles to get into spitting distance of any kind of Adariel orthodoxy.  It’s a wealth doctrine.”

“Seed faith?  Are you kidding me?  Why would anyone even bother?  We already have a god of wealth.  Probably a couple.”

She snorted bitterly “Yeah, but Odobenine is a greedy and corrupt god for the aristocracy and their bought and paid for lackeys.  This is Adariel, the lady of goodness and family – and all you have to do to be rewarded with riches and treasure is join up and give away all your possessions and pledge your life to them forever.”

“Hardra did this?”

She gave me another apprising look before answering “You’re going to get me my daughter back right?”

I glanced at Martialla who nodded “We’ll give it a go.”

“I’m trusting you here, I’m giving away some of the details up front.  Hardra didn’t do anything – when she was raised from the dead people lost their minds.  Most of them anyway, some people who know more about magic know that it does happen from time to time and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with miracles.  These assholes just seized on that.  They seized her too, literally.  At first I think they probably planned on just controlling her the normal way, but after she came back she had . . . . problems.  So they locked her away.  Saints are much easier to capitalize on when they’re not around anyway.”

Martialla asked “How do you know so much about them?”

She looked Martialla square in the eye “They took my daughter.”

“Fair enough.  Where are they keeping her?  And what kind of opposition are we likely to face?”

She shook her head “I don’t know, they move her around a lot – between the two temples mostly but sometimes she’s not in either of them and I don’t know where they take her.  About half the town has brought into this fuckery or at least is pretending to, but they ran off everyone who could actually fight from before.  Their figurehead is a woman, but I don’t know what her deal is – she seems loyal enough.  She’s a magus.”

Martialla made a face “A real magus?”

Our host nodded “I think so.”

“What’s a magus?”

Martialla blew out a long breath “Trouble.  A magus is someone who’s a trained warrior and learned magic too, and knows how to channel spells into their attacks.”

“Isn’t that what you are?”

She shook her head slowly as our host continued “Aside from her there’s four heralds, they’re dangerous folks as well, along with half a dozen priests and maybe twice that many acolytes.  They’re not all that dangerous but they’re fight if they have to.”

“And they’re all divine spellcasters?!  That sounds incredibly dangerous!”

“No, none of them are.”

“Wait, why does anyone think they’re legitimate Adariel people if she doesn’t answer their prayers with spells?”

“Their lack of divine magic is explained at length in their articles of faith, it’s actually the priests that can do magic that you need to be wary of, do you really want to know the particulars?”

“I suppose not.” I looked at Martialla “So what do you think, to find this girl do we need to infiltrate this group or just sneak in and grab her?”

Before Martialla could answer the door flew off its hinges and red smoke started rolling into the small building.  Coming up through the smoke were three men in black robes – that make sense, black robes for your heavies – but what makes no sense is they their robes were hanging open and all they were wearing otherwise was breechclouts.  I mean sure, they were all in pretty good shape, but they weren’t chiseled like statues to the point where you’d want to walk around as naked as decency allows.  What I’m saying is that for your enforcer squad it’s not all that intimidating to be nearly nude.  Or maybe it is, you know, because of the implication.  I was about to tell them that but I started coughing in the smoke almost– it stung the eyes like a bastard as well. It’s a good thing I had my Necklace to protect me because I could tell that Martialla got woozy and weak almost immediately.

The lead goon, you could tell he was the leader because he was in the middle and had is hood back, raised his adulterated symbol of Adariel and I could feel some tugging at my mind as he cast some kind of enchantment but it was weak and pathetic – I’d be surprised if you could control the thoughts of a toad with that bullshit.  Martialla tried to cast a spell of her own, but either because of the smoke or the effects of the smoke (or something else) I’m pretty sure it misfired (spells can do that you know) because the place was suddenly filled with bees.  Which is not something I’ve seen her do before or since – as a tip off was they started stinging the shit out of her just like everyone else.  I tell you this much, our black robed friends regretted dressing like Pentarri dancing girls once the place was swarming with bees.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve been told that there’s a sect of people that worship a pain goddess (or demon, what’s the difference honestly?) because they see the experience of pain as a pathway to transcendence of the mortal experience.  The idea being (allegedly) if you can mutilate yourself and control your feelings – turn agony into joy – that’s the first step on a spiritual journey to becoming a luminous being of the universe instead of a lump of flesh.  They call this Uncaging or something like that, assuming any of its true.  Here’s a fun little song about her –

Torture-daughter of Tunori,

Sitting on the mount of anguish,

At the junction of three rivers,

Turning rocks of pain and torture,

Turn away these fell diseases

Through the virtues of the blue-stone;

Lead them to the water-channels,

Sink them in the deeps of ocean,

Where the winds can never find them,

Where the sunlight never enters.

My point is there’s some religions that are about sacrifice and endurance and suffering as a pathway to salvation.  Clearly these Hardraians are not one of them given the way the black robes squealed like maidens as the bees got at them.  I suppose in their defense it does hurt pretty bad to get bee-stung on the nipples.  What I learned is that it’s pretty easy to clobber someone with a Walking Stick when they’re frantically waving at bees like frightened little girls.  After they fled I grabbed Martialla (she had passed out at this point) by the legs and dragged her out of the poisonous smoke cloud.  I looked around but I didn’t see our new friend anywhere – she must have lit out as soon as the black robes showed up.  Which you have to admire.  I stomped on Martialla’s stomach the way you’re supposed to and she came to with a wrenching coughing fit – one of those deep hacking deals where it sounds like someone’s chewing up their own insides.  Hideous.

Martialla looked at me with red watery eyes “Why didn’t you pass out?”

“Because I’m not a baby.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 9,005 gold

XP: 923,451

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 Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace

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 

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

Muthuselan 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Do you remember the first time you got hurt?  Probably not.  It’s a good design that we can’t remember what happens to us the first months of our lives because if you were able to remember things at that time you’d never try anything.  There’s a period of time after you’re born that you don’t even know what pain is, you don’t know it exists.  Hunger?  Sure.  Discomfort?  Yeah.  But you don’t figure out what pain is for a while, and when you do it’s a good thing you’re not really sentient yet because if you were you’d never attempt to walk or do anything – you’d just lay there like a lump terrified of everything.  I learned a little earlier than most because I was bitten by snake while I was in the crib but that’s a story for another day. 

Every now and then at court you’d run into a kid who was so pampered that they didn’t really know what it meant to get hurt.  There were kids who never fell down and got hurt because they had servants to follow them around and break their fall with cushions.  I saw a kid like that get scratched by a cat (they’ll do that you know) one time and he screamed like he was being torn in half.  Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure actually.  The point is that while I had my share of hardships I lived a pretty comfortable life for many years.  Now in the last few months I’ve been stabbed, shot, fell off a roof (twice), been kicked in the chest, punched, trampled, sliced, you name it.  I’m not going to say that you get used to the pain, but you kind of do.  Every now and then when actual life and death bloodsports went out of vogue at court they’d have pugilists come in and beat the shit out each other.  There was this one fighter they called Oak or some other stupid tree name like that.  He’d win his bouts by basically just leaning in and letting his opponent punch the Gods out of him until they were tired out and then he’d wail on them.  People said that he was a masochist and that he liked pain.  I don’t think so.  But he didn’t hate it. 

Even with magical healing almost dying takes the wind out of your sails so I slept like a rock in the hidden chamber under the stairs.  I don’t know what time I finally got up but the food that had been left for me was stone cold.  Stella was out making arrangements and I got bored waiting down there so I emerged into the common room.  In addition to Archum there were two other hard cases sitting there pretending to nurse drinks – a scar-faced redhead also wearing chainmail and common looking fellow wearing hunterish looking garb.  Stinty was manning the bar and remarked as I walked out.

“Is it a good idea for you to be out here?”

I changed my appearance to that of blonde Northman with a beaky nose “Is that better?”

“Not really, if he has the place under surveillance he could have seen you come out.”

“There’s no clear eyeline to the stairwell door, as I’m sure you know.”

“And as I’m sure you know eyelines only mean so much when you’re dealing with magic.”

I sat down at the one table not occupied by a watchful goon “It’s boring down there, looks like there’s plenty of protection up here anyway.”

“I’d rather not get killed because you were bored.”

“Oh, you meant a good idea for you, not for me.  Do you think it’s likely this place is being watched?”

“Yes.  It wouldn’t have taken our talented friend, as you call him, long to figure out my story was bullshit.  That was a mistake on my part.  I was trying to scare him off but that was foolish, he’s not going to be scared off easily.”

“And if knows you lied he knows you’re in on it.  You should have just said that I left and you didn’t know anything else.  Why are you in on it anyway?”

“Stella’s an old friend, and she pays me money.”

“So mostly the money.”

“Mostly the money.”

“So she had this place ready just in case?  That’s very cunning of her – she’s really quite good at what she does isn’t she?”

Stinty nodded his tiny chin “She is.”

“Where do you suppose people like her come from?  Where do Dukes and Earls and whatnot find these highly competent, mostly loyal, shadowy operator types willing to do the dirty work of keeping a kingdom running?”

“From what I’ve seen of you so far you’re a noble, or at least a skilled noble imposter, who can change shapes and survive five arrows to the chest.  Not to mention you tossed out a thousand gold like it was nothing nothing.  I was going to ask you where such people come from.”

“A fair point.  I can’t change shapes though, it’s just an illusion.”

“Oh, well then I guess I’m not impressed.  You said you were bored, what do you want to talk about – you know, that’s a topic interest enough that it’s worth endangering our lives?”

“Hmm, good question.  How’s the war going?”

“Which one?”

“Take your pick.”

“I hear we’re winning.  Should be wrapped up by summer, another victory for the good guys.  Parades, medals, land grants, and congratulations all around.”

“That’s nice to hear.  Do you think the propaganda machine breaks down before a country is defeated in war or does it keep on churning away right until the end?  Do the people that buy that hogwash think they’re going to win the war the day before the enemy soldiers come burn down their homes, rape their wives, and sell their children into slavery?”

“I hope never to find out.”

“True, it’s more of an intellectual curiosity.  Do you have anything to eat around here?”

“I have an ox shank I could cook up for you.”

“I meant something good.”

“Oh no, we don’t have anything like that.”

“What’s the chance of you sending out for some nice roasted duck with cashew bread and a fine bottle of wine?  And not fatty duck, the good juicy stuff.”

“Probably about the same as your chances of surviving being poisoned.”

I sighed “Being stalked by a master of disguise is really annoying.”

“That’s something we could talk about, why is this surely very expensive hired killer trying to kill you?”

“Oh, could be for any number of things.  For some reason there are people that just don’t take to me despite how lovely and charming I am.”

“Jealously, that’s what that is.”

“Probably.  You got a deck of cards around here?  We could play a few hands to pass the time.  I know a few games.”

“I’m sure you do, but we need to stay vigilant, not be distracted by a card game.  You’ve had your fun, it’s time for you to go back downstairs now.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Reluctantly I passed back through the secret door and into the tiny chamber – my only companions a blood soaked bed and a wash basin.  These folks are clearly professionals but would it kill them to bring me some news clothing and some clean sheets?  I don’t know how the knights and men at arms do it – do they bring like fifty sets of clothing with them when they sally forth?  Maybe that’s why the supply trains are so important – you can’t go into battle with a stained shirt now can you? 

I don’t think I’ve ever get good at waiting.  But since I had all day to wait I thought waiting.  And about why things are different now –before my life was filled with long periods of doing nothing and it was fine, now I can’t stand it.  Here’s what I came up with.  Normal boring life creates one set of expectations for your mind.  Waiting doesn’t seem so bad because you’re not used to much happening.  But then, WHAM, something insane happens – every moment you’re under threat seems new and vivid.  And your mind changes – time warps because the experience is so intense.  It’s a survival mechanism that amplifies our awareness and packs more memories than usual into a short time interval. We’re tricked into thinking more time has passed. So your expectations change and it becomes an ugly cycle of expecting things to happen quickly, becoming impatient, getting angry.  And getting angry makes things seem like they take forever.

However having this theory doesn’t help anything.  The good news is that night when Stella finally came down to talk to me she brought some decent food and a bottle of raspberry liqueur with her.  She brought a ridiculously small chair down with her as well to sit across from me.

“How do I know you’re not the assassin here to poison me?”

“Do you think he’s that good at disguising himself?”

“Why not?  I am.”

“Sure, but you have . . . advantages.  Hmm, what’s something only the real me would know?”

“What’s the shape of the birthmark I have on my ass?”

“How would I know that?”

I took the tray of food from her “You passed.  Every man assumes that women have nude tickle fights when they’re not around and therefore would expect that you would know that and try to answer.”

“That’s some ironclad logic.”

“How are we looking?”

“The wheels are in motion.”

“Since our talented friend knows about this place should we change locales?”

She pursed her lips “I considered that.  I think it’s too late.  If we had moved right away that could have done some good but I think now if we try that it just gives him a chance to strike.  I don’t think he’s watching alone, he’s the killer but he can’t be doing all this legwork alone so I think he has a team of watchers.  Even disguised, with decoys I think it’s too risky.  Here at least there’s no way to get you unless he wants to fight his way in, and I don’t think that’s what an invisible rooftop archer wants to do.”

“That’s pretty much what I was thinking as well.  You should be careful about coming and going as well, he has to know at this point that you’re helping me so he might try to take you out.”

“I’m always invisible when I come and go.”

“That only goes so far.  I would expect an invisible rooftop archer to have a way to deal with other people like him.  Isn’t having smart enemies the worst?”

“I’m used to it in my line of work, but yes, I much prefer my enemies to be morons.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk

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 

Muthuselan 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I wasn’t a good rider initially.  Even though I liked horses when I first started learning to ride I was kind of afraid to get close to them – they’re bigger than you think.  And those hooves, one of those comes down on your foot and you’re going to be laid up for a while.  Horses, domesticated horses at least, can be pretty finicky.  They can pick up on your good and if you’re afraid it makes them skittish.  I also found out later that the horse they gave me to learn to ride was naturally nervous anyway – not a good choice for a beginner.  This was done on purpose, as everything at court is, but that’s a story for another day.  The point is that I got thrown a few times and just generally banged up when I was first learning to ride.  But that allowed me to learn another lesson, an even more important lesson.  Never let them see you hurt. 

Who is them?  Everyone.  People talk about sharks being able to smell blood in the water from miles away – they have nothing on humans.  Show any weakness and they’ll be on you faster than you can blink.  You get thrown from your horse and bust your ass?  You get up, smile, and walk back over as if you’re complexly fine.  “Took a little tumble there” you say lightly.  I’m not saying that I’m king badass of the world, by no means, what I’m saying is that I’ve known for a long time how to act like everything is fine even when it’s not – at all.  That’s how when I disguised myself as a person who was not bleeding to death I was able to walk down the street perfectly calm and normally even though I was honestly wondering if I was going to lay down and die right there at that second.

At my suggestion Stella kicked a hole in the wall of the bakery into the adjoining business – it looked to be some kind of store that makes spectacles, it was hard to tell exactly on account of the blood loss and wooziness.  There was no one there, they’re going to in for quite a surprise when they come to open up.  Emerging from next building over isn’t the best way to throw our invisible assassin off the scent but it was the best we could do – between that and my appearance I was able to walk out without being immediately shot down like a dog.  Stella turned herself invisible and went head to make arrangements.  It was only a few blocks but it was easily the longest walk of my life.  I was so unsteady on my feet I was surprised I didn’t fall over with every step.  It felt like I was stepping on loose rocks.  But I made it to a large timber and brick building named Stinty’s, which is stupid name for an inn.  A Halfling standing on “battlement” of sorts behind the bar, perhaps the titular Stinty himself, gestured for me to go upstairs and flashed me three fingers. He did it with his thumb and forefinger together as if saying everything was “okay”, which it was not.

I used the railing on the stairs to haul myself up and staggered into room number three, the door shutting and locking behind me.  I collapsed onto the bed, thoroughly soiling the sheets with blood, as Stella’s invisibility dissipated and I saw her standing by the door.

“You’re tougher than you look.”

My voice sounded weird in my own ears “I’d pretty much have to be.”

“I need to go get some things to fix you up.  Are you going to be okay here on your own?”

“No, but what choice do we have?”

“You need to sit up in case you pass out, otherwise blood could settle in your lungs and you’ll drown.”

“I don’t think I can.”

Stella helped me roll over and then dragged me into a sitting position, stuffing pillows behind me as best she could.  I was left tottering there on the bed as she slipped out and somehow managed to lock the door behind her from the other side.  This broad clearly has more going on than I thought.  I never really lost consciousness but I wasn’t exactly with it either – it was a strange twilight zone that I hope to never experience again.  My vision was swimming but my ears were working just fine.  Some undetermined amount of time later I could clearly hear someone downstairs asking if “two women” had just come in “one that could be wounded” along with a pretty fair description of yours truly.  I forced myself to my feet , somehow made my way to the door, and after what seemed like hours of fumbling with unstead hands I was able to get the door unlatched. 

I lurched out onto the stairwell, remembering to disguise myself as a tall man with a yellow ascot at the last moment, where I saw a nondescript looking fellow talking to Stinty.  I also saw what I thought I saw on the way in – a narrow faced fellow with dark hair wearing chainmail with a massive sword set leaning on the chair beside him.  He was drinking a mug of something and looking dour.  I looked at him and pointed at the man talking to Stinty.

“I’ll give you a thousand gold if you kill that man right now.”

For emphasis I tossed a handful of coins onto the stairs with a metallic ping as they hit the ground and variously rolled and ricocheted about.  Narrow Face didn’t hesitate for a second, he was out of his chair and swinging his sword before one of the coins stopped spinning.  The other man ducked out of the way and produced a now familiar thin blade which he plunged into the other man, his strike being deflected by the mail.  Narrow Face swung wildly with his two-handed sword again but again the other man dodged the huge swing and jabbed at his opponent, who now would be on the ground bleeding to death if he wasn’t protecting his vitals with links of metal.  There’s a lesson I could learn.  Stinty hurled some weird little star-shaped throwing knife at the guy from behind, but even unwares he was able to partially duck out of the way – although his wig was knocked off and a lot of blood and skin with it.  This allowed my new best friend to finally catch him with one of his big swings, slicing him badly across the chest.  Still though, he managed to dart out the door without any trouble. 

“Thanks for the hand guys.”

I shoveled most of the gold out of my purse in their general direction, then grabbing the railing to keep from falling over. 

“Now he knows where I am . . .”

I felt a swoon coming on but I was able to fight it off.  Stinty said something to Narrow Face and he carefully stowed away his weapon before coming up the stairs.  He looked at me gravely.

“Do I have permission to touch your body?  It’s not sexual. Not that you’re not an attractive woman. You’re actually a very attractive woman but I’m just trying to help you right now.  If you feel uncomfortable I can . . .”

“Touch away buddy.”

He lifted me into his arms without an effort and carried me back down the stairs and around sharply to the left where Stinty was holding open a concealed door that went into a short staircase down under the staircase – which was an odd sight.  He carried me down to a small room that had little more than a too short bed and a wash basin.  He set me down on the bed gently and then turned to leave.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be safe down here.”

“Will I?”

“Safer.”

This killer gets high marks on disguise and persistence but he totally fails at vocal alteration – I could tell it was him up above pretending to be a city watchman talking to Stinty and the other man – whose name is Archum apparently – they told him that after the fracas I had left in the company of three men armed to the teeth and bearing a symbol of an green eye pierced through with a long needle.  This Stinty isn’t a half-bad liar, and I know from liars.  I don’t know if the assassin bought it, but he left either way and felt myself fading.  I actually did feel like there was fluid in my lungs so being worried about downing like Stella said I crawled into a sitting position on the floor with my upper body draped across the bed.  Even in that awkward crouch I fell asleep almost instantly, or passed out, six of one, etc.

Some time later Stella roused me and fed me healing potions until was completely fine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will never get used to that.  One moment you’re on death’s door, the next you’re not even injured.  It’s more than your body can reconcile.  I took one last long drink out of the weird squat little canteenish bottle and tossed it on the floor with the others.

“Why can’t someone make a potion that doesn’t taste vile?”

“It’s harder than you think.”

“Obviously.  Well, I think I know what boon I need from your employer – whoever this talented fellow is I need him taken care of if I want to keep being alive.  Which I do.  A lot.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Bloody Ruined Extravagant noble’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk

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