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